are persons real?

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by myself, May 1, 2007.

  1. myself

    myself just me

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    Are Persons Just an Illusion?
    Neuroscience and philosophy clash.

    Ronald Bailey | April 27, 2007

    Neuroscientists Martha Farah and Andrea Heberlein, in the January
    issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, wonder if empirical
    insights from their discipline can naturalize personhood. In other
    words, they explore the notion that a person is a "natural kind"
    and "seeks objective and clear-cut biological criteria that
    correspond reasonably well with most peoples' intuitions about
    personhood. These criteria could then be substituted for intuition in
    those cases where intuitions fail to agree." This is an important
    issue, because trying to determine who is and is not a person figures
    in our ethical and policy debates over the status of the brain dead,
    embryos, and primates.

    Farah and Heberlein proceed to discuss the neuroscientific evidence
    for the existence of a separate network of brain systems that
    automatically identifies persons as opposed to non-persons. Data from
    brain trauma patients and functional magnetic resonance imaging
    (fMRI), in which sections of the brain "light up" when experiencing
    specific stimuli, have identified a candidate person recognition
    network in the brain. This personhood network is triggered by stimuli
    such as human-like faces, bodies, or contingent behaviors.
    (Contingent behavior is activity that looks like it is responsive to
    the outside environment and purposeful.)

    The authors argue that the person network is innate and point out
    that newborns within 30 minutes of birth tend to track face-like
    patterns with their eyes more than they do other shapes of comparable
    symmetry or complexity. Noting that the human face is a powerful
    trigger for the personhood network, Farah and Heberlein, speculate
    that "this may be what makes it hard for many of us to dismiss the
    personhood of a vegetative patient or a fetus."

    Farah and Heberlein contend that the personhood brain network evolved
    because as an intensely social species, our ancestors' survival was
    enhanced by understanding the beliefs, motivations and personalities
    of others. They also speculate that the cost of ascribing intentions
    to non-intentional systems might have been far less than the cost of
    failing to recognize intentions in intentional systems. Thus the
    brain's personhood network may err on the side of activating too
    often. (This may account of religious belief systems that attributed
    intentions to the sun, rain, rivers, volcanoes and the like.
    Interestingly, the less humanity has attributed intentions to natural
    phenomena, the greater control we have obtained over them -- or is it
    the other way around?)

    Farah and Heberlein then claim that since the personhood network
    makes frequent mistakes and often attributes personhood to non-
    intentional systems that "suggests the personhood is a kind of
    illusion." They conclude, "If personhood is not really in the world,
    then there is no fact of the matter concerning the status of a given
    being as a person or not, and there is no point to the philosophical
    or bioethical program of seeking objective criteria for personhood
    more generally because there is none."

    This claims too much. Fortunately, the Journal publishes a number of
    thoughtful responses to Farah and Heberlein. One of the more
    devastating is by University of California, San Diego
    neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland. "Are there no mountains, no
    vegetables, no weeds, and no diseases?," she begins. Her point is
    that there are no precise criteria, or "natural kinds" that
    completely specify what a mountain, a vegetable, a weed or a disease
    is. Lambs quarter can either be a salad green or weed depending on
    how various gardeners regard it. Is obesity really a disease in quite
    the same way as smallpox? Yet despite the lack of precise criteria
    for all kinds of things out in the world (matters of fact, if you
    will), we manage to know what we're talking about and get along quite

    As Christian Perring, a philosopher from Dowling College in Oakdale,
    New York, points out there is a great deal of agreement on what
    constitutes personhood. These include attributes such as rationality,
    memory, ability to self-reflect, intelligence, and a concept of
    self. "We are good at distinguishing persons from non-persons in most
    ordinary circumstances," writes Dowling. It is the extraordinary
    circumstances that modern medicine engenders -- embryos in Petri
    dishes, severe Alzheimer's patients, anencephalic newborns, early
    fetuses, and patients in persistent vegetative state - that are
    problematic for many people. For example, it is clearly the case that
    prolife activists hope to activate the personhood networks of women
    seeking abortions by requiring them to view ultrasound images of
    their fetuses before undergoing the procedure.

    University of Maryland philosopher Mark Sagoff makes the extremely
    interesting point that the notion that personhood is somehow a moral
    trump that demands that others recognize a being's rights is an
    historically new concept. "The idea that every human being prima
    facie is entitled to equal respect and concern under rules fair to
    all seems to depend not on hard-wired biological factors but on
    contingent historical variables," writes Sagoff. Human history, after
    all, is replete with tribes who kill outsiders, men who
    kill "dishonored" women, believers who kill and torture infidels, and
    so forth.

    I believe that Dartmouth College philosopher Adina Roskies is right
    when she suggests "knowing that one part of our biological system for
    identifying persons is automatically entrained and subject to error
    should make us more cognizant of its operation and more skeptical of
    its output as we engage in the countless moral decisions we make each
    day." If Farah and Heberlein have correctly identified an innate
    personhood network in our brains, they will have helped free us from
    its mandates, just as other natural scientists freed us from our
    misconceptions about the sources of disease and rain. We are not just
    slaves to our brains' personhood networks -- we can use our
    rationality to figure out which entities count as persons and which
    do not. We will most likely conclude that personhood is a continuum,
    not an all or nothing property. Just where to draw moral lines along
    that continuum will be a long hard fought debate, but as Sagoff has
    pointed out moral progress can be made. In the end, Farah and
    Heberlein are wrong, persons are as real as mountains, diseases,
    weeds, pets and daylight.

    Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent.
  2. myself

    myself just me

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    A view of reality is well expressed by Philip K. Dick's statement that "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
  3. myself

    myself just me

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    Human kind ... cannot bear very much reality (T.S. Elliot)
  4. mandell

    mandell Banned

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    Yes, a person is real. But not the way we think.

    Yes and no.
    Real and unreal.
    Form is emptiness.
  5. Common Sense

    Common Sense Member

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    That's actually a very brilliant article. It seems a little much to claims that persons are natural kinds, though. I mean, I can see how human beings are a natural kind. We have a definite genetic make-up, evolutionary history, etc. But it seems to me that you won't find personhood no matter how far we map the human genome or what we learn about the brain.

    What is a person, anyway? A rational, moral agent, perhaps? But neuroscience can't really tell us when a person is moral or an agent. Even rational is a bit of a stretch.

    Are persons real? Well, not exactly. To be more specific, persons are ideal. We see certain objects behave in certain ways, and we call them persons. We then impose onto them all those qualities that we know ourselves to possess - we come to empathize with them. So, if by "real," you mean "natural kind," then no, persons are not natural kinds. But if by "real," you mean some more general things that science can't explain away, as it can with rivers, trees, and mountains, then yes, persons are real.
  6. themnax

    themnax Senior Member

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    i think the problem and conflict is the exclusion of the nontangable.

    i don't believe our awairnessess are tangable or the product of tangable proccessess.
    our minds and memories are. but the puttative dependence of our awairnessess on them i do not find entirely compelling.

  7. Yogi Bhairava

    Yogi Bhairava Hip Forums Supporter HipForums Supporter

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    Okay Folks, Here is the Issue,
    The ego state of consciousness,what we expereience as our personality, is not real. It is a pranic refracted holographic type of phenomenon held intact by prana emanating from the cakras via the agency of the dormant Kundalini. Now the immanent divine consciousness of God that has relegated Himself into the agency of the Mother Devi Kundalini is fully conscious and is the root supporting Mind or Self of the personality we experience as ourselves. But we are like an oscillitory wave or flux. When this personality is sublimated and retracted through yoga that awakens the Kundalini, our finite personal consciousness is replaced with the source Divine mind or self. Then you are real and eternally immortal, I might add.Y.B.
  8. snake sedrick

    snake sedrick Banned

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  9. jagerhans

    jagerhans Far out, man. Lifetime Supporter

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    not only wrong but also heavily concerned in finding evidences supporting their own political point of view.
    quite funny since it all comes out from trying to define scientifically a concept - personality - wich does not belong to the field of exact sciences but rather to philosophy (where are the boundaries of personality? how much of our behavior is innate istinctive and what is left to free will? ask , let's say a group of criminologists, about the reasons which trigger human actions and you will likely start a fight) so by just reading "neuroscience and philosophy clash" i suspect that it's a political debate disguised as a (hardly) scientific article. a foetus may have or may have not a "personality" , varying upon the definition of the word. And even if we come to the point to adfirm that it lacks "personality" (because we were so smart to find an universal pattern which applies to all human creatures AND superior animals) our tribulations dont stop here because no-one forces us to just respect personality in living creatures. Faith, traditions, irrational pulses also have a weight for us humble stupid humans...
    At the end it is a very political clash of points of view and the hope of prevailing by means of "scientific" evidences is illusory and indicative of a fascist mentality, and I start thinking i've lost my time in confuting a pile of bullshit :p

  10. ronald Macdonald

    ronald Macdonald Banned

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    well if all you are expressing is solipsism then that article is not as brilliant as it seems - solipsists have existed as far back as ancient greek times - i wont do your education for you just look into solipsism - google solipsist solipsism "mind body theory"
  11. jagerhans

    jagerhans Far out, man. Lifetime Supporter

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    i didnt ask you to, indeed
  12. Jedi

    Jedi Self Banned

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    I think world does not exist without the recognition that there is a world. Ofcourse, whether you accept there is a world outside of oneself or not is a personal choice.
  13. mati

    mati Member

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    nothing exists, whether made up from ourselves, others, or anything whatsoever. nagarjuna
  14. Common Sense

    Common Sense Member

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    Exactly what a natural kind is is a little sketchy. I could go back Aristotle for the original definition, but most philosophers today would probably find it inadequate or vague. Kripke talks a bit about natural kinds in "Naming and Necessity," but, as I recall, a definition of "natural kind" is unfortunately lacking. But, roughly speaking, natural kinds cannot be man-made, are of a certain genus and species, have a genetic structure of a certain kind, a certain evolutionary history, etc., etc. You get the idea.

    I think that any philosopher who accepts the idea of natural kinds would agree that homo sapiens are a natural kind. And it might be the case that homo sapiens and persons are coextensive, meaning that the sets homo sapiens and persons (past, present, and future) are in a one-to-one correspondance, meaning that all homo sapiens are persons, and all persons are homo sapiens. At least I've never seen any counter-example to this.

    But it might be the case that we discover an advanced alien race, whom, if any one of us were to meet any one member of this race, would remark, "What a lovely person, he was," that is, we would all agree, at least intuitively, that this alient was a person.

    But if we want to get technical about this (as we probably should) and save the notion that persons are a natural kind, then we could always say that the conjunction of homo sapiens and this alien race form the larger natural kind of persons. This works quite well, because if we ever discovered another alien race we wanted to call "persons," well, we could just say that the conjunction of homo sapiens, this alien race, and that alien race form the natural kind of persons. And so on, until all advanced alien races we want to call "persons" are known to us.

    But say we invented a very intelligent computer, whom, after meeting him on the street one day, you remarked, "What a bright person, he was." Now, surely, we could not include him as a member of the natural kind of persons because, after all, he was man-made. And how could a member of a natural kind be artificial?

    Poor fellow. He seemed like such a nice person.

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