Group Project #2
Home ] Up ] Personal Identity ] Epistemology ] Ethics ] Readings ]


Rene Descartes
Gilbert Ryle
William Lycan
John Searle
Group Project #2

(What follows is is taken from  Daniel Dennett's "Where Am I?", found in The Mind's I (Basic Books: New York, NY 1981), pp. 217-229.  In addition to using only a portion of Dennett's essay, I have made two additional changes; first, I use my name instead of Dennett's to refer to the narrator, and second, in the original essay, when Dennett has Fortinbras switch from Yorick to Hubert, there is not a "seamless" transition between the two that I suggest here).  

    I have a strange story to tell you, and now that I've won my lawsuit (under the Freedom of Information Act), I can tell it for the first time.  Several years ago the Department of Defense (DOD)  asked me to solve a little problem for them.  One mile under Tulsa, Oklahoma, a new nuclear weapon  -- the Supersonic Tunneling Underground Device (called STUD) lay motionless.  For reasons the DOD cannot reveal, the STUD had malfunctioned, and they were desperate to retrieve it. Unfortunately it was now emitting a highly toxic form of radiation, which had a peculiar twist -- this sort of radiation had disastrous effects on brain tissue , but not on any other kind of tissue.  Given my deep interest in philosophical issues, the DOD came to me with the following proposition: for a HUGE sum of money, my brain would be removed, and kept safely in a life-support system in Houston. Every neuronal input and output pathway, as it is severed, will be restored by a pair of microminiature radio transceivers, one attached precisely to the brain, the other to the nerve stumps in the empty cranium.  No information will be lost, and all connectivity between my body and brain would be retained.  The Houston surgeons reassured me that in effect, my nerves would simply be stretched -- if your brain moved an inch, nothing would have changed, would it?  Think of this, they say, as a mere extension of that process.

    Patriot that I was, I agreed, and the morning after surgery I awoke groggy but seemingly fine. Still, I did have some odd experiences.  The nurse (in order to reassure me about the safety of the procedure) took me down the hall to see my brain, floating painlessly in a bubbling vat of nutrient-laced liquid.  I thought  "Well, here I am, staring through a piece of plate glass at my brain."  But suddenly it dawned on me that this thought might be incorrect -- shouldn't I have thought "Here I am, suspended in a bubbling liquid, being stared at by my eyes"?  Try as I might, however, I couldn't really think that with any conviction -- each time I said to myself  "Here I am, suspended in a bubbling liquid, being stared at by my eyes" I really didn't believe it.  Whenever I thought "Here I am," that thought always seemed to occur to me here, outside the vat.  

    To re-orient myself, I decided to fall back on an old philosopher's ploy -- I began naming things.  "Yorick," I said aloud, "you are my brain.  The rest of my body I dub Hamlet.  So here we all are: Yorick's my brain, Hamlet's my body, and I am Hebert.  Now, where was my mind?

    Before I could  arrive at a satisfactory answer, duty called -- I was whisked off to Tulsa for six weeks of bomb removal training before my subterranean adventure began.  Everything was going along smoothly, when all of a sudden, just as I was about to remove the bomb, I lost my voice.  In rapid succession my hearing and sight followed suit, and before I knew it all my senses shut down.  But then an odd thing happened; after a few minutes of absolutely no sensory stimulation, I suddenly found that my point of view had shifted.  I was not buried alive in Tulsa, but disembodied in Houston!  This shift in perspective that I had found well nigh impossible a few days before now seemed quite natural.

    By hooking up some electronic device to my auditory nerve, the project director was able to communicate to me (but not I to him).  He reassured me that attempts were being made to re-embody me.  After an indeterminate amount of time, I suddenly "awoke" to find myself back in Houston (wait a minute -- had I ever really left Houston?) with a new body.  The effusively apologetic DOD colonel said that the toxic radiation being emitted from STUD made retrieval of my old body impossible, and that it was simplest to just rewire me to new body with the appropriate transceivers so that the DOD could ask me what I wanted to do.  He didn't tell me where my new body had come from, and I decided (wisely, I think in retrospect) not to pry.

    Thoroughly confused, I decided to trot down the hall, to visit Yorick (my brain). Soon we were all together: Yorick, myself, and my new body (whom I named Fortinbras).  Again, I asked the question -- where was my mind?  It seemed there were four possibilities -- either it was (a) in the vat, (b) in my new body, (c) somewhere else (perhaps a combination of the two?)  Deeply depressed at not being able to solve this problem,  I  decided to end it all.   I reached over to the side of the vat and flipped off Yorick's output switch, assuming that if my brain could not communicate with Fortinbras, I would cease to be.   To my utter amazement, nothing happened.  A technician hurriedly explained that before they had operated on me, the Houston surgeons had made a computer duplicate of my brain, reproducing both its complete information processing structure and computational speed in a giant computer program.  Once I had left for Tulsa, the team had run the program side-by-side with Yorick.  The incoming signals from Hamlet (my old body, now lifeless in Oklahoma) were sent simultaneously to Yorick's transceivers and the computer's array of inputs.  Output from Yorick was beamed back to Hamlet, and checked against the simultaneous output from Hubert (the name the technicians gave to the program).  Over a period of days and weeks, the outputs from Yorick and Hubert were identical and synchronous, and (as I had just demonstrated) wholly indistinguishable to me.  So the switch I had thrown had not been and ON/OFF switch, but rather what is called an A/B switch; when it is up, I receive signals from Yorick; when it is down, I receive signals from Hubert.  Flipping back and forth between the two produces no perceptible effect on my consciousness.

    I can't begin to tell you how frustrating this all is -- Yorick's my brain, Fortinbras is my body, I am Hebert, and Hubert is...well what is Hubert?  A computer program, to be sure, but what else?  Do I now have two minds?  Or did I cease to be when Hamlet died, and what now exists is not the same me, but a new me (identical to the old me, but identical in the "exact replica" sense, and not the "one and the same individual" sense.) 


Where do you think my mind is?  Our format here will be the same as in our first project -- each member of the group is to become an expert in one of the philosophers discussed (Descartes, Ryle, Lycan, and Searle).  In Part I of your paper, you will explain the group's answer to the question "Where is Hebert's mind?"  In this part you should note how each philosopher would answer, and why your group has either rejected or accepted some, all, or none of that philosopher's view.   In Part II, explain in greater detail how the particular philosopher you focused on would answer the question "Where is Hebert's mind?"

     I will evaluate your answer based on how well you demonstrate your understanding of what each philosopher says.  For instance, Searle would clearly say that Hubert cannot be a duplicate of your mind -- but then what is (for Searle) Hubert?  How would Searle explain my inability to distinguish when I am receiving outputs from Hubert and when I am receiving outputs from Yorick?  Would he simply deny the possibility of such a scenario, or are there other responses he could make that are consistent with his position?