Dan Dennett, Where Am I?


1.       The characters                                        

         a.      Yorick: His brain

         b.      Hamlet: His body

         c.      Fortinbras: His new body

         d.      Hubert: The computer program that functionally mirrors his brain

2.      The story

         a.      Asked to go fetch a radioactive atomic warhead a mile underground Tulsa, Oklahoma

         b.      Its harmful radiation would affect the brain, but the not rest of his body

         c.      Leave his brain behind in a vat in Houston,Texas

         d.      Hook up radio links between his brain and his body

                   i.       “Like moving the brain over an inch in your skull and stretching the nerves”

                   ii.      “Making nerves indefinitely elastic by splicing radio links into them”

                   iii.     “Would not alter or impair the mind”


3.      Brain next to you in a vat argument against identifying you with your brain (against physicalism)

         a.      Does this suggest you are your body, or at least where your body is?

4.      Where am I?

         a.      Sitting in a chair looking at my brain in a vat next to me?

         b.      Suspended in fluid in a vat being stared at by my own eyes?

         c.      Dennett goes with the first

5.      Implication: Where a person is, is not necessarily where his/her brain is

6.      Physicalism seems incompatible with being separate from your brain

         a.      His belief that he is separate from his brain seems to conflict with physicalism’s view of mind: The idea that his thoughts were instantiated someplace in his brain

                   i.       Presumably he is located where ever his thoughts are

7.      Consider:

         a.      If a person is a mental substance, distinct from a physical substance, it makes no sense to ask where am I, because mental stuff does not have location (in space)

                   i.       Temporal properties are not a problem, but spacial ones are

         b.      Is a person only a mind or is a person both a mind and a body?


8.      Brain transplant argument against identifying you with your body

         a.      Suggests you are your brain (or at least you are where your brain is)

9.      Idea that you are wherever your body is, is easily shown false by brain transplant experiments

10.    Obama brain transplant example

         a.      Imagine putting your brain in President Obama’s body and taking Obama’s brain and putting it in your body.

         b.      Would you be sitting in the White House or here in this class room? Where would Obama be?

         c.      Seems like you’d be sitting in White House

         d.      If we asked the person in the White House what he had for breakfast, who his parents were, where he went to school, what would he say?

11.    Memories seem crucial to who you are

12.    One implication: You can be separated from your body

         a.      Much less clear you can be separated from your brain

         b.      Though in the case of sitting in a chair looking down at your brain in a vat, it seems you are


13.    Punishment argument against identifying you with your brain

         a.      Locking up your brain and letting your body go free does not punish you

                   i.       Therefore you are not your brain

         b.      Your brain would be in prison, but you’d be on the beaches of Mexico drinking Pina Coladas

         c.      Seems clear they would not have successfully punished you or kept you in prison.


14.    Consider: You are where ever your senses are?

         a.      But what if your senses are split: Hear what is happening one place and see another place?


15.    Scattered individual?

         a.      In sitting next to your brain in a vat case, perhaps the person is fragmented

         b.      You are both inside the vat and outside it

         c.      Or part of me is there and part not?

16.    Dennett: No, I (not part or most of me) was descending into the earth in search of the atomic warhead (see Story, Part II)


17.    The story continued

18.    He’s going down underneath Tulsa, Oklahoma to get the warhead and he goes deaf and then blind and can’t talk or move his body

19.    The transceivers have broken

         a.      He’s lost all contact with that body

20.    Now he’s in Houston, where his brain is


21.    Does this provide an argument for immateriality of the soul based on physical principles/premises?

         a.      When radio signals between Houston and Tulsa stopped, he changed locations


22.    The story continued

23.    Technical support team sedated him in to dreamless sleep

         a.      Awoke to music piped into his brain w/o ears and the voice of the project director saying they were working to re-embody him

24.    Awoke with a new body

         a.      Leaves one’s person intact

         b.      One’s personality is largely preserved

                   i.       (More so than with sex change operations)

                   ii.      So we are not our bodies

                   iii.     But he is now located where his new body is located

25.    Went back to visit his brain (Yorik) in Houston

         a.      He flicked off the output transmitter

         b.      Nothing happened, all the senses continued to function as normal

         c.      How could it be?

26.    From the beginning they had constructed a computer duplicate of his brain

         a.      Reproducing complete information processing structure and computational speed of his brain in a giant computer program

         b.      Run this computer system and Yorick side by side

                   i.       Incoming signals from Hamlet (his body) sent to both Yorick and the inputs on this computer

                   ii.      Outputs from Yorick go back to Hamlet (his body) but recorded and checked against the simultaneous outputs of the computer program (Hubert)

                   iii.     Outputs were identical

                   iv.     The computer program had copied brain’s functional structure

27.    Flipped the master switch so Hubert (the computer) was in on-line control of his body (Fortinbras, not Hamlet--Hamlet was left underground and disintegrated)

28.    Questions

         a.      The brain is just a computer program?

                   i.       Could computers have consciousness (if hooked up to a body?)

         b.      So one is not identical with the physical brain that instantiates one’s thoughts/memories/personality?

         c.      Functionalism: Anything that functions the same (takes given input and puts out the same outputs) is the same thing, no matter out of what it is physically constructed

                   i.       The matter is not important, but its function is

29.    He now had a spare brain

         a.      Could flip back and forth between Yorick and Hubert and his consciousness would not notice

         b.      Could this program then insure his immortality?


30.    Would there be two Dennetts if either Yorick or Hubert where hooked up to a new body?

         a.      Which would be the true Dennett, if either?

         b.      Dennett believes as long as one brain/body or computer program/body survived he’d survive

                   i.       Doesn’t want both to survive

                            (1)    Compete for his wife’s affection!

31.    The two could lead different lives

         a.      One could stay at work and earn a salary

         b.      Other could go out and have fun

         c.      As soon as the experiences and memories would differ, they would be different people

Study questions, Dan Dennett, Where Am I?

1.         Describe Dennett’s story where his body and brain and himself all get separated.

2.         How does this story cause trouble for physicalism’s view of the person (that you are identical with your brain).

3.         Explain how brain transplants undermine the idea that you are wherever your body is.

4.         How does Dennett use the idea of putting a convicted criminal’s brain in prison (and letting his body go free) to show that you are not identical with your brain