Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2008
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A

Introduction to Philosophy

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

"Brain Transplantattion"

The following bizarre case took place in San Francisco some time ago as many of you know.

You may also recognize the case if you have had a chance to glance the dialogue by John Perry, "A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality," pp. 387-406 in Reason & Responsibility, since the case is mentioned there in a footnote.

Although there was considerable coverage of the incident at the time, in both the newspapers and on TV, many of you were quite young or not yet born and do not recall the case or perhaps never heard of it.

In any event, Julia North was run over by a San Francisco trolley, although she is now alive and well and living in Seattle. Or is she? (See below) At the time Julia saw a child wander onto the tracks just as a trolley was bearing down. She dashed in front of it and managed to push the child (ever so gently) out of the path of the on-coming trolley just before it crashed into her and crushed her.

The child's mother, Mary Frances Beaudine, had a massive stroke as she watched these events unfold, collapsing at the very moment that the trolley hit and crushed Julia. An ambulance took both women to the hospital where a Dr. Matthews, a brilliant neurosurgeon, was in residence.

Some of you may recall that Dr. John Matthews had perfected a surgical technique for performing what he called a "body transplant" but others called "brain transplantation." He surgically removed Julia's brain (which was healthy) from Julia's head and placed it in Mary Frances' body, being ever so careful to splice the nerves at the brain stem, using the highly sophisticated techniques he had perfected.

Brain Transplant

The operation was one of the longer operations performed in the twentieth century, lasting a little over seventeen days. Dr. Matthews would catch some sleep every ten hours at which time his equally brilliant assistant would take over and continue the meticulous nerve splicing process.

The operation was - as some of you may recall or as some of you know from your parents or older siblings - a success.

Julia's brain survived in Mary's body.

And although the complete recovery process took a little more than a year, a press conference was held at the hospital one year to the day after Julia and Mary were admitted. Dr. Matthews and his assistant stood proudly by. Then as if the survival of Julia's brain in Mary's body (call this being (entity) "Julia/Mary" or "J/M") was not enough, a most bizarre incident occurred.

Nearly everyone at the press conference took the survivor of this horrible accident and subsequent operation to be Julia, except (unfortunately) Mary Frances' husband, Jack, who came to the press conference and kept interrupting the proceedings by waving to Julia and saying "Hi, Mary. It's great to have you back," occasionally picking up his and Mary's daughter, Sarah, the child whom Julia North's heroic efforts had saved, hauling Sarah onto his shoulders and saying, "Mary! Hey there, Mary! Say 'hello' to Sarah."

When the press conference was over Jack tried to kiss "J/M," a gesture "J/M" found somewhat distasteful, although she did admit to friends later, that she understood how Jack might be confused since J/M looks just like Mary Frances since "J/M" (after all) has Mary's body.

During the next few weeks Mary's husband Jack continued to pursue, some would say "hound," J/M.

After J/M was released from the hospital, Jack continued to "follow" J/M around San Francisco. J/M took a small apartment near the Golden Gate Bridge, telling California police later - after she was arrested - that she could see Jack from her second floor window standing in the shadow of the small arbor of trees across the street, sometimes. she later described in court, "for hours on end."

I mention the court case because many of you have at least read about it and it would be remiss of me to leave it out.

J/M, as you know, apparently reached a breaking point, saying at the trial that she was "tired of having this guy whom I did not know follow me around the city and call me to tell me how our daughter was doing, a daughter I never had and did not know. This guy was driving me crazy and so I shot him."

As you recall J/M was promptly arrested and tried for the murder of Jack Beaudine. One of the first decisions, however, facing the court was to determine who Jack's killer was.

The gun that was recovered at the scene of the crime had Mary Frances Beaudine's fingerprints "all over it," as Detective Lotscheider of the San Fancisco police testified at trial and a videotape recovered at an automatic cash withdrawal machine two blocks from the crime scene unmistakably showed Mary Frances Beaudine making a large cash withdrawal fifteen minutes before the murder.

So, too, an old friend of the Beaudine's, the actor Peter Coyote, saw, or so he testified at the trial, Mary Beaudine run from the "scene of the crime" just one minute after Jack was shot and killed, the murder weapon still in her hand.

Who murdered Jack Beaudine? Was it Julia who admitted at the trial that she had become increasingly frustrated by Jack's "hounding" of her for days and weeks on end? Or was it Mary Frances Beaudine, whose fingerprints were, as Detective Lotscheider said at trial, "all over this crime?"

This case went all the way to the California Supreme Courtand the court's decision was almost as celebrated as Dr. Matthews' operation that triggered this bizarre series of events. The Supreme Court's decision in this case is reported by Dave Cohen in John Perry, "A Dialogue" on the third night of that dialogue.

But quite apart from the Supreme Court's actual decision, what do you think?

Even if you knew or remembered how the Court decided, courts do not always get it right.

What's your answer? Who murdered Jack Beaudine? Mary or Julia?

Clearly you and the Court face a preliminary question: who survived the operation? Indeed once this question is answered you probably have your answer to the question: who killed Jack?

So who survived the operation? Julia or Mary?

The question would appear to involve some hard thinking about a topic you may remember came up in a class you are taking with a Professor Teuber at Brandeis in the Fall of 2008.

Some of the reading for the course touches upon this very issue.

Already mentioned is John Perry's, "Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality," pp. 368-88, in Reason & Responsibility, a text that you have come to love and cherish and keep by your bed-side and open now and then just to do a little "study" of some of the great problems of philosophy. Many of the pages of your copy of the text have become frayed because of all of the reading you have been doing, turning pages back and forth, forth and back in an effort to understand what these philosophers are getting at. Some pages have even fallen out of the book and you have had to scotch-tape them back in because you have been turning those pages back and forth so many, many times. In addition to Perry's "Dialogue" there are short essays or excerpts by John Locke: "The Prince and the Cobbler" and Thomas Reid's reply to Locke, "Of Identity and Locke's Account," and David Hume's "The Self" in Reason & Responsibility, pp. 365-73. as well as essays by Derek Parfit , "Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons" and Dan Dennett , "Where Am I?" also in Reason & Responsibility, pp. 373-86.

Indeed, the strange case of Julia North and Jack's murder seems to touch upon a problem in philosophy that philosophers have called, the problem of the self or the problem of personal identity.

From what little you can recall from class discussions so far, it would help to answer the Court's question ("Who Killed Jack?") if you had a clearer idea of the nature of persons and personal identity over time.

This (somewhat general problem) might, in turn, be approached from several different directions. Armed with this insight, you notice that there are various suggestions put forward by the participants in John Perry's dialogue.

Sam suggests, for example, that whether a person survives an operation of the sort performed by Dr. Matthews will depend on whether that person's soul survives. Sam's suggestion appears to be that a person at one point in time is one and the same a person at a later time if and only if the person at one time has the same soul as the person at a later time.

Does this help? Does this help to solve the question before the Court or "tell" you who survived the operation? What do you think?

Brain Transplant2

Gretchen in the dialogue offers another proposal. She seems to believe that whether a person survives depends on whether the "before" and "after" persons have the same body. Sam objects to Gretchen's proposal. What's your view?

A third theory of the self emerges in the dialogue suggesting that personal identity is best understood in the light of some theory of psychological continuity. Indeed Sam Miller and Dave Cohen argue that psychological continuity theories help to bring home why personal identity matters to us to as well as to explain the fact that we usually only need to examine the contents of our own minds to have a reasonable sense of our own identities. What do you think?

Who killed Jack? What "theory" of personal identity best explains, best fits, your conclusion?


[PHIL 1A] [Syllabus] [Handouts] [Home] [Bio] [CV] [PHIL DEPT.] [E-MAIL]

Send comments to: Andreas Teuber
Last Modified: 08/26/08
Instructor's Toolkit
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College