WHO IS JULIA?
Who Is Julia?
As you can well imagine, philosophers have become especially fascinated by Julia's case. A number of them think Julia's case shows that a person cannot be identified with his or her body, that personal identity is not bodily identity, and that her case is just a fuller and more complete example of the phenomenon each of us has experienced early in the morning upon waking before we have opened our eyes to face the day. Then most of us know who we are before looking at our bodies or checking to see if it's our body that is there.
Of course, Julia has part of her own body; she has her brain. And if memories, beliefs, desires and the like are largely dependent on brain states (whether or not they are identical with them), it is not so surprising to find that post-operative Julia remembers things that pre-operative Julia did and that post-operative Julia is, with respect to Julia's psychological characteristics and personality generally, like pre-operative Julia, in spite of her physical appearance and fingerprints. As a result, these same philosophers believe that it is not just having pre-operative Julia's brain that incline them to take post-operative Julia as Julia rather than Mary Frances, but what the brain, as it were, brings in its wake, and for these philosophers what's crucial is the information and memories and psychological attiutudes and beliefs that Julia's brain contains.
Indeed this episode in late twentieth century medicine has helped to revive the John Locke Society which had fallen on hard times in the late 80's since it was Locke who thought that personal identity consisted in links of memory or as he might put it, "our ability to extend our consciousness into the past." Julia's case seemed to vindicate Locke and membership in the John Locke Society has increased ten-fold since Julia appeared at her press conference and helps to explain why John Locke T-shirts are so popular.
There are others, however, who believe that John Locke could not be right. He was, after all English and a rather plodding and methodical thinker, if much of a "thinker" at all, and they find it odd that he should be given credit for much of anything. The David Hume Society has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, sending out copies of relevant passages from Hume's work wherein Hume argues that memory cannot be the source of personal identity.
To complicate matters a bit further, rumor has it that Dr. John Matthews has been working all these years on a new process and that he is about to perform another operation on Julia. He too is apparently living somewhere in and around Seattle. Did I mention that Julia moved to Seattle after her trial? Some say that Dr. Matthews is carrying out his research on the grounds of Microsoft Corporation and that his most recent research is being funded by none other than Bill Gates.
Dr. Matthews apparently has developed a technique of brain rejuvenation or "brain revitalization," as he calls it. It is a technique which allows him to replace a person's brain with an exact duplicate, neuron by neuron, blood vessel by blood vessel, artery by artery.
What's critical is Dr. Matthews' discovery of a method of preserving all the information, memories and psychological attitudes and beliefs that a person had before the "rejuvenation" Julia has developed weakening of the arteries and she fears a stroke like that which killed Mary Frances. The brain "rejuvenation" operation, rumor has it, is scheduled to take place the first weekend in August somewhere in Seattle. Will the new person be Julia? What do you think? If information and psychology are what's crucial in determining personal identity, what difference should it make if this or that artery os not the same sartery or whether pre-operative Julia has the same specific neurons as post-operative Julia. All that should matter is the information and the patternings and the memories, no? And post-operative Julia will have all of THAT, all of the information and memories that pre-operative Julia happened to have. And if memory is the key to personal identity, Julia with the "rejuvenated" brain, should be Julia, no?
Well, that's what many members of the John Locke Society believe, although there is some disagreement among the membership. Indeed one of the members of the Society offered the following hypothetical scenario to illustrate his conviction that Julia would survive this new operation that the brilliant Dr. Matthews was about to perform. Imagine that Dr. Matthews has perfected a technique to "extract" the information (memories and psychological attitudes) from a person's brain and to store it for a couple of weeks and then be able to put it into someone else's nervous system whose brain had been "wiped clean," as it were, of all its mental content, of its information. "Wouldn't we agree," this member of the Locke Society said, folding his arms across his chest and looking rather pleased with himself, "that this person was the same person whose information had been 'extracted' and 're-introduced' into the person with the 'clean' brain?" In any event many eagerly await the outcome of this latest medical moment in the annals of neurological science.
Imagine that you have been corresponding secretly with Dr. Matthews and encouraging him to perform a second operation making use of Julia's "old" brain. Waste not, want not. Matthews is now hoping (apparently) to have a fresh body for Julia's old brain and he plans to transplant Julia's old brain in this new body after he has removed it from her present body and performed the transplant of the duplicate.
So sometime after this weekend there will be two survivors, call them, "Julia-A" and "Julia-B." Both will remember sailing on Puget Sound last weekend - Julia went sailing on Sunday - and both will remember having saved Mary Frances' daughter Sarah in the streets of San Francisco.
Both Julia-A and Julia-B will have Julia's psychological characteristics, but one could have a stroke any day after this weekend and die; whereas the other is much less likely to have a stroke and is likely to enjoy many more evenings on Puget Sound in the waning light of a setting Pacific sun. But before that happens and during the period that both Julia-A and Julia-B persist, will they both be Julia? Or only one of them? Which one?
Imagine that it is mid-August. Julia-A has received her "rejuvenated" brain and Julia-B has the old brain. Imagine that they both wake up but have not yet opened their eyes to examine their bodies. How is Julia-A to know that she has the original brain and is who she seems to be or whether she has a rejuvenated brain and with a new set or neurons, vessels and arteries? Indeed if Dr. Matthews keeps careless records or neglects to tell Julia-A and Julia-B who received which brain, the old brain or a rejuvenated brain, neither will feel any more or less Julia, no?
But what's the big idea here? That both Julia-A and Julia-B are Julia? How can one and the same person be in two different places at the same time?. What do you think? It is Thursday, July the 22nd. By early August there will be two survivors of Dr. Matthews' operation. Which one will be Julia? Both? Neither?
If you have trouble imagining what it might be like to be Julia-A and Julia-B or trouble getting your mind around this possibility, imagine the folowing:
Imagine that in the early stages of his brain transplant research Dr. Matthews was not yet able to remove an entire brain from any one person's body, but developed a technique to remove one hemisphere at a time. Imagine, too, that it has been established that a person not only can survive with one hemisphere of their brain intact but that such a person has all the memories and psychological attitudes and beliefs of the person with both hemispheres. Imagine that an early version of brain transplantation involved the transplanting of a person's left hemisphere into the body of another person and of that same person's right hemisphere into the body of some third person. Imagine that instead o transplanting Julia's brain into Mary Frances Beaudine's body, Dr. Matthews had transplanted Julia's left hemisphere into Mary Frances Beaudine's body and Julia's right brain into, say, the body of Jackie Collins. Both beings survive and both remember events that took place in Julia's life, i.e., both have Julia's memories and Julia's psychological attitudes. Which of the following possibilities are true, do you think?
(1) Julia is one and the same person as Mary but not Jackie.
(2) Julia is one and same person as Jackie but not Mary.
(3) Julia is one and the same person as Mary and Jackie.
(4) Julia is neither one and the same person as either Mary or Jackie.
(5) There is some other possibility or set of possibilities.
Send comments to: Andreas Teuberr
Last Modified: 9/16/04
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College