Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mind and Brain

Reuters is a pretty crappy and biased news source, all things considered. They don't know what a terrorist is, for example. Even so, there is no need to dispute this:
The [Schaivo autopsy] results supported clinical findings and the contention of her husband that Schiavo had been in a "persistent vegetative state" since collapsing 15 years earlier from a cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen, said Dr. Stephen Nelson, a forensic pathologist who assisted in the autopsy. "She would not have been able to form any cognitive thought," said Nelson, speaking with Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin at a news conference. "There was a massive loss of brain tissue." During a long and bitter family feud over Schiavo's fate, courts consistently ruled in support of Schiavo's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, that Schiavo would not have wanted to live in such a state. A persistent vegetative state meant she was unable to think, feel or interact with her environment.
Why? Because it in no way alters this:
“No details of this autopsy change the moral evaluation of what happened to Terri,” said [Fr.] Pavone. “Her physical injuries and disabilities never made her less of a person. No amount of brain injury ever justifies denying a person proper humane care. That includes food and water.”
Well now, we all know that Father Pavone is a right to life nutter, right? He's got no brainpower behind his point of view, right? He's just robotic divine command fruitcake, right? Here's a philosophy Ph.D. to explain some mind / body problems, and show that there's nothing unthinking about Pavone's position:
Are mind and brain identical? To answer the question one must know what one means by 'identity.' I mean strict numerical sameness... Don't confuse qualitative with numerical identity, and don't confuse identity with correlation. That's the beginning of wisdom, but only the beginning. I now introduce a principle known in the trade as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. Stated roughly, it says that if X and Y are numerically identical, then they share all properties. This is not only true, but necessarily true in the sense that it is impossible that X and Y differ property-wise if they are numerically identical. Given the truth of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, if my mind is identical to my brain, then my mind and my brain share all properties: everything true of the one is true of the other, and vice versa. But it is clear that they do not share all properties. The brain is a physical thing with a definite mass, weight, location, size, shape. One can inject dyes into various of its subregions. One can insert electrodes into it. One can remove and discard parts of it. I can literally give you a piece of my brain. But can I literally give you a piece of my mind? Does my mind have a weight in grams? Is it divisible? It is true that my mind is now wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. But it is either false or makes no sense to say that my brain is wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. It follows from these facts alone that my mind and my brain cannot be identical.
The fact that Terri Schaivo was injured, with almost no chance of recovery has little bearing on her identity as a human person. When she was healthy, no one knew what the contents of her mind were and the accident did nothing to change that. Nothing. The adamant view of the Reuters article - you can almost see them spiking it in the Schindlers face- does not even attempt to address the issues raised by the pro life side. This is, in fairness, more than likely a product of journalistic ignorance than malice. Before I go, I want to direct you to Eternity Road once again, where Francis has "exposed" another gaff in the thinking of our journalistic-hollywood bettors. This one reminded me of that Bloodhound Gang CD from a few years back. If you're Barbara Walters, however, you need to add the qualifier that the Hooray! is only for the exploitative use of said Boobies. Public view of function is verboten. If we allow that, next thing you know, the riff raff will start to think in terms of teleology.

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