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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Where Am I? a little more about philosophy and sport

Imagine that you are approached by scientists  to go on a secret mission to disarm a nuclear devise.  The mission is very risky to your brain, but not your body.  So the clever/ mad scientists have figured out a way of sending your body on the mission whilst leaving your brain behind in the laboratory.  You are a heroic sort of person, and agree to go on the mission.  Your brain is surgically removed from your body and placed in a vat, although the brain and body are still linked together via implants, transmitters and antennae.  Before you go to disarm the bomb your body sits down and stares at your brain in the vat.

Where are you?
Are you the brain in the vat?
Or the body in the chair?
Or wherever you think you are?

This story is the start of a thought experiment (an imaginative devise to test philosophical ideas) from Daniel Dennett (1978).  The full story becomes more complex as various twists and turns are introduced.  The whole time, Dennett is trying to work out where he really is.

Try reading the full account, either in his book ‘Brainstorms’, or on one of the many websites that reproduces it (such as:

Dennett’s experiment offers a particularly vivid example of one of the most persistent questions in philosophy: what does it mean to be human?  Are we primarily minds or bodies?  Where are we?

Why does this matter to those involved with sport pedagogy?  According to Margaret Talbot (2001, p. 40) it “is the only educational experience where the focus is on the body, physical activity and physical development”.  In other words, we who work in sport pedagogy need to think about our own understandings of the body because the body is the focus of our professional interest.  More importantly, as we will see shortly, we need to reflect on our assumptions about bodies because they will heavily influence the ways we approach the teaching and care of them.

So, where are you?


Gemma said...

When I imagined that scenario, I could see my brain and not my body but I guess that's cos you said everything was still attached and I was imagining still seeing through my eyes as per normal. I think if my body got destroyed though and they transplanted my brain, I would not be the same person anymore. We live off of people's reactions to our body's and this affects the way we behave and perceive. I also think there would be a grieving process and a lot of change that we may never fully be able to get used to. The question is, if our brain is still alive, does that mean we are still alive? I think a part of us would have died and we'd never be the same again.

Richard Bailey said...

Great point, Gemma! Thank you.

HAve you seen Futurama: many of the characters are heads in jars!

Gemma said...

Yeah but that's different again as they have the same head as they've always had. The face and the ability to express your personality through it is a major identifying factor of who you are. The real comparison would be the brains that feed on thoughts and try and take over the world.

I've been thinking more about this. So what if someone was brain dead and they said well the brain is no good but we can still use the body for work, and they were able to link one person's brains up to multiple bodies, so they could get loads of work done. The world would have a major issue with it I think, as even though many people see themselves as in their brain, we view others as their bodies.

Matthew said...

Very interesting thought, Gemma. Andy Sparkes has done a lot on this in relation to rugby players who have suffered spinal cord injury. He has proposed a model which identifies the stages of change as the corporeal body is re-defined and identified. Maybe helps with the sort of thoughts that you express. I'd have to says that I agree with you though, as I saw myself in a very similar way!