We all have an internal sense that we are a unique individual, we have a “first person perspective”. But is this merely an illusion created by the neuronal machinery of the brain? What does it mean to be a person? Is it possible to exist as a living human being but not to qualify as being a person in some sense? On the other hand is it possible to be a person but not a living human being? Can a chimpanzee or an advanced artificial intelligence be thought of as a person?
These questions may sound like pointless abstract speculations of the type that philosophers and theologians love to address. But in reality our understanding of what it means to be a person has profound consequences in the real world. Disagreements about what it means to be a person are at the root of many recent debates, in fields as diverse as medical ethics, law, psychology, social sciences, and even artificial intelligence and robotics.
I have become increasingly interested in exploring this issues and in trying to understand how the latest developments in neuroscience might affect how we understand ourselves and what it is to be human. Below is an essay which introduces some of the key ideas in the field:
Untangling personhood from consciousness, substance dualism and neurological reductionism
Some additional resources on this topic:
My hospital unit’s success in treating very ill premature babies and their brain injuries threw up difficult challenges about defining personhood
Searching for a distinction between things which are made, and those who are born
Dismantling one of the ‘great lies of our time’
I am aware of both the great power of scientific research and the challenges it leads us to