Sunday, 26 January 2014

A thought experiment on ‘personal identity'

To understand this thought experiment it is important to accept the premise (temporarily, if you disagree with it) that conscious experience is solely the outcome of activity of the brain.  There is nothing in addition to this, such as a soul or spirit (though of course much of conscious experience is derived from sensory input from the external world).  The human brain and nervous system are structured in such a way as to make possible this activity.  When the brain cannot engage in this activity we are no longer conscious.  Therefore when we die there is eternal oblivion.
Now imagine that right now you are participating in a laboratory experiment in which a scientist has wired your brain up to a machine that is precisely equivalent to your brain (maybe another physiological brain or maybe a computer) and this machine is detecting and replicating exactly all the activity of your brain.  
Since we have assumed that conscious experience is the outcome of activity of the brain and nothing in addition, then we can reasonably assume that the machine is experiencing consciousness and that its conscious experiences must be exactly the same as yours (what it sees, hears, feels, thinks, remembers, etc.).
Now ask yourself these questions:
Am I --- (your name) or am I the machine?
Can the scientist or anyone else help me answer this question?
When the scientist announces that the machine is to be turned off, do I want this to happen?
When the scientist announces that the machine has been turned off, what will be my reaction, if any?
All answers and discussion are welcome, either in the ‘Comments’ section below or direct to me by email.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Tyranny of the Professions

We are all indebted to professionals.  The ‘professionals’ that I have especially in mind are those people who work in political, educational, healthcare, welfare, legal and other services.  Through their knowledge, expertise and commitment, they help us when we are in need, they make our lives easier, safer and more fulfilling, and they smooth the way forward for us to achieve our potentials and our goals in life.  The same may be said for managerial and administrative staff in private organisations such as financial and commercial enterprises.

But could it not also be this? That rather than assist us they can too often be a hindrance?  That without their intervention we can sometimes make a better job of things by ourselves?  That they may even at times undermine our own ability and confidence to determine what is in our best interests and carry out what is required (and if necessary learn how to)?  That some may be no more ‘experts’ in what they do than non-professionals or people simply possessed of reasonable intelligence and common sense?  Is it possible that too often their own needs take precedence over those of the people who are supposed to be benefitting from their attention?  And could it not be that there are just too many of them?

Is it reasonable to speak of a modern ‘tyranny’, one that is having a malign effect on our society, and which we may call ‘the tyranny of the professionals’?  Indeed, my current pipedream is to have a book published entitled The Tyranny of the Professions.  Another apposite title would be Disabling Professions, but a book of that name already exists, authored by Ivan Illich and others (London: Marion Bowers, 1977; accessible online at:

I seriously invite anyone who feels an immediate and strong affinity to this title to consider joining me in my enterprise.