There is a philosophy
called Open Individualism
which claims that there exists only one person who is everyone (1)
. However, this is not what we experience everyday, and so we accept that we are different people.
But experience can be deceiving. We know the Earth is moving around the sun and yet it is experienced by us as standing still.
Language can be deceiving. We use the term “person
” and “human being
” as if they are the same thing. They are not, just like music
and tape is not the same thing because we have the technology to put the same music onto many tapes.
I am going to use two thought experiments
to show how it is possible that one person can be two different human beings
at the same time, or even, all human beings at the same time.Split Brain
Let’s begin with a real-life medical case, where split brain (2)
operations were done on patients to alleviate their epileptic seizures. This is done by cutting the nerve fibres that connect the two hemispheres in the patient’s brain. What would you experience as the patient when you wake up with a split brain
? (Rather than recounting an actual interview with a patient, I am going to give an oversimplified example of what can happen.)
sits in front of you, and asks “think of a random number, and write it down”. You write down 42. Then something strange happens. Your left arm grabs the pen from your right arm, and writes down 24. It's as if your left arm has a mind of its own. Regardless of how many times the experiment is repeated, you write down two numbers.
What is happening here? Your left brain and the right brain no longer communicate
with each other. There are now two brains independently controlling the same body, unaware of what each other is thinking. It’s like being a conjoined twin
, except you both share the same skull, you have half the brain tissue of a normal human being
, and you share common experiences up to the moment you split.
Now, imagine that we have all the technology
available to us. Thought experiment
#1. The neurosurgeon transplants
your left hemisphere to a brain-dead body, and leaves the right hemisphere in your original body. You wake up, terrified that you are in a woman’s body. You argue with the imposter
who is in your original body. You remember writing 42, and the imposter remembers writing 24. You believe that you are the original, and the other is an imposter. But the imposter believes what you believe. How many persons are having this argument? One or two?
Is it easier, if I said that the neurosurgeons put you, the left hemisphere back into your original body and reconnected you to your other half-brain? You would suddenly remember
being the man and the woman arguing with each other. It’s like being suddenly reminded of some incident you had completely forgotten. But now, there is no dispute, that you were, and are one person.
What if I connected my left brain with your right brain, and vice versa? I would have your memories
and you would have mine. Who am I
? What is my name? What if we connected everyone’s brain together? We would be one person, looking back to today and think that planet Earth was suffering from something like Multiple Personality Disorder
From this experiment, we can see that communication
speed between two brains or half-brains determine whether the two experience being the one person
. If the communication between the two brains are as fast as the communication inside each brain, then the two brains will experience being the one person (3)
However, what leads us to conclude whether we are one person is not just communication. It’s also survival
. If my brain was split but remained in one body, I would need to behave as one person if I want to survive. I would need both brains to work together even if they need to speak out loud to communicate their thoughts. If you can accept that one person can be two brains in one body, then you are close to accepting that one person can be two brains each having their own body. In other words, one person can be two human beings.Teledream
To bring us closer, let’s use thought experiment
#2. There is a device
, called a Teledream. It works like a television
, except you get to experience each character in the movie
in 1st person. It’s like a dream
. You forget that you are the person lying in bed dreaming. You believe that you are the character in the dream. You have memories
who might only exist
in your dream. When the movie ends, it replays but this time you experience
another character in the movie. The movie keeps replaying until you experience every character in the movie, from the hero to the villain, without you realising during the movie that you are both the hero and the villain. When you are the hero, you don’t remember that you just played the villain, so you naturally believe that you are the hero, and the villain is not you (or have not been or will not be you).
What if we are in such a movie right now, where we are all characters being experienced by the same person? Is it really that hard to believe?Conclusion
We can avoid the argument of how many persons there are, if we accept that there is only one person who is everyone, even though the one person has a split experience due to a lack of communication
or common purpose
1. ^ Kolak, Daniel (2005). I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics. Springer. ISBN 1402029993.
2. The behaviour observed from split brain patients are discussed in several sources, such as Split-Brain Behaviour (brynmawr.edu paper)
, Split Brain Consciousness (macalester.edu paper)
, Split brain behavioural experiments (YouTube documentary)
and Alien Hand Syndrome (Wikipedia article)
3. World Wide Mind (article)
discusses the effects of varying the communication speed and density of information exchange between the two hemispheres of the brain.