Memories without Survival: Personal Identity and the Ascending Reticular Activating System

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 48 (5):478-491 (2023)
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Lockean views of personal identity maintain that we are essentially persons who persist diachronically by virtue of being psychologically continuous with our former selves. In this article, I present a novel objection to this variant of psychological accounts, which is based on neurophysiological characteristics of the brain. While the mental states that constitute said psychological continuity reside in the cerebral hemispheres, so that for the former to persist only the upper brain must remain intact, being conscious additionally requires that a structure originating in the brainstem—the ascending reticular activating system—be functional. Hence, there can be situations in which even small brainstem lesions render individuals irreversibly comatose and thus forever preclude access to their mental states, while the neural correlates of the states themselves are retained. In these situations, Lockeans are forced to regard as fulfilled their criterion of diachronic persistence since psychological continuity, as they construe it, is not disrupted. Deeming an entity that is never again going to have any mental experiences to be a person, however, is an untenable position for a psychological account to adopt. In their current form, Lockean views of personal identity are therefore incompatible with human neurophysiology.



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Lukas J. Meier
Cambridge University

Citations of this work

“Death” and Its Discontents.Nicholas Sparks - 2023 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 48 (5):413-421.

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