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Academic Bulletin Freshman Tutorials - 2009-10 - 9 FT 9

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FT 09-P Me, My Self, and My Brain

Imagine you’ve created a machine that is able to make an exact physical copy of any object. However, the process of making the copy requires that the machine destroys the original. So, if you put your iPhone in and turn on the machine, the phone is instantly vaporized. But, in another compartment you find an exact duplicate of your phone. Such a machine would be quite interesting, but we might imagine that it has little practical value.
However, what happens if you step into the machine, and turn it on? You are instantly vaporized (and, let’s assume painlessly!), and out of the second compartment steps your exact duplicate. Who is this duplicate? Does he think he is you? If he does, then are you actually dead? What if the machine malfunctions and you are not vaporized: are you and your duplicate both “you”? If you then kill your duplicate, was there in fact a murder? What if he kills you?
In this class, we will take these types of thought experiments seriously, and use them to look carefully at the problem of self. We’ll try to locate our “I,” our sense of self, using a variety of sources, ranging from philosophical thought experiments, to stories about the lives of humans with brain damage, to science fiction writing and film.
Some of the texts we will read include Ramachandran & Blakeslee’s Phantoms in the Brain, selections from Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Chalmer’s The Conscious Mind and Brok’s Into the Silent Land. We will also watch several films in the course, including The Thirteenth Floor, The Prestige, and The Manchurian Candidate.

Schmitzer-Torbert, Neil
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