Monday, 21 March 2011
I want to call your attention to this blog generally, though, for a few interrelated reasons. First, Ily's voice is one little heard in our culture, and I think wholeheartedly that we should use the blogosphere for a way of sounding the depth (and breadth, but that metaphor doesn't work so well) of human experience and identity. This technology is unique in it's ability to publish and disseminate minority positions of all sorts. Second, Ily's insights into (a)sexuality and other relational stuff is helpful, I think, to anyone at all in understanding human experience. One of the biggest advantages of Ily's thinking is her ability to a phenomenon (say, romantic attraction) and pull it apart and show that it is actually composed of parts, and that these parts can occur on their own. (It's very helpful to realize that feeling strong affiliation and a level of physical comfort with someone of the opposite sex does not mean that you're romantically attracted to the person, for instance.)
Friday, 18 March 2011
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Friday, 4 March 2011
For most of us, this seems a fairly simple question because we have something to which we can refer. I can point toward my body and say, "This is my body." This is not a definition (description) but an indication. What happens, however, when we rely entirely on indication for our definitions is that we don't actually have a useful definition. Trying to determine what exactly defines your body as yours is a difficult question. (It might seem to be a useless question, too, if it weren't the case that a number of controversial ethico-medico-legal issues--abortions, amputations, and separation surgeries--are directly concerned with what is whose body. I'm not going to trace these particular problems out in this post, but if you're concerned that this is all fruitless philosophizing, I'd think again.) So I'm going to take a crack at it.
One of the positions I think I detected among the commenters on Leah's blog (see the introduction to this series for a summary) holds that what something (an organ, say) is part of your body because it is 1) attached with living tissue and 2) composed of living, organic cells. So my hand is part of me because it is attached and organic. If my hand were chopped off, it would no longer be part of me. If it were replaced with a prosthetic, that prosthetic would not be part of me because it is not organic. No matter how strenously I insisted that it was part of me, I would be mistaken.
I would suggest that there are people who would wish to add that those cells must be genetically identical (or at least genetically similar) to those that make up most of your body. I do not want to suggest that the commenters I mentioned have this requirement, but I imagine that someone does. After all, there are parasitic animals that fuse themselves onto their hosts (or live deep within their hosts) such that there is a band of continuous living tissue extending from one organism to another. Genetic markers could be a way of differentiating one body from the next.
Either way, I'm going to suggest that this is the wrong way of finding the edges of your body. Once again, I am not looking so much to prove through syllogism as provide instances in which this sort of definition seems entirely unhelpful.
1. Organ and tissue donation
I cannot systematically prove that a transplanted heart becomes part of the new owner in some metaphysical sense. What I will suggest is that we have a number of reasons for wanting to think so, primary among them practical and legal concerns. I will spend more time discussing this issue in part 3, but let's for the moment identify a few traits: the new organ was formerly part of another person (or their body, at any rate), and most likely carries a quite different genetic signature. If we say that a new heart is part of the person who received it, we must conclude that at the very least the genes do not determine what is or is not part of your body. I suppose you might want to argue that the transplanted heart isn't really part of your body, in which case my next example might prove harder to refute.
No, I don't mean the Greek mythological monster. I refer to tetregametic chimerism, in which a person has two genetic lineages. Chimerae are people (or animals) who either developed from an egg fertilized by two sperm or from two non-identical zygotes which fused into one. This means that some of their cells have one genetic code and some of their cells have another. This could result in pigmentation or hair-growth unevenness or in intersexed anatomy, but it may very well go undetected. (Which is to say, you could be a chimera and not know it.)
I hope you can see what I'm driving at. This is one body, satisfying the connected living tissue requirements, that contains multiple genetic markers. Unless you want to claim that a chimeric person has two blended bodies, genetic material cannot constitute a useful distinction.
If you really want to push it and say that at least the cells are related on the level of siblings, I'll observe that researchers have created chimerae lab rats from two non-related zygotes... and other chimerae from zygotes of different species.
3. Conjoined Twins and Parasitic Twins
(Some people may not be surprised to see this example come up. I assure you that it will appear again in this series.)
The connected living tissue requirement is a problem when there are people (genetically identical) who are connected with living tissue. Consider Violet and Daisy Hilton (right), connected at the base of the spine. At their point of connection it would be exceptionally difficult to determine which tissue was Violet's and which tissue was Daisy's. Furthermore, since they (along with most if not all conjoined twins) have connected circulatory systems, it would be impossible to say whose blood is whose. We might want to make some kind of argument based on whose "side" the blood is on, but ths is a problem (and here's the real kicker) if we're defining bodies based on connected living tissue because under this definition Violet and Daisy Hilton have one body. You could trace a path of continuous connected living tissue from the centre of Violet's brain through to Daisy's brain. Under this definition, there is no way to distinguish Daisy's body from Violet's.
I think it might be worth distinguishing the instance of conjoined twins from supernumary limbs or digits. An extra thumb or arm does constitute (I would suggest) part of your body. Additional pieces don't fall outside this category. This is interesting because parasitic twins are like supernumary organs in some respects and are like conjoined twins in others (origin, say). Parasitic twins do not have brains or consciousnesses, so do they count as separate bodies? However, we are here moving into a new way of defining body or self, and so I shall rest with the observation that it seems that connected, genetically identical, living tissue is at the very least not sufficient in defining where your body ends. I will return to this topic again in the part 3.
Finally, I will point out an interesting piece of etymology that will help segue into the next post. Organic, according to the Oxford English Dictionary On-Line, can mean a number of things. The entry most representative of common use seems to be the following:
Having organs, or an organized physical structure; of, relating to, or derivedHowever, there are other meanings, some of which are obsolete. One of these offers a second way of thinking about what does or does not constitute part of your body (the one advocated in some form or another by both dbp and Leah):
from a living organism or organisms; having the characteristics of a living
Serving as an instrument or means to an end; instrumental. Obs. (OED)
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Because I am writing this in response to a previous conversation, I will take a few paragraphs to summarize what that conversation was. If this summary does not interest you, please skip down to the first bold sentence.
On a post entitled Time For a Few Facts, concerning Catholic theology of the Eucharist, a commenter pseudonymed dbp discussed detached limbs. He suggested that if you were to remove your knee, it would still be part of you but would, over time, become less and less identified with you until it was eventually not part of you at all, due among other things to cell death and physical distance. He then suggested that a prosthetic, upon integrating functionally with your body (he used the term "harmony"), would become part of you by some conceptual standard. This argument was an analogy and/or example in a discussion of essences, existences, and accidents, but it was taken up in its own right by subsequent commenters. (dbp: If you are reading this and identify as female, please let me know and I will adjust all pronouns accordingly.) Matt DeStefano responded with the claim that a prosthetic is "yours" in the sense of property, not part; only organic tissue connection can make something part of you. In my opinion, DeStefano made the strategic error of suggesting he knows more about identity and prosthetics than people who have prosthetics. He suggested that functionality does not create identification, and further tied this in with the conversation on the Eucharist. I hope to address these issues over the course of this series. dbp then responded with the claim that there are more ways to identify than the organic/genetic.
Because Leah loves transhumanism, she took this discussion as an opportunity to start a new post entitled "Sorry, did someone say 'Transhumanism?'" In this post she argues that prosthetics are part of a person in the same way organic parts are. She sets this up as coming from her quasi-dualism; what is important to note is that Leah seems to be operating under the assumption that those limbs or organs which serve our will, unmediated by anything more than synapses (carried over either nerve cells or circuitry), are part of us in any real sense.
dbp appears again in the comments with a theological reference I do not wish to explore here and now. March Hare offers a distinction between a prosthetic me and a real me, the latter being his preference, seemingly organic in structure, and according to him non-existent. I am struggling to understand his claim, but it seems to me a reformulation of what DeStefano said in the previous post's comments. DeStefano does appear, but not on this topic. As you could also see if you look at those comments, I enter the conversation and suggest that I will write a series on the delineation of self.
I will take a moment to outline my intent and methodology. I do not intend to map out the markers between me and not-me. This is not only because I don't claim to be an expert but also because I don't think there are definitive boundaries. My intention is not to offer a comprehensive theory of self. It is instead my goal to destabilize existing theories. If, by the end of this series, you (my reader) think of the self as having fuzzier edges than you'd previously imagined, I will consider myself successful. I will not be doing theology here. What I will be doing is offering a number of examples, mostly real-world, which challenge our preconceived notions of the boundaries of self. Over the course of the posts you will, if all goes well, be able to see the everyday and systemic applications of this question, but in the meantime I hope you will be able to enjoy it as an intellectual exercise. If you are interested in doing some prior reading, I would suggest Alice Domurat Dreger's One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal and Judith Butler's Precarious Life, in particular the chapter entitled, "Violence, Mourning, Politics." My ideas will also be indebted to Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, which I have lots of big problems with.
Without any more ado, here is an index of my forthcoming posts. The links will go live as I write the corresponding posts.
- The Problem of the Organic Body; or, What is our body? part 1
- The Problem of the Obedient Body; or, What is our body? part 2
- The Problem of the Augmented Body; or, What is our body? part 3
- The Problem of the Compartmentalized Person; or, What is our mind? part 1
- The Problem of the Unknown Self; or, What is our mind? part 2
- The Problem of the Interrelational Person; or, What is our identity? part 1
- The Problem of the Located Person; or, What is our identity? part 2
- Parting Thoughts on the Frontiers of Self
I will start with the body because that was the crux of the conversation from which this series has come. The Problem of the Organic Body will look at why we can't simply assume that what is part of us is determined by physically attached, genetically identical, living tissue (ie. cells). The Problem of the Obedient Body will consider ways in which things we consider parts of ourselves are not especially obedient to our will; this will address concerns of functionality, as will the third post, The Problem of the Augmented Body, which will look at prosthetics and some other transhumanist issues. From here I will address the "mind" in The Problem of the Compartmentalized Person, in which I will think of about the will, consciousness, and desire. If so far this has seemed too dualist for you, then you might be happier with the remaining posts. The Problem of the Interrelational Person will deal with people in the social world, especially regarding friendships. The Problem of the Located Person will mark a departure away from real life or historical examples and into the rich thought experiments of speculative fiction; I will ask whether we can imagine a person being in two places at once, and attempting to draw conclusions from our success or failure. Finally, I shall review the ground we have covered and indicate some loose ends and tangents in my Final Thoughts on the Frontiers of Self.
This has proven to be a long introduction, for which I apologize. I cannot guarantee that any of the posts in the series will be short, either. I will part with final caveats: I am not a specialist in disability theory, body theory, gender studies, atypical anatomy, medicine, or psychology. Take everything I say with a grain of salt. My credentials come only from having thought a lot about this. Remember that I am asking questions and challenging preconceptions. I am not offering viable alternatives.
Edit: I realize that I have more to say on the mind, so I am expanding that section. This will change the flow, but until the series is done I do not intend to change the summary given here.