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The No Selves Argument Essay

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Thomas Nagel, in “Brain Bisection and the unity of consciousness,” presents a thesis for the nonexistence of selves in human beings. Selves, in the case of Nagel’s argument, are the physiological bases of mind that constitute the subject of experience. A self may be thought of as the fundamental person, or the “Personal Identity”. There has been substantial difficulty in identifying the number of persons present in a human being, and the initial and seemingly apparent answer of “one” becomes less convincing upon inspection of further evidence. (Nagel, 1971, p. 396)

In particular, medical patients who have undergone a partial or complete corpus callosotomy exhibit strange behavior under specific conditions that casts doubt on the conclusion that each human has one self. The corpus callosum, the cerebral commissure between the two hemispheres of the brain, serves as the communication pathway for messages between the hemispheres. Typically, information from sensory organs is duplicated or communicated throughout the brain regardless of the origin of a sensation and which hemisphere it is directly connected to via the corpus callosum. (Nagel, 1971, pp. 396-400; Sperry, 1968, pp. 723-725; Sperry, 1984, pp. 661-663)

When the corpus callosum is severed, often a last resort surgical procedure to resolve some medical issue such as epilepsy, not all information can be transmitted between the disconnected hemispheres, and the resulting effects provide interesting evidence that has spawned many theories regarding selves and their countability. These effects have been shown in monkeys, humans, and cats using carefully devised studies and experiments. For human patients, a special apparatus is used to stimulate each hemisphere separately....


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...sphere dominance for understanding intentions of others: Evidence from a split-brain patient. BMJ case reports [doi:10.1136/bcr.07.2008.0593].

Puccetti, R. (1973), “Brain Bisection and Personal Identity”, British Journal for the
Philosophy of Science 24, 339-55.

Puccetti, R. (1989). Two brains, two minds? Wigan’s theory of mental duality. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 40:137-144.

Sperry, R. (1968). Hemispheric disconnection and unity in conscious awareness. American Psychologist, 23, 723-733.

Sperry, R. (1984). Consciousness, Personal Identity and the Divided Brain. Neuropsychologia. 22, 661-673.

Vining, E., Freeman, J., Pillas, D., Uematsu, S., Carson, B., Brandt, J., Boatman, D., Pulsifier, M., Zuckerberg, A. (1997). Why would you remove half a brain? The outcome of 58 children after hemispherectomy. Pediatrics, 100, pp. 163-171.


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