Ninth International Summer School on Mind, Brain and Education

2014 July 31 - August 03

Body, Brain and
Personal Identity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Directors: Antonio M. Battro, Kurt W. Fischer and Fernando Vidal
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Marie-Christine Nizzi
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA

What maintains personal identity through massive physical changes? A philosophical view informed by neuropsychology
In this talk, I want to develop a philosophical model of personal identity consistent with empirical data I collected from empirical experiments in neuropsychology. Specifically, I am interested in determining what it is we need in the body to maintain a continuous sense of self across time. Two common assumptions from Early Modern philosophy emphasize the secondary importance of the body compared to the mind and the primary role of memory to sustain a diachronic self. Challenging those assumptions, I will draw theoretical and ethical implications from experiments in two populations with drastically different relationship to their body. Locked-in syndrome patients, on the one hand, loose complete motor control over their body but present preserved cognitive functions. On the other hand, patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience a progressive and massive loss of memory with almost no impact on their motor functions. I suggest that this double dissociation bears interesting considerations on our understanding of the embodied self.