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Julia North Thought Experiment

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In the Julia North thought experiment, Julia North’s brain is transplanted into a different body. The underlying question arising from this case is does Julia North continue to exist after the operation? In this paper I will explore how the same-brain view, the bodily view, and the psychological linkage view would answer this question and provide evidence as to why I believe that the psychological linkage view in general and the indirect memory view in particular provide the most compelling answer.

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A view obviously related to this case is the same-brain view in which Julia’s continued existence and personal identity is determined by the survival of her living brain. According to such a view, Julia remains alive after the operation because of the continued existence of her brain, albeit within a different physical body. Julia North’s survival was determined by the fact that after the brain transplant operation her original physical brain was preserved and with it all of the memories and thoughts that had previously constituted Julia North.

While this view may seem initially reasonable, I find it to be deficient when parameters of the case are modified. For example, consider an alternative situation in which Julia’s brain was preserved and kept alive but her thoughts and memories were completely erased before transplanting her brain into a new body. The resultant person would have no recollection of Julia’s past thoughts or actions or even the slightest idea of who Julia North was. Certainly this new person would not be considered the same as the previous Julia North.

Instead of Julia continuing to exist, people would say that Julia had died and with her physical brain a new person had been created, thus discrediting the value of the same-brain account of personal identity. Another major account of personal identity is the bodily view. According to the bodily view, existence and personal identity are based on the continued existence of the same living body. Therefore, Julia would not continue to exist after the operation because her physical body would also cease to exist.

However, I, like Locke, find this answer to be incomplete. In Locke’s criticism of bodily views he raises the example of a prince and a cobbler who, upon awakening, find themselves to be inside each other’s bodies. In this case, as in the case of Julia North, the same body-same person relationship does not hold because the thoughts and memories of the cobbler-bodied person and the prince-bodied person are no longer the same. The cobbler and the prince continue to exist within different bodies.

The continued existence of the prince and the cobbler, like that of Julia North, is attributed to the persistence of memory and traits of character over time. This account of personal identity and existence is known as the psychological linkage view. According to this view, Julia North would still exist after the operation because she was able to maintain all of her previous memories and traits of character. However, there are discrepancies within this view. The psychological linkage view provided by Locke states that personal identity is based on a direct memory account.

In other words, if at any point in time a person loses their direct memory of the past they cease to have the same personal identity. This view can be exhibited by the following example. Consider the case of a person who is involved in a car accident and suffers a concussion. After the accident, the person cannot remember any of the events that transpired contiguous to the accident and resulting concussion. However, they can remember events prior to the accident and after the recovery.

According to Locke’s view, the person after the accident, C, cannot be the same person as the one who was involved in the accident, B, because they have no direct memory of that event due to the concussion. Therefore, with regards to the Julia North case, this account would reason that she is not the same person as the one who underwent the operation because she has no direct memory of the procedure. While this account appears reasonable, when applied further to the car accident example a contradiction becomes apparent.

The person involved in the accident, B, has the same personal identity as the one who existed before the accident, A, because, up until the moment of concussion B possessed a direct memory of A’s experiences. Further, the person after the accident, C, is the same person that existed before the accident, A, because C has a direct memory of the events before the accident. Following the conclusions that A is the same person as B, and C is the same person as A, it can be logically inferred that B is the same person as C. However, Locke’s account also shows that B and C cannot be the same person.

This inconsistency dramatically detracts from the overall strength of Locke’s argument and thusly provides an unconvincing answer to the question of Julia North’s continued existence. However, there is another branch of the psychological linkage view that provides a much more compelling answer to the question of Julia North than any of the previously demonstrated accounts of personal identity. This view is the indirect memory view. By this account, personal identity is determined by connectedness through a chain of direct memories.

With regards to the previous car accident example, the indirect memory view would say that A, B, and C are in fact all the same person because, although C does not have a direct memory of B, C and B both have a direct memory link to A and therefore, all three persons in time are identical and connected through a chain of direct memory. When applied to the Julia North case, the indirect memory view supports the idea that Julia continued to exist after the operation. The reasoning being that while post-operation Julia cannot remember the operation, she does retain memories of long before the operation as did her immediately pre-operation self.

Therefore she continues to exist based on the virtue of her connected chain of direct memory. The indirect memory account of personal identity is without the inherent contradictions that plague Locke’s view and does not deteriorate when applied to cases of memory loss, amnesia, or periods of suspended consciousness such as sleep. Julia North was judged to be the same person after the operation (thereby continuing to exist) because she had a chain of all Julia’s direct memories. These were Julia’s true memories from her own perspective that she had retained through the preservation of her brain.

Physical human bodies experience radical transformations that can render them unrecognizable to a casual observer. Such changes can occur naturally through growth and development or by exogenous forces such as debilitating car accidents and body transplants. In either case, the identity of the person involved remains the same as long as they maintain a connected chain of direct memories. Thus, a woman who used to be a girl, an amnesia afflicted old man, and Julia North all continue to exist despite the changes to their physical bodies and the lack of direct memory to certain points in their past.

The indirect memory view provides the most compelling answer to the question of Julia’s continued existence because of its comprehensiveness and lack of contradiction. Julia North survived the operation because the memories that defined her before the operation persisted afterwards along with all of her thoughts, feelings and ambitions. It is the connectedness of these direct memories that can most unequivocally constitute our continued existence and personal identity.

Cite this Julia North Thought Experiment

Julia North Thought Experiment. (2018, Feb 05). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/julia-north-thought-experiment/

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