Hemispherectomies and Independently Conscious Brain Regions

Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 3 (4) (2016)
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I argue that if minds supervene on the intrinsic physical properties of things like brains, then typical human brains host many minds at once. Support comes from science-nonfiction realities that, unlike split-brain cases, have received little direct attention from philosophers. One of these realities is that some patients are functioning (albeit impaired) and phenomenally conscious by all medical and commonsense accounts despite the fact that they have undergone a hemispherectomy: an entire brain hemisphere has been fully detached. Another is the Wada test, in which a patient has each hemisphere anesthetized, one after the other, while the other hemisphere is awake and functioning—again, phenomenally conscious by any standard. I will argue that hemispherectomies, Wada tests, and related procedures each present cases in which the minds that exist after the detachment (or anesthetization) of a hemisphere are surviving minds which must be associated with the surviving (or un-anesthetized) hemisphere. I will argue that such surviving minds existed before the medical procedure, instantiated by the then-intact hemisphere that was due to survive the loss of its complementary hemisphere. If so, then the typical subject has at least three minds: a “left hemisphere mind”, a “right hemisphere mind”, and a “whole brain mind”. But the argument generalizes to cases in which smaller portions of the brain are lost, yielding a great number of additional minds, some overlapping. Some important ethical implications are raised and briefly examined.

Author's Profile

James C. Blackmon
San Francisco State University


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