ForumsWEPRBrain in a Petri dish

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HahiHa
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HahiHa
7,756 posts
Grand Duke

This topic is inspired by actual research, but I am interested in a hypothetical ethical question (which kind of fits into the theme of recent WEPR threads). Imagine the hypothetical scenario where a team of researchers grow in their lab a fully functional human brain large enough to form a conscience.

I see two interesting aspects that can be addressed about this:

For everyone:
The issue of person-hood and all subsequent legal and moral aspects.
- Is it a person? Is it human?
- Does it have rights, all of them?
- Is it moral to keep it alive or is it potentially suffering psychologically?

For religious/spiritual people mostly:
The issue of the soul. Would you believe that that brain has a soul, or is it just a biological machine formed from human cells to you?

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nichodemus
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nichodemus
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Viceroy

No. It's about a brain that has been generated in a controlled environment, and is subject to the influences of those operating upon it. Much like a robot, only more squishy and fragile with barely differentiable components.

Well, so this is where we differ. My entire discussion is based on a different scenario from yours, as it's based on a hypo that the brain is in every sense of the word, a fully functioning human brain. It is because of the way I view the discussion differently from yours, due to the differing way of viewing what the supposed brain can do, that causes the clash. In a nutshell, you can say that the brain in my hypo is a disembodied person, who would hence very much require legal person-hood of some kind due to normative reasons. It isn't about a brain that is generated and controlled by others as a robot is.

That's just ipse dixit. Being "pretty certain" of an admittedly nebulous concept is not sufficient grounds. I want to know how you arrived at this conclusion, and why you believe it is a relevant factor in determining personhood.

That is indeed true, and I have been struggling to pin down the specific concept, as biology and psychology are somethings I'm rather alien to. However, I have explored this idea with the starting concepts of responsibility and accountability. We allow ourselves to be bound by laws because laws grant us autonomy and freedom via its rules and regulations in part because we are well aware of the multifaceted consequences of our actions on the larger society.

This article explores some of those ideas in a deeper level than I can achieve. It could be of use in parts.

Your hypo hinges upon a spurious relationship between cognitive processes recognized in humans and activities peculiar to humans. If I'm not mistaken, your reasoning is:
....
extracting milk from other mammals is uniquely human because only humans are capable of advertising via logos.

Not really. My reasoning is that only humans have demonstrated a higher cognitive function which has direct implications on our society and how we interact. These implications (such as the creation of markets and commercial transactions) would mandate that laws are needed in order to regulate how we interact. Similarly, a brain (in the sense described earlier) has for all purposes, the same level of cognitive function as a normal human with a brain, and would presumably as a result, also be needed to be bound by some laws as a result. ("makes it necessary that we and the human brain-in-a-vat be treated under the law"). That is my conclusion and aim of my point, and not that humans and brains-in-a-vat have a higher cognitive function than animals. (Although I still agree on that point.) I am sorry if my writing was too convoluted to piece apart easily.


FishPreferred
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FishPreferred
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Archduke

In a nutshell, you can say that the brain in my hypo is a disembodied person, who would hence very much require legal person-hood of some kind due to normative reasons. It isn't about a brain that is generated and controlled by others as a robot is.
I know the question is hypothetical, but growing such a disembodied person in a lab seems highly unfeasible, unless the brain is connected to a Matrix-style simulation of ordinary human life, or in some way engineered as an exact duplicate of an existing person's brain. In both cases, personhood should be easy to establish, but there are different sets of legal and ethical complications to be considered.

We allow ourselves to be bound by laws because laws grant us autonomy and freedom via its rules and regulations in part because we are well aware of the multifaceted consequences of our actions on the larger society.
I'm not sure what exactly this would mean for a disembodied brain, though. What freedom of action or causal awareness can it have?

This article explores some of those ideas in a deeper level than I can achieve. It could be of use in parts.

You don't have permission to access /~korsgaar/CMK.Personhood.pdfhttp://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~korsgaar/CMK.Personhood.pdf on this server.
I guess we'll never know.

Not really. My reasoning is that only humans have demonstrated a higher cognitive function which has direct implications on our society and how we interact.
How exactly do you define this higher cognitive function, if not by its supposed consequences? Keep in mind that I will interpret any assertion you make here as a universally applicable standard that is not open to revision.

These implications (such as the creation of markets and commercial transactions) would mandate that laws are needed in order to regulate how we interact. Similarly, a brain (in the sense described earlier) has for all purposes, the same level of cognitive function as a normal human with a brain, and would presumably as a result, also be needed to be bound by some laws as a result. ("makes it necessary that we and the human brain-in-a-vat be treated under the law&quot.
So, legal regulation of certain activities needs to be applied only to those capable of and liable to be involved in such activities. That's understandable, but why do they also gain numerous rights and freedoms which (in the case of natural persons) are wholly unrelated to any such activities? Why, as just one example, should the need for culpability decide who is or isn't subjected to forced labour and/or lifetime confinement without trial?
nichodemus
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nichodemus
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Viceroy

I know the question is hypothetical, but growing such a disembodied person in a lab seems highly unfeasible, unless the brain is connected to a Matrix-style simulation of ordinary human life, or in some way engineered as an exact duplicate of an existing person's brain. In both cases, personhood should be easy to establish, but there are different sets of legal and ethical complications to be considered.

I'm not sure what exactly this would mean for a disembodied brain, though. What freedom of action or causal awareness can it have?

How exactly do you define this higher cognitive function, if not by its supposed consequences? Keep in mind that I will interpret any assertion you make here as a universally applicable standard that is not open to revision.

Well, it is a hypo for a reason after all. I did mention earlier that the brain would be hooked up to a machine that allow it speech. Presumably that would also give it sensory capabilities.

I'm not clear specifically on what higher cognitive functions would entail. Some might mention that what separates us from animals are the traits of intelligence, self-awareness, consciousness. However, many animals seem to possess those three to a certain extent. But I'm not inclined to define it by its consequences, because there must be something that has been a direct driver for those consequences.

But I feel that all the above would still raise some questions, even if some form of legal personhood is going to be established. So such a hypo, compared to one where the brain is akin to a robot possibly raises:

1) Should it have all rights that are ascribed to normal humans? After all, it's not going to need some rights, especially those that are physical action-related, such as the right to abortion.

2) Is the brain property? If so, then its rights are going to be curtailed. If it's not property, is its creator legally beholden to it?

So, legal regulation of certain activities needs to be applied only to those capable of and liable to be involved in such activities. That's understandable, but why do they also gain numerous rights and freedoms which (in the case of natural persons) are wholly unrelated to any such activities? Why, as just one example, should the need for culpability decide who is or isn't subjected to forced labour and/or lifetime confinement without trial?

I think you're mixing up the need for laws to regulate our lives, with the amount of punishment meted out upon criminals as well as why specific laws are written. We require legal culpability, simply because we need to be held accountable for our actions, as these impinge upon the autonomy of others. Balancing personal autonomy with societal needs is one way of looking at the foundation of law. But whether a person who is convicted for a crime receives a jail term, or a fine, or physical punishment is another matter.

FishPreferred
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FishPreferred
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Should it have all rights that are ascribed to normal humans? After all, it's not going to need some rights, especially those that are physical action-related, such as the right to abortion.
It should have whatever rights are applicable to a person lacking the ability to do whatever technology cannot enable it to do.

Is the brain property? If so, then its rights are going to be curtailed. If it's not property, is its creator legally beholden to it?
If it's already been established that it's a person, it cannot be property. The rest is dependent upon how this particular brain was created and what it is capable of doing for itself.

I think you're mixing up the need for laws to regulate our lives, with the amount of punishment meted out upon criminals as well as why specific laws are written. We require legal culpability, simply because we need to be held accountable for our actions, as these impinge upon the autonomy of others. Balancing personal autonomy with societal needs is one way of looking at the foundation of law. But whether a person who is convicted for a crime receives a jail term, or a fine, or physical punishment is another matter.
That's not what I'm referring to. Think horse mills and battery farms. Personhood carries with it (among other things) freedom from forced labour and the right to fair trial, but neither of these are necessary for personal accountability, or even related to it. It is irrational, therefore, to exclude animals from the equation of legal personhood simply on the grounds that society doesn't need to hold them accountable.
nichodemus
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nichodemus
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If it's already been established that it's a person, it cannot be property. The rest is dependent upon how this particular brain was created and what it is capable of doing for itself.

Not really. It's possible to be established as a legal person, but more thorny issues arise if we try to view the brain as a natural person. I think there's a fine distinction there, as we would have to pin down what kind of legal person hood is granted specifically (based on its status), as that would affect the kind of rights it should be given. For example, the European Convention on HR's, enshrines the basic right to life for persons, but this right is only extended to human beings, or natural persons. It does not extend to other kinds of legal persons. The brain's legal status also seems rather fuzzy, which would affect whether it is or is not property, or a natural person, or some other classification that straddles the two.

That's not what I'm referring to. Think horse mills and battery farms. Personhood carries with it (among other things) freedom from forced labour and the right to fair trial, but neither of these are necessary for personal accountability, or even related to it. It is irrational, therefore, to exclude animals from the equation of legal personhood simply on the grounds that society doesn't need to hold them accountable.

Well, as I mentioned, accountability is one of the concepts that makes laws necessary. It is not the only concept. Another would possibly be the value of personal liberty due to persons; we value living in a society where citizens are respected as individuals, given the freedom to live their own lives and pursue their own priorities, freedom which requires the law to govern and protect. The other side of the coin flirts with speciesism; Animals under most legal systems, are treated as things, and, more specifically, as the property of persons. So animals no more have to obey the law as inanimate objects do, although there's a set of animal right/protection laws that set them apart from mere inanimate objects.

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