Meredith W. Michaels is a research associate in the philosophy department at Smith College in Massachusetts and one of the authors of the renown philosophy textbook Twenty Questions. At points throughout the book, Michaels shares her views on certain philosophical perspectives, one of the most interesting being what determines personal identity. In short, Michaels evaluates both the mind and body in trying to determine identity. In the following paragraphs I will explain the argument that Michaels offers, an objection to it, and then determine which argument I agree with more by using personal examples. The excerpt; Persons, Brains, and Bodies, opens up with Michaels describing an interesting scenario. She asks the reader to imagine that you and a friend named Wanda are on a trip and while Wanda isn’t paying attention she is crushed by a steamroller. In reaction to Wanda being crushed you have a stroke that does serious damage to your brain. Both of you are immediately sent to a hospital.
After a procedure, you ultimately end up with Wanda’s brain in your body. This raises a lot of questions. Is it you or Wanda that is still alive? (Michaels 347). After thoroughly presenting the scenario Michaels delves into her evaluation. She makes it clear that she recognizes John Locke’s Memory Theory and that the idea of the body often gets lost in traditional concepts, which leads her to point out the importance of the body in determining identity. This is evident as Michaels states, “Though the brain in question is indeed the same, it is nonetheless clear to all of us that brains alone do not learn to ride bicycles, or, indeed, do brains alone remember having done so. People learn to read bicycles and people remember having done so.” (Michaels 348). Within this quote essentially lies Michaels’ main argument that someone’s identity is not solely body or mind but rather both combined. She wants the reader to realize that our bodies are an important part of our self-identity, and states, “This might suggest to us that our concept of self-identity is not an all-or-nothing one, that, in fact, our concept is one which admits of degrees.” (Michaels 349). This last quote sums up her argument of the importance of not forgetting how big of a role our body plays in who we identify as. As mentioned previously, John Locke, the well known 17th-century academic has a different viewpoint on how to define identity and he addresses it in his essay Of Identity and Diversity. The main thing that Locke alludes to is the power of consciousness and how all of our decisions as human beings always relate back to the idea of our inner thoughts and internal compass.
Locke says, “For it being the same consciousness that makes a man be himself to himself, personal identity depends on that only, whether it be annexed solely to one individual substance, or can be continued in a succession of several substances.” (Locke 340). Locke is pointing out that consciousness is the constant in a person’s life. Regardless of their physical changes, they remain the same person because they maintain the same consciousness. As an example, Locke provides the reader with a scenario. He presents the idea of a person losing a limb. Just because we lose a limb doesn’t mean that we aren’t the same person. Locke is showing here the importance of consciousness in his opinion that one’s body does not determine self-identity. Throughout the rest of the essay, he continues to talk about the importance of consciousness and how it is unique to everyone. Although both provide solid points and examples and are well respected in their fields, Michaels’ has the stronger argument. The way that she incorporates the body and consciousness to be codependent solidifies her argument. The example of Dr. Nefarious is important as it provides yet another example of how while body and mind are separate they do affect each other in terms of identity. Think of it like this, say that my younger brother and I have a procedure where we swap brains, while my consciousness remains the same it is still inside of his body now and vice versa.
So, yes, my brother and I would know who was who but a person who doesn’t see us often might think that not much is different since we can’t swap bodies. This personal example helps support Meredith W. Michaels “Wanda” example. Michaels also goes against the traditional characteristics of philosophy by providing the world with a different outlook in which she presents the idea of being able to mix two philosophical thoughts together in order to create your own thoughts. This is another reason that makes Michaels’ argument more relative. It is impossible to say that our identity is solely based on what we think. In today’s world with such a strong presence of social media, the body can be argued to be just as important in perception. The way we are perceived to others on Facebook or Instagram can be based off the pictures of ourselves. For example, I follow a few people on Instagram who I have only met once or twice and my perception on who they are as a person is predominantly because of how they portray themselves in their posts. In short, Michaels’ theory is more modern and more applicable within today’s society. In conclusion, both Michaels and Locke provide strong arguments and strong evidence. While Locke encourages us to choose between the two, Michaels argument allows the everyday person to recognize the importance of both body and mind. She gives us the option to differentiate and consider combining body and mind. At the end of the day, Michaels’ argument is more in line with the way people perceive themselves today. We are made up our conscience and our body, working to live in harmony together. Personal identity and pride is an important part of self-esteem and success for all humans.