A Puzzle

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Assume

1. A psychological or brain view of personal identity. In other words, either what makes me me is the psychological features of my inner self or my brain. Both views say the same thing about survival in brain transplant cases, so either view would do.

Do a brain transplant. Switch the brains of a man and a woman. If you did that to me, would I then be female?

Keep in mind -- I have the same brain, and that brain has my original male DNA. I also have a new body, one with the sex organs of a woman.

4 Comments

If the brain of a man were transplanted into a woman's body, he would then be female.

Our bodies--including gender, race, physical capabilities and appearance--play a huge role in how we are treated by others and how we see ourselves. But the inner self would remain the same, and would remain separate from, gender.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but this doesn't seem like much of a puzzle given (1). If we assume a brain-based (B-B) view of identity, then someone whose B-B identity is male will continue to be male if their brain is transplanted into another body, regardless of what gender that body's former brain identified as (or whether the genitalia/secondary sex characteristics are typically male, female, or ambiguous).

What makes the question more interesting would be on an assumption of essentialism tied to DNA: If DNA - and specifically sex chromosomes - determines gender (as a lot of people think), then what would happen in this situation? It would be a chimeric situation, with one set of (male) DNA in the brain and another set of (female) DNA in the rest of the body. I think that situation would be one reason to deny a strictly chromosomal link to gender (well, that and the ambiguity of extra-chromosomal syndromes like Klinefelter's and Turner).

The work the brain view or psychological view does is to explain that it's you who survives the brain transplant in the new body but with the same brain. I don't think it settles this question but merely sets it up. On the brain view of personal identity, your brain determines who you are. It doesn't determine whether you are a bi-ped or a paraplegic. Your legs determine that. So I wouldn't assume your biological sex needs to be determined by your brain's DNA or origin, just because we're working with a brain view of personal identity.

We need to be clear on what we mean by "gender". You seem to be using it as a synonym for "sex". Most academics distinguish between sex, which is biological, and gender, which is the social elements we attach to that. Gender, then, is certainly not biological.

On a brain-based view of identity, then yes, I think you remain male, albeit in a a female body. Having said that, I'm not sure if the brain view you're describing is a physicalist view (either reductive or non-reductive), or not. That would seem to me to make a difference. If we're talking a physicalist brain-based view, then I'm pretty confident you would stay male in the new body.

Of course, I don't hold to physicalism, and this opens up new questions for me. If we conceive of personal identity in anything like a Thomistic sense (as a substantial soul, pervading and superintending the body), then the question concerns whether the soul "travels" with the brain or "stays at home" in the body. It seems possible that in this case your "male" soul gets transported into the female body, such that the essentially male you is now utilizing a female body. I'd describe this as a brain-linked, but not brain-based, view of identity.

On the other hand, it seems equally possible that your essential self "stays home" in your male body and incorporates the newly-transplanted female brain into your normal functioning. If a male can receive a female heart and still remain male, I don't see any reason in principle why a male couldn't receive a female brain and remain essentially male. Your "you" uses the brain as a physical organ for the soul's expression.

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