All the People in the Room

Look at all the people in the room.

What makes an individual?

Talk to each person. Ask them anything, and they recount their personal experiences. They give autobiographical accounts of their lives and knowledge. They are creatures defined by episodic recall: they see the world and define themselves by the perspectives, traditions, and stories they have accumulated along the way.

However, if you were to dissect any one of these people, you would find a stunningly complex arrangement of biological materials, like billions of afferent nerves transmitting signals from sensory neurons. As a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease might exhibit, our memories, personalities, and identities are inseparable from the physical composition of our brains.

What makes a person the person that they are? Their experiences and memories? Or the physical materials that make the retention of memories and recall of experience possible?

Are you the result of the story you have lived… or the neuronal connectivity that has sensed, remembered, and constructed the narrative of ‘you’ so far? If your hippocampus is starved of oxygen, or if your prefrontal cortex is damaged by a severe blow to the skull, do you become a different person?

Are you made of your memories or your materials? Is your unique identity and consciousness — the idea you have of ‘you’ — a result of the ‘hardware’ of your brain or the ‘software’ of your memories?

Or is it a false dichotomy?

What is are memories and stories without neurons?

What are neurons without sensations and experiences?

Just look at all the people in the room.

One thought on “All the People in the Room

  1. Perhaps we should all read Who am I? by Ramana Maharshi. That might put a new slant on what we are or not… Best wishes Julian

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