“Personhood: An Illusion Rooted in Brain Function?”
Martha Farah & Andrea Heberlein
“Here we explore the possibility that personhood has been so hard to pin down because it is an illusion. According to this view, “persons” does not correspond with a category of objects in the world. Rather, it is an illusory concept that our brains have evolved to develop innately and to project onto the world whenever triggered by stimulus features such as a human-like face, body, or contingent patterns of behavior.”
Humans, Hardwiring, and Persons
Neural “Personhood” Networks for Data Processing (e.g., faces, bodies, actions, and mental states)
“The weight of the evidence, from a sizeable literature only sampled here, clearly supports the conclusion that the human brain represents the appearances, actions, and thoughts of people in a distinct set of regions, different from those used to represent the appearance, movements, and properties of other entities.”
Folk Psychology vs. Folk Physics Revisited
The “Person Network” is both innate and large automatic (i.e., “independent of our conscious, rational beliefs about the nature of smiley faces or animated geometric shapes).
Brain Damage and the Person Network
“In sum, we come into the world with a brain system genetically preprogrammed to represent persons as distinct from other kinds of object in the world. This system is surprisingly autonomous, in the sense that it is triggered by certain stimuli and can be difficult to suppress. It becomes active even when we know that the triggering stimulus is not a person.”
The Metaphysics of Personhood: Plants, Persons, and Phlogiston
“Our sense that the world contains two fundamentally different categories of things, persons and non-persons, may be a result of the periodic activation of this person network by certain stimuli rather than any fundamental distinction between the stimuli that do and don’t tend to trigger it.”
“The first relevant feature of the person network in the brain is its separateness from the systems representing other things. We suggest that this feature is responsible for the illusion that persons and non-persons are fundamentally different kinds of things in the world, despite our inability to draw a principled line between them. The illusion may come from the operation of two separate and incommensurate systems of representation in the brain for persons and for things in general.”
Evolution and Erring on the Side of Personhood
“Although the concept of personhood may be bad metaphysics, and better suited to an earlier world, even today it gets us through.”
What comes next?