An Identity Thought Experiment Concerning You and Your Eyeballs

With all of the research that has been done on the brain, there is no question that the brain is a special part of us.  We often think of our mental activity–thoughts, ideas, feelings, anger — taking place in the brain.  When we think of a tree, the image of the tree is being viewed in the brain.  When are trying to remember, we sort through the mental hallways and bookshelves of our brain to find the memory we are looking for.  Furthermore, when we look at the world, our eyes almost serve as the windows to our mind/brain.  I do not think of my personal identity, the most essential part of me that cannot be swapped out or shared, as residing in my left foot or my right index finger.  I think of it as being in my mind/brain, and my eyes, fixed right in front of my mind/brain, allow me to look out at the world.

Try it yourself.  Look down at your coffee cup (or some other object) and then your hands at your keyboard (or some other body part).  Now ask yourself, where am I?  Obviously, you’re not in the coffee cup.  But how about your hands?  Your hands are part of you, after all.  But no, you feel instinctively that you are not at all the same as your hands, and since you are looking out at your hands, you naturally feel like you — the mental, psychological, spiritual you — are tucked safely and securely somewhere behind your eyes.  Which makes perfect sense, you reason, because your brain is also behind your eyes, and everybody knows that our mental activity takes place in our brain.

Now consider how things would change if your eyes were not specially located right in front of your brain.  Let’s imagine them transplanted into the palms of your hands.  As far as I know, there is nothing biologically impossible about this — the optical nerves and connectors would just need to be wired to the brain over a longer distance, up the arms, past the shoulders, and maybe plugged into the spinal cord somewhere up around the neck.

eyes in hands

Imagine now looking up at your head — the place where you had just imagined that the mental and spiritual you resides — from the perspective of your hands.  You are looking up at yourself, admiring the shape and contours of your head and face.  Your eyes are no longer there.  Your cheeks connect to your forehead without interruption.  Your nose, mouth, and ears are all still right where they have always been (for this experiment, though, there are no noises or smells).  The big difference is now, instead of looking out from the mind’s lofty penthouse of your head, you are now gazing up from the street-level perspective of your hands.  Your own familiar head now is “out there.” It is “out there” just as everyone and everything else is “out there.”  But you still feel have the “in here” feeling, only now, “in here” is in your hands.

Now ask yourself, is it still true that you and your brain are the same, even when you are separated from it and looking at it?  Or does my sense of “me” naturally linger “behind” wherever I view the world from?


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