Friday, January 11, 2013

A Brain in a Vat

from The Daily Mail
Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me ...

Of course, no one ever called me "A brain in a vat," which is the label a scientist Helene Mialet placed on the famous Stephen Hawking in celebration of his birthday. 

Apparently the woman is no Star Trek fan or she would have labeled him a cyborg, since she intimates he is more machine than human.

There's been no response from Hawking.

On the surface, it seems to be denigrating. Activists have jumped in to call the label "dehumanising and disrespectful."

On the other hand, it poses a philosophical question. Who are we? Are we the sum total of our physical being? Or are we a separate manifestation of what that physical being generates? 

Our physical self certainly informs our personality, not entirely because of its presence or interpretation in the mirror but rather because of the social and aesthetic norms of the societies in which we live. 

But Who are we? is also formed by what we do, and in that case, Hawking is more than the sum of his defective parts.

But "A brain in a vat?" 

Obviously, the woman in a quest for publicity, has chosen to I label Hawking with a simplistic, head-seeking phrase, offering a glib bow to his intellect when it is evident that his intellect is not all that makes the man a genius. Hawking could be termed, were you seeking attention, "A brain in a vat," but to be Hawking requires an immeasurable, unidentifiable self-discipline, curiosity, courage, and other laudable human emotional and psychological factors. 

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