Screenwriter with Brain Question

HARRY R. ERWIN herwin at mason1.gmu.edu
Sat Sep 3 13:21:54 EST 1994

Sylvan Freeman (asylvan at ix.netcom.com) wrote:
: Folks-
: I am not a scientist!  Skip this post if you are not interested in
: helping a screenwriter who needs an answer for a film.

: Question: like a fingerprint, is there any unique identifier in a person's
: brain wave pattern, e.g., in an EEG?  (At this point I must ask you to
: exuse any ignorance on my part or misuse of terminology.  I apologize
: profusely...)  For instance, during REM, or perhaps meditation, if
: reviewing the EEG from several subjects, over time would you be able
: to look at the printout and _know_ whose pattern you were looking at?

The problem is that the pattern is dynamic at any given time, and the
dynamics evolve wildly on multiple timescales, ranging from milliseconds
to years. This is called 'lack of invariance' and has been regarded as
evidence about intentionality (in the _formal_ philosophical sense). 

: If the answer to the above is "no," if someone were to discover
: a unique identifier, what form would you expect it to take?

Physical association of specific functions with specific areas. Even this
changes on a scale of months to years (otherwise people could not recover
from strokes). If you want something stomach-turning, consider the
deliberate, but ->supposedly innocuous<- lesioning of the brain to
introduce an identification pattern--almost a 'tattoo' on the brain. That
might be recognizable in an EEG or MRI scan. Uniqueness could reflect some
sort of public key system involving natural landmarks, so that a simple
copy of the lesions present in one brain could not be transferred to
another. Why do this? Because organ transplantation has gotten very good 
in the world your characters are in, to the point that brain transplants 
are both feasible and likely under certain circumstances. (The fearless 
leader does a brain transplant every few years...)

Not the kind of world I would like to live in.

: I hope this is not too vague.

: Thanks.
: S. Freeman

Harry Erwin
Internet: herwin at gmu.edu 
Just a dumb graduate student working on Katchalsky nets....

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