Jazz Jennings, subject of the children’s book I am Jazz, says he has “a girl brain but a boy body.” It’s a typical statement for a transgender person It’s also false. Very clearly false, and I hope uncontroversially so. The brain is very much a part of the body, and if Jazz was born with a boy body, then Jazz was born with a boy brain. Every boy body with its xy chromosomes has a boy brain with xy chromosomes.
Science has found some clear differences between male and female brain structures, but has not found that trans persons have the other sex’s brain structure. Jazz’s brain grew up just as male as his genitalia. Whether it still is in every way or not, doesn’t matter. Hormones might change a brain to some extent, but Jazz says he’s had a “girl brain” since long before he started taking any treatments.
So what’s going on here? Let’s take a best-case look at it, from Jazz’s perspective. I’ll leave aside for now the other explanation, which is that Jazz has a very sadly confused boy brain in a boy body. Let’s offer him (for now) the greatest benefit of the doubt. (Except for this: it’s a matter of policy for me to use pronouns that match a person’s physical sex.)
Jazz very definitely doesn’t have a girl brain, but perhaps he has a girl mind. That is, it could be that Jazz’s personality, thinking, learning, desires, and volitions are all “girl,” in spite of his having a boy brain. If so, then Jazz has a girl mind and a boy brain. How then do these two aspects of Jazz relate to each other?
It’s almost as if Jazz s implying his brain isn’t part of his body. And there you begin to see where the matter might take us.
Background: Theories of Mind and Brain
Theories on mind and brain differ. Theists typically hold that the mind and the brain are distinct in some way, so that a person’s identity, decisions, actions, and consciousness are free of the brain’s control to at least some extent. They’re not fully determined by the brain’s electrochemical interactions, in fact, the brain can be affected by the mind acting as its own agent.
This distinction between mind and brain is called dualism, of which there are two main varieties (hylemorphic and substance). The difference between the two need not concern us for now; the main thing is that for theists, there’s no issue involved in regarding the mind as at least somewhat independent of the brain. The mind is actually somewhat in charge of the brain. It works both ways; each influences the other.
Non-theists are typically averse to that thinking. Again, there are differences of opinion here, but for materialistic atheists, there can be no such mind/brain independence. The mind cannot have its own distinct agency, its own reality independent of the brain.
Some philosophers an atheistic/materialist take it that the mind — thoughts, feelings, actions, identity, consciousness, everything — is absolutely determined by brain activity. Some take that as far as concluding that consciousness and free will are illusions foisted upon the self by the brain. That theory has its own problems: upon whom is the foisting foisted, for one thing?
Nevertheless it seems that the lesser conclusion — that the mind, in every aspect, is absolutely determined by the brain — is entailed by atheistic materialism. For materialism is monistic, in contrast to theism’s dualism. It holds that nothing exists but nature, and nature is nothing other than matter and energy interacting according to natural law. All events are fully determined by previous conditions (matter-energy states) and by the absolute reign of unbreakable, uninterruptible natural law. That leaves no room for any non-determined “mind” to wiggle its way into the system to do anything on its own. It’s entirely subservient to the brain.
Now, there are multiple versions of the mind-brain relationship offered by materialist atheists, but they all hold that either that the mind is the brain (and vice versa) or that the mind is absolutely the product of the brain; it has no agency of its own; it’s entirely the slave of the brain.
Questions for Atheists On Jazz’s “Girl Brain”
Meanwhile, however, atheists typically stand 1oo percent behind statement’s like Jazz’s — that she (it’s Jazz’s statement this time, so I’ll state it Jazz’s way) has a girl brain in a boy body, or maybe a girl mind in a boy body.
And that leads to three questions for materialist atheists:
- Do you believe someone like Jazz could actually have a girl brain in a boy body?
- Since that seems scientifically impossible, as already noted, do you believe it’s possible for someone like Jazz to have a girl mind in a boy body?
- How does a boy brain produce a girl mind?
Image Credit(s): Robina Weermeijer/Unsplash.