[extropy-chat] Life and Death is not like 1 and 0 (Identity over Interruption)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Apr 28 18:41:24 UTC 2007

One of the most difficult problems, I would think, for anyone who
suggests that mere interruption of a physical process is tantamount
to death of a person (or even an instance of some person), is that
in general, philosophy abhors a discontinuity.

It used to be that nature abhorred vacua, but today we know
better. Maybe some day philosophy will accomodate discontinuities,
but I don't think that the time has yet come. Here is a criticism of 
Heartland's position that I think goes to the heart of the matter.

In cryonics we have had to vigorously resist the notion that a failing
patient's death is an all or nothing affair. There is no precise moment
of death. Even conventional medical practice recognizes that mere
cessation of a beating heart cannot be a definition of death; nor (for
most medical practitioners can a very momentary flatlining of an EEG).

One of the huge philosophical problems anti-abortionists face also
stems from  nature seemingly abhoring a discontinutity. As a sperm
approaches and egg, or as the hours-long process of inception begins,
there simply cannot be any strict line at which a human life can be said
to begin. (In the older terminology, there is no precise moment at
which a soul can be said to enter the body of a fertilized fetus.)

Even we (i.e. the majority of people who are reading this who also,
I'm sure, agree with me) cannot always say that the survival of a
person is an all or nothing affair. What if the revived patient has
brain damage?  Clearly the question of whether or not he has 
survived lies on a continuum. However, we *may* say that a 
person has survived a routine medical operation if he appears to
be functioning fully normally following the operation, regardless
of exactly what transpired during that operation. (I myself, actually,
do not 100% conform to this consensus in one EXTREMELY
abstract philosophical possibility: for me, if somehow---assuming
physics that may turn out to be impossible---the patients brain has
been  replaced by a computronium GLUT, then I would not say that
the patient has survived. But that old conundrum doesn't deserve
a place in this particular thread.)

So the challenge for Heartland amounts to this:  just how long does
a patient's EEG need go to zero for the person to have died?  If
you embrace the position that life and death are like 1 and 0, then
you'll have a problem answering. If the EEG were to go flat for
a trillionth of a second, what then?  What is an EEG anyway except
a very rought statistical measure of brain activity?

Say some neurons fire and some do not---which after all is exactly
the normal functioning of a human brain.  Just what implications for
survival does that have?  What if the left hemisphere has its brain
activity totally shut down by drugs or temporary freezing? Is some
fraction of the person now dead, even though he appears to have
been wholly restored?  What if one percent of my cerebral cortex
fails to have any neural activity for a moment?  Is the degree of my
survival impacted?


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