[ExI] Midazolam, Memory Erasure, and Identity

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Wed Jul 18 11:31:29 UTC 2007

On 18/07/07, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:

> Actually, it wasn't me who first defined death as information loss.  :-)
> In http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theoretical_death
> Wikipeida quotes our cryonicist buddy Ralph Merkle as first---though
> I'm pretty sure that Mike Perry coined the phrase "Information theory
> of death" a number of years earlier.
> Besides, in general I avoid definitions like the plague. As you may know,
> Korzybski distinguished between "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" definitions,
> the latter being an "Aristotelian definition" the best example of which
> is "Man is a featherless biped".  In other words, a categorizing sort
> of definition.
> An extrinsic defintion, by contrast---and which I just used right here
> to "define" intrinsic"---is definition by example or an operational
> definition.  Anyway.
> So since I believe in the information theory of death, i.e., that one is
> not dead until the information constituting one is thoroughly and
> irretrievably destroyed, I am forced to regard any surviving sufficiently
> close copy of me to be sufficient for my survival.

What this discussion about the definition of "death" reminds me of is
attempts to define "good" and G.E. Moore's naturalistic fallacy:

It is possible to define death in a particular way, for example
Heartland's definition of cessation (even if temporary) of brain
processes, or the above definition of information loss, and then be
perfectly logical and scientific about determining whether death has
occurred according to that definition. But then, why define it that

In the end, you know what it is to be alive every day rather than dead
(as you know what is good rather than bad) and then you try to come up
with a definition that is consistent with this knowledge; in other
words, you have an operational definition in mind and try to come up
with an intrinsic definition. You can get this wrong if it turns out
that the definition is not in keeping with your intuition in a
particular case, since that was the purpose of the definition in the
first place. For example, I would say the brain process cessation
definition is wrong because it is entirely consistent to suppose that
this phenomenon might have been happening every moment of what you
would otherwise have thought was ordinary life, and certainly not
repeated death.

The idea that the ultimate standard against which a definition of
death is to be measured is not some precise and unequivocal test but a
feeling or a way of thinking makes questions about personal identity
in a way akin to questions about ethics or aesthetics. I'd prefer it
if this were not so, but I don't see a way around it.

Stathis Papaioannou

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