Posts Tagged ‘identity’
I read an article the other day (and lost the address) the explained that it might be possible to resuscitate people quite a long time after their heart has stopped beating. Despite expectations, cells seem to be able to survive relatively long periods without oxygen. The cells just have to be brought back into the world of oxygen slowly, or they freak out and die. From my not-a-cardiologists viewpoint this is a big step forward in our understanding of how to revive those who have had heart attacks.
Since this discovery allows us to resuscitate people who previously would have been considered dead it brings up the question “what is death?”. I’m not talking about what happens after death or death’s meaning. Instead I’m simply asking when can we consider a person impossible to revive or “dead.”
There appears to be an easy answer to this question. It would go something like “death is when one falls out of consciousness for the last time.” I will call this the pragmatic definition of death. After this point one can no longer communicate with the person. This is also the moment when a person stops experiencing their life. Yet, in order to define ‘last time’ one must depend on many other things, including the state of medical knowledge. For example when a person lost consciousness from a heart attack in 1205 AD, they were pragmatically dead. However, when one looses consciousness after a heart attack in 2007 it is quite possible that this is not the ‘last time.’
But, when can we declare for sure that someone has lost consciousness for the last time? A point when it has been so long since one fell unconscious that it is logically impossible to resuscitate them? To consider this question we will need some sort of definition of the mind/identity. The two most prominent such definitions are either that a person is a soul or they are a pattern (like a pattern of neural firings).
With either the soul or pattern view one could argue it is impossible to ever be sure that consciousness has be lost for the last time.
First let’s assume that people are souls. Souls are by definition indestructible. Thus annihilation is impossible and resuscitation can never be completely ruled out.
Now, to consider the possibly that people are patterns we need to take a less direct line of reasoning, that begins with numbers. Many consider the number 3 to exist independent of either our ability to understand it or its occurrence in the world (Mathematical Realism). We have discovered the number 3, but not created it. Even if we all forgot the number 3, it would continue to exist. Our forgetfulness can not annihilate it. In this sense the number 3 is eternal. This view applies to other numbers. For example, 523365487 is also eternal. In fact this view could be applied to almost all information…like patterns in a brain…. Thus, even patterns are impossible to annihilate and resuscitation can never be completely ruled out.
Maybe there is no point at which resuscitation is impossible. Perhaps death is never certain.
[One funny implication of this view is that every bit of information, every person/intelligence, that is possible, 'exists.']