Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

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Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » May 9th, 2012, 5:09 pm

In medical science, there is a relatively agreed upon state in which living or previously living animals/organisms are dead. In humans, usually this is marked roughly by either the time a human's heart stops beating or by the cessation of brain activity, but can be unequivocally achieved through the sudden, complete destruction of the body such as through incineration. This is the cessation of life in a living organism in a strictly biological sense which ultimately manifests as the destruction of the previously living body through decay if not by some other mechanism at the time of death or before the full effects of decay. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, let's refer to this as bodily death.

This is very different from another concept, the death of the self, which for the sake of simplicity and clarity I will refer to in this topic as mental death. In this sense, mental death is the cessation or destruction of the individual's mind or otherwise that which makes one oneself, i.e. what makes one a person. This is one's conscious identity. It's equivocal because the concept of self is equivocal. It's also vague even more than just in being equivocal because the concept of self still generally refers to an abstract thing that is often considered to be a psychological construct and thus arguably a sort of illusion -- perhaps a subconsciously formed metaphor used by a complicated brain.

I think we all accept that most humans are terrified of death, but I think this mental death is more of what most people fear. I think that that means we can use one's or our own views of mental death with the emphasis on death to investigate one's or our own view of the self. Instead of asking, 'how do you define yourself,' and then using that to define mental death (which I am using as shorthand for the death of the self or individual mind), we would do the inverse and ask one or ask ourselves what would we consider to be mental death (the death of the self or individual mind, i.e. our respective individual identity) and then use that to figure out how one defines oneself (i.e. one's individual identity). A good way to understand what is meant by this -- even if like me you don't believe in such a supernatural thing -- is to think of it in terms of what people mean by the so-called 'afterlife' in a supernatural sense: By this oxymoron, they mean to say yes their body has died, but their mind, i.e. who they are as a person, goes on existing in some way somewhere else.

If we assume a person will respond with a preference that they believe prolongs their own mental life longest, which is not always a correct assumption, then we can use some thought experiments regarding death to help figure out what each of us considers to be our mental death and thus by extension we can figure out by what we respectively define ourselves, i.e. our respective individual identities, or what makes each of us who we are.

Thought Experiment One - The Teleportation Device

Consider a teleportation device a la Star Trek. Although at this time it's still science fiction and perhaps always going to be practically infeasible, this device isn't exactly supernatural. The device scans a person in full at the atomic level, then the device communicates this information to somewhere else, then re-assembles what is essentially an atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule copy of the person at that other place, and then finally vaporizes the original person. It's sort of like a 3-D atomic fax machine. It creates what could be called a clone of a person, but that clone is actually a perfect copy of a person including their memories, personality and so forth since every atom of their brain is still put together in the same way. The original body of the person has died in the bodily sense, but as we can see illustrated by Star Trek the person in the mental sense seems to be preserved and simply teleported. For the sake of argument pretend you have a terminal illness that for some reason you know with certainly will kill you completely in exactly 2 years but you have the option to teleport to another planet that is too far to travel normally and get cured and then you know you -- the recreated version of you -- will live for over 10 more years. A silly example but the point is you have a choice between living 2 years with no teleportation and die normally, or you can be teleported and live post-teleportation for at least 5 times as long. Which do you choose? In another example, imagine you live in a futuristic world and you need to travel to Mars for some reason. Imagine you can choose between taking a relatively dangerous flight in a spaceship with a 40% chance the spaceship is completely destroyed and you die in the normal bodily way, incinerated like someone quickly burning to death in a fast-paced house fire. Or you can choose to teleport there with an over 99.9% chance the teleportation goes smoothly but of course your original body will actually definitely be vaporized -- or for the sake of symmetry maybe let's say incinerated. Which do you choose?

Philosophical Thought Experiment 2 - Special Brain Surgery

For the sake of argument, imagine this unrealistically over-simplified hypothetical: Imagine you get diagnosed with a brain tumor. Imagine that with certainty the doctor's predict that without action the tumor will be unnoticeable and symptomless to you on a day-to-day basis but that it will certainly kill you in 18-24 months. There is only one option for treatment. You can undergo a special kind of brain surgery that will make you live -- in the bodily sense -- for presumably decades longer, but the surgery will cause you to have a permanent case of amnesia. You will still be able to talk and remember basic impersonal facts (e.g. 2 + 2 = 4, dogs are mammals, how to ride a bike) but you lose all of your autobiographical memories: you will permanently forget your name, your childhood, who your friends are, what your occupation is, what your preferences are, your first kiss and so on and so forth. You will not recognize anyone you knew before the surgery. You can meet new people after the surgery and recognize people you meet (or re-meet) after the surgery and remember everything you learn (or re-learn) about them after the surgery. If you do the surgery you will almost definitely live for at least decades longer in the bodily sense but you definitely will suffer from this permanent amnesia. If you don't do the surgery, you get to keep your memories for now but you die completely in only 2 years or less. You have to choose now; you can't wait 2 years and then do the surgery at the last minute. Do you do the surgery or not?

What if we also say that in addition to the amnesia the brain surgery will likely alter your unique hormone-levels and personality: if you went in heterosexual maybe you come out homosexual or asexual, if you went in with an anger-problem you might come out more clam and patient or vice versa. This might be similar to the personality change between a drunk person and a sober person or vice versa. It might be like the personality difference between a prepubescent child and the same child well into puberty when hormones are raging. There is no certain way to say what your personality in terms of hormones and slightly vandalized brain parts will be like. It will be a new roll of the die. If you were going to do the surgery before, would you still do the surgery with this new twist?

Philosophical Thought Experiment 3 - Brain Transplant

By current technology, we can already transplant many organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestine and thymus and tissues including bones, tendons, cornea, skin, heart valves, and veins. Imagine we discover how to transplant the brain. Imagine you are in a terrible car accident and you are bed-ridden and slowly dying. You can live out a couple years in a hospital bed, watching TV, visiting family members and so forth, OR you have a one-time chance of having your brain transplanted into a body-donor. For the sake of argument, let's assume the operation is fairly safe and expected to be successful, at least as safe as current and common kidney transplants now. Your appearance in your new body would be completely different of course. If you were tall, now you would be short. If you were blue-eyed, maybe now you would be brown-eyed. If you were a very dark-skinned person, maybe now you would be very light-skinned. Your so-called 'race' would be different. But you would still possess your general personality, memories and knowledge. For inspiration on the fundamental result consider a non-supernatural, non-secret version of any of the many body switching movies like Freaky Friday, The Change-Up, and The Hot Chick. Would you rather live 1 year in your old, broken body or would you rather live decades in a new body? What if you your new body was of the opposite gender, which would presumably also switch your sexual orientation by relation, i.e. if you were a heterosexual male you would become a homosexual female since your brain and thus preference in sexual partners would come with you. Would that affect your decision?

Philosophical Thought Experiment 4 - Mind Uploading to The Matrix

Imagine that we developed the technology to build a virtual reality world that worked almost identically to the one depicted in the movie The Matrix minus the evil AI overlords. You can plug in and feel like you are living in the real world. If you die in the fake world, you die in real life. Now imagine something a little different. Imagine the contents of your brain can actually be uploaded to the world killing off your real-life body and making you exist permanently in this virtual reality world. From your perspective from inside this version of 'The Matrix,' not having your original body living and plugged in to The Matrix but rather destroyed would seem no different to you while inside. Your virtual-reality-self would still have all your memories, personality, tastes, appearance and so forth. Now imagine you have the option of living 1 year with your access to your body outside the Matrix -- with the ability to plug in and out as you wish to enjoy the benefits of being inside -- and then dying a certain complete death in 1 year OR you can upload your mind to The Matrix as described and live a full life inside The Matrix -- at least decades longer. You have to choose 1 option and you have to choose it immediately, i.e. you cannot wait for the year to be up on the outside and then upload later. Which do you choose? 1 year with your real life body or decades with only your virtual self? What if it wasn't just a full life but you could live indefinitely in the Matrix, for thousands of years or more, since you are now just a digital AI whose not the victim of human aging. So now you have the choice between 1 year with a real body or probably at least thousands of years in 'The Matrix' but you lose that 1 year with the real body. Which do you choose? Again, for the sake of argument, let's say you only get 1 chance to make the choice so you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You either lose the real-life-year and gain the-many-Matrix-years or vice versa.

***

For what it's worth, I personally would definitely choose teleportation, brain transplant and mind uploading over original body preservation. I'm conflicted on my brain surgery example because of the memories, hormones and other personality issues. Selfishly speaking, which is most relevant to the topic at hand, I would probably rather keep my memories for a year than live 10 without them (but more realistically I might be inclined to accept a longer-life with amnesia if it would be financially better for my family assuming I'm still of working age and would be in working and child-caring condition).

If anyone else has any philosophical thought experiments that would address other issues involving the definition of the self in regards to death, please explain them.

Thanks! Scott
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Death of the Body versus Death of the Self



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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#2  Postby Fimbulthul » May 9th, 2012, 5:17 pm

I think that bodily death is something that people fear far too much. What we really are is out thoughts, and our memories (though this may contradict with an athletes perspective of the person). To me, it would actually be interesting to be placed into a different body (and I do not mean neccisarily a human body) but still have the things that truly define the person. Of course, there is no way to do that (yet), but that is partly what makes it so fascinating for me to think about!

I, too, would definately choose mind-uploading (and other bodily death choices) over the others.

Thank you for reading! Fimbulthul...
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#3  Postby Spectrum » May 11th, 2012, 12:10 am

Theoretically, if any of the experiments listed above work, I do not mind choosing the most effective and optimal one to the circumstances. Whether it works or not, can easily be verified by testing others who had done the conversion procedure. This can be done via interacting and communicating with the 'self' of one's friends, relatives or persons to confirm whether they are the same core person as before. Thereafter when oneself has done the experiment, one can counter check one own awareness and experiences against those of the previous 'self'. The possibility of the above is however conditioned upon a big "IF".

From our current knowledge, we have an ordinary and conventional 'self' that is conditioned to a living human within past and current conditions. From the philosophical perspective, according to Hume, there is no personal self per-se, i.e.
According to the standard interpretation of Hume on personal identity, he was a Bundle Theorist, who held that the self is nothing but a bundle of experiences ("perceptions") linked by the relations of causation and resemblance; or, more accurately, that the empirically warranted idea of the self is just the idea of such a bundle.



The bundle of human experience is conditioned by organic processes and not mechanical ones. The human brain has appx. 100 billion neurons each with up to 10,000 synapses. Each synaptic connection has it own complex set-up for chemical and electrical processes. The self is also embodied and there are another 100 billion neuron in visceral regions. With such extensive complexities, imo, I don't think it is easy to replicate the current conditions that support the existing 'self'.

This view is recognized by AI (with neuro-cognitive science) where autonomuous robots has to accumulate and learn from its own experiences for the more refined actions and responses.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#4  Postby Ophiuchus » May 11th, 2012, 7:18 pm

This kind of discussion about continuity of self is very interesting to me. Thank you, OP. :) I am actually very seriously considering cryonics to surpass death and live a potentially indefinite life, and for this reason I want to be sure that if cryonics ever works, that it will be me who is revived, and not someone else.

My answers:

1.) I am not sure whether I should believe that "I" could survive such a teleportation, so I cannot answer this question.

2.) I subscribe to Locke's theory of personal identity, so to experience complete amnesia is literally the equivalent of death to me. I would not accept the operation.

3.) Hell yes.

4.) Hell yes.

I actually have a problem which I think is very serious for people who think like I do regarding this matter.

Let us suppose that a teleporter device like in the first example really does exist and that it can recreate a perfect duplicate of all the particles in your body (including relative positions and velocities of every atom). Now suppose that you use it, but it malfunctions, and it creates a perfect duplicate of you at the arrival teleporter while leaving your original body also intact at the departure teleporter. Which one would be you? Would you have the experience of being at the departing teleporter, or at the arriving teleporter? Would you experience being both at once? Neither? I have no idea how I could possibly answer this question, and it is a serious problem for me.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#5  Postby Scott » May 11th, 2012, 7:34 pm

Ophiuchus wrote:Let us suppose that a teleporter device like in the first example really does exist and that it can recreate a perfect duplicate of all the particles in your body (including relative positions and velocities of every atom). Now suppose that you use it, but it malfunctions, and it creates a perfect duplicate of you at the arrival teleporter while leaving your original body also intact at the departure teleporter. Which one would be you? Would you have the experience of being at the departing teleporter, or at the arriving teleporter? Would you experience being both at once? Neither? I have no idea how I could possibly answer this question, and it is a serious problem for me.

I think that that thought experiment helps show how illusionary each of our self-constructs is. It's an extreme oversimplification that has practical use, but it doesn't make sense to fear the death of it because it is not real and thus cannot die anymore than one can kill Santa Claus. It helps me to, for instance, identify with my children who by the time I am an old dying man will be more like I am now than I will be like me now then. In that sense, I am not the same person who shared my social security number 20 years ago nor will I be that old man, but if I am around at all I will be my children in a sense. This can also be expanding to patriots who identify with their nation as a whole or really anybody who identifies with anything and we can understand why people will give their bodily lives for such things.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#6  Postby Muddler » May 18th, 2012, 1:11 pm

The self is the total personality, everything that makes one a person. The dead are not selves.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#7  Postby Joe » May 19th, 2012, 3:13 pm

Hi Scott,

On the general topic and related questions, it would seem that new and most relevant sources of observational data are becoming increasingly available; namely near-death experiences (NDE) suggesting that consciousness transcends the physical. (See “Consciousness Beyond Life, the Science of the Near Death Experience” by Pim van Lommel (Harper-Collins)) A clinically ‘dead’ individual observes himself and the hospital staff from near the ceiling above his body, and, on recovery, is able to recount actual observed details, reporting, as well, being greeted by long-dead parents, friends, etc. suggesting that consciousness is eternal. Van Lommel reviews experiments in quantum theory that seem to relate.

It is suggested that we should regard the physical, including our bodies, as emergent, contrived means to an end, or purpose, rather than fundamental. In other words there will be no TOE in completely objective terms, as ‘things; time, space etc.’ are not fundamental but emergent from an indefinitely hierarchic structure of Natural Order, as follows:

1. According to Hawking there is scientific theory to account for all objective phenomena. Unfortunately, as he also reminds us, the relevant science is in the form of five separate theories, with no existing objective theory common to all. As Hawking says, “It may not make sense to talk about what is real.” He makes it sound like the physical is not ‘stand-alone’ fundamental.

2. The existence of physical process implies emergence of mass (big bang, etc.) which implies an expression of energy, the analysis of which implies an origin at extremely high temperatures that are said to be unachievable on earth (for achieving proof of any deeper objective theory, etc.) And then, what is the origin of that initial condition as an event having properties of time and space that had no prior expression (prior to big bang, etc.)?

3. Why separate the order of matter (objective) and the order of mind (subjective) into separate ‘dimensions’? All natural laws (objective) are extensions of the deeper Natural Order (subjective) as follows: The quality of symmetry rules all conservation law, (Noether’s Theorem) meaning all objective expression, while symmetry, in turn, is a particular of the deeper, more general and inclusive quality of the aesthetic (subjective) which guides sustainable creative choice (such as the Golden Rule, etc.) In other words, symmetry stands at the interface between the fundamental subjective realm (ends) and its emergent objective expression (means). And our neural faculties have evolved to give us exactly the analytic/synthetic skills essential to objective means, as well as our evolved aesthetic sense and feelings to guide sustainable constructive choice. In other words the subjective and the objective appear to be an essential and integral continuum in terms of “cosmic ends and means.” Perhaps a thread would be useful on the topic of Near Death Experiences. . .

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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#8  Postby Scott » May 19th, 2012, 4:00 pm

Muddler and Joe, you didn't respond to the questions regarding the philosophical thought experiments in the OP. I appreciate your comments on the general topic of the death of the self, but I'd also appreciate answers to some of the specific questions asked in the OP.

Joe wrote:On the general topic and related questions, it would seem that new and most relevant sources of observational data are becoming increasingly available; namely near-death experiences (NDE) suggesting that consciousness transcends the physical. (See “Consciousness Beyond Life, the Science of the Near Death Experience” by Pim van Lommel (Harper-Collins)) A clinically ‘dead’ individual observes himself and the hospital staff from near the ceiling above his body, and, on recovery, is able to recount actual observed details, reporting, as well, being greeted by long-dead parents, friends, etc. suggesting that consciousness is eternal. Van Lommel reviews experiments in quantum theory that seem to relate.

That's pseudo-science. It's conjecture -- not science -- regarding a supposed afterlife by Lommel. Anecdotal accounts aside, nobody has been able to scientifically demonstrate out-of-body experiences at all such as by having a person name an object hidden above in a setting. I recommend anyone who thinks they can demonstrate such things scientifically claim their millions dollars from the JREF Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#9  Postby Muddler » May 19th, 2012, 4:49 pm

Scott, there can be no self without a living body just as there can be no mind without a brain or sight without eyes. The mind is the activity of the brain, and a dead brain is not active and never will be. A living body is a biological system which has evolved to resist the disruptive forces of nature long enough to reproduce before it is irreversibly disrupted. If we lived forever, we could not evolve. Evolution is a progressive chain of adaptive change, and we are one tiny link in a chain that started four billion years ago and one day we will be seen as primitive, gone forever, and not worth bringing back.

I would turn down every option in your thought experiments. I didn't miss me before I was conceived, and I won't miss me when I'm gone.
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#10  Postby Joe » May 19th, 2012, 5:25 pm

Hi Scott, Re your Post-1. 5/9/12

TE-1 Teleportation Device I would be concerned whether the sense of self would survive the transport. A witness at the new location might not be able to tell the difference, but it is not clear to me whether the original sense of self would exist in the new location.

TE-2 a. Yes b. Yes

TE-3 Yes to new body Gender and preferences change OK TE-4 Yes, upload to Matrix


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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#11  Postby Scott » May 19th, 2012, 9:35 pm

Thanks for your replies! :)

***

Muddler wrote:Scott, there can be no self without a living body just as there can be no mind without a brain or sight without eyes. The mind is the activity of the brain, and a dead brain is not active and never will be. A living body is a biological system which has evolved to resist the disruptive forces of nature long enough to reproduce before it is irreversibly disrupted. If we lived forever, we could not evolve. Evolution is a progressive chain of adaptive change, and we are one tiny link in a chain that started four billion years ago and one day we will be seen as primitive, gone forever, and not worth bringing back.

I would turn down every option in your thought experiments. I didn't miss me before I was conceived, and I won't miss me when I'm gone.

Why would you rather die completely than teleport?

***

Joe wrote:TE-1 Teleportation Device I would be concerned whether the sense of self would survive the transport. A witness at the new location might not be able to tell the difference, but it is not clear to me whether the original sense of self would exist in the new location.

Does this mean you believe in the possibility of philosophical zombies?
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#12  Postby Joe » May 19th, 2012, 10:09 pm

I'd be more inclined to argue that such transport can never take place.

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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#13  Postby Scott » May 19th, 2012, 11:24 pm

That seems like a moot point to me, but feel free to elaborate. My point rests on the question, if an atom-by-atom replica of you was made somehow and your original body destroyed, would you consider yourself dead in the mental sense? Would that walking, talking replica with your memories be a philosophical zombie?
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#14  Postby Joe » May 20th, 2012, 1:12 am

I expect I would die with the original body. The replica would fill in the social role, in theory. I share memories with close friends but never have the feeling of identity with them. Zombie? How could the replica be a zombie, having a full set of memories, etc.? But does the body generate or attach a unique spirit that surives the death of the individual body? If it does, when? At conception or later? If does, I would expect it at conception. Joe
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Re: Death of the Body versus Death of the Self

Post Number:#15  Postby Muddler » May 20th, 2012, 1:25 pm

Scott, I'm old and tired. Too weary to start over on another planet.
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