what is alive?

gavin moran charlie.bell at cbr.for.csiro.au
Wed Sep 18 20:10:59 EST 1996

>Steve McGrew (stevem at comtch.iea.com) wrote:
>:         I think a lot of the problem people have with the concept of
"what is 
>: alive" may come from the idea that there is a "spirit" that enters leaves
>: body upon birth and leaves upon death: an on/off kind of quantity called 
>: "life".  In the context of current medical, biological, biochemical and 
>: cybernetic knowledge, that idea is nonsense.  If "life" is to be something 
>: science deals with, it must be measurable, quantifiable-- and probably not a 
>: binary quantity.
>  Death does have a binary feel to it. Say a person is walking down the 
>street -- mind full of ideas, the muscles all working together, eyes 
>taking in the environment... and then, a bullet through the brain. 
>Instant death. It doesn't do much good to urge, "Well, the e coli are 
>still churing away, the hair is still growing, etc." The whole person is 
>dead -- irreversably dead. All those coordinated efforts have been shut 
>down, never to be restarted. 
>  Looks awfully binary to me.

So what do you call someone who ends up in a coma. Entirely brain dead with
massive damage, but still breathing and metabolising food? They could last a
long time on a life support system, but would certainly starve to an
unambiguous death without it.

Charlie Bell

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