Sunday, July 16, 2017

Informed organs surviving the death of an individual

In my last post, I offered a puzzle, one way out of which was to accept the possibility of informed bits of an animal surviving the death of the animal. But the puzzle involved a contrived case--a snake that was annihilated.

But I can do the same story in a much more ordinary context. Jones is lying on his back in bed, legs stretched out, with healthy feet, and dies of some brain or heart problem. How does the form (=soul) leave his body? Well, there are many stories we can tell. But here's one thing that's clear: the form does not leave the toes before leaving the rest of the body. I.e., either the toes die (=are abandoned by the form) last or they die simultaneously with the rest. But in either case, then Special Relativity and the geometry of the body (the fact that one can draw a plane such that one or more toes are on one side of the plane, and the rest of the body is on the other) imply that there is a reference frame in which the form leaves one or more of the toes last. Thus, there will be a reference frame and a time at which only toes or parts of toes are informed. It is implausible to think that one is alive if all that's left alive are the toes. So organs can survive death while informed by the individual's form.


Angra Mainyu said...

Organ transplants are also common enough, and we don't need relativity to raise the issue (if I get the issue you're trying to raise right): If some organs are transplanted, those are the ones that survive. If they're transplanted into different people, different organs will likely die at very different times.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The standard Aristotelian thing to say is that when an organ is removed from a body, the form of the organism withdraws from the organ.

Angra Mainyu said...

What if, in the future, the brain is removed and connected to some kind of robot, ala Robocop, Ghost in the Shell, etc.? If the removal of the organ makes it no longer informed, it would seem the organism is dead. But the person isn't dead, at least if all of the brain or the relevant parts of the brain are saved.

Maybe the brain is special and remains informed. But if that's the case, why not also say that when the brain dies, no organ is informed anymore? (the brain is already special).

Alexander R Pruss said...

In such a scenario, one isn't removing the brain, but one is removing the rest of the body.

Angra Mainyu said...

That does not seem to me to match common usage: The brain is removed from the skull. But leaving that aside, the theory appears very weird. For example, we can consider two parallel cases:

A. The brain is removed from the skull while still alive, and later destroyed.
B. The brain is destroyed without removing it from the skull.

In case A, the theory says that the heart, lungs, liver, etc., are no longer informed, because when the brain was removed from the skull, one is removing the rest of the body, and organs that are removed are not informed.
In case B, the theory says that the heart, lungs, liver, etc., remain informed, because they were not removed.

That seems very implausible. Why would there be any difference?
The organs remain alive for a while just the same, regardless of whether the brain was removed first, then killed (or placed in a robot, or whatever), or just killed.
Is the standard Aristotelian view committed to that sort of result?