Re: [UPLOADING] Is the original alive?

Hal Finney (
Thu, 16 Jul 1998 09:44:17 -0700 (Harvey Newstrom) writes:
> Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 00:46:34 -0400
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> Organization: Newstaff, Inc.
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> > (Harvey Newstrom) writes:
> > > You didn't answer the question. You said before you shoot it, the body
> > > and brain are alive. After you shoot it, are the body and brain still
> > > alive?
> >
> > No, after you shoot it, the body and brain is not still alive. However
> > the person is still alive.
> You seem to refuse to use the word "dead".

No, I was just echoing the wording of your question, as is clear from the material above. I am happy to say that that body has died, but that the person is still alive. Likewise, if I find a severed finger, I will say that the finger is dead, but that the person it was associated with may still be alive. The finger used to be alive, but now it is dead.

> Someone asked what the dead
> body was if the person didn't die. You said there was no dead body.

I did not engage in any such discussion.

> You still refuse to use the word "dead". Please define your test of
> whether a person is dead or alive. Current medical tests would fail to
> find your person alive. Current medical tests would declare your person
> dead. Until you can give a new definition for a new use of these terms,
> it is difficult to follow your explanations.

I think you are using the terms "person" and "body" synonymously here. Once we consider people who have no bodies, this correspondence is no longer so clear.

You might also consider what would happen if you do an autopsy and when you open the skull you find only a radio transceiver, with transducers interfacing to all the nerves which come into the brain. The body was being tele-operated by a brain (or computer?) elsewhere. There is an amusing story based on this concept in the Hofstadter/Dennett collection "The Mind's I", an excellent book for those interested in these kinds of issues.

Let me add one other point. In my opinion, the "alive vs dead" distinction is not the central point. The central issue is consciousness, whether it is terminated or (potentially) continues.

Being "alive" generally applies to biological systems with various properties of reproduction, maintainance of structure, etc. There are many living systems which appear to have no consciousness, such as bacteria.

It should also become possible to create conscious systems which are not "alive" by most definitions. If I load an AI program into my computer so that it can think, reason, feel, etc., it still would not have most of the properties generally associated with life. It would be conscious but not "alive".

This distinction is seen in the fields of Artificial Intelligence versus Artificial Life. The latter studies simulated organisms which can reproduce and grow in various ways, but which are not necessarily intelligent or conscious at all. AI on the other hand cares very little for the attributes studied by ALife researchers.

Now, you might choose to arbitrarily say that an AI system is "alive", even though it does not fall into the normal definitions. I prefer to say that just as we can have living systems which are not conscious, we could have conscious systems which are not living. There is no inherent association between the two concepts.

Given this perspective, we should recognize that the important factor with regard to a person is whether his consciousness is not destroyed, not whether he is biologically dead. Someone may be dead, but as long as there is the possibility or actuality that his consciousness goes on, he should not fear death.

Consciousness, in my view, is an information-processing activity. A given instance of consciousness is defined by its state and its transitions as it processes information. As long as this information which defines the consciousness is preserved, it has the potential of continuing. Rather than trying to stay alive, we should try to preserve our consciousness, in this sense.

So seeing a dead body does not by itself give you enough information to judge whether the information which defines the consciousness, the "person", it embodied, has been lost. Rather than focusing on death vs life, the issue is better dealt with in informational terms, in my opinion.