RE: CRYO: "Ischemia" vs. "Reversibly dead"

From: Max More (
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 23:51:24 MDT

At 08:43 PM 4/30/01, Natasha wrote:
>At 06:55 PM 4/30/01 -0500, Harvey wrote:
> >I prefer the term "legally dead", which implies maybe not medically dead, or
> >the phrase "dead by today's standards", which implies that this might not be
> >considered dead in the future.
>You are correct, Harvey. Cryonics patients are "legally dead." They are
>also "suspended" To call them "dead" is inexact.

I agree with Harvey and Natasha. To insist, as Eliezer did, that suspension
are "DEAD" in such universal terms, misses the complexities of the issue.
Aside from legal death vs. clinical death vs. biological death vs.
informational death, it's worth noting that the term "dead" is ambiguous.
In one sense it implies irreversibility. In another sense ("my car engine
is dead; I'd better get it fixed") it does not.

Since I don't think the following piece is on the Web, I'll include it
here. Bear in mind that I wrote it over a decade ago, so it doesn't fully
reflect my later thinking. The second link below, to my doctoral
dissertation is more recent and much more complete.

IMMORTALIST PHILOSOPHY (January 1991 Cryonics Magazine):


         by Max More.

         Wider acceptance of cryonics will require new conceptual
categories. As cryonicists it is our responsibility to use terminology and
concepts that reflect our understanding of the rationale behind the
suspension procedure. Sloppy use of terms will not effectively communicate
our ideas to others. Despite Brian Wowk's important article, "The Death of
`Death' in Cryonics," (Cryonics #95, June 1988), too many cryonicists are
still using terms like "death" inaccurately. Here I will re-present and
build on Brian's suggestion, hopefully reinforcing the point for long-time
cryonicists and to explain it to recent participants.

         Traditionally, biological organisms have been classified as either
alive or dead. Two basic reasons explain this simple categorization.
Firstly, until very recently, when heartbeat and respiration stopped there
was no way to return a person to life. It seemed that there was a point
beyond which life had permanently ceased and so it was natural to assume
that life suddenly turned into death.

         Secondly, most people have believed in the existence of a
non-physical carrier of consciousness and personality. The body was
considered merely a vehicle for this "soul". Again, it seemed natural to
understand death as the point at which the soul left the body - a sudden
event rather than a gradual process. A dualist (one who believes mind or
soul is separate from matter or brain) should really say that though the
body dies the person survives in another form. On that view, the exit of
the soul is only a physical death, but not the true death of the person.

         We now know beyond any reasonable doubt that personality is a
function of a physical brain process, expressed through an attached
physical body. We also now know that the cessation of heartbeat and
respiration does not force us to conclude that the person has died. If
"death" is to mean the permanent loss of personality, then persons have not
died until there is no possibility of recovering their personality.

          Dying can no longer be thought of as a sudden event. Since the
personality is encoded in the structure of the brain, dying is a gradual
process of degradation in the neural structures embodying personality. The
possibility of halting the dying process demands a new term to describe the
condition of someone in the stages between the first state of normal
conscious function and the second state of death. This Third State (in
historical, not logical order) is the condition cryonic suspension patients
are in.

         Strictly speaking, the Third State is a collection of states.
Cryonicists have often referred to suspension patients as having
"deanimated", or simply being "in suspension". I want to offer a set of
terms, some already in use, which will clarify the possibilities that lie
between life and death.

         The general term I propose for a person who is in a stable
condition between life and death is "inactivate". I prefer this to
"deanimate" for two reasons. (a) "Deanimated" connotes lack of observable
movement. People who are not animated in the normal sense may be sleeping,
comatose, resting, and so on. Saying they are inactivate more strongly
implies that biological activity at the cellular and molecular level has
ceased. (b) The movie "Reanimator" has, for some people, produced negative
connotations to "reanimation" and "deanimation". Talk of inactivate,
inactivation, deactivating, and reactivating avoids these difficulties.

         "Inactivate" is a general term subsuming several possibilities, of
which cryonic suspension is only one. Since survival of personality
involves continuation of a certain functional process, there are several
ways of being inactivate that allow for possible future restoration to life
and consciousness.

         Inactivate may mean (a) Biostatic (or "in biostasis"). This means
that the person's original body is being preserved with the intention of
eventual repair and reactivation. Biostasis itself may take at least three
forms: (i) Cryostasis, or cryonic suspension, which is the only method
currently used. (ii) Vitrification, in which very low-temperature storage
is accomplished without formation of ice crystals. (iii) Various forms of
chemical fixation, such as use of cross-linking to prevent biological
         (b) Inactivate persons might survive in a non-biological form. On
a functionalist view, personality persists so long as the same functioning
can be restored. This means that personality is to its physical
implementation (normally the brain) as software is to hardware. This does
not mean that any software can be "run" on any hardware, but it does mean
that there may be kinds of hardware other than the brain capable of
supporting the kind of functioning that produces personality and

          If the structure of a person's dying brain was throughly analyzed
and the information specifying that structure reliably stored, it would be
possible in principle to later build a new brain functionally identical to
the old one (except for the rejuvenation of the cells). Someone existing in
the form of stored information would not be dead, since there has not been
an irreversible loss of the information necessary to restore function. If
the information is later embodied in a new brain, or uploaded into a
suitably designed computer, the personality of the original person would be
restored and they would once again be alive.

         In the debate following Brian's article, Jerry Leaf and Hugh Hixon
rejected Brian's suggestion that we refer to suspension patients as being
in an "ametabolic coma" or in an "ischemic coma", on the grounds that these
terms already have defined senses incompatible with our desired usage.
Instead then, we can refer to such patients by the general term
"inactivate", or the more specific terms "biostatic/in biostasis",
"cryostatic/in cryostasis," or simply "suspended".

         All these terms are applicable to persons who are in the stable
third state between life and death. But how should we describe those who
are in the process of decay toward death (apart from "in need of
suspension"!)? Calling them "partially alive" is misleading since it
suggests that certain parts of them are dead. If we describe then as
degenerating or deactivating we are accurately stressing the point that
they are in the midst of a process that is heading in an undesirable
direction. This has the advantage that it implies the possibility of
halting the process. Accuracy demands that we reserve the term "dying" for
a process that begins some time after degeneration has begun; a person does
not begin to die until degeneration has reached the point where information
essential to personality functioning is being permanently lost. This
happens only after the degenerative process has been proceeding for some time.

The following is the second chapter of my dissertation, covering this issue
in detail. (To get the full context, you should read chapter 1, but it's
not crucial.)

Ch.2: The Terminus of the Self

-- Bodily Death and Personal Death: Death of the biological organism and
death of the person.
-- Two Meanings of 'Dead': Temporary and irreversible loss of life.
-- Permanence vs. Irreversibility: Permanent and Theoretical Death
-- Irreversible Cessation and Types of Continuity: Information vs
function-based criteria.
-- Deanimate: A state apart from life and death. Distinctions between
deanimate, inactivate and dormant.
-- Partial Death.
-- Declaring Death and Deanimation: Declaration as partly factual
assessment, partly decision.
-- Practical Importance of the Deanimate Category: Effects on attitudes,
status, and survival prospects.




Max More, Ph.D. or
President, Extropy Institute.
Senior Content Architect, ManyWorlds Inc.:
Chair, Extro-5: Shaping Things to Come,

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