Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dead, Or Alive?

There is a very interesting article that ToI has run on the front page. This article is about a rare heart operation. While i dont know details, and even if i did, i wouldnt have been able to understand them. But i am not writing about my ignorance. I dont have to, its quite well known.

So what am i writing about? This surgical procedure which is rare, for a heart condition which is rare, too. Though thats not what i am writing about. What i am thinking about is what the state of suspended animation means. What the article says is that the patient was put in a state of suspended animation. What that meant, according to the article, is that the patient was put in a state where the brain wasnt functioning. In other words, the patient was in a state where the body was not functioning. Not that it wasnt functioning normally, it just wasnt functioning.

While this aspect is quite understood with respect to micro-organisms (high school biology will tell you thatif you freeze food, the micro-organisms get frozen too ... The thaw brings them back to the realm of activity), apart from the biological aspect, this opens up interesting lines of thought. What is the difference, for example, between someone who is in suspended, and someone who is dead? If both states are about the bodily functions stopping, one temporary, another permanent, how does one know, when in the middle, whether it is temporary or permanent?

Exploring this further, if theres no way to make out, in the middle of it, whether this is a temporary or permanent state, then what is it that makes it temporary, or permanent? Obviously, there must be some component the absence of which makes this permanent state. What, then, is this component? It cant be biological. Which implies that we have not yet completely understood the structure of human existence. This isnt something a lot of people would disagree with. Since that is so, we seem to be on the right track.

So what makes the difference between suspended animation and death? Let me ask another question to illustrate what i am thinking. Is the difference between suspended animation and death the same as the difference between the living and the dead? And i am not even talking about the subject of awareness. Thats another complex aspect which i will write about later. I think it is. While i may be oversimplifying, one is either in this world or not. If we say that as long as one is on this world, they are alive, then the rest follows from there. Now, why would we say that? If we appreciate the fact that death is irreversible, we can, from there, lead to the idea that one cannot come back from the state of death. But one can come back from the state of suspended animation, so this is definitely not equivalent to death. Which, in our binary scenario, is equivalent to being alive. This would mean the presence of consciousness in the state of suspended animation, and this, i believe, is what distinguishes between one and the other, between whether its temporary or permanent. Any thoughts, please do comment.

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