Dead as a Doornail? Death is the ultimate binary condition
2012-11-19 0:00

By Peter Rothman | H+ Magazine

Black or white. Alive or dead. Right?

In reality death is not well defined and the definition of death has changed substantially over time.

H.P Lovecraft famously wrote, “That is not dead which can eternal lie. Yet with strange aeons even death may die.” This amounts to a pretty good summary of our current philosophical understanding of death. Death is simply the condition wherein you can not be brought back to life. If you can be brought back, then you weren’t really dead.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides us a few examples of more nuanced definitions, for example one might suggest that death is “the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning” or the “ irreversible loss of personhood.” These amount to circular definitions that really don’t tell us anything specific about how to decide when someone is dead. What is “organismic functioning” and how do we know when it is happening? Personhood is of course mostly a legal definition pertaining to rights which are terminated upon death. But if you are brought back to life, you weren’t really dead.

And we’ve been burying people alive for a long time.

According to Wikipedia, “A safety coffin or security coffin is a coffin fitted with a mechanism to prevent premature burial or allow the occupant to signal that they have been buried alive. A large number of designs for safety coffins were patented during the 18th and 19th centuries and variations on the idea are still available today.” During epidemics some people would fall into coma and appear to be dead. Methods for determining when someone was dead where however crude at best.

For example, in 1899 a law was introduced in New York state requiring all mortuaries to maintain a room where apparently dead people were to be “kept for a certain time” to help prevent premature burial. If you woke up during this time you weren’t dead. Determination of death consisted of simply waiting to see if the person spontaneously woke up. Of course the method was far from foolproof so safety coffins were developed to allow people that were mistakenly buried alive to call for help and escape.

But things are not much better today. How does a doctor decide when you are actually dead?

It has been known since antiquity that some people will present as if they are dead, but later will awaken. This can result from injury or disease. Throughout history various measures have been used to determine when a person was truly dead therefore. Initially tests for responsiveness such as yanking on the person’s nipples. Tobacco smoke enemas were also used for this purpose. The idea was of course advanced with the invention of the stethoscope such that person’s with very weak heartbeats could now be determined to still be alive. Previously, many people were treated as if they were dead while their heart still beat. But for a long time death was associated with the cessation of the audible beating of the heart and breathing.

Further developments included the ECG or EKG for measuring the heart’s electrical activity. The definition of death became the well known “flatline.” But with the development of defibrillators cessation of heart activity alone could not be a sufficient basis to diagnosis death. Since some people’s heart’s could be restarted, doctor’s had to require that the heart remain stopped and could not be restarted for some period of time. Further developments allowed for measurement of activity in the brain via the EEG. This led to the modern view which is to look instead at the activity in the brain not the heart. We now know that people with entirely non-functional hearts can be kept alive for extended periods of time. So the brain is the right place to look, but the brain is complex and what exactly constitutes death in the brain is correspondingly unclear.

[...]


Read the full article at: hplusmagazine.com





Related Articles
Woman was sceptical about an afterlife... until near death experience changed everything
The Famous ’Tennis Shoe’ Near Death Experience
Extreme Mysteries: Near Death Experiences (Video)
Near Death Experience "explained" by carbon dioxide
People Born Blind Can See During Near Death Experiences
The Good Death: Making Death Part of Your Life
Death of the Ego IV – The Tree of the Ego
How height affects cause of death
A Matter of Life and Death : Archaeosoup Productions


Latest News from our Front Page

The Viking ”Maine Penny” Mystery
2015-03-05 3:41
In 1957, during his second year of digging at the Goddard site; a large prehistoric Indian trade village in Penobscot Bay on the central Maine coast, local resident and amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found a small silver coin. The coin is later identified by experts as a Norse silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre, king of Norway ...
The Sagas of the (Viking) Icelanders Shed Light on Golden Age
2015-03-05 3:40
The Sagas of the Icelanders have long been preserved as the most comprehensive specimen of the literary culture of the 13th and 14th centuries of Iceland. In writing these sagas, many attributes of the 10th and 11th centuries were conserved, particularly individual biographies, the history of family feuds, and the overall evolution of the one of the greatest settlements ...
Benjamin Netanyahu's Full Speech to Congress
2015-03-05 1:36
Here is the full speech of Pathological Zionist Liar Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States Congress. "And the Oscar goes too ...." Description from YouTube: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel used one of the most prominent platforms in the world on Tuesday to warn against what he called a “bad deal” being negotiated with Iran to freeze its nuclear program, bringing ...
The FDA Admits That Prior to 2011 Over 70% of U.S. Chickens Contained Cancer-Causing Arsenic
2015-03-04 20:32
Prior to 2011, the cancer-causing toxic chemical Roxarsone, which in high doses could kill you, was being added to chicken feed on purpose, giving store-bought chicken the illusion of healthy coloring and plump appearance. Shockingly, this was the case with more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens! A recent article was published stating that this continued to be the ...
The Truth About Starbucks New Coconut Milk: It Isn’t Really Coconut Milk
2015-03-03 22:14
In an attempt to appeal to the non-dairy crowd, Starbucks is bringing “coconut milk” to the masses. After a successful trial run in select cities at the behest of their customers, Starbucks has decided to push forward with their dairy alternative. Providing a non-dairy alternative to dairy and soy is the second most requested customer idea of all time from MyStarbucksIdea.com, ...
More News »