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Is information destroyed when someone dies?

  1. Apr 23, 2009 #1
    I was curious if, when someone dies, are the informetion, such as memories, stored in the brain lost? Is it possible to extract that information without somehow bringing life back into the person?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2009 #2


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    How exactly information and memories are stored in the brain is still the subject of much study, but it's basically the neuronal connections.

    If you could (magically) capture the state of connections before anything started to deteriorate (probably minutes), you might be able to (magically) preserve them. But capturing them and understanding them are two VERY different things.

    Don't hold your breath. Or your great-grand-children's breath(s).
  4. Apr 23, 2009 #3
    it will not destroy any physical laws. but we need technology.
  5. Apr 23, 2009 #4


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    That was a refreshing thought Charlie, thanks...
  6. Apr 24, 2009 #5
    Thanks for the replies, that would be a pretty convenient technology if we could probe the memories of the dead, definetly be a help to crime investigations.

    The reason I asked the question was to know if death really contradicts that information cannot be destroyed, if it does, then wouldn't the information have to leave the body somehow or another, perhaps in the form of a soul?
  7. Apr 24, 2009 #6
    This is more a question of philosophy than physics.
  8. Apr 24, 2009 #7
    Sorry about that, but anyway is information "destroyed" when someone or something dies?
  9. Apr 24, 2009 #8


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    No. "Information being destroyed" has a somewhat different meaning in cosmological circles.

    In a Newtonian universe, every particle and ray in the universe can have its position and velocity - in principle - measured to an arbitary level of accuracy. You could - again, in principle - take the sum total data of every particle's position and movement in the entire universe at any moment in time, and reverse the process, and trace it all the way back to the Big Bang.

    It also means that every atom of every neuron of a decomposed brain in a coffin could be traced backwards and the living, thinking brain could be recreated.

    That is one of the ways of thinking about conservation of information.

    In a black hole however, cause and effect is lost. You cannot trace particles backwards through time and recover the information - even in principle. It is lost forever.
  10. Apr 24, 2009 #9
    Yes, the information is lost. Even for alive people the memory changes and something gets forgotten, something gets distorted. And dieing destroys the information. That is why they kill for "knowing " too much.

  11. Apr 25, 2009 #10
    Thanks for the help everyone.
  12. Apr 26, 2009 #11
    interesting viewpoint
  13. Apr 26, 2009 #12
    Thanks for clearing up the information loss idea for me Dave.
  14. Apr 27, 2009 #13
    When we find out the technology that can mimic the neuronal connections and impulses for our different senses (touch, sight, etc) we can produce a perfect virtual reality possible ('Perfect' is relative - it is used to mean that the user should not be able to distinguish between the reality and the virtuality ). If that becomes possible, if that future-perfect our technology comes true, we would then easily "decode" the neural signals and connections in the brain so that a person's memory is preserved ! Well, having memory banks might seem like science fiction today, but its not altogether rubbish to give it a thought too ! :)

    P.S: Any resemblances to Hollywood flick 'The Matrix' is purely coincidental :)

    >> For more science/physics/technology/gadget related news turn on to my personal website http://www.spaceboy.in" [Broken]

    Space Boy
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  15. Apr 27, 2009 #14
    Memory banks would be pretty cool. When your older and want to relive some of the good times in your life you could just take a trip to the memory bank and have the forgotten or blurry memories put right back into your mind.
  16. Apr 27, 2009 #15
    Don't forget to mention that the universe is not actually Newtonian, that it's not possible to measure position and velocity to an arbitrary level of precision due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (because they don't exist in precise states but rather a superposition of probable states), and that the prevailing theory of QM assumes an element of randomness in everything that does cause information loss!

    'course, that's just the prevailing theory.

    This discussion reminds me of the field of acousta-archeology (or something like that..can't remember the precise word for it) where people analyze the surface of ancient clay pots to search for vibrational patterns caused by people's voices while they were hardening, and then play back the sounds like a record
  17. Apr 27, 2009 #16
    Unitary time evolution implies that information can never be lost. Even Hawking's idea that maybe information could get lost if you throw something in a black hole was hugely controversial and eventually Hawking had to concede that it probably is not true.

    So, even if someone would commit suicide by throwing himself in a black hole all the information stored in his brain would still come out of the black hole in a scrambled way hidden in the Hawking radiation.

    To see what it problematic with being able to erase information, suppose information stored in someone's brain could just be erased in an irreversible way without even the theoretical possibility of retrieving it. Then that implies that under a time evolution more than one possible state containing a brain will be mapped to the same final state, thus making it impossible from the final state to decide what the initial state was.

    This would therefore violate time reversal symmetry. Also, you could lower the entropy of a system. You can construct a Maxwell's Demon that manipulates a system, making it less random but then it ends up storing a lot of random information in its memory. If you could just erase all this information without the rest of the universe being affected by it, then you would have lowered the entropy of the universe. This then means that you can convert heat to work with 100% efficiency.
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