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The Semantics of the Dead

  1. Apr 10, 2004 #1
    There seems to be a problem with the way we refer to the dead. For example, say there is a dead rabbit. Note that I said "there is a dead rabbit". That is the equivalent of saying "the rabbit who does not exist exists in death". That implies there is an afterlife.
    OR: When when we say "there is a dead rabbit" we mean to say "the body of the dead rabbit exists." But of course, these are enitrely different statements. When we say "there is a dead rabbit" we are saying "the," (correct me on this) "spirit of the rabbit is in a state of death.". When we say "the body of the dead rabbit exists", we are saying "the body of the spirit of the rabbit exists in a state of death." So (again correct me on this) in both cases we are assuming a spirit exists.

    It seems evident that there is a need for the definition of alive and death.
    1.) alive - a being able to multiply and therefore posses hereditary material.
    2.) death - the absence of the characteristics of alive.

    Comments will be appreciated. :smile:
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2004 #2

    Alive seems to fit everything until a reclassification of its physical state of being dead. The spirit would then become a superposition of states.
  4. Apr 10, 2004 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    We can say something is dead without believing that some part of it (a spirit) still exists.
  5. Apr 10, 2004 #4
    So a spirit is dead AND alive? Why?
  6. Apr 11, 2004 #5
    superposition of states

    Imparcticle, I am saying, that everything is alive. You wish to use the rabbit as an example. The rabbit is alive until something changes, that we observe in the rabbit. What is it,? His physical state of being a live rabbit and a conscious live rabbit ends. Now at one time, before the rabbit was a rabbit, we could say the same thing, for all the components of that rabbit, they were something else. Now we can project, the rabbit into the future, what happens to all his components? They become many new things, each component has a precise time in which, it takes on a new identity. We discussed that on another thread. The change in physical systems have a precise moment of "happening", they then "become". Now each rabbit has the quality of the live rabbit being a rabbit and the rabbit being conscious of his rabbithood. Now he has it when we observe him hopping around and when he no longer hops, he does not have it. Now if you want to equate the rabbits living life and his consciousness of being a rabbit to his rabbit spirit. OK I will say, thats the way I see it. The spirit of the rabbit became was and went. Now if you examine what has been said here, the rabbit like everything else was a probability of becoming until it became. Everything just "Is" Everything is a superposition of states until it "Becomes". Now you could apply this objectively or subjectively what ever your choice materialism or idealism it makes no difference to me. This to me is the ultimate reality, the Oneness of everything.
  7. Apr 23, 2004 #6


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    Dead doesn't mean something doesn't exist, it just means it doesn't exhibit characteristics of life after previously having those characteristics (as opposed to something that is non-living, which never exhibited characteristics of life). Though, the best wording would be to say, "There are the remains of a rabbit." Afterall, much as with life, death is also a continuum of events. While the body is decaying but still recognizable as its former state (that of a rabbit), one can refer to the recognizable bits as "remains." Once decay is thorough enough to render the former form unrecognizable, we don't have this difficulty because the components of the former organism have been incorporated into new organisms, which we refer to as whatever they are (maggot, vulture, worm, weed, etc...).
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2004
  8. Apr 24, 2004 #7


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    Thing is, life (exception made of conciousness) can be entirely described in terms of other physical phenomena. There is no transcendental difference between a living cell and an automaton built to perform the same function and set in motion. This is particularly stressed by observation of viruses, prions, etc. and the difficulty we have to classify them as living or inert. There is no such a thing as life. It is merely a concept, with rather imprecise borders. Thus there is no death, either. What troubles me are the implications for conciousness.
  9. Apr 24, 2004 #8
    And it may be possible to do the same for consciousness.

    You say, in your following sentence that there is no life. Thus, according to that, we can easily classify viruses, prions, etc. as inert. There would be no difficulty if there was no life.

    Life is rather a characteristic. It is, as far as I know, is not unanimosly defined. The impricise borders are due to the fact that life has not been completely defined.

    There is life. How else can you justify the difference between a plant and a rock? One is alive, the other is in an opposite state, death. So there is death, there must be an end to life.

    In my opinion, people think too much of consciousness. Consicousness merely implies a state of awareness. And that life is.

    There is a need for a definition of life in this discussion, as is obvious.
  10. Apr 24, 2004 #9
    I said

    "The rabbit exists in death" can be attributed to a spiritual existence in a state of death, where a spiritual existence following death is life after death.
  11. Apr 25, 2004 #10
    Or, your could consider using your brainpower on something more meaningful or useful.
  12. Apr 25, 2004 #11
    "Meanigful" and "useful" are subjective. Define your definition please.
  13. Apr 26, 2004 #12
    Alot of good points have been made so far, but I think AI hit on one of the most important: There is no real definition of "life".

    More specifically relevant: Without a definition, "alive" and "dead" are utterly meaningless distinctions.

    Having said that, however, there is a difference between a living rabbit and a dead one (one is active - even if just at the cellular level - and the other is not). But how can such a difference exist, if (as I previously stated) there is no meaningful distinction between "alive" and "dead"? That seems contradictory, but it's not. You see, there is no distinction between "living" and "non-living", because "living" is not defined. However, there are some beings which are, a priori assumed to be alive, provided they are active. Once those beings cease to be active, then they can be called dead.

    As to your original question, saying that the rabbit is dead is saying that the being which was - a priori - assumed to be "living" is now inactive. The being still exists, so there is no logical error.
  14. Apr 26, 2004 #13
    It can also be attributed to the fact that the atoms that once made up the rabbit never cease to exist. To exist is not the same thing as being alive.

    Do you realize that without a definition, "without" and "definition" are utterly meaningless concepts? :smile:

    I don't think your approach is valid. Meaning does not come from clear definitions; in fact the only things that come from clear definitions are tautologies.

    Because of the need to avoid tautologies, only concepts without clear definition are capable of expressing meaning. It is precisely the fact that we don't know exactly what 'life' is that gives meaning to statements about life. Give a clear definition to 'life', and suddenly you will see the discussion about 'life' shift to another subject.
  15. Apr 26, 2004 #14


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    Thanks, Mentat, for making my point so clear.

    The difference of analyzing conciousness and any other phenomenon, as life, is the fact that the phenomena are defined by us, and they correpond to physical realities but not as we define them. "Life", "combustion", "chemical reaction" are artificial constructs, the only "real" aspects of the universe are those that we have to accept without definition as being fundamental, for exemple, mass, space, time and some of their interactions. We have come close to describing the universe solely with them, but we rely on abstractions and classifications for understanding. As they are a reduction from the pure "language" of physics, they're necessarily incomplete, and thus, any complete definition is tautological. Its particularly clear in tha case of Mathematics: it is a construct of the mind applied to describing the universe, but none of its concepts really exist.
    The point then is to know if conciousness is also an artificial construct of our minds or a fundamental aspect of the universe (which can still be contained in our brains).
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2004
  16. Apr 27, 2004 #15
    I was sad you took my Wittgenstein quote in the other thread as sarcasm, because my perspective happens to be very close to what you described above. I think what you said above is quite true, but the implications go far beyond what you seem to be acknowledging. For instance, one of the implications is that physics is not a description of reality, but for the most part just a large collection of tautologies.

    Well, another implication of what you said above is that everything we talk about is either a tautology or an artificial construct. So consciousness must necessarily be one of them. There is no other possibility, and that fact alone has implications for our understanding of what consciousness might be. For instance, if our aim is to provide a meaningful description of consciousness, then we cannot resort to tautological definitions, such as "what it's like to be". While those definitions are true, due to their tautological nature, they are also meaningless, for the same reason. As such, no meaningful description of consciousness will ever be accepted as true - hence Chalmers' "hard problem".
  17. Apr 27, 2004 #16
    First off, that statement is itself illogical. If there is such a thing as a term that is without definition, then "without" and "definition" cannot be meaningless. As it is, all that could be further defined is "definition", and this has been defined. Life, OTOH, is "undefined" simply because all the prospective definitions have been erroneous (they've let in things that are not considered "alive", or left out some things that are). Thus, it becomes clearer and clearer that the top-bottom approach here used (the approach of knowing that some distinction definitely exists but having no set of boundaries or even a useful explanation of what the disctinction is) is a mistake, and the next logical step is to eliminate the distinction altogether.

    Meaning is not something to be assigned. The meaning is supposed to exist already. It is the word that is assigned. At least, that is the way that semantics are supposed to work.

    On some unfortunate occasions, people come up with a term before they fully understand the meaning to which it is being assigned.
  18. Apr 27, 2004 #17
    I wouldn't call it illogical, I would call it nonsense. Either way, I thought the :smile: would make that clear. Apparently it didn't.
  19. Apr 27, 2004 #18
    I hope I didn't come off as irritated or something. I didn't mean to. I knew you were probably joking, I just know how intended "jokes" can come back to bite me later in the thread, if someone didn't realize it was a joke. It's happened innumerable times in the past (it happens with analogies and illustrations too), and so I thought it wise to nip that potential irritant in the bud.
  20. Apr 27, 2004 #19
    "The solution"

    I agree, So shall we do it this way? The problems why you can not find an origen of "alive" is because there is none. To relieve you of this dilema, of trying to caracterize a word for a nondefinable point of origen, you simple eliminate it, especially when observation fits the scenario. This realates to all macroscopic phenomenom. If you want to set a boundary, it has to be the moment of transmutation between virtual probabilities and animate particles.

    A definition of alive, is anything that is in movement and transmutes information by which its physical identity changes states. Alive can only be used as an adjective.

    The meaning is there for all existence. Alive seems to fit everything until a reclassification of its atoms and then it behaves differently.

    The only thing to understand is that everything is what it is, when observed.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2004
  21. Apr 27, 2004 #20


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    Geographically challenged, but

    I believe it would depends on where my feet are. If I'm in China, the response may be, "Look it is a rabbit on its way to becoming a grasshopper." If I am in the sticks, the response may be, "We got some roadkill for supper!"

    Assuming the rabbit has been buried alive, I might hear something like, "Quick get the shovel something is moving." Many people have been pronounced "dead" that were not.

    If you are from the valley you may believe that what kept it alive you would see in its eyes. Dead things don't stare.

    ~ "The only thing to understand is that everything is what it is, when observed." ~ Rader

    I agree.
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