X-Message-Number: 1065
Date: 28 Jul 92 05:20:31 EDT
From: Bob Smart <>
Subject: Life Force

There may indeed be something to what's been called the "Life Force" view of
what separates the living from the dead.  However, before we can tell, we
need to define our terms VERY carefully.
Is "life force" something that is bestowed at conception, or at birth, or
sometime during gestation, and when it's gone, it's gone? Does it run out or
expire after a while, and then you die regardless of your structural
integrity?  Or does it stay with you until some illness or trauma renders
you incapable of hosting it?  In the case of the drowning victims who get
revived, did their "life force" actually depart, and then return, or did it
never really leave them to begin with? What is the relationship, if any,
between "life force" and identity? That is, is "life force" some
generalized, anonymous, homogeneous resource like electricity or gravity, or
is the "life force" in one individual somehow qualitatively different from
that in another individual? Is "life force" conserved in the Universe? Is
there a finite supply of it?
I don't know quite what to say to "life force" believers, and I think it's
important to acknowledge that at the beginning of any discussion along those
lines.  This just isn't the kind of thing that science is EVER likely to
give us a definitive answer for.  That's not to say it's a trivial or silly
question; it just means that if you want an answer, you must look to
something other than science to provide it.
And that brings me to the questions with which I began this essay.  If a
Believer insists on trying to make this a scientific question, perhaps the
place to begin is by trying to characterize this "life force" stuff.  If the
Believer can set out a model for how "life force" behaves, we can test the
model against clinical observations...and probably come to the conclusion
that NOBODY really understands in detail how "life force" works or what it
is.  The more of the above questions you can get your Believer to answer,
the better you'll both understand the discussion, at least.
For cryonic-evangelist purposes, getting the Believer to admit uncertainty
about the workings of "life force" is net progress, because once a Believer
agrees that he or she doesn't know how "life force" works, that means they
also can't be so absolutely certain that suspension would destroy it.
Probably, the best you can reasonably hope for is to get a Believer to say,
"I guess I don't really know either." That's an improvement over "I know for
sure that cryonics can't possibly work," and it may be what we have to
settle for. After all, we can't PROVE the concept is wrong, so we have to
admit that it might be correct. If we can similarly get a Believer to
understand the difference between belief and certainty, that's probably all
we really have any right to expect.
I don't think a debate about this kind of topic can produce any meaningful
resolution until the terms are rigorously defined.  "Life force," without
additional clarification, is semantic noise and in that form, is not fodder
for rational conversation.  Left vague, it can only be a matter of feelings
and intuition, which simply aren't debatable.  If we "agree" that people
have souls, but we each have radically different concepts of what a "soul"
is and how it operates, even the apparent "agreement" is meaningless!  WITH
rigorous definitions, I think any discussion of this type can be brought to
one of the following conclusions:
       1. I know exactly what I mean by "life force," and by that
          definition it is clear that "life force" is not incompatible
          with suspension and revival.
       2. I know exactly what I mean by "life force," but there is
          no way to know what effect suspension would have on it as
          I have defined it.  It might work; it might not.
       3. I don't even know what I really mean by "life force," so I
          have no rational grounds for insisting that cryonics would
          interfere with or destroy it.  It's a matter of opinion, not
          one of certainty.
I've left out a fourth possibility, which would include a rigorous
understanding of "life force" coupled with proof that cryonics is
incompatible with "life force." That's because I think any definition of
"life force" which can be shown to be incompatible with cryonics will ALSO
prove to be incompatible with other medical procedures and accidents from
which people are known to have recovered.  Resolution of this paradox will
(I claim) always eventually lead to one of the other 3 outcomes if the
discussion continues long enough.  The least favorable of the 3 terminal
states are both "agnostic" in nature, which is good enough to refute "it
CAN'T work" arguments.
The trick is keeping the discussion going long enough to get past state #3.
State #3 is based on an emotional stand, not a rational one, so debate in
this area is bound to be highly emotionally charged.  If you can get past
this one unscathed and still on speaking terms, you've probably got it made.

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