X-Message-Number: 1070
Newsgroups: sci.cryonics
From:  (Perry E. Metzger)
Subject: Re: The "Life Force" Argument
Message-ID: <>
References: <>
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1992 20:46:25 GMT

> From: Charles Platt <>
>I assume most cryonicists would agree with this, broadly 
>speaking. However, my wife and my literary agent (both of 
>whom are smart people) did not agree. They have a very strong 
>gut feeling that life cannot be as mechanistic as this. There 
>is a "life force" involved; not necessarily a spirit or a 
>soul, but something that cannot be explained so easily. 

This idea has a name; its called "vitalism"; the notion is that living
things have some sort of "life force", as you aptly named your title.

>From their perspective, a victim of cold-water drowning who 
>is restored to life never really lost that "life force" and 
>therefore was not really dead. Conversely, it is impossible 
>for them to believe that the life force would survive in a 
>detached head immersed in liquid nitrogen, especially bearing 
>in mind the damage that results from freezing. Therefore, as 
>far as they are concerned, cryonics cannot work. 
>It is very hard for me to counter this outlook, because it is 
>strange to me.

Strange to me too, as is Theism.

>Unfortunately, many cryonicists tend to dismiss that outlook 
>too casually. They forget that our mechanistic view is itself 
>an article of faith. We cannot *prove* the nonexistence of a 
>soul, a spirit, or a life force. We can only say there isn't 
>any evidence for it. But "absence of evidence is not evidence 
>of absence"! In other words, if we are open minded, we have 
>to admit that people with a spiritual outlook *could still be 

Well, yes and no. Its also possible that there is a giant invisible
rabbit named "Harvey" tracking me at all times. I can't DISPROVE it,
but that doesn't mean a sane person would believe it. There are an
infinite number of things one can think up that are neither provable
nor disprovable. The mechanistic view provides models of the world
that can be tested. The spiritualist view does not. They stay slippery
enough that they don't admit falsifiablity criteria. In other words,
if cryonics was made to work, they could always claim "oh, the vital
force isn't destroyed by liquid nitrogen after all, but it WOULD be
destroyed by uploading" or some similar comment. Sure, they might be
right, but given the fact that they don't provide any holds for reason
to grab on to, it doesn't matter whether they are right or not as by
definition anything they believe in can't have any observable impact
on the world or it suddenly becomes amenable to the tools of reason.
Since none of their views can have any impact on the world (example:
Harvey the invisible rabbit can never make a sound or do anything that
might betray his presense), we can safely ignore their view.

Your problem is not, however, whether to decide to vote for reason;
you've already done that it seems. Your problem isn't even to
demonstrate to them that your view has a solid empirical basis and is
well grounded in the scientific method, as they don't believe in these
tools.  Your problem is to convince people you care about that this
isn't nutty and ought to be followed up on.

>I feel uneasy dealing with philosophical questions of this 
>kind, because I never studied philosophy. Does anyone have 
>experience in this area? I would like to be able to phrase 
>arguments which would be more convincing to non-cryonicists; 
>but it's difficult to do so, because their view of life is so 
>different from mine.

I've had a solid grounding in philosophy, but unfortunately this does
not help. Good philosophers tend to use reason all the time, and you
are asking for a way to convince irrationalists without using the
techniques of reason. I must admit to having occassionally been
stymied in exactly the same way. My only suggestion is this: they
can't be complete irrationalists, so there must be something that
would convince them. Ask them what it is. Ask them what it would take
in terms of indirect evidence to convince them.

Perry Metzger		
		  Just say "NO!" to death and taxes.
			 Extropian and Proud.

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