Dead or alive?

What does it mean to be alive? Why do we say that rocks are not alive? Because they don’t move? Many types of plants don’t appear to move but we say they are alive. A seed can produce a living thing but is it alive? Robots move and make noise, but are they alive? Most biologists say something must be capable of reproduction to be alive. So far, no machine ever built was capable of reproducing itself. Fire jumps and dances and spreads. Is it alive?

When is an animal dead? When it stops breathing? When it’s heart stops beating? We are capable of keeping people “alive” on respirators. Are they dead when their brain stops producing brain waves. Has any revelation from any god addressed this issue? Even after brain activity stops activity continues for a period of time in some cells of the body. Certainly no one would disagree that a person is dead when it has decayed.

Is it immoral to declare someone “dead” prematurely? Is it immoral to keep someone on life-support machines long after they have “died”? Is there a clear right and wrong here?

2 Replies to “Dead or alive?”

  1. I think we confuse “alive” and “life” sometimes.

    In my world, a rock is not “alive” not because it doesn’t move, but in that it lacks metabolic i.e., cellular, processes (other than decay or regression) Moreover, it has no life potential.

    The seed, on the other hand, has great life potential. Perhaps you’ve heard the rhetorical question, “How many apples are in an apple seed?”

    I’m feeling more comfortable in this “cellular” clarification of “alive.” It seems to fit the robot scenario. If “life” is merely “movement” than, yes, robots have “life.” But “life” and being “alive” seem worlds apart.

    “Alive” calls “consciousness” into question (for me, anyway). Thus, we begin down the road of subjectivity in that others can (through their consciousness) judge the state of consciousness of another. Maybe sitting and pondering this isn’t much of a “life” to me, but I’m certainly “alive” while doing it.

    Brain wave activity is yet another measure humans have invented to define “life.” This energy moves and changes form but NEVER disappears (or so I believe, anyway. God hasn’t confirmed this for me yet, but I expect an answer soon).

    What about the comatose relative? I mean, c’mon! What kind of “life” can she possibly have? How many cases abound of (formally) comatose people — unable to move or speak — who were *completely conscious* and could hear absolutely everything around them, including the gossip, the despair, the ‘better off to just pull the plug!” conversations? How horrid that must be!

    You ask whether or not there is a clear right and wrong. You ask for moral justification. But you’ll call my judgments and morality into question as surely as I will yours. You may even try swaying me to your morality via force. And if you succeed, it proves neither right nor wrong. Those are judgments reserved for only the most arrogant among us.

    I have to believe that the universe simply *is.* When I consider the minutia we are (picture one-a those NOVA-like, camera pull-backs from extreme close up of an atomic nucleus to the vastness of the cosmos) I see “right,” “wrong,” “moral,” “immoral,” “life,” “death,” “alive” as illusions mankind has created to assign “meaning” to this journey, and to try to keep from going insane as it contemplates its relative unimportance.

  2. Well said. When you relate consciousness to being alive do you include plants and things with a very primitive nervous system? But you are right. As far as I know, all living things metabolize some kind of food to maintain their cellular processes. My biology teacher in high school said that he wasn’t sure if viruses should be classified as living organisms because they can’t grow or reproduce outside a host organism. Bacteria can be grown in broth of non-living nutrients, but viruses must be grown in a culture of living host cells.

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