On Life and Death 
In response to Mr. Mohammad Choudhury's post (13109)

Aparthib Zaman

Mohammad Choudhury wrote: 

Immediately after each human beings death I told, "Now his body is physically present among us with all his limbs but he can no longer talk with us. What is missing from his body? Where did it go?" Since several of his limbs could be used in another human living being and they would function normally. As for example, his eyes could be transplanted and they would function normally in another living human being while they are not functioning in the original body of the human being where it belonged. Can you all tell me why?

I have been asking this question several times and several occations. And no one is answering my questions while they asked several other questions on issues that are irrelevant and I did not bring them out in my write-ups.

I would appreciate your educated writers and commentators to concentrate on the issue of that missing thing that I have brought and lets ponder on this issue.


Aparthib's Response:

Re: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/13109

Hi Mr. Choudhury,

Your soul searching questions strike chord with all thinking humans of past and present. We can all relate to the deep mystery of life or death. There is no way to solve the ultimate mystery of life or universe. We have to live with it. Knowing the ultimate mystery is as impossible as seeing yourself like others see you, a logical impossibility. We cannot step outside our body and look at ourself. It is never possible. Although some out of body experience claims to do that, that is due to the altered state of the brain. Likewise we are trapped in this phenomenal world (which means the observable universe, world of senses, as the Buddhists say Proponchomoy Jogot) so we cannot in principle understand the ultimate origin of our phenomenal world, as we cannot step out of the phenomenal world and take an outsider's view of it. This is the ultimate limit of science (i.e human knowledge). We cannot use science to find the origin of science. Quantum Field Theory cannot be derived from Quantum Field Theory! Some scientists may say that the Laws of Physics can be derived from common sense. But that is for the laymen. What they mean is that the common laws of Phyisics at the higher level (Newton's law, Schrodinger's equation etc) can be derived from some first principle along with some symmetry assumption. But the the first principle itself (i.e Quantum Field Theory) is not derivable from anything. This is the postulate, i.e a law that cannot be derived from any principle. Anyway, whatever comes after "?" is not mystery. You may not realize that your question is not a metaphysical one, but a scientific one. I will get to it a little later, but first a very high level view of how science fits into this question of life. Instead of using verbiage I will base my discussion it in a symbolic way in a step by step manner. The "?" below will denote the ultimate mystery.

Either we have two ultimate mysteries:

1. ? --->Laws of Physics 2. ? ---> Big Bang

or, one ultimate mystery:

1. ? ---> Laws of Physics ---> Big Bang

The second scenario is due to some theories of Cosmology which derives Big Bang as a consequence of laws of physics (Quantum Cosmology). Whether we truly have one or two mysteries is not resolved beyond doubt yet because Quantum Cosmology has not been developed completely. Anyway, we can say for sure that there is at least one mystery, we sure don't know from where did the laws of Physics (Quantum Field theory, which is at the bottom of ALL laws of Physics) came from. Some hard core atheists, believe that there is no "?", laws of Physics are the ultimate reality, self-caused, which is to say there is nothing beyond our phenomenal world (i.e they claim that "?" is NOT unknown, but it is known and it is = NULL). Thats a belief. It is also a belief to assert that "?" is not NULL. But to believe that "?" is not NULL in itself does not mean theism, theism is a positive assertion that asserts "?" = THIS (Replace "THIS" with the God of each religion). Platonism is the belief that "?" is = an unknown layer/dimension of phenomenal world, not a conscious entity as in theism.

But anything after the "?" is within the domain of science (Phenomenal world), and we can only talk about unsolved problems, not mysteries within this domain.

Now to begin, let us first note that the laws of chemistry are rooted
in the Laws of Physics, and the laws of Biology are in turn rooted in
the laws of chemistry and to the laws of complexity (i.e Emergent Laws):

Laws of Physics ---> Laws of Chemistry + "Laws of Complexity" ---> Laws of Biology

NOTE: It is not known if Laws of Complexity are independent laws or follow from the basic laws of Physics. Most scientists believe that they are indeed the consequences of the Laws of Physics, others like Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine and physicist/author Paul Davies think that they are additional laws of nature besides the Laws of Physics. Ilya Prigogine takes the view that emergent laws start at the bottom and work downwards (Complex to simple), whereas laws of Physics start at the bottom and work upwards (simpler to complex systems), meeting somewhere at the middle where life (or any dissipative structure) emerges. Prigogine got Nobel prize in 1977 for explaining and discovering dissipative strutures, of which life is the prime example. Either way, the Laws of Complexity have not been actually derived by the Laws of Physics, even if they were rooted in them, due to the sheer complexity of the number of molecules involved. Now let me outline the steps leading to the "mystery" (rather the unsolved problem of life):

1. In step 1, simple matter was created after the Big Bang due
to the action of the Laws of Physics (Quantum Fluctuation:

Big Bang --> Laws of Physics --> Simple Matter (atoms, simple molecules)

2. In step two simple matter is again subjected to the laws of Physics to form Composite matter (Complex molecules) whose behaviour is now described by Laws of Chemistry:

Simple Matter + Laws of Physics --> Composite matter (Laws of Chemistry)

3. In step 3, composite matter is subjected to Laws of chemistry + the
laws of complexity (chemical evolution) to form living molecules
(Self replicating molecules) and primitive organisms, governed by
laws of biology:

Composite Matter + Laws of Chemistry + "Laws of Complexity" --->
---> Cells, primitive organism. ( Laws of Biology )

4. In step 4, primitive organisms are subjected to Laws of Biology and
laws of complexity (Biological Evolution) to form higher (complex)

Primitive Organism --> Laws of Biology + Laws of Complexity
(Biological Evolution) --> Advanced Unicellular/Multicellular Life.

It is important point to note that above is a very high level flow diagram. The details for each arrow are incredibly complex, there are unsolved problems galore, and thats where scientists are working hard on filling out the details, and the complete mechanism is not known yet, but that is a scientific problem, not a metaphysical one, and is in principle scientifically solvable, we are getting closer and closer to the solution.

From step 4 onwards, biological evolution has taken life forms in two different directions. For bacteria and some other unicellular organisms, the self-replication is simply by asexual reproduction, whereas for all other animals it is by sexual reproductions. And the necessary biological consequence of sexual reproduction is programmed Cell death (or Apoptosis), which is the cause of mortality of multicellular organisms, including humans. Bacteria, which do not reproduce sexually, are immortal (except if killed, as by antibiotics).

Now coming back to your question, "what" is missing from the dead body and "where" did "it" go? In other words, you are wondering what is death, and whether there is any soul? The first is a scientific question, not a metaphysical one. The second is a vague question. Take an example. Say you have a music tape. When you play it in a recorder it plays beautiful music. Now say accidentally someone pushed the record button with no input, so the entire music is erased. When you play the same tape again, no music will be heard. The tape looks the same. What is missing from the tape, "where" did it go? I am sure this doesn't provoke a metaphysical question in your mind. You know the answer. The case of the death of human, or any animal is no different. Just as in the erased tape, the individual magnetized molecules are reoriented (destroyed), the cells in the brain of a dead body all die (no metabolism) first, then slowly the cells of other organs decay, due to the lack of oxygen. Cells in the organs like eye, body limbs die slowly, so if they are removed promptly before decay starts and preserved, they can be reused by other human, just as the parts of a computer whose CPU is damaged can be reused in another computer. And soul? That is a vague concept, fraught with logical absurdities. All we have is mind/consciousness, which is the emergent effect of the brain cells in live action, much like the music of a tape when the complicated magnetic patterns in it are passed through a magnetic head. Stop the tape, and the music stop. Mind/consciousness is like music running due to the trillions of cells in human body running the genetic code tirelessly. Each individual life has not much significance to the universe or to "?". The only importance of each life is in maintaining continuity, a link between its predecessor and its successor. The notion of soul is completely created by our desire for immortality. As grim as it may sound, there is not even a logically consistent NOTION of soul, let alone its existence, beyond the physical body (specially brain). The only thing that can survive the body is some information (If it is saved), for example if tape is destroyed the same tape can be reconstructed (recorded), if the music itself is saved in say an .mp3 or . wave file. (Which is information). Likewise, for the human, it is the complete genome sequence + the complete neuronal configuration of the brain (Information) that survives beyond death, provide they are saved somehow. While the former is within current technology, the complete neural connections is too formidable and beyond any conceivable biotechnology. Since it is the genome sequence + Neuronal configuration that essentially define who you are, that information can be DEFINED to be the soul of a person. But this soul, does not go anywhere, does not move, but stays as a potentia in the information space. While it may be possible to clone a human being (Thus overcoming mortality), but since the brain of the cloned human can never be the same as the original human (because neuronal configurations are determined by environmental stimulus, besides genetic code, and environment will never be exactly same in each rerun of the genome sequence).

The only consolation is that since one does not know what the "?" is (except for those who knows that "?"=NULL), one can make up anything they wish, whatever that makes them feel secure, gives them hope against the depressing thought of a temporary existence on earth.

I have left out many key terms and concepts that relate to the
formation of life. For yet another essay on Life, Death etc and
some references see:


- Aparthib

Published at Mukto-mona 


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