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June 29th, 2005

Scientific Proof that (some) Temporal Parts Exist

Michael Sprague at PhilBio links to this story (quoted in entirity).

It is almost unbelievable, but scientists have apparently say they have discovered a way to bring dead dogs back to life.

Suddenly those awful scenes in horror movies about zombies rising from the dead could soon be a reality.

Scientists at the Safar Centre in Pittsburgh, by using what they call a suspended animation technique, emptied the dead animals’ veins of all blood and then refilled them with ice-cold saline solution to preserve the tissues and organs.

The animals at the time had no heartbeat or brain activity and were classed as being clinically dead.

The team then replaced the saline solution with fresh blood, and electric shocks were used to restart the dogs hearts.

They say the dogs appeared to be unharmed by their suspension and had suffered no brain damage.

The scientists hope in future to use the technique on humans, possibly within a year, and are already in talks with hospitals about trials on trauma patients.

They believe the procedure could save the lives of people who have suffered massive blood loss, such as battlefield casualties or stabbing victims.

Trauma surgeon Dr Howard Champion, says the results are stunning, as these dogs supposedly had complete cardiac standstill for three hours and then recovered to normality.

Actually Michael linked to the Daily Mail version, but I think News-Medical.Net is more reliable. (That is, I have no information whatsoever about News-Medical.Net, so my subjective trust in it is much higher than my trust in the Daily Mail.)

Anyway, on to the philosophy. It seems to me very hard to find a plausible metaphysical view on which the dog does not have one temporal part before dying, and another temporal part after being brought back to life. On van Inwagen’s view, I guess the dog has to go out of existence, and then the very same thing has to come back into existence a few hours later. Or he has to say that a new dog was constructed (born?) with all the appearances of an older dog. Even on more orthodox endurantist views, on which such things as dog corpses exist, we’d have to say somehow that the dog endures over a period in which it is a corpse, before returning to being a dog. This seems logically plausible, but if anything deserves the name ‘crazy metaphysic’. I can’t see a plausible way through here except to say that there is one part of the dog that ends at its death, and another part of the dog that comes into being when it is reanimated.

One could try and say that the dog stayed being a dog all through the process. But that leads to odd results. When we ask “How many dogs are there in the world?” we don’t want dead dogs that might later be reanimated to be included in the count. So I think there’s no hope for the claim that this thing ceases to be a dog for a while. The dog is temporally gappy, and that’s hard to comprehend without temporal parts.

This is all assuming the story is true. It has appeared in several newspapers, but it could all be an amusing hoax. In which case the debate about temporal parts will have to return to the philosophy classroom.

Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized

19 Comments »

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2005 at 11:01 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

19 Responses to “Scientific Proof that (some) Temporal Parts Exist”

  1. Franklin Mason says:

    My first question is to ask what we really mean by ‘dead’. If we simply mean the cessation of brain activity or of such vital function as hearbeat, then they were certainly dead. But perhaps these are mere signs of death and not death itself. Perhaps death is the degradation of cells/organs to that point at which resuscitation is no longer possible.

    I think it curious that in the passage you quoted the phrase ‘suspended animation technique’ was used. The suggestion seems to be that the process does not cause death but rather a temporary suspension of certain vital processes.

    If I’m right, there are three kinds of state: alive and functioning normally, suspended vital function that is not yet death, and death.

    Plausible?

  2. Mike says:

    Sounds like they’re saying there was no oxygen to to the brain for three hours and no deterioration. Impossible to believe. Also the emphatic “ice-cold” is a kinda cliched way to make the story plausible, no?

  3. P. Toner says:

    We don’t need mad scientists to freeze animals and bring them back. If PBS is to be believed, there is a species of frog that survives tought winters by freezing itself (for weeks at a time), and then reviving when the weather warms up. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what show I saw this on. It is precisely because the frog revives itself that one cannot believe the frog is dead. And I don’t see why things are any different with the dogs in this story.

    That is, the dogs don’t revive themselves. But the frogs do revive themselves. And the state the frogs revive themselves from appears to be essentially the same kind of state the scientists are putting the dogs into. But if the frogs in that state aren’t dead, then it seems fair to say the dogs in that state aren’t dead, either.

    So I don’t see the dogs as giving aid and comfort to the temporal parts theorist.

  4. P. Toner says:

    That’s “…tough winters…”

    Also, I actually hadn’t read Franklin’s reply before posting this; I guess my post should be read as support for the distinction between death and “suspended vital function” that he had already proposed.

  5. Enzo Rossi says:

    Yes, it seems that all the experiment shows (assuming it actually took place) is that lack of brain activity is just a necessary but not a sufficient condition for death.

  6. Robbie Williams says:

    Not quite getting why this is an argument for temporal parts. Suppose that we’re not temporal partists, but like the eternalist conception of space-time. Stuff like dogs we might take to be spatio-temporally extended simples. We’ve already got to bite some bullets, e.g. deny the move from `x is partly at p’ to `x has a part at p’. But I don’t see why scattered simples poses any new problems for this non-temporal parts picture.

    So the proposal is that the dog is a temporally-extended simple, wholly present at every time it partly occuplies. It just happens, in the case at hand, to be temporally scattered (i.e. there are times t and t’‘ which it is partly at, and a time t’ (t less than t’ less than t’‘) such that it isn’t partly at t’.)

    Presumably Armstrongian Universals are suppose to be spatio-temporally scattered simples—-would arguments against the above generalize to arguments against them?

    (NB: Maybe my crazy-metaphysic detector is simply faulty, and all I’m doing here is agreeing with you about the logical coherence of anti temp-parts views)

  7. apthorp says:

    we don’t need dogs to prove temporal parts. Cars are routinely drained of all fluids and set up on blocks where the become ice-cold only to revive quite nicely in the spring. Although I’m not sure about the MG thus suspended in a friend’s shed for the last 20 years. That one is probably junk, i.e. ceased to be a car and became a mouse nest 20 years ago.

  8. apthorp says:

    we don’t need dogs to prove temporal parts. Cars are routinely drained of all fluids and set up on blocks where the become ice-cold only to revive quite nicely in the spring. Although I’m not sure about the MG thus suspended in a friend’s shed for the last 20 years. That one is probably junk, i.e. ceased to be a car and became a mouse nest 20 years ago.

  9. Dan Korman says:

    Suppose Brianís right that the dog dies and then later is brought back to life. Even so, Iím not sure why temporal parts are supposed to help. What seems objectionable, if anything, is just the possibility of intermittent existence. If you think the van Inwagen version of intermittent existence (that a dog can exist for a while, then cease to exist for a while, and then exist again) is implausible, you should think that the 4D version (that a dog can have temporal parts for a certain stretch of time, cease to have any temporal parts for a later stretch of time, and then have temporal parts again at a still-later stretch of time) is implausible as well.

    Why is ceasing to endure for a while any worse than ceasing to perdure for a while?

  10. Carrie Jenkins says:

    Even if the dog was dead for a while, there seem to be (at least) the following ways to block any argument for temporal parts from consideration of this case.
    1. I take the problem is only supposed to get off the ground if the dog is not located at times when it is suspended, but is located at times prior to and subsequent to the suspension. But why suppose that’s what happens? There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with saying the dog ceases to be a dog while frozen, but is still around as a corpse (and that it becomes a dog again when reanimated). Why (for all that’s been said so far) should we not think of doghood as a property that something can lose and gain over time? I know this option is supposed to be ‘crazy’ but I’m not seeing why. (Is it supposed to be obvious that the only sane views are the ones which hold that dogs are essentially dogs?) I guess there is a further question about whether it’s the same dog after reanimation, but (again for all that’s been said so far) there isn’t any obvious problem with giving either answer to that question. (If you’re thinking there would be a problem with saying ‘yes’, why is this any worse than saying that Katie the second-year student in 2003 is the same student as Katie the third-year student in 2005, even though there was a year in between when Katie wasn’t a student?)
    2. Even if you don’t like the first option (perhaps because you think dogs are essentially dogs), there doesn’t seem to be anything crazy about saying dead dogs are dogs, so that again the dog doesn’t go away during the suspended period, it just becomes a dead dog (and then becomes a live one again later on). There is no problem about counting dogs on this view – it’s just that normally when you ask how many dogs there are in the world, you intend to ask about the live ones.
    3. Even if dogs are essentially live dogs and therefore the dog is temporally gappy, I would tend to agree with Dan Korman and Robbie Williams that nothing said so far makes the temporal-parts approach to this situation obviously more attractive than the various alternatives. If the situation is ‘hard to comprehend without temporal parts’, it’s also hard to comprehend with temporal parts.

  11. V. Alan White says:

    Since one aspect of this example is a familiar one about transtemporal identity, how about naming it “The Spitz of Deceased-to-us”? (Sorry. Is that better than “Lab Lazarus?”)

    But seriously—the dog surely has continuity across the span of spacetime its parts, etc. occupy for the interval concerned, and that must count for something in declaring this one—if one unusual—dog. It’s not like Capt. Picard being dissolved on the transporter pad and then being reformulated on the same kind of pattern in another spatiotemporal location (and, depending on how transporters work, not even of the same stuff). I would think the real issue we should face in this case is a sharpening of our concept of the irreversibility that we typically associate with death. A reversible death is at best an odd concept—that’s why we gave up on purely cardiovascular definitions of it.

  12. Zappo says:

    I’ve read that the actual death of a human happens after 72 hours after the cessation of his life signs.

  13. josh parsons says:

    I’m not sure what the argument for temporal parts here is supposed to be. Like Carrie, I think it’s very weak if the premises are just things like “dogs are essentially permanently alive” and “there are no temporally scattered objects”.

    A better argument would be a Dion/Theon style argument. Suppose the blood taken out of the dog is destroyed, and the new blood is synthesised on the spot. Then the dog must be a perdurer, as it is only partly present at all times at which it exists – even if both portions of blood and the body of the dog themselves endure.

  14. Robert Allen says:

    josh,

    Why can’t dogs and other organisms endure while changing mereologically? As Van Inwagen, borrowing from Locke, contends, “each of the successive massess of matter associated with (an organism) is a sort of momentary recipient of its life, which … it transmits to its successor.” (Material Beings, 144) Here an organism is wholly present at each moment it exists in virtue of its life being then (wholly) present.

    And, isn’t perdurantism supposed to hold for all persisting things, parts as well as wholes?

  15. josh parsons says:

    Robert,

    Fair cop I was being a bit quick, and assuming atemporal mereology. If the blood really is part of the dog, and doesn’t exist at every time the dog exists, then there are times at which the dog exists, but something that is part of it doesn’t.

    Suppose you want to say that, to endure, an object only has to be wholly located at each time at which it exists in the sense that everything that’s part of it /at that time/ is part of it /at that time/. Then endurantism is trivial. But that’s not what perdurantists mean when they deny that persisting objects are wholly located at each time at which they exist.

    It’s fashionable for endurantists to refuse to play the atemporal mereology game, of course. But if their view is what I said in the prev. paragraph, they’re saying something compatible with perdurantism. Also, they will end up with problems about relativity I think.

    As to whether perdurantism has to hold for all persisting things, it’s surely not part of the meaning of “perdures” that if anything perdures everything does? Many endurantists insist that processes perdure while continuants endure, for example.

    My own view is that things perdure through mereological changes, but endure otherwise.

  16. robert allen says:

    Ah, AM, I forgot about that one, probably because it seemed so wildly counterintuitive when I read it in 4D, the relevant sections of which I will reread (along with your very interesting looking paper that just came out on this suject) before commenting further.

    BTW, I love your uncle Gram’s songs.

  17. Robert Allen says:

    Josh,

    Suppose that Prof. Sider is right that the 3Der must go modal to state her view in a non-trivial fashion: “every enduring object is at least capable of being wholly present over times.” (4D 88) I don’t see this as being a terrible setback for her. She can still maintain that everyday objects like statues do “persist wholly identically through time”- her former thesis- denying that there (actually) are any instantaneous ones. Moreover, if a philosophical thesis should be as logically weak as possible, avoiding unnecessary presuppositions, then the above formulation of 3Dism is an improvement.

    As far as the proposed non-mereological formulation of 3Dism is concerned, I would say that vagueness is in the eyes of the beholder. I for one do not find Wiggin’s formulation unclear; after all, ante-Einstein, it was the generally accepted view of things.

  18. Robert Allen says:

    Josh,

    Suppose that Prof. Sider is right that the 3Der must go modal to state her view in a non-trivial fashion: “every enduring object is at least capable of being wholly present over times.” (4D 88) I don’t see this as being a terrible setback for her. She can still maintain that everyday objects like statues do “persist wholly identically through time”- her former thesis- denying that there (actually) are any instantaneous ones. Moreover, if a philosophical thesis should be as logically weak as possible, avoiding unnecessary presuppositions, then the above formulation of 3Dism is an improvement.

    As far as the proposed non-mereological formulation of 3Dism is concerned, I would say that vagueness is in the eyes of the beholder. I for one do not find Wiggin’s formulation unclear; after all, ante-Einstein, it was the generally accepted view of things.

  19. Beth says:

    This has been done so long ago it seems fitting I should bring this up.
    http://www.archive.org/details/Experime1940