and Existence. No one can be dead.
I am alive and you are alive. So far so good. But when does our life end?
If we assume our life ends when we are dead, we end up in a philosophical
quagmire. For if we are dead, we are
not. The common usage of “to be” is misleading. If I say “My neighbour is
dead“ I involuntarily ascribe a property to him whose having ceased to be I
wanted to express by using the word “dead“.
Obviously the auxiliary verb “to be” does not convey what I want to
express when I say somebody is dead. If we are looking for an alternative, the
verb „to exist“ comes to mind. Instead of saying “My neighbour is dead”
I would rather say: “My neighbour does not exist anymore”. Let us check this
expression. The very question “Where is the dead?” seems apt to refute my
assumption that he does not exist anymore. No doubt, there is a corpse in my
neighbour’s flat. Upon further consideration it becomes evident, however, that
there is the body of a deceased, the body of my neighbour who, he himself, does
not exist anymore.
What has to happen to me in order for me to cease to exist? And what
might happen to a living being like me without provoking my ceasing to exist?
Take away one foot, a leg, all my limbs, the whole body. As long as my brain –
perhaps assisted by intensive care – continues to produce consciousness I will
continue to exist. If, as in the case of Alzheimer’s, the condition of my
brain deteriorates, I might cease to be a self-conscious being; I might be
diminished to a selfless being. In spite of this it will be me who continues to
exist. I do not exist as long as my brain supports an intellect but as long as
it supports sentience.
If we cease to exist in that very moment when our brain ceases to realise
consciousness, it might well be that we exist intermittently. For if we assume
that our brain does not produce consciousness while we are in deep sleep or
while we are in a deep coma – and if we endorse that what we are essentially
is a mind produced by a brain –, then it is true that sometimes we do not
exist. As a matter of fact, there is no unanimity among neurologists as to
whether or not our consciousness ever fades completely without at the same time
vanishing forever. If it was true that our consciousness never fades completely
before fading forever, then we could ascribe to ourselves what one might call
continuous existence. If it were so that our consciousness fades completely
every night, our existence would be an intermittent existence. There would be
times at which we did not exist in order to exist anew as soon as our brain
starts producing consciousness again.
Let us imagine a reader being very upset by these words. He enters my
flat with the intention of killing me and aims at my head. He destroys my brain
when it does not produce consciousness. He destroys my brain at a point in time
when I do not exist. I ceased to exist when my brain, some time after falling
asleep, ceased to produce consciousness. I was convinced, before I fell asleep,
that my non-existence would be but intermittent. When my brain was destroyed, it
did not kill me – as I did not exist. However, the reader who was upset made
sure that I, who did not exist at that point in time, would never exist again.
As there is no subject that “is” dead, since dead means the end of
the existence of that very subject, we will never be dead.