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If something at the moment of death contains the same matter as that something when alive, what is lost?

How does physicalism (physical monism) explain what that loss is?

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17 Answers 17

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The state of being alive is lost (that is, it ends) when something dies. The state of being alive is mostly defined by having the ability to deliver the right chemistry to the right places in the organism (for humans, the brain) at the right time at the right temperature.

Since there are many more ways for the chemical systems in your brain matter to be incompatible with life than there are for it to be living, and since the brain's living state takes a continuous supply of chemical potential energy to maintain against equilibrium, the state change is usually irreversible unless the body's self-ordering processes can be promptly restarted or duplicated with high quality CPR. Cooling the brain to slow the rate at which brain chemistry seeks equilibria incompatible with life lengthens the window of opportunity.

Monism doesn't really come into it. I've never heard of anybody getting a Do-Not-Resuscitate order or refusing deep hypothermia during cardiac surgery because they believe their soul is the boss of their chemistry.

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  • "[...] being alive is [...] having the ability to deliver the right chemistry to the right places at the right time at the right temperature": Nowhere in all scientific knowledge life is defined as such.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 9 at 6:55
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    @RodolfoAP britannica.com/science/homeostasis
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 7:10
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    @LarsH I intend no such implication. My point is, substance dualists do not believe that the soul regulates their chemistry, so the fact that life is sustained by chemistry and ends when the system's ability to chemically self-regulate fails is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of substance dualism.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 16:05
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    @larsH For an analogy with something that isn't alive or chemically active - suppose I have a big indoor freezer whose walls are made of ice, not insulated metal. Even the compressor and the coils, although made of metal, are so flimsy that they would collapse under their own weight except that they are supported by rigid structures made of ice. The freezer is capable of freezing things while its self-regulating process - pumping heat from inside to outside using its compressor and refrigeration coils - is sustained by electric power and the proper function of all of its mechanical parts.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 16:55
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    If power is removed, the freezer stops working and the ice begins to melt. If power is promptly restored or if the heat pump is driven by some other power supply until power can be restored, the freezer can be saved, but if it is left alone for long, the whole thing will be irreparably reduced to a pile of crushed compressor parts in a big puddle of slush, whether there was a person inside the freezer participating in the function of the compressor or not.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 16:56
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If I turn off the ignition, my car stops. The matter content of my car is unchanged, but various processes that took place while my car was running are no longer taking place. Death is clearly analogous. When you are alive, a large number of chemical processes take place in your body, which cause, among other things, signals in your autonomous nervous system that trigger heart beats, cause you to breathe, and so on. When you die, your body chemistry changes so that key autonomous processes stop. Your heart no longer beats. Your diaphragm no longer contracts to suck in breath. Deprived of oxygen, your mental processes stop. The difference between your living body and your dead body, in terms of matter alone, is miniscule- there is slightly less oxygen in the blood. The key difference is that certain chemical reactions that took place to keep you alive no longer take place.

Where the analogy with the car ends is that the car can usually be restarted, whereas death has a tendency to be irreversible.

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    So life is reducible to a machine? Would you feel loss when your computer is unrepairable?
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Jan 8 at 15:17
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    @8Mad0Manc8 I certainly would! Commented Jan 8 at 17:16
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    Sorry it was a poor commentci I would definitely feel a loss if my car was damaged beyond repair :-)
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:36
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    Maybe a car analogy would be: if you raise the car up through the atmosphere until there is not enough oxygen and the fuel boils away then it won't continue running. We can build cars and so can (usually) make them run again, but we didn't build people, so we can't bring back the dead. Yes? Ok
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:24
  • +1 It's the difference between a functional system and a collection of parts. When a collection of parts is assembled, system functionality is gained. When a car is totaled, system functionality is lost and it becomes a collection of parts. Commented Jan 10 at 20:46
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It's a common misconception that death is a "moment".

There are, of course, more and less sudden ways to die. But death is generally a process. Your heart stops beating, your organs shut down, your breathing stops, your brain activity decreases until it ceases.


On a simplified level, you can think of this like turning off a computer (except that it generally can't be turned on again). The electricity stops flowing and the various components stop functioning. Life is all the processes in your body, like all the processes in a computer, and those cease when you die or when you turn off the computer.

This is also very compatible with e.g. someone's heart stopping, and restarting, and them living on, but also commonly experiencing some negative effects from this, as a result of the damage of one's body (especially one's brain) starting to fail.

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    @ScottRowe you might be amused by an aphorism in American emergency medicine, "They aren't dead 'til they're warm and dead."
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 7:14
  • @gs Right. When I say, "beats the alternative" it means: "at least I'm still alive". Like: "Any landing you can walk away from is a good one."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:06
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Note: I am not a physicalist, so I am responding from my best understanding of their position.

From a purely physicalist perspective, what is lost at the moment of death is a particular pattern--an ordered state of matter capable of sustaining biological processes. The science-fiction concept of the "transporter beam" can be viewed as a physicalist thought experiment positing that IF you could exactly reconstruct that particular pattern of matter, nothing would be lost.

It's a challenge, within physicalism, to explain the importance of the distinction between the pattern that represents a living creature and the pattern that represents a corpse. One prominent attempt to reconcile (things like) the significance of the pattern of "life" with a strict belief in physical monism is the philosophical stance called "Emergentism." This states that the patterns that emerge at higher levels of organization can have a significance that goes beyond a strictly reductive analysis of the lower-level components that compose them. (Emergence is a recognized scientific phenomenon, but what it implies is still controversial.)

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    "emergentism" isn't a thing. Complexity is a rigorously well defined thing. Emergent properties are just what we see in complex systems... behaviors of a system that are not evident from an analysis of the parts, but only appear through interaction. It is not actually much of a challenge to describe the difference between a living creature and a corpse, especially not a creature with a circulatory system.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jan 9 at 4:14
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    @philosodad Besides wikipedia, both SEP IEP think otherwise.
    – Rushi
    Commented Jan 9 at 6:33
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    That makes me sad to know, as I have actually studied emergence and complex systems, and never heard anyone use a word as ludicrous as "emergentism". It isn't a "belief", it's an observation. I can write a program that shows emergent behavior in like, 10 lines of code. It really isn't mysterious. In any case, I stand by my comment on circulatory systems, at the very least.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jan 9 at 7:07
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    @philosodad - Learning things... some times it burns! Commented Jan 9 at 12:55
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    @ChrisSunami I like learning new things about the world, generally. But this is more like a someone with a degree in biology learning that people use "evolutionism" as a word to describe a "belief" in the fossil record. And are taken seriously in philosophy.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jan 9 at 19:17
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Life is lost, or ends, when we die. That's just what the words factually mean

the end of the life of a person or organism.

You seem to be asking whether it can be the end of consciousness.

I personally think it cannot, but there's so much analysis necessary to show anything of the sort, about the nature of consciousness at a minimum, that it's a somewhat absurd and confusing thing to assert. I probably think that the reason I believe this has something to do with ontic vagueness, because non existence itself is not slippery enough and our consciousness is perhaps notoriously difficult to reach a clear description, let alone metaphysics, of.

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  • Either it is or it ain't, and we can't get any evidence either way, so the conclusion that it is seems more obvious and likely. But, Your Metaphysics May Vary.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:10
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    Good answer though vague 😉. Ok... Seriously: It's a better answer than many of the others that just parrot materialist dogma even though the question is directly attacking physicalism/materialism on it's weakspot
    – Rushi
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:11
  • @ScottRowe "we can't get any evidence either way": Citation needed. That's a strong claim.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jan 11 at 16:20
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    @LarsH how will we find out what happens to someone's consciousness after death? No one has managed that so far.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 11 at 18:43
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    @LarsH don't the prior claims have the burden of proof? All I'm saying is "convince me".
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 11 at 21:45
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Order.

On death, entropy grows quickly (entropy is not necessarily order loss, but in this case, it is).

An important thing to consider in thermodynamics is that while thermodynamics describe the process of dissipation of a system into subsystems, there is no theory that describes the opposite, how a system comes into existence, or in technical terms, how a set of subsystems become a whole system.

When we are born, when we grow, we somehow become systems, independent and self-sustaining. This means that something new appears, a new system, with its minimum possible entropy. There's no theory that describes such behavior, it should be the counterpart of the 2nd law (entropy decreases in this conditions:...). Such whole exhibits multiple systemic behaviors that can be described as order. Order is essentially the human-subjective perception of patterns. For example, most mammals cycle between waking and sleeping. Such is a pattern we perceive, that is, such is a type of order. And such is a type of order that is lost when mammals die, among many others.

When order is lost in a system (in this case, when entropy grows), the main system dissipates into subsystems (e.g. in a decapitation, the head continues to be alive for some time, while the rest of the body is not anymore part of it). In many cases, some subsystems can continue to exist (e.g. a bone will not dissipate as fast as an eye), but in general, parts will also dissipate into subsystems, and subsystems into sub-subsystems until some point where the small subsystem is able to persist in time.

Subsystems that tend to persist in time have the possibility to join others and form new systems. For example, a dead human will dissipate usually into particles, some of them being mineral. Such mineral particles tend to persist in time, and they can later become part of other systems, like a tree.

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  • +1 Invocation of thermodynamics.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:59
  • Entropy of a body generally decreases on death, because the body cools. The entropy related variable whose change correlates to the disordering upon death is the decrease in the Gibbs free energy associated with the configuration of molecules. The well understood branch of physics which explains how and when entropy locally decreases is non-equilibrium thermodynamics.
    – g s
    Commented Jan 9 at 18:50
  • Strictly, thermodynamic entropy of open systems is a fallacious concept (I didn't entered into such detail because this is obvious), however, the entropy notion as energy dispersal is useful. That is why the order that is lost is not only molecular order. A human body can be split in subsystems (subject to entropy) in multiple forms, a body is not just a set of molecules. For example, a body is also a set of organs, and the entropy of the system of organs increases on death. It is the same at any other level: limbs, atoms, sides, functional units, etc. In all cases, entropy grows on death.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 10 at 13:45
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Upon death, what is lost is the complex pattern of neural activity that gives rise to consciousness, cognition, and the sense of self. Even though the physical matter of the brain and body remains, the electrochemical signals and functional connections between neurons that encode memories, personality, and experiences are disrupted and eventually cease at death.

From a physicalist viewpoint, the mind arises from the physical processes of the brain. So when the brain can no longer sustain organized, integrating activity due to cell death and system failure, the mind is lost along with it despite the matter itself persisting.

So the loss of life and the associated subjective experiences of personhood are due to the loss of physiochemical complexity and information processing capacity - even if the raw material of the brain itself does not disappear right away. What makes "you" you is not the matter itself, but the dynamic informational processes and patterns in the brain that get destroyed upon death. So while the matter remains, the essence of the living person is no longer present.

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The short and simple answer: Upon death life is lost.

More specific: The physiologic and mental processes stop in an irreversible way and the organic structures decompose.

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    This is circular: life is not death, dead is not alive. Applies to para1. Para2 is ok (for materialists)
    – Rushi
    Commented Jan 8 at 6:32
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Life seems to be an evolving pattern. Simple life can reproduce itself. Very simple forms such as viruses are not always classed as living. Intelligent life can modify itself according to what it experiences. The intelligence in the Chinese Room may be a card index, but it will continue to live as long as it is kept updated. And there may be other things that we do not yet classify was alive or not.

Consider death as a process rather than the event of an instant. A simple creature such as yeast may survive being frozen, or otherwise put into suspended animation where it is not living but it can be bought back. A virus is capable of making copies of itself when in a cell, so it has many of the characteristics of life, but outside of a cell it is just a big molecule. We can regard the suspended animation state as being neither life or death, but a hiatus between life and a possible further state of life. If the thing in suspended animation is damaged, it may not be dead but it would be soon if it were re-animated. We can freeze and recover animals as large as hamsters. No-one has yet scaled yet this up to humans.

What about the Chinese Room? If the card index is damaged by fire so it no longer works, then it is dead. If the person who ran the Chinese Room and answered the questions is dead, then it is in suspended animation, and it could be revived if a replacement was trained. Whether it is complex enough to be classed as 'alive' I don't know, but I like to think it could be if it was large enough.

We can see that the terms 'dead' and 'alive' are pretty elastic, and there is no sharp boundary between the two. Many things clearly fall into one state or the other. Dying is not instant. Machine Learning (the right term for AI today) is probably not complex enough to be called life yet, but it could be classed as living one day.

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For physicalists/materialists/positivsts life has at most an epiphenomenal meaning. So death is also meaningless.

Furthermore:

  • The problem of consciousness is hard
  • Love is just chemistry
  • Dreaming is synonymous with delusion
  • Values are a relativist convenience
  • And all discussion, reflection on such subjects is a game or confusion of language

because their starting assumptions are untenable. But to jump from that recognition to belief in soul IS a jump. One can say something non-material exists without reifying it to soul/God etc.

The original meaning of the word spiritual was to refer to this non-reified non-materialist outlook. Nowadays it has come to mean adherence to some new age cult.
Presumably we need a new word ...

Blessed is he that has a soul, blessed is he that has none. But woe and sorrow to him who has in himself its conception

From one of the new age fashions


Note: You need to question your juxtaposition monism-physicalism. Physicalism can never be monist because there is invariably the physicalist — hard as a nail or soft as wetware — with their physicalism.

Only idealism is compatible with monism

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    This answer is not correct about materialism, and is more a description of bias than it is anything else.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jan 8 at 3:37
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Before we ask what is lost when we die , we must understand what is life and what is the nature of reality. Reality is a conditioned phenomena. When we accept that I am body , body is mine , body is myself then the illusion of “I am body” arises. When death occurs the illusion gets destroyed. It no longer occurs that “I am body”. What is lost is the idea of who am I ? When we accept that I am feeling, feeling is mine , feeling is myself then the illusion of “I am feeling” arises. When death occurs the illusion gets destroyed. It no longer occurs that “I am feeling”. What is lost is the idea of who am I ? When we accept that I am perception, perception is mine , perception is myself then the illusion of “I am perception arises”. When death occurs the illusion gets destroyed. It no longer occurs that “I am perception “. What is lost is the idea of who am I ? When we accept that I am choices, choices are mine , choices are myself then the illusion of “I am choice “ arises. When death occurs the illusion gets destroyed.It no longer occurs that I am choices. What is lost is the idea of who am I ? When we accept that I am consciousness, consciousness is mine , consciousness is myself then the illusion of “I am consciousness “ arises. When death occurs the illusion gets destroyed. It no longer occurs the I am consciousness.What is lost is the idea of who am I ?

Life is the acceptance of illusion of I am body , feelings, perceptions, choices and consciousness. Death is the destruction of that illusion. It results in deep suffering if we are not mentally prepared.

Life is a combination of body , feelings, perceptions, choices and consciousness. Death is a separation of body, feelings, perceptions, choices and consciousness.

Life is a development of who am I ? Death is the loss of the idea of who am I ?

Few things, like cravings ,do not die easily and can even persist even after death.

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    In 1996 I witnessed a Dharma Talk at Zen Center of Los Angeles given by William Nyogen Yeo (current affiliation - hazymoon.com/teachers). He said, "Only the ego fears death. The body is not afraid to die." I do not regard this as a true statement. The ego is the effort to govern action in the sensory context. The living body is the source of the organic or biological drive to gain and keep vitality - the ability to live. The ego is necessary to gain and keep vitality in the world. Fear also accompanies an anticipated loss of ego-attachments. The body generates the ego attributes. Commented Jan 9 at 2:23
  • Perhaps the 'ego' being referred to is the selfish and conniving aspects of self rather than just mind in general? Bodies resist death but aren't 'afraid' because that's an emotion.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 9 at 11:59
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    @Scott Rowe Emotions arise via the biological effort to regulate behavior in the sensory context. That means bodies are afraid because the ego, the effort to regulate behavior in the sensory context, is an attribute of the living body. To argue otherwise is body-mind duality whereas Buddhism is founded on the concept of the body-mind. I think it is possible to transcend the ego-identity or ego-attachments (I have done so many times) but not when the body is under external threat or internal distress. Fear of the Lord is a canopy of blessings. Fear is part of the regulatory mechanism. Commented Jan 9 at 17:06
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What gets lost upon death (/what you gain upon birth) (an incomplete list..):

  • life
  • bank account(!)
  • property
  • the "I" (/the ability to cogitate/to act)
  • "Name" ..the greatest names (like Gilgamesh, Cheops, ...Alexander, Moses, Buddha, Laotse, Jesus, Mohammed) can per-/resist some milleniums, but then...?
  • ...

Better question: what "remains"?

  • your "wife", your kids
  • your ideas
  • your deeds
  • ...
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This answer reflects some of the existing ones but tries to bring as concisely to the point as possible (to me, at least).

Dying is, like everything else concerning living matter, a chemical process with the following attributes:

  • It is irrevocable.
  • All other processes in the body are ended by the time the process of dying finishes.
  • It enables a final process, the process of decaying, to take place. To be precise: any previous processes which partially prevented decay are stopped during dying; hence the process(es) of decay can now go into full force.

Death is the point in time when certain (legal) definitions have been met. There can be different types of Death (i.e., clinical death could be defined when breathing and pulse have stopped; brain death could be defined when there is no measurable brain activity, albeit the rest of the body might still be working; and possibly other definitions).

So to answer the main question, "what is lost on death":

  • During the process of dying, the dying entity loses the capability to continue the processes which kept it alive. As mentioned in some comments, this might seem like a circular definition, but it isn't (i.e., however you define "being alive", there is no reason for that definition to depend on the definition of death/dying). Whatever "being alive" means - like most other processes in the universe, it has an end, at least for all living things we encounter on Earth. That end is called death. For a materialist, then, there is nothing particularly special about death beyond trite facts like being a somewhat unique, final activity for the entity.

Some random rambling:

  • The term "process" hides arbitrary complexity both in time and space. In this case, of course, death is especially not a single moment in time. Being a process, it can be drawn out. It may be up to definition or choice to say which parts of the biochemical happenings at the end of the life of an entity are part of actual "dying".
  • The above is readily visible in daily life-or-death situations. It is totally normal for a victim of circumstances to arrive in a hospital, with the doctors fighting hard for their life. Some make it, some don't. The latter are, by definition, part of the club where the process was "irrevocable".
  • If you are asking at which point the "lights go out", this depends on your definition of "lights" (or consciousness), which is still considered a hard, unsolved problem. But from the point of view of a materialist, whatever consciousness is, is certainly still (at least based on) a biochemical process, not much more special than any other process.

EDIT: addedd the answer to the titular question.

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This is a useful question to ask, as it forces consideration of two problems with the physicalist characterization of life.

The first problem is that even from a physicalist POV a materialist explanation of life is clearly entirely inadequate. This is because it is not the MATTER that does the things that life functionally can do. It is instead the organization and structure of the matter that is key. Organization and structure are Logic properties, which themselves have no energy, volume, etc. These logic abstractions must be present or a living thing cannot be alive. Physicists also can only do physics with information as well, which also falls in the category of abstractions. But this is even more obvious with life. Physicalism, to explain life, ontologically cannot be monist, as it requires the existence of things that ontologically fall into the realm of abstract objects.

However, consideration of the zombie thought problem raises a further concern. If life breaks down organizationally, then a person dies — what would happen per physicalism our microsurgery skills increase dramatically and the now dead body were then modified to regain organizational self regulation etc, but just did all of this somewhat differently? Could it be possible that this revised bio-construct could function as “life” but lack a self? Lack the awareness, emotions, qualia of our now dead loved one, while motivating their now revived body? Physicalist functionalism is possible without consciousness. Dennett and the behaviorists are not wrong on this point. And if a revived body lacks a self, there WOULD be something lost in that death and revival sequence.

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  • I don't follow this argument. It seems to me that this answer implies that the "ordering" or the "structure" of chemical processes within the body is outside of the purview of a materialist/physicalist. That doesn't seem to be my understanding of these terms. Materialism certainly is not only concerned with the static amount of atoms in a particular object, but also with their (physical, material) interactions. As other answers show, death is an irrecoverable disruption of these interactions, since for many types of death the actual atoms in the body don't go anywhere.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:02
  • @AnoE -- Yes, the physicalist answers very appropriately recognize that a physicalist explanation of life require characterizing relationships and interactive feedback loops, etc. The first part of my answer is that while this is an adequate functionalist account of life, it is not MONISM. Both physics, and physicalism in general, have had to incorporate Popper's world 3 interactively with world 1, in order to actually do either physics or physicalism. The second part of my answer was pointing out that this material plus logical/functionalist account of life does not solve the hard problem.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:31
  • Alright, Dcleve. I admit that I'm not too familiar with those technical terms/concepts (Popper's worlds...). I have not downvoted, just expressing my (maybe naive) misunderstanding. ;) Maybe you could add the gist of the explanation in your comment as subtitles for your paragraphs, to make it clearer?
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:48
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    @Dcleve World 3 is specifically products of thought. Absent any thinking being, clouds would form in atmospheres. Those clouds would be structured specific ways that, given the sudden appearance of thinking beings, could be described. But the physical structures are not dependent on world 3 at all and would exist without it. In a world with only bacteria, life and death would both occur.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jan 9 at 20:08
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    @philosodad I was thinking of Frankenstein :-) Good ideas never go out of style, but we might forget about them.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 9 at 23:53
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You are confusing physicalism with a very narrow version of materialism.

While the material in a body before and after death (assuming a quick and peaceful death for the sake of the argument) is nearly identical, there is something else physical that is not - movement, chemical reactions, biological activity.

Muscle movement, including the heart pumping blood. Oxygen exchange in the lungs, digestion, nerve impulses from the small nerves in the body to the big network in the brain. Enzyme production and cell division. Millions of small and larger processes within the body are entirely physical. At death, one by one they cease to be.

A living body and a corpse are identical only if you ignore time, if you take a snapshot and look not very closely.

What is lost upon death is the activity of the body as a system, which is why we can say that the system has ceased to be, even if the body (as a corpse) is still present. But all the processes that made up the system have come to a halt.

It's like confusing the corporate headquarters building of a company with the company itself. When the company goes bancrupt, the building is still there - but there's nothing happening inside anymore.

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If something at the moment of death contains the same matter as that something when alive, what is lost?

Life is not a quantity of matter. It is physical quantities between certain boundaries. Death is at least some of those physical quantities going out of those boundaries.

There is nothing which would be alive at one moment and dead at another. If something is alive and something is dead, then they cannot possibly be the same thing.

It is presumably the case that some part of the person when alive is still there unchanged when the person just died, but this part cannot possibly be the whole of the person. No magic there.

Consciousness might be something else altogether, but this is not the subject. Wrong question?

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    Well I wouldn't argue that consciousness gives you life, plants live and die. I would argue it something else non material and the only word I know to describe that is the soul?
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Jan 8 at 13:08
  • @8Mad0Manc8 While I've +1ed your comment, I'd like to point out that soul is a peculiarly Judeo Christian idea. In the Eastern religions there is no exact equivalent but half a dozen nearby: jiva - life principle, prana - breath principle, atma - self etc. Of these prana is typically associated with all breathing beings and jiva with all living beings. And atma is universal
    – Rushi
    Commented Jan 8 at 15:20
  • @8Mad0Manc8 "How can they account for life and death if everything is just matter?" I think I answered your question. 2. "the only word I know to describe that is the soul" That doesn't help. I have no idea what you mean by "soul". You think plants have a soul? Commented Jan 8 at 17:12
  • If you break down life into to its most fundamental forms to atoms its hard to say that an atom is alive however atoms become molecules and molecules become cells I think that there is more to a cell than just atoms and molecules and more to a living being than atoms, molecules and cells I used the word soul as I had no other word.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Jan 8 at 21:03
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    @8Mad0Manc8 "If you break down life into ... atoms" Sure, and if you break down a cake into its atoms, you won't find it so tasty. You won't even be able to eat it. You won't even be able to see it. The logical fallacy you are committing here is to forget that what we have in our mind is not, and cannot possibly be, what there actually is in the world. As already explained in my answer, life is not a quantity of matter. What the same quantity of matter looks like to us very much depends on its precise state. A body is not just a collection of atoms. Isn't that obvious? It think it is. Commented Jan 9 at 11:26
-1

How does physicalism (physical monism) explain what that loss is?

The question, to me, seems... kind of absurd. How do we know that someone is dead? How does, for example, an EMT or a doctor decide that a patient is dead?

They don't pray. They don't light incense and seek the answers from souls and spirits. They decide a person is dead based on physically detectable signals. Do they have a pulse? Or brain activity?

We know someone is dead first and foremost because of physical things. The physical aspect of death isn't some great mystery, it's the most immediate way we know someone is dead in the first place.

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