Posted by Richard Rawlinson
Some readers might recall Roal Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected on TV. ‘William and Mary’ was a particularly beastly story about an academic having his brain and one eye transplanted from his body after death, and attached to an artificial heart so they both continue to function.
William can see and think but nothing more. He is a mind incapable of being a person. His widow, Mary, takes the brain home in its protective capsule, but instead of caring for it by giving it learned books to read, she promptly takes revenge by doing all the things that met with William’s disapproval when he could communicate – things like smoking and watching trash TV. He’s helpless and in hell.
As animals, our deaths are defined by the end of the vital processes that sustain our existence as human beings. As minds, our deaths are constituted by the irreversible extinction of the vital processes that sustain our existence as minds. But if persistence is determined by our retaining certain psychological features, then does the loss of those features constitute death?