Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"Zombie" Dogs

I know: I said that my next post would continue my criticism of the privileged universe notion, but this is a story that just couldn't be kept down:

Boffins1 create zombie dogs

Thanks to Slash Dot Science.

Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.

The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity.

But three hours later, their blood is replaced and the zombie dogs are brought back to life with an electric shock.

Plans to test the technique on humans should be realised within a year, according to the Safar Centre.

The Fox News story (reprinted from NY Post) says:
[Dr. Kochanek] said his goal is to be able to put humans, such as critically wounded soldiers or stabbing or shooting victims, in a state of suspended animation for a few hours until they can receive proper medical help.

Yes, "zombie" might be journalistic hype, but the research, no matter how beneficial, is still macabre.


1. BOFFIN: chiefly British : a scientific expert; especially : one involved in technological research (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Nick Buchan, Boffins create zombie dogs," NEWS.com.au (June 27, 2005). (Site's slow; text mirrored here.)

Bill Hoffmann, "Blood Swapping Reanimates Dead Dogs," Fox News (June 28, 2005).

Bill Hoffmann, "Zombie Dogs," New York Post (June 28, 2005). [free reg. required]

Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research (site contains no futher information on this development, but the 2002-2004 Annual Report confirms they do indeed conduct this kind of research)


Holopupenko said...

Given that animals have “material” souls (from the Scholastic perspective) and given that there was apparently no damage to the organs and tissues, I guess I’m not surprised they’ve successfully reanimated a supposedly dead dog. However, the interest of these scientists in wanting to carry out such experiments on humans (within one year!) is troubling. With respect to moral considerations, this should present Thomists an opportunity to apply their brains to the body-soul question within the context of these experiments, and possibly provide a sobering warning against such tests on humans. The nagging question in the back of my mind is: if they, nevertheless, proceed on a human, and indeed the human is “killed” (I don’t know how they’re going to do this without inflicting some form of physical damage… or maybe they’ll just cool a volunteer down to death) and held that way for several hours, and then reanimated, the question is: was the person really dead, i.e., did a substantial change (again, in the Scholastic sense) occur… twice? A whole slew of other questions come to mind, which I believe you can see... anyway, quite interesting... as well as chilling and shocking (pun intended).

Lawrence Gage said...

Interesting questions indeed...

I'm having difficulty imagining how such a human experiment could possibly satisfy ethical requirements for research--even without actively causing the initial damage that would "kill" the person, there should be some doubts about whether the person is "fully dead" or if the experiment does him in. Or am I being too fastidious?

What sort of distinction do scholastics make as far as the intellectual and corporeal parts of the soul? Do they distinguish the soul from the spirit as St. Paul seems to (e.g., 1Cor 15:45, 1Thes 5:23, Heb 4:12)?

I wonder if such an experiment on a human would reveal the distinction between the soul and the spirit. Perhaps it would reconstitute the animal soul, but what of the spirit? If the person's spirit didn't return, who (or what) would step in to fill the void...?


Holopupenko said...

The Scholastics were very careful in distinguishing between the body and the soul, and the person which this unique combination comprises. HOWEVER, while it is correct to speak of a body-SOUL dualism (but NOT in the Cartesian sense), it is incorrect to speak of a body-SELF dualism. The person is NOT to be identified with a consciousness somehow associated with the body (which is Cartesian). The person cannot be identified with the soul. The person is neither the body alone nor the soul alone. The person is a deep unity of body and soul. The soul, in turn has two faculties: the mind (whose capacity or power is reasoning – by which an individual receives and internalizes knowledge), and the will (whose capacity or power is choosing – by which an individual chooses to act upon that knowledge). Hence, there is no “corporeal” part of the human soul – by definition.

The human soul is immaterial – a rational soul, as clearly shown by Aristotle and backed up by St. Thomas. (Hence, the definition of a human being as “rational animal.”) Moreover, every human being is a living image of God himself, an icon (eikon – Greek) or living representative of the all-holy and all-loving God. Every one of us is, in a sense, a “word” uttered by God himself – a “created word” of God that his Uncreated Word became (John 1:1,14) precisely to show us how deeply God loves us and cherishes us as an irreplaceable and precious persons. Hence, we are infinitely more valuable than the entire material universe.

The animal soul is a “material” soul. When an animal dies (which means it undergoes a change in substance – a “substantial” change), since there is no rational or immaterial soul (think in terms of the Aristotelian “form”), it ceases to exist - it is no longer. Period. Hence, why I’m not surprised the dog in the article could have been reanimated from an apparent state of death: we human have gotten “smart” enough to do this to animals. (Although I still have some skepticism as to whether the animal was actually dead – even though there were no observed brain (as opposed to mind) functions, no heartbeat, no nothing for several hours.)

When a human dies, the form (soul) is separated from the matter (body). And, that’s why I’m skeptical (apart from the grave moral considerations) whether killing and reanimating a person could ever be successful. And, this despite the fact that there are clinical cases where for very brief periods the bodily functions of persons severely injured or those who have suffered heart attacks. Note I did NOT say these persons “died” in the full sense: just because bodily functions cease does not mean the person is dead – which is precisely the terrible error in the Terry Schiavo case… just because her BRAIN did not function up to Michael’s standards, Terry remained a deeply-injured but nevertheless fully dignified person because her MIND (rational soul) was clearly there. He ordered the removal of food from a fully-dignified human PERSON, and not just from a bodily husk inhabited by a less-than-human (vegetative?!?) BRAIN displaying limited functions.

Anyway, as to who would ever want to take part in such an experiment, I can well imagine someone who is terminally ill. But this, to me, is gravely flawed. Think about it: they want to die, in order to live. (This is NOT what Christ had in mind, because he was speaking of us as whole persons.) Those who would want to volunteer for such a ghastly experiment are thinking in very limited terms that the human being is ONLY animal. My prediction is it cannot and will not work IF indeed the person is killed, for then the soul and body are separated and no amount of clinical animation techniques will have any effect on the soul. And, even if a person is reanimated, then they really didn’t die in the fullest sense as applied to human beings. Note the implicit assumption being made by the scientists: that the “killing” and “reanimation” affects the human person in his/her entirely. But clearly, this can not be the case: material techniques won’t affect the soul, but may make the body temporarily unsuitable and then suitable for the unique human person to be.

Regarding the confusion over spirit and soul in a human: this is a Protestant error. The human being – the person – is a SPIRITUAL entity in the sense that there is an IMMATERIAL soul. If you pick up any number of evangelical tracts or books on salvation, you’ll see their interpretation of the Scriptures (which you referenced) leads them to such a flawed conclusion. But, of course, they have neither the teaching authority of the Magisterium to back them up, nor the philosophical and theological reflections of St. Thomas.

Lawrence Gage said...

Interesting remarks. I wonder if you could fill in a couple details:

1. What does the Magisterium actually say about the body-soul-spirit?

2. How does St. Thomas (or scholastics in general) interpret those scriptural passages?



Holopupenko said...

Okay, first the Protestant view. (You may, of course ask, WHICH Protestant view, to which I would reply: good question! But that’s a separate discussion...) Generally speaking (although varying depending on the sect), the Protestant view is that the man is made up of three distinct parts (body, soul, and spirit) with the following “functions” assigned to each: The body is made up of flesh and can be touched. The soul forms the basic thought patterns and directs one’s functions. The spirit is in direct relationship with the Lord. Or to put it another way, the “soul” is man’s horizontal perspective of the world. The “spirit” is man’s vertical perspective with God. To a Protestant, it’s not the body that is saved but the spirit or soul or what have you.

And, this is all balderdash – both philosophically (as explained yesterday) and theologically. For the Catholic, the WHOLE PERSON is saved. Both philosophy and theology contribute to our knowledge of the soul, and we certainly need both sources of knowledge. While theology relies on God’s word as it comes to us through revelation, philosophy can tell us much about the soul from the light of natural reason.

The soul signifies the spiritual (or immaterial) principle in man – hence the confusion for Protestants. According to CCC 367: “Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people ‘wholly,’ with ‘spirit and soul and body’ kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming. The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. ‘Spirit’ signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.” That’s the teaching (in summary form) of the Magisterium.

To rephrase yesterday’s comment and to segue back into the “zombie dog” discussion: the definition of man is a creature composed of body and RATIONAL (immaterial, i.e., spiritual) soul made in the image and likeness of God. Man is composed of a material element (the body) and a spiritual element (the soul) NOT as two independent elements that happen to be joined together, but as two incomplete elements that need each other to form a complete whole, namely, the human person. “... spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” (CCC 365). While the soul after death can exist apart from the body, there is an incompleteness in its condition apart from the body until it will be reunited with the body at the end of the world. Our salvation, then, will be fully realized only with the resurrection of the body, when the whole man will enjoy the beatitude of the life to come.

Concentrating on the word “spirit”: A spirit is a being without a body that has an intellect and free will. A pure spirit is one that has no dependence on matter either for its existence or any of its activities. God is uncreated pure spirit; the angels are created pure spirits. The human soul is a spirit which, while not dependent on the body for its existence, is dependent on the body (during life in this world) for its operation. While it exists apart from the body after the death of the body, it retains a natural affinity for the body to which it will be reunited at the end of the world.

So, let’s take the examples of Christ bringing people back to life, the Gospels tell about three occasions when Jesus put soul and body “back together again” (no apologies to Humpty Dumpty). The first was similar to what we sometimes hear about operating room examples: Jairus’ daughter was barely dead when Jesus took her hand saying, “Talitha cum, little girl, arise.” The second was later after the actual death: the funeral (probably the day after death) of the widow’s son. The third was four days following the death of Lazarus. By this time, his body would have disintegrated to a point that, as his sister points out, “there will be a stench.” So, you can see the scientists who want to perform the experiment on a human should be chased scientifically AND philosophically about what they’re attempting to do.

Again, moral considerations notwithstanding, I wonder if in a state of long-term suspended animation for a human (where the body indeed suffers little or no degradation), does the soul retain the “strong affinity” for the body, or is it really over when it’s over, and mankind should not mess around with this stuff? My sense is that it does, and as such maybe, just maybe such an experiment can work. Why? Unless the spiritual aspect of a human person (his/her soul) when separated from the body is infused with knowledge directly from God (certainly possible), there’s no way the person can gain knowledge “external” to himself once he dies. Remember: while all human knowledge comes through the senses, not all human knowledge is sense knowledge (because we have rational souls that not only “image” reality but actually conceptualize about it). So, when a person dies as a result of these ghastly experiments, his/her soul may so strongly “desire” to remain “in place” (as opposed to being in a kind of fog with previous knowledge existing but with external channels of information cut off) that an interesting pseudo-death state is attained. I admit up front and openly I’m engaging in significant speculation, but it’s speculation based on our knowledge of the human person and the soul of that person.

So, I come back to one of my first questions to the scientists attempting this: given a non-degradating state of suspended animation, is the person really dead? The scientist will say: let’s see: no brain functions, no bodily functions of any kind, no MATERIAL functions of any kind. Yup, he’s dead. The Thomist should automatically say: Whoa! Let’s think for a moment...

Lawrence Gage said...

One hears rumors of the similarity of hallucinations induced by sensory deprivation to demonic possession.

I'm just wondering the detachment of the intellect from the senses would open a void for someone or something to step in....

These experiments are not simply morally troubling, but frightening.


Holopupenko said...

I’m less worried about the possibility of possession than I am of the moral implications of the act of conducting an experiment that purposefully kills a person (even if voluntary) to study whether they can be successfully reanimated. Unless the intent, means, and results are morally licit, this experiment should not be permitted. That may grate on the ears of scientists, but, hey, who’s stopped some of them from experimenting on embryos? This is not a popularity contest or a justification based on “if we can possibly do it, we should try.” These are moral issues for which science can provide information but cannot draw conclusions.

Anyway, as I see it there are two possible outcomes in attempting such an experiment: (1) The person is killed (from the experimenter’s perspective) but not “fully” dead (from the Thomist’s perspective) because the spirit “lingers around” given the strong affinity for the soul to remain part of the one nature of the whole person (body & soul) – especially since the body is minimally degrading. (2) The person is killed, the soul “departs” the body for good, and that’s it – no reanimation is possible.

[As an aside, I am no expert (nor do I play one on TV!) on temporary post-mortem out-of-body experiences under operating room conditions for people who have experienced, for example, a massive heart attack. Nevertheless, my sense is the images people have during these periods of “temporary death” result NOT from “seeing” real occurrences in the world. These people cannot receive knowledge about the outside world because the human soul either (1) needs the body’s senses to gain such knowledge, or (2) knowledge is infused directly by God, or (3) the separated soul only left with recalling memories and piecing them together as best as possible to make sense of what is happening to them. It must be a terrifying experience to have no access to knowledge about the outside world. Hence, I’m not surprised why the images shared following reanimation appear to be wild hallucinations: floating above the operating table, flying through a dark tunnel, seeing unclear bright lights, visions of personal perceptions of hell, peace of mind despite just experiencing a massive and painful heart and the associated anxieties that come with it, etc.]

Is possession possible in either of these two cases? The point of a demonic possession is simple: to possess the person with the ultimate goal of “having” his/her soul after they die. Demonic possession is indeed a strange thing (but, unfortunately, not as rare as one may believe) because an invading demon disrupts the whole human person (again, intimate body & soul entity that is one human nature not two separate natures of a body and a soul). The quite mind-bending aspect of this (from the perspective of understanding that an immaterial soul needs no location to simply exist) is that possessions are usually location-sensitive: the concrete human person and often times even geographically sensitive... but I’ve digressed…

In the first case, my guess is a possession may be possible, but only if the person had been a long-term “target” of a demonic force intent on possessing the person. Possessions, in fact, are generally long-term “projects” that slowly chip away at one’s will until, at a certain point, at least tacit acceptance is provided to the invading force.

In the second case, there is probably no possibility for possession. Why? What would a demonic force “possess”? A material husk of a body that once belonged to the whole person? Frankly, there would be no “sport” for a demonic force to possess the material-only body, and no reason to because in such a case the demonic force would not have the “prize” of possessing the soul of the person. I’m not saying it can’t happen – maybe the demon wants to roam around the world inside the husk, but then this would not be a possession but a true zombie. (Lunch, anyone?) Moreover, it would make no sense because demons really don’t need the knowledge gained from human senses (assuming the material body is still in good working order) – like angels, they have immediate knowledge of things... although admittedly limited or stunted because of their evil natures.

(Note: it is an entirely different question as to what happens to the soul following death. If the person has not been reconciled with their Creator, they will be separated from Him in a state known as Hell – which is not possession, but it’s terrifying to try to conceive how dreadful this separation can be: no more knowledge of the outside world coming “into” the soul through the senses, the presence of fallen souls and demons probably being “sensed” in some way, and existing with the terrible knowledge that one has chosen to be separated from the Beautific Vision.)

Another interesting question is whether (per science fiction) human souls can swap bodies. The answer is no. Remember, the human person is of one nature in which body and soul are so intimately combined that any separation and the whole person ceases. (However, the soul, since it is immortal, continues on.) Therefore, one person’s soul cannot “inhabit” another’s body: it just wouldn’t “fit” in the philosophical sense and it’s not an issue of physical location in the first place. Even more ridiculous is the notion of a human soul “inhabiting” a brute animal’s body, and more ridiculous still is a brute animal’s material soul “inhabiting” a human body.

Holopupenko said...

A bit of a follow-up on why, for me, it’s mind-bending that possessions are location-sensitive, i.e., why does an immaterial demonic force invade and “stay” with a person “in” the location occupied by that person? With respect to the human person, while the soul in and of itself is not “in” space, it can (and does) operate “in” space in the sense that it is the spiritual source of life that animates or vitalizes every part of the material human body. In this sense, the soul is “where” it operates. But the demonic force? Possibly, it is because the human person is SO intimately a combination of soul and body (essentially inseparable while the person is among the living) that possession can only occur when the person is living. Can a human soul separated from the whole person combination of body & soul be “possessed”? Can or does a demonic force “enter” not just the body (when the person is living) but the very soul of a human being?

In the cases of possession I’ve read, I don’t believe it can “enter” the soul of the human soul because then it seems the soul would cease to exist as it once was… but we know the soul is immortal because it is immaterial. Moreover, those people who have survived possessions and lived to share their experiences usually recall having their identity or soul “shrink” down to almost nothingness under the extreme “pressure” of the “stronger” invader... as if the invader “swallowed” up the human soul into itself. (They claim, in these circumstances, that a realization was retained of their identity and that they had a will, but that the will was being utterly “suffocated.”)

But this then begs the question: can a similar thing happen to a human soul separated from his/her body following death, not reconciled and hence separated forever from God, and existing in the state of Hell? Given that the human soul is not a created PURE spirit like an angel (fallen or otherwise) but is a created soul dependent on its body (NOT for existence but for its operation) and hence the “soul” of the invading demon is “stronger,” can such a poor soul in the state of Hell be “possessed”? Maybe possession following death must be thought of in analogous terms: to be possessed following death (if such a thing is possible) may mean that the faculties (intellect, will) of the possessed human soul are subsumed under the far stronger will and intellect of the invading force. Can the invading force, in a similar manner, be subsumed into a stronger demonic force? Do we eventually end up with a kind of immaterial (spiritual) Russian matroshka doll as analogously representing the hierarchy of fallen angels and damned souls that is the state of Hell?

Hmmm... interesting how this string has turned to considerations of demonic possession. Maybe that’s partly a function of the ghastliness of the proposed experiment that started this string in the first place...