Tuesday, December 05, 2006

TGD - I'm not dead yet!

The title of this article is a quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail - the body cart comes around the town to collect up the (presumably leprous) corpses, and along comes John Cleese with his ninepence and his cadaver. The only problem is that actually the corpse feels rather like he might pull through.

This is a situation which relates to the ever-decreasing sphere in which divine intervention can be invoked, such reduction being due to scientific advances. There are known cases where people have been thought dead and have "got better", or have been ruled out a long time before the actual event of their dying. As an example, a death through epilepsy can often cause the unfortunate to become unresponsive long before becoming dead, so that 'miraculous' events such as the body remaining warm for days after the death are recorded. While the meaning of the term "dead ringer" has nothing to do with the 19th Century safety coffin, such devices did exist. The whole purpose behind holding a wake was the hope that life might return to the deceased - because sometimes it did. Various poisons can lead to the body attaining a death-like state, while in fact the subject remains living; perhaps the most famous of these is TTX (the toxin carried by pufferfish); supposedly used by Vodou practitioners to create zombies. A good explanation of that is Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies: Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality. The case of Wilfred Doricent, described in the arXiv paper, is recent: he died in March 1988 and was no longer displaying many of the symptoms of death by September 1989.

The point here is that there are modern cases where death is misdiagnosed. Given the modern equipment, techniques and advances in both theoretical and practical knowledge, one would assume that the rate of misdiagnosis of death has decreased over time (and in a related vein, the number of conditions which terminate terminally has decreased, too). How can we know, without even contemporary doctors' notes, whether a particular resurrection event was miraculous or just a case of mistaken interment? Pufferfish aren't particularly common around the middle East so perhaps Lazarus wasn't eating fugu but he may have had epilepsy, tetanus or a number of other conditions which were confused with fatality.

Returning to the parenthesis on terminal conditions, above, one can argue by progression that if there are fewer "terminal" conditions now in (kindof) 2000 than there were in 1800, then assuming no catastrophic dark age reversion there will be even fewer in 2200, fewer still in 2400 and so forth. So the ability to "miraculously" recover from a terminal condition should decrease over time too; not because the rate of miracles is decreasing but because the ability to explain the circumstances is increasing.

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