shkrobius (shkrobius) wrote,

Some Physico-Theological Considerations About the Possibility of the Resurrection

I was asked, what use is theological philosophizing for science? In most cases, it is of little use (as little as most of other things), but there were some notable exceptions. Perhaps this usefulness depends on who is philosophizing. If it is an average person, the result may not be impressive. However, if it is someone like Robert Boyle, it is quite a sight.

In 1675, Boyle wrote a short essay on the physics of resurrection. I have to warn that Boyle was a very weird man. On the other hand, only such a man could have invented experimental science and modern physics and chemistry. Here is this essay
I apologize for low quality of the print - it's an old book

The problem that burned on Boyle's mind was the following: biblical prophecy tells that after the Judgment Day the saints will raise from the dead and their bodies will be resurrected. Of course, nothing is impossible to an omnipotent veing, but Boyle's noticed a problem that challenges even the omnipotence. When people die,

...divers of the parts of [the] body will, according to the course of nature, resolve themselves into multitudes of steams that wander to and fro in the air; and the remaining parts, that are either liquid or soft, undergo so great a corruption and change, that it is not possible so many scattered parts should be again brought together, and reunited after the same manner, wherein the existed in a human body whilst it was yet alive. And much more impossible it is to effect this reunion, if the body have been, as it often happens, devoured by wild beasts or fishes; since in this case, though the scattered parts of the cadaver might be recovered as particles of matter, yet already having passed into the substance of other animals, they are quite transmuted, as being informed by the new form of the beast or fish that devoured them and of which they now make a substantial part... And yet far more impossible will this reintegration be, if we put the case that the dead man was devoured by cannibals; for then, the same flesh belonging successively to two different persons, it is impossible that both should have it restored to them at once, or that any footsteps should remain of the relation it had to the first possessor.

At death, the body decomposes into the constituent corpuscles that are recycled and eventually taken up by other bodies; over time one such corpuscle will belong to several humans. Then, how is resurrection possible? If all saints are resurrected at once, it will be impossible to retrofit their bodies with their original corpuscles, as these are shared with other bodies that will be resurrected at the same time.

Boyle suggests that our personality cannot be the function of what we consist of. The corpuscles of our bodies constantly change during our lives, but we still remain the same person. Therefore, a body can be assembled from ANY corpuscles rather than the corpuscles that presently constitute this body, and still it will be the same man. We cannot tell apart the original and the clone in any physical experiment - IN PRINCIPLE - at least, no more than we can establish differences between "you right now" and "you a second ago". Boyle concludes that resurrection is possible only in a modular world that consists of indistinguishable particles in which individuality is emergent. He inferred that only atomic theory is compatible with the scripture. However, that's not the most interesting part.

If you replace "resurrection" by "cloning", you get a problem which is still as fresh today as in 1675. Midpoint in his analysis Boyle realized that his atoms still would not quite resolve the paradox: even if the bodies are recast de novo from the indistinguishable atoms, a man is not just a body, but a union of the body and soul. The soul was entangled with the living body and became separated from it at death. At resurrection it will need to re-entangle with the clone. Even if this clone is physically indistinguishable from the original, can the widowed soul entangle with this new body to produce the same man? Most people would say yes, but Boyle was not able to find logical foundation for this intuition. He became suspicious that it might be incorrect.

He was quite right. If you substitute the "body" for the state space and the soul for the wave function of the state, the question that troubled Boyle is explicitly addressed in the no-cloning theorem
stating that even if the state space is ideally clones, the general wavefunction describing a quantum state of the system cannot be cloned. Boyle's suspicions were not unfounded: entaglements set limits on cloning.

Boyle tried to solve this new unexpected problem. He suggested that if a small subset of the body remains unchanged through time, and this subset is passed to the clone, then the soul can seemlessly entangle with this clone. Of course, the original shall be designed in such a way that (i) the corpuscles in the subset are not involved in recycling and (ii) this subset can serve as a seed for this re-entanglement. Boyle speculated that in a human body this "subset" are bones. That is why the proper burial is so important. Incidentally, Boyle says that being this subset is the main function of minerals in our bodies.

I wonder whether Boyle was correct: can the no-cloning theorem be cheated by designing of a subsystem that is passed to the clone intact? It could be an interesting subject to investigate.

So, look how far a first-class mind can venture pondering an esoteric problem. Boyle was centuries ahead of his time contemplating cloning problems. Why did he make these counter-intuitive steps?

He believed in the resurrection of the dead. He was asking very general questions about a world in which it can happen, because he knew that our world is such a world. He knew the answer, and it emboldened him to ask the right questions.
Tags: forgotten topics

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