Jump to content

Life After Death?


Recommended Posts

I was wondering the other day whether an absence of belief in anything supernatural neccessarily means that there can be no after-life.

 

Is death really the end if you accept a totally material basis for reality? Because there are some funny things about both the physical world and the nature of human consciousness that continue to make me wonder. The truth may be far stranger than either life-after-death as commonly understood or 'death is the end'.

 

Let me explain:

 

The same stuff exists in stars, rocks, people, everything - atoms made of electrons, protons and neutrons. When you die then the component parts that made you are broken down and then recycled. Everything that was contained in who or what you are is broken down and then recycled as other things. Some of those things will be dead and lifeless but some of them will contain life - and yes, even consciousness.

 

Another thing worth considering is that there is probably not a single atom in your body that was there ten years ago. So the individual atoms that make you who and what you are constantly change throughout your life. It is only the structure evident in the neurons in your brain that create the illusion of a continuation of being and therefore a continuation of consciousness.

 

Of course consciousness ceases to be when you die because the structure of your brain decomposes (and more importantly the information processing activity ceases) and all the atoms and molecules that make you who and what you are become broken down into dead, decaying matter. But amongst the things those atoms could be reshaped into include living creatures (who might feed off the decay) and somewhere along the line those creatures will be consumed by creatures with intelligence and consciousness.

 

So what? you might say. Consciousness ceases to be when you die - so the continuation is broken. How can there be any subjective experience after death?

 

Well, consider this: There is a break in your consciousness everytime you fall asleep. In deep sleep (as opposed to dreaming sleep) I think it is safe to say that the consciousness in your brain has momentarily ceased to function. But it returns when you wake up. Because the structure of the neurons in your brain is remarkably similar to when you fell asleep you experience the impression of being the same person you were when you fell asleep - even though there has been a significant break in the continuation of that consciousness

 

What if you were to wake up as a totally different creature and with no memory of your former self? You wouldn't remember being a human, there would be very little continuation of the consciousness. But if the atoms that formed you were somehow formed into a totally different creature during your sleep, a creature with no memory of being human - would it matter? Would you have 'died'? Would you have been born again as another type of creature (like reincarnation)?

 

The reason I ask those bizarre questions is because something very similar happens during death. The bits and pieces that make you you are continually changing through your life but you don't notice because the structure is the same (or similar). There are significant breaks in consciousness all through your life but this doesn't affect the continuation of your consciousness because the structure is the same. When you die the bits and pieces that make you you are broken down and reshuffled into other entities, some of them dead but some of them living, some of them non-conscious but some of them conscious. How would this differ to falling asleep as a human but waking up as a bat with no memory of being human? How is this process any different from being born in the first place? Doesn't this take away some of the fear and terror of death?

 

This is not reincarnation as commonly understood and neither is it like a subjective personal after-life. 'You' as an individual entity cease to be when you die - also the consciousness that made you you also ceases to be when you die. But the stuff that makes you what you are is the same stuff that is in all matter in the Universe. And the processes that allow you to be conscious are similar processes that take place in all matter but when structured a certain way result in consciousness because of what those processes achieve with regards to sensory information when they are structured in that way.

 

Also there is something slightly illusory about the notion of a continued self all through your life. Consciousness stops in deep sleep but when you wake up you experience yourself as the same person who went to sleep. The atoms of matter that make up your body and brain can all change and yet you experience a continuation of identity from one moment to the next.

 

If I told you that you'd wake up tomorrow in a totally new body but identical to the last one and with full memory of who you are it wouldn't bother you at all. If I told you that you would wake up as a totally different creature with no memory of ever being a human being - well, it would be a daunting and maybe even disturbing prospect but if you knew you'd still be conscious then you'd still consider it a better prospect than death.

 

But what is the difference between that last scenario and death? Maybe death is the end of 'You' as a specific entity but maybe it is not the total End. All things recycle and new life and consciousness grows from the remains of the old.

 

Just a few weird thoughts I had earlier this week. I wondered what other atheists thought of those thoughts. Do we need to fear death? Is death the end from an atheist/non-supernatural viewpoint? Is it possible that the truth is stranger than both of the usual views about death? I personally find some comfort against the spectre of my inevitable mortality when I consider that my own continued existence from one moment to the next is largely an illusion and that all my parts will be reshuffled and recycled into other entities, some of which will include beings that are both alive and conscious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I was fully Atheist, I thought an afterlife possible, even if it were only a state of eternal dreaming.

 

But, anything that happens after death is still a big unknown, so I suppose anything is possible :shrug:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, consider this: There is a break in your consciousness everytime you fall asleep. In deep sleep (as opposed to dreaming sleep) I think it is safe to say that the consciousness in your brain has momentarily ceased to function. But it returns when you wake up. Because the structure of the neurons in your brain is remarkably similar to when you fell asleep you experience the impression of being the same person you were when you fell asleep - even though there has been a significant break in the continuation of that consciousness
Personally, I find no comfort in the idea of life after death, but this thing that you describe has a name, although when I looked it up not too long ago, I couldn't find any info on it. It's called non-transcendental reincarnation, and it's the idea that consciousness can cease completely, but reemerge at some point, and it doesn't require a soul.

 

When I became an ex-christian, it was the idea of life after death that was the last and hardest thing to let go. But it's easily acceptable once you think about it for awhile. I mean, there's no evidence whatsoever to even really hypothesize anything but the aforementioned idea. And even then there's little point in dwelling on it: once you die, THIS you is dead for all eternity, no matter what. The memories and experiences of your life are well and gone forever, your personality, your behaviors, all that are submerged in whoever you are when next you're born.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

EvolutionBeyond, I don't know if atheists have to believe anything. I understand atheism simply mean lack of belief in supernatural beings. Do we go on existing as conscious entities after death? This is something that cannot be proved. I hear that message from Christians and exChristians alike. For an atheist to belief in life after death seems rather strange to me but perhaps it's possible.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I don't understand is the notion that any sort of life after death is somehow "comforting." Humans as a species can be awfully narcissistic about the termination of themselves qua themselves. As for me, the instant I'm not "myself" anymore, oblivion would seem to follow. Imo, the purpose of one's life is to live it, not to save it from death.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As far as I know I didn't exist when I wasn't alive (pre-birth), so it seems reasonable that I won't exist when I again am not alive (post death). But if reason fails me and I do exist again in the future at some point, presumably i'll have no knowledge or awareness of my current self, so in effect that self will cease to exist forever when I die. Personally I don't find the idea of living again to be of comfort..... if I am "re-assembled" into some horrible circumstances (like psychotic abusive parents, sold into slavery, tortured by child predators, etc), I would rather not go through that. Then again if there are infinite parallel universes out there, maybe I could come back again into some utopia where suffing doesn't exist.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pitchu, well said,

 

The purpose of one's life is to live it, not to save it from death

.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't fathom how consciousness can survive the demise of the brain. I think it's pretty well proven that that is where it resides. Can computer memory survive the destruction of a hard drive?

 

On the other hand, I think it's not so far fetched to think that scientists may be close to extending current consciousness dramatically through the extention of life. It's just a matter of mastering the genome.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm currently reading a book by psychologist Jim Tucker called Life Before Life. In it, he tries to present evidence for reincarnation by examining claims made by small children about previous lives. A number of children, even in places that don't believe in reincarnation, such as America, make claims about previous lives. Tucker's claim is that many of these memories are verifiably accurate. Also, he says that one can often find birthmarks in these cases on the child which correspond to fatal wounds or other physical peculiarities of the people the children claim to have been.

 

I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if he presents a convincing enough case, but it certainly is interesting. If it's true, it would be evidence for an afterlife that even an atheist can get behind.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm currently reading a book by psychologist Jim Tucker called Life Before Life. In it, he tries to present evidence for reincarnation by examining claims made by small children about previous lives. A number of children, even in places that don't believe in reincarnation, such as America, make claims about previous lives. Tucker's claim is that many of these memories are verifiably accurate. Also, he says that one can often find birthmarks in these cases on the child which correspond to fatal wounds or other physical peculiarities of the people the children claim to have been.

 

I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if he presents a convincing enough case, but it certainly is interesting. If it's true, it would be evidence for an afterlife that even an atheist can get behind.

 

There is a seven year old girl in Japan, Uno Ayumi, who is famous for her stories from her "past life." She is able to describe in detail historical places and events that someone of her age couldn't possibly know. I saw an article on TV a few years back, a film crew went with her to visit the place where she said she was "born" and "grew up" in the 14th century! She was able to describe buildings that no longer exist, and gave a description of events that were later verified by local historians. There have been children in Britain and France with the same "abilities."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Carol Bowman has written an excellent book on the same subject.

 

http://tinyurl.com/2jqdas

 

I would like to think that reincarnation is true, but the main problems I have with it is that it requires the existence of the soul (no evidence for it, nor is it needed), and consciousness has been tied conclusively to the brain. Once the brain dies, so does our consciousness. This is a very good article on the subject:

 

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...80394-1,00.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Regarding "life after death"...seems to me (and I could be wrong)that when discussing this issue, perhaps people inadvertently are thinking of lying upright (brain intact) in a nice comfy, cozy coffin and placed in the ground. What if one is cremated? Blown up? Some sicko bastard cuts one up into pieces, and eats their brain (wouldn't surprise me if people do that)? Then what? What if the brain and body are completely obliterated?

 

I hope someone can see the point I'm trying to make...if not, sorry.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When you die, you are dead. Is that such a hard thing to accept?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't believe in a soul and I never said i did. Everything about human personality and consciousness is clearly contained in the brain. I don't believe in reincarnation in the sense that is commonly understood - I don't think you could trace a person's identity from one life to another in any meaningful sense.

 

All I said was that the atoms that make up a human brain will all be recycled into other things when you die - some of those things they are recycled into will include (somewhere down the line) other beings with consciousness and intelligence.

 

Also it is interesting to note that the matter that makes up your body and brain is constantly being lost and remade all the time so that there is probably not one single molecule that was there ten years ago - and yet the illusion of continued identity persists. Every night there is a break in your consciousness - yet you wake up with the illusion that you are the same person.

 

So when consciousness breaks down when you die, and your molecules are recycled into other things - and some of those things somewhere down the line are conscious entities.

 

Well, it makes me wonder... maybe the truth about whether death is the end or there is some kind of continued existence - maybe the truth is not an actual either/or answer but is far stranger than we can conceive.

 

Just food for thought, that's all. Yes, death is the end - for You as a person. But everything is recycled and life and consciousness carry on and all matter is made up of the same basic stuff. It's just an interesting way of looking at it, that's all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't believe in a soul and I never said i did. Everything about human personality and consciousness is clearly contained in the brain. I don't believe in reincarnation in the sense that is commonly understood - I don't think you could trace a person's identity from one life to another in any meaningful sense.

 

All I said was that the atoms that make up a human brain will all be recycled into other things when you die - some of those things they are recycled into will include (somewhere down the line) other beings with consciousness and intelligence.

 

Also it is interesting to note that the matter that makes up your body and brain is constantly being lost and remade all the time so that there is probably not one single molecule that was there ten years ago - and yet the illusion of continued identity persists. Every night there is a break in your consciousness - yet you wake up with the illusion that you are the same person.

 

So when consciousness breaks down when you die, and your molecules are recycled into other things - and some of those things somewhere down the line are conscious entities.

 

Well, it makes me wonder... maybe the truth about whether death is the end or there is some kind of continued existence - maybe the truth is not an actual either/or answer but is far stranger than we can conceive.

 

Just food for thought, that's all. Yes, death is the end - for You as a person. But everything is recycled and life and consciousness carry on and all matter is made up of the same basic stuff. It's just an interesting way of looking at it, that's all.

 

That is the Buddhist outlook. It is what the Buddha termed rebirth, and what non-Buddhists mistake for reincarnation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Even if there is such thing as a soul or spirit, there's no guarantee that it's actually immortal. It might survive the physical death, but have its own inevitable death further down the line.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without the benefit of reading what anyone else has posted, I'll respond with my thoughts at the moment after reading your opening post. I hear a repeated fear of regret at the prospect of a final death throughout all the considerations of continuation. I can only say that I might suggest you look at what is now in your life that is falling short of fulfilling that sense of "you" in this life? I don't know, I don't mean to presume too much, but it struck me over and over throughout. Regrets. Why is that? Normally, I'd love to explore the philosophical ramifications, but in reading this, that would be the question I ask, I guess.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Carol Bowman has written an excellent book on the same subject.

 

http://tinyurl.com/2jqdas

 

I would like to think that reincarnation is true, but the main problems I have with it is that it requires the existence of the soul (no evidence for it, nor is it needed), and consciousness has been tied conclusively to the brain. Once the brain dies, so does our consciousness. This is a very good article on the subject:

 

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...80394-1,00.html

I disagree that consciousness has been tied conclusively to the brain and the article didn't state that either. It stated that the easy problems of consciouness have been.

 

So, you may be able to keep your wish to think that it is true, but without an identity in what we understand as our"self". ;)

 

The Easy Problem, then, is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved.

 

The Hard Problem, on the other hand, is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head--why there is first-person, subjective experience. Not only does a green thing look different from a red thing, remind us of other green things and inspire us to say, "That's green" (the Easy Problem), but it also actually looks green: it produces an experience of sheer greenness that isn't reducible to anything else. As Louis Armstrong said in response to a request to define jazz, "When you got to ask what it is, you never get to know."

 

The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

 

If it's not a scientific problem, how can science address it without making it a fundamental part of reality? Science can only explain the effects of the fundamental laws, they can't explain the why they are there to begin with.

 

And from the same article:

 

Why does consciousness exist at all, at least in the Easy Problem sense in which some kinds of information are accessible and others hidden? One reason is information overload. Just as a person can be overwhelmed today by the gusher of data coming in from electronic media, decision circuits inside the brain would be swamped if every curlicue and muscle twitch that was registered somewhere in the brain were constantly being delivered to them. Instead, our working memory and spotlight of attention receive executive summaries of the events and states that are most relevant to updating an understanding of the world and figuring out what to do next. The cognitive psychologist Bernard Baars likens consciousness to a global blackboard on which brain processes post their results and monitor the results of the others.

 

This is the spot-light consciousness. Most spiritual and religious teachings are trying to get people to acknowledge that there is also a flood-light consciousness. The pure consciousness that is there before any thought.

 

David Chalmers is the one that put the Easy and Hard problems of consciousness on the table. He has a good website here that can take you as far as you want to go with the Hard problem of consciousness.

 

Anyway...EB, I have no clue about an afterlife, but I tend to think that the self (little "s") is basically an illusion. What is funny is that the article that Brother Jeff linked to does also:

 

ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along.

 

Most teachings that I have read and listened to say this exact same thing.

 

So....what are we? :scratch::wicked:

 

"IF" we are this flood light, then that MAY mean that God is playing with life forms and we are all this ONE essence and when we die, we discover who we really are. :D Just an opinion...nothing more.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't believe in an afterlife, or a soul, and I guess that makes me quite the hard-ass to talk to, but it's how I see things. All our memories, emotions, and physical sensation are controlled by our minds - with everything traveling at faster-than-lightning speeds throughout our central nervous system. When we die, our minds die, and without those synapses firing constantly, the memories, emotions, and physical sensation dies with us. In order for us to be able to attend an afterlife, we would need the cognitive thought to know that we're there, the physical presence of some sort for the sensation of joy or pain (i.e. heaven or hell), and the emotional state to understand the implications thereof. That would imply that our souls have central nervous systems that control those feelings, which would also imply a need for a capacitor, something to hold all that information. If a soul is an intangible thing, presumably composed of spirit-like essences, EMP, mists, or is just plain invisible, then that wouldn't work at all.

 

That I know of, there hasn't even been modern documented proof that a physical, tangible soul exists. This is what keeps me from fearing death, that I know that when I die there is no physical, mental, or emotional way in the slightest that I will be able to feel pain resulting from the Apostate's 1-way ticket to hell.

 

So yeah, maybe it's possible for an Atheist to believe in an afterlife, but for me - I don't need one, I've got all the life I ever want, need, or could handle right here and now; and I intend on making the best of it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a long time atheist, I can only say this.

 

I have no need to consider an afterlife of any kind. In fact, I really don't think I would want one.

 

What I do want, and what I work for, is only that my life would somehow mean something positive to those left behind after I have gone.

I need no more reward than that.

If I can do my work, live out my life, and when it is done have those that are still living say "He was good", what more is there?

Just that simple statement that "He was good" is what matters. If I can reach my last moment of life believing that that is what the rest of humanity will say of me when I have died, and that that will survive for another generation, what more do I deserve?

 

What could surpass that?

 

Then, if there really is an afterlife of some kind, it becomes insignificant in comparison to the final signature I would want to see put on this one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without the benefit of reading what anyone else has posted, I'll respond with my thoughts at the moment after reading your opening post. I hear a repeated fear of regret at the prospect of a final death throughout all the considerations of continuation. I can only say that I might suggest you look at what is now in your life that is falling short of fulfilling that sense of "you" in this life? I don't know, I don't mean to presume too much, but it struck me over and over throughout. Regrets. Why is that? Normally, I'd love to explore the philosophical ramifications, but in reading this, that would be the question I ask, I guess.

 

I was a little depressed when I was thinking that way. So you've shown quite a spooky level of intuition there :grin:

 

I think it was thoughts of lost potential that were bothering me. The 'what if I'd done things differently' thoughts.

 

Partly this is to do with not being in my ideal sexual/romantic arrangement at present - a sexually incompatible marriage is a difficult thing to endure and I've been wanting my freedom back - or to start again at the beginning of my life and do things differently. Actually, I've recently had an honest heart-to-heart with my wife and we've decided that we might both be happier apart than together.

 

Also, I wish I'd made more of my scientific interests when I was younger instead of wasting so much time trying to do something 'creative' (not that there's anything wrong with that but I think I could have used my time more wisely than I did)

 

So you hit the nail right on the head, even though I do think that the philosophical question alone is still worth considering. It's not really good manners to side step an intellectual discussion with assertions about someone's emotional state - but on self-reflection you were actually right about that anyway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So you hit the nail right on the head, even though I do think that the philosophical question alone is still worth considering. It's not really good manners to side step an intellectual discussion with assertions about someone's emotional state - but on self-reflection you were actually right about that anyway.

I really had hoped not to offend by asking the question, and I apologize if I have. For some reason it stuck me pretty strongly that I felt to ask the question rhetorically. I really didn't intend to pry and wasn't expecting any answer. In some regards I think the question pertains to the broader philosophical question about life after death, because I think to ask why someone wants to see a world beyond this one sheds some light as to the very nature of the question itself.

 

Why do humans imagine a life beyond this one? There is no evidence to suggest its existence, but it is a repeated consideration in humans. Why? What motivates it? A desire for continuance? A belief that there is a greater purpose for our existence and we can't imagine us as ending? Fear? Regrets? Etc?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Psycho of the Sea

I believe that once the body dies, you are done. Game over! One of the big reasons that religion came into being in the first place is that man has a hell of a time accepting the fact that once he dies, that is it. We can't accept our own mortality. Also religion was great for explaining all the weird things that happend, like solar eclipses and such. Am I afraid to die? No Why be afraid of something that is natural and you can't prevent anyway? Now if being scared of dying would get me out of it, then I would be one scared puppy! There are many starnge things in this vast universe and our knowledge is very limited at this time, so who knows. I might be as wrong as you can get. Only one way to find out for sure and seeing as how I am not tired of living just yet, I guess I'll just have to wait!

"Psycho"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why do humans imagine a life beyond this one? There is no evidence to suggest its existence, but it is a repeated consideration in humans. Why? What motivates it? A desire for continuance? A belief that there is a greater purpose for our existence and we can't imagine us as ending? Fear? Regrets? Etc?

You might find this page on Terror Management Theory interesting:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory

 

Glory!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know, as an atheist I'm not sure, maybe there is, maybe there isn't, I'm guessing annihilation is the end though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.