Jump to content

Post-Mortem: A Discussion on the Afterlife


Recommended Posts

Well! We've had a lively string of theological discussions in PRP these days, so I've decided to start one more. I want to talk about the issue that concerns virtually all human religions, and one on which there is little agreement, nor is there any objective basis to test what will really happen. As far as I'm concerned, that's a formula for PRP success, so here goes!

The question is simple: what happens to us when we die? You can address what happens to our subjective self-awareness when we die, or you can address what happens to our physical bodies. Or both! I'm nothing if not libertarian.

My own personal view is relatively simple: being raised a Lutheran, I take a traditionally Lutheran view. I believe that when we die, we experience the unknowing sleep of death until we are resurrected and/or united with God. In other words, oblivion (imagine what it was like before you were born), until the End of All when we are spiritually (EDIT: by that, I mean, our subjective sense of consciousness and self-awareness) resurrected and united with God. I have no idea what this state of affairs would be like, and neither did Luther, I think. I am also uncertain as to what "Heaven" or "Hell" might consist of: I suppose Heaven might be the status of resurrection and/or union with God, and Hell being a continuation of the unknowing state of oblivion... which is debatably bad.

As for "Revelations," (since my view on the afterlife is dependant on having a view of the End of the World), I think the entire book is actually an example of perfect encryption: it's code in the form of metaphor, a la Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, decipherable only unto a community of several thousand Christians who have been dead for more than a thousand years. They got it, or, rather, I assume they did, and it has little or no meaning to any of us.

What's your view?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I believe that our self-awareness/consciousness depends entirely on the body for its existence, so when the body dies, we simply cease to exist.

I've never heard anyone say they fear the gulf of billions of years of oblivion that preceded their birth. So how much sense does it make to fear that which follows death? I think what most people really fear is what I fear, the possibility of a painful death. I hope, however, that when my time comes, if I don't pass in my sleep, I will have the presence of mind to open myself and taste fully of that last experience. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Strangely enough, I was discussing this issue with Dante only the other day.  I dare say that he'll reply with his own outlook (it involves butterflies and bunny rabbits and endless joy), but as for me... well, it's complicated.  And not a little circular. :P

To begin with, I think it's important to re-state my positions regarding the two most influential factors of this topic: religious belief and regard for science.  First of all, I'm agnostic.  I don't believe in any specific god or goddess, or any collection of deities, but I don't deny the possibility of there being some higher, unknowable existence, populated by a similarly distinct form of life.  Whether that life was involved in the creation of what we know is more suspect, but more on this later.  Secondly, despite this belief in a "higher plane of existence", I am a firm believer in science.  If ever there comes a day where science can explain what happens when we die, I will accept its findings.  If it is discovered that we all simply cease to exist entirely, then so be it.

However, two sub-points:

1) I think that science will have a tough time ever explaining something as completely unknown as what happens after death.  Aside from the various eletrical and chemical reactions involved in the body, there's nothing right now that even comes close to explaining consciousness / "the soul", and no evidence that can be gathered after that consciousness has gone.

2) Though an optimist, I do not live my life with the expectation that there's more to come.  My belief is simply a method of providing myself with an answer to a question; it's not intended to serve as a world view for anyone else but myself, so it might not make any sense to others.  But more importantly, it's not a "safety net"; this life, all 80 or 90 years of it, is (until proved otherwise) the only thing that matters.

Now, prevarication complete, on to my view.  Which, in the second strange co-incidence of this thread, isn't all that different from yours, Wolf. :)

Central to the entire theory is this question: why can we never remember the moments before we fall asleep?  Of course, there are a myriad of answers to that question, but all of them involve degrees of the brain becoming less aware of its surroundings, up to a point where we lose consciousness completely.  But then there are different ways of falling asleep. For example, I remember at one point in school, nodding off at a table and being woken with a start; the teacher was simply speaking normally and one particular word suddenly sounded much louder to me and woah crap I'm awake.  Now, in that instance, I was just about to lose consciousness and yet I could remember everything that had just happened.  So why is it, when I fall asleep in my bed at nights (possibly watching TV, possibly reading a book) that I can't remember those same details?

I'll be watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and doze off.  The next morning, I'll skim through the episode to try and find the exact point that I got up to before falling asleep, but I'm invariably unable to find it with any exactitude.  The same goes with the book I was reading; where abouts on those two pages that lie open across my chest (or, in one case, my face) did I reach?  I can't say, because I don't remember the moments immediately preceding my sleep.

So I carry this pondering a little further.  Our memories are extremely transient, it would seem.  We forget things all the time, but they're still presumably stored somewhere in our minds.  Little neural paths that haven't been fired in a good long while.  I remember reading once that we retain the memory of every single face we've seen in our lives, like some sort of horrid portrait gallery, but we can't always remember them.  So there are some things that, no matter how hard we try, we simply can't remember.  Like the early years of our life for some, and immediately following our birth for most.

It seems logical to me, then, that our memories only exist because we are awake to accrue, experience and remember them.  Just because we can't recall them, doesn't mean they didn't exist in the first place; I'm pretty sure I must have been a two-year-old at some point, there are pictures to prove it.  But how does this fit in with these memories that, apparently, don't even get created?  Those moments before we go to sleep, they certainly happened; the TV kept portraying Janeway and Co. but I can't remember it, because I wasn't aware... yet I was still awake, because I hadn't yet gone to sleep.

Next, there comes the reasoning that being awake is central to memories.  Alright, but why do we remember our dreams?  Sure, most of the time they are fleeting and fragmented, but we remember them nonetheless.  So what's the common denominator?  I believe that our memories exist because we wake up afterwards.  Now, this is more or less the point where things become circular and a bit philosophical, with a dash of temporal buggering-about thrown in for good measure.

Taking this reasoning - that waking up is the reason that we remember things - to its extreme, I analyse what might happen when we die.  It would be akin to falling asleep forever; of course, there are several key differences, such as the complete absence of any neuro-electric activity.  But there are those who have "died" and been brought back to life, and they still recall everything they did before.  They don't suddenly forget their names, or how to speak (unless brain damage occurs, but that's neither here nor there).  The important part is the element of "falling asleep forever" - the notion that we'd never wake up again.  There are some problems with this:

1) If memories only exist because we wake up afterwards, what does this mean for what we're experiencing now?  That everything will somehow be forgotten?  But if this is true, why do those who "die" still retain their memories?  What does it say about the theoretical possibility of suspended animation / cryogenic stasis?

2) Similarly, in the face of an eternity of being "asleep" (i.e. dead), 80 or 90 years is hardly a blip in the proverbial timeline.  It could feasibly be said that it could represent a reasonable scaling to those moments before we fall asleep every night.  So why are we currently remembering everything?  Our existence is perceived; we are aware.  We remember what someone just said, we know what we'll be doing next, but if we were to "fall asleep" by dying, our current experiences shouldn't exist in our minds.

Now that second point is a pre-supposition and relies on the notion that, when we die, the obliteration of all of our memories via death as a consciousness-less void, would somehow have a knock-on effect of rendering our current existence something that we shouldn't be able to remember right now.  I understand that I'm not wording this very well, but those of you versed in science-fiction might better be able to understand this.  It has elements of a time paradox, but it's a lot less fun to contemplate. :P

All of this reasoning, some more reasonable than the rest, is that death is not the end.  That when we die, after every vestige of our life has left our bodies (perhaps including some esoteric "soul" that science cannot yet detect), we "wake up" with a start in this higher plane of existence.  We remember everything that happened, in the same way that being shocked awake allows us to in life, and our consciousness continues.  In what way, I'm not able to reasonably speculate, since it is beyond the realm of reasoning; it is unknowable, at least for now.

That, in a nutshell, is my belief regarding the afterlife.  That one exists, and it is a place we go to more or less straight away, because if we didn't wake up, we wouldn't remember anything that was happening right now, and that if we slept for an eternity / ceased to exist entirely, this blip we call life wouldn't be remembered at all (circular time paradox-esque argument alert).

Now, some acknowledgements:

1) I'm fully aware that this is probably not an original line of thought, and that even if it is, I'm horrible at explaining it.

2) I'm also aware that being exposed to Christianity for more or less the first 10 years of my life (baptism, hymns in school, priests visiting during assembly, funerals, etc.), and being taught that God and Jesus were real, that it has quite possibly entrenched the idea of an afterlife in my mind, in a way that I would not have experienced had my upbringing been different.  Rather than seeing this as an imposition, I regard it as being a well-rounded upbringing.  Without wishing to belittle anyone's religious views, being taught to question God's existence came naturally to me after questioning that of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy; it was the ultimate question for a good portion of my life, and it was nowhere near as simple to answer as anything that had come before it.  I am thankful for everything I was taught as being "true", because even when I decided that it wasn't necessarily that clear-cut, I still took away the underlying values and a capacity for reasoning.  I like to think that it's where the core of my optimistic, generally agreeable attitude comes from.  It might also be where I get my intolerance for hateful bigotry, in the form of using one's beliefs to hurt others, but who's to say? :)

3) I'm aware that watching / reading science fiction and fantasy novels has influenced my views.  It goes without saying that my outlook sounds like it comes straight from a novel, and not even a bestseller.

4) Lastly, I'm aware that this idea stems not only from my desire to provide an answer, but from an inability to conceive of a state of non-existence.  I simply cannot fathom not being aware anymore.  In the same way that one cannot imagine "nothingness" (blackness / whiteness is something... it's black or white, for a start...), I cannot imagine how I could simply cease to exist entirely.  Dante has assured me that this is a failing on my part (he would keep a list, I'm sure, but I understand there is only so much paper in the world), and that if I try hard enough, I can contemplate an endless void of nothingness.  I choose not to try. :P

So there we have it.  Wall of text, and most of it probably doesn't make any sense.  Again, I must re-state that science takes point in my life; this is a secondary belief, and it doesn't define me or how I act.  It's an eccentricity, and take it only slightly more seriously than I do a novel or a sci-fi show.  As such, I'm happy to discuss it, but I'm not about to defend it against criticism. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

To know what happens to us when we die depends, to me, on what one believes "we" are. I believe that what makes up a human being is entirely physical. Flesh and electricity, chemical patterns that have developed to such an extent that they became aware of themselves. With that in mind, when the brain ceases to function, there is no more. All that is left behind is the raw materials. There can be no afterlife because, even if such a place existed, there is nothing to arrive there.

And well done to anyone who actually read all of Dragoon's warbling. He doesn't half go on, does he?

Link to post
Share on other sites

You wound me, sir!  I should rip pages from a philosophical text, throw them at you, then run away proclaiming victory.

While singing the "La La La, I Can't Hear You" song at the same time, if possible.

As it stands, I feel it would be horribly derivative, and what sort of person would that make me?  A horrible copy-cat, that's what.

Besides, more important is the lack of butterflies, bunny rabbits and endless joy in your post.  Now I'm hurt and disappointed. :(

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmm, rather odd but I will agree with SandChigger and Wolf on these parts of their posts, and I am not on pills, substances or alcohol!  :D

Well, I believe that our self-awareness/consciousness depends entirely on the body for its existence, so when the body dies, we simply cease to exist.

My own personal view is relatively simple: ... I believe that when we die, we experience the unknowing sleep of death until we are resurrected... In other words, oblivion (imagine what it was like before you were born),...

Note that the Gospels mention about Lazarus being resurrected, but provide no details of 'where' or 'how' he was during the days he was dead. If he truly was existing in a different form that would be interesting enough to make it 'headline news' and such info would be in the Gospels (I omit other resurrections mentioned in the Scriptures as those involved were not dead for a long time, so their body cells were still alive when resurrected).

Still there is the parable of the poor and the rich which at first glimpse gives the idea that there exists something like Hell and Paradise. But this is a parable and it can be considered as a story or not literal. Also Greek culture (and so afterlife ideas) had already influenced Jews. We should take into consideration the specific audience Jesus was talking to-details of which we cannot have nowadays.

In earlier history of Israel and the forefathers' era, the whole idea is that of a long period of sleep till the time comes for God to call back to life the dead ones. Even Lazarus sisters told Jesus that they believed that Lazarus would be resurrected in a future time.

Recent narratives of people who were 'dead' and came back to life cannot be a reliable source:

1. These did not actually die (brain cells alive).

2. Under influence of drugs that cause hallucinations and similar side effects.

3. Most related events similar to what they expected to happen according to their beliefs.

Finally anyone is free to speculate and propose anything, as there is nobody around us who died and came back to confirm or disprove! ;)

Note: Dragoon Knight's post is lengthy enough to be publishable and make plenty of bucks! ;D

Link to post
Share on other sites

And well done to anyone who actually read all of Dragoon's warbling. He doesn't half go on, does he?

Quite. When he goes on, it's full out. :)

(And, actually, I believe it's his choice of programming that is the problem. There was a paper out of Johns Hopkins a few years back demonstrating a link between Janeway's voice and temporary impairment of memory storage in lab rats. But... Kate Mulgrew... hwoah! By God, there's a woman!)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Anathasios: Well, there's a bunch of support for Luther's "soul sleep" notion in the New Testament, but even beyond that, I think the notion of "oblivion" in some form is related to some Judaic conceptions of "hell." Eliyyahu might need to elaborate, but I believe that not only did some sects believe that only oblivion awaited deceased humans, but others believed that oblivion was the necessary result of being divorced from the presence of God. However, again, that begs the question what "being in God's presence" would be like. I've got some ideas, but I'd like to flush out other opinions first.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't wanna be a buzzkill, but what's to this thread beyond mere guessing and/or recounting various religious doctrines? We could as well discuss the nature of reality (which sounds more a philosophical question, by the way) - is it for real? an illusion? a dream? does some "objective reality" exist independently of our perception? or is the only reality we may know constructed by our own minds? etc. etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't wanna be a buzzkill, but what's to this thread beyond mere guessing and/or recounting various religious doctrines? We could as well discuss the nature of reality (which sounds more a philosophical question, by the way) - is it for real? an illusion? a dream? does some "objective reality" exist independently of our perception? or is the only reality we may know constructed by our own minds? etc. etc.

Isn't this a way, which would lead to a same guessing/recounting of epistemological systems? The very term "objective reality" is problematic, depending on what is an "object" (or "objective") and what a "thing" (if we understand "reality" as a sum of things, we can say "facts" like Wittgenstein but that's a jump :) ).

Link to post
Share on other sites

I consider death to be much akin to fainting. Well, then again that depends on how you die. You can die fitfully, peacefully, or obliviously. I fainted in high school in jROTC, and the act of fainting was never really remembered. One second I'm seeing stars, fighting them to stay rigidly in my attention, and the next I'm looking up from the concrete as people crowd around my crumpled body. What I hope is that death is just like that. Oblivion begat from moments of excited wonderment or pains of anticipation.

Since I don't believe in anything that follows death, beside the idealistic notion of giving my body to science or the earth for returns, that's all there is to it. A bit scary, a feeling of utter complete loneliness in dying ("Everyone dies alone." - Donnie Darko). But it would be a mercy to die unawares.

Perhaps for a more lively discussion, we should discuss whether or not heaven and hell (eternal consequences) are just / moral / logical.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Isn't this a way, which would lead to a same guessing/recounting of epistemological systems?

Well, at least those are philosophical systems :)

The very term "objective reality" is problematic, depending on what is an "object" (or "objective") and what a "thing"

Sure, that's why I brought this up ;D

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, at least those are philosophical systems  :)

It interests me, what's the reason of speaking about objective reality, if death is primarily an end of the subjective part of life? The corpse rots, legacies and debts too, memories do pain for a short time; but why should it bother the dead themselves? All of these are categories set by the others. What is left there for the dead? They in fact become a "things", phenomena without subjectivity, as well. A plausible solution is that of Islam (or rather Ash'arite theology), where God annihilates everything and then creates a person in His memory again to judge it on the last day. In this way we have an ultimate base of objective reality - God - which defines both the "death" and the "things" with which the corpse unites. If the death and annihilation of subject isn't perceived by someone else, however, it seems like there were no distinction between the subject and object, no things to be seen as things and none to see them as things. In short, if I were the only living being in the world, I wouldn't "die", for my death won't be separable from other events which happen in the world.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I was not going to somehow link the topic of this thread to the ontological and epistemological problems I've mentioned; it was just a statement of my subjective opinion that discussing those could be of more interest.

[Edit] Typo fix.

Link to post
Share on other sites

To extract what little PRP discussion we have now that the hammer has strucken, I shall put forth a declaration!

I do declare that ...

nobody deserves an eternity of infinite reward for simply believing in the right god.

Go PRP go!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I more or less agree. If God does exist, I do not see how all religions cannot be merely different facets of the same, greater whole. Clearly, I was highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, as well as other, noted Christian thinkers.

Link to post
Share on other sites

To extract what little PRP discussion we have now that the hammer has strucken, I shall put forth a declaration!

I do declare that ...

nobody deserves an eternity of infinite reward for simply believing in the right god.

Go PRP go!

Do you always get what you deserve?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, that need not be inconsistent. If the same higher power is reflected in all the world's religions--indeed, perhaps all the universe's religions--then that comment might still be true, whether one believes in Jesus Christ, Aslan or Tashbaan.

EDIT: Think about it this way: think of religions as languages. Where languages serve to communicate meaning through verbal expression, religions serve to provide a conduit to a higher level of understanding and unity with the divine essence at the heart of the universe. Both vary in form culturally, geographically and temporally, but ultimately always serve the same essential purpose. "Ich," "I" and "я," despite having different forms, certainly possess the same essential meaning. I certainly believe it is possible (indeed, likely) for most, if not all religions to be "talking" about the same divine essence. So, to get back to your quote, I do not think it is true that John 14:6 refers to only one form (this would be logically inconsistent, then, considering that Christianity itself posits that there are at least three distinct "forms"), but I think it specifically refers to one essence, which Christianity does not have a monopoly on.

Besides... at the end of the day, I am far more compelled by the notion that God cares more for essence over form. Saying I'm a good person vs. actually being a good person, for example.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you always get what you deserve?

Hardly not, but this is on an infinite scale. Nobody could ever deserve it. Just like nobody should ever deserve an eternal hellfire of an existence. Hitler shouldn't deserve it, Mao shouldn't. The worst person in the world is still only ~70 years of horror. To equate that to an eternity of gnashing and weeping and hell is just bad math. Anyone who thinks anybody deserves that certainly does not deserve the opposite.

And it'd be nice to think all religions point to the original Truth. Well not for me since I don't proscribe to any of them, but perhaps my way of living is my religion. Does it need a name? Perhaps the Divinity Above sees beyond my petty deeds and finds the good in me. But if I find myself rising to a level of bliss and infinite reward, I'd seriously ask to be sent back to the oblivious state of death. Well, hopefully anyway.

I'd also question how we cope with eternity. Seems like I wouldn't be the same person if I could spend eternity in the clouds and not go insane. Seems like I wouldn't be me.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it is fair to suggest that an eternal spiritual existence would not be very much like the conscious existence we currently experience. Supposing for a moment that the Heinleinian interpretation ("Thou art God!") is correct--and that our very conscious existence is itself a "pearl" of God's own awareness, an idea also picked up by Mr. Herbert in God Emperor--we would no doubt resemble something more like the non-corporeal, infinitely understanding Martians of Stranger in a Strange Land. This is not to say that an eternal non-corporeal existence would be something utterly alien, however: it is also certainly possible that, despite whatever transcendent state of enlightenment is achieved, we would nevertheless retain the essential shape of our being, that was forged through the experience of our own lives.

On this point, C.S. Lewis actually argues that you become even more like whatever your essential being is. In other words, your immaterial identity suddenly finds itself freed from the constraints of the material universe, and assumes its "natural" or "original" shape. This is quite a Platonic idea. Naturally, I can't glean too much from his interpretation, because it (and most of the stuff by Plato on this subject) is told mostly in allegory, but I do not think that I completely agree. It's unclear to me what aspects of our personality are innate to it and what are the result of reactions to the environment. My impression of psychology is that it's some mixture of both, or that it's impossible to tell, and my impression of psychiatry is that it doesn't matter. Does the pearl shape the world or does the world shape it? Does it matter? I don't think it does.

Of course, these are purely my own suppositions. To be quite honest, any "actual" immortal spiritual existence is going to be pretty much by definition completely beyond my, or anyone else's present capacity to imagine. (I actually think this is a good thing, logically and for policy reasons.) I can imagine quite a lot, but I don't think I would ever be able to describe, accurately, the whole of the notion of immortal spiritual existence. This does not mean that it is impossible, I do not think, nor does it mean that it is even undesirable. It just means that we lack the capacity to understand.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I more or less agree. If God does exist, I do not see how all religions cannot be merely different facets of the same, greater whole.
Buddhists do not believe in any kind of God. So your conclusion is erroneous. If God does exist Buddhist religion is out.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...