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October 13, 2005 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Is there any real possibility of an after-life? Some argue that belief in the after-life is an inherently unfalsifiable proposition. Others argue that science has already ruled out the possibility. Buddhism takes a radically different view, embracing a conception of the after-life far different from any found in the Judeo-Christian faiths. What about the possibility of Eternal Recurrence, as proposed by Nietzsche? Just what do we mean when we speak of the "after-life" anyway?
posted by all-seeing eye dog (129 comments total)

 
(personally, i think being dead is probably a lot like that vague period before we were born, so i kind of suspect we all already know exactly what to expect...)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 7:55 AM on October 13, 2005


The more I age (and the more my loved one's age), the more I want there to be an after-life. But I can't see a single reason to suspect it exists, other than "because I wish it did." And I wish for a lot of things that don't exist, like a million dollars in my bank account. Using Occam's Razor, I have to rule it out.
posted by grumblebee at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog: huh? Do you remember "a vague period before being born?" I don't. I don't remember anything before the age of three or four? So even if you're right, I would have no idea what to expect. What WAS it like in the womb, anyway?
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on October 13, 2005


There's plenty of things that are unfalsifiable (like the idea that invisible sea gnomes are following me wherever I go, but as soon as I turn around they hide), but we don't believe in them. The only reason to cling to this particular hypothesis is it makes for a comforting story.
posted by mowglisambo at 8:01 AM on October 13, 2005


What grumblebee said. We can't *know*, so there's no way to rule it out definitively, and I'd love to believe, but it's very difficult for me to be convinced that there can be any form of consciousness after death.

I mean, if humans have evolved from lower life forms (which I do believe), and humans have an afterlife, what happens to dead animals? How evolved must an organism be to have an afterlife?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:04 AM on October 13, 2005


Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.
--Ludwig Wittgenstein
posted by Chrischris at 8:05 AM on October 13, 2005


I, for one, hope there is no consciousness after death, how nasty would it be to feel the maggots eating your flesh? Nah, if there's a choice then I'll take reincarnation, thanks.

As for unfalsifiable? See what Dictionary.com has to say.

mowglisambo, its definitely a comfort belief that people don't like to look at too closely or they realize that its wholly unfeasible and then they get very, very depressed.

goodnewsfortheinsane, exactly, at what evolutionary stage did we all of a sudden attain an afterlife aspect to our species? Did prehistoric man go to heaven? Its far too problematic.
posted by fenriq at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2005


Here's a possibility ... no evidence, but a possibility to consider ... what if our perception of time is altered by the shut-down of our brain? What if our perception of the very last moment of our life becomes, from our perspective, eternal--kind of like how the moment you travel at the speed of light, that moment lasts forever and you have infinite mass?

There's lots of things that could be. Doesn't mean they are. Doesn't mean people are stupid or unenlightened for believing in possibilities. Doesn't mean we're all enlightened and superior because we don't.

Considering possibilities is a great thing. Inflicting your beliefs on others and using them as a mechanism of exploitation and control, not so much. But let's be clear on that; it's not the beliefs that are bad, it's the exploitation and control. And you can get that from lots of other places than just beliefs.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:08 AM on October 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog: huh? Do you remember "a vague period before being born?"

Actually, I sometimes think I do (but memory is such a tricky thing, those kinds of fleeting, subjective impressions aren't necessarily meaningful); my main point with this remark is that, even if you take a completely skeptical position, physical non-existence isn't really the novel condition (or non-condition) we often assume. From a completely deterministic, purely materialistic view, we've all effectively been dead already, so why worry?
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:09 AM on October 13, 2005


I don't believe in an afterlife either, for all the wise reasons stated above. So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?
posted by rainbaby at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog posted "Buddhism takes a radically different view"

It's not so "radically different" if you consider the fact that the Buddha was born and raised Hindu....
posted by mr_roboto at 8:12 AM on October 13, 2005


Plato's argument: Otherwise the po-po will beat the ever-living shit out of you.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:12 AM on October 13, 2005


but it's very difficult for me to be convinced that there can be any form of consciousness after death.

That's my point: Right now (assuming that you're having conscious experiences at all), you're experiencing consciousness after having been in a death-like state, to the extent that leaving a state of non-existence at birth is objectively identical to entering a state of non-existence after death.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:13 AM on October 13, 2005


"radically different" if you consider the fact that the Buddha was born and raised Hindu

Sorry if I wasn't clear mr_roboto--I meant radically different from the Judeo-Christian model. In Buddhism, there's no conception of a permanent unchanging self at all; every moment of conscious experience is effectively a process of death and rebirth. That's a radically different view than the mainstream Christian conception of an eternal, unchanging soul as the locus of the self.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:16 AM on October 13, 2005


So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?

If you're implying that the 'reward' comes later, you could start thinking about what rewards come now.
posted by carter at 8:16 AM on October 13, 2005


There is only life, it makes me very sad so many kind people waste their life by dwelling on life-after-death, usually to ameliorate some pain they've experienced, or possibly just running from fear. It is nice to think of heaven, a place where your father didn't rape you, or where your daughter never killed herself. Heaven is a justice and a peace that alludes people in their own lives. If only we could finally shake off the shackles of religion, and try to make our own life, and those around us, better. Maybe one day. So very sad.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:17 AM on October 13, 2005


There is no spirit world. Everythng in the Universe is made up of hydrogen and helium, and trace metals. If there were a God, he would be made up of the same stuff of the Universe; there is no "invisable plane" where a gold city hangs. There is nothing inside us but life.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2005


Heaven is a justice and a peace that alludes people in their own lives.

Nail on the head, the Jesse Helms. That's actually one of the main upshots of the doctrine of Karma: You can't escape the consequences of your actions or the causes of suffering in your life, even in death, so you're better off confronting your problems in the here and now.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:22 AM on October 13, 2005


So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?
posted by rainbaby at 8:10 AM PST on October 13


Let's ask Bertrand Russell: Does an agnostic do whatever he pleases?

"In one sense, no; in another sense, everyone does whatever he pleases. Suppose, for example, you hate someone so much that you would like to murder him. Why do you not do so? You may reply: "Because religion tells me that murder is a sin." But as a statistical fact, agnostics are not more prone to murder than other people, in fact, rather less so. They have the same motives for abstaining from murder as other people have. Far and away the most powerful of these motives is the fear of punishment. In lawless conditions, such as a gold rush, all sorts of people will commit crimes, although in ordinary circumstances they would have been law-abiding. There is not only actual legal punishment; there is the discomfort of dreading discovery, and the loneliness of knowing that, to avoid being hated, you must wear a mask with even your closest intimates. And there is also what may be called "conscience": If you ever contemplated a murder, you would dread the horrible memory of your victim's last moments or lifeless corpse. All this, it is true, depends upon your living in a law-abiding community, but there are abundant secular reasons for creating and preserving such a community.

I said that there is another sense in which every man does as he pleases. No one but a fool indulges every impulse, but what holds a desire in check is always some other desire. A man's anti-social wishes may be restrained by a wish to please God, but they may also be restrained by a wish to please his friends, or to win the respect of his community, or to be able to contemplate himself without disgust. But if he has no such wishes, the mere abstract concepts of morality will not keep him straight."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


Others argue that science has already ruled out the possibility.

By any meaningful definition of knowledge, "life after death" is a debunked, pseudo-scientific belief, in the same manner that the proposition that the earth is 6000 years old is a debunked, pseudo-scientific belief.
posted by dgaicun at 8:25 AM on October 13, 2005


Eludes, not alludes. And yes. I've always found it rather insane that longevity research wasn't the primary focus of humanity - but then I've never been 70 years old.
posted by Ryvar at 8:26 AM on October 13, 2005


That's actually one of the main upshots of the doctrine of Karma

One of the main down-shots: complete bullshit.
posted by dgaicun at 8:26 AM on October 13, 2005


exactly, at what evolutionary stage did we all of a sudden attain an afterlife aspect to our species? Did prehistoric man go to heaven?

Eaxctly, fenriq. And I would also like to add that people are saying some god-damned smart things in this thread.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:27 AM on October 13, 2005


One of the main down-shots: complete bullshit

Boy, you're an articulate spokesman for whatever your point of view is. Can't argue with reasoning like this, nossir.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:28 AM on October 13, 2005


sometimes, I hope there isn't an afterlife. whats the point in existing for eternity if you can't grow?
posted by mcsweetie at 8:29 AM on October 13, 2005


Belief in an after-life presupposes a belief in death. What if there's no such thing?
posted by justkevin at 8:39 AM on October 13, 2005


There's no death? Man, grandma's gonna be pissed we left her in a box for 6 years.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2005


Does God double post?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2005


I like the Shaivite Hindu model best - it's simpler and less ornamented than the Buddhist version, and goes something like this:

The Universe, including us, is the exhalation of Lord Shiva.

This exhalation, of which we are part, is also known as the Goddess Shakti.

After we've each fully experienced the Dance of Life - that is, after we've fully experienced everything there is to learn and enjoy in this Universe, which, for most of us, will take many lifetimes - we then merge back into oneness with Lord Shiva, who, enriched by this inhalation, will proceed to do... well, whatever He (including We) wants to do next. Exhale a bigger, better Universe, perhaps, with even more to learn and enjoy. Or maybe something else entirely.

In this vision, the next life is likely to be similar to the current life, with broadly similar pleasures, pains, and opportunities, which will continue until all the soul's personal desires have been fulfilled. At this point, the soul's journey will be complete, and it will merge once more in bliss with the Supreme.

This makes intuitive sense to me, and provides a good foundation for meditative practice.

Of course, there are many different branches of Shaivite Hinduism with differing cosmologies (to say nothing of Vaishnavite Hinduism). Here's some more stuff on Shiva Siddhantha and Kashmiri Shaivism, for example. Also see this informative wikipedia article.
posted by cleardawn at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2005


The Jessee:

I guess I never realized that empirical science could conclusively be used to rule out a metaphysical existence.

It seems that your argument boils down to: Nobody positively proved it yet (to my satisfaction) therefore it doesn't exist.

Not a terribly scientific POV if you ask me...

mowglisambo:

Having a hunch that sea-gnomes are watching you doesn't imply their existance, nor does your current lack of evidence disprove their existance. Keep testing your hypothesis and record your results - future generations may benefit when the gnomes stage the tax revolt over on that other thread.
posted by buck09 at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2005


I find the summary dismissal of an afterlife to be as close minded as someone summarily dismissing parallel universes, time travel, or to put in the perspective of couple hundred years ago, heavier than air flying machines, travelling over 80 miles per hour, and the aether.
In other words, the limitations believed by sane rational people have historically not been sound indicators of what actually is possible or real.
Another thing I find interesting is that just about every culture believes in an after-life. Either this belief is part of the human condition, or there's some reason for people having the belief.
One final note, myself and others have had weird experiences after someone close to them has recently passed. Maybe those things are due to selectively amplifying random events that would have gone unnoticed otherwise ... or maybe not.
But I don't begrudge anyone for taking comfort in their unwavering belief systems. As for me, i figure I'll find out for sure sometime in the future.
posted by forforf at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2005


Let's ask the experts:

"Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow."
posted by funambulist at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2005


The reason I dont (can't) believe in an afterlife is this: we, as human beings with human consciousness, are fundamentally temporal beings. We exist in time. Consciousness (which, by any measure I would venture, functionally delimits what human being is) is a function of change. Take away the change (timelessness) or deform it so badly as to make it unrecognizable (endless temporal duration), and you destroy the very ontological ground out of which human being springs forth.

The Christian Heaven, with its disembodied spirits, lacking identity and ceaselessy bound together in some communal ritual of eternal praise, is to my mind, the most horrifying fate one could wish for. Better to be ground into the nothingness of non-existence than to be functionally zombified by a creator whose only use for you,ultimately, is to serve as his eternal jukebox, endlessly repeating Hossanahs for his listening pleasure.
posted by Chrischris at 8:50 AM on October 13, 2005


I'd just rather not die at all.

I'd hope by 2075 I can upload my consciousness into some massive computer (far and away more advanced that today's obviously) and just live forever as some mechanical/human hybrid.
posted by SirOmega at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2005


So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?

I tend to start from the standpoint of Descartes' skepticism - that is, assuming that everything coming in through my senses is false. There's no way to know for certain, is there?

If this is true, than the only two things I know are that a) I exist, and b) I have the capacity to recognize my own existence. Where Descartes went wrong is then making the assumption that all his ideas came from somewhere - ie they sprang from something analogous to Plato's 'ideal forms' of things like cats, dogs, etc. Thus, because he had the idea of God, there must be a God. This is patently absurd - I have ideas about all that exists being the translations of giant green spheres floating in a void, which my actual senses convert into the data perceived by virtual senses via a fractal function with the position of the spheres as a seed - but I have no basis of proof for this idea either.

Regardless of whether the state of the universe is as we perceive it or truly consists of giant green balls swinging through space, there must be a state to something external to myself because otherwise my cognition would consist of nothing but the phrase "I exist" repeated endlessly. Something other than self exists, but what form is left open to debate.

The only possible conclusion to come to, and it exists solely for lack of a better one, is that the universe is as we perceive it until such time as we encounter a better explanation through what is pouring through our senses. Some evidence, no matter how 'circumstantial', is better than none at all (with apologies to green ballologists reading this). For the moment I have no choice other than to accept my current universe-model as governed by my senses as the true state of all that exists.

In this model, there exists a phenomenon called 'death' in which this self - the knowledge of which being all that I possess - cessates. Absent any evidence of an afterlife, as dictated by my universe model, this phenomenon threatens to deprive me of all that I know or am. Therefore my highest priority should logically be not dying - all else is negotiable.

In this model, there exist other selves just like mine - nearly equally valid (I don't share their direct experiences) independent beings that appear to be sharing my condition. To end their existence would be to deprive them of what little they too seem to possess. Thus my second highest priority is to prevent the death of others.

I've gone on long enough and am out on a limb far enough to leave further extrapolation of this line of thinking as an exercise to the reader. Generally I continue on with something about the concept of anguish and ending with 'and it harm none, do as you please.' I no longer believe this as stridently as I did when I was 18, but if there's a major flaw to be found in the above, I've yet to discover it.

The above is, for what it's worth, fully compatible with my belief in determinism.
posted by Ryvar at 8:57 AM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


As for unfalsifiable? See what Dictionary.com has to say.

All right, "un-falsifiable" then...

Just want to throw this out there: Doctrinally, Karma is probably best understood as an ethical principle--whether taken literally or metaphorically, it doesn't matter. It's an ethical framework. The underlying point of Karma and rebirth is that the laws of cause and effect continue to operate even after death, and one shouldn't hold out too much hope for "escaping" suffering or the consequences of one's actions in death. The "self" that persists from one life to the next in Buddhism isn't a self in the usual sense of an unchanging permanent spiritual entity; self is actually defined pretty much solely in terms of change: Self is really nothing more than a series of changing states of consciousness. That's basically the point where Buddhism diverges from Hinduism: Buddhism applies the doctrine of no-self, which might be roughly paraphrased to say that, since there's really nothing it's like to be you in the first place (because our impressions of the seamlessness of consciousness are just illusory biproducts of mental and physical functions), by extension, there's not really anything it's like to not be you... But that's just a crude sketch of the idea as I understand it.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:58 AM on October 13, 2005


I expect in a few years gene therapy will allow us to simply turn off whatever biological switch causes us to age and die, and, like tortoises, we'll just malinger about until disease or accident strikes us down. I'm hoping to make it to about 1,000, at which time I expect I will be far too bored with myself to hope for an afterlife.
posted by maxsparber at 8:59 AM on October 13, 2005


"If you knew what life was worth, you would look for your's on Earth" B. Marley
yet then again he was a Rastafarian and as much as i like the music, I gotta admit that is whack religion (well i guess they are all whack). So what is left for religion? Yes these religious ideas are comforting, but it the light of the truth are they helping? Is there a societal value in a collective belief in the absurd? Would we be better off without? probably. What will take it's place? TV? What is the use of a representative of a god or idea that is basically an untruth? Will the truth even really set us free? or will it just bum us out? Is utilitarianism the answer? How do i measure the utility of a moral conscience? Are morals really just slowing me down? Maybe instead of religion I need a doctrine for not getting caught if it is truly punishment that i fear. Oh don't we all know in our heart of hearts that there is no heaven and democracy is a just a word rich people throw around to make it seem like this shit was our choice. Who really pulls the levers? Will one small idea topple the giant house of cards? If the FSM wills it, it will be so. Oh and lastly a Donner group picnic area, priceless.
posted by los pijamas del gato at 9:04 AM on October 13, 2005


we'll just malinger about until disease or accident strikes us down.

Unless something akin to Transmetropolitan's fogletism hits first, in which case the real issue becomes dysfunctional neural configurations from a macroscopic perspective. ie eternal senility induced by lack of neurogenesis.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 AM on October 13, 2005


How about this:

Bare or pure awareness is an inherent property of the fabric of existence. It is prior to temporality, and there is (presumably) only one such awareness.

Particularized consciousness ("personality" or "ego") is a necessarilly individual, conditioned, and temporally limited phenomenon, which does not persist past death. By virtue of it's very particularity, it must be spatio-temporally bounded.

Ideas along those lines are common among mystics and do not seem counter to most orthodoxies, even if they are ruled out by more fundamentalist viewpoints.

Thus seen, ideas such as "reincarnation", "heaven", "soul", etc... could be interpreted as representing metaphorically the un-conceptable fact of the matter.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:08 AM on October 13, 2005


Just to keep it all alive, at least one well respected theoretical physicist has written that there is nothing in science to preclude the possibility of an afterlife.
posted by donfactor at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2005


Funny that this came up today...last night I was reading online about near-death experiences. I found it especially curious that people being anaesthetized with Ketamine experienced some of the same subjective phenomena (ooo, I feel all smart 'n' stuff typing that phrase) of leaving their bodies, seeing lights, dead relative beckoning, etc. as people who'd nearly died in accidents or on operating tables and then been revived.
posted by alumshubby at 9:14 AM on October 13, 2005


Chrischris:

Your caricature of heaven sounds interesting. Unfortunately, some Christians have been known to make such leaps.

First of all, I don't understand why it is that people think that heaven exists outside of the time? Eternity is simply another way of describing the infinite. Not barring what some of those newfangled quantum-physics guys say, most believe that the universe is infinite. Does that mean distance does not exist?

On the topic of identity - Traditional Christian theism doesnt teach that persons lose their identity in heaven. If anything, it teaches that our identity is fractured by the sin that separates us from God. That restoration would make ones identity complete, not eliminate it...

As for functional zombification... ever been to a rave? ;-)
posted by buck09 at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2005


dgaicun: "By any meaningful definition of knowledge..."

Wtf? You're the kid who talks too much in class.

Comparing scientific deconstruction of young-earth theory to "whether or not our souls go to heaven when we die" is utter bs. Science has developed tools over the last 300 years that clearly demonstrate the true age of the Earth. It's not a "lack of evidence" situation.

I believe in the afterlife because after a relative of mine died she visited me in a mystical vision, accompanied by a great spirit, and told me I was trapped in my own, temporal definition of reality, and that someday I would die and come to understand the true, timeless nature of the Universe.

After this mystical vision I no longer doubted the true, eternal nature of living things.

I cannot prove to you that any of this happened, aside from offering you my strongest assurance that it did. And I can also offer no scientific evidence or compelling reason to believe me.

Scientifically, I find the idea of an afterlife to be dubious at best. Thankfully, The Almighty has provided me with direct revelation so that I need not doubt.

And that, cousin, is the difference between science and religion, facts and faith.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2005


From post: "What about the possibility of Eternal Recurrence, as proposed by Nietzsche?"

Just a little by-the-way: the link you post here is a pretty bad explanation of eternal return, which has really no connection to the afterlife or to some sort of cosmological principle. It sort of sounds like it, yeah, but not really. If you read the least obfuscating statement Nietszche make on the Eternal Return, the one at the end of The Gay Science, then it becomes clear that the Eternal Return is a thought experiment rather than a cosmological principle. The experiment is this: can you accept life, embrace every moment in it, to such a great degree that you would happily choose to live it infinitely and eternally, never changing a single thing?

Anyway, it's a pretty interesting spiritual principle.

posted by koeselitz at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2005



So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?



yeah: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

all the rest is (useless) commentary.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:22 AM on October 13, 2005


Thus seen, ideas such as "reincarnation", "heaven", "soul", etc... could be interpreted as representing metaphorically the un-conceptable fact of the matter.

If I'm understanding this right, I think I agree. The existence of a spatio-temporally bound point of consciousness (or even a series of unconnected points of consciousness subjectively experienced as continuous) is an objective facet of the physical world. I think what Nietzsche was getting at is that if space and time are a continuum, and past events in some sense persist as objective aspects of the material universe (in other words, if the laws governing the physical universe are such that time-travel is theoretically possible, as was the current state of scientific understanding at the time Nietzsche was writing), then one's subjective first-person experience of consciousness is as immutable a fact of reality as any other physical event. So, everytime we hop into our hypothetical time machine to travel back to the day we were born, there we are again, being born. Even if we don't actually travel back to that event, it's always still there, as real as a bump on a log. (Natural language is woefully inadequate for expressing some of these concepts, so I apologize if this argument doesn't immediately make sense.)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:23 AM on October 13, 2005


The experiment is this: can you accept life, embrace every moment in it, to such a great degree that you would happily choose to live it infinitely and eternally, never changing a single thing?

Yeah--I pulled that link out kind of hastily, but I don't think it really matters if you take the idea of Eternal Recurrence to be just an ethical principle or a literal reality. In fact, taking the idea literally provides much greater incentive to live according to the principle.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2005


Not barring what some of those newfangled quantum-physics guys say, most believe that the universe is infinite.
posted by buck09 at 9:18 AM PST on October 13


It's not just newfangled quantum-physics guys who believe that the universe is spatially finite, because all available evidence indicates that it is. Thanks for the uninformed opinion, though, that was cool.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:27 AM on October 13, 2005


I find the summary dismissal of an afterlife to be as close minded as someone summarily dismissing parallel universes, time travel, or to put in the perspective of couple hundred years ago, heavier than air flying machines, travelling over 80 miles per hour, and the aether.

No, because all of these things exist within the confines of elementary particles. Even if time travel is impossible, the question is put forth in terms of this real universe.

An afterlife is viewed as metaphysical - some other spooky invisible place where there are no atomic properties.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:27 AM on October 13, 2005


Just a big ol' city of gold, a big cube, natch!
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2005


AU forever.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2005


I like that Bertrand Russell quote. I like what cleardawn posted too. If there is a contradiction, I really don't care.
posted by funambulist at 9:31 AM on October 13, 2005


Even if we don't actually travel back to that event, it's always still there, as real as a bump on a log. (Natural language is woefully inadequate for expressing some of these concepts, so I apologize if this argument doesn't immediately make sense.)

LOL. Yeah, it's pretty hard to avoid using temporal and spatial metaphors!

I think that is why mystics so often resort to paradox and apophatic language. You can try to guide someone's intuitive understanding to the same place where you're coming from, but there is absolutely no hope of a discursive proof. Even most Thomists, who have tried very valiantly to show that there must be a supreme Being, would admit that if you don't have the "intuition of Being" you are not going to be able to follow their arguments.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:32 AM on October 13, 2005


Actually, lord_wolf, Hillel's version is "Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you." Which makes more sense to me. After all, if I like having my eyes poked with a pen (just hypothetically), that wouldn't suggest I should poke unto others.
posted by maxsparber at 9:34 AM on October 13, 2005


maxsparber: but then shouldn't that be "that which is hateful to them"?
posted by funambulist at 9:37 AM on October 13, 2005


There is more than one Buddhism (surprise).

Another perspective is that there is no afterlife for us because there is no "you" to die, let alone proceed to the afterlife.

Our perception of ourselves is a self deception. The "identity" that would survive brain death is not really anything, but a changing inconsistent collection of things that we deceive ourselves into believing has some "basic us-ness" to it, when really, we have no more personality than a cloudy day does.

The only living part of us is our bodies, the only "self" is the reoccurring act of perception that we imagine a consistency to and call it "me". When the body dies, this perception stops, and we are worm food.

Being "close minded" with regard to truth/validity of myths, religions, swamp investment schemes, political promises, and genital enhancement products is a good thing, a healthy thing, a rational thing...
posted by ewkpates at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2005


ewkpates: I like to think it's okay to be open-minded, just not so much that your brains fall out.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2005


all-seeing-eye dog, here's a great article about the Buddha's teachings on no-self.
posted by cleardawn at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2005


Funny, the more I age the more horrific the idea of an afterlife seems.

Sure, there might be an afterlife. There might be invisible space camels orbitting Jupiter, too (oooh... there's "nothing in science to preclude that possibilty" and that means sooo much). Given what we know about biology and the way matter and energy work; given the fact that we were entirely unconscious and unaware before birth; given the fact that consciousness blinks out like a light when the physical apparatus of our minds is closed down by knocks or general anaesthetic... both propositions are about equally likely, I'd say. That is, not.

The notion of an afterlife is silly human wishful thinking which flies in the face of common sense, experience and science. I wish people could grow the hell up and be a bit brave about existence instead of knocking their impressively-evolved brains out trying to find some way; any way; please-FSM-let-there-be-a-way-I-want-to-see-my-dead-granny-again-so-much, to kid themselves the preposterous might be real.
posted by Decani at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2005


I like that article cleardawn... Buddha was an interesting guy... what if there are two sets of the classes, one for those who suffer, and have not achieved enlightenment (the four classes), and one for those who have?
posted by ewkpates at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2005


So, wise people, can anyone direct me to something that tackles the dilemma of how or why to live a moral life when one doesn't believe in God or an afterlife?


yeah: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

all the rest is (useless) commentary.

posted by lord_wolf at 9:22 AM PST on October 13

Er, that doesn't answer his question. It doesn't answer the "why" part of it. Why "do unto others as they do unto me?" Why not, "Do unto others what I can get away with without negative repercussions?" That "useless" commentary you speak of is one answer. What's your justification for it?
posted by Sangermaine at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2005


I'm not religious and I agree that any after-life is unlikely. But before we were born we were "dead" and now we're not so we've came into existence once - so why not again?

Each one of us is only a unique configuration of atoms at a specific point in time so why is it so fanciful to imagine that the same configuration could come into existence again.

The sheer unimaginable size and age of the universe makes this proposition more likely than it sounds. And once you're dead, time is on your side.
posted by bobbyelliott at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2005


I wish people could grow the hell up and be a bit brave about existence

Well, sometimes belief makes them happy, sometimes questing for the divine in and outside of us helps us find fulfillment. I mean, I can look at the way things really are, or the ultimate probable end to the universe, and I can feel depressed about it. It's real, sure enough, but I don't dwell on it. So maybe none of it exists. We like to think that it exists and act as though it does. It's actual reality is meaningless; the belief is what gives us happiness.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2005


I'm not religious and I agree that any after-life is unlikely. But before we were born we were "dead" and now we're not so we've came into existence once - so why not again?

Each one of us is only a unique configuration of atoms at a specific point in time so why is it so fanciful to imagine that the same configuration could come into existence again.

The sheer unimaginable size and age of the universe makes this proposition more likely than it sounds. And once you're dead, time is on your side.
posted by bobbyelliott at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2005


There is more than one Buddhism (surprise).

Good point. There are two major schools of Buddhist thought: Teravadan (the way of the elders) and Mahayana (the greater vehicle).

In practice, Mahayana encompasses a broad spectrum of spiritual beliefs and practices, many of which aren't necessarily rooted in the core teachings of the historical figure most closely associated with the title Buddha (Gotama).

Theravadan Buddhists, on the other hand, believe in cleaving as closely as possible to the original teachings of the historical Buddha.

There are lots of other regional variations on Buddhist thought as well, because Buddhism has tended to assimilate the existing spiritual practices of native populations as it moves into new regions.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2005


Why not, "Do unto others what I can get away with without negative repercussions?"

Well, for what its worth, most Buddhists would say you're just kidding yourself if you think you can avoid the negative reprecussions of your actions. The operation of cause and effect is an immutable fact of reality, that can't be avoided even in death.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:18 AM on October 13, 2005


I don't think the question of whether there is an actual afterlife or reincarnation is particularly relevent to how I think about these things.

"Rebirth" means tomorrow, "karma" means how what I do today will affect it. If I'm an asshole, my "future" self will suffer. There's no need for (or denial of) metaphysics involved. And any "spiritual" guide who tells me to base my actions and morality in *this* life based on the consequences in *another* is right out.

OTOH, my mom really feels that rebirth is about living on through your children, but I suppose we've got different biases in that regard.
posted by freebird at 10:18 AM on October 13, 2005


buck09: please direct me to the relevant Biblical passages which describe what Heaven is like. That discussion--you know, the ultimate metaphysical disposition of saved human souls and the conditions of their eternal repose--must have flown right by me in confirmation class. Original sources, please (You see, in these matters, I am a strict constructionist and don't have much use for theologians legislating doctrine from the bench...).
posted by Chrischris at 10:20 AM on October 13, 2005


The sheer unimaginable size and age of the universe makes this proposition more likely than it sounds. And once you're dead, time is on your side.

That's exactly the line of argument I'm suggesting: What objective, physically measurable difference might there be between initially becoming conscious (or pseudo-conscious, as the case may be) at birth and becoming conscious (or pseudo-conscious) again at some point after physical death?

The notion of an afterlife is silly human wishful thinking which flies in the face of common sense, experience and science.

Decani: You're misunderstanding. In Buddhist, being reborn is the worst possible thing that could happen. The goal of Buddhist practice is to completely cease to exist, in the ordinary impermanent sense. I've seen it argued that the nihilistic view strict materialists such as yourself hold are actually just wishful thinking, originating in the feeble hope that at death, there must be some magical release from the reality of suffering. In other words, for many Buddhists, the idea of death as absolute void is itself an escapist proposition, an unconscious way of comforting oneself with the thought that eventually, nothing that happens in life really matters.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:30 AM on October 13, 2005


(strike "In Buddhist," insert, "In Buddhist thought,")
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:32 AM on October 13, 2005


Metafilter: a changing inconsistent collection of things that we deceive ourselves into believing has some "basic us-ness" to it, when really, we have no more personality than a cloudy day.

ewkpates: I respect the fact that you may not want to buy any patent penis pills, but how about a little Viagra? In a few years, you may find it very useful. What about a nod to those all-important gray areas?

Buddha seems to have been a dab hand at rational reductionism, judging from the texts. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Buddha's reductionist teachings sometimes need to be balanced by meditation, or some other holistic discipline, such as cookery or flower-arranging or martial arts, before they start to make good sense.

For a modern Westerner, it's all too easy to read the texts without doing the holistic work or meditation, and the result tends to be a fairly dry, precisely delimited philosophy, all black and white, which I don't think is what the old geezer had in mind at all. The world isn't just black and white, it's much more flowers and rainbows.

There's so much emphasis, even in the Buddhist scriptures, on non-verbal communication: pointing at the moon, the flower sermon, and so on. It's fairly clear the teachings of Buddhism are intended to be enjoyed together with a liberal pinch of the salt of one's own transcendental experience.
posted by cleardawn at 10:42 AM on October 13, 2005


cleardawn: i don't always agree with you, but i definitely agree on this point. the emphasis for practitioners is always placed on the meditative practice itself. but what i find interesting is how sophisticated and nuanced the buddhist system of thought really is. i think a lot of people don't fully appreciate just how much of buddhist thought is grounded in good old fashioned reasoning and observation (as opposed to religions that emphasize pure faith).
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2005


There is only life, it makes me very sad so many kind people waste their life by dwelling on life-after-death ...

If you believe in the Big Bang cosmology theory, then the particles that make up "ourselves" have been in this universe since the very beginning. We will continue to exist until its very end. We only change forms.

When we say "life" we're actually talking about "consciousness," correct? How long will I be conscious of this world? Your body will continue to exist for a while after you lose conscious. Your hair will grow. The nutrients from your corpse may fertilize the growth of weeds or parasites, etc.

What we call "life" is very different than a more generalized, universal definition of "life." Just my2c.

Does the 'many-worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics imply immortality?

Of course it does. One particle can exist in two different places at the same time in our universe. Just imagine what we can't see. Immortality means nothing to our limited consciousness, however, since we can't perceive it.

I'd hope by 2075 I can upload my consciousness into some massive computer (far and away more advanced that today's obviously) and just live forever as some mechanical/human hybrid.

You may be able to plant your memories and possibly subjective experiences into a machine, but it still wouldn't be "you" (as much as there is a you to begin with.)

If we can't define where we start and end (i.e. there are no discrete objects), the concept of "I" is much more problematic that the concept of organism death, imo.

It's fairly clear the teachings of Buddhism are intended to be enjoyed together with a liberal pinch of the salt of one's own transcendental experience.

That's why Zen has become so popular.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2005


sangermaine, to me, the answer to "why" is contained in the statement -- whether you use the "do unto as" or "do not do unto what" version -- although i guess it presupposes a desire to actually live in equality and accord with others: you're doing or not doing because you know what your reaction would be if others did it to you.

can you explain what you mean by "negative repurcussions"? b/c, to expand on what all-seeing eye dog noted, if you truly desire to live in equality and accord with your sisters and brothers, there'll always be negative repurcussions for your actions, independent of a there being an afterlife or a guy on a throne in the sky.

i like the "do unto/do not do unto" thing b/c i believe it demands that people think about their actions beforehand -- forcing each person to figure out the "why" -- instead of doing something hateful knowing that they can beg a deity for forgiveness afterwards. if you do something hateful, when the repurcussions come back on you, beg your sisters and brothers for forgivness, not some god.

if that doesn't work for rainbaby,or you, there're other paths to morality that don't presuppose a god or afterlife. one of the things i won't do unto others is suggest that my way is the only, or superior, way (though nothing stops me from thinking that. ;-) )
posted by lord_wolf at 10:53 AM on October 13, 2005


If Nietzsche, or at least some form of Eternal Recurrence is right, perhaps the answer will lay in online commentary (blogs, MetaFilter, vlogs, etc).

Simply describe your life in some form of online journal, with enough detail & regularity so that you can recognize yourself in your next life.

Can you imagine yourself (future self) reading your own journal entries that were written, say, a hundred years ago.

But would that then be a change?

The hardest thing to do would be to find a repository that will keep your posts for a hundred years.
posted by notcostello at 10:53 AM on October 13, 2005


If I'm an asshole, my "future" self will suffer.

I've seen too much evidence to the contrary in my life to believe this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2005


Not barring what some of those newfangled quantum-physics guys say, most believe that the universe is infinite.

Already refuted, but here's an NS report on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

I highly recommend Janna Levin's How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2005


Your caricature of heaven sounds interesting. Unfortunately, some Christians have been known to make such leaps.

Please offer us your caricature of heaven, then. What ChrisChris wrote seems pretty much spot-on to me: the bible does explicitly state things about eternally singing praises etc.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:01 AM on October 13, 2005


i like the "do unto/do not do unto" thing b/c i believe it demands that people think about their actions beforehand ...

OT: I particulary like my own variation (though not saying I'm the first to think of it) ...

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, if you were them." ("Do not do" also works, in fact it's probably best to consider both. )

It's a very important distinction, afaic. The Christian version becomes too evangelical ("Well, I'd want that man to save my soul!") and the Jewish version is too hands-off ("I see a man starving over there, but I'd just as soon he left me alone, so I'll let him be.") Btw, I'm not claiming xians are mad evangelicals and Jews are bad samaritans.

A very hard golden rule to live by, but very enlightening for me.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:04 AM on October 13, 2005


There's no afterlife, there's no soul. This is as good as it gets, unfotunately. Now, pass the lube.
posted by disgruntled at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2005


I have two really, really weak thoughts on this subject, I've had these sitting on my brain. I do not think these are definite answers, but I ponder it anyway

1.) What if the whole "aliens helped people build pyramids, the ancients worshipped the aliens and somehow that's where we get our view of god/heavens"

2.) That we created god and the heavens and in result, the created god created us.

I know this is out in left field and I don't buy into this at all, but it's just one of those "well, what if?"

I will now sit back and watch the "wtf!? are you a complete idiot?!" comments come rolling.
posted by Hands of Manos at 11:31 AM on October 13, 2005


Having read a lot of Erich von Däniken when I was a kid, I'm loath to WTF at that. Not that von D. was scientifically rigorous or scrupulous, but the idea's been kicked around quite a bit.
posted by alumshubby at 12:13 PM on October 13, 2005


What is dark matter and where is it? You can't see all that matter on none of your high fallutin' scientific instruments? That's 'cos it's heaven and hell and it's not going to show up. There, problem solved. Religion and science working together in unison to make some charismatic space monkey hundreds of thousands of dollars from gullible fools.


Hmm, this would actually make a swell cult...
posted by longbaugh at 12:25 PM on October 13, 2005


All desire is illusion, and in this we include the desire for an entertaining afterlife, the desire for life to have meaning, the desire for gray areas, for amusing complexity, the desire to meditate to escape reality, the desire for beauty, the desire to study Buddha or worship him or whatever...

From the zen perspective, if not the rest of buddhism, the world is black and white, by which we mean simple, lacking ambiguity, clear, without nuance. Desire is the salt, is the ambiguity and color and confusion and all that stuff... live it up.
posted by ewkpates at 12:30 PM on October 13, 2005


Bare or pure awareness is an inherent property of the fabric of existence. It is prior to temporality, and there is (presumably) only one such awareness.
Wow, you say that as if it's a universally-accepted fact. I think this is not quite as cut-and-dried as you make it sound. I've never seen "pure awareness," whatever that is, on any periodic table.

I tend to agree with Daniel Dennett others who believe that consciousness arises in a sufficiently complex collection of neurons. To put it in tech terms, awareness is the software interface by which we make use of our hardware. Turn off the hardware and you can't use the software anymore.
posted by CrunchyGods at 12:36 PM on October 13, 2005


If I'm an asshole, my "future" self will suffer.

I've seen too much evidence to the contrary in my life to believe this.


Well, it's a statistical effect really. Not that if you do bad things, you will be directly punished. But while lots of people do bad things and get away with it, I *do* see that people who are blind to the world around them and within them generally end up getting blindsided.
posted by freebird at 12:37 PM on October 13, 2005


A few years ago, I had a dream that I can't explain. Here are the salient features. In the dream, I met a person whom I had not seen in real life in about 30 years. I don't recall any conversation. He took my hand and he perceived that I was unhappy (which I was, at the time). He led me across a road toward some woods. Something intervened (rather violently) to prevent him from leading me further. I woke up.

I later found out that this person had died within a few hours of when I had the dream.

This was not someone I had thought about much (if at all) in the intervening 30 years. We had attended the same church for a few years when I was a teenager and he was a middle-aged man (and a deacon in the church). I spoke to him and shook his hand just about every Sunday during that time, but we never had a real conversation, that I recall. The location in the dream was the church.

All of this is true, but obviously I can't prove it. I do not believe that this was a coincidence. I believe that some sort of communication took place by "supernatural" means. Based on my own personal experience, I believe that I am justified in that belief. I do not expect this to convince anyone else.

This experience also pushes me toward belief in God in and in an after-life. I'm struggling with this (having been an atheist, at least intellectually, before this experience).

I'm offering this for what it's worth. I don't think there's much basis here for rational argument, but I'm interested in what people think about it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2005


There are six billion people on the planet, each having quite a few dreams every night. I would be surprised if some people didn't die around the same time they were being dreamt of. Next.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:43 PM on October 13, 2005


Crabby, you don't "believe" that it was a coincidence.

Well, probability isn't nearly as much fun as faith.

This is why the list of people who believe things that everyone else laughs at (Zeus impregnating people, Jehovah impregnating Mary, Aliens impregnating my next door neighbor) is so long, so exhausting, and ultimately the reason that scientific progress takes so long.
posted by ewkpates at 12:46 PM on October 13, 2005


If I'm an asshole, my "future" self will suffer.

I've seen too much evidence to the contrary in my life to believe this.


Well, the people you see out there suffering today were the people being assholes in a past life. So, if you look at all the tsunami victims who were poor to begin with, they're paying for past assholship.

You're born into suffering by not following dharma. We continue to be born into suffering until we truly believe and practice a good life. Even then, we may be re-born as our past karma may follow us around for a while longer. This is the reason for avoiding attachment and desire in our life; to avoid suffering through another existance like this one, or worse.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 12:55 PM on October 13, 2005


I avoid suffering in order to avoid suffering... it's pretty clear cut in my case. Sorry, I mean desire. Oh, sorry, same thing.
posted by ewkpates at 12:59 PM on October 13, 2005


Better to be ground into the nothingness of non-existence than to be functionally zombified by a creator whose only use for you,ultimately, is to serve as his eternal jukebox, endlessly repeating Hossanahs for his listening pleasure.

As someone who is presently going to school to train to be a worship leader (the nondenominational type-cooler music-) I have to say that I disagree with you...imagine being in a place where you experience total infinite Love to a degree impossible here in the temporal, and being able to express what you feel with music and song way, way above anything possible here?

The afterlife is not one long unending tedious session of kum-ba-ya by an endless campfire. I'd puke at that myself.
posted by konolia at 1:22 PM on October 13, 2005


I tend to agree with Daniel Dennett others who believe that consciousness arises in a sufficiently complex collection of neurons.

To a point I do to. For me, the pressing question though, is whether the software is hardware dependent.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:22 PM on October 13, 2005


I have a theory that we are all energy. Following the conservation of energy principles, the energy is released when the container is broken, (death) and the energy stops being personal and goes back to being universal.

But, probably because I was raised by hippies and I read too much, I also happen to believe in karma, and growth through experience. I do believe in reincarnation, of a sort. I think that those that choose to seek 'higher ground' for lack of a better term, can choose to return, learning more and more, until one learns all the lessons one needs to learn to move on to a more enlightened energy field. (I'm not explaining this very well...but then, I'm not sure I've really nailed it down to myself either...)

Point being, I believe my existence will continue after my container does not. I think that my goal while containered is to learn how to deal with the issues that I've been dealt in this lifetime. My ability to choose a more interesting path for the next container is predicated on my success in this one. (Success being a personal thing, and not a material thing.) I think lessons unlearned will have to be repeated. I think how you treat others around you is as important as how you treat yourself...perhaps even more important. We are, in my personal philosophy, all part of one large energy field, and to willfully damage the whole seems a bit of a bad thing.

Yeah...I know it sounds all sorts of hippie-dippy, and I don't think I'm doing a particularly good job of articulating what I believe, primarily because I don't really try to make anyone else believe it, so there's not a lot of reason for me to trot out the verbiage.

Basically, be nice to other people, be nice to yourself, be nice to the planet, you might have to deal with two of three again, after all.
posted by dejah420 at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2005


And that, cousin, is the difference between science and religion, facts and faith.

Metafilter: we see dead people.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:38 PM on October 13, 2005


In terms of long life here, I'd worry about the Tithonus effect.

Tithonus was the mortal lover of Eos, who successfully petitioned Zeus to grant him immortality. Problem - she forgot to ask Zeus to grant him eternal youth, so Tithonus just got older, and older, and older. Doesn't sound like much of a life to me.
posted by athenian at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2005


Crabby: Have you ever dreamed of someone and then had them not die the next day? Just because co-incidences occur, and are more noticeable than their more regular uncoincidental brethren, is no reason to put aside your common sense.
posted by Sparx at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2005


chrischris- My own personal experience puts the lie to this. I have, in meditation, experienced a timeless consciousness.

sonofsamiam- I like this. It seems to me that the mystics who are practicing with integrity are involved with the study of consciousness. This would be complimentary to the scientists who approach consciousness as a non-effective byproduct of the physical world.

Decani sez, "given the fact that consciousness blinks out like a light when the physical apparatus of our minds is closed down by knocks or general anesthetic... " How do you know this? You can see consciousness? When the body dies the consciousness vanishes w/o a trace? If you define consciousness as exclusive to the body then you are certainly right. I say the physical sciences have a poor grasp of what consciousness is, how it arises and how it subsides.

clearlight- thanks for the link.

The whole "consciousness arises in a sufficiently complex collection of neurons" seems to lead to the concept of an overarching consciousness (Bohm's Brain) given the apparent complexity of the universe.
posted by pointilist at 2:46 PM on October 13, 2005


The athenian brings up the one problem I have with Buddhism. I agree with many of the sentiments here that our energy (or soul, or whatever) goes from ‘personal’ to universal from particularized consciousness to something other.

However I suspect the metaphor for afterlife is change.
Consider our consciousness as a pattern. It gets more complex as time goes on. The story of our lives gets more complex. We have more history. At some point continuing along a personal path becomes untenable. The pattern becomes locked into stagnation.
Satan frozen in the ice in Dante’s Inferno comes to mind as a religious metaphor.

Any form of personal ‘afterlife’ leads to Tithonus’s dilemma. Of course since the self is an illusion in the first place - clinging to it forever does seem a bit goofy.

But in any case, eternal change is all that makes existance bearable.
Constant, unpredictable, eternal change is essential to existance. One might say that change is the essence of existance; since there is nothing there but change. Only nothingness is unchanging.

I remember some physicist talking about the scalar field in the universe changing its character over time (problem is it involves dark energy, etc. but useful as a concept). There is no reason why any other pattern shouldn’t.

I suspect we all need a nothingness break between kalpas.


Taoism has a great deal to not say on this subject.


Anyway that is perhaps the only thing I can see to add to a - in most cases - deeply considered, varied, and excellently expressed series of posts.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:50 PM on October 13, 2005


I believe that death is what happens when your reference count goes to zero. After that, your memory gets put back on the heap. I'm not sure if I believe in a garbage collector or not.
posted by shinji_ikari at 3:01 PM on October 13, 2005


Is there any real possibility of an after-life?

Is there any real possibility of God?

If affirmative to the latter than obviously same for the former.

Otherwise...?
posted by scheptech at 3:05 PM on October 13, 2005


No
There, I've said it.
posted by Joeforking at 3:20 PM on October 13, 2005


Wow, you say that as if it's a universally-accepted fact.

No, not at all. It is my firm belief that any such statements cannot be more than metaphors.

I've never seen "pure awareness," whatever that is, on any periodic table.

I should hope not. There's nothing more sure to produce pseudo-scientific gibberish than taking the purely quantitative and attaching a concept like "awareness".

Trust, I'm hip to Dennett, Hofstadter, et al. It was years of heavy reading in AI that led me to eventually start taking metaphysical ideas seriously.

eye-dog sez: For me, the pressing question though, is whether the software is hardware dependent.

Nice way to put it!
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:39 PM on October 13, 2005


Well, overall, I'd say the ratio of worthwhile discussion to intellectually lazy snarking and uninformed religion bashing has been pretty good on this FPP. I'm glad to have taken part in this discussion.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 3:43 PM on October 13, 2005


...imagine being in a place where you experience total infinite Love to a degree impossible here in the temporal, and being able to express what you feel with music and song way, way above anything possible here?
posted by konolia at 1:22 PM PST on October 13


But here on Earth, it's "a time for war," right, konolia?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:48 PM on October 13, 2005


Crabby Appleton, I don't dismiss your experience as coincidence.

I have no reason to believe in an afterlife or an eternal soul. But I have many reasons to believe that there is more going here on than the orderly flux of matter and energy that science explains.

Can anyone see feel taste touch a radio wave? I accept that they exist, I can pick up my cell-phone and talk to someone half-way around the world.

I can also communicate with my spouse over long distances through a mechanism that I have no explanation for. It's an ability that I share with many people who have married for a long time. I admit that the cell-phone provides a clearer connection.


Even on the purely physical plane, that some people maintain is all that there is, current cosmology describes the universe as containing much more dark matter and dark energy than 'normal' matter. Inexplicable (at the current time) dark energy and dark matter.

I'm trying to be adult and accept the hard cold facts of human existence. My problem is that I have in my possession only a small fraction of the facts.
posted by tgyg at 3:55 PM on October 13, 2005


But here on Earth, it's "a time for war," right, konolia?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:48 PM MST on October 13


you forgot the /snark markup
posted by pointilist at 4:59 PM on October 13, 2005


So...there's no afterlife because there is no God?

Wow. And religious types are accused of specious reasoning.

Glad we've covered all possible definitions of afterlife and 'God'. Well that about wraps it up for infinity. Take care and have a wonderful tomorr...oops. Well anyway, we can close the book on metaphysics and philosophy. It's all been thought of already. Buh Bye.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:22 PM on October 13, 2005


Regarding responses to my previous post, I should say that I'm not disputing the fact that it could have been a coincidence. I don't believe it was a coincidence because I can't believe it was one; I literally find myself unable to believe it. When I consider the likelihood of my dreaming about a random person from my distant past who has no relevance to my current life, in a context suggesting he was dead, and finding that the time of his death coincided closely with the time of my dream, vs. it being a coincidence, I'm sorry, but it would be dishonest of me to say that I believe it was a coincidence.

That's not to say that anyone else should believe it merely on my say-so. Quite the contrary, in fact. I would suggest that the significance of this for the reader is that, if you give me the benefit of the doubt, it may occur to you that your own personal experience of such a phenomenon might be enough to change your views (if you haven't completely made up your mind on the issue), or at least shake your faith :-).

To ewkpates, who said that "probability isn't nearly as much fun as faith", I'd like to gently point out that this remark betrays a certain naivete regarding the nature of faith. May I recommend Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death as a good place to start working on that? In any case, I don't find my struggles with (against?) faith to be much fun. I can't seem to avoid them, though.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:33 PM on October 13, 2005


you forgot the /snark markup
posted by pointilist at 4:59 PM PST on October 13


No, a more appropriate tag would have been /seriously disgusted. It boggles my mind that those who glory in death and ruin in life would be satisfied with peace and love in the afterlife.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2005


You will know them by their fruits.

Bush is no Christian.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:13 PM on October 13, 2005


I have to say that I disagree with you...imagine being in a place where you experience total infinite Love to a degree impossible here in the temporal, and being able to express what you feel with music and song way, way above anything possible here?

This is precisely the problem for me, Konolia. In response to my lack of faith, you ask me to take a further leap of faith by asking me to "imagine" a conscious state which you yourself acknowledge is unattainable (and unknowable, except in the most bloodless of abstract gedankenexperiments) in my present,temporal state. If the condition (total infinite love) which immortality conveys is so far beyond what I am capable of apprehending in the here & now, what possible manner of subjective continuity could bridge that gap? Because, if the ecstatic mode of being (a mode which, because it is non-temporal, is also fundamentally unimaginable to me in any real sense of the word) you promise is so subsuming as to be truly infinite, I might just as well cease to exist as to enter this state; its totalizing quality cannot, by definition, leave any room for the limited nature of my subjective (sinful, temporal, human...) experience to actually exist in any way which would possibly be comprehensible. The totalitarian nature of the condition you promise effectively negates my flawed human nature. And with that negation, the "I" which exists in "this world" must be just as effectively destroyed as if I never had a soul to begin with.

No thanks. I'll take oblivion.
posted by Chrischris at 7:27 PM on October 13, 2005


In order to conceive of an opportunity for an "after life," one must posit a continuing individual conscious self/anmating life force that survives intact the cessation of operation (in purely mechanical terms) of the individual body: the dualistic dichotomy of "soul" and body". It defies common experience to conceive of an immortal body, so the only potentially immortal piece of the puzzle is the "soul," however characterized. If one accepts Dennett's monistic view that consciousness is merely an artifact of physicality, then there is no room for any continuation of life after death. Beastly dead, like Stephen Dedalus' mother.

Underlying both Christian and Hindu/Buddhist dualism is the notion of the soul's separation from the All and the need for the soul to be reunited with the All, having escaped from incarnation. For orthodox Christians, life is a use-once-and throw-away, total loss proposition: you either get it right, and get de long white robe and dem golden slippers; or you blow it and get an eternity of hellfire (courtesy of Zoroaster) and the deprivation of the Beatific Vision. Inherent is the concept that the energy represented by all these souls is rejoined with Infinite Love (pace konolia) or penned up in exterior darkness, where there will be great weeping and the gnashing of teeth (not to mention satanic pitch forks up the fundament).

In the Hindu/Buddhist perspective, the soul seeks escape from the pain of the cycle of rebirth; the punishment for not achieving "release" is, in the words of Sri Dylan, "having to go through all this twice" (or more.) The law of karma--the ineluctable proposition that good deeds beget good consequences and evil begets evil--is the engine that defines whether further incarnation can be escaped. In Chrisitan terms, it is all "justification by works."

As previous commenters have observed, actual, presently alive people can only discuss these concepts metaphorically. I suggest that, metaphorically speaking, the concept inherent in the "communion of saints arrayed around His Throne" and nirvana is the same: the union of the individual soul with the Singularity. I would also suggest that this concept is also inherent in the monistic, materialist view, for it is inescapable that, upon death, whatever energy animates the decedent must necessarily return (at least temporarily) to the state of unobserved quantum potential.

So take your pick of your your favorite metaphor, MeFites: no one will be able to argue you into believing in karma, dharma, Justification by Faith Alone, or the Kali Yuga. But a worldly philospher must reflect on the historic persistence of the notion of life after death among humankind, wherever located. If there is no transcendance of death--and nobody online can say for sure based on their own experience--then That's All, Folks. Period. But if there is a continuation of the energy that animates each one of us, then, to me, the more complex notion of reincarnation driven by karma is easier to accept than the binary concept of "one shot" salvation/eternal damnation.
posted by rdone at 8:15 PM on October 13, 2005


To a point I do to. For me, the pressing question though, is whether the software is hardware dependent.

Im see lots of evidence that its hardware dependant. The way physical and chemical things effect our conciousness does it for me.
brain injuries, mental illness, drugs, hormonal imbalances, alsiemers etc..
They change who we are. you get errors and wierd things happening just as if someone was slowly snipping wires in a computer.
Our concious is undeniably heavily influenced by the physicality of our brain.
posted by phyle at 8:21 PM on October 13, 2005


Hindu/Buddhist dualism is the notion of the soul's separation from the All

Not true. I disagree completely. There is no "All" in Buddhism, and Buddhist doctrine explicitly rejects all duality as illusory.

The original Hindu formulation held enlightenment to consistent in the meditative attainment of the realization that Brahman = Atman (crudely put, this means something like universal soul = individual soul).

This is the main doctrinal point over which Buddhism diverged from Hinduism to become its own system of thought. Gotama (the historical Buddha) went beyond the original Brahministic doctrine to deny the existence of the self completely, adopting what's known as the principle of "an-atman" or "no-self". Essentially, this principle maintains that, while Brahman and Atman can, through meditative attainment, be seen as one and the same, still further meditative attainment brings the realization that there is no permanent unchanging self, and thus, no permanent unchanging universal self. Essentially, the historical Buddha explicitly rejected the Hindu conception of an unchanging universal soul, and that's when Buddhism emerged as a belief system distinct from the Vedic doctrine of the Brahmins.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:54 PM on October 13, 2005


Im see lots of evidence that its hardware dependant. The way physical and chemical things effect our conciousness does it for me.

Well, sure--and I could take a hammer to my computer's CPU and make Windows stop running almost instantly (hell, I can do that with a lot less than a hammer...), but I could always reinstall Windows or install it on another machine later. That's what I mean by hardware independency: Is it the pattern of code or the specific machine the code is running on that makes us who we are? My intuition is that it's a little of both, but mostly the code.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:01 PM on October 13, 2005


Does all-seeing eye dog have a Buddha nature?
posted by rdone at 9:03 PM on October 13, 2005


Mu.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:05 PM on October 13, 2005


shinji justifies the existence of this thread
posted by lbergstr at 9:16 PM on October 13, 2005


The absence of faith makes this thread irrevelent for me.
posted by Balisong at 9:48 PM on October 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog : "Gotama (the historical Buddha) went beyond the original Brahministic doctrine to deny the existence of the self completely, adopting what's known as the principle of 'an-atman' or 'no-self'. Essentially, this principle maintains that, while Brahman and Atman can, through meditative attainment, be seen as one and the same, still further meditative attainment brings the realization that there is no permanent unchanging self, and thus, no permanent unchanging universal self."

I think this is a confusion of terminology, rather than beliefs. The term 'self' is used interchangeably and confusedly to refer to two referents: 1) experiant i.e. that to which perception binds, and 2) sense of identity i.e. I'm a human; this human with so-and-so memories..etc. The 'self' in the second sense, is an illusion, and everchanging. It'd be hard to argue against the first one, though. The Brahman can then be understood as the eternal source from which all multiplicity of experiants spring forth.
posted by Gyan at 11:03 PM on October 13, 2005


This is good.
all-seeing eye dog: huh? Do you remember "a vague period before being born?
Actually, I sometimes think I do (but memory is such a tricky thing, those kinds of fleeting, subjective impressions aren't necessarily meaningful); my main point with this remark is that, even if you take a completely skeptical position, physical non-existence isn't really the novel condition (or non-condition) we often assume. From a completely deterministic, purely materialistic view, we've all effectively been dead already, so why worry?
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:09 AM PST on October 13 [!]

posted by Radio7 at 11:59 PM on October 13, 2005


Decani: You're misunderstanding. In Buddhist, being reborn is the worst possible thing that could happen. The goal of Buddhist practice is to completely cease to exist,

I'm not misunderstanding at all. I know about nirvana, parinirvana etc. But I don't consider "completely [ceasing] to exist" as being what most religions mean by "afterlife". I too believe that after we die we completely cease to exist. It's senseless to call a total lack of existence any sort of "life".
posted by Decani at 7:40 AM on October 14, 2005


Decani, the all-seeing eye dog was countering this: "The notion of an afterlife is silly human wishful thinking which flies in the face of common sense, experience and science. I wish people could grow the hell up and be a bit brave about existence instead of knocking their impressively-evolved brains out trying to find some way; any way; please-FSM-let-there-be-a-way-I-want-to-see-my-dead-granny-again-so-much, to kid themselves the preposterous might be real."

Buddhism's notion of reincarnation doesn't cater to this sentiment.
posted by Gyan at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2005


Decani: Thanks for the clarification. I only meant to point out that the closest Buddhist equivalent to the concept of the after-life is not at all "wishful thinking" in the same way as Judeo-Christian religions, and to point out that Buddhist systems (as opposed to the Brahminical systems Buddhism emerged from), don't aspire to rebirth in some "better" life, because in Buddhism all conditional existence is equally undesirable.

The 'self' in the second sense, is an illusion, and everchanging. It'd be hard to argue against the first one, though. The Brahman can then be understood as the eternal source from which all multiplicity of experiants spring forth.


Gyan: I think I agree with you on this, to a point. Although strictly speaking, Gotama rejected the idea that Brahman = Atman, because he observed that, there is no permanent unchanging personal self (physical or psychological) to find, at the same time, there's definitely a sense in which Nirvana is a permanent and unchanging state, and really, no-self is probably better characterized as a condition beyond the duality of existence and non-existence all together (not the realization of non-existence, per se, but the realization that the self neither exists nor doesn't exist, because all dualistic constructs are illusory features of Samsara). But at this point, the whole system kind of goes off into the metaphysical deep-end, and most practitioners hold that the only way to really understand is to come and see for yourself through meditative practice.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:28 AM on October 14, 2005


Buddhism's notion of reincarnation doesn't cater to this sentiment.


Exactly--thanks Gyan.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2005


Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas, no eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment.-- from the heart sutra

I love it when you talk that way.
posted by pointilist at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2005


ewkpates, don't forget the desire for a simple, black and white universe, free from nuance, complexity, and uncertainty.

That could be quite a sticky desire, perhaps.
posted by cleardawn at 3:59 PM on October 14, 2005


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