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Consciousness survives death

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Posted

What happens after you die? There seem to be three accounts. The theist says that each of us has a soul, and that this soul survives physical death, presumably to last for eternity. Atheists dispute this, saying there is no evidence for a soul, and no reason to believe in a God who presumably

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Posted

Does this mean that life is a continuum of consciousness, then, with everything being one in the end after all?

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Posted

Yes, I think that is what it means, if this account is right. If concsiousness is generic and nonspecific, and if there no gaps to consciousness that can be subjectively experienced -- and there are no such gaps, because nothingness can't be experienced, since nothingness is not a state -- then subjective thinking just goes on and on and on. The idea is not that you, personally, are immortal, but rather that the subjective state of consciousness is.

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Posted

So do you think this is what people are getting at when they suggest that we try to blur the distinction between the world and our experience of it, or between object and experiencing self? That is, the so-called mystical experience of being at one with everything is not a delusion after all but the fundamental realisation that the ego and its separation from everything else is the real delusion?

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Posted

Yes, I think that's a very good way of putting it. I would say it's correct, because the ego is the real delusion, as is the separation of it from the world. We start by disposing of the theological soul. We progress to the illusion that there is a homunculus, and "owner' of thoughts; but there is nothing to support this idea, either. It's a secular version of the soul. "I" do not think; there is just thinking. If thinking is generic and nonspecific, and if nothingness can't be experienced (and it can't, because there is literally nothing to experience), then "there is thinking" will go on and on. Perhaps subjectiviely this mythical "I" will experience every possible life? It reminds me of the opening passage from The Lottery in Babylon.

Like all the men of Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all, I have been a slave. I have known omnipotence, ignominy, imprisonment. Look here-- my right hand has no index finger. Look here--through this gash in my cape you can see on my stomach a crimson tattoo--it is the second letter, Beth. On nights when the moon is full, this symbol gives me power over men with the mark of Gimel, but it subjects me to those with the Aleph, who on nights when there is no moon owe obedience to those marked with the Gimel. In the half-light of dawn, in a cellar, standing before a black altar, I have slit the throats of sacred bulls. Once, for an entire lunar year, I was declared invisible--I would cry out and no one would heed my call, I would steal bread and not be beheaded. I have known that thing the Greeks knew not--uncertainty. In a chamber of brass, as I faced the strangler's silent scarf, hope did not abandon me; in the river of delights, panic has not failed me. Heraclides Ponticus reports, admiringly, that Pythagoras recalled having been Pyrrhus, and before that, Euphorbus, and before that, some other mortal; in order to recall similar vicissitudes, I have no need of death, nor even of imposture.

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Posted

I think I follow you davidm. First, a brief factual criticism: Buddhists both believe in reincarnation and reject the existence of the soul or ego. Their theology might be similar to what you present, as I've never really understood how you can both believe in reincarnation and reject the soul at the same time either, but I've talked to Buddhists (over the internet) who said it could be resolved.

But we have two terms here: thinking and consciousness, and if you associate them both to a clear and distinct idea, they are actually distinct from each other. It is possible to think and not be conscious of that thinking, that's what the sub-conscious is supposed to be about. And then, there can be consciousness without thinking, like when you're looking at something yet your mind is blank.

But I think I follow you in that you're saying that while something always has to be conscious, it doesn't have to be the same thing. When you reject the ego (e.g., the "I") you reject the idea that it is the ego that is conscious. But then what is conscious then? We can separate the person into parts, and say that different parts of that person are conscious at different times, but then how do you account for the unity of all those parts? You and I are both conscious, but there's no unity as I can't be conscious of what you're doing, nor can you be conscious of what I'm doing. So how is it that all of my parts can be conscious of each other? Is the ego anything more than this unity? Does this mean that the ego needs to be reintroduced?

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Posted

IBut I think I follow you in that you're saying that while something always has to be conscious, it doesn't have to be the same thing. When you reject the ego (e.g., the "I") you reject the idea that it is the ego that is conscious. But then what is conscious then? We can separate the person into parts, and say that different parts of that person are conscious at different times, but then how do you account for the unity of all those parts? You and I are both conscious, but there's no unity as I can't be conscious of what you're doing, nor can you be conscious of what I'm doing. So how is it that all of my parts can be conscious of each other? Is the ego anything more than this unity? Does this mean that the ego needs to be reintroduced?

Well, parody has made this easier. These are basically my questions David. I was briefly convinced a long time ago by the argument that "there is only thinking" but not anymore since I cannot make sense of affirming this proposition. What is? Is thinking affirming its own existence? If there is no "I" then what discovers there is only "thinking"? Heck, it can be said that "thinking" discovers the "I" or allows 'us' to create or narrate stories about what the "I" is but still I'm not comfortable that it makes sense to simply affirm the existence of thinking sans an I. Our different ideas of the "I" maybe fallacious but to say there is none of any sort? That's a bit difficult for me.

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Posted

Nice to see you posting again, Mosaic.

I'm going to take a little time to consider this answer because it's a difficult question, and a problem we run into is that our language is so geared around the "I" that it is hard to find the right words and phrases to show that the "I" is a myth without making it seem as if the "I" is showing this! So give me a little time, and hopefully others will chime in. Yes, Parody, this version of what happens after death could seem to be Buddhist in nature. In the meantime, I hope everyone reads the linked paper, which offers a fuller discussion as well as a thought experiment to illustrate the basic point.

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Posted

Hopefully this thread will get a bit more traction. Let's understand the radical view that is being put forth here, and not just by Thomas Clarke, but by another philosopher who deeply fleshes out the idea and to whom I'll link later: lives are zones of consciousness. Nothingness does not exist, by definition. Hence when one dies, one cannot plunge into a self-refuting state of nothingness. The subjective experience of death will be followed by the subjective experience of starting a new life. In the later link I'll give, the term naturalistic transmigration is coined.

This idea, if we take it seriously -- and I think we can have good grounds for taking it seriously -- is deeply interesting, it seems to me, for two reasons. The first is that it is utterly beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. It is a pure problem in metaphysics, and shows a limit to science. No conceivable experiment and can rule it in or out. And second, it has terrifying ramifications, if true. If lives are "zones of consciousness" that are experienced one after the other, no one can fail to notice that such zones will inevitably include some pretty horrific lives.

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Posted

OK, this is only a brief idea from a quick skim over Clark's argument.

Firstly, we need to distinguish between three types of consciousness;

1) consciousness of-objects

2) consciousness of-one's-own-representations

3) consciousness of-self

If my reading is correct, we may presume that in Clark

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Posted

Sorry, the ultimate lines should read "but to consider the permanent cessation of a given human-entity

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Posted

David, I wonder if you know of any other routes to your conclusion? I know Owen Barfield has made an argument completely different ( i don't remember it well enough at the moment to elaborate) which leads to the same conclusion. Why I ask is because I'm not sure I follow the argument here. Other than the question I already raised I'm not sure that I agree with the argument against the secular idea that " we fall into a state of eternal nothingness." What if they simply change the phrasing and not use "state"? That is, consciouness stops. It doesn't fall into a 'state." It just ends - like an engine stopping. Is this logically incoherent? I'm not clear why this would be. For example, suppose I'm an emergentist and I believe that consciouness occurs only where their are brains and at a specific stage of complexity? If we destroy this brain and hence any complexity then I'm lead to the idea that consciousness simply ends. If there is nothing to generate it, there is no consciousness. What is the response to this and why would it be incoherent? I don't think such a person has to be committed to the idea of an homunculus or an I unless they do?

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Posted

qualia, I just had time to skim your post, so will respond later.

mosaic, those are good questions and I don't have the answers off the top of my head. I have to think about them. Do you have any link to Barfield on this stuff?

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Posted

Davidm, as regards your OP, I have a couple of problems. I can't help feeling (as I think Mosaic has just pointed out, actually) that you somewhat misrepresent what you call the atheist position, or at least, state it in a form where it doesn't work, whereas it could easily be put into a form where it does. If I was going to forward this position, I don't think I would describe myself at death as entering a state of nothingness, I think I would just describe myself as ending, and here I see no logical inconsistency. Also, I don't think that its necessarily true that atheists don't believe in a soul; of course, they may believe in the soul but still not believe in God.

My second problem is that, if we take away any individual people, or 'I's, or selfs, and argue that since the only thing there is is 'there is thinking', then the conclusion is essentially that consciousness survives in some way when x person dies. In which case, with all respect, I don't really see what there is to actually prove; that when some people die, others are still alive?? It just seems like a bit of a self-evident point -

Of course, the

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Posted

These are all good points, and I'm currently thinking it over. :study:

I have to read the entire Existential Passage stuff; it's actually an on-line book. I will return to this thread when I've more carefully assessed the argument and implications.

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Posted

Fair enough, I might look into your links since, admittedly, I haven't yet. Its a great topic, though! Everybody likes to think about death.

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Posted

The conundrum is that no one has ever had an experience of non-consciousness, which suggests that non-consciousness does not exist -- or rather, the subjective state does not exist. Anyone who has been put under for an operation will tell you that there is no subejctive time interval between "going under" and "coming up." Now we are asked to believe that in death, we "go under" but never come up.

Another thing to think about is that while many people compare the state of "before birth" to "after death" -- nonexistence -- it then follows that every person who has ever lived had an off state before he had an on state. If after death is symmetrical with before birth -- off states -- why can't another on state subjectively occur? It's already happened (at least) once for everyone! :)

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Posted

The conundrum is that no one has ever had an experience of non-consciousness, which suggests that non-consciousness does not exist -- or rather, the subjective state does not exist.

There is no conundrum that I can see. How can one "have an experience of non-consciousness"? This to me sounds like an oxymoron. IMHO in order "to have an experience" it is a pre-requisite that one is conscious. Ergo, one cannot ever have an experience of non-consciousness (the closest one could get is a limited absence of certain memories of conscious experience).

Anyone who has been put under for an operation will tell you that there is no subejctive time interval between "going under" and "coming up.".

Agreed. The simple reason why is because the intervening non-conscious period has not produced any conscious memories for the agent. There are no "markers" with which the agent can associate any part of that non-conscious period, hence to all (conscious) intents and purposes that period simply did not exist for the agent concerned.

Now we are asked to believe that in death, we "go under" but never come up.

For "go under" I read "cease to exist" (as a conscious agent). What is hard to believe about that?

Another thing to think about is that while many people compare the state of "before birth" to "after death" -- nonexistence -- it then follows that every person who has ever lived had an off state before he had an on state. If after death is symmetrical with before birth -- off states -- why can't another on state subjectively occur? It's already happened (at least) once for everyone!

We consider the succession of "on states" you refer to as comprising a single stream of consciousness only because they are somehow physically associated to each other (via either conscious memory, subconscious associations, or some kind of physical continuity, or a combination of these).

If MF dies tonight and somehow wakes up tomorrow in a completely different physical body and has no memory at all of his previous existence then on what basis could one argue that the two conscious states (MF today and MF tomorrow) are one and the same "person" (whatever that means)?

MF

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Posted

Moving Finger, the thrust of your post was explained a few posts back but I suppose it was given in such an obscure manner (I'm suffering from a very terrible cold) that the point being made was completely missed, hence the other posters continued to waste time 'beweitched by the grammar' of 'nothing', or 'experiences of non-consciousness' :shock: . Thank you for putting it all back into comprehensable English. Oh, and welcome to the Galilean :-)

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Posted

The conundrum is that no one has ever had an experience of non-consciousness, which suggests that non-consciousness does not exist -- or rather, the subjective state does not exist.

But as has been pointed out, to have an experience of non-consciousness is impossible, in fact, it's virtually a logical self-contradiction. So it would be pretty unreasonable to say that since we can't provide an example from experience of non-consciousness that it therefore doesn't exist. It's a bit like saying I'll go to the dance with you if you can provide me with an instance where 2+2=79. So we can only debate the point on a purely logical basis. But surely if a man can exist he can also not exist? To me it seems like this;

I have a thing, and I wish to make the thing cease to exist. Lets say, for the sake of argument, that my thing is a towel. So how would I go about making the towel not exist? Well, first I might consider what the towel actually is, as to be able to cause something to cease to exist I need to know my enemy. I want to get rid of this rectangular entity that hung on a rail and dried people and now is offending me with its smell. Ok. So, I pull the towel apart, thread by thread, and distribute the threads around the world. The towel, such as it was, has ceased to exist. Yes, it still exists in the form of many pieces of thread, and yes, many other towels with exactly the same properties and functions exist, possibly even an exact replica replacement of that towel, but the original thing no longer exists. Supposing that at one time it was conscious, it won't be aware now that it no longer exists, because obviously, there is nothing existing to be aware, but we left behind can see that it no longer exists.

The fact that no-one has ever had an experience of non-consciousness doesn't prove it doesn't exist, it simply proves that experiencing, essentially, non-experience is, of course, impossible. I know the same argument could be used spuriously to try and allow for the existence of all sorts of supposed transcendental entities, but I think that in this case it is fair enough.

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Posted

OK, so now we're at this junction what are we to make of death itself?

If, for the sake of argument, we accept that there are at least 3 types of consciousness;

1) consciousness of-objects

2) consciousness of-one's-own-representations

3) consciousness of-self

And that clearly,

1) we can imagine a given entity not fulfilling distinctions 1, 2, and 3 and being considered

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Posted

Lets say, for the sake of argument, that my thing is a towel. So how would I go about making the towel not exist? Well, first I might consider what the towel actually is, as to be able to cause something to cease to exist I need to know my enemy. I want to get rid of this rectangular entity that hung on a rail and dried people and now is offending me with its smell. Ok. So, I pull the towel apart, thread by thread, and distribute the threads around the world. The towel, such as it was, has ceased to exist. Yes, it still exists in the form of many pieces of thread, and yes, many other towels with exactly the same properties and functions exist, possibly even an exact replica replacement of that towel, but the original thing[/i'] no longer exists.

This is exactly how I think of consciousness - the 'self' is simply a particular arrangement, a pattern, of atoms and molecules - destroy that pattern and the self is destroyed (even though the constituent atoms and moelcules continue to exist, but re-arranged into other materials).

MF

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Posted

What exactly is aliveness and deadness? What does it mean to be alive or to be dead? Do such distinctions really exist in the absolute or is this idea some betwitchment of grammar? Is the state of deathness a mere convention, for example? Anyone with any thoughts?

Whether a given agent can be considered alive or dead depends on the agent in question. An organic (as opposed to computer) virus, for example, may exist indefinitely in a dormant state, not exhibiting any signs of life and with all of the characteristics of an inert chemical compound, and yet can come 'alive' spontaneously if the conditions are right.

When we say that a human (let's call him Bob) is dead, we do not mean that there is no life left in Bob's physical body (a dead person's body is teeming with life in the form of microbes and bacteria), what we mean is that the conscious entity which we used to call Bob no longer exists as a conscious entity.

MF

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Posted

If, for the sake of argument, we accept that there are at least 3 types of consciousness;

1) consciousness of-objects

2) consciousness of-one's-own-representations

3) consciousness of-self

And that clearly,

1) we can imagine a given entity not fulfilling distinctions 1, 2, and 3 and being considered

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