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Consciousness survives death

189 posts in this topic

Posted

could we not simply say that death can definitely be declared at the point where all the cells have ceased to function? And I know that hair, fingernails etc. continue to grow after death. But this point would mean that the heart has stopped beating and definitely will not start again, there is no consciousness of either outside stimuli or inside thoughts, the components of the brain are no longer functioning, the cells of the body are not respiring, and basically, it would be wholly incorrect to term the person 'alive' in any way.

It is difficult to discuss issues like this without getting emotive, but we need to try and keep emotions under control.

I believe it is possible for a human body to exist in a so-called "vegetative state", where the higher processes in the brain have ceased to function (ie there is no consciousness) but the physical body continues to function (even though it may need help in the form of a respirator etc). In such a case, we have a live "body", but there is nothing which could be called a "person" in existence any more.

Of course there is the tricky question of whether or not the "consciousness" could ever be "re-started" from such a state, but if one is able to make the judgement that it cannot then my personal opinion is that such a person is "dead" as a person, and exists effectively only as a "vegetable".

Regards

MF

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Posted

So you would say that 'death' is where consciousness will never start again, not where the body will never start again?

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Posted

So you would say that 'death' is where consciousness will never start again, not where the body will never start again?

In the case of death of the "person", yes, I would.

We become emotionally attached to the physical bodies of our loved ones, and quite understandably so. But when one thinks rationally about it, the "person" that we love is actually the consciousness inside the brain, and not the physical body.

Have you ever seen that X-files episode where Mulder's consciousness is swapped with another guy, and Mulder's "mind" is then walking around in another person's body? There is no doubt that most of us would say that the "real" Mulder is the strange body with Mulder's mind, and not the physical body that looks like Mulder but contains someone else's mind.

Once the consciousness is gone for good, all that remains is a bag of chemicals, certainly not a person.

Regards

MF

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Posted

Heh heh, not seen the episode but agree with the point. :wink:

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Posted

Have you ever seen that X-files episode where Mulder's consciousness is swapped with another guy, and Mulder's "mind" is then walking around in another person's body? There is no doubt that most of us would say that the "real" Mulder is the strange body with Mulder's mind, and not the physical body that looks like Mulder but contains someone else's mind.

I have a different perception of what defines our consciousness.

Let say Mulder "swaps" consciousness with another man. No one would actually notice from the outside. In fact, Mulder wouldn't even notice himself, he would have BECOME that other man - He would have gotten his memories, his personality and actually all that is him, except his consciousness. And, that would go the other way too. For me consciousness is only the "awareness". But, as long as you don't bring the rest of the memories, you wouldn't even be able to notice...It's almost impossible to picture this situation, I'm sure many would think that would be the same as not swapping anythin, but there's a differerence it's just not something that is easily defined. (There's two different definitions of "YOU" but it's only the personality "you" everyone talks about.)

Consciousness, is what differs us from robots. What if the planet would be filled with robots as advanced as human beings, with all the emotions, etc... Would that be the same as people with consciousness ? Would creation then have a meaning ? I don't think so, there has to be someone behind the wheel, a spectator in the sense of a consciousness and not in the sense of intelligence or personality.

This is what defines Consciousness in my opinion and it would never be possible to visualize this in any way, it's strictly a personal thing. In fact, if all consciousness would disappear except mine, I wouldn't really notice...Unless the rest of the brain would stop working at the same time...so how can I really know if anyone else than me has this kind of consciousness :roll:

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Posted

how can I really know if anyone else than me has this kind of consciousness :roll:

how indeed can you know that there is anyone "behind the wheel" in the case of your own consciousness?

Best Regards

MF

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Posted

how indeed can you know that there is anyone "behind the wheel" in the case of your own consciousness?

Why wouldn't I know ? I'm awake, aware and I live - and I find that pretty strange in the first place. But of course I can never prove my conscious to you or myself for that matter :)

...

I really like the idea that has been presented in this thread. On my personal probability scaleit would get a good score ;). Maybe as high as the atheist one (consciousness vanish) or higher. But I can agree on what others have said already, that state of nothingness is impossible but if you phrase it differently it would make sense to say that your consciousness could disappear.

But, unless soul is a non physical matter, I can't see no reason why consciousness should be anything else than "life and thinking" and isn't some individual code inside your brain. It would at least solve the idea of maximum amounts of "souls" but still support reincarnation (but without the karma points) so I can live with that ;)

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Posted

how indeed can you know that there is anyone "behind the wheel" in the case of your own consciousness?

Why wouldn't I know ? I'm awake, aware and I live

ok..... and who is "behind the wheel" of the "agent which is behind the wheel"? In other words, if consciousness is explained as some kind homunculus in the mind, doing the driving, then all we do is to shift the explanation to another level - who is driving the homunculus?

Best Regards

MF

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Posted

I'm not actually thinking of it as a "driver" behind the wheel, more like a spectator. The brain is the driver, you are both your brain and your consciousness...your consciousness is just there to experience your life... But I'm not saying the consciousness isn't a part of the same brain, but it's not part of your personality and memories - I feel they are two subjects that often gets mixed together when discussed, and the reason why the term "soul" is so hard to define.

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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).

One cannot have an experience of non-consciousness. To do so would be to reify nothingness, which is a contradiction. Hence, the argument is that subjective consciousness can never end, because there is literally no thing for it to pass into.

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.

Yes.

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?

The idea is that you will go under and cease to exist permanently, but consciousness cannot, because it is impossible (as we agree) to expereience nothingness. Thus, there is always a subjective experience of something taking place. It's just not your experience.

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

On no basis whatsoever. Still, the argument of existential passage is that when you die, subjective awareness passes to the next-born agent. See specifically Chapter 9 of Wayne Stewart's online book for a detailed discussion.

The idea is that after "you" die, subjective experience must continue, since nothingness is nothing and can't be reified. Therefore there must always be subjective experience. Therefore when "you" die the next thing that will happen is that "you" will have the subjective experience of the first awareness of someone being born (the next person that is born when you die, Wayne Stewart reasons.) Of course this next person won't be "you," but then there is no such thing as "you" anyway -- there is just subjective experience. To argue otherwise is to suppose a homonculus, which leads as you've pointed out to the problem of an infinite regresss of homunculi.

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Posted

The third account, the atheistic one, is that when you die, you fall into a state of eternal nothingness.

Really?

While I have heard some people suggest something along these lines, I think most atheists simply believe that conscious experience simply ceases altogether upon death. While your criticism of this precise statement is perfectly valid - that it contains hidden premises which render it self-contradictory - I just don't think that this is what most atheists believe, at least those who have given that atheism a little thought.

The subjective experience of consciousness certainly seems to begin; it isn't like flicking a switch, it's not as though oneday we suddenly are conscious, but we certainly become conscious, there is no reason to think that we aren't to simply cease being conscious upon death.

Conscious is reducible, damage to our brain is capable of picking off aspects of consciousness individually. Particularly interesting are blind-sighted individuals, who are consciously blind to a portion of their visual field, though if forced to guess an image displayed in that blind portion, get the right answer a disproportionate amount of the time.

Anyway, if consciousness is reducible to smaller 'elements' then you have a problem, do bits of our consciousness individually die? do they individually pass on as part of this continuum of eternal consciousness?

Since I argue that the foregoing concept is logically incoherent, I hold that consciousness survives death.

Isn't that an oxymoron? I take it you mean hat consciousness survives bodily death, but then you have just posed the old mind-body problem, how does consciousness exist causally independent of the body?

Personally, the idea that consciousness is irreducible to the goings on in our brains is fine with me, but I cannot see how you can escape the fact that consciousness' existence seems dependent up the body/brain.

The phrase

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Posted

In reply to Nocture, I should, first, amend my statement that the

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Posted

I should note, too, that one ought to read past the Existential Passage chapter to see how Stewart fleshes out the idea. In fact, one ought to read the whole book from the start; it's quite fascinating.

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Posted

Still, the argument of existential passage is that when you die, subjective awareness passes to the next-born agent.

A very romantic, poetic and comforting notion (to some) I am sure, but is there any real evidence for such a strange idea?

Need the agent be human, or would any "aware agent" do?

What happens if there is a shortage of consciousnesses, such that a "next-born agent" cannot find a lonely (recently berieved and adrift) consciousness to link-up with, does that prevent the agent from becoming aware?

The idea is that after "you" die, subjective experience must continue, since nothingness is nothing and can't be reified.

Why does it follow from this that subjective experience must continue? There is no logical necessity as far as I can see.

What was there before the first "aware" agent evolved on earth - did disembodied consciousness float around in the aether waiting for a body to link up with?

Best Regards

MF

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Posted

I should probably point out that I don't wish especially to defend this notion, just put it out for discussion. As it happens, Wayne Stewart, at his linked book, addresses the questions put by Moving Finger in his post.

I should also think, by the way, that this idea is far from comforting. If anything, it's terrifying. We must remember that most lives on planet earth are not very pleasant ones. As many as 1.2 billion people don't even have enough to eat. This idea of naturalistic transmigration is not at all like some concept of reincarnation where you are "rewarded" for living a good life with a better life in the next one. One the contrary, it's a complete lottery, and the next life that "you" subjectively experience, no matter how well you lived this one, could be hellish indeed.

Hopefully Wayne Stewart will show up to discuss this idea further. This idea has developed from the OP which referred to an idea developed independnetly of Stewart, by an author who suggests that we can't "slip into nothingness" at death because to argue thus makes a logical mistake of reifying nothingness. However, I suggest this could be a mistake in the use of language. It's not that at death, we slip into nothingness, for clearly existence goes on without us. It's just that we end.

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Posted

I should also think, by the way, that this idea is far from comforting.

From a "naive-intellectual" point of view, I can see that the idea of "naturalistic transmigration" might comfort some people who cannot stand the thought that they simply "cease to exist" in entirety and forever when they die. Such an idea might indeed seem totally reprehensible and unacceptable to some, against their fundamental philosophy of life. Such persons might accept the "lottery" notion of random transmigration more gladly than accepting the notion of non-existence.

This idea of naturalistic transmigration is not at all like some concept of reincarnation where you are "rewarded" for living a good life with a better life in the next one. One the contrary, it's a complete lottery, and the next life that "you" subjectively experience, no matter how well you lived this one, could be hellish indeed.

I don't see the problem. If one genuinely believes in this lottery theory, and one migrates to a really bad situation, one has the option of "killing oneself" and trying again. And keep on trying until one ends up in a nice situation.

Of course, I doubt that many people genuinely believe in this theory.....

This idea has developed from the OP which referred to an idea developed independnetly of Stewart, by an author who suggests that we can't "slip into nothingness" at death because to argue thus makes a logical mistake of reifying nothingness.

I do not see how to suggest that something "exists" at some time and "does not exist" at another time "reifies nothingness"? Can you explain that one?

Using this argument, one could argue that nothing which has ever existed at any time (including for example the Taj Mahal) could ever "not exist", because that would "reify nothingness".

I suggest this could be a mistake in the use of language. It's not that at death, we slip into nothingness, for clearly existence goes on without us. It's just that we end[/i'].

OK. Which is why I like the quote :

"If one pays attention to the concepts being employed, rather than the words being used, the resolution of this problem is simple." (Stuart Burns)

Best Regards

MF

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Posted

I don't see the problem. If one genuinely believes in this lottery theory, and one migrates to a really bad situation, one has the option of "killing oneself" and trying again. And keep on trying until one ends up in a nice situation.

Of course, I doubt that many people genuinely believe in this theory.....

But what if they did? This isn't a very hard theory to believe in. People believe in God, reincarnation (soul-driven) and all sorts of things without the sort of hard evidence that materialists would require. I could imagine an idea like this gaining hold in a culture, and eventually spreading. It could be seen as a naturalistic religion.

What would be the consequences of it? One consequence might be that people would be motivated to treat everyone else as well as possible, and to do everything in their power to provide comfortable conditions, not just for themselves and their families, but for generations unborn, on the theory that they, themselves, would actually be members of those future generations! Belief in naturalistic transmigration could actually instill Christian ideals (love your neighbor as yourself) all over the world! Because you could, so to say, end up being your neighbor.

But on the flip side, it might have the very strange effect of, while making other lives (or potential lives) more valuable to you, your own life could have less value, to you. Why? Well, if your life isn't going so great, you'd always have the option of committing suicide and betting on the lottery to give you a better subjective life in the next go-around. People might lose their fear of death. Also, knowing how badly people estimate their actual odds of winning lotteries, not realizing how minuscule those odds are, I could well imagine lots of people "gambling" with confidence on winning the metaphysical lottery and coming up with a better life the next go-around: even a bonanaze of life (rich, famous, or whatever values they pursue). It's very eerie to think about a culture that embraced this notion of naturalistic transmigration. It almost sounds like a story Borges could have written. Oh, wait... maybe he did.

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Posted

Hi, davidm. Quick question about a statement you made earlier. This might have been answered already, but I was just skimming so please forgive.

Therefore when "you" die the next thing that will happen is that "you" will have the subjective experience of the first awareness of someone being born

How is this idea explained when one considers that more people exist now than ever before? If there is some chain of existence, where are these new "souls" coming from?

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Posted

Perhaps there's always been the same number of souls, but now they have more bodies to go into?

I don't know, this all sounds a bit Plato-Meno to me.

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Posted

An alternative is that there is only one soul/consciousness and it is animated with a unique identity at each birth. Something like the air in soap bubbles or the water in snowflakes. Each bubble is, I presume, unique but the air in each bubble has a common origin. At no time does the total of all soap bubbles in existence contain all the available air. Once a soap bubble pops the air that it contained becomes available for another soap bubble, though perhaps not the very next one to be generated. In any case, the air contained in the very next soap bubble is part of the total volume of air available for inclusion in soap bubbles.

Just a thought. If it doesn't make sense please don't tell me. I wouldn't want my bubble popped. :)

Angakuk

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Posted

In the summer of 1776, the Great Infidel David Hume was at death's door, suffering from the same disease that also claimed his mother. Despite this, he remained calm and placid, and retained his customary witty and loquacious conversation skills for all the visitors who paid their respects in the town of Edinburgh.

Among the elite received, James Boswell, a diarist and the biographer of Samuel Johnson (who is reputed to be the most distinguished literary figure of his era) who was a timid and fearful man and held a weak spot for whiskey and the fairer sex. Since he obsessed over eternal damnation, Boswell inclined towards religious piety. For the longest time, he was both repelled and fascinated with the legend of Hume, whose insurgent attacks upon religion and churchgoers were unheard of in his time. Boswell, just like Samuel Johnson, was morbidly fearful of death, so he could not pass up an opportunity to go and see Hume the God Denier on his deathbed to ask whether he had changed his mind on his blasphemy about the immortality of the soul.

"Don't you believe," asked a jittery Boswell, "that there is life after death, that your soul will live on after you are dead?" With utter ease, with the urbane humor and irony that had made Hume a celebrity, he retorted: "Yes, it is possible that the soul is immortal. It's also possible that if I toss this piece of coal into the flames of that fire, it will not burn. Possible, but there is no basis for believing it-not by reason, and not by sense perception, not by our experience."

Hume chuckled as Boswell staggered out of the room, all flustered and stammering, his neurotic fear of death exposed by seeing Hume inexorably wasted away. Hume tossed out a few more zingers, which Boswell with his gift of total recall, wrote down when he arrived home. Hume had said, "That the soul is immortal and that people should exist forever is a most unreasonable fancy. The trash of every age must then be preserved and new universes must be created to contain such infinite numbers."

:lol:

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Posted

"If it doesn't make sense please don't tell me."

You idea seems to make sense by itself, but what implications are there, then, for david's comment that consciousness is permanent?

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Posted

You idea seems to make sense by itself, but what implications are there, then, for david's comment that consciousness is permanent?

Non that I am aware of. The post was intended as an alternative to Beast's response to your question about where all these souls came from. Although, one might argue that it makes davidm's argument more reasonable, in that it provides an answer to the question of where all these additional souls come from. Whether or not this generalized consciousness is permanent will still depend, it would seem, on the theory of time that is employed.

Angakuk

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Posted

Wayne Stewart tackles the above conundrums in his book. According to his view, some consciousnesses are created ex nihilo; that is, they don't pass from previous incarnations; and some concisousnesses "pass" to two or more new subjective entities; and some consciousnesses "merge" from two or more dead sources into a new, living one. So the problem of numbers can be sorted out, and I think he even has a mathematical demonstration of how this works.

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Posted

I haven't read Stewart's book and I'm not sure that I am interested enough in the question to take the time to do so. However, it seems to me, at first blush, that introducing the concept of creation 'ex nihilo' as a solution to a conundrum is a bit like jumping out the frying and into the fire in order to escape the heat.

Angakuk

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