The human brain is a fantastic piece of hardware that can run countless calculations at once and analyze both short and long term situations and consequences. An interesting theory was posed in my elective philosophy class (before winter break) about the very nature on understanding death. My professor told us that it is impossible for the human mind to mentally comprehend "death" because death itself is the absence of consciousness, the absence of calculated thought processes that form what we see, feel, touch, taste, and smell all around us. Can one truly know nothingness, the absence of "stuff" as my professor put it? The inability of the human mind to naturally understand this leads us to fill this lapse of knowledge with worldly "stuff". We hear countless times from the pious that heaven is an escape from the material world of the earthly plane, yet the images of heaven given to us are of the highest forms of materialism; pearly gates, evergreen gardens, elegant fountains, marble walkways, etc. This is obviously a much easier and much more confronting view of death than the black nothingness of a nonbeliever's afterlife. Yet it may be as equally difficult for the nonbeliever as for the believer to comprehend death. Can we really imagine what a world without consciousness? Perhaps even without sub-consciousness? Can there ever be a definitive scientific explanation for where our mind "goes" after the body shuts down? I firmly reject the Christian view of an afterlife yet I am torn over the atheistic view of blackness. Is there somewhere within our concept of space and time that allows for a transcendence of our current consciousness. There is no proof for it, so I am skeptical. Yet evidence is emerging of multiple dimensions (string theory) and in turn, multiple universes (which may be proven sooner than we think with near-light speed particle colliers). Whether this aids us in any understanding of death remains yet to be seen. But for now I hold the position (along with many other agnostics) that death is incomprehensible because the human brain was not built to compute calculations that involve no formula or no variables. Neither the heavenly gardens of theists nor the eternal unconscious blackness of atheists adequately explains one of the greatest mysteries of existence.

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Tags: atheists, brain, conciousness, death, human, philosophy, space-time, theists

Comment by John Nguyen on December 28, 2009 at 11:50am
". . . nor the eternal unconscious blackness of atheists adequately explains one of the greatest mysteries of existence."

I take issue with this statement. I find death to be neither a mystery or puzzle. Intellectually, I can say with some confidence that, if philosophical materialism is true, that death is simply the shutting down of our consciousness.

Our consciousness being, of course, nothing more than the frantic pattern of electricity going on constantly in our brain. No electric currents between the neurons, no consciousness. No consciousness, no sentient being.

The pattern of impulses doesn't "go" anywhere (unless, of course, we one day have the capability to replicate the neural impulses of a brain using machines. But that's a different can of worms); it simply ceases to be performed.

Multiple dimensions and wormholes, fascinating and important as they are, don't have a whole lot to do with consciousness, if we do indeed live in a materialistic universe,
Comment by John Nguyen on December 28, 2009 at 11:51am
Of course, this doesn't mean that I can explain what it will be like when we finally die, but I can speculate on what happens to bring it about.
Comment by Kirk Holden on December 28, 2009 at 1:14pm
Most speculation on technological marvel of sustained consciousness through memory transfer to clones ignore epigenesis which indicates that even in identical genomes, developmental processes yield mafor differences. Since complex systems are incredibly sensitive to initial conditions, your clone could be quite different from "you". For example, even in identical twins there are cases where one is gay and the other is straight.
Comment by Galen on December 28, 2009 at 1:18pm
Even a technological "after life" isn't really an afterlife at all. It's just the electrical patterns of your brain getting copied & pasted into a computer. Once the original dies, YOU are gone. A copy of you remains and it is as much you as you were, but it is not the original person that was born into this world. The biological YOU will shut down and from its (your) perspective, it will all go black and cease to be.

As for contemplating death, of course we can! We experience the shut down of our conscious perceptions every single night. Haven't you ever fallen into a deep sleep? Our mind is still functioning, but we have no conscious awareness except for those times when we're consciously aware of our dreams and able to remember them. Death will be like that, only we won't wake up. We'll close our eyes and cease to have consciousness.

OR, it could take a while. The electrical charge of the brain supposedly takes a little while to fully discharge, even after everything else in the body has stopped functioning. It could be that we might be conscious in a dream-like state for a very short time as our brain tries with futility to function normally. Knowing consciously that we died and yet are still experiencing something (even if it's only for a matter of seconds) could be a sort of "after life" in a sense. The religious may dream of Heaven. They may dream of Jesus greeting them and thus die in peace. Or we all may dream of nonsense and not be aware that we've died or that anything is wrong at all. OR, I hate to imagine it, but we may be all too aware as our physical brain and "mind" (the sum of our consciousness) try desperately to fight against the death that's already 99.9 percent there.

I rather like the idea that I might die and then get to have one last dream as the neurons go dark. It's a nice thought, but just as unprovable as Heaven. Ah well :)
Comment by Filippo on December 28, 2009 at 4:45pm
I am not necessarily advocating for the existence of an afterlife or not. My argument is that as living people, we cannot fathom what it is like to be non-existent. Why is it that one can never pinpoint when they fall asleep or when they enter and exit multiple dream states? It is because the human mind is not operating at full capacity during sleep and is therefore not fully interpreting the world around it. Now just think about no human brain capacity operating. Will there even be blackness? How can we possibly know that? Black, along with the rest of the color spectrum, is merely a different wavelength of light. But if there are no eyes to take in that light and no brain to interpret it, then what can there be. That is why I concluded that it is impossible to "know" nothingness.
Comment by Filippo on December 28, 2009 at 5:00pm
My argument is that while you may have an idea of what death may be, you can't put yourself in that situation. Basically, one can't imagine being dead (Heaven/Hell do not count because they are merely artistic representations of an unknown).
Comment by a7 on December 29, 2009 at 3:41pm
Hi there, I really enjoyed the original post and the replys that followed. Yip, I agree that we cannot know what death is like while we remain living beings and when were dead we wont have the bits and bobs to understand it.

take care man
Comment by Jordan Gordon-Naish on February 20, 2012 at 10:58pm

I can fathom non-existence but something that i can't get my head around is that you are in a sleep for all eternity, unknowingly which you will never wake up from. But you can't compare death to sleep because with one you wake up and the other you never wake up... ever.

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