Life after death. It seems such an obvious contradiction when written out in simple words. Living after you have ceased to live. Seems as if it shouldn't even require discussion. Yet billions of people across the globe from hundreds of different cultures and religions believe in just such a thing. Our senses reveal to us the evidence of life's cessation. We see the heart stop beating, the lungs stop inhaling and exhaling. We can measure brain activity as it dwindles to a halt. Yet we still believe that life continues. We believe without any evidence to support this belief. Those who do believe this seemingly unbelievable idea say that no one really knows for sure. All we have is our faith to show us the way. Is that really all we have? I beg to differ. They point to the lack of evidence against an afterlife. Lack of evidence? Really? I would suggest to you that there is now and has been for several centuries enough evidence to completely debunk the myth of the afterlife. If you have anything close to an analytical mind and you are at all open-minded and you wish to maintain your illusions than do yourself a favor and read no further. Consider this like a movie thread with spoilers in it. Because I intend to tell you exactly how this movie will end and I don't want to ruin it for those who need their illusions. I am well aware that for many many people their faith is necessary to them, something they could not imagine living without. I am not so cruel as to wish to snatch the life preserver from a drowning man. But those of you of strong faith who are already one-hundred percent committed to the conclusions you have reached through faith, who are well-skilled in the art of believing without evidence and against all contradictory evidence may well enjoy this journey and since faith has always been an effective weapon against knowledge I'm sure you will come through this unscathed. Those of you who are truly open minded and not committed to any one conclusion, but are open to all ideas may find this helpful in figuring out your own life philosophy.
First we must agree on exactly what we mean by life after death. Obviously we are not talking about the heart pumping, lungs breathing, growing and reproducing, type of life as it is defined on this planet as we can all safely agree that this does come to an end. For the purposes of this argument we will agree that we mean consciousness after death. Consciousness after the body has been annihilated, brain and all. This theory rests on the belief that the brain is not the seat of consciousness but rather the "soul" is that part of ourselves from which all of our drives, desires, instincts, emotions, and awareness originate and where our memories and personalities are stored. This soul is said to be something non-physical which cannot be physically unmade thus allowing for the consciousness to continue after the destruction of the flesh. If we can agree on that than we have a place to start and here's the first question you must ask yourself:
"How is consciousness achieved? How are you conscious of these words on this screen, the keyboard at your fingertips?"
Of course the answer is because you can see this screen. You can feel the keyboard beneath your hands, hear the click of the keys as you strike them. You can perhaps even smell the plastic from which your keyboard and much of your computer is composed. Baring these senses you could even taste the metals and plastics to confirm the existence of your computer. You are conscious of this computer the same way you are conscious of all things, because you can taste, touch, see, feel, and hear it. Consciousness is a product of the senses, senses which are all destroyed when your flesh decays and rots from the bone.
You can't see without eyes. You can't hear without ears. You can't taste without a tongue. You can't feel without nerves and skin and flesh. All of these things will rot away with the rest of your body and then what will you see with? What will you smell with? What will you hear, feel, taste with? How will you be conscious then? Extra sensory perception perhaps? Maybe there's some mysterious sixth sense that will somehow materialize after you die? Yet, we find no evidence of a sixth sense anywhere. Even those people who claim to have it, speak of it in terms of their five senses. They have visions. I can assure you that people who have never seen before have no visions. They cannot even imagine what the world truly looks like, just as you cannot imagine a color that you've never seen before or a sound that you've never heard. The blind do not have visions and the deaf do not hear voices. At best, any sixth sense would be merely an augmentation of your existing senses, which being dead, you would no longer possess.
So there you would be, alive but unconscious of anything outside your own mind (if we allow that the mind is non-physical, which I'll address soon), a vegetable of sorts. Oh, but perhaps this afterlife is like some of the Eastern religions believe, an eternal dream state? But see, the problem with dreams is that they require memories and you wouldn't have any. Did I forget to mention that? You see, when you die, your brain rots and everyone knows that that's where your memory is housed. That's why a blow to the head, a high fever, consciousness altering drugs, can all screw up your memory. Severe brain damage, we know can delete your memory and your entire personality forever. It can render you unconscious for the remainder of your life as well. Now, how could that be possible if the consciousness where some non-physical spirit? How can you physically affect the non-physical? How could a blow to the head render you unconscious and even wipe out your memory if the soul, and not the brain, were the seat of consciousness? Why is it that we can link the damaging of brain cells to the loss of both memory and consciousness if the brain were not a necessary and vital part of your consciousness? We can infact pinpoint the exact area of the brain where memories are stored and we can directly link the destruction of brain cells in that area to the permanent loss of memory. What do you think would happen to your memory if your entire brain were to disintegrate in your skull and leak out of your ears? If a blow to the head, drugs, or a high fever can render you unconscious what do you think would happen to your consciousness when your entire brain decomposed? Obviously, when your brain goes, so goes your memory and all other type of consciousness.
I knew a guy who was sitting in a coffeeshop when he runs into an ex-girlfriend. I remember the story so well, because he wrote a poem about it. He approached the girl and said hello, smiling from ear to ear. She smiled back and asked him if he knew her. His smile faltered as he replied, "Yes, of course I know you."
"Than who am I?"
She had been in a car accident a few years previous and had total amnesia. They sat down and talked and she began asking him questions about herself.
"I like sports now. Did I always like sports?"
"No, defintely not. You hated sports."
"I'm a lesbian now. Was I always a lesbian?"
She blushed realizing that they must have been lovers.
"I paint now. Was I an artist before?"
"No. You weren't."
As they talked he realized that he was talking to an entirely different person in his former grilfriend's body. There was nothing the same. Even her pattern of speech was different, he said. I saw a show on TV about a kid who was a college football star who had an accident, got amnesia, and now hates football and thinks it's stupid, iss shy around girls, is completely opposite of the kid he used to be. His parents say that they had to bury their old kid and treat their son as if he were an entirely new child because he was. So, obviously even with our same bodies our memories go along way into deciding the type of people we will be. So, again I ask you to imagine what it would be like to wake up in a new body with no memories of ever having been anything else. How the hell do you think that "You" by any reasonable definition of the self would continue to exist? Your self would be no more.
So, let's look at this afterlife of yours. You are a disembodied spirit without the ability to see, feel, taste, smell, or hear, no way at all to experience anything new and no memory of ever having experienced anything in the past. You are as unconscious as a stone and you can't even dream. Remember what I said about not being able to imagine a shape or color or taste you'd never experienced? What if you'd never seen or experienced anything? If you had no memory of any shape, any color, any taste, any cutaneous or kinesthetic sensations, how could you dream then? Dreams of an eternal blackness without form or substance or sensation? Does that sound like heaven to you? That is no afterlife.
But maybe those New Age religions are correct and life is just this eternal energy that's a part of everything and last forever. That could very well be possible, but so what? That energy is not you. That sounds like that mindless disembodied spirit with no memory and no consciousness. But maybe those Eastern religions that believe in reincarnation are correct and this energy is transfered into other living things after you die? In fact, considering what we know of matter and energy, reincarnation is probably closest to the truth. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed but merely transformed from one form to another. But I doubt we are talking about reincarnation the way it is presented in most religions as your life force being reborn whole and intact in another form, but rather your life force disintegrating, reintegrating with the earth, and then being recylced in many different forms much like the process your flesh goes through. But even if we allowed for the possibility of your memoryless lifeforce being reborn whole and intact in another form, again, so what? Whatever new form this energy is converted into it will not be you. Your self is created by your perceptions of the world, shaped by your own unique perspective and the experiences that shape your personality compiled in your memories. The fact that you are a certain height, a certain weight, a certain race, a certain nationality, a certain sex, that you grew up in a certain area under certain circumstances, all go into shaping your identity. If I were to remove all of that, would you still be you? Think how drastically your perception of the world and your sense of self would change if I were to put your consciousness into my body. How long do you think you'd still retain your identity? Now what if I were to remove all of your memories and then put your consciousness into my body? Would you still be you? Even if I was to remove all memory of you ever having been anyone else? Would you still be the same person or would your entire identity, your entire self, be destroyed? Now imagine I were to take your unconscious memoryless "life-energy" and place it into an animal or a tree or a bird or, more likely, combine pieces of it with other disembodied life forces and disperse it among many different types of life forms? Think your identity would still somehow remain intact? Think you'd retain your sense of self with no memory of ever having been anything but the myriad creatures your soul is now scattered amongst? Would you still be you with your essence broken down and scattered amongst many different creatures? Nope, uh uh, all that you are, all the lessons you learned throughout your life, all the memories and experiences you suffered for and now cherish would be lost forever. You by any reasonable definition of yourself would cease to be.
Now, how about if I didn't put your mind into another body but just set it adrift in the ether without memory and without senses, without consciousness, essentially without you, as dead and lifeless as a stone? Would that mindless, deaf, dumb, and blind thing still be you? Or would you be gone forever? And that's only if you buy into the very unlikely idea that there is some type of life energy that exists independent of the body. More than likely the energy of life is just a chemical reaction caused in the body that ceases once the body ceases to function. It is highly unlikely that this energy exists as some integrated whole even as it lies in your body now. Still, this is a far more likely scenario than your life force exiting the body with all of its senses and memories intact to run off to heaven and continue its existence. I think I've pretty much proven that that ain't happening regardless of what the various biblical texts may lead you to believe.
But what about becoming one with the infinite, uniting with the all, becoming one with the universe? That is like that reincarnation I was speaking about, your life force suffering the same fate as the flesh, being broken down and integrated with the larger body along with Billions of other life forces. Like a drop of ink in an ocean. Pretty nice cozy way to describe the extinction of the self. You become part of the all! Digested by the earth or the universe to be recreated as new things that, of course, would not be you. See, you are more than just some nebulous energy or force. You are a specific thing with a specific definition, specific hopes, specific dreams, specific memories and experiences, a specific way of perceiving the world and interpreting those perceptions. Without a body, without a consciousness and without a memory, you would not be you, but something entirely separate and unique from you. What you are describing is akin to melting down a shiny new Ford and making silverware out of it and still trying to call it a car. Sure, all the same material is there, but that car is gone. Man is more than just the sum of his parts and I assure you that while all the chemicals and minerals and perhaps even the spark of life that animated you shall continue on, it will continue on without you. All that you are shall cease to be. That's what happens when you die. That's why no animal on earth has any desire to shrug off this mortal coil except for man, who alone has the imagination capable of self-delusion. And that's what we all have to look forward to. That's how the movie ends.
So, when someone asks me why I write, this is the long answer. I write because I value all the memories and experiences I have suffered and struggled to acquire. I value them if for no other reason than that they have cost me. Every lesson I have learned in my life has a corresponding physical or emotional scar and it offends me that these should be scattered on the wind and lost forever when my empty, memoryless, unconscious life energy vacates my rotting carcass. So I preserve them through you, the reader. You extend my life. As long as there are readers to discover my thoughts and carry them on in their own heads than my thoughts will not be dead until the last of my readers perish. That is the only afterlife we can hope for.