Dust to Dust?

Somebody began a thread regarding the afterlife (i.e., is there one at all? If so, what is it like? etc), and I would have to say I was disturbed by some of the answers. More specifically, I was disturbed that there were answers given at all.

I think death fascinates us all so much because, truly, the consequences of our mortality remain, and will always remain, unknowable, much like the existance, or lack thereof, of a Creator or Higher Power. Pundits of certain afterlife scenarios are, in fact, casting speculations that are without precedence. Those who steadfastly adhere to the notion that nothingness succeeds one’s final breath have no more corroborating evidence than the Christian giddily awaiting his or her reward in Heaven.

I would urge people to keep an open mind on the subject, realizing and admitting only that death claims everyone in the end, but is understood by nobody.

The thread to which I referred turned up directly beneath my own. I’ll probably get flamed for beginning a new thread that’s subject matter so closely resembles this other one, but I’d have to say that my OP contains a different message: there’s no need to worry about something you can’t control. The only thing we know for sure is that we’ll never KNOW anything, until it’s too late.

I agree.

I don’t mind speculations into the afterlife, but I also found that atheists proclaiming to “understand” that there was CERTAINLY no afterlife are just as deluded as (and I liked this quote) Christians giddily awaiting his/her reward in Heaven.

I suspect either way that life would be pointless if we knew for sure what came with death. The mystery is what makes things fun.


Hey! We posted at the same time (almost).

You’re an intellegent man/woman, Avalongod. What you said reminded me of the God-figure paradox. To wit (without going too much into it): if God were not inexplicable, unknown, and if His presence were not constantly in doubt, He would lose all power as a god. In a way, this can be read as a corollary to Voltaire’s famous quote (I paraphrase), “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to create Him.”

I don’t believe in keeping an open mind.

Last time I kept my mind open, the cat got out.

DBCooper wrote:

Thing is, there is evidence that certain types of damage to the brain alter the personality and can even erase memories. There is evidence that the more severe the brain damage, the more memories can be erased and the less sophisticated the personality becomes. There is also a whole lot of evidence that the brain undergoes substantial, irreparable damage from lack of oxygen when its owner dies.

Taken together, these pieces of evidence act as evidence that memories and personality – the vital components of the “self” – will diminish or disappear entirely when the brain dies.

I don’t have faith that there is nothing after death; I think my awareness continuing beyond my brain’s death is highly, highly unlikely, but not absolutely impossible. For all I know I really will end up in the IPU’s Pastures of High Grass and Low Manure. Still, I think it so unlikely as to not really seriously consider it often. The OP did ask “what do you believe?”, not “what do you know?”, so it is not surprising that people answered “heaven” or “nothing” without qualification.

As to why we discuss it, there’s plenty of things we may not truly know about until they happen, and all we can do is extrapolate based on previous experience, logic, science, history and our personal beliefs: What do you think will happen if the US was a purely Libertarian society? What do you think will happen if aliens land and admit they’ve got anal fetishes? What will happen to “you” when you die? This forum is for questions with no clear factual answers, and quite a few of the questions asked are truly unknowable right now. Death is definitely one of the biggies.

(And of course I disagree that I have no more evidence that our consciousness will survive our brain’s death than another has that we will; otherwise I wouldn’t believe it. But that’s another thread. :wink: )


No, that was the bag. The open bag. Keep the mind open, but the bag closed.


DBCooper: Don’t worry about the new thread, these religious debates tend to be fairly popular. I suspect it takes a lot of thought to have an “open mind”…I mean I went through the “Christianity is #1” phase, then after abandoning that, came dangerously close to atheism be for I was able to resolve certain issues in my mind…namely how science and religion could be compatible (given that science is what I do, this was kinda important)…as well as how a god/creator/afterlife could make sense in the grand scheme of things. So I thought about these things literally for years before coming to the “Not knowing the answers to death is exactly what gives life meaning.” epiphany (at least for me). So I still wonder what (if anything) comes next, but I don’t worry about it so much.

…as an aside I hope it is not taken that I am implying that this “open mind” approach is superior to more fundamentalist religious of atheistic approaches, it just seems to me to be a perspective that takes time.

avalongod wrote:

Join us … join us … join us …

LOL…tracer, you already missed you chance for that!

Incidentally, the studies on brain damage you are referring to do not contradict the concept of “mind” at all. They just make note that in humans, “mind” is stored in a biological structure, the brain.

Think of it this way…you are a blind person (and perhaps not too smart). you come across a glass of water (covered on top) and never having come across a glass of water before (having been raised by wolves, work with me here) you feel around the outside, noting that it is damp, heavy and cool. You proclaim, I have found glass, and glass explains dampness, coolness and weight.

Another fellow comes up to you (we’ll call him Descartes :slight_smile: ) and says to you. “Hey, listen dude, I betcha the glass is heavy cool and damp cuz it has water inside it”

You say “But I feel only glass, if I can not feel water, there is no water.”

Then you drop the glass, and it shatters. Picking up the pieces (perhaps after they have dried in the sun) you note they are no longer heavy, cool nor damp. Thus you conclude you were correct, intact glass means weight, dampness and coolness. If you break the glass you lose all of that.

This is essentially the argument you are making. This WAS one of the things I always wondered about too. But consider that we do know that the brain can not work without electricity (it in fact uses NaCl to store electricity)…which no one could have known a hundred years back, and would have seemed “metaphysical” at the time. Is it not so unrealistic to suspect the brain might act as a container for some other essence…what Carl Sagan calls “soulstuff” Indeed break the container (the brain) and you lose containment of the soulstuff.

I have always found the biological positivist argument to be weak (most, though not all, psychologists actually agree). Also consider the ability of mind to impact on body…either for good (placebo effect) or for bad (the effects of stress).

Come over to the deists, tracer…Tom Jefferson is calling you…

Strangely enough, avalongod, I would agree.
In your analogy, the mind is water, and the brain is the glass.
In reality, the mind is the software, the sum of the interactions of the neurons, and the brain is the hardware.

However, without that glass, the water flows out and is lost.
In the same fashion, without the brain, there is no mind.
Now, I will grant that it might be possible in the future to transfer the mind to a different medium, just as one could pour your water into a different glass, but at the moment we do not have that ability.
Therefore, at the moment, when one dies, there is nowhere for the mind to go, nothing to support it. It simply disappears.
In fact, since the mind is a sum of various processes in the brain, it doesn’t even take death to make it flicker out, merely sufficient damage or lack of cohesiveness.
Yes, the mind is electrical in a way (well, electrochemical) but your claim that it can survive without the matrix it rests upon is as silly and baseless (and evidenceless) as claiming that your software lives on after a computer crash.


this is like saying that automobiles sorta run on gas.

WEll I conjecture that you are with me that there is "mind" which is interlinked but not wholy the same as "body" which at least makes you a bit more sophisticated than the biological positivists (not intended as a slight, some of them were pretty clever, if misguided). But this returns us to the "Where does the mind go after death?" OP, to which the answer is "dunno".

If you are an adherent to the 2nd law of thermodynamics (nothing is created or goes away)...hopefully I have the right number, I am too lazy to grab a physics book and make sure...might this not also apply to "mind" or "soulstuff"? It seems to me silly (to use your word) to assume it merely disappears. I'm not saying we get a harp and a pair of dove wings, I just am not sure WHAT happens. Could be it returns to some collective "mind" from whence it came. Or could be sucked up by some new biological entity ala reincarnation.

Consider this...why does the mind exist at all. If we are nothing more than a mechanical sum of neurons, what is the purpose of the mind. We could just as easily be alive, propagate our genes, etc. without ever knowing we were doing that. Nature does not create stuff that has no purpose, so why the mind? Why makes us aware at all?

The mind is an epiphenomenon of the incresed complexity of a system for outhinking the environment we were put in.
It “allows our hypothesis to die in our stead”
As to why it’s around, while sociobiologists look for purely biological origins, there are some attractive points to memeticists claims that our ideas have begun to mold our bodies, that ideas can cause a culture to select for certain characteristics, even the spreading of ideas.
I would recommend:
“The Meme Machine” by Dr. Blackmore
Memetics is not a very rigorous science at the moment, but I’m just pointing it out as an alternative.

Anyway, in regards to your roughly paraphrase “energy is neither created nor destroyed” you are forgetting the change of form bit.

Without the constant input of energy from the food we take in to hold back entropy at the expense of greater entropy elsewhere, our bodies would fall apart.
The same holds true for our minds, as phenomena dependant on the body.
Entropy cannot be escaped. Our minds flickerings of electrical potential and chemical jumps from neuron to neuron slow, convert to heat, and fade into the general noise of the universe. The complexity of consciousness disappears.

Of course, if you can postulate an anti-entropic theory to counter this, and some support for it, I would be most interested in hearing about it. At the moment, I would class it (a theory of eternal mind) in the same category as perpetual motion machines.


Not to nitpick, but you are thinking of the biological positivists. Sociobiologists are a bit better, insofar as they do acknowledge social influences (hence the name).


~~~Entropy cannot be escaped

Actually here I am dogmatic physics part ways. I never really bought the whole entropy thing. I can understand where the thinking comes from, but clearly entropy CAN be escaped, otherwise we wouldn't have stuff (yes I know there are physical theories to explain the "pockets of organization" which have formed in an otherwise entropic universe). But even entropy is still being examined in the physical sciences...whether the universe's current expansion (assuming we are even correct about THIS) will continue or reverse itself.

But in keeping with an entropic system, if you envision the mind as returning to some collective pool after death, this would be fairly in keeping with entropy as I see it.


~~~At the moment, I would class it (a theory of eternal mind) in the same category as perpetual motion machines.

I disagree. With a perpetual motion machine, you are creating energy from nothing. Well, to put it better...say the machine needs 100% energy to run...well it needs to create from that 100+% energy in order to both a.) supply itself with energy and b.) produce energy for other stuff to run. I am not sure how you meant this to be in category with "mind" but if there is a finite supply of "soulstuff" in the universe, each living organism "borrows" some of that for the duration of its life, then gives it up on death. Nothing created, nothing destroyed. Of course this means there is a finite amount of this stuff, and hence an upper limit to the number of living critters in the universe. But I do not see how this contradicts the concept of entropy (assuming once more that it is even a valid concept).

Actually, Wilson coined the term to explain his theory of biological origins for society.

As I explained, entropy is not escaped. Our bodies are relying on a constant input of energy from, ultimately, the sun, which is increasing overall entropy rates at a tremendous rate as it settles down towards, well, ultimately iron? What is the lowest fusion can go?

Perhaps as you see it. But surely you must recognize the mind has some sort of order to it? What is to prevent your post-death pool from becoming disordered? Let’s say I’ve just shone out my batsignal. There, I now have a pulse of energy that has some order to me. Now, it’s going to run up against things, be absorbed, re-emitted, and scattered. What stops your energy pool from doing this, what form can it possibly take?

Actually, that is not the only category of perpetual motion machines. A machine which does nothing, but does not run down is also a perpetual motion machine. Of course, you haven’t shown how your mind pool could do nothing, and you haven’t shown how it wouldn’t run down/get scattered.
And I’m still very interested in hearing what form it would take.

The way I see it, it’s all a matter of time. What I mean is, I think people have the wrong idea if they define “eternal” life as “life with an infinite temporal duration.” I don’t buy into the idea of TIME as infinite, so nothing WITHIN time can be infinite. Therefore, the only “eternal” life must be some kind of existence OUTSIDE of time! One of the great mysteries of physics is the “arrow” of time; i.e. why does time seem to flow forward? The way I figure it, when you die, you are liberated from the constraints of your finite temporal existence; in other words, you’re no longer limited by the flow of time. Have you heard that in cases where people have had near death experiences, they see their entire life flash before them? That could be a result of them actually travelling back along their own world line.

Wow. Time being a basic component of our universe, I’m just dying to hear how you manage that.
I’ve read of a few (dumbed down for non-physicists like me) speculations on using enormous amounts of energy to punch a hole through our universe in certained speculative GUTs, but never that we can manage that in the last few seconds of our physical existence before the clockwork stops.
Ok. Here’s my official question then.
How does the process of dying allow us to escape space-time, and in what form/dimensions does your theory say we exist?

And here I’d always taken “your whole life flashes before your eyes” as a metaphor for the frenzied panic that sets in just after you realize you’ve done something really dumb and possibly lethal.



Once again, I am not sure I necessarily agree with this statement. It reflects physical science dogma, but it assumes that our current understanding of the universe is correct (a dubious assertion in my mind). I believe the rest of your arguments have the concept of entropy as their nucleus, though I may be misreading. At any rate, even if entropy IS true in the physical world (for what we have observed thus far) it is still premature to generalize it to "soulstuff" over which we have little understanding at the present time.

~~~What is the lowest fusion can go?

I believe you were correct with iron, though I am not sure. I believe that super-novas can create more complex stuff.

~~~But surely you must recognize the mind has some sort of order to it?

Clearly you do not know my mind! :) Seriously, I will agree that the mind has "order" of a sort, but I disagree that the order it has resembles the type of order present in the "physical" world. Part of the biological positivist approach (as well as sociological approaches) have attempted to get at this order from a mechanistic perspective, and have largely failed. I will refer you to the structuralist vs functionalist debate for more indepth reading. At any rate, though there is definately a correlation between brain function and mind, ascertaining the order of it in a structuralistic sense has only been party successful...we know how "baser" functions are organized, but not so much the higher functions. Of course they could be organized into specific brain structures without necessarily repudiating the notion of mind (see my earlier posts) I would indeed argue that perhaps the mind CREATES order where there is none...making assumptions, creating new thoughts, etc...


~~~Of course, you haven't shown how your mind pool could do nothing, and you haven't shown how it wouldn't run down/get scattered.

If you will note in my original post you will see that my whole point is that no one KNOWS what will happen after death. You are coming to the point you are asking me to prove that you will continue to exist after death, but I have already noted that I can not prove anything. Neither can you, for that matter. Nothing you have noted constitues proof of repudiation of the mind or the afterlife.

Ok. Here’s my official repudiation.
The mind is a phenomenon dependant on the brain, a network of neurons.
Consciousness has been observed to be the expression of electrochemical interactions between the neurons.
When we die, it is observed that our brains rot, the interactions stop, and the energy contained within dissipates into heat.

Now. Given that there seems to be no reason to presume otherwise, please give a form and mechanism for your “post-death energy pool”, paying special attention to how our minds are preserving cohesiveness now that they are no longer software on a neural platform.


And one straight from biological positivism too. Lombroso would be proud.


~~~Consciousness has been observed to be the expression of electrochemical interactions between the neurons

Not exactly. You are making a philosophical statement, not a scientific one. Certainly brain function is involved in consciousness, but the link is not NEARLY as clear as you make it sound. Consciousness, for example, could manifest itself by CAUSING neurochemical interactions, not the other way around. The point is, no one knows.


~~~energy contained within dissipates into heat.

I gather you mean in the decaying process itself...not that you have observed consciousness dissipating into heat. That would be a foolish statement. But none of what you have stated is in any way in conflict with the concept of a "mind" which interacts with a bodily system.


~~~Now. Given that there seems to be no reason to presume otherwise, please give a form and mechanism for your "post-death energy pool", paying special attention to how our minds are preserving cohesiveness now that they are no longer software on a neural platform.

I think you are missing the point. You are demanding from me some sort of mechanistic scheme to explain the afterlife, when it is my argument that such a thing is generally unknowable. Clever scheme you have there, trying to trick me into answering, and thus contradicting myself. It has never been my contention that I KNOW what happens after death (I freely admit that I do not). It is simply my contention that you do not either, and nothing you have posted has given me pause (not meant harshly, just a statement of fact).