Monday, January 14, 2008

We Have All Experienced Death

We know what death is like. We have all experienced it. Well, maybe that is the wrong way of putting it, because death is lack of experience. It is a period of time that goes by in the physical world when our consciousness does not exist. Such a period occurred up until the time we were born. Such a period recurs every night when we go to sleep, although it is interrupted by periods of limited consciousness called dreams. If we have ever experienced general anesthesia for a surgical operation, then we have experienced death. At one moment, we are conscious of our surroundings. In the next, our consciousness comes back in the recovery room.

Almost all religions give us hope that we will not die--that our periodically interrupted consciousness will go on forever. Christians and Muslims believe that their consciousness will continue in the afterlife, perhaps in eternal bliss, perhaps in eternal pain. Whether interrupted or not--do people sleep in heaven?--it will continue beyond the death of the sun and beyond the death of the universe. To give up religion is to give up so much, but it is especially to give up that illusion of perpetual survival.

It is a conceit of religious faith that minds, like bodies, are a kind of persistent substance. Spiritualists used to characterize the former as protoplasm and the latter as ectoplasm. In so many religions, it is what we refer to as the soul. If the soul is anything different from a mind, I don't know what it is. Souls appear to have consciousness or self-awareness, and consciousness is made up of experiences--emotions, moods, perceptions, memories, reasoning. Yet a part of us knows that this isn't really true. Minds are fully dependent on functioning brains for their existence. As long as our brains remain healthy and functional, our minds will continue to experience periods of lucidity and awareness. When the brain dies, the physical machine that continually generates the mind goes away.

So, can brainless minds exist? We know that consciousness itself goes in and out during our lives, and the condition of our brain seems to control it. If we drink alcohol, our state of consciousness is altered. Our sense of judgment changes. We may even lose consciousness. Nowadays, we can take pills to deaden pain, put us to sleep, wake us up, suppress our illnesses, control our moods, and even turn madness into sanity. Diseases such as alzheimers and dementia eat away at the physical substance of the brain and, with it, the immaterial quality of thought. We see living people lose their memories and their grip on reality. Is it restored by God when we go to heaven?

They say that no one knows what happens when we die. Nobody has ever come back to talk about it. Or maybe you are one who believes that Jesus came back to talk about it. Maybe you believe that ghosts come back. I do not. We all know what happens when our brain is destroyed. We have all experienced death.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sadly I agree...

then WHY? Why live? why not just kill ourselves? it means nothing and we came from nothing and will turn into nothing. who cares?

what are morals? why do morals exist?