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Old September 26 2013, 10:40 PM   #271
Collingwood Nick
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Re: What Happens After Death

^ But if we wind up not knowing, we won't know that we don't know, so that's ok.
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Old September 26 2013, 10:51 PM   #272
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Re: What Happens After Death

^Pretty much how I feel about it.
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Old September 27 2013, 02:43 AM   #273
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Re: What Happens After Death

tsq, if your definition sketch #1 had originally looked like your revised version, then I would have had far fewer objections. However, I really don't believe that one can relate modern science to the works of classical philosophers unless one actually is well versed in both science and classical philosophy.

I also brought up a third sense of the word soul, that of essence. Even if there were something to this notion, casting it in contemporary scientific terms seems much harder than dealing with either psyche/mind or animation/metabolism.

To me, the notion of a person's essence seems concerned with characteristic behaviors and reactions singularly indicative of that individual. It seems to transcend particular biometric data, such as fingerprints and DNA, and to encompass much more broadly the totality of psychological and physical reactions and motivations. When you recognize that voice on the other end of the phone as that of the cousin you haven't spoken to in 20 years, you may have perceived the essence of the person, in that manner of speaking.

The assumption that each person has one or more singularly indicative and essential qualities may be a misguided notion. On the other hand, perhaps some paradigm with DNA [of living cells] at the foundation would be capable of validating that assumption quite neatly. However, on the gripping hand, it seems clearly established that both nature and nurture play their parts in establishing personality. Of course, any essential qualities that derive from physical aspects or behaviors would be just as temporal as the physical components involved, and just as corporeal.

In any case, it is the third sense, of essence, that really rounds out the term. Indeed, to most, I think, a person's soul being unique to the person is an essential aspect of the definition of the term. It doesn't really nail it, if the difference between, say, my soul and your soul is only that mine's mine and yours is yours. Each person's soul is supposed to be quite distinctive.
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Old September 27 2013, 04:23 AM   #274
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Re: What Happens After Death

I do think that it is safe for me to broadly relate modern science to classical philosophy. Science was borne of philosophy and philosophers...for what purpose is philosophy other than trying to understand the universe through thought? Science has the exact same goal, trying to understand the universe, only with an added bit of method to account for the fact that humans, even the most brilliant of us, are not particularly good at understanding reality: our perception is altered and incomplete, our reconstruction of reality is built upon muddled and missing data, and our brains work naturally by making logical fallacies -- leaps of pseudo-logical thinking that get one to the right answer most of the time provided the question isn't too hard, but become noticeably insufficient when one starts to look closely enough at nature.

Like I said, I have only general knowledge when it comes to philosophy, both classic and current, but I do know what it did and what it is, and I have the utmost respect for it for broadening humanity's minds and paving the way for scientific inquiry. I also have respect for its worth in trying to answer those questions that are unanswerable by science, like questions of ethics and morality (I know there are some who think science can explain these, but they are human constructs...evolved in a way that could be understood by science, but they themselves cannot be). But I do think some of philosophy was made obsolete by science, because for many questions, science is the better method for figuring out the truth.

I guess to sum it up, I don't think I need to be an expert on the particulars of classical philosophy to understand that like science, philosophy, in essence, is a tool for learning about the natural world. But much of what cannot be answered by philosophy can be answered by science.

As for the essence thing, it is a beautiful notion. I do not feel clear on your position here (though that could be the Ambien beginning to cloud my brain -- if typos start to appear I may have to abandon this post here and continue in the morning. Do you think the essence you describe is natural or supernatural?

You know I don't believe in any form of the supernatural, but there could be a natural analog for this thing called essence, and it would live on after death: All the ways in which a person impacted the universe around them. Every person will have interactions completely unique to them. On the micro scale, no photon will ever bounce off my skin and head off on a new trajectory the exact same way one is bouncing off your skin right now, there paths forever altered for having come in contact with us. On the macro scale, just the fact that we were born altered the universe and will continue to alter it in its own tiny, meaningless way. And on the humanitarian scale, every one of us alters everyone else. Perhaps that is what someone like me would mean by essence:

I am my mind and my body, my mind is an emergent property of my brain's physiology.

My self is the product of the quirks, flukes, connections, memories, and the learning experiences, and potential behaviors stored within by biology.

My essence is what I produce interacting with my universe. All the little traces I leave behind by altering the paths of some photons here, and the behaviors of some children there, and leaving myself in the memories of my friends. And that is incorporeal and in its way, eternal. But it is not supernatural.

Perhaps my soul is my self and essence taken together. It is an incorporeal thing that will remain, if diminished, after my death. But it won't be me, and it will be natural.

Sorry, I think the Ambien has hit me too had for this. My mind is a bit wobbly, but some how I feel I've gotten some words down that mean something. Maybe they will make sense to you.

Lastly, I really appreciate that you came back to this thread...things were looking shaky there, and I think we both riled a bit. But all I want to do is learn, and I can't learn if people give up the fight, not about their ideas, or my own.

I have a nagging worry that I'm going to be embarrassed by this post in the morning. Like when you smoke weed and have a really DEEP conversation that turned out to be nothing but observations and cliches you heard on Siskel and Ebert...

That's why you shouldn't BBS under the influence!
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Old September 27 2013, 08:40 AM   #275
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Re: What Happens After Death

I think the idea of the supernatural interacting with the natural world is a contradiction in terms. If something can interact with the natural world, then it is, by my definition, natural. There is only the natural world, but it is clouded with mystery. We know only glimpses of it. When it comes to universal truths, instead of the power to prove, contemporary science provides only the powers to support and to disprove. If there is anything like the supernatural capable of affecting the natural world, then it is simply a part of the natural world still as yet unscouted by science. A supernatural world incapable of interacting with the natural world, by any practical definition, does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

tsq wrote:
You know I don't believe in any form of the supernatural, but there could be a natural analog for this thing called essence, and it would live on after death: All the ways in which a person impacted the universe around them. Every person will have interactions completely unique to them. On the micro scale, no photon will ever bounce off my skin and head off on a new trajectory the exact same way one is bouncing off your skin right now, there paths forever altered for having come in contact with us. On the macro scale, just the fact that we were born altered the universe and will continue to alter it in its own tiny, meaningless way. And on the humanitarian scale, every one of us alters everyone else.

[...]

My essence is what I produce interacting with my universe. All the little traces I leave behind by altering the paths of some photons here, and the behaviors of some children there, and leaving myself in the memories of my friends. And that is incorporeal and in its way, eternal. But it is not supernatural.
tsq, I had considered posting something remarkably similar to this, but held back, because I didn't want to get bogged down in a scientific discussion of cause and effect.

In considering that, I was reminded of a very unusual science fiction book I read recently, called The Big Time by Fritz Leiber. This novel is by no means for everybody; I need to read at least one more time to get a better idea of what's going on. But what's intriguing about it on topic is that it seems that some of the main characters can remain conscious outside the confines of their spatiotemporal existence. It's depicted as very weird and disorienting, and it sorta plays like a bad acid trip.

I do think your notion, of the lasting effects that a person has being a part of their essence, is definitely on the right track.

However, I do not think that science is in a position yet to comment reliably on whether there are any other aspects of the human experience that surpass bodily existence, as we currently understand bodily existence to be, although there is presently no scientific reason to suppose that any such aspects exist. One reason I think that is because I am not remotely satisfied that science can account for consciousness, which is perhaps the preeminent aspect of each person's personal experience. Even though I have acknowledged the brain as the probable seat of consciousness, and I believe that all mental activity has a physical counterpart, the exact nature of the conscious I has not yet been scientifically explained. In other words, the jury on the exact nature of consciousness is still out, and I think it likely will be for all our lifetimes. Supposing something to be an "emergent property" while lacking many of the crucial specifics is really an awfully big handwave (although I agree it is at least a plausible hypothesis), and it raises the question of whether the whole is in fact greater than the sum of its parts. Especially when it comes to psychology, there are pertinent natural aspects of our common experience that science is completely in the dark about. It would be a dull world, if that weren't so. Still, I have every reason to believe that, in time, progress will be made towards settling these issues scientifically.

Does such uncertainty in the meantime mean that one should resort to myth, conjecture, or superstitious mumbo jumbo to fill the gap? Not at all, the exception of there being some pressing need to produce an answer, when none is indicated by science, notwithstanding. As I indicated already, mystery as to the nature of the universe is simply the rule.

As to whether I think that there is anything for me to experience, beyond my corporeal existence? I honestly don't know. If there were, I wouldn't expect it to be anything like what my normal experience is now. It might be all weird and different.
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Old September 27 2013, 04:19 PM   #276
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Re: What Happens After Death

^I kinda covered that previously, but describing it as cause and effect would have summed it up better though.

I exist, there for I have existed.
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Old September 27 2013, 11:16 PM   #277
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Re: What Happens After Death

I guess at this point we're just going to have to agree to disagree. I think you don't give science enough credit. You are absolutely right that it is only within the capabilities of science to disprove, however, just because the discipline is humble enough to know we can never claim something with 100% certainty, doesn't mean we can therefore dismiss those things we know with 99.99% certainty. There is vastly more to this universe that is yet to be discovered compared to the little we currently understand, but that does not change the fact that we do know a lot.

I just don't see any reason to believe that the human experience surpasses bodily existence, as you put it. There is absolutely no evidence to even suggest this be the case, and there is no natural need for it. Here we return to Occam's razor: you'd have to significantly over complicate nature to fit this in, and it's completely unnecessary.

You are right that we don't yet fully understand the nature of consciousness, but why does this spur you on to think that it might be something beyond biology?
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Old September 27 2013, 11:39 PM   #278
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Re: What Happens After Death

thestrangequark wrote: View Post
I guess at this point we're just going to have to agree to disagree. I think you don't give science enough credit. You are absolutely right that it is only within the capabilities of science to disprove, however, just because the discipline is humble enough to know we can never claim something with 100% certainty, doesn't mean we can therefore dismiss those things we know with 99.99% certainty. There is vastly more to this universe that is yet to be discovered compared to the little we currently understand, but that does not change the fact that we do know a lot.

I just don't see any reason to believe that the human experience surpasses bodily existence, as you put it. There is absolutely no evidence to even suggest this be the case, and there is no natural need for it. Here we return to Occam's razor: you'd have to significantly over complicate nature to fit this in, and it's completely unnecessary.

You are right that we don't yet fully understand the nature of consciousness, but why does this spur you on to think that it might be something beyond biology?
As just a single example, Sir Roger Penrose, noted collaborator of Professor Stephen Hawking, has proposed a very radical hypothesis in his book The Emperor's New Mind. In that book, he argues that consciousness derives in part from a fundamental process in quantum mechanics known popularly as the collapse of the wave function, and he further argues that theoretical physics, as it presently stands, is inadequate to explain consciousness. A summary in Wikipedia can be found here.

While I do not agree with a lot of what Sir Roger has to say on the matter, I do agree that the explanation of consciousness may well require new physical theories. If new physical theories are required, then we simply have to wait for the dust to settle, in order to hear what science has to say on what exactly consciousness is. We therefore have to wait at least that long to hear all it has to say about human nature. That's all I'm saying, and I've certainly never said that I believe in life after death.

How you get from that, to me not giving science enough credit, I haven't a clue.
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Old September 27 2013, 11:46 PM   #279
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Re: What Happens After Death

^I've read that book, it's one of my favorites. (Except the three pages written in binary, that was kind of a pain in the ass...enjoyable, but a pain in the ass.)

Where I got the impression that you didn't give science enough credit was your statement "I do not think that science is in a position yet to comment reliably on whether there are any other aspects of the human experience that surpass bodily existence, as we currently understand bodily existence to be, although there is presently no scientific reason to suppose that any such aspects exist." I feel the latter half of that sentence invalidates the first half; we know enough to know that there is no reason to suppose such aspects exist.
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Old September 28 2013, 11:16 AM   #280
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Re: What Happens After Death

^ The problem is that our definition of consciousness, as it stands, is only provisional. Under our provisional definition, sure, we have no reason to believe that it extends after bodily death.

If we had a harder definition of consciousness, with both broad explanatory and predictive power, then yeah, in that case, I would have to agree that, without any evidence to the contrary, that in itself could provide good and concrete reason to conclude the improbability of the extension of consciousness after bodily death, and would if the definition were successful enough.

I should have amended this important qualification, perhaps something like this:
However, I do not think that science is in a position yet to comment reliably on whether there are any other aspects of the human experience that surpass bodily existence, as we currently understand bodily existence to be. Although there is presently no scientific reason to suppose that any such aspects exist under our current and still often provisional conceptions of what constitutes the human experience, where they are only provisionally defined in science this limits the reliability of the conclusions that can be drawn from them. In addition, there is what I consider to be the real possibility that current physical theories may be inadequate to account for what is perhaps the preeminent aspect of the human experience: consciousness. Revising physical theories to fit all the facts would also have implications that cannot currently be foreseen.
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Old September 28 2013, 01:56 PM   #281
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Re: What Happens After Death

I'm sure there is plenty left in the universe for science to discover.
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Old September 30 2013, 11:31 PM   #282
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Re: What Happens After Death

I hope there isn't an afterlife. The idea of existing for eternity is horrifying, especially if you can't cease to exist. No matter what you did, you still have eternity ahead of you. I get bored watching shows I like, I won't even be able to handle a billion years.
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Old September 30 2013, 11:37 PM   #283
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Re: What Happens After Death

I could handle a billion years, easy.
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Old September 30 2013, 11:39 PM   #284
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J. Allen wrote: View Post
I could handle a billion years, easy.
Go read about the eventual fate of the universe and get back to me. Nothing but darkness and emptiness await you.
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Old September 30 2013, 11:58 PM   #285
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Re: What Happens After Death

I'll let there be light.
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