Life after death?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

I am currently learning about life after death in philosophy class, and I thought this would be an appropriate place to discuss. Sean Carroll, whom many of you may know about claims that life after death is impossible, since humans are merely made of matter which is doomed to decay. I find Carroll misunderstands how life after death works in the Abrahamic religions, which involves a miraculous resurrection at the end of days, not an immediate survival after death. Ecclesiastes 12:7 does say that upon death the spirit returns to God who gave it, but this is somewhat vague, and Maimonides explains this as referring to nothing more than the animating spirit which gives us life (I do see this as recalling the breath of life given in Genesis 2).

How do you understand life after death?


(Christy Hemphill) #2

I understand it as a resurrection of consciousness and personhood to a re-created physical, but eternal body. (Not in the @mitchellmckain sense of physical, I mean in the “opposite of ghostly, ethereal, immaterial” sense of physical). I don’t really know what happens to dead people’s consciousness before the resurrection. I’m not such a fan of the idea of disembodied. Maybe you are released from time when you die and you immediately “wake up” in the moment of your resurrection/re-creation.


(Shawn T Murphy) #3

Funny you should ask. My most popular post on Quora is my answer to “What is the afterlife like?” This answer is based on the early Christian philosopher Origen of Alexandria and his theory of the apocatastasis, which was based on the pre-Christian teachings of Plato, and specifically Socrates.

A close friend did her doctoral work on Plotinus. When she finally published her work, she ended up using Socrates to correct the neoplactonistic teachings of Plotinus. I recommend to anyone studying philosophy today to do so with a scientific curiosity. Don’t let dogma trump logic.


(Dominik Kowalski) #4

Life after death has several concepts and I accept many as valid interpretations. Because of the resurrection I am sure it is physical though, so I don´t really accept platonic (solely spiritual) perspectives. Wright´s concept of Life after Life after death is of course purely scripture based. Philosophy itself doesn´t have as much to say to the afterlife, because it is the area of revelation theology. I also don´t know why Carrolls opinion should matter at this topic. He´s a well known atheist so this opinion is just following from it.
And I´m skeptical toward the notion we are only material. Of course I am not a cartesian dualist or propose any position like ghost in the machine, but there are many powerfull arguments against the materiality of the mind and people like David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel agree or take a similar position. Another one who agrees is John Searle, he just doesn´t know it yet.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

Do read this however:


(Christy Hemphill) #6

I don’t believe Plato and Socrates were inspired by God’s spirit. I will indeed let revelation trump logic. Sorry.


(Shawn T Murphy) #7

Dear Christie. I guess you have never studied Socrates and read his praise to Eros, the Love of God or Jesus.


(Christy Hemphill) #8

I read Plato in college. Plato never praised Jesus, Shawn. You are so confused.


(Mitchell W McKain) #9

Having come to Christianity from science first, I tend to look at everything from an approach of methodological naturalism, and by that I do not mean that I expect a physical explanation for everything, for I see no reason to presume, as the metaphysical naturalist does that what we see and determine by science defines reality itself. By methodological naturalism I mean that I expect there it be some sort of natural law or rational order even when it isn’t about nature or the physical universe, so in seeking to understand life after death I look for such order rather than just making it about a deity in control of it all doing whatever He pleases.

So for me it is about trying to understand the essence of what is spiritual as opposed to physical. For this I see no reason to set aside the Aristotelian idea of matter and form that all things are a form of some basic basic substance or setting aside the success of science at explaining differences from a commonality in all things. So I embrace a substance monism for spiritual and physical to say that both are different forms of the same basic substance which can be likened to energy but distinguished from it as the basic potentiality of being itself. Then it seems to me that essence of the physical is the fact that it is a part of the whole mathematical space-time geometrical structure that embodies all the laws of nature, and so the spiritual would be distinguished from this as things which are not a part of this structure.

But then what is the essence of the spiritual that can make sense of all the claims different religions have made about it. The following seem important to me…

  1. Personal. The physical world is rather impersonal caring nothing about our desires and dreams and this is essential for us to have a objective shared reality. But by contrast the spiritual seems to have a highly personal character to it and so I would suggest that the spiritual by contrast is highly responsive to our desires and dreams. Thus I think the spiritual has the form it does by its own choice rather than by external law.
  2. non-composite and non-representational. It seems that everything in the physical world is what it is because of the things of which they are composed and thus seems a lot like representational nature of computer simulations where things are what they are because of the bits and pixels of which they are composed. I think this is necessary for the self-organizational nature of the process of life. But by contrast the spiritual seems to be more about essence, where things are what they are in themselves rather than because there is something making them be that way. Thus I think spiritual things are what they are by their own nature alone rather than by how they fit into a system.

I think that such a nature of spiritual things would explain a great deal of the claims by religion.

  1. Imperishable. This is the idea of religion that there is an abiding existence free from decay and destruction coming from the external forces of nature. This of course directly follows from the character of the spiritual described above.
  2. Justice. This is an idea that there is some kind of balance between what we do and their consequences beyond what we see happening in the physical world which only seems to care about the mathematical laws of nature. But I think the character of the spiritual makes it abide by a law of consequence that follows from logic alone that in getting what we desire we find that it isn’t so valuable after all. Of course we don’t escape from this in the physical either, so you could simply say this sort of consequences remains even when the physical consequences (from the laws of nature) are removed. I suppose you could say there is a justice that comes from the simple fact that the one thing you can never escape from is yourself, and the character of the spiritual would make this kind of basic justice the whole of your reality.

Anyway this is the theoretical nub of my idea of the after-life, though I don’t know how much that helps, so perhaps more helpful is how this plays out in various descriptions I have made. Here is a sample…

  1. Hell is our heart’s desire and Heaven is God’s desire for us. The basic idea here is that if we truly get what we desire then we are likely to find that this is not what is needed to make an eternal existence worthwhile and only God knows what this really requires.
  2. Going from life into the after-life is like running out onto the ice, where all friction is gone so we keep going in the direction of our previous choices. The idea here is that without the laws of nature forcing things like relationships upon us, there is no longer anything to show us the error of our ways or to introduce us to other possibilities, so we can only head into the logical conclusion of the choices we have already made.
  3. We are under a law of sin much like gravity, so that no matter what our trajectory the final result remains the same that everyone eventually goes down because of the relentless nature of sin eating away at everything of value within us. The idea here is that the only destruction we face in the spiritual comes from within us.
  4. The difference between heaven and hell is not the scenery but the company, for the fact is that some people create hell around them wherever they go and others create heaven just by being who they are. The justice of our eternal destiny is not about external circumstances for these will be a product of our desires. So the justice comes from the logical consequences of those desires and our own character.
  5. We are created in the image of God, because we have infinite potentiality in the fact we are what we are by growth and learning. This is a mirror of God’s infinite actuality for an eternal relationship where we can receive all that God has to give, and this is the essence of eternal life. The idea here is that there are no limits to the afterlife except those already within us, and thus the value of a relationship with God is that He is a being with no limits and is thus the answer to every need we might have for making an eternal existence worthwhile is found in a relationship with Him.

(Dominik Kowalski) #10

Reggie,
thank you for the article. It is indeed interesting and reminds me of an article in the most famous german science magazine, “Spektrum”, about a team of mathematicians who are researching on human consciousness. I think those studies are very interesting, but if they will provide anything further shall be seen. However, the position outlined in the article isn´t inconsistent with what I wrote above. Irreducible materialism, as well as property dualism (rather my position) are both positions who can fit in this view. In the first one, consciousness is an irreducible, emergent phenomenon. Now, I myself am not a fan of this, because it has certain weaknesses:

Why do the atoms in my brain, but not in the brain of my dog, are able to let something emerge, that is able to reflect on the fact, that we are indeed made of atoms? (Feser on Raymond Tallis on Naturalism)
How can we account for all the people with consciousness, who also have a Hydrocephalus?

Also I feel like “emerging” is an intellectual pleasant way for the scientist to say “fill in the blank”. Of course, people like Bill Newsome hold a position like that and this is not an attempt to bash him, I understand him, when he says that there are probably many neuroscientists who would close their lab tomorrow, if it were apparent, that there is no way to understand this phenomenon through scientific (read: materialistic) methods. So, although I don´t believe it will happen, the scientists should continue trying.

Property dualism is similar, with the difference, that the mental, consciousness phenomena, can´t be reduced to material properties and are in a way seperated from it, but it needs the material reality to express themselves. Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers are property dualists. Thomism is similar.

The article describes the “soul”, the mind as something that fits into both concepts. But I don´t think anyone should try to draw a scientific concept of the afterlife from it. It depends on the presupposed worldview and there are certainly perspectives that see this as supporting evidence. What we can at least draw from it are further arguments against eliminative materialism (“every mental process is an illusion”) from people like Rosenberg and the Churchlands.


(Shawn T Murphy) #11

Reading Plato and understanding it are two very different things. Which translation did you read or did you read it in the original Greek? Plato did not speak in the dialogs. Socrates and others did. Socrates speaks of Eros, Logos and Sophia - the Love, Word and Wisdom of God. Socrates did not speak of Jesus, yes, but of all His aspects - The Love of God, The Wisdom of God and The Word of God.

Socrates’ teaching are very much in line with those of Jesus for those who understand them. The works of Plato are a complement to the New Testament. To the die he died, Socrates was true to God. Just like Jesus, he chose death over forsaking God. He would not bring blood sacrifices to the pagan gods and died for his loyalty.


(Christy Hemphill) #12

Shawn, I’m not interested. Neither Eros nor Sophia have anything to do with Christ or Christianity, no matter how “in line” with Christian teachings Socrates and Plato can be construed to be. They are pagan philosophers. Although I think any culture can gain wisdom, and certainly the Greeks had some, and any culture can produce noble people worthy of respect and emulation, pagan philosophers are not vehicles of God’s special revelation to humanity. They just offer the best that humans can offer based on their own inner lights. The beliefs you have described on these boards sound like a weird cult to me, and I’m not going to spend any of my time pursuing more knowledge about it. Sorry.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

What has this conversation got to do with post mortem survival?


(Shawn T Murphy) #14

Sorry for the diversion that Christy took us on. Since you are studying philosophy, I was suggesting sources that Christy does not think are are Christian, specifically because of their handling of life after death and reincarnation. John 3 specifically says that our soul must re-enter the womb, but this interpretation was made anathema in 543 AD by the barbarian emperor Justinian. Early Christianity and Platonism were in harmony about the path of the soul/spirit after death. This theory has been confirmed by various medical practitioners and researchers.


(George Brooks) #15

@Reggie_O_Donoghue

Do you affirm the notion that in contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes had different views for how life after death unfolds?

There are a great many folks who have the impression that Judaism was a unified monolith in its beliefs. But if one digs in, there are different schools of thought throughout the Jewish spectrum!

Not only in terms of Jews vs. Samaritans… but Jews vs. Karaites for example. Watching an orthodox family initiate their celebrate of the Sabbath, one might notice that the wife lights a candle to mark the beginning of the Sabbath - - which usually doesn’t trigger any comment from onlookers.

But hundreds of years ago, the Karaites were adamant that the Hebrew were not supposed to kick-off the Sabbath by LIGHTING a fire (even a candle flame!). And it’s been my understanding that the original reason Rabbi’s taught Jewish families to light the sabbath candle was to affirm to one another that they were NOT Karaites!

Of course, this is a probably a minor example. But if we look at the history of the Pharisees (prior to the revolts), there were apparently two different schools of the Pharisees. One school tolerated divorce as a sad but practical option.

But there was a second school of Pharisees that forbid divorce, except for a few conditions.

Hippolytus wrote that there were FOUR (4) schools of Essenes.

With all the multiplication of sectarian views… there seems to be plenty of room in the heyday of Jewish traditions for lots of different ideas on the afterlife.


(Madd Scientist) #16

Before addressing this, we need to define what is life? Is it chemicals? No. If not what is it. It is nonmaerial, ether. Here is an exanmple. I am sititng in front of my computer. I have athinking mind. All of asudden atornado hits my home and it is destroyed. I am hit. The injusry is so serious that the EMT declared that I am dead. Then what happens to my mind? Do I have a mind? Not really. Inside my skull there is an intact brain. It is no longer functional. Is the mind the brain? Or Brain the mind?

Well Brain + something = mind. Then what is this something? Let us go back to the creation event. God made a man out of clay and He blew into his nostrils. Then he became alive.So, Life is a spirit.


(Mitchell W McKain) #17

Not so fast. When we speak of “life after death” we are clearly speaking of two different kinds of life. So there is the physical phenomenon of life (which ends in the death we speak of) and there is more general character of life which might be applicable in a different context extending beyond that ending.

Physically the process of life is a self-organizing phenomenon with the capacity to change itself in response to the environment – in other words the ability to become more than it is . This is the basis of the ability of living things to evolve, grow, and learn. And this ability to grow and learn is the character of life which may be extended to ask if growth and learning continues beyond the end of the physical process.

It dies. The mind is dependent upon the body for existence and life, just as the body is dependent upon the earth for existence and life.

It could be that you don’t have a mind. But I definitely have a mind and it is not the same as my brain. The mind has a different substance, different organization, different needs, and a different inheritance to pass on to other generations – in other words, everything needed to define an entirely different living organism, however much it may be dependent on the brain for its existence and life.

So no, the mind and the brain are not the same thing any more than the hardware and software of your computer are the same thing.

Nope. It says dust not clay. Clay would make more sense if a literal understanding were called for but “dust” might be the closest the language and understanding could get to particles. As for the “divine breath” that is the etymology of the word “inspiration.” So this passage could simply mean that God made man/Adam out of the stuff of the physical universe and then inspired man’s/Adam’s mind in order to bring the mind to life. So there is no need to turn the story into a fantasy comic book with a necromancer making golems out of dust and bone.

Nope. There are dead spirits. So spirit does not equal life.

There is in the nature of life to become more than it is, like addition in mathematics, an implication of infinity. I would suggest that our potential infinity is the image of the actual infinity of God, and the significance is that we can receive all the infinite things which God has to give and that is an existence of endless growth and learning which could be called “eternal life.”


(RiderOnTheClouds) #18

@Shawn_Murphy I’d be lying if I told you my thinking wasn’t heavily indebted to Greek (particularly platonic and neo-platonic) philosophy. I try to reconcile Moses’ YHWH with Plotinus’ The One as I think they are different names to describe the same essence, that is, being itself.

But to link this to the topic, I guess my current view of the afterlife would be something similar to the realm of the forms, where mental ontology is more real than anything else, which I think is shown by the double-slit experiment.


(Shawn T Murphy) #19

Have you compared the Eros of Phaidros, Eryximachos, Agathon and Socrates to YHWH? I mentioned my close friend started her doctoral work on Plotinus and finished it with Socrates.

The double-slit experiment leads to the acceptance of a non-material afterlife consistent with NDE, OBE, ghost and reincarnation research.


(Robin) #20

Life after death is something we only know about because it has/is part of the belief structures of many religions.

These various belief structures do not always have much in common with one another. The Egyptians, for example, thought you could “take it with you” and filled elaborate tombs – or, that is, those who could afford it did…I recently viewed the video of a psychic who claimed that the dead revert to their happiest age and so there are many spirits of dead women who act like 19-year-olds and love it when they see a living relative doing “cool” teenaged things…

The biblical text seems to have developed more of a concept of life after death – that is, the text has done so over time. But all we know is that there is a heaven and a hell, and that there is a judgment coming for the world and for each individual. The concept that a spirit is an animating spirit is interesting. But it is a being of its own right nonetheless and lives on…The New Testament entertains the concept of glorified bodies at some future time — but only for believers.

Death itself is not a trip to an eternal Disneyland, as a former high school English teacher of mine said. We were created to have a relationship with God and after death that is what we will have — we will see Him face to face. Seeing WILL be believing then. The bad things that have happened to us on earth will be forgotten — that is “the former things will not come to mind”. There are a number of passages of this sort. It is all in the future for Christian believers…

But as for 19-year-old spirits with teenaged ambitions and as for rainbow ponies and eternal Disneyland — I think these are imaginative. What God has not told us is not then left to us to surmise.