I’ve talked on here before about Twitter – what it’s good for and what it’s not so good for. One of the things that it is really, really bad at is facilitating complex discussions about deep and meaningful topics. Still, time and time again, I find myself sucked into fairly pointless and superficial exchanges about the big issues – the rights and wrongs of Tory political donorship (with one of Boris Johnson’s lackies no less!), whether the Fiftieth Anniversary Special of Doctor Who was any good (it definitely was not!) and whether there is any reality outside, beyond or after this one. In the wake of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion a popular belief has hold among some people that science has actually already solved all the big questions (well not the rights and wrongs of Dave and Boris’ tennis match, or why the hell Stephen Moffat feels the need to inject cheesy jokes into Britain’s most revered sci-fi series) but questions about consciousness, the origin of the universe and life after death.
While I firmly believe in evolution and the big bang and am very skeptical that we are all going to be judged by an old bearded man on a cloud when we shuffle off this mortal coil I don’t see much evidence that science has answered ANY of these questions whatsoever. One of Dawkins’ gripes is that religious fundamentalists – mainly American Christian fundamentalists (AKA creationists) think science has no business trying to answer them. I am completely in agreement with him that scientists most certainly do and that they will probably come a lot closer than they have at present. But, that doesn’t mean we are there yet and until we are it seems to me that there are no grounds for throwing out all the ideas traditionally associated with religion just because some ideas belonging to particular religions (most famously, the creation story in Genesis) have been proved wrong. And while science is unable to answer these questions I believe philosophy still has a big and important role to play and that is where this blog comes in.
I am, I’ll admit no philosopher myself. In my travels through the time streams I have met and discussed the big issues with some of the greatest minds in history, Socrates, Schopenhauer, Justin Bieber – hard to imagine now, but when he matures, gives up the music career he becomes seriously deep! – but none of them have really given me the answers I was looking for and to be honest I always felt a bit out of my depth in such company, though not speaking ancient Greek or German didn’t really help much in the first two cases. But that hasn’t stopped me mulling over these problems on my own. So, in realization that 160 character outbursts aren’t the best medium to put my thoughts out into the world I’ve decided to post some of them here on this blog, beginning with my reasons for believing that there must be a life after death. I’ve come at this problem from two angles, both of which have led me to the same conclusion, that we must be immortal, but today I’ll just give you one of them, what I like to call:
The nothing argument for life after death
Nothing is what those who don’t believe in life after death claim awaits us all when we die. Nothing, pure and absolute. Not darkness, stillness and rest but absolutely, categorically nothing. We won’t experience nothing because there is no experience. That’s it. We’re gone. There is nothing. The problem arises here, as I see it, because nothing, by its very nature is an absolute state. The absolute, categorically absence of anything. In nothing absolutely nothing can exist or else it wouldn’t be nothing it would be something. So far so good. Now, because nothing is an absolute state it seems to me that there cannot be different kinds of nothing. No trees is exactly the same as no footballs is exactly the same as no chimpanzees is exactly the same as no earth. All nothings must be the same. While this must be true for things that are (or are not) physically out there in the world it must also be true for things that aren’t physical like ideas and feelings because otherwise we would have different kind of nothingness which would undermine the idea of nothing as something absolute. So, no Comunist Manifesto must be the same as no Hamlet, and no hatred must be the same as no love. But by extension of nothingness when it comes to abstract entities must be exactly the same as nothingness in the physical world. No lions must be the same as no bible, no penguins must be the same as no fear. All nothings must by their very nature be equal and the same. Nothing equals nothing. And this brings us (thanks for sticking with me) back to life after death.
If all nothings are equal then no awareness must be exactly the same as no universe, no reality, no life whatsoever, nothing. In other words if I cease to exist, and cease to be aware that the universe exists then the universe does really cease to exist with no awareness there is 100 % nothingness and nothing, absolutely nothing, else. Modern physics actually gives us some reason to believe that within our physical universe absolute nothing cannot exist. Even within vacuums, which are supposed to be empty spaces, experiments have revealed that the tiny particles that make up atoms are constantly coming into existence and disappearing again. But, of course, the nothingness that some believe awaits us after death doesn’t exist in this world. It doesn’t exist at all. It is nothingness. But therein lies the problem. Where can this nothingness be and where does it lie in relation to the somethingnness which is our physical universe? There can’t be a space where the two meet because even if space is absolute nothing by its very nature must be infinite and stretch forever, otherwise its edges wouldn’t be nothing and then the nothing as a whole wouldn’t be nothing. So, nothing and something cannot both exist. This means that if my awareness reaches a state of non-being there is in effect no universe, no reality – NOTHING.
Now, this line of thinking was in danger of leading me down a solipsistic path – a belief that there is no reality, no existence outside of my own experience and awareness. While there is some consolation in that view if you believe that there really is nothing that might be some consolation if you thought for a second that there really is nothing after this life. If the universe also doesn’t exist anymore then it doesn’t really matter if you don’t. However, all the evidence out there in the world suggests that I as an individual am nothing special. There are over 7 billion people on the planet who are also aware that they are alive, observing and taking part in this physical reality. If I die then their awareness carries on and so the universe must also carry on. But my nothingness is completely incompatible with their continued awareness because nothing and something cannot both exist at the same time. So, if their awareness carries on and with it the existence of the universe then so too, in some way, must my awareness. The only logical conclusion that I feel can be drawn from this line of reasoning is that nobody ever really dies. We all continue in some way to be aware of the world and the surely only way that we can be aware of the world is if we are in some way a part of the world so it seems likely to me that at the moment of death we must instantly reincarnate somewhere else – not necessarily somewhere on this earth – but somewhere within this reality so we can carry on being aware that the universe exists, so that something can carry on existing and nothing doesn’t emerge.
This reasoning raises all sorts of problems, I realize. Perhaps the biggest is how could the universe have existed, as science proves it must have, for billions of years before there was life? Perhaps the answer is, that to all intents and purposes the universe didn’t exist until there was someone/something there to see it. Because why should this argument apply only to humans? But of course, this leads to a paradox because a physical universe where certain conditions apply – the existence of stars, orbited by planets with enough elements present to create water and a breathable atmostphere etc – is of course, a precondition of life itself. I’m not sure – yet – how to solve that paradox but perhaps one way is to imagine all of the things scientists say happened over the billions of years it took for the universe to develop to the point where the first life accelerated to such a speed that they all occurred nearly instantaneously – a spontaneous emergence of a life filled with life, complete with its own ready made backstory for how it came to be that way. I also realize that there is a book out there by Robert Lanza (Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe) that puts forward a similar argument but I haven’t read it yet and, from what I have read on the interent Lanza comes at the problem from a bit of a different angle. It is on my to Read list, somewhere below Wolf Hall but well above Ullyses and Tony Blair’s memoirs.
Well, I think I’ll leave it here before someone concludes that I’ve really lost the plot and decides to call for the men in white coats. I know this is all just armchair philosophy and probably my reasoning is riddled with flaws and holes the size of the Rosetta Comet but I’ve at least managed to convince myself with that on this basis alone the likelihood is that death cannot be the end. Next time, if I haven’t scared away all my readers, I’ll come at this problem from a different angle and give you another reason why I think we must be immortal. I call that (drum roll):
…..The Infinity Argument for life after death…
Hope to see you then! In the meantime any comments, feedback positive or negative would be most welcome.