Friday, 28 November 2014

Science and the Afterlife

It seems to be widely believed that modern science has shown that there is no afterlife, that this life is the only one we will have, that only this physical world exists and only gullible people are disposed to question such established truths.

This is a complete travesty of what is actually the case.  What very few people seem to know, or  understand, is that science completely leaves out consciousness in its description of reality.  Indeed, so far as science is concerned, we might as well all be what has been termed philosophical zombies  -- that is to say we might as well all be entirely devoid of any conscious experiences whatsoever, even though we externally look and behave exactly like real people.

This is because it is held that we are merely very sophisticated biological machines.  Thus it is the physical events in our brains, together with the input from our 5 senses, which wholly explains everything we ever do, say, and think.  In and of itself consciousness is not regarded as having any causal efficacy.  Hence I am typing this out, not because of an intent on my part to express certain ideas, but due to physical laws playing out.

Now materialists deny this, but only by advancing a transparently false metaphysical hypothesis.  This hypothesis is that consciousness is the very same thing as the underlying neuronal activity, or it is the very same thing as what the brain does.  Note here they are not saying that such processes causes or produces consciousness, rather consciousness is one and the very same thing as some physical process.

It seems to me transparently clear that such a claim is vacuous.  Physical things and processes are characterised by mass, electric charge  and so on. They have a location, they can be measured and anyone can potentially observe them.    Conscious experience, on the other hand, is wholly defined by its qualitativeness -- the pain of a toothache, the taste of Pepsi, the experience of greenness, the feeling of contentment  -- all these are paradigmatic examples of conscious experiences, or qualia as they are sometimes referred to.  Most importantly ones consciousness can only be known by you, no one else can observe your pain, your jealousy and so on.   Since physical processes and conscious experiences have absolutely nothing in common whatsoever, then to say they are one and the very same thing is simply an abuse of language (although of course it is still possible one can cause the other, and vice versa).

The truth of the matter is that we have this philosophical problem called the mind/body problem.  It's persisted for thousands of years and we are no closer to solving it now in the 21st Century than we have ever been.  The proposed materialist solutions are acts of desperation.

The truth is that consciousness exists in its own right.  And we cannot perceive anyone else's consciousness, we can only infer it from their bodily behaviour.  So consciousness itself is invisible, we only infer its presence in other people via the voluntary movement of their bodies and their speech.  When their bodies cease to function at death nothing can be definitively concluded about the consciousness which formerly was able to move that body.

This blog entry by me will also be of interest:

Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia
Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia


  1. A great post. I just started following your blog but I check it every chance I get.
    Keep it coming!

  2. Well, property dualism says that the word "is" doesn't do the apparently decisive logical work we're tempted to think it does. Normally, saying "X is really Y" implies that the two are alike, have similar properties, not just "the same thing" in some sense of continuity (ie, not just that if one is destroyed, the other is gone too.) The PD perspective is that X and Y can be "the same thing" in that sense of continuity and parallel (also called "numerical identity") but express such different properties that you could swear they cannot be the same thing. Well PD is saying, there are two kinds of "same" - one is, numerical identity, and the other is "to be the same way" - to express the same characteristics. Ordinary intuition is that these two concepts belong together. But if the nature of things is relative, then a "something" like brain activity can appear to be one kind of thing - say from external study - but be quite different as encountered differently - like to be the system yourself. This is not just a matter of how you "imagine" things, it means they ARE different in kind from different points of view. One analogy: what we think are complete objects shown us are more like projections of a shape on paper from different angles.

  3. Neil Bates, first of all I've deleted your first comment as I found it largely incomprehensible and you have expanded on your meaning here anyway.

    I'm still experiencing difficulty in discerning all of your meaning. I myself take great efforts to communicate as simply and effectively as possible in my blog entries, and I would like any comments to follow my example.

    I take it you favour this "property dualism" you talk about? Are you disagreeing with the conclusion of my article? That is are you saying it is not possible consciousness survives? If so then how do you know this?

    Property dualism is the position there's only one substance in the world, but has 2 properties, the physical and the mental. But what causally leads to our voluntary behaviour? Not the property of consciousness I don't think. So property dualism seems to lead to the conclusion that consciousness per se is not causally efficacious. In which case it is incoherent as I explain here:

    An object can look different from different perspectives but that's an irrelevance. It's appearance can be derived from differing perspectives by everything we know about that object.

    Now we cannot a priori derive what particular conscious experience will be correlated with particular brain activity. These correlations have to be discovered. So this differs from seeing an object from differing perspectives.

    It seems to me that we either survive, or consciousness is strongly emergent and has its own causal powers. Reductive materialism is ruled out for the reasons I state in my blog entry. Non-reductive materialism and property dualism are ruled out unless these positions can be squared with a causally efficacious consciousness.

    Anyway I'm currently writing a much longer blog entry which will cover some of this stuff.

  4. This article might be helpful to you --

  5. Thanks for that Anonymous. I don't think I've come across this article before.

    First of all note that nothing this person says addresses any arguments I've advanced, either in this blog post or any of my other blog posts. So it couldn't be helpful to me since I argue that materialism is simply not tenable. It couldn't *possibly* be correct. This doesn't mean that a soul exists though, nor even that dualism is right. But the arguments against the soul always, in my experience, pre-suppose materialism is tenable and their arguments are simply irrelevant if this is not true.

    OK, having put that aside I suppose I can make some comments anyway. (has to be another comment as won't accept everything I've written in one post!)

  6. He says Descartes advanced the idea the soul is indivisible and he claims that people who have had their brains split disproves this! No further argument as to how it disproves this.

    I think the mind is split up into the conscious mind and the subliminal mind which might be associated with different hemispheres. The subliminal mind might be responsible for when we act on "autopilot" etc. What we are is certainly a great deal more than what it seems on the surface, but I'm not sure if this provides evidence against the soul. There seems to be a supposition that we should be aware of every aspect of our minds in order for souls to exist. But anyway, arguments as to why this renders souls unlikely need to be advanced, and he doesn't provide any such arguments.

  7. He says:

    ||"If the soul is where emotion and motivation reside, where mental activity occurs, sensations are perceived, memories are stored, reasoning takes place and decisions are taken, then there is no need to hypothesise its existence. There is an organ that already performs these functions: the brain"||.

    The biggest error here is to suppose these are functions. Assuming they are functions essentially assumes materialism at the outset. And of course the brain doesn't account for any of these mental phenomena. Otherwise there wouldn't have been a mind-body problem for thousands of years.

  8. He says:

    ||"Damage to the brain, as in accidents, dementias or congenital malformations, produces a commensurate damage to personality.

    Consider one of the functions supposedly – if we listen to Plato – carried out by the soul: memory. A major knock on the head can make you lose your memories of the past several years. If the soul is an immaterial substance separate from our physical being, it should not be injured by the knock. If memory were stored in the soul, it should not have been lost"||.

    The author needs to distinguish between memories being erased and merely being rendered inaccessible. The former creates formidable difficulties for a soul, but not the latter.

    And of course there's a supposition here that the condition of the brain could not possibly affect any of our mental abilities. No need to repeat what I've already said elsewhere:

  9. "||Manipulation of the brain is sufficient to alter emotion and mood. The soul is totally superfluous to this process"||.

    He begs the question by assuming that the causal process only runs from the brain to the mind, and never from the mind to the brain. The emotion and mood elicited from winning the lottery was surely the lottery and not from manipulation of the brain. And, in fact, I am highly sceptical that manipulating the brain all by itself could elicit the precise same emotions from winning the lottery.

    Of course manipulation of the brain or taking drugs, can affect one's mood and emotions. Drinking alcohol makes me feel great. And with other people drinking alcohol can make them argumentative and bad-tempered.

    I suppose the idea here is that if our essence is a soul, then although moods and emotions should be able to change due to good news, bad news, and more generally one's experiences during the day, drinking alcohol or any manipulation of the brain ought not to alter one's moods and emotions.

    Now, if he indeed agrees one's moods and emotions can change without one becoming a different soul, then it's merely a question that the material shouldn't be able to affect the mental. But then the argument doesn't differ from the point he made about memories, and my link above to a blog post of mine addresses this.

  10. He says:

    |"The brain is where thinking takes place, love and hatred reside, sensations become perceptions, personality is formed, memories and beliefs are held, and where decisions are made. As D.K. Johnson said: “There is nothing left for the soul to do.”"||

    No, the brain can't think, or love, or hate, or sense, or believe etc. All of these things assume materialism, and it seems to me that materialism (at least the materialism that has held sway since the 17th Century) cannot possible accommodate any of these things, nor consciousness as a whole. See another blog post of mine:


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