Monday, February 20, 2017

Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 1)

One of the things that keeps cropping up from time to time is the question of death and what comes afterwards. As a person who is past middle age (unless I get to live more than 100), it's a question that preoccupies me a bit more. Once we shrug off the mortal coil, our very short lives seem pointless if there's nothing afterward.  So, I'm going to tackle this in a scientific and possibly philosophic view.  Stay with me on this. It may be a bit on the ugly side.  And, it's probably going to be several posts.

What Science Has to Say About an Afterlife

I was pretty sure what science had to say about the afterlife, but I wanted to make sure before I gave you some antiquated information. So, I decided to check the Interwebs for anything new on the subject, and apparently, there is. Seems there was a study finished in 2014 that looked at out of body and near-death experiences. As a scientist, I look at the conclusions people have drawn with full skepticism and will try to couch it in terms of logic.
"Q: I told you. You're dead, this is the afterlife, and I'm God.
Capt. Picard: [laughs scornfully] You are not God!
Q: Blasphemy! You're lucky I don't cast you out, or smite you, or something. The bottom line is, your life ended about five minutes ago under the inept ministrations of Dr. Beverly Crusher.
Capt. Picard: No, I am not dead. Because I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you. The universe is not so badly designed
." -- Tapestry, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Scientists and God

First, let's look at what scientists believe in terms of a god.  In 2005, about two-thirds of the scientists surveyed admitted they believed in a god, and presumably, an afterlife. This surprised me, because a large portion of what we see in the news suggests that most scientists are atheists, when they are in fact not.  You end up seeing more atheists (about 38 percent) in the natural sciences such as physics, biology, and chemistry and fewer atheists in social sciences (about 31 percent).  So, even in the disciplines such as physics, brilliant people such as Stephen Hawking who claim their is no god or afterlife are in the minority. In another study, some 76 percent of doctors believed in a god and 59 percent believe that we have an afterlife waiting for us.

Now, whether there truly is an afterlife isn't a matter of opinion.  There either is an afterlife or there isn't -- it's not a popularity contest where the most believers choose their fate after death. You may be the only person who believes that we all become weevils on the great celestial potato in another dimension, but if you're right, you're right, and the rest of us wankers are clearly wrong. The reality is that with our current technology, we won't know until we die.

Studies Suggest Something Else -- Maybe

In 2014, a study concluded that actually searched for an afterlife.  About 40 percent of people who were clinically dead and resuscitated had a near-death experience. One man who was clinically dead for three minutes could recall accurately the work being done to resuscitate him even though technically the brain stops working about 30 seconds after the heart stops. His experience was the "out of body" kind, where he was hanging out in the room "watching" everything.

So, this may be proof that when you're "mostly dead," you're still a little bit alive and aware.  Or it might simply be a delusion that our minds put together when we get jumpstarted.  Who knows?

Mostly Dead, or When are We Actually Dead?

To confuse matters, after you die, you aren't totally dead for days, if not weeks. The body goes through a type of rally where stem cells reactivate and try to get you living again, even if it's a lost cause. Some researches found live stem cells in cadavers that were 17 days old.

This, of course, gives us a gigantic problem.  Science isn't really sure when we're all dead.  When we die, we're mostly dead.  To quote Miracle Max, "Mostly dead is still slightly alive."
"Miracle Max: He's only mostly dead. If he were all dead, there's only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: And what's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his pockets and look for loose change." -- The Princess Bride
I bring this up because it begs the question of when our spirit/soul/souls actually leave. Do they leave with the loss of our conscious selves, or does it leave with our bodies once they're actually "all dead?"  Or do they hang around in the grave?

 Lost Souls

I haven't even touched on the quantum theory that information cannot be destroyed. Or the fact that our linear view of time is simply our way of dealing with reality, but in quantum theory, time is mostly irrelevant.  In some part of the universe, everyone is alive.  The fixed points are causes and results.

After all this much ado about souls and afterlife, scientists can't seem to agree on whether there is an afterlife or not. It pretty much falls under the "we have no credible evidence of souls, afterlife, or gods." Perhaps that is the place where religion fits in -- where science can't answer.  If, at some time science provides us with an answer, either yea or nay, we'll probably have to look at our ancestors' views as a way they explained the world around them -- just like we do today.
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