19.8.16

WHAT LIES BEYOND

Michael Martin and Keith Augustine (editors).  The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case Against Life After Death.  Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

As the editors point out, there are plenty of books arguing the case for an afterlife but few that examine the case against. This collection of thirty articles in over 650 pages does just that. It is organised into four major parts; the first examines the findings of neuroscience which show that consciousness and human personality are wholly dependent on the embodied brain; the second part examines philosophical arguments against and afterlife, the third critiques theological views of the afterlife as heaven and hell or the eastern view of karma, the fourth examines the evidence given by psychical research which is said to prove survival.

The first and fourth sections are the most accessible; and the collection of nine essays in the first section shows how numerous malfunctions of the brain due to injury, illness or substance abuse can profoundly influence consciousness now just in gross ways but profoundly subtle ways as well. In some of these the patient is unaware of the deficit, arguing against all the evidence that they are not blind, or that a paralysed limb is properly functioning. Changes to specific portions of the brain lead to specific deficits or specific changes in personality.

There is a fair amount of repetition in these papers, an occupational hazard of compilations of essays, but this do seek to hammer home the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence from neurology that mental functions have any independence from the physical brain, and indeed such an idea when critically examined makes no sense. Those who argue otherwise do so against the evidence and based only on religious or philosophical beliefs.



The eight essays in Part Four address a range of alleged evidence from psychical research dealing with ghosts, out of the body experiences, Ian Stevenson’s studies of allegedly reincarnated children, and Gary Schwartz’s studies with mediums. The two papers on Stevenson, one by a former research assistant, show the many errors and assumptions that went into his studies, for example peoples’ speculations were often presented as fact, many were recorded long after the events, assumptions were made about peoples’ behaviour which sometimes based on cultural ignorance, for example the argument that noone came forward to challenge this or that claim, without realising that such a challenge might have been regarded as highly impolite in some cultures.

The third section which deals with philosophical problems connected with survival is in parts quite challenging though often worth persisting with. The arguments deal not with the sort of survival envisioned by spiritualists but those imagined by religions such as Christianity, so we don’t just get discussions dealing with the impossibility of truly disembodied existence or the lack of evidence for astral bodies, but also with assumptions to do with the traditional Christian view of bodily resurrection. Which generally comes to the conclusion that if this some new body modelled on the old one then we are dealing with a replica not the original person, and that if one copy can be made so can any number of replicas .

To get round that, in perhaps what is close to one of the strangest ideas ever proposed by a respectable theologian, Peter van Inwagen, has come up with the notion that when you die God snatches away your body to somewhere else and then substitutes a replica corpse in its place to rot away. Compared with that idea Phillip Gosse’s notorious Omphalos appears eminently sane.

Various contributors also demolish the line of argument which compares consciousness to a TV programme and the brain to the set, but no matter what we do to a TV set we cannot change the plot of a soap opera from the one that was broadcast.

To refute these criticisms supporters of survival will have to take on board the findings of modern neuroscience and not wave it away (even the most superficial critics of psychical research usually deal with its evidence better than paranormalists’ treatment of mainstream science) and not to rely on personal abuse and populist rhetoric. Personally I suspect that arguments involving real time survival involving some kind of spooky extra stuff over and above the quotidian things of the world has no traction.

Those who want get-out clauses might try either subjective survival, the idea that brain events lasting only a few seconds might generate subjective experiences lasting for vast periods of time; the possibility that the quotidian things of the world including brains, bodies, chairs, TV sets, computers , motor cars and rocks are not what they seem to be, or the idea that in a truly infinite universe people might be born complete with your memories just by chance. The odds against the latter are of course unimaginably greater than astronomical. Of course in a truly infinite universe these extraordinarily unlikely events would still occur an infinite number of times. -- Peter Rogerson


5 comments:

  1. [quote]
    [A]bsolutely no evidence from neurology that mental functions have any independence from the physical brain, and indeed such an idea when critically examined makes no sense. Those who argue otherwise do so against the evidence and based only on religious or philosophical beliefs. [/quote]

    When critically examined makes no sense?? How so? This is just a bald assertion that has not been substantiated. Nor is it substantiated in the 700 page book itself either -- not anywhere in it. The bottom line is that it is not possible for consciousness to be scientifically explained as science is currently conceived. The fact there is no evidence from neurology is a red herring. There's also no evidence from the internal structure of a prism that the coloured light could exist without the prism. Yeah, but who cares? White light can.

    The author also seems to be insinuating that someone like me "argues" against the notion that consciousness is the product of the brain because of religious convictions? But the motivations for the arguments are an irrelevancy, they have to be addressed on their own terms.


    [quote]
    Various contributors also demolish the line of argument which compares consciousness to a TV programme and the brain to the set, but no matter what we do to a TV set we cannot change the plot of a soap opera from the one that was broadcast.
    [/quote]

    Yes precisely. So in order for the analogy to apply then likewise the self cannot change. All the authors of this volume define the self as essentially being one's current mind, one's intelligence, memories etc. Which means they don't just reject a "life after death", they also have to reject the notion that we have survived from childhood to adulthood. Or even that we have survived after a few beers! They didn't have to write a 700 page book, just point this out.

    But it seems to me the self is one's inner essence, that which makes me me, that indelible sense of a self which has persisted from childhood to adulthood, despite my beliefs, hopes, dispositions, emotional reactions, memories all being different. None of these constitute the self/soul rather they are properties or attributes of the self/soul. So they can change without the self literally changing i.e we do not go through existential change but mere alterational change (Consider a table. We could paint it a different colour. That's alterational change. It's the same table, but has been altered slightly. But now consider destroying a table, and putting in it's place a table looking identical. That's existential change.)

    In short it's this conception of the self they need to consider (perhaps other conceptions too).

    I wrote a kinda partial review of this book the other day:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/keith-augustine-in-myth-of-afterlife.html

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  2. I said:
    "There's also no evidence from the internal structure of a prism that the coloured light could exist without the prism. Yeah, but who cares? White light can".

    The thing is the prism *couldn't* produce the coloured light all by itself. And the same applies to the brain producing consciousness -- unless it's simply a brute fact about reality.

    We can of course understand how a prism alters light, where as we don't understand how the brain could alter consciousness. But if we introduce something else besides the brain -- a self or soul -- then at least *it is conceivable* that some expanded physics might be able to explain such an influence.

    Of course Keith Augustine and co will insist that the self -- what we are -- is analogically akin to the coloured light rather than the white light. But I simply don't agree. That would mean I will cease to exist tonight since I intend to have a few beers!

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  3. I too was struck by the shallowness of this review. If Ian Stevenson's lifetime of work is really dismissed as blithely in the book as the review suggests, then the book offers nothing that wasn't been said by CSICOP 25 years ago.

    The statement, "Various contributors also demolish the line of argument which compares consciousness to a TV programme and the brain to the set, but no matter what we do to a TV set we cannot change the plot of a soap opera from the one that was broadcast" strikes me as a non squitur. What point is even being made?

    If consciousness (or mind) exists independently of the brain, with the brain as essentially a receiver or filter, then "no matter what we do" to the brain "we cannot change" the mind that exists independently of it. A damaged brain may adversely affect the ability of the mind to manifest through the brain, pretty much exactly as a TV set that is on the fritz affects the ability of the broadcast to manifest through the set, but the mind and the broadcast remain unaffected. I'm not claiming mind-body dualism has been definitively established, but to suggest there is no neurological evidence is nonsense and the reviewer's comment about the TV analogy likewise strikes me as nonsense.

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  4. @The Blathering Knave

    The reviewer is saying that the programme shown is not altered; that is the sequence of images shown is not altered. This is in contrast to the personalty which is altered with brain damage etc. So the analogy is not an accurate one. Here's what Keith Augusine and Yonatan I. Fishman say in the book:

    "It doesn’t take much reflection to see that a television receiver is a terrible analogy for making sense of known mind-brain correlations. For the analogues would have to be:

    Broadcast station → Electromagnetic signal → TV receiver → TV program images
    External soul ↔ Interactive forces ↔ Brain ↔ Behavior

    On this analogy, mental activity itself occurs in the external soul, just as the images of a television program originate from the broadcast station. But no damage to the local circuitry of your TV set can have any effect on the television program recording playing at the remote broadcast station, or on the signal that the station puts out".


    My own metaphors would be:

    Electromagnetic signal → TV receiver → TV program images

    Soul or Self → Brain → Mind

    Damage to a TV set doesn’t affect “the television program recording playing at the remote broadcast station, or on the signal that the station puts out”. But on the “filter” model, likewise damage to the brain doesn’t affect the self/soul, only the mind. The problem here that Keith Augustine conflates the mind with the self/soul. This harks back to the position of what actually survives. What I propose survives differs from what all the authors of the myth of an afterlife allege would have to survive. They all think that it would have to be what we are like *now*. Our *present* personalities. Our *present* interests, intelligence, memories, dispositions etc.

    I, in contrast, hold that the self is that underlying reality making one the very same individual from when one were a toddler, to the present time when we are adults, to when one is drunk and so on and so forth. Throughout these different times our interests, intelligence, behaviour and so on all change . Therefore these latter attributes cannot constitute the self since that would entail that the self quite literally changes after, for example, one has had a few alcoholic drinks. The self changes when one is drunk, but only in a comparable manner to which a table might change if we paint it a different colour (alterational change), and not change in the sense of smashing the table up and replacing it with a similar one (existential change).

    So the self is the TV programme. Not the quality of the picture itself which Augustine et al hold. Or going back to my prism analogy, the self is the *white light*, not the coloured light.

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  5. Theoretical physics does not rule out the possibility of an afterlife (multiverse) or the survival of brain function after death (quantum immortality). Through quantum decoherence and quantum superposition, the idea of parallel universes offers the best possibility for the existence of a parallel universe acting as a person's afterlife universe when death occurs. As derived from the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and its extending concept of Many-Minds interpretation, it is theoretically possible for a living person to exist in superposition in a parallel universe (including their mental states and electrical discharges occurring throughout their brain and nervous system). Many-Worlds views reality as a many-branched tree where every possible quantum outcome is realized including the possibility of branches to universes that doesn't lead to a living person's death. Theoretically, this makes it possible for a living person to continue living in a parallel universe when the person dies in this current universe.

    More support for the possiblility of survival after death comes from the current string theory interpretation of the holographic principle of quantum physics. This principle defines our universe as existing as a hologram where all the quantum information we perceive in three dimensions is stored. First proposed by the emminent physicist David Bohm (author of Bohmian mechanics and the holonomic brain theory), a holographic universe can theoretically encode every quantized moment of our existence and experiences from the universe. Rather than a constant flow of experience, mental states can be broken up in intervals or time-quanta of 0.042 seconds, each of which make up one moment of neural substrate. Each state consists of a certain amount of quantum information which can theoretically be stored on a hard drive for example; and there is much progress ongoing in this technology. This holographic model of reality allows for phenomena considered "paranormal" such as near-death experiences, other phenomena involving life after death, and mental telepathy for example. The universe as a single hologram also solves the mystery of quantum entanglement which Albert Einstein called "spooky actions from a distance."

    Also, the materialist model of conventional science is based on the old paradigm of Newtonian classical mechanics and is fundamentally flawed. At its core, it intentionally ignores the fundamental component of existence - the nature of consciousness - even though the pioneers of quantum mechanics demonstrated and believed that consciousness has a definite role in creating reality. Mainstream materialist theories of consciousness use classical mechanics in assuming consciousness emerged and is produced from "goo". So they focus particularly on complex computation at synapses in the brain allowing communication between neurons. But because quantum vibrations have been discovered in microtubules in the brain, a theory developed by the emminent physicist Roger Penrose known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR), which allows for a person's quantum mind to exist in the multiverse, has garnered significant support. At death, the quantum information processed inside these microtubules doesn’t disappear. Instead, it is retained on the edge of the event horizon of the singularity from which our universe projected; thereby allowing the information to be retrieved after death.

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