For New Atheists: Is This Really All There Is?

Hambydammit's picture

Is This Really All There Is?

When you started thinking critically about the existence of God, did you ask yourself this question? If you did, you're not alone. Nearly everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, asks it at some point. We're all worried about what life is about, and what we can realistically expect. Even so, this question is loaded, and not just a little bit. Let's apply our critical thinking skills, and see if we can determine what we really want to know, and what the answer might be.

First, let's make sure we have our words properly defined. We'll skip over the definition of “is,” since that was defined on all the major news networks several years ago. The very next word, however, is crucially important. What does “this” refer to? In this sentence, it's not completely clear. The obvious answer for most people would be something like “Being alive once and then dying,” or perhaps “The universe that we can see.” Let's not be vague about it. Let's settle on what we're actually talking about. We'll look at several different meanings, one by one.

Is this one life all there really is?

All the evidence says that it is. Despite hocus pocus claims from preachers and urban legends about people who have been to heaven and come back, there's no evidence that life goes on after death. Consciousness is dependent on physical processes. When the brain dies and the body decays, there is no longer an organized physical process, so the only logical conclusion is that there is no consciousness.

But what about near death experiences? Couldn't they be proof of an afterlife? Let's examine the evidence. All the stories are just that – stories. Anecdotal evidence, as we've seen, is extremely weak, and should only be considered when stronger corroborating evidence exists. Were the people who experienced NDEs in good mental and physical condition? Obviously not, as near death is a pretty bad situation, both physically and mentally. We know that even minute changes in the brain can trigger wildly erratic perceptions and behaviors. Dying is considerably more than a minute change in the brain. On the surface, the evidence for NDE's as proof of an afterlife seems fragile at best.

We're still not done, though. Is there better evidence that NDE's are simply physical, and that the perceptions of heaven and hell are illusions? It turns out that there is quite a lot. Before discussing NDEs directly, we need to be clear on a few terms.

If you've ever watched the movie, The Princess Bride, you will remember Miracle Max's famous words about death: “Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do. Go through his clothes and look for loose change.” The scientific descriptions are not as witty, but they're not radically different. There is a big difference between clinical death and brain death. Clinical death usually results from cardiac arrest. When the heart stops pumping, neurons no longer receive oxygen. Without new oxygen, they continue to fire for a short while, sometimes with odd side effects. It would only be a slight stretch to say that a clinically dead person is mostly dead.

Brain death, on the other hand, is all dead. Clinical death can be reversed within a certain time frame. We've all heard stories, and seen depictions on medical dramas. The heart can be started chemically, electrically, and manually, depending on the situation. Assuming that there is still some neural activity, starting a clinically dead person's heart will bring them “back to life.” Not so with brain death. Once the brain dies, the person is fully dead, and will not come back.

What, then, can we say about people who are clinically dead? For one thing, they are the only people who have ever had NDE's and lived to tell about them. For another, we can make some observations about what happens when the brain begins to die. If these observations form a parsimonious explanation for NDE's, we will have a compelling reason to believe they are not supernatural, and do not give proof of an afterlife.*

As the brain becomes oxygen depleted, neural networks begin to break down. Infants and small children have small neural networks. As they age, they form larger and larger networks as they process more and more information. An adult can temporarily break down access to fully formed networks by using drugs, or possibly meditative practice (although the latter is the subject of considerable debate). In fact, it's ironic that in the vernacular, many people say they have “transcendent” experiences while on mind altering drugs. The reality is that they are actually moving to a lower level of consciousness!

The sense of “loss of self” is a commonly reported experience in NDEs, and it has a well understood cause. Though the technical explanation sounds quite daunting to non-scientists, the cause is quite simple. In some cases, extreme overproduction of serotonin can inhibit the ability of neurons to pump potassium out of neural channels, effectively de-electrolyzing the neurons. In others, drugs can perform a function known as transmitter masking, essentially inhibiting the ability of transmitters to function properly by substituting an imposter chemical (such as an opiate) for the “proper” chemical. The end result is that synaptogenesis (the process of forming synapses) becomes temporarily “flooded.” In other words, new synapses are formed and then overturned so quickly that the brain becomes unable to process them effectively.

Critics will often object at this point in a conversation. After all, scientists have not explained every aspect of NDEs. In fact, most scientists are perfectly willing to admit that there are some very puzzling things about them, and the explanations are not always apparent. Hopefully, you've gotten good at spotting the fallacy. Someone who wants to believe in NDEs will say, “Since science doesn't have an answer, it must be proof of the afterlife.” This is a fallacy of ignorance, and is not valid logic. Still, many will argue that there are common threads. People from different religions have the same kinds of experiences. Kevin Nelson, a neurophysiologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, has this to say: "People say that because there's a common thread running through them all there must be a spiritual element," he says. "I look at that common thread and I see a biological process." (New Scientist, October 17, 2006) Nelson believes that he can explain the entire experience in purely scientific terms. He might be able to, but then again, he might miss something. This is not as relevant as it may seem. The important point is that good critical thinking demands that we not make up answers.

In fact, there is a common misconception about NDEs. It's not necessary to be at death's door to experience one. Quoting from the New Scientist article:

Nelson says that that's because despite the name, NDE has little to do with actually being close to death. He argues that the experience stems from an acute bout of "REM intrusion" - a glitch in the brain's circuitry that, in times of extreme stress, may flip it into a mixed state of awareness where it is both in REM sleep and partially awake at the same time. "The concept that our brain is either 100 per cent awake or 100 per cent in REM sleep is absolutely erroneous," says Mark Mahowald, a neurologist at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis. "We can have pieces of one state intruding into another, and that's when things get interesting."

REM intrusion is a common feature of narcolepsy - a neurological disorder characterised by uncontrollable bouts of sleep that can cause elaborate hallucinations and, sometimes, out-of-body experiences. But REM intrusion can affect anyone, and frequently does. Recent estimates suggest that up to 40 per cent of people have experienced "sleep paralysis", a form of REM intrusion in which you awaken with part of your brain still in REM sleep and your body paralysed. Often the result is a terrifying feeling of being unable to move, accompanied by visual or auditory hallucinations and pressure on the chest. Sleep paralysis has been offered as a rational explanation for many apparently supernatural phenomena, including witch attacks, visitations by the dead, and more recently alien abductions.

Scientists are experimenting with the phenomenon of out of body sight, too. Olaf Blanke, a cognitive neurologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, has caused subjects to see their legs, disembodied, from a floating perspective, simply by applying an electrical stimulus to the angular gyrus, a part of the brain involved with processing sensory information. (New Scientist)

There's yet another example of transcendental experiences that we should look at. Epileptics often report NDE-like perceptions after having particularly intense seizures. Seizures which effect the limbic system are well known for causing religious or transcendent experiences. In a way, this is an opposite cause for a similar effect. When a person has a seizure, their brain is firing too many neurons at once. Just like a computer, our brain seldom uses all of it's capacity at once. The myth that we only use 10% of our brains comes from a simple misunderstanding of this concept. When a computer is idle, or is only running a few processes, it uses a small percentage of its total processing power. Our brains function essentially the same way. Also, just like a computer, when we over tax our brains, the results are not always pleasant. How this relates to clinical death is simple. When the heart weakens, the body must compensate by increasing blood pressure drastically, keeping precious oxygen flowing to the brain. The increase in pressure wreaks havoc on the brain. Though it is still alive, it is far from normal functioning.

There is much speculation about the connection between epilepsy and religion. A nun at a Carmelite monestary in California recently discovered that the visions and transcendental raptures she'd been experiencing for years were actually epilepsy. Careful review of the private lives of many religious figures has prompted the question, were many of the prophets and religious visionaries of the past epileptics? In the end, we will probably never know about those who have long since passed. New research is coming in all the time, however, and as the connection becomes more and more concrete, it's becoming harder and harder to dismiss the evidence that NDEs, as well as mystical experiences not associated with dying, are simply misfiring neurons playing a game with our perception.

We can look at this another way. Dismiss for a moment all the possible explanations that scientists have come up with. In a recent survey, researchers found that among people who had had NDEs, a full 60 percent had sleep problems involving REM intrusion. Only 24 percent of people who had not had NDEs had similar problems. There is clearly a physical connection between REM intrusion and NDEs. Which explanation makes more sense? That there is an afterlife, and the apparent connection to sleep problems is coincidence, or that the connection is evidence of what really causes them? (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12274186/)

So, in the end, we have to concede that though there might be compelling emotional reasons to want to believe in life after death, there's simply not enough compelling logical reasons. In fact, if we apply our objectivity test by substituting another trivial question, we see clearly that without the emotional tug on our reason, we would dismiss the question out of hand. There is simply no reason to believe it.

 

Is the universe we can perceive really all there is?

The short answer is that we don't know. Remember, though, that the argument from ignorance is not a valid reason for making up an answer. Describing a thing about which we know nothing is absurd. If there is something that we cannot perceive, how could we ever know about it? Many things are very hard to perceive, such as subatomic particles. However, they are not imperceptible. If something were truly imperceptible to humans, then there would literally be no way to say anything about it! To give it a name would be to define it in some way. To say what it is not is not to say what it is. Put another way, anything that exists which is truly imperceptible to man is completely irrelevant to man.

Here, you might object. Suppose there is something which we do not perceive now, but at some point in the future, it will become perceptible, and might even do something catastrophic. Surely I would not object to such a possibility! True. Scientists might discover something in the future which is completely imperceptible now. Nevertheless, this concession leaves us in exactly the same place. At this time, we cannot say anything about what this thing will be, or what it will do. There is a virtually endless number of possible things that might exist, but admitting this is just an exercise in logic. If we have no perception of a thing now, it is completely irrelevant to our lives.

 

What does the question really mean?

Many people will find the previous two versions of our question to be lacking. There's something else hidden in the question. It's bigger than just the question of the nature of reality. What we really want to know is this: “If life is just the product of blind evolution and physical processes, what is the purpose of it all?” This comes closer to the question that's really on our minds, doesn't it? We want to know if there's room for hope in life. Is there something to look forward to, or is life really just an exercise in respiration, mastication, and procreation?

When we start thinking about the question this way, it becomes bigger, and more pertinent. We want to know what meaning this life might have. Why are we here? Is there something that we should accomplish? If there is no higher purpose, why are we bothering with all the drudgery and obligation? Why don't we just throw off our yokess and run free through the streets, or live out in the woods, solitary and blissfully unfettered?

Hopefully, you can see the disconnect between the question and these hypothetical answers. Regardless of the existence of an afterlife, we fulfill our earthly obligations because it's in our best interest to do so. Humans are social creatures. We crave love and friendship, and the best way to get them is to give them. As a result of a long and staggeringly complex chain of adaptive events, we have developed brains which drive us to reproduce and form long term bonds. When we have offspring, we have a natural bond with them, and we try to protect them, teach them, and give them the best possible chance to live happily. This stands to reason, of course. Those of our ancestors that did not have these drives as strongly tended not to reproduce as successfully.

Looking around the animal kingdom, we can see how this fits logically into place. Our brains come at a high cost. Such complex organs require many years to grow to maturity. During that time, we are quite vulnerable and easily killed. We do not have claws, or night vision, or highly developed senses of smell or hearing. We cannot survive most environments without clothing. Without protectors, human children would virtually always die. At least one parent is necessary for the continuation of the species. So, we can say with virtual certainty that there is a purpose in life. For the goal of continuing the human species, it is necessary that we live in such a way that our children have the best chance of growing old enough not only to reproduce, but to then live on long enough to provide the same chances for their children.

If this seems overly simple to you, you're thinking well. Intuitively, we know that there's something more than just reproduction. After all, many people do not, or cannot have children. Are we to say that their lives are worthless? Obviously not. What else is there, then? Here, we can go in many different directions, and we can find truth in almost all of them. Art, literature, invention, service, discovery – all these things are meaningful to us and bring us pleasure. Many of them benefit people in ways that we can link directly to reproduction, if we wish. The discovery and harnessing of electricity led to the invention of the transistor, which led to the invention of the computer. With the help of computers, we invented amazingly complex and powerful devices like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines. With these machines, we are able to detect and cure many physical illnesses that would otherwise lead to death, often before the sick individuals are able to reproduce.

Can we say, then, that everything is linked to reproduction, and leave it at that? I suppose we could, but that feels rather empty, doesn't it? Even if a childless inventor creates something that benefits someone else, who later has a child, it seems rather cold to suggest that this is the only purpose in his life. There are so many aspects of life, it feels impossible to reduce them down to a single, unified purpose. How could we possibly say that reproduction, or altruism, or money, or fame, or anything else, for that matter, is the single purpose in life?

Perhaps you have just had a “Eureka” moment. If not, bear with me for a bit longer. Think about everyone you know, and try to think of one or two people who seem to march to a different drummer. Almost everyone knows one of these people. Perhaps it's an eccentric artist who lives in a trashy house, doesn't own a car, and only eats rice and beans. Maybe it's that cousin who insists on remaining single, even though he's got enough money to have five wives and fifty children. Or, maybe it's the woman who has never wanted to have children, even though she's been happily married for ten years, and is in the prime of her life. What can we say about their sense of purpose? The answer, obviously, is that they each have very different goals in life!

Now, think about the last time you browsed through the self help section at a bookstore. Did you notice how many different versions of the “Truth that will set you free” there are? Hundreds, maybe thousands, of self-help books proclaim their own secret to living a happy life, filled with purpose. You know this already, but have you thought about what it means? Each of these books is selling well enough to still be on the shelves, and unless you live in a bubble, you've met someone who claims that they've found the answer they've always been looking for. (Except in rare cases, it seems that we never agree completely with these people!)

If the answer isn't obvious enough already, here it is: There is not one universal “purpose” for humanity. Because of differences in genetics, culture, and individual experience, each person has a built in set of likes, dislikes, and motivations. In short, each person has their own unique purpose.

 

That's great, but what is the purpose in life?

When I first began thinking about life without religion, this last epiphany was difficult for me to accept. Something deep inside me rebelled at the notion that we can just leave things so open ended. How can we really say that every person has their own purpose, and they're all equal? How can we hope to mobilize humanity towards a common goal if everybody just gets to make up their own meaning? What of morality? What of obligation to our fellow man?

As I struggled with these questions, I slowly began to realize something profound – something that would ultimately change how I viewed my own life as well as those of the people around me. Behind each of these troubling questions, there are hidden assumptions about the nature of reality. Without questioning these assumptions, we risk answering a question that isn't even valid to begin with.

 

Are all purposes equal?

This question is deceptive because it doesn't tell us in what way the word “equal” is being used. I know Americans are a bit wary of asking for too many definitions. Again, the word “is” is perfectly clear, and we know what happens when we start allowing too many questions about definitions, right? Actually, wrong. It's a mistake to take a political fiasco like the Clinton impeachment hearings and make such a sweeping generalization about critical thinking. The fact is, if we want good answers, we must ask good questions. What, then, does the word, “equal” mean in this sentence?

Suppose I place two identical dinner glasses next to each other and carefully measure out eight ounces of water from one source. Are they equal? Yes, and no. They contain roughly the same amount of water, so they are equal. However, they do not contain the same number of water molecules, and are not equal. The water in each glass came from the same source, so they are equal. However, the water at the bottom of the source container had some sediment that did not get poured into the first glass, but made it into the second. They are unequal. One glass is intended for a man who has not had a drink in three days. The other is intended for another man who has had over a gallon of water today. The glasses are not equal in the effect they will have on the people who consume them.

So, when we ask if all life purposes are equal, what is it that we're really asking? The standard Christian answer goes something like this: 'All lives are equal in the eyes of the Lord, for he loves us all equally.' Or, another pastor might tell us, 'In the end, the only difference that matters is whether or not we are saved. Your life is worth nothing if you go to hell, but your happiness will be complete if you accept Jesus and go to heaven when you die.'

Do you see the error in the question now? When we ask, “Are all purposes equal,” we are carrying the same baggage as when we were Christians. We are assuming that there is a single goal, granted by God, and that all lives can be measured by this goal. Now that we know there is no such thing, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that we can still ask the question in the same way. We must recognize that every person has their own drives and goals, and we must rethink our entire approach. The key to this is remembering that we must ask another question. When we say “equal,” we must ask, “equal in what way?”

Where does this leave us? It might feel to you that it leaves us in an impossible position. If we must specify exactly what we mean by equality, it's possible to ask the question of purpose in thousands of different ways, and every answer will be different! How are we to ever find something to hold onto? How do we find our own purpose? I promise I'll get to these questions, but for now, let's look at more of our initial questions.

 

Common Goals

Is it possible that humans can unite for a common goal if everyone gets to make their own meaning? Again, there is a hidden assumption in this question. In asking the question, we are assuming that it is a good thing for humanity to have a common goal! If you've assumed that, you must ask yourself, “How do I know that it's good for humanity to have a common goal?” “What is the common goal?” “When I say it's good for humanity, to which end is it good?”

The answers are difficult. We instantly recognize huge obstacles. Many nations are busy trying to feed their own people, while others throw away scraps that would be treasures for some. Is it fair to say that ending world hunger is a good goal? Though it seems noble enough on the surface, there are many scientists who say there are too many people on earth, and that we will not have enough resources if we continue to reproduce at current rates. Maybe the problem isn't a lack of food. Maybe it's a surplus of people. This might be a callous thing to suggest, but let's remember that our very own nation has only recently supported the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in a foreign country, with the stated goal of removing one man from political power. History is littered with tales of entire populations who willingly killed thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, for lesser goals than preserving the ecosystem and allowing the human species to continue to survive.

Many people, myself included, would like to see humanity united in the goal of sustainable coexistence with the other species on the planet. This seems a very noble goal, but the price would be high. Cars and electrical plants produce most of the greenhouse gases introduced into the environment by humans. Sustainable living might well involve severe restrictions on vehicles, fuel, and power consumption. We might have to restrict reproductive rights. Standards of living might have to go down for many wealthy nations. Is it fair for me to say that my goal is the one that we should follow? Should fairness be the measure by which we choose a goal?

What of Morality?

Without mincing words, I will simply say that this question is ludicrous. Please pardon me for being blunt, but after more than a decade of answering this question, it gets tiring. Morality and purpose in life are not related to each other. Morality is our sense of right and wrong with respect to our fellow humans. Our purpose in life is our goal. A person can be either moral or immoral and still have purpose. He may accomplish his purpose, or not, and his morality has little or nothing to do with it.

I'll deal with morality thoroughly in another essay, but for now, let's just say that every action has a consequence. If we decide to act immorally, we risk social and criminal punishment. If the potential result of our action is worth the risk, we act immorally. If not, we don't. In any case, both moral and immoral people have goals. Purpose is a goal. Enough said.

The last question, “What of our obligation to our fellow man,” is simply a restatement of the question of morality. Our obligations to others are the very things which define morality. Imagine two men, each of whom take a bottle of wine from the cellar at a dinner party, and then put it into the trunk of their car. Neither man tells the host of the party what he has done. The first man is a great friend of the host, and has been told for years that he can always consider himself welcome to take a bottle, so long as he replaces it in the future. The other is a friend of a friend, and doesn't even know the host. He saw the door to the cellar open, and decided to take a bottle for himself. He has no intention of telling the host what he has done.

Clearly, these two actions are not remotely morally equivalent. The first man, a friend of the host, has been giving and receiving friendship and gifts with the host for years. They have established a sense of obligation to each other. The gift of access to the wine cellar was given as a means of solidifying social bonds. The act of taking advantage of the gift is both an act of gratitude and reciprocation. Surely the friend has done things for the host without receiving immediate benefit!

The second man, obviously, is a criminal. He has stolen from the host. He has no intention of giving him anything in return. He has broken the rules of societal obligation. Though the two acts were identical in one sense, they were vastly different in another. Again, morality and social obligation are two ways of describing the same thing.

 

If my purpose is my own, how do I judge whether it's good?

It may seem trite to say that we judge our lives by our own happiness, but it's not nearly as naïve or simplistic as it sounds. Again, I'd like to reach back to my Christian days and retrieve the standard religious response to happiness as its own purpose. “Judging our lives by our own happiness is selfish and short-sighted. God has a design for us, and often, we are called on to sacrifice our own happiness for what is good and right in God's divine purpose. Those who pursue happiness for its own sake are doomed to ultimate failure!”

Though this sounds menacing, it's psychologically empty. First, it's creating a strawman – a weak version of a philosophically sound version. The idea is that if a position can be made to appear ridiculous, it doesn't need to be argued against. People will reject it on their own.

Consider a hypothetical person, Bob, who decides that every decision in his life will be made based on which available action will make him the happiest. On the first day of his new life, Bob realizes that expensive gourmet food makes him happier than scrambled eggs, so he goes to the finest restaurant in town and orders their best breakfast. After breakfast, he considers whether to go to work or play a video game. His job is pretty boring, and he's often unhappy while there, so he decides to play the video game. By the end of the day, he's ready to go out. His wife wants him to go pick up the children from baseball practice, but the fact is, he doesn't want to deal with them right now. A beer would make him happier, so he goes down to the bar, leaving the kids without a ride. Somewhere around two in the morning, Bob realizes that paying money for a cab will not make him happy, so he gets into his own car even though he's drunk, and drives home.

Clearly, this situation is ridiculous, but why? At each crucial decision, Bob weighed each of his choices and decided on the one that would make him happiest. If we were to predict Bob's future, it's not very bright. He's going to get fired from his job. He will run out of money. His wife will divorce him, and his children will most likely hate him. It's also very likely that he'll lose his driver's license. He might even kill someone while driving and go to jail for the rest of his life. Since choosing happiness obviously doesn't lead to good decisions, we can see that the Christians are right... right?

This hypothetical situation is an example of something called reductio ad absurdum. (That's Latin for “reduction to the absurd.) What I've done is taken the spirit of the Christian argument and taken it to a logical conclusion to demonstrate that it's absurd. When Christians say that pursuit of happiness is a dead end, or that it will end in destruction, they are talking about pursuit of instant happiness. As intelligent beings, we are able to make predictions of the future and realize that there is short term happiness and long term happiness. Unless Bob is insane or incredibly stupid, he will realize that he cannot spend all his money in one day, and that he must go to work, and that he must pick up his children. He will hopefully realize that the short term sacrifice of a few dollars far outweighs the consequences of being arrested for driving under the influence. In short, he will realize that short term happiness often must be sacrificed for long term happiness. This doesn't take religion to figure out. It only takes a little common sense. Very little.

When we say that happiness is its own goal, we are obviously not talking about only short term happiness. We mean a more or less continual state of contentment and long term happiness, derived from both instant gratification and immediate sacrifice for a greater long term good. We are constantly making conscious and unconscious decisions about what will be best for us. In the end, it's about a balance of long and short term satisfaction – having enough happiness now, but sacrificing enough that we can continue to be happy in the future.

Perhaps you will object that the pursuit of happiness as its own goal doesn't take altruism into account. If we're always looking out for ourselves, how can we account for helping others, even when there is no direct benefit to us? To answer this question, simply think back to the last time that you sacrificed something of your own – something that you valued highly – for the good of another person. Maybe it was your valuable time donated to a blood drive. Maybe you sat through a tedious photo presentation of your neighbors' trip to Branson, Missouri because you knew how much it would mean to them. When it was all over, and you thought back on what you had done, and realized that it was the right thing to do, how did it make you feel?

The reason we do things for others is that it makes us feel good. Perhaps we don't enjoy it at the time, but in the long run, we feel like we have done a good thing, and we are happy with ourselves. It's simply an example of sacrificing short term happiness for long term happiness. It may seem flippant to dismiss such a big question with such a simple answer, but science backs it up.

Humans are social animals. We have to be – our survival literally depends on it. At the time of this writing, there are many popular television shows about surviving alone in the wilderness. One of the reasons these are so popular is that the thought of being alone in a survival situation is very scary to us on a primal level, and we admire the bravery of people who are willing to take that risk. Our animal instincts tell us that we need to be with the group to survive. Before we had spears and axes and city walls, the group really was our best hope of survival.

As social animals, we developed ways of strengthening bonds. Love, respect, altruism, and loyalty are all adaptations to the need for close knit groups. When one of our own was unable to find any food for himself, it was in our best interest to give some of ours up, for in realizing his own plight, we were able to see the possibility that one day, we would also be in the same situation. Long term prediction allowed us to sacrifice short term gratification for long term survival.

Fine. So what is the purpose of life?

Now, finally, we can return to our original question. What is the purpose of life? The answer, simply enough, is that your purpose is your own. Everyone else has their own purpose, too. Many people accomplish great things in their lives and feel a great sense of fulfillment. Others live their entire lives without doing much of anything by most standards. In the end, each person must judge themselves by their own standards.

There is no final judgment, but there is constant judgment while we're alive. There is no divine forgiveness of sins, and no wiping clean of the slate. If we screw up our own lives, there is not always a way to fix it. In one sense, we can do whatever we like with our lives, but we are constantly beholden to those around us. When we die, we will no longer exist, and none of it will matter to us. What greater motivation is there for living the best life possible? What other purpose do we need than the realization that we only get one chance, and if we mess it up, there are no mulligans? Life, then, is its own purpose, and we, as individuals, have the chance, but not the obligation, to live happily.

 

* It's worth pointing out that if there were cases of complete brain death where the patient came back and reported an NDE, that would defy the natural explanation and would suggest the possibility of consciousness after death.  It's crucial to notice that there has never been one case.  In this instance, a lack of evidence is most certainly evidence of lack.  With so many millions of deaths in hospitals, we would expect at least one case that defied science if there were life after death.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

kryters's picture

Much food for thought

Much food for thought there. Though, seaking of food, you made a tiny error:

Quote:
here is no higher purpose, why are we bothering with all the drudgery and obligation? Why don't we just throw off our yolks and run free through the streets, or live out in the woods, solitary and blissfully unfettered?

Don't you mean "yoke"? You got egg on your face there! =P =D 

Hambydammit's picture

hehe... thanks! That's

hehe... thanks! That's one of the reasons I post drafts here. Other people catch mistakes I miss.

This one's particularly funny... only a week ago, I was texting a friend of mine and made a pun about some neighbors of his who have a farm. He asked if I knew what they had besides cattle, and I texted back "probably chickens... oxen need yolks..."

(Yeah... I know. Bad pun.)

P.S.  In the tit-for-tat department, I would make a joke about "seeking" for food if only you'd misspelled "speaking" a little worse.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

     Bump,and reposting

     Bump,

and reposting due to the crash

Hambydammit , That really is an xlint essay bro. Asking and digesting the questions you present is so helpful.

Treat yourself to this song friend. My dear late mom use to play this over and over ....

"Is That All There Is" , by Peggy Lee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTpFUT-lxls

Thanks for your dedication (and missing recent reply) .... you are a wise Buddha !

"live happily"

Hambydammit's picture

Also bumping. Also

Also bumping.

Also reposting:  Thanks I AM.  I hadn't heard that song in years.  I'm glad you reminded me of it.  It means more to me now that I'm older and wiser.  It's in my ITunes folder now.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

dave805's picture

Definitly a well thought

Definitly a well thought out essay

Thank you again for posting this  

Luminon's picture

It's one of the better

It's one of the better essays around here, and as it's my local duty to be a rational responder, I have some objections, which you may find interesting, I hope.

There's a logical error in the consciousness definition, you automatically assume that it IS a physiologic process, but all we know is, that consciousness can be effectively observed only through a brain. Without an undamaged brain, it can't express itself toward other brains, but we can't assume it doesn't exist. For example, if we wake up from an unconscious state and we don't remember anything, then it doesn't necessarily mean our consciousness didn't exist at this time, we just know that our brain wasn't currently in state to register it's existence in the memory. We, objectively said.

Another logical error is, that you include unperceivable things, like sub-atomary particles, into perceivable cathegory, and you refuse a possibility to even think of unperceivable things. The problem is in extensions. We can observe non-perceivable things by machines and measuring devices, we literally extend our perception and then we name the new things we discovered. (this is what you say there's no way to say anything about it) We use voltmeter to measure volts, ampermeter to measure ampers, particle accelerator to measure particles, and so on, every thing needs a special extension of perception. And in opposite, there's a logical possibility, (for me, certainity) that some things require an extension of perception, which is not a machine, but it's an extension of consciousness, a removing certain filters in our brain. Our brain perceives a lot of data, (about 50 GB per second or so I have read, but I might be wrong in conversion) but our consciousness receives only small part of it (2 MB or so, you see the difference). By adding some more data into our perception, we expand our consciousness.

For example, some young children can see their invisible friends, till parents beats it out of their head and thus creates another perception filter in a brain. And even I can perceive things, which most of people can't, though they could learn it by a simple exercise.

And if you watched Prison Break, you know that the main hero, Michael Scofield, has a mental disorder, which allows him to see consciously more than others can. This kind of ability isn't fictive, it's a medical fact.

When you think of the life purpose, you say everyone has a different purpose. But do you have a method to effectively define what it is, specially for people who doesn't know their own purpose? Most of them doesn't. Does all these small purposes serve for a big one? I know that yes, and I know why, but how can anyone else know? By what standards they should judge their lives? How they could know these specific standards when they needed it? You admitted the purposes of lives exists, now it's time to work with them effectively.

I like when you identified the hidden assumptions. But what happens when we evolve out of them, the communication with those who still uses them, becomes really diffcult and you may find yourself using a speech, which sounds literally esoterically. Or even religionally, God forbid!

For example:You know, that actors in a theatre wears different costumes, they play different roles, one is king, another's a begger, but they are all actors, and after the play is over, they shed their costumes and go home, until there's another play and then the actors exchanges their costumes, so they will play various roles every time and they will have a better acting practice and they may even be invited into a bigger theatre with a different form of acting art.
This simple metaphor requires to accept a lifeafter death, reincarnation, and intelligent life on other planets, but it relatively well explains how the people are equal with each other, you got the point, don't you? Smiling

By the way, in the world there's an overproduction of food. There is more than enough food for literally everyone. The only problem is, that most of the food goes to rich countries or is feeded to farm animals and their meat goes to the rich countries. With enough of food, the poor people won't have to make so much of children to take care of them when they'll be old, and the population will naturally slow its growth. It's a normal economical process, though a bit slow.

Massive killing is only necessary in uncivilized population, ignoring and causing the suffering, like the western, rich, is. Like we are.

Well, that's most of things I had on my mind after attentively reading your essay. I hope you'll be equally attentive.

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

Hambydammit's picture

Quote:There's a logical

Quote:
There's a logical error in the consciousness definition, you automatically assume that it IS a physiologic process, but all we know is, that consciousness can be effectively observed only through a brain. Without an undamaged brain, it can't express itself toward other brains, but we can't assume it doesn't exist. For example, if we wake up from an unconscious state and we don't remember anything, then it doesn't necessarily mean our consciousness didn't exist at this time, we just know that our brain wasn't currently in state to register it's existence in the memory. We, objectively said.

No.

I am not automatically assuming that it is a physiological process.  I am making that conclusion based on overwhelming and voluminous data supporting the conclusion.  There is no substantiated evidence to the contrary, only philosophical speculation.

Quote:
Another logical error is, that you include unperceivable things, like sub-atomary particles, into perceivable cathegory, and you refuse a possibility to even think of unperceivable things.

I do no such thing.  You're saying that I'm making some kind of error of composition, but in doing so, you commit the very error you accuse me of.  Quantum mechanics and neurology are as different as farming and manufacturing computer chips.  The tools for one are virtually useless for the other.  False analogy, error of composition.

Quote:
By adding some more data into our perception, we expand our consciousness.

Mumbo-jumbo.  Our consciousness includes the ability to understand abstracts.  "Expanding our consciousness" means adding a new piece of data that our brain already had capacity for.  This isn't anything mystical or magical.  It's just a physical process.

Quote:
For example, some young children can see their invisible friends, till parents beats it out of their head and thus creates another perception filter in a brain. And even I can perceive things, which most of people can't, though they could learn it by a simple exercise.

The existence of imagination is proof of the ability of humans to imagine nonexistent things.  It has no bearing on the existence of the afterlife.

Quote:
And if you watched Prison Break, you know that the main hero, Michael Scofield, has a mental disorder, which allows him to see consciously more than others can. This kind of ability isn't fictive, it's a medical fact.

Never saw it.  What disorder, specifically?

Quote:
When you think of the life purpose, you say everyone has a different purpose. But do you have a method to effectively define what it is, specially for people who doesn't know their own purpose? Most of them doesn't. Does all these small purposes serve for a big one? I know that yes, and I know why, but how can anyone else know? By what standards they should judge their lives? How they could know these specific standards when they needed it? You admitted the purposes of lives exists, now it's time to work with them effectively.

Do you have a method to effectively read into my essay that people who don't know their purpose don't have purpose?  I already answered your question of standards.  They know these standards when they need it because they're human and have the ability to predict consequences.

Work your own purpose out.  I charge $50 to tell people what their purpose ought to be.  (I just made that up, but it seems like a good career.  If so many people don't know their purpose, I'll give them one for only $50.  It'll go a long way towards proving that people actually do know what their purpose is when they reject mine and continue doing what they want to do anyway.)

Quote:
I like when you identified the hidden assumptions. But what happens when we evolve out of them, the communication with those who still uses them, becomes really diffcult and you may find yourself using a speech, which sounds literally esoterically. Or even religionally, God forbid!

Were you high when you wrote this?  It doesn't make any sense.  What are you asking?

Quote:
This simple metaphor requires to accept a lifeafter death, reincarnation, and intelligent life on other planets, but it relatively well explains how the people are equal with each other, you got the point, don't you? Smiling

You aren't making any sense.

Quote:
By the way, in the world there's an overproduction of food. There is more than enough food for literally everyone. The only problem is, that most of the food goes to rich countries or is feeded to farm animals and their meat goes to the rich countries. With enough of food, the poor people won't have to make so much of children to take care of them when they'll be old, and the population will naturally slow its growth. It's a normal economical process, though a bit slow.

What does this have to do with the afterlife or an individual's purpose?  Seriously, were you high?  This is rambling nonsense.

Quote:
Well, that's most of things I had on my mind after attentively reading your essay. I hope you'll be equally attentive.

I tried.  I really did, but only about a third of this seems related to my essay.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

Luminon's picture

..

Thanks for your attention, Hambydammit! I really appreciate it.

Hambydammit wrote:
I am not automatically assuming that it is a physiological process.  I am making that conclusion based on overwhelming and voluminous data supporting the conclusion.  There is no substantiated evidence to the contrary, only philosophical speculation.
Well, sorry, I guess I took into account my own evidence and a research of Robert A. Monroe. His books are surprisingly coherent, for example, a consciousness structure described by him is identic with a schemes provided by madame Blavatsky or Alice Bailey, though that man never cared about these topics, he was an advertising executive.

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
Another logical error is, that you include unperceivable things, like sub-atomary particles, into perceivable cathegory, and you refuse a possibility to even think of unperceivable things.
I do no such thing.  You're saying that I'm making some kind of error of composition, but in doing so, you commit the very error you accuse me of.  Quantum mechanics and neurology are as different as farming and manufacturing computer chips.  The tools for one are virtually useless for the other.  False analogy, error of composition.

I'll try to explain it. We can't see sub-atomary particles (except of photons). But when a person stands in front of a particle accelerator computer terminal, boom, there's a magic, through all the gigantic machine, allowing us to see on a screen, what's happening inside, neurology and quantum mechanics became one, for a while and for a bit.

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
By adding some more data into our perception, we expand our consciousness.
Mumbo-jumbo.  Our consciousness includes the ability to understand abstracts.  "Expanding our consciousness" means adding a new piece of data that our brain already had capacity for.  This isn't anything mystical or magical.  It's just a physical process.

Consciousness has nothing to do with data. Expanding our consciousness means mainly freeing the capacity, which is always occupied by our ever-babbling mind. We can do amazing things with our mind, we can expand our mind by mere reading and thinking, but we all are addicted to it. Mind is a mechanism, it works with data, but consciousness is practically void, it does nothing, just observes, which actually isn't a doing of something. It is beyond any imagination, because even the fact of imagination and dreaming itself, means a thinking, which is NOT a consciousness.
Let me use a minor analogy. There are microprocessors, running a program cycle. In the beginning, a processor must copy bits from all inputs, for a time of a next program cycle. Then it uses these copied values. It is so, because if any of these values on input would change in a microsecond, during the cycle, the program would fail, a half of it would work with one data and the rest of it would run with different data. The program is rigid, it does nothing, but reacting, it can't work, when the input data changes all the time.
This is exactly, like with our mind. We create our own, mental versions of everything around us, and then we work only, with that mental image, because mind is only a mechanical reaction, it's unable to act creatively. When we really act, we don't use our mind. But for the most time, our mind uses us, we are forced to waste our brain capacity for dreams, desires, possible futures, past things, thoughts we consider immoral or filthy, or just senseless. Almost nobody can stop thinking and focus, not even for a minute. Even a half of minute is terribly diffcult. It's so constant stream of mental junk, that we consider it as our consciousness, but it's only a stream of thoughts, single, separated thoughts, no matter how frequent. Our real consciousness is in gaps between them. We're like fools, we keep thinking, even if we don't have to, there's no logical problem ahead, but we keep re-viewing our memories and living in unreal world. We see the world only through illusions, we create for ourselves. Conscious people live in a common world, but all people clouded by mind have their own, small worlds, which doesn't reflect a real, and ever-changing complexity of reality, this is why, they can't see behind their particular limits of mind.
 

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
For example, some young children can see their invisible friends, till parents beats it out of their head and thus creates another perception filter in a brain. And even I can perceive things, which most of people can't, though they could learn it by a simple exercise.
The existence of imagination is proof of the ability of humans to imagine nonexistent things.  It has no bearing on the existence of the afterlife.

Imagination, yes, but to a degree. Everything, what grownups can't explain or find in their books, is considered as an imagination. Imagination is considered as a simulation of non-existent things. Imagination is also believed to be able to take over our five senses, directly at the source. Children are considered to have no rational reasons for their actions or what do they speak. No matter how coherently they say things, it's always considered as a false imagination, when older people  doesn't understand it. Now, we have a definition of imagination, allowing us to "explain" everything inconvenient and stay morally superior over children.
 

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
And if you watched Prison Break, you know that the main hero, Michael Scofield, has a mental disorder, which allows him to see consciously more than others can. This kind of ability isn't fictive, it's a medical fact.
Never saw it.  What disorder, specifically?

I never saw it too, it's as rare as a photographic memory, probably more, but I sometimes hear of it as a curiosity during the years, I think it's not a fictive ability, no context I ever saw it in, was ever meant as fictive. It must have a latin name, I'm just not an expert, maybe someone around will know it. It basically should be an ability of mind to consciously use more of what comes through senses, than only these usual 2% of total input. In the TV show, it kind of gives a sense, it's mentioned as a mental disorder, if it's victim doesn't have IQ high enough to handle the increased brain input, and in similar circumstances I had heard of it before.

Hambydammit wrote:
Do you have a method to effectively read into my essay that people who don't know their purpose don't have purpose?  I already answered your question of standards.  They know these standards when they need it because they're human and have the ability to predict consequences.
Work your own purpose out.  I charge $50 to tell people what their purpose ought to be.  (I just made that up, but it seems like a good career.  If so many people don't know their purpose, I'll give them one for only $50.  It'll go a long way towards proving that people actually do know what their purpose is when they reject mine and continue doing what they want to do anyway.)

No, I don't read there, that a purpose is based on knowing it, if that's what you mean.
If people rejects a purpose provided by you, then it probably doesn't fit them. But it won't just work for everyone anyway,
there is a specific kind of people, who seeks a meaning in their life. It's usually mature people, who have their work, some money, a house,a  family, they pretty much reached everything they could expect from a life, and now they ask themselves, if the rest of their lives is only a waiting for a grave. This is often an opportunity for a thing called 'mid-age crisis'. But in fact, it's a sign of reaching a higher personal development stage, finally a time to develop self, instead of outer world. This is, when these people should be provided with the analysis from someone, who really understands the purpose of life as such and a meaning of individual in modern society. I'm glad I have an unique theoretical and practical basis for that kind of activity right at home. The fee of $50 is about similar, or it was a half year ago, before the dollar started falling even more.
 

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
I like when you identified the hidden assumptions. But what happens when we evolve out of them, the communication with those who still uses them, becomes really diffcult and you may find yourself using a speech, which sounds literally esoterically. Or even religionally, God forbid!
Were you high when you wrote this?  It doesn't make any sense.  What are you asking?

I believe it refers to this text of yours:
As I struggled with these questions, I slowly began to realize something profound – something that would ultimately change how I viewed my own life as well as those of the people around me. Behind each of these troubling questions, there are hidden assumptions about the nature of reality. Without questioning these assumptions, we risk answering a question that isn't even valid to begin with.
I guess I meant, if you question the hidden assumptions, how can you ever further communicate, and ask questions?
When a question isn't even valid to begin with? What may be such a question? I think, that you came there to a very important thing, maybe you got closer to limits of the mind itself. Recognizing the mind as a restraining limit is a first step to reduce it's unconscious and senseless usage and to reveal a true consciousness. Even the most entertaining or deep thought is nothing, compared to a clear depth and happiness of a lack of any thought. Of course, when there's an unsolved math equation ahead, the mind is ready to serve, but for the rest of the time it shouldn't exist, as a parasitic process.

No, I wasn't high at that time, at least not by drugs, but by the mind. This is also enhanced when I'm sleepy, thus half dreaming.  You see how the mind can be harmful, it makes people imprisoned in a very comfortable, yet too small world of their illusions. I'm not a buddha and my mind creates as tempting illusions as any else mind, maybe more, it's my bad habit, I'm a terrible daydreamer. Not only I believe in existence of non-material world, I partially live there, and it's like a nice, mysterious, comfortable...prison. It's not entirely my fault, if you have ever read anything about the pisces astrological sign, that should really fit on me. I keep myself away from real drugs and frequent partying, to not make things even worse with me, otherwise I'm quite a nice person.
This is why I so value these rare and short moments of consciousness, for example, when going on beer with fellows, or driving a car (so far at the driving school), I must concentrate as hell, otherwise I'd probably hit something or someone and end up there.

Hambydammit wrote:
I tried.  I really did, but only about a third of this seems related to my essay.
Well, you see, that's it. I believe I had a reason for everything I wrote, but it could be anything, a general meaning of a specific paragraph, or of several of them, or just some detail, or a hidden meaning, or more of them. I guess it's not really worth of searching for that now. I'd love if everyone could follow my mind, they would like it there.

 

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

Hambydammit's picture

I'll cut to the chase

I'll cut to the chase because you're just repeating the same things in different forms.

Quote:
Well, you see, that's it. I believe I had a reason for everything I wrote, but it could be anything, a general meaning of a specific paragraph, or of several of them, or just some detail, or a hidden meaning, or more of them.

Language has limitations, but they are not applicable to this question.  There is an objective reality:  Either an afterlife exists or it doesn't.  Our ability to create abstractions in our own minds that defy language is only a testament to our ability to construct language defying abstractions, not the objective physical existence of those abstractions.

So, as I said, your whole objection is not relevant to the topic.  The fact that I do not understand what you're asking is not due to vagaries of language, but to your failure to construct sentences with mutually understood definitions and good syntax.

Quote:
I guess I meant, if you question the hidden assumptions, how can you ever further communicate, and ask questions?

You've missed the whole point somehow.  If I ask you how many litres in a gallon, you will not tell me who was president in 1949.  In order to get the answer to a question, one must not only know what one is asking, but be able to articulate it in a coherent manner.  The question, "Is this all there is," is so vague and filled with double and triple meanings that it is virtually worthless as a question.  That's why I broke it down into more specific questions and answered each separately.

I don't want to sound dismissive, but you're not talking about this essay.  You're talking about the limitations of language and the philosophical soundness of trusting imperfect language.  If that's something you want to talk about, we can do it in another thread, or better yet, one of the linguists on the boards, like Strafio, could probably help you sort this out.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

EXC's picture

Hambydammit wrote: Is this

Hambydammit wrote:

 

Is this one life all there really is?

 

All the evidence says that it is. Despite hocus pocus claims from preachers and urban legends about people who have been to heaven and come back, there's no evidence that life goes on after death. Consciousness is dependent on physical processes. When the brain dies and the body decays, there is no longer an organized physical process, so the only logical conclusion is that there is no consciousness.

 

How does conscienceness arise? What is the process by which one's consciencess was assigned to one's mind and body? When did this process start? Why am I me and not someone else?

We know next to nothing about these question. But we do know that everything else in nature gets recycled. So, why is not unreasonable to think our conscienceness would be recyled in some process after death? If nature recycles our physical bodies, why not recycle our consciensess?

So although I'm an atheist on a Judeo-Christian type God, I'm an agnostic on consciencess after death.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca

Luminon's picture

..

EXC wrote:
How does conscienceness arise? What is the process by which one's consciencess was assigned to one's mind and body? When did this process start? Why am I me and not someone else?

We know next to nothing about these question. But we do know that everything else in nature gets recycled. So, why is not unreasonable to think our conscienceness would be recyled in some process after death? If nature recycles our physical bodies, why not recycle our consciensess?

So although I'm an atheist on a Judeo-Christian type God, I'm an agnostic on consciencess after death.


In my post above I described the consciousness as something totally "unearthly". Consciousness itself is transcendental, and has it's structure, which is hierarchical, and these hierarchies are mutually connected into a grid.
Our mind, personality and memory doesn't get recycled, but stored, the consciousness itself does.

Unfortunately, everything, what a correct atheist can say to you here, is that you use an argument from ignorance. (I recommend you to find a precise definition) That you don't know exactly how it is "up there", you don't have a proof, and thus you're unable to participate in a discussion.  Maybe you'll get some remarks, how you can talk about "supernatural" stuff and apply rules of "nature" on it, or similar playing with words. Dumb, huh?

What I consider as a best solution to that, is, when someone will let the superconsciousness speak for itself. As I already mentioned, there's a structural graph of material and less material existence levels and consciousness hierarchy written into it (originally created by Alice Bailey, I guess). When ocassionally a person capable of spiritual contact comes here for a visit, she describes her superconsciousness within the structure on the graph, and so far, I haven't seen anyone, who wouldn't fit there. Even I do. Mostly people's activity doesn't reach very high on the graph, but if someone does, it will show how far exactly. I know, it sounds unbelievably, but this is, what you'll know, when you'll really know.

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

EXC's picture

Luminon wrote:EXC

Quote:

Unfortunately, everything, what a correct atheist can say to you here, is that you use an argument from ignorance. (I recommend you to find a precise definition) That you don't know exactly how it is "up there", you don't have a proof, and thus you're unable to participate in a discussion.  Maybe you'll get some remarks, how you can talk about "supernatural" stuff and apply rules of "nature" on it, or similar playing with words. Dumb, huh?

You should find a precise definition. The argument from ignorace is when when one claims something is TRUE, because it had not been proven false. I said I was agnostic(I don't know but it is not highly unlikely) on the issue of consceicess/life after death.

The issue of conscieness/life after death is similar to life and itelligent life on other planets. We don't know enough about other solar systems or the origins of life to say at this point. But science has discover to many solar systems with planets, we see a pattern. So given our current knowlege we can not say it is unlikely or likely their is life in other planets. We should be agnostic on life after death and life on other planets.

I think you are making a fallacy in assuming that because many parts of religions' myths are false stories, that we must assume it all false. The parables of Jesus the make comparision of how nature works to how the resurrection of the soul(or consciencness) will be. This is a valid evidence(not proof) for life after death. Religion makes the error that because of this, we can know how any afterlife would be.

Our bodies get recycled(worm food), the food we eat get turned into waste products that are recycled. If Hamby is right, our conscieness would be the only part of our being that nature does not recycle.

You seem to be assigning a zero probablity to conscieness after death based on a few studies for which we know little about. You can't assign a zero probabity to anything. Here how I think a freethinkers should classify beliefs about things.

 

Very High Unlikely - All evidence and knowlege of how the univese works indicate it's false. Seems to be a myth story made up by non-scientific people. So this would apply to the Christian/Islamic/Jewish gods, Zues, The spagetti monster, the orbiting teapot, etc... You would say your an atheist on these matters, but technically you can't assign a zero probabitly to them being true.

Agnostic - Science does not know enough about the matter to say one way or the other. There is a pattern or evidence to raise the probabity of it being true above Very Highly Unlikely. Life after Death, Life on other planets, the possiblity of time travel, parallel universes, etc... fall into this catagory.

Very Highly Likely - Strong scientific evidence, good analysis or a repeated pattern lead on to believe this is true. Evolution, gravity will hold me to the earth, the sun will rise tommorow, George Washington was a real person, etc.. into this catagory. But we can't even say with 100% certainty these are true.

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca

Hambydammit's picture

Quote:How does

Quote:
How does conscienceness arise?

Remember that asking questions properly is the only way to get a good answer?  Strictly speaking, consciousness arises because the brain forms.  The brain forms because our DNA 'programs' our stem cells to divide in such a way as to produce organs, the brain being one, and the brain being the organ that causes us to be conscious.

How did humans evolve to become conscious?  It's a tough question that can't be answered in a thread.  I recommend the following books:

Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science)  

Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) by Daniel C. Dennett (Paperback - Jun 24, 1993)

 

 Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (Jean Nicod Lectures)  

Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (Jean Nicod Lectures) by Daniel C. Dennett

 A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution  

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - Sep 2, 2005)

 

Quote:
What is the process by which one's consciencess was assigned to one's mind and body?

Recombination.

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When did this process start?

Meiosis

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Why am I me and not someone else?

The sperm that became half of you was better at reaching eggs than any of your father's other sperm from that particular ejaculate.

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We know next to nothing about these question.

I just gave you all the answers.

Quote:
So, why is not unreasonable to think our conscienceness would be recyled in some process after death?

Because consciousness is inextricably linked to life, and death is the absence of life.  There has never, in the history of science, been a single example of a thing being dead and conscious.  When there is absolutely zero evidence for a speculation, and extraordinary supporting data against it, it becomes unreasonable to believe it.

In order to believe in consciousness after death you must redefine consciousness in a way that removes it from the brain.  Good luck with that.

Quote:
If nature recycles our physical bodies, why not recycle our consciensess?

Because our physical bodies are made of elements which can combine in an almost infinite number of possible ways to form other bodies of matter and/or energy.  Out of these, only a very few are alive.  It is, I suppose, remotely possible that whatever caused life to begin several billion years ago could happen again to some of the atoms in your body, but even if that happened, it would only be "you" in the remotest philosophical sense.  Atoms do not carry any essence of life.

Quote:
So although I'm an atheist on a Judeo-Christian type God, I'm an agnostic on consciencess after death.

You should also read:

How the Mind Works (Penguin Press Science)  

How the Mind Works (Penguin Press Science) by Steven Pinker (Paperback - Feb 4, 1999)

If you get through all of the books I've recommended and are still undecided, I don't know what to do to try to help you.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

EXC's picture

Hambydammit wrote:Quote:How

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
How does conscienceness arise?

Remember that asking questions properly is the only way to get a good answer?  Strictly speaking, consciousness arises because the brain forms.  The brain forms because our DNA 'programs' our stem cells to divide in such a way as to produce organs, the brain being one, and the brain being the organ that causes us to be conscious.

OK, so to you anything that mimics the neural firing of a brain has a conscience? So we know for sure animals, insects, computers have a conscience. Computer scientists don't need to debate anymore if artificial intelligence can create a conscience being? If I program my computer with some of my memories and thought processes, it would contain part of my conscience? To you the answer is yes? To me it is a big mystery what's really going on.

OK, I'll read this book. I saw Dennet's lectures, I liked what he said but he seemed to only talk about how humans perceive things and equated this with conscience. Perception and conscience are two different things to me. This sounds rather arrogant and presumtious that anything a complex as human consciousness can be explained with the just the limited knowledge we are able to have at this time.

Hambydammit wrote:
 

Quote:
What is the process by which one's conscience was assigned to one's mind and body?

Recombination.

We only no this is the physical process by which DNA codes where assigned from parent to child. My DNA code is half my mother, half my father. But my consciousness is not shared with them, my parents don't know I'm typing on a computer right now.

And doesn't recombination demonstrate recycling in action? Genetic instruction combined with organic material recycled from plants/animals generating a new generation of product.

I think you view consciousness as only hardware. To me it is hardware and software.

Hambydammit wrote:
 

Quote:
Why am I me and not someone else?

The sperm that became half of you was better at reaching eggs than any of your father's other sperm from that particular ejaculate.

So then clones would have a shared conscience as the person they share DNA with? Identical twins have the same conscience? The sperm and egg were just instruction containers on how to build my physical body, but they are/were not me.

This seems to contradict the statements about consciousness arising the neural firing of a brain. So if I augment my memory with a PDA, then the PDA becomes part of my conscience right? But the PDA had nothing to with my parents and their DNA combining.

Many scientist now consider the retina to be an extension of the brain. So if one receives an artificial eye, this is then part of the conscience which had nothing to do with egg and sperm getting together.

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
We know next to nothing about these question.

I just gave you all the answers.

So there are no more mysteries about conscience, how it arises, could it be augmented with computers implanted in our brains? Could it transferred to other bodies/computers or be man made? Do insects in a colony share a common conscience?

I think you are making the same mistake people made before about the earth being flat. They had very limited knowledge of other places or the earth. All they knew is that the earth looks flat from around their little village. So they concluded the whole earth is flat. They should have concluded there is a lot of things we don't know about the earth, we don't know enough to believe anything about the shape of the earth.

You say consciousness seems to only be present when our brains are active, I agree that this is how it appears. We have very limited knowledge about the brain, DNA, neural intelligence, etc.. But you conclude that our conciseness can only exist in our brains for this this lifetime. It is impossible for our consciousness to be recycled or reassigned to a new brain or computer. I don't think we know enough to say that for sure.

 

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
So, why is not unreasonable to think our consciousness would be recycled in some process after death?

Because consciousness is inextricably linked to life, and death is the absence of life.  There has never, in the history of science, been a single example of a thing being dead and conscious.  When there is absolutely zero evidence for a speculation, and extraordinary supporting data against it, it becomes unreasonable to believe it.

In pre-scientific times, people did not know that the organic material of your body after death gets recycled and used in new life forms. So now we know the physical material of life get reused after death to form new life. So if the hardware of life gets recycled, why is it unreasonable to think the software(conscience) could get recycled?

Hambydammit wrote:

In order to believe in consciousness after death you must redefine consciousness in a way that removes it from the brain.  Good luck with that.

Well we don't know if conscience can ever exist in a computer. We don't know if a complicated computer exactly mimicking the neural firing of a brain would have a conscience.

My brain cells die all the time(thank you alcohol). Yet we say I still have the same conscience. There is a recycling process of brain cells going on. Information is transferred to sets of new cells that are formed. Do I have a whole new conscience from when I was a baby, because I have a whole new set of brain cells? Was my consciencess transferred to a new set of cells? Does this demonstrate conscieness transfer can occur onto new hardware?

What if science can cure brain dead people with stem cells from other people. Are they a new consciences? What if they lost all memories?

Do Siamese twins that share part of their brains have one or two consciencess? Which parts can be shared or not shared.

If you split the lobes of the brain so they don't communicate, do you they each have a consciencess?

If you claim Dennet/science has all the answers to conscience, what are these answer?

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
If nature recycles our physical bodies, why not recycle our consciences?

Because our physical bodies are made of elements which can combine in an almost infinite number of possible ways to form other bodies of matter and/or energy.  Out of these, only a very few are alive.  It is, I suppose, remotely possible that whatever caused life to begin several billion years ago could happen again to some of the atoms in your body, but even if that happened, it would only be "you" in the remotest philosophical sense.  Atoms do not carry any essence of life.

Then what does carry the essence of life? I think DNA is only part of the answer. So there is something that assigns me to the hardware(brain) I'm running on?

I agree any reconstitution of my conscience would very likely not be completely me. Maybe conscious could be blended, dumbed down, severly altered, etc... One would probably loose all their memories.

I think you may have an anti-religious bias in this area. Things like the physical resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago are very highly unlikely because we have a body of knowledge about science, history, logic, etc.. relating to this matter. But we just don't know enough about conscience, the brain or artificial intelligence yet.

 

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca

Luminon's picture

EXC wrote:I think you are

EXC wrote:
I think you are making a fallacy in assuming that because many parts of religions' myths are false stories, that we must assume it all false. The parables of Jesus the make comparision of how nature works to how the resurrection of the soul(or consciencness) will be. This is a valid evidence(not proof) for life after death. Religion makes the error that because of this, we can know how any afterlife would be.

Our bodies get recycled(worm food), the food we eat get turned into waste products that are recycled. If Hamby is right, our conscieness would be the only part of our being that nature does not recycle.

You seem to be assigning a zero probablity to conscieness after death based on a few studies for which we know little about. You can't assign a zero probabity to anything. Here how I think a freethinkers should classify beliefs about things. 


False stories? They're not so false, but often wrongly interpreted. In their original context, they can be true. But often they're about something else than anyone would today believe.

I do not assume a zero probability to life after death, I'm just afraid that too many people does so. In fact, everything I have ever experienced, points to the fact of consciousness, independent on body or brain. This is why I consider it nearly 100%, unfortunately most of people doesn't have the experiences like I do and they must stay agnostic.
It is possible to stay absolutely conscious, though the body is sleeping. It is then, like you lie in bed and sleep, your body breathes regularly, but you're completely aware of yourself, of circumstances and of the fact, that you sleep. (without dreams, thus without a brain activity) Similar thing is in dreams, when you realize you're dreaming, you can act by a free will and do anything. A cleaning up the memory gets suddenly an observer. How can brain "emulate" a full consciousness, when it's in sleeping mode? That's absurd, we're supposed to be unconscious, when we sleep, and almost always we are. Almost.
This is one of observations supporting the version of independent consciousness.

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

I read this.


 

Hi,

Just wanted to let you know that I have read and enjoyed this essay. I disagree with the presumption that anything that cannot be properly argued by text book standards and styles is necessarily untrue. That is not to say that science is without great validity and importance.

 

I found all of this information (and opinion) to be well researched and very agenda-driven. I can still find skepticism in just about anything as I will never agree to absolutism in anything (whether it "exists" or not).

 

I like your philosophy on the purposes of life and how they differ by culture, religion, priorities, etc. I think that has a lot of merit and is useful in the "here and now."

 

This article does not purport  to prove theism as an irrational belief, but what it does is point out that the inflexibility of beliefs such as Christianity, can really hinder a person, confuse his existence by blurring the lines between morals and duties in regards to himself, others and a higher power, and the essay demands critical thought on beliefs that are passed on from generation to generation which may be deleterious, and even needless, in the long run.

 

I think I would reconsider the title of this essay to reflect and tie together the interrelation between the multiple subjects as viewed from a science-driven or atheistic p.o.v..

Thanks for the link,

Linds

JillSwift's picture

Lindsay wrote:Just wanted to

Lindsay wrote:
Just wanted to let you know that I have read and enjoyed this essay. I disagree with the presumption that anything that cannot be properly argued by text book standards and styles is necessarily untrue. That is not to say that science is without great validity and importance.
Isn't this just a way of saying "I find that science sometimes scares me, so I'll limit it's scope a bit and put all the stuff I want to be true in this 'outside' part where science can't touch it"?


 

"Anyone can repress a woman, but you need 'dictated' scriptures to feel you're really right in repressing her. In the same way, homophobes thrive everywhere. But you must feel you've got scripture on your side to come up with the tedious 'Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve' style arguments instead of just recognising that some people are different." - Douglas Murray

Luminon's picture

JillSwift wrote:Lindsay

JillSwift wrote:

Lindsay wrote:
Just wanted to let you know that I have read and enjoyed this essay. I disagree with the presumption that anything that cannot be properly argued by text book standards and styles is necessarily untrue. That is not to say that science is without great validity and importance.
Isn't this just a way of saying "I find that science sometimes scares me, so I'll limit it's scope a bit and put all the stuff I want to be true in this 'outside' part where science can't touch it"?

Science is great, but slow. Sometimes, scientists are the last ones who sees the truth. What is considered as "paranormal phenomena" is rather common among people, yet media portrays it as a nonsense, so scientific institutions appears still competent to ignore it. After all, they're very busy with developing new medicines, computer chips and exotic particles. This is very important and may be a reason why there's not enough will and finances to research the edge phenomena. Why to bother with nonsenses, when there's AIDS epidemia to cure, and energetic crisis knocking on the door?
With such a priorities, before science officially discovers what is unofficially known for a century, another century passes. It's institution driven by commerce, potentially lucrative projects comes first. I don't say it's good or bad, but that we can expect scientists to choose their projects along appropriate guidelines.
Thanks to great achievements of science people has a great confidence in this institution and it's justified in most of cases. But it shouldn't be glorified as all-powerful, if it would be, then everything would be already discovered. Sometimes it's not a problem to discover phenomena, but to find their basis and repeatable principles, so they may be regularly demonstrated in front of critical observers in protected environment. If no such basis is found, then people may get an impression that it doesn't exist, unless they see it for their own eyes. And even in that case they have no idea what it is, just that it exists, and that it's currrently scientifically banned.
Such people may try to research these phenomena by themselves. If they're succesful, their understanding is quite intuitive,  incoherent with scientific terms, and may be rather superficial - they mostly don't understand it enough to describe it by mathemathic language, or to get it to a mass production. So, layman can be succesful where a scientist can't, but for a great price, a price of not being in textbooks for many next years, sometimes centuries.
It seems that majority of people who seems like that, are scammers, this is specially true in USA. This is even more driven by commerce than science. But not everything. It requires a deeper insight and personal experiences to differ between them, it's too easy to be mislead by incoherence with current scientific knowledge.
There are always people who precedes their times. A scientific institutions goes always with the times, not less and not more, because it actually makes the age, like iron or nuclear age.

 

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

JillSwift's picture

Luminon wrote:wordsYou've

Luminon wrote:
words
You've already established that you don't have the first tiniest understanding of science, Luminon, no need to keep demonstrating that fact.


 

"Anyone can repress a woman, but you need 'dictated' scriptures to feel you're really right in repressing her. In the same way, homophobes thrive everywhere. But you must feel you've got scripture on your side to come up with the tedious 'Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve' style arguments instead of just recognising that some people are different." - Douglas Murray

Hambydammit's picture

Quote:Just wanted to let you

Quote:
Just wanted to let you know that I have read and enjoyed this essay. I disagree with the presumption that anything that cannot be properly argued by text book standards and styles is necessarily untrue. That is not to say that science is without great validity and importance.

This is fine, since I have not advocated the presumption that textbooks are the standard by which scientific inquiry is judged.  It's judged by its conformity to necessary truths, which textbooks may or may not accurately convey.

There are two problems with your implication that science is not the measure by which all reliable knowledge is gained.

1) Science is batting 1.000 against anything else.  That is to say, every single reliable piece of information that has ever been gained has been gained through scientific inquiry.

2) The scientific method is necessitated as the only means to reliable knowledge.  That is, unless knowledge is unknowable (PARADOX!!), science must be the only way to obtain reliable knowledge.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that every bit of reliable knowledge was gained by trained scientists.  That would be ludicrous.  Rather, every bit of reliable data was acquired through the use of the scientific method, whether the people using it were aware of it or not.  Science is like logic, in this sense.  You cannot help but use either logic or science; all you can do is use them well, or poorly.  Poor science and poor logic lead to poor conclusions and data, but claims of non-scientific inquiry miss the foundational truth that science and logic are nothing more and nothing less than the descriptions of how empirical knowledge and abstract conclusions are obtained.

 

Quote:
I found all of this information (and opinion) to be well researched and very agenda-driven. I can still find skepticism in just about anything as I will never agree to absolutism in anything (whether it "exists" or not).

Uh huh.  I've noticed that people who can't refute a particular conclusion often resort to accusations of agenda, as if somehow having an agenda affects the objective truth of the conclusion.

[edit:  Additionally, be careful using that word, "absolute."  To quote from the Princess Bride, "I do not think it means what you think it means."  To claim that a statement is objectively true is not to advocate absolutism.  Absolutism deals with a superimposed objective model over subjective conclusions.  That is, absolutism deals with mind-dependent valuations.  If I say, "Murder is always wrong," I am being an absolutist.  However, if I say, "Every time someone is murdered, they die," I am stating an objective truth.]

Quote:
I like your philosophy on the purposes of life and how they differ by culture, religion, priorities, etc. I think that has a lot of merit and is useful in the "here and now."

Thanks.

Quote:
This article does not purport  to prove theism as an irrational belief

Correct.

Quote:
but what it does is point out that the inflexibility of beliefs such as Christianity, can really hinder a person, confuse his existence by blurring the lines between morals and duties in regards to himself, others and a higher power,

Fair to say.

Quote:
and the essay demands critical thought on beliefs that are passed on from generation to generation which may be deleterious, and even needless, in the long run.

Exactly.

 

Quote:

Thanks for the link,

Linds

Sorry I wasn't around for a show last night.  Owing to a brutal workday, I decided to give it a miss, for lack of brain power.  Keep your eyes open.  Maybe I'll do a late night Sunday show.  Thanks for reading.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

Hambydammit's picture

bump 

bump

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

Hambydammit's picture

 I'm bumping this because

 I'm bumping this because we have several new theists and a couple of agnostics that probably haven't dug around enough to find it.

I know it's long.  Some things take time to explain.  Read it.  It's worth it.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism