Saturday, April 26, 2008

Life After Death

"Life is too short and death is too long." One of the memorable one-liners, thrown in with casual ease and apparent total lack of awareness of its profundity, by Rube, who is full of this kind of stuff.

The thing about DLM, as you can see from the poster, is that it promotes the notion that there actually is something there for you after you die. Same goes, of course, for any story set in the 'afterlife'. And, let's face it, there are thousands of those, all across the human universe.

But the overwhelming evidence is, or so those disposed toward rationality and science would think, that there is nothing there. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Null. Diddly-squat. Rien. Da big fat ZERO. Actually, less than a zero, because a zero is something. Non-existence is...well, non-existence. It is the negation of everything we know and can possibly conceive. And that's a biggie, let's face it.

So, where's the rub? I mean, you know there's a rub, yes? There always is.

The rub's this: what is the question we're actually trying to answer? I mean, with regards to what's commonly called the 'afterlife'.

Remember that your answers are always only as pertinent or relevant as the questions you're answering. And when it comes to the afterlife—or, somewhat related to it, the 'before-life-life'—I suspect that we just may have no idea of what we're actually trying to find out. Everything we are asking is somehow related to a notion that what we know as 'life' right here and now is reflected in whatever comes 'then'—sort of. And if you pursues that kind of line of thought, then all you'll ever come up with is variations on: How is life after death different from life as we know it now?

DLM doesn't do any better, not from a metaphysical point of view, than most at illuminating the issue; and, let's face it, why should it? It's entertainment, and it's more about the living than the dead anyway; because those that die and pass on disappear, never to be heard from again, and the 'Undead', the Grim Reapers...well, they're not actually dead; they just have moved from being participants in ordinary human life and society to being bystanders, or, as Rube once put it, 'facilitators'. This allows them to gain insights into 'life' that they would not have had otherwise, because ordinarily you a) can't really stand back far enough to see what the bigger picture might look like, and b) don't have quite as much time to do ponder these things; while George and her buddies do have that time—as well as lots of motivation to ponder such issues, though not all of them are inclined to do so, preferring instead to live in denial.

There are, I should add, philosophies—Buddhism, the non-religious aspects of it, is an example—that are at least aware of the difficulty of figuring out the right questions to ask with regards to LAD (Life After Death). Buddhism appears aware that there are real issues with humans conceiving non-existence. We may be aware of the inevitability of death, but that doesn't necessarily enable us to comprehend its nature.

Still, I think the enterprise isn't entirely hopeless. It seems to me that there are ways of working out what, if—that being THE BIG IF— anything 'cognitive' and personal-identity-wise, lies on the other side of the cessation of brain function. I even think that we might have all the evidence we need to take a stab at guessing whatever there is on the other side, or if anything actually there; because, let's face it, this is the first question to answer. The problem is that whatever 'evidence' there might be is a) contradictory and/or ambiguous and/or often equivocal, b) most of the time not discernible as 'evidence' related to this particular area of investigation and c) almost always circumstantial.

I know that some will scoff and insist "There is no evidence except that which indicates that there is nothing left of anything smacking of 'consciousness' after death."

I beg to differ. There is no evidence whatsoever to 'prove' that there isn't anything after death. The case for there being nothing but 'extinction' or just plain 'nothing' rests on the absence of evidence; specifically of the kind of evidence acceptable to those who have this particular axe to grind. That is a weak case, which qualifies as 'shakily circumstantial'. It's quite possible, maybe even highly probable, that the LADDs (Life After Death Deniers) are quite correct. However, at this stage in the game the onus is on them to demonstrate that all the 'evidence' presented by those of a differing opinion is bogus. The arrogance of those proclaiming themselves as 'rationalists', who think that being ' rational', at least to their own over-inflated self-esteem, gives them a better shot at the truth, thereby exempting them from the need to provide this kind of 'proof', is really reflective of a particular kind of stupidity.

As an individual who has always been highly conscious of his mortality, I've been profoundly interested in the nature of personal death for more years than I care to admit. I've considered a lot of the presented 'evidence', from just about all sides of the many-sided argument. After all these years, while leaning toward the 'there's nothing at all' side, I am conscious of the fragility of the arguments for that position.

But I am also aware of the dangers involved in assuming a position of what amounts to 'hope'. Said 'hope' is that after death there may be something that remains; possibly enough to qualify as 'I'. Anything is preferable to extinction: this is a very fundamental emotion, at least in most people, whether they admit it or not.

But there's another argument here, and it is this: just because a particular alternative is more attractive than another, and just because that alternative might be favored driven by motivations including hope and just plain wishful thinking, that doesn't per se make that alternative in any way less potentially valid.

And there is stands—and still we're wondering and pondering and agonizing... And I wonder if there is something, some crucial element of evidence, that qualifies as a 'decider'.

If life only were that simple.

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