Is there an afterlife?

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DesertExplorer
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby DesertExplorer » 29 Apr 2015 19:56

Alright.

What do you mean by "model citizens"?
Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.

~David Gerrold

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Summerlander
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby Summerlander » 30 Apr 2015 11:19

By "model citizen," I mean those who set a good example, i.e. law-abiding and never give the rest of us cause for concern. But if you think this state of affairs is perpetual, you're mistaken. Brain trauma could potentially alter one's mental state and radically change the personality.

I'll tell you what is even stranger yet. The human mind can be literally divided with a knife. Have you heard of the peculiar effects of callosotomies -- the severing of commissures connecting both brain hemispheres (once used as a treatment for conditions like severe epilepsy)? Once a living brain is dissected via the corpus callosum, both hemispheres become independent centres of awareness. You get two minds in one body! Moreover, they often disagree with each other in opinion, beliefs, and control of the body.

It has even been reported that some split-brain patients possess one God-fearing religious hemisphere in contrast to a neighbouring atheistic one! According to some religions, one half of the brain should be going to heaven while the other one goes to hell... :mrgreen:

But jokes about afterlives aside, consciousness is a real mystery. Why should any complex system of matter become aware of itself and often, but not a requisite, the surrounding world?

I am currently reading Sam Harris's "Waking Up -- A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion," and after mentioning what the phenomenon of binocular rivalry entails in healthy brains, he points out something quite profound about consciousness.

Imagine that each of your eyes are visually stimulated in different ways. One is shown a house, and the other, a face. Intuitively, you would expect to see a blending of images -- or a superposition of both -- in consciousness. But this is not the case. Rather, you see the house for a few seconds, then the face, then back to the house, and so on...

Surprised at this switching at random intervals? The input remains constant, and yet, conscious and unconscious components of vision continuously change as they occur in the brain. While you are conscious of one image, you become unconscious of the other. But wait! I haven't mentioned the greater mystery yet...

The subjects experiencing binocular rivalry are CONSCIOUS throughout the experiment! This implies that consciousness runs deeper than just being aware of sensory stimuli. Now, if you were to take away all the senses, surely, a "naked" awareness would remain, wouldn't it? What do you think?

My turn to ask questions... ;-)

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"Empty cognizance of one taste, suffused with knowing, is your unmistaken nature, the uncontrived original state. when not altering what is, allow it to be as it is, and the awakened state is right now spontaneously present."

- Padmasambhava

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DesertExplorer
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby DesertExplorer » 30 Apr 2015 14:14

Wow, that seems very interesting!

"The subjects experiencing binocular rivalry are CONSCIOUS throughout the experiment! This implies that consciousness runs deeper than just being aware of sensory stimuli."

Before I can answer, I'll have to know why does this imply that. How did you make this connection anyway? I really lost you there.
Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.

~David Gerrold

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Summerlander
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby Summerlander » 30 Apr 2015 21:26

Even I'm racking my brains at that one. It seems that two different sets of visual data arrive in the brain but they are delivered one at a time interval (never simultaneously) to consciousness. And while we can say that when the individual is conscious of the house he is unconscious of the face and vice versa, we must acknowlege that consciousness is present throughout. At no point does the individual become unconscious.

Now, it could be argued -- against the implication that consciousness runs deeper -- that while we are aware of seeing the house (in its prominent appearance in consciousness), we also see the face. But because the house perhaps had more of an impact on the neurons, we forget that we saw the face, too. Subsequently, as the brain is aware that there is another stimulus to take into consideration, it removes the house (as it had enough conscious exposure) and introduces the face into visual awareness. Indeed memory and consciousness interrelate. Now, this is just a hypothetical explanation. I don't know why the binocular rivalry should be. Perhaps the brain hemispheres wrestle even when they are attached to each other as one prefers the face while the other prefers the house.

This is redolent of something else. Split-brain patients can draw two different things at the same time with ease: the left hand can draw a dog while the right draws a person. People with their brains intact, like you and me, will find this exercise next to impossible as one hand will tend to copy the other.

And then we arrive at lucid dreaming. Someone here once posed the question of whether or not dream characters are conscious. After all the talk about callosotomies and binocular rivalries, such proposition doesn't seem so far-fetched. Perhaps they represent the intelligent and conscious right hemisphere while the dreamer is mostly representative of the left hemisphere. Who knows! Split-brain individuals, funnily enough, report having only mundane dreams where oneiric environments differ very little from the real world. It seems these poor people are deprived of the more surreal settings which tend to provide escapist adventures.

In our ordinary dreams, the dreamer lacks control and lucidity while DC's seem as alive as ever and appear to know the dream setting well. But the dreamer quickly seems to rob them of their apparent elan vitale when lucidity is attained. Perhaps Waggoner wasn't far-off from the truth when he said that there is a kind of intelligence behind the dream. Some may want to argue that the right hemisphere does not deal in language and therefore isn't conscious. But I would dispute that by saying that experimenters are able to communicate with the right just as well as the left. The right hemisphere can recognise the shapes of written words and may use this to answer questions. It also exhibits more consciousness than an infant. Anyway, this paragraph really belongs in the Dream Characters section.

More to the point of this discussion, I don't believe in the afterlife (especially not the religious hereafter scenarios). Neuroscientific evidence strongly suggests that at death you've had it. But we must remember that consciousness is still a mystery. Just because I don't believe -- and just because evidence is strongly indicative of zero experience once the brain dies -- doesn't mean there is nothing. The debate hasn't really been settled as the scientific side that struggles to even define consciousness hasn't really provided us with something absolutely conclusive. Perhaps part of the conundrum is the fact that consciousness is trying to study consciousness. Could this be an impasse? I don't know.

When you open the brain and have a look, there is nothing to suggest that it's a locus of experience. Tomorrow, I could be surprised to find that consciousness is something independent of the brain. This, of course, would not necessarily confirm the existence of ghosts, miracles, gods, and eternal life.

[ Post made via Android ] Image
"Empty cognizance of one taste, suffused with knowing, is your unmistaken nature, the uncontrived original state. when not altering what is, allow it to be as it is, and the awakened state is right now spontaneously present."

- Padmasambhava

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DesertExplorer
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby DesertExplorer » 04 May 2015 13:54

OK. I can certainly imagine that conciousness may runs deeper than we can see. But, you are right. We would not be able to see it. We probably need a *mirror* for that. ;)

I personally don't believe that consciousness is normally independent from the brain, but I can believe in the possibility that it can be.
Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.

~David Gerrold

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Summerlander
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby Summerlander » 04 May 2015 21:58

And that is as open-minded as we can afford to be on the idea. Here is an interesting quote from Sam Harris:

"The fact that the universe is illuminated where you stand -- that your thoughts and moods and sensations have a qualitative character in this moment -- is a mystery, exceeded only by the mystery that there should be something rather than nothing in the first place. Although science may ultimately show us how to truly maximise human well-being, it may still fail to dispel the fundamental mystery of our being itself. That doesn't leave much scope for conventional religious beliefs, but it does offer a deep foundation for a contemplative life. Many truths about ourselves will be discovered in consciousness directly or not discovered at all."

And then there is the riddle of the self which philosopher Derek Parfit once emphasised in the following thought experiment:

Imagine a teleportation device that can beam people from Earth to Mars. All you need to do is go inside a chamber, press a green button, and presto you're there (or so you've heard). Before you go in the chamber for the first time, technicians tell you that all the information in your brain and body will be sent to a similar station on Mars, where you will be reassembled down to the last atom. Several of your friends have already done it and they message you from Mars, telling you that they're fine and describe the experience as being one of instantaneous relocation: "Don't worry! You push the green button and find yourself standing on Mars -- where your most recent memory is of pushing the button on Earth and wondering if anything would happen!"

So you decide to teleport to Mars. However, as you make arrangements with the technicians, you come across a troubling fact about the mechanics of teleportation: It turns out that the technicians wait for a person's replica to be built on Mars before obliterating his original body on Earth. The benefit of this is that it leaves nothing to chance; if the process of replication goes wrong, no harm has been done. However, the troubling factor is quite clear:

While your double begins his day on Mars with all your memories, prejudices and goals intact, you will be standing in the teleportation chamber on Earth, just staring at the green button. Imagine a voice on the intercom congratulating you for arriving safely at your destination and that in a few moments your Earth body will be destroyed. How is this different from getting killed?

And yet, consider that the same arrangement of atoms that begets your sense of self and identity would be walking on Mars and believing himself to be you. You may think that the replica is nothing but a deluded perfect clone, but then consider the fact that all your cells have been replaced many times during your lifetime. You may remember having been six-years-old but the truth is that that little boy is long gone and the new cells have merely inherited memories. This gives rise to the illusion of a continued self. We must also consider the fact that individuals with extreme dementia are not psychologically continuous with whom they used to be -- and yet, they hold the same neurons that gradually succumb to the disease. In their case, a new set of neurons compatible with continued consciousness could restore their once healthy psyche...

What is the self then? What does it rely on? Could it be that, in Parfit's thought experiment, we die on Earth but suddenly find ourselves conscious on Mars? Or do we die and the replica on Mars is nothing but a replicated self but with a fundamental difference of location in the fabric of space?

According to Buddha, the sense of self is an illusion -- not what we feel it to be -- and hence why we can temporarily turn off the observer-observed dichotomy through meditation. The naked awareness is bliss because bliss may be an intrinsic tone to consciousness -- and hence why a convoluted mind illuminated by consciousness will tend to experience the distractions of desire. I think he was right. Furthermore, if we assume, according to compelling scientific evidence, that consciousness ceases at death, we come to understand that our struggles are truly over when that time comes.

And in a sense, when we realise that living beings are like heroin addicts searching for happiness and trying to make it last, life suddenly seems like a problem that arose from the complexity of matter. Unconscious matter does not experience and therefore does not suffer. Like the stone, and, according to everything neuroscience tells us, the corpse.

Experience leads to suffering because sentient beings will always tend to crave for the best mental states. Meditation? A tool to help make the awareness of our gradual loss more bearable as well as a "window" allowing us to glimpse the truth of our condition.

[ Post made via Android ] Image
"Empty cognizance of one taste, suffused with knowing, is your unmistaken nature, the uncontrived original state. when not altering what is, allow it to be as it is, and the awakened state is right now spontaneously present."

- Padmasambhava

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DesertExplorer
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby DesertExplorer » 06 May 2015 21:09

I never got into meditation seriously. In fact I don't think I ever will, but never say never they say.

I enjoyed that little story. Is it from a book or what?
Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.

~David Gerrold

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Summerlander
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Re: Is there an afterlife?

Postby Summerlander » 06 May 2015 23:12

It's adumbrated in "Waking Up" by the neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris but Derek Parfit is the one who excogitated the thought experiment.

[ Post made via Android ] Image
"Empty cognizance of one taste, suffused with knowing, is your unmistaken nature, the uncontrived original state. when not altering what is, allow it to be as it is, and the awakened state is right now spontaneously present."

- Padmasambhava


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