Well, I have decided to post my conclusion based on everything that has been said here. This conclusion is also based on a train of thought that has been developed for some time and this is where I currently stand on the matter of souls, hereafters, and astral projection. Perhaps others can read the whole thread and express their final thoughts too?
I have been pondering over the afterlife concept for a long time now, and, if someone was to ask me if there is an afterlife, my answer would be: let’s review the evidence to date. I can’t be sure of anything solely on a strong feeling which could, without my awareness, be fundamentally illusory - and lucid dreaming is no reason to start believing. I suspect that, when we die, we go back to being in the same state that we were before we were born, whether existent or non-existent.
Many people fantasise about an afterlife of otherworldly exploration, contact with other beings and the eventuation of their wishes. Lucid dreams are often surmised to be a glimpse of the immediate afterlife even though it is very much a condition of being alive in which the brain is active - more so than the delta waves of deep dreamless sleep - and the cerebral areas associated with waking states are often found to be functional during lucidity.
If death really is the cessation of being - and thus the end of experience and cognition - then it is also the end of suffering. You won’t know that you are dead, you won’t know that you are not suffering, you won’t know that you do not perceive, and you won’t know anything. In conclusion: there is no “I”! People find this hard to imagine and some even go as far as to say that such notion is more incredible than the idea of an afterlife in the spirit realms. Some even say that non-existence makes no sense and put forth all sorts of non sequiturs - which usually derive from overlooking or underestimating cerebral complexity and potential - in their desperate struggle to reimpose vitalism.
But the truth is that we were dead before we were born, ergo, we should have a good idea of what death entails and common sense tells us that it is the absolute opposite of life. This could mean that death is simply going back to the pre-birth state. The fact that all our mental properties can be destroyed with the expunction of specific brain parts favours the abnegation of a spiritual, and thus conscious, afterlife. Either there is no afterlife or this one is fraught with deceased individuals possessing all the brain deficits.
Hypothetically speaking, what constitutes us becomes something else which gives rise to the possibility of rebirth. I’ll use the computer analogy in that, if death means deletion of a file (sentient being), the information it contains goes in the recycle bin, where, overtime, the data that constitutes it gets reconfigured. Being absent from life or any sort of interaction is a notion that can convey a sense of much needed rest from the living perspective, but, in death, you are not even resting - you are beyond that!
When something as important as the cerebral cortex is damaged, for example, one may very easily slip into a long-term coma. Individuals who have woken up from these have often been oblivious to how much time had passed due to their lapse in consciousness. Because they were unaware of the time that passed while unconscious, the coma state from their perspective was losing their senses in one moment and regaining awareness the next. Confusion manifests as soon as they become conscious. Suffering usually begins when they realise how much time has passed, how much they’ve missed, and how things have changed. Their nightmare begins in consciousness and effort is required to get used to their newfound status of loss and overcome their problems. If death is the cessation of being, then it is also the end of all problems. One should not, however, see death as an escape from an apparently harsh reality and commit suicide, as this could be psychologically detrimental to loved ones and one should make the most of life and be the best person one can be.
On the other hand, consciousness could survive death if we consider the possibility that the existence of “I” is not dependent upon brain or bodily functions, and that thoughts may operate on another frequency of reality - however, there is no evidence for this and the solid evidence available seems to point in the opposite direction. An afterlife then, would perpetuate experience and bring everything that comes with it. Do we tap into this hypothetical frequency of reality when we induce lucid dreams, or is it all an illusion produced by electrochemical functions of the brain?
Another theory, which seems somewhat more feasible to me, is one which completely discards esoteric cosmology, or the existence of a soul for that matter, but holds the twist that we can return to consciousness after death as a different life form. This does not involve a spirit reincarnating, but rather, the natural revival of our awareness if the universe stumbles upon the right coordinates in space. In this theory, the universe intrinsically holds us in a pristine unconscious state (at death we go back to being zero) until the chance presents itself for us to become something else.
But, am I a fatalist if I feel that, considering all the evidence available, we die and that’s it? Not necessarily. Science could one day render us immortal in our present physical condition, which, in my opinion, is the only possible condition to be in as a living human being. But I also think death is a blessing in disguise. Would you really want to live forever? Think about the mental torture as you run out of things to do and think and gradually become bored of repeating the same experiences an infinite number of times. Soon you’d be saying, “Get me out of here before I lose my mind!” If you don’t think life can become boring after living for a long time spare a thought for those centenary folks who are pretty fed up.
If the stream of experience in a posthumous eternal life is different to the earthly one to the extent that tedium doesn’t enter the equation then I assume that we’d have bad memories preventing the death of novelty. And I don’t think it’s a matter of choice to not get bored either. Everyone has a threshold and everybody breaks. Like I said, living forever would plague one to ask the same question an infinite number of times: “What haven’t I done yet?” If you don’t feel the need to ask such question and are quite happy with repetition, if you don’t feel like you are wasting your time by not bothering to find novelty as you struggle to stretch your imagination beyond what you have already been exposed to, then hats off to you.
When it comes to the hereafter, here and now is all I know and the only thing I can be sure of. The limitations in the realm of the living are real enough. I don’t want to be a naysayer, but, even if there is an afterlife, there is no reason to assume that it will be good. We can’t even rule out a version of extreme boredom or one that is similar to earthly experience just as there is no good reason to rule out real death (unconsciousness/non-existence). I’ve made my peace with the last strong possibility. If I am as unconscious at death as I think I was before birth, I am no longer susceptible to worry, fear, desperation, ego-preservation, bad thoughts, and death itself. I no longer feel the need to chase my needs and wants in order to survive and be happy simultaneously. If I am completely absent from the realm of experience, I am completely free even from myself. Ergo, there is no “I” anymore. I think it’s the best scenario, because, if dead means dead then the deceased are immune to any further mishaps.
I don’t think consciousness can survive physical death when we observe a real dichotomy in cerebral activity indicative of a spectrum where sharp consciousness lies at one end, unconsciousness the other, and death appearing to be the point of no return right at the latter’s end. (Not to mention the degenerate cerebral illnesses that can take away so much from the living.) To claim, without evidence, that the physical universe is localised somewhere in reference to someplace “non-local” (as some dualist mumbo jumbo goes), or lying outside of it, and assuming such hypothetical realm to be the land where the dead consciously dwell, is a temerarious statement to make. Such claim is the equivalent of proposing that a perspective outside space and time is possible. Think about this proposal for a minute. How can one acquire such perspective when there is no time, let alone space, to house the observer?
Space and time are properties of the universe itself and thus a coherent outside perspective is undoable. Unless, of course, there is space and time outside (or beyond) the universe - in which case it wouldn’t be outside it, but rather, an extension of physical reality (and since the dead have expired their conscious living existence in such reality, as one only gets one shot in physicality, they cannot exist anywhere else). Let’s not forget that space itself, even as the purest of vacuums, is still something physical and containing energy: it’s abuzz with quantum particles. Thus, something outside of the universe with the same properties would be an extension of physical reality itself, if not a continuation of our observable universe, and therefore, a part of all there is.
We’d be forced to define “universe” as “observable universe” and the word “outside” almost loses its application when we see that the acquired perspective is still encompassed the tangible structure that constitutes everything. The very essence of space and time, it seems, is what defines us as illusory selves and observers. If the “outsider” perspective (meaning outside “all there is”) could be attained, we would be able to see, within a little portion of the universal structure, our birth at one end and our corpse at the other. This implies that time, as something that passes, is an illusion, and that past, present, and future (or any point within the space-time structure) is equally real. From the impossible outside-of-it-all perspective, one would be able to see all the frames of space (with all their objects) that are not synchronised (as we say, “occurring at different times”).
Within the universe, time is like a river that flows one way. Hypothetically outside of it, however, one must assume that such illusion is shattered. Nothing flows, it is all static. Perspective and perception is everything when arriving at conclusions. In a similar vein, memory most likely helps to produce the illusion of a continuous self. What seems intuitively real to us may not be so objectively. Hence the need to think outside the box sometimes.