Saturday, April 30, 2005

What's your motive?

If a person believes in the afterlife, he will often act in the best interests of the afterlife, even if it short-changes the interests of this life. This is because after-lifers tend to put primacy on the next life rather than this life. And the more passionately they hold their afterlife beliefs, the more they short-change their life and the lives of those around them.

George Eliot had some strong things to say about motive, God, and artificial canals. I know of no God belief that does not include some significant form of afterlife belief, so I think that what Mr. Eliot said is also applicable to the afterlife:

Accessory motives may aid in producing an action, but they presuppose the weakness of the direct motive; and conversely, when the direct motive is strong, the action of accessory motives will be excluded. If then, the glory of God is to be ‘the absorbing and the influential aim’ in our thoughts and actions, this must tend to neutralize the human sympathies; the stream of feeling will be diverted from its natural current in order to feed an artificial canal.
-George Eliot, Evangelical Teaching, 1855

Lets take Mr. Eliot's concept and see how we can apply it to the afterlife:

The afterlife concept presupposes that this life is not our first priority. But when this life is our first priority, afterlife belief is discarded. So if the afterlife is to be the primary consideration in this life, it will neutralize our consideration for ourselves and each other in this life.

When this is the only life a person believes in, it becomes much more valuable, because it fills up the #1 priority slot that the afterlife would otherwise fill. It tends to make a person more moral and humane. Without God and afterlife belief, the happiness of you and your fellow man in this life is the primary motive.

Through the month of April, I have shown that the afterlife is unevidenced. I have shown that available evidence indicates that consciousness is purely material, and dependent upon a material brain. I have shown that people want their consciousness to continue to exist, and that they believe in the afterlife as a coping mechanism. I have shown that they start with the conclusion of their coping mechanism (there is an afterlife), and then provide emotional and fallacious reasons to hold that conclusion. And now I have shown that believing only in this life provides for a direct (and superior) primary motive: itself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Comforting Evidence

Why do people hold conclusions in spite of contrary evidence? Specifically, why do so many people believe in the afterlife even though many of them have seen evidence that consciousness is not sustained after physical death? [Edit: anonymous person] answered this question:

There is no continuation of consciousness or of licafe in it's original form. For a religious and/or spiritual person, the afterlife might represent "comfort" in that he/she believes there is no "end". This person uses learned religious and spiritual beliefs as coping mechanisms for painful emotions such as those felt from loss. Science and empirical research are not enough for these individuals to break their unconscious coping habits and to learn that acceptance of an end is a more realistic and healthier method of coping. The emotions are powerful and it's difficult to motivate people to question and reexamine their deeply embedded belief system when there are such powerful influences involved.

[Edit: anonymous person] says it perfectly. Most people have a "need" to believe, for it is comforting to think that you will somehow escape the death of your physical body through some magical continuation of your consciousness. Again, I want to quote Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin: "You want you - not the atoms of your body, but you - to survive the decomposition of your body."

What I am trying to say, is that people will tend to believe what they want to believe. Religion is often referred to as a "crutch" and I believe the same thing applies to the afterlife. It is a crutch for the weak minded. It is a comfort for those without the stomach to face the evidenced truth. Some people (indeed, more every generation) have the guts to face reality, but most do not. Discarding the afterlife belief makes this life much more important; it raises the stakes; it puts more responsibility on a person to make this life the best life possible, when most people would rather not have such responsibility.

The mind's need for comfort is a powerful, overriding desire. An objective, logical scientist will start out with evidence (consciousness depends on the physical brain for existence), and then arrive at a conclusion (life after death is not possible). But the emotional afterlife has it backwards: they will start with a conclusion (I want/need to continue to exist after I die), and then select "evidence" that supports this want/need (near death experience-testimony, ancient scriptures).

Currently, mere evidence of the material dependency of consciousness does not suffice to convince people of the non-existence of the afterlife. Emotional and morality-based arguments are needed. I must admit, that I have neglected to develop too many emotional and morality-based arguments against the afterlife, although a few have been brewing in my head. In a way, it seems easier to battle the afterlife concept with logic and science, than with emotion and morality. But I believe that it still can be done; after all, the mission statement of my blog says "Belief in the afterlife is inhumane and immoral."

Belief in the afterlife is most definitely inhumane and immoral. It forces this existence to play second fiddle. It forces one to shortchange this existence for the next. But I am getting ahead of myself. In this post, I exposed man's need for comfort thanks in big part to [edit: anonymous person]. In future posts, I will be further exploring the inhumane and immoral mentality that comes hand-in-hand with the afterlife concept.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Corliss Lamont defines immortality as ”The literal survival of the individual human personality or consciousness for an indefinite period after [physical] death, with its memory and awareness of self-identity essentially intact" (Lamont 22).

In previous posts, I explained how human personality or consciousness is hopelessly dependent upon the physical operation of one's brain and central nervous system. To believe in the continuation of this physical function, without an organ, device, or machine capable of maintaining this function, is ignorant wishful thinking.

So is immortality possible? Is the continuation of consciousness and the preservation of memories possible without a human body to sustain them? I believe it is indeed (eventually) possible, and I have evidence to support this assertion.

"But wait Aaron! I thought this blog was about disproving the afterlife! So why are you saying immortality is possible? Aren't you betraying your materialistic, godless worldview?"

Good questions. Actually, the reason I am asserting the possibility of immortality in this blog entry is to again argue against the afterlife concept. I plan to show how immortality is, in reality, an anti-afterlife concept.

The afterlife concept proposes a different world, or a different existence, or a different dimension, however you want to put it. The afterlife concept discards this reality upon death and proposes a heaven or a hell or maybe even a reincarnation, but the point is that the afterlife concept involves the transfer to a different existence in a different realm (even reincarnation holds this view in the sense that you are “reborn” as a new entity without the acquired memories and personality of your past life). It proposes a "next" world or reality, and stresses its importance or primacy over this "current" reality.

Immortality, on the other hand, does not propose a "next" reality, nor does it cheapen the importance or primacy of this "current" reality. Immortality, on the other hand, is actually the continuation of one's existence in this reality. Immortality, as Corliss Lamont stated, is the idea of keeping your consciousness intact in this world after your body has expired.

Now that we've distinguished the difference between an "afterlife" and "immortality," why should someone, especially a hardcore materialistic atheist like myself, even support the idea of "immortality"? Where is the evidence?

The first piece of evidence I would like to present is a man by the name of Matt Nagle. Matt Nagle suffered a vicious knife attack four years ago, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Matt eventually got in contact with the neuroscience department at Brown University in Rhode Island, where he became a guinea pig of sorts. Matt had electrodes surgically implanted in his brain that can "read" his brain signals, specifically, the ones that control body movement. A computer interprets Matt's brain signals, and then uses these signals to give commands to various mechanical devices. Thanks to the electrodes implanted in his brain, Matt has been able to control a robotic arm, a television, and the cursor on a computer screen (think Microsoft Windows), all with his thoughts. You can read about Matt and this technology here.

The second piece of evidence I would like to present involves Sony Corporation. You know, the company that makes the Playstation? Well, Sony has recently acquired a patent for a technique that allows the beaming of sensory information directly to one's brain. The sensory information beamed to one's brain would include images, sounds, smells, feelings, even tastes. No invasive surgery is needed, Sony claims. The sensory information would be transmitted via ultrasonic pulses aimed at specific areas of the brain. You can read about Sony and this patent here.

What do these two examples have to do with immortality? The first example I presented (the one involving Matt) is an example of information being created in a human brain, then being sent from the human brain to a machine that can interpret and act on the information. The second example I presented (the one involving Sony's patent) is an example of information being created in a machine, then being sent from the machine to a human brain that can interpret and act on the information. The first example involves output, and the second example involves input. What this means is that we have the knowledge and the ability to transfer information between human brains and man-made machines, and translate this information into something meaningful for both entities (the organic brain and the artificial machine). In other words, human thought can be reduced to electronic ones and zeroes, and ones and zeroes are the language of a computer.

Do I need to point out the obvious? We can understand the functions of a heart, and then make an artificial heart. We are beginning to understand the functions of a brain, and soon we will be able to make an artificial brain. If we can learn to understand the "language" of the brain, and get machines to "talk" in such language, then we can make artificial brains that can provide continuity to one's consciousness and memories after their biological brain has ceased operation. Human thoughts are quantifiable and measurable and translatable, and this is the key to immortality.

We already have our foot in the door, and it is now just a matter of time until we swing this door wide open. We already have machines that act on thought instruction. We already have patented methods of creating synthetic thoughts with computers and beaming them directly into one's brain. We have the "dots," and it is only a matter of time before these dots are connected to form a complete picture. With the development of these technologies, as well as nanotechnology, we will eventually be able to create machines that can take over the functions of the human brain, and we will even be able to "upload" one's consciousness and thoughts into such a machine, thus escaping the mental "death sentence" that comes with the death of our organic bodies.

What does technological immortality have to do with the afterlife? Everything! If we can cheat the death of our minds, then we can keep our consciousnesses intact in the here and now. Remember how I stated earlier in this entry that the afterlife is the belief in a different realm or reality? Well, technological immortality cuts the afterlife out of the equation like an Occam's Razor of sorts. With technological immortality, the "afterlife" concept becomes not only unevidenced, but superfluous as well. Immortality will keep us existent in the only existence we have ever known: this material reality. And a technological immortality, to me, is much more comforting than any imaginary, immaterial, and unevidenced afterlife.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Do You Remember?

Every person has a certain mental uniqueness. Personality and memories, like fingerprints, are unique to each individual. All of a person's identity, all of a persons personality, and all of a person's consciousness and thinking abilities are developed over time, and they begin development while still in the womb. They develop as one's body develops. We can measure and observe the physical changes in the brain as a person's character develops, and as they add memories to their mind. And a person's character/personality develops at uneven rates, just like the body grows at uneven rates.

For example, lets look at language, or more specifically, bi-lingual people. Babies born and raised in a two language environment will develop two visibly distinct speech-processing regions in their brains over time. They will also be able to speak these two languages fluently, with none of those "foreign tongue" accents in either language: The baby will learn to speak both languages in ways that sound as if both were their "native" tongue.

Adults, on the other hand, will never learn to speak an additional language as well as a child would learn multiple languages from childhood. Adults brains will not develop two distinct areas, nor will the adults be able to easily switch from their original language to their second tongue without a noticeable accent in it. Clearly, the capabilities of one's consciousness and it's development, is dependent upon the states and developmental cycles of a 100% purely material biological organ: the brain.

This site explains it really well.
There is increasing evidence suggesting that there are "critical periods" for speech and language development in infants and young children. This means that the developing brain is best able to absorb a language, any language, during this period. The ability to learn a language will be more difficult, and perhaps less efficient or effective, if these critical periods are allowed to pass without early exposure to a language.

This site explains how different areas of the brain are responsible for the ability to speak and understand words.
"In particular, the PET scan ("positron emission tomography") provides a computer with the information needed to construct a three dimensional map of a persons brain including the relative activity of different areas. PET scans involve injecting someone with a radioactive glucose solution. Since active areas of the brain use more energy, and therefore more glucose, they release more radiation, which the computer translates into "warmer" colors such as yellow and red. Areas that are less active are shown with "cooler" colors such as green and blue. As by now you should expect, certain areas of the left hemisphere were more active while people were engaged in linguistic activities."

So we have seen that physical matter (your brain) is responsible for your ability to understand and communicate words. We have seen that the state or condition of that physical, material brain will affect your ability to understand language and communicate messages, as well as affect you development of those skills over time. Great. Who cares? Well, people that believe in the afterlife should care, because it says a lot about the afterlife. Or, to be more specific, the inability to go there upon your death.

In reality, all aspects of your consciousness, from communication to observation to constructing concepts to even feeling life itself, are hopelessly dependent upon your physical brain. I used communication as an example to show the hopeless dependency that consciousness has on a material existence, for demonstrating all aspects of consciousness as being dependent upon a material existence is a bit beyond the scope of this article.

Now I want to quote a bit from a wonderful book entitled "Wisdom Without Answers: A Brief Introduction to Philosophy" by Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin.

You want you - not the atoms of your body, but you - to survive the decomposition of your body.
If you survive the decomposition of your present physical body, you must survive as something other than your present body - perhaps a soul. But what is a soul, and do you have one?
Souls are not bodies or memories or beliefs or character traits or temperamental dispositions. If souls were bodies, they would decompose when we die. If souls were memories, they would diminish as we got older. If souls were beliefs, they would change from day to day. If souls were character traits or temperamental dispositions, a lobotomy could destroy them.
Traditionally, souls are thought of as "spiritual" substances that have memories, beliefs, character traits, and so on; souls are not these phenomena but, rather, spiritual things that have them. Today we believe that it is the body - more specifically, the brain - that has memories, beliefs, character traits, and so on. We can explain the functioning of the body by appeal, ultimately, to the behavior of atoms.
What, then, is left for a soul to do?

Anyone care to answer that last question? I don't think there is any reason to even hypothesize a soul by now. It is superfluous (like God). Some theists or "after-lifers" might say that a soul is not superfluous. Some of them might say that the soul is needed to continue to the afterlife since you leave your current body upon death. It becomes your new "you" and takes over the functions that your physical body did when it was still "alive."

The theist would be presupposing that you even will, or need, to continue to consciously exist after death. Why posit a "soul" to explain how one would exist in an afterlife, when one can't even support the idea that a consciousness would need to, or should continue to exist after death in the first place? What I'm trying to say is, that science first observes phenomena and then makes conclusions. But the theist has it backwards: They would first propose a conclusion (afterlife is real), and then they claim (not observe) phenomena (a soul).

Why are humans so prone to afterlife belief? Because, like I quoted earlier from Kolak and Martin, humans don't want their atoms to survive, they want their consciousness and memories and personality to survive.

Unfortunately for after-lifers, they are down on all counts:

1. There is no evidence for the existence of an afterlife (see my last blog entry).
2. Souls are superfluous; they have nothing to do.
3. Available evidence contradicts the concept of an (unevidenced) afterlife.
4. Humans continue to physically exist after death anyway, in the form of decomposing matter.
5. Humans do not care about "physical" existence after death, but a "conscious" existence.

So, it's pretty obvious that humans are making up these afterlife ideas. They believe because they want to believe. They are afraid of losing their consciousness. I admit, I am too. But there is no "afterlife," and the only way we can extend the life of, or possibly even survive the death of our bodies, is by working to keep our consciousness operating in this life through purely material means.

Instead of making up stories about the afterlife, theists and after-lifers should ditch their superstitions and start working towards extending the lives we have here and now.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Burden of Proof

The first step in refuting both the afterlife and god arguments, is the burden of proof. The burden of proof means that the one who asserts a positive statement, like "there is an afterlife," is the one who must support the statement. The asserter is "burdened" to prove the assertion.

Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Well, the claim of an entire new realm; an entire new dimension; indeed, an entire other life (after-life), is certainly extraordinary. So where is the extraordinary evidence? And I'm not talking about testimony. Testimony isn't even evidence, much less extraordinary. Do you believe everyone that swears that they were abducted by aliens? Or everyone that swears they saw Elvis? I contend that the claim of a life-after-your-life-ends is more extraordinary than the claim that one was abducted by an alien in this life, or saw Elvis in this life.

No, I want something tangible. I want something that I can quantify, measure, and understand the mechanics of to some degree. We have none of this with regards to the afterlife. In fact, we have tangible, quantifiable, and measurable evidence against the afterlife, but that's another blog entry.

However, if anyone here thinks that they have evidence for the existence of an afterlife, they are more than welcome to let me know in the comments sections on this blog. And of course don't forget to pick up your million bucks from The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. The organization says that proof of "The Existence of Ghosts" will get you the cash, and last time I checked, "ghosts" are people who are "alive" after "death."

The first blog entry for this blog entitled "Kill The Afterlife," appropriately, represents the first test that the "afterlife" must pass, and that test is the burden of proof. The extraordinary nature of afterlife claims only increases the "burden" that they feel, as Carl Sagan has stated. The afterlife concept does not meet that burden.