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.


Anonymous said...

Please explain this to Franc, as I cannot pronounce many french vowels. He says a word, I repeat. He says "no," and pronounces it again. We go like this for about ten times until he gives up. I tried to tell him that it's probably impossible for me to ever pronounce those vowels correctly, but I don't think he really believes me.

Yet in Quebec, people who sound perfectly english are actually french. Usually those are the ones that were in bilingual schools. They are trying to keep english from public school kids until third grade or so now, in order to keep the culture pure, or some other Nazi reason I can't think of right now.

Aaron Kinney said...

LOL thats so funny! Tell Franc to read this blog entry, and tell him to click on those links I made to read those speech sites. Age is the key. If the Quebec children get immersed in BOTH languages since birth, they will learn to speak BOTH languages flawlessley. They will pronounce the vowels and everything from both languages perfectly.

Im in Los Angeles, and I know lots of hispanics. The first generation hispanics dont speak english too well. (And I on the other hand don't speak "espanol" too well). But the second generations hispanics have been immersed in both Spanish and English since birth, and they speak english and spanish both perfectly.


Anonymous said...

Well, actually, very few people speak any language ~perfectly~. Even I make mistakes in grammar every so often.

Also, it's not true that an adult can't learn to speak another language without an accent. It's atypical, but it does happen.

Aaron Kinney said...

Anonymous, the younger you learn a language (im talking about immersion), the better you will speak it.

Adults that DO learn to speak new languages perfectly are adults that already learned multiple languages as a child, and the new language that is spoken perfectly, is a language that is similar to one they have known since a young age.

If you find a person that could speak german english and italian since childhood, he will not be able to learn chinese or japanese perfectly.

But if that same person also learned chinese or japanese since childhood in the same degree that he learned the other languages, he will speak all of them equally well.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I thought myself into becoming a non-theist I have wondered what people really, down deep think about the "afterlife". They obviously (from what they say and write) expect or desire to be "themselves". This strikes me as downright silly. How can some insubstantial spiritual "thing" be YOU. You are too anchored in this life to have any value in that nebulous afterlife. You could never be YOU and those people you want to see in the afterlife could not be themselves--so that after all is the point? I have never had this explained to me by believers. Most of them seem to adopt the white robe and harp mentality--for what else could be of any use to the individual?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Kinney,

These are very convincing arguments.

I think human beings are much better off chasing the dream of time travel to preserve consciousness and personality.