Nearly each human
dreams about an eternal life. And although physical evidence clearly proves
the contrary, a kind of deep hope and inituitive certainty subsists. Here
we will discuss some hypothesis about a possible Life after Death. After
and paranormal theories, that are not open for discussion, we will
look to some more "scientific" hypotheses.
Immortality is the phenomenon by which a certain form of conscious existence persists
after physical death.
The views about this
phenomenon can be grouped into 3 sections: (1) The hypotheses of a supranatural
soul. (2) The dignified acceptance of total extinction. (3) Some 'scientific'
hypotheses about immortality.
Our ancestors, confronted
with physical death and decay, developed the hypothesis of immortal, unobservable
soul to escape from everyday evidence. The variations on this hypothesis
can be grouped into two kinds: (1) individual soul and (2) reincarnation.
(1) The individual
soul hypothesis. Although we tend to identify this hypothesis with
christianity, it was already elaborated in ancient Egypt, and probably
passed to us by Judaic religion. The theory states that every human has
one soul, that comes into his body at the moment of birth. Before, it is
kept somewhere "behind God's mind". At the moment of death it leaves the
'material' body, provoking even the functional collapse of this body ('inanimated').
Then it goes straight to heaven or hell, depending of its State of Grace
at the very moment of his death. Some suggest that it first spends some
time in purgatory, not as cruel as the burning hell, but still comparable
with it. At the end of time all resting corpses will resurrect and be reanimated,
and then, after hearing God's judgment, depart towards their final destination,
heaven or hell. The few raised unto heaven (the 'saints') will join the
angels, already there, and dwell forever feeling happiness in the simple
adoration of God's glory.
Nearly all cultures
in the world had some kind of elaboated soul myth.
This theory or myth
was not so universally accepted by theologians as is sometimes supposed.
At the end of Medieval times --Renaissance had already begun-- there was
still an ongoing discussion about the question if women and American Indians
really had a soul. This theory is not without some annoying complications,
including the question if really all myriads of people will resurrect,
and the even more disturbing question whether we shall resurrect with the
mind of a vigorous young intelligent person, or rather in the state of
senility and perhaps (pre)dementia, existing at the moment of our death.
(2) The reincarnated
soul hypothesis. Whilst western traditions rather foster an individualistic
approach, eastern cultures feature ideas of continuity and collectivity.
The eastern approach is more friendly for man: in fact you've got more
than one chance to escape form this earthly prison: if it didn't succeed
to enter the Nirwana this time, we get some more chances to detach ouselves
from our needs and desires, and stop wanting.
Although this approach
dramatically reduces the necessary number of souls per inhabited planet,
the current increase of population on earth has since long exhausted the
available number of ancestors to pass their souls to us. Of course, they
can come from other living beings.
dignified acceptance of extinction
For people who, apparently
realistically, don't see any convincing logical or scientific evidence
for any kind of subsistence after death, a dispassionate resignation that
there is nothing more than this ephemeral experience full of infulfilled
illusions is their only honourable attitude. They cultivate the stoical
and humanistic ideals that there is nothing more, and that we should learn
to feel no despair facing death, but try to make the best of life.
There are websites for helping people to die with dignity.
and (secular) humanists are convinced that a beautiful and highly ethical and meaningful life is
possible without the prospect of an aftermath, religious people are convinced
that, without the perspective of eternal life, existence
In ancient Roman
culture there was a conviction that, although physically we completely
disappear, we can enjoy a kind of immortality
by fame. Only those who, heroically or artistically, succeed in gaining
fame, could be preserved from oblivion and continue living in our memories.
'scientific' approaches of immortality
immortality is out of the reach of science and technology, a (near?) future
could perhaps change this.
(1) The aim of
research and practice can be defined in several ways, but one of the
most typical is perhaps that it is an indefatigable struggle against suffering and death. One may hope that this science will never
rest until this goal is achieved. One can already observe many results
of this quest. The median length of life on earth is quadrupled since a
century. A host of illnesses are succesfully treated, and no longer threaten
till the moment medicine finds an effective therapy. Some organizations offer now the possibility to freeze one's body, at the moment of death, till the period medicine will have
developed an edaquate treatment for the illness one died from.
(3) Storing and/or
transfering brain contents. It is clear that the impression of identity
doesn't depend from a physical continuity, because after months or years,
every tissue and probably every molecule in our body is replaced by another.
Even the image of our body and its functioning are continuously changing.
What counts for the feeling of identity seems to be rather the continuity
of memory, i.e. brain contents.
It could be possible
within a few years to electronically scan the brain contents, nerve cell
by nerve cell, dendrite by dendrite, and to store it in a computer memory,
from where it could be re-installed into another living being, e.g. a clone
of the dead person, who could then resume his life at the point he left
If ever we could
program a powerful computer with a kind of "psyche programme", this program,
using the downloaded brain data of a certain person, will be able to "mimick"
that real person.
As physical continuity
is not a prerequisite to feel one's identity, but only the continuity in
memory contents, the person (or device) with the transfered 'psychological
data' will experience a sensation of awakening when the programme starts.
Of course he will notice that something changed, as is the case with somebody
awakening from a coma, or from surgery that removed or implanted some body
part(s), but essentially he will feel himself.
the brain contents of vanished persons. As we are capable to re-make
disappeared biological species, either by interbreeding or by genetical
manipulation, it could probably be feasible to recombine one day the "brain
contents" of persons, dead since a longer time. Of course, a thorough knowledge
of the natural "psyche programme" will be necessary, but as we were capable
to unlock the genetical code of man, discovering such a 'psychical code'
will be pose no fundamental problems. That means that we will probably
be able to "resurrect", electronically or by cloning (or, by the way, by
recombining their genetical code), a person who died before we could download
his psychic data.
It is important to
notice that such a person, on the moment of his reanimation, will have
the same feeling of awakening we described for really downloaded brains.
Although there was not any form of physical continuity, the congruence
of psychic data between the historical person and his recombined psyche
will provoke a genuine feeling of continuity, i.e. of the same identity.
(5) The Global
Mind hypothesis. This hypothesis may not be confounded with the Global
Brain hypothesis and the related Gaia hypothesis.
These are "hardware" hypotheses, describing the ultimate integration of
all human minds combined with powerful computers, forming together one
hyper-brain, functioning on a higher level than each separate brain, like
then human brain functions on a higher level than each separate nerve cell.
As nerve cells don't get a global image of the brain activities, ultimately
the individual human brains will no longer hold a global impression of
the intellectual activities of the Global Brain. A comparison can be made
with company employees (or soldiers, or spies), each working on some limited
aspect of a big project, and just transmitting their results to a board
of directors, who assemble the details and are the ones to oversee the
The Global Mind Hypothesis,
discussed in detail on another page, is a
"software" hypothesis. It states that the individual psyches can be considered
as variants of a more general psyche programme. We could compare it with
a computer programme that can be personalized by each user, making macro's
and adding higher definitions. Some creative people elaborate new "routines",
that progressively are "copied" by other people, and become ultimately
a part of the current culture. As happened with the host of totally different
word processors that existed since the 80s and progressively converged
to two or three programs with little or no differences, we can expect that
the different psychological ways of functioning, by interaction and mutual
inspiration during education and each form of social contact, will progressively
converge to one polyvalent, but fundamentally identical "psychological
software" used by all men, each adding some personal flavours and nuances.
The comparison with
computers illustrates some other interesting aspects. When we replace an
old computer by a new one, and transfer all our favourite programmes, we
don't really have the impression to have changed something: the feeling
of interacting with a particular software determines our experiences and
emotions more than the machine does. While the device wears out, the programme
seems to have an immortal life. This is a striking analogy with what we
mean by the Global Mind Hypothesis: individual people die, but the Global
Mind seems to be immortal. But as computer software never exists outside
a computer (only as a "dead" printout or a file on a disk), and needs such
a machine "to come into life", so does the Global Mind, the Psyche: it
never exists ouside a human. When a human says "I think", he doesn't speak
in the name of the Global Mind, he is the Global Mind. So, when
a person says: "I am immortal", he is immortal, in the most real
sense of the word. Other captivating aspects of this hypothesis, e.g. the
illusionary boundaries between individual, personalized and collective,
are discussed on another page.
An important aspect
from this hypothesis is the fact that each individual consciousness keeps
a global impression of what it is thinking about. Co-operating people --in
the ideal case, so the army is a bad example-- never delegate the globality
of their consciousness to a kind of higher brain, as the Global Brain hypothesis
suggests. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stressed this aspect in his work The
Phenomenon of Man.p. 261-264. The real "immortality" of man consists
in the immortality of a Global Mind, that keeps all aspects of an individually
One could state that
this hypothesis is at the same time an integration between the eastern
and the western soul hypotheses: the collective aspect and the progressive
evolution, stressed in the reincarnation hypothesis, is preserved, as well
as the personalized aspects of the soul in western monotheistic religions.
In the light of the Gliobal Mind hypothesis, bioh primitive soul hypotheses
appear to be much less naive as the were at first glance.