Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Can consciousness survive final bodily death?

Posted by robertpriddy on December 31, 2016

There is a profusion of evidence that there is no active mind without consciousness. Further, there is most unlikely to be active consciousness without at least some perceptive mind. When one tries to imagine how our consciousness could survive death, it is almost impossible to conceive anything without it involving mental experiences. How could a consciousness conceptualise, imagine or motivate itself it if were totally detached from the body, its perceptions, memories, subjective desires, will power, and some specific personality?  The classic religious or mystical answer is that – though developing self-awareness – a person can merge with ‘universal consciousness’. But the development of self-awareness is now widely proven always to relate back eventually to the body identity. That is why the idea of a universal, undifferentiated ‘Divine Self’  is argued… against which the same objections to it being possible remain. It is all very well to meditate while in a living body and experience what one takes to be a universal awareness, but then the brain is still sustaining these inner perceptions and awareness of them.

Not just belief in continuation of oneself after death, but as one’s same historical self, is a vague and non-explorable surmise against which all tempered common sense, demonstrable knowledge and well-founded reason protests. It depends on ever falling back into the womb-like mental-emotional cocoon of an imaginary – yet wholly unimaginable – person: i.e. God as he good creator and sustainer of life. Or failing that, on a Creator who is also the maker of all the countless horrendous scenarios than have been witnessed or can be imagined.

God as an all-potent being has to create, sustain but also destroy, and so believing in that leads to religion as a means to save oneself – to pray and sacrifice to redeem oneself and others by not causing offence to divine laws and in the vain hope of assuaging the powers of the universe. These so-called ‘spiritual’ sentiments often appear together with the sloppy and often soppy time worn slogans full of wishes of love, brotherhood (sisterhood), realisation, light, divine vision, forgiveness, peace… and eternal life.

A religious standby is to recognise and emphasise how feeble mankind is before the contingency of unforeseen and chaotic events. Though life is temporary and may leave no lasting mark on the world, to try to palliate for this by preaching eternal life after death is to mislead people into giving up something vital and precious in favour of uncertain hopes that may prove vain. To throw oneself into a project of unknowing and accidental circumstance, coincidence and dependency on some guardian spirit or deity does not make for a secure, humane, ordered and predictable existence or society. It is to abandon duty to oneself and others to the whims of uncertain fate and belittle the human enterprise to shape a better world. To relinquish ‘worldliness’ is to ignore the good ‘human’ values that sustain humanity, civilisation. reason, knowledge, science and accumulated human experience. The belief that a higher power directing our fates, leads to absurdities like throwing dice at every juncture to decide what to do, or looking up the I Ching before every decision.

To throw away the endeavour to make the world a better place, rather than hope for a better world after death, is to dwell on our own (relative) lack of power to avert chance and circumstance. it is demeaning to talk down human existence as ‘a bubble on the stream of universal life’ and supports apathy and helplessness far more than it can inspire.

See also The Afterlife and evidence

See here on the many fascinating issues concerning whether a person is actually dead and un-revivable

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