What Do We Know About When We Die?
What Happens When We Die?
That netherworld we enter when our bodies fail and must be discarded remains mostly a mystery. Strangely, no one really knows for sure what happens when we die, but it seems like everyone has an opinion.
Religious and spiritual leaders try to convince us of their special knowledge, but they can't be right, if for no other reason because they don't agree. The more passionate the pitch, the more quickly comes up my "no sale" sign.
Although the old Christian idea of a trip to a harp-filled heaven has been dismissed, guides and preachers now spin tales of a love fest or a place of kindness and healing.
All are attractive in their way, but none tell us enough to create as believable or as attractive a reality as that made up by the average novelist – a practitioner, by the way, more likely to be close to the truth.
(Note: I'm an average novelist and may not be objective.)
Through near death experiences, the haunting, tantalizingly incomplete NDEs, we may get a glimpse passed the membrane separating here from there. As such, we see only the moments that escape in compromise as the tether is broken. We see the first steps of language and object recognition, each – just as when we were children – to be replaced by a more consequential reality as we learn to mesh our senses with our new surroundings.
Two unavoidable truths are nearly always neglected in discussions about death, but each leads to unexpected understandings.
A fundamental thing we must always keep in mind is that, while alive and, if there is anything after death, during that too, we are always part of nature. Enormous confusion arises when we imagine death to be an escape from reality. To what? There isn't anything existing outside nature, traditional religious beliefs aside. After death, whether conscious or void, we remain in nature.
The second truth is that, whatever comes next must be as different as life is from death. In other words, in an afterlife experience, there must be a universe of things that are unlike any we know now. We are not going to drive cars or nestle in suburbia. No Starbucks in the Hereafter, and I can only wish for a reasonable alternative. Even the best marketers can't cross the line.
Life as we know it is, well, life as we know it. Death must be, well, death as we can't possibly know it and much, much different, as different as light is from dark, as day is from night.
Setting aside, for the moment, the beliefs of many who think they have connections with friends, loved ones and even strangers who are gone, the question about the afterlife most pertinent would seem to be more if than what. Is there really some next thing we participate in or does it all cease?
The most widely accepted scientific thinking is that the self is an illusion created in our brains as a command post to manage all the sensory inputs and functions that require too much judgment to go on autopilot. There is no independent soul or spirit, just a highly evolved and very capable electrically charged apparatus that provides the illusion of an eternal me.
This argument, as magical as any religious case, brings up Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. In her book as well as on a popular TED Conference presentation available on line, Taylor tells the story of her stroke.
As a brain scientist, she was able to extract great insight in observing what was happening to her brain as it turned to mush. Funny thing is – and she never comments on this – some rational, detached something was watching all the while, apparently unaffected, and taking notes.
Now, who was that? I don't care if we don't know, just as long we don't simply ignore the fact of it.
More philosophically and, for that reason, more important to me, is an understanding that nature – evolution, the nuts and bolts of development–does not waste energy, certainly not on fantasies unhooked from reality.
There is no good argument for why humans would invent Gods or stories about afterlives. Early stories may have been crude attempts to explain phenomena we felt ourselves losing touch with as we evolved into more conscious creatures.
Early home cooking wasn't anything to brag about either. But there is nothing, except the convenience of argument, to make us think these understandings were made up from whole cloth as a hedge against fear or whatever.
Avoidance of death seems a characteristic of nearly everything in nature, at least until a reproductive mission has been achieved.
The single lifetime orgasm of a male praying mantis must be like the crescendo of a Mozart symphony, but then, it's over, Johnny.
Avoidance is not the same thing as fear. And even so, why would nature cook up the idea of an afterlife? We take this concept for granted now, but it must have come from somewhere. Whole cloth creativity seems the wishful thinking of a debunker.
For me, even without the reinforcement coming from channels and survivors of NDEs, the truth is unavoidable. First, we are more than a congealing of sensory inputs, memory and expectation resulting in – Voila! – a mind.
There is something apart from but connected to the physical here. It goes on, maybe even absorbing us. Where we go is unknowable, just as it is impossible for us to understand a language in which not a single syllable is recognized.
We owe a great deal to those who have returned from near death experiences and volunteered tales of "the other side," but these can't be taken as the whole story or even anything close to it. Life is, after all, life, and death is not.
We know we survive, but the discoveries and adventures in that unvisited realm of nature must wait. Our time will come, and we have nothing to fear. Even if I'm wrong and only a void awaits, we still have nothing to fear. Remember the old saying that, What you don't know can't hurt you? Neither can a void, as unlikely as it is that you will ever fall into one.
I've added some links below for further research as well as some other ideas worth considering.
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page
About Death and Dying
Her Stroke of Insight
Let's take a reading on life after death.
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