Aug 12, 2022·edited Aug 12, 2022

But Nicholas is implying it is not enough. Your glorification of simply existing, and even thriving, is just not enough for most people, in my opinion.

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What a wonderful essay! I wish I could like it twice...

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It is not easy rereading Michael's essay as I lost my 27 year old son on Dec 26.

I will grieve for his presence and his wonderful life for the rest of my life as is right for a sentient being.

I dream of a Heaven for him, but that is my dream as a living being.

As Michael stated, we must grab and cherish the 'here and now', not the lies of organized religion that has only one purpose: profiting by power and wealth over our humanness and our love for our children.

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"Imagine where you were before you were born. . . You can no more visualize yourself after you die than you can picture yourself before you were born."

You say this often on your show, so I have to take this opportunity to dispute it: having been in an accident where I lost consciousness, I awoke in the ER with no memories of the previous several hours (prior to the accident). At that time, I had the very visceral realization that if I had died, that that would have been it - just like it was, but with no waking up. Losing that continuity of self was very profound, and I remember what it was like to have . . . not been? for a while. For what it's worth, it lessened my fear of death - the knowledge that I experienced what it was like, and it was okay.

(Of course, I make the assumption that my experience was like death - I obviously did not die, but as I believe that there is no individual continuity after death, I thus equate my experience to it.)

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Excellent article, Michael. I will make a few comments on quotes.

MS: Imagine where you were before you were born. You can’t because you didn’t exist before you were born.

GW: I disagree. You did exist before you were born. You existed as a human organism from conception to about 24 weeks post conception. And then you existed as a human person from then to birth.

MS: If you are dead you are neither. You can no more visualize yourself after you die than you can picture yourself before you were born.

GW: I can now visualize myself after I have died – slowly disintegrating or cremated, but I could not visualize anything after I have died. I can picture myself before I was born, floating in the womb, but I could not picture myself when I was there.

MS: ...and said copy were uploaded to the cloud and turned on (none of this is even remotely possible),...

GW: I think it is possible and that it will probably be done some day, maybe in a thousand years. But you are correct – it would be a copy of you, not you.

MS: I might also comment briefly on the idea of living “forever” in “eternity.” Most people don’t give this much thought, content with the enchanted notion of continuing on in some state with those we love forever.

GW: I think about it. I would like to go on living indefinitely, if I could opt out at any time. I’d like to be able to choose with whom to interact, not being forced to be with some family members and others.

MS: Forever is a long time to be blissfully bored.

GW: Yes, but in my heaven there would always be new things to learn and new challenges and problems to solve.

MS: Nicholas, I don’t know what will happen to you after you die. No one does. Maybe there is an afterlife, maybe there isn’t.

GW: You make it sound like the odds are even, when they are not. The odds are very much against there being an afterlife, given what we know about the dependency of the mind on the brain. I think you gave the guy too much hope of an afterlife. Belief in an afterlife can be toxic, e.g. 9-11 terrorists.

WLC: There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do.

GW: I disagree. Our Earth and humankind, both parts of the universe, might be either better or worse for what we do. Look at the case of MLK Jr. Or Einstein.

MS: In this sense, evolution bestowed upon us a moral and purpose-driven life by dint of the laws of nature. We do not need any source higher than that to find meaning or morality.

GW: Yes! Well stated!

MS: In the end, Nicholas, you will never know for certain that there is an afterlife, but you can take some comfort in knowing that no one else knows for sure either.

GW: “Never” is a long time. If he goes into an afterlife, then he will know. Even in this life if science discovers there will be an afterlife, then he will know. “Never” is an error, IMHO.

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This is good philosophical consolation, but perhaps Nicholas is looking for more than philosophical consolation. I guess he is looking for confirmation that there's some kind of continuation of existence after death.

As you say, nobody can offer him this confirmation. Like you, "I don’t know what will happen to you after you die. No one does. Maybe there is an afterlife, maybe there isn’t."

What we can do to offer consolation to Nicholas and many, many people like him, is to say that hope in some kind of continuation of existence after death is non inconsistent with what we know about the universe we live in.

As you say in your book, very advanced natural being evolved in the universe would be indistinguishable from God. This means that our own descendants could become God-like and master super-advanced (and unimaginable to us) sci/tech that could enable them to resurrect the dead from the past.

There could also be natural processes that copy and continue to run minds in other substrates after a biological brain ceases to function. The new substrate could be, conceivably, the bare fabric of the quantum vacuum, or (more likely) something even weirder.

Then there is the simulation hypothesis that, as many have noted, is a picture of reality that is compatible with a scientific worldview but totally indistinguishable from religion. A simulation cosmology can accommodate all parts of all religions, first and foremost life after death.

Nicholas, if you are reading this: I can't offer you confirmation, but I can offer you my conviction that this is a consistent worldview. If you want more (and I most certainly want much more), then well, time will tell.

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Nicholas, if you're reading this, I recommend reading philosopher Tom Clark's essay "Death, Nothingness and Subjectivity". You cannot experience your own absence. Only experience is what's experienced... Or as Clark puts it "Consciousness is always present for itself". Clark is a naturalist like Shermer is - both believe that consciousness is a function of the brain. So we can say "brains do consciousness".... A brain was born and it started doing you (a consciousness). This is true of everyone you know. So imagine if the brain that's doing you right now was some other brain (perhaps the result of your mother meeting some other man instead of your father). So instead of the consciousness that's being done by the brain that's doing the consciousness that's reading this right now, it'd be a consciousness being done by the brain that was the result of your mom meeting some other man. You, Nicholas, wouldn't be in a black void, or "eternal nothingness", or anything like that that many atheists espouse. "Nicholas" simply wouldn't exist. There'd be someone else in Nicholas' place reading this right now. That someone else would be the "you", just as "Nicholas" is the "you" now. ...Here's a thought experiment I often use to explain it: Imagine that the entire universe is empty of all life except for you. So there's only one brain doing consciousness, and it's the brain named "Nicholas"... That's the only experience there is, period. Then you die. The one and only brain dies and thus stops doing consciousness. Then in a few years, or perhaps billions of years later, in a completely different place in the universe, a sentient organism somehow comes to exist. So now it's the only brain doing consciousness. So that's the only experience there is. Nicholas isn't in a black void, or oblivion or nothingness or darkness... All of those would require Nicholas to be transported to those places... Instead, Nicholas is completely gone. The only experience that's occuring now is the one that started after he died... The one being done by that brain that eventually came to exist after he died. Nicholas didn't "go into" that new brain... Nicholas is completely gone. It's a simple matter that the new experience/consciousness is the only experience there is, vs the one that's no longer occuring.

If you'd like to learn more about this topic you can watch my YouTube channel "NaturalisTed". Please read Clark's essay. Sam Harris also did an episode on it "The Paradox Of Death".

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Wow. I need to write you a letter. Excellent. Thanks for publishing this.

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Thank you for this lovely and unusual essay.

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I like Plato's 'The Apology of Socrates' and another's view that death is like sleeping, except one doesn't awaken. I hope to end in sleep, blissfully unaware that I've expired.

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When you die - all physical systems have shut down and the neurotransmitters in your brain have stopped working– it does not mean your essence has died. Call it a soul or a spirit or an influence on the world. Your essence begins at some stage of gestation and continues long after your physical death.

To me, your essence consists of the collective memories carried by those who loved you and befriended you, and knew you, and, if you were a parent, in the genes you passed on to your descendants, and, as Clarence, Angel Second Class, showed George Bailey, in the changes you made in the world by your being a part of it; whether you had a "Wonderful Life" or not.

The Buddhists are not big on the afterlife. Here’s an excerpt from a Buddhist philosopher on that point that I found several years ago.

“Liberation is not easy, but it is the birthright of every person. Frittering away time in the heaven worlds may be enjoyable, but it is a form of spiritual gluttony. You are fulfilling your own desires and those of a powerful and often egotistical deity, but what are you doing to help the universe?

“Paradises are places for the weak and traumatized, who need shelter and cannot take life's intellectual challenges. This is why paradise deities emphasize love [as opposed to knowledge]. Only those who cannot go forward will choose to stay back forever. And paradises fulfill a valid need - the world is full of people seeking shelter.”

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