Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dead Men (Tell Tall Tales)

Is There a Hereafter?

Can individual consciousness survive physical death? Disembodied consciousness is not verbally contradictory but is implausible and would be undetectable. Can consciousness survive in another medium? This might be achieved scientifically. Spiritualists present prima facie evidence that it occurs already.

The criterion of personal identity is spatiotemporal continuity of a body. If a living person were exactly duplicated, the duplicate(s) would not be the original. If a dead person were duplicated once, then that duplicate would initially believe himself to be the original resurrected. However, by the criterion of spatiotemporal continuity, he would be not the original person but a new person exactly like the original, a copy. This would matter for legal purposes. The duplicate would not own the same property, owe the same debts or be guilty of the same crimes as the original. If the original had bequeathed his estate to the duplicate, then the latter would own the same property. However, a bequest would not affirm their identity but acknowledge their non-identity.

It might not matter to the duplicate that he was not the original. I confidently predict that my duplicate would welcome the opportunity to continue the life begun by the original. Starting with the same memories and motivations, he would pursue the same goals. If challenged, he would probably concede that he was not the original while remembering that that original had sometimes felt that he was not the same person as his younger self. Until people are duplicated, to remember what it was like to be a person who was alive at an earlier time will be to be that person.

We adjust our concepts to fit new experiences. If there were only one post-mortem duplicate, then we might, for some purposes, identify a person not with a body but with a sequence of experiences and accumulating memories. At least some duplicates would make this identification. It is possible that such duplications occur in another realm.

If some entity, a soul or astral body, inhabited, then left, the physical body and was the bearer of experiences and memories, then there would be spatiotemporal continuity, though not of the physical body, and the duplication of that body, or even just of its brain functions, would not be necessary for the continuation of consciousness. However, hypothetical astral bodies do not affect sensitive scientific instruments in hospitals or elsewhere. 
Scientists study brains, psychologists study consciousness and philosophers try to relate them. None of these groups postulates any separable entity interacting with the brain. Mental processes can now be located in parts of the brain, although they are not simply identical with what is seen to happen in the brain. A written description of an externally observed cerebral process does not mean the same thing as a written description of a directly experienced mental process. We cannot translate either description into the other. The observed brain is an object of its observer’s consciousness whereas a mental process refers to other objects of consciousness. 
The Cartesian dualist view was that the brain contained only: (i) a mathematical point that was its only link to the conscious mind; (ii) unconscious inputs to and unconscious outputs from that point. Instead, individually unconscious brain cells holistically generate consciousness. Thus, neither subtler matter nor immaterial substance but grey matter qualitatively transforms cerebrally processed sensory inputs into conscious sensations. Therefore, duplication of  brain functions would be necessary for the continuation of consciousness.
Both Buddhism and Marxism, to which I will refer, require merely a causal relationship, not an enduring substance, connecting earlier to later psychophysical states.

Dead Men Here and Now

It has not been demonstrated that duplications occur in another realm. For the rest of this article, I will assume that neither the Buddha nor Karl Marx still exists, not even as a  duplicate in another realm. Both died. Neither believed in souls or expected resurrection. Both believed that all things were transient. Thus, in Buddhist mythology, even heavens and hells are transitory. Marx was a materialist and the Buddha was possibly influenced by materialism. 
According to the Buddha’s teaching, he has survived neither as a soul nor as a karmic consequence. Buddhists who did not want to acknowledge that he no longer existed had to postulate a mysterious form of survival but we need not believe this to meditate. The Buddha said that he would be known through his teaching. 
“The present” means either an instantaneous moment or the current period. Every moment is present to those in it but past or future to others. Here, “others” includes even the same people at different times. Some historical periods are centuries or millennia in length. We share with the Buddha and Marx a lengthy period of urban civilisation and philosophical enquiry. We share with Marx a shorter period of economic dynamism, technological innovation and social upheaval.

The Buddha saw the world as an endless flux which he transcended. Marx saw capitalism as conquering the world but creating its own grave digger, the working class. We can see both endless flux and capitalism ruling the world, confronting an international working class. The dead men address our experience: suffering caused by mental attachments within an endless flux and alienation caused by capitalist relations of production. The world has changed but remains the same place. Their influence is now and their eras are current.

The Keys to the Kingdom

If there were only one god and he was not a human being, then, in the Kingdom of God, there would be only one throne and no human being would sit on it. Therefore, the Kingdom of God would be anarchy. That is not what Christians mean by it. Their Kingdom is an absolute monarchy, whereas Buddhists and Marxists do not believe that the universe is ruled. Marxists hope to build a world federation of socialist republics that will quickly become a classless, therefore stateless, society. Monarchy, the figurehead of class division, cannot survive even in a ceremonial role. Therefore, the phrase, “Marx’s kingdom,” would be inappropriate even as a metaphor although Marx’s collaborator, Engels, described socialism as “…the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.” 1

The Buddha renounced kingship to seek the truth. If we see the world as he saw it, then we might call it his “kingdom” but the Buddha could only be a constitutional monarch.

1. Engels, F. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Moscow, 1978), p. 77. 


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