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Conscious Existence and Death

  1. Feb 21, 2009 #1

    Consciousness arises from a complex set of physical causes and effects. It is amazing to think that consciousness exists at all, it seems a very out-of-place phenomena within our universe. There are many unique arrangements of matter in the universe, the majority of these are unconscious/not self-aware. Yet some unique arrangements of matter bring about this thing we call "consciousness/self-awareness". Consciousness is intriguing in that it satisfies a consistency loop:

    Physical Laws > Matter > Life > Consciousness/Self Awareness > Physical Laws

    In other words, our minds have discovered the very things that created them. Then this begs the question: Is there some sort of purpose to consciousness? The answer to this question (taking a purely naturalistic view) is no. The universe (a collection of a majority of unconscious things) does not require purpose, WE are the ones who require purpose as it has been a self-created concept in our minds (and most likely in the minds of other forms of intelligent life which most probably exist out there :wink:).


    Death is a mystery. According to science a person is dead when irreversible brain-death occurs. All memories, self, ego etc. is permanently lost.
    Now, people who do not believe in an afterlife (which I'm sure will be most of you reading this as you are highly intelligent people :wink:) will know (or at least assume according to science) that you cannot experience "nothingness". After death the subject does not experience "nothingness" as it is impossible to experience something unable to be experienced. This would be like expecting your nose to hear things or your eyes to smell things. You would be dead and unable to experience.

    So that is death. But who are "you". What exactly is "your" mind. Why aren't you me, or some bird, or some alien or any other conscious being? I don't mean you as in a collection of your memories, experiences, ego, physical/mental traits etc. I am not talking of a soul, I do not believe in such paranormal things. I mean the "experiencer" experiencing things in the body which is "you".
    Have a think about this for a moment: You are existing now. You feel like you've always been present because you don't experience otherwise. Before your birth and the formation of your brain, you are mostly unconscious. You cannot remember being born simply because your brain hasn't fully formed. You then slowly come into self-awareness. Now, since seemingly out of nowhere you have just come into consciousness, what would be limiting this from happening again after "your" death? If after death is non-experience and before birth is also non-experience then it makes quite logical sense that "you" do not experience this "non-existence" but instead your "subjective awareness" is relocated. You are reborn as another conscious being, if you will, but no supernatural/non-physical soul is literally moved, simply, a shift of perceived existential ‘moment’ occurs.

    Here are 2 possible and purely naturalistic views on possible scenarios after death:

    1. Say you die. Sometime, somewhere the same genes form an exact replica of the brain that you had. What is stopping this from being you? If you conclude that this is you, why is it just limited to genes and the replica of your brain which creates you?

    There are three specific criteria which are necessary (and are likely sufficient) for the maintenance of a personal identity: continuity, subjectivity and memory. All conscious beings with a sufficiently enhanced central nervous system share these criteria.

    2. You die. In a couple of nanoseconds transmigration occurs, whereby "you" (the experiencer of consciousness) is reborn as another conscious being. No soul or supernatural entity moves from one body to another simply "subjective awareness" is relocated. Wayne Stewart coined the term "existential passage" which is the transmigration I have described.

    I highly recommend you read chapter 9 of Mr. Stewart's monograph in order to understand this concept fully and how it is based purely on naturalistic views (He gives a thought experiment and some nice little diagrams to help understand):

    Chapter 9 "Existential Passage":

    http://www.mbdefault.org/9_passage/default.asp - page 1
    http://mbdefault.org/9_passage/2.asp - page 2
    http://mbdefault.org/9_passage/3.asp - page 3

    Chapter 11 "Passage Types":


    Please post any criticism, suggestions, discussion, questions etc.

    Thanks for your time.

    P.S. Thomas W. Clark has also written a paper on this subject which can be read here: http://www.naturalism.org/death.htm [Broken]

    (Mr. Clark is the founder of the center for naturalism).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2009 #2
    Don't forget to post back here after reading!
  4. Feb 23, 2009 #3
    No posts?
  5. Feb 23, 2009 #4
    Very interesting. If you're in to stuff like this I would recommend you read about Boltzmann's Brains. Gonna rock your world::):
  6. Feb 23, 2009 #5
    Thank you, I will look into it, did you read any of the links I provided? Please also share your thoughts on this topic.
  7. Feb 25, 2009 #6
    Logical? Hardly.
    Sounds like more mystical crap to me. No reason we need to exist more than once.
    This is unlikely, there are many developmental things that happen in the womb that affect personality, not to mention a persons upbringing. Identical twins are a good example of this.
    Doesn't seem any good reason to connect the two different consciousnesses, unless you remember your 'past life', in which case you need a medium for the transfer of memories.

    Sounds like nonesense. Consciousness seems to be a process, not a 'thing'. So transfering it, makes no sense. Different instances of consciousness appear to be distinct in nature.

    Might as well say that 'swimming' transmigrates from person to person.
  8. Feb 26, 2009 #7
    Mystical? Its not mystical at all. No life force or spirit or soul or any of that "mystical" stuff passes from 1 person to the next. Think about it, and I mean really think about it: You are existing, you are you and not me, but we are both conscious. You were born out of seemingly non-existence (emphasis on seemingly) and you can only experience existence because you are conscious, as soon as you die "YOUR" SET OF PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS (PERSONAL IDENTITY) IS LOST (MOST PROBABLY FOREVER) but SUBJECTIVITY IS RELOCATED. Its easier if you think of yourself as an experiencer of existence. When death occurs the experiencer loses all memories, characteristics etc. of its life. It cannot experience "non-existence" and therefore is reborn as another conscious being. No "mystical" experiencer life force or any of that crap is literally moved from one person to another.

    I am sure it sounds mystical but you obviously haven't thought about it enough. Once you grasp the concepts you will understand it has all physical bases.

    The three great criteria for personal identity are:


    All three things have been proven to have a corporeal basis. Please tell me what you find mystical about my argument?

    Firstly, my argument is not based upon genes making us who we are, that was the 1st example of a possible scenario - just to get you thinking. When you say "a person's upbringing creates who we are" I know you have no idea what my argument is about and will therefore treat your comments as being based on ignorance. I am not arguing about what creates our identities. I am talking about the experiencer - SUBJECTIVITY. Please read the 3 links I have posted if you want to understand my argument fully.

    Of course you don't remember. The fact that you remember or not has nothing to do with what you call: "connecting the two different consciousnesses". I am not saying there is a connection whereby you remember your past lives. I am not arguing any sort of reincarnation theory (at least in the traditional and conventional sense).

    Yes it is a physical process, but we are here experiencing the process aren't we? The only thing, that is stopping us from existing again is if we can only be born once. Therefore time would be stopping us existing again. But thinking that we can only be born once seems very illogical if you think about it for a while.

    If you want to make some more informed criticism, please, please, please read the following three links before doing so:

    http://www.mbdefault.org/9_passage/default.asp - page 1
    http://mbdefault.org/9_passage/2.asp - page 2
    http://mbdefault.org/9_passage/3.asp - page 3
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2009
  9. Feb 26, 2009 #8
    Try this:

  10. Feb 28, 2009 #9
    Thank You Joe Dawg.

    Keep the posts coming everyone.
  11. Mar 1, 2009 #10
    Death or Relocation of Subjective Experience?

    (Mods this may belong in Philosophy)

    Common Conception of Death:

    "Disregarding all religious and spiritual ideas, the common secular conception of death is complete, irreversible loss of personal identity and consciousness. The conscious being that once was can never exist again."

    Whilst most would see this scenario of death as the most agreeable with science, I do not.

    My Argument:

    "The conscious being that once was can never exist again."

    Firstly, assuming all criteria of personal identity have corporeal bases, the conscious being could come back into existence. Hypothetically, it would be possible for this person's neurons to be repaired, their brain to be recovered, their body to be repaired and then be brought back into conscious existence. To the subject it would be similar to a deep sleep as, upon reawakening, they would remember what had happened to them before "dieing" (assuming all their memory was recovered) and then would connect that memory with them self when "waking". Of course we cannot revive people like this now, and most probably never will achieve this ability, but it seems very much possible.

    "complete, irreversible loss of personal identity and consciousness."

    Ok so I have argued that loss of consciousness and personal identity is reversible so far, but given we can't revive people as I have suggested, I will form a different argument.
    Now, lets go back to our subject who has died. When I say subject I am referring to the experiencer of existence - any being able to experience existence - REMEMBER THIS.
    Lets say we revive the subject's brain perhaps 10 years later in another human's body. We tweak some things giving the subject different memories and a completely new personality. It is the same subject, remember, just their personality and physical traits have changed.
    Now say they live another happy life and then die again. This time we do not bother recovering the subject's memories and we tweak their brain so it resembles that of an infant human's, we then put their brain in an infant's body. Remember, we are able to do all this because I am assuming consciousness and personal identity have a corporeal basis. Now, translate this thought experiment over to natural death and birth and you have understood my argument.

    Yes I am suggesting that after death we are reborn as any conscious being which follows chronologically after "our" death. Subjectivity is relocated. And yes this probably has application to other species and any other conscious being out there in our universe since the only criteria is consciousness.

    I know this is thinking a little outside the box, but I have thought over this for many months now and believe it has more plausibility than a death where subjectivity is lost forever, as opposed to this theory where subjectivity is just relocated into whichever conscious being is around after one subject's death.

    Also something to think about if you are skeptical of this:

    You are conscious and feel as if you have always been present, you cannot experience non-experience/nothingness/unconsciousness because it is physically impossible. You cannot remember anything before birth (or any experiences you had in early childhood thanks to infant amnesia). Since you are here, alive and conscious what is to stop this from happening again. The only possible limit is that you can only exist once. But what is making you exist once? Remember when I say you I do not mean you as you are now, I do not mean a soul, I mean the you which is the experiencer of existence.

    P.S. This is not some deep-seated need of mine to believe in "reincarnation" or any of that supernatural crap, I would actually prefer it if subjectivity wasn't relocated because I don't want to have to experience life again because I could end up in some really unfortunate environment/body. I am just arguing this because I feel it makes more sense than the common conception of death I stated above.

    Please post comments, criticism, suggestions, questions etc.

    Don't just read this and not post, I want to read your interpretations!
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2009
  12. Mar 1, 2009 #11
  13. Mar 1, 2009 #12
    Re: Death or Relocation of Subjective Experience?

    I didn't read the links but your post seems to be suggesting there could be a raw stuff, consciousness, that is able to take up residence in a new body when the old one dies.

    It seems more or less immaterial if that is the case. Without memory personal identity is extinguished and death is as absolute as it would be if there were no raw stuff that went on to the next body.
  14. Mar 2, 2009 #13
    Read the argument posted in post #10 AND ESPECIALLY POST #16.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2009
  15. Mar 2, 2009 #14
    Re: Death or Relocation of Subjective Experience?

    Sorry, I am not suggesting that. I may not be able to write the concept properly, if you want to understand it fully i suggest visiting those links I posted:

    Chapter 9 of Metaphysics by Default, written by Wayne Stewart

    Also Google search "Death, Nothingness and Subjectivity" written by Thomas W Clark, founder of the center for naturalism.

    Thomas W Clark and Wayne Stewart both hold the same views I have stated here, although they do a better job of explaining the concepts than me.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2009
  16. Mar 2, 2009 #15
    Re: Death or Relocation of Subjective Experience?

    There is no reason to suspect that subjective experience is anything but a material function of the brain. If it becomes sufficiently disorganized, resulting in death, your subjective stream of consciousness is cut off. I can see no physical mechanism to shuttle this subjectivity from one host to another. If your brain and body could somehow be recreated with absolute precision, in every detail, that would be you. Your subjective stream of consciousness would be functional again. I do not think that this duplication process could ever arise naturally or randomly, it would need to be a directed process using technology that may never exist.
    A unique configuration of atoms assembled by nucleic/amino acids and heavily influenced by environmental circumstance. The chances of the unique combination of circumstances naturally happening again to duplicate this complexity precisely is exceedingly low. One out of 'more atoms in the whole universe' low.
  17. Mar 2, 2009 #16
    Re: Death or Relocation of Subjective Experience?

    IT IS ALL MATERIAL. I have already stated subjectivity, continuity and memory are all corporeal. I am not suggesting that any immaterial/material thing is "shuttled" from one conscious being to the next. I am stating that we can't experience anything else but existence, being the conscious beings we are. Therefore after death, subjectivity is relocated with no shuttling of physical/non-physical things between one conscious being and the next. Therefore after death, our personal identities will cease (most probably forever unless time-space is infinite) but experience will carry over to the next conscious being brought into existence after "your" permanent cessation.

    You are only defining personal identity, please do not confuse this with my topic. Yes genes give us our personal identities but there can be copies of your identity, I hope you realise. A clone of you is "you" but you are not experiencing life as it, because you can only be one of the "yous". If you were to physically connect the two, you would be one "you". Same as if you were to physically network all conscious being's brains, they would all become one self.


    To use your logic (perhaps it will make it easier for you and the other skeptics to understand the concept) a pair of exact genetic clones are the only conscious beings in existence in a universe: Clone A and Clone B.
    Clone A dies. Clone B remains living and conscious. Since genes make personal identities Clone A BECOMES Clone B. Clone A's experience is relocated after its death into Clone B. No material/non-material thing is shuttled. That is just personal identities.

    Now say Person A and Monkey B exist in a universe with no other conscious beings. They are not genetic clones in anyway, one a person, one a monkey. But nevertheless they are both conscious, have memory, continuity and subjectivity. Person A dies and becomes Monkey B. Personal identity is lost but experience is relocated into the only other conscious being present: Monkey B. Again, no material/non-material thing is literally "shuttled" from one being to another.

    I think you have misunderstanding of my viewpoint (I know I am not the best at conveying a concept in writing). This is a naturalistic viewpoint, please don't confuse it with anything else.

    If you would like a better explanation of the concept please visit the links I have posted and also read: "Death, Nothingness and Subjectivity" (a paper written by Thomas W. Clark, founder of the center for naturalism. This paper was published in an issue of The Humanist a couple of years ago).

    I will post the links here:
    These links are vital to read if you are interested in this concept / do not fully understand it (probably because I am a bad writer :smile:)


    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  18. Mar 4, 2009 #17
    Avalon, your posts do intrigue me. However, since you seem to be more thoughtful of this, I'd like you to comment on this before I comment on anything further:

    There is a simple system of particles in a box, in which the particles are moving about. However, let us say that a few of the particles were intelligent or had a conscience. They then decide that they don't want to move about and instead they pile up to one of the corners of the box. This technically denies the tendency of organization that entropy describes. However, for the particles to do this (move to a corner of the box), they must expend additional energy, which may somehow cover up for the "negentropy" (reverse entropy) and show that the system in its entirety followed the direction of entropy as the net outcome (thus showing that macroscopic systems have a tendency to follow entropy). But altogether, the particles were able to think for themselves, thus they did not have to follow mechanistic tendencies. Wouldn't this imply that intelligence/thought might be a process of "negentropy?"
  19. Jun 22, 2009 #18
    i really enjoyed reading your post, but the problem i have is one of quantity. i'm not an expert on any of this, but if there were a finite number of people in the world wouldn't that number need to be static in order for you theory to even be plausible.

    the number of people alive = the numer of people who had died.

    their would no no population growth or vice versa.
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