What really happens after death?


This is the final week of the 99-cent promotion valid for my four earlier titles this July on Amazon Kindle stores worldwide. From the 1st of August onwards, the prices will return to their regular level. So I'd like to close my series of four essays celebrating relevant passages of those titles by quoting the most recent of them, which is also my most popular book to date: Why Materialism Is Baloney. Although it hasn't (yet ;) become a full best-seller, Why Materialism Is Baloney continues to be quietly read by highly influential people in many different fields. Its readership, albeit not voluminous, is a high-quality and high-impact one. The book's true impact on our culture is most-likely yet to be seen.

One question that often comes up is whether the views expressed in the book endorse some form of afterlife or not. For instance, the question has been raised in a recent thread in my Discussion Forum. The book itself has a very explicit answer, starting on page 182, which I reproduce below. If this peaks your interest, you can get the full book, in electronic version, for only 99 cents at your Amazon Kindle store, but only for the next few days. All the concepts and ideas referred to in the extract below are fully elaborated upon in the book.
What really happens after death? The simple answer is: nobody alive knows. But we can make educated inferences from the little we know about life. Indeed, the metaphysics discussed in this book can be tentatively extrapolated towards the after-death state.
It is reasonable to assume that the mental process we call physical death ‘makes the unconscious more conscious,’ because it eliminates a source of obfuscation; namely, the egoic loop. After all, physical death is the partial image of the process of unraveling of the egoic loop. As such, it is reasonable to expect that it causes us to remember all that we already know but cannot recall. From the ego’s perspective, this may seem like receiving all kinds of new answers. But it won’t fundamentally add any original insight to mind. The sense of novelty here is merely the illusion of an ego going through dissolution. Once the ego is gone and all is remembered, the sense of novelty will disappear. One way to think of this is what happens when we suddenly awaken from an intense nightly dream: for a few seconds, we are astonished to remember who we really are and what is really going on (‘Oh, it is a dream! My real life is something else!’). While still half in the dream, we register this remembrance as novel knowledge about ourselves and about what is really going on. But the sense of novelty quickly wanes once we settle back into ordinary conscious states. After all, we simply continue to know what we already knew anyway, but had just forgotten while in the dream. The only true novelty was the experiences of the dream, not what was remembered upon awakening. As such, maybe life and death are entirely analogous to dreaming and waking up, respectively.
The question, of course, is whether self-reflective awareness disappears completely upon physical death. This depends on the topographical and topological details of the human psychic structure, which are not known. If the ego is the only loop in the human psychic structure, then physical death indeed eliminates all self-reflectiveness. But it is conceivable that the psychic structure entails an underlying, partial, not-so-tightly-closed loop underneath the egoic loop. I say this because many Near-Death Experiences seem to suggest that a degree of self-reflectiveness and personal identity survive death. In this case, the ego would be a tight loop perched on top of another partial loop. Assuming that physical death entails the dissolution of only the egoic loop on top, then our awareness would ‘fall back’ onto the underlying partial loop, preserving a degree of self-reflectiveness. The result would be more access to the ‘unconscious’ – due to less obfuscation – but we would still maintain a sense of separate identity. This, of course, is highly speculative.
Even if the ego is the only loop in our psychic structure, there is still another interesting avenue of speculation regarding the preservation of a form of identity in the after-death state. Carl Jung, towards the end of his life, compared the physical body to the visible part of a plant as it grows from the ground in the spring. He thought of the core of the individual as the root (rhizome), which remains invisible underground. Jung’s analogy can be mapped very straightforwardly onto the membrane metaphor: the root is the underlying protrusion that corresponds to the ‘personal unconscious.’ This protrusion, we can speculate, remains largely invisible in ordinary consensus reality because its vibratory ‘footprint’ on the broader membrane is largely filtered out by the ego. The physical body we see may correspond to just a small part of the protrusion, the majority of it remaining invisible. The ego is in the visible part of the plant, which rises in spring and dies in winter. Its partial image in ordinary consensus reality is closed-cycle neural processes in the brain.
Physical death, as such, doesn’t necessarily entail the complete dissolution of the underlying protrusion, but perhaps only some peripheral parts of it, along with the egoic loop. Throughout life, egoic experiences could leak – through resonance – into the ‘personal unconscious’ and accumulate there. This way, our personal history – a key element of our identity as individuals – could largely survive death as well. If this is so, then physical death may bring us back to the world of the ‘personal unconscious’: the world of our memories and dreams. But it may eliminate self-reflective awareness, so we become immersed in the dream without being able to think critically about what is going on; without being able to ask questions like “What is happening? How did I end up here?” We may just re-live our memories and traverse our own dreamscape in a way that transcends time, space, and even logic.
Amid all these speculations, I think only one thing can be stated with very high confidence: physical death does not entail the end of consciousness, for consciousness is the fabric of all existence. In addition, it is reasonable to expect that physical death reduces self-reflectiveness and, thereby, increases our access to the contents of the ‘unconscious’ due to less obfuscation. This last point is another clue to the usefulness of ordinary life: it provides us with a heightened ability to self-reflect about existence and our condition within it.
Copyright © 2012-2015 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. When you said that physical death may bring us back to the world of our memories, that reminds me of the life review that countless NDE experiencers have talked about.

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  2. This seems fairly obvious since there's no way memories can possibly accumulate and be stored in the brain. We're constantly pulling them out of the unconscious and into the conscious as it is.


    Throughout life, egoic experiences could leak – through resonance – into the ‘personal unconscious’ and accumulate there.

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    1. Most intriguing, Bernardo and tjssailor! I wonder what might be the scope of egoic experiences leaking 'through resonance' and accumulating in the 'personal unconscious'? Does that scope have to be limited to one in-the-afterlife experiencer, or can it extend to an in-this-life experiencer? For instance, might something egoic accumulated in a deceased personal unconscious leak, through resonance, into my in-this-life egoic experience? If it can, then we might have an explanation of the (surely egoic) experience of being reincarnated, or at least, of being in communion with a deceased person. (Too glib?)

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  3. I'm glad you brought up NDEs. I have long held the belief that individual consciousness persists in some form beyond death based on near-death experiences, psychic mediums, personal experience, and many other such things. I usually abstain from bringing these things up in debate because "skeptics" tend to flat out dismiss them, but my personal belief is shaped by them.

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    1. Some of that evidence can't be dismissed or ignored...

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    2. I agree, especially in the case of veridical NDEs that were confirmed by the medical staff.

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  4. But would not it be more appropriate to discuss the empirical evidence on the existence of an afterlife, rather than figuring out how an afterlife can fit into a predetermined conception of the world? You just mention NDEs, but this is not enough: you no mention apparitions, mediumship, children seem to remember past lives, among others.

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    1. This an excerpt of a book that articulates a metaphysics based on logic, parsimony and empirical honesty. It isn't a "pre-determined conception of the world" by any stretch of the imagination. Now, once that metaphysics is established, this excerpt simply attempts to investigate how a possible afterlife could fit with it, if at all. That's all. The goal of the book, or of this excerpt, wasn't to review the literature on NDEs, apparitions, ghosts, etc.

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    2. Well, I think that empirically investigate the existence of the afterlife comes first and establish metaphysics is the last.

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    3. I'd say that establishing a good and solid metaphysics for ordinary everyday reality comes first. Under materialism, we can't even explain everyday experience, which is all we have. So, first let's make sense of dinners, walks in the park, love-making, heart break, beautiful sunny days, dark nights, etc. Then see what that metaphysics can say about whatever is beyond the ordinary. This is, in essence, what I do.

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    4. In my opinion the empirical first, then metaphysics. Furthermore neither idealism nor materialism explain something; the scientific theories can explain something.

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    5. Yes, empirical first: the ordinary empirical world all around us right now; the empirical normal before the empirical paranormal. And science doesn't explain the intrinsic nature of anything, only the relationships between things. This has been known since Bertrand Russell at least.

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  5. To become as wide as all reality will in my view no doubt last longer than one (egoic) lifetime. But maybe we should see it in the line of our offspring. What I see is that each of my five grandkids carry something within them from me, my husband, my parents, his parents, etc. and this also is true from the other side of the family (i.e. daughter- resp. son-in-law) This is called evolution in my humble view. Of course those memories stay from one generation to another and this goes on and on.

    You can also see this in the collective history of humanity, everything is connected to everything and together we hold that memory as our collective consciousness.

    The Internet is making us aware of our collective truth and maybe this will bring humanity on a higher evolutionary level when the time is ripe........

    Am perfectly content with that :)

    Mieke

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  6. Unfortunately this is not true. How much do you know of your great grand parents, great, great grandparents etc. Probably next to nothing. And you remember nothing because you weren't there. The only memories you hold are the ones of your own life. If you ask a close relative to describe you or your own life the details would be skimpy. Eventually you get to the point where nobody remembers anything about you as an individual at all.

    Of course those memories stay from one generation to another and this goes on and on.

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  7. Death is the end of consciousness. All scientists agree on this, except... you know. Consciousness is like exhaust fumes: when the engine that is brain stops functioning, consciousness disappears. Life is short and then consciousness disappears; that is the meaning of life.

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    1. All scientists agree....except for those along with millions of others who have had an NDE or mystical experience, the millions who experienced an after death communication, and of course the millions who can actually think critically about why they exist in the first place. Hey but it's ok, Anonymous you are just another roll that M@L is playing... in this case a vacuous, blinded, undeveloped roll incapable of real thought but valid none the less. M&L loves itself no matter what the role.

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    2. Is this the Anonymous from Amazon that trolls Bernardo's books?

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    3. No... this is the other Anonymous on this planet. Single-celled organisms creep towards food and thus are conscious. Is there afterlife for single-celled organisms? If not, death is the end for every organism. Cruise missiles fly towards target and thus are as conscious as single-celled organisms. Is there afterlife for cruise missiles? No! Therefore death is the final word.

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    4. I do not know if there is a afterlife for single-celled organisms, but you fail the point, because by cases of NDEs, apparitions and mediumship mainly, the most plausible is that human consciousness endures after biological death ...

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    5. Can you prove me that you exist, Anonymous? :D :D :D

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  8. Sounds rather anthropomorphic. The millions who experienced an after death communication – does that include animals too? Can you recommend a reliable medium who can contact my cat that died in 1974 and does he still hunt mice? Birds are conscious of the earth's magnetic field – will they do so after they die? Do fish have NDEs? Salmons are conscious of the river in which they developed – if fish have afterlife, their consciousness of that childhood river will continue.

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  9. Anthropomorphic? Not at all. I can't really ask other life forms about their NDEs can I? All bodies whether human or otherwise are simply information images within consciousness. Information cannot be destroyed. So yes I say affirmative to all of the above. The data supports the continuing existence of all information forms. I'd say the cat that you still talk about 40 years later has probably paid you a visit perhaps in a dream. Of course you probably consider a dream to be "unreal" vs being simply an experience like any other experience. There's plenty of information out there on mediums who resonate with both human and animal information forms. I'm sure you could find a reliable one.

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    1. The objection that the idea of an afterlife is necessarily anthropomorphist is another fallacy of pseudo-skeptics, because the fact that most of the psychic evidence is about the deceased human beings not involves afterlife only for human beings.

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  10. Bernardo, have you heard of Dr. Glenn Peoples? He has a blog called Right Reason. He is a Christian, but he is a physicalist and a monist:

    Right Reason-Dualism

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    1. Hadn't heard, will try and have a look some time, thanks!

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  11. Bernardo is a master of self-sarcasm: "... continues to be quietly read by highly influential people in many different fields. Its readership, albeit not voluminous, is a high-quality and high-impact one. The book's true impact on our culture is most-likely yet to be seen." Ha ha, priceless! I bet Pope reads it right now!

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  12. I'm sure many more influential people are reading what Bernardo writes then what you write.

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  13. All, to avoid trolling, I will from now on require users to be properly signed up to comment, and no longer allow anonymous comments.

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  14. I think this brief audio on Youtube may be of interest for some readers of this blog:

    David Bentley Hart - Naturalism and Human Consciousness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AtxIBZVJYA

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  15. Sometimes I wonder if evolution could not "invent" life after death. Wouldn't that be a smart thing to do? Hey, we have had Millions and Millions of years to achieve that. On a different note: Terence Mckenna - mentioned in some youtube-video that it could be that humans/mammals may simply have been the slower evolving "being" on this planet. The ones we can't see with our eyes like they claim to be real during DMT-dreams might have been here first. That was just 2 sentences in a 2 hour-video - but fascinating to me. Anyway. I wouldn't even mind being some disembodied brain floating around, looking at cool stuff for all eternity. Night folks.

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