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.