Denial of Death or Denial of Immortality

At year end, I have a tradition of writing a column more speculative and personal than usual.  In this post, I consider critically the standard physicalist belief that our consciousness depends on a physical brain, and hence death is the end of all awareness. 

I was 46 years old when I first considered the question, what is aging and where does it come from?  Before that, I had been a physicist with diverse scientific interests pretty much all my life. What was I thinking?  Why had I never considered this topic before? I think the answer is: fear.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in preserving my health and extending my life.  But it was several years into a committed study of aging science that I thought to ask, why? Do I love life especially well, or am I afraid of death?

I’ve gradually come to realize that fear of death has cast a shadow over my thinking about aging, and possibly about many other other things as well.  I was a young child when I taught myself to avoid thinking about death because I couldn’t handle the abyss of terror into which my thoughts spun. As I developed the habit of tiptoeing around thoughts and discussions of death, what was I missing?  I’ve come to think that whole areas of my humanity became occluded, and have only begun to re-emerge in recent years.

In 1972, Ernest Becker wrote a book called The Denial of Death, which I knew even then that I ought to read.  I bought it, but years went by and it never made it remained unopened on my bookshelf.  Becker proposed that all of human civilization—art and literature, architecture, music, settlements and empires, stories of heroism, religious teachings, projects great and small—all of it stems from a drive to compensate for our mortality by creating something more permanent than our physical selves.  Even if this is only a little true, we have to wonder: Who would we be if we weren’t trying so hard to avoid death?

The Bhutanese people are reputed to be the happiest in the world.  Their mountains are majestic, their lifestyle modest and close to the land; but in this they are no different from many nations whose people seem to be pitiable.  So what is their secret? Eric Weiner tells us that their culture is steeped in death rituals, and that death is out in the open in Bhutan.  Bhutanese Buddhists contemplate their own death five times a day. Weiner goes on to cite studies that suggest thinking about death makes us more joyous.  These studies wouldn’t convince anyone, unless they wanted to be convinced. Maybe I want to be convinced

Of course, Buddhism is pervasive in Bhutan, with its belief that our souls cycle through birth and rebirth in karmic cycles.  Death is not a final end. The abyss that terrified me is not part of their belief system. I used to try consoling myself with such possibilities, but I got nowhere.  This is not science, it’s wishful thinking. Religions have manipulated people with promises about life after death since the dawn of human civilization. I’m too smart to be deceived with such fairy tales.  Even if it makes me afraid, even if it paralyzes me with terror, I prefer the realism of science.

But there came a point when it occurred to me maybe that the immortal soul was the reality and the fear was the delusion.  Did I believe in the Great Void just so I could feel smarter than people who believed in heaven? I peeked out from my fear just enough to question whether the abyss was a scientific deduction, or merely an artifact of scientific culture. Science or scientism?

But there came a point when I wondered whether the self-delusion was in the belief that it was all wishful thinking.  I peeked out from my fear just enough to question whether the abyss was a scientific deduction, or merely an artifact of scientific culture. Science or scientism?

Let’s backtrack to a different scientific myth.  We have been effective in reversing the scientific prejudice that says human lifespan is a fixed, unalterable fact of our biology. Given the intellectual bankruptcy of this thesis, why would so many people, scientists especially, have embraced it for so long?  One reason is the experience with being disappointed by charlatans, fooled by mountebanks, alchemists and snake-oil salesmen who have profited from their customers’ willingness to believe. Perhaps a larger reason is the fear of death that they have walled off with a kind of despair masquerading as science.  Hope is often more frightening than despair. As Milton wrote, “So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear.”

They leave their hope behind so they don’t have to face the discomfort of their fears.  We have exposed their unreason.

Now, I wonder if we have been drawn into the same dynamic: that we have relinquished a hope that is too uncomfortable to carry.  The hope we have relinquished is that the “self” persists in some form and awareness continues after physical death. For most of my life, I believed that physical reality is the only reality there is, that anything I feel as a “self” depends on 100 billion neurons and a blood supply.

And yet, my primary experience, the only thing of which I am truly certain, is that I exist as a point of consciousness, a primal self-awareness that all our science (as Chalmers has pounded home to us all) is powerless to explain.  Many of us believe (with Dennett) that, since physical reality is the only reality, this primal self-awareness must be an epiphenomenon of neural activity in the physical brain—some would say an illusion created by computation. Maybe this is true, but there is no scientific support for this statement, nor does scientific evidence weigh against it.  The statement that our feeling of self derives from computation is an article of faith, or of Scientism, rather than anything for which we can adduce evidence.

And for me, this idea is counter-intuitive.  I have a meditation practice. I have studied astrophysics and quantum mechanics.  I go for long walks in the woods and I allow my mind to run all over such topics, and the result until now has been for me to trust this feeling of selfhood more than I trust any reasoning about an alleged physical basis.  The light of my awareness is a truth unto itself.

“Yeah, yeah,” says my scientific training, “where’s the evidence?”  Evidence there is aplenty, but it is ignored by the scientific mainstream.  Some of it is recognized as anomaly that we will understand someday, even though it seems strange now.  The more direct kinds of evidence are actively suppressed, banned from mainstream scientific journals and exiled to the Journal of Scientific Exploration and other publications of mixed quality, where it takes some patience to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the former category are some of the anomalies cited at the beginning of the Michael Levin video that I reported on last week.  Caterpillars whose brains are literally dissolved in morphing into a butterfly, and yet memories survive.  Monarch butterflies that pass memories about the route to return home over half a dozen generations. Ciliated protozoa that are capable of learning and memory, though they have no nerve cells.  People who develop a musical ability or an interest in motorcycles or a vegetarian conviction when they receive a heart transplant.

In the latter category are a number of experiments for which the best source might be Dean Radin’s books, for example Entangled Minds and The Conscious Universe.  There are near-death experiences, in which people have memories, often blissful and love-filled, from the time when there was no neural activity in their brains.  Reflexively, the scientific rationalists dismiss these reports as fantasy creations of the oxygen-starved brain. But in many cases, the person recovering from an NDE reports things she would have no way of knowing if she had not been conscious during the time she was clinically dead.  My introduction to NDE science was by Pim van Lommel. His latest book is Infinite Awareness.  Similar stories have been collected by John Hagan, Chris Carter, Eben Alexander, and others.  Finally, there is the scientific study of reincarnation, pioneered in the West by the late Ian Stevenson, professor of psychiatry at University of Virginia.  His work has been continued by Jim Tucker at UVa and Raymond Moody (his book), Roy Stemman, and others elsewhere.  Carol Bowman researched and documented one spectacular case of a Louisiana couple, non-religious skeptics, whose 2-year-old son had persistent nightmares, then displayed uncanny knowledge about the crash of a World War II fighter plane in Iwo Jima.

photo of James Leininger as a child

Why does the mainstream scientific community persist in dismissing all this research without evaluating it?  Because it conflicts with a strictly-materialist, “scientific” world-view formed in the 19th Century, when the world of science was suffering under the delusion that every natural phenomenon might soon be explained by deterministic laws.  A few decades later, quantum physics put that aspiration to rest, and offered a mechanics at the foundation of science that has room for mind, for intention, for Cartesian dualism, for those who see fit to interpret quantum mechanics in that light.  Quantum mechanics may be 90 years old, but the scientific world has yet to absorb its message.  In particular, it has been shown in independent experiments by Radin, Jahn, and others that the events that are treated as “random” in QM can be influenced by conscious intent, without any recognized physical connection between the brain and the quantum system.  Furthermore, this connection is stronger when there is an emotional stake in the outcome, and its force increases non-linearly with the number of people whose attention is focused on a quantum target.

My tentative conclusion from this is that there is room within what quantum mechanics treats as “random” for (non-material) mind to influence material reality.  And there is evidence from experiment and anecdotes that this actually occurs.  Hence, the door remains open for a non-material locus of selfhood, or some aspect thereof.

“Despite the unrivaled empirical success of quantum theory, the very suggestion that it may be literally true as a description of nature is still greeted with cynicism, incomprehension, and even anger.”   — David Deutsch


118 thoughts on “Denial of Death or Denial of Immortality

    • I have not. Friends who have experience with ayahuasca tell me of fantastic revelations, but also risk of neurological damage. I’m protective of my brain, and seek spiritual experiences with meditation and breathing practices.
      – JJM

  1. You’ve put into a coherent essay my own amorphous feelings, Josh. Thank you. There are indeed mind-boggling dilemmas about ourselves and this universe in which we find ourselves. “Answers such as: “There simply must exist at least 500 duodecillion ‘dead’ multiple universes to explain the ‘lucky coincidences’ of the physical constants in our universe,” leave many of us vaguely unsatisfied. There is nothing unscientific in being open-minded about consciousness or even theism, as these ideas are beyond the current realm of science.

  2. Certainly there is no reason why there should be life after death.

    The only thing in favor of it is that, equally, there is no reason why there should be a universe, or whatever it is from inside of which we are emailing one another. Why should there be beings rather than nothing?

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. But, once you get a free lunch, it raises your odds of getting a free dinner.

    • Michael:

      Your post reminds me of a Zen Koan.

      For my part, I fear the unknown quality of death in the same way I fear walking into an unexplored dark cave without a guide rope and a flashlight.

      I am extremely curious yet cautiously fearful about any possible dangers.

      Avoiding death is not my main goal. My main goal is quality of life over quantity. I want to remain strong and healthy throughout life even knowing it will end someday.

      I am also not sure, I would want to live forever.

      As for life after death……well, I experienced an anomalous event that took place when I was ten years old, that has left me more expectant than not, that there is some sort of energetic existence after death.

      The event happened, as unknown to me and other relatives, my grandmother lay dying in a hospital, at the relatively young age of 55.

      At that time, she appeared in my room, and woke me by kissing my cheek. I clearly felt the kiss and saw her in full form, bending over me, then…. whoosh……she disappeared, or more aptly withdrew, shrinking into nothingness.

      A few minutes later the phone rang, and my parents were informed of her death.

      Considering that 55 is relatively young, and she was not ill, and seemingly very vigorous, no one was expecting her to die.

      Still, I have always wondered if it was simply a telepathic thought she conveyed, as she lay dying, or did she actually visit my room in spirit.

      Oh well, such are the mysteries of life.

      • Thank you, Heather. I have never had such an experience, but so many credible people have told me about experiences like this that I take them seriously — not to say that I understand them.

      • There are a sizeable number of other stories of very recently dead people leaving an impression on their loved ones. But these stories appear to all be less than an hour after death. Brain EEG’s continue for some time after death with increasingly disorganized and weakening signal. Dying telepathy perhaps, but that does not imply indefinite thought without the need for a brain.

        • Bruce, I know something about ADC, after death communication. Many ADCs are within an hour, but as William James pointed out, you only need one white crow to prove not all crows are black. There are numerous ADCs that are greater than an hour after death.

          You postulate an unproven and unprovable notion that the brain stays alive after you die and consequent mind reading, which is a huge reach. That isn’t the case; within five seconds of heart stoping, the eeg goes completely flat, there is no activity, according to Pim Van Lommel, MD.

          The simple explanation is there is a spirit that leaves the body which is completely consistent with all the NDE accounts. Everything else is special pleading that ignores tons of data.

  3. John von Neumann could recite word for word every book he ever read, and could start at any page after hearing a few words from that page. Was all that stored his neurons? I think not.

    Hypothesis: Our memories are both local and non-local, somehow stored elsewhere, and the non-local storage has unlimited capacity. Some minds are exceptionally adept at retrieving from the non-local storage.

    Sometimes people can retrieve information that didn’t originate with them (extraordinary knowing).

  4. To those who want to contemplate their own physical mortality I recommend ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche. It is a very frank and non-denominational approach to the subject.
    I can only hope that this book is not ignored because of the bad reputation later acquired by its author.

  5. Throughout my life I believed that death was unavoidable, and that after death there was nothing. I.e. whatever was the case before my birth (nothing terrible). So, I had neither hope, nor fear of death. Having read the book by Kutzweil “Fantastic Voyage – Live enough to live for ever”, I have started googling about the subject of “anti-aging”. It was not dificult to realize that you, Josh are extremely knowledgeable and influencial in the subject. As a result I have been reading your blogs with great admiration.

    Having read today’s article, I was extremely disappointed. Perhaps it was “over my head”, and I did not fully understand it. But having assumed that you had adhered to a “standard physicalist” way of thinking, today’s article shocked me. If you, Josh now consider as a possibility that “the immortal soul is the reality”, and maybe in the future you convince yourself that it is so, then why worry about “aging”? And if people so knowledgeable and influencial in the subject of “anti-aging” start losing interest, wouldn’t that have an negative effect in the quest for “anti-aging” and longivity?

    • Thanks for your contribution, and I’m glad to have “standard physicalist” perspective here to balance my own, and to keep me honest.
      I’m in no hurry to die, and still vigorously pursuing strategies for long-term health and life extension. But I know I won’t live forever, and I embrace wonder concerning all that is beyond present scientific knowledge.
      – JJM

    • I think that, when you believe through most of your life that there is nothing after death, work on anti-ageing strategies, get older and see that not much seem to be on the horizon that can stop ageing; the mind looks for other solutions. That might be happening to Josh.
      I’m not in that phase yet ( 44 years old).

        • If you are about 70 years old (not sure how old Josh is), you need something powerful to stop ageing or at least slow it down to a crawl. I’m not aware of anything that has the potential to do that in the next many years.

          • Something to not only stop aging but reverse it – to make one young again may be here – launch in 2020 hopefully. Mark as promised results of Harold and my venture’s 2nd pre-clinical trial are out. If you want a copy please send me your email id. The reversal was across all parameters and continued for 22 days after last treatment. In fact a few of them continued to improve further even after the last injection. Fascinating. So this wasn’t slow down of epigenetic/methylation drift as reported for rapamycin, fasting, exercise, this wasn’t stopping the drift either, this was full reversal of epigenome and gene expression pattern as existed during youth. The treated old rats excelled beyond the young control in some parameters like memory.

      • you could as Josh what is behind his thought process and even good far as to follow his logic in the above article rather than apply unimaginative reductionism the type of which Josh convincingly critiques as inadequate. Fact is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and we don’t currently have an explanation for that or even much of an epistemology for grappling with that fact,

  6. Lots of great links in this article – thank you. I’d like to add a book I just finished written in 2008/09 by NPR journalist, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who concludes, after a fairly in-depth study that consisted of many interviews with mystics and neuroscientists, that, in brief and simply, “science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.” – See “Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality” –

    • God is a fabricated character in the mind of the believer with no substance in the external world. This phantom god influences the believer’s concept of reality and their behavior.
      This figment of the imagination, God, is the cornerstone of religious superstitions. Religions are superstitions based on balderdash rationalizations to justify the desires of the believers. Religions provide no evidence for exclusion from superstitions. Questioning is not a virtue of religions. Today’s religions, in particular, the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are superstitions from ancient cultures. These religions are cultural atavism in today’s societies.
      In the social sciences, atavism is a cultural tendency for people in the modern era reverting to the ways of thinking and acting in a former time.

      • I can’t speak for all religions, or even a fraction of my religion, but for those in my circle or relaations, questioning my faith is a really big part of my faith. The truth of the matter is i’m still trying to figure out what i find more likely :that a being with a will created everying, or if a being with a will didn’t. There are clearly more options outside of those two, but i think that it is more likely to be the former (and that is an opinion).

        On the topic of atavism, i would say that conforming to a mindset without actual critical thought is a mistake.

        I would also encourage you to read the reviews in the book link before making sweeping generalizations, as a good number of the reviews talk about the book making them critically ask themselves “how/why did they come to believe what they do now”.

        Happy new year!

      • Seems to have helped those cultures survive for a long time, however, so there must be some benefit in religious beliefs and tradition.

      • Hello Jerry. Well, I was looking for a place I might jump into this long gaggle of comments. God, the dreamed of father of us all, exists, but only between the ears of humans. My take, religion is a scam perpetrated by believers in resurrection and an afterlife. Education is our only hope for countering the mental illness of religion. GROG

  7. I think there is a problem in the dichotomy between the physical and mental, material and ideal.

    Take a “physical” house for example. It is a structure made of wood. Wood is a structure of plant cells. Plant cells are structure of organic molecules. Molecules are structures of atoms. Atoms are structures of particles. Particles are excitations of waves.

    At what point does physicality begin in this hierarchy of structures?

  8. Eben Alexander has been debunked sort of.

    I was somewhat skeptical before seeing that article.

    There used to be a quiz (I can no longer find a link to it that works) inviting the reading to compare Eben’s account with account of other on psychedelic drugs. It’s hard to tell the difference.

    I write:

    “The brain at near death or under certain drugs seems to create an alternate world. Once the cultural interpretation of the experience is striped away, this world may be quite similar for everyone. I can only think of two ways to explain this. One is this world actually exists on some plane not accessible in ordinary consciousness. The other is that there is some common machinery in all brains that becomes activated during these times.”

    • I agree that Eben Alexander is loose with inferences, and overstates his case. Pim van Lommel is more credible. The strongest evidence is from a few cases in which people after NDE’s have knowledge that they had no way of obtaining, by the ordinary rules of physics. Such cases are rare, but hard to dismiss.

      • Pim Van Lommel made the first prospective NDE study, since the time there were several other, Sam Parnia conducted latest and largest international NDE study AWARE.

        There is a blog of Ben Williams, he published book about AWARE, he is in contact with Pania and monitors development of AWARE-II

        As far as I understand they still can’t in controlled experimental conditions confirm OBE (for example, servived did not see ceiling-facing drawings during OBE)…

        • Melvin Morse MD did a prospective study of children’s NDEs when he was in Seattle. I am pretty sure it was before Van Lommel’s. In his study children in health crisis were compared with children who actually had a death like experience. 25 / 26 children who experienced some flatline reported OBE, and a variety of other standard NDE markers. Pim Van Lommel’s study was bigger, but he found (if I recall correctly) 18% of adults with heart stoppage reported the NDE. Perhaps Melvin would confirm that; I’ll email him about it. He is pretty responsive.

          • It’s interesting but perhaps not surprising that children are more open to these experiences, because they haven’t yet completely formed the rational filter that suppresses experience that don’t make sense.

            I do believe that out-of-body and extra-sensory phenomena play by different rules. We have to give up the idea that everything can be reduced to statistically reproducible experiments, and follow the empirical observations where they lead us.

      • Another thing that is hard to dismiss are the multitude of ESP experiments with results significantly better than chance. But what to make of these is hard to fathom. They usually are not reproducible and the effects diminish with time, usually attributed to “reversion to mean”. This same phenomenon of effects wearing off with time seems also to plague psychology and medicine. I don’t think bad science accounts for all of it.

        I’ve thought we are missing something relating to probability at least as it applies to real world. Of course, probability is also at the heart of QM and its paradoxes.

        Have you looked at the radical idealism of Donald Hoffman or Bernardo Kastrup?

        If Julian Barbour (The End of Time) is right, time is an illusion and aging, I suppose, would be an illusion too.

  9. The brain stores patterns of neuron firings, with learning involving persistent changes in synaptic membrane potentials the details of which are still a bit fuzzy for me. But if I can program an analog computer while it’s not powered up, at least in theory I could program synaptic connections while a brain was temporarily stopped (or in low power mode) during a near death experience. How that would happen is beyond me, but doesn’t seem impossible. Your article from last week also spoke of membrane potentials stored between cells, and perhaps within cells. We also have epigenetic memory (which I learned of here, thanks) as another form of cellular memory which can be passed between generations. So as a programmer playing god (with a small g), I see a lot of places to store learned information although I still lack the knowledge on how to program them. I find it hard to think of my consciousness or memories not residing in some kind of physical distributed storage medium. However, when I contemplate the effect of a black hole event horizon on time dilation, I could see my dreams and memories during death as seeming to last forever from a certain perspective. I’m not sure what good that does me now, I’m just too pragmatically bound to let my imagination go any farther.

  10. “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”. Douglas Adams in, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

    I am very thankful for your efforts, Josh. As the Aussies say, “No worries, mate”. We will all know soon enough if your musings are correct.

    Jim Flint 83

      • Hi Josh,
        I found your blog a few years ago and it is my favourite reading since then.
        I have a twin sister and we were thinking with her what would be the way to give a sign if there is something there when one of us would go away first.
        We have a very strong connection in our family. Our father was used to be a scientist-physicist. He understood the laws of physics and the universe by heart and he could speak about time and space for hours, explaining to us the beauty of physics of life. We are also scientists, me and my sist (the Medical scientists) and now I think about our talks with our father more and more.
        Our father was so scared of death (hard to say) as he was hoping to find the way to live a very long life. He said to me one day “I always thought I still have time to find it”..and there always was something to do in life, just usual routine..
        He died about two years ago, suffering from a pain of cancer spreading over the whole body. He had an unusual nature and a BIG mind, some strong energy I would say.
        Sometimes I see very interesting dreams and they come when I don’t think about my father the days before at all.
        In one of my dreams, the telephone is ringing and I know that is the father. I am hesitating but taking a call and I am hearing his voice, so young and happy voice! Other times he came and he wanted to be with us but he could not come close like he was not allowed or there was like something between us. In one of my dreams, I was saying to him “Go to the light! Go! Go!” I hear his thoughts, I feel his thoughts..He did not want to go but always listened to what I said. That was strange as in a real life he was mentoring us not the way around.
        Sometimes I think, maybe he has found a way to give me a sign that he is still somewhere, he is existing?

  11. Hard to know the unknown. Short observation though – if we accept the “big bang” where did that come from? Even if we determine/divine an earlier iteration we still have to wonder what was before that. Even if we accept a “God”- how did a “God” come into being? Which brings me to the point that all of science is hard put to get to an explanation. Do I “believe”? More agnostic – just open to the proposition that science can pretty much explain the physical world – but can only go so far. Thanks for your columns. Happy New Year.

  12. We live in space which is composed of a series of limits that have a beginning & an end all measured by clock time (t). When we die we move into time that only has a series of |(x, y, z) locations & we become a value in units of time equivalent to clock time which extends forever without any limits.

    • Hi Josh,
      I found your blog a few years ago and it is my favourite reading since then.
      I have a twin sister and we were thinking with her what would be the way to give a sign if there is something there when one of us would go away first.
      We have a very strong connection in our family. Our father was used to be a scientist-physicist. He understood the laws of physics and the universe by heart and he could speak about time and space for hours, explaining to us the beauty of physics of life. We are also scientists, me and my sist (the Medical scientists) and now I think about our talks with our father more and more.
      Our father was so scared of death (hard to say) as he was hoping to find the way to live a very long life. He said to me one day “I always thought I still have time to find it”..and there always was something to do in life, just usual routine..
      He died about two years ago, suffering from a pain of cancer spreading over the whole body. He had an unusual nature and a BIG mind, some strong energy I would say.
      Sometimes I see very interesting dreams and they come when I don’t think about my father the days before at all.
      In one of my dreams, the telephone is ringing and I know that is the father. I am hesitating but taking a call and I am hearing his voice, so young and happy voice! Other times he came and he wanted to be with us but he could not come close like he was not allowed or there was like something between us. In one of my dreams, I was saying to him “Go to the light! Go! Go!” I hear his thoughts, I feel his thoughts..He did not want to go but always listened to what I said. That was strange as in a real life he was mentoring us not the way around.
      Sometimes I think, maybe he has found a way to give me a sign that he is still somewhere, he is existing?

      My father explained to me there is no “TIME” as such. Time is a measurement of changing matter(things), the measure of change. In one of our last talks, he gave me an example. You are walking along the beach and you have walked four kilometres. You have spent an hour, right? Start walking the same distance but walking in water. How long will it take? It will take a longer time. You have changed the environment and the time has changed. Relativeness of time for measurement of the same change.

      • Svetlana, your father was correct, time is an illusion and not a dimension as is wrongly still taught in schools. Instead it is a measurement (i.e. distance) function, as exhibited by the units which define it. All events proceed in this fashion as a series of “nows”: event, now, event, now, event, now such that everything really happens simultaneously all at once.
        Your hunches, dreams, intuition and closeness feelings of your father in my opinion (as an afterlife science researcher), are likely to be valid. Even Einstein thought intuition valid and of critical importance – as in this quote, “Indeed, it is not intellect, [which means book knowledge and empiricism for him], but intuition which advances humanity. Intuition tells man his real purpose in this life… and also …one must accept intuition as a fact.” – Einstein (my website) See:

        In addition, scientific developments are on the verge of giving positive validation to anyone that afterlife is real, so no-one need fear death and your father lives. In fact, within your lifetime you might even speak to your father. If you doubt this,


  13. There is nothing new or shameful about toying with metaphysics. But to attempt to blur the lines between metaphysics and physics is indeed shame worthy. It is a maintenance of the bright line that allows science to proceed as an intelligible process. Say things about fear. Say things about quantum mechanics. Do not say things that conflate quantum mechanics and metaphysics simply because the possibility of the unknown could result in a satisfactory metaphysical coping mechanism for biological processes like anxiety and fear.

    • I just this evening learned about this article. In it, Nobel physicist Brian Josephson argues that quantum entanglement provides a plausible mechanism for precognition and telepathy. I would say that the line between metaphysics and physics has already been breached once we accepted QM as a fundamental explanation for how the world works. QM is essentially nonlocal, and QM tells us that the scientific ideal of an objective observer outside the observed reality is not possible. This is a frontal assault on what we used to call “science”, and ever since 1926, it is the philosophers who are trying to pick up the pieces.

      • I admire the task you are giving yourself. But saying QM allows for this or that is a tautology. Discussing the space of multiple universes and what rules of nature could exist in them is amusing, but it is not knowledge. Saying something could perhaps be in the bounds of reality does not make it so. It is positive (positivist) assertions about an existence where science begins and ends–including QM. Metaphysics is beyond that. It is not science. It is past science or un-scientific. Whether it is knowledge or wisdom is a cultural discussion, but not a scientific one. Any discussion attempting to suggest because a scientist utters a metaphysical statement that metaphysics is involved with science–does not pass any reasonable definition of scientific truth. By all means abandon scientific truth in the face of your fear and anxiety to embrace metaphysics–one is equivalent to another. Buddhism, quantum mechanical philosophical assertions, holy trinities. But science has a clear meaning. To deny that is… unreasonable.

        • I wish it were so easy to draw the line between physics and what you call metaphysics. Most physicists today are comfortable talking about other universes, for which there can be (by definition) no observations of our present universe to confirm or to falsify. My position is that this is not science. On the other hand, most physicists will ignore or deny anecdotal and statistical evidence for mind-to-mind communication that has no known physical basis. I regard this as experimental science, and highly relevant to the question of whether the mind might have a persistence beyond the life of the brain.

          • I suppose it comes down to an ethos about science. In my own view, science does not allow me to entertain things that cannot be shown to be true. Assertions and hypotheses are always allowed, but they are not considered truthful. You believe ESP or telekinetic mind communications exist. I see no scientific proof or consensus. Perhaps you are an early adopter. Perhaps you can build a bridge to a new world judging these things to be possible and/or true. Again, that is not science–even if it is scientific method. There is fact. Facts exist. There are non-facts. There is a sort of ethos that treats speculation skeptically we take to be normal science. There is a sort of ethos that takes things outside the boundaries of scientific truth and treats them as truth. That is metaphysics. All metaphysics has an equivalent truth value. When something is proven and reproducible and factually analyzed as not only probable but highly likely, we call that truth. There is nothing about conscience afterlife that has ever even begun to approach such consensus based on facts as science receives them.

        • Re: “Scientific proof” – Popper taught us that things can be falsifed by the scientific, but never proved affirmatively.

          “Science” today means two things, and they are only partially congruent. The first is the scientific method: looking at the world, comparing observations with others, creating hypotheses, trying to falsify them with experiments. The second meaning is the current consensus in the world scientific community. There are many areas of overlap between these two definitions, but there are other areas where the science establishment has turned a blind eye, willfully ignoring the evidence because it is disruptive to established paradigms. I believe that PSI research is one of these blindspots. NDEs, telepathy, and the ability of the mind to alter quantum probabilities should be considered firmly established by any standard of evidence, including Sagan’s criterion, “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” If you’re open to learning more, I recommend the Dean Radin books referenced in the article as a good introduction.

          Even as scientific technologies advance into the 21st Century, the Scientific Worldview remains stuck in the 19th Century.

        • Kant famously critiqued metaphysics and many analytic philosophers hold the line on this critique but Hegel was pretty successful in debunking Kant‘s critique and reopening the possibility of metaphysics with his organicism.

          • Saying this person said this or that is not really a serious argument. Facts stand on their own. Denial of science is just that. We all know that scientific fact is based on a consensus of serious studies. There is no such consensus or a consensus on plausible and reproducible evidence on ESP, life after death, post-death conscientiousness, consciousness separate from biological activities (i.e. nerve impulses) etc. Of course, metaphysicists will always try to weasel-word these clear arguments into fuzzy assertions and non-facts masquerading as facts. I would welcome scientific proof of the expansion of knowledge. I do not welcome assertions that things have evidence or especially proof when there is no general support of these assertions after clear review by a broad set of scientists.

  14. “Akashic Records” is the idea that the universe somehow records everything that happens including our thoughts and memories, and that these records can be accessed. It presumes to explain many phenomena, including our memories surviving death, unexplained knowledge of psychics, and so on. For most people access is rare and unpredictable, but there are exceptions.

  15. Given the accelerating advances in computing, and our increasing ability to create simullated worlds in a computer, I think it is highly likely, in fact almost certain, that the world we live in is one of millions or even billions of simulations being run by math modeling scientists . like Josh, of the future-studying who knows what? There can be only one real world, …but in the future I easily see many many simulated worlds coming into being..Does it make my world any less real to me? No….So my thought is to just play the game a long as possible and see what happens!

  16. I doubt if consciousness can exist without the chemical processes of oxidation-reduction to provide the energy to drive it even if there is quantum mechanics to consider. I think it’s the old human trait to believe we have the material world figured out continues to this day. It’s nonsense to assume we have sufficient knowledge to conclude there are forces independent of the material world that drives consciousness. Our material world is 13.7 billion years old, and probabilities may govern its behavior.
    Face it your existence will end someday and so will your awareness. There will be nothing to power consciousness.
    Religions are forms of superstitions used to explain the external world. They are accepted by credulity and consensus. Religious beliefs are examples of human concepts to create phantom characters such as gods that influence their idea of reality.

  17. To live as if you don’t have a future is inhumane and corrosive to the human spirit. To live as if you do is a form of optimism. I view optimism as a technology, not unlike fire or a blade. Optimism is a tool. In fact, it’s the most important tool a human being can ever carry.

  18. Josh, how can you say “But I know I won’t live forever,” like you did a few posts ago?

    What about epigenesis, if thoughts can move mountains, they sure can influence our genes. I was lucky to be born Homo ludens, which i have practiced. I like it and want to keep at it. Here is a play i started in 1994
    It has the # 2.148.548 from the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office.
    Thank’s for your great contribution to evolution (that’s what’s all about), and keep promoting age regression/rejuvenation, i need it.
    BE AMUSED in 2019

    • Aging isn’t the only thing that can kill us. We may die in accidents, or from a chance infection, or a global epidemic, or because mankind has trashed the biosphere to the point where it can no longer support a substantial human population, or, if all these bullets can be dodged, eventually the sun will explode taking all of us with it.

      The complete conquest of aging, in our present world, would give us a lifetime of about 1,000 years. Sounds good to me. But infinity? I don’t even know what infinity means. Avoid every possible accident forever? Not going to happen.

      I am a finite brain, capable of a finite number of brain states, hence a finite number of experiences. If I lived forever, the best I could hope for would be to have every possible experience repeated an infinite number of times. Even if it were possible, this doesn’t sound appealing.

      • Of course once we solve aging, all other pursuits become possible. After aging we’ll then need to safeguard ourselves against the misfortunes that you mention. I can forsee a future where we eventually evolve beyond being human and therefore our number of possible experiences can continue to expand out before us.

      • Josh, come now, the sun kills us all in a billion years? With even the most conservative scenarios of technological progress, we’ll fly away in hollowed-out spinning asteroids with self-sustaining biospheres with billions of years worth of fissile material to power us.

        And we will likely do a whole lot better than that.

  19. I grant you ample leave
    To use the hoary formula ‘I am’
    Naming the emptiness where thought is not;
    But fill the void with definition, ‘I’
    Will be no more a datum than the words
    You link false inference with, the ‘Since’ & ‘so’
    That, true or not, make up the atom-whirl.
    Resolve your ‘Ego’, it is all one web
    With vibrant ether clotted into worlds:
    Your subject, self, or self-assertive ‘I’
    Turns nought but object, melts to molecules,
    Is stripped from naked Being with the rest
    Of those rag-garments named the Universe.
    Or if, in strife to keep your ‘Ego’ strong
    You make it weaver of the etherial light,
    Space, motion, solids & the dream of Time —
    Why, still ’tis Being looking from the dark,
    The core, the centre of your consciousness,
    That notes your bubble-world: sense, pleasure, pain,
    What are they but a shifting otherness,
    Phantasmal flux of moments? —”

    — George Eliot

  20. Hi Josh,
    Consciousness I like a physical field (example electrical field). It exists after one or more particles that contributes to the field ceased to exist. But individual consciousness like the particular field configuration that surrounds a particle ceased to exists when the particle is tranformed (in the example with electrical field when it looses its charge).

    Physical phenomena could be influenced by Conscience by not directly by individual conscience. In fact all physical word as WE KNOW is created by Conscience.
    That doen’t mean that things exists only in our minds but the way we know exists only in conscience at a certain time. I said at a certain time because the Consciousness evolve. A tree, a house, death had other meanings for the primitive man, in antiquity, and even today from culture to culture.

    Your fear of death make you rationalize the immortality of individual consciousness. But this would be a real catastrophe. The worst scenario someone could think of. Everyone would become prisoner of only one consciousness.

    The most probable scenario is that the human individuals are only instances of the Consciousness. After one dies ( but time is also a product of individual consciousness) he(she) will experience the consciousness of another body. Something like “reincarnation” in Buddhism. The problem is with “re” because the time has no sense outside the individual consciousness There is no absolute time (relativity theory has somehow proved this) and hence there is no absolute “after”
    These things could not in principle be proved by us who are only individual consciousnesses. Gödel showed this for the formal systems.

    I think that the worst thing that could happen is that the individual consciousness to be imortal. The second worst is to live until very old age.

    • The brain don’t create consciousness. The brain only individualize the Consciousness on a particular person. Modify the brain (with chemicals for example) and the consciousness will be modified.
      All the afterlife discussions mix the levels of reference: system and metasystem.
      An example from logic of mixing the levels of reference is the truth of the sentence: “This sentence is false”
      The same is with the sentence “Exists (individual) afterlife”

  21. I don’t believe that the “I” we know will exist after we die. However, there may exists some kind of consciousness by actions/interactions of atoms. If we can tap into this type of consciousness, through practice of religion (importance in practice rather than belief), then we may eliminate the fear of death. It’s more a form of wisdom than science.

  22. In particular, it has been shown in independent experiments by Radin, Jahn, and others that the events that are treated as “random” in QM can be influenced by conscious intent, without any recognized physical connection between the brain and the quantum system. Furthermore, this connection is stronger when there is an emotional stake in the outcome, and its force increases non-linearly with the number of people whose attention is focused on a quantum target.

    Interesting experiment. Many people claim they can achieve physical change with prayer or magic. Could there be a grain of truth in their beliefs?

  23. Excellent post Josh and well thought out. We live in a world of probabilities, but one thing that I am quite certain of was penned by Descartes many years ago, “ I think therefore I am”. I am conscious of myself as surely existing, and even if I doubt it, it is I doing the doubting as a conscious being. There is nothing that is more obvious or more certain, and it has stood the test of time.

    Issues such as consciousness and the brain, God, the soul, and what existed before the Big Bang are all inherently unknowable . Yet many scientists consider those who believe in things such as mind and soul as foolish and irrational, whereas it is totally rational and just as likely as not, since none of us has access to the truth in these matters, and no evidence will ever exist one way or the other.

    I’m not sure where I stand in these matters, and actually seem to frequently change my mind, but there is nothing foolish or unscientific in either position.

  24. Paul –
    Thanks for your support for my reach into the hinterlands of science. I actually think there are things we can know about the relationship of consciousness to the body and mind to brain, if only we are willing to admit anecdotal evidence. Some phenomena are real, but no reliably replicable, so we need to chase them down and separate the credible from the dubious stories.
    Physicists have been saying that we need more multi-billion dollar colliders to make progress in theoretical physics. But the fact is that current physical theories can’t account for telepathy or for cold fusion or for various biological forms of memory and communication for which there is no physical basis. We need multidisciplinary teams to think anew about a world view more complete than the present scientific paradigm. Above all, we need the best brains in physics to admit the reality of psychic phenomena, and seek to reframe the quantum theory of measurement to accommodate what has been observed. Two luminaries in this area have been Brian Josephson and Henry Stapp and, before them, David Bohm.

  25. I think it was Ray Kurzweil that said: after all the possibilities of how people could have got together, over all generations to produce children why should you or I exist now. This was an argument for the seeming impossible probabilities of evolution leading to you or I. So is there a consciousness of you or I stored somewhere waiting for the appropriate body?

    • Good question in religious contexts with past lives or God created eternal souls!

      In hindu-buddhist context it is a question of “individual consciousness resource” for population growth. Since times of ancient sages human population greately increased. According to traditional believes it is not very difficult for us to become animals in future life, but not vice versa. So, where “additional souls” come from? Usual buddhist answer: from another, not earthy worlds. How many of us are earthlings from the times of ancient sages and who is not from the Earth? ))

      As far as I know, “souls resource” is not simple question for Chrisitianity also. One of possible answers: souls come from that “place” where Christ went. Where did he go? It seems that there may be single answer for Christianity and Buddhism (dzogchen)

      Happy new year!

  26. There is a very compelling reason why there is a universe and not nothing because there is a universe and there is no nothing therefore there must be a universe and something, it’s not a free lunch it is reality just the fact that we are here experiencing the universe is proof of how ordinary and probable a universe is at this point in time.

    If we have no consciousness before we were born then why would we have consciousness after we die, doesn’t make sense to me.

    The self is maybe an illusion but it feels so real.
    The Budah said be kind to your self and there is no self.

    When you wake up in the morning is that the same you that went to sleep.
    if you get cryogenically frozen and get revived with your conectcome intact is that still you?

    Given enough time hydrogen starts to wonder where it came from, and where it is going, that is a given and it is very natural thing to happen. There is nothing special about us being alive or being conscious. It is very ordinary, we used to think that the earth was special and the centre of the universe but we realise it is very ordinary now.

    Through natural selection we have this inbuilt desire not to die, and knowing our own mortality can be scary. To die is to jump into an abyss an eternity of nothing it is only natural for this to scare the shit out of you. We can tell ourselves stories of an afterlife or some possible way of avoiding this abyss. But even if we cure aging there is the risk of accidents, maybe we can live until 1,000 statistically. Maybe if we can back up our contecome then we can re boot if we die and we can get to the stage of backing up our mind every second so there is no loss of conscious. Once we merged with AI we will have a cloud consciousness so then we will be virtually immortal, if we can spread our consciousness around the galaxy. That way when our sun dies or if an asteroid hits Earth we will still be safe.

    Then what happens with the big freeze or the big crunch the end of the universe, can we survive that?

    I am hoping we have reached longevity escape velocity and if we create a benelvolant AI we will be able to solve these difficult tasks.

    • Why is the concept of a God so hard to comprehend? Maybe the word has been too abused. How about a being of great power and intelligence that exists in a different dimension than ours? He creates something from nothing by causing a massive explosion ie: a big bang. Due to the second law of thermodynamics we were created. Otherwise after an infinite amount of time nothing would still be here. This”being” created us as an experiment or for his pleasure. When our physical ceases to function we move to his dimension where the laws of physics as we know them don’t exist.

  27. To those why are saying “science can’t disprove afterlife, god, mind outside body etc”, science also can’t disprove that somewhere in outer-space floats a planet made entirely of chocolate, however that doesn’t mean we should start selling our Nestle shares. I think most intelligent people who identify as atheists do not rule out “immaterial” phenomena (like afterlife or immaterial form of consiousness) with 100% certainty. It’s just that given the information we have at current time, there’s no reason to deem such things likely, and we live our lives accordingly. For me that is – try to live as long as possible and maybe find out some more about this strange universe we dwell in. When I eventually die in a wicked space-battle or freak black hole surfing accident, who knows, maybe I will “level up” in an immaterial form, maybe I will wake from a VR-simulation, but… I wouldn’t count on it.

  28. A lot of scientists will say that it is “physically impossible” for consciousness to survive the death of the brain. So it is interesting that physicists are not saying this. Some of the most innovative thinking in the nature of consciousness comes from eminent physicists, beginning with Schrodinger, continuing through Bohm, Jahn, Stapp, Penrose, and Josephson. Here is a paper by Henry Stapp, Berkeley professor in quantum theory, who addresses the question whether consciousness might survive death:

    • Josh

      What I hear you saying is that you are addressing the commonly held belief, among many scientists and non scientists alike , that the concepts of the immaterial are incompatible with modern scientific reason. You are simply arguing , without taking any faith position, that the two are compatible with quantum physics, and therefore such a notion as soul/ mind are not foolish or scientifically irrational.

    • Don’t apologize. The evidence is there for those who want to explore it. The standard scientific world-view is available (a while longer) for those who don’t. Deepak Chopra is right about a lot of things, but he is often glib where he should be rigorous, and hence he has turned a lot of scientists off from a field that does have more rigorous practitioners.

  29. Loved your comments and what a wonderful heading, “Denial of Death or Denial of Immortality” it could well be the title of my solid science book. See my website for details,
    As a Professional Engineer dedicated and absolutely passionate about science, I am always eager to see the open views of Physicists on this subject. In my early twenties though, observational evidence suggested to me that clearly chaos was rare – instead purpose, even teleology was seen everywhere including the design, functionality and processes of mankind. Our Universe was stubbornly ordered, and so was logical consistency. Why then I argued was the hard learning of a lifetime with a uniformly vast/detailed memory maximised with age – supposedly dispensed with at death. This to me seemed to exhibit wastefulness, an illogical falsity and inconsistency. Also, non-material reality (defined as insubstantial matter, gases, etc, and including subatomic particles ruled by quantum physics) and the Big Bang, clearly showed this as primary not secondary – as asserted strongly by so called expert materialistic scientists. Doubts therefore about their expertise arose. Quantum mechanics with time cancelling out of equations, even suggested the possibility of immortality for all – if we were to actually live in a quantum environment i.e. a possible afterlife? In all the 15 years of subsequent research it took to write my book, never was I able to find my assurity faltering in a brilliantly constructed logical purposeful Universe. Instead I found nothing but confirmation, but also the “Denial of Death” and the “Denial of Immortality” based on science alone, rather than aberrant speculation by some scientists on examination with insufficient, or nil evidence. My book was subsequently recently awarded a National New Zealand prestigious book award and 5-star awards by readers on Amazon. And yes Josh, I am delighted to see you cover metamorphosis – where, as you say, “Caterpillars whose brains are literally dissolved morph into a butterfly, and yet memories survive” – which surely suggests at least the possibility of post-death survival and retention of all memory – as I suggested initially above. Plus, your question on whether mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain or not. All science evidence on this, I found actually suggests the opposite i.e. that brain is subservient a biological processor formed to cope with a local environment and created by mind/consciousness.

    • Josh,

      Adding to what I said earlier – especially No 4 below, Alan F. Sewell brilliantly and succinctly says:

      1. Quantum mechanics states that “nothing exists until it is measured.”
      2. An object can’t be measured unless there is a conscious mind to measure it.
      3. Therefore Quantum Mechanics implies that consciousness (God) created the universe.
      4. If the Universe arose by chance, we would expect to be disorderly. The fact that it is so orderly denotes a creator/God.
      Regarding 4 above, he said – “The starting point is that even the most agnostic of physicists have pointed out how amazing it is that the universe, from its largest macrostructures to its tiniest subatomic particles, conforms to precise mathematical formulas conceived by the human brain. Why therefore IS the universe so orderly when odds are it should have been disorderly?”

      For further stuff like this if you are interested, see also my website:

      • The universe is disorderly at least slightly. Ever since the moon was formed its orbital distance has been increasing and in the process the Earth day has been increasing in length. If humans had been created not long after the moon was formed we probably would not have survived long, as there was tidal waves sweeping way inland from the close proximity of the Moon. If we somehow had managed to survive that, we would have been wiped out by snowball Earth. In all there has been about 6 life destroying calamities in Earth history. The last major event when the Asteroid destroyed the Dinosaurs.
        So you could argue that the Universe is both orderly and disorderly and if there is a mind that made the laws that govern it, that is really more like an unconscious but intelligent computer.
        As regarding measuring something with expectation forming the result in qauntum physics, could a computer exhibit intention without been conscious?

        • Greg,
          Discussing the point, you made, “So you could argue that the Universe is both orderly and disorderly”. This is undoubtably true – as one would expect from any “open system” – once the chaos you mention settled down, and life appeared. Since as would be expected, order (a reduction in entropy) occurred. In fact, once life first arrived in miniscule organisms – then progressed to more and advanced lifeforms and finally to us – seems orchestrated (but nothing to do with any known laws of the universe). Instead it seems astonishing, as the order ensures plentiful food for species below, in what would be an otherwise barren earth for larger more developed species. Serendipity follows in other ways including changes to the atmosphere to ideally suit the later arrival of mammals etc. etc. The summation of all this is covered in this article of mine which may interest you, called the Gaia Hypothesis and taken from my website. See:

          You also suggest, “that if there is a mind that made the laws that govern it, that is really more like an unconscious but intelligent computer.” You are certainly not the first to suggest that a creator/ God, “could be like an unconsciousness, but intelligent computer”. You could be right, but since we each have a portion of our own mind, the subconscious”, which is automatous and designed to carry out functions that we do not have to be bothered with e.g. life support, eating., even driving a car etc. (without awareness, and in your term “unconsciousness”), and the other fully aware portion of mind i.e. called our consciousness, or conscious mind). Consciousness is surely critical, as it enables reasoning, feelings and the ability/flexibility to take on new tasks. It makes sense that we might expect our creator/God to be designed along the same lines but also fully alive and aware as we are – which is not like a computer. It is noteworthy that we have no knowledge of how to create life, as lifeless chemicals are never found to create life. Nor do we have any real understanding what consciousness is!
          Finally, you ask, “As regarding measuring something with expectation forming the result in quantum physics, could a computer exhibit intention without being conscious?
          No, it seems consciousness is necessary to attain collapse of the Schrödinger wave function (by subconscious mind selection of available probable alternatives), so it is unlikely we would ever know how to imbibe computers with consciousness.

          Bruce Scott-Hill


  30. Fear, especially fear of death, serves as a means to help us stay alive which is certainly an evolutionary advantage. What interests me more than what happens when we die is what happens if we can transcend and control our own fear? As someone who moved from a fear of public speaking as great as a fear of death to no fear (or perhaps if I’m more honest, little fear) of either, there is such comfort in the power that comes from that control. I’ve also taken an interest in the Buddhist concepts of self – the question of who am I if I’m an every changing biological aging being. Is myself at 9, 39 and 89 the same self or different? If I am the same as my 9 and 89 year old self, am I not at this very moment both 8 and 89 years old? If I am not the same, then who was that in my body thirty years ago? Can I not return to my 9 year old self at any moment by changing what I believe about time? Could I not then also be dead already and never die at the same time? Way beyond science, but interesting thoughts that have been bringing me peace ever since I read Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen.

  31. ““I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

    – Mark Twain

    It raises an interesting point. If we have something that survives death, doesn’t it make sense it would have existed before birth?

    Or, to take a completely different point of view. If time is an illusion, our lives may be like the mosquitoes encased in amber. We are forever reliving this one and same life.

    • Interesting question. I don’t take it but do wonder what influence it might have on the methylation or acetylation of human genes. I doubt that it will do anything to extend life. Some of the change in the bee is due to what it is not fed. You’ll have to look elsewhere for something that will have a positive affect on the right genes.

  32. “Of course, Buddhism is pervasive in Bhutan, with its belief that our souls cycle through birth and rebirth in karmic cycles.”

    I have always been puzzled by the existence of reincarnation in Buddhism. No-self is a standard doctrine in Buddhism (and follows straightforwardly from the Buddhist ideas of impermanence and emptiness), and it asserts there is no unchanging, permanent self or soul. It’s difficult to see what is being reborn if they think the self is an illusion.

    I think it’s important to note that the Buddhist conception of the mind as a collection of transient sensations with no persistent thread linking them is basically the direction that standard neuroscience points. There is no static center in the brain, but an ever changing pattern of synaptic weights. I don’t see how someone who is fully committed to the materialist view of the mind can avoid reaching this conclusion. Personally, I’m not quite ready to bite that bullet and think other possibilities like what Josh mentioned should be examined.

    • I think what passes from one life to the next is a chain of cause and effect (karma) rather than a self or soul, although at the layman’s level of understanding many may think of it as a soul. The goal would be to free oneself from this chain.

    • But just think: Your 12-month old self is long “dead”. Your current “you” is the sum of the stories you tell yourself today about your life. Which makes a strong case for framing those stories as positively as possible.

  33. The topic is quite complex. In addition to everything you mention is that we are not the persons we were 20 years ago, or even less our childhood selves. You could even say that those people “died” since we are almost completely different in mind and body. Yet, our personalities are in many ways similar of not identical to those we had when we were younger! In the end, you must almost conclude that the “self” as a continuous being is an illusion….

  34. Read Leslie Kean’s book “Surviving Death” wherein she writes about that kid who thought he was the WW II pilot, among other real-life stories. She even had her own experience about her dead brother. She puts together all the instances of hints of an afterlife or survival. She is a journalist who went into the project as a skeptic.

    My fear of death began when I was 14. I read Becker’s book (and actually have read all his books) when I was 20. And the first book on aging I read was when I was 24: “Time Cells and Aging” by Bernard Strehler. I would love to know what you think of the 35 supplements I take (plus I just ordered Metformin).

  35. Dear Josh
    1) When Pim van Lommel say – that people who were dead (= no neural activity) report of NDE, then you should think about that DEATH IS NOT REVERSIBLE.
    When a person survive the diagnosis ´death´ – then the diagnosis was obviously completely wrong: the person is/was alive

    2) You should read the book ´Julia Shaw: The memory illusion: Remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory´.
    It is very simple to create ´memories´ in other persons. Mrs Shaw created in an experiment memories about a permitted crime in other persons. This crime did never happen, but the people ´remembered´ many details!
    This can explain very simple why person with a NDE remember details ´which they can not know´.

    3) We can perceive as a conscious experience how a single stimulus/thought is processed by the brain. <= This is – in one sentence – the complete explanation model of NDEs.
    I have developed and published a complete explanation model of NDEs since more than a decade! My book/e-book ´Kinseher Richard: Pfusch, Betrug, Nahtod-Erfahrung´ is available in bookshops – in German language. (The title Pfusch = bungle, Betrug = fraud refer on the bad quality of NDE-´research´ up to now: I used the book of Dr. Moody ´Life after Life´ (wich is available since 1975) – to create my NDE-explanation model and to demonstrate, that it would have been possible to explain NDEs since 1975 if the NDE-´research´ would have been made by a good researcher)

    4) to the topic ´consciousness´.
    A lot of experiments were made to understand consciousness. Up to now we know that consciousness is built/created in the brain of persons A) who are alive, B) when different neural areas of the brain communicate and C) the brain activity has crossed a certain threshold (EEG-waves. higher than 8 Hz)
    Research were made in sleeping-labs or with persons to whom anaesthesia was given.

    The idea of a consciousness which is independent from the brain – is based only on fraud: to use the term ´consciousness´ in a wrong way.

  36. Here’s a fascinating article out of the Salk Institute on the relationship between telomeres, autophagy, and cancer. Rather surprising results, though admittedly it has nothing to do with the present discussion. But still.

    We know that rapamycin is an autophagy stimulator and that may explain its anti- cancer mechanism.

  37. As always, Josh, a thoughtful piece of writing.Thank you for it. I think I have mentioned before, a book which is related to this subject. It is called ‘Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death’ by Irvin Yalom. Andrew Solomon, Author of A Noonday Demon and a winner of a National Book Award, says about it “Staring at the Sun looks experientially and psychodynamically at our deepest fear and describes with uncommon eloquence and deep humanity how we may arrive at a form of peace. The book is witty and kind and unflinching, a generous meditation that shows us not how to defeat our fear but how to become wise enough to tolerate it. It should give comfort to the dying and to those they leave behind.” Yalom “Staring at the Sun looks experientially and psychodynamically at our deepest fear and describes with uncommon eloquence and deep humanity how we may arrive at a form of peace. The book is witty and kind and unflinching, a generous meditation that shows us not how to defeat our fear but how to become wise enough to tolerate it. It should give comfort to the dying and to those they leave behind.” Yalom is an 87 year old emeritus Professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

    I would describe myself as an optimistic humanistic unbeliever -however I could not call myself an atheist because, we as human beings still know so little of all there is to know. We are still waiting for ‘The Grand Unified Theory’ to explain the seeming inability to reconcile quantum theories and those of classical physics. In the meantime, I intend to retain my curiosity and to enjoy, as much as possible, every day I have left of this finite life. For me this entails reading the science about keeping healthy and happy and following advice about plenty of exercise, eating well and ethically, being kind to others, practising mindfulness, spending time in the natural environment, staying connected to friends and community, seeking to do good rather than harm and practising being grateful to whatever gods I don’t believe in.

  38. To the topic death and rebirth it might be useful to look at buddhism statements, of 2500 years ago:

    1) PAST and FUTURE do not exist in reality – because when they would exist parallel to the PRESENT, then they would be present too.
    And – every change in the universe can happen only in an imaginay dividing line (which we name ´present´). This imginary dividing line is the transitory state – where all changes in the universe are performed. >>> This imaginary dividing line ´present´ has no duration! (This idea can be found also in Bishop Augustine´s Book ´Confessions´, book 11, chapter 13-29)

    Thus we can say: when the ´present´ has no duration – then our consciousness can have no duration too.

    2) Buddha said, that our consciousness is only an illusion: Our consciousness is built by experiences and memories who are ACTIVATED as a conscious experience, one after the other, step by step, independently.
    This very fast/quick flow of activated experiences/memories create the illusion of a permanent consciousness.
    (This is similar like a movie: when we are in the cinema, we can ´see´ movement in films – but in reality, every film is made only of single frames/pictures). The quick flow of frames create the illusion of movement when we observe it)
    >>> But in reality, our consciousness exist only as long, as a single thought exist

    In other words:
    Present-time has no duration – and a permanent consciousness is also an illusion >> therefore the Buddhism created the idea of rebirth: because our consciousness exist only as long as a thought exist – and then it will vanish/die; but with every new thought it will be recreated(=rebirth) again.
    And this permanent succession of deathrebirth is an important idea in Buddhism

  39. I am incredibly dubious of the “Dying Brain” hypothesis of NDEs. Notably, that the brain rapidly produces DMT during such experiences, and that this would explain the phenomenon.

    Specifically, the pineal gland produces roughly 30 micrograms of serotonin in a typical day. It would need to produce 1000x’s as much DMT (25 milligrams) very rapidly to account for the phenomenon of NDE “halluciantions”:

    Materialist skeptics love to point to Sagan’s Standard (“extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”) in instances such as these. But, when challenged on the extraordinary claim that the pineal gland accomplishes this herculean feat of DMT production in this one– and only one– circumstance of the NDE when it has never been observed to produce any DMT at all….the skeptics shy away.

    There is almost certainly something more to it.

    The classic criticism on Orch-OR and other potential “quantum consciousness” models was the “warm, wet, chaotic environment” criticism (i.e., that quantum effects occur so quickly, at such a small scale, and only in very controlled lab settings, so the “warm, wet, and chaotic environment” of the human brain could not possibly support them).

    We have since observed, however, that quantum effects occur in warm, wet, chaotic environments (magnetoreception in the brains of migratory birds, quantum effects on the photosynthesis process of plant cells). When confronted with this, the skeptics shy away.

    There is almost certainly something more to it.

    Detractors claim that the research of Drs. Stevenson and Tucker into the past life memories of children amounts to nothing more than “anecdotal evidence,” but when presented with the odds-against-chance of some 1,500 children spontaneously recalling what seem to be past lives in great detail, which upon further investigation can be linked to the lives of previously alive individuals to a great degree of accuracy….the skeptics then shy away.

    The aforementioned Dr. Sagan as well as Dr. Sam Harris have both acknowledged that this research is warranting of further investigation, not derision and dismissal.

    I am not presumptuous enough (particularly as a lay person) to suggest that I know anything for sure about the afterlife. I do find it bothersome, though, that the preponderance of evidence that there *may be* an afterlife is not even taken seriously by espoused “skeptics.” What worries them? A challenge to their materialist paradigm? Because I would argue that the preponderance of evidence does not need to run contrary to Materialism until or unless thorough investigation deems as much…

    • I know. It seems we can never please the ‘skeptics’. So I stopped wasting my time trying, and I stopped visiting and commenting on skeptic blogs. There is no point.
      Of course, nobody is immune to attacking and whining about things that challenge their beliefs. We all do it from time to time. But ‘skeptics’ act as if they are immune to it all, and only mind beyond brain and afterlife proponents behave that way.

  40. I’m not a scientist, but I think the mind is the product of energy from redox reactions in the brain. When those processes completely end you are gone for forever; it is that basic. Mother nature creates ones living existence only once. I don’t think the mind is beyond the material world. We do not have complete knowledge of the material world to validate that belief.

  41. Why do you reject God? You act like it’s the easiest thing in the world to overturn, not even worth considering. But many brilliant people have believed in God and there are numerous rational arguments for His existence, as well as a preponderance of historical evidence which testifies to His incarnation and resurrection in first century Judea.

  42. Thank you for this mind opening article. I am the type that needs evidence, my scientific brain won’t let me rest otherwise. This has caused severe death anxiety for me because I love my life, and my family. The thought of no existence after death and how everything I cherish will no longer be, terrifies me more than anything. I too have wishful thinking that maybe, just maybe, there may be some kind of afterlife, reincarnation or some form of continued existence. Your perspective of not falling into the trap of realism really opened my eyes a bit. Because we, the humans, named that concept, we created it, so how can we put our faith into it? The only real thing we know is what we feel and that can’t be proven to anyone but ourselves. So thank you. I feel I can rest a little easier and appreciate my life a little more without feeling like it’s all for nothing.

  43. I’m so glad that I’ve found a site that’s open to the paranormal with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    This woman is convinced that the mind is a product of the brain.
    That all evidence for a world beyond the physical is wanting on the researchers part who wants it to be true, thin, and wishful thinking. And that spiritual experiences are all the result of hallucinations, delusions, mental illnesses, dying or sick brain, ect. Not an afterlife.
    And that anyone who looks beyond materialistic explanations, is being “pseudoscientific, denying reality/truth, trying to feel better about pain and hardships, afraid of death, ect.”

    Contrary to what a lot of ‘skeptics’ say, I don’t question materialism because I’m afraid of death.
    I’ve been jumped on again and again by ‘skeptics and scientists’ similar to Krishna and Steve Brown from Quora online. ( just google his name )
    I’m tired of it.

    Yes, I actually do agree that just thinking positive won’t magically get you what you want. It won’t prevent you from getting sick or cure cancer. It can even be harmful depending on situations, and that being realistic is a good approach.
    I also agree that the Law of Attraction is probably just a coping mechanism that gets us out of bed in the morning, keeps us from getting too depressed, especially when very sick, and deal with hardships.
    But the rest of her blog tells me that she thinks that she has debunked every single mystical experience out there.

    I’ve been visiting her blog for years up to this day, but I vow to not visit anymore. Not because “my cherished beliefs are being shattered or I refuse to wake up to reality”, it’s because there’s no point. Her mind has been made up. That this physical world is all we get.

  44. I wrote six books about my afterlife that I had before I was born. This is not a near death experience but a pre life experience. When I die I will have the same afterlife that I had pre birth for seven days and then get born on my original birthday in the next iteration of the universe. If you are interested check out my book Beyond Science by Reginald Rogoff on Amazon and Kindle. I don’t make much from the books but I want to get the message of truth to people.

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