First, from Texas:
The recent cloning of a sheep has generated much debate on the ethical implications of cloning humans. One person-on-the-street speculated about a wealthy madman cloning himself in order to produce a new body, into which he could eventually deposit his old brain, and thus achieve a kind of immortality.
I wonder whether one "extra-scientific" role for religion in this debate (as in the debate on medical life-extension) might be to allay our fears of dying with reassurances of an afterlife. If we do survive death, then so many of our struggles are unseemly. Might not religion do much good in calming us down?
Our belief in immortality, I would assert, derives from the reports of mystics who claim to have had immediate awareness of our immortal nature. Many have also tried to describe how they also felt at one with the entire universe.
The German mystic, Jacob Boehme, said: "If you will behold your own self and the outer world, and what is taking place therein, you will find that you, with regard to your external being, are that external world."
The modern American mystic, Franklin Merrell-Wolff, described his mystical experience in these terms: "At the time of the culminating Recognition, I found myself spreading everywhere and identical with a kind of "Space" that embraced not merely the visible forms and worlds, but all modes and qualities of consciousness as well. However, all these are not There as disparate and objective existences; they are blended, as it were, in a sort of primordial and culminating totality. . . .That totality was, and is, not other than myself, so that the study of things and qualities was resolved into simple self-examination."
I read this to mean that space-time is not extended. Space is
not extended, in the sense that "there" is not in fact
distinguished from "here", hence our universality. And
time is not extended in that "before",
"present" and "after" coexist simultaneously,
hence our immortality. Space-time seems extended to us only
because we cherish our ego, the preconception that we are
autonomous from the world. Just as every preconception can make
our perceptions seem to confirm it, this preconception of
autonomy corroborates itself in the appearance that the world is
external to us. The universe is not external and temporally
separated from us by space-time, but only appears to be because
we insist on our individual existence independent of it.
Space-time is not extended, and we are universal and immortal,
whether we like it or not. Bill
Next, from Sweden:
It is risky to express opinions on subjects of which no one knows anything.The understanding of words used depends on personality. Every one has his own realm of conceptions. When trying to present his conceptions he dresses them in words hoping that the reader of the words presented agrees to their conceptual background in the writers realm of conceptions. The chance that this will be the case is high as long as we discuss material things but very small when we try to come to grips with happenings or problems outside the border of our experience.
I am a firm believer in the teachings of Jesus as presented by his disciple John and an admirer of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's scientific interpretation of the knowledge of life presented by Jesus.
Two questions to answer before we start discussing the probability of immortality (eternal life) are of course: "What is life?" and "What is meant by eternal?".
First, what is life? The material existence may be 'live' or 'dead'. Units constituting the 'biosphere' around the planet are continuously replaced. The most complicated ones are 'born' to live some time, 'reproduce' and then 'die'. This 'death' mostly means being disintegrated to serve as food for some other species thus contributing to 'development' (of the biosphere). It would be ridiculous if a single unit of the biosphere during its short 'life'-time started speculating in immortality (eternal life) for itself. Naked apes, too, are such living units constituting the biosphere. From a cosmological aspect there is even no reason to believe that the totality of Earth with her biosphere will ultimately survive.
Teilhard's masterpiece as a thinker is concentrated in a single word: The 'noosphere'. (In Teilhard's lexicon, the "noosphere" is the sphere of mind and spirit, the thinking layer of the world. Some have recently spoken of the internet as a spectacular new advance in this development. Ed.) Right now the noosphere is being born out of the biosphere. The most advanced -- most complicated -- units of the living biosphere are now units not only of the biosphere but of the noosphere too. The birth and growth to full maturity of the noosphere may take hundreds of thousands of years (compare the development of the biosphere), but it may well go much faster; nobody knows. Nevertheless we know now that a reasonably developed human being -- however still very underdeveloped -- is a member of two life-spheres: the biosphere and the noosphere.
Second: what is meant by "eternal?" This question has no answer that everybody can accept. Personally I refuse to accept that 'time' is something that will continue 'eternally'. If this is the original meaning of the word 'eternal' I would rather skip it out of my vocabulary. But I have not done that. Instead I have come to understand 'eternal life' to mean membership in the life of the noosphere, which -- as the reader, no doubt, recognizes -- is taken from the teachings of Jesus. (Noosphere, then, covers such biblical expressions as heaven, the kingdom etc.),
Most important in Jesus' teachings is his firm assertion of man's two constituents: his flesh and his spirit, or (in this new language) the biosphere and the noosphere."The spirit alone gives life; the flesh is of no avail; the words which I have spoken to you are both spirit and life"(John 6.63)
To me it seems obvious that eternal life (the noosphere) exists here and now. (Luke 17.21). It is free from our traditional (materialistic) experience of time and space. The noosphere apparently is still an embryo although nearly two thousand years have elapsed since its coming was demonstrated by Jesus.
My conclusion: eternal life is a reality. When humanity knows more of its participation in the development of the noosphere the meaning of 'individual immortality' may be better understood. It may be interesting to find out how 'my will' relates to the will dominating the fully developed noosphere. This relationship seems to be the crucial condition for individual survival after the biological death. Lars Magnus Giertz
Now, for some more comments on terminology:
I think this is a case where the terms being used weakened your arguments. How can be there a mind when the body is dead? The idea that the mind has to have a non-physical component in order to understand its working is no longer accepted. That we are far from a comprehensive understanding of the mind is of little relevance, what is important is that the burden of evidence has shifted from materialism to prove a physical basis for the mind, to dualism, to prove that the mind cannot be explained on physical basis.
The fact that all modern day philosophers fear the charge of being unscientific like the serf feared the bubonic plague leads us to the current situation -- where we have a glut of materialist ideas and little if any work on any sort of dualism.
To reconcile this with your theory I would propose that no qualifications be made on the "mind" or "soul". These terms have historical connotations that are unacceptable in the modern intellectual landscape. They have been used as trump cards to explain whatever couldn't be explained at the time. Hence we have lots of useless baggage that we drag around when we use those terms.
It is only necessary to accept that we are not and cannot be
the sum of our mechanical parts to believe in a non-physical
component of human beings. The question is not whether we have
such a component but how do we understand such a component. What
cannot be explained in a scientific manner that might be valid? Ryan Rossman
Note: Rossman has his own "Division Theory" re. possibilities of an afterlife which I'm sure he'd be more than glad to share with those who are interested. (Ed.)
Then there is this holistic approach suggested by
Dr. Abbatucci (Caen, France):
- All the matter of the universe is made of elementary particles which can be considered as well as a form of energy.
- All living bodies, vegetal, animal and of course man are made of such grains of energy. Even thought can be seen as a form of energy ("conscious energy" for Provenzano)
- It is only because we observe the world with our own reference system, with our own scale of size, that we see the things, inert or living as "solid". At a corpuscular level the matter is essentially made of empty space. Atoms and molecules are the result of immaterial interactions between the fundamental corpuscular entities such as quarks, linked together by forces which are of electromagnetic nature, as far as we can say at present time.
- The human body is the most complex of all living bodies that we know. As for the others beings, its reality lies upon the organizational scheme which links and coordinate its components. These components (atoms and molecules) have a limited period of active life within the body structures. They are renewed according to their specific biological period. The cells themselves have limited span of life i.e. only a few weeks for skin cells, a few days for epithelial intestinal cells. There are few exception (the neural highly differentiated cells which may last as long as the whole body -- not for all of them --, and for some of the germinal cells). The only permanent steady state is that of the organizational scheme -- I would say the structuring message, the Word -- that links together the corpuscular components of the body and coordinate their fields of activity. This remnant scheme characterize our personality. After death, the atomic components return to their original scattered non living state.
What happens with the immaterial organizational scheme ? Is it
surviving ? Is that what we call the soul ? Can this scheme be
the only result of hazardous interactions between atomic
components which at first ignore themselves each other or is it
pre- existing to the being and is it conducting the gathering of
the components ? In the same way, does it drive the evolution of
the embryo ? Moreover, as the message is written in the genes,
does it determine the evolution of the species, generation after
generation ? Jacques Severin
And then there is a reply from Joe Provenzano whose
book Conscious Energy
is mentioned by Abbatucci (above):
I agree with the essence of what Abbatucci has to say. But, I think he is on slippery slope with the notion that the soul is nothing more than an "immaterial organizational scheme." To me this give rise to all kinds of philosophical and theological problems. For example, if you remake the scheme you get the SAME person again, and again and again. I think one has to add something else, even if it is (without God's grace) a wholly dependent "field" that is produced in the body. There has to be some quantum of energy there to be added to or transformed as described towards the end of the lead essay as above). Joe Provenzano
Next, a reflection from a retired philosophy
professor from DePaul University:
I don't worry too much about immortality, since even Paul admitted that we have no knowledge of a glorified body. I prefer to think in terms of a longstanding spiritual tradition: the body as we know it is a sign of our limitation. It's our bodies that locate us in time and place, with all the limitations that entails (a certain language, etc.). Even Christ as a first century Jew had to die in order to become a vivifying spirit. Death enables us to be what we truly are: made in the image and likeness of God. Hence we can realize our deepestdesire: to be able to reach out and communicate with everyone.
Thomas N. Munson, Dolores, Colorado
Then some more comments from another one of our
DIALOGOS editorial consultants:
On the difficult subject of immortality after death Kropf well defines various perspectives of religious beliefs on such immortality. I believe Kuhn would agree, however, that the difference between a religious paradigm and a scientific paradigm is that the latter is supported not only by the beliefs of a certain community of people but by hard empirical evidence to support such beliefs. That is the difference between the community of theologians and the community of scientist. The former use faith to establish a religious paradigm while the latter use the scientific method to establish a scientific paradigm, which is essentially a scientific law or theory based on ongoing experiment, experience and ever accumulating empirical evidence.
So, while I applaud Kropf's attempts to extrapolate from current paradigms in physics, biology and cosmology to evince that there may be life after death I must warn that there is scant empirical evidence to justify such an extrapolation. Indeed each of the sciences mentioned could also be used more convincingly at this point to evince a lack of "life" after death. Physics and biology confirm daily that once a body is dead and decomposing it does not come back to life. Physics and cosmology confirm daily the entropic fate of the universe.
Could these sciences show life might exist after death if
certain attributes of a soul could be quantified and measured?
Yes, but when using words like could, might and if, we are ever
in the murky world of the subjunctive where either the fantasy of
Oz or the fact based fiction of 2001 have equal footing.
All these responses, I suppose, take us back to McKee's insights as to what might actually be behind the almost universal phenomenon of mysticism (see especially the comments of A. Bahia in the next installment of comments) -- though I'm not prepared to concede what seems like McKee's radical philosophical idealism. Although I do think he is right in correcting our imagined autonomy from the world or in correcting the empirical "scientific" conceit that we somehow can observe nature as if we existed apart from it, on the other hand, I do think space-time is something "out there" and not something we merely imagine or project from out own consciousness -- if indeed that is what McKee is saying. Perhaps what he means is something similar to what Teilhard himself once wrote in an early, but only partially completed, essay: "My body is not that little segment of the universe which I possess totally, but rather it is the whole universe which I possess partially..." An insight which, however mystical, would nevertheless, at least as I see it, NOT guarantee immortality. But we'll get back to that later.
However, in reply to ALL the above I'd like to first of all say that I'm gratified by all the serious interest in this subject and the comments elicited so far. But I would also like to say that there is much more to come, some of them so lengthy that it seems another file is in order. So to keep reading on this subject, proceed to: Continued Responses
Or to return to the lead essay of this issue of DIALOGOS
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