The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Heaven is Not for Real

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death (rearranged detail of book cover elements)

If they were aiming for success and popularity, the editors of The Myth of an Afterlife have obviously not been paying attention to current trends in publishing that have given us such books as Heaven is for Real, Proof of Heaven, Evidence of the Afterlife, and Consciousness Beyond Life.1 On the other hand, there was clearly a niche waiting to be filled for books skeptical of the immortality of the soul and the existence of the afterlife. But it turns out there are not so many of those. Perhaps this asymmetry between books favorable to a survivalist account and those defending a “mortalist” one, already reveals a peculiarity of the human mind: somehow, the hypothesis that we do survive bodily death is more appealing, commonsensical and widespread than the alternative.

Not ones to surrender to popular pressure, philosophers Keith Augustine and the late Michael Martin took it upon themselves to assemble a team of 29 valiant contributors to attack the afterlife “myth.” The result is an impressive volume composed of 30 essays, spanning 675 pages and organized in 4 parts.

Part 1 addresses “empirical arguments for annihilation,” i.e. “the position that persons permanently cease to exist at biological death” (2). As it turns out, these arguments really amount to the daily bread and butter of cognitive neuroscientists, and thus this portion of the book read like a crash-course in brain science. The “argument from brain damage,” for instance, uses neuropsychological evidence to show that “the destruction of the mind by the destruction of the brain is highly probable given the hypothesis that the mind depends entirely upon the functioning of the brain, but is highly improbable given the hypothesis that the mind can exist and operate independently of the brain.” If all brain functions have been turned off, “what’s left for a soul to do?” (121).

Parts 2 and 3 deal with broad philosophical, conceptual and empirical issues that collectively aim at dismantling the plausibility of souls and the afterlife. Among the many problems surrounding the notion of a “disembodied afterlife” are vexing questions such as how could disembodied entities with no spatial locations interact with biological and physical systems, or recognize each other, or move, act, perceive, remember and think, all without a brain. The conclusion is that no coherent or desirable version of the soul could plausibly survive brain death.

Part 4 considers “dubious evidence for survival” and essentially debunks parapsychological data related to out-of-body, near-death, haunting, mediumnic and reincarnation phenomena, all, indeed, frequently adduced as evidence for the afterlife as they purportedly involve some type of dissociation between mind and body.

Combined with the robust neuroscientific evidence in favor of a complete dependency of the mind on the brain’s functioning presented in Part 1, and the conceptual issues highlighted in Parts 2 and 3, the very weak, scarce, unreliable and controversial evidence for paranormal experiences suggestive of some kind of survival of bodily death, instead of the major challenge to contemporary materialism it is often purported to be, actually looks like a devastating blow to the last hopes of believers in the afterlife.

Given the current success of neuroscience in establishing the neural basis of consciousness and thought, is it still honest to claim that we simply don’t know “what comes after”?

A considerable portion of The Myth of and Afterlife hinges on the brain sciences, mainly in supporting the “dependence thesis,” which states that “having a functioning brain…is a necessary condition (or prerequisite) for having any sort of conscious experiences. And if human consciousness most likely cannot exist in the absence of brain activity, then it must cease to exist when the brain dies” (3). The book reviews data from brain imaging, lesion studies, genetics, development, aging and dementia, diseases such as epilepsy, mind-altering drugs, brain stimulation, animal studies and evolution, all pointing to consistent, robust, coherent, specific and predictive mind-brain correlations for personality, memory, language, perception, reasoning and basically all the features traditionally ascribed to surviving souls. This leaves afterlife believers’ with the unsustainable alternatives of having either to reconcile this evidence with their belief, or to simply ignore it. However, the price of reconciliation might be just too high. In a chapter titled “The Dualist’s Dilemma,” Keith Augustine and Yonatan Fishman closely examine in a Bayesian fashion the likelihood of the afterlife given the current evidence, and conclude that the prospects for survival are not very promising. The Myth of and Afterlife thus provides what looks to me like a new argument, by asking not what is gained by a belief in the afterlife, but what is lost. What is lost is essentially the very value of scientific evidence, and especially of brain science evidence.

Do neuroscientists concur with this approach? To my knowledge, there is no data directly addressing this question. A survey from 1998 found that less than eight percent of leading scientists from the National Academy of Sciences believed in “human immortality,” with biological scientists—probably including a fair share of those who study the nervous system—displaying the lowest rates of belief (7.1 percent),2 obviously much less than the general population. However, a more general survey of medical and healthcare students and people attending scientific or public conferences on consciousness found widespread acceptance of the afterlife (between 40 and 70 percent).3

The tenacity of such beliefs might be explained by innate cognitive tendencies such as the automatic detection of agents and intentions, a bias for teleological and essentialist reasoning,4 or simply by our cognitive difficulty (or impossibility) to conceive of our own inexistence.5 Perhaps also denial of immortality has lacked scholarly voices and due consideration as a respectable scientific and philosophical position, whether or not due to the dominant position of the alternative view. Important books like this one might help tip the balance in a way more favorable to the actual scientific evidence.

While much of the arguments in The Myth of an Afterlife make use of findings from the cognitive neurosciences to support the dependence thesis, the book does not address the biological and psychological origins of afterlife beliefs. Yet the central idea that the current mind sciences actively disprove the survival hypothesis could be further supported by neurocognitive explanations of why such beliefs arose and spread in the first place. In this regard, the parapsychological section could be read as a display of successful cultural attractors for the afterlife belief, rather than deficient lines of evidence for the belief per se. Reports of hauntings might not be “real,” but they are certainly not unexpected if the human brain is in some way tuned to the idea of the afterlife. Indeed, neuropathological syndromes such as out-of-body or near-death experiences,6 could be seen as the very origins of soul and afterlife beliefs,7 beliefs which, ironically, later co-opted these very experiences as evidence for their own validity.

The Myth of an Afterlife, rather, stays focused on its main mission of dismantling the survival hypothesis, regardless of why humans tend to accept it. Its rigor, relentless argumentation, and careful attention to the evidence and possible objections make it a major and unique contribution to a topic long neglected by scientists. Its main virtue, in fact, is simply to take the idea of the afterlife and its consequences seriously, and see where this leads. Given the current success of neuroscience in establishing the neural basis of consciousness and thought, is it still honest to claim that we simply don’t know “what comes after”? If so, then, one might wonder what exactly the cognitive and brain sciences have been discovering and teaching us all along about the nature of the mind.

Much like biologists have stood up against creationism, medical doctors have fought misinformation about vaccines, and climate-scientists have been vocal about the reality of global climate change, it is time for neuroscientists and cognitive scientists to openly reject the myth of an afterlife, and help spread the word that this idea is simply wrong. END

About the Author

Sebastian Dieguez is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

References
  1. Gottlieb, R. 2014. “To Heaven and Back!The New York Review of Books, October 23
  2. Larson, E. J., and Witham, L. 1998. “Leading Scientists Still Reject God.” Nature 394, 313.
  3. Demertzi, A. et al. 2009. “Dualism Persists in the Science of Mind.” Ann. N, Y. Acad. Sci. 1157, 1–9.
  4. Bering, J. 2006. “The Folk Psychology of Souls.” Behav. Brain Sci. 29, 453–462; Nähri, J. 2008. “Beautiful Reflections: The Cognitive and Evolutionary Foundations of Paradise Representations.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 20, 339–365.
  5. Nichols, N. 2007. “Imagination and Immortality: Thinking of Me.” Synthese 159, 215–233.
  6. Blanke, O., Faivre, N., and Dieguez, S. 2015. “Leaving Body and Life Behind: Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experience.” In S. Laureys, O. Gosseries, and G. Tononi (eds) The Neurology of Consciousness (2nd edition). Elsevier, 323–347.
  7. Metzinger, T. 2005. “Out-of-Body Experiences as the Origin of the Concept of a ‘Soul’.” Mind & Matter 3, 57–84.
Recommended by Amazon
111 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Roberta
August 2, 2016 10:13 pm

Imagine how funny it would be remembering all the games and books and TV shows you’ve been watching during your entire life while floating away as a disembodied entity.
The only hope to get a second chance at life is Transhumanism. Otherwise, when you die, it’s over forever

gail taylor
July 31, 2016 3:12 pm

I was going to order the book,then I saw the price!!!

Jake Tidmore
July 29, 2016 10:57 pm

Siva, by your reasoning it seems that one could say slavery was a result of evolution. We can even complete your reasoning that religion is caused by evolution and suggest that the movement away from religion is an evolutionary step. Unfortunately for you, you’ve failed to provide evidence that religion has roots in evolutionary methods.
Until religious advocates can strip away the superstition and the supernatural from their viewpoints, then remaining skeptical of their statements seems the most reasonable route to being factual, possibly even reaching that mythical level of being truthful.

Kourtney
July 29, 2016 3:27 pm

That’s really thniknig at a high level

Emilie Pearson
July 16, 2016 4:22 am

Followed the link for this book to Amazon. At $76 evidently it is not intended to be widely read or stocked in libraries. What’s the philosophy paraphrase I want, something like … if a book is published and nobody can afford it, does it really exist?

Siva Ratnam
July 15, 2016 9:44 am

What right has science or science enthusiasts and rational skeptics have to declare such statement as if it is the truths, when science knows next to nothing about the “true” reality behind anything-not even a blade of grass or a grain of sand? It will do them good if they reflect for a moment on the evolutionary design, which evolution created for our species, including the kind of society we should live in and the belief systems our species should have. The center point of this was religion-which evolutionary design made to be the very foundation of every human culture on this planet. It is is science-natural science-which made that decision for our species-respect it and reflect on it and try to fathom why it did so. That is your duty as scientists and/or rationalists.

Choose only one master — Nature. -Rembrandt, painter and etcher (15 Jul 1606-1669)

That is what evolution wanted us to do and gave us a religion, which emphasized such a belief system. Then came the western civilization and its so called Enlightenment Era followed by materialistic science and nature was forced to take a backseat. Today it is science that is the only master we are supposed to have. Science has now got its own ego it seems and wants religion completely out of the human society and even the human mind. That undue respect to manmade science has caused most of the problems in the world-even capitalism and industrialization were aided and abetted by science. Finally, we have a civilization that is nothing but structured on the basis of science and this makes science a big participant in creating the mess that we are in-including the social, political and the health related ones. If science did not empower capitalism and industrialization, very little of this mess would have occurred.

Loughlin Tatem
July 10, 2016 7:04 am

What might get my attention is were a person to remain dead and unburied for perhaps five years, go to heaven or hell or wherever, and after five years return to life and report on the experience. But they never seem to remain in heaven or hell for any length of time. Medical science keeps dragging back their souls to tell us how wrong we are.

Rodney Wilson
July 10, 2016 5:04 am

This book, as described, sounds like a lot of pretentious nonsense. First of all, the section on neuroscience establishes exactly nothing. All that neuroscience has been able to show is that there is a correlation between brain activity and consciousness. But, as any student of statistics can tell you, correlation does not prove causality. There is no evidence from neuroscience to show whether brain activity produces consciousness, or consciousness produces brain activity.

The sections on the plausibility of souls seem to be based on the fanciful notion that the souls are somehow dependent on aspects of physicality in order to function. But if they function within a non-physical universe, then this idea is meaningless.

The final section on a supposedly philosophical debunking of evidence from near death experiences, recall of previous lives, and the like, seems unlikely to have taken into account the large amount of veridical evidence that has come from such sources. If they are really sure they can debunk such evidence, then they should gave a go at Zammit’s million dollar prize. If they can do that, then I might consider the book worth reading.

Ian Wardell
July 9, 2016 7:04 am

Its not it’s!

Ian Wardell
July 9, 2016 3:02 am

Consciousness is changed into a physical process (or what that process does), in a comparable way in which the colour red was changed into a specific wavelength of light.

And Mr Bone, you complain about the prospect of reading 2 essays. I read the entirety of the myth of an afterlife! About 700 pages! And, moreover, in stark contrast to my essays, it was extraordinarily repetitious and boring. It never mentioned any problems with materialism, it essentially asserted that we scientifically understand consciousness (not only do we not understand it, but we *couldn’t in principle* understand it as I explained in my previous post).

There’s loads of ridiculous stuff in the book like what would be the power source of the soul in the afterlife realm(s). So the author was thinking of the afterlife realm as being somewhat similar to this physical reality where physical laws apply!

One of the chapters attacked reincarnation, not by philosophically examining it, but by attacking the concept of karma! But, first of all, she had a preposterous conception of karma, and secondly, why the heck does reincarnation entail karma anyway??

I’ll write a review eventually. Will put on my blog, but I’m in no hurry.

Ian Wardell
July 9, 2016 2:41 am

Phil Bone:
“All that matters to you, apparently, is that people read the books you’ve put out. This is no way to debate. People have other things to do than spend hours reading your prose.

If you cannot argue directly, with your own words, in a given discussion, avoid getting into it in the first place. Ok ?

(Besides, in most discussion forums, any marketing for a personal production, or advertisement for one’s own personal site or blog.. is ”highly discouraged” —when it’s not strictly forbidden altogether)”.

…………………………..

My blog is not a book. And there are no adverts on it and I make absolutely nothing from my blog. It takes up my time for absolutely no financial reward. I could paste it all in here, but it’s obviously better on the blog as it’s all formatted and easier on the eye.

The 2 essays are around 10,000 words. If I make it much shorter, then it will be that much more difficult to understand. I need to lead people by the hand.

You said:
“Maybe you meant, more simply, that ” *modern materialism* is not able to explain what is exactly ‘consciousness’, and how it works in reality” ??? ”

That is true, and contrary to what the authors of myth of an afterlife assert. But even this doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

We have to go back to the birth of modern science in the 17th Century. It’s very success was by focussing exclusively on the measurable aspects of reality — that which can be quantified and mathematically described.

But what about the qualities of the external world? Namely colours, smells, sounds? They were stipulated not to really exist out there, and placed into the mind. That was convenient because it makes the external world much simpler, and obviously amenable to laws cashed out in purely quantitative terms.

But then what about the mind? They placed the colours, sounds and smells into the mind, but we cannot explain the mind itself. Also minds are conscious with pains, fears, intentions. In short everything which a mathematically quantifiable description cannot apply.

So they *changed* the mind and consciousness into that which *is* quantifiable. A conscious experience is the *very same thing as* a physical process in the brain. But that’s obviously not true. A physical process is something which we can measure, and its reality is exhausted by everything we can measure. A conscious experience is not of that nature.

At this point I’m running into a danger of makign this response as long as my essays! Except I’m typing this out in a hurry and not going to proofread or anything. So if you don’t understand my original stuff on my blog, you won’t be able to understand this either! This is why I created a blog in the first place — so I can express my ideas.

Phil dees
July 9, 2016 2:36 am

So are they saying they have figured out consciousness. Because that would be news that every AI scientists in the world would love to have. But this is not the case we have no idea what consciousness is we have been trying to figure it out for over 4000 years. Some think that if we build small anough processors(quantum) and anough of them we’ll get AI but even thats debated. So for Neuroscientist say that they KNOW is complete hourse hockey. The other part of this issue is we don’t know where memory is stored (most likely inside dna itself). The reason for this is the worm experment. They thought they new where memory was they cut of the worms head thous remove what they thought was its memories. However, when the head grew back the neurons fired exactly as if the head was never severed. Lead some to postulate memory may be kept outside the mind. So once again there so called proof is thin at best.

Now let say they are right and when we die there nothing we end that it there is nothing. Well yes and no if the universe is forever which came out of nothing then we return to it nothing and nothing is forever. Nothing also means no physic of any kind existing. No time, no space, no mater. The big on there is no time. Nothing is forever and there is no time so that mean everything that has ever existed and that will ever existe will keep reliving those exact moment over and over again even you reading this and about to say im wrong. That has all ready happen countless times before and will be countless time after. So we are immortal if you want to look at it that way.

Phil dees
July 9, 2016 2:47 am
Reply to  Phil dees
Ian Wardell
July 7, 2016 4:30 am

@Phil Bone

Why did you put “sic” after I say accommodate?

Anyway, either you haven’t read my 2 essays that I link to, or you haven’t understood them.

Bob Pease
July 7, 2016 6:24 am
Reply to  Ian Wardell

anyone who dates a commie has got to be sic.

Phil Bone
July 7, 2016 3:07 pm
Reply to  Ian Wardell

@Ian — Because I don’t see what you actually meant when you chose to use that verb in that precise sentence.

That’s why I proposed another formulation. But you didn’t bother telling me if my ‘reformulation’ of that statement of yours was accurate.

All that matters to you, apparently, is that people read the books you’ve put out. This is no way to debate. People have other things to do than spend hours reading your prose.

If you cannot argue directly, with your own words, in a given discussion, avoid getting into it in the first place. Ok ?

(Besides, in most discussion forums, any marketing for a personal production, or advertisement for one’s own personal site or blog.. is ”highly discouraged” —when it’s not strictly forbidden altogether).

Last point : uttering that you contradictor ”doesn’t understand” what you say…. without demonstrating why and where he ”doesn’t understand”, is just an empty statement, and a waste of time for everybody.

Try to.. ”understand” that.
Goodbye.

Roger Linse
July 6, 2016 9:27 pm

Afterlife? Does not make any sense. I gave up on things that go
bump in the dark at about 7 years old.

Stephen Nowlin
July 6, 2016 7:20 pm

I’m thinking maybe consciousness is simply the emergent sensation of what it feels like to be a particular living organism. It’s the organism’s reflexive impression of its own data stream, all its biological parts, a realtime self-image of the flow. We don’t say “look at the millions of water molecules as they each interact with gravity and truncated granite!” We say “look at the waterfall!” We have a sense of the waterfall as a thing in itself, a thing independent from its constituent parts, but it’s not really — it’s just how its component elements are interpreted by our senses at a higher magnitude of appearance.

Consciousness is the waterfall — and there’s no waterfall if the stuff of which it is made no longer exists. e.g.. Yosemite in a hot dry summer, or the mind of a dead person.

Phil Bone
July 6, 2016 8:03 pm
Reply to  Stephen Nowlin

Perfect reasoning. Why can’t all these ”faith followers” make their brain work…. just a tiny bit more sharply ???

I don’t want to cheer or compliment ourselves as ”amongst the ‘chosen few’ ” : we’re not in any way ”superior” to any other human being, normally equipped with an average brain….

Then…. how come don’t they just take ”a step back” and start.. just examining all these irrational concepts ?

How come did you do it ?

How come did I do it, when I thought about all this nonsense, then pulled out of all these silly dogmas religious dumbos had put in my head ?

And all the skeptics, all around the world ? How did they do ? And why the others ”can’t” ?

That’s beyond my comprehension.

Dudley Jones
July 8, 2016 7:18 am
Reply to  Phil Bone

Hi

Perhaps skepticism is an ability rather than a conclusion, a talent like being musical. People who question their own foundations are probably pretty rare.

Some folks cannot bear the thought that we are ignorant monkeys doing the best we can. (Actually, some of our accomplishments are impressive – going to the moon and coming back alive would be an example.)

Phil Bone
July 8, 2016 4:51 pm
Reply to  Dudley Jones

Hello Dudley
Your guess could work in an environment where there isn’t any information stating that other worldviews exist —like during the catholic church-dominated Dark Age in Europe, or nowadays in Saudi Arabia, for example….

But since the 19th century and the impressive explosion of printed matter in the Western World —not to talk about our own internet-saturated 21rst century— , zillions of people have been presented with the ”alternative” view that, maybe, all these stories about life-after-death, or about an allmighty entity sauntering around somewhere up there….. were just superstitious human inventions !

After all, it is by getting aware of this ‘new’ reasoning that millions of folks around the world said to themselves : ”I didn’t think about it.. Well.. what about , if they were right, after all ?”

Why don’t these god-believers make the same ”step forward”, then ?

What I think is that’s because they’ve ALL been taught that, if they even dare just to think about it, the ”wrath” of their god will pour on them, and they will immediately get loads of troubles in their own life —accidents, horrible diseases, deaths of friends, etc…… Or worse (for them) : they will burn in hell forever !

THAT’S a mighty good reason not to engage into the ”alternative worldview”.

But maybe there are other ones.

Any idea ?

richmartini
July 6, 2016 5:47 pm

Believe not believe. What happened to data? I recommend Dr. Greyson’s youtube talk “Is Consciousnes Produced by the Brain” for numerous medical citations of when brains were not working and yet consciousness existed. Or Mario Beauregard PhD’s Brain Wars – where he cites the case of a patient having a near death experience where he came back and described all the colors of the clothing the hospital staff were wearing. “Doc. Loved your orange shoes.” Only problem, patient had been blind from birth – had never seen a color. Ever. I’ve been collecting near death reports and comparing them to between life hypnosis session, and seeing how the reports are consistent. Then I set out to replicate them by having near death experiencers remember their events under hypnosis – and were able to see and access information they didn’t see before. The point being, when new information is brought back from one of these events – that is information that can’t be ascribed to hypoxia or cyptomnesia – new information from someone no longer on the planet who reports something that could not have been known on the planet – then we have something to explore and examine. The “belief” that life ends with death is just that. If we can’t define consciousness, then we can’t define “life” any more than we can define “death.” This book doesn’t take into consideration the numerous medical cases where people have been dead – no oxygen to the brain for minutes, sometimes hours, and yet they’re able to bring back “new information” from the afterlife. Like Dr. Eben Alexander being given a tour by a woman, who months after the NDE discovered that woman to be a sister he never knew about, who had died prior to his birth. Or even in “Heaven is for Real” where the child meets a sister who died in childbirth that he was never told about. It’s not about piling them all into one big rubric of “heaven” – it’s about examining each case for new information. What are we learning from those who are no longer on the planet that we couldn’t possibly have known? My two cents.

Ian Wardell
July 6, 2016 4:43 pm

I’ve read the book in its entirety. Unlike this reviewer I have a fairly unfavourable opinion of the book. Eventually I intend to write my own review.

The reviewer says:

“Among the many problems surrounding the notion of a “disembodied afterlife” are vexing questions such as how could disembodied entities with no spatial locations interact with biological and physical systems”

The difficulties for dualism are not as formidable as those for materialism. Indeed the book — almost 700 pages — completely omits any mention of the difficulties of materialism! This is utterly disgraceful as it’s such an essential point. It is my position that we are compelled to accept that *modern materialism*, i.e the materialism espoused with the birth of modern science and the adoption of the mechanistic philosophy in the 17th Century, simply cannot accommodate the existence of consciousness. See 2 essays I’ve written which explain this:

http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/science-afterlife-and-intelligentsia.html

http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/neither-modern-materialism-nor-science.html

Reviewer says:
“[How can souls] recognize each other, or move, act, perceive, remember and think, all without a brain. The conclusion is that no coherent or desirable version of the soul could plausibly survive brain death”.

This comment partially seems to assume materialism. But materialism is untenable. Moreover, if there is a “life after death”, then none of these are produced by the brain, but rather are attributes of the soul.

Thus the contention would be that thinking, memory, perceiving are all attributes of the self or soul. Whilst the soul acts through the body, then the brain affects these attributes, but doesn’t create them. Think of the way a prism affects white light. We get coloured light, but the prism *all by itself* didn’t produce the coloured light, rather it is a combination of the prism and white light. Likewise, I suggest it could be a combination of the self/soul on the one hand, and brain on the other hand, that results in out mind and psychological states. Hence we can expect to feel very different and have very different abilities in the afterlife (should it exist).

Phil Bone
July 6, 2016 7:34 pm
Reply to  Ian Wardell

To @Ian —

Everything you said hereabove could be just perfect…. Except that you systematically proceed by mere unsubstantiated statements. It’s all ”hanging up there in the air” !

You affirm : ”We are compelled to accept that *modern materialism*, i.e the materialism espoused with the birth of modern science and the adoption of the mechanistic philosophy in the 17th Century, simply cannot accommodate [sic !] the existence of consciousness”…..

Maybe you meant, more simply, that ” *modern materialism* is not able to explain what is exactly ‘consciousness’, and how it works in reality” ???

If that’s what you meant, as it seems to be the case, then that’s EXACTLY the way of thinking which, for millenia in a row, led people to assure us that we could never ‘lift the curse’ that caused diseases and epidemics (because they pretended that it was *the wrath of ”god”*, thus ”beyond our understanding”)…. until Louis Pasteur and Alexander Yersin discovered that the so-called ‘curse’ what simply the action of bacteria (and viruses).

Remember : ”One should never say ‘never’ ”.

Then, later on, you firmly state : ”If there is a “life after death” [which you don’t demonstrate], then none of these are produced by the brain, but rather are attributes of the soul [oh really ? how did you infer that ?]. Thus, the contention would be that thinking, memory, perceiving are all attributes of the self or soul. Whilst the soul acts through the body, then the brain affects these attributes, but doesn’t create them”.

That’s called ‘fallacy out of ignorance’ (If there is a “life after death”) , ‘circular reasoning’ , and ‘begging the question’ : first, you pose that ”thinking, memory, perceiving.. are all attributes of the self or soul”, then therefore, you conclude that ”the brain doesn’t create them”.

Brilliant.

Maybe you should open a book about how science really works, before coming on a skeptics’ site and spill out your profound ‘scientific’ thoughts ? Thanks.

Charles Boden
July 6, 2016 4:04 pm

When I said “they hear a caterpillar”, naturally it cannot be “hearing”, but it is not understood how plants are capable of detecting, and yet they do and can recognize and respond..

Charles Boden
July 6, 2016 3:51 pm

Plants have a form of consciousness and yet are void of having a brain. According to studies, they are capable of being conscious of their spacial location, of reacting to threat, by producing chemical toxins when they hear a caterpillar on another plant, for example; are reported to have a form of “learning memory” and to react when their leaves are broken off as though capable of feeling pain.

What if “consciousness” is something else? What if perhaps it is information at the most intangible scale? Consciousness is certainly a perceivable reality of the universe (and what an unbelievable reality it is), but is it really just the result of electro-chemical discharges of the brain? Is that all we truly are?

Perhaps all things contain “forms of consciousness”, forms of information. Perhaps it is this primordial essence, this inteligent and creative principle of the universe, that makes use of the brain as an instrument in order to manifest in the physical, three-dimensional realm, and not the inverse order. It is we, as conscious beings, who interact with our brain and hence with our physical body. But how could this be proven? How can one access the intangible, even more so if perhaps the phenomenon is dimensional?

Naturally there will be no physical reaction if the instrument, the brain, is damaged, but that does not prove that consciousness does not remain present, though no longer able to interact with the physical. I once watched a program in which a lady scientist was using an analogy to explain what a diferent dimension would be like. Standing in front of a TV screen, she explained that those in a bi-dimensional reality, such as the TV screen (width and height), would not be able to hear or see her in a 3rd (depth), but that she, in a 3rd, would be able to hear and see all that was happening in theirs. It instantly clicked in me that, if indeed consciousness does persist even after physical death, the process must be something very similar…

Phil Bone
July 6, 2016 6:26 pm
Reply to  Charles Boden

Charles —- Except that the ”people” on the screen…. are not actual people. They are just electrons hitting an electronic surface. Get back down to earth !

There is a proverb that states : ”Comparison is not reason”.

Of course, if you wanna state such worn-out evidences like, for example, ”ants don’t have any consciousness of how we humans perceive the world”, what can we do but agree with that ?

But then, you say : ”Perhaps all things contain “forms of consciousness”, forms of information”.

Very well..

By the way : this has been thought of for more than two hundred centuries by now. It’s called ”Animism”. But let’s forget that.

Indeed, it can be proposed as a scientific hypothesis…. Why not ?

But if you envisage this ”statement” as a basis for a scientific research program, you should necessarily conduct it…. according to the scientific method ! Otherwise, it cannot work !

That’s where you comment ‘derails’. In your very next sentence, unfortunately, you write : ”Perhaps it is this primordial essence, this inteligent and creative principle of the universe, that makes use of the brain as an instrument in order to manifest in the physical, three-dimensional realm, and not the inverse order”.

As soon as you introduce any unprovable concept such as ”an intelligent and creative principle of the universe” —-which, moreover, is supposed to ”use” our brains to manifest ”itself”, you instantaneously exclude yourself from any scientific research system, ’cause such a lofty speculation is completely antiscientific ! !

It doesn’t explain anything, cannot be worked upon, and doesn’t bring forth any predictable, ”workable” result. Thus, it is completely redundant –therefore useless– when it comes to comprehend what happens in a given natural process.

I wish you’d realize that.

Janice Muir
July 6, 2016 3:04 pm

I take a lot of comfort in the idea that many worms and other critters will feast well when I die. That’s pretty much all I care about.

Stephen Nowlin
July 6, 2016 2:22 pm

I’m pleased to see a book like this enter the discourse, even if a minority participant. Yet I can’t help but wonder why we so seriously ponder 675 pages on a question for which the answer is simple and self-evident.

If we continually witnessed rabbits hopping through their lifespan, we would not likely bother to write volumes rebutting believers who insist on winged flight as the true nature of rabbit mobility. We would consider the case settled simply by observing a lot of rabbits over time. Similarly, if you want to know what happens to a living organism after it dies, you need only watch it. Watch a hundred dead things, a thousand, watch them for days and years. What you observe will settle the question of whether or not a living thing continues to live in any fashion at all, after it dies.

We have become inured to the absurd meme, reinforced for millennia, of life continuing after death — to the extent that we take seriously a phenomenological question we would otherwise reject as ridiculous if it applied to any other commonplace subject. And scientists and intellectuals in general hide in their domains, politely concerned about whether the majisteria should not overlap. The final paragraph of the above book review is its most compelling, and it is time that academics, scientists, intellectuals, skeptics, and frankly thoughtful theists, aggressively dispel the lingering myths about life, death, and a supernatural universe — archaic beliefs that send human reason careening in wrong and terribly destructive directions in the 21st century.

Phil Bone
July 6, 2016 5:34 pm
Reply to  Stephen Nowlin

Stephen (#23) — It’s like you had ‘stolen it away’ out of me own keyboard ͜¨ ! ! !

Couldn’t say it better.

Doug Dean
July 6, 2016 1:50 pm

Oblivion is a scary thought in which humans seem to be the only ‘lucky’ creature to ponder. Yet, by considering one’s own death a desensitization to the thought of it can eventually occur — at least when compared to the constant reinforcement of an afterlife preached every Sunday. This is why I approach theists with the following question;

If God declared that the afterlife was now closed would you behave any differently?

Surprisingly, the Christians I ask eventually admit their behavior wouldn’t change at all. This is a good sign! In creating a conversation that allows theists to personally contemplate the permanency of death, via a safe thought experiment, I hope that the thought of death would lose some of its sting, thus lessening the need for a magic charm to escape the inevitable.

Michael
July 6, 2016 12:48 pm

The after life might not be real, but the price of the book sure is!! Ouch.

Brian
July 6, 2016 12:17 pm

It’s rather cute that anybody could actually think this is a ‘death blow’ to those who believe in an afterlife. For most believers, the afterlife has ZERO to do with the physicality of this life, so studies and books like this are just laughable and completely meaningless. I find it interesting that those who don’t believe in an afterlife spend sooooo much time thinking about it and discussing it. Should be a non-issue, right? Hmmmm….

Stephen Nowlin
July 6, 2016 3:54 pm
Reply to  Brian

Certainly this book will not be a “death blow” to afterlife beliefs. And you are right that reason and evidence are unlikely to convince believers in a supernatural cosmos that the truth is otherwise. But the Copernican arc of change set in motion nearly six-hundred years ago unquestionably bends toward the disintegration of mythical belief and its replacement with a different emotional connection to existence, one based in both the knowledge and poetics of science. The book in question will help. This little discussion will help. It’ll take some time — check back in a few hundred . . .

Phil Bone
July 6, 2016 5:20 pm
Reply to  Brian

To @Brian —
You say : For most believers, the afterlife has ZERO to do with the physicality of this life”…..

So… What’s all that fuzz about, then ? What’s the use of claiming such a hazy ”concept” anyway ??

As far as we all know, we are living in the ”physicality” of this Universe, as you say. Not in a fictitious ”non-physicality”…. But maybe that slipped your mind.

Claiming that ”there is an afterlife” is like claiming ”there is a pink unicorn somewhere” or any elucubration of the same sort.

Everybody can utter dozens of meaningless –and useless– silly statements like that every day. It’s just like blowing soap bubbles up in the air.

Can you understand that ? Besides, as soon as you claim that such a thing actually exists, then you ought to be able to demonstrate –one way or another, that’s your problem– what you are claiming.

But that, also, slipped your mind.

Then you say : ”I find it interesting that those who don’t believe in an afterlife spend sooooo much time thinking about it and discussing it”.

You’re right : that should be a non-issue, —as it IS a non-issue, indeed !

The problem is that people believing in such unsubstanciated fairy tales, spend much much time….. desperately trying to convince others that it is ”absolutely true”, and ”warn us” that if we don’t obey to their ”divine commandments”, we will pass our (so-called) ”afterlife” er.. ”burning in hell” ! (lol)

Believe me : the very moment you stop bothering the rest of the planet with your fuzzy beliefs and keep them –freely but strictly– in the boundaries of your private lives and ‘community’ circles, skeptics, ”hardcore” atheists (^^) and secularists will at once stop bothering about them and spend time to debunk them.

It’s that simple. Got it ?

Good…..

Brian
July 7, 2016 9:57 am
Reply to  Phil Bone

Really Phil? When was the last time somebody directly approached you and tried to proselytize? Without you broaching the subject first? It almost never happens. Yet you still feel the need to try and prove that some non-physical claim that has no bearing on you or your life is just a myth. As you pointed out, there’s nothing to disprove, it’s completely non-physical, and therefore unprovable one way or the other, and yet you all persist. Why do you feel this need, why does something you read somewhere provoke you so much?

Phil Bone
July 7, 2016 2:41 pm
Reply to  Brian

Brian — Apparently, you live in a world where nothing touches you….

Maybe you didn’t hear about these fanatical christians who in many states in the US and many countries in Europe try very hard, again and again, to anihilate any law giving to women the right to have an abortion, or to homosexuals the right to marry someone they cherish –to name a few examples ??

Maybe you didn’t hear about these fanatical muslims who massacre dozens of people in one single kalashnikov spurt, just because they represent everything they hate ?

And you cannot deny that these horrific actions happen, all around the world, because —so they say— their ”god” was ”really angry”, and ”told them” to perpetrate such ignominous deeds.

Then yes, THAT ”provokes” me.

So.. when I ”read something somewhere” that pours out, again and again, such irrational and crime-inducing ”beliefs” —or enhances them, why shouldn’t I reply and debunk all the junk the tenants of these sanctimonious dogmas spread around, here and there ?

Can you explain that to me ?

Besides, you are here on a site which is called ”e-Skeptic”. Then why do you feel the need to come all the way down here, to spread your silly statements about the existence of a ”god”, of a ”soul” or any other of your unsubstantiated claims ??

Why would you have the right to do so, but atheists (and ”anti-theists”) shouldn’t have the right to reply ?

By the way, please note that this site welcomes contradictory arguments, coming from ”god believers” as well as from ”no-god” advocates.

This is called…. debating. It’s as simple as that.

Note, also, that the immense majority of the ”dedicated” religious websites —such as the (in)famous ”Answers In Genesis”, to name but one— ….spew out their retarded BS over hundreds of webpages, but.. don’t allow comments !

Well.. Maybe that’s the ideal world you dream of : a world where you could ”testify” for your (silly) beliefs at will, but where no one would be there to refute, debunk or even contradict them.

Well.. Forget it. That was the time where religion was absolutely hegemonic. This time is definitely over.

Alan
July 6, 2016 12:06 pm

I don’t think it can be proved that mind cannot exist without a brain. We cannot I think prove a negative and we cannot prove that God or magic do not exist.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how Akismet processes your comment data. Comments are closed 45 days after an article is published.

Get eSkeptic

Be in the know.

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2020. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.