The Afterlife: Reality or fiction?

This was probably one of the most thought-provoking and mind-blowing Expanding Circles so far. The report below will attempt to summarise some of the key discussion points and arguments that triggered the discussion, but the quality of the live discussion was by far richer than what words can capture.

Is there life after death? … that was the question posted to the Circle.

The challenge of proving something beyond logic

Attempting to answer the question of if there is life after death would mean being able to find an explanation to the phenomena. A participant in the Circle explained that from a philosophical point of view, there could be three explanations levels to a phenomena: First, an explanation based on perception (what we can see or touch); secondly, an explanation based on logic (even if our perception show something differently, an optical illusion for example) and third, an explanation beyond logic; being logic the entire set of current physical law that we deem to rule our universe. In order to be able to give an answer to the question of the afterlife we would have to go to level three.

The circle also started the discussion by attempting to define ‘Reality’ and all Expanders came to the conclusion that ‘Reality’ is the objective proof, explanation or measurement of the environment. However, from a philosophical point of view, the Circle also concluded that reality was a ‘subjective’ and a ‘naturally biased concept’ because as an Expander pointed out: ‘we can only explain reality based on what we perceive through our senses’, and it is an established fact that our senses are very limited. As we cannot experience reality other than from within the limited interpretations and perceptions of our brain and senses, we can therefore never confirm that what we consider reality is actually the ‘reality’. This Expander went on to say that maybe the actual world in which we live could be a massive grid of frequencies, energy and vibrations that our brain can only perceive and decode in a very particular way and that way becomes our ‘reality’.

On a similar trend and talking about the Brain and our ability to understand ‘reality’, the Circle discussed the metaphor of the dog being constraint by his biological nature. If a dog attempted to understand and prove the existence of consciousness, it would never be able to succeed because his biological composition (brain, senses, etc) does not allow him to experience consciousness. Consciousness exists at a higher level than the level the dog exists. This does not mean that human consciousness does not exist; it just means the dog cannot experience it, prove its existence or explain it.  The same principle could potentially apply to us humans. Maybe our biological and natural conditioning does not allow us to prove or experience something that is beyond ourselves. We are constrained by the capabilities of our brain and senses (senses that are not particularly well-developed even in comparison to animals which can experience certain elements of ‘reality’ better than we us humans (for example, the sense of smell of a dog).

The Scientific Method establishes that if the laws of science cannot prove something, it does not exist. The problem with the Scientific Method is that it does not allow the possibility of the non-material or of a phenomenon that is beyond our physical senses. We cannot prove consciousness or love but we know they exist. The Circle quickly concluded that the afterlife could not be proven using a scientific method because it goes beyond it.

Having established those basic principles for the discussion the Circle moved on to explore the different hypotheses that attempt to explain the afterlife. The hypotheses were grouped in four groups according to their nature: Religious, Psychological, Biological (brain) and those related to Quantum Physics.

Religious Hypothesis

On this front, the ideas of more popular religions were discussed, including: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. The Circle touched in the concepts of Hell/Heaven, Resurrection and Reincarnation. The Circle explored these definitions briefly and most people put forward their view that these are mainly metaphorical ideas, except for that of Reincarnation, which was slightly discussed more thoroughly. An Expander in the group, who belongs to the Baha’i faith, explained that all these ideas are metaphors given by different prophets at different times of history and explained that ultimately the reason for us humans to exist on earth is to prepare us to the next level. He used the metaphor that when a baby is in the womb of the mother he or she cannot understand why is developing eyes, ears or fingers and nor he or she can image what the world is like because the only things that he or she has experienced is a dark place inside the womb. It is only when the baby is born that the traits developed by the baby in the womb make sense and become useful. It would be futile for an unborn baby to try to explain life outside the womb. In the same way, we are on this earth to develop some character and spiritual traits that will prepare us to another level of living that we cannot explain whilst on this earth.

The same Expander explained that we are not bodies that have a soul living within us, but that we are rather a soul in a spiritual dimension that uses a body on this earth as a mirror or vehicle to learn. The Circle overall came to some sort of agreement that we all have some sort of soul, spirit or consciousness but that we cannot really understand if this is actually ours or part of a bigger soul or consciousness. An atheist in the Circle expressed his scepticism about it all, but also acknowledged that although he does not believe in the afterlife he does not have evidence to disprove it either. He emphasised that from his personal view, someone who believes in the afterlife is in exactly the same position as an atheist because such a person neither can prove nor disprove it.

A simple psychological argument?

The Circle discussed the fact that from a psychological point of view, the idea of the afterlife could be “a concept created by humans to be able to cope with the tragic reality that we will all eventually die and lose our loved ones”. Believing in life after death gives humans the ‘hope’ that there is something more to life than the brief time and struggle we have to endure whilst alive. Some Expanders saw the logic in the principle and also said that is probably one of the reasons why religion has spread so widely.

Medical and Brain Related Arguments

near-death-1From the brain and medical perspective two main avenues were explored: Near-Death Experiences (NDE) and the biological origin of Consciousness.

How can we explain that people who have been clinically dead and subsequently resuscitated have reported to experience a similar ‘journey’ during their ‘dead time’ regardless of their age, culture, location, time or religious belief?  The extensive research and documentation of these cases can be summarised in the three types of experiences they all seem to go through:

  1. Going through a dark tunnel and being drawn towards a bright light
  2. Having a flashback of their entire life, and
  3. Floating above their bodies and being able to see themselves dying

Scientists have said that this could be the result of a biochemical imbalance in the brain seconds before death, which could lead to an intense hallucination. However, the question is: why all people who have these experiences have the same hallucinations regardless of age, culture, location, education or religious belief? This leads us to believe that there is an afterlife and that these visions or experiences are part of the journey we go through after we die.

Some neuroscientists also argue that the brain cannot really tell when hallucinations happen, and therefore, it is very likely that these hallucinations happen seconds before the clinical death or just after being resuscitated. As the mind cannot tell, people could not really know if this happened while there were ‘actually dead’ or just seconds before or after.

Others specialists have argued that ‘dying is a process’ and not a very defined instant or event as we tend to think. They argue that ‘consciousness’ (originated somewhere in the brain) is the very last thing that dies; in a way like when a recently dead fish have a final spam but when is already dead. However, scientists have not been able to explain how ‘consciousness’ or ‘thoughts’ emerge. The same cells that we have in our brain are the same cells we have in the rest of our body and there is no biological prove or explanation of how thought or consciousness is originated. This is probably one of the greatest mysteries of human kind and this leaves open the possibility that we could have a ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ for many.

The Circle quickly moved to explore the nature of life and the universe in attempt to find answers to the question of the afterlife. The basic thought was “if we were to understand more about the universe and the cosmos, we could have a better understanding of life”.

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Physic principles make us believe that thoughts have specific set of vibrations or frequencies that do not obey the physical laws of our world. According to Quantum Physics, these thoughts or vibrations can be present anywhere and do not obey to the principles of time either. This is one of the key underlying principles of the popular Law of Attraction. In simplistic terms, the theory tells us that our consciousness have the power to affect the dimension we live in and that it has some ‘creative’ capabilities that we do not quite understand yet. This theory also tells us that time, is a human construct and an illusion of this dimension and that our thoughts and consciousness can travel across different dimensions. If this is true, are we part of a wider creative consciousness that makes somehow part of God?

1.14328Another theory that could be closely related is that one of the Multiverse. What was there before the big bang? In the same way the big bang originated our universe, other simultaneous ‘big bangs’ could have also happened in that empty space and could have originated other universes. These universes would be different dimensions where time, space, matter and energy do not respond to our universe’s physical laws and are sometimes referred to as parallel universes (the famous British scientist Stephen Hawking is one of the supporters of this theory). The Multiverse is the hypothesis that sustains that there are a possible number of universes and they all together comprise everything that exists and can exist. Some scientists have gone as far as to say that the Black Holes in our universe are potential communication points with other universes because it is in this points where all laws of physics seems to break. From the afterlife dilemma point of view, biocentrism argues that we could have parallel lives in all universes and therefore, death on this dimension or universe does not mean our life or consciousness is actually dead.

Amongst another ideas, an Expander talked about an extraordinary theory that has been getting credit lately and that suggests our universe is actually a Hologram. If this were to be true this would mean that what we humans consider reality is just an ‘illusion’ and that we actually do not exist here but our existence here is just a ‘projection’ of some sort of consciousness in another dimension (somehow like The Matrix movie). Some of the world’s leading physicists think that this may be the case and recent studies continue to give indication of this, particularly studies around black holes and the string theory.

The Circle also explored the principles of the universe being eternal and circular and that we can co-exist across different timelines, but funnily enough, our time in the Circle was running out to dive deeper into that.

Conclusions

The majority of Expander in the Circle agreed that we are not going to be able to answer the question anytime soon or probably never, because if life after death is in a different dimension we cannot possibly measure or experience that dimension from our current dimension. Given that these dimensions are different in nature, it is rather logical that would never be able to prove their existence. While we are here, the only thing we can do is to go further within the consciousness of ourselves and find the answer within.

The Circle left an incredible amount of questions unanswered and some of the most philosophical reflections that took place cannot really be captured in words in this report. It was an incredibly inspiring, mind-blowing and thought-provoking evening and that we all agree is to be continued.

[Circle hosted and report written by Ernesto Moreno]

Additional resources about the Afterlife worth exploring:

The Universe as a Hologram at the World Science Festival

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