“What should we think about death?”

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A short Humanist animation about death, afterlife, and living in the here and now.

Written & produced by the British Humanist Association, and narrated by Stephen Fry.
Animated by Hyebin Lee.
Thank you to Alom Shaha, Craig Duncan, Andrew Copson, and Sara Passmore
That’s Humanism logo design by Nick Cousins www.nickcousins.co.uk

http://www.humanism.org.uk
Find out more about humanist funerals here: https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/non-religious-funerals/

40 COMMENTS

  1. Stephen Fry in the video states:

    “Some people do not like the thought of people [dying] and don’t accept it. They prefer to think that death is not the end of us but that we might live on, perhaps in another life on earth, or in another place where people are rewarded or punished. But wanting something to be true is not the same as it being true”.

    Well indeed. Unfortunately there is an implicit assumption being made here, and that is that the notion we cease to exist when we die is the more rational stance to adopt. Indeed not only is it implicitly assuming it is more rational, but also that it is plain obvious commonsense that we cease to exist. Since many people do not profess to accept this obvious truth of our coming demise, it is hypothesised that they do not accept it because of a psychological aversion to the prospect of non-existence. Hence against their better judgement some people declare a belief in a hereafter.

    But of course those more thoughtful people who dispute the notion we cease to exist, would not remotely agree with this assumption. For a kick off it should be noted that consciousness itself is invisible, we only infer its presence in other people via the voluntary movement of their bodies. When their bodies cease to function at death nothing can be definitively concluded about the consciousness which formerly was able to move that body.

    • But of course those more thoughtful people who dispute the notion we cease to exist, would not remotely agree with this assumption.

      Hardly an assumption, unless you want to dismiss every bit of non-absolute knowledge as an empty assumption. It’s not absolutely, 100%, unshakeably decided, to be sure, but it’s foolish to hold out for such a standard, especially when we’re fair enough to accept the best scientific explanations in other fields.

      The uncertainty between independent consciousness (which I’ll loosely call dualism) and dependent consciousness (which I’ll call monism) is hardly a 50/50 split. Direct or indirect manipulation of the brain (through drugs, surgical intervention, damage, etc.) shapes the conscious experiences people report and the behaviour they exhibit, as decades of neuroscientific research has shown. The laws of physics that apply to the human brain are practically complete, so short of an improbable future revolution (on par with discovering the sun is on the other side of the universe, is pink, cold, and really shaped like a man sitting in a chair), there’s no second physics that uniquely applies to the brain where consciousness could plausibly hide. There’s no dismissing this point either, as the only real alternative is an insubstantial appeal to mysterious mind-magic mysticism, which is just restating the problem rather than explaining it.

      Lastly, since no evidence has arisen to suggest consciousness persists after death (unfakeable post-humous messages, for instance), and since the strongest argument for any kind of consciousness dualism is merely that it’s possible – which isn’t, when you get down to it, so much an argument as a fallacious appeal to ignorance – then the rational conclusion is that consciousness dies along with the brain. So in fact, arguing to the contrary in spite of such evidence is, I’m sorry to say, some combination of personal ignorance and blatant wishful thinking.

      • “It’s not absolutely, 100%, unshakeably decided, to be sure”.

        a) There’s a huge amount of evidence suggesting survival (contrary to what Stephen Fry asserts)
        b) Consciousnesses cannot be accommodated under any flavour of materialism — hence the mind-body problem.

        So yes, I agree with you that it’s not “100%, unshakeably decided”. Very far from it.

        As for the mind-brain correlations, although they provide powerful support for the brain produces consciousness hypothesis, the notion of the brain conceived as a kind of “filter” seems to fit the totality of all the evidence somewhat better. See a blog entry by me
        You say
        “The laws of physics that apply to the human brain are practically complete, so short of an improbable future revolution (on par with discovering the sun is on the other side of the universe, is pink, cold, and really shaped like a man sitting in a chair), there’s no second physics that uniquely applies to the brain where consciousness could plausibly hide”.

        Physics wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness. As far as physics is concerned we are all p-zombies (non-conscious automatons). But we know consciousness exist, so we know that it is hiding somewhere. So your claim that a future revolution in physics is unlikely is fatuous in the extreme.

        • a) There’s a huge amount of evidence suggesting survival

          Would you care to provide an example? And no new-agey, woo-saturated anecdotes or psychic soothsayer testimonies, either. I mean evidence submitted to a reputable scientific journal.

          b) Consciousnesses cannot be accommodated under any flavour of materialism — hence the mind-body problem.

          Only if you assert dualism and refuse to consider any alternative, which is circular reasoning. The fact that I see green and the fact that my perception of colour is based on my brain configuration are not mutually exclusive facts unless you assert that they are, which is no argument at all.

          As for the mind-brain correlations, although they provide powerful support for the brain produces consciousness hypothesis, the notion of the brain conceived as a kind of “filter” seems to fit the totality of all the evidence somewhat better.

          Pending your scientific breakthrough I requested earlier, no it doesn’t. It assumes dualism, which has yet to be independently verified. Again, this is circular reasoning.

          Physics wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness.

          Again, only if you assume dualism (or, more specifically, non-materialism) before you start. Physics also leaves out evolution by natural selection, but the process of selection is still entirely materialistic and does not need a place to hide in.

          As far as physics is concerned we are all p-zombies (non-conscious automatons). But we know consciousness exist, so we know that it is hiding somewhere. So your claim that a future revolution in physics is unlikely is fatuous in the extreme.

          Unlike yourself, I take the claims of dualism seriously, which means I consider what would disprove it as well as what would prove it. The same goes for monism. Dualism, however intuitively it comes to us, is a claim about the universe and how it works, specifically that portion of it that contains minds, and is not the most parsimonious one either, since it must propose an extra mechanism on top of the materialistic one. It requires a hiding place on top of the universe we currently understand – a gap. If there is some gap for consciousness, then it should be possible for a dedicated physics department to eventually find it, since it must mean science is incomplete. The fact that physics has gone right down to quantum particles – well below the scale at which human brains, much less human minds, operate – and not found any plausible hiding places suggests that it just ain’t so.

          And I chose “gap” deliberately, since your argument is reminiscent of the “god of the gaps” style argument that simply asserts that there is some extra ingredient to the universe without actually demonstrating it.

        • Ian Jul 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm

          As for the mind-brain correlations, although they provide powerful support for the brain produces consciousness hypothesis,

          .. and are heavily supported by scientific evidence and expert scientific opinion which has look at that evidence.

          Cornwell and Stirrat inquired about religious beliefs of every member of the Royal Society of London having an active email address. That is the UK equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences,
          Doing the same for immortality we find that 85% of UK scientists don’t buy it, compared to 76.7% of US scientists. 8.2% of the UK scientists, however, believe that some part of them lives on after death; the comparable figure for US scientists is 7.9%.

          the notion of the brain conceived as a kind of “filter” seems to fit the totality of all the evidence somewhat better.

          Er no! It merely fits your wish-thinking preconceptions of dualism.

          See a blog entry by me

          Your blog entry states the evidenced scientific view, and then rambles on at great length with assertions, contradictions, and denials, with no evidence of substance presented.

          @ Zeuglodon – You say
          “The laws of physics that apply to the human brain are practically complete, so short of an improbable future revolution (on par with discovering the sun is on the other side of the universe, is pink, cold, and really shaped like a man sitting in a chair), there’s no second physics that uniquely applies to the brain where consciousness could plausibly hide”.

          Physics wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness.

          Of course it doesn’t. The biochemistry and electrical circuitry are well established. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html You are just arguing from your own ignorance of the subject.

          As far as physics is concerned we are all p-zombies (non-conscious automatons).

          All right! You have established that you have NO understanding of physics or biology and can make silly assertions .

          But we know consciousness exist, so we know that it is hiding somewhere.

          It is not hiding from those who have looked! It is there in the brain, and its levels of activity are measurable.

          So your claim that a future revolution in physics is unlikely is fatuous in the extreme.

          OK! So you like making unfounded assertions and can’t do reasoning either!

          This is a science site where we do EVIDENCED RATIONAL discussion! Did you have something of substance to say which you can support with testable scientific evidence?

          • Cornwell and Stirrat inquired about religious beliefs of every member
            of the Royal Society of London having an active email address. That is
            the UK equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences, Doing the same
            for immortality we find that 85% of UK scientists don’t buy it,
            compared to 76.7% of US scientists. 8.2% of the UK scientists,
            however, believe that some part of them lives on after death; the
            comparable figure for US scientists is 7.9%.

            Is this a popularity contest? If scientists babble on about an afterlife they’re liable to find that their careers are adversely affected! And indeed they probably would find it difficult to become scientists in the first place. Also scientists are not philosophers, quite likely they just passively accept the consensus and assume mainstream views are correct. Personally I would have never admitted to a belief in an afterlife (I’m about 75% certain that there is one if I had to put a figure to it) if I’d ever had any inclination to become a scientist. Or indeed a philosopher and a whole range of other careers. But as it is I’m self-employed.

            Also the beliefs on the modern western culture in this regard are very much an aberration. Throughout virtually all cultures that have ever existed there’s been an implicit belief in an afterlife. And every culture always think it has all the answers to life the Universe and everything and pity other cultures in this regard.

            What we believe now (or at least most of the “intellectual elite”) might be thought ridiculous in a 1000 years.

        • Ian Jul 27, 2014 at 7:42 am

          *Cornwell and Stirrat inquired about religious beliefs of every member of the Royal Society of London having an active email address. That is the UK equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences, Doing the same for immortality we find that 85% of UK scientists don’t buy it, compared to 76.7% of US scientists. 8.2% of the UK scientists, however, believe that some part of them lives on after death; the comparable figure for US scientists is 7.9%.

          Is this a popularity contest?

          No! It’s a consensus of expert option of those top scientists who are competent to understand the scientific evidence.

          If scientists babble on about an afterlife they’re liable to find that their careers are adversely affected! And indeed they probably would find it difficult to become scientists in the first place.
          That would be because the failed thought processes of “faith-thinking” are the opposite of scientific evidenced methodology, not because of any irrational prejucdice

          Also scientists are not philosophers,

          You are again confusing philosophy with theology! Science is historically rooted in philosophy.

          quite likely they just passively accept the consensus and assume mainstream views are correct.

          You clearly have no understanding of scientific methodology, which is the exact opposite of uncritical acceptance! Science DEMANDS independent repeat testing and evidence. Uncritical “passive acceptance” is an invitation to refutation by other scientists.

          Personally I would have never admitted to a belief in an afterlife (I’m about 75% certain that there is one if I had to put a figure to it)

          What you admit or hide, has no bearing on what is true or supported by evidence.
          As I point out in my earlier comment, the question of when, in what organisms, or at what point in evolution “afterlives” arose, makes a mockery of claims to living organisms having an afterlife.

          if I’d ever had any inclination to become a scientist.

          Your lack of any understanding of the physics, neuroscience, or biology, does not seem to inhibit you from making ridiculous assertions about those subjects.

          Or indeed a philosopher and a whole range of other careers. But as it is I’m self-employed.

          In discussing physical reality some relevant education in science and reasoning would have helped. “I don’t understand this, so it must be supernatural magic”, is not much of a reasoned argument!

          Also the beliefs on the modern western culture in this regard are very much an aberration.

          There have been various scientifically advanced cultures from time to time, where rational thinking and evidence, have not been suppressed by leaders steeped in superstition and ignorance. As you say in some other cultures superstition dominated.

          Throughout virtually all cultures that have ever existed there’s been an implicit belief in an afterlife. And every culture always think it has all the answers to life the Universe and everything and pity other cultures in this regard.

          That is the nature of faith-belief! It is the gap-filler for posturing leaders to pretend they have answers on questions where they are ignorant.
          It is only with modern scientific tools that properly researched answers have become available to many of these questions, and allowed us to reject the now refuted guesses and gap-filling of the past.

          What we believe now (or at least most of the “intellectual elite”) might be thought ridiculous in a 1000 years.

          The many thousands conflicting views from all over the world dreamed up using “faith”, and indoctrination, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities, are already thought to be ridiculous, with some people exempting their own pet superstitions in their biased personal thinking. Atheist simply recognise the ridiculous nature of one more god than the most of rest.
          As Zeuglodon pointed out, some science is heavily evidenced and very unlikely to be radically changed, – as anyone who steps on to the air outside a tenth story window hoping some “NEW PHYSICS” refuting gravity, will turn up, will discover to their cost!

    • Ian Jul 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      But of course those more thoughtful people who dispute the notion we cease to exist,

      You seem to be confusing wishful naval gazing with thoughtfulness! Evidence is found by investigation, not navel-gazing introspection.
      The human brain is not capable of self diagnosis.

      would not remotely agree with this assumption.

      The evidence of degeneration and loss of function, of the electrical and biological processes of the brain and nervous-system, is not “assumption”! Suggesting that something else is an explanation is an unevidenced gross assumption.

      For a kick off it should be noted that consciousness itself is invisible, we only infer its presence in other people via the voluntary movement of their bodies.

      No we don’t. There are all sorts of measurable chemical, electrical, and energy measurements indicative of these thought processes. – Not to mention the involuntary movements!

      When their bodies cease to function at death nothing can be definitively concluded about the consciousness which formerly was able to move that body.

      This looks like simple denial of the evidence or failure to look at it!

      Conclusions are likely to be flawed unless scientific tests and measurements have been carried out.
      Certainly no unevidenced assumptions can be made about magical reincarnations or persisting immaterial mechanisms!

      The onus of proof is on those those claiming living organisms continue to live beyond death (Dinosaur heaven??? Bacterial heaven?? Where do all the calculators go??)

      All the evidence for supernatural beliefs, points to human egotism, wish-thinking, indoctrinated manipulation of groups, ignorance of science, and an unwillingness to face the reality of death.

      • This is ridiculous. I’m afraid I don’t wish to exchange ideas on this topic with people who know nothing whatsoever about the mind-body problem and who give every impression of never having entertained a philosophical thought in their lives.

        • Ian Jul 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm

          This is ridiculous.

          Yes! Your assertion posing as “more thoughtful” as a badge of false authority, IS ridiculous!

          I’m afraid I don’t wish to exchange ideas on this topic with people who know nothing whatsoever about the mind-body problem and who give every impression of never having entertained a philosophical thought in their lives.

          You have ideas to exchange? Based on what? Fantasy and assertion???

          You seem to be living in some theological seminary or establishment which is isolated in total ignorance of the world of scientific evidence and reasoning, where theological waffle is presented as philosophy.

          Could I suggest some study!

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

          .. . . . As you have answered none of the points I raised.

          with people who know nothing whatsoever about the mind-body problem

          Could I introduce you to the subject of neuroscience, which you seem to unable to recognise?

    • . @ Ian …….it should be noted that consciousness itself is invisible, we only infer its presence in other people via the voluntary movement of their bodies. When their bodies cease to function at death nothing can be definitively concluded about the consciousness which formerly was able to move that body.

      Consciousness may be invisible but brain function is able to be measured by machine. The anesthetist is able to measure with a high degree of certainty whether a patient is capable of conscious thought. Why would you surmise that the rules should suddenly change after death?

      Are you proposing that thoughts emanate from a rotting brain? I want to know exactly what you mean and why you would think this. I’m not worried about the thoughts of other people, perhaps the vast majority in fact; I’m only concerned with your thinking on the subject. Why would you think that consciousness would survive death?

      • The hypothesis would be that the brain doesn’t produce consciousness but rather either permits or inhibits consciousness and various conscious states.

        During our physical existence it might be that the self operates through its brain and at death becomes detached.

        Why do I believe in life after death? First of all I’m not certain, I’d give it maybe 75% of a chance that we do.

        If consciousness is produced by the brain then the relationship seems to be very different from when something normally produces something else. Hence for everything else apart from consciousness it seems that reductive materialism describes the world adequately.

        Why do I think this? Normally we would consider that the parts of some object can explain its properties or behaviour as a whole. For example, consider a clockwork clock. By looking at the components of that clock – namely the cogs, the springs, and the wheels – and how they all interrelate together, we can actually understand how the hour, the minute and the second hands move. We would not expect the clock to exhibit any phenomenon that could not in principle be discerned from a thorough understanding of the properties and arrangement of its parts. For example we would not expect it to sound an alarm at every hour if it did not possess the appropriate mechanism. We would expect — lacking such a mechanism — that it would be physically impossible for it to sound an hourly alarm.

        But suppose it did sound any hourly alarm anyway. We could take it apart, examine all the parts more closely, realise that they are nothing other than what they seem, put it all back together, and hey presto, it still sounds the hourly alarm. In this case the alarm would be scientifically inexplicable even though it apparently is a product of the clock since the alarm only sounds when the clock is assembled. But nevertheless even though the clock somehow causes the alarm, reductionism fails because there is no explanation for why there is an alarm sound at all. In this case the hourly alarm would be a strongly emergent phenomenon.

        As far as I am aware we never ever encounter such strong emergence, with the possible sole exception of consciousness.

        To understand this consider that physical events are always something which can be quantified and which can therefore be measured. And, at least in principle, we can trace the chains of physical events. So event A causes event B causes event C etc.

        So in the case of a clockwork clock we can see the gears and wheels in motion, and each event in the physical chain of cause and effect will lead to another event, eventually resulting in the movement of the clock’s hands.

        So the movement of the clock’s hands is a weakly emergent phenomenon.

        It is extremely important to understand that each event in the chains of physical cause and effect is something which can be quantified and measured.

        So to consider our clock, every single event, including the very last event in the chain of physical cause and effect — namely the movements of the hands, is something which we can see, can quantify, can measure.

        It’s the same for our brains. We can follow the chains of physical cause and effect until we get to the very last event in the chain (or chains). This will be some event we can quantify and measure. It might be the physical event in the brain which precipitates in me the experience of seeing greenness.

        But the experience of greenness is not a further physical event since we cannot quantify and measure it. We can quantify the physical event in the brain corresponding to the experience of greenness i.e that physical event which causes or elicits the experience of greenness. But we cannot measure and quantify the experience of greenness in itself. And the same of course applies to the entirety of our consciousness.

        So assuming the brain does indeed produce consciousness then this is strong emergence. It only exists because of the preceding chain(s) of physical cause and effect, but it cannot be derived from them. Each of the other events in the chain is characterised by dynamics, and dynamics only ever leads to dynamics can only ever lead to further dynamics. But the experience of something like greenness is not characterised by dynamics, it is not something which can be quantified or measured, and indeed it is not something which can be objectively observed (only the subject experiences his own consciousness).

        So far as I’m aware this makes consciousness unique. If it is produced by the brain then it is the only strongly emergent phenomenon. And it is therefore not scientifically explicable. And of course this might give rise to the question of whether it is produced by the brain at all.

        So on the one hand there’s all the mind-body correlations strongly suggesting that the brain produces the brain. On the other if the brain does produce consciousness, then the nature of this production is unique. We do not find it elsewhere in the Universe. I suggest considering the brain is a filter might be a more promising hypothesis.

        What do I mean by a filter? I want to suggest a simile here between a television set and television signals on the one hand, and the brain and the self on the other. Briefly the picture quality on the television set that can alter without affecting the storyline being shown, can be compared to our various psychological states. Contrariwise the storyline of the programme being shown can be compared to ones essential self. So, in a comparable manner to the way that the quality of the picture displayed on a television set can change, but without changing the storyline of the programme being shown, our psychological states are free to change without in any way altering or changing the self.

        Then we have all the evidence. Such evidence includes near-death experiences (NDEs) and the closely related phenomenon deathbed visions, evidence for reincarnation in the form of children’s recollections of previous lives (although not alleged memories retrieved through hypnosis which is much poorer quality evidence), apparitions of a certain type, and mediumship.

        The quality of this evidence varies in my opinion. With NDEs for example we have hell-like experiences which I think weakens their evidential value. Mediumship might be able to be explained by superpsi. However I think the evidence for reincarnation to be extremely strong and the viable alternatives to explain away the evidence are not remotely convincing, especially those alternative hypotheses consistent with materialism!

        Then there is physical phenomena such as, for example, clocks stopping and photographs falling off walls occurring near the time of death. More interestingly these phenomena do not normally occur in the vicinity of the dying person, but rather in the vicinity of someone, located at some distant place, who is emotionally close to the dying person.

        Much more interestingly there have been reports of a restoration of mental functioning in people immediately prior to death. Indeed there have been scattered reports of people apparently recovering from dementia shortly before death.

        The point here is that if we consider the totality of the evidence as a whole, rather than merely noting that mind states change as a result of physical changes in the brain, then it is far from obvious that the brain produces consciousness. However this begs an important question. If in fact the brain doesn’t produce consciousness, but merely alters consciousness, then why are selves associated with brains at all?

        I would suggest that it could be the case, as hinted at by mystical experiences, that disembodied consciousness is vastly greater in scope than our everyday consciousness. But in the embodied state the brain acts as a reducing valve or “filter” which severely curtails the range of consciousness. Arguably this would serve the useful purpose of filtering out the perception of other realities and other conscious states which are not necessary, or which hinder our ability to function in this physical reality. This hypothesis would broadly be consistent with phenomena such as the occasional reports of people recovering their mental faculties near death, near-death experiences and other mystical experiences, and also accounts such as those found in the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”.

        • Ian Jul 27, 2014 at 9:06 am

          The hypothesis would be that the brain doesn’t produce consciousness but rather either permits or inhibits consciousness and various conscious states.

          To be a hypothesis , you would need to describe a mechanism by which this works, – and refute the tested neurological mechanisms which already explain it.

          During our physical existence it might be that the self operates through its brain and at death becomes detached.

          Anyone can make wild unevidenced speculations of what “might be” if we ignore all the evidence, but when we come to look for this “self” or “consciousness”, in the brain, it tests out as part of the physical mechanism, and parts of it fail when those sections of the brain are damaged or shut down.

          Why do I believe in life after death? First of all I’m not certain, I’d give it maybe 75% of a chance that we do.

          Perhaps you could give the formula and figures you used for this calculation of probability? ( My guess is cognitive dissonance+childhood indoctrination + wish thinking+ ignorance of biology.)

          If consciousness is produced by the brain then the relationship seems to be very different from when something normally produces something else.

          But only to those who have no understanding of the biology.
          Sensory inputs in, – interactions with memory and processing, – information and actions out. It looks very like normal animal thinking processes, or computer AI outputs.

          Hence for everything else apart from consciousness it seems that reductive materialism describes the world adequately.

          Given your lack of understanding of the physics and biology, how would your perception, prior to study, provide any basis for evidence based understanding?

          Another point which I raised earlier, is:- “Do you believe in an after-life for other life-forms, and if not, why not?”

          The rest of your comment is just vague rambling analogies, and references to long the refuted quackery of “out of body experiences”, and pseudo-science websites or books!

          I realise that some people who were promised an afterlife in childhood, really, really, really, want to believe they will get the prize they were promised by people they trusted, but wishing does not make it so!

          • Another point which I raised earlier, is:- “Do you believe in an
            after-life for other life-forms, and if not, why not?”

            Yes most definitely. If we survive it would be silly to deny that other self-conscious animals eg elephants, apes, dolphins etc, do not survive

          • Ian Jul 27, 2014 at 10:16 am

            Another point which I raised earlier, is:- “Do you believe in an after-life for other life-forms, and if not, why not?”

            Yes most definitely. If we survive it would be silly to deny that other self-conscious animals eg elephants, apes, dolphins etc, do not survive.

            At what point in evolution do you think this started to happen?

        • Hi Ian. Thank you for your thorough reply. I’ve noticed that Alan4Discussion has replied as well, giving a very thorough account of why these ideas are not feasible. It’s going to be difficult to find anything to add to the conversation.

          Perhaps I could add this; we grow up observing death and decay in all living organisms and yet it troubles us not. Unless we’ve invested some emotional attachment to a family pet or a really cute species that pulls our heart strings, we have no reason to suppose that death and decay is not the eventual outcome. Yet, when it comes to the the inevitable end of our own existence the game changes, or so we suppose.

          You have obviously given this a lot of thought ( as I have) and have come to a conclusion that you find satisfying. On reflection, can you say that there is not a great deal of wishful thinking involved?

    • Since it cant be proved ether way, some might find comfort it believing in a soul, is that so bad? It can also serve as a control that modifies bad behavior by having a fear of God and a consequence of action.I know there have been times in my life where I was scared shitless and it was only because I had faith that I was able to walk away from the situation on my feet. There have been other times when I was so alone that having a faith and a long talk with a force beyond myself, I was able to get some comfort. I don’t think, since neither side of the issue, can claim absolute truth, I can’t see the harm to believe in a God. What I don’t like is religion and some other person telling me how to believe and how to act according to Gods law. What I do believe is ones faith is internal and those who try to discourage someone from believing in their God is trying to elevate them self to some kind of supreme being, with all the answers, who we should all hold in esteem for their great knowledge and bravery for challenging what 99% of the people on earth believe.
      Like

      • @ Thomas.

        . I can’t see the harm to believe in a God.

        The reasons you give, such as providing comfort and perhaps guiding behaviour seem harmless enough when looking through the lens of a 21st century, secular citizen but are these beliefs true? To most of us, the veracity of a particular notion is important. It’s important to me! I keep sticking my head above the parapet when it would be so much easier to say nothing.

        We don’t need to look very far afield or venture too deeply into the past to see that today’s quarrel with religion is almost risk-free in comparison. This was not always the case and it’s not the case in countries with the death penalty for apostasy.

        The Emperors New Clothes analogy keeps coming up because a lie, given with the best intentions, very quickly becomes entrenched and difficult to counter. I think it’s better to come to grips with reality even if it’s not so pleasing.

    • The claims that there is life after death, and that conciousness exists outside the body, are both extraordinary claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinarily sound evidence, yet of these claims there is no evidence. Saying “nothing can be concluded about the consciousness after death” is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. Why should anyone believe there is life after death, apart from the very obvious fact that they really, really want to?

  2. “If live were eternal, wouldn’t it lose much of what gives it shape, structure, meaning, and purpose?”

    No, it wouldn’t, and this kind of sour-grapes rationalization is just as bad as the theistic impulse to deny the reality of death. Mortality is a tragedy; it’s the greatest tragedy that afflicts us, so much so that we lose perspective on how singularly horrifying the reality of death is. That makes it no less real, of course, but I prefer to face that reality rather than hiding behind comforting lies that I wouldn’t want to be immortal, anyway.

    • I agree: for my part, I would love to live forever and see as much of the universe as I could, meet as many people as possible, and try a gigantic number of things. The “Who wants to live forever” party strikes me as sour grapes, though I might appreciate one might hate the thought of getting bored or otherwise suffering for eternity. Yet, I think we both appreciate that it’s not duration of life alone that is important, but content. With bad content, even the longest life becomes an unattractive prospect, but in that case it’s not the duration that’s the problem.

      • @ Zeuglodon
        . The “Who wants to live forever” party strikes me as sour grapes, though I might appreciate one might hate the thought of getting bored or otherwise suffering for eternity.

        I don’t know about that….it’s certainly not sour grapes on my part. I’ve given it a great deal of thought and I’m fairly sure that I would not want to see the Earth reach it’s inevitable demise or the universe blink out bit by bit. There’s a lot I would like to witness and perhaps be part of, but overall I’m reconciled to the fact that I won’t be here and I’m grateful to be here at this time in human history. Of all the periods to be born, I think this is the best to date.

        • I agree about immortality in this physical reality, although 1000 years would be great. Personally I’d like to live 120. Ok I know I won’t, but I can dream!

          I think immortality in an afterlife realm might be very different. I’m not sure time and duration would apply in this afterlife reality. We wouldn’t see the death of the Earth, and the Sun and the Universe, but rather live in various dimensions and continually experience new things.

          I don’t know if you’ve read the Narnia books? In the last book, the last battle is it called? All of them die (well apart from Susan). Narnia dies, but they enter a bigger more real and beautiful Narnia in the afterlife realm. And they also see a better and more beautiful England. I kinda think it might be like this. But that’s just my feeling.

          • @Ian

            Another 100 years would be nice as long as you’re in really good condition. But this is not what we’re told. Christianity has given us eternity!! A horrible prospect!

            I’ve read the Narnia books as well, as a young person and as an adult. I failed to pick up on the religious themes! That just goes to show how divorced from the religious mindset my thinking actually is! Once I understood the intentions of the author I viewed the books differently. As a matter of fact, I lost respect for them as I preferred the books to be pure imagination. I enjoyed “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” very much, particularly the idea of stepping through the back of the wardrobe into the snowy world where it was always winter and never Christmas. I was not so taken with the other books in the series.

    • James Jul 26, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      “If live were eternal, wouldn’t it lose much of what gives it shape, structure, meaning, and purpose?”

      Mortality is a tragedy; it’s the greatest tragedy that afflicts us, so much so that we lose perspective on how singularly horrifying the reality of death is. That makes it no less real, of course,

      Mortality is a tragedy for the individual cut off in their prime,, but it is an essential part of removing old unadaptable “fossils”, to make room for new generations more in tune with current conditions.

      For those who think they may be able to live forever – ‘fraid not – or putting it biologically frayed telomeres!

      Today, it is established that telomeres protect a cell’s chromosomes from fusing with each other or rearranging—abnormalities that can lead to cancer—and so cells are destroyed when their telomeres are consumed. Most cancers are the result of “immortal” cells that have ways of evading this programmed senescence.

      Immortality has a price!

  3. I absolutely agree. Just like you I prefer to face the truth, awful though it is. I think this production is purveying the same sort of delusion as religion… In one case promising you don’t really die, and in the other promising that it’s better to die. Hmmm.
    Sadly, the advances in understanding of what makes us mortal might mean we are amongst the last generations that actually must die. Wonder what Fry would say to the offer of immortality?

  4. Ian in reply to Alan 4 Discussion:

    This is ridiculous. I’m afraid I don’t wish to exchange ideas on this topic with people who know nothing whatsoever about the mind-body problem and who give every impression of never having entertained a philosophical thought in their lives.

    Dear Ian, there is more in science than can ever be thought of in your philosophy.

    (Apologies to the Bard)

  5. Mr DArcy Jul 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Dear Ian, there is more in science than can ever be thought of in your philosophy.

    Not sure about what Ian is presenting as philosophy, but philosophy, historically, was science.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_philosophy

    Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature (from Latin philosophia naturalis) was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural sciences such as physics.[1][2]

    Natural science historically developed out of philosophy or, more specifically, natural philosophy. At older universities, long-established Chairs of Natural Philosophy are nowadays occupied mainly by physics professors. Modern meanings of the terms science and scientists date only to the 19th century. The naturalist-theologian William Whewell was the one who coined the term “scientist”. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the origin of the word to 1834.

    Most with any understanding of biology, or human biology, recognise humans and biology as part of nature!

  6. My dad innoculated me against the fear of death. It was a life long project that started with wiping away boredom from age 7 onwards. He introduced me to the insight that man has been on an adventure and we are at what is currently the best part of it. More known than ever before, more being discovered by more people than ever before and that all of it was facinating. The dead have bequeathed us the best seat in the house.

    The latter part of his teach-in worked on the basis that none of this glorious adventure would have come about without death. Evolution of living things thrives on it, and more recently our capacity to ask new and interesting questions thrives on death also.

    Minds fall into ruts. Drives dissipate. But new minds drive us forwards in novel directions.

    I want to do something good for my kids (and yours!) and make way for them.

  7. Everyone in life is free to believe what they want. Like the clip said, life can be challenging and some folks might need a bit of help while we trundle to oblivion. Me, I believe I’ll reap what I sow in my life time. Anything outside that is my legacy held only in the minds those I’ve touched. I believe a person’s soul is nothing more than an extension of our personality.

    Personally I’m content with my take on mortality and while I don’t wish to plunge in to the void any time soon, I feel I’ll cope as well as the next humanist. My children I’ll miss for sure but who want’s to live forever? Not me. Imagine how dull and boring it would be. In the short term it’d be grand, I’m sure, but if we all think about it’ll turn into a chore.

    Who knows, maybe we’re all wrong. The truth is out there… Oh dear, that was cheesy!!

    Matt..

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  9. I liked the clean, parsimonious argument that Fry narrated (or possibly composed) as well as his analogies of life to a good book or piece of cake. The position that there is a hereafter simply because one has read about it, heard about it from someone else, or finds the concept comforting is weak on logic. Also, to say that because no evidence exists to disprove the assertion that there is a hereafter is a concession that one should necessarily accept the possibility of a hereafter really seems no better an argument than saying one should accept that after death one spends their time on another planet one million light years from earth. Does failure to disprove this make it true?

    • What about the position that there’s an afterlife based on the fact that materialism cannot accommodate consciousness, the materialists have to deny the concept of the self which is staggeringly counter-intuitive, and all the evidence suggesting that we survive such as NDEs, DBV’s apparent memories of previous lives etc.

      • Ian Jul 27, 2014 at 11:24 am

        What about the position that there’s an afterlife based on the fact that materialism cannot accommodate consciousness,

        Oh dear! This is a science site where you really can’t make-up your own “facts”. Even if science could not explain consciousness, that would not justify dualism on the basis of an argument from ignorance.
        http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

        the materialists have to deny the concept of the self which is staggeringly counter-intuitive,

        No they don’t! I am a materialist (physicalist) and I have read various psychology papers on “self”, the conscious, the sub-conscious etc . You just keep making this up or copying it from scientifically illiterate pseudo-science sites.

        and all the “evidence” suggesting that we survive such as NDEs, DBV’s apparent memories of previous lives etc.

        .. . . . Can be filed under “long-debunked wish-thinking” of Ebden Alexander and others, which could not pass any serious review by reputable scientists.

      • Construals and constructs are not evidence. A person’s verbal behavior about events that transpire during decreased brain functioning is not evidence. Pursuit of these areas, like the pursuit of introspection, has offered little to understanding much of anything.

  10. Humans create values regardless of whether infinity is real or reality merely curves around the expanding 13+ billion light years of the universe’s existence, getting really big but never infinite.

    If infinite is real then god is reality’s operating system and has always been so. Such god enables everything that is. The resulting process (of which natural selection is a component) determines the duration of whatever is.

    If infinite is merely a mathematical concept in a finite universe, then chaos is king, god is absurd, atheism rules, and humans still gotta’ create their own values!

    Cycles of existence (and nonexistence) appear constantly in ever changing patterns of reality. Humanity comprises (a tiny) part of reality. A view of death which probably is as accurate as can be, is that death is a return to the state that existed before birth.

    Humanists are people who share defined values. At present humanists form a relatively small component of all people. Will that change? I don’t know.

  11. For people who are frightened of death I would thoroughly recommend people read the following. Don’t worry, nothing “woo woo” about it. It’s about the invention of the teleportation machine and this guy’s conviction that people are killing themselves whenever they use it. But he becomes convinced that he ceases to exist every night too anyway. I intend to write a blog entry about it in the near future.

    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/1

    • Dear Ian, it would seem that you are young and very imaginative from the manner of your posts. IMO there is nothing ” woo woo” about death, it is the end of that individual animal, plant, fungus, bacteria, whatever. The positive side is that the atoms making up that individual, are recycled, perhaps into another living organism. When my 20 year old son died accidentally, I had had absolutely no hope that his “soul” or whatever had gone to a “better place”. That would have been to delude myself. He’s dead, no longer, pushing up daisies, kicked the bucket, deceased, passed on, and all the other terms used and so humourously described in Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch. He was probably as naive as you appear to be.

      Take care my friend. This isn’t a dress rehearsal.

      • Mr Darcy, what you say is unrelated to my link.

        I’m sorry about your son. Apart from that I don’t know how you want me to respond. Asserting I am naive is one thing, presenting arguments justifying this assertion is something else.

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