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Surprising Science

The Physics of Immortality

Caltech professor Sean Carroll: “If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?”

What’s the Latest Development?

Professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, Sean Carroll wants his discipline to take an honest look at claims of life beyond death: “Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. … Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model.”

What’s the Big Idea?

For Carroll, whether there is a human soul beyond the physicality of our bodies requires asking: “What form does that spirit energy take, and how does it interact with our ordinary atoms?” He says not only is a new physics required to answer that question, but a dramatically new physics. In fact, no form of scientific knowledge we currently possess suggests the possibility of life after death. Quantum physics does not allow for a new collection of “spirit particles” and so, Carroll says, Ockham’s razor is also on the side of the physicalist.


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