Is death the final frontier? We ask scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders about life after death.
- Death is inevitable for all known living things. However on the question of what, if anything, comes after life, the most honest answer is that no one knows.
- So far, there is no scientific evidence to prove or disprove what happens after we die. In this video, astronomer Michelle Thaller, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, science educator Bill Nye, and others consider what an afterlife would look like, what the biblical concepts of 'eternal life' and 'hell' really mean, why so many people around the world choose to believe that death is not the end, and whether or not that belief is ultimately detrimental or beneficial to one's life.
- Life after death is also not relegated to discussions of religion. "Digital and genetic immortality are within reach," says theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Kaku shares how, in the future, we may be able to physically talk to the dead thanks to hologram technology and the digitization of our online lives, memories, and connectome.
Christians and Muslims that pick out unconscious patterns are more likely to believe in a god.
- Georgetown researchers found strong implicit pattern learning implies belief in a god.
- The study included American Christians and Afghani Muslims, representing two different religious and cultural backgrounds.
- Further research on polytheistic religious believers could provide insights into a cognitive basis of religion.
Why religion is literally false and metaphorically true | Bret Weinstein | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bb748b6454d9ea27e58c41be9c4b50f6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c0_J998UD9s?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The answer, according to their research, is yes. As Green <a href="https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/study-suggests-unconscious-learning-underlies-belief-in-god/" target="_blank">notes</a>,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods. Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power." </p><p>Consciousness only provides a sliver of data that our brains pay attention to. Bottom-up processes operate below the conscious threshold, such as the biological operations that maintain our body's homeostasis. Threat detection and other forms of perception are also processed from the bottom-up, although, as the authors write, top-down processing is not an entirely separate domain. The two inform one another. </p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-does-intuition-work" target="_self">Intuition</a> is another example of bottom-up processing that appears in consciousness. We pick up signals from our environment and process it unconsciously all the time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Because individuals are not aware of such bottom-up influences, intuitions drawn from unconscious processing may instead be consciously interpreted via explicit belief narratives that provide a rationalized context for beliefs and behaviors."</p>
A general view of the beach and a surfer as photographed on March 20, 2014 in Marina del Rey, California.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images<p>Face processing, implicit racial bias, and pathogen avoidance provide further context. In fact, cleansing rituals likely evolved from an unconscious fear of disease. Our ancestors applied a spiritual dimension to their bathing rituals to make sense out of unconscious drives.</p><p>For this study, 199 (mostly) Christian volunteers in Washington, D.C. and 149 Muslims in Kabul watched a sequence of dots on a computer screen. They were tasked to press a corresponding button every time a dot appeared. Participants with strong implicit learning abilities began to unconsciously recognize patterns in the appearance of the dots, preemptively hitting the corresponding button <em>before</em> they appeared. None of the volunteers claimed to have seen a pattern, suggesting their guesses were unconscious. </p><p>The team observed a link between the strongest implicit learners and religious belief. Recognizing patterns before they appear is correlated with belief in a god. The team was surprised to discover such a strong correlation between two disparate religious and cultural groups, suggesting the potential of a universal theme. As Green notes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A brain that is more predisposed to implicit pattern learning may be more inclined to believe in a god no matter where in the world that brain happens to find itself, or in which religious context."</p><p>An interesting next step could be studying polytheistic groups, where pattern recognition is likely stronger. It's one thing to give credit to one god for everything, but quite another to assign a variety of divine figures for the relationships between natural phenomena. </p><p>The authors conclude that they cannot write off top-down processing as part of religious belief. Indeed, faith likes has multivariate influences. Still, this research details another cognitive basis of belief, highlighting common ground we all share regardless of the form of our deities. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.
- Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
- This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
- "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."
All that matters is the here and now.
- While bestselling author and skeptic Michael Shermer doesn't believe in God or any outside force that cares about us, he also doesn't think that the existence of one would give our lives meaning.
- Shermer argues that it is up to us to create purpose for ourselves in various ways, including through meaningful work, familial and romantic relationships, and a connection and respect for the wonder of nature.
- "It doesn't matter what happens billions of years from now or whether there's a God or not, whether there's an afterlife or not," he says. "It's irrelevant. This is the life that matters."
Philosophy professor James Sterba revives a very old argument.
- In his book, Is a Good God Logically Possible?, James Sterba investigates the role of evil.
- Sterba contends that if God is all-powerful then he'd be able to stop evil from occurring in the world.
- God's inability (or unwillingness) to stop evil should make us question his role, or even his existence.
A young boy carrying a placard in London's Trafalgar Square which says, 'Prepare to Meet Thy God'.
Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images<p>If God is unable or unwilling to stop the external consequences of evil—while good and evil can be culturally relative terms, murder is universally recognized as being in the red—then the implications, to the religious at least, would equate to blasphemy. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there's all this evil in the world, maybe God can't prevent it. Then he's still all powerful, he just logically can't prevent it. The problem there is it turns out that God would be less powerful than we are because we can prevent lots of evil. Now if God is stuck in a logical possibility while we're only stuck in a causal one, then he's so much less powerful than us. The traditional God can't be less powerful than we are." </p><p>While this discussion is often relegated to religious philosophy, we regularly witness the effects. Sterba mentions the Pauline principle, that "one should never do evil so that good may come." Murdering a doctor that provides abortions, a platform accepted by extreme religious conservatives, falls into this category. We can place the <a href="https://apnews.com/015702afdb4d4fbf85cf5070cd2c6824" target="_blank">record number of migrant children</a> held in detention centers in 2019, nearly 70,000, because their imprisonment supposedly saves American jobs, or keeps brown people out, or this week's excuse du jour in that category as well. </p><p>Sterba says that a religion that purports to champion charity and poverty should not be making a utilitarian argument when at root its adherents should be thinking about not doing evil. Doing evil for a supposed later good is not, by its very nature, a charitable act. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In traditional religious views, utilitarianism is a horrible thing. Trying to maximize utilitarianism is a bad way of thinking about things. You should be thinking about not doing evil and you should be worrying about intention."</p>