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16871Article About Life After Death

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Nov 22, 2009
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      From the Sunday Phila Inquirer:
      Mind over matter
      In making a case for life after death, maybe
      Socrates had the right idea.

      Dinesh D'Souza

      is the author of "Life After Death: The Evidence"

      One of the oldest arguments for life after death
      was made by the philosopher Socrates, who argued
      that human beings are made up of two kinds of stuff.
      Material stuff includes the organs of the body,
      including the physical brain, and those perish.
      Immaterial stuff includes thoughts and ideas, the
      ingredients of the mind, and those are imperishable.
      When we die, Socrates said, our bodies deteriorate,
      but our minds live on, emancipated from their material frames.

      Socrates' stance on the twofold nature of reality
      is called dualism. Most of us are instinctive
      dualists because dualism seems to capture the world
      as we experience it. And dualism makes life after
      death plausible because the attributes of material
      things are not shared by immaterial things. Even so,
      dualism has fallen out of favor with many philosophers
      and sciences, not to mention atheists, who reject
      the idea of life after death.

      These critics deny Socrates' argument by challenging
      its premise. Typical is philosopher Daniel Dennett,
      who contends that human beings are ultimately made
      up of one kind of stuff: material stuff. This position
      is called materialism, and it is the main alternative
      to dualism. Minds and souls, materialists insist,
      are simply terms for the operations of the neurons
      in our brains.

      Why, then, do we experience choices and thoughts
      and emotions as nonphysical? Materialists like
      Dennett say that mental states can be apprehended
      by their functional purposes. A mousetrap, for instance,
      is defined by what it does; it is any kind of device
      that catches mice. By the same token, mental states
      can be best understood in terms of their behavioral
      results. "Being in love," for example, refers to
      the actions the love produces, such as writing
      romantic poems and sending flowers. The basic project
      of materialism is to reduce the mental to its
      physical consequences. If materialism is true, then
      there is no life after death, because when the body
      dies, there is nothing left to live on.

      Despite its ingenuity, materialism of this sort
      clearly falls short in explaining mental states.
      The feeling of being in love is hardly explained by
      love's behavior, because even if we subtract the
      behavior, the feeling remains, and it seems churlish
      at best to say, "Well, you are obviously not in love
      because you aren't writing poems and you haven't
      sent flowers." We all know that there is something
      that it feels like to be in love, just as there is
      something it feels like to watch a sunset by the
      ocean, or to smell fresh-brewed coffee. Philosophers
      call such sensations "qualia," a term that refers
      to the inner quality of an experience on the part
      of the one who is having it.

      It seems that no amount of scientific or objective
      analysis can capture this inner quality, this
      "what it is like" to have a particular sensation.
      To demonstrate this point, philosopher Thomas Nagel
      wrote a famous essay in 1974 with the provocative
      title "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" This may seem
      a damning indictment of how philosophers spend
      their time, but Nagel wasn't sitting around thinking,
      "What would it be like for me, Thomas Nagel, to be
      a bat? I wonder how I'd feel if I could hang upside
      down, had wings, and could navigate by echolocation."
      Rather, he was asking what it was like for a bat
      to do those things, what it was like for a bat to
      be a bat.

      Nagel's point was that there is something that it
      is like to be human, or male, or a dog; by the same
      token, there must also be something that it is like
      to be a bat. But however much we learn about bat
      physiology, bat brains, and echolocation, Nagel says
      we can never fully understand what it is like to be
      a bat. The clear implication is that an objective
      physical understanding is necessarily incomplete,
      apparently because there is something to living
      organisms that transcends the physical.

      In 1986, philosopher Frank Jackson broadened Nagel's
      argument into a refutation of all materialist attempts
      to explain mental states in purely physical terms.
      In what has come to be called the "Mary problem,"
      Jackson envisioned a brilliant scientist named Mary
      who is locked in a black-and-white room from which
      she investigates the world by way of a black-and-white
      television monitor. As a specialist in the
      neurophysiology of vision, Mary knows everything
      there is to know about color. She understands how
      different wavelengths of light stimulate the retina,
      and how those are channeled to the visual areas
      in the brain, resulting in such statements as "The
      sky is blue" and "Tomatoes are red."

      Now here's Jackson's question: Suppose Mary finally
      gets a color TV monitor or is released from her
      black-and-white room into the outside world. Will
      Mary learn something that she didn't know before?
      Jackson says she obviously would. She would for
      the first time know what it's like to see the blue
      sky or red tomatoes. These experiences would teach
      her something about color that all her previous
      knowledge could not.

      Alarmed at where this is going, the atheist Dennett
      disputes Jackson's interpretation, insisting that
      if Mary really knew everything about color, including,
      as Dennett puts it, "10 billion word treatises" on
      the subject, then she actually would know what it
      was like to see the blue sky and red tomatoes. Dennett
      admits this is counterintuitive, but he contends that
      intuitions are not always our best guide.

      I agree with him on that, but on balance I have to
      go with Jackson here. It defies not only intuition
      but also reason to say that Mary, on being liberated
      from her black-and-white world, wouldn't discover
      something new. Her extrinsic knowledge of color would
      now be supplemented by intrinsic knowledge. If this
      is so, then it is hard to resist Jackson's conclusion
      that all attempts to reduce mental states to physical
      states must be false, because Mary had all the physical
      information, and yet her prior knowledge was incomplete.

      My conclusion is that the best attempts of materialists
      have failed to reduce the mental realm to the physical
      realm. The startling implication is that Socrates'
      dualism retains its plausibility. The old Greek
      philosopher was right: We do inhabit two distinct,
      although interdependent, realms, and the termination
      of our physical bodies at death does not foreclose
      the possibility that our minds and our souls might
      continue to exist.

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