What does it take to believe in death?

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This text is an article that tries to show how many philosophical dogmas are under the (common) belief that “death” actually exists. The parts of the article were first published in the Harmonia Philosophica @ Blogger philosophy portal and can be found also there.

Part I [2010-12-05]

Many people talk about “immortality” and try to show why the human soul is not destroyed after the death of the physical body. Many people try to articulate arguments in favor of the idea that an “immortal” spirit exist, which continues to “be” even after the physical brain stops functioning. However those discussions and efforts are based on the wrong presumption that “immortality” is what has to be proved, and not “death”.

Many people today take many things for granted. Our time is characterized by an arrogant belief in a materialistic point of view for everything, according to which only what modern physics and chemistry claims to be true is actually true. The opinions of philosophers – and especially of those who lived many years ago – are not taken into account by many. However things are not so simple.

In order to believe in “death”, i.e. in the complete extinction of the human spirit after the physical body stops functioning, you must believe in a series of dogmas that are still under debate between philosophers. In order to believe in “death”, you must believe in the existence of differences between objects (something with which Parmenides would disagree), you must believe in the existence of the notion of “change” (something with which Zenon and Parmenides would disagree), you have to believe in the existence of the notion of “time” (something with which even many modern scientists would disagree)…

Part II [2010-12-17]

The concept of Change

What does it mean for something or someone to “change”? How can something change? If it changes, doesn’t it become a different “something”? How can we change every second, but still remain the same person? The most simple questions are the hardest ones. What is evident seems to hold the key to the most serious underlying dogmas that define our thought… If death is also a change we undergo, why do we think that change results in something so drastic as…complete extinction? As I said in the The Extinct Fish that Reappeared Philosophy Wire, everything is a matter of definion. And we should re-examine our definitions if we want to really mature spiritually. If we cannot really tell how something can actually “change”, then maybe the simplest childish answer that comes to our mind is the correct one: things do not change!

Part III [2010-12-19]

The concept of Identity

Besides the belief in the notion of Change we analyzed in the Second Part above, believing in the notion of death (in a way that means the complete extinction of our body and spirit from the world) also requires someone to believe in the notion of “Identity” as well. To believe that someone is dead means that you believe you can actually tell when this someone is himself and when he has seized being himself, i.e. when he has “died”. When someone dies we understand he has changed and he is not who we knew he was: he does not talk, he does play, he does not interact the way he did (the false belief in the notion of Time will be analyzed below, so we can still use past and present tense here). When we think we “know” someone we attribute to him certain characteristics. We know a friend of us is who he is because he talks in a specific way. But what if he changes the way he talks? Will he not be the same? We know he is the same because he thinks in a certain way – in “his” way. But what if he changes his way of thinking? Will he not be the same? We know he is the same because he has a specific birth mark on his arm. But that if he removes that? Will he not be the same? We know the is the same because he has specific hair. But what if he changes them? Will he not be the same? We know he is the same because he has a specific set of cells in his organism as all individuals do. But human cells are continuously replaced (even the cells in our brain), about six (6) times during our whole lifetime. Are we not the same after the changes in our cells? We know someone is the same because he lives. But what if he stops living? Is he not the same anymore? Dying is part of who we are and “knowing” someone means knowing his death as well. The point is, that we do not have a specific way to know when someone is someone and not someone else! We cannot tell the identity of someone (or something) and we certainly  do not have specific ways to tell when someone has stopped being! The limits we set with respect to the “identity” of a person are not based on something solid. The simple phrase “he has died” implies that we know those limits, while in reality those limits do not even exist…

Part IV

But what about Time itself? Our belief for death is based on our belief in the existence of time per se. There can be no death, i.e. discontinuation of existence from a point in time onwards, without time itself existing and transcending our world. But time is a very elusive notion, that is even questioned by scientists (let alone philosophers, who have the tendency to question everything). Einstein is famous for saying “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”… And death can only exist in a world where people still believe in this stubborn illusion…

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All antinomies that mathematics or modern science discovers, are based on things we take for granted but we should not. After exploring some things we must have as axioms in order to believe in death, the most basic being the notion of “Change” and the notion of “Time”, we must now move on… And we can do that only by denying all “truths” that we now think “are”, we can only do that if we are irrational. Because “rationality” is based on axioms and only by discarding all axioms can someone reach the truth (if it even exists and this word is not another “axiom” we believe in). Truth is related to “Being” and anything like “being based on axioms” is far away from its real essence. We must base our conclusions on what we “know” and not on what we “understand” (see Harmonia Philosophica [English] for the difference between those and how all antinomies can be merged philosophically into One Reality). And what we know is that we “are”. Where did the idea that we will sometime “stop being” come from? Because certainly no-one “not being” could come that tip us off. And certainly no-one had any experience of “not being” so as to formulate and spread the idea… Where did we learn of things that “are not”? Because certainly no person could have experience of such a thing… And certainly no-one can think of something that is “not”… So where did the notion of “death” come from? In the past, primitive people buried their dead and put food with the bodies. They “knew” that life did not end with death. In the past, alchemists “knew” that everything had a living force in it. It is important to know and understand that the distinction between “living organisms” and “things” was made on the years of Kepler by the “new” science of the days: mathematics could be applied for the first time so as to predict the movement of planets, but in order to do that a great assumption should be made. An assumption so great and so fundamental, that actually changed the way we think for ever. The assumption was “simple”: there *must* exist “living things” and “non-living things”, with mathematics being applied only to the latter. This defined almost everything from thereon. Ask a modern physicist to find “man” in the Universe and he will have a hard time. Because the “Universe” is a complex set of things – there is no room for humans with consciousness in it… Ask a modern biologist to explain to you the difference between particles organized into living matter and particles forming a “non-living” object. He will have a hard time explaining, because a model which is defined as void of consciousness, cannot suddenly “discover” consciousness… Bohr characterized Pauli’s theory for the fourth quantum number as “crazy” and by that he meant “correct” (see “Yung, Pauli – The phsychoanalyzer, the physicist and number 137”). The best way out of a dead-end is to stop seeing the dead-end, as a crazy person would do. As William James said, “what we want to think is what is”. And what we have hard time explaining may have a simple solution: maybe the distinction we cannot explain does not even exist… Is it a coincidence that everything related to “not being” cannot be explained easily? Time, change, the problem of identity, the problem of life… Everything is hard to explain. Everything is hard to define. But yet, our very being is dependent on those ideas… Pythagoras talked about Harmonia and one cannot find harmonia if he believes in things that entail the “end of being”. What “is” cannot suddenly “stop being” and vice versa, without destroying harmonia… As philosophy turned into exact science, humans turned into objects. We must stop believing we are mere objects if we are to fulfill our destiny as humans. When in a Universe void of consciousness, consciousness appears as a candle in the dark, one can stick to the fact that this light will someday fade out. But this is a very shortsighted view… Another one might stick to the fact that this candle came from somewhere, produced its flame from an energy that surrounds the cosmos and shed its light everywhere… How can such a candle die out? We must try to just listen and go with the music of the cosmos, rather than trying to “understand” everything…

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