I’m having a difficult time wording what I’ve been thinking about. That’s a hell of a way to open a blog post, but there you have it. With everything that has happened in the past two years alone, I’ve done a lot of musing on the afterlife and meaning. It’s kind of difficult not to- I have sat and listened to those in the process of dying tell me what they regret, what they wished they’d done: whether they were Atheist or deeply embedded in a belief system that would jettison them to a heaven free from suffering.
I’ve seen some pretty weird shit in my relatively short life, sure: but more often than not, what I see is humans trying to make sense of things that often either simply don’t make sense at all- or, the sense to be made is far more practical than anyone’s all that comfortable with. I’m not poking fun, I do it also in many different ways about many different things.
Sometimes, it is a way of sort of distancing oneself from a plethora of different responsibilities or need for accountability- but, that one’s for another time.
I have this thing, specifically when we talk about researching religious or even paranormal shit. Er, phenomena. It’s not that dissimilar to the side eyeball I give people fairly often when they speak about their faith being evidence. I think I’ve insulted more people than I ever intended to with that one: but, the whole point of faith is there is no evidence. Whether we are talking about religious or metaphysical things- I often think there’s a beauty in not knowing. Maybe I’ve just got a weird take on it, I don’t know. I think our desire to validate often explodes any sense of wonder and mystery. Sometimes, though it makes it bigger- because science is fucking awesome like that. Still: I find something inherently enchanting in those big I Don’t Knows.
In any case, it’s not me shitting on people who say their faith gets them through whatever it is: it’s actually the opposite. I think that’s awesome, personally and a huge part of why it is awesome to me lies in the lack of evidence. To me, to say that faith is evidence or that evidence backs faith is akin to demanding grace on the basis of your accomplishments. Kind of…defeats the whole meaning there, doesn’t it?
What happens when we die?
This is a freaking doozy and it’s also one area I have a lot of problems with. Not in accepting or worrying about it- truth is, I don’t. Not in that context. Whenever I have thought about it, I tend to first get hit with worries about my family- followed not that distantly by thoughts of the things I haven’t done, yet. I was thinking on that when my ex died and I think that’s a large part of what made me so sad: man, you could say a lot about my ex, but Matthew, he was a dreamer. A glorious one. Even when things were really horrible, he could sit and spin out a tale of dreams and have you anticipating things to a level which would fill you with all this hope and motivation. That’s a seriously profound skill, if you ask me. Paired with remarkable creativity and intelligence- I always told him, even when we were at each other’s throats: man, that’s powerful stuff.
It is, however, frustrating and just heartbreaking, too. While he was pretty inspiring like that at times: his own motivation was hindered by a variety of things. I’m in no way downplaying the impact of his physical and mental disabilities- it was significant. I also know, however, that his regrets were, too. I hate that for him. We had a seriously shitty relationship for a lot of reasons, but I saw that and I still see that. It still makes me tremendously sad.
A mutual friend of ours has been going ‘round and ‘round with feeling like he’s haunting her as a coping mechanism she acknowledges. They were much more close than she and I ever were- but, I’ve always really liked her. It got me thinking though. What exactly would cross over, so to speak?
Qualia and Your Brain’s Connectome
More than a seriously overpriced supplement- qualia is defined by Webster’s as:
the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena.
Except…every time I see this, I think, wow, that’s a vast oversimplification or maybe it’s just so simple my brainpan is trying to work a rat maze that isn’t there. The thing about it is this: it’s not just something that’s hanging out in there, but rather, something that has to happen by way of subjective experience- so, possibly from before we’re born, we have this huge collection of influences on our consciousness we have absolutely fuck all in terms of control over.
So, we have this sense of self here- being more or less bombarded with subjective experience. People have all sorts of ways of looking at his, whether they believe that shit doesn’t matter or it matters deeply or it just is what it is. The thing is, though, the self’s kind of a two part deal. We have our very real self, that which we’re conscious of…and another one. This is where I think you get into all that business about parallel dimensions or whatever if you want- but, more realistically: those versions of ourselves we never experienced or, well, our self after we die.
A few weeks ago, Kurt and I were watching this episode of Black Mirror: Be Right Back.
The premise there is more or less the transference of consciousness to technology after death. It has a creepy ass twist I won’t write here in case you haven’t seen it- but that idea skeeved me out something fierce. The thing is, this isn’t really a new concept nor is it one relegated to fiction: it’s actually something that in recent years, has been studied. Is being studied. I don’t know, I don’t really keep up with it a whole lot.
This is where we get into your brain’s connectome- which is essentially, a network. Much ado has been made about the similarities between it and..well, the networks you’re probably more familiar with: yer interwebs.
Except…if you could take that and somehow, put it into an android, or a computer, or even another person- would you, be you? Again with the pop culture references but if you read the Dune series of books; dude, that’s a ghola. And, if the Duncan Idahos taught me anything, it’s that we are so much more than those things we remember. So, even if all your memories were popped right on in to your genetic clone- you’re probably not going to be…you again. Man, that would actually kind of suck and be a shitty thing to do to the clone. I think about all the trauma and otherwise and uploading it into somebody who hadn’t had those experiences- kinda like paying for a shitty ride you never wanted to go on, isn’t it?
I know, he played Gurney but there’s a pug and I just…well, there’s a pug.
That said, though: a few years back there were some fascinating and oh my god, practically siren song level temptations coming out of Johns Hopkins. They were studying PTSD and essentially- talking about going above and beyond medication. As in, going in to the amygdala and trying to target the receptor proteins for traumatic memories- then, simply getting rid of them. I remember thinking about that a long while: how wonderful would it be to go in and just wipe that slate clean? Except, I also thought: would it really? Back to qualia, I reckon because if you did somehow manage to zap the shit out of the painful memory: would it undo the impact?
What about the adaptations and perspectives I have gained in the process? That’s a hell of a gnarly first year philosophy student tangle there, isn’t it?
If you start to go down these thought roads, you might start feeling kind of shitty. I mean, if you strip everything away, religious, shit from what seems like far flung science fiction: I guess I can see how things can get pretty depressing, pretty quickly. Except, I don’t really see it that way.
In terms of memory- that plays a large role in my religion: carrying the memories of others, not forgetting them, continuing to celebrate them after they’re gone. Using the bars they’ve set both good and bad as benchmarks in your own life- which…incidentally, you racist dumbfucks, that’s what you’re doing with ancestor worship, not somehow being proud of shit you had no hand in. Or at least, you should be. I’ve got some pretty neat ancestors but the thing is: those are not my deeds. My deeds, however, are often at least in part, slightly colored by their memories, their stories, their actions.
That said, think about your dead just a minute. Even if you’re honoring them this way: they’re not alive anymore, obviously. They’re not truly living through you in a way that somehow replicates life: no, they’re living through you in another way, entirely.
The fact is we don’t know shit about what happens when we die. Whether you believe in some heavenly afterlife or otherwise: if you’re looking at what you do now as prep work, you’re missing out on so much. Pasquale’s Wager got you fucked for luck, more often than not, if you ask me.
You are who you are, whether that’s memory, deed, ideas, or otherwise. I tend to suspect all of the above- but, you know, you do you.
Whatever carries over- you are who you are, right here and right now, no matter what else comes after.
Though it may be comforting to imagine that we will enjoy ourselves after we die- you don’t exactly have to imagine it in the here and now, do you?*