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Thursday, June 1, 2017

What happens when we die?

Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? 

Infidel asked this in his post yesterday. It reminded me of a question which Madison and Julianna asked over the weekend. They wanted to know – What happens when someone dies? 

Perhaps they wanted to know:
Is there a Heaven and Hell?
They’re both in Catholic school — catechism's a daily thing. In their short lives, their much loved Great Grandma died. Just last summer their beloved Grandpa Bob stepped off the world.

Possibly they were inquiring as to what physically happens to a body when a person cuts out on sentience. Morgues? Funeral homes? Crematoriums? Did they want to know what happens the absolute minute you croak or was the question more about long range post-Earth careers?

What’d I reply? The pain stops. Yup, I didn’t go in for the stardusted, cloud occupying, harp playing angels or the mysterious, long, deep blue-lit tunnels explanations. Afterwards I felt I’d been kind of harsh but, what happens at death, as far as we can empirically know, is the cessation of suffering and struggle.

My Catholic father never spun palliating haloes-and-harps stories for me – he provided a range of different theories and let me think it out for myself. For this and so much more, I love him madly.

So then:
* Reincarnation?
* Heaven/Hell/Limbo?
* Spirits refuse to…em…give up the ghost and we come back to haunt our friends and fam?
* Do our essential beings, our souls, live on as free form floating, sentient entities?
* Death’s, mebbe, just an illusion?

A post at The Independent asked the same question and found folks describing two varieties of what happens at bucket kicking time.
The mundane:
I was getting an angiogram done, wide awake watching the screen and talking to the doctor. Alarms started to go off and everyone became panicked. My world became soft and foggy and everything faded to black. Next thing I remember was opening my eyes and hearing a Dr say "we got him back". It was really a peaceful feeling more than anything.
and the mystical:
I do remember a little bit of the ambulance ride, but not from my own body. It was seriously the strangest thing I have ever experienced. It could have been a dream, but I saw my own unconscious body, completely flatlined, in the ambulance. I remember the EMT who was in the ambulance with me (whom I did not see before I passed out) had mint green hair and I couldn't remember his name, but I asked for him when I regained consciousness about three days later.
What’s known? When our bods are in the process of dying we’re not getting enough of that yummy oxygen stuff. The brain gets wicked stressed out and shoots a mega load of pain offing endorphins into our corporeal hard drives.

Wendy Wright, a neurologist at Emory University, had this to say about death visions:
When these chemicals are released, these different type of phenomena can occur: a person  might see a light, or experience a sense of peace or calming. Feel that they’re surrounded by loved ones...”(source)
A lot of deep shit to think about. What I can know and feel reassured by is that, on death, pain and struggle end. I’m good with not knowing if there’s a sequel.

My friend Infidel also noted:
If you're like most people, you have at least one family member or close friend you care about, who does not meet your religion's criteria for getting into Heaven.  If you did actually go to Heaven after your death, would you be able to be happy there knowing that someone you cared about was suffering eternal torment in Hell?
Yeah brother, tell it. Also, all cats go to heaven. Dammit.


  1. I tend to believe that death is the end, but it would be really silly of me to pretend I "know" anything for sure.

    Near Death Experiences are sometimes used as proof of something else following death, but I'm skeptical, both for the reasons you quoted here and because of a study I read: Many NDEs involve people feeling they are floating above their body and the room, looking down. But when laptops flashing random colors and shapes were placed up high with screens pointing upwards in the room with dying people, no people who experienced NDEs got the color right.

    I'm intrigued by the notion that there might be more, but I'm just not convinced.

    1. Whenever I think about a possible afterlife, I feel like I'm indulging in wishful, fairy tale thinking. Having said that, who knows?

  2. I have just started this book which is blowing me (and Alisa) away: Die Wisely

    Also, I recommend Lincoln in the Bardo -a wonderful, moving exploration of reckoning with death.

  3. We can be fairly confident in ruling out the religious concepts of continuation of consciousness after death, such as Heaven/Hell, reincarnation, etc. The various processes that make up the "self" are being continuously generated by various parts of the brain, rather the way programs run on a computer, and the way this works is now a lot better understood than most people realize. If a program is running on a computer and the computer is destroyed, the program doesn't "go" anywhere, it just stops. When part of the brain of a living person is damaged, the mental faculty generated by that part of the brain is impaired or lost -- permanently so, unless the brain reorganizes itself so that another area performs the same function, as sometimes happens. The obvious conclusion is that when the entire brain stops functioning, all the mental processes it has been running similarly come to an end.

    (As to the idea that there's a "soul" or some vague "something more" to the human self than the physical processes going on in the brain, unfortunately there's not the tiniest evidence to support or even suggest that. It's pure wishful thinking.)

    It might surprise you to know that I do nevertheless consider a kind of afterlife to be a real possibility, even a form of "eternal justice" -- and yes, if this works for humans it would work for animals too. But it's certainly not something I can claim any assurance about.

    And I do stand by my view that the Christian concept of Heaven and Hell is not only implausible but grotesquely unjust.

    1. I look forward to reading those posts – thank you for the links!

      Also – "grotesquely unjust" OH YEAH!

  4. My G'ma used to say if all those people are right Heaven will be a lonely place and Hell would be just like here.

    1. Your grandmother was a wise cookie! Also, I think Hell's gonna be more fun.

  5. Interesting thoughts and perspective. Warm greetings.