“The undiscover’d country from whose bourn and no traveller returns” (Hamlet)No matter how complex the philosophical issues involving the relationship between what is normally called mind and body, what we normally consider death is when one’s body is no longer able to show that he/she is or can be associated with any kinds of mental states. Death is the cessation of or the event of dying/departure from life. It is, therefore, irreversible. The survival of death is therefore dependent on some sort of existence after death – a life after death.
The belief in life after death can be divided into different groups. The traditional views of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are known as Reanimation where at the end of time, a divine act will raise the dead and they will live on in a new life. Another, more modern view is of the souls liberation from its earthly body and its journey to a spiritual body, representative of the individuals personality, in another realm. A view held by Hindu’s and Buddhists is the view of reincarnation where the soul migrates to another body and begins a new life.There are philosophical arguments to support belief in survival of or life after death.
Plato first argued on the nature of the soul. The idea that a thing can only be destroyed by the specific evil associated with it means that the human body can be destroyed only by disease. The argument continues with Plato claiming that a good soul exhibits virtue and a bad soul exhibits vice which is therefore the specific evil of the soul (eg injustice, ignorance). However, vice never results in death of the soul in the same way that disease results in the death of the body.Plato concludes that since a thing can only be destroyed by its specific evil, and a soul does not get destroyed by its specific evil, the soul cannot be destroyed. Therefore the soul is immortal. Kant, however, argues not that there is life after death but life after death is a postulate of pure practical reason. Kant argues that we are under moral obligation to make ourselves perfect, and this is possible.
Kant goes on to explain that this perfection requires perfect rationality, which in turn requires that emotions are rendered powerless. Since such a task will take infinity to complete, we must suppose that we have an infinite life. This is one example of an argument based on the nature of human life. Both arguments therefore display reason to suppose there is life after death.Focusing on evidence throughout the world today, however, we can see additional cause to presume survival of death actually exists. One phenomenon providing evidence is the Near-Death Experience. Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s) occur when the subject of the experience appears to be clinically dead. The term near-death is used as the person is revived after what is considered to be death.
Death remains as Hamlet defined it. NDEs have become more frequent recently due to advances in medical technology allowing doctors to revive patients after they have been clinically dead. The experiences follow a familiar pattern which can be described in stages.The first stage is the end of pain/stress and a feeling of extreme peace. This is followed by an out-of-body experience where the individual witnesses his/her own body as if looking down at it. Next is a stage where the individual feels drawn into darkness towards a bright light. Upon reaching the light there is a feeling of being enveloped by it and then knowing the presence of a religious figure or deceased relatives, with whom the individual communicates with telepathically. At this phase, there is frequently an instantaneous life review followed by some sort of barrier where the individual is told or decides to return to his/her earthly life.
There are a number of astonishing traits of NDEs that might be taken as evidence of life after death. First of all, reports exhibit surprising unanimity despite extremely differing cultural and medical experiences. Secondly, reports often include features that are not expected by the individual.
Thirdly, and perhaps most inexplicably, many individuals can describe the scene they’d seen during the out-of-body experience, and sometimes remember specific details.Such patients have made true claims about objects they could not have seen from their position in the room, and about the activities of doctors while the patient had no heartbeat or breathing. What’s more, in some cases the individual has reported communicating telepathically with friends they could not of known (until that point) were dead.
In the same way, children who have experienced NDEs have met deceased relatives that they didn’t know existed. The experience as a whole does appear surprisingly painless and vivid, given that the body is undergoing immeasurable pain and trauma. These traits do point towards the view that, at death, the self leaves the body and survives death.The other evidence for survival of death found in the world today is the remembrance of past lives. Socrates first argued a similar point when explaining a child prodigy. However more impressive evidence for reincarnation (survival of death) can be explained in two categories: hypnotic regressions and spontaneous recalls.
Hypnotic regressions are where, when under hypnosis, one relives an episode of their former life. That is a persons accent/language may change and one gives their name and details of their family and events that unfold.These details are, when checked, found to be accurate. Spontaneous recall, however, does not occur under hypnosis and usually is experienced by young children when their sub-conscious is less developed. The child displays symptoms such as phobia associated with the death that he/she remembers. As with hypnotic regressions, when claims are checked, it is often found that the person the child used to be did die precisely as described and live in the house with the family the child described.
This is made all the more impressive as, in some cases; the child can speak the native language of the deceased despite never having been taught it.There has been debate, however, over interpretation of an NDE and hypnotic regressions/spontaneous recall their part as evidence for life after death. Naturalistic explanations have been given which account for the NDEs without reference to life after death or a spiritual ability to leave the body. These arguments would therefore maintain and try to confirm that one does not survive death. One line of reasoning, for example, is that NDEs are hallucinations induced by medication.
However, this cannot be considered convincing as many NDEs occur when the patient is not under any medication. Furthermore this does not explain the unanimity of the experiences. It has also been suggested that NDEs may be the product huge endorphin releases in the brain. However, this is also a weak explanation as, whilst perhaps scientifically valid, there are problems such as the vividness of the already unexplainable “hallucination”. In addition to these suggestions, there are two physiological theories of NDEs.
The first is the lobe seizure which displays features similar to NDEs. However, these are unexplained as many patients have no evidence of having fits upon death. The features also appear more forced and anxiety ridden compared to the innate serenity of NDEs. An explanation of the hypnotic regressional/spontaneous recall phenomena explains the phenomena as wishful thinking or suggestability of the child, as many of the cases occur in areas of the world where belief in reincarnation is strong.
However, this theory is not accountable for those who do not live in these areas or those whose experiences are veridical. Indeed, whilst many see the phenomena as part of a normal childhood fantasy and play-acting, what about those whose stories prove true? The argument that all cases are purely fraud does not make sense as there is often no point to it or any financial incentive.In conclusion, there is strong religious, philosophical, and a posteriori evidence throughout history and around, more than ever, today which suggests there is reason to suppose that one’s life will continue spiritually on in an after life.
Consequentially, the self may well survive death. For every opposing scientific or logical argument, there are always a number of cases which defy rationality, always an element of unexplainable mystery which surrounds the question. Until proved categorically wrong, there is always reason, therefore, to believe in the survival of my death. As Decartes agreed …since we cannot see any other causes to destroy the soul, we are naturally led to conclude that it is immortal.