The Best Basis for Believing in an Afterlife?

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Mark Mahin of the Future and Cosmos blog makes an interesting argument in his May 19, 2021 post The Best Basis for Believing in an Afterlife Is Something Other Than Paranormal Phenomena.

Quote:Altogether these many examples of paranormal phenomena provide a very substantial basis for believing in life after death. But are paranormal phenomena the best basis for believing in an afterlife? No, I think they are not.  I think the best basis for believing in an afterlife is the existence of normal, everyday human mental phenomena that cannot be credibly explained by anything we know about the brain. 

Below are some basic facts about human mental activity, facts that we take for granted but cannot actually explain by reference to any credible theory about the brain:

(1) Humans are capable of instantly forming permanent memories.
(2) Humans are capable of remembering very clearly things that happened to them more than 50 years ago.
(3) Upon hearing a name or seeing a picture, humans can instantly recall a great deal of information learned about a person, place or thing many years ago. 
(4) Humans can remember with 100% accuracy very large bodies of memorized information, as we see occurring when an actor flawlessly recites all of the lines of the very long role of Hamlet, or when a Wagnerian tenor flawlessly recites all of the lines and notes of the very long roles of Tristan, Siegfried or Hans Sachs, or when a Muslim accurately recites every verse in his holy book of 6000+ verses (as some can do). 
(5) Humans can understand a host of very subtle concepts and topics. 
(6) Some humans can do accurate mathematical calculations at blazing speeds. 
(7) Humans are capable of great creativity, and can quickly come up with novel ideas.
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(2021-12-05, 05:52 PM)Laird Wrote: Mark Mahin of the Future and Cosmos blog makes an interesting argument in his May 19, 2021 post The Best Basis for Believing in an Afterlife Is Something Other Than Paranormal Phenomena.

His thinking seems rather muddled here. Only numbers 5 and 7 are any particular evidence for survival of the soul, since understanding and creativity are imponderable attributes or characteristics of immaterial subjective consciousness. The rest of these human capabilities are part of what Chalmers termed the "easy problem" of consciousness, computational activities like formation, retrieval and association of memories, mathematical calculations, pattern recognition and the like which can at least to a degree be accomplished by present AI computer systems with certain forms of intelligence but absolutely no consciousness. Materialists would claim that it is just a matter of time before AI can accomplish these feats. And even though it is true that as the author states, there are presently no credible theories of how the brain can form and retrieve such memories or do such calculations, the materialist neuroscientists can still claim in principle that the calculation engine nature of the brain will inevitably be unraveled. In the mean time, the true "hard problem" of consciousness, the existence of the immaterial qualia of subjective awareness, totally defeats AI systems in achieving consciousness. 

Even 5 and 7 (understanding and creativity) are only weak evidence for survival. This is because since they are are immaterial properties of subjective consciousness, which like qualia are irreducible to calculation or to anything material, the existence of human understanding and creativity can only imply that consciousness is immaterial, not that it survives. Logically, consciousness being immaterial doesn't mean it survives physical death. The existence of understanding and creativity are not evidence for the existence of an immortal soul, but merely weakly imply that such immortality might exist. 

The paranormal evidence, in particular investigated and verified reincarnation memory cases, is the only strong direct evidence for survival. To a lesser extent than reincarnation memories, verified and investigated mediumistic communications are also strong evidence. But even veridical NDEs are technically only evidence for survival out of body while the body is still alive albeit sometimes barely alive with the brain in a dysfunctional state. Much of the paranormal evidence can only (sometimes strongly) imply that probably there is survival of the soul, not directly show it. 
(This post was last modified: 2021-12-06, 03:00 AM by nbtruthman.)
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(2021-12-06, 02:20 AM)nbtruthman Wrote: The rest of these human capabilities are part of what Chalmers termed the "easy problem" of consciousness

I'm not sure whether you read the article in full, but Mark argues that there is no plausible explanation (especially from neuroscientists themselves) as to how they could be implemented in the (neural network of the) physical brain. (Whether or not this is true I don't know as I haven't studied the topic).

(2021-12-06, 02:20 AM)nbtruthman Wrote: Logically, consciousness being immaterial doesn't mean it survives physical death.

Strictly speaking, yes - but here are his sentiments:

Quote:A person correctly understanding that minds do not arise from brains (and that memories are not stored in brains) will tend to believe in life after death as a kind of natural continuation of a mind after the passing of some physical thing that the mind never depended upon, some physical thing that was never the source of such a mind.
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(2021-12-06, 08:27 AM)Laird Wrote: I'm not sure whether you read the article in full, but Mark argues that there is no plausible explanation (especially from neuroscientists themselves) as to how they could be implemented in the (neural network of the) physical brain. (Whether or not this is true I don't know as I haven't studied the topic).


Strictly speaking, yes - but here are his sentiments:

But it seems to me that the basic point is that since AI computers can mimic these computational mental operations in silicon-based hardware, it is at least possible that they are in humans implemented in the physical neuronal network of the brain, regardless of the failure of neuroscientists to tease out the exact nature of how. Whereas the "hard problem" is the fundamental inability, the impossibility, of material computation to generate subjective awareness.

I agree with the author's view that the paranormal evidence such as the investigated and verified existence of psi powers of the human mind like telepathy strongly imply survival, but my point was that from a strict logical viewpoint this is not any sort of direct evidence for it - just an implication which could possibly be erroneous.
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(2021-12-06, 02:20 AM)nbtruthman Wrote: The paranormal evidence, in particular investigated and verified reincarnation memory cases, is the only strong direct evidence for survival.


Unsurprisingly, I disagree with this, as I think each of us will have our own ideas about which particular phenomenon they prefer, paranormal or otherwise. The things which go about making up everything I have as evidence which I think are reasonable for us not simply being nothing more than worm food after death consist of many parts. 

Many of them consist of non-paranormal things such as ‘dreaming’, also the way dreams amazingly quickly fade into the veil, the way that people that attempt to commit suicide by jumping off bridges report that as soon as they step off they immediately filled with regret, the way that loving relationships have deep meaning to us, the way feeling deep gratitude appears to heal, music, the mind blowing complex workings of our bodies, listening to philosopher Iain McGilchrist (seriously), the ‘fine tuning’ of the universe, the way water freezes on the surface of lakes (something about density and +4 degrees Celsius) and many more.

That was all taken into the mix, before I even heard about NDEs and looked deeper into reincarnation and the other phenomena that attract us to this forum.
Oh my God, I hate all this.   Surprise
(This post was last modified: 2021-12-09, 06:25 AM by Stan Woolley.)
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(2021-12-06, 03:47 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: But it seems to me that the basic point is that since AI computers can mimic these computational mental operations in silicon-based hardware, it is at least possible that they are in humans implemented in the physical neuronal network of the brain, regardless of the failure of neuroscientists to tease out the exact nature of how. Whereas the "hard problem" is the fundamental inability, the impossibility, of material computation to generate subjective awareness.
I didn't get that read at all, except when the author was defining counter-argument to his position.  Here is the basic point, in my take-away:
Quote: Just as a human body is a marvel of supremely dynamic hierarchical organization that cannot at all be explained by DNA or anything in a tiny speck-sized ovum, the human mind is a spiritual wonder that is not at all explained by the brain. 

I found the argument style in the piece, much to my liking, especially the strong and confident voice.  The presentation of the evidence for Psi was excellent.  Then, he frames the marketing pitch.  It goes: "oh yeah Psi is real, but there is even more on the side of survival.  And this is the more rational and science-based reasoning for mind"  Observed mental outcomes are simply not modeled by neuroscience."

It seems good for Psi and good for for a spiritual view, without a religious flavor to drive away the humanists.  I enjoyed the piece and found it made thoughtful points.
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I had a quick scan of the article and some of the responses here but I'll just comment on the summary in Laird's OP. I tend to agree with the theme - the non-physical nature of memory. My take is that memory is not a brain function, nor are memories located in the brain, just as the mind is not the brain. Recall is a brain function and can clearly be damaged by illness, brain injury or aging. But too often, I think, recall is mistaken for memory and the two are used interchangably. 

If memory is non-physical then what is it? I think it is mind stuff - a feature of consciousness. Where are memories stored? Nowhere. Non-physical memories or conscious thoughts do not need space - they are non-physical. Where is the world you inhabit in a dream? How big is it? The questions are irrelevant. They just don't apply.

And if that is so, then what is the non-physical and is it evidence of a kind of spirit or soul which is independent of, while connected to, the physical form? I think that spirit and soul are just the words we have invented and used for millenia to describe something that we have always known intuitively - that this body is not all we are. If it is independent and the connection is temporary - for as long as the physical counterpart is able to function - then it makes sense that the spirit or soul is indestructable and this continues to exist beyond the term of that connection.

If we go even deeper, we might find that the physical is merely a manifestation of the conscious non-physical but that's another argument.

By the way - this frame from Disney's Inside Out is the kind of thing we teach our kids about mind, brain and memory. The coloured balls are memories stored in a brain-based library (probably indexed and cross referenced for accurate recall) ...


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I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
(This post was last modified: 2021-12-06, 11:48 PM by Kamarling.)
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(2021-12-06, 03:47 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: But it seems to me that the basic point is that since AI computers can mimic these computational mental operations in silicon-based hardware, it is at least possible that they are in humans implemented in the physical neuronal network of the brain, regardless of the failure of neuroscientists to tease out the exact nature of how.

Well, with respect to the bit I've bolded, let's start with memory. AI does not mimic memory via a neural network: for memory, it relies on the addressable storage system(s) of the computer on which it runs (RAM modules, SSDs, HDDs, USB thumb drives, optical drives, etc). Mark argues that there are no such addressable storage systems evident in the (neural network of the) brain. He links to three previous articles he's written on this theme. They're all worth a read:

Quote:We know from our work with computers some of the things that systems have when they are devices for writing, instantly retrieving and permanently storing new information. The brain has no such things (as I discuss here, here and here). 

(2021-12-06, 03:47 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: I agree with the author's view that the paranormal evidence such as the investigated and verified existence of psi powers of the human mind like telepathy strongly imply survival, but my point was that from a strict logical viewpoint this is not any sort of direct evidence for it - just an implication which could possibly be erroneous.

Fine, but the author is not claiming to be offering indisputable logical proof, just "the best basis" for belief (which he seems to think is sufficiently compelling).
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(2021-12-07, 08:57 AM)Laird Wrote: Well, with respect to the bit I've bolded, let's start with memory. AI does not mimic memory via a neural network: for memory, it relies on the addressable storage system(s) of the computer on which it runs (RAM modules, SSDs, HDDs, USB thumb drives, optical drives, etc). Mark argues that there are no such addressable storage systems evident in the (neural network of the) brain. He links to three previous articles he's written on this theme. 


Exactly the point I was trying to make above. I'm reminded of all those diagrams of the brain with cog wheels and gears from the 19th century - when those devices were the height of technology. Now it is computers and AI so the brain is automatically assumed to be of a similar nature because, well, computers have memory and it is indexed and addressable.

Claiming that the brain is (like) a computer just goes to enforce the physicalist dogma and it is so convincing that it is what is taught to our kids thus reinforcing that dogma. I'm not so well read on the subject but I gather that the mind learns by association, not algorithm. So if one event reminds us of others we associate them and a pattern emerges from which we can deduce a conclusion. We probably apply logic of some sort at that point but it is not the way computers are programmed. Computers - even AI - do not have feelings. They are not influenced by how they felt a month ago or why a certain event carried emotional weight and is thus recalled more readily than other events. 

Again the hard problem is key and AI is just what it says it is: artificial. Materialists would like to banish subjectivity from the lexicon but they can't.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
(This post was last modified: 2021-12-07, 07:32 PM by Kamarling.)
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