I've been struggling to articulate my question for quite some time so this may or may not be coherent.
Philosopher Shelly Kagan, a Yale professor who has an Open Course on 'the philosophy of death', begins the course summary with the claim: "There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die."
My question involves an epistemological and an ethical question about this claim.
Is it empirically possible to know what an 'after life' is like? A lot of philosophizing about 'death' depends on the definition of what is meant by 'death'. Let us say we mean by death 'the end of consciousness'. Then it would seem to follow by definition that we cannot know what it would be like to be dead since to be something dead is to not have consciousness. So it would be impossible to study something if it's necessary that you are not conscious at the same time to study it.
What I am more interested in is the possibility of studying an 'after life' from a third-person perspective. For example, let us say something like materialism, and more strongly functionalism, is true in philosophy of mind. That is, assume that all that is necessary for a conscious being to retain its consciousness (including both 'qualia' and capacity for rational thought) is that it preserve some information-theoretic/Turing-computable structure that is substrate independent. So while under the hypothesis of materialism our brains are required in order for us to have qualia and to think, it would be possible that a computer-program, a silicon-brain, or even rocks in a pond, would be capable of creating a conscious being much like myself (so long as all the functional relations and metaphysical causation holds).
Assuming all of this, my question is would it be empirically possible to monitor the information-theoretic relationships that our matter takes on after we die? For example, neuroscience is slowing gaining the capability to be able to predict the 'qualia' of a subject based upon the subject's brain states. Perhaps in the future, if cognitive scientists and philosophers can construct a solid information-theoretic model, one could be able to have a 'consciousness meter' that can detect the kinds of consciousness that entities have. In this way, one would be able to know what it is like to 'be' someone else's matter after they die.
I say 'entities', and not merely creatures, because of the ideas in this paper by Eric Schwitzgebel entitled 'If Materialism is True, then is the United States Conscious?': http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/USAconscious-130208.pdf
Galen Strawson has also written a paper on panpsychism, which is akin to what I have been discussing in this post: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ET1HaZ9OShgJ:www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~seager/strawson_on_panpsychism.doc+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca
One of the primary motivations behind an act such as euthanasia is to end the suffering of someone we care about. Similar reasons apply to any act done under negative-utilitarian principles. My question is if one believes that 'suffering', however that is manifested, is an intrinsically negative thing, does one have a duty to ensure that the death of someone who was suffering actually occurs? Ostensibly, if the heart stops and the brain is dead then the person is biologically not alive. But if the aforementioned functionalist theory of mind is true, it is possible that the person continues to persist as a conscious entity albeit in a completely different way than the consciousness of a human. If this is true, then they could possible be in even worse states of mind than as a human. So if motivation for euthanizing someone is to end their suffering, do we have a duty to make sure their suffering is not worsened by ending it?