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I looked at a site called The Truth Contest which is a compliation of what "The ultimate truth" is. One of the ideas explored is immortality. Here is an excerpt:

You are immortal; it is impossible to not be, because it is impossible to be conscious of being unconscious.

Here is the site in question. Page 2 explains the idea fully.

Personally, I disagree with this idea, since I do not believe that consciousness has anything to do with immortality, but if someone could explain why I am or am not correct, that would be very helpful.

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The argument on the linked site is somewhat out there, but the reasoning is based on a sound premise, it is impossible to truthfully assert "I am dead", if you are truly dead you will not be in a position to assert it. The move from that to immortality is a leap however, unless one adopts a stance that is both solipsistic and legalistic: X is true if I can never truthfully assert its negation. So if I can never truthfully assert that I am dead I must always be not dead.

In this context however the meaning of "always" has been illicitly redefined to beg the question, and so has the meaning of "immortality". Normally when someone says that a person is dead they surely assume that the person wouldn't be there to assert otherwise, so they surely do not have in mind this kind of 'immortality'.

Heidegger in Being and Time gives a sophisticated version of such reasoning, but distinguishes the two meanings as "now" and "then":

"Of course, only as long as Dasein is, that is, the ontical possibility of the understanding of being is, 'is there' being. If Dasein does not exist... such a thing is then neither understandable nor not understandable... Then it can be said neither that entities are, nor that they are not. Nevertheless, it can now be said - as long as the understanding of being, and thereby the understanding of occurrentness are - that then entities will continue to be".

Then again, perhaps the now-immortality is all that should matter.

  • Why isn't simply a false dichotomy? – christo183 Jan 15 at 7:12
  • @christo183 Between conscious/unconscious, dead/alive? – Conifold Jan 15 at 18:57
  • As in: I have no grandchildren, yet my grandchildren are neither dead nor unconscious. – christo183 Jan 16 at 5:39
  • @christo183 I am missing something, dead or unconscious is not asserted as a dilemma. Could you spell out the argument you have in mind, and how it uses a false dilemma. – Conifold Jan 16 at 9:57
  • From the title question: Cannot be conscious of being unconscious, therefore cannot be unconscious. But 'conscious' and 'unconscious' aren't the only choices, there can also be 'not applicable', like my grandchildren. Same for dead/alive, so immortality doesn't follow. (it could work for a solipsistic though) – christo183 Jan 16 at 10:33
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The argument can be picked apart, but it is not wrong.

Nor does it prove the opposite premise. It is simply another example of a "hung jury" where logic meets induction.

I think it is actually a good corrective of the "assumptions" of secular humanism, in the tradition of Pascal or Berkeley.

Too often, we assume that "immortality" or "eternal consciousness" lack proof, when in fact no conscious "individual" can have empirical proof otherwise.

The "proof" or scientific assumption of mortality and finitude is always indirect. It is a tribute to our unbounded faith in our "social" or "species" being. When we see others are "dead" relative to us, we assume we can be "dead" relative to others.

This is neither logical nor strictly empirical. How can we speak of things "unconscious," when we can no more imagine unconsciousness than a fish can imagine fire?

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I accept the premiss

it is impossible to be conscious of being unconscious.

But the quote does not prove how the premiss implies the conclusion

it is impossible to not be.

The comment from page 2 of the link claims that a sleeping person is less conscious, but not completely unconscious. Then take a person in coma. If the thalamus is not active, then the person is unconcious but not necessarily dead.

The thalamus-example shows that the argument on page 2 is not convincing. Being unconscious has no relation to being dead. And the original claim lacks proof.

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Yes, the argument is fallacious. It relies on the implicit premise that it's subject ("You") exists. Otherwise, both statements ("is conscious" and "is unconscious") could be vacuously true without contradiction.

But the argument might work within a particular ontological stance e.g. monist, since they posit that there is only one single necessary being. The author seems to have taken the position of a dialectical monist. So he might not be entirely misguided, given his opinions.

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A very strange website.

What is quite obviously true: Whenever you are asked whether you are dead or alive, and you give the correct answer, the answer is "I'm alive" - because when "I'm alive" isn't the correct answer, you aren't capable of answering. Whenever you think about whether you are dead or alive and come to the right conclusion, you will think that you are alive.

The author seems to be limiting time to the time when you are alive (and possibly conscious). Yes, you are alive all that time. During your lifetime you are "immortal". But to say it brutally, once you're gone you're gone and with all the sophistry you are dead and therefore proven mortal. Time doesn't end when you die. Well, time didn't end when any of the people died who you know about.

"You are immortal" is an extraordinary claim. As with all extraordinary claims, it's up to the author to prove it, and he does no such thing. But I'll offer him a bet: I'll give him a dollar, and he will pay my heirs a million dollars when I die - obviously no payment if I'm immortal.

  • if you can prove someone else is dead, you can prove they were/are not immortal. But you can't even prove the premise because the concept of immortality includes the possibility of translating to another type of existence. "Absence of proof is not …" The assumption that You will die is inductive, just like "no black swans." But as I said, even your death is not disproof of your (tentative) immortality as many religions define it. – WGroleau Dec 4 '15 at 18:09
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It is not necessarily a fallacy if the whole universe where you evaluate the truth of such propositions lasts as long as you exist (i.e. just a solipsism). Under such reality, you are alive, and there's no place for your death, for when you die, the reality is no more (and is even senseless to tell whether it has been before your death or not).

Under an intersubjective approach (any decent epistemological scheme, like Popper's one, or any collective religios approach like Abrahamic and friends), however, the concept of death or life has nothing to do with your own perception, but an agreed definition of life and death (existing a soul, or not, your body definitely ceased to work somehow), so you define death independently of yourself.

So -unsurprisingly again- your proposition is not a fallacy per se but according to the system you want to use.

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