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Epicurus's thoughts on death were:

-Death is the cessation of sensation
-Good and evil only make sense in terms of sensation
Therefore: Death is neither good nor evil

My (sort of related) question about death:

I was wondering if it's possible to rationally believe in a soul after death, but that after death there is still a complete cessation of sensation?

1.) One with a soul must have the ability to remain some level of consciousness after physical death.

2.) Consciousness does not require the ability to feel sensation ("Floating Man experiment" by Avicenna).

3.) Therefore: having a soul requires no sensation after death (but does not require a lack of sensation after death).

4.) In order to be "alive", sensation is required. Since the afterlife is "life after death", the afterlife requires sensation.

Then can you rationally believe in the soul (that some level of consciousness after physical death exists), but not in the afterlife (something which requires sensation)?

An idea: Does it depend on whether or not we pick a case in which one is or is not feeling sensation and holding consciousness at the same time?

Note: The question Does idealism allow for thought without any sensory input? Is discussing the validity of statement 2, not addressing my overall question. I would also argue that due to the "Floating Man experiment" by Avicenna, statement 2 has been fairly well proven.

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    Possible duplicate of Does idealism allow for thought without any sensory input?
    – Conifold
    Nov 15, 2018 at 23:22
  • 4
    4) is one definition of "alive". From it no sensation means not alive follows trivially. If someone rejects the definition then it does not follow. But what is the question?
    – Conifold
    Nov 16, 2018 at 1:06
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    Most reincarnation beliefs presuppose a soul and no afterlife -- at least no afterlife other than another life. One of the most straightforward of these, Buddhism, actively seeks the cessation of sensation in 'nothingness', achieved by dying without attachments. So this is rational enough that it is the core of some of our more rationalistic religions.
    – user9166
    Dec 16, 2018 at 5:37
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    @jobermark - Not 'nothingness' (praise the Lord) but no-thing-ness. Often described as 'Being, Consciousness, Bliss'. 'Nothingness' would be what materialists look forward to. This view requires no 'souls'. .
    – user20253
    Dec 16, 2018 at 11:39
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    Also, the idea that soul dies with body is the original one. Both in PIE and semitic languages it means "breathe". So, you die and don't breathe, no soul after that therefore. (The word "soul" itself is not derived from PIE, but appeared later)
    – rus9384
    Jan 19, 2019 at 7:20

6 Answers 6

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can you rationally believe... that some level of consciousness after physical death exists) but not in... something which requires sensation)?

Your second assumption is doing all the work here, the rest are junk. 1 and 4 are defining your terms, and 3 restates your conclusion without the definition in 4, of the afterlife.

Consciousness does not require the ability to feel sensation ("Floating man experiment" by Avicenna).

If Avicenna is right then yes the mere fact that you don't have sensation after death does not mean you won't have consciousness. That's deductively certain, it says the same thing as Avicenna. Maybe it would help you if you rewrote it into symbolic logic?

However, you will need further assumptions to argue that there actually is consciousness after death. Doesn't consciousness depend upon a brain?

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  • As a pure abstract thinking think, you can pretend anything. Jordan Peterson seems to be doing abstract thinking that consciousness is fundamental, not the brain. The abstract thinking may be a formal mathematical system. But if you accept the theory of that formal system, it follows that the things it describes are real and have wierd properties. When you're actually thinking in it, you feel like those objects are real. I have an idea of what it's like to every 5 minutes interpret the environment right then from scratch. I can sort of tell that there are also others but the main focus is
    – Timothy
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:30
  • living in the moment right then. You're actually thinking in and feeling the environment right then and taking turns thinking in the one right then and feeling it. It feels like the thinking in it and feeling it is fundamental and it always ends up reducing to a physical brain. Now one can say about another one that it doesn't represent the one and only possible way a 5 minute patch could go, and thus that that other living in the moment part and its thinking in it and feeling it is a formalization. The other similarly could say the same back. That explains why it made sense when in Coraline,
    – Timothy
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:36
  • Wybie said to Coraline "I think I heard somebody calling me, Jonesy."
    – Timothy
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:36
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I suspect that memories are stored in the brain, and so a soul would probably be bored without a body; without sensation, it might not be worth calling such a soul's existence "life" at all.

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  • If you think that a souls existence doesn't entail an afterlife, then your saying that it is rational to believe in a soul and but not in an afterlife? Nov 16, 2018 at 0:23
  • Also, in statement 3, I say that the existence of a soul doesn't make any conclusive statements about sensation after death(whether there is sensation or isn't). Nov 16, 2018 at 0:27
  • Memories are indeed stored in the brain. Can you be sure they're not stored somewhere else in different form? A soul would have to duplicate some functionality of the brain, and without a way to test this could duplicate any functionality. Nov 16, 2018 at 21:33
  • @DavidThornley, great thought! Yes, there's no reason to believe that memories couldn't be duplicated in another place, such as "the book of life" which appears in Christian prophecy. Jan 18, 2019 at 15:56
  • @TobiasEthercroft, the revelation / prophecy to which I have been exposed (contained in the Bible) indicates a bodily afterlife in addition to the disembodied afterlife experienced by Isaiah. (I Samuel chapter 28) Jan 18, 2019 at 16:00
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Belief: feeling of surety about existence of something.

Knowledge: to have awareness about something as experienced by our five senses, namely - sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Life is when humans are alive. Are you sure that you are alive? Then you know what life is.

When you see a human not alive biologically, are you sure he is dead? If yes, then you know what death is.

But when death occurs to you, will you know you have died? No! because you would not be biologically capable of being alive and thus to perceive. Then, how can you be capable of knowing (let alone living), that you are dead? If you aren't capable of knowing that you are dead, how can you be capable of knowing you are alive after you die. Hence, if knowledge is incapable of being preserved after death, how can a living body even think that he knows he had a previous life. If he can't be certain that he had a previous life, how can he be sure that he is a consequence of another life? If he can't be a consequence of another life, how can another life be a consequence of his? If another life can't be a consequence of his, how can there be an afterlife? He can only know that there is no afterlife.

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  • If you have a reference to someone who takes a similar view this would support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to Philosophy! Jan 18, 2019 at 11:22
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If you believe that the soul is a physical entity (perhaps made of some substance unknown to science), then you'll struggle with this problem.

But what if the soul is in fact made of literally nothing. In the same way that the concept of pizza is made of nothing. That is, Pizza itself is a thing which is created by humans, who have first been given the 'meme' of pizza by someone else. The 'idea' or 'recipe' for Pizza has no mass. It is simply an idea.

So it is with the soul. When you die, the shape of your person, how you behaved, the things you said and did, are remembered by those who survive you. That, is your soul. You become an idea, a massless entity.

Death, is essentially no different from Birth. At birth, your consciousness appears from nothing. In death, your consciousness goes back to nothing. Death, in and of itself is absolutely a-moral. The 'act' of your death on the other hand, is not. If you were murdered for example, or neglected to death. But death.. the act of ceasing to be.. well that just is.

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  • Pizza doesn't come from nowhere..
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 28, 2021 at 19:02
  • @CriglCragl Physical pizza clearly does not But at the point when you think to yourself I'm going to make pizza, where is the pizza?
    – Richard
    Mar 28, 2021 at 19:35
  • Seems you're hinting at nominalism here. The soul is just a label.
    – J D
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:42
  • @JD I was actually thinking about 'Richard Dawkins' concept of memes being 'alive', but I think he is actually echoing nominalism all the way back to Plato's idealism etc. So yes, I think I am, indirectly.
    – Richard
    Dec 9, 2021 at 12:18
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Is it rationally possible to believe in a sensationless soul after death?

Rationality is essentially logic plus facts, i.e., empirical data, including the data of subjective experience, such as pain, colours etc. As far as I know, we have no empirical data about the mind of a dead person, so there is no logical reasoning that could justify the belief that any dead person has a mind.

The concept of "sensationless soul" seems also terribly problematic. The essence of the mind seems precisely sensations, broadly conceived, that is, including the "sensation" of our own ideas, memories etc. It is precisely because we have such sensations that we think we have a mind. In this sense, a sensationless mind is by definition impossible.

If we restrict our notion of sensation to sensations related to the body and the material world at large, so essentially pain, hunger, colours, sounds etc., then it is perfectly possible for a mind to be sensationless in this sense. This can happen in various states of consciousness and, in particular, in dreams. However, all these cases are still cases where the subject is alive, although not conscious of the world outside. Thus, these empirical data still do not support the idea that a dead person could have a mind, although they perhaps suggest it.

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It depends on how you define 'rational'. A reasoning process can be engaged in that weighs evidence, and concludes either that the guidance of a cultural interpretation of religious texts is sound, or something like pascal's wager can be engaged in that the hazard of eternal punishment requires acting as though a given picture is correct.

Souls can also be pictured as 'continuing' as potential, without sensation, and by say remembrance or appeal to their qualities, be 'made conscious' by others, who 'do as they would do'. I think that is, at least reasonable. It would require a particularly vivid picture of that person's character. It can be used to understand intervention by saints and bodhisattvas.

Christian theology really holds we get eaten by worms, and remain dead until the resurrection, when the righteous get a new Heaven and a new Earth, and the 144,000 chosen go to serve god. A special few get the lake of fire, which like Gehenna in Judaism is not a place for all that 'failed to be religious enough' but a place of special torment for those who opposed god's plan. Mostly the unchosen just disappear with death, cease to be. Post-Biblical Hellenic influences fused Gehenna with Tartarus where (most of) the Titan's were consigned, and Hel the Norse realm of the unrighteous dead and antipode of Valhalla/Folkvangr. I'd argue this is synchretism. A very few saints and prophets ascend directly to stand with god, I'd compare this to the Greek tradition of naming constellations as ascending to Olympos, taking up an honoured place in the core cultural text that all people know. Eternal heaven or eternal punishment can't be rationally or morally explained, and conflict with our understanding of entropy. The Bible focused on the new Heaven and new Earth, where embodiment will occur again.

The Mahayana Yogacara tradition has the most theologically developed Buddhist picture of rebirth. It occurs through Eighth Consciousness, which I think can be productively compared to the Memesphere or Noosphere. Buddhist thought deconstructs the conventional self, replacing a permanent unique identity with a bundle-theory very akin to that of Hume. We all contain threads which are visible and threads which are latent potential in this picture, and they are all attached to causes and conditions, which is to say karma. Core Buddhist doctrine of all schools is there are six consciousness or vijnana, one for each of five senses, plus mental awareness. Consciousness begins at these vinaya 'gates', as pairs of the internal and external. That is, by interaction. And as they unite to build a joined picture of the world outside, they join inside to make a unified mind. So for Buddhists consciousness always involves interaction, ultimately meshed with Indra's Net, the reflection of all minds in each other. But, at least for Yogacara Buddhism, the 'Mind Only' school, mentality not physicality has primacy, and non-corporeal travel and transcending physical constraints are commonly described as spiritually attainable skills.

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