If we assume there is something of my mental life after death, what means, without authority, do we have to decide what? So, in effect, how do we decide about who's vision of an "afterlife" to believe? Without relying on other people's testimony.

Personally, I believe that I will exist as the limn of another life, generated by karma.

It is not the simplest explanation (the simplest would be that everyone becomes the exact same experience of nothingness or perhaps that everything repeats), but it less inflationary than heaven and hell (and perhaps repetition), and it includes reference to something else that I assume (the experience of karma), so could be seen as more powerful perhaps.

Perhaps this is non-philosophy (or too broad)

  • I'm not sure what you mean about 'limn', do you mean, have some influence in terms of your present actions having effects on the future for someone? I think the original meaning of karma was just this effect idea, without needing an afterlife to cause it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 0:42
  • I specifically mean, in this instance, that the present moment exists forever and is not reborn, but it takes on the aspect of the past as it generates the future @ScottRowe
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 0:46
  • Yes, I have heard about this idea before, perhaps in Existentialist writings. But I can't really make sense of it, sorry. I basically just go with whatever Nonduality says, because that best matches my experience. So that is what I always recommend people look in to.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 0:52
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    I don't think it's counter non-duality, @ScottRowe but thanks for the recommendation :)
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 0:57
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    Contrary to your claim many philosophers regard philosophy is the rehearsal of dying and it is the knowledge of our mortality which gives rise to the need for philosophy in the first place. This idea has its roots in Plato’s dialogue the Phaedo. In the dialogue Socrates says: “It really has been shown to us that, if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself. It seems likely that we shall, only then, when we are dead, attain that which we desire and of which we claim to be lovers, namely, wisdom… Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 1:57

4 Answers 4


So this is sort of a question about epistemology: how do we know what we know? What justifies one's confidence in a particular position?

In the case of life after death, I suppose you could ask what methods you've used to justify your belief in karma, and whether the exact same methods could be used to justify some other belief.

  • yeah. so why think that karma keeps going... i suppose i think it keeps on working because i can't find it occurring now. this may sounds counter intuitive, that the present is forever and what isn't present aways effects the future. IDK, i feel secure enough now!
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 1:05
  • @there_was_a_misunderstanding could you use the same type of reasoning to come to a different conclusion?
    – philosodad
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 3:48
  • maybe. but it doesn't bother me. i dislike the idea of free floating experiences of nothingness, more than i do karma.
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 4:04

I think this is a good question, generally neglected by religious practitioners. If you go to heaven, what goes to heaven? If you are reborn, what do you have in common or what continuity is there?

Even most Christian's don't know their own doctrines, about bodily resurrection, and a new Heaven and a new Earth. The idea of immediate transmigration into Heaven, is for saints. It occurred in a cultural context of Hellenic ideas of ascent to a position of being remembered and called on for guidance, through having constellations named after you (like Hercules and Perseus did). Discussed here: What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view? The Jewish perspective on Heaven is quite different, in that Shabbat is literally practice for it - it's much more like making peace with your life, finding a way to be that you could be happy with for eternity.

In Buddhist thought the continuity of identity, is much less than practitioners generally reflect. The core doctrine of Anatta specifically rejects the idea of an inner essence providing a clear link between beings. The rebirth of causes and conditions, is more like using one candle to light another and how much the candles then have in common - as per the metaphor in The Questions of King Melinda, discussed here: Does Buddhism espouse reincarnation? Buddhist thought deconstructs the conventional self, as a tool to witness Sunyata, which Thic Nhat Hanh called 'Interbeing', the interdependence and conditionally of things. If you had experienced the causes and conditions of someone else, you would be them. So there is a deep commonality between us all. Discussed here: How would you apply John Rawls "Theory of justice" to everyday decisions?

For me the really important insight is about intersubjectivity. This is made really clear in the ancient Indian metaphor of Indra's Net. But it's also critical to understanding how morality goes beyond the game-theory of getting what we want. Discussed here: Is the Categorical Imperative Simply Bad Math? :)

The most detailed picture of rebirth I think, is the Yogacara Mahayana doctrine of Alayavijnana, or Eight Consciousnesses. This is an elaboration of the sense-gates picture of the arising of consciousness from the modes of interaction of each sense, and the associated domain or space of the information provided by it. Then the sixth 'mental consciousness' is very like Aristotle's picture of a Common Sense, where different senses construct integrated objects in the mind. The seventh is translated as 'deluded consciousness', we can relate to opinions, which Buddhist thought holds as problematic ("If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for, or against, anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind."-3rd Zen Patriarch in the HsinHsinMing. Eighth is translated as 'storehouse consciousness, and I think this bears very good comparison to the Noosphere, or Memesphere. That is, the space of ideas which have their own ability to persist and achieve substrate independence. Taking this seriously, we can come to an understanding of rebirth that can be much better reconciled with science.

The picture I am increasingly drawn to, is more like the idea of Eternal Recurrance, in Nietzsche's thought. In a Multiverse, we can get an expanded picture of us following all our possible paths in life, and of all the very similar selves with subtly different initial conditions. In such, we can picture the movement towards being reconciled with our lives, to not wishing to go back and change things, to recover ideas about Bodhisattvas and their buddhasetra, and of Grace. Non-attachment as finding a way to live, being reconciled with our choices moment by moment, so we can at last let go with tinkering with do-overs of our life, or the lives of others only similar to us from wishing for changed initial conditions (see Teletransportation Paradoxes and the divergence of selves). With the static-block picture of spacetime, we could imagine rebirth as the momentary standing outside of the subjective experience of rolling through the moments of our choices looking at the structure as a whole and wishing for change. So the aim of rebirth as something like, creating a 4D sculpture you are happy with, to build a Good Life. Then we can truly let go, and go:

"Beyond, go beyond, go completely beyond. So be it." -closing mantra of the Heart Sutra

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    I dunno. The Questions of King Melinda is one text, and it is usually, I thought, said not to deny continuity, but that we are "identical" as a child and adult "He acknowledges that the belief is conventionally true, but of persons “in the absolute sense there is no ego… to be found". Permanence is not the middle way, but then nirvana, at least, is said to be permanent. Go figure?
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 9:57
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    @who_cares "Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found; The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there; Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it; The path is, but no traveler on it is seen." - from the Vissudhimaga summary of Pali doctrine. Consider the title of Avalokitesvara as 'The thousand hands and eyes of compassionate action'.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 10:26
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    You said, "not wishing to go back and change things". This is what the movie Arrival is about, becoming reconciled to things as they are.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 13:17

Your question is a very appropriate one. The methodology you use to try to answer it is seriously flawed.

The question falls into the general category of: "how we can know what is in a contingent universe?" And your question accepts that the circumstances for a spirit life are -- contingent -- there are multiple possibilities.

Note, however, that you pose that there are only two possibilities, and offer reasoning for one of them based on this false dichotomy. There are instead almost infinite possible natures to a spirit realm.

Early Greek and Medieval western thought sometimes used the method you propose -- "what is intellectually satisfying to our reasoning minds", to try to figure out the world.

But most rationalist thinking by the medieval era and later, looked to deductive reasoning, rather than rationally guided intuitions -- as our intuitions are so often shown invalid when exploring our world. Note in particular, the principle of parsimony -- that the world should be fundamentally simple -- has been shown to be absolutely false when applied to our material world. Scientists all need to focus on only a narrow field within a larger discipline, before they can even understand enough to then advance science themselves. Nobody can comprehend the esoteric details of all of even one general field of science, such as chemistry, or even crystallography within chemistry. Our world is not parsimonious. Our DESIRE for it to be simple is why we humans are always adopting universalized worldviews (dogmatic religion, or other ideologies) despite very limited evidence for their global validity.

Additionally of concern for the intuitionalist aspect of your intuitive rationalism, we humans have been shown to be very bad at judging the validity of supporting vs contrary evidences when we are operating intuitively -- basically we engage in motivated thinking to engage in confirmation bias.
See Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow to see how system 2 generally rationalizes the intuitions of system 1. https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374533555

Even worse for the rationalist part of your intuitive rationalist approach, western philosophy has shown that rationalism is basically useless for contingent questions. Kant led off this attack on rationalism with his Critique of Pure Reason, and the fate of rationalism has suffered many further setbacks, like when we discovered that Euclidian Geometry did not apply to our world, that reason cannot close (Godel incompleteness theorem), and that both math and logic are infinitely pluralist https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/think/article/abs/guide-to-logical-pluralism-for-nonlogicians/EDFDFA1C9EB65DB71848DABD6B12D877.

In contrast to rationalist intuitions, eastern philosophy relies upon direct knowledge of the spiritual. This is also the case for western mysticism. Not everyone can achieve this direct access to spiritual reality, so per this method, we often have to rely upon the reports of those who can. When those reports vary and conflict, such as between the visons of Mohammed, and the inspirations of Gautama Siddhartha -- the character or the mystic, and the value to the life of humans of what they discovered, are generally cited as the metric for credibility (I.E. by their fruits you shall know them).

An alternate approach is to accept that all of these reports have grains of truth, but that the intuitions and desires of the mystics themselves for a global worldview that matches what they wished were so, may have colored their visions. If one accepts that the spiritual universe is complex, and mysticism is itself a fallible process, then it is possible that some aspect of reincarnation, and of Christian heaven, could both be true.

  • how is my "method" "extremely flawed"? How have I offered any false dichotomy? All I said it was simpler and more satisfying than several alternatives. That's not a "false dichotomy"
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 2:09
  • Nowhere even do I deny we can have direct access to anything. Strange and overly rhetorical. I, like many, am suspicious of people that start helpful answers with "you are clearly mistaken somewhere"
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 2:11
  • either e.g. an after-life involves a new existence in heaven or hell, or not. i said i found this inflationary. that is no way a false dichotomy. this is a philosophy site, not a mysticism site. perhaps you could look for one? it's attitudes like this that makes me sad to believe in an afterlife
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 2:18
  • sorry id i seem confrontational at all. I do find that annoying though
    – user62727
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 4:16
  • @who_cares My answer spelled out how intuitive rationalism is a seriously flawed approach to determining what exists in our world. If you have questions or clarification requests on those points, please suggest them. The rationale that either karma or heaven exist is a false dichotomy. No matter how many intuitions you have about parsimony or rationalism, critiques of heaven will not make karma more likely, because it is not the only option to heaven.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 4:57

If you want to say that any after-life won't involve any agency (which I think is inflationary, against most authorities), free or otherwise, then maybe it doesn't matters what you call anything and how it fits into any religious system. Choose a means to it, at best.

The reasons for believing it occurs (or does not occur) should be sufficient to think clearly about it.