The link between brain activity and qualia is unexplained. But most people think the former causes the latter.

What if its the other way, that our mind creates the external universe? This does not necessarily mean that all other people are without a mind. They also could have their own consciousness, but when they pass through this reality, we all create a 'Graphical Use Interface' which constructs a mental model. Our brain is part of this model, so when we die there is a possibility that our model of the world has died, but we have not.

Is there a way to eliminate this possibility?

(because this thought is unsettling; that I have to live through possible eternity)

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    Seems there need not be such unsettling worry since if your theory is true and this possibility is un-eliminable then you must be already living in such cycles from endless previous lives which you now seem not aware of or not feeling unsettling at all before conceiving this question... Oct 1, 2022 at 4:33
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    Anything is possible with the proper ad hoc explanation. The question is, what reason do you have to think it is the case?
    – armand
    Oct 1, 2022 at 5:01
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    No evidence that brain activity is responsible for consciousness? Are you serious? Oct 1, 2022 at 5:24
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    There is no evidence suggesting that brain activity is the cause of subjective experience, because subjective experience is - by definition- unverifiable.
    – Sophile
    Oct 1, 2022 at 5:37
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    "Indeed, as Socrates says, the entire life of philosophers is a meditation on death" Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.xxx. Oct 1, 2022 at 9:07

3 Answers 3


Yes. You can eliminate that possibility.

First of all, what you are aware of as being "you" is the experience of being you. This is clearly separate from what you experience as external to yourself, because you aren't aware of creating things that you perceive as external to yourself. Could this generation of things be coming from some part of "yourself" that you are unaware of? Sure, in fact, let's assume that this is the case. We have at least two parts of you: the experiencer and the generator.

So you're asking about whether it is possible that this part of "you", the generator, will shut down, but the part of you that is the experiencer will keep on going? This doesn't make much sense. It seems far more likely that the generator (which may also create other experiencers like me for you to interact with) will keep going. After all, the evidence suggests that it was already here before you became aware of your experience.

But let's say it does happen, the experiencer continues and the generator shuts down. Well, now the experiencer has nothing to experience. Time is generated, so there's no time, space is generated, so there's no space. The experiencer won't even be able to think thoughts because there will be no experience of time to think them in. So there's no sense in which the experiencer will continue forever, because there's no longer a forever to continue into.

You could argue that there's some sort of external time that isn't being generated by the generator, but now you've broken the central premise that our minds generate external reality.

  • This is the most clear refutation that I have come across. Now we just need to distribute it to everyone. A whole lot of nonsense would stop and we could focus on important things!
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 1, 2022 at 12:41
  • Why couldn't the experiencer attach to a new generator? Perhaps the same kind of generator, perhaps a completely different type. If the chain of memory is unbroken, it seems logical to say that the experiencer has survived death. Oct 2, 2022 at 5:44
  • @DavidGudeman Results that indicate this would be helpful. Long ago I read the book, "Children's Past Lives" and found it convincing, but since then, I am not aware of anything more added. After 30 some billions born, I would expect more evidence. Do you also?
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 2, 2022 at 13:22
  • @ScottRowe, I was responding to the a priori argument, not an empirical argument. I don't believe in reincarnation, but the possibility can't be ruled out a priori as this answer seems to be trying to do. Oct 2, 2022 at 15:47
  • @DavidGudeman I would say that that would be a question about a different model than the one presented--in the OP, the source of everything is "you".
    – philosodad
    Oct 2, 2022 at 16:30

We first need to clear the widespread confusion between consciousness and mind.

It is the fact that the word "consciousness" is terminally ambiguous which led some philosophers to come up with the notion of subjective experience and qualia. We will follow this welcome innovation here.

We can define the mind as a sort of subjective representation of the world. Our mind is essentially qualia we take to be things in the so-called real world. Thus, we should distinguish the qualia from what qualia represent. We can see qualia as information, so that the mind has an information content. This information can concern anything, from memories of past events, to current percepts, thoughts, sensations, intuitions etc.

The most plausible and therefore reasonable assumption is that this information is somehow codified and stored by the brain, presumably through neuronal connections.

The crucial consequence of this is that the whole information content of our mind is stored in the brain, which also means that this information is quickly and irremediably destroyed when the person dies.

What might not disappear upon death is subjectivity itself, although this is totally speculative. Further, even if this is true, without the brain, there is nothing left to experience for subjectivity, at least nothing remotely similar to experiencing what it is to be a living human being.

It might also be that subjectivity is somewhat like space, ready to experience the information content of any living brain. This, however, is also totally speculative. Further, the information content associated with brains would still disappear with them, so that we would be unable to remember past subjective experiences.

These last two suggestions are possibilities in the sense that current science is not in a position to disprove them, but that does not prove that they are true. We just don't know. Further, even if they are true, they wouldn't amount to anything comparable to any of the various religious ideas about life after death.

The idea is that we can easily distinguish two things: the quality of our subjective experience and the information content of what we experience. The information content is really what specifies who we are at every instant of and throughout our lives. This is what most plausibly totally disappear upon death. The rest, subjective experience, or "consciousness" properly understood, would remain, but as a sort of blank screen. Not much to look forward to.

  • Ok, but plausible should be tempered with not wildly unlikely to the vanishing point. If my car gets crushed, we don't speculate on whether its carness continues on in some inaccessible way. It is gone. People die.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 1, 2022 at 12:38
  • @ScottRowe I'm not sure what is exactly your objection. See the little bit I added to my answer. Oct 2, 2022 at 9:18
  • The best answer I have heard to: "What happens when we die" is, "The people who love you miss you." That's about all we are ever going to be able to say for certain, so further inquiry will not yield any results.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 2, 2022 at 13:17
  • @ScottRowe "we are ever going to be able to say for certain" All I can say for certain is that I can't see how your comments could be relevant to my answer. Oct 2, 2022 at 15:05

Assuming mind-body connection as holding true (mind and body are connected, regardless if "mind" is an epiphenomenon of matter or a separate thing in itself) and assuming matter-energy to be conserved, we can infer mind, in some sense similar to matter-energy, cannot be lost as well.

But this does not necessarily mean that a mind is conserved in its initial configuration, similarly to how matter-energy is conserved but not in the same form and configuration.

So what happens to mind after death? Noone knows! No matter how one argues for something or its opposite, etc.., a degree of speculation cannot be avoided anyway. But if above reasoning can be true, mind is not lost, although it is possible mind does not retain its original configuration either (eg identity). So in this sense, "I" that we know during life is not necessarily there after death, although "mind" as a substance may be conserved and not lost after death (in the same manner as matter-energy).

A somewhat similar perspective is phrased in the Buddhist Tibetan Book of the Dead in that it describes how mind changes and disintegrates into other states (along with similar changes in the body) and how one may choose which path to follow, but this "one" (according to this answer) is not necessarily the same or comparable as the one's "I" during life.

  • I think we all actually do know, which is why no one wants to die.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 1, 2022 at 13:06
  • @ScottRowe sorry I did not understand your comment, nor the reason for the downvote.
    – Nikos M.
    Oct 1, 2022 at 13:25
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    I don't understand the downvote either. I think I have downvoted twice ever. When you say "No one knows", I think we all really do know, we just wish it was otherwise. Even animals don't want to die, although they don't seem to waste a lot of time worrying about it. What more evidence do we need? The fact that nothing contrary has been found after millennia of work on probably the most important issue facing us should show something. No, Mr Michelson, there is no luminiferous ether.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 1, 2022 at 13:37
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    I don't know what it feels like to be badly burned, but I think that my fear of it is well-founded and gets me around in the world just fine. We don't all need to personally experience everything to know enough about it, particularly if it is bad, or fatal. Good enough is good enough.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 1, 2022 at 13:50
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    @ScottRowe this analogy won''t do, exactly because what is at stake in this case, is the nature of mind and what happens at death from a first-person perspective. And the only way to know that is to experience that first hand. In the burning example one can have the other person relate the experience and the third person simulate it along with other things, while in death no such thing has happened up to now.
    – Nikos M.
    Oct 1, 2022 at 13:55

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