Soul and Death
What are we? What is our essence? What is our self?
The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics has already answered these questions to us. We are the center of observation. We are not part of the world, we don’t come out of the world, we create the world by our observation. We don’t depend on the physical world; the physical world depends on us. Without us as observers, the physical world would not be real.
We are located where past and future meet, where the wave function collapses, where possibilities become reality.
The past is the reality that cannot be changed, the future are the possibilities that have not become real yet. We are the present. The present is part of our essence. This is why consciousness cannot be imagined without time. This is why we have knowledge of time without the need of any physical senses. It is part of us.
We are what turns the possibilities of the wave function into reality. We are what creates past out of future.
But when we look back into the physical past, we notice that we have a beginning, that there was a moment, we call birth, when our existence in the physical world started.
So fearful we look into the future, when our physical existence will end, the moment of death. Therefore the question that worries us most is: Will it all end with death? Is there a way of existence beyond death? It seems far more important to us than the equally difficult question: Was there a way of existence before birth?
It is hard to investigate such questions, sine there are so strong emotions involved - the ultimate existential fear. But let’s try to look at the facts without emotions, without false hopes and self-delusions.
What is death? Death is the coincidence of physical circumstances that make it impossible to maintain our existence in the physical world. It is the destruction of the physical body, which is the center of our observation of the physical world. The destruction of the physical body makes further observation of the physical world impossible for us. But does this include the end of our self, the end of the observer?
Physics is actually not able to define the concept of the observer, as it is introduced by the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. This means the physical world is not able to explain, where the observer comes from and what it is. On the other hand we have seen that it is the observer that explains the physical reality. So the physical world somehow depends on the observer. But does this mean that the physical world is really incapable of having any influence on the observer?
We know that we can have a strong influence on the observer by destroying the physical senses of the body. Nevertheless the observer persists, even if we destroy his ears and eyes and any other perceptive organ of the body. But we can also have a strong influence of the ability to think by using drugs or destroying particular parts of the brain. So there seems to be some kind of influence from the physical world on the observer.
But all these examples were superficial. The process of thinking is a physical process of the body, while perception itself is different from this process. Can we completely destroy the perceptive capability of the observer by physical means? How far does the influence of the physical world on the observer actually go?
Let’s look at the most extreme situations that we can imagine, and we will see that there is some very strange mechanism in nature.
Whenever we are exposed to some really extreme negative qualia, like extreme pain, shock or horror; something happens. We become unconscious. We become suddenly disconnected from the perception of the physical world. The observer gets unplugged from the physical world in order to spare him an extremely negative experience. There is some kind of safety mechanism that protects our consciousness, when things turn really bad.
How can we explain this mechanism?
It is an illusion to think that there may be some scientific explanation for this mechanism, because consciousness cannot be fully explained by science, for the simple reason that the observer is not explained by quantum mechanics. So it is impossible to explain, why observation suddenly stops. We simply have to accept the fact that the observer is protected against really unpleasant perceptions.
For the survival in the physical world such an inbuilt safety mechanism doesn’t actually make much sense. In a situation of extreme pain, it would be helpful to be fully awake and alert to be able to do something against the cause of the pain, instead of being unconscious and helpless. So why does such a safety mechanism exist, if it is not helpful? Obviously it is more important to protect the consciousness against the experience of pain than ensuring the survival of the body in the physical world. The convenience of the consciousness is given a mysterious priority over the survival of the body. There is an inbuilt safety mechanism that protects the observer from extremely unpleasant experiences. Can we therefore conclude that the survival of the physical body is not vital for the observer himself?
But where does the observer go, when he is not connected with the physical world anymore?
The answer to this question is not that difficult as it appears. In fact we all know the answer to this question quite well from our own experience. Because the observer disconnects himself from the physical world in regular intervals of more or less 18 hours. It is what happens when we sleep. Every night our consciousness disconnects from the physical world and is not present in the body. And nevertheless the consciousness returns every morning unharmed back into the physical body. We experience it every night that our consciousness is quite well able to exist without being connected with a physical body, although we don’t remember what happens with it in this state, since our physical memory is part of the physical body.
Sleep itself is a strange phenomenon. It has no biological explanation. Nevertheless most animals need to sleep. The purpose of sleep is not regeneration or the need to recover energy. In this case we would just have to eat more in order to have enough energy available to stay awake for 24 hours a day. However a human who is deprived of sleep will become more and more psychotic and finally die after about 11 days without sleep, as some Nazi experiments during World War II proved. So obviously sleep is vital for the consciousness, although there has not been found any evident physiological necessity for sleep. Sleep is even dangerous for the organism, since the lack of alertness exposes it to predators and turns it into an easy victim. This contradiction cannot be explained. The mysterious reason for the need to sleep can obviously not be found in the physical world. It must have to do something with the nature of consciousness itself. There is a need for the consciousness to withdraw from the physical world in regular intervals. It cannot stay in the physical world for an extended period of time.
Considering all these observations we can conclude that consciousness can indeed exist without a permanent connection to the physical world. We don’t know where the consciousness is and what it does, while it is not present in the physical body, but it is there somewhere, because it is able to return to the body after it has been disconnected from it.
But what happens, if there is no functioning body anymore, where it can return to, which is the situation that we call “death”? Since the consciousness can exist in a disconnected state from the body, and seems to be protected by inbuilt safety mechanism against any harm that is done to the body, it is reasonable to assume that consciousness does not cease to exist along with the body, which it is temporarily connected with. We don’t know where it is after death or what it does, but given the analogy to what happens during sleep, it cannot be much different from what it does, every night. Sleep and death both mean the same – the disconnection of consciousness from the physical world. In one case it has the possibility to return to the same physical body, in the other case it has not. This is the only difference between both states.
So death does not mean the end of our consciousness, just as sleep does not mean it. There is no reason to fear death more than we fear sleep each night. Neither death nor sleep is a diminished state of reality. The opposite is true. Reality is created by consciousness, not by the physical world. Consciousness is real and the physical world is its product. So when our consciousness is connected with the physical world it is actually not awake, it is in a dream that it is permanently creating. Since during death and sleep consciousness is not held captive by the physical world, which it has created itself, these states come closer to the state of being really awake. When we think that we are awake, we are actually dreaming and living in a self-created world with a limited grade of reality, while sleep and death are the exits out of this dream.
But whatever happens, when we are dead or asleep is unknown to us during our dream in the physical world.
The Meaning of Life
Considering that life in the physical world is not ultimately real, shouldn’t we been eager to leave this world as soon as possible, since there is no obvious sense in the physical existence?
This might be a wrong conclusion. There is absolutely no reason to assume that existence independent from the physical world is in any way more pleasant or worthwhile. Fact is that we return every morning back into the physical world. And there must be a reason for it. If there was a reason to prefer existence disconnected from the physical world to our current existence here, then it would not make sense for our consciousness to return back into this world again and again. It is unlikely that the physical world is some kind of malevolent prison for our consciousness, since there is some kind of safety-mechanism that withdraws our consciousness from the physical world when things get too ugly here. It is obviously taken care of our well-being while our consciousness is present in the physical world. So it is plausible to assume that there are benevolent reasons for our presence in the physical world. Being disconnected from the physical world may involve a higher grade of awareness, but this reality seems either to be far worse (boring, miserable, depressing or whatever) than our existence in the physical world or there are other unknown reasons that require our presence in the physical world. Our consciousness would not return into the physical world every morning, if it would not be worthwhile.
So even if we cannot say, what the meaning of our life in the physical world may be, we can be quite sure that there are good reasons for it to be just like it is. It would be a bad idea to aspire escaping from the physical world.
Therefore all efforts of Eastern religions to leave the world and enter Nirvana by meditation or other techniques are a wrong approach and work against the actual sense of life whatever it may be. We should not try to overcome our physical existence, but welcome it. Rejecting life and the physical world occurs out of ignorance.