Do I believe in an afterlife?
The first thing I notice is that I’m having trouble with the phrase “believe in”. The phrase has the connotation of “believing that there is” in spite of a lack of conclusive evidence. I think it originated in the controversy over the existence of God, migrated from there to pertain to other spiritual issues, and now, in this age of epistemogical crisis, it relates to such otherwise empirical issues as climate change, as in “Do you believe in climate change?”
There is a level at which I welcome the epistemological crisis. It’s imperative that we challenge the certainty of materialist, mechanistic scientism. Unfortunate that it also seems to entail a decline into bubling ignorance. What would incline me to believe in something I can’t know is its aesthetic elegance. My preferred flavor of cognitive bias. I’ve always been drawn to Buddha’s image of reincarnation as the passing of a flame from one candle to the next.
When we ask about the afterlife, are we asking about, hoping for, the persistence of the personality. The personality is the aspect of ourselves that we can most readily conceptualize in our social relations. It’s our physical presenc. Memory has a physicality. Contact takes place in physical proximity. Yet we sense and know that there is something else going on, some exchange of energy that’s perceptible only at the fringes of our awareness.
There is an idea that’s starting to gain traction, well describd in Riccardo Manzotti’s “The Spread Mind”, that consciousness is not a mental faculty, but something that exists in the external world. We don’t generate consciousness in our minds, we are tuned to interact with it.
Our personality, or individual self, is the way that a particular configuration of matter expresses or filters consciousness. So maybe another question is whether anyone else in the world exists without us. We construct the other people in our interaction with them. What we think of as the other person is the shape they take in our experience. To get back to what I said earlier, there is always a sense that there’s something else going on. We can never fully explain what draws us to other people. We can make lists to try to explain it, but that will never provide a fully satisfying explanation.
So if we create people in our experience, they exist as long as we do. That’s why we say people live on in us. That’s why we can have the experience of someone being present, or speaking to us, even though they are no longer being channeled to our experience by means of a physical body.
This life is the afterlife. And after the afterlife is the afterlife.