Beyond Belief TV show on CBS

I am absolutely love the show Beyond Belief on CBS. The last episode I watched was on life after death experiences... the tunnel of light and what it actually means. It could mean your brain is shutting down and you are in a dream like state. Or it could mean there is life after death. I have always been agnostic when it comes to religion. I am open to the possibility of life after death, but I find it extremely difficult to firmly believe something without supporting evidence. So I do not have the faith required for any religion, nor do I have the firm belief of an atheist. I do understand the existentialist element to religion. That we fear death because of the gaping nothingness of it all, so we comfort ourselves with stories, useful fictions. I also believe we project our own human characteristics on what we consider to be divine. That does not mean I don't think there might be some sort of existence after death, only that I don't kid myself into believing it because I want to. One thing that kind of makes me think is what sort of existence life after death would be like. If we have a soul, or some sort of energy imprint, or life force... what would that be like without a brain? A great deal of what we are is part of our brain; our senses, perceptions, hormones, thinking.... Anyway, it brings out the philosopher in me. (Theorizing from fundamental reality)

Pros- many people have experienced the phenomena and many of them attribute a mystical explanation to it and who am I to say that was not the case? Life is full of those moment when you have that sensation of wonder, awe and connectivity of it all. Plus believing in life after death means for allowing for the possibility of ghosts and there are even more stories and even some research that is compelling there.

Cons- well, I know first hand how the brain can muck up our perceptions. Migraine auras make us see things that are not there, smell things that are not there, hear things that are not there and warp our visual perceptions so that things look like they are distorted, moving or too far away. Hard to really believe anything my brain tells me, even if it were a near death experience. And there is the very fact our brain needs to take in all that sense data and impose an interpretation onto it, and sometimes because of that very nature it gets it wrong (one example being optical illusions). Plus there is the whole sleep paralysis thing where I swear I am awake, lucid and aware but there are some freaky dream elements that I know are not real later, but sure seem like it at the time. I know we are capable of having different brain wave states that alter our perception and a near death experience seems like one of them.

It can go many ways really...
1) That warm fuzzy feeling. Faith is an odd phenomena and they did go into how the brain of someone with faith is different than the atheist. Maybe that is because the atheists, like my on the fence mind-set, gets caught up in the questions, the details, the hows, the whats and such. The person with faith however has an advantage over the rest of us, even if it is a useful fiction. If you think of someone really suffering, like us or in other equally horrific ways, the person with faith can weave meaning out of such an existence that I simply am incapable of doing. I don't think there is a reason for my suffering and I don't think my life has any meaning. But if I did, then wouldn't that make the suffering just a little more bearable? That there was a reason for it even if I could not understand it? That enduring it meant something. That my life was not just a waste of potential. That after I died, I would go to a wonderful place without pain? Not an end to pain... an entirely different existence without pain. There is some intrinsic comfort that comes with faith in an afterlife and a god. I wish I could have it and maybe not feel that this pain clouded life is utterly wasted.  Faith is not something that can be willed, however, and as I said I just can't believe something so strongly without research, debate and contemplation.  You have to envy someone that can believe so strongly that anything that happens to them was meant to happen to them and there was some cosmic design to their existence.

2) Nothingness- Alright, the idea of there being nothing after death, including of course the lack of pain, is not without appeal. Same end result- no pain.  Frankly, I don't much think it matters what people believe will happen to them when they die since they still have to get through the nasty bits of their lives without cosmic intervention.  The person of faith may interpret reality differently, but there are an infinite amount of ways to react to bad situations, suffering and pain... as varied as there are people experiencing them and religion is but one story imposed on life.  But there is still that lack of meaning atheism adheres to. Without the story then a life with chronic pain is just that; a boat load of pain. Without ascribing some sort of meaning to our existence then there is no meaning to be found to make all that suffering worthwhile. Rather depressing really and I suppose the fear of the finality and nothingness of death is what stops people from jumping off bridges. An atheist might say that because there is not something beyond this life that we should make the most out of this life, but then for some of us, it is not much of a life now is it? Sometimes it is the possibility that there is more to this life that I cling to. Sometimes I crave an end to the pain, no matter how that is accomplished.  It is not the lack of life after death that keeps me from jumping on the atheism train of thought, it is the firm belief that everything is physical, tangible and not the least bit mystical.  That leaves out a great deal of possibilties and I don't like ontologies that reduce so much of what is possible. Plus I really cannot believe that reality is as solid as we think, that time exists, that everything is tangible and seperate from everything else and that how we percieve the world is how it is. I think there is more appearence to what we see than reality... we are all stuck in Plato's cave looking at shadows and never venturing out into the sunlight. And if reality is not that way then you cannot exclude such phenomena as ghosts and life after death... although, yeah, it still makes the god idea open to debate.  Anyway, I can't just say someone else is deluded, that their story is wrong, when I don't think we really have an understanding of how our reality works fundamentally.

3) Dualism- Suggesting that there is life after death presumes there is something that continues, no matter what you call that something. Back in the day, as a young philosophy student I rather liked the idea of dualism. Not just because I could allow for the possibility of life after death and other mysterious phenomena (although I like having an ontology that allows for the possibility), but because it meant I was more than my body. The more crippled my body became the more comfort I had that I was still me, that my illness could not touch my core identity, my consciousness and my mind. Of course, chronic migraines do effect my mind a great deal which I learned as the pain got worse. Pain diminishes everything and that includes our sense of self, our thinking and our very personality. And when I really thought about dualism and how my non-physical self could interact with my physical self the more I leaned towards Monism. Still, it is a nice thought though... that we could shed our physical form like a jacket and continue to exist.  Now this is asside from the faith vs no faith, beyond religion, since just because you believe there is a non-physical essence and a physical one does not mean you ascribe any religious meaning to the non-physical... but you certainly can.

4) Monism- Maybe there is no grand plan to give us meaning to our lives, a fate or destiny or grand design, but believing that we are part of a whole gives us back some of that comfort. How do the mind/soul/spirit interact with our physical bodies? Well, because they are both energy, just in different states. Quantum physics is rapidly showing itself to be more valid that classical physics, something I have always believed. I believed it because fundamental reality ought to influence our level of reality. Because although things seem to be relative to the observer, that is because there is an observer and that observer cannot be taken out of the equation. All that quantum entanglement that is not seen and observed is still there. Like all of reality is connected in some fashion and all that is fundamental is energy in different states connected to energy in other states, changing and self-organizing. So we are part of the puzzle fundamentally and our existence is not disconnected from the rest of the universe, and while there may not be a divine plan our existence does affect our reality, and others, and our environment. Possibly when we die we do not cease to exist but rather become a different part of the puzzle. Although I wish if this were true we could just will the pain away... that would be nice. Or like some believe we could just project what we want out of the universe and it would give it to us.  Again a monism does not need to be a religious monism... but it can, as in god is everything.

Anyway it is the great unknown and we will all figure that one out on our own. My point is how we understand the world, how we interpret it and what sort of story we impose on it affects how we live our lives and to some extent how we react to suffering. I think we all need there to be some sort of meaning to our existence, any meaning really, in order to endure suffering for long periods of time. Losing that makes suffering all that much harder to survive. Problem with debilitating pain is that in some sense we lose that fear of death as the great unkown because we crave the finality of the pain. I think clinging to any meaning of this life is sometimes all that keeps us going.  I suppose in my case I just like to think about it all, think about the possibilties and part of me likes some possibilities because, yeah, it makes getting through this life a little easier to bear.  I bet each of us has a different sort of meaning to this life that helps us deal with suffering.
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