• Phil Tanny
    BigThink just posted a great video on their site called "Is There Life After Death?" You can watch the video here thanks to YouTube, and/or read the transcript on BigThink.

    The speakers in the video are Michelle Thaller, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Rob Bell, Bill Nye, and Michio Kaku.


    The one thing I felt was missing from this very interesting video was a discussion of the subject of identity.

    The question "will I experience life after death?" should first be addressed with another question. Who is "I"? The following example may illustrate the need to address this question.

    Sit on the beach and watch the waves roll in. Pick out a wave on the horizon and follow it as it moves towards shore. Eventually the wave crashes on the beach and is gone. The wave had a birth, a life, and now you've witnessed it's death.

    The wave is gone, but the water it was made of is still there. The energy that powered the wave is still there too, for Einstein taught us that energy can neither be created or destroyed.

    Who Am I?

    So, are you the wave? The water? The energy? Who are you? How we answer this question will have direct relevance to the question of whether there is life after death.

    If we define ourselves as the wave, that which has a beginning and an end, let's look more closely at the wave.


    The wave is very clearly real, but it has no existence of it's own independent of the ocean (which is still there). The wave is just a pattern created by energy (still there) moving through water. This pattern is real, but it doesn't meet our definition of existence as the pattern has no weight or mass. And once we separate the pattern from the water, the pattern itself is invisible.

    So while it's true the pattern of this particular wave is real, it's also true that the pattern does not cease to exist, as it never actually existed in the first place.

    Ocean, Energy Or Wave?

    If we define "me" as the ocean, the breaking of a particular wave does not affect our existence.

    If we define "me" as the energy that pushed the wave towards shore, the breaking of the wave does not affect our existence.

    If we define "me" as the wave, we don't cease to exist, because we never did exist. That which never had weight or mass can not achieve a state of less weight and mass.

    The Woods

    Maybe you're not a beach person, so let's try this.

    I do a great deal of hiking in the North Florida woods. There are downed trees everywhere all throughout the forest. When the ground gets saturated in a big storm, and the wind pushes against the tree canopy, over they often go, crashing to the ground.


    It can take the trees a decade or more to rot away and vanish. That does eventually happen of course, and has been happening for thousands of years. And when a downed tree is finally totally consumed and disappears never to be seen again, an interesting thing happens.

    The woods are still there. All the atoms which made up the now dead tree are still there. They are absorbed by the soil, and become new trees. A particular tree is gone, but "treeness" remains.

    If I define myself as a particular tree, I will die, vanish, and be forgotten.

    If I define myself as the pattern of "treeness" or as the woods, I will live a very long time.

    Getting In Touch With Reality

    Some readers may now be snorting that this is just a bunch of dreamy fancy talk which has nothing to do with being realistic. Ok, no problem, but um, here's what true realism looks like.

    1) Nobody has the slightest clue what death is.

    2) And so, we can define ourselves any way we want.

    3) The rational act is to define our death in whatever manner helps us best live.
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