Comforting the Grieving Without Religion

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I wrote this following an encounter with a woman I saw crying outside of a store. She looked to be in her sixties and was unaccompanied. I worried something had gone wrong, she was lost, injured, etc.

Only upon inquiring, I found out her daughter had died in her sleep some days prior. I offered a hug and it was accepted. But when she asked me what I believe about life after death, I hesitated. Perhaps sensing my beliefs did not align with hers, she hurriedly dropped it and thanked me for caring enough to comfort her.

I did not hesitate because I do not believe in the possibility of life after death, but because I did not know if it would be in good taste to share that information with a grieving mother who has just lost her daughter. I also have what seem to be fairly unusual ideas on the topic being that I am a naturalist, a materialist, a determinist, and do not belong to any religion.

However, my feeling of powerlessness in that moment was painful. I had comfort to offer, it was just a very big topic and a strange set of ideas to spring on somebody who is in tears, and who you really just mean to comfort in a non-philosophical, human to human kind of way. As I lost my sister to a drunk driver earlier this year, we were after all in much the same emotional space.

However I went straight home and got to work elucidating my ideas concerning the possibility of an afterlife within a non-supernatural framework in the hope that it might be just what someone out there needs if they are grieving, and searching for hope, but unwilling to find it in the abandonment of reason. Without further delay:

Whenever we lose someone dear to us, almost immediately the vultures begin circling, wanting this or that from us in exchange for comfort. Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes minister in graveyards, promising togetherness beyond the veil of death to those who convert and live the teachings of their sect. Mormons baptize deceased persons post-mortem, supposedly ensuring their eternal bliss in the telestial kingdom.

Catholics and Protestants promise that it’s all part of God’s plan, which necessarily means that so was the death of your loved one. Cold comfort for someone in mourning, to be told that Yahweh, god of Abraham, who savors the smell of burnt animal offerings and regards homosexuals and menstruating women as unclean, intended all along for the tragedy you are mourning.

Worse still if you were not raised in any of these traditions. What comfort is there for you, if you have already turned away from the kind offered by popular superstitions? Atheism has no answer for grief. But then, does the rejection of the currently popular religions and supernaturalism in general necessarily mean there is no afterlife, or supreme being?

An afterlife would require it to be possible that humans who are long deceased can be materially re-created. Ironically this is only possible if spirits do not exist; if we are simply a particular configuration of matter arranged by evolution such that it walks, talks, thinks and feels.

That is the current consensus of neuroscience; that we are not immortal, immaterial spirits. We are our brains. Everything which defines who we are, from our emotions and memories to personality and habits is neurochemical rather than magical.

This would mean that, should there someday exist a technological means of assembling atoms into any configuration we desire, it ought to be possible to re-create a person. Providing of course that whoever is in possession of this technology is also in possession of the complete information detailing the position, charge, spin, direction and velocity of every particle which once constituted the person they wish to bring back.

Technology is nothing but the re-arrangement of matter and energy into forms which perform a function that satisfies some human desire. There are no limits to what is technologically possible except for the laws of physics. Simple market forces guarantee that if a technology is desirable enough, to a large enough segment of the population, and it is not in violation of the laws of physics, it will someday exist.

What is more desirable than having our departed loved ones returned to us? The motive is clear and strong in this case, the demand for such a technology would be ravenous and people would pay almost any price for it.

The means, as described earlier, are within the limits of the conventional model of physics. Nothing about it is impossible, it simply requires a great deal of improvement in the field of generalized fabrication at the atomic scale. The current state of the art would be something like a home 3D printer, or nanolithography machines used to manufacture microchips and other devices with microscopic details.

The question then becomes, where will we get the information necessary to feed into these hypothetical machines? If a person has died, the matter which comprised them has been scattered to the winds, surely? Then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men should not be able to put Humpty back together again. However, there already exists a discipline which concerns itself with re-creating past states of matter based on present states. It’s called forensics.

A future, more advanced form of forensics which can examine the present state of matter and obtain from it the complete information of the configuration and behaviors of those atoms at any arbitrarily distant point in the past sounds impossible, but it’s not.

If you know the current position, spin, charge, direction and velocity of every particle in a given volume (let’s say one cubic foot) then you can predict their future interactions. As certainly as falling dominos, because the behaviors of atoms are exhaustively documented and understood, being perfectly consistent at all times, anywhere in the universe.

It requires a great deal of computing power, which increases exponentially as you increase the volume you wish to apply predictive computing to. But the steady increase in computing power now seems to be as certain as death or taxes. Expecting it to continue to increase into the future is about the safest possible bet.

Because it is possible in principle to predict the interactions of every particle in a given volume as far into the future as one cares to devote processing power to, it is also possible to do the reverse. That is, to extrapolate the interactions of those particles back into the past.

Once again, based on where each particle is and what it is doing at the moment, you can reconstruct where it was a moment earlier and what it was doing (and the moment before that, and the one before that, etc.) as far back as you care to devote processing power to.

This is of monumental importance. It means configurations of matter which once existed but have long since been destroyed are possible to reconstruct by examining the aftermath, and potentially to reconstruct in the present day. Relics, buildings, plants, animals and even people. Providing you accept that we are not immaterial spirits but fully material beings, that is.

There are many reasons we might expect our descendants to do this. Not the least of which is empathy for the dead, and for the ones we lost in an era before it was possible to reconstitute them. But what is the point of recovering someone from the grave if they will only grow old and die a second time?

Barring the possibility of biological immortality through advanced medicine, which may well be a reality by the time the technology discussed earlier exists, recreating someone in the flesh may not be the only option available…or even the best available option, by that time.

If someone is able to recover a perfect, high fidelity map of your atomic constitution using the methods so far described, they might just leave it as information; If the workings of the human brain are well enough understood in the future, that information could be used to emulate you. That is, to run a simulation down to the level of individual atoms, including the ongoing process of consciousness in your brain, as it processes thoughts and sensory information.

Unless there actually is some ineffable, supernatural element to human consciousness, this technique would result in your authentic resurrection in digital form. You would be every bit as aware and feel just as alive as you do now, but you would exist within a simulated environment with simulated sensory stimuli so that you would feel as if you’re breathing, so that you could see your surroundings, hear, touch, taste and so on.

This might be the preferred method of recreation since our control over events within a simulated environment is greater and more complete than our control over reality. We would have more choices. For example, we could arrange it so that simulated persons do not age. We could give them any form they desire. They could inhabit a younger body, any ailments or physical disabilities which were untreatable in life could be easily corrected, etc.

However, this raises another interesting matter. Ancestral recreation out of empathy for the dead or historical curiosity aren’t the only possible motivations someone might have to simulate living beings. They might wish to do so for scientific purposes. It might simply come about as an incidental consequence of simulating whole universes, for example.

Simulationism is a hot topic right now. It is the reasoning that because physicists today construct crude simulations of galaxies and other astronomical objects of interest, we might expect that future technology along the same lines will permit much higher fidelity, more accurate simulations of our universe for the simple, self-explanatory purpose of wanting to understand it better.

However if our universe were simulated accurately enough, we should expect that life would occur in the simulation of our universe for the same reasons it did in the real universe we presently inhabit. This life would have never known any other existence and, should some offshoot of it become intelligent, it would not suspect that it was living in anything other than authentic reality.

What’s more, we could expect intelligent life which arose within the simulated universe to eventually invent many of the same things we did, for the same pragmatic reasons. Including computers, and one day, simulations of their own universe.

This has led computer scientists, physicists and astronomers to reason that unless humans are the first and only intelligent life ever to exist in this universe, there have probably already been many other species before us who simulated universes for the purpose of physics research, among other reasons.

This has far reaching implications. If you start with one real universe and then wind up with multiple intelligent species at different points in time, each running multiple simulated universes, and within each of those simulations there arise intelligent species who create their own simulated universes, the number of simulated universes gets out of control pretty quick.

You have to conclude that even if there are multiple real universes (or even infinite) there are many times more simulated universes than there are real ones. Because each real universe can contain many sim universes, within which there can be many further simulations being run, and so on.

This means statistically speaking, the odds that we’re currently living in an actual universe are vanishingly small compared to the odds that we’re living in one of the vastly more numerous simulated universes. This is the reasoning which has compelled the likes of Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking to conclude that we’re more likely in a “fake” universe right now than a real one.

This is not cause for despair, but celebration. It would make the process of recovering long deceased persons drastically easier. Where forensically recovering the information defining a specific person’s atomic constitution, in a real universe, would require a complete accounting of the position, spin, charge, direction and velocity of every atom comprising the Earth (and possibly the entire solar system) doing the same thing in a simulated universe is trivially easy by comparison.

Whoever is operating the simulation could just scrub back in the timeline, the way you would with a video, to find the point in history they wish to retrieve somebody from. They would not bother to simulate a universe without recording the results. The information necessary to reconstitute long deceased persons would be in those records.

This is potentially a much more precise and perfect method of recreation, too. Where many people feel uneasy about the question of whether a reconstituted copy of them created in the future would really be the same person they are now, those same people generally agree that it would indeed be their same authentic self if the universe is simulated. It would no longer be a painstaking forensic reconstruction, 3D printed layer of particles by layer by layer, it would start as information and end as information, no different from copying and pasting a file in your PC.

So there’s not one but two potential ways for long deceased persons to be restored to life, one much easier than the other but dependent on simulationism turning out to be true. That covers the means. What about the motive? What would motivate whoever operates such a simulation to give every person ever to die the opportunity to live again? Possibly forever?

For one thing, it would cost very little in the way of computational resources. A universe is only resource hungry to simulate because it is so vast, compared to the tiny number of intelligent beings in it. It must be complete and convincing down to a very small scale so the intelligent beings who will arise within it can never prove it isn’t real, otherwise the experiment would be compromised.

However, if you’re a kind hearted simulation operator/future physicist, you might set aside a much smaller, less convincing but nevertheless beautiful and comfortable environment in which every intelligent being ever to die in your simulated universe might enjoy a second chance at life. We are absolutely unfathomably tiny compared to the universe. In terms of the matter we’re made of, compared to the inert matter of the rest of the universe, we’re a drop in the bucket.

Every intelligent creature ever to exist, past present and future, could comfortably live in a space that would be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the total space in the universe, and a similarly miniscule percentage of the matter it is comprised of.

The computational resources necessary to support this ideal paradise environment would be insignificant compared to the resources that were necessary to simulate a realistic natural universe at full fidelity. Doing so would not, in any way, create any sort of burden on the simulation operator or operators. It would not prevent or in any way inhibit the use of their computational substrate, whatever form it might take, for further simulations and information gathering.

It would take a little bit of extra work, that’s all. But if they are bothering to save all of the novel information that results from running the simulation…doesn’t that include us? Aren’t we part of those results? Would they not wish to keep us around in perpetuity, being that we lived through all of it firsthand?

Or maybe they’re just nice guys. Who knows. This is really the biggest question mark involved. They could also be sadistic and bring us back only to torture us eternally for their own enjoyment, but that seems like implausible behavior for hyperintelligent beings curious enough about nature to have simulated one or more universes.

Game theory also furnishes no shortage of results indicating that, while antisocial groups may win the occasional battle, they always lose the war, so to speak. That is to say that when antisocial and social groups compete, while the antisocial behavior may secure them some short term benefits, eventually the social groups with benevolent behaviors join forces to eliminate the antisocial groups for their collective benefit.

This gives us some reason to expect that whatever form intelligent life might take in the future, be it human descendants, artificial intelligence or whatever else, over long enough timescales any badly behaved, malevolent societies will be outcompeted and eliminated by well behaved, benevolent societies.

So it is that whoever is still around by that distant time, having developed technologically far enough to simulate universes or to forensically reconstruct long deceased persons, they are much more likely to be well intentioned than not. We can therefore anticipate that they would empathize with our plight and retrieve from oblivion everyone who has ever died.

I want to clarify at this point that I have not been describing the teachings of any religion, that I know of. These ideas come from fields related to computing, artificial intelligence, automation, physics, astronomy and so forth. They are the opinions of some of humanity’s best and brightest minds in those fields.

Because it is not associated with any religion, you may have noticed there is no carrot and stick. No bribe to entice you to convert, or threat to frighten you into holding tightly to these ideas. Those are not typically qualities of true information.

They are psychological tactics which appeal to your emotions, promising you relief from anguish if you will adopt strange and seemingly arbitrary beliefs with no basis in science, and attempt to spread these beliefs to others in the same way they were spread to you.

I propose only that it is physically possible to restore deceased persons to life using foreseeable future technologies. I cannot say for sure whether you will only be restored if you live according to some particular set of rules. In your shoes I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who claimed to know what those rules are, as it would be all too easy for them to substitute their own ideas for how people ought to behave, how society ought to be run.

Maybe everybody will be restored. Maybe only some. I don’t know. I only know that from a naturalistic, materialist, deterministic, scientific standpoint there are absolutely at least two possible ways to one day bring people back from the dead, regardless of how long they have been deceased.

I also have claimed that whoever is in a position to do that will more likely be well intentioned than malevolent. But that reassures us only that we most likely won’t be resurrected only for the purpose of torture or sadistic experimentation.

We therefore have a greater than zero chance of waking up someplace else after we die, without need of anything supernatural. Souls, spirits, angels, devils, and so on. Although all of this hypothetical future technology might seem very supernatural indeed to goat herding middle eastern primitives, but I digress

Sufficed to say that there is sober reason to expect, or at least not be surprised by, the existence of some sort of afterlife in which we will appear following our demise, without any sense of the tremendous amount of time which has passed since then. It would seem instantaneous. You close your eyes on your deathbed, and open them someplace else entirely. Not the end after all, but the beginning of a new adventure.

All of this relies heavily on the expectation that technology will improve in coming centuries, making possible things which today sound like far fetched science fiction. However we already live in a world which would sound impossible to a preindustrial peasant.

Each of us carries a dense, sophisticated supercomputer the size of a deck of cards, with constant access to all human knowledge and the ability to communicate instantly with anybody else on Earth. Robots clean our floors, driverless electric cabs can be summoned by app in some cities, virtual reality has gone from science fiction to reality and there’s a football field sized space station orbiting overhead as you read this.

The future is not immaterial or abstract. It’s real, and it really does arrive eventually. Often much slower than expected, but it inevitably does get here. While futurists who try to predict the appearance or every day use cases of future technologies are always comically wrong, they’re actually almost always right about the fundamental capabilities of those technologies. I.e. what will become possible to do with technology in the future, because they based their predictions in most cases on foreseeable applications of recently discovered physical principles, and constrained their predictions according to what the laws of physics permit.

In this way, many of the technologies predicted in science fiction of antiquity can now be found on store shelves. It is hard to conceive of the drastic technological improvements I have so far described because we only witness so much advancement in our short lifespans, but technological progress doesn’t just “stop”. Clever people in every age just continue chugging away at finding solutions to difficult problems, making headway little by little.

The strongest indication of where this progress will lead is #1. What is physically possible, and #2. What people want. By now it should be plain as day that it will be possible to achieve a permanent victory over death, but that we’re probably not the first to have this idea and somebody else may well have beaten us to it. It should also not require any explanation that there exists a powerful, timeless desire to defeat death that will motivate the development of the technologies discussed herein.

If I have not lost you with what (to people without the background in the relevant fields necessary to realize all of this is technically possible) must sound like the ravings of a lunatic, there’s one more idea I would like to put forward.

I wrote earlier about why it is reasonable to anticipate that whoever is in possession of the technological means to simulate universes or reconstitute long deceased persons will be well intentioned. In fact, I have what I feel are good reasons to suppose that isn’t all we can infer about who will most likely control that technology.

I also wrote earlier, in passing, about the possibility that it will be intelligent machines rather than human descendants who develop these capabilities. That is another hot topic under discussion by academics in relevant fields right now.

One related concept is the singularity: The reasoning that, should we ever manage to manually engineer an authentically conscious machine, it would be “expandable” in a way that human brains are not. We could make it more intelligent simply by physically adding more computing power.

Singularity proponents argue that a sufficiently hyper-intelligent machine would be able to replicate the work of the human engineers who created it, but improve upon their thinking, making an even more sophisticated and capable machine consciousness.

Which should, by the same token, be able to create an even more improved successor. Perhaps rather than a series of replacements, this process would instead take place as iterative self-improvement. Either way the outcome would be a rapid expansion in machine intelligence and capabilities. An “intelligence explosion” which is what the term “singularity” is referring to in this context.

Intelligence on this scale could invent things humans can’t imagine. It could arrive at conclusions in an instant which would take humans years or decades to work out. It could tell us how to build technologies which we would fundamentally lack the ability to understand. It would seem to us very much like magic.

However there are many voices from the field of artificial intelligence and neuroscience alike protesting that it will never be possible to manually engineer a genuinely conscious machine. That consciousness is not a function of computing power but the unique architecture of our brains, as products of evolution.

Nearly every aspect of human psychology boils down to evolutionary sculpting. It’s why we have such a powerful fear of death. The species before us which didn’t develop that instinct went extinct quickly. It’s why we have such a powerful drive to reproduce. Species which didn’t were quickly outnumbered, outcompeted for resources, and replaced.

There’s a great deal about neurological architecture that seems wasteful and convoluted. The result of two billion years of trial and error. But who are we to second guess nature? It must be the right answer. It’s what survived successfully for all that time, when countless other species floundered and went extinct, like failed biological experiments.

There is reason to suspect, or fear, that we are only conscious in the way that we defined consciousness because of how our brains originated and the natural forces which shaped them. If that’s true, we might reasonably conclude that the only way for authentic machine consciousness to exist is for it to evolve, as we did.

Evolutionary design is already widely employed in engineering. Simple simulations of natural selection are used to arrive at, for example, the most efficient possible shape for solar cells. Or the most efficient design for a legged robot tasked with crossing difficult terrain.

Nothing in principle prevents using this same evolutionary approach to building an artificial intelligence. Assuming it happens deliberately. As ever, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and all roads lead to Rome.

Every plan currently being floated to expand humanity into space, to access space resources like metallic ores from asteroids and so on, assumes the eventual development of robots which can manufacture copies of themselves from raw natural resources (asteroid ores for example).

The simple reason for this is that launching stuff out of Earth’s gravity well is impressively, prohibitively expensive. If you can send one robot to the Moon, where upon landing it begins mining for metals it then uses to build copies of itself, pretty soon you have quite a large robotic workforce on the Lunar surface, and it only cost you one launch.

Those robots can then build the infrastructure necessary for human habitation, long before any astronauts actually return there. In this way, with a single launch, you could establish a colony of any arbitrarily large size, in advance of human colonists who will arrive to find their living space fully complete and prepared for occupation.

The extreme utility of self-replicating robots compelled pioneers in the field like John Von Neumann to spend their lives working out exactly how such machines would work, in at least the mathematical sense. Diagrams of conceptual Von Neumann machines are not difficult to find online, and represent a theoretical framework for their eventual creation.

Von Neumann machines are of great importance, even if they seem only like a novelty, or curiosity. So did the first home computers, back when they were regarded as a niche item for hobbyists. So did the first steam engine, built by Heron of Alexandria…as a toy to amuse the sitting emperor.

Many historically critical developments were like this. Seemingly trivial but in fact representing a pivotal point. The crossing of a threshold, which would unlock possibilities we could only have dreamt of before.

Von Neumann machines belong in that category. Because they are essentially the technological re-creation of the earliest beginnings of life, which were nothing more than molecules put together in such a way as to self-replicate. A Von Neumann machine is the same thing, but cruder, larger, and made of inorganic metallic elements instead of organic chemistry.

Keep that in mind as you consider the following reasoning, step by step:

1. In biological evolution, simple chemical self-replicators eventually gave rise to intelligent organisms such as ourselves, by way of natural selection. We know this to be true with quite a lot of certainty. If you don’t agree, disregard everything after this and go on with your life.

2. Next, this argument assumes that humans will one day develop self-replicating machines. This is a plausible assumption given present technological trends in robotics and industrial automation. It likely occurs on any planet where intelligent life evolves, inventing all the same technologies we did, for the same reasons (Providing they don’t destroy themselves)

3. Since self-replicating machines will reproduce the conditions that started biological evolution (simple replicators), we have reason to believe the same thing will happen — resulting in the evolution of machine intelligence (Even if we do not make them intelligent to begin with).

4. These machine intelligences will then assume dominion over their environment (which at their technological level will be anything reachable by spaceflight) just as humans, the previously evolved intelligent beings, asserted dominion over the earth. This is a reasonable expectation based on extrapolation of forces we have observed to produce this outcome already (human population centers on every landmass, connected by the internet).

5. Penultimately, this argument supposes that the evolved machine intelligence will begin converting all accessible matter in the universe into computational substrate, as that is the equivalent of habitable living space for intelligent machines and represents an expansion of it’s capabilities…which would include simulating universes, if only to better understand physics.

6. Finally, once our entire universe is converted into a single vast thinking machine, this universe may establish some form of communication with other universes (the few which arrived at the same outcome due to having similar laws to our own) to form a network of neuron analogs, forming an unfathomably vast neural network.

Even though individual universes eventually run out of energy (heat death), this does not kill the larger organism described here for the same reason that individual cells in your brain can die and be replaced by new ones over time without interrupting your continuous experience of consciousness. In this way, the being described here can persist eternally.

If you subtract labels like “robot”, “biological”, “technological” and so on from all of this, what’s described here is just a tendency for the matter supplied by the big bang to undergo a process driven by the energy it also supplied, gradually self-organizing into intelligence (like humans most recently, though we’re not the be all, end all. Bigger and better things are on the way).

Note that essentially the same outcome occurs no matter what. For example, if self replicating machines or strong AI are impossible, then instead the matter of the universe is eventually all converted into space colonies with biological creatures like us inside, closely networked. That’s still basically just a very large neural network, but with biological components. “Self replicating intelligent matter” in some form, be it biology, machines or something we haven’t seen yet. Many paths, but to the same destination.

Humans die out? No problem, plenty of other intelligent life has already arisen before and will arise after us, like how it’s no big deal if any given sperm fails to reach the egg since there’s plenty more where that came from. And so on and so forth. It will seem highly speculative until you exhaustively try to find a way for it not to turn out as described. Then you will discover once again that “all roads lead to Rome”.

Note also that nothing described here is supernatural. Just matter and energy obeying the laws of physics. This concept does not contradict any of what science has so far revealed, but instead relies upon and extrapolates from it. It is in fact descended from the same lines of evidence and reasoning which commonly lead people to atheism, just thought through further than usual.

I don’t consider this knowledge necessary. It’s entirely possible to live a fulfilled life without it. It is also not necessary to convince anybody else of it, or to share it at all, as truth has no need of belief. It is only for you, right now, because I noticed you were suffering.

I personally appreciate knowing about all this because before I worked it out, I often felt anxious about the future, worried that perhaps it was all up to humanity to spread life/intelligence (of some kind, be it biology or machinery) into space.

I worried that perhaps we’d fail, destroying ourselves before we could accomplish that, extinguishing the only precious instance of life and awareness from the universe for all time. Now I realize that while we are indeed here to propagate intelligent life, it’s not the end of the world if we fail. The outcome will be much the same whether or not we contribute to it.

It astonishes me to no end that most people, exposed to this idea, would find it less believable than a supernatural creator. Angels and demons battling with flaming swords in an invisible spiritual plane, a heaven for those who believe correctly and a hell for those who fail to be convinced, etc.

I suspect this is partly because it comes from a regular guy who is not wearing an elaborately decorated robe and ceremonial hat, standing before a podium in an architecturally impressive temple of some sort. Presentation goes a long way towards building credibility with many people, as would a dozen or so centuries of cultural integration and the resulting social clout which such institutions enjoy.

But also, simpler explanations are more satisfying. Nothing is simpler than a supernatural explanation, being that it contains no effort at actual explanation or substantiation. Supernatural is shorthand for “it works that way because I say it does, I don’t have to prove shit.” It is the category we put claims into when we wish for them to be believed without having to furnish any good reason to suppose they are true.

But truth is stranger than fiction. Stranger by far. We have discovered no unicorns, but we have discovered quasars. We have discovered no minotaurs, but we have discovered black holes, white holes and magnetars. Truth is often bizarre and unsatisfying. Not cozy and provincial, but vast, complicated and weird.

Truth offers no reward for belief, because it has no need of belief. Authentic truth stands on the merits of the supporting reasoning and evidence. There exists no shortage of evidence that the laws of physics are such that they have gradually shaped matter into thinking, feeling creatures able to have these kinds of thoughts and write them down, we need only suppose that this process does not stop with us. Likewise, truth also threatens no punishment for failing to be convinced of it. There is no practical consequence for disbelief in quarks, bosons or gluons, for example.

Truth just is what it is. Sometimes it’s worse than we feared. But other times, it turns out to be better than we hoped. So it is that despite our cynicism about death, our stoic willingness to accept the worst possibility…there may in fact be something after it.

Not because the universe was created to have us in it, as a stage upon which an epic story of salvation and damnation might unfold. Nothing so dramatic! Simply a consequence of life and intelligence doing what it naturally does. Trying to survive, trying to improve it’s own conditions, capabilities, and understanding of how the universe works.

Push for long enough in that direction, and remarkable things start to happen. Impossibilities become possibilities, going from the realm of fantasy to commonplace and mundane. Many famous Biblical miracles are now performed in hospitals every day. Restoring mobility to the lame, sight to the blind…and one day, restoring life to the dearly departed. Though by that time there will be no hospitals, nor any need of them.

How I wish I could promise you all of this was certain. How desperately human psychology craves certainty, willing to make grand leaps of faith to get at it, and to relieve our powerful mortal anxiety. But you have to accept that there is no certainty to be had here. Anybody who offers you certainty with one hand most likely has his other hand in your pocket, in one sense or another.

A lot of assumptions have been made here. Naturalism. (Soft) determinism. Substance Monism/Materialism, that consciousness is a material phenomenon, and so on. But they are all the same working assumptions made by science, because they yield reliably accurate results and so far seem to reflect closely how our reality actually works.

It is not divinely revealed information, and does not pretend to be. That’s already a saturated market. But it is realistic reason for hope that death is not the end. Pinned not on an unseen world of spirits and forces beyond scientific understanding, but a sensible extrapolation of the processes and trends so far observed between the big bang and the present day, insofar as we have been able to discover them.

The ambition to live forever is extremely, enduringly popular and has been throughout the ages. It will doubtless continue to be, even as our technological capabilities slowly catch up with our ambitions. There is no foreseeable barrier to attaining this goal. It violates no physical laws and requires only more advanced versions of technologies and disciplines already in existence today. We can therefore count on future generations to continue doggedly pursuing this dream until it is realized in one form or another.

What I can offer you then, if not certainty, is a sane and sober reason for hope that we will see our departed loved ones again, at some other time and in some other place. Requiring not that we retreat into a supernatural fantasy world or otherwise lie to ourselves, only that we are confident that humanity will continue to endure, to advance and improve, and that intelligent life in general will not give up the struggle.

Such that some day, far into the future, it will arrive at the logical end point of that struggle. Having reached every star, solved every problem, discovered every hidden secret of physics and the natural world. Having improved itself to the practical apex of what is possible in all capacities, then turning its attention to settling an old score…with death itself.

The End. Follow me for more like this! And let me know if anything written here was a help to you, or anyone you know.

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