Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

The topic of "life after death" raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about, we should all be interested in hearing.

Adam Frank thinks that science has nothing to say about it. He advocates being "firmly agnostic" on the question. (His coblogger Alva Noë resolutely disagrees.) I have an enormous respect for Adam; he's a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it's with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. But here he couldn't be more wrong.

Adam claims that there "simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information" regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese. Sure, we can take spectra of light reflecting from the Moon, and even send astronauts up there and bring samples back for analysis. But that's only scratching the surface, as it were. What if the Moon is almost all green cheese, but is covered with a layer of dust a few meters thick? Can you really say that you know this isn't true? Until you have actually examined every single cubic centimeter of the Moon's interior, you don't really have experimentally verifiable information, do you? So maybe agnosticism on the green-cheese issue is warranted. (Come up with all the information we actually do have about the Moon; I promise you I can fit it into the green-cheese hypothesis.)

Obviously this is completely crazy. Our conviction that green cheese makes up a negligible fraction of the Moon's interior comes not from direct observation, but from the gross incompatibility of that idea with other things we think we know. Given what we do understand about rocks and planets and dairy products and the Solar System, it's absurd to imagine that the Moon is made of green cheese. We know better.

We also know better for life after death, although people are much more reluctant to admit it. Admittedly, "direct" evidence one way or the other is hard to come by -- all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it's okay to take account of indirect evidence -- namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works.

Read the rest on Scientific American.

Tags: death, immortality, physics, soul

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And so goes the entire argument for atheism as well. It is not the existence of merely some subset of our experiences which stands in evidence against a belief in a god, but it is the totality of all our experiences which go against this belief. Were there to be even a single compelling experience to warrant such a belief, like actually hearing the voice of god, or witnessing something which couldn't possibly be explained by science, or being shown a vision of the future, or some such ludicrous idea, we would have to recontextualize our entire system of beliefs with regards to this new and powerful piece of information. Religious beliefs (or lack thereof) work a lot like political philosophy in this way - it takes a lifetime of investigation to amass enough data to confirm a belief, regardless of whether you were justified in having it at an early age. I was an atheist by at least age 12, and probably earlier, but I methodically test that belief against any and all possible new sources of information (and always end up becoming still more resolved). I believe I have come to this belief in an unshakeable manner, that is, until I start hearing voices, and while there are far more things that I don't know than what I do, this seems to be as secure of a belief as any. So I will agree with you, that if we were to take an agnostic approach to the whole immortal soul issue, we would be in the same position of having to be skeptical of any and all of our beliefs, and we would be trapped in complete skepticism about everything, which would make any belief just as likely as any other, and from that all manner of absurdities emerge.

What's the point of the soul unless it does something, and look how silly it looks when we say it does: excellent. I loved the appeal to physics nerds.

Russel's Teapot, the invisible pink unicorn and the flying spaghetti monster provide ellexcelent parodies when it come to his point about Occam's razor.

"There are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends."

 

...and there are large numbers of people that believe in virgin births, a 6000 year old Earth, humans turning into pillars of salt. There is simply not a wit of evidence for a "soul" that survives the body.

I like Victor Stenger's position that absence of evidence sometimes qualifies as evidence of absence.

If one enters a room and one does not see any evidence of rats, then not much can be concluded from this, as rats could easily hide evidence of their presence. However if one is looking for an elephant then finding no evidence is pretty good indication that there is no elephant. Their turds must be big enuf so as to be almost impossible to miss even if one did somehow manage to hide or disguise the elephant itself.

Evidence for past lives or immortal souls is sketchy, at best, so as basicly to qualify as absence of evidence. There is no reason to think so, but a soul could simply be like a rat such that their existence simply has no apearent evidence indicateing their existence.

Aside from all that, I have long belived that consciousness is an emergent property that previously did not exist in any lower order patern. As such while it us subject to the laws that govern paterns of a lower order, it can exhibit behavior previously nonexistent in these lower order paterns

Matter at the level of chemistry is subject to the rules of physics but some chemical reactions occur that would not be apparent viewed from a perspective of subatomic physics. From some chemical paterns life has emerged. None of these biological patern violate any chemical laws, but living things behave in ways that chemistry can not tell us too much about.

Out of biology, intelligence emerged. From this we have phychology, sociology, economics, and so forth. One would not expect to learn much about these diciplins by biology alone, even tho the entity possessing intelligence is adhering to all laws of biology.

This has been a rather lengthy bit concluding rather little realy There is little to no evidence indicating that souls have emerged from intelligence, but Idk that there necessarily would be. I suppose it is entirely possible that imorral souls have emerged and we simply aren't perceiving the evidence, similarly to how rats can exist in a room with us and we be unaware of them.

Don't gete wrong here. By no means do I believe ""souls" exist in any meaningful way. I am saying merely that Idk that there is sufficient reason to be sure that they donot exist.
The  claim of the existence immortal souls is an extraordinary claim and as Bertrand Russel said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity. There is as much evidence of invisible Martians as there is of immortal souls; both are extraordinary claims.
People that can't handle there not being an afterlife are going to believe stupid shit no matter how rational an argument you give them.  In my experience it's been pointless to even try.
A good book on this subject is "Spook" by Mary Roach. She chases all the claims for evidence of the "after life" down as close to their original sources as one can. Spoiler Alert: Most of the trails evaporate into thin air.

Spoiler Alert: Most of the trails evaporate into thin air.

 

You don't say!

Yeah! No Shit! Really!!

   Seriously it was an entertaining read.

 

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