Everyone has questions about what we call the “afterlife” and people are literally dying to find out. But what is the afterlife? How can we find out while we’re alive? This is one of the main topics that philosophy, specifically metaphysics, tries to answer. There’s tons of theories, beliefs and assumptions about what happens to us when we die, and I’ll be going over those here.
Hopefully you’ve come here after reading Part 1 of this 2-part article (if not, fix that), and now you’re interested to find what actually happens on “the other side,” if there even is one. My goal here is not to sway your opinion or convince you of any one particular theory, but just to give you some food for thought (as philosophy always does).
The afterlife is what we call the place our soul goes when our physical body dies. In this case, death would be defined as the passing of consciousness onto the next life, reality, or plane of existence. There are tons of theories in religion and philosophy for how this happens and how this works, but not a single one of them have even come close to being proven.
This is mainly due to the simple fact that consciousness itself has yet to even be proven to exist. Most of us simply assume that it does exist and that we all have it by virtue of our subjective experiences, but there has yet to be any concrete evidence of any sort of immaterial substance like the soul.
That being said, there’s definitely arguments to be made about what might be true and what might not, some logical and some spiritual, which will, hopefully, be worth taking a look at.
People have thought about what happens to the mind upon death for as long as humans have been rational. Many presume consciousness to live on in the afterlife, which has numerous interpretations among different religions and denominations of those religions. Almost all religious interpretations of the afterlife assume consciousness to be immortal and eternal.
Religious belief systems usually have the belief of at least one of five concepts of the afterlife: heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory, and reincarnation. Some systems also believe in a concept of a “liberated” afterlife (nirvana, moksha, etc.)
- Heaven: A realm of eternal joy, happiness, and God’s grace
- Hell: A realm of suffering, torture, and eternal damnation
- Limbo: A realm of neither joy nor suffering, but an eternal existence between the two extremes
- Purgatory: A realm between heaven, hell and/or reincarnated lives where one awaits their fate
- Reincarnation: An event where one gets reborn into a new life on Earth after death
- Liberation: A state of complete awareness and unity with all of existence
Many of the afterlife theories heavily rely on the practices of a prescribed set of ethics within different belief systems. In Christianity, for example, those who have followed the interpreted moral standards set for them in the Bible will go to heaven, while those who haven’t will go to hell.
Instead of boring you with long paragraphs of information, here’s a table of all of the main religions and a list of their beliefs of the various forms of an afterlife to get a better understanding:
Because of the very common questions of death and the afterlife shared by pretty much everyone who has ever lived in human history, many turn to cases of NDEs for answers. Millions of people worldwide have been documented as having NDEs with very interesting stories to tell about them.
NDE stories differ drastically from person to person, but some scientists and medical professionals who studied and researched these alleged experiences have noticed patterns among them.
Common elements among many of the stories include:
- A sense of peace and harmony from all known life phenomena
- A sense of knowledge and rationale for one’s own existence and/or all of existence
- A feeling of unity with everything in existence
- An out-of-body experience or perspective of events from outside the body
- Passing through a big, bright light and/or tunnel of some kind.
- An immense feeling of being loved and accepted
- A review of one’s life and/or various other lives (usually prior lives)
- Reuniting with deceased friends and relatives
- A compelling force or decision by oneself or another presence(s) to return back to life, often met with one’s reluctance
These common elements seem to appear to people across all walks of life, regardless of a person’s age, gender, ethnicity, culture, nationality, or religious affiliation.
It’s worth noting, however, that not all patients who get brought back to life from a life-threatening accident actually have NDEs. In fact, most of them (about 60%) do not. Because of this, as well as various other reasons, many scientists and researches in the medical fields are rather skeptical of their legitimacy, often passing them off as hallucinations.
Cardiac arrest specialist and NDE researcher Dr. Sam Parnia claims this fact to potentially be the result of the drugs and sedatives the patients receive which may be erasing their memories upon regaining consciousness. He is currently trying to see if he can identify the supposedly forgotten NDEs by patients like these.
Those who have had a NDE tend to see drastic changes to their character. These include strong(er) compassion for others, more willingness to help others in various situations, strong(er) appreciation for life, and lacking any fear of death.
The mystery of the afterlife has baffled philosophers for millennia. Even without religious dogma, philosophers have always tried to explain what happens to the conscious mind upon death of the body.
In the modern day, long after recorded theories of those like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Descartes, testimonies of NDEs, as well as recent discoveries in physics, have given way to many modern philosophical theories about the afterlife.
The mind is believed by many to be the resulting function of what we call “the soul” or “consciousness.” If the body produces consciousness, then consciousness will die along with the body. But if the body only receives consciousness, like how the device you’re using to read this article receives WiFi signals, then consciousness will live on after the body’s death, possibly forever.
In line with many of the accounts of NDEs, and by no means appealing to any religious ideology, it’s possible that we are all part of, or connected in some way to, a collective, conscious/unconscious entity existing beyond the boundaries of space and time, and when we die, our souls return to that level of existence.
By its very nature, a timeless entity cannot actually perish, as that would require chronology of it first being alive and then being dead, but chronology of events requires the existence of time. If this is the case, and consciousness can exist beyond the parameters of time, then it is immortal.
World renowned doctor and scientist Dr. Robert Lanza supports this notion with his famous theory of Biocentrism, which basically suggest that death is nothing more than a construct we’ve created in our minds because we, as human beings, tend to identify with our physical bodies, which are prone to dying. I talk much more about this in my article “What is Biocentrism?”
To this day, what actually exists in the reality outside of the material world, if there even is one, has remained a great mystery. Perhaps it is beyond our human understanding. Or perhaps it is intended for us not to know about it, as that would take away the effect of experiencing reality as you are in this life, similarly to how we don’t take the events happening to a character in a video game seriously because we know it is fictional. Many NDE patients would argue these both to be the case.
So what is the afterlife? Where does our soul(s) go when we die? The shortest and most accurate answer I have, unfortunately, is that we have no freaking clue. We don’t even know if consciousness is real or not.
The only people who may have a better idea of this than most are those who have had NDEs, and even that requires unverifiable, superstitious beliefs. Trying to figure out what happens to our mind(s) after death while we’re still alive in this physical world seems somewhat paradoxical when you think about it.
Do you think we actually rely on accounts of religion or NDEs to tell us what happens? Many people believe so, while others try to look more deeply into it while trying not to take too much of a leap of faith.
We’ll probably never know while we’re here in this life. It sounds really sad and unfortunate, especially if you’ve lost a loved one. But because of this, I’ve rationalized the idea that we should try to live the most fulfilling life we can, regardless of what happens “on the other side.” Here’s my argument:
- If consciousness moves on to the next life, then it doesn’t really matter what you do in this life because you’ll be given another chance at some point, so you might as well live life to the fullest.
- If consciousness ceases upon death, then this is the one and only life you get, so you better make the best out of it.
But I digress. What do you think about the concept of death and the afterlife? Is there anything you think I didn’t cover or would like me to elaborate on? Let me know in the comments down below. And if you missed Part 1, go back at read that as well, as it directly connects to this topic.
Until next time,