Is there life after death?
First of all let's be clear what is meant by death. In the normal stages of death the heart stops beating and respiration ceases. Without a supply of oxygen the bodies various organs stop functioning and start to die. The brain, also starved of oxygen begins to shut down. Death occurs when the brain ceases to register activity. All straight forward stuff.
So the difference between being alive and being dead is activity in the brain. We are our brain. What is the very essence of us, what makes me me and you you, is our brain. So what is it?
The human brain is a collection of cells that for the typical adult weighs about 3 lbs. It contains 100 billion neurons. The neurons form connections to each other called synapses. These synapses produce chemicals called neurotransmitters. There are 1,000,000,000,000,000 synapses in the brain. A neuron is activated and the synapses connects to another neuron via a neurotransmitter through its synapses. Every thought you have, every movement you take, every memory you possess, is nothing more than a particular sequence of synapses. This is what we are, a collection of neurons sparking off a chain reaction to other neurons. When the brain is no longer activating neurons, we cease to exist.
The rest of our body serves no other purpose than to keep the brain alive and to reproduce.
So if that's all we are, then to answer the question 'is there life after death', the answer would have to be no. The real question then is, is that all we are?
Those of a religious nature would argue that we are far more than that, they would argue that we have a soul. A soul is, for me, hard to imagine. How do you describe it? It is not something that we can detect, it is a spiritual thing without any physical substance, and it is this that supposedly lives on after our mortal bodies have died. So where is the soul while we are alive? I assume it must reside in the brain as that is where we reside. I can only assume again that when the brain dies the soul is released.That being the case the soul is able to survive without the need of a body, it is obviously independent of the body. So why does it need a body in the first place? Perhaps it needs a body to develop and is unable to leave it until the body dies. See Our final destiny, immortals?
According to popular belief only human beings possess a soul, animals apparently do not. So what is the difference between humans and animals? As far as I can tell it's just a question of intelligence, as measured by us. After all it's not that long ago that we were animals, we weren't created human, we just evolved along different lines than the others. That being the case there is nothing special about us that should warrant us having a soul and animals not, after all, some people are born with severe brain malfunctions that on an intelligence scale would rate them less than some animals. So intelligence can not be the deciding factor, unless you believe that you need to score above a certain IQ level in order to be granted a soul. If we tinker around with genetics and produce a chimp with the IQ of a schoolboy, would that give it a soul? Would the chimp go to heaven?
So what exactly could it be that determines whether or not a life form merits a soul or not, as the case may be? I think we can rule out intelligence. What else sets us apart from the animals? Some would say our appreciation of the arts, poetry, music, etc. I don't agree. I think that just comes with intelligence. What else is there? Absolutely nothing at all! We think we have a soul, we think we are 'superior' to the animals, we think there is some undefinable quality about us that sets as apart from the animals. Hogwash! We are just animals that got smart.
Assuming for the sake of argument that we do possess a soul, then the obvious question is where does it go when we die? I know what your thinking, it goes to heaven. So what and where is heaven? Obviously it isn't a 'real' place up in the sky somewhere, it is a spiritual place, it has to be if the soul can go there and we can't. What does it do when it gets there? is it the end of our journey, or the beginning? This is more to do with a belief in God. See What evidence is there for God?
What do I think?
Damned if I know to be honest. I would like to think we have a soul and somehow live on after our earthly demise, but its just a nice thought to hang onto. It would however give meaning to our lives. See Is there a reason for our existence?
What I find hard to accept is the belief that somehow the human race is special, more than just an animal. We are animals, we evolved out of the same primeval swamp as the rest of the animal kingdom. Getting smart is not in my view a passport to gaining a soul.
If you wanted to convince me that we do have a soul, you would need to explain what it is that qualifies us for a soul and not animals.
Ultimately though, being a matter of faith, and faith alone, you either believe it or you don't. See Are all religions false? There is not a single shred of proof that we possess a soul. One thing however is for certain, we are all going to die one day.
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