Thursday, 31 March 2011

Is the truth "out there"?

Is there life after death? Does God Exist? Does life have a purpose? All these "big questions" are being continually asked to this day and I think we often assume that it is down to us to discover new answers to these questions as though answers to these questions have never been found by those who came before us.

But what if the truth is already "out there" and has been for quite some time? The more I read and research these topics and read the OLD books- literature from a hundred years ago or more, the more I realise that the same philosophical and scientific debates have been whirling around for much longer than most people realise. And conclusions to those debates have already been reached many, many times before.
We may think what we say , read or "discover" today - whether skeptical or believer- when researching these topics are new things, but they are not, they are merely a rehash of old.

I think it is comforting to know that the evidence both in favour and against the existence of an afterlife and god are already out there- the debates have already happened countless times, and the conclusions are there to be seen by anyone with a truly open mind. Even if you had been born in the early 1900's or the 1800's, even then- you had your mediums claming to contact the dead and your paranormal phenomena, your skeptics and your materialists, the fakes and the hoaxers. It was all there, just like it is today. The evidence for and against the afterlife has been around for a VERY long time.

Are skeptics always the honest guys?
One big assumption I made and I think a lot of other people probably make is to completely assume that the "skeptics" are the honest guys. They are the ones trying to uncover those faking the paranormal phenomena.
To be honest though, the truth is that closed minded skeptics are just as capable of going to great lengths to rig things, set things up and create elaborate conditions which make all things paranormal look ridiculous and false as you do the people who go to great lengths to fake paranormal phenomena.

With so many voices shouting very loudly that they have the truth, it can drown the truth out almost completely. If you want to find the truth, your task is to opperate with a truly open mind, to wade through the bias and deciet on BOTH sides of the argument and find the plain, hard facts. Then accept them.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Do ghosts really exist? The evidence.

Ghosts. Do they come from the land of the dead or the land of living?

So do ghosts exist? There have been stories of ghosts and hauntings going right back throughout history. There are countless ghost tales! But do they REALLY exist? Some people will immediately scoff at this question and say of course ghosts do not exist. But I feel it is best to examine the evidence with an open mind. There are certainly plenty of things which happen that people interpret to be paranormal, but don't always turn out to be paranormal. Instead, natural explanations can be found. Whatever explanations we come up with, it's clear that something's going on! I think a better question we can ask is "what are ghosts?". Are ghosts just a figment of our imagination? Are ghosts the spirits of dead people? Or are they something else entirely?

Why is this question important? Because it could help to provide an answer to the wider question of whether or not there is an afterlife.

What's the evidence? Evidence of ghosts comes in the form of numerous eyewitness accounts, photographic evidence and inexplicable experiences. Ghost stories have abounded for hundreds of years in cultures all across the world. The evidence would appear at first glance to be overwhelming. Can all this evidence be dismissed as hallucinations and camera tricks?

SKEPTICAL VIEW: Ghosts are all in the mind?

For those who do not believe in ghosts, there are a number of explanations as to why people may report seeing an apparition or experiencing paranormal phenomena:
  • Hallucinations are experiences which seem real, but happen entirely in the mind. They are a subjective phenomena and therefore do not really exist. These experiences are not restricted to people who might be classed as "insane" and can happen to ordinary people. Hallucinations are found to be more common during the times when people are just drifting off to sleep or waking up. This is when we can have a somewhat altered state of consciousness. And this happens to be the time when many people report seeing "ghosts" or other images.
  • Sensory confusion. People have a tendency to see patterns and shapes in things that are not really there. That's why you can play the game of looking at clouds in the sky and seeing certain shapes, which you may point out to a friend who can observe the same thing. This could be what happens in some "ghost sightings"- one person, or a bunch of people, see a pattern or form that isn't really there, it is just the mind playing tricks on them. A dim reflection or shadows and lighting cast in a certain way could be misidentified as something supernatural like a ghost. People who are under the influence of "suggestion" who THINK a place might be haunted can find their minds playing all sorts of tricks on them. Imagination can run wild, and every noise can be interpreted as something paranormal.
  • The grief stricken mind - It is common that when people lose a loved one they will be grief stricken and this grief can bring out all sorts of reactions. If a wife loses her husband who has shared the bed with her for 40 years, she might feel a "presence" for example in the bed, because that is what she usually feels. It is the mind playing tricks. People may have vivid dreams of lost loved ones, again there is nothing necessarily paranormal about this and can just be a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one.
Are Ghosts just hallucinations? 10 reasons why they are not

So we've heard the skeptical arguments. What about the case for ghosts being real phenomena? In his book entitled "You cannot die" Ian Currie wrote a section called "Are they (ghosts) just hallucinations?" which I think provides an excellent summary of the case in favour of ghosts NOT being hallucinations. I've summarised his main points here into 10 reasons why apparitions (ghosts) are not hallucinations.

  1. Normalcy of witnesses- seeing apparitions of the dead does not just happen to people like occultists and spiritualists. The vast majority of people who see apparitions are perfectly normal people.
  2. Good health of witnesses- Also, the people who witness apparitions usually report being in good health physically and emotionally. Many do not report anything unusual in their mental functioning (experiencing shock, stress or elation) at the time of the sighting. Most are in a perfectly ordinary state of mind.
  3. Suggestion and expectation- many people who witness apparitions find the experience was totally unexpected, and occured within familiar surroundings and "burst in" on them whilst they were going about their normal daily business.
  4. High number of reports- according to Currie, there are a very high number of people as a propotion of the general population who claim to have had an experience which convinced them that they were in contact with someone who was dead.
  5. Multiple witnesses - hallucinations are purely subjective. It is only the hallucinator who sees and hears them. But according to Currie, there have been many cases where apparitions have been witnessed by more than one individual at the same time, which means they cannot be a hallucination.
  6. Successive experiences - apparitions that haunt a certain location may be witnessed by numerous people over the course of many years. You might argue that if you tell someone a story of a haunting , you then place the suggestion in their minds. However, there are many cases where people have no prior knowledge that a location is haunted or what particular incidents tend to happen and have independently reported witnessing/experiencing the exact same ghostly phenomena.
  7. Objective phenomena - apparitions can also be accompanied with physical movement of objects, sounds, footsteps ect, all of which are objective phenomena and cannot therefore be a hallucination.
  8. Animal reactions to apparitions - animals would not react if apparitions of the dead were purely a hallucination that someone is having. But animals are often reported as reacting to apparitions with fear.
  9. Veridical apparitions- these are apparitions which convey information which is later verified as being correct. This information conveyed is information that the witness or witnesses could not possibly have known.
  10. Reciprocal apparitions - these are apparitions where a person who is alive undergoes an "out of body experience" and then visits someone that he or she knows. That person then witnesses the disembodied spirit of the living person. It has been reported that apparitions of the dead and apparitions of the living (brought about through 'out of body experiences') have no significant differences. They are virtually the same. Thus, reciprocal apparitions of living people cannot be hallucinations because there are two people in independent locations involved. This strongly suggests that apparitions of the dead cannot be hallucinations either.
A further objection- It's certainly possible that some apparaitions are hallucinations. However, one obvious objection that I would like to bring up is to ask why would someone hallucinate seeing the apparition of a dead person who they may not even know anyway? Hallucinations can take on any shape or form, so why would someone simply hallucinate the apparition of a dead person and then stop hallucinating? Why not hallucinate that there is a green eyed monster running around also?

Secondly, just because you hallucinate something does not mean that "something" cannot exist. You could hallucinate that a cat is sitting on your bed. It might mean that the cat you see on your bed does not exist, but it does not mean cats do not exist. Similarly, arguing that someone had a hallucination of an apparition means apparitions are false, does not prove this. You would need to argue that ghosts are ALWAYS hallucinations or tricks of the mind, and as we have seen there are objective phenomena which take place to refute this idea.

SKEPTICAL VIEW: Dealing with the objective phenomena

As we have seen, one strong objection to the idea that ghosts are just tricks of the mind is that if they were then the experience should be purely subjective. However, objective occurences are often witnessed alongside the haunting or apparition. So what are some of the skeptical explanations for this phenomena?
  • Fraud and fakers - The first and most obvious skeptic explanation for objective paranormal phenomena is that people are simply lying, motivated by the need for attention, fame, money and so on. There have been numerous cases of trickery amoung those who claim to have contacted the dead or captured evidence of the paranormal. Fakers may find ways to "simulate" a haunting, with noises ect. Those who claim they can contact the dead, people known as Mediums, may simply be decieving people by finding out knowledge before hand about a person or location and then impressing people with accurate details which they claim were given to them "from the spirit world". Also in this catagory would be cases in which people exaggerate certain occurances which in reality were far from fantastic.
  • Natural, mundane explanations- a variety of creepy sounds can occur in the average building as a result of things like temperature changes, the wind, mice in the walls, faulty plumbing ect. Poor insulation and air passages can create cold spots and strange sounds. Residents and people in the surrounding area could also be the source of strange sounds. Also in the darkness, when many ghost sightings are reported, it is easy to mistake mundane everyday objects for something like a ghost.
  • Dust on the lense?- So called "spirit photography" can be explained as double exposures, "orbs" can be explained as the light from the camera flash reflecting off bugs or dust particles in the air. The existance of modern image editing software has now made it easy for almost anyone to create realistic fake ghost photographs.
Objections: It is certainly wise not to jump to the "paranormal" conclusion and to check for natural explanations and signs of trickery first.

  1. What about cases where natural causes cannot be found?- Whilst some paranormal activity can be down to natural causes, there are cases where natural explanations cannot be found. Closed minded skeptics will not see this as a sign of the paranormal, but simply that we have yet to discover a non-paranomal cause for a particular occurence. Closed minded skeptics may simply ignore and dismiss paranormal evidence that they cannot explain away or falsely attribute natural causes.
  2. Many people want to rid their homes of ghosts. Far from being motivated by the prospect of money, there are many people who are willing to PAY people who claim they will be able to exorcise ghosts from their homes. They do not want fame or attention, they want the paranormal activity to stop.
  3. Hoaxes do not disprove the afterlife. You can fake just about anything. You can create any kind of elaborate hoax. You can fake being ill for the purposes of gaining attention or money, but that does not mean that illness does not exist. Similarly, just because there are people who have faked paranormal phenomena, does not mean that real paranormal phenomena does not exist. Of course you could use software these days to re-create every ghost photograph that was ever taken, but does this mean they are all fakes?
Communicating with fictitious (made up) Ghosts?

In the early 1970's, a group known as the Toronto Society for Psychical research created a fictitious ghost by the name of "Philip" to see if they would be able to "make contact" with this entirely made up entity.
They created a detailed history for "Philip" and the details of how this fictional charactar was supposed to of lived his life and died. This became known as "the Philip experiment".

The group would sit in a room and meditate together focussing on the fictional charactar, and see if they could make any kind of contact. For a whole year, this method failed to produce any results.

Then the group decided to try a spiritualist style seance to contact Philip. They sat around a table, dimmed lights and focussed on the fictional charactar. They then recieved "communication" in the form of a rap on the table. Then they started to ask the entity questions, one rap for yes, two for no. The entity identified itself as Philip.

Further paranormal phenomena resulted, with the table levitating, moving and sliding and even moving toward certain group members and trapping them in a corner of the room. "Philip" would also apparently be able to dim and restore the lights upon request. "He" was able to cause the group to feel a cold breeze blow over them at will. On some occasions , a fine "mist" was reported hovering over the table.
Many more of these experiments have been carried out where people will create fictional ghosts and contact them usually through rapping noises, with the ghost appearing to show signs of having its own "personality".

What are we to make of these experiments? Does this mean that ghosts do not exist?
  1. It proves that Ghosts do not exist. This theory does not explain how the paranormal OBJECTIVE phenomena occured. The experiment was not conducted to disprove the existence of ghosts, nor does it.
  2. Paranormal activity is somehow created by our unconscious minds. This explanation makes sense, because "Philip" never communicated anything which the subjects involved didn't already know. He was "limited" by their knowledge. The objective phenomena may of been caused by what is termed "psychokinesis"- which is found in some poltergiest cases. This is where the living person is said to be generating objective phenomena with their mind or "mind over matter".  
  3. They created a "thought-form". In other words, they actually used their collective energy to genuinely create a new entity. More info.
  4. They contacted a playful ghost. Perhaps a ghost really was present and just acted the part of Philip to make contact? Perhaps ALL the fake ghosts that have been contacted are just playful spirits? Is this really feasible?
Ghosts of the living or ghosts of the dead?
This is the ultimate question- are ghosts just a projection arising from the minds of living people, or are they really the ghosts of dead people?

Research into cases of poltergeist activity in the past has lead some to conclude that it was somehow the persons own mind that was creating the bizzare phenomena.
"The typical poltergeist is somehow created by a force housed in the brain and body of the agent himself ... the force probably emanates from two places on the agent's body that take on the function of the ‘rotating beams' of force"  (W. R. Roll, project director of the Psychical Research Foundation at Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Not everyone agrees with this theory. The other argument is that anyone who dabbles in using ouija boards or seances or spiritism generally without being fully aware or protected or prepared can attract negative "lower vibrational" entities which will often pretend to be a deceased loved one or assume any kind of false identity to be able to be around people. Sometimes they will give away information about the future or impress people with other kinds of information. These are entities which are ultimately looking for a body to possess, and will use deciet and trickery to draw people close to them. Perhaps in many of these cases where "fake" ghosts have been attracted, it is a lower vibrational entity that is feeding off the information in peoples minds just to draw closer to them.

Another possibility is that both kinds of hauntings are possible- hauntings by the living and hauntings by the dead. If we essentially are going to become ghosts ourselves when we die, it stands to reason that we would have some of the "powers" that ghosts have right now, but in a much more limited scope.

Any concluding thoughts on this matter? What can be said is that I have yet to come across any evidence from the experiments done into psychokinesis and telekinesis (the ability of mind to influence matter) that these abilities can do things such as materialize apparitions, create voices or other similar phenomenon.

Successive experiences as mentioned before, where completely independent visitors to a haunted location witness the same paranormal phenomena is one possible argument that could be used against the idea that all ghosts are products of the mind.


What about popular TV shows like 'Most Haunted'?

I think whether you are a total skeptic or a believer in ghosts you will see that what shows like Most Haunted do is paint a fairly sensationalist view of investigating ghosts. Viewers want to be scared and entertained right away. However, real paranormal investigation doesn't usually work this way. So what Most Haunted relies upon to provide the entertainment that viewers crave is the dramatics of the people on camera. The Cameras are on the crew filming their "reactions" at least 90% of the time. We see night vision cameras and a bunch of people getting freaked out in an alleged haunted location, and it's entertaining to watch for a while (other people might just say predictable, and boring!). They will scream everytime they hear a knock or bump. The fact is if you sit quietly in ANY building there is a natural level of noise and this cannot automatically be taken as paranormal activity. So it doesn't really amount to a serious investigation. I say this because the crew will visit a location and maybe stay a night. Real investigations go on for months and months.

Religious explanations- Are ghosts demonic?

You would imagine that religion generally would be not only acceptive, but promoting the paranormal as being real. But suprisingly this isn't often the case, despite their beliefs in heaven, hell, the devil, and god, some will rubbish the idea of ghosts and hauntings altogether.
Other religious thinkers would say that paranormal activity is certainly "real" in the sense that the phenomena that takes place is being caused by a supernatural entity, but deny that these entities are disembodied spirits of the departed. Instead, they interpret these entities as demons or demonic activity. These demons would impersonate dead loved ones and use spiritism to trick and decieve, to possess and lead people away from God. An example of a modern religious group that believes this are the Jehovah Witnesses and some other Christian groups. They base their authority for this belief upon their interpretation of what the Bible says.
However, there has been a long history amoung orthodox religion of actually persecuting those who practice spiritism.

I do not know how you would go about deciphering that any given paranormal activity is the result of disembodied dead people, or demonic activity. However, if you were to debate this point you'd need to debate two things:

  1. Is the Bible (or any said religious text) the authentic word of God? How can this be proven?
  2. If the Bible is the authentic word of God, then we must debate whether or not it teaches that apparitions are in fact demons
I think there is a logical case to be made against the "all ghosts are demons in disguise" idea also. Why would demons do this? The argument given is that demons seek to ultimately lead people away from God? Well what about all these people who have encounters with apparitions and after death communications which give them comfort and hope? What about all the people who may have been atheists who actually became devout believers in god after a supernatural experience? What about all of the experiences where people felt a loving energy? I think some organised religions are equally opposed to aspects of the paranormal, because it threatens some of their beliefs. The "ghosts are the devil coming to destroy your soul" idea seems to me to be an idea designed to strike immense fear into people in order to protect traditional beliefs more than anything else.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Does the mind die when the brain dies?

Are we immortal? According to wikipedia, "Death" is defined as follows:

"Death is the termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism."

We can define immortality as the:

"The literal survival of the individual human personality or consciousness for an indefinite period after physical death, with its memory and awareness of self-identity essentially intact" (as defined by Corliss Lamont).

So does the human personality survive the death of the physical body? Well, the fundamental issue here is the relationship between the personality and the body.

  • Monism states that the physical brain produces consciousness and the mind and therefore the body and personality are bound together, and cannot exist seperately.
  • Dualism states that our personality and consciousness can exist seperately and independently from the physical body, because they are two different entities.

If monism is right, and consciousness and personality arise from the physical brain, then they are dependant upon it and this means that when the physical brain dies, then "we" cease to be. If dualism is right, then when our physical body dies, "we" shall continue to exist with our personality, consciousness and memories intact. Which position is correct? Where does the evidence point to?

Scientific Evidence for mind-brain dependence (monism)

  1. Mental abilities emerge with the development of the brain; failure in brain development prevents mental development
  2. There seems to be an evolutionary relationship between the complexity of the brain and a species' cognitive traits
  3. Brain damage from accidents such as a blow to the head or from toxins, diseases, and malnutrition and can often cause irreversible losses of mental functioning. Mental functions may also decrease as the brain ages.
  4. The functions of seeing, hearing and speech are correlated with specific areas of the brain
  5. Mental states are correlated with brain states; electrical or chemical stimulation of the human brain can invoke perceptions, memories, desires, and other mental states. Electrical stimulation can also present the formation of new memories and cause memory loss.
  6. Alcohol, Caffeine and other Drugs can effect mental states

If the mind can exist independently of the brain, then why doesn't the mind continue to function normally when brain damage occurs? Thinking and memory instead appear to depend upon the cortex of the brain so how could they possibly survive the destruction and decay of the phyical brain?

This idea is hardly new, all the way back in the year 1725 it was Benjamin Franklin who wrote the following in his book A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain:

"In a sound Sleep sometimes, or in a Swoon, we cease to think at all; tho' the Soul is not therefore then annihilated, but exists all the while tho' it does not act; and may not this probably be the Case after Death? . . . . Now upon Death, and the Destruction of the Body, the Ideas contain'd in the Brain, (which are alone the Subjects of the Soul's Action) being then likewise necessarily destroy'd, the Soul, tho' incapable of Destruction itself, must then necessarily cease to think or act, having nothing left to think or act upon."

Evidence in favour of Dualism? The fact that the mind is seen to react to damage or changes in the physical brain is assumed to be evidence that the physical brain must therefore be PRODUCING the mind. The mind is simply an emergent property of the brain. But wait a minute! Is this assumption a FACT? There is another theory of the relationship between consciousness and the physical brain which states that the physical brain actually acts as a reciever of consciousness. Rather than producing consciousness, the brain recieves consciousness, it regulates consciousness and it restricts and limits consciousness. This theory is compatible with all the observed facts mentioned above. It would mean that the relationship between consciousness and brain is much like the relationship between a television set and the signals it recieves. Just because you break your TV set and the TV then fails to gain a clear picture is not evidence that the pictures on the TV screen actually originate from within the TV set itself. In a similar way, yes damage to the physical brain can result in changes to that persons consciousness and personality, but this similarly does not necessarily mean that the consciousness and personality originate FROM the physical brain.

This theory is hardly new. In his 1928 book entitled "Why I believe in personal immortality", scientist Oliver Joseph Lodge wrote the following:

"the brain-nerve-muscle mechanism, with the rest of the material
body, constitutes an instrument, which is constructed, controlled, and utilized,
by life and mind; an instrument which may become impaired or worn out, so
as to prevent its successful manipulation by the normal controlling entity; and
that the signs of that dislocation or impairment may become conspicuous
without entitling us to draw any conclusion other than that the channel or link
between mind and matter has become clogged or imperfect."

And earlier still, in a book entitled "The World of Souls" written by Professor Wincenty Lutoslawski in 1899:

"To understand the relation of thought and brain it will be
sufficient to admit that the brain is the organ through which we
receive all impressions from without, and through which we
produce all movements, specially the movements of speech. All
evidence tends to exhibit merely these functions of the brain,
and every assertion crediting the brain with thought is based on
a fallacy similar to that which refers to the heart all emotions for
the reason that emotions influence the action of the heart....
Thus thought is known to us, not as a physiological process, but
as an act of consciousness, from our own mental experience,
and we have no reason to identify it with any bodily activity
observable.... Nothing else than what you are conscious of as
yourself is your soul. It is a wrong analogy of language which
leads us to say, "My soul," as we say "My body," "My brain,"
etc. In fact you are a soul, and you ought not to speak of having
a soul as if the soul were different from yourself."

That this was wrote over 100 years ago is quite astonishing as the very same issues of mind / brain duality are debated today and yet in such old books you can find these theories.

To me it appears that there is obviously evidence that our minds can be restricted in certain ways by changes in the physical brain but it remains unclear as to whether or not this signals a mind/brain dependence or whether this is simply the effects of the mind being limited by the "instrument" of a brain whilst bound in this physical existance.

SKEPTICAL VIEW: We believe in an aferlife because it comforts us
Why do so many people believe in the afterlife? One explanation is that people believe in the afterlife because it is a psychological coping mechanism to deal with death. So all of the so called paranormal stories and people professing to believe in an afterlife are just doing this because they have such a deep seated need to BELIEVE there is an afterlife that they almost trick themselves into finding evidence for it.

Objection. Afterlife doesn't comfort everyone.  One immediate objection to this idea is that we could equally say that some people do not want there to be an afterlife. Some people are not comforted by the idea and are more comforted by the idea that death is the end of our existence. These people will dismiss any evidence  that there is an afterlife and seek out evidence that death is the end to our existence. So to argue for or against the existence of an afterlife based upon peoples feelings and beliefs towards it does not make tell us anything about the FACTS.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What happens to the soul when we sleep??

If we have a "soul" then where does it go every single night when we go to sleep? Sure, we dream for a while, but what about those times during the night when time passes by and we are unaware of things?
I've read a number of crazy theories, such as the idea that our soul goes onto travel in other dimensions while we sleep. My objection to this idea is that if we are our soul, then why don't we remember any of this? Why don't WE experience it?

The skeptical side of me feels that it seems illogical that if indeed we have a soul that can opperate and function independently of the physical brain and body then why should it ever need to "rest"? Surely being unconscious at all should be impossible if we have an immortal soul?

The only other explanation could indeed be that souls do actually sleep! I guess it could be possible. Our brain or mind doesn't totally stop functioning during sleep, otherwise we would be dead. Our thought vibrations simply change.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Does God Exist?

This is a big question and one that I shall not attempt to gain a definitive answer to in the space of this article.

We exist- so what caused us to exist?

There are some who might like to argue that we do not realy exist. I personally do not accept this view. If you did not exist, you would not be able to deny you exist.

However, what if WE exist, but the world around us does not and is just an illusion? This is the classic "Brain in a vat" idea, the notion that the world around us could simply be something akin to the type of world presented in the movie "the Matrix". Well, it's possible, i'll grant that.

The third option here of course is that we do indeed exist and that the world around us exists. We must then ask , what caused us? What caused the world around us to exist?

Nothing caused us to exist?

Is it possible that we have no cause? Well that would go against common sense and against the established scientific law of cause and effect. Did the universe and ourselves just pop out of nothing? I personally don't see this is as being a reasonable position to take. If you have ABSOLUTELY nothing, then there's never going to be "something" spontaneously arise from it. You can't get something from nothing. It's impossible.

So therefor it stands to reason that SOMETHING must have caused us to exist. But what?

Did the universe cause us to exist?

Perhaps the universe has always existed in some shape or form? Or there exists an infinite regress of universes? Maybe the universe itself has just spent such a long time evolving until eventually we get to the point we are at today?

Firstly, as far as I'm aware, there is simply no hard evidence that our universe was created by another one.

As for whether or not our universe itself was not created, but existed forever, I'm not sure.

There is a theory known as the "big crunch" theory, which suggests the universe is like a rubber band- expanding and contracting, and that when the universe contracts it results in a big bang (rather than a black hole), which started this present form of the universe, and is destined to go on having on exanding and contracting, one big bang after another, forever.

However, there doesn't appear to be any concrete evidence for this theory and recent scientific discoveries have observed that the universe is not being slowed down by gravity, but is instead speeding up.

Even so, for me this still doesn't explain how a universe that presumably is not itself a conscious being with personality and emotion can give rise to conscious beings with personality and emotions?

The universe is said to work according to certain "laws" and "principles" - the major choice is between whether the organising force behind these laws and principles is blind, impersonal, unconscious chance, or a conscious, personal creator.

I accept that the existance of God is a possibility. What I struggle with is the fact that we cannot see God. We cannot detect God with any of our senses or any of our scientific instruments.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How can we ever come to terms with death?

Is death our eternal oblivion?
Death. It's a hopelessly grim subject and one that most of us don't like to think about. We live our day to day lives as though death does not exist, as though we and everyone we know will just go on living like we are forever.
We act as though death is something that is so far from us at this moment in time that we need barely give it a passing consideration. We all like to imagine living a long life and if we must die at all, perhaps dying late in our elderly years in a peaceful sleep.

Yet there have always been those who have taken time to seriously consider our own mortality and purpose. It is a subject has inspired countless philosophies, songs, poems and works of art.

For many of us, it is often only when experiencing the loss of a loved one or someone that we know, that the reality of death comes suddenly crashing down on us.

The cold, hard reality is that nothing is certain in this life except that one day you will die. One day everyone you know will die. One day- we will all be dead. We may try to trivialize this fact in any number of ways, but it is a truth that is 100% certain to happen.

Not only this, but death can strike at any moment and in any shape or form. We are given absolutely no guarantees. Death happens to the young and the old. The best we can do is to try and prolong our lives by staying healthy and avoiding danger.

So what happens when we die? Ask most people, regardless of how well educated they are on the subject, and they will tell you that death "is not the end". Our bodies may die, but our minds continue to live.

Some say that we all go to a place called heaven or to a spirit plane/reality. Others say we go to heaven or we go to hell. Others say we are born again into a new body. There are numerous theories, but ultimately they all promise life after death.

But what if there is no life after death? What if death is the end? What if, when we die, we just cease to exist? We enter into what we can only compare to a dreamless sleep that we shall never wake up from.

Many people say they are scared of ghosts. Is it not far more terrifying that there are no ghosts? Isn't the idea of an endless nonexistance being the only thing awaiting all of us at the end of this life far more scary than any spook or spectre? Isn't the idea that the loved ones we have lost have simply dissolved away into nothingness something that should haunt us every day of our lives far more?

It is strange to think of those who have died, to see people in photographs or even movies- to think that at that point in time they were alive, and now, they are gone. It is far stranger to know for a fact, that the same fate awaits us and that one day others may be looking back at pictures of us.

It is strange to think of this from a wider perspective in the sense that time is continually passing by and that essentially, "yesterday" is now gone forever. We can never get it back. And what we do right now will be tomorrows yesterday.

So, is death really the end, or is there an afterlife? Does an afterlife await all of us, or is it conditional upon the things we do in this life?

If death is the end, how can we really go on living meaningful lives carrying the burden of this knowledge? Surely if death is truly then end, then our life is just a countdown to oblivion? A hopelessly bleak outlook indeed.

I realise this is quite a depressing subject to deal with, but it is one which my mind does not want to rest from until I find satisfying answers.

This blog is going to be my attempt to grapple these questions and try to find some answers.