Everyone speculates about what the dead are doing. Are they hanging out near God’s throne, condemned to sing hymns for all eternity in reward for the good lives they lived? Are they agonizing in a different hell, one made of physical pain? Are they recycled, like a tin can or a newspaper, condemned again to the agony of helpless infancy? Perhaps a better fate befalls a human when he shuffles off his mortal coil. Maybe he does not put on another. Could he be dead?
We always hear that we won’t really know where we go when we die until it happens. I have never been convinced that the dead are all that knowledgeable, but I am coming to believe that we cannot philosophize the real answer out of hiding.
As a youth, I assumed that our brain was our mind. When it died, our mind died. I was quite certain.
Later, I thought our mind was akin to electricity. When our brain stops carrying the current, the mind is simply shut off. I asked myself what the mind is doing when the anesthesiologist puts it to sleep. So far as I know, he chemically shuts it off; he simulates death. If you can manipulate processes in the body to deactivate the mind, then when those processes cease naturally, the mind will no longer function. I was really sure I had the right answer this time. There was not a doubt in my ephemeral mind.
Then, a little later, I had less certainty. My opinion changed for no discernible reason. I decided that something does not suddenly become nothing, so the mind’s current, whatever it is, never ceases to exist. I thought the mind was probably more like atoms that were useful to a human while in their assembled state, but useless when they returned to the mental pool to be used as ingredients for the minds of other people. The mind, I believed, was not a real entity. It was a temporary assembly.
Today I am certain of only one thing. Embracing certainty is the quickest way to ensure we settle on the wrong answer; and all my other assumptions were the product of arrogance. It is erroneous thinking to decide what the truth is in the absence of necessary data. Even if I guess correctly, my logic is wrong; my thinking is wrong. The best I could hope to be is a wrong fellow who stumbles upon the right answer and erroneously calls it truth, as it is an error to label something as true, unless we know it to be true.
So, what is the truth? The brain could be the mind, though it seems unlikely now. The mind as we know it could be a current that is suddenly shut off when our body ceases its processes. The mind could be an assembly of spiritual matter that is recycled and remade in the minds of others, for all eternity; or it could be something I never considered, and never could consider, with my own limited intellect.
I no longer presume to know what the mind is or where it is. Therefore, I cannot know what happens to it when it dies. I have no way to detect when it is born, where it comes from, or where it goes when it departs, if it departs. This puzzle isn’t simple, and for all I know, I have been trying to piece it together for thousands of years.
Many thanks to Vincent for inspiring Bryan to inspire me to comment on this topic.