Life after death: is proof possible?

Until about 200 years ago, most human beings believed that some kind of life continued after death.  In fact, most people usually lived with a lively sense of the presence of the dead in their own lives.

Then a change took place in the thinking of many scientists.  Until then, scientists took the position that we could prove something scientifically only through empirical observations – in other words, in terms of what we can observe or analyze as a result of what we perceive through our senses.  

What they didn’t say was that everything that was true, everything that existed, everything that happened, could be understood through the scientific method.  But now, many scientists argue that what is not subject to scientific understanding is not real.  Or at least, cannot be known, and since we can’t know it, it is, at best, irrelevant if not actually dangerously false.

Not all scientists today take this position, but many do.

Attitudes toward near-death experiences illustrate this difference.  Near death experiences (NDE’s) are those experiences reported by people who get close to dying, perhaps through a heart attack, an accident, or some proximate danger, but who survive.  

The reports of NDE’s are often quite amazing and life-changing.  They are often out-of-body experiences, and people feel that they have been in contact with another world.  They may “float” around the room or building, and have sometimes learned things that they could not have known if they had remained trapped in their body.

So is this evidence that there is life after death?  that we can continue to be alive even when we are no longer inhabiting our bodies?

We don’t know.  But can we ever know?  For now, most NDE’s are anecdotal, and have not been subject to rigorous analysis.  Sceptics says NDE’s are simply the hallucinations of a dying brain.

But other scientists are not so fast to dismiss NDE’s.  Science, they say, has brought us face to face with mysteries, conundrums, and unsolved problems of the most profound kind.  In fact, some would say that science has made the world far more mysterious than before.

The findings of quantum physics is a prime example.  On the quantum level where things are almost infinitesimally small, particles do not obey the same laws as they do at the level in which we exist.  Particles can affect each other even when they are millions of miles apart, they move in and out of existence, and before and after, or inside and outside, or up and down, don’t operate in the quantum world as we expect them to.

Nobody can explain this at this point, although no scientists deny the evidence that this is so.

So if you think science has created a neat pat world full of facts and indisputably right answers, think again.   Actually, religion just as often argues that it is in possession of indisputably right answers, not science.

Science, true science, reveals a universe as mysterious as you can get.  My own suspicion is that is why it frightens some people.

For what it’s worth, my own guess is that science is never going to produce “evidence” that convinces most people that there is life after death.  But I am positive that it will never produce evidence that there isn’t either.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
This entry was posted in how do we know that?, science and religion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Life after death: is proof possible?

  1. Mark says:

    I dont think we will ever answer what we seek although we will continue to try, a tin of beans knows not what it is. We dont understand life on Earth yet other than observations, our understanding is no different than an insect and its environment!

    • I agree with you, Mark. I don’t think most people appreciate how mysterious this universe is. Minds as great as Stephen Hawking’s have concluded, like you, that we may continue to learn more and more without end, but that we will never understand the universe totally. We will never have a Theory of Everything.

      Yes, we are locked into the nature of our human-ness just as the insect can never surpass its view of the world determined by the limits of its insect point of view. We cannot see the universe from any other perspective than that made possible by our human intelligence. That may be very great (or perhaps not so great). But it is not infinite.

      Thank you for sharing your insights. I’m inclined to think that they are insights not often achieved by many.

      Terry Sissons

  2. rudy says:

    I believe I have found the secret which all people that preach Can use to link science to GOD. At the time of human termination, considered life, the soul (spirit) leaves the body and is said to follow the light. This would imply that the soul is in its transition to follow the light, can travel at the speed of light, being able to follow the light. Physics dictates that nothing can travel faster than light (e=MC2). To be able to travel into other dimensions you have to archive the speed of light were time either slows down, does not exist or starts to move backwards.There lies where the medium is broken between life and the after life. Here you get to be judged by your maker to see what dimension you will enter whether it be hell or heaven(Nirvana). Consequently light has no mass as the the soul has no mass making it capable of ascending to the next dimension at light speed.The bible talks about following the light and this is way before any one new photons existed.Lastly,Light is momentum without mass as is the bodiless soul (spirit) at the instance of death.

    written by rudy narvaez

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree you describe a possibility. Not only is death and what follows wrapped in mystery, the very dimensions of the universe are deep mysteries. Once we move beyond the four dimensions which we experience every day, we have only a glimmer to suggest what lies beyond these horizons. This is so whether we move to the smallest quantums or the largest distances – it’s a truly incredible universe which we inhabit.

  3. Alex says:

    wow this was all very mind blowing to me all of your comments were great im in total wow right now

    • Well, I must say it is a pleasure to receive such a compliment. Thank you.
      In truth, though, you and I both know that what is really mind-blowing is the universe we live in, that you and I are alive here and now. It is such an amazing thing to be part of, don’t you think?
      But again thank you. You have given me a wonderful compliment that I greatly appreciate.

  4. Tim C. says:

    Recently I have been thinking about the possibilities of life after death, I believe that there is an afterlife of sorts.Each person with their own unique life after death, I may be wrong but I accept that to be true. Either way all Im trying to say is we all make the trip someday, Accepting death is the first step but waiting, now that is the hard part, Enjoy your lives the way that makes you feel fullfilled and you will have no reason to fear death. Random I know but Just thought I should throw in my opinion.

    • Thank you for this insight. I too think that the best way to deal with death is to live life as fully as we can. If we can trust the value of living, we can trust that death is something positive, part of life, even. Though it is a mystery, isn’t it? That’s the rub! For me, just believing that somehow it all has a meaning beyond our ability to see is my only true act of faith.

      Again, thank you.
      Terry Sissons

  5. Matt. says:

    I apologize in a previous post I called it the quantum brain hypotheses. Lol. No such thing. It’s the quantum consciousness hypotheses. See told you I wasn’t exactly a brainiac. Good day.

  6. Matt says:

    I have spent a lot of time pondering this. I have heard the Atheist and many Psychologist and scientist say when the brain Dies we die. I mean if this is true I guess I’m just holding on to blind hope. But if you look at the human being I am struck by how extremely developed our self awareness is. So developed we, most non-scientist, think we continue after death. So that alone leads me to conclude the entire universe was created by an entity. Even if that entity is not an all knowing or all caring God, even if dead is dead we and all we know is a creation of a living, conscious, entity that might actually be the univers it’s self.

    • I know what you mean, Matt. People who say that when the brain dies, we no longer exist have no more proof than do those who offer a variety of alternatives – from heaven to hell to nirvana to any other form of human life. Clearly we no longer exist after death in the same way as we do now. But the position that we return to being no more than a bundle of molecules leaves a lot of scientifically-valid questions unanswered just as the alternatives do.

      We live in mystery. But it is an amazing, utterly engrossing mystery, isn’t it, with unfathomable depth? However bad or meaningless things look sometimes, it feels like a great privilege to be part of it. And to know that, in some form or other, we always will be (whatever that means…)

      Thank you for your thoughts. I hope you will continue to share them in the future.

      On Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 9:50 PM, The Big Bang to Now wrote:

      >

  7. Ajith Rajan says:

    I’m no expert on the topic, neither is my English very good.

    When we consider the possibility of an after-life, why do we only contemplate human death? Won’t animals that dies have a chance of after-life as well?

    • Thank you for this penetrating question. I think the single greatest unanswered question in science today is how consciousness, which seems to be uniquely the possession of living things and which seems so immaterial, grows out of and is maintained by our physical bodies. Plato, and then many religions following this view today, have answered that question by saying that living organisms have souls, which are the source of life, and souls are what make living things different from inanimate objects. The Roman Catholic Church in particular says that human souls will never die, while the souls of all other living things die with their bodies. There is no evidence for this view. We do not know if living things, including humans, have souls at all, or if there is another explanation for how life arises and is sustained. And if there are such things as souls, we have no way of knowing if they survive outside the body.

      In any case, the question of an after-life applies equally to all living things, not just to us humans.

      I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty determined that if I’m going to be around after I die, I want my pet dogs to be there too. And I know if they aren’t they will be barking very loudly too in objection.

  8. james joseph says:

    a new life can begin if we have soul and if we have soul then can you all prove that living things which lives in the earth are only the souls what about the new souls

    • Millions of people in the world today believe that we have souls. Many people also believe that these souls are eternal and never die. In addition, some people do not believe that the souls of animals and plants are eternal, but millions of people disagree and teach that souls of plants and animals who have died return to live in other living things. Some religions also teach that God creates a new soul every time a new human being is created.

      These beliefs are quite legitimate, but they are beyond the scope of science. That is, they can neither be proven or disproved using the scientific method. Science is a wonderful way of learning a lot of new things and of testing out what we think might be true. But there are some questions it cannot answer. Questions about souls or life after death are examples of these areas where science cannot tell us anything. That is why there are scientists who believe in God and in the existence of souls, and scientists who do not. Both groups understand that however good their science, the answers to these questions comes from faith – that is belief in answers to questions science cannot address.

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