Friday, April 8, 2016

Does Persisting Death Entail Cartesian Mind-Body Separation?

From guest blogger, Ezekial.

What might it be like to be dead or at least bodily dead? Either we persist in some way, or we do not. If an Epicurean stance is taken, death is the annihilation of our mind, we simply cease to exist. If this is not the case, it is not clear in what sense we can persist or what one should expect this experience to be like.

A good starting point might be what we know about our physical/psychological mind. Perhaps the assumption that psychological and physical states of one’s mind can both be explained physically is necessary in order to conflate the two ideas. In this way, our consciousness, or whatever it is to not be dead, is explained by neurons firing in the brain in certain ways, or physical brain-states that correspond with our psychological states of thought and emotion. If certain malfunctions or manipulations happen in the brain physically, there is a corresponding change in psychological state.

So it should follow by what we know of the physical (not necessarily metaphysical) world that when a person becomes bodily dead, and there are no brain states whatsoever, there should be no psychological states. But what if there is? If one persists in some way, as many people think one does after death, and have some semblance of consciousness – the soul – then it seems to be the case that no physical body or brain state is necessary to continue existing.

There are 2 concerns that come to mind if this is the case. First, all the life we have ever experienced has been a result of physical brain states. What reason would we have to think that we can live without these brain states, and what would non-physical existence even consist of? And second, if it is really the case that the soul or mind can persist without the body, whatever metaphysical or god-relying commitments may be necessary, then life after death will lack ontological parsimony. A Cartesian separation of mind and body requires more untenable metaphysical explanation than a purely physical explanation where death mean cessation of existence.    

No comments: