A Natural After-Life

As people like to post crackpot theories that are congenial to them, I thought I’d plop this down here.

I was thinking about how dreams can seem (from the point of view of the dreamer) to go on for very long periods of time, even if the dream, from the point of view of an external observer, might only last a couple of minutes. And I noted that it might be the case that as we lose executive function in geezerhood and become more and more a batch of autonomous, unconscious functions, our dream experiences get phenomenologically longer and longer. [If I knew something more about relativity theory maybe I could analogize this with the difference between falling into a black hole from the vantage of an outside observer and the vantage of the falling person, but alas….]

Anyhow, it seemed conceivable to me that one’s unconscious (where Freud said “time does not exist”) dream experiences might increasingly “stretch” until, at the moment of death, they becomes “endless” (or eternal or something like that).

If this were the case, everyone would have his or her own personal eternal afterlife, and the characteristics of each of these states would have the nice feature of being to some extent a function of how well we had “worked through” things in our lives. “Redemption” would kind of be in play, since, presumably, those who feel guilty about things they’ve done and haven’t “karma-cleaned” as it were, would be likely to have a less pleasant after-life. You’d also get to “interact” with all your loved ones, and your memories of them would be in some sense better than what you can consciously access–because, again, the unconscious has no “history,” so everything’s in there in tip-top shape.  Finally, I liked the connection with the William James excerpt from “Varieties of Religious Experience” that I’d recently posted here:

Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the “more” with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life. Starting thus with a recognized psychological fact as our basis, we seem to preserve a contact with “science” which the ordinary theologian lacks. At the same time the theologian’s contention that the religious man is moved by an external power is vindicated, for it is one of the peculiarities of invasions from the [pg 513] subconscious region to take on objective appearances, and to suggest to the Subject an external control. In the religious life the control is felt as “higher”; but since on our hypothesis it is primarily the higher faculties of our own hidden mind which are controlling, the sense of union with the power beyond us is a sense of something, not merely apparently, but literally true.

The idea here is that “God” is really us, but that should be OK, at least from a personal standpoint, because the autonomous functions of the brain are about as “Other” as any spaghetti monster might be. We have no control over them: they completely run the show. Thus, those portions of our “minds” of which we are not conscious ought to be seen as being extremely potent and sufficiently “outside,” just like any father-figure ought to be.

Anyhow, when I mused about this stuff, I figured that I couldn’t have been the first to do so, and googled “dreams after-life.” One of the first things that came up was this piece by Bryon Ehlmann, a retired Ph.D. in computer science.

Ehlmann’s piece there isn’t very detailed, but he links a recent publication of his in the “Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research” (which can be seen on his academia.edu page). And he has a more recent–and more technical–article, still in draft on his academia page–in which he offers what he takes to be a proof of this theory.

I haven’t read this latter paper yet, and I’m skeptical about “proofs” generally. But I can imagine empirical dream studies of older and/or cognitively impaired individuals to find out if this “stretching” is actually going on. I’m doubtful even of the likelihood of strong empirical support, tbh. I mean it’s obviously a woo-drenched theory, something that can make the fearful naturalistic type a bit less anxious. I recognize that this is no more than a theory that is congenial to me….but I can’t deny that it really is comforting. And there’s nothing supernatural about it–except maybe the inferences.

ETA: I corrected the name of the Journal in which Dr. Ehlmann’s paper appeared.

134 thoughts on “A Natural After-Life

  1. I’ve now read the more detailed articles by Ehlmann. I don’t really understand the “proof”–but I think there are significant defects in other areas. In particular his remarks about what we would believe in various states seem wrong to me.

    So I don’t think he does a particularly good job with this thesis, which in my view should simply be construed as a theory about dreaming rather than about “heaven” (and whether we believe we’re there). But his position, poorly expounded as it is (IMHO) seems the same as the one I’ve been kicking around for a few days.

    Maybe there are other statements of it that people here are aware of? It seems like a pretty obvious topic for a bad self-help book….

  2. To be more specific about the (alleged) defect involving belief I mentioned above, Ehlmann says repeatedly (in both papers) that, since from the point of view of the dead person, all this cool stuff is really happening, this person can be expected to believe that he or she is in heaven. But even if it is true–and this is controversial–that one has beliefs when one is dreaming, it is much more likely that the subject is believing that she is on the beach, or is being chased by tarantulas, or is having sex with her hunky neighbor than that she is in heaven. That would require the sorts of inferences we don’t make when dreaming.

  3. “it seemed conceivable to me that one’s unconscious (where Freud said “time does not exist”) dream experiences might increasingly “stretch” until, at the moment of death, they becomes “endless” (or eternal or something like that).

    Unconscious people don’t dream. It has been verified by general anesthesia.
    If you had looked it up, you wouldn’t have been such a waste of time…

  4. J-Mac:
    “itseemed conceivable to me that one’s unconscious (where Freud said “time does not exist”) dream experiences might increasingly “stretch” until, at the moment of death, they becomes “endless” (or eternal or something like that).

    Unconscious people don’t dream. It has been verified by general anesthesia.
    If you had looked it up, you wouldn’t have been such a waste of time…

    First, that’s only true of total anesthesia. Second, that conclusion is based on reports of those apparent “non-experiences” after awakening. Those matters are discussed at length in the linked articles.

    But, of course, if you had looked this stuff up before spouting…..

  5. I recognize that this is no more than a theory that is congenial to me….but I can’t deny that it really is comforting. And there’s nothing supernatural about it–except maybe the inferences.

    All I can say is I’m glad it’s congenial and comforting to you, because that suggests your “karma” is A-OK, as should be, because you seem to be pretty awesome

  6. dazz: All I can say is I’m glad it’s congenial and comforting to you, because that suggests your “karma” is A-OK, as should be, because you seem to be pretty awesome

    Thanks, man. But you should probably talk to my wife and kids before taking that theory to the bank. (Maybe a few co-workers and ex-girlfriends too…..)

  7. dreams should be seen as very simple, simple, operations of the memory.
    When we fall asleep, or cllose, we no longer are observing our senses info.
    so we observe historic info. We, our soul, easily organizes it into stories not much different then the speed with which we think when awake and planning next things to do and how they will affect other things.
    the error in hostory on these matters has been not see it all as just oiur soul reading our memory.
    so when awake we are also just watching our memory. its just, very, very, very, recent.
    Yet its the same equation/mechanism.
    Awake or asleep WE/SOUL are just watching our memory or what is called the memory.
    Dreams are a simple manifestation of this. not something strange.
    when i was put out in operations I went from going out to coming back in one second. no dreams or awareness of time passing.
    Our memory is turned down or off in those cases.
    In fact it sugessts our dreams happen at the begin/end of sleep out or proportion to how long we sleep.

  8. walto,

    Anyhow, it seemed conceivable to me that one’s unconscious (where Freud said “time does not exist”) dream experiences might increasingly “stretch” until, at the moment of death, they becomes “endless” (or eternal or something like that).

    This seems unlikely. It would amount to cramming an eternity of experience into a finite amount of time.

    We mark the passage of time by observing events, including internal ones. If each event in this final dream consumes a finite amount of processing time in the brain, then there’s no way to fit an infinitude of events into the time remaining before brain death.

  9. keiths: This seems unlikely. It would amount to cramming an eternity of experience into a finite amount of time.

    Do you think that “an eternity of experience” needs to take up a lot or even more than a little actual processing time? Must there be a correlation between those two sorts of “time”? I think Ehlmann’s theory depends on there being no such correlation. But maybe that’s wrong.

    keiths: there’s no way to fit an infinitude of events into the time remaining before brain death.

    Same question. Why must an “infinitude of [intensional] events” take up a lot of real time? Or more than an instant?

  10. Robert Byers: We, our soul, easily organizes it into stories not much different then the speed with which we think when awake

    What is your basis for the speed claim? It’s not consistent with my experiences, at any rate.

  11. Actually, I think Robert has it right WRT the duration of dreams. My recollection is that sleep research has shown that the external correlates of dreaming (REM, characteristic EEG patterns etc.) and the subjective duration of dreams are more or less the same- IOW, a dream lasts about as long as it seems to last.

    Also interesting (although not exactly germane) is that dreams tend to become lengthier and more organized (e.g more likely to have a persisting “plot”) as the night progresses and we return to REM sleep.

    Which is not to say that I haven’t had the experience of sleeping for brief period – say 20 minutes of stolen snooze in the morning, yet feeling that I had slept for another hour. But I don’t know if I attach that to dreams specifically – when researchers awaken sleepers they get reports of at least some subjective mental activity (not necessarily dreaming – more like plain old thinking) during most phases of sleep, except maybe the deepest slow wave sleep.

    I can’t cite anything to support the above. I might have dreamt it.

  12. Reciprocating Bill: Actually, I think Robert has it right WRT the duration of dreams. My recollection is that sleep research has shown that the external correlates of dreaming (REM, characteristic EEG patterns etc.) and the subjective duration of dreams are more or less the same- IOW, a dream lasts about as long as it seems to last.

    Thanks. Do you know if there are any studies about the nature of dreams changing as we get older?

    I note again that the results you mention don’t match my own experience. And they’re kind of counterintuitive too. We don’t expect dreams of big things to have to come from bigger brain changes or of purple things to come from purple changes. So why should dreams of long periods have to come from lengthy processes? I mean, that’s not how intentionality works generally.

  13. walto: Thanks. Do you know if there any any studies about the nature of dreams changing as we get older?

    Mostly I recall that the deepest (and most restful) slow wave sleep occurs less as less frequently as we fossilize in place.

  14. Incidentally, I think a matter that needs to be clarified wrt this theory is whether near death experiences are to be counted as a species of dream event–or whether they’re sui generis. Either choice seems to me to leave one with objections that need to be answered.

    If NDEs are determinates under the dream determinable, there are the questions about anesthesia and why one can have one sort of dream under sedation (and recall it) but not the other. If they’re entirely different beasts, all the empirical evidence has to come from NDEs presumably, and that can’t be good.

    So a lot more work is needed, I think–empirical as well as conceptual.

  15. walto,

    Do you think that “an eternity of experience” needs to take up a lot or even more than a little actual processing time?

    Yes. Having an experience amounts to progressing through a sequence of distinct brain states. An eternity of experience would therefore require an infinitely long sequence of distinct brain states, and such a sequence can’t be traversed in a finite amount of time

  16. keiths:
    walto,

    Yes.Having an experience amounts to progressing through a sequence of distinct brain states.An eternity of experience would therefore require an infinitely long sequence of distinct brain states, and such a sequence can’t be traversed in a finite amount of time

    It would take infinite energy, too.

    Seems like too much.

    Glen Davidson

  17. keiths: An eternity of experience

    That phrase is ambiguous, of course. It could mean a long period of having experiences, or an experience of a long period. You’re taking about the first of those; I’m talking about the second.

    An idea of purple is similarly ambiguous. Ideas don’t actually come in colors, according to one meaning of the term. Incidentally, I’m thinking of both an infinitely long period and an infinitely long number right now.

  18. walto: You’re caught in the same confusion as keiths here.

    Well, maybe, I’m just not too concerned about it.

    It’s a fairly old idea that somehow the end telescopes into an eternity, or quasi-eternity, whatever. We get some weird stuff around death sometimes, but we don’t really get “endless” periods of times from NDEs, and NDEs seem not to be ubiquitous either (let alone evidence for heaven or other paradise).

    It ends. Too bad, but I don’t know any way around it.

    Glen Davidson

  19. walto,

    That phrase [“an eternity of experience”] is ambiguous, of course. It could mean a long period of having experiences, or an experience of a long period. You’re taking about the first of those; I’m talking about the second.

    An “experience of a long period” in which nothing happens — no experiences or thoughts — isn’t much of a life (or an afterlife). You need experiential “content” to fill those long periods, and experiential content comes from brain activity.

    Note that my argument doesn’t assume that “dream time” passes at the same rate as real time. I’m simply pointing out that your brain can’t produce an eternity’s worth of experiences and thoughts in the finite amount of real time available to it.

  20. Well, if it’s a nightmare and you can’t wake up, it might seem like an eterntiy.

    Shakespeare spoke to this:

    “To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”

  21. Reciprocating Bill:

    This all brings to mind Tobias Wolff’s short story, “Bullet in the Brain”

    And also vjtorley’s apologia for the Christian God’s refusal to accept converts after death.

    I had asked:

    What’s interesting is most Christians’ odd insistence that if you convert after death, it’s too late. You’re gonna burn.

    Why in heaven’s name (so to speak) would God take such an uncompromising, unloving stance? It’s the opposite of the attitude the father takes in the parable of the prodigal son.

    Vincent replied:

    People, in their dying moments, may have an extended sense of time, if the reports of NDE experiencers are anything to go by. What appears to us to be an instantaneous death (e.g. decapitation by guillotine) may feel like a prolonged period to the person undergoing it. During that time, the individual may have an out-of-body experience and a life review, making a final decision to love or defiantly oppose God, just prior to the separation of soul and body.

    After having had such an experience and an encounter with God, there may be no further possibility of repentance for the individual concerned, simply because there is nothing else that could possibly sway the individual’s mind. After all, if even an encounter with God at the point of death doesn’t induce a person to repent, then what possibly could?

    Finally, the prodigal son came to his senses only after experiencing hunger and poverty. If the NDE also includes a foretaste of Hell for those who have lived selfish lives, then it could truly be said that those who go to Hell are making a fully informed choice, from which they could not possibly repent.

    keiths:

    This is pure ad-hockery for the purpose of getting God (partially) off the hook. But it’s a good sign in one respect: it shows that Vincent’s conscience is troubled by the doctrine of hell and that he wants to minimize the unfairness of it. He’s becoming less Christian, day by day.

  22. keiths: An “experience of a long period” in which nothing happens — no experiences or thoughts — isn’t much of a life (or an afterlife).

    I have the same objection to the “in which nothing happens” that I gave above to your construal of “long period.” The contents of consciousness don’t have to have the same properties as the processes or acts of consciousness. I’m, right at this instant, thinking of a long period of time in which many things happen.

  23. walto: What is your basis for the speed claim? It’s not consistent with my experiences, at any rate.

    If one pays attention. One will finmd one is thinkingh very fast. As one writes/reads this one is already planning what to do nexy, what will interfere, and a host options surrounding it. in fact fear/stress shows how quickly we build a narrative.
    I observe with myself that my awake thinking or dreams can be seen at the same speed.

    the thing to note is that dreams are not special but ordinary us.
    they are just us thinking with our memory. When asleep senses don’t bring in the flow of info aND SO we deal with info already stored.
    We are dreaming all day long. Same equation/mechanism.
    on wiki, under dreams I think, the cited author, Chang i think, is the one closest to what i mean.

  24. walto,

    I’m, right at this instant, thinking of a long period of time in which many things happen.

    Thinking of such a period isn’t remotely the same as having the experience of such a period.

    What you’re hoping for is not merely to think about an eventful and eternal afterlife during your final moments of life. You want the actual experience, telescoped into the finite time before your brain dies.

    But again, that can’t happen. Your brain simply can’t produce an eternity’s worth of experiences and thoughts in the finite amount of real time available to it.

  25. keiths: What you’re hoping for is not merely to think about an eventful and eternal afterlife during your final moments of life.

    I’d settle for that, actually!

  26. Walto,

    Your idea is somewhat like Nietzsche’s Thought of Eternal Return. Truth or falsity doesn’t matter as much as the capacity to make a difference in the way one lives one’s life.

    I do believe that I presently live in a world of my own making, and that I haven’t done such a great job in the making of it. The notion that my consciousness of it might not end, but might instead turn into an eternal heaven-or-hell-of-my-own-making in the last instant, is deeply unsettling. It’s come to mind several times, at odd moments over the past few days. You’ve done something good for me with this thought of yours. And I thank you for it.

  27. Thanks, Tom. But the credit is really due to Dr. Ehlmann, who, truth be told, is not exactly crazy about my exposition of his thesis. People might like it more if they take it straight from the source–the papers on his academia page.

    I actually think I’m fixing some of its problems for him, but your mileage may differ.

  28. walto,

    But the credit is really due to Dr. Ehlmann, who, truth be told, is not exactly crazy about my exposition of his thesis.

    He responded to it?

  29. Tom English:
    Walto,

    Your idea is somewhat like Nietzsche’s Thought of Eternal Return. Truth or falsity doesn’t matter as much as the capacity to make a difference in the way one lives one’s life.

    I do believe that I presently live in a world of my own making, and that I haven’t done such a great job in the making of it. The notion that my consciousness of it might not end, but might instead turn into an eternal heaven-or-hell-of-my-own-making in the last instant, is deeply unsettling. It’s come to mind several times, at odd moments over the past few days. You’ve done something good for me with this thought of yours. And I thank you for it.

    Whatever is going on, I hope it works for the best, Tom.

  30. Hi walto,

    You might find this Wikipedia article of interest, if you haven’t read it already:

    Time perception

    For my part, I don’t find the NEE theory consoling. An oft-quoted essay by philosopher Robert Nozick, author of Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), explains why, in prose more limpid than I could ever compose:

    The Experience Machine

    First, here’s the scenario:

    What matters other than how people’s experiences feel “from the inside”? Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience that you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? Nor should you refrain because of the few moments of distress between the moment you’ve decided and the moment you’re plugged. What’s a few moments of distress compared to a lifetime of bliss (if that’s what you choose), and why feel any distress at all if your decision is the best one?

    So, would you plug in? Here’s Nozick’s money quote on why you should not:

    What we want and value is an actual connection with reality. … To focus on external reality, with your beliefs, evaluations, and emotions, is valuable in itself, not just as a means to more pleasure or happiness.

    Now, you may respond that the NEE described by Ehlmann, assuming it turns out to be an experience we’ll all have as we’re dying, isn’t something we choose, so in that respect, it’s dissimilar to the Experience Machine. But we can choose our attitude toward the NEE: we can choose whether or not we find it a consolation to look forward to. If Nozick is right, then it would be irrational to look forward to such an illusory experience, where we can never interact with God or with other people, but only with our memories and/or concepts of them. Such an experience, even if never-ending, would be a cognitive trap: it would be like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter.

  31. vjtorley,

    Hi, Vince.

    Of course I’m quite familiar with Nozick’s experience machine. It’s been called one of the two most important criticisms of consequentialist prudential theories (the other being “piggish pleasures”). And you may be interested to hear that Dr. Ehlmann tells me that readers are indeed more likely to find his idea scary than comforting. (And see above for Tom English’s connection of the view with Eternal Return–a connection I certainly would not have made).

    I think I can explain my take on this matter, but I’d like to wait a bit: I’m expecting a response today to some detailed comments I’ve made to Dr. Ehlmann. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll consider my picture nothing but a (confused) alternative position (although, I hope a friendly one–like your comments on Feser maybe?). Anyhow, I don’t want to saddle him with my ‘adjustments’–even if I believe they make the position both more plausible and more palateable.

    So….I’ll get back to you on this. Perhaps he will as well!

  32. OK, I’ve now received some responses to my criticisms from Dr. Ehlmann, and will try to explain both (i) where I think my own tentative take on the end-of-life mystery differs from his views; and (ii) Why the “natural after-life” position seems to me to be a comforting rather than scary theory to contemplate. I hope it will also become clear why (iii) at least at present, I don’t think either my position or his can be much more than woo. I’m not even comfortable that I can show that they are not both almost certainly false.

    (i) Dr. Ehlmann’s papers (and I hope people here will not entirely depend on my characterizations of them, but will at least skim one or the other of them themselves) make a lot of hay regarding the fact that there are significant differences in time perception between someone going through a dream (or hallucination or near death experience*) and someone observing this dreamer/hallucinator. He wants us to focus on the former individual and note only his/her phenomenological take on things. Time-perception, on the received view, requires an actual noticing of some temporal change. Without it, there can be no experience of time at all; only, as Ehlmann says, the experience (or “going through” of ) “timelessness.”

    He writes to me,

    There are simply no perceived events within timelessness that enable one to change or lose their beliefs.

    For my own part, I don’t care for the attribution of “beliefs” to dreamers, and I will take no position on what is required for a belief change, but those don’t matter much, I don’t think. What does is that few will agree that that “loss of beliefs” requires any “perceived event.” Ehlmann’s assertions that when one awakes from a dream that one was swimming, one must have some non-swimming experience to lose the swimming “belief,” and that when one begins counting down from 100 before surgery, if one’s sedation was absolute, one must awake to the thought of (say) 93, both seem to me obviously contrary to nearly everybody’s experience. However, I have not been able to convince him of this to date, so I thought I would try another tack.

    Suppose Stella puts a video camera at her front door and sets it to turn on every evening at 9 PM and turn off every morning at 7 AM. It is not the case that all afternoon the camera has a still picture, rather than a video. There is no freeze frame when the electricity is off; there is….NOTHING. The power is off. If New York Edison shuts off the electricity to Stella’s house some afternoon, that camera will never again produce a video image.

    Of course, it could be that the video was also being recorded. But recording devices can also fail. When they do, no more recordings (“memories”) are made, and retention is contingent on restoration of power. To see this, imagine that Stella is absolutely obsessed with her home security–so much so that she can attend to nothing else but the images being relayed from the camera at her front door to the monitor in her bedroom. No other thought, sound, sight, smell, etc. distracts her from the images on this monitor. We can consider that she focuses on the last image she sees each morning at 6:59 AM, and holds that before “her mind” until the camera starts working again that night.

    We can also imagine Stella in a dreamless sleep until 9 PM. If she is capable of remembering what she last saw before falling asleep she may awaken to that image. But another possibility is that she has Korsakov’s Syndrome and can’t make any new memories at all. In that case, she will NOT awaken to the last image she saw, not because there was some intervening image that replaced it, but because she has no power of recall. She’ll just start watching anew. And, of course, a final possibility to be considered is that some murderer comes in the back door while she’s in this dreamless sleep and blows her brains out. Again, we have no reason to believe there’ll be anything in that instance.

    So, while Dr. Ehlmann may think that reluctance to accept his afterlife “proof” stems from an inability to see that the phenomenological time of the dreamer is not congruent with passage of “real time,” that doesn’t seem to me to be the issue at all. In fact, I think that distinction is well-known and uncontroversial. The actual problem with his contention is that no support has been provided for the claim that there will be anything whatever succeeding the last conscious experience. Indeed, that is what those denying an afterlife generally believe.

    (ii). Why, then, do I see any merit to the proposal? And why doesn’t any prospect of it being true scare, rather than comfort me? As indicated in my prior posts, I base it on the experiences of my own enveloping geezerhood as well as on studies involving the dreams of those in hospices. [See, e.g., ‘A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying’ by Jan Hoffman in The New York Times, for Feb. 2, 2016. Hoffman there reports on a study that appeared a couple of years prior in The Journal of Palliative Medicine.] Something seems to happen to the dreams of people who are near dying. Not only are a greater proportion of them felt as comforting, but they seem to undergo some sort of qualitative changes as well. They’re more vivid, more likely to involve deceased loved ones, more likely to be a working through of life-long problems, etc. Long lost memories come back. Of course, that all might be expected to happen in those who know they’re dying, so there’s no real need for any kind of mystical explanations. But this metamorphosis of waking and sleeping consciousness seems to me suggestive anyhow. In any case, I’d like to know if there is really a “stretching” of felt time that routinely goes on: i.e that as the real time in REM gets shorter among the elderly or dying, the experience comes to seem longer and longer. As I said above to RB, I have a hunch that’s the case, but….WTHDIK? I also think the weird, kind of Kantian, time theory now being proposed by quantum gravity scientist Carlo Rovelli suggests that something mind-blowing rather than mind-killing may occur at the moment of death. But again, who the hell knows? Not me, certainly.

    Turning to (iii), I don’t think I need to make the case that what I’ve proposed here is dripping with woo. That’s perfectly obvious. But the situation is worse than that, I think. We don’t really have a solid conceptual understanding of “the experience of timelessness.” Is it, as I suggested it might be to keiths above, nothing more than a momentary thought of infinity? And is that “rich” enough to count as an afterlife? Is something appropriately called “eternal” just because what it is *OF* has no end? That seems unsatisfying: presumably one wants the experience to go on, not just be a fleeting (but, um, quickly ending) thought of something that is technically endless. As Kant said, thoughts without content, are blah, blah, blah. An appropriate understanding of intentionality requires that we distinguish thoughts of purple from purple thoughts. But the assertion that we can use that distinction to prove “eternal life” seems to me fraught with difficulties.

    Anyhow, that’s my buck fifty on this issue. Dr. Ehlmann has suggested that he may want to reply here. I hope he does!

    ———————-
    * Dr. Ehlmann doesn’t think it matters whether we take NDEs to be a species of dream or hallucination or not, because one thing he (sensibly) takes ALL forms of consciousness to have in common is their reliance on perceptions of temporal events for any instantiation of “time consciousness.” But as I don’t think that reliance matters here nearly as much as he thinks it does, I believe it would be quite helpful to know if NDEs are a species of dream or something altogether different.

  33. walto,

    My impression is that your positions are wildly different.

    For your part, you hope for a never-ending sequence of experiences — including simulated interactions with your loved ones — extending over an endless stretch of phenomenological time, yet telescoped into the finite amount of real time available before brain death. I think that’s impossible for reasons given earlier in the thread.

    Ehlmann seems to envisage a never-ending experience of a single, timeless, heavenly “moment”:

    After a billion years have passed by and death has long since erased all memories from your brain, you’re still believe that you’re in your NDE—i.e., your NEE and natural afterlife.

    That seems silly to me. After brain death, and certainly after brain disintegration, there is no “you” left to believe that you are still in your NDE.

    Whether or not you perceive the end of your NDE, it ends. It’s a brain-based experience, after all.

  34. keiths: My impression is that your positions are wildly different.

    It seems so. I’d like to convince him to change trains, but I don’t know if that’s possible. In any case, we do share an interest in a “natural after-life.”

  35. walto,

    When someone is unconscious by any means, general anaesthesia or when they get hammered and are in a come, they don’t dream. That’s how doctors can tell the difference between being unconscious and being brain dead, for example. Unconscious people don’t dream and yet their other brain functions are normal (other than dreaming, such as REM).

    BTW: Near death experiences have been accidentally stimulated by an electric current applied to certain parts of the when operated on the brain of patients who were awake during the procedure. This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe in afterlife and an immoral soul….

  36. J-Mac: When someone is unconscious by any means, general anaesthesia or when they get hammered and are in a come, they don’t dream.

    As I’ve said.

    J-Mac: This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe in afterlife and an immoral soul….

    Ah, the immorality of souls….

  37. walto,

    First, that’s only true of total anesthesia
    No. Its not. General anaesthesia blocks microtubules.

    Again; how do doctors know whether a patient is unconscious or brain dead?
    How is it determined?

  38. I believe it’s about time I post my first comment on TSZ to address some of the issues raised here about the theories of a natural afterlife consciousness (NAC) and natural afterlife.

    I’m the instigator of them, and so, obviously, don’t think they’re “woo.” Instead, I think they simply identify a long overlooked, natural psychological phenomenon that results from the uniqueness our last conscious moment. It’s the only moment in our life that’s “just left hanging there” in our awareness without any successor and thus the kind never experienced by anyone alive. The phenomenon is actually very simple and readily deducible. However, I’ve found it extremely difficult to explain as it involves elusive concepts like relativistic and timeless, seems extremely radical (admittedly, seemingly “wowish”), and challenges long held orthodoxies (often very personal) about death.

    I’ve had a very beneficial email exchange with walto over the past few weeks on my theories–beneficial, not because I was able to convince him of their validity (I was not), but because it allowed me to make some improvements to my latest article that I believe will help other readers who may have the same questions and concerns as did he.

    After reading my comments below, I urge all of the discussion participants to give my NAC article, “The Theory of a Natural After-life Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife,” on academia.edu or ResearchGate another read. I believe it is the best of my articles in thoroughly explaining and supporting my theories.

    To begin, concerning walto’s problem with my use of the term “believe:” When I state that with death one still “believes” they are experiencing their last conscious moment, no matter the type—e.g. dreaming, heavenly, or lying on the beach—I simply mean that nothing will ever happen to change “their awareness that they are experiencing it.”

    Concerning comments about the duration of dreams and how many events can occur within them: These issues are irrelevant to the NAC and natural afterlife. Both are timeless and thus no events occur. keiths’s phrase “an eternity of experience,” if applied to the NAC, would mean that strictly from the dying person’s perspective, for an eternity they are aware of their last conscious moment, which encapsulates their last experience and is imperceptibly timeless (and thus eventless).

    Concerning the issue of the relationship between dreams and NDEs, which walto raises: This is irrelevant to the NAC and natural afterlife as one’s last conscious moment can be either and current thinking has it that dreams are possible when not fully sedated—i.e., going in or out of—and NDEs are possible even when fully sedated.

    Concerning petrushka’s comment and Shakespeare’s (in Hamlet): They “get it.”

    Concerning walto’s video camera analogy, as I wrote him:

    “One must be careful drawing conclusions from imperfect analogies. Very much unlike us, the video camera is not conscious. It is not aware of the last image taken as we are aware of our present moment. The closest thing to such awareness in a video camera is the state of its electronics (including software) at the precise time of taking the last image, but such state does not provide consciousness and with it an experience.”

    Concerning walto’s make-believe Stella and her Korsakov’s Syndrome condition: The loss of memory after one’s last conscious moment, or their inability to remember, is irrelevant to the NAC. (“irrelevant” is a word that I’ve had to use much regarding the NAC.) This is because the NAC is timeless. After one’s last conscious moment, they will indeed with the loss of all brain functionality lose all memory; however, nothing will happen to change their awareness of their last conscious moment at the instance in time that it happened since they never wake up. So, IN THEIR MIND, relativistically speaking, the moment is frozen forever.

    Concerning the discrete conscious moments that make up our consciousness, the NAC article states:

    “One is aware of only what they perceive in these moments and can perceive of nothing outside of them to change their awareness.”

    Please kept this in mind as I respond to some of walto’s other statements:

    walto: “… few will agree that “loss of beliefs” requires any ‘perceived event’.”

    From (and only from) the perspective of an outside observer, when “some murderer … blows her [Stella’s] brains out” or she suffers some less dramatic death, she will indeed lose her beliefs (i.e., lose her awareness). However, from the perspective of the person who may or may not lose their beliefs, e.g., Stella, such loss does indeed require some perceived event. Why else would one lose or change their beliefs, again from their perspective?

    walto: “Ehlmann’s assertions that when one awakes from a dream that one was swimming, one must have some non-swimming experience to lose the swimming ‘belief,’ and that when one begins counting down from 100 before surgery, if one’s sedation was absolute, one must awake to the thought of (say) 93, both seem to me obviously contrary to nearly everybody’s experience. However, I have not been able to convince him of this to date, so I thought I would try another tack.”

    Let ME more precisely state my assertions. When dreaming that one is swimming, one is not aware they are not swimming until they wake up. When one is counting backwards while being sedated, one is not aware they are not doing so until they wake up. With the NAC, one does not wake up!

    walto: “The actual problem with his contention is that no support has been provided for the claim that there will be anything whatever succeeding the last conscious experience.”

    In the mind of the outside observer there will be nothing. However, in the mind of the dying person, there will be a forever, timeless awareness—perhaps of near nothingness, perhaps of just a peaceful and content moment, perhaps of an end of life dream (as walto discusses) that now “sketches” into infinity, or perhaps of a heavenly NDE. If the reader of NAC article can just stay in the mind of the dying person, I believe they will see that much support is provided in the article for the NAC and natural afterlife.

    walto: “Indeed, that is what those denying an afterlife generally believe.”

    And indeed, that is the one of the orthodox views of death that I’m finding is so unbelievably hard to challenge, as in:

    keiths: “Whether or not you perceive the end of your NDE, it ends. It’s a brain-based experience, after all.”

    Yes! So true, and yet so stated from the perspective of the outside observer. What one does or does not perceive doesn’t matter, really?

    Finally, concerning whether the NAC and natural afterlife are comforting, irrelevant, or terrifying depends on the individual. I try to stay neutral on this except to point out all of the possibilities inherent in the phenomenon that I’ve identified and struggled to describe. In the last paragraph of the NAC article’s conclusion, I briefly address what I feel are its broad philosophical implications.

    Again, I hope you read the revised NAC article carefully with all your preconceived notions about death left at the door (which is tough). And try to stay only within the mind of the dying person and remember that the NAC is timeless (though the dying person doesn’t know it). And like walto, let me know of your misgivings or any errors that you may find.

  39. Bryon: Let ME more precisely state my assertions. When dreaming that one is swimming, one is not aware they are not swimming until they wake up. When one is counting backwards while being sedated, one is not aware they are not doing so until they wake up.

    Welcome to TSZ, Bryon.

    Because of our email correspondence, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to convince you of (what I take to be your) error here. But I want to hasten to say that I absolutely agree that dreamers are not aware that they are not swimming [or whatever] until they wake up, and no surgery patient can be aware that she is not counting backwards anymore until she awakens from the anesthetic.

    But this just points up the same confusion I’ve complained about countless times to you via email. Not being aware does not require or involve being aware either of this or that or of not this or that. All that it requires is the absence of any awareness at all. Rocks have the property. Non-awareness does not, as you seem to think, imply awareness of nothing. And this is true both of rocks and of entities that were sentient at one time or another. I don’t know any other way to say this.

    Perhaps, if anyone else here understands what I’m saying and agrees with me about it, he or she may be able to put the matter in a way that will seem more compelling than any I have been able to produce.

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