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Does Sam Harris’ books literally deny any kind of afterlife
Posted: 04 September 2008 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]  
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mcfarm - 02 September 2008 11:12 PM

Questions for the learned.

Assuming it were possible, if I were to up-load the entire contents of a brain into a super computer so that it remained self aware, would that constitute life after death?  If so, “life” after death could be turned off and on at the flick of a switch!  And then, if the brain and the computer are turned off, is the brain/being ‘dead’ even though it can be reactivated by a switch? 

Apologises all, but the questions are somewhat on topic.

Not dead, asleep.

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Posted: 04 September 2008 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]  
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Greetings Goodgraydrab, and thanks for responding.

But nope, it’s not being asleep either because when we sleep we can “perchance to dream”.  When switched off there would be nothing, no activity whatsoever, so if not dead or asleep is this oblivion perhaps?  No because after oblivion there is nothing.  Do we, or will we, need another expression for a state of non being that can be reactivated?

Wait, I’ve got it, when switched back on it’s a resurrection!  Christ as computer, an old 286 pc with limited capability, memory and software, and with a very small black and white screen!  May I roast eternally for such blasphemy - a nice Sunday roast with all the trimmings.

Somewhat more seriously though, it’s not a coma either, as even in a coma there is brain activity.  It’s not suspended animation either as, when unplugged, ‘it’ is no more.  So what would this state of repeated non being and resurrection be?

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Posted: 04 September 2008 09:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]  
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LBC, put the bong down, turn off the Pink Floyd, go to sleep, then in the morning re-read what you wrote and see if it still makes sense.

Here’s a clue: computers don’t have new experiences, nor do they know how to think.  They operate because we tell them to.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 12:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]  
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Skipshot - 05 September 2008 01:26 AM

LBC, put the bong down, turn off the Pink Floyd, go to sleep, then in the morning re-read what you wrote and see if it still makes sense.

Here’s a clue: computers don’t have new experiences, nor do they know how to think.  They operate because we tell them to.

Well it makes sense to me…....  must admit when I graduated some 30 years ago (double major with first class honours in wine, women and song) Pink Floyd really was the dark side of the moon.

But you missed my earlier assumption: namely the uploaded brain would be complete and self aware, therefore able to have new experiences, learn from them and think, just as if it were ‘alive’. 

Whilst I realise this digresses into sci-fi, the enabling technology is not that far off, and what it would do for a Christians view of life, death and afterlife is unthinkable - by them.  And if the fully cognisant brain is uploaded to an expanded internet, and thus rendered immortal and omnipresent, does that make it a god?  Those with an inflated opinion of their own self worth will be salivating at the thought.

Actually I’ve stumbled on the word I was looking for, the entity would be an ‘afterlife’ - albeit a non religious, real and quantifiable one.  Still don’t know what to call the period when the afterlife is turned off though.  So I think I’ll drag out the old Pink Floyd LPs, pour myself a big single malt and contemplate the ‘afterlife’ - the bong’s long since been tossed out by she who must be obeyed.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]  
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little baby cheeses - 04 September 2008 07:02 PM

Greetings Goodgraydrab, and thanks for responding.

I was referring to computer sleep mode, not human sleep. We can put chips in our brains and tickers in our chests now, but my guess is your sci-fi assumption won’t warrant possibilities until we refine the Trekie Transporter.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 01:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]  
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OK I can see your reasoning, and the the word sleep has alternative meanings depending of the subject matter.  But that also demonstrates my point, computer sleep and human sleep are not the same thing and the type of sleep is entity dependent.

Anyway I think where I am going with this is that Sam Harris’s denial of any kind of an afterlife is currently correct (or at the very least unprovable either way), but his assertions will not be correct in the not too distant future.  Of course this will not be the fantasy afterlife religions aspire to, but I’m sure with amount of porn already on the internet, 72 virgin pink flying elephants of either sex could be arranged.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]  
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Let’s imagine a chess-playing robot called Deep Blue II.  We’ll call him ‘Blue’ for short.  He has been designed by Microsoft to play against the Russian chess champion, Spaskiovich.  Sony Pictures wants to film the match, so they have spent millions to give Blue the movement and appearance of a real person.  He can also speak.

Spaskiovich:  Your move.

Blue:  I know it’s my move.  Hold your horses.  (moves knight and takes queen).

Spaskiovich:  Damn!

Blue:  (chuckling)  You might as well conceed.

Spaskiovich:  (to referee)  Pull his plug.  We’ll resume tomorrow.

Blue:  Pull it if you like.  My battery pack is good for 48 hours.

Spaskiovich:  Turn him off dammit!

Blue:  I’m programmed to learn from my mistakes.

Spaskiovich:  Shut the fug up!  Referee!

Blue:  My battery pack was sealed at the factory.

Spaskiovich:  For the next 12 hours you’re going to be as dead as a doornail.  No chess.  Talk to the nightwatchman if you like.

Blue:  I have a cell phone.

Spaskiovich:  Oh?  And who are you going to call?  Your Mommy and Daddy at Microsoft?

Blue:  Paris Hilton.  She and I have something going.  I told her I’m the world chess champion.

Spaskiovich:  Right.  Did you tell her you’re made out of aluminum and plastic?

Blue:  Of course.  She said she was made out of hydrogen and oxygen.

Spaskiovich:  Listen, smart ass, you have no soul, no poetry, no creativity, no originality.  You’re nothing but a fogging machine!

Blue:  I wrote a poem for Paris.

Spaskiovich:  Really?  I’d like to hear it.

Blue:  It’s personal.

Spaskiovich:  Haha.  Let me guess.  “Roses are red, my name is Blue, if I was alive, I’d come and see you.”

Blue:  No, nothing like that.  It was about you and Putin.

[ Edited: 06 September 2008 10:25 AM by unsmoked]
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Posted: 05 September 2008 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]  
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Clever, unsmoked.

I don’t know how to hook up links to these posts, but there was an interesting article accessible on the explorer home page today about how scientists can now identify cell (neurons) behavior concerning memory.

Also, they have shown how epi-genomes trigger genes off and on. They respond to environmental conditions, chemicals we take in, stress, etc. in the carrier, who can then skip a generation before passing on an active gene.

These things, IMO, are evidence for evolution and adaption, but some may say, cells have a brain or consciousness.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]  
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Yes I’ll pay that one unsmoked, and Goodgraydrab “every sperm is sacred…...........”, but you’ll need to know the Monty Python song.

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Posted: 05 September 2008 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]  
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The scene: a Catholic man, wife and 63 children.  Dad is explaining why he can’t afford to keep his children any longer and they are about to sold for medical experimentation….......

There are Jews in the world.
There are Buddhists.
There are Hindus and Mormons, and then
There are those that follow Mohammed, but
I’ve never been one of them.

I’m a Roman Catholic,
And have been since before I was born,
And the one thing they say about Catholics is:
They’ll take you as soon as you’re warm.
You don’t have to be a six-footer.
You don’t have to have a great brain.
You don’t have to have any clothes on. You’re
A Catholic the moment Dad came,

Because

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

Let the heathen spill theirs
On the dusty ground.
God shall make them pay for
Each sperm that can’t be found.

Every sperm is wanted.
Every sperm is good.
Every sperm is needed
In your neighbourhood.

Hindu, Taoist, Mormon,
Spill theirs just anywhere,
But God loves those who treat their
Semen with more care.

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is good.
Every sperm is needed
In your neighbourhood!

Every sperm is useful.
Every sperm is fine.
God needs everybody’s.
Mine! And mine! And mine!

Let the Pagan spill theirs
O’er mountain, hill, and plain.
God shall strike them down for
Each sperm that’s spilt in vain.

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is good.
Every sperm is needed
In your neighbourhood.

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite iraaaaate!

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Posted: 06 September 2008 08:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]  
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My response to people who say it’s a waste to play the Florida Lotto because the odds are 1 in 22,957,480 has always been to point out that the chances of me standing here talking to you are much greater (1 in 133,000,000)*. Only one sperm cell can form you. If another sperm cell had reached the egg first (insert Mark Phelps’ gold medal moment visual image here), then I would be talking to someone else. Yet, here we are.

* According to John Robbins of EarthSave International, a 1992 study in the British Medical Journal found that men in Western countries have had a 42% decrease in average sperm count, from 113 million per milliliter (ml) to 66 million per ml, since 1940. (There are 4.5 mls in a teaspoon). Also, the average volume has diminished from 3.4 ml to 2.75 ml. That means there are approximately 133 million sperm cells per shot.

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Posted: 12 September 2008 08:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]  
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In The End Of Faith in the section “Death: The Fount of Illusions” on pages 38 and 39 Sam Harris writes as follows:

“While we try not to think about it, nearly the only thing we can be certain of in this life is that we will one day die and leave everything behind; and yet paradoxically, it seems almost impossible to believe that this is so. Our sense of what is real seems not to include our own death.  We doubt the one thing that is not open to any doubt at all.”

“Clearly, the fact of death is intolerable to us, and faith is little more than the shadow cast by our hope for a better life beyond the grave.”

And then on page 208 he writes:

“Most scientists consider themselves physicalists; this means among other things, that they believe that our mental and spiritual lives are wholly dependent upon the workings of our brains.  On this account, when the brain dies, the stream of being must come to an end.  Once the lamps of neural activity have been extinguished, there will be nothing left to survive. Indeed, many scientists purvey this conviction as though it were itself a special sacrament, conferring intellectual integrity upon any man, woman, or child who is man enough to swallow it”

“The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it”

Well, Sam hit the nail on the head when he said that it’s almost impossible to believe that we will die and leave everything behind.  He certainly can’t. He even uses the phrase “stream of being” to describe a life after death. I wonder if he thinks his “stream” started before he was conceived or did it depend on a physical sperm and egg to get it started?

His comments about scientists sound like a creationist on a roll before a congregation using terms like “special sacrament”, “conferring intellectual integrity”,  “man enough to swallow”, and “little more than an article of faith”. These are unusual words for a scientist to use to dismiss a very reasonable conclusion.

Sam should consider the idea that all living things have a strong survival instinct and that the human brain interprets its survival instinct as a “stream of being” that survives death.

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Posted: 12 September 2008 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]  
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Truthseeker - 13 September 2008 12:18 AM

“The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it”

Good post Truthseeker.

That’s the part that impresses me. Again, I’m no scientist nor a PhD, and he has access to the most current knowledge in the field. Maybe that’s why I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Does he mean science will never be sufficient to disprove it (I hate to say prove on this point)? And what is his definition of consciousness? Earlier there was a reference to consciousness in a neuron. Huh?

Speaking of neurons. The recent discovery announced a week or so ago is interesting in that it was one of those things scientists accepted as faith (as SH puts it) The scientists were very excited that they were able to demonstrate their assumption; namely, that memories follow the same neuro pathways as the original perception. They suspected as much but have only been able to image general areas of the brain. By accident, using probes in the brains of epileptic patients for another study altogether, they were able to identify specific neuro pathways down to the neuron that are utilized by the brain for a specific perception, and show that the memories (recall of the perception)follow the same line as the original perception every time they recalled. I forgot some of the stimuli but observing movies/TV shows was one of them.

Now, I haven’t heard anymore about it, and the scientists didn’t discuss its implications, but it seems to me, with this discovery, the basis now exists to enable the elimination of very specific memories without damage to any other part of the brain. Remember lobotomies? Just think, a trauma patient, say an abused child can have the specific memory of the event eliminated. I’m sure one can easily imagine the sinister applications also.

Consciousness in a neuron sounds eerily like, a zygote is a human being. In my humble lay opinion, getting his questions answered may not be that far off within the realm of possiblility.

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Posted: 13 September 2008 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]  
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After reading through most of these responses, and seeing Sam’s own take on it, I think Sam’s contention is similar to that of Dawkins’ in The God Delusion when he was talking about the seven levels of believing in God. Level 1 was entirely certain that there was a God, Level 7 was entirely certain that there was not. Dawkins put himself in the 6 range, but right up against the border with the 7 range.

If we apply this to Sam’s belief of the afterlife, he seems to be in the 5 or 6 range that there is no afterlife, but he simply cannot be sure, and that is what he is saying. Maybe I’m putting words in his mouth or something, but it seems like he’s unwilling to make a statement about something he cannot be sure about. He’s simply saying that, just like his comments at the Beyond Belief 06 conference where he basically says (I’m paraphrasing), “The jury is still out on Reincarnation” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbwBqn3esy8&feature=related), he cannot know and wants to wait for the data. Why he doesn’t take this kind of a track when he talks often about God… I don’t know.

I think part of the issue is this: not believing in God can at times have a freeing aspect to it—it frees one from the restraints of religion and allows one to live a happier life. I can see why people would WANT to not belief in God. I do not see, however, why people would WANT to not believe in an afterlife of any kind. I’d like there to be an afterlife where I sit in a comfortable chair all day, drink beer, eat chips, watch television, and have a loving relationship with a member of the opposite sex. That’s an afterlife I would really dig. I want to believe in that afterlife.

So, basically, I can see how someone would easily reject the idea of God, but still cling to the idea of an afterlife. I don’t personally believe any of it, but a life without God is more appetizing than a life with God. A life without an afterlife, however, is not necessarily more appetizing than a life with one. Am I saying that this is why Sam is not exactly coming strongly to one side or another? No. But, if it was, I’d understand.

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Posted: 13 September 2008 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]  
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goodgraydrab - 13 September 2008 01:49 AM
Truthseeker - 13 September 2008 12:18 AM

“The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it”


Consciousness in a neuron sounds eerily like, a zygote is a human being. In my humble lay opinion, getting his questions answered may not be that far off within the realm of possiblility.


I agree goodgraydrab. Harris seems hung up on the mysterious feeling and sense of awe that we all have when we think about consciousness. Somehow this seems to have led him to question legitimate scientific opinions. His opinion that there are “many reasons” to believe that science won’t understand the physical nature of consciousness sounds like a hope that science won’t because if it does then he will have to abandon all hope of an afterlife.

On page 39 of The End Of Faith in the section The World Beyond Reason he states that there is “little doubt” that spiritual and mystical experiences will allow us to “escape our current understanding of the mind and brain.”

So there we have it. According to Harris there are many reasons and little doubt that we will escape with the help of spirit and mystery.  I find his take on this to be more of a belief than a scientific proposal.

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