When we are talking about deep philosophical notions such as the ultimate foundation of reality, human life, meaning and purpose, inevitably the idea will come up regarding life after death. In particular, if there is any life after death, what that could potentially be like, and in what capacity could we potentially experience that. Essentially, are we more than just a body? Do we have what people throughout history have called a soul?
I tend to subscribe to the notion, based upon philosophical thinking, logic and rationality, that we do in fact have something like a soul or something that survives the body after death. And here’s why: because there is an immaterial aspect in every human being referred to as intellect and will, or intentionality and abstract thought. I don’t believe those are grounded in the brain and simply a product of material processes like chemistry and physics.
Now there’s the obvious question then of why do situations in the brain or affecting the brain (like brain damage or drinking too much alcohol) affect intellect and will? It sure seems as though our thinking is simply the result of brain function. But not so fast, the philosophers say.
Aristotle, long ago, concluded that thinking depends upon imagination. Specifically, abstract thought depends upon things like our senses and imagination capabilities within the brain. So, thinking depends upon brain function to be able to occur, but it is not grounded solely in the brain. And that is the key.
We can’t cook and create a wonderful food dish without the various ingredients. So, too, can we not think without images, or memories, or sensory information in the brain that we attain from physical processes. Thinking abstractly, philosophically speaking, is not the same as sensing. The senses only know and see particular things – they apprehend particulars, or specifics characteristics.
Thinking About Dogs
For example, if you’re asked to think of a dog, you do two things. First, you picture a particular dog in your head, and you also bring to mind the concept “dog”. Your senses understand the shape, size, color, smell, feel of a particular dog. If you imagine a large dog, but you are asked if a small dog is still a dog, obviously you would answer yes. But if your concept of dog was the same as the image of the large dog you just formed, then you couldn’t know that a small dog was a dog.
The concept of dog abstracts from the particular features that make dogs, dogs. What it is like to be a dog is more than just physical quantities picked up by the senses. There is a conceptual element to “dogness”. And concepts are not physical things.
So, what is doing the thinking then? I tend to believe it is something like a non-physical soul. And this is what survives the body after physical death. This is the immaterial aspect unique to every human being on earth that animates it here and now. And I believe it carries on after death. Now, as to where it might go, and in what capacity it carries on, I’ll leave that for you to think about.
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