Sunday, October 03, 2004

Welcome to Oblivion

The friendly staff at recently posted a question regarding the existence or non-existence of an "afterlife." Although the uptight X-tian or hedonistic mallrat relishes an opportunity to leap into the fray and provide an analysis-lite, any rational, well-thoughtout answer to this metaphysical chestnut will require a decision on materialism vs. immaterialism. Though most philosophers and brain scientists appear to hold to non-mystical and anti-theological positions, there may be some grounds to believe that consciousness may not be entirely material. Philosopher David Chalmers (web search him) argues that since there are facts about consciousness that are not deducible from physical facts, materialism is false:

(1) There are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths.

(2) If there are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths, then materialism is false.

(3) Materialism is false.

Verifying the first premise is of course the crux, and the "hard problem" of consciousness that Chalmers discusses. I am not sure how one goes about establishing the truth of that first premise: is it a purely scientific question? Let us assume that is true. The argument does not necessarily imply God, or immortality, or heaven or hell. Though admittedly not a quantum neuro-scientist or whatever the "consciousness experts" are termed these days, I tend towards skepticism of any immaterial accounts of consciousness, yet it is not logically impossible that immaterial states of consciousness exist; and if these states do exist then some form of "spiritual incarceration," or, conversely, a spiritual reward, is a possibility, however remote.

We can quite easily conceive of a Hitler or Pol Pot in some form of hell, or perdition, or Tartarus. Some would situate George W. Bush there (though his sin is more of stupidity perhaps than evil); others might conceive of say Rosie O'Donnell in some uncomfortable hot vat. Hell may be formulated perhaps on ethical and logical grounds, as well as religious grounds. Dante was more than willing to put hypocritical Christians in hell--simply ingesting the eucharist each and every Sunday is certainly not sufficient to gain admittance into the realms of the Blessed.

Thus I object to the notion of automatic forgiveness that so many fundamentalist morons would have us believe is true. What about virtuous pagans, such as LitKickers? In Dante's Inferno, the greek philosophers were placed in Elysium, not in Hell, but more like Purgatory, where it's sort of gloomy, but the light of reason was always observable. Yet the pagans never escape from Purgatory. Purgatory is really not a bad idea--remember that Professor that gave you a B when you definitely earned an A? Perhaps after 5000 years or so, when her spiritual errors are purged, she crawls out of her hole of excrement and is allowed admittance into the bottom rings of Heaven. If a person lived a fairly ethical and rational life, then he or she may be rewarded, sort of like being admitted to the cosmic fraternity, and joins the "elect"--Alpha Beta Epsilon, or whatever.

Virtuous pagans and skeptics, say Thomas Jefferson or Einstein, thus are admitted into some spiritual land of the blesssed, regardless of their doubts of Scripture; whereas moronic violent believers (say Falwell) are not. The parallel worlds hypothesis of some quantum physicists also offers interesting afterlife scenarios; though I think a Newton, whose constants and equations, for the most part, still accurately map the mechanics of planetary motion, is ranked much higher than irrationalists and equivocators such as Derrida and the post-modernists, who may be hard-pressed to gain entrance into Purgatory. Is knowledge of integrals, set theory, special and general relativity, etc. a requirement for access to upper echleons of Paradise? That is not implausible. Is the ability to conjugate French verbs a requirement? Membership in the Rotary Club? Have in your possession at the time of death a well-behaved wifey and kids, as well as property--Welcome to the Pearly Gates Country Club: ONLY WHITE MALE PROPERTY OWNERS ALLOWED. Or perhaps there are heavens and hells for everyone, of all religious or non-religious creeds, a sort of pantheistic play of forces, where in one realm, a Derrida or a William Burroughs is near some linguistic paradise, and in another they are being looked over by jackal-faced demons characteristic of the egyptian underworld......

As an aside, I must say I find Dante's Inferno quite entertaining. I especially enjoy contemplating the lower levels, the Malebolge, where the Hypocrites and Betrayers are located, quite a bit lower than those guilty of mere sins of the flesh (whores and sodomites, etc.). Signior Dante obviously felt that those who had betrayed their country, their countrymen, and/or children were near the bottom of Hell. There seem to be quite a few corrupt Catholic clergymen and noblemen, assassins and murderers as well. The Prophet Mohammed is down there, as are numerous other heretics, as well as corrupt judges such as Caiaphas. In the icy center of the hell-lake Cocytus, Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar, and his cohort Cassius are being gnawed on by Lucifer, their heads out; Judas Iscariot of course is being swallowed eternally head-first by the massive Lucifer, who, in a mockery of the Trinity, has 3 mouths.

Contemporary professionals--Liberal and Conservative--should absorb a bit of this. Those academics and professionals who would consistently violate Jeffersonian principles of meritocracy (though sworn to uphold such principles), reject logic and reason, and dismiss any notions of objective ethics or justice, as well as blithely ignore the general humanistic teachings of Scripture, those are our contemporary Caiaphases, who, in some perdition, considered either from a secular or sacred standpoint, art to be damned.....

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