Monday, November 30, 2015

Part #4: Life after Death?

Philosopher Hartshorne’s View of Reality: Death and the Question of After Life

For most of us humans, death comes all too soon, to millions of persons even before they even reach 10 years of age.

Of what worth is a tiny brief finite primate life in comparison to the vastness of the universe which is billions of years across?

Charles Hartshorne sought to deal with this deep quandary.

(Recall his complex Process Philosophy, panentheism, which we discussed and reflected on in the first 3 parts of this study.)

Here are 2 key graphics:

“To Hartshorne, a person's life was like a beautiful painting or a poem. It has a beginning and an end, but it exists forever in that those who live on can observe it and benefit from it.”
Beautiful painting? Deep poem?

Or how about the exquisite beauty of the extremely brief life of a Monarch butterfly?

Quality of life doesn’t have to equal length.

Besides the seemingly impossibility of mind surviving its grounding in the brain seems nigh impossible to defy. If the movie projector stops, the very real Academy Award winning film stops. A human “I” is a living process, not a thing. Does not my “I” stop when the billions of my neurons quit?*

And too often the childish literal concepts of the afterlife were an embarrassment to scientists and philosophers who were theists, who wrestled with the great question. Plus, the eternal damnation into Hell for unbelievers in creedal Christianity and Islam was deeply troubling ethically to many.

Probably most of the readers of this blog have heard about the Christian Heaven and Hell most of their lives, so I will only cite a Muslim view:
“Islam teaches that Hell is a real place prepared by God for those who do not believe in Him, rebel against His laws, and reject His messengers. Hell is an actual place, not a mere state of mind or a spiritual entity. The horrors, pain, anguish, and punishment are all real, but different in nature than their earthly counterparts. Hell is the ultimate humiliation and loss, and nothing is worse than it:
“Our Lord! Surely, whom You admit to the Fire, indeed You have disgraced him, and never will the wrongdoers find any helpers.” (Quran 3:192)

“Surely, God has cursed the disbelievers, and has prepared for them a flaming Fire wherein they will abide for ever.” (Quran 33:64)

Also, since everything happens according to the foreordination of God (called “fate” or “predestination” in Islam), the Muslim afterlife seems as damned horrific as the Augustinian-Reformed one of Christianity. In both cases, before humans are even born, before the universe is created, all humans are predestined to Hell, or in some cases to Heaven:-(

So when Process Philosophers offer a different more scientifically possible hypothesis for life after death, this is accepted by some people avidly.

At first, glance, the idea of being remembered by God for the everlasting future appeals to many of people grasping for hope. They find these metaphysical speculations so much more positive than hellfire or singing praises to God like he is some insecure petty medieval monarch. And the panentheism view is definitely much better than the literal crassness of Muslim men getting 72 virgins and Christians entering through pearly gates.

For my own part, even when I reached an age of critical thinking and abstraction, as much as I hoped for eternal life, the specifics always seemed very vague, and hard to imagine. It was a general hope, not a highly imaged dogmatic belief.

And I certainly rejected the literal description of Hell and Heaven of most Christian leaders. For instance, the brilliant Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas claimed only a limited number of afterlife-humans would look down from Heaven upon the billions of damned humans being tortured in eternal flames including their loved ones and friends, and give God all the praise and glory!

Sick, sick, sick ethically, a horrifically evil doctrine.

Process Philosophy completely rejects such a horrid outlook.
What a wonderfully different hypothesis, that Ultimate Reality remembers us, every detail of our lives forever.

So the theistic philosopher Charles Hartshorne and the brilliant mathematician and thinker Alfred Lord Whitehead
explained in their writings that there isn’t any "subject" aware afterlife,
but rather an objective afterlife. We former conscious ethical entities reside as permanent memories within God’s everlasting process life.

But every philosophical solution, usually has its own problems, right?

This alternative to the traditional understanding of the Heaven and Hell has its own negative aspect.

In the traditional religious view of the afterlife, all wrong will be righted, and justice and mercy and compassion will come to those tragic billions who lived tragic, all too short lives, such as the 3-year-old toddler who is suffering from malnutrition or leukemia.

Think of the billions who suffered in the countless slaughters, plagues, famines, or daily abuse of history, of their all too brief moment under the crushing boot heel of history, under the ruthless indifference of natural selection.

In the new sincere proposal by Hartshorne, Whitehead, and other thinkers of Process Philosophy,
of those who have suffered horrifically
will ever escape the horrors, their suffering. Nothing will be redeemed, only remembered:-(

While all sentient lives will be a permanent memory within God, is that a state to be valued if all the injustices and horrors and sufferings are never rectified!?

Remember, Hartshorne also wrote, “It has a beginning and an end, but it exists forever in that those who live on can observe it and benefit from it.”

As nice as Hartshorne’s image of a person existing like a brief poem sounds, to be remembered, the horrific problem with such a view
is that the vast majority of billions of humans
in the last 100,000 years
don’t get remembered by others even in the present life, not by anyone ever.:-(

As far as the billions of humans living now are concerned or aware, the billions of humans and countless sentient animals of the past NEVER existed. My family members don’t even know anything about our ancestors 3 or 4 generations back, let alone be able to “observe and benefit”!

They didn’t exist so that we "can observe [those past humans] and benefit from [their lives]” (Hartshorne’s phrase).

Once or twice in a generation, an anthropologist (or archaeologist or historian) finds skeletal remains, but even then, no one knows the inner life of that human who existed 60,000 years ago.

On the contrary—think of it--there are millions of recent humans who no one remembers now. For instance, millions of individuals who only lived a hundred or two hundred years ago are erased from human memory already.

There are plenty of faded Brady photographs of soldiers from over 150 years ago in the U.S. War Between the States. The still images are available to us in museums and books, but in many of the pictures the individuals are unknown. No one knows who they were, let alone knowing their deep inner lives. Heck, we don’t even know basic details. Their staring faces look down to us, but no stories are there for us to understand those men and women.

Historians haven't even been able to identify them. On some battlefields in Virginia, unknown corpses lay on the ground unburied even 3 years later:-(

Except for a fading image, all the beauty, poetic or scientific skill and inner life of each person is gone. As well as all the terror, sorrow, and loss.

Let’s say that God does record and remember. Of what help is that to us who live, or to those who are permanently gone?

I realize that Charles Hartshorne was trying to deal with the huge difficulty of how a human’s mind can survive beyond his human brain’s end.

But, as much as one can find keen insights in some of Hartshorne’s philosophical views, his answer that individual humans have no conscious future, that there is no life after death--except as God's permanent memory--seems weak and fraught with sorrow and unredeemable loss.

What do you think?


*A new Danish scientific study in “shows that astrocytes, which are also present in the brain, have responses that are almost as quick as those of the neurons. This, argue the researchers (such as Barbara Lykke Lind of the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen), means that the astrocytes may also play a part in thinking and feeling.”

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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