Friday, January 2, 2009

Some fun speculation on "life after death" and other eschatological issues

We must have all wondered at some time or other whether there is some kind of “life after death”. Well, on that topic (“eschatology” I believe it is called in theology) I would like to undertake a little bit of fun speculation, nowhere even close to being exhaustive, of course, but I hope any that might read this will find it interesting (and perhaps might stimulate any such reader to add more ideas and variations).
Is it necessarily eternal? It is usually assumed to be so, but what if instead it is finite? What if “eternal darkness” (non-being, or utter annihilation) then follows that? Or, what if there is an after life to that, and so on? These might go on forever, or a length we might arrive a final one that is either eternal or of finite duration.
What if, as Farmer brilliantly explores in Riverworld fantasy/science fiction series of novels, there is an after life, but it has been technologically produced? (this seems related to physicist Frank Tipler’s “Omega Point” philosophy also)? Or what if this world is some kind of simulation, or video game, where the "pawns" (us) are conscious?
What if Christianity is largely true, but God is finite, or just one of many Gods, or is somehow just in a hierarchal chain of Gods? Perhaps He is infinite, but is still in the middle of a hierarchy, as we believe infinities can have different orders.
What if we are God or gods, somehow fragmented into billions of entities for the sake of enjoyment in experiencing life? Though not the usual interpretation, this could kind of jive with the "Son of man" term Jesus used. Maybe, in this view, after death we are reabsorbed into “The One”, but can still remember all of our individual lives.
What if the above is true, but it is a final kind of thing, for maybe eternal life as a single entity was boring, and this is the swan song of existence? What if it is some kind of punishment, where a great supernatural entity had to be fragmented and incarnate in a tangible world for some duration?
What if we are all really only one being, somehow “partitioned” to actually experience the life of everyone, ultimate reality being somehow outside of time? This is rather like Wheeler's idea with there only being a single electron that is scattered forwards and backward in time to create the impression that there are ~10^90 electrons in the universe a given time even though in a sense it is all the same one.
What if each of us really lives in his own separate universe?--a kind of combining of solipsism with the branching many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. The others in each persons own branch are "dummies", that actually do have their own universe. In Bob's universe, Bill is not real, and vice versa. Or it can be made even more complex, where Bill in Bob's universe is coupled to the Bill in Bill's universe in a very complex indirect way.
What if we are some kind of ranch animal, being put out to pasture by either a supernatural agency or an alien civilization of this tangible universe? This might be like the way we keep sheep for their wool or cows for dairy products. For example, what if it is art that Man produces? Maybe after producing art over some time interval, Man will be destroyed (or even eaten or consumed in some manner, as we might cattle or sheep) and the art will be taken by the gods for their amusement or enjoyment. Or maybe it is only enjoyed by them in real time, like a play (as in Russell's opening to A Free Man's Worship"), where once it is over that's all there is; the art dies with Man. Or maybe the Universe is to find those spirits which can produce art, and they are kept alive in some manner. This prolonged life might be of finite or of infinite duration (seemingly finite if the ranchers are tangible, however). There are other possibilities besides art: what if it is war, or sporting events, that these gods or aliens like to see. Maybe we are a sort of enormous gladiator arena for the cruel amusement of bloodthirsty gods (in some ways, this would seem to be the perspective in Greek mythology).
What if there is a supernatural realm, but it is empty, i.e., unoccupied. Perhaps it has never been occupied, or possibly it has been but the gods have left it or died (or have become us). Perhaps it is waiting for us, either as gods returning, or as newly made ones--in a way, the Christian religion seems to be a variant of this (except it doesn't say the supernatural realm is empty), where it seems to be maintained that man (or some subset of them) will be made gods through "The Christ."
What if Man is “Satan”? This is perhaps consistent with the Christian view. Perhaps the Christian mythos of the fallen angel really involves Man collectively. Or perhaps there was a fallen created being, perhaps an "angel" Satan, and he was fragmented into smaller divided entities.
There is a whole array of possibilities along these lines: that Man is some intermediary that will give rise to something higher. This is the kind of thing often explored in the works of science fiction, especially Arthur C. Clarke. The something higher may be a development of man (as in Clarke's 2001), or it may be another unrelated entity or race altogether (perhaps involving the eventual disposal of humanity as no longer needed once its midwife role is done). Consider the robots preparing the world of Rama for the Ramans in Rendezvous with Rama--we may be like that for a race-to-be, or for a race that periodically appears, or awakens to some mode of existence. Perhaps we are creating this higher form of life in the direction we are taking with computers, as a silicon based life form. Or perhaps this is only the practice drill, and a later--and better--form of life will evolve from man's technology. In this view, in the spirit of this exercise in speculation, I am suggesting it not be an accident that man produces these, but rather the unfolding of a plan.
Related to this is another class of possibilities involving the earth as a giant organism, that perhaps man is serving or helping to fully create. The Internet comes to mind. Lewis Thomas' The Lives of a Cell also, where he argues that the earth is like a giant cell. The "Gaia Principle", much beloved of the New Age set also enters our minds here. Of course, the idea of man as a kind of cancer or malignancy arises also.
Another rich, if dubious idea, centers around that of “reincarnation”, perhaps through other galaxies in this universe, or in parallel universes. But I will postpone exploration of that for a later time.

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