C. J. Ducasse -
A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death
Publisher: Charles C Thomas
Availability: Out of Print
PART 1: Immortality, Religion and Science
Chapter 1: Belief and Disbelief in a Life After Death
Chapter 2: Religion and the Belief in a Life After Death
Chapter 3: The Case Against the Possibility of a Life After Death
PART 2: The Key Concepts
Chapter 4: What is "Material"; and What is "Living"?
Chapter 5: What is "Mental"?
Chapter 6: What is "A Mind"?
PART 3: The Relation Between Mind and Body
Chapter 7: What Would Establish the Possibility of Survival?
Chapter 8: Mind Conceived as Bodily Processes; Matter Conceived as Sets of Ideas
Chapter 9: Two Versions of Psycho-physical Parallelism
Chapter 10: Mind as "The Halo Over the Saint"
Chapter 11: Hypophenomenalism: The Life of Organism as Product of Mind
Chapter 12: Mind and Body as Acting Each on the Other
Chapter 13: Lamont's Attack on Mind-Body Dualism
PART 4: Discarnate Life After Death and the Ostensibly Relevant Empirical Evidence for it
Chapter 14: Various Sense of the Question Regarding Survival After Death
Chapter 15: Survival and Paranormal Occurrences
Chapter 16: Paranormal Occurrences, Science and Scientists
Chapter 17: Instances of Occurrences Prima Facie Indicative of Survival
Chapter 18: Additional Occurrences Relevant to the Question of Survival
Chapter 19: How Stands the Case for the Reality of Survival
PART 5: Discarnate Life After Death and the Ostensibly Relevant Empirical Evidence for it
Chapter 20: The Doctrine of Reincarnation in the History of Thought
Chapter 21: Difficulties in the Reincarnation Hypothesis
Chapter 22: Incompetent Kinds of Evidence for and Against Reincarnation
Chapter 23: Verifications of Ostensible Memories of Earlier Lives
Chapter 24: Regressions to the Past Through Hypnosis
Chapter 25: The Case of "The Search for Bridey Murphy"
Chapter 26: How Stands the Case for the Reality of Survival as Reincarnation?
THE QUESTION whether there is, or can be, or cannot be a life after death for the individual is seldom formulated unambiguously, or approached with a genuinely open mind, or discussed objectively on the basis of the relevant empirical or theoretical considerations. Persons in whom survival after death is an article of religious faith generally assume that it and other dogmas of their religion are, as such, authoritative; and hence that the point of engaging in discussions of the matter is not to try to find out whether or not survival is a fact, but only to convince others that it is a fact - or at least to show them that the reasons which lead them to doubt or to deny it are invalid.
Persons, on the other hand, who have had training in science, or at least those among them who do not lay aside their scientific habits of thought when subjects reputedly religious are concerned, commonly take it for granted today that the progress of physiological and behavioristic psychology has finally proved that the consciousness and personality of man is - as they are wont to phrase it - a function of the nervous system and of certain other constituents of the living human body; and hence that there cannot possibly be for the individual any life or consciousness after the body has died.
A position in some ways intermediate between the two just described is that of the Spiritists or Spiritualists. Survival of the personality after death is held by them to be not an article of faith but a matter of knowledge. That is, they hold it as something for the truth of which they have adequate empirical evidence in the communications, received through the persons they call mediums, that purport to emanate from the surviving spirits of the deceased. Thus, irrespective of whether or not that evidence really proves what it is alleged to prove, the fact that empirical - or more specifically testimonial - evidence is what Spiritualists appeal to for support of their belief means that, in so far, they conceive the question of survival as a scientific rather than as a religious one.
On the other hand, two factors have cooperated in making Spiritism or Spiritualism claim for itself also the status of a religion. One of these factors has been the need to protect the activities of mediums from the application of ordinances or laws against fortune-telling. The other has been that, because of the widespread vagueness as to what questions are or are not essentially religious, and because of the fact that most religions have asserted that there is for the individual a life after death, therefore belief or knowledge as to such life has uncritically been assumed to be religious inherently, rather than perhaps only instrumentally.
In the present book, the question as to the possibility, reality, or impossibility of a life after death is approached without commitment, explicit or implicit, to any one of the three positions concerning it just described. What the book attempts is a philosophical scrutiny of the idea of a life after death. That is, it attempts to set forth, as adequately as possible, the various questions which, on reflection, arise on the subject; to purge them both of ambiguity and of vagueness; to point out what connection the subject does, and does not, have with religion; to examine without prejudice the merits of the considerations - theological or scientific, empirical or theoretical - which have been alleged variously to make certain, or probable, or possible, or impossible, that the human personality survives bodily death; to state what kind of evidence would, if we should have it, conclusively prove that a human personality, or some specified component of it, has survived after death; and to consider the variety of forms which a life after death, if any, could with any plausibility be conceived to take.
Needless to say, this ambitious program is not likely to be carried through with complete success. Nor - in view of the prejudices and the wishful thinking either on the pro or on the contra side which infect the great majority of persons who take some interest in the question - is much of what will be said likely to be found agreeable by all readers; for the sacredness of a number of the "sacred cows" which have influenced the beliefs or disbeliefs entertained on the subject of survival after death will have to be questioned.
Moreover, at a few places, the issues to be considered cannot, by their very nature, be discussed with any prospect of deciding them in a responsible manner unless they are first formulated with greater precision, and their implications then developed more rigorously, than has usually been done in discussions of the question as to a life after death. But precision and rigor - even when utmost care is taken, as it will be, to make its literary form as psychologically painless as possible - entails the need on the reader's part of closer attention than many are willing to give. For it is much easier to jump to conclusions than to draw them responsibly - to jump to conclusions provided they be favorable, if one is moved by wish to believe; or to jump to conclusions provided they be adverse, if one is moved by wish to disbelieve.
The issues involved, however, are ultimately so important that wishful thinking, on either side, will, to the best of the author's ability, be excluded in this book from his consideration of their merits.
The author's obligations to the works of the various writers discussed or referred to in the text are indicated by the footnotes. Some portions of the text have appeared as articles in periodicals. Several Sections of Chapter XI formed part of a communication presented by the author at the 1957 Interamerican Congress of Philosophy, which later appeared in the journal, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, as an article entitled "Life, Telism, and Mechanism." Chapter XVI borrows extensively from an address by the author at the celebration in 1956 of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the American Society for Psychical Research, which, with the other addresses, was published in the Society's journal. Chapters XX and XXV were published as articles, respectively in the International Journal of Parapsychology, and in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Grateful acknowledgement is here made to the editors of these periodicals for permission to incorporate into the text the materials mentioned.
Belief and Disbelief in a Life After Death
THAT THERE is for the human individual some sort of life after death has been and still is widely believed. To the majority of mankind, this idea has not seemed paradoxical nor a life after death difficult to imagine. It has often been conceived as lived in a body and surroundings nearly or quite as material as our present ones, though the future environment and the experiences to be had in it have generally been thought of as rather different whether for the better or the worse, from those of life on earth.
1. Life: physiological or psychological?
Persons, however, who find such a material conception of a future life incredible either because of its crudity or because of the destruction the body undeniably undergoes after it has died, are likely to think of survival in essentially psychological terms and therefore to mean by "personal survival" more or less what Dean W. R. Matthews does, to wit, - that the center of consciousness which was in existence before death does not cease to be in existence after death and that the experience of this center after death has the same kind of continuity with its experience before death as that of a man who sleeps for a while and wakes again."(1)
(1) Psychical Research and Theology, The Sixth Myers Memorial Lecture, Proc. Soc. for Psychical Research, Vol. 46:15, 1940-41.
As we shall see eventually, a number of difficulties are implicit even in this seemingly clear statement. Yet, some meaning thus psychological rather than physiological has to be given to the word "life," if the hypothesis of a life after death is to have any of the personal and social interest it commonly has. For life in the merely biological sense of the word - the sense in which even the body of a man in coma. or a vegetable, has life - has, by itself, only an impersonal scientific interest for us. It acquires any other only if, or in so far as, an organism alive in this physiological sense is a necessary basis for life in the sense of conscious psychological experience. In these pages, therefore, the words, "life after death" - except at places where a different sense may be indicated specifically or by context - will be taken to mean at least conscious psychological experience of some sort, no matter how caused and whether incarnate or discarnate.
2. Survival, immortality, eternal life
I shall refer to the belief that there is for the individual a life after death as belief in survival rather than as belief in immortality; for immortality, strictly speaking, is incapacity to die, which, as ascribed to a human consciousness, entails survival of it forever after bodily death. But survival for some indeterminate though considerable period, rather than specifically forever, is probably what most persons actually have in mind when they think of a life after death. Assurance of survival for a thousand years, or even a hundred, would, for those of us who desire survival, have virtually as much present psychological value as would assurance of survival forever: we should be troubled very little by the idea of individual extinction at so distant a time - even less troubled than is now a healthy and happy youth by the knowledge that he will die within fifty or sixty years.
Persons, on the other hand, who are tired of life; or who have found it to have for them negative rather than positive value and believe this to be of its essence; or who, like Professor C. D. Broad would for some other reason welcome assurance of non-survival; would be more distressed by prospect of survival for a long period, and even more by prospect of survival forever, than by that of survival for only a short time.
The expression "eternal life" is sometimes used to express, in a positive way, what "immortality" - distinguished from simply survival - expresses negatively. "Eternal" life, as so used, then generally means life that is everlasting in the future - life without end though not without beginning. Conceivably, however, life might be without beginning as well as without end. This is what theories such as that of metempsychosis assume, which regard not only the human body but also the human mind or consciousness or soul as an evolutionary product.
Similarly, when God's being is spoken of as "eternal" what is meant is sometimes that he is both without beginning and without end - that he always did and always will exist. Perhaps more often, however, what is meant is that God's consciousness is timeless. Eternal life, then, or consciousness of eternity, whether experienced by God inherently or by man on rare occasions, means a form of consciousness that does not include or that transcends consciousness of time.
For a person the content of whose consciousness were thus timeless, the question whether that content endured but a moment, or a thousand years, would have no meaning since he would have no consciousness either of duration or of change. Indeed, the question could not even present itself to him. But were external observation possible of the consciousness of such a person - for example, of a mystic in ecstasy - the observer could meaningfully say that the other experienced eternal life, or lived in eternity, for five minutes, or as the case might be, for fifteen, or for some other finite time, on a given occasion.
3. Causes of belief in survival
The first question which arises in connection with the idea that there is for the individual an after-death life is why the belief in it is so widespread.
The clue to the answer is to be found in the fact that each of us has always been alive and conscious as far back as he can remember. It is true, of course, that his body is sometimes sunk in deep sleep, or in a faint, or in coma from some injury or grave illness; or that the inhaling of ether or some other anaesthetic makes him unconscious of the surgical operation he then undergoes. But, even at those times a person does not experience unconsciousness, for to experience it would mean being conscious of being unconscious; and this, being a contradiction, is impossible. Indeed, at such times, he may be having vivid dreams; and these are one kind of consciousness. The only experience of unconsciousness a person ever has is, not of total unconsciousness, but of unconsciousness of this or that; as when he reports: "I am not conscious of any pain," or "of any difference between the color of this and of that," etc.
Nor do we ever experience as present in another person unconsciousness itself, but only the fact that, sometimes, some or all of the ordinary activities of his body, through which his being conscious previously manifested itself to us, cease to occur. That consciousness itself is extinguished at such times is only a hypothesis which we construct to account for certain changes in the behavior of another person's body; or to explain the eventual lack in him - or, as the case may be, in ourselves - of memories relating to the period during which the body - his or our own was in an inert, unresponsive state.
Lack of present memory of having been conscious at a particular past time obviously is no proof at all that one was unconscious at that time; for if it were, then it would prove that one was unconscious during the first few years of one's life, and indeed during the vast majority of its days, since one has no memory whatever of one's experiences on any but a very small minority of one's past days. That we were conscious on the others is known to us not by memory of them, but only by inference from facts of various kinds.
The fact, then, is that each person has been alive and conscious at all times he can remember. Being alive and conscious has therefore become in him an ingrained habit; and habit automatically entails both tacit expectations and tacit belief that what is tacitly expected will occur(2). Just as every step which finds ground underfoot builds up tacit belief that so will the subsequent steps, and every breath which finds air to breathe, tacit belief that so will the subsequent breaths, just so does the fact that every past day of one's life was found to have a morrow contribute to generate tacit expectation and belief that every day of one's life will have a living morrow. As J. B. Pratt has pointed out, the child takes the continuity of life for granted. It is the fact of death that has to be taught him. But when he has learned it, and the idea of a future life is then put explicitly before his mind, it seems to him the most natural thing in the world(3).
(2) Cf. C. D. Broad: The Mind and its Place in Nature, p. 524.
(3) S. B. Pratt: The Religious Consciousness, Macmillan, New York, 1943, p. 225.
Such, undoubtedly, is the psychological origin of the widespread ingenuous belief that one's life and that of one's fellows does not end at death.
Another root of the idea and belief that persons who were known to us and have died continue to live - and hence that we too shall survive after death - is the fact that sometimes those persons, as well as persons who are still in the flesh, appear to us in dreams. Especially when the dream was both vivid and plausible, it easily suggests a view of the human personality which is rather common among primitive peoples and which has been held even by some educated and critical persons. It is that each person's body of flesh has a subtle counterpart or double, which can become detached from and function independently of that body; this separation being temporary as it occurs in periods of sleep during life, but permanent at the death of the body.
Evidently, such an idea of the constitution of man fits in very well with the ingenuous natural belief in life beyond death, for it provides concrete images in which to clothe the otherwise elusive abstract notion of a personality living on, discarnate.
Belief in a life after death, however, might conceivably originate in a given person in either one of two ways less ingenuous than those described in what precedes. One of these more critical ways would be out of attention to certain occurrences observed or reported, and then interpreted as empirical evidence of the survival of a deceased person. Communications purportedly from such a person and containing identifying details, received either through a "medium" or by oneself through automatic writing; or sight of an "apparition" of the dead person, would be examples of the kinds of experience in view.
The other possible kind of rational origin which belief in a life after death might have in a given person would be attention by him to arguments which, whether really or only seemingly, cogent, purport to prove immortality on metaphysical grounds. It is safe to say, however, that the belief can have this origin only in a very few persons, and that those arguments, irrespective of their cogency or lack of it, function in fact for the majority of those who know and accept them, much rather only as rationalizations of a belief in immortality they had previously acquired either in the automatic manner described earlier, or out of wishful thinking, or out of uncritically accepted childhood teachings.
We shall eventually consider the merits of both of the above kinds - empirical and theoretical - of prima facie evidence for survival. At this point, however, what we must ask is why survival is desired by the many persons who do desire it; and what general connection obtains between desire and belief, lack of desire and lack of belief.
4. Why a life after death is desired
One does not actually desire valued things which one already has or assumes one has. They get desired only when loss of them occurs or threatens. This, which is true for instance of desire for air to breathe or for earth to stand on, is equally true of desire for continuation of life. It is not until the witnessing or the awareness of death thrusts upon the mind the question whether the life that was continues somehow, that actual desire for life beyond death arises. From then on, the desire operates automatically to bolster the shaken naive belief in survival, and the belief in so far becomes a "wishful belief."
The desire for survival of oneself and of other persons has its roots in a variety of more specific desires which death immediately frustrates, but satisfaction of which a life beyond death would make possible even if not automatically insure. In some persons. the chief of these is desire for reunion with persons dearly loved. In others, whose lives have been wretched, it is desire for another chance at the happiness they have missed. In others yet, it is desire for further opportunity to grow in ability, knowledge, character, wisdom; or to go on contributing significant achievements. Again, a future life for oneself and others is often desired in order that the redressing of the many injustices of the present life shall be possible.
Even in persons who believe that death means complete and final extinction of the individual's consciousness, the craving for continued existence is testified to by the comfort they often find in various substitute but assured forms of "survival." They may, for instance, dwell on the continuity of the individual's germ plasm in his descendants. Or they find solace in the thought that, the past being indestructible, the particular life they live will remain ever after an intrinsic part of the history of the world. Also-and more satisfying to the craving for personal importance there is the fact that since the acts of one's life have effects, and these in turn further effects, and so on, therefore what one has done goes on forever influencing remotely, and sometimes greatly, the course of future events.
Gratifying to one's vanity, too, is the prospect that, if the achievements of one's life have been important or even only conspicuous, or one's benefactions or evil deeds notable, then one's name may be remembered not only by acquaintances and relatives for a little while, but may live on in recorded history.
Evidently, survival in any of these senses is but a consolation prize for the certainty of bodily death - a thin substitute for the continuation of conscious individual life, which may be disbelieved, but the natural craving for which nevertheless is evidenced by the comfort which the considerations just mentioned even then provide.
5. Causes of disinterest or of disbelief in survival
Lack of belief and even positive disbelief in survival are certainly more widespread now in Western countries than was the case in earlier times. Of the various causes which account for this, one of the chief is probably "the greater attractiveness of this world in our times and the increase of interests of all sorts which keep one's attention too firmly fastened here to allow of much thought being spent on the other world."(4)
(4) J. B. Pratt: The Religious Consciousness, The Macmillan Co. N. Y. 1943, p. 238.
As compared with earlier ages, the standard of living is now high for the large majority of the populations of Western countries. Leisure has greatly increased, and so have political liberties. Class distinctions no longer firmly stand, as formerly, in the way of personal ambition. And when there is pie at the baker's and money for it in one's pocket, "pie in the sky" is not thought of and hence not desired. It is when life is hard, joyless, and hopeless that one dreams of and longs for escape to another world where those who on earth were the miserable last shall be the happy first.
Again, in the present Age of Science the spirit of critical inquiry, with its demand for proofs, has robbed the teachings of religion of the authority they had earlier. One consequence of this, and of the materialistic conception of the nature of man fostered by contemporary science, has been that the unplausibility - to use no stronger term-of the picturesque ideas of the life after death which had been traditional in the Western world has become glaring. And this in turn has deprived the idea of a future life of the support which desire for it had previously lent it; for, as Pratt pointedly remarks, "some sort of belief in at least the possibility of the object is a condition of any real desire for it."(5)
(5) Op. Cit. p. 239.
These are the chief factors which have caused substantial numbers of persons today to doubt or positively disbelieve that there is for the individual consciousness any life after the body's death; or at least to view the idea of it with little or no interest. These persons, however, although numerous, are probably still a rather small minority of the population; for death goes on frustrating of expression one's love of persons who were dear, and thereby thrusting upon the living the idea of a life after death, stimulating in them the desire that such life be a fact; and, through this desire, fostering the belief that it is a fact.
6. Causes of, distinguished from grounds for, belief or disbelief
It may not be amiss to stress here, however, that the arguments, the empirical facts, or the longings which suffice to convince some persons that a given idea is true, are not necessarily sufficient to prove or even to make objectively probable that the idea is true. For convincing is a psychological process where rhetoric and appeal to bias of various kinds are usually more efficacious than would be sound logic; and where automatic yielding to long-established habits of interpretation of appearances commonly takes the place of scrupulous verification.
It is only in exceptionally rational persons, or in exceptionally rational moments of the rest of us, or in circumstances where nothing tempts us to jump to unwarranted conclusions, that only what suffices to prove suffices to convince; or, when the conclusion concerned is an unwelcome one, that what does suffice to prove or to establish a positive probability also suffices to convince.
However, since we are now emphasizing that many beliefs, for example belief in survival after death, can be and often are acquired uncritically, i.e., without adequate evidence or perhaps any evidence that the beliefs are true, impartiality requires us to stress also that the fact that a given belief has been acquired uncritically is not by itself positive evidence that the belief concerned is erroneous. What its having been so acquired does it only to put the burden of proof on the person who so acquired it, and who maintains that it is true.
Religion and the Belief in a Life After Death
MOST RELIGIONS have taught in one form or another that the "soul" or "spirit" of the individual does not perish when his body dies, but goes on living in another world where it meets conditions appropriate to its particular nature and deserts. Hence, before we turn to an exposition of the grounds on which contemporary natural science bases the case against the possibility of survival of man's consciousness after death, it will be well for us to consider the relation between religion and the belief in survival, and the grounds on which theologians - or more particularly Judaeo-Christian theologians - have affirmed that the belief is true.
1. The belief in survival after death not inherently religious
Although, as just noted, belief that the human personality survives bodily death has been inculcated by most religions, it is not in itself religious. If the survival hypothesis is purged of vagueness, is defined in a manner not involving contradictions or other demonstrable impossibilities, and is dissociated from the additional supposition commonly coupled with it that survival will be such as to bring reward or punishment to the surviving personalities according as they lived on earth virtuously or wickedly, then it is no more religious than would be the hypothesis that conscious beings live on Mars. In both cases alike the question is simply one of fact - however difficult it may be to get evidence adequate to settle it one way or the other.
If human personalities survive the body's death and do so discarnate, then-although their continued existence is normally as imperceptible to us as were bacteria before we had microscopes and as still are the subatomic entities of theoretical physics - those discarnate personalities are just another part of the population of the world; and their abode - if the word still has significance in relation to them - is just another region or dimension of the universe, not as yet commonly accessible to us.
The supposition that there is an immaterial, or anyway a normally imperceptible realm of existence peopled by discarnate human consciousnesses is, moreover, quite independent logically of the supposition that a God or gods exist - as independent of it logically as is the fact that incarnate human consciousnesses now inhabit the earth: No contradiction at all would be involved either in supposing that one or more gods exist but that there is no post mortem human life, or in supposing that there is a life after death but no God or gods.
But although the belief in a life after death is thus not inherently religious, nevertheless a close connection between it and religion has obtained throughout the history of man. What I shall now attempt is to make clear the nature of this connection; that is, what it presupposes with regard to man's personality, and with regard to the relation between his life on earth and the post mortem life which the religions have taught he will have. For this purpose, what religion itself essentially is must first be considered briefly.
2. Religion and religious beliefs
Even a sketchy acquaintance with the history of religion suffices to show that the beliefs and practices which have been taught by the religions of mankind have been very diverse and in many cases irreconcilable. This entails that no possibility exists of conceiving the essence of religion in terms of some core of beliefs or/and practices common to all the religions - to the non-theistic as well as to the monotheistic, the polytheistic, and the pantheistic, and to the religions of primitive as well as of highly civilized peoples - for there is no such common core. Nor, of course, can the essence of religion be conceived responsibly as consisting of the teachings of some one particular religion, held to be the only "true" religion on the ground that its teachings are divine revelations; for the question would then remain as to whether the belief that its teachings are, and alone are, divine revelations is demonstrably true, or on the contrary is itself but one among other pious but groundless beliefs.
It follows that only a functional conception of religion can be comprehensive enough to apply to all the religions; a conception, that is to say, according to which religion is essentially a psychological instrument for the performance of certain functions ubiquitously important to human welfare, which are not otherwise performed adequately in any but a few exceptional cases and which even religion has often performed none too well.
More specifically, this conception is that a religion is any set of beliefs that are matters of faith - together the observances, attitudes, injunctions, and feelings tied up with the beliefs which, in so far as dominant in a person, tend to perform two functions, one social and the other personal.
The social function is to provide, for conduct held to be socially beneficial, a sanction that will operate on occasions where conflict exists between the private interest of the individual and the (real or fancied) social interest, and where neither the legal sanctions, nor those of public opinion, nor the individual's own moral impulses, would by themselves be enough to cause him to behave morally. In such cases, an additional and sometimes sufficient motivation for moral conduct is provided by religious beliefs, and in particular by a belief in a life after death if this belief is conjoined, as usually it has been, with a belief that, in that life, immoral conduct that escaped punishment on earth and moral conduct that went unrewarded each gets its just deserts through the inescapable operation of some personal or impersonal agency of cosmic justice.
To provide the motivation called for, the second of these two beliefs is of course necessary in addition to the first; for belief in a future life whose particular content were in no way dependent on the manner - virtuous or vicious - in which the individual lived on earth would exert no psychological leverage on him for virtuous conduct now. To exert this leverage is the function of the pictures of hells, heavens, paradises, purgatories, and other forms of reward or punishment, painted by the religions.
It is to be noted that, insofar as those two beliefs, acting jointly, cause the individual to behave morally, i.e., justly or altruistically, in cases where he otherwise would behave selfishly or maliciously, those beliefs foster in him the development of moral feelings and impulses; for as a person acts, so does he tend to feel and, on later occasions, tend to feel impelled from within to act again. The long-run effect of the harboring of beliefs religious in the sense stated could therefore be described as "education of the heart," - arousal and cultivation in the individual of the feelings and impulses out of which, even at cost to himself, issues conduct beneficial or assumed beneficial to his fellows.
The individual, however, is likely to be much more directly aware of the value his religious beliefs have for him personally than of the value they have for society through the personal sacrifices they require of him for the social benefit. And what the individual's religious beliefs do for him personally in proportion to their depth and firmness and to the faithfulness with which he lives up to them is to give him a certain equanimity in the ups and downs of life - a certain freedom from anxiety in times of trouble, and from self-complacency in times of worldly good fortune. To the religious man, his religious beliefs can bring courage in adversity, hope in times of despair, and dignity in times of obloquy or frustration. Also, humility on occasions of pride, prudence in times of success, moderation and a sense of responsibility in the exercise of power; in brief, a degree of abiding serenity based on a conception of man's destiny and on the corresponding scale of values.
The belief in a life after death, in future compensation there for the injustices of earth, in future reunion with loved ones who have died, and in future opportunities for growth and happiness, undoubtedly operates to give persons who have it a measure of the equanimity they need wherewith to face the trials of this world, the death of those dear to them, and the prospect, near or distant, of their own death. But in order to operate psychologically in this way for the individual, and through him for the welfare of society in the way described before, the belief in survival and the other beliefs the religions have taught do not at all need to be in fact true, but only to be firmly believed. Nor do their contents need to be conceived clearly, but only believably. Indeed, the vagueness which commonly characterizes them is often a condition of their believability, for it insulates from detection the absurdities in some of them which would be evident if the beliefs were clear instead of vague. In order that the beliefs should function, what needs to be clear is only the sort of conduct and attitude they dictate.
The fact, then, that belief in a life after death has prominently figured in most religions and has with varying degrees of efficacy participated in performance there of the social and personal functions described above, constitutes no evidence at all that there is really for the individual some kind of life after death.
On the other hand, the psychological fact that what has operated towards performance of those functions is not truth of, but simply belief of, the idea of survival, constitutes no evidence at all that that idea is untrue. For here as elsewhere it is imperative to distinguish sharply between the question as to whether a given belief is true - which is a question ad rem; and questions as to how the given belief affects the persons who hold it, or as to how they came to hold it - which are questions ad hominem, i.e., biographical questions. That a given person came to believe or to disbelieve a given proposition does not entail anything concerning the truth or falsity of the proposition unless what caused him to believe or to disbelieve it consisted of evidence adequate to prove, or at least to make objectively probable, that the proposition is true, or as the case may be, that it is false. But if what induced the belief or disbelief did not consist of such evidence, then it leaves wholly open the question of truth or falsity of the proposition concerned.
3. Grounds on which belief in survival is based in Christian theology
The grounds on which Christian theologians have contended that the human personality survives after death are chiefly of two kinds- empirical, and moral.
The empirical argument consists in pointing at the resurrection of Jesus: That Jesus, having died, rose bodily from the dead proves, it is argued, that the human personality is not destroyed by death and that the human body admits of being resurrected after it has died. This proof of "immortality" has been accepted by millions of Christians and has been regarded as one of the most precious assurances brought to mankind by Jesus.
Yet the logic of the inference by which human immortality is deduced from the resurrection of Jesus is so fallacious that the argument has been characterized by Professor C. D. Broad as one of the world's worst. "In the first place," he writes, "if Christianity be true, though Jesus was human, He was also divine. No other human being resembles Him in this respect." Hence the resurrection of one so radically different from mere men is no evidence that they too survive the death of their bodies.
The fallacy of the reasoning which would infer the second from the first becomes glaring if one considers a reasoning of exactly the same form, but the particular terms of which are free from the biasing religious commitments that obtain for orthodox Christians in the case of the Resurrection: Obviously, from the fact that Tom Jones, who falls out of an airplane and has a parachute, survives the fall, it does not follow that John Smith, who falls out of the same plane but has no parachute, will also survive.
Moreover, Broad points out that the case of man is unlike that of Jesus in another respect also: "the body of Jesus did not decay in the tomb, but was transformed; whilst the body of every ordinary man rots and disintegrates soon after his death. Therefore, if men do survive the death of their bodies, the process must be utterly unlike that which took place when Jesus survived His death on the cross. Thus the analogy breaks down in every relevant respect, and so an argument from the resurrection of Jesus to the survival of bodily death by ordinary men is utterly worthless."(1)
(1) Religion, Philosophy, and Psychical Research, Harcourt N. Y. 1953, pp. 236-7.
But anyway, the facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus taken as premise in that argument - are not known to us exactly, or in detail, or with certainty. The men to whom the passages of the New Testament bearing on the subject are (rightly or wrongly) ascribed, and the men who passed on from one generation to another their own account of what they had heard about the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, were not dispassionate historians careful to check the objectivity of the reports which came to them and to record them accurately. Rather, they were essentially zealous propagandists of an inspiring message, bent on spreading it and getting it accepted. As H. L. Willett points out, "the friends of Jesus were not interested in the writing of books. They were not writers, they were preachers. The Master himself was not a writer. He left no document from his own hand. The first disciples were too busy with the new problems and activities of the Christian society to give thought to the making of records."(2) The text of the Gospels was in process of getting formulated for several generations. Most of it did not reach the form in which we have it until some time near the middle of the second century A.D. Indeed, "the very oldest manuscript of the New Testament is as late as the fourth century A.D. All the originals, the autographs, perished at a very early date-even the first copies of the originals are utterly gone."(3)
(2) The Bible through the Centuries. Willett, Clark & Colby, Chicago 1929, p. 220.
(3) Ernest R. Trattner: Unravelling the Book of Books, Ch. Scribner's Sons, N.Y. 1929, p. 244. Cf. Alfred Loisy: The Birth of the Christian Religion, preface by Gilbert Murray, Allen & Unwin, London 1948, pp. 41.53.
These facts easily account for the discrepancies we find, for instance, between the several statements in the Gospels concerning the discovery of the empty tomb. Also, for the scantiness of the descriptions of the appearances of the "risen" Jesus during the weeks following his death. At the first of these appearances - to Mary Magdalene at the tomb - he is unaccountably mistaken by her, who had known him well, for the gardener (John 20 - 15); and later is similarly unrecognized at first by the disciples fishing in the sea of Tiberias (John 21 - 4). Nor is there any clear-cut statement that his appearances were touched as well as seen. For, at the tomb, he enjoins Mary not to touch him; and Thomas, when Jesus appeared to him and to the other disciples, apparently then felt no need to avail himself of the opportunity he had desired earlier to verify by touch the material reality of the visible appearance. And the statement in Matthew 28 - 9 that the two women, being met by Jesus on their way from the tomb, "took hold of his feet" may well mean only that, in reverence, they prostrated themselves at his feet.
That the body which the disciples and others repeatedly saw appearing and disappearing suddenly indoors irrespective of walls and closed doors, and likewise out of doors, was not the material body of Jesus is further suggested by the accounts of his final disappearance; for the statement that he then "was taken up; and a cloud received him" out of the disciples' sight (Acts 1 - 9), or that, while blessing them, he "was carried up into heaven" (Luke 25 - 51) could be taken literally only in times when astronomical knowledge was so lacking as to permit the supposition that the earth is the center of the universe, and that heaven is some distance above the blue vault of the sky.
In the light of these considerations, and of the complete lack of facts as to what became of the material body of Jesus, the statements in the New Testament concerning the several appearances of Jesus after his death make sense only if interpreted as reports of what are commonly called "apparitions" or "phantasms" of the dead-an interpretation which, incidentally, is consonant with Paul's statement (I Corinthians 15 - 40/44) that the resurrection of the dead, which "is sown in a natural body; ... is raised in a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body," which Paul, in verse 44, calls also a "celestial" body and distinguishes from the "terrestrial."(4)
(4) That the post mortem appearances of Jesus were not his physical body, but were "apparitions" in the sense of hallucinations telepathically induced by the then discarnate Jesus, is ably contended by the Rev. Michael C. Perry in a scholarly work, The Easter Enigma, Faber & Faber, London 1959, published since the present chapter was written.
It is appropriate in this connection to note that apparitions of the dead (and occasionally of the living) are a type of phenomenon of which numerous well-attested and far more recent instances are on record;(5) and it is interesting to compare the earliest testimony we have for the post mortem appearances of Jesus which was first reduced to writing some twenty-five years after the events; which reaches us through copies of copies of the original written record; and which concerns events dating back nearly two thousand years - with, for example, the testimony we have for the numerous appearances in Maine in the year 1800 of a woman, the first wife of a Captain Butler, after her death.
(5) See for example G. N. M. Tyrrell: Apparitions, with a preface by Prof. H. H. Price, London, Duckworth & Co. Ltd., Rev. ed., 1953.
It is contained in a pamphlet now very rare, but of which there is an original in the New York Public Library and a photostat copy now before me. It was published in 1826 by the Rev. Abraham Cummings (1755-1827) A.B., A.M., Brown University, 1776. He was an itinerant Baptist minister who visited and preached in the small villages on the coast of Maine. The pamphlet, of 77 pages, is entitled Immortality Proved by the Testimony of Sense. It relates the apparitions of the deceased Mrs. George Butler at a village near Machiasport. "The Specter," as the Rev. Cummings terms her apparition, manifested itself not, as in most reports of apparitions, just once and to but one person, but many times over a period of some months and to groups numbering as many as forty persons together, both in and out of doors; and to Cummings himself in a field, on the occasion when, having been notified of its appearance, he was on his way to expose what he had thought must be a delusion or a fraud.
The "Specter" was both seen and heard; it delivered lengthy discourses to the persons present, and moved among them; it predicted births and deaths which came to pass; and on several occasions sharply intervened in the affairs of the village. Moreover, the Rev. Cummings had the rare good sense to obtain at the time over thirty affidavits - reproduced in the pamphlet - from some of the hundred or more persons who had heard and/or seen the "Specter."(6)
(6) A readily accessible, detailed account of this extraordinary affair can be found in William Oliver Stevens' Unbidden Guests, N.Y. 1945, Dodd, Mead & Co. pp. 261-9 where the essential facts recorded in the pamphlet are presented in more orderly manner than by Cummings, whose literary ability was low, and whose recital of the facts is encumbered by tedious theological reflections.
It is safe to say that most readers of the above summary account of the apparitions of the deceased Mrs. Butler will receive it with considerable skepticism. How much more skepticism, then, would on purely objective grounds be justified about a series of apparitions dating back nearly twenty centuries instead of only a hundred and fifty years, and concerning which we have none but remotely indirect evidence; whereas in the more recent series we have as evidence over thirty verbatim statements from as many of the very persons who observed the apparitions. judging both cases objectively - in terms of the criteria applied in court to the weight of testimony - there is no doubt that the case for the historicity of the appearances of Jesus is far weaker than that for the historicity of the appearances of Mrs. Butler. And yet, although we find the latter dubious and perhaps dismiss the account of it as "a mere ghost story," we - or anyway millions of Christians accept on the contrary as literally true the traditional account of the appearances of Jesus.
The explanation of this irresponsibility is, of course, to be found in the great differences between the personalities concerned and between the historical setting and emotional import of the lives and deaths of the two. For the personality, the life, and the death of Mrs. Butler were commonplace and attracted no wide attention. The only thing that did so in her case was the series of her apparitions after death. On the contrary, the personality and the life and the death of Jesus were heroic and spectacular; and this, together with the inspiring nature of his message, gives great emotional interest to everything connected with him. This interest, the hunger to believe it begets, the implanting of the traditional stories in childhood, and the fact that it is easy to accept but hard to doubt what is believed and valued by everybody in one's environment-these are the psychological causes which account for the fact that most Christians to-day find it easy and natural to believe in the "resurrection," i.e., in the reappearance of Jesus after death, even when the weakness of the evidence for it is pointed out to them; but on the contrary find the reappearance of Mrs. Butler after her death difficult to believe even when the much greater strength of the evidence for it is brought to their attention.
4. The moral arguments for the reality of a future life
From the contention that the resurrection of Jesus assures man of life beyond death, we now turn to the so-called moral arguments also appealed to in support of the belief in personal survival.
The premise of these arguments is the goodness, justice, and might ascribed to God. Summarily put, the reasoning is that "if God is good and God is sufficiently powerful, how can such a God allow the values (potential or actual) bound up with individuals to become forever lost? ... The world would be irrational if, after having brought into being human beings who aspire against so many almost overwhelming odds to achieve higher values, it should dash them into nothingness."(7)
(7) Vergilius Ferm: First Chapters in Religious Philosophy, Round Table Press, N.Y. 1937, p. 279.
Again, divine justice assures a future life to man, for, without one, the innumerable injustices of the present life would never be redressed. The wicked whose wickedness went unpunished on earth or perhaps even prospered them would at death be escaping punishment altogether; and the virtuous who made sacrifices in obedience to duty or out of regard for the welfare of others would at death be going finally unrewarded. If moral persons were not eventually to gain happiness, then morality, in the many cases where it brings no recompense on earth, would be just stupidity.
Such, in substance, are the moral arguments. Do they prove, or at least make probable, that there is for man a life after death?
Let us examine first the contention that it would be irrational to behave morally at present cost to oneself if such behavior is not eventually rewarded by happiness.
So to contend is tacitly to equate rationality in moral decisions with fostering of one's own distant welfare. The truth is, however, that to behave rationally is simply to behave in ways which one believes best promote attainment of one's ends, such as these may be. And the fact is that men do have not only egoistic but also altruistic ends: most men do genuinely care, in varying degrees, about the welfare of other human beings, or of certain ones among these, as well as about their own personal welfare. Hence, behavior designed to promote the welfare of another person whose welfare one happens to desire - and perhaps to desire more than one's own - is quite as rational as behavior intended and shaped to promote one's personal welfare. Thus, if a man's behavior towards others is motivated on the one hand by belief that the particular forms of behavior termed moral make for the welfare of such of his fellow beings as are affected by them, and on the other by the fact that he does desire their welfare enough to subordinate his own to theirs, then his behaving in the ways termed moral is perfectly rational. Indeed, so behaving is the essence of genuine love; that is, of love that prompts to action for the beloved's welfare; as distinguished from love merely sentimental which sees the loved one essentially as object that arouses beautiful love-feeling and which therefore uses the beloved as emotional candy, crippling him in the process if need be.
Moral behavior, on the other hand, is irrational or rather non-rational, when it consists only of uncomprehending, machinelike obedience to whatever code of behavior happens to have been psychologically planted in the mind during childhood years.
The bearing of these remarks on the contention that morality unrewarded on earth is irrational if not rewarded after death is that true morality is rooted in intelligent love and, for the person whose morality it is, constitutes self-expression and is self-rewarding. Being not investment but generous gift, it takes no thought of dividends whether on earth or in a future life.
As regards now the contention that if God is good and is sufficiently powerful, he cannot allow the actual and potential values bound up with individuals to become forever lost, its obvious weakness is that its premise is altogether "iffy": if there is a God, if he is good, if he is powerful enough to preserve the soul when the body dies, if the world is rational, if justice ultimately obtains, then there is for man a life after death! It may be that these "ifs" are true, but so long as they have not been proved true, neither has the reality of the future life, which their being true would entail, been proved.
And the fact is that their truth has never yet been proved nor even shown to be more probable than not. All the would-be proofs of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good creator of the world, which theologians and theologizing philosophers have elaborated in the course of the centuries have, on critical examination, turned out to be only ingenious pieces of wishful reasoning. Indeed, if a God of that description existed and had created the world, there could be no evil in it; for the endless sophistries which have been packed into the notion of "free will" for the purpose of eluding this ineludible conclusion have patently failed to do so. Hence, if the world was ever created, and if it was created by a God, then that God was finite whether in power or in goodness or in knowledge, or in two or in all of these respects. Even such a God, however, could be a powerful, wise and good friend, and as such well worth having.
In any case, that annihilation of the personality at death would be an evil - and hence that God would prevent it if he could - is far from evident. For there is ultimately no such thing as evil that nobody experiences; hence, if the individual is totally annihilated at death, the non-fulfilment of his desire for a post mortem life is not an evil experienced by him since, ex hypothesi, he then no longer exists and therefore does not experience disappointment or anything else. But, if God does not desire that man's desire for a life after death be fulfilled, and knows that it will not be, the non-fulfilment of man's desire for it is not a disappointment to God either, and is therefore not an evil at all. On the other hand, what is an evil - and this irrespective of whether there is or is not a life after death - is the distress experienced by the living due to doubt by them that they will, or that their deceased loved ones do, survive after death.
The remarks in this chapter concerning the nature and functions of religion, the alleged proofs of the existence of a God of the traditional kind, the nature of evil, and the implications of the fact that there is a vast amount of evil on earth, have perforce been much too brief to deal adequately with questions so heavily loaded with biassing emotion.(8) If those remarks are sound, however, they entail that neither religion nor theology really provides any evidence that there is for man a life after death.
(8) Readers who might wish to see what more elaborate defense of them the writer would give are referred to what he has written on the subject elsewhere. In particular, to Chapts. 8, 15, 16, and 17, respectively on What Religion is, Gods, The Problem of Evil, and Life after Death, of the author's A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion, Ronald Press, New York, 1953.
But even if there is not, believing that there is does affect the believer's feelings, attitudes, and conduct; and to affect these in the valuable ways described earlier is the function of religion, which it has performed with varying degrees of success. The function, on the other hand, of the arguments on which theology bases its affirmative answer to the question as to a life after death, is to make the idea that there is such a life psychologically believable by the vast numbers of human beings who, for obvious reasons, turn to religion rather than to science or to philosophy for an answer to that momentous question.
That these arguments achieve this but nothing more, i.e., convince many of the persons to whom they are addressed notwithstanding that they really prove nothing, does not mean that those who propound them are not sincere. It means only that, except in the case of outstandingly rational persons, becoming convinced and convincing others is, as pointed out earlier, mostly a matter of rhetoric, of suggestion, of appeal to prejudices or to fears or hopes; whereas proving or establishing probabilities is a matter of logic or of empirical evidence.
The Case Against the Possibility of a Life After Death
IN CHAPT. I we were occupied mainly with the variety of psychological factors which cause people to believe, or as the case may be to disbelieve, that there is or can be a life after death for the individual. As pointed out in Sec. 6 of that chapter and again at the end of Chapt. II, some considerations may induce belief, or disbelief, and yet constitute no evidence or insufficient evidence that what is believed is true or what is disbelieved false; for to convince is one thing, and to prove is another.
In the present chapter, on the other hand, what we shall consider are the grounds, empirical and theoretical, on which is based the now widespread belief that the Natural Sciences have by this time definitely proved that any life after death is an impossibility. As Professor J. B. Rhine notes in a recent article, "the continued advance of biology and psychology during the last half-century has ... made the spirit [survival] hypothesis appear increasingly more improbable to the scholarly mind. The mechanistic (or physicalistic) view of man has become the mental habit of the student of science; and with the wide popular influence of science, the effect on educated men is well-nigh universal."(1)
(1) Research on Spirit Survival Re-examined Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 20: 124, No. 2, June 1956.
What then are, in some detail, the grounds on which the scholarly mind is maintaining that survival is impossible or at best improbable?
1. Empirical facts that appear to rule out the possibility of survival
There are a number of facts - some of common observation and others brought to light by the Natural Sciences - which, it has been contended, definitely show both that the existence of consciousness is wholly dependent on that of a living organism, and - some of them - that the particular nature of the consciousness at given times likewise wholly depends on the particular state of the organism at those times.
a) For one, it is pointed out that nowhere except in living organisms are evidences of consciousness found.
b) Again, as observation passes from the lower to the higher animal organisms, the fact becomes evident that the more elaborately organized the body and especially the nervous system is, the greater, more subtle and more capable of fine discriminations is the consciousness associated with it.
c) Again, everyone knows that when the body dies, the familiar evidences of the consciousness it had possessed cease to occur; and that, even when the body is still living, a severe blow on the head or other injuries will, temporarily, have the same result
d) The dependence of consciousness on the brain, moreover, is not only thus wholesale but obtains in some detail. Lesion, whether by external or by internal causes, of certain regions of the cortex of the brain eliminates or impairs particular mental capacities - for example, the capacity to understand written words; or as the case may be, spoken words; or the capacity to speak, or it may be to write, notwithstanding that the capacity to produce sounds or to move the hand and fingers is unimpaired.
Similarly, the capacity for the various kinds of sensations - visual, auditory, tactual, etc. - is connected in the case of each with a different region of the brain; and the capacity for voluntary motion of different parts of the body is dependent on different parts of the brain cortex situated along the fissure of Rolando. The parts of the brain which govern these various sensory and motor capacities vary somewhat from person to person; and, in a given person, a capacity destroyed by lesion of the cortical center for it often returns gradually as, presumably, a different part of the cortex takes on the lost function. But the fact that the mental powers are dependent on the functioning of the brain remains.(2)
(2) Concerning the general plan of the nervous system, and the dependence of various mental capacities on particular regions of the brain, see for example pp. 24-35, and the diagrams there, in Warren & Carmichael's Elements of Human Psychology, Houghton Mifflin & Co. Boston, 1930.
e) The dependence is further demonstrated when certain regions of the brain are radically disconnected from the rest, as by the operation called prefrontal lobotomy; for marked changes in the personality then result.
f) Again, changes in the chemical composition of the body fluids affect the states of consciousness. The psychological effects of alcohol and of caffeine are familiar to everybody. Various drugs - mescalin, lysergic acid diethylamide, sodium amytal, sodium pentothal, heroin, opium, benzedrin, etc. - affect in diverse remarkable ways the contents of consciousness, the impulses, dispositions, and attitudes. Consciousness is affected also by the quantity of oxygen, and of carbon dioxide, in the blood. And the retardation in bodily and mental development known as cretinism can be remedied by administration of thyroid extract.
g) To the same general effect is the fact that, by stimulating in appropriate ways the body's sense organs, corresponding states of consciousness, to wit, the several kinds of sensations, can be caused at will in a person; and, conversely, the capacity for them can be done away with by destroying the respective sense organs or cutting the sensory nerves.
h) Again, the typical differences between the male and the female personality are related to the differences between the sex functions of the body of man and those of the body of woman.
i) The facts of heredity show that the particular personality an individual develops depends in part on the aptitudes his body inherits from the germ plasm of his progenitors. And observation shows that the rest depends on the environmental conditions to which he is subjected from the time of birth onward. How important in particular these are during childhood is strikingly shown by such cases as that of the two "wolf children" of India, the older case of the "wild boy of Aveyron," and a few others where young children had somehow managed to maintain life and to grow up among animals without human contacts until later discovered and studied. They had developed various animal skills, and virtually lost the capacity to acquire the skills, e.g., for speech, which a child automatically picks up at a certain age when situated in a human environment.(3)
(3) The Wild Boy of Aveyron, by J-M-G Itard, The Century Co. London 1932 (tr. from the 1894 French edition.) Wolf Children of India, by P. C. Squires, Am. J. of Psychol., 1927, No. 38, p. 313. Wolf-Children and Feral Man, by J. A. L. Singh and R. M. Zinng, Harper & Bros. New York 1942. Wolf Child and Human Child, by A. Gesell, Harper & Bros. New York 1941.
2. Theoretical considerations that appear to preclude survival
That continued existence of consciousness after death is impossible has been argued also on the basis of theoretical considerations.
j) It has been contended, for instance, that what we call states of consciousness - ideas, sensations, volitions, feelings, and so on - are in fact nothing but the minute chemical or physical events themselves, which take place in the tissues of the brain; for example, the chemical change we call a nerve current, which propagates itself from one end of a nerve fiber to the other, and then on to the dendrites of another fiber; the electrical phenomena, externally detectable by electroencephalography, which accompany nerve currents; the alterations which, at the synapse of two neurons, facilitate or inhibit the propagation of a nerve current from one to the other; and so on.
k) That these various brain processes must be the very processes themselves, which we ordinarily call mental, follows, it has been contended, from the fact that the alternative supposition - namely, that ideas, volitions, sensations, emotions, and other "mental" states are not physical events at all - would entail the absurdity that non-physical events can cause, and be caused by, physical events. For, it is asked, how could a non-physical volition or idea push or pull the physical molecules in the brain? Or, conversely, how could a motion of molecules in the brain cause a visual or auditory or other kind of sensation if sensations were not themselves physical events?
l) The possibility of it, one is told, is anyway ruled out a priori by the principle of the conservation of energy; for causation of a material event in the brain by a mental, i.e., by an immaterial event, would mean that some additional quantity of energy suddenly pops into the physical world out of nowhere; and causation of a mental event by a physical nerve current would mean dissipation of some quantity of energy out of the physical world.
The conclusion is therefore drawn that the events we call mental" cannot be either effects or causes of the molecular processes in the nerve cells of the brain, but must be those very processes themselves. And then, necessarily, cessation of these processes is cessation of consciousness.
m) Another conception of consciousness, which is more often met with today than the chemico-physical one just described, but which also implies that consciousness cannot possibly survive after bodily death, is that "consciousness" is the name by which we designate merely certain types of behavior - those, namely, which differentiate the animals from all other things in nature. According to this view, for example, an animal's consciousness of a difference between two objects consists in the difference of its behavior towards each. More explicitly, this means that the difference of behavior is what consciousness of difference between the two objects is; not, as commonly assumed, that the difference of behavior is only the behavioral sign that, in the animal, something not publicly observable and not physical - called "consciousness that the two objects are different" - is occurring.
Or again, consciousness of the typically human kind called "thought," is identified with the typically human sort of behavior called "speech;" and this, again not in the sense that speech expresses or manifests something different from itself, called "thought," but in the sense that speech - whether uttered or only whispered - is thought itself. And obviously if thought, or any mental activity, is thus but some mode of behavior of the living body, the mind or consciousness cannot possibly survive the body's death.
n) In support of the monistic conception of man which the foregoing facts and reflections point to as against the dualistic conception of material body-immaterial mind, the methodological principle known as the Law of Parsimony has also been invoked. This is done, for example, in the third chapter of a book, The Illusion of Immortality, which is probably the best recent statement in extenso of the case against the possibility of any life after death(4). Dr. Lamont there states that the law of parsimony "makes the dualist theory appear distinctly superfluous. It rules out dualism by making it unnecessary. In conjunction with the monistic alternative it pushes the separate and independent supernatural soul into the limbo of unneeded and unwanted hypotheses ... the complexity of the cerebral cortex, together with the intricate structure of the rest of the nervous system and the mechanism of speech, makes any explanation of thought and consciousness in other than naturalistic terms wholly unnecessary. If some kind of supernatural soul or spirit is doing our thinking for us, then why did there evolve through numberless aeons an organ so well adapted for this purpose as the human brain?" (pp. 114-18)
(4) Corliss Lamont: The Illusion of Immortality, Philosophical Library, New York, 1950, Ch. Ill The Verdict of Science, pp. 114-16. Dr. Lamont states, erroneously, that the law of parsimony "was first formulated in the fourteenth century by ... William of Occam, in the words: 'Entities (of explanation) are not to be multiplied beyond need. - The fact, however, appears to be that the form Entia non sunt multiplicanda Praeter necessitatem, to which Sir Wm. Hamilton in 1852 gave the name "Occam's razor," originated with John Ponce of Cork in 1639; and that the law of parsimony was formulated, prior to Occam, by his teacher Duns Scotus and some other mediaeval philosophers, in various forms; notably, frustra fit Per plura quod fieri potest per pauciora, i.e., the more is in vain when the less will serve (to account for the facts to be explained.) See W. M. Thorburn, The Myth of Occam's Razor. Mind, XXVII (1927) pp. 345 ff.
3. The contention that no plausible form of post mortem life is imaginable
Another consideration still has been brought up, notably by Lamont in the book cited, as standing in the way of the possibility of a life after death. It is:
o) the difficulty of imagining at all plausibly what form a life could take that were discarnate and yet were not only personal but of the same person as the ante mortem one. For to suppose that a given personality survives is to suppose not simply persistence of consciousness, but persistence also of the individual's character, acquired knowledge, cultural skills and interests, habits, memories, and awareness of personal identity. Indeed, persistence merely of these would hardly constitute persistence of life; for, in the case of man anyway, to live is to go on meeting new situations and, by exerting oneself to deal with them, to enlarge one's experience, acquire new insights, develop one's latent capacities, and accomplish objectively significant tasks. But it is hard to imagine all this possible without a body and an environment for it, upon which to act and from which to receive impressions. On the other hand, if a body and an environment were supposed, but of some "etheric" or "spiritual" kind, i.e., of a kind radically different from bodies of flesh and their material environment, then it is paradoxical to suppose that, under such drastically different conditions, a personality could remain the same as before to an extent at all comparable to that of the sameness we now retain from day to day or even from year to year.
To take a crude but telling analogy, it is past belief that, if the body of any one of us were suddenly changed into that of a shark or an octopus and placed in the ocean, his personality could, for more than a very short time if at all, recognizably survive so radical a change of environment, of bodily form, of bodily needs, and of bodily capacities.
The considerations set forth in this chapter constitute the essentials of the basis for the contention that persistence of the individual's consciousness or personality after the death of his body is impossible. Such persistence, Lamont argues, is ruled out by the kind of relation between body and mind testified to by those considerations. The connection between mind and body is, he writes, "so exceedingly intimate that it becomes inconceivable how one could function properly without the other ... man is a unified whole of mind-body or personality-body so closely and completely integrated that dividing him up into two separate and more or less independent parts becomes impermissible and unintelligible."(5)
(5) The Illusion of Immortality. Philosophical Library, New York 1950, pp. 89-113.
It should be noted. however, that both in the allegation that the considerations reviewed establish the impossibility of survival, and in the contention that those considerations on the contrary fail to establish this, certain key concepts are employed. Among the chief of these are "material," "mental," "body," "mind," "consciousness," "life," and a number of subsidiary others. Usually, in controversies regarding survival, little or no attempt is made to specify exactly the meaning those terms are taken to have, for all of them belong to the vocabulary of ordinary language and it is therefore natural to assume that they are well-understood. And so indeed they are - in the ingenuous manner, habit-begotten and unanalytical, that is adequate for ordinary conversational and literary purposes. But such understanding of them is far from precise enough to permit clear discernment of the issues in so special and elusive a question as that of the possibility or reality of a life after death for the individual.
The fact is that, so long as our understanding of those terms remains thus relatively vague, we do not even know just what it is we want to know when we ask that seemingly plain question - nor, a fortiori, do we then know what evidence, if we had it, would conclusively decide the question or at least establish a definite probability on one side or the other. Hence, if our eventual inquiry into the merits of the case outlined in this chapter against the possibility of survival is to have any prospect of reaching conclusions worthier of the name of knowledge than have been the findings of earlier inquirers, then we must first of all undertake an analysis of the pivotal concepts mentioned above. That analysis, moreover, must be not only precise enough to define sharply the issues to which those concepts are relevant, but must also be responsible in the sense of empirical, not arbitrarily prescriptive.
This is the task to which we shall address ourselves in Part 2.
What is "Material" and What is "Living"?
UNTIL THE last years of the nineteenth century, physicists believed that the rocks, metals, water, wood, and all the other substances about us are ultimately composed of atoms of one or more of some seventy-eight kinds - those atoms, as the very word signifies, being indivisible, i.e., not themselves composed of more minute parts.
Since then, however, the progress of physics has revealed the sub-atomic electrons, protons, neutrons, positrons, mesons, etc. The sub-atomic "particles" are at distances from one another that are vast relatively to their own size, so that a material object, such as a table, turns out to consist mostly of space empty of anything more substantial than electric charges or electromagnetic fields.
This state of affairs is what is meant by the statement occasionally heard that modern physics has "dematerialized" matter - from which it is sometimes concluded that the traditionally sharp distinction between matter and mind, or material and mental, has been invalidated or at least undermined.
Yet, if in the dark one walks into a table, one does not pass through it but gets a bruise. Whatever may be the recondite subatomic constitution of the table and of other "solid" objects, they do anyway have the capacity to resist penetration by other such objects. Physics has not dematerialized matter in the sense of having shown that wood, water, air, living bodies, and other familiar substances do not really have the properties we perceive them to have. What physics has shown is that their familiar properties are very different indeed from those of their sub-atomic constituents.
1. Two questions to be distinguished
The allegation that physics has now shown that the things we call material are not really material rests only on a failure to distinguish between two quite different questions.
One of them is about the nature of the ultimate constituents of all material things and about the laws governing the relations of those constituents to one another. This is the question to which theoretical physics addresses itself. The task of answering it is long, highly technical, and still unfinished. And the answers, so far as they have yet been obtained, have no obvious bearing on the problem of the possibility or reality of a life after death.
The other question is on the contrary easy to answer; and the answer, as we shall eventually see, has bearing on the validity or invalidity of some of the considerations alleged to rule out survival. The only thing difficult about the second question is to realize that we already know perfectly well the answer to it, and that our failure to notice this is due only to the fact that we do not clearly distinguish the second question from the first.
For purposes of contrast, the first may be phrased: What do physicists find when they search for the ultimate constituents of the things we call "material?" On the other hand, the second but of course methodologically prior question is: Which things are the ones called "material?"
2. Which things are "material?"
The answer to the second of these two questions obviously is that the things called "material" are the rocks, air, water, plants, animal bodies, and so on, about us; that is, comprehensively, the substances, processes, events, relations, characteristics, etc., that are perceptually public or can be made so.
No doubt is possible that, originally and fundamentally, these things are the ones denominated "material" or "physical;" i.e., that they are the ones denoted - pointed at - by these names. Moreover, unless the physicist already knew, thus as a matter of linguistic usage, that those things are the ones we refer to when we speak of "material" things, he would not even know which things are the ones whose ultimate constituents we are asking him to investigate and to reveal to us.
The point, then, which is here crucial is that the objects, events, etc., that are perceptually public are called "material" or "physical" not because technical research had detected as hidden in all of them some recondite peculiarity that constituted their materiality, but simply because some name was needed - and the name, "material," was adopted - by which to refer comprehensively to all perceptually public things.
The case with regard to these things and to our calling them "material" is thus parallel in all essentials to that of a given boy called George. He is not so called because scrutiny of him after birth disclosed to his parents presence in him of a peculiar characteristic, to wit, Georgeness. Rather, "George" is simply the name or tag assigned to him by his parents in order to be able to refer to him without actually pointing at him. Similarly, "material" or "physical" is simply the name or tag assigned by custom to the part of the world that is perceptually public or is capable of being made so.
Hence the question as to what recondite peculiarities are possessed by material things is intelligible at all and is capable at all of being empirically investigated, only after one knows which things are the ones to be examined in order to answer it; that is, knows which things are the ones named "material" - just as one can discover the recondite peculiarities of George only after one knows which boy is the one named George.
3. "Material," derivatively vs. fundamentally
Something, however, must now be added to the statement made above that, originally and fundamentally, what the expressions "the material world" or "the physical world" denote is the things, events, processes, characteristics, etc., that are or can be made perceptually public.
The addition called for is that, secondly and derivatively, those expressions denote also the minute or otherwise unperceivable constituents of whatever is or can be made perceptually public. The existence and the characteristics of these recondite constituents are discovered, not of course by perceptual observation of them since they are not perceptible; but by theoretical inference from certain perceived occurrences which turn out to be inexplicable and unpredictable except on the supposition that they are effects of certain processes among unperceivable constituents of the perceived things - constituents, namely, having the very properties in terms of which we define the nature of the "atoms," "electrons," etc., which we postulate exist. The reality of these is then confirmed empirically in so far as the postulating of them turns out to enable us to predict and sometimes to control occurrences that are capable of being perceived but that until then had remained unobserved or unexplained.
The title, then, of those recondite theoretical entities and events to be called "material" or "physical" is not, like that of trees, stones, water, etc., that they are perceptually public since they are not so; but that they are existentially implicit in the things that are perceptually public.
4. What is "living."
In an article circulated to newspapers by the Associated Press early in December 1957, Dr. Selman Waksman, Nobel prize winner in biology, rightly points out that the question whether life after death is possible cannot be answered until its meaning has first been made clear. He then proceeds - to define the meaning he attaches to "life" and to "death" by listing certain observable and measurable functions - growth, metabolism, respiration, reproduction, adaptation to environment, and intelligence - as being those which, together, differentiate living from non-living material and constitute the "life" of the former; and by defining "death" as termination of those functions.
After some technical biological elaboration, he comes to the conclusion that "any belief in life after death is in disagreement with all the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of modem biology" - a conclusion, however, which, notwithstanding its impressive allusion to biological science, then reduces to the mere truism that when the functions constituting life terminate they do not persist!
But, as we stated briefly at the beginning of Chapt. I, there are two senses in which a man may be said to "live." One is the biological sense, defined as by Dr. Waksman in terms of certain public, measurable processes. The other is the psychological sense. It is defined in terms of occurrence of states of consciousness - occurrence of the sensations, images, feelings, emotions, attitudes, thoughts, desires, etc., privately experienced directly by each of us: that a man is "living" in the psychological sense means that ones and others of these keep occurring. Moreover life, in this psychological sense of the term, is what man essentially prizes and is usually what he means when he speaks of a "life" after the death and decay of the body.
A biologist would of course be likely to say that, anyway, states of consciousness are effects of certain of the processes going on in bodies that are biologically "living"; and hence that when these die the stream of states of consciousness necessarily terminates. But this does not logically follow from the known facts; for although the biologist knows that some states of consciousness are effects of bodily processes, he does not know but only piously postulates that all of them without exception are so. Moreover, he does not know that some at least of the states of consciousness which certain bodily processes cause might not possibly be causable also in some other way, and hence might not go on occurring after biological life terminates. In any case, the question as to whether they then can or do go on is not answered by the truism that when biological life terminates, it does not continue.
Dr. Waksman's conclusion that biological life after biological death is biologically impossible escapes vacuousness only if taken to refer specifically to the idea that "life after death" means resurrection of the flesh; that is, (a) reconstitution of the body after it has died and its material has been dispersed by decay or by worms, vultures, sharks, or cremation; and then, (b) resumption in the reconstituted body of the processes of growth, metabolism, respiration, etc., which constitute biological "life."
Such reconstitution and resumption is what indeed is "in disagreement with all the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of modern biology."
The distinction between biological and psychological life having now been made sharp, it is appropriate to notice that, in the case of either, being alive is not a matter of wholly or not at all. When the body is in coma, under anesthesia, in a faint, or in deep sleep, the processes of "vegetative" life still go on, but such bodily activities as eating, drinking, seeking food, hiding from or fighting enemies, etc., which are typical of the body's "animal" life, are in abeyance, as well as the bodily activities distinctive of "human" life - examples of which would be speaking, writing, reading, constructing instruments and operating them, trading, and the other "cultural" activities.
In the psychological life of human beings, various levels may likewise be distinguished. The neonate's psychological life comprises only sensations, feelings, emotions, and blind impulses. Memory, association of ideas, expectations, conscious purpose, do not yet enter into it. Soon, however, some states of consciousness come to function as signs - signs of events or facts other than themselves. At later stages of individual development, psychological life at a given time may consist only of uncontrolled dreaming, whether by day or night. At other times psychological life is on the contrary active - inventive, heuristic, critical, consciously purposive. And it is conceivable that, if there is any life in the psychological sense after biological death, such life may consist of only certain ones of these various kinds of psychological processes.