The reality is that there is no way that the world simultaneously works the way we know it too and somehow also works the way many of the region say it does, there are just too many contradictions. I do think that it is fun and rewarding exercise to think about what it could be like and what that would mean. So of my favorite fiction does just that, in the movie What Dreams May Come Robin Williams character discovers that the afterlife in a kind of thought cloud where you soul go when it no longer has a body to anchor it to earth. You can say in your own private section of the cloud or you can share your space with others. Hell is simply your own subconscious desire to make amends for and evil filled life. If you were greedy and mistrustful and out for only yourself in life you will spend you afterlife punishing yourself out of guilt and self loathing. This is a very interesting version of the afterlife as it does a fair job of covering the salient details of most of the world’s religions, though I think that representatives from those religions might choose to refute that point.
Another great work of fiction dealing with the afterlife is a book called Sum, which is a book of short stories each outlining a different view of what the afterlife hold for us. Most of them are satirical, meant to point out some point or another about our daily lives and the many ways which we find to waste our lives, including the title story, Sum, tells the reader about the experiences of a newly dead person, and how he is shown the event of his life in real time but in a different order, the events have been reorganized by quality, so that he spends 30 years sleeping and 1 year blinking, and so on. The story is interesting and hilarious, and really makes you think about how much time is wasted in an average day, and how it adds up.
I imagine two such scenarios that, relying on science, would approach a real afterlife. The first and more hippy dippy version is on where your consciousness, being an emergent quality of the alignment of the molecular structure of your brain cells, is ‘reincarnated’, or an approximation of it is, in some other part of the universe. I envision a whole host of Earths out in the universe populated by different versions of ourselves living different lives and loving different people, make different choices. Or maybe Some sort of cosmic analog is generated in a nebula where our neurons are replaced by a more disparate medium and the reality we experience is in turn generated by thought. After all it is a big place and even if quantum entanglement doesn’t make any such claims as this, it certainly allows for the possibility.
The second and slightly more plausible but also slightly less pleasant sounding is predicted on the fact that the our perception of time is subjective, and can be altered by our various filters. The best example of this is dreaming, sometimes it feels like weeks have past in a single night. So what if and the end, when you are dying, you consciousness beings to skew, and right at the edge of death your perception of time is so warped, a moment is extended into infinity and you spend the rest of ‘eternity’ in that moment. The quality of that moment is determined on the person you are and the way in which you died. If you die comfortably and at the end of a well lived life, you experience a kind of heaven. If you die some agonizing torturous death and you mind is riddled with regret and self hatred, then you get and eternity that reflect that.
Neither of these is exactly what you hope for but there is very little hope that we, the unlucky masses forced to spend the entirety of our lives on this side of death without ever really knowing what is on the other side, will ever know what the truth is. But like so many philosophical problems is is at least interesting, if not fun, to speculate and theorize on the possibilities.
Oh and one last example of a theory of the afterlife that I’d like to share, is a short story written by Andy Weir called The Egg, I mentioned it in another post but I thought it worth another plug. Also check out the video adaptation.
And that’s my take on the afterlife.