Before modern science, most people assumed there was an afterlife. But that belief was soon to decline among the educated classes. With the new 17th century mechanistic science, it suddenly seemed to many of the “brights” that there was no afterlife, no soul, and no God. Science was about what can be measured exactly. There is no way to measure and manipulate soul, God, or afterlife; therefore, they do not exist!
Material science continued to evolve, but people still had mental experiences (pardon the oxymoron). They would reason about various issues, make moral judgments, have all sorts of feelings, memories, fantasies, dreams, and volitions. Now and then someone saw a ghost or got a message from a dead person in a dream, but one kept silent about that sort of thing.
Scientists and philosophers committed to materialism invented arguments designed to explain away all mental realities. The reductionist program lives on in the brilliantly obtuse work of Daniel Dennett who believes, contrary to the human race, that consciousness is an “illusion.” Problem is, if something is an illusion, how can it be physical? Illusions are misinterpretations; only minds interpret, and only minds can have illusions.
Reducing the mental to the physical is a curious undertaking. The very act of making that reduction seems to me a mental act. Something, we assume, is always going on somewhere in the brain while someone is thinking, feeling, remembering, etc., but these are correlations not explanations. They don’t logically entail reduction of mental occurrences to brain occurrences, as many mistakenly assume. A feeling is about sadness or joy, regret or longing; brain states are not about anything. They exist but don’t know that they exist; we know they exist because we know that we exist.
Mind is totally unlike anything occurring in the physical brain. In spite of all the scientific knowledge of the correlations, states of mind and consciousness remain irreducible. Brain and consciousness interact, but they are different agencies. Brain events, for example, occur in space; mental events occur in their own nonphysical space, for example, in dreams. The way things stand, there is a persistent sense--shared even by materialists—that consciousness is a mystery.
Consciousness is a definite mystery to those who believe that physical reality is the basis for explaining everything. Otherwise, my consciousness (or experience) is immediately transparent to me, a fluctuating scene with periodic gaps; it is all I know and is my sole access to anything I might claim is real in any sense. It is that out of which I make, infer, and sometimes invent my view of the external world. I could be a super-Houdini, but I can never get out of my immediate experience, except indirectly by inference or by acts of imagination, these also being forms of consciousness.
Now then our key to the afterlife. The question of the afterlife is a question of consciousness. Jones dies. That is, his once strong and handsome body is now a corpse. But Jones was also a conscious being: that is, he loved, suffered, dreamed, believed, regretted, and so on. What we want to know is what happened to Jones’s conscious reality, his lived world, his memories, feelings, desires. These all made up the invisible stream of his life on earth. The question is whether the inner Jones has survived in some new dimension of a “next” world.
The key to the answer lies in the nature of consciousness. If the conscious stream of being we call Jones is somehow woven of the same fabric of Jones the material corpse, the answer is almost certainly no. If soulful Jones resides in a few pounds of brain matter, it’s farewell forever to the good fellow.
But in fact, as noted above, science has not been able to reduce or assimilate consciousness to the brain. The world of mind and consciousness apparently exists in its own right, according to its own logic; it follows that the death of the brain does not entail the death of consciousness. This is the key to the afterlife question. It permits us to open the door to an afterlife.
But by this key we are not guaranteed entrance. We only know we are not forbidden by the logic of our inner nature. To gain some assurance that individual persons do survive bodily death, we can turn to all the research on postmortem survival, including near-death studies; reincarnation memories, behaviors, and bodily marks; mediumship; hauntings and apparitions.
To know for sure about what may come after, however, one will have to step through the door. In the meantime, the trick is how to handle the suspense.