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According to atheists, what happens after we die?


SkeletonI look at it this way: where does a vase go when you break it? You had a vase, and now you don’t. The pile of shards isn’t a vase. All of the matter is still there, but the vase is gone.

Where does a meeting go when it’s over? A meeting has a location: if I ask where the meeting is, you can tell me. When somebody leaves, is it the same meeting?

Where does a nematode go when it dies? A virus? A fire?

We have a rough understanding of what it means for a collection of things to be a thing. We apply some kind of identity criteria to it. These criteria are usually incomplete, and if you push them hard enough you realize that the border between “being a thing” and “no longer being the thing” is unclear. How much do you have to chip out of a vase before it stops being a vase? How many people have to leave the room before the meeting is no longer the same meeting?

A human being is a collection of things, a configuration of atoms. For the vast majority of the time, we treat that collection as a single entity, and it generally works. Even during its lifetime we allow it to change: it’s not uncommon to say that you aren’t the same person you were a few years ago. Whether you are or not is equivalent to asking whether your favorite football team is the same team it was 50 years ago: the players are all different, the mascot has changed, the stadium is different, but there’s a continuity in some sense.

A human being, as far as I’m aware, has no “energy” associated with it separate from the plain old chemical energy. Despite urban legends, people don’t lose any mass when they die. Seal a human being in a box, and there’s no way to distinguish whether the human inside is alive or dead until you open it, nor any way to tell from outside the instant at which it stopped being one and became the other.

It’s a good thing that human beings treat collections different from individuals. You can’t think of every atom in a jar of peanut butter separately: you’d starve before you got to eat lunch. You know that on average, the mass of peanut butter will behave according to certain properties. We’re dimly aware that it has to do with the molecular and atomic properties, but it’s inconvenient to look at it that way.

But if you want to look at the edge cases, you need to stop worrying about convenience, because it’s potentially misleading. Similarly, you need to be careful about the use of language: if you can’t concretely define what it means for a human being to have “energy”, then you run a risk when you apply the term. Energy is conserved, but whatever intuitive “energy” you apply to the configuration of human-ness isn’t necessarily because it’s not the same thing.

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One comment on “According to atheists, what happens after we die?

  1. Derrick
    September 6, 2016

    Yes, After we die we cease existing.
    Simple!

    Like

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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