Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stephen Hawking on the afterlife.

"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said. 

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he added.

I sometimes find myself struck silent by the musings of seemingly intelligent people about the possibilities of an afterlife.

I think the realization that such a thing was not possible occurred to me quite young, and my research and musings since have only reinforced the obviousness of that realization.

Our consciousness is really only a collection of our memories and experiences, that are contained within the computer housed within our skulls.

Once that amazing machine is rendered inoperable our memories, our consciousness, our soul if you will, are also gone forever.

This would seem as obvious as the realization that once the heart stops pumping blood our bodies no longer function, and yet the opposite is held so dear by so many of us that to suggest the lack of a life following this is considered heretical even by many of those who consider themselves non-religious. 

I often think of it in terms of a USB flash drive.

Though it may be fairly bulging with documents, and pictures, and video of a person's life, if there are no more computers left to read the information it essentially does not exist. And it is as if the life contained within was never lived.

That is why I always stress the importance of experiencing all this life has to offer. Rather than mourn the loss of eternity, instead we should embrace and squeeze joy out of the one life that we have.

Every kiss should be savored, every laugh echoed by our own, and every moment of pain respected for the lesson that it teaches.

In that way we will touch the lives of those around us in a fashion which carries some small part of us forward. And as they touch the lives of others as well, perhaps our brief life will have an impact that lives past our final breath.



  1. Anonymous4:07 AM

    Interesting analogy.

    The problem is - we are not computers.

    Our soul does not "pump" like our heart, we can't have medical doctors fix our souls, can we?

    It's something that exists but is intangible.

    How are we to know what happens?

    (And a belief in science does not exclude one from acknowledging that they know what happens).

    1. Anonymous5:51 AM

      if it is intangible, then your statement that it exists is in either the category of a preference (you like to believe it) and no more factual than my statement that there is an intangible squirrel that makes my car run.

    2. Maple6:10 AM

      In other words, wishing doesn't make it so....

    3. I don't think 'analogy' means what you think it means.

    4. Anonymous7:00 AM

      This book is an interesting exploration of mind and machines:

      Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, also known as GEB, is a 1979 book by Douglas Hofstadter. The tagline "a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll" was used by the publisher to describe the book.

      Martin Gardner's July 1979 column in Scientific American stated, “Every few decades, an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event.”

    5. Leland9:16 AM


      "The problem is - we are not computers."

      Well now. That depends on your definition of computer, doesn't it?

      With a computer, we "teach" it by installing software. When a computer comes right off the assembly line, it is completely useless. It "knows" nothing. It can barely turn on when power is applied. - until a program is put in. In other words, before it is "taught". (Well, except for certain abilities "built into it".)

      There has NEVER been a child born that already has knowledge other than involuntary actions such as breathing or a heart beat. (In other words, things "built into it) Until it is "taught", it is precisely like a computer newly off the production line.

      If a person - ANY person - DOESN'T teach it (in other words, program it), it is useless. Nothing more than a load on the planet. Oh, there are some things it will learn on its own, such as certain sounds or sensory inputs mean food or that removal of the wet thing in the middle brings relief.

      The only real difference between a new computer and a newborn is one is alive and the other isn't.

      As 5:51 said, "You like to believe...." we aren't computers.

    6. Anonymous9:33 AM

      Our soul does not "pump" like our heart, we can't have medical doctors fix our souls, can we?

      If you go back to earlier languages in the bible, for example psuché (ψυχή): breath, the soul, you find that it's the lungs, not the heart. "The soul is the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) His gift of life into a person, making them an ensouled being."

      It was only in 440 B.C. that Empedocles demonstrated that air is a substance.

  2. Anonymous4:35 AM

    What an amazing man. We might all learn more than a few lessons from this man who seems never to lose his love of life, despite his own travails. Even the Dalai Lama might find it difficult to be "more present" in the moment than Hawking.

  3. A friend was crossing the street recently when an eerie feeling passed over him. Phone calls immediately started coming from family members, and he was told his father had died at the moment of his eerie feeling.

    The computer analogy is fair on the surface, but I don't think "living" and "computing data" are precisely the same thing.

    1. Anonymous6:56 AM

      Science would probably require that this "eerie" feeling was reported and documented before there was any possibility that your friend had heard the news.

      Bet your friend has a habit of reporting eerie feelings whenever there's a chance to upgrade her status as special.

      My dad died at my side. Not so much as a flicker of "eerie" did I feel.

  4. Leland5:24 AM

    I have long felt the same way, Jesse. My father thought it was heretical thinking. My grandfather, an Episcopal bishop, found the idea intriguing.

    I have felt so strongly about this, my funeral director has instructions to allow only one person in to see me before my cremation - and then only if she WANTS to. (She doesn't.)

    I am to be cremated and my ashes spread rather than kept. In fact, I am thinking of getting a Bios Urn so I can nurture a tree when I am gone.

    There is to be no other type of marker for my site. My feeling is that if someone needs to have a particular spot to "visit" me, then I have not made enough of an impression to make any difference and deserve to be forgotten.

    1. Anonymous5:52 AM

      Leland: Props! Me, too.

    2. Anonymous5:54 AM

      This is a great play (and easy read) on the topic:

    3. Anonymous5:55 AM

      Where is this from, Gryphen? - link for sharing, please.

    4. Leland7:56 AM


      If by "this" you mean the posting above, click on the blue Source at the bottom of the posting.

  5. Anonymous5:51 AM

    Gee, Gryph, I wish I could convince you otherwise that there is an afterlife. But, that can only be up to you to decide for yourself, based on your life experience. However, have you ever considered the possibility when you hear about other people's experiences (people that you can trust)?

    Many intelligent people have seen unexplained miracles, and have had deep hearfelt change in their lives and attitudes, or have had visions, and supernatural things happen to them, and they cannot explain it, and find themselves being llaughed at.

    Who and what made the universe? Even if one believes their is no soul or spirit and their mind shuts down forever at death, the rule of physics is that all matter, when it disintegrates, eventually regenerates physical energy. Everything has purpose. Why are we so unique and capable compared to all living plants and animals, given feelings and emotions? Where do these 'convictions' come from? If we hurt someone, we feel badly. A plant or a rock doesn't.

    When I was a kid, barring what I was being taught in Catholic teaching, I still put myself in both situations. God, and godless. The wanting God part was so strong in my, I wanted to know there was something that cared about all this. THe thought of 'nothing' out there caring about it's creation and never being able to meet that 'creator' was what my inner being longed for.

    If there is nothing after, there is no hope, and hope deferred is a very negative emotion. I'd be so angry at the Big Bang to find out there's nothing else.

    Faith comes by an incident, a real life-altering experience when we've been convinced that God exists.

    Many atheists get irritated at the closed mind of religious people. But then, some atheists exude that closed mind about afterlife issues. There is evidence of it, if you look for it.

    1. Maple6:46 AM

      "If there is nothing after, there is no hope".

      And, "I'd be so find out there's nothing else".

      No, no you won't, because your consciousness as a human being will not exist.

      As for the "hope" part, I agree -- that's largely what keeps us going, as in, hope for a better tomorrow for each of us. But I suggest that it's our ego that can't quite accept, or imagine, the idea that we won't exist as ourselves after we die.

      I look at death the same way as sleep. We go to bed at night and, barring insomnia, we awaken in the morning totally unaware of the past 8 hours. But with death, we don't awaken. We don't go to some imaginary place where we meet "god", or see our long-dead relatives and friends (and enemies and all manner of bad folks). We just don't. And once we accept that fact, we choose, as Gryphen says, to live each day to the fullest, and to enjoy the life that we currently have.

      Just my thoughts, and my belief.

    2. Anonymous6:50 AM

      ”never being able to meet that 'creator' ”

      It has always seemed to me that I should attempt to live a "good" life because that's the right thing to do. Not because I get a prize when I die.

      And, yes, that opinion did NOT go down well with the nuns.

    3. Leland7:59 AM


      Didn't sit too well with my father, either! But my grandfather loved it!

    4. Anonymous9:48 AM

      … the rule of physics is that all matter, when it disintegrates, eventually regenerates physical energy.

      When matter—not to be confused with chemical/organic forms that it may take—disintegrates, that's called "radioactivity". It does indeed produce physical energy. But unless one is a heavy smoker (think Polonium-210) not much of the human body is radioactive.

      Or were you thinking of composting, rather than actual disintegration of matter?

  6. Anonymous6:41 AM

    But other people have memories of us in their brains, especially our children. So we live on.

    1. Anonymous4:05 PM

      I don't think we 'live on' for long in the minds of others. Each of us is like a pebble on a beach - one among many!

      We think we are each so important, when in reality we aren't! But, I guess that is what gets some people through their lives - i.e. Sarah Palin! She think she lends so much to the universe! And, she thinks heaven awaits her! Boy of boy is that lady in for a surprise!

  7. Caroll Thompson7:44 AM

    I do agree that one should live for today and do good for others. But I don't think we are done when we take our last breath. Where does the energy go when it leaves our body? Why have I been seeing and hearing ghosts and other things ever since I can remember. How about the time/space continuum. How about E=MC2.

    I think that Stephen Hawking is the smartest guy on the planet and what he says has a lot of merit. But I do not believe this is all there is.

    But is doesn't matter what I or anyone thinks. We will all find out soon enough.

    1. Don't confuse energy with intellect.

      Just because the energy and star matter you borrowed from the universe returns to it in the end, does not mean your awareness survives as well.

      Think of it in terms of water, as Bruce lee famously once did:

      "If you put water into a cup, it becomes a cup. If you put water into a bottle, it becomes a bottle. If you put water into a teacup, it becomes a teacup."

      Yet when poured from its vessel the water falls to the ground and is absorbed back into the earth. Without the container, water, or if you prefer, energy, simply flows away to be utilized by the planet in a different manner with no residual memory of what it was before.

    2. Leland9:19 AM

      And even further, Carroll, that "energy" of which you speak, is GENERATED by your body, using complex chemical reactions to make biological energy. Take away ONE of the chemicals involved and the energy stops being generated.

  8. Anonymous8:40 AM

    Those who profess a belief in an afterlife and spirits simply need to document these occurrences and have them scientifically tested. Unfortunately, for the believers, their faith in the spirit world is often taken advantage of by non-scientific charlatans that, instead of proving its existence, are eventually exposed as nothing more than manipulators employing not psychic ability but techniques such as cold and hot reading to make it seem as if they are speaking to the dead.

    John Edwards, the Long Island Medium, and many others have been found to be scam artists and no one in over 100 years, calling himself a "psychic" was able to ever replicate any of their "psychic" experiences. The Long Island Medium went as far as to collect names of her audience from the event ticketing company and would do extensive background research on these people and place them in the front row or in other designated seats so that she could "read" them.

    There has never been any photographic proof of ghosts, just like in the quest for sasquatch, there has never been significant proof, scientifically, to account for the existence of a "spirit world". The day any of this paranormal, or parapsychological activity can be replicated, tested and quantified in a scientific lab setting is when it will be proven to exist.

  9. Anonymous8:57 AM

    Most importantly, what does Neil DeGrasse Tyson think of paranormal activity and ghosts?

    Star Talk Radio, October 2013 (via junkyardarts blog)

  10. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Although of late I've become atheist, I still think an afterlife is possible. I think our soul is not exactly bound to our bodies, and if you want to use computer analogies, maybe our soul could be considered akin to data in the cloud...not bound to any one physical location, but able to be accessed from multiple locations through different operating systems.

    And somehow, I think fractals could explain the universe, and how we came to be, and how we are still evolving, and then there's always E=mc2 and whatnot...

  11. Anita Winecooler7:22 PM

    We've had this discussion in our family for years, and no one's going to change anyone else's mind or beliefs. I was put under for an operation, after awhile, I couldn't move but was conscious of what was going on around me, what was on the radio, what the doctors were talking about, everything went black, there was a sudden rush of activity and I could smell something burning.
    When I came to, they said my heart stopped and they shocked me three times.
    My family are all catholic, and they're always looking for a "miracle". They said I had a "near death experience". I didn't see it that way, it was like the old tube televisions, when turned off, they went dark from the edges to the white/gray spot in the center, then faded to black.
    To me, it's like any cycle seen in nature, and death is the logical conclusion to birth.

  12. However, as that brilliant physicist William Faulkner from the American South once said: “The past isn't dead. In fact, it isn't even past."


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