Living with purpose and meaning is a goal that many strive to achieve. However, the motivation for that goal differs. Some people are focused on their current existence, while others believe that positive actions in this world will buy them a ticket to the next one – heaven. This brings us to a question that everyone from religious authority to soul-searching Sally has asked: Does life continue after death?
Here are three reasons to consider that there may be life after death, and three reasons to believe that death is the end of the road.
A Permanent Sleep
What we know, we know
By definition, death is the cessation of life – so by all logic, there is no life after death. In this vein, physics professor Sean Carroll contends that life after death is impossible. While there are many things we don’t know about the world, he says, we do know about the particles that make up the human body – and those don’t go anywhere after the body dies. Because consciousness is part of the physical body, it dies along with the rest of a person. Unlike other uncertainties in life, this concept is relatively straightforward: With death, life ends.
While people may have the sensations of near-death experiences, a group of scientists believes that they aren’t afterlife-related. According to Australian-based neurologist Dr. Cameron Shaw, the tunnel vision some report experiencing after a close encounter with death is a result of the brain failing to receive oxygen, which distorts our perceptions. Other researchers have found elevated levels of CO2 in the bloodstreams of those who had out-of-body sensations – which has been linked to visual hallucinations. Similar to the effect of hallucinogenic drugs, these sensations may be created by the chemical changes happening in a body on the brink of death. Unfortunately, the “white light” some claim to see happens only in our minds: Death, sadly, is what’s at the end of the tunnel.
The side with proof
Proving that life after death is feasible has been faulty, at best. Aside from within our dreams and feelings, we don’t see or hear of anyone who has supposedly passed on to another world. We do, however, see exactly what happens to the human body after it stops working; the process of body decomposition may be a gruesome one, but it is also telling. Archaeologists and coroners will agree on this fact: It doesn’t look like there is life after death.
To a Better Place
A man – who was declared clinically dead for six minutes after drowning – reported on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation that he had a joyful, out-of-body experience in which he could see and hear everything from above while unconscious. In the memoir Dying to be Me, Anita Moorjani describes learning about the cause of her cancer while she was unconscious. Testimonies like these are not uncommon, as studies around the world estimate that these “near-death” experiences are reported by an estimated 200,000 Americans a year.
According to a recent study that lends credence to near-death experiences, even when the brain shows no sign of electrical activity, it’s quite possible that a person can remain conscious. Lead researcher Pim van Lommel of the Hospital Rijnstate in the Netherlands, says that scientists should look beyond molecules and cells when studying consciousness. He asserts in the study that people can be conscious of events taking place around them even if or when they are physically unconscious.
Life is more than just your physical presence; people live on through the imprint they have on others. Personal legacies keep people alive long after their physical bodies deteriorate. Headstones, stories, newspaper clippings, diaries, videos and photographs are all ways we preserve the lives of those who have perished. Cultures around the world also offer a myriad ways of keeping the dead alive: Mexico’s Day of the Dead has been around for centuries, and it celebrates the lives of those who have passed (and was featured in the film Coco); the Egyptian Book of the Dead – a personalized book of spells that helps souls navigate death – has existed for thousands of years; Korea’s three-day harvest festival, Chuseok, is celebrated by honoring the memories (and gravestones) of ancestors; and Bali’s Galungan honors the spirits of loved ones with big feasts. We may stop moving and breathing at some point, but legacies never die, thus, there is life after death.
Bodies that won’t quit
We usually focus on the question of whether life stops, not necessarily when does life stop. Sources suggest that death may be a more gradual process than previously thought. For instance, research has found that our cells work hard at keeping us alive – perhaps even after we die. According to a recent study in the journal Open Biology, animal cells continued to perform “gene expression” – which is the process necessary to build proteins that are vital for life – subsequent to the death of the animals in the study. This means that following brain death, these animal cells produced activity for several days; in some cases, this cell activity even increased after the animals had died. What’s more, the researchers in the study believe that their results extend to humans as well. Although the brain stops working, our bodies may still be alive after they are declared dead – and they make a huge effort to keep themselves that way.
The Bottom Line: People’s lives will always continue in memory and in spirit, but from a physical standpoint, death may be the end of their journey. What do you think? Do you believe in some kind of afterlife?