Friday, October 12, 2012

[PHI 1000] Is the mind eternal?

Near-death and out-of-body experiences are sometimes interpreted as empirical support for the belief that the mind can survive the death of the body. Presumably, the argument is meant to be an Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE):
  1. Many people report having near-death and out-of-body experiences.
  2. The best explanation for (1) is that human persons have immaterial minds (or souls) that can survive the death of their physical bodies.
  3. No other hypothesis explains (1) as well as the soul hypothesis does.
  4. (Therefore) Human persons have souls that can survive the death of their bodies.

Now, what if the body can exist without the mind? Would that count as empirical evidence against the idea of an afterlife? Consider patients with severe forms of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In the advanced stages of these diseases, it might seem natural to think that "the patient's mind is gone," since there are no signs of mental activity. If this is correct, then does that show that, like the physical body, the mind is also perishable?


  1. We have no concrete evidence for what people believe to be an after life. This is more a belief that comes from how one is brought up. Depending on culture and religion. Scientifically, there is nothing that we can point to as a sign that their is an after life; we have no evidence that the mind or soul,lives beyond the time of the body.

    What we do have evidence for is that everything that a human does is done through some sort of reaction in the brain; whether it is a chemical or electrical signal, their is always something that triggers an action. Even thoughts are controlled by the brain. So if there is no physical brain then there is nothing to control the mind and the thoughts. The brain is the material that is controlling the mind. Without this material, the mind can not survive.

    So what then accounts for these near death experiences that people claim to have. These experiences can be compared to dreams. When we are dreaming, odd things happen. Things that can not happen in real life. So we claim when we have a dream, that is was not reality. It was simply an illusion of the mind. This is probably what happened to people who have had these NDEs. They were in a different state of consciousness analogous to a dream in which they felt that they were having an out of body experience.

    - Arooj Sharif (PHI 3000C TF905)
    (Continued in next post)

  2. The reason why many of these dreams were similar can also be compared to dreams. When someone is thinking about something before he sleeps, it is possible for him to dream about what he was thinking about right before he became unconscious. In the case of a patient who is going through a major surgery, before they leave consciousness and are put to sleep they are probably thinking about what they have learned death is supposed to feel like. One major idea people have is that when you die you will "see a light". This is an idea that all the patients in the video seem to present. The reason this is the case is because that is what they were taught death should feel like and is probably what they were thinking about before they became unconscious. It was simply an illusion, like a dream, and was not real.

    The idea that mental illnesses affect the function of the brain and can stop the mind from working properly supports the idea that there is no mind without body. Patients with diseases that stop the brain from working properly are still alive because the parts of the brain needed to keep them physically living are still functioning. However the part of the brain that is needed to allow them to think is not. So it is true that their "mind is gone" and the only reason they are alive is because the brain is still functioning enough to support their body. The mind can only live as long as the brain is functioning enough to allow it too.

    - Arooj Sharif (PHI 3000C TF905)

  3. I believe that NDE accounts from people who have lived through it, are not concrete enough evidence to prove that the mind exists after death. Thus, the argument stated in the Premise Conclusion form is inductive because it is based on experience and not factual evidence. Furthermore, many of the people in the video stated that while they had NDE they saw a very bright light at the end of a tunnel and even saw themselves prostrated in the hospital bed. The mind is not eternal because diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia slowly disintegrate the mind. There is sound evidence of how Alzheimer’s can take over the disintegration of the mind and eventually leads to death. One cannot survive without a mind and one’s mind cannot live after death. The brain is the root of everything. People who are in a vegetative state are basically dead. Why? Because their brain no longer functions, they can’t eat, breathe, talk, move or do any other function. Thus the mind is also perishable.

  4. I believe that the mind and the consciousness, or “soul”, are separate. In the near death experiences, the patients were pronounced clinically dead, which means that all vital functions body cease, including the heartbeat, brain activity, and breathing. This meant that not only the person’s body was dead, but the person’s mind as well. This suggests that there was something distinct from the body and mind that survived the death and experienced the NDE, which leads to the conclusion that humans have souls.
    Dementia and Alzheimer’s are mental illnesses that affect the functions of the brain. While it may be true that a patient’s “mind is gone,” since there are no signs of mental activity, there is still a soul inside the body that keeps the person alive. Therefore, yes, the body can exist without the mind, but not without the soul, so the argument that the body can exist without the mind and that it provides empirical evidence against the idea of an afterlife is invalid.
    -Annie Lee (Philosophy 1000C TF 7:30am)

    1. You are making an interesting argument that can be formulated as an inference to the best explanation as follows:

      (P1) Some people report having NDEs while clinically dead.
      (P2) The best explanation for (P1) is that there is an immaterial soul that can exist outside a person’s body.
      (C) Therefore, there is probably an immaterial soul that can exist outside a person’s body.

      This is a strong argument (i.e., the premises, if true, provide strong support for the conclusion). Is it cogent (i.e., are the premises actually true)?

      As we have seen, there are those who reject the second premise. They argue that there are other ways to explain what is going on when a person is having an NDE. For example, since it is questionable whether the brain is really not functioning while people have NDEs, given that it is very difficult to pinpoint the time of death, some argue that NDEs might be occurring on the borderlines between conscious and unconscious states, while the brain is still working and thus producing these experiences that people then report as NDEs.


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