On Death: 6 – I Am, Therefore, I Think.

Before we begin, I’d like to implore your honest participation throughout the following post. Since we’re starting to move into synthesis, it’s imperative you personally understand what’s being proposed. There’s the overwhelming danger that you’ll just skim read through without pause.

That would be an awful shame.

You’re here because you’re obviously fearful about Death. Saving a few minutes by skimming and not doing the thought-experiments means you may miss out on some experiential knowledge.

Therefore, whenever you see this sign throughout the post, I implore you to stop and picture what I’m asking in your mind. While I spent countless hours over years thinking about this subject, you only have to spend minutes to have a seed planted in your mind. That seed may grow into a knowing that may forever change your life for the better. When death finally arrives for you, you’ll have the harvest from a few minutes of imagining a concept for its validity.

Let’s Begin

In the last instalment, you learned that your physical senses register the world through contact with material particles. For example, vision works when light waves enter your eyes and trigger a nerve impulse to your brain. The visual cortex at the back of the head will then create an approximate movie based on the continuous feedback from your eyes. However, you also learned that you receive input from only 0.0035% of the electromagnetic spectrum, making your perception of reality extremely small.

Not only that, but you can only see in 3 dimensions (height, width and depth), but as you now know, there are an extra seven dimensions (so far) all around you. You live within all these dimensions, but you can only perceive three of them. There’s a whole lot more going on around and through us that we can’t ever perceive through our physical senses.

In essence, we are sensory prisoners of the 3D field of perception.

You also learned about the problem of Consciousness. We looked at the theory of evolution, and discussed how our superior intelligence doesn’t match other species’ development. Why would we need to develop abstraction and self-awareness of death to survive within Nature?

Furthermore, why have consciousness at all? Nature could comprise of mindless, unconscious reactive species without consciousness or emotion.

Why do the same atoms that comprise the earth under our feet produce consciousness when in the form of a living being?

Science has a massive problem explaining how you–a bunch of atoms and molecules–can have consciousness. So they brush it away as a by-product of your brain. But you know that explanation makes no sense because creatures without brains (Jellyfish, plants, bacteria) all display consciousness.

Moreover, brain-consciousness doesn’t explain how consciousness arises out of matter.

The consciousness puzzle is essential because this is fundamentally what you worry about after death. Will you have consciousness after physical death, or will there be nothing all together? If there is something, will your sense of self survive? To answer this, we have to explore where your sense of self is.

But first, a thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus


Watch the following video.

If we replace every single part of Theseus’ ship with new parts over 100 years, is it the same ship?

If you say yes, then what if someone kept all the old parts and rebuilt the original ship elsewhere? Which ship is Theseus’ ship? The old one built with new parts, or the new one made with original parts?

If you say no, then at which point does it stop being the same ship? After one board? Half the ship? Three quarters? 99% new parts?

As is commonplace with philosophical thought experiments, their purpose is to get you to think deeper about an issue rather than to regurgitate a simplistic, ready-made answer. Often, the thought experiment brings up more questions than a clear cut answer. The point being that non-material issues are always shades of grey, rather than black and white.

The ship of Theseus is analogous to your body. Since you were born, every single cell in your body has been replaced many times over. Some cells are replaced often, like intestinal lining, others take years. In fact, while you read this paragraph, you replaced around 20 million cells. In a day, you replace approximately 200 billion cells. However, every seven years, you have replaced every single cell. You are not the same person you were at birth, at 7, at 14, at 21, etc.

Not only do you look like a completely different person, but you feel like a completely different person too. Yet, you have a sense that you are the same person.

So, the question is, if you are the same person, what makes it so?
Is it your body or your mind?

There’s no ‘I’ in Body 🙂

Let’s imagine your body is ravaged by Motor Neurone Disease (ALS). Every muscle is completely paralysed like the late Stephen Hawking. You can’t walk, talk, feed or look after yourself. Your body is now your coffin.

However, lucky for you there’s new technology that can download the structure of your brain and mind into a hard-drive. Not only that, but they can upload your mind into a fully functional android. Unfortunately, the procedure means your original body dies in the transfer. However, your experience would be like going for surgery. You’d go to sleep under anaesthesia and wake up in the new mechanical body.

Although it would feel weird at first, a robotic body means you could now move and interact with people around you. You’d still know it was you, but you wouldn’t look like your old self.

So, would this android body change your sense of self?

What if instead of an android, we put your mind into a clone of you?

Different body, same look, same mind. Would it still be you?

What about another clone that didn’t look like you?

You’d have the same mind but a different looking body. Maybe even a younger body with a stunning face? Would you still be you?

Now let’s push this further. What if there was no organic body available? However, while you’re waiting, they can upload your mind into a supercomputer or even the cloud. You’d have full access to the internet and social media. You could also have conversations with your family via a 3D rendition of your face and an audio output similar to your voice. All this could happen while you’re waiting for your body to become available.
Would you still be you?

When I ran through each scenario, I had to admit it would still be me. Although at the moment I feel like me because I have this body, I’d feel like Me with any other body too.

Therefore, the only natural conclusion is that what I sense as me can’t be this body.

The start of the realisation that my body wasn’t me, was when I started to lose considerable physical function. It was/is a very fragmentary feeling when I wanted to move, and my body didn’t respond. To say there’s a mind/body split is an understatement. While I can feel everything, I think it would be even more alienating if one were a quadriplegic; no movement and no sensation below the head. Your body would genuinely feel like an alien appendage.

You know what this feels like if you’ve ever slept on your arm and woke to find it completely numb and lifeless. Your arm doesn’t feel like a part of you. It just hangs there like dead weight. That’s a glimpse that you’re not the arm, and by extension, nor the body it attaches to.

It seems then that if our bodies could be replaced, not usable, or we could reside in the cloud, then a body can’t be what gives us our sense of self—the I.

Okay then, if it’s not the body that gives me a sense of self, then could it be my mind?
Let’s examine it and find out 😉

There’s no ‘me’ in Mind 🙂

First, I suppose we should identify what it is about our minds that makes us feel like ourselves. Is it just thoughts, our memories, our fantasies? What is it that makes our mind Ours?

Our minds seem to manifest in three states: the waking mind, the dreaming mind and the sleep dream mind.

The waking mind is your focused state. When you’re actively focusing on something, like reading this sentence, that’s your waking mind. It’s awake and actively aware.

The Dreaming mind is where you’re at most of the time—daydreaming while on auto-pilot. While you’re doing most things (cooking, walking, driving, showering, waiting, etc.), your mind is daydreaming various things; most of which you have no control over. Thoughts just seem to cascade endlessly from one subject to another like billiard balls. Next time you catch yourself on auto-pilot (probably right now) see if you notice how much your thoughts happened of their own accord. You’re in a dream-state most of your waking hours.

The Sleep Dream mind is as the name suggests, your dreams while you’re in deep sleep. Here again, you have very little input. You’re simultaneously the dream and the dreamer.

In all three states, however, there’s a common denominator: someone is witnessing the dreams.

When you’re actively thinking, who’s the active thinker?

When you’re daydreaming, who’s watching the dreams?

When you’re dreaming, who’s the watcher that experienced the dream?

In all cases, you’re seeing pictures (thoughts, dreams) in your mind. Therefore, who is watching those pictures? It can’t be your brain because your brain creates the pictures. There has to be something beyond the brain and the thoughts to watch them doesn’t there?

Yeah, Jorge, that’s nice and all, but what about my memories? Aren’t they me?

While most people think of memories as specific events, actually, most of your memory is the categorisation of objects, ideas and relationships. For instance, when you were young, you learned the alphabet, colours and objects’ names and their uses. So when you think of a blue pen to write with, that’s your memory amalgamating different memorised concepts: the colour blue, a pen, a pen writes.

However, even personal memories of specific events can be boiled down to selective categorisation of particulars. For example, when I remember my pre-ALS bodywork practice, I remember primarily the joy I felt when my hands worked on someone. That joy is also intertwined with seeing my client’s delight when they felt the difference in their bodies.

Someone else who does the same work may remember very different specific things. They may remember anxiety at being unsure of what they’re doing. They may remember specific needy, rude, hypochondriac or entitled clients.

We choose categories to focus on via emotional impact. If an event has the emotional intensity, we’ll select specific attributes of that memory to justify our emotional reaction to it. All event memories are based on our individual emotional focus. The stronger something is felt, the more likely we’ll remember it.

Pro Tip: If you want someone to remember you with delight, ensure they have a strong positive emotional experience around you.

Changing Your Mind

Let’s pretend I could replace your memories one by one, so by the end, you’d have a completely different memory of your life. (Scientists have actually swapped memories in a mouse)

This is a Ship of Theseus for your memories.

Would you still feel like you?

Of course, you would, because you wouldn’t recollect what you no longer have. You’d only remember the memories you do have.

In fact, this happens to you every day. You’ve lost the memory of what you had for lunch two years ago, yet, you have new memories being added all the time. In fact, you’ve forgotten 99% of what you’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled and felt. You may remember events (usually wrongly), recognise similar smells, sounds, etc., but compared to the astronomical number of stimuli you’re exposed to daily, you remember very little indeed. In this context, replacing memory doesn’t seem to be a problem to your sense of self.

Okay, now let’s pretend I could erase a childhood memory of yours every minute as you went about your day.

Would you notice? No, because you wouldn’t have a memory of it. Even now, you don’t remember most of your life before the age of seven, and it doesn’t affect you.

Would you care? No, because you wouldn’t be aware of a memory that’s non-existent. How can you care about a memory you don’t have? This happens to you now. You might not know you even have a specific memory (it doesn’t exist) until something or someone re-minds you.

So What?

Who we sense as “Us” seems to rest on three factors: body, mind and consciousness.

We mistakenly identify ourselves with our bodies because we can physically sense it. We can feel constant sensations through our senses, therefore, we feel like we are the body. However, as we previously established, if your body was damaged beyond repair and we had the technology to transfer your mind to another clone, computer, cloud, etc., then you’d still perceive You. The change of physical form wouldn’t change your personal perception of self, just how you’d feel within physical space.

Therefore, it must follow if you’d still feel like you without your body, then the body can’t be You.

We identify ourselves with our minds because we can see thoughts, memories, etc., run through our mind every second.

However, you’re now aware that to see thoughts or dreams, there has to be a You behind those thoughts in order to see them. Therefore, You can’t be the thoughts (mind) because You are the thing having them.

But that’s not all. If I was to replace every memory of yours with another, then you wouldn’t even notice, because you couldn’t remember non-existent memories. Your sense of self would be correlated with new memories.

Furthermore, if I was to remove every single memory of yours and all you could experience was absolute present-moment awareness, then you wouldn’t feel any less You either. You can prove this to yourself instantly when you watch a riveting movie or show. You’re not thinking about anything; you’re just witnessing. Yet, you’re still conscious of You.

You’ve actually been like this before—as a baby. You had no prior memories or thoughts to reflect upon: no pictures or language. You existed in pure awareness.

The lack of memories or thoughts didn’t change nor affect your sense of Self. Consciously, this was probably the best, most peaceful time of your physical life.

Therefore, it must follow, if You are separate from your thoughts and you can still feel like You without your memories (or thoughts), then your mind can’t be You either.

I hope you’ve caught on that there’s a significant difference between You and your Identity. Your identity is (as the name suggests) what you identify with; namely, your body and your thoughts/memories.

However, I’ve proven that your body and thoughts don’t make you, You! Swapping your body didn’t change You. Neither did changing your thoughts and memories.

Even though your physical identity could change along with your mental identity, You were still there to witness and experience the difference.

Remember, don’t confuse your identity (how you and others describe you physically and characteristically) with You—your Consciousness!

This is extremely important! Please re-read the post and re-do the thought experiments to understand the difference.

So, if we’re not our body and we’re not our memories, then that leaves Consciousness.

Stay tuned for the next instalment.

If you found this post thought-provoking, share it with other minds 🙂

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