Recently I’ve been reading “Spook” by Mary Roach, and I’ve been thinking about death, and more to the point, the idea of souls. What follows here is a complete babble about some of the things I’ve been thinking around it. Feel free to pass by this one accordingly.
At one point in the book, Mary is talking a guy who’s into quantum physics, and he mentions that there is reason to believe that consciousness would be preserved after death, if not personality. His reasoning is that intelligence is really information, and information is essentially energy in one form. Energy must be preserved regardless of form changes. While I personally agree with another guy in the book who says essentially that there’s no reason to believe that the energy would remain in such a state as to preserve consciousness, it was an interesting thought exercise.
I’ve often been disappointed with the often narrow scope of science fiction, partially because it’s often so anthropomorphic. It’s vastly more interesting to me to think about things so alien as to be close to the edge of what is imaginable by humans.
If there was some persisting soul after death, and it maintains consciousness, that consciousness will be necessarily driven by its ability to take in information around it. What would be the sensory capabilities of such a being be? Would a soul be non-local, i.e. could it exist at all places at once? Would it be non-temporal, i.e. could it exist at all times at once? As a purely energetic being, all sorts of weird quantum action starts being part of your existence in a much more immediate way. How would quantum entanglement affect you, or schrodinger’s uncertainty?
Would you be able to store and recall information? Would you actually use the universe itself as a storage medium? Is the universe a recursive data store (is free floating consciousness witnessing the universe and then encoding data about the universe back into the energy and matter of the universe in a never ending loop)? When and if the universe shifts to a more prefect state of vacuum, and all matter is converted back to energy in a violent fashion, how will you be affected?
Bringing things back to a human reference, if you were indeed non-local and non-temporal, what would motivate you to do anything, if indeed you could act on your environment? I ask that in reference to the idea of hauntings or ghosts. I suppose if you were spatially anchored, but non-temporal, that could lead to some things that people claim to have seen. But I think its more likely that you would directly affect the visual or auditory parts of the brain of your contact rather than manifest in some visually recognizable form.
I’ve often though that our SETI program is a little too anchored in the idea that other life in the universe will be organic, or for that matter, material. I don’t fault them for it though, I think given our current restrictions we’re doing the best we can to look for extra-terrestrial contact. But I think at some point we’re going to have to start looking for clues that are less temporally or spatially oriented. There’s a good chance that it would make perfect sense for other forms of life to encode communications across time and space.
At any rate, my current speculation is that if a soul or consciousness does persist after death, there would be no way for current humans to meaningfully interact with it. I also don’t think that that persisting consciousness would have any reason, or motivation to interact with us, even if they are capable of taking any concrete action in our 3 dimensions + time.
One of the chief conceits of the current manifestation of the human race is that our intelligence thinks it’s worth a lot more than it is. It’s important to remember that intelligence, personality and a whole lot of other things that we attribute to a soul are artifacts of a biological body with only a handful of senses dealing with limited information about a very limited ecosystem. We would be very different if we were sulphur breathing silicon based organisms that floated in the atmosphere of another planet. Being biological carries with it a whole host of limitations that are primarily oriented towards survival of genes rather than the persistence of consciousness. Consciousness, while as far as we know being relatively unique in the material universe, may not be inherently valuable when placed in the context of all of the energy and information in all of the universe. That is to say, once we’ve died, there’s a really good chance that we will find human pursuits really really uninteresting. There’s also a good chance that other intelligent life if it exists and is aware of us, feels the same way.