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What do you believe happens when we die

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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl



    The corona virus is an interesting analogy. Worth remembering that a virus is transmitted through organic self replication, using material from the infected cell for replication. It is not the same molecules of protein, nucleic acid etc... re-circulating, it is different new ones that are built from the host cells. Similarly in something like a fire or chain reaction you have a global configuration change across a large body of material over a short time frame but this doesn't involve the even redistribution of all the atoms in that material. In the case of MB's dinosaur pee, I have no issue with the notion that it has been re-ingested however many times by however many animals in most cases. My query is how we can we arrive at the conclusion that after a number of centuries we can be sure it has been re-ingested by every animal alive at that time and subsequently in all cases. As mentioned previously, this would involve each of us also ingesting the pee of every dinosaur and other animal that had predeceased Shakespeare in every litre of water we ingest. While our weather and tidal system may act as a great mixer, I'd still be keen to see the statistics (given this isn't something we can measure directly) that can provide confidence that this level of uniform mixing is achieved. We do know that some organic material doesn't get redistributed over this time frame (e.g. that which becomes fossil fuel), and we also speculate that some water is re-circulated more regularly than others. To my mind, this makes an assertion that demands uniform mixing at a global level over a period of a few centuries questionable. Given we're talking about atoms "vigorously recycled at death" we have a far bigger ask for Bryson's assertion to hold true. This isn't to say it is not true, I'm merely interested in understanding why we should accept that it is.



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 41,310 Mod ✭✭✭✭ magicbastarder


    My query is how we can we arrive at the conclusion that after a number of centuries we can be sure it has been re-ingested by every animal alive at that time and subsequently in all cases.

    just to clarify - what do you mean by 'it' here?

    i am not suggesting that if you take a specific molecule of water, that you can state in any sense that it has been ingested by any one, any specific one, or all beings.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl



    Bad wording on my part. By 'it', I'm specifically referring to the billion odd atoms that once were a constituent part of Shakespeare or Genghis Khan that were vigorously recycled following their deaths that are now part of you and I. By extension, I'm also referring to the similar samples from all other animal sources that would need to be present in every person for Bryson's assertion to hold true. My query relates to the vigorous post mortem recycling of atoms such that they have uniform redistribution across the entire animal kingdom to the degree required in the time frame required. The global even redistribution of water used over our life times may well be a thing, but I struggle to understand how we can put a time frame on it. The human remains of someone buried in Stratford on Avon in 1616 is more of a stretch, as are those of someone who died in Yinchuan in 1227. Again, it could well be the case, but at face value it seems like an extraordinary claim that seems reasonable to challenge as there appear to be some very large numbers in variables on both sides of the equation (and I doubt we even know what all of those variables are).

    Personally, I think we derive more value from this type of pop science asking these types of questions than accepting everything at face value. I find Bryson questionable in this instance and hence am asking the questions.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    As an aside, if we assume Bryson's quote to be true does this also mean that communion wafers include some actual bits of Jesus? 😎



  • Registered Users Posts: 23,325 ✭✭✭✭ Peregrinus


    You're talking about diffusion, the process by which micro-particles impelled by Brownian motion diffuse through a fluid. Briefly, although Brownian motion (the motion of particles suspended in a fluid) is random, it nevertheless causes the particles to move from areas of high concentration towards areas of low concentration. The rate at which this movement takes place is affected by a number of factors, principally temperature (Brownian motion is stronger at higher temperatures) and the viscosity of the fluid medium. And of course it's impossible to track every single particle, but you can build statistical models and then test these with real-world applications. (For example; I pour 250ml of hydrochloric acid into a 50,000 litre swimming pool at typical conditions of atmospheric pressure and water temperature; how long before there is a uniform concentration of acid throughout the pool? This is easily tested. Answer: within 30 minutes; less if the pool is a heated pool.)

    OK. You can apply these models to answer questions like: how long before the molecules in Julius Caesar's dying breath are evenly distributed throughout the planetary atmosphere? I don't actually know the answer to this question but I am confidently assured by those who do that it happened long ago and that, statistically, it is likely that right now you are breathing molecules which were comprised in his dying breath.

    So, the dust that was Shakespeare? This is different because it is not suspended in a fluid. Shakespeare was buried in the earth; he decomposed. But the earth is not a fluid; his bits would not be diffused by Brownian motion. But they would be spread in other ways - worms eat the fleshy bits, they move not very far, but far enough to be eaten by birds, who move rather further, and who themselves die and decompose and release molecules that get eaten by other animals, or absorbed into plants that get eaten by other animals, that move, and die, and decompose, and so on and so on. I don't know if we have reliable statistical models as to how fast or how uniformly the molecules of the dead are distributed in this way. Off the cuff, it looks to me like a much more complex thing to model.

    Except, at some point in the cycle bits of dead Shakespeare end up in water - rivers, the sea - or in the atmosphere. And once that happens, diffusion by Brownian motion takes over, and from their on the rate of diffusion is fairly predictable. So, really, all you have to model is, how long is it before a critical mass of Shakespeare ends up in the Avon.



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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    Correct me if I'm wrong P. but my understanding of diffusion through Brownian motion is that it depends on two (or more) different liquids of different concentrations. If we add a small amount of water to a larger body of water we're changing the volume but not the molar equilibrium. By the time the liquid part of Shakespeare's remains made it to the Avon and from there transported to the sea, I'd wonder how much of a role diffusion plays. I'd fancy that as the bard started to push up daisies (or had water taken up and carbon bound to other plant life, fungi and bacteria), the combination of transpiration and CO2 from photosynthesis may have been a faster route to rejoin the atmosphere. All idle speculation of course.



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 41,310 Mod ✭✭✭✭ magicbastarder


    i'd suspect that in a river, mixing through eddies, etc., has a far greater effect than diffusion - unless the river flow is very laminar.

    same with mixing of water vapour in the atmosphere.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 19,009 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Bannasidhe


    Has anyone determined how many molecules can dance on the head of a pin?



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    I'd agree, though I'm not sure how we could go about measuring the time frame required by this mechanism to disperse Shakespeare's remains globally and uniformly to the level required. Also worth noting that Stratford up Avon sits on a large sandstone aquifer so the idea that the liquid part of Shakespeare's remains ended up in the Avon by a reasonably direct route is not necessarily a given.



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 41,310 Mod ✭✭✭✭ magicbastarder


    i think we're agreed on that - the molecules in the bones in his skeleton when he died are probably mainly still there.



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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    According to Flann O'Brien, the atoms are "as lively as twenty leprechauns doing a jig on top of a tombstone" and those of us that regularly ride bicycles over poor roads through the course of are lives risk becoming more bicycle than person through the ongoing exchange of same. So to circuitously circle back to the opening question of what happens to us when we die, while our human remains may get recirculated ad nauseum, our bicycle selves may yet travel around the pale and beyond a while longer.

    https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/comedy/flann-obrien-splits-atom



  • Registered Users Posts: 23,325 ✭✭✭✭ Peregrinus


    So if I borrow somebody's bicycle I will absorb some of their molecules while they are still alive! This is stuff that happens to us even before we die!

    I think we need to give serious thought to the moral, political and spiritual implications of bikesharing schemes.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 24,239 Mod ✭✭✭✭ robindch


    So if I borrow somebody's bicycle I will absorb some of their molecules while they are still alive! This is stuff that happens to us even before we die!

    It's a moral dilemma which attracted the attention of none other than Myles (Flann, Brian) na gCopaleen (O'Brien, Ó Nualláin) in his seminal study, The Third Policeman, where he ruminated at length upon the nature of guilt when above-average degrees of molecular transfer were suspected of having taken place. Ruminations which were summarized neatly in Philip Coulter's thesis (https://escholarship.mcgill.ca/downloads/m900nv94z?locale=en), thusly:

    The first story concerns Gilhaney, who stole a school-mistress's bicycle and left his own for her. The immorality of this action was compounded by the fact that the woman took Gilhaney's bicycle and rode it herself. Because Gilhaney's personality was diffused between the man and the bicycle, there was doubt as to which contained more of him, and thus doubt as to who or what was guilty of immorality. Similarly, Pluck's great-grandfather rode a horse, which was eventually shot for molesting young girls. However, as the Sergeant points out, "if you ask me it was my great-grandfather they shot and it is the horse that is buried up in Cloncoombe Churchyard". Later, MacCruiskeen tells the narrator about a man named MacDadd who killed another man. Both MacDadd and his bicycle had to be arrested for the murder, and the Sergeant found the bicycle guilty and had it hanged because it contained the greater part of MacDadd.



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 41,310 Mod ✭✭✭✭ magicbastarder


    should read more than one post up!



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 24,239 Mod ✭✭✭✭ robindch



    Unfortunately, upon a request to do so, this splendid update to boards does not drop one at the last unread post in each thread (as did the previous version), but instead, drops one at some random point within the thread, challenging anybody to recall where they'd been some days or weeks before.

    I, for one, applaud the responsible developer(s) as this can only require our brains to work far harder and more reliably than they used to.



  • Registered Users Posts: 26,067 ✭✭✭✭ Hotblack Desiato


    If you install the Boards Enhancement Suite (desktop) the date stamp of the first unread post is in bold.

    The people complaining about scrolling all seem to be mobile users though.

    Make our National Maternity Hospital Public and Secular

    #MakeNMHOurs

    Nuns Nuns Reverse Reverse!



  • Registered Users Posts: 1,969 ✭✭✭ Zak Flaps


    Who arranged this test?

    Who decides whether we have been good or not? What defines good? Does the person in charge have some sort of list?

    If we are bad, do we end up in some sort of spiritual jail?



  • Registered Users Posts: 26,067 ✭✭✭✭ Hotblack Desiato


    Nice or naughty, present or lump of coal?

    Make our National Maternity Hospital Public and Secular

    #MakeNMHOurs

    Nuns Nuns Reverse Reverse!



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    When reading the OP state "I used to believe in nothing for so long but then I realised it’s naive to think nothing exists after we die. There has to be more to life than just living and dying" I wonder if they understand the notion of conformation bias. Believing something to be true because you would like it to be true, or cannot bear the alternative, strikes me as rather naive. Of course things exist after we die, but I can't think of any good reason why our continued consciousness would number among those things.



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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,192 ✭✭✭ Kaybaykwah


    Flann O’Brien was also responsible for the mental transmogrification of John Duffy’s brother into a train, while he was alive. That took quite some doing.



  • Registered Users Posts: 3,179 ✭✭✭ Man Vs ManUre


    Let’s have less molecules and more ghost stories on this thread please.



  • Registered Users Posts: 10,950 ✭✭✭✭ briany


    Some believe that when you die, an intangible part of your being, often called your spirit or soul, separates from your body and goes to a realm of sorts that is separate from our reality - Heaven, or Hell, or some place in between. Different places called many things by many different cultures, and where you go is often believed to depend on how you have comported yourself in this realm we currently find ourselves. In short, something happens.

    This is relatively straightforward.

    The opposing view is that nothing happens. In a strange way, nothing is a more interesting concept to think about, for me, because true nothing would be so nothing, you wouldn't even notice it. I could, as I type this, technically experience a quadrillion years worth of true nothing and be completely unaffected. So, to say that after death there is nothing is meaningless in my opinion, because your consciousness, having dissipated, will be unable to appreciate this nothingness and so being dead would offer no peace. From one's own perspective as a conscious being, there can only be somethingness. It may be closest thing we get to 'experiencing' nothingness (which cannot be experienced because it is nothing) is from deep sleep, under general anaesthetic, transcendental meditation maybe or some powerful psychotropic drug perhaps, but in all these experiences, you still come out of the other side knowing that you had this experience and that you lacked the ability to perceive time passing within that state.

    But in physical death of your body and your consciousness, if and where there is nothing, and you have no more consciousness, there is no other side to come out on to be able to go 'ah yes, I went through some nothing, just there'. And because you no longer have a consciousness, you would not be able to know you are dead, are going through nothingness or that you had ever even been alive because there is no longer a 'you' to know any of this.

    The more I think of this kind of true nothing, the more it just seems like a non-concept. That is not to say I think there's something, but that as a conscious being, I can only ever perceive and have awareness, from my own perspective that is. As I said, true nothingness would surely be unnoticeable because it is, well, nothing...

    So, where does that leave me in the 'nothing' model of death?

    1) Whatever time I get alive is actually non-existent since all conception of the universe dies when I die, *from my own perspective*, and I won't be able to remember anything or remember that I can't remember anything or have a mind to not remember that I cannot remember anything. From my perspective, as a non-entity, it was as well not have happened.

    2) Being that, as a conscious being, I can only really be in the now (the past is memory, the future is imagination), the now I experience at the point of death may last, from my perspective, what feels like an eternity (probably only a second or two in real terms), and in this now you have some quite vivid dreams that you may think are an afterlife, but are really just emanating from your brain, but this is obviously only speculation and probably overestimates the brain's capacity to warp one's perception of time.

    But, still, being that one cannot experience the non-experience of nothing, the consciousness being pushed over the line of death I liken to an object going across the event horizon of a black hole. It goes past the black hole, but from your perspective remains upon the event horizon, because light cannot escape from inside the line.

    3) You die. You longer have a mind with which to process the passing of time. In this non-state from your perspective as a formerly conscious being, any length of time has no meaning. It's essentially all the same. It could be an instant for all you care whether it be a nanosecond or googolplex years, since there is no you to be aware of time passing. In the fullness of time, or even the fulness of reality itself, where your body and mind are really just a biological machine with no supernatural uniqueness to them, then must it be that any set of circumstances, no matter how unlikely or unique will eventually come around again, including you, on the same Earth, made of the same atoms and electrons , in the same place, with the same ancestors, etc. living every possible outcome of your life? Sort of reincarnation, but without the mystical Hindu aspects.

    TL;DR - Whether there is a God or not, or whether there is a classical afterlife or not, I, and each one of us, from our own perspective as aware consciousnesses can only ever experience being, since experiencing true nothing eternally is a non-concept and having no consciousness would surely be unnoticeable, and the concept of death ultimately only has meaning to the living who have to undergo grief and missing loved ones.

    P.S. didn't mean to write an essay.



  • Registered Users Posts: 4 _Marshall_


    I have a hunch all this is deeper and more complicated than our ape brains can figure, although we have done a lot of work on the Lego aspects of it all.


    Started out indoctrinated catholic.

    Lost faith.

    Found Hitch's Horsemen and thought that was the end of the discussion...


    But now.. after a lot of death over some years ... I feel there is something going on. I know not what.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    So, to say that after death there is nothing is meaningless in my opinion, because your consciousness, having dissipated, will be unable to appreciate this nothingness and so being dead would offer no peace.

    Essentially, as I see it, the proposition is that individual human subjective consciousness has limits with respect to time. While it can be an uncomfortable proposition for many, to my mind it seems reasonable and any counter arguments I've come across are essentially unsupported fantasy born out of emotional rejection of the inevitability of subjective annihilation. In some cases death can be an end to suffering. If continued living is solely a cause of pain with no potential for positive improvement, then death may offer peace. Offs topic, but this is the essential, and in my opinion reasonable, argument for euthanasia.

    That all sounds rather glum, but another way of looking at it perhaps is that we come from infinite chaos, we have the outstanding luck to enjoy a brief subjective existence and we then return to infinite chaos. Better to celebrate that luck and enjoy life to the full rather than lamenting you were not luckier still, which is essentially winning the lotto and being pissed off that it wasn't the euromillions ;)



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    But now.. after a lot of death over some years ... I feel there is something going on. I know not what.

    Also lost a couple of people very dear to me in recent years and it has a marked impact. They certainly don't stop being an influence on my life and I often imagine what they might say or how they might react to a given situation. At the same time, I don't believe they have an independent subjective existence, just that they have helped form my mind and how it works, and continue to do so.



  • Posts: 0 ✭✭ [Deleted User]


    To the child in a mother's womb half way through pregnancy they are all alone ..never having set eyes on another world outside of THEIR world. For me I find it inconcevible that there is nothing .I believe as intelligent as we think we are there is something else after we die that we do not intellectually understand as of yet.it would be on the same plane as me showing a dog a maths problem from my kids homework and expecting him to understand it.the world is far too complicated for humans to understand it.id imagine even an atheist on his death bed would be praying for something more than "close your eyes and that's it"....we are not as smart as we think we are!

    That's my two cents .



  • Registered Users Posts: 10,950 ✭✭✭✭ briany


    If there is nothing after death then death could offer no peace to the dead person since their consciousness would be obliterated and therefore lack any capacity with which to perceive peace as we understand the word as conscious beings. Without the ability to notice, all is unnoticeable. However, death could obviously offer some peace to relatives still living and possessed of awareness, that they no longer need witness their loved one in a state of physical duress, causing emotional pain. The closest we can get as conscious beings to appreciating true nothingness is after the fact when we regain awareness to note that time had passed around us while in a state of non-awareness, but this transition would feel like one instant to the next from an individual perspective.

    As for infinite chaos, I can as easily say that perhaps it is true that in infinity, an infinite number of things will happen an infinite number of times and that it is not necessarily lucky that any individual is here, but inevitable in the fullness of time, and this is what I suppose the Indian philosophies are getting at - that you are bound to exist an endless number of times and you can make that fact either a blessing or a curse by choosing, in the now, to have a time that you consider enjoyable.

    But whether events are cyclical or not cyclical, all I know is that knowing is all I can know. Whether that be a classical afterlife, or just the temporal lifespan returning to infinite chaos, or cyclical reconstruction of the matter which forms my unique consciousness, I cannot go beyond the bounds of being aware since not being aware cannot be perceived. You can look upon a dead body and say it is unaware, but you're saying that from the perspective of your own awareness, but death will not be perceived by the dead without any instrumentation by which to perceive.



  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    Peace can be defined as "freedom from disturbance; tranquillity" or "a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended". It doesn't demand subjective appreciation of this state. Death, by those definitions, clearly does offer peace. Interestingly, peace is defined in negative terms as the lack of something, e.g. conflict or turmoil, much as atheism is defined as the lack of belief in a god or gods.



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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,307 Mod ✭✭✭✭ smacl


    id imagine even an atheist on his death bed would be praying for something more than "close your eyes and that's it"....we are not as smart as we think we are!

    It is interesting that you place the praying atheist on their deathbed here rather than in the whole of their health. This suggests they are acting out of desperation motivated by fear of death as opposed to rational belief. It does nothing to support the possibility of an afterlife. Wanting a thing to be true does not make it any more likely to be true.



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