Immortality: Staume’s version

For part one, see here

In this second installment of my series on immortality, I will discuss David Staume’s book The Atheist Afterlife. Like Frank Tipler Staume seeks to develop a concept of the afterlife that is consistent with modern physics and both authors deliberate avoid a particular religious start point of their analysis. Nevertheless Staume’s theory on immortality is quite different Tipler’s.

Where Tipler call his theory the “Omega Point Theory”, Staume calls his one the “Inside-Out Theory”. For the sake of brevity I will refer to Staume’s theory as “IOT” and to Tipler’s as “OPT”. And both believe that their theories are, in principle, testable. In part 3 I will present a more detailed comparison between both theories.

David Staume begins his book with a discussion on the difference between religious conceptions of the after-life and what he calls rational ones. According to him the former are the product of imagination, or wishful thinking, while the latter is basically an extrapolarization of the known laws of physics.

Subsequently he examines what conditions need to be true for an afterlife to be plausible. The first necessary condition Staume identifies is that of mind-body dualism. This means that our body and our mind are two separate entities. If the mind would be inseparable from the body, then Staume argues it would be impossible for the mind to continue after the destruction of the body.

The second condition is, according to Staume, that the mind is subject to the Law of Conservation of Energy. Though the author does admit he cannot establish what the mind actually is, he argues it is reasonable to assume the mind obeys the Conservation of Energy, simply because no one has ever observed any violation this fundamental law of physics.

If both conditions are true, then it follows that the mind must continue even if the body is deactivated. Or if mind-body dualism is true, then the conservation of energy requires that the mind has to survive bodily death.

Having the very fundamental mechanism for immortality, Staume makes a seemingly strange step in his argument. He states we experience two types of reality: the Outer and the Inner reality. The former reality consists of the things external to our mind, such as trees, the sky and so on. Inner reality, however, is anything we experience in our own mind such as our emotions, thoughts and dreams.

Dreams are important in Staume’s argument. He describes dreams as kind of externalized inner reality. Even though our dreams only exist in our own mind, we perceive them in the same way as we perceive the external world. A similar thing happens at the point of death: the mind is transitioned to an externalized inner reality. And from this transition Staume gets the name “Inside-Out theory”.

According to the IOT the afterlife is similar to a dream. And just like we can experience nightmares, we could experience hellish condition after our death. Staume argues that the way we perceive the afterlife depends on our own attitudes and he suggests that a hateful person will experience fierce hatred while a loving person will experience strong feelings of love.

Interestingly Staume argues that his concept requires an additional dimension of space and an additional dimension of time. Since his argument is quite complicated, I will not discussed it here in detail. This additional dimension of space is called within. At the point of death the mind is turned into this dimension, a process which he calls enfolding.

Since Staume bases his idea of immortality on the assumption that the mind is subject to the Law of Conservation of Energy, it follows that there should be a beforelife. After all Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be destroyed nor created. So it follows that if this argument is correct, then there should be some kind of reincarnation. According to Staume the dreamlike state after death is only a temporary one, between two “lives”. The reversal of the transition to the “afterlife” is called unfolding.

He compares this cycle of enfolding and unfolding with the big bang theory. The expansion of our universe started with the big bang is a type of unfolding and the future contraction of the universe, ending in the big crunch, is a type of enfolding. Since the big crunch could result in another big band we will have in endless cycle of unfolding and enfolding.

Now we have a clear picture of Staume’s theory on the atheist afterlife, the question is what evidence there is in support of his argument. The crucial question is, of course, whether mind-body dualism is true. Though modern research suggest that mental states are created by processes in our brains. However, Staume uses an analogy to argue this correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

His analogy is that of a television set and a television station. Suppose that I want to watch an episode of Death in Paradise at BBC One, it would not be sufficient to have a working television set. Even if my television is working, I could not watch anything unless I receive a signal from the BBC. Staume argues we could compare our brain with the television set and the mind with the television station. Neither could properly function without the other.

Staume acknowledges that this analogy does not prove dualism as such, but it undermines the idea that the brain is necessarily the creator of our thoughts and other mental experiences. Consequently mind-body dualism remains, in his view, a plausible position.

A final aspect of Staume’s theory I want to discuss here, is related to dark matter and dark energy. A consequence of the IOT is that thoughts and feelings in the afterlife are objectified. This, however, requires the existence of something that could be shaped by our thoughts or feelings. Staume argues this something could be dark matter and dark energy.

One could raise several objections against Staume’s thesis and he himself states it is, at this moment at least, pure speculation. First of all, he did not provide any conclusive evidence in favor of mind-body dualism nor does he suggest any method for testing this hypothesis. Without dualism his whole argument falls apart, as is stated by Staume himself.

Even if mind-body dualism is true, it is still the question whether the mind is bound by the law of energy conservation. Though we do not know any violation of this law, it is, however, not impossible. If the mind is not conserved then the mind is not an immortal entity.

And in respect of the conservation of energy I want to note the zero-energy universe hypothesis. According to this hypothesis energy might be created or destroyed as long as an equal amount of negative energy is created or destroyed. This way the total energy in our universe remains zero at all time and hence the law of energy conservation is obeyed. If this hypothesis is true, then conservation does not guarantee immortality of the mind.

Another physical issue with Staume’s IOT, is dark matter. Though most physicists believe in dark matter, there is a growing number of theoretical physicists who doubt the existence of dark matter. For instance Dutch physicist Eric Verlinde has recently published an alternative theory which disposes with the dark matter concept, while being able to explain the motion of galaxies.

On the other hand, dark matter is not essential to the IOT, but without it, a major candidate for Staume’s “objectified thoughts” is eliminated.

Another objection, a philosophical one, I have regards Staume’s theory of reincarnation. On one hand he argues that our experiences in the afterlife depends upon our thoughts and feelings during our “life” and that we might relive our past memories in a dreamlike state. However, he then argues that once we return to an “unfolded” state, only our inclination are past to our new lives and no past memories are transferred. So there is a degree of asymmetry in his theory, which Staume does not really explain.

One final objection is that if mind could exist independently from our bodies, then how do minds got entrapped into a body? Again Staume fails to provide a plausible mechanism of minds got attached to bodies, nor does he states why this would be a necessity. One could imagine that the body, or the brain in particular, somehow attracts a mind. However, this raises a few questions.

In what stage of development is the body or the brain capable of attracting a mind? Could a brain/body ever fail to attract and capture a brain? What makes bodies/brains special in attracting minds? For instance, could robots ever attract a mind? Could a body/brain contain multiple minds at the same time? Unfortunately, Staume does not even raise these question, let alone he answers them.

If Staume’s theory is correct, it has several philosophical consequences. I will discuss a few of those.

One major implication of the IOT is that non-existence is not an option. Though many people would not be concerned about this, but for philosophers such as David Benatar it is. Benatar defends the position that non-existence to preferrable to coming into existence as existence is full of suffering. However, if Staume is correct, then our mind existed before our birth and will survive after our death, and are we captured in an endless cycle of death and rebirth.

For people like Benatar the IOT is a very pessimistic scenario as there is no hope to ever become non-existent. And given this the only thing we could do is to minimize suffering in our world.

On a related note Staume warns people against committing suicide. His first argument against suicide is a pragmatic one, his theory might be false. His second argument is more interesting. Even if the IOT is true, then if you commit suicide in distress your afterlife experience will be quiet unpleasant, as your experiences are conditioned by your state of mind at the point of death. Important to note is that Staume distinguish between suicide and rationally choosing death at old age.

Also if the IOT is true we might to have to reconsider the death penalty. A common objection to capital punishment is that it is an easy punishment as the dead are incapable of suffering. However, if Staume is right then those who have committed serious offences might experience hellish conditions after their execution. On the other hand, this could be an additional argument against the death penalty.

And on a more general note, if the IOT is true, we need to reconsider why murder is wrong. I am not saying murder should be legalized, on the contrary, but we need to formulate a clear argument against murder even if immortality is a fact.

As a final remark of this installment I want to draw a parallel between Staume’s IOT and The Wheel of Time fantasy series. In the latter the cyclical nature of time is an essential part of the story and reincarnation is accepted as a fact of life. Dreams are also in an important part of that world and are to some degree objectified.


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