Note: If you haven’t yet read part 1- “What is Consciousness and the Neuroscience behind Sleep and Dreaming”, please visit the following page: https://portermedium.com/2019/06/the-mystery-of-consciousness-part-1-defining-consciousness-and-the-neuroscience-behind-sleep-and-dreaming/.
Theories of Consciousness
Historically speaking, there have been three prominent theories of consciousness. Each attempts to explain the underlying cause of consciousness and how it interacts with the body and brain.
“Just because we haven’t yet discovered what in the brain causes it, doesn’t mean what causes it is outside of the brain”.
Materialism is the theory that neural processes are totally responsible for consciousness and that its mechanism is totally situated in the brain. This theory presupposes that consciousness is merely just another physiological mechanism that is not yet well understood. This theory assumes that an ongoing neurological process exists that persistently upholds the sense of self that humans experience.
Most proponents of this theory argue that consciousness came about evolutionarily just like other physiological processes and provides organisms with obvious advantages in regards to survival and reproduction.
Dualism is based on the ancient belief that the mind and soul are totally separate entities. Dualists believe that the process of consciousness is not physiological and that its existence precedes anything material. According to this theory, what causes consciousness is governed totally outside of the body and is associated with either an ethereal soul, an extra-dimensional process or otherwise.
Many modern dualist proponents theorize that consciousness is sourced somewhere else in the universe and that it is transmitted to the brain just as channels are transmitted to a television. In this instance, the brain would merely be a template that allows for consciousness to be acquired once a proper signal is gained. In this case, the mechanism of consciousness itself would be housed outside the body and therefore not be dependent on it for its functionality.
Panpsychism is the theory that consciousness is an innate quality of all matter and is present in everything from the smallest fundamental particles, namely quarks. Panpsychism argues that humans are able to experience a subjective sense of self since the combination of all the consciousnesses of underlying subatomic particles work in unison. Per panpsychism, inanimate objects such as airplanes or stones would also have consciousness in the sense that they’d too have a subjective awareness, but would have no intelligence on top of it. Some proponents of panpsychism turn to recent experiments in Quantum Mechanics namely the Double Slit Experiment and Delayed Choice experiment to prove that consciousness has a fundamental impact on subatomic matter. Some even theorize that whatever causes consciousness originates in a different dimension and is therefore inconceivable from ours.
Implications of Each Theory on Life After Death
Materialism: Materialists do not believe that consciousness continues after death since the process responsible for it is situated in a brain that is no longer functional.
Dualism: Dualists believe that consciousness is not dependent on physical processes and therefore exists both before one is born and after one dies.
If consciousness is indeed transmitted to the body from elsewhere in the universe, the presumption is that the subjective sense of self associated with it will be either transferred back there upon death or to somewhere else in the universe. If consciousness is something that is outside of this universe entirely, the presumption would be that it would return to its non physical form (a la soul).
Panpsychism: If consciousness is in fact a fundamental property of subatomic particles, then it will persist in some form after death. The reason for this being that the dysfunction of the body does not change the inherent properties of subatomic particles. Therefore, while the actual subjective perspectives of each subatomic particle will go on, their association with the functionalities of a brain and body would not as those entities are no longer present.
What is true for all 3 of these theories:
While all three of these theories disagree on the nature of what causes consciousnesses, they all presumably agree that it is the brain that is responsible for thought and feeling. Therefore, to say that after one dies, their consciousness would be able to perceive elements in the same way it does on Earth completely discounts the brains role in the formation of sensations and thoughts. Thus, if consciousness does in fact continue after death, it would not make sense to assume that one will be able to think, feel, see, hear or think things in the same manner as they did on Earth as those are all functions of the now inactive brain. Furthermore, since the brain is responsible for the storage and function of memories, it wouldn’t make sense to suggest that one will be able to remember anything from their life on Earth after death, since that data would be no longer accessible.
The exception to this would be if there is some sort of mechanism or cloud like technology that we aren’t aware of, duplicating each memory and transmitting it somewhere else. In this case it would be possible that the processes and memories associated with the brain can be applied to the same consciousness elsewhere and then re-synchronize it with all of its previous data.