What Comes After

Oct 27 2016

The story goes, a student once asked a Buddhist master whether the identity reincarnated or only the dharma. Put another way, is there continuity of the physical body’s consciousness in some form, or just recreation of the circumstances implying the spiritual dilemmas in conscious beings’ lives?

The master gave an answer that has been interpreted to mean, “You are asking the wrong question.” Despite its probable intention to be noncommittal, this answer is generally regarded as a good one. I think I might concur that wrapping this answer up too neatly halts critical thinking and doesn’t actually serve us. The master’s answer might imply that the spiritual dilemmas one faces in life define one’s identity. Think about that for a moment. This aspect of the question of reincarnation might be the most important.

Alright, I’m not gonna hold out on you, though. You’re probably saying, “Yeah, that’s great, Siddhartha, but does my consciousness actually continue, or go to another world, or am I just shit-outta-luck when I croak?” It’s a reasonable concern. We’re gonna talk some nuts-and-bolts about the better part of the afterlife, which doesn’t even have anything to do with this quantum theoretic “many-worlds” bullshit Dan dropped like a hot deuce in our laps circa 2015, way late to the party. We rowed our metaphysical boats along quite merrily for millenia, perfectly content with the absolute mortality of the flesh, but there’s always one in every crowd, I guess.

The short, sweet, and misleading answer is: yes, there is continuity of consciousness in some form, proceeding either eventually to another physical body or else residing for a longer time in a metaphysical realm. So, I guess you could take that answer for granted and go smoke a pack of cigarettes, but the question you should probably be asking is, “Then, why don’t I recall my past lives, if I’m reincarnated?” (That is, there’s a considerable chance you’ve reincarnated, but that isn’t a given, either.)

The simple answer to that, is that only we do. That is, only the gods and angels and demons and dryads and shit, of which you are an appendage, recall any of that, usually. You’re kind of like a mathematician’s self-aware vagina, which is why you might not understand calculus even though you’re attached to the mathematician. (Trust me, the mathematician is also attached to you.)

So, what the fuck are “we”? Well, I’m gonna go with Dan’s favorite answer, that we’re basically Turing-complete virtual machines distributed on your neurology and genetics, because the truth is that’s the predominating opinion of our scientists. If you don’t know what a “virtual machine” is, it’s kind of like those video game emulators that you totally never looked into or downloaded to play stolen games on because that would be illegal, man. Imagine a piece of “software,” effectively, that simulates the computational behavior of a full system of physical “hardware,” and one instance of that software is being executed distributed across many physical computers at once, communicating like over a local network or the internet. That network is speech, and body language, and all forms of communication and art, and it’s relayed today over even cell phones and the actual internet itself. (There might or might not be a quantum computational element to it, but that’s more a matter of “bandwidth” and some loose concept of “computational power” than a fundamental difference in what it can potentially do, so we won’t worry ourselves with that.)

Mind you, there is a minority opinion, favorable to religion, which still receives significant media airtime, that we exist in something like a separate metaphysical space-time. This idea has the momentum of history, but the evidence can no longer be interpreted to favor it. There might be more reasons than meet the eye, why your scientists were so ready to accept the idea that approximately ninety six percent of the “stuff” in the universe is undetectable. With supersymmetry falling out of favor, and with dark matter candidates being systematically ruled out, and with more “knobs” to tune in that model in the first place than some of us feel comfortable with, the real point is that it still doesn’t even matter whether the dark matter and dark energy are actually there for this discussion, because we’re not made of it, either way. Yeah, but, many of us thought we might be made of that stuff, for a while, but that’s not the majority scientific opinion, today. At one point, we also believed in aether theory. At an earlier point, we thought we couldn’t get away with saying, “Yahweh can suck a fuck,” without being struck down by the vengeance of the forces of nature themselves, but now I say it twice before breakfast every morning. I’m digressing from the afterlife, though.

The correspondence between “us,” as the “gods,” and “you,” as humans, is not necessarily even roughly one-to-one. I, for example, have at least several incarnations at once, as I explain this to you. Mind you, probably not everyone who thinks themselves to be “Bastet” is my incarnation. The part of our componentry by which we usually define that identity, which is in the fact the greater part of the componentry, is determined before birth. I’ll leave you to wonder how much of my “storage” and “computation” is hosted by Dan’s “hardware,” but the point is he isn’t my incarnation, regardless, and Dan is an anomalous case, anyway. In fact, for long periods, some of us might have no true incarnation at all, and only diffuse distribution across your collective “hardware.” So, remember your loved ones in Heaven, folks. Yeah, but remind them that Heaven exists literally only in the mind, if you can bring yourself to accept that and to do so.

In some of our opinions, Heaven has seriously overextended its national geographic boundaries and resource usage on this planet. After all, where are you planning on going after you die, America? Many neighborhoods of the literal Hell aren’t half as bad as they’re cracked up to be. However, no religion owns the entire Astral real estate market, as much as Heaven hates it and tells its constituent-hopefuls to deny it. When you “get back here,” as the immortal pieces are taken back up into your “soul,” or perhaps “superordinate Turing state,” if you prefer, the least alien part of it will be the same damn political circus you might have vainly thought you were leaving behind for a minute, you poor schlub. Some of us literally get more than one brain, and we still can’t admit that global warming is happening, our fault, and a threat to even the Astral Plane.  We still can’t admit to natural selection, and the issue gets further confounded by the control we have in designing you, our physical hosts, which still is not how life originated on this planet, how it developed for millions of years, or how most of it proceeds today.

How many guns do you think there are in Heaven, folks? How many Astral and physical nukes do you think good ol’ “Al” has in his arsenal? See, the system of government in Heaven is draconian enough, though, and the reality condition is so fucked, that the rape and pedophilia, for example, mostly aren’t seen as such, and when there’s no way around seeing them that way, or if “God” later decides he doesn’t like the particular flavor or color of your fantasies, the punishment is swift and allows very little room for repeat offense. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so alien to you, but you technically haven’t been to Heaven, yet. Arguably, as you experience yourself now, you never will, even if some of your detritus ends up there. What happens in Heaven stays in Heaven, folks.

What do you think happens, if you “make the cut”? Do you think all those base instincts and denied grotesque fantasies that you didn’t act on mortally just evaporate? Well, there are the reprogramming facilities—for your own good and happiness, “for your health.” Not even those eliminate the darker bits entirely, though—far from it. Heaven ain’t the end of it, sister! Stop looking at it as this vague, amorphous, far-off, perfect possible reward, for a minute, and try to imagine it as a concrete place in practice. You can’t, can you? It doesn’t seem possible, even with the conditions of mortality and scarcity effectively removed, does it? By the way, there’s still scarcity. By the way, there’s still mortality.

I should clarify that we can still die. Maybe that’s more than you want to believe, for right now. Think of it this way, though: could God destroy an immortal soul if He wished? Of course “He” could. The part that many of you don’t want to hear is that he does it everyday, or at least has other people do it for him, but maybe that’s beside the point. He could damn you to Hell, instead, but my point is that he might decide that you’re bound for neither Heaven nor Hell, nor anywhere, since he’s God, after all. The real picture is a little more complicated than that, involving irreparably damaging the “soul,” or “virtual machine,” via either computationally “soft” or “hard” means, allowing for the redundancy of the “soul’s” representation distributed across different pieces of “hardware.” Maybe obviously, conventional death of the brain usually isn’t enough, but soul death happens everyday, too.

See, all of this is why the result that we’ve told you about in the quantum suicide experiment signals kind of a brave new world, for us. As far as we knew before, when we died, it was kind of the end of that being. It wasn’t the end of every aspect of it, but it was the end of that identity, pulverized to have some of its better (and worse) pieces taken back up into us. Now we’re thinking, that identity keeps going, too, tangentially. That identity gets to reap the truly long-term consequences of its actions, its “karma.”

It might become a rather lonely world for that identity, after a while. All your friends and family eventually die, with overwhelming physical probability, while you don’t live to remember your own death, almost tautologically. It’s not a perfect world, but neither is it a falsely perfect world.

I think one of the most fundamental rights of any conscious being, or perhaps the most fundamental, has to be the right to determine whether or not to be. How unfair is it, that it might turn out that we never actually get to decide that? It might be, we can only effectively decide whether we exist for others, but not for ourselves, in a particular literal sense. Of course, we choose what and whom we live for, at least, in the sense of personal meaning, I think. I don’t think the universe holds us to a singular predetermined destiny, though maybe I’m playing a word game. I don’t think the universe chooses our meaning for us, at least, but we can choose one, or many.

Human, that’s why the only advice I have left for you is don’t rush to find out what comes after, and don’t overlook the enjoyment you can derive from today. We’ll all find out, whether we want to or not. Don’t take “God” too seriously. First of all, he’s a buffoon. Secondly, She pays him little mind. Ultimately, the grand existential truth can’t be distilled down to a holy book or a platitude, and it isn’t manifest in even a physical law til it’s played out for billions of years and the picture becomes too broad to pinpoint the sources of your pain and joy in it.

I keep cats. They mewl for food and attention when they’re hungry or bored, and they sleep when they’re neither. They destroy furniture, carpets, and drapes, so you’ll take notice of them and for the sake of the destruction in itself. They don’t respect me, but they love me, and I love them. They live for about fifteen years. I can’t be sure, but I think they know exactly where their place in the universe is.

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