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Can you prove life after death?

Whenever we argue about whether a thing can be proved, we should distinguish five different questions about that thing:

  1. Does it really exist or not? "To be or not to be, that is the question."

  2. If it does exist, do we know that it exists? A thing can obviously exist without our knowing it.

  3. If we know that it exists, can we be certain of this knowledge? Our knowledge might be true but uncertain; it might be "right opinion."

  4. If it is certain, is there a logical proof, a demonstration of why we have a right to be certain? There may be some certainties that are not logically demonstrable (e.g. my own existence, or the law of non-contradiction).

  5. If there is a proof, is it a scientific one in the modern sense of 'scientific'? Is it publicly verifiable by formal logic and/or empirical observation? There may be other valid kinds of proof besides proofs by the scientific method.

The fifth point is especially important when asking whether you can prove life after death. I think it depends on what kinds of proof you will accept. It cannot be proved like a theorem in Euclidean geometry; nor can it be observed, like a virus. For the existence of life after death is not on the one hand a logical tautology: its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, as a Euclidean theorem does. On the other hand, it cannot be empirically proved or disproved (at least before death) simply because by definition all experience before death is experience of life before death, not life after death.

If life after death cannot be proved scientifically, is it then intellectually irresponsible to accept it? Only if you assume that it is intellectually irresponsible to accept anything that cannot be proved scientifically. But that premise is self-contradictory (and therefore intellectually irresponsible)! You cannot scientifically prove that the only acceptable proofs are scientific proofs. You cannot prove logically or empirically that only logical or empirical proofs are acceptable as proofs. You cannot prove it logically because its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, and you cannot prove it empirically because neither a proof nor the criterion of acceptability are empirical entities. Thus scientism (the premise that only scientific proofs count as proofs) is not scientific; it is a dogma of faith, a religion.


I believe in life after death. I believe in reincarnation. I don't think it matters whether it can be "scientifically proven" or not. My belief makes my quality of life better now.

One thing we DO know for certain... we are ALL going to die. It is something that some of us put off for a long time, but no one avoids it all together. Also, many, many people have already died... important people... brilliant people.

I also believe that all life on the planet is one huge living thing, and that our individual natures are an illusion, and that all that really dies at death is that illusion of separateness.

These beliefs make my life better, so, since I can't avoid death anyway, what difference does it make whether I can "prove" it or not?
I have turned to poets for comfort. TS Eliot's "Four Quartets" is an amazing introspection. "“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting."

And this -

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.


~Aaron Freeman
The problem here is the word 'prove'. There is no such thing except in mathematics, and even then you have to start from axioms, which are, in themselves, assumptions.

No proof, only the balance of probability.

I came to terms with my own mortality long ago, and am happy with it.
You have a habit of asking the deep ones! :o)

No bad thing though, as it makes us use the minds with which we come provided!

Edited at 2013-10-15 17:24 (UTC)
I'm afraid neither science nor mathematics nor philosophy figured very strongly in my life so far, and am hoping my religious faith will see me through.
Ouch. I enjoyed this, and all the responses, but now my brain hurts!
Like almost everything, it's a choice.
Believe if it makes you happy.
Don't believe if that is better for you.
An individual's choice is a private thing.
Why it should matter what someone believes about a hereafter is the question.
You can't go to a hell you don't believe in.
Heaven is the same.
You can't go to a hell you don't believe in.
Heaven is the same.

This is a meme I've come across elsewhere, but I don't understand why this should be so except for wishful thinking.
I prefer simply to believe that it's there, but incomprehensible. That way I can't prove it even if I wanted to.
actually scientism isn't unscientific; it regards non-scientific proof as merely irrelevant, not as disproof. there are a lot of things that aren't scientifically provable or proven at this point. that doesn't mean one has to abandon science; simply admit that they are open and unanswerable questions. one may still hold as many opinions as one likes, without claiming proof by faith, as long as one is willing to admit that one is possibly wrong.
faiths other than Christianity have beliefs in life after death. Most often as spirit beings, and it tends to be used to explain nature in ways that ancient humans could not. Does their beliefs in such make their existence less valid? Of course not, plainly they existed and passed the stories down through the generations.

That we now understand that stars are balls of gas, does not detract from their power to awe and inspire. That we know it's the shadow of the earth on the moon that causes it to present in different shapes, does not stop us from admiring a full moon.

Science and faith/spirituality are not mutually exclusive of each other, but faith without accepting the lessons to be learnt from science as well as the stories handed down through the generations, is lacking completeness.Critical thinking prevents complacency and acceptance of false thoughts ... perhaps that is why so many critical thinkers were burnt at the stake? For there has always been great power in convincing others that one way would save their souls in the after life.

Can we prove that life exists after death? No. Can we prove that it does not? No. We can prove that people who die no longer live as we define living. Do we have souls? Well, Dr Macdougall had a pretty good attempt to try and prove we did by seeing if he could weigh it. There is no verifiable proof that we do, but I know there are places that draw out what I would call my soul. Places where I open up and listen for the stories. I know others have the same feeling. For some this feeling comes in church with prayer. For me it comes in places in the natural world that are significant to me, in quiet contemplation.
I find this interesting.
After the death of our soul lives. According to Christian teaching, she goes to heaven or hell. Many people may not believe this, but this changes nothing

После смерти живет наша душа. По христианскому учению она попадает в рай или ад. Многие люди могут этому не верить, но от этого ничего не меняется
Nicely argued, lol.

I can't prove it, but I have acquired a lot of evidence which satisfies me.