At some point most people wonder what, if anything, comes after death. Is there another world, another existence? Do we have a soul or some sort of essence that remains? Entire religions are constructed around these issues with often similar conclusions. It is interesting that we are concerned about, and endlessly speculate about, worry about, what comes after death, but do not have the same interest or concern about what comes before birth. They are obviously the opposite ends of the same phenomenon, which is non-existence, oblivion. Life is just this brief interlude between the coming and the going, birth and death. Eternity, if it exists, must extend in both directions.
But what is eternity? Isn't it another word for infinity? And what is infinity? We tend to think of it as something that goes on forever. But to be truly infinite it has to not only go on forever but to have come from forever; it must always have existed. If that is the case, and if some essence of each person is eternal, doesn't it follow that each person must have always existed? If so, then each birth is just the entry of that individual into our conscience, observable world. We have always existed somewhere and we just happen to be here now. Later, upon our death, we will be somewhere else.
Probably the reason that we don't think this way has to do with the advance of medical knowledge. Before humans understood that sex begot pregnancy and babies the subject of female fertility was shrouded in mystery, myth and belief of many stripes. Gods were invoked, prayed to and damned as children were hoped for, conceived, born or lost. Rituals and superstitions were created around the process. When humans can not explain something we fall back on beliefs. That is how it has always been and still is today with death.
Birth, on the other hand, has been explained. Sex: sperm meets egg, pregnancy, birth, life. We now understand in precise detail, and in fact are able to replicate in the lab, where we come from, from the moment of conception. We no longer have to rely on myths or beliefs. Even the most committed right to lifers don't (yet) argue that life begins before conception (OK, there is the joke that life begins at erection but that may just be from guys with exalted egos) but if we are eternal, if our existence is infinite, doesn't it require that we existed in some form before our birth? How can we so easily jettison our existence on one side of the spectrum but so vehemently cling to it on the other? This illustrates humans’ capacity for inconsistency and our ability to hold contradictory opinions simultaneously without much effort.
Atheists tend to deny that there is any existence after death, while many religions contend there is. Before medical science explained the process of conception and birth there were also competing beliefs about that process. So, will science provide an answer about what happens after death? It is much harder to prove that something does not exist than that something does. Also the situation to be addressed is not parallel. Science only explains what happens prior to birth back to the point of conception. It does not nor has
it ever been asked to explain the potential for existence prior to conception. With death, however, there is no known equivalent to conception. Medical science can define death in various ways but not what comes after. And the timeframe for what might come after is, well, infinite, so it probably can never be satisfactorily explained for all time.
However, another branch of science may provide some clues. One of the bedrock principles of physics is the theory of relativity with its famous equation E = mc2. That equation tells us that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared." meaning that energy (E) and mass (m) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing. Nothing is ever gained or lost but only changes form. Our physical self's, our bodies, are mass and it is energy that animates us. We consume food for fuel and burn that to produce energy and mass. The mass is our bodies getting bigger as when children grow and adults gain weight. At death we return that mass to energy through incineration (cremation) or decomposition (burial). In the state of Washington bodies can now be composted making literal the phrase "pushing up daisies". If indeed the essence of people is eternal, then prior to bodies having mass, before birth, they would exist as energy or other forms of mass like those daisies. So the next time you pick daisies you might be gathering a future human in your hand.
One Small Voice
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