Notes from Limmud 2005
On Life After Death
[Gerald Schroeder is the author of Genesis and the Big Bang, which I read after hearing him talk about it in Cambridge circa 1994. As the title suggests, in it he tries to reconcile the cosmogony of the book of Genesis and modern cosmological theory. This book had a big impact on me at the time, though later, reading Maimonides' attempt to do the same thing in The Guide for the Perplexed, with Aristotelian physics (the world consisting of four elements, which try to find their own levels, encircled by the heavenly bodies embedded in crystal spheres), I realised how such syntheses cannot represent the truth, and do not last longer than the scientific theories on which they are based.
I thought I'd go along to this talk to see what Schroeder was talking about nowadays; and, unfortunately, was rather disappointed.]
If death is merely a continuation of life then we are living the afterlife now. Is there any evidence in favour of a metaphysical aspect to existence? The תנ״ך [Bible] says there is: according to Schroeder, physics says there is too.
Before the beginning of the universe there was nothing physical. This was a transition from the metaphysical to the physical. Now, our perception of the universe does not reflect reality. Compare atomic physics with what we can see. Consider virtual photons mediating the electromagnetic force between the nucleus of an atom and the electron shells surrounding it. The electron shells are a long way out from the nucleus, so interaction with it constitutes a form of action at a distance. This is mediated by virtual photons; such photons don't exist in the simplest sense.
[There was a theory at one stage that the universe was eternal and cyclical: Big Bang followed by expansion followed by collapse followed by Big Crunch, followed by the next Big Bang.] Scroeder holds this theory as having been disproven by the 1990s. The required evidence, in the form of the amount of mass in the universe, was not substantiated by the facts. But the idea hung on because it avoided the problem of the beginning of all things. [IIRC the mass-to-energy ratio would increase (or was it decrease?) each time around the cycle; and as this ratio is finite, this argues against an eternal universe.]
Schroeder thinks the idea in the Torah of being gathered to one's people (i.e. the afterlife) comes from near-death experiences. After talking about biochemical mechanisms for these, he cited an article in the Lancet talking about consciousness being located in the brain. "The theory and the background of transcendence should be taken into account." [What was this doing in the Lancet!?] He cites also other articles too. The Lancet also cites, anecdotally, a case of somebody having an out-of-body experience whilst in deep coma and not breathing or having his heart going of its own accord, and was aware of what was actually going on around him.
The point he was trying to make is the consciousness may not be located in the brain. [But I don't agree with his reasons—that there are smart people and stupid people but everyone has the same brain.] Schroeder sees the brain as great for calculation, but emotion and full awareness may not be in the brain.
Schroeder talks about how there is no sound in the brain; what you hear is all not real in the brain (though it is in the ears). He argues that perhaps the outside world is not real either.
He talks about the mind as an emergent phenomenon, not using up the parent body, in the same way the virtual photons don't take anything away from the nucleus or electrons they mediate between. He talks about the brain being the antenna for the mind (cf. radio and radio waves). At death this would allow the mind to break free.
He quotes Heisenberg saying the basic elements/building blocks of the world are not material but ideas, and quotes other people too. "The world is more idea and thought than a machine."—Sir James Jeans. Everything is made out of pure energy—the pure energy (light beams) that came, alone, out of the Big Bang.
Consider the opening of the Torah. "In the beginning G-d created the Heaven and the Earth" is wrong due to being three translations down the line from the original. "In the beginning of G-d's creation" is also problematic because it actually says "in the beginning of G-d's created", which also doesn't make sense. The ?Jewish [or possibly "Jerusalem"] translation from 2200 years ago renders "With wisdom G-d created the Heaven and the Earth." This is because in Proverbs it says אני חכמה "I am Wisdom": The first thing created—the first emanation from G-d—is wisdom; and it is this which causes the translation from the metaphysical to the physical.
If it is bizarre that light beams could become alive, and then intelligent, it is only slightly more bizarre that wisdom could have created the light beams. This ties in with modern ideas that the principle components of matter are in fact information. This (here he provides a quotation) is mindstuff—that in life the universe began to know itself—the mind did not evolve from matter but that the universe was alive from the word go.
The Torah was split at Sinai into two parts; one was given to Moses but the other part was hidden in Nature and is there for us to find. The black fire and the white fire [a midrash talks about the Ten Commandments being written in black fire on white fire]—one is still there for us to find.
בצלם אלהים—in the image of G-d ?drap in a physical body.