If you’re a millennial, you’ve been bred to believe that you’re special. You’re different. You’re unique, and there’s not anyone else in the entire universe like you. You got trophies just for participating, and ice cream after losing the big game.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve been told that you have a destiny, and a mission in life that only you can accomplish.
The most remarkable thing I’ve found about other people, is how similar I am to them. I like to do a lot of reading and it’s been interesting to see people of different races, in different times and places having the exact same thoughts, reactions, and opinions as I have.
Last night, it happened again, and it brought tears to my eyes, because it was an idea that I’d independently contrived, and it’s something I’d never told a soul.
Setting it all up
I sometimes harbor suspicions about the universe, and things that intuitively make sense to me. It doesn’t mean I’m right about it, but I do like to have fun with my mind and think of “what if” scenarios that are plausible thought experiments based on scientific information we have at hand.
A couple of years ago, I had a dream that I was an undercover police officer and I was attempting to stop an armed robbery in a bank. While trying to stop the criminals, I turned a corner and was immediately shot in the chest by a shotgun blast at point blank range.
A lot of people I’ve talked to say they don’t feel pain in dreams, but my dreams are unique in that I can smell, hear, taste, feel pain, and feel pleasure. I can read text in my dreams and it’s coherent (not always but most of the time). Basically all my normal senses work as they would in real life. The only difference is I can wake up to discover I haven’t been shot, and I no longer feel pain once I’m awake.
The shotgun blast went through my chest and threw me backwards, and I couldn’t move. My chest was in agony, and I lay there as the assailant moved on, realizing I was no longer a threat. There was a woman hiding behind a desk at the bank only inches away from where I fell. I remember looking at her and thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening, I’m going to die. My parents, no, I can’t die. My poor parents. I’m their only son.”
As these thoughts flooded my mind, the woman hiding behind the desk was staring at me and crying. She wanted to get away from me, but I held out my hand and said, “Please, don’t go.” I didn’t want to be alone, to die alone. She held my hand from behind the desk, while I bled out. I noticed that the intense pain I felt started to slowly ebb away, eventually I couldn’t feel my limbs as they went numb and cold. My eyesight became progressively worse and it became harder and harder to breath. I kept looking at the lady holding my hand, until I couldn’t anymore. My last words were, “Jesus forgive me.” I watched as everything went out of focus and turned grayish black, and I was trapped inside this dead body, consciously alive, but not breathing. I immediately woke up gasping for air.
It was really disturbing to have that type of dream. It felt so real. It felt like I actually died. I sat up in bed to regain my composure and my first thought was, “How does my brain and body know how to die?” It seemed to my rational, awake brain that what I just experienced is exactly what death is like. My next thought? If my body knows how to die, does that mean I’ve died before?
Speculative fun with a bit of personal history
I don’t believe in reincarnation. I want to make that clear, but at the same time let’s have some fun with intuitive speculation. Kind of like asking what if I wasn’t who I am now?
If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d be an agnostic humanist. If I based my entire life on the scientific method of discovery, the only form of pseudo-spirituality I’d allow myself is the idea of reincarnation. Basically if I had to choose, it’d come down to two plausible outcomes. Nothingness in the afterlife, or reincarnation. When I say nothingness, I like to hearken back to my earliest memory.
It’s almost embarrassing for me to say to people that I remember the day I was born, because no one will believe me. It sounds arrogant or self-important, but I think I do. The only thing that suppresses my belief in it, is that now that I’m older the memory isn’t as vivid as it was when I was five. I used to go around telling everyone I remembered the day I was born when I was five, but I found that it wasn’t fashionable, despite it being true.
I remember a room and a bed that wasn’t the house I grew up in, a lot of the color white, and seeing females and I remember that this memory came sequentially earlier than all my other memories. And keep in mind I never learned how to sequentially order my memories, I think I was born with that ability. When are you ever taught that one event happens after another event? I haven’t read the science on that, but I think it’s something you’re born with, and even animals are born with. It’s how we understand cause and effect and why a dog can tell the difference between being tripped over and kicked.
I’ve got the best childhood memory that I know. I remember dreams from when I was still in the crib. I remember breast feeding and my mom playing with me on her stomach afterwards (my happiest childhood memory). I remember climbing out of my crib in the middle of the night and crawling into bed with my parents. I remember then shitting myself, while in bed with my parents, being upset about it and my dad taking me to the bathroom to clean me up, which resulted in some poop getting on the floor that he wasn’t too happy about. I remember being given baths, and being potty trained. I remember getting haircuts and being scared of my hairs. I remember my parents brushing my teeth for me with that tasty red toothpaste we had. I remember looking up in the sky at night in the back seat of my parents car and singing “Twinkle twinkle little star…”
I could recreate a scale model of our house in Nigeria that I grew up in. I remember my traumatic first day of school at 2 years old. It’s after about the age of 2 that I remember how old I was for each memory, probably because my dad taught me to read and count at that age.
There are cassette tapes of my reading, counting, and multiplying sessions with my dad at the age of 2, in a thick Nigerian child’s accent. I’ll have to convert them to mp3 and upload them before you think I’m lying, and for posterity’s sake. Before then I can only guess how old I was by the circumstantial evidence.
I just got off the phone with my mom and found that she weaned me at 11 months, so my breastfeeding memory is at most that late.
I think I need to join an online forum of people who have really early memories, cause not knowing anyone else that has these types of memories is a little isolating. I need someone to get me.
The funny thing about my memories is that they correlate with my knowledge about the world at the time. Some memories are just movies with no sound, others have sound, and yet others have information attached like “You are 3 years old. You’re getting a suit you asked for to wear on the airplane to America. Don’t lose your animal sunglasses or you’ll be sad.”
Anyways, I’ve said all that to say, that I remember way back, and before that, it’s just black nothingness. I don’t remember ever thinking before my first thought, or remembering before my first memory. All of world history could be a lie, and there’d be no way for me to actually know.
So why would the agnostic humanist version of David go with nothingness or reincarnation?
Afterlife Possibility #1
The most rational thought to glean based on my subjective life experience and nothing else is, if humans die and decompose, and I’m a human too, then I can expect to die as well… then I’ll go back to the black nothingness that I came from. I won’t be happy, or sad, or miss anyone because I wasn’t happy or sad or missing anyone before I was born. Darkness to darkness, dust to dust.
Afterlife Possibility #2
The next most rational choice for me is reincarnation. I’d only believe in reincarnation because it seems more rational than spiritual. It doesn’t make sense that my consciousness would just extinguish at death. My memories might, but my consciousness might find a new body, or I might live the same life over again, and again, forever.
From observation, it looks like memories are directly tied to your brain matter. If you damage parts of your brain, you lose memories. Alzheimer’s disease isn’t fiction, it’s real. So if I was reincarnated, it would be void of all my old memories, and in a new body, hopefully human, with a new brain, hopefully in this same universe (multiverse theory), hopefully male.
No offense to the ladies out there, I’ve come to realize that life is much easier as a male than a female, even if it means it’s shorter. Trust me, it’s a compliment. I think it’s sad to be a guy and wish you were a girl, or white and wish you were black, or visa versa. Take pride in what you are. I’m almost sure if I was a dog, I wouldn’t wish I was human. I’m human and have no desire to be an alien, regardless of what advantages that would bestow. I believe in a better version of yourself (whatever that means), but not a different version of yourself.
I actually have a sci-fi movie idea about a universe where reincarnation is real, but some people are able to remember their old lives without interruption, which gives them a distinct advantage over every other human who’s ever lived (think: Vandal Savage), and opens a whole universe of story lines. By “some people”, I mean two…in the history of that universe, otherwise there’s less mystery and it’s not as fun. Screenwriting is probably right up my alley.
Still setting it up…
I’d been introduced to quantum theory back in junior high, and I didn’t really understand it, nor do I today. I only understood that certain things were true, because I was told they were true by quantum physicists, not because I understood why they were true. The beauty about most of science is that we don’t need to understand the why, to get the results we want. You can simply discover one of the laws of physics, and immediately start taking advantage of it, like the Wright Brothers.
As a kid, I used to borrow lots of science books from the library. I read a biography of Albert Einstein for a book report I did, and it got me into all sorts of things like cold fusion and quantum physics. To be clear, I didn’t understand a thing from a lot of these books outside of your basic biography or autobiography.
I remember getting a cold fusion book from Maricopa County Library (when it still existed). I was hoping they’d dumb it down for a 12 year old to understand, but in retrospect, these were books for grad students. I did glean a few tid bits here and there though.
I read about what Einstein called “spooky interaction at a distance”, more formally known today as quantum entanglement, the Schrodinger’s cat experiment, superposition, and the ability for a particle to be in more than one place at a time.
Quantum Physics in 30 seconds
The basic idea is that the entire universe at the smallest scale is a mix of particles, wave functions, and probabilities, and anything is possible. The only reason we see the universe we’re in is because one of those probabilities has to happen, and it only happens because an observer disturbs the quantum state of that particle. The “observer” isn’t necessarily a person, it could be anything that disturbs the quantum state, like a photon bouncing off of it. At small scales, we run into a measuring problem, because the only way we know of measuring things right now is by bombarding them with photons or other “things”.
In layman’s terms, the only way you know something is there, is by throwing something else at it, and having that something else bounce back to you. If you want to know how far away it is, you measure how long it took to get there and bounce back. That’s what happens with light, and it’s how you see the entire visual spectrum available to your eyes.
The thing is, whatever you throw at it disturbs it’s initial state, so you can’t know if your observation has changed it’s state from the original in any way. You can’t ever look at things the way they really are, you can only see them as they are when you’ve changed it by looking at it.
This bouncing stuff off other stuff works for everything. If you don’t use your eyes, you use another sense, like your hearing, your smell, or touch. Smell is just air molecules bouncing off of something and releasing molecules of whatever you’re smelling into the air and those particles of that thing entering your nose. It’s why farts are so rude. In physics, you only know something is there by either reaching out and touching it, or it reaching out and touching you, like in the case of a fart. You wish you didn’t know that last tidbit? Well so do I, welcome to the club.
So I put this all together over the years, and a few years ago I started entertaining a private idea and I’d never told anyone about it. Last night I discovered that the idea is 26 years old.
What if you never die
For me, it all started out with Schrodinger’s cat. Here’s a youtube video to explain the experiment.
Schrodinger’s cat presented me with a conundrum. If there’s an infinite number of universes each with it’s own possible outcome for any decision, and any time you make a decision, you’re effectively creating a new universe in which you exist in a possible outcome, how do you know that you’re not still alive because your consciousness is always following the path in which you stay alive?
To add to Schrodinger’s cat, conundrum, was as a sort of irrational fear that I had about the after life: What if when you die, you go wherever you believe you’re going to go? It stems from the Afterlife Possibility #2, that allows for an immortal consciousness. What if your consciousness generates the reality that you go on to after death, and bases that on what you believe?
For one, that would mean all Atheists are screwed. You go to nothing and you’re stuck there for eternity. If you’re a Christian and believe you can’t lose your salvation, you go to Heaven and be with Jesus for eternity. If you were planning a death-bed Christianity conversion, but you die instantly and traumatically in some freak accident, you go to hell, because that’s where you believe you’ll go.
A childhood fear
As an aside, when I was a kid, I used to spend the night at my friends’ houses a lot, and one family in particular had a nightly prayer time that I’d occasionally be there for. We got talking about the rapture, and the mother explained that if you don’t ask Jesus for forgiveness when you sin, you don’t go in the Rapture.
So that sparked a round of questions from us kids. I was only in first grade at the time. I asked her, “So if I tell a lie and the rapture happens right before I repent and ask Jesus for forgiveness, that mean’s I’ll be left behind?”
I was crushed! I remember from that moment on I was always concerned with asking for forgiveness from Jesus the moment I sinned, and it made me the type of person that was always willing to acknowledge my sin for fear that if I didn’t acknowledge it, I wouldn’t ask for forgiveness, and If I didn’t ask for forgiveness, I’d miss the rapture or go to hell if there was some freak accident right after I’d sinned, or during my sinning. I’ve met all sorts of Christians that like to live in denial about their sins. They didn’t attend my friend’s family prayer time in 1993, so they’re afforded that luxury.
You might laugh at such a fear, but there’s a movie based on a popular Christian book series called Left Behind.
I don’t remember whether or not I asked her if the same rules applied to when you die, but I remember leaving there with the fear and belief that it did. My reflexive last words are “Jesus forgive me,” and I’m out! Then there’s praying for forgiveness before bed every night in case I died in my sleep.
Twenty years later, I’m a Calvinist, and I no longer believe you can lose your salvation, or that you need to ask for forgiveness after every sin in order for Christ’s blood to atone for you, but I still carry that with me. If I was about to die tomorrow, I’d still say, “Jesus forgive me,” just in case. I don’t know that I’d be doing it for the exact same reasons now, but I know it doesn’t hurt.
That was ingrained deep in my psyche, even though I’m conscious of how nonsensical is the idea that Jesus died for my sins only so I could be paranoid for the rest of my life of sinning and going to Hell.
Back on subject
So let’s get back to the afterlife fear. You go where you think you’ll go. Suicide bombers go to Allah and get 72 virgins, Hindus are reincarnated as a god if they lived a good life, as a cockroach if they lived a bad one.
In that case, maybe the best thing to believe is you go to a planet full of immortal sexy women, and you’re the only guy there, and you’re immortal too. That’s what the Mormons believe right? LOL, genius!
How the idea evolved
From “You go where you think you go” it went to, “What if from your perspective, you never die?” Sure other people around you die, but what if you never die? What if in every near-death experience you’ve ever had, you actually died, but you didn’t know because your consciousness went on existing in the universe in which you never died.
This works because in Quantum theory, every possibility exists at the same moment until the quantum field de-coheres, which allows for infinite possibilities with every choice you make. What if the universe you live in is YOUR universe. You could either discover that you’re in charge, or forever be enslaved by yourself and your fears.
A little bit of us is dying every day, every moment
It’s not like this idea is one that would just jump out at you from the Schodinger’s cat thought experiment. I’d been reading a book called Incognito, by David Eagleman, about the latest discoveries concerning the human brain, and listening to opinions of guys like Ray Kurzweil.
They have interesting opinions about what the mind is, and what consciousness really is. The best example I’ve heard is from Kurzweil.
To paraphrase what he said: Your mind is like a river. Is the river you see outside the same river you saw yesterday? It’s filled with different water; it’s changed a little bit. The internal composition of the river is always changing. What really remains is the pattern made by the water flowing through it, even though that pattern is slowly changing as well.
Your mind is the same way. All the cells in your body, including your brain cells, are always dying and being replenished by new cells. The cells in your body today are made of completely different atoms than they were 5 years ago, but you’re still you. How is that possible?
If you starve yourself of food, or oxygen, it keeps your body from using living cells to create new cells that will replace those living cells when they die. Your body gets the material to create those new cells from the outside world via the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe and chemical reactions between that oxygen and the molecules in your body.
So to over-simplify it, you are a pattern of electrical signals in your brain, and those patterns change as you age and as you experience new things. You’re not the same person you were in high school. Your interests have changed, you might even argue with your old self if given the opportunity and a time machine, but you still feel like you’ve been the same being flowing through time in our universe.
If we’re dying a little bit every day…If every moment I’m losing a few million cells here and there, including brain cells, and they’re all being replaced by new ones, then why do I still feel like I’m me?
If I’m already dying and yet I feel like me, and every choice I make shoots me off into a new universe, how do I know that a near-death situation wouldn’t just shoot me into a universe in which I still go on living and my consciousness flowing though time?
Last night I discovered that such a theory already exists while listening to a debate on youtube, and literally tears just started streaming down my face. I’d never told anyone. I didn’t necessarily believe it to be true, but I nevertheless entertained it as a likely conclusion if what we know about quantum mechanics is true, and I’m wrong about everything else I believe.
It’s called Quantum Immortality.
However, if the many-worlds interpretation is true, a superposition of the live experimenter necessarily exists, regardless of how many iterations or how improbable the outcome. Barring life after death, it is not possible for the experimenter to experience having been killed, thus the only possible experience is one of having survived every iteration. – Wikipedia Excerpt
Everett firmly believed that his many-worlds theory guaranteed him immortality: His consciousness, he argued, is bound at each branching to follow whatever path does not lead to death. – Keith Lynch
Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz both independently discovered Calculus. What happened to me is not that big a deal, but I think tears came to my eyes, because I felt a little of what they did when they discovered that they weren’t the only ones to discover something, or create an idea. This happens more often than you’d think. The same thing happened between Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and Henry Ford and Karl Benz. The very men credited with developing the idea of quantum immortality developed it independently of each other in 1987, 1988, and 1998.
I got around to it in 2013, though mine doesn’t quite count since I don’t have a Ph.D. in physics and I didn’t write a paper.
There are some slightly unanswered questions like, what happens if you never die, but you keep aging like a normal human? I’m not sure exactly, but even then you still might not die. I don’t care enough about the idea to develop it further than I have, the main take away from all this is independent discovery.
The idea that people separated by time, space, culture, and experience can look at the same body of evidence and come up with the same exact conclusions for the same exact reasons, without correspondence or collaboration, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
It seems that there’s such a thing as a tipping point of information that will lead to a discovery, and when that happens people tend to discover that new thing around the same time.
We’re all just humans, and our brains largely work the same way. It’s something you know, but you just don’t think about it often. I’m just like everyone else. There’s nothing new under the sun.