Sunday, January 23, 2011

A persistent mind

I think I have become an atheist. I say "I think" because I'm not really sure. The Roman Catholic religion is so deeply-ingrained in my psyche that I'm not really sure where the dogmatic imprisonment ends and where my free-inquiring rational mind begins. But I've stepped back far enough from it to gain a bit of an understanding of why religion is useful. It is there to mitigate the deep almost unfathomable feeling of loss, waste, and grief whenever someone we love dies. So one of the difficulties of becoming an atheist lies in coming to terms with its implications -- that we simply blink out from existence after we die.

After a bit of scrounging around I managed to find the building blocks for what is shaping out to be my personal alternative view of what happens after we die.

It starts with my acquired view that our mind is really a pattern (a literally mind-bogglingly complex one) of neural connections in our brain. In that sense, our brain is really a complex piece of biological equipment for storing patterns [I touched on the source of this acquired idea briefly in a previous blog on Brittany Murphy].

A pattern is a finite construct (even if the magnitude of its scale and complexity is beyond human imagination). As such it is replicable. This means that in theory, the pattern of our mind can be replicated and stored in a medium other than the brain. If we want our minds to survive our bodies, we therefore have to either (a) build an artificial medium for it, i.e. to replicate the pattern of our mind, or (b) wait for a natural one (such as but not limited to some form of brain) to re-occur in nature and get wired up in an identical pattern.

Between the above two, the latter is highly unlikely (in fact infinitesimally likely). But if we take the view that (1) the universe has a finite number of particles but endures infinitely and (2) the probability of that second scenario occurring is non-zero, then it is possible for our minds to re-occur naturally after death. For given infinite time, all events with a non-zero probability of occurring not only will occur but will occur an infinite number of times.

If our consciousness -- our ability to experience stuff firsthand -- is indeed an outcome or by-product of the existence of a pattern that describes our mind in a device such as our brains (if I interpret Douglas Hofstadter in his book I Am a Strange Loop right), then the recurrence of this pattern sometime (and most likely infinitely) in the future will result in that consciousness recurring as well.

And that is a claim to an opportunity for our minds to persist beyond the death of our brain that is underpinned by a bit of amateur science.

[Photo credit: Juan Robleda]