What Happens After You Die? | Unveiled XL Documentary

What Happens After You Die? | Unveiled XL Documentary
VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
After life, what happens NEXT?? Join us... and find out!

In this video, Unveiled takes a closer look at FOUR important aspects of the ultimate question; what happens when you die?


What Happens After You Die?</h4>


Death comes to us all… but isn’t it about time we knew more about it? In the modern world we still have Faith and religion to shape what we believe, but we also have increasingly in-depth scientific theories on what will really take place. In this video, we’ll be approaching it from all angles, in search of a higher understanding.


This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what happens after you die?


Everything lives, everything dies, and the world keeps on turning. That’s the general idea, anyway, right? Well, yes, except that we humans have an innate and ancient tendency to imagine that this life isn’t all there is. That there’s something else beyond this mortal coil… some other place to which we’re all headed.


Is life after death possible?


The concept of life after death can be debated from three main angles: Faith, science and technology. In terms of Faith and theology, some refer to heaven and hell, everlasting paradise, or reincarnation. Then, there are various more scientific and academic approaches pertaining to the preservation of consciousness. And finally, there are the more technological answers, imagining a future time when life can be saved and digitalized via machine.


Through the lens of Faith, today’s question is really an irrelevant one. Of course life after death is possible, if you believe strongly enough. With science and technology, though, the answer isn’t quite so straightforward.


The tricky matter of consciousness is key. It’s something which has long puzzled the world’s foremost thinkers, philosophers and scientists. What is it? Where’s it located? And what happens to it when our physical bodies are no more? René Descartes is usually billed as the flagbearer for the modern debate, thanks to his belief that our consciousness is the only thing we can actually be truly certain of - the basis of his often-quoted, seventeenth century mantra; I think, therefore I am.


Fast forward to the twenty-first century, however, and the debate is still in full swing. In 2015, Oliver Burkeman (writing for the Guardian) asked why the world’s greatest minds still couldn’t solve the mystery of consciousness? In his article, he referred back to a mid-90s science conference when one David Chalmers referred to the issue of consciousness as “the Hard Problem” - a term which eventually inspired a 2015 play by Sir Tom Stoppard. 


For Chalmers, when it comes to the brain, there are many easy problems and one hard one. The easy problems are things like how do our senses work? and how do we remember stuff? In reality, these questions actually aren’t at all simple to answer… but they’re still a breeze compared to the hard problem which, for Chalmers, is… how do all of those other problems amount to experience? How is it that, yes, we see colors, feel pain, hear the waves crashing on the rocks at night… but, crucially, are left with a sense of being irrespective of all of that?


But what does this scientific-philosophical quandary have to do with the question at the top of today’s video; is life after death possible? Well, for as long as science cannot absolutely align consciousness with a physical, material thing - with a specific part of the brain, for example - there’s an argument that it doesn’t need our bodies (or brains) to carry on. And then, there are any number of things it could do post-body and post-brain… all of which amount to some form of afterlife. 


This is just one interpretation, though. For many, the expectation is that we will one day be able to definitely say that consciousness is the product of the human body, and probably of the human brain. We will one day be able to solve Chalmers’ Hard Problem. At which point we might try to encapsulate consciousness, prolong it or create an artificial version of it to potentially live forever - more on that shortly! But, at that hypothetical, future stage, we could very confidently claim that life after death is possible.


What’s interesting, though, is that according to one study, we might have already measured it. In 2014, the AWARE study - an acronym for “Awareness During Resuscitation” - was published by a team from Southampton University in the UK. It charted the apparently conscious experiences had by those who had survived a cardiac arrest… in between the time of clinical death and their heart restarting (a period when their consciousness should’ve shut down). For almost half of the heart attack survivors, results suggested that there was some level of awareness post death. They could see or hear what was going on around them, or they built memories of it… or even suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, linked to it. In all cases, to some degree, it could be said that the patients were alive after dying. 


But, still, the widely held expectation is that even if death is like this - even if there is a between-time when a dying person is conscious of their fate - then it should only last for a few minutes. At which point the Hard Problem of consciousness regains its mysterious hold, and the apparent afterlife ends. It’s this window between life and death, then, that science and technology most wants to open up. If there is any moment at which a person’s essence of life remains even when their physical body does not, then growing numbers of people want to bottle that moment up. 


It may sound like a sci-fi writer’s dream dystopia, but in the modern world we are trying to relocate consciousness out of organic bodies and into more reliable, less perishable ones. But, before we do this, we need a watertight understanding of what it is we’re trying to move. The race is on to map the human brain!


So far, we’ve made big steps in the right direction. In July 2019, news broke that scientists had managed to complete the connectome of a tiny species of worm. A connectome is essentially a brain map. It details every single neural connection inside a brain. And the 2019 news represented the first time we’d fully completed the connectome of any organism. Now, the structure of worm brains is something we can confidently say we know about. And it’s something that we could potentially recreate over and over again.


The jump from worm to human brains is, clearly, a considerable one. But these early successes prove that it will, one day, be possible. And, at a future time when we can map not only the human brain in general, but also specific brains from person to person… we could end up with effective blueprints for every human being. The personalities, individual traits, and even consciousnesses of everyone… translated into data.


But where would we go from here? It’s one thing to have the maps and diagrams of a brain to pore over and work from, but it’s another thing to go ahead and build it! And even if we could… would this ever truly constitute as life after death? Is, say, a recreation of your brain and consciousness inside an android of the future really the same thing as your brain (as it is) right now? If science heads in this direction, then very quickly these will be the sorts of ethical questions that the world would be facing.


Thankfully, before all of those future problems arise, however, our quest to preserve life even after death is likely to yield a number of other positive discoveries. The Human Connectome Project is arguably one of the most forward-thinking and ambitious initiatives on the planet today, as it represents the biggest effort we’ve made so far to map the human brain. It’s a joint project linking a number of the world’s best universities and hospitals, and its primary goal actually isn’t life after death. It’s just that understanding the potential for life after death could be an offshoot of the study. In the meantime, it aims to get to grips with all manner of neurological conditions and brain disorders - ranging from depression to psychosis to Alzheimer’s disease. The general idea is that once we’ve gotten to grips with our brains, it’s possible that the entire human race could benefit. 


So, the answer is three-fold. The afterlives we’re told about via various religions and alternate worldviews rely on Faith, and for as long as you have Faith then whichever afterlife you subscribe to is deemed possible. Many scientists among us are more interested in the nature of consciousness, though… and in deciphering once and for all why - in some cases - it appears to extend until after we die, creating to some degree a life after death, once more. 


But finally, for the technologists in our midst, life after death will surely be possible in the future. All we need to do is successfully map the human brain, tweak our connectomes so that they can apply to everyone, and then design some sort of digital, android world in which to house them all. Which camp do you fall into? Do you view the afterlife as a concept to believe in, a science to master, or a tech breakthrough waiting to happen? 


What happens after we die? It’s a big question, and one of the most popular answers is that we go to Heaven… and that Heaven is pure paradise. Think of the best, most agreeable, most enjoyable place you can imagine, and that’s what we’re dealing with here. Everything is good, nothing goes wrong, and it all goes on for eternity. But… how can that be?


What if Heaven is terrible?


We’re not debating whether Heaven does or doesn’t exist. We’re not especially concerned with the form it takes (if it does exist), either. And we’re not about to tell you how to get there! We have covered most of these topics in other videos, though, so be sure to check them out after this!


But, for today, we’re more simply imagining that Heaven is a place where people go after they die. For every one person in this life, there’s the possibility of one more soul (or spirit, or consciousness) in Heaven. We know that broadly speaking, the promise of an afterlife provides comfort, guidance and focus to millions on Earth. But statistically speaking, it triggers a bit of a headache.


First of all, who gets in? There’s potentially a huge population issue. If we take just the modern human as having even a chance of entry into Heaven, we’re casting our net up to 300,000 years back across history.Even the most conservative estimates claim that around 100 billion people have lived on Earth during this time. That means that even if only half of everyone who’s ever lived gets into Heaven, there’s around 50 billion people there. Say the figure is more like eighty percent, and that’s 80 billion souls all in one place. 


When you imagine paradise, do you see 80 billion people? Or would you rather it be a little quieter? 


Consider, too, that the population of Heaven will have started to spike in recent years, in line with the fairly spectacular figures we’ve seen down here on Earth. In the year 1800, the global population was around 1 billion. By 1900, it had grown to about 1.6 billion. By 1950, it was 2.5 billion. And then the figure truly took off, so that by the year 2000 it was at more than 6 billion… and today we’re speeding ever closer toward the 8 billion people mark. 


The effects of this recent, rapid change are continually debated and analysed by experts in the modern world… but, in Heaven, the effects are pretty simple. There are more people than ever, and they need to make way for more people still (at an increasing rate) every single year. In 1950, there were 50 million annual deaths in the global population. Today it’s up to 58 million - a relatively small increase, you might say. But projections by Our World In Data say that by the year 2050, we could be past 90 million deaths per annum. Whoever’s keeping the books in the afterlife, then, is about to see their workload skyrocket! And, again, it could be argued that this doesn’t tally with the stereotypical image of Heaven being a peaceful and harmonious place. Really, it’s less bliss and more bustle. Less serene and more, well, stressful.


But perhaps we shouldn’t get too bogged down in the numbers? Heaven, after all, is endless and eternal… so it’s a good bet that it can handle any number of occupants. Indeed, the more the merrier, because a busy Heaven means that less souls will have wound up in that dark, miserable and fiery other place - Hell, or the underworld. So, let’s imagine that you’re a soul departed from this mortal plain, but your ticket into Heaven is stamped and verified. It’s a little louder than you might have anticipated, yes, but otherwise it’s all good. Now, to find your friends, family and loved ones.


But here lies another potential pitfall with how Heaven would actually work. What if one of the people you had been expecting to meet up with… actually isn’t there. Or, perhaps even worse, what if it’s impossible to recognise them in amongst the celestial, angelic crowd?


As we’re dealing with a broad version of Heaven in this video, there are no set rules for getting in. But we know that there are variations of these rules between religions and belief systems on Earth. Thereby, in some instances, you might be permitted entry via one religion, but denied it by another… and, so, your fate hangs in the balance until such point as it’s revealed to you which rules were the right ones. That is, until such point as you’ve died. What happens, then, if for whatever reason your best friend doesn’t get in? It would be bad enough for them, naturally, but also terrible for you because you’d be facing eternity without someone who’s important to you. So, how could Heaven ever be that enjoyable under these circumstances?


There’s also the issue of perfection. Many versions of Heaven include that those inhabiting it are either already perfect souls, or they’re elevated to become perfect souls. But could this state of invariable perfection actually cause more harm than good? Mightn’t it take away individual traits and personalities, for example? And for anywhere to ever be considered truly perfect, would this mean that even the concept of Hell will have had to have vanished, too? 


Universal salvation is one way around that last question, wherein everyone is saved and sent to Heaven regardless of their Earthly deeds. God reconciles with all, and everyone ends up happy. But, with such complete happiness already in the bag, one question asked by skeptics of Heaven is… what would motivate the souls that inhabit it? What would inspire them, or even please them? And, as a result, would they even need such ties as friendship and family? Amongst some of the harshest criticisms leveled at the idea of Heaven is that, according to some, it might not even be possible to employ free will there… because that would risk imperfection. And, so, can a place where free will doesn’t exist ever be that great?


And all of this is before we’ve considered whether it’s only humans that get into Heaven? Is there also a place for pets, for example? If there isn’t, then wouldn’t it be imperfect from the outset (from a pet-owner’s point of view)? And why stop at just domesticated cats and dogs? Say you’re a naturalist and you’ve dedicated your living years to saving pandas. If there aren’t pandas in Heaven, then wouldn’t you be a bit… disappointed. Or, say you spent your life as an explorer passionate about the Arctic Circle. If you were asked, you’d probably like Heaven to have polar bears, rough seas and extremely cold temperatures… but none of those descriptors really fit the bill for what we’re usually told Heaven will be like. Again, there’s argument that all eternal bliss would really achieve is stripping us of what makes us… us. But there’s also the problem of physicality, here.


Across almost all versions of Heaven, we accept that we’ll be inescapably leaving our physical bodies behind. So, even in an afterlife where free will does still exist, and we are still motivated and capable of seeking out loved ones… there are no hugs to give them. There are no hands to hold. And there isn’t conversation to be had, in a physical sense, without mouths, vocal cords, lungs, et cetera, to make it happen. Even if your pet dog does get into Heaven, you can’t pat it. And if Heaven is like the Arctic Circle, then you can’t feel it. According to some versions, feasting is a big part of the afterlife… but eating and drinking would surely be difficult, too? Finally, imagine that you have a favorite tree in this world, and fortunately for you it does get replanted in the ever-after. Unfortunately, you’ll never be able to climb it, sit by it, or potentially even see it. But still, in theory, the leaves would grow forever.


And that’s arguably the final, faintly frightening aspect of Heaven - it’s said to be forever. Eternity is really impossible for us mere humans to get our heads around… so much so that even eternal bliss is daunting to some. Even an alternate, physical domain with free will comes with the caveat that; this will never, ever change. It’s a whole new, wholly alien, level of existence for us. A place where everyone is universally satisfied. And while, for believers, that’s reason enough to accept that it’ll be fantastic… for skeptics, it’s difficult to buy into. 


There are plenty of theories and beliefs about the existence of an afterlife. From reincarnation back into this reality, to angelic depictions of a literal Heaven complete with pearly gates. Or a literal Hell, complete with fire and brimstone. But not all versions of life after death are quite so… colorful.


Eternal Oblivion Theory. We can probably all agree that it appears at first to be quite an ominous turn of phrase. But interesting, nonetheless. And, according to some, it’s integral to understanding our place in the universe. Broadly speaking, it’s the conceptual idea that our consciousness ends completely at the point of brain death. While many religions and worldviews promote ideas to support the transportation of our current consciousness to another plane of existence after we pass, Eternal Oblivion Theory says that no such thing happens. While the afterlife serves as a cornerstone to various Faiths, and as a source of comfort for millions of followers… here, it’s unapologetically denied. So, what’s going on instead? 


In 2017, the humanist writer David Niose posted an article on Psychology Today titled, “Oblivion Isn’t Really So Bad”. In it, he expands on the Eternal Oblivion Theory… presenting it as something not to be feared, but to be reasoned with. An alternate end-of-life story that he feels stands up to scrutiny. Niose compares the supposed nonexistence post-death to the similarly oblivious state we were all in pre-birth - something he says he “didn’t find at all dissatisfying”. And this is a common argument among all Eternal Oblivion theorists. We came from nothing, we go to nothing, and there’s nothing we can do about it. 


Thanks in part to our growing scientific grasp of what happens after we die, Eternal Oblivion is now increasingly pondered by a variety of people. Perhaps unsurprisingly by atheists and agnostics, yes, but also by some theists - by those with some degree of religious or spiritual belief. The idea of the mind and consciousness being dependent on the working brain, for example, has more advocates now than ever before. Science is increasingly confident that consciousness can’t exist in the long-term without a brain to house it… so, what happens after brain death? Or, more precisely for today’s question, what could we ever realize was happening? For Eternal Oblivion theorists, the answer is nothing. And the nothingness is so complete that even the concept of eternity doesn’t register.


It’s a dark theory (in more ways than one!) but it also isn’t a new one. So, let’s scale back. The famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, was a religious skeptic who mused about the Eternal Oblivion Theory, more than 2,400 years ago! Many of his philosophical positions weren’t exactly welcomed at the time of his living… and, ultimately, he was sentenced to death for impiety and for corrupting Greek minds in the year 399 BC. His ideas on death, however, were specifically captured by his friend Plato, and eventually published in Plato's "Apology”, wherein it’s recorded that Socrates wondered what might happen to him after his death sentence was carried out. He’s said to have surmised two main options. The first being that his soul would move from one plane to another, to a place where he might discuss philosophy with some of Greece's past heroes. An afterlife, if you will. The alternative, though, was essentially Eternal Oblivion, which Socrates pictured as a deep and dreamless sleep with a complete lack of awareness.


Importantly, in Plato’s account, that second possibility doesn't seem to have bothered Socrates too much. True, he would be missing the opportunity to talk to his heroes, but he’d never have a chance to feel bad about that. Socrates, it seemed, generally thought that the prospect of a dreamless sleep should be held as a comforting thing for us while we’re alive. That it amounts to a place where the mind ceases to exist, but also where there isn’t any sort of recognition of that fate… or suffering because of it. And that’s an idea that has remained through the ages.


The Naturalist Tom Clark also wrote about the Eternal Oblivion Theory in a 1994 article titled, "Death, Nothingness, and Subjectivity". In it, Clark presents the idea of oblivion as being totally in-experienceable from our point of view. A stance not too far removed from Socrates, thousands of years beforehand. Clark suggests that this non-experience (from our point of view) should mean that we needn’t subject ourselves to the fear or worry that the seeming eternity of death creates. He further muses that even the term “nothingness”, that we so often apply to the time after death, is problematic, because it imbues nothing with a quality… which then makes it something. Which then implies that our consciousness would have to in some way endure it, when really it never will.


For another example of the problem, this time from pop culture, there’s a moment in the 1984 fantasy movie, "The NeverEnding Story", when the characters are trying to describe an evil force called “The Nothing”, when one suggests it is a hole, prompting another to remark that, "a hole would be something. This is Nothing”. “The NeverEnding Story” wasn’t necessarily entirely concerned with Eternal Oblivion… but we can see some crossover. And we can see how, even if we’re not acutely aware of it, there’s a sense of existential dread that continually plays on the human mind. Because, in our brains, through our consciousness, we tend to align nothingness with suffering. But that’s not the conclusion of the Eternal Oblivion Theory. Instead, it seeks to make real the concept of nothing. To take away the mystique, and to give meaning to something that's otherwise very abstract and difficult for us to understand. 


David Niose’s comparison to a pre-birth state is one way to look at things, but more generally it’s argued that the chief reason humans fear nothingness is because we’re incapable of processing it apart from our present minds and consciousness. It’s extremely hard for us to consider what happens after we die and not to feel anxiety, loss, or the ultimate feeling of missing out on something. But, with eternal oblivion, we don’t miss out on anything and we don’t suffer… because, well, it’s more than impossible for us to do that. The conditions for any of that to happen just… aren’t there. 


Other scientists and public figures to have spoken in favor of the Eternal Oblivion Theory include the physicist Sean Carroll and the psychologist Steven Pinker, both of whom have highlighted the lack of scientific evidence that life or awareness can continue after death. In this way, death might feasibly be rephrased as being a total unconsciousness. As something final from which we, all of us, will never return. Except, again, with Eternal Oblivion, we couldn’t describe death as being “something”, because it’s not something. We just are, and then we aren’t. Crucially, life (and consciousness) goes on from the point of view of anybody that isn’t (or wasn’t) ourselves, after we’ve died. This is something that Tom Clark in particular points out, in his paper. But personal life after death is something that no Eternal Oblivion theorist would ever subscribe to.


And, for most advocates of this way of thinking, that’s no bad thing. They’d typically critique all other afterlife suggestions as being empty, unsubstantiated promises. And, to go even further, many question whether the concept of bliss in the afterlife is even possible when it implies that we still possess consciousness there? An Eternal Oblivion theorist might say, for example, that if there isn’t oblivion, and paradise does exist, then how would we feel if one of our loved ones wasn’t there? In that scenario, we’d have pain and worry and suffering even if the afterlife is real! Why would we want that? And how could it ever be a paradise? It's something of an existential Catch 22.


Ultimately, it’s an unfortunate trait of the human condition that most of us are scared to die. And, for many of us, much of the fear is about what is (or isn’t) waiting for us at the end. According to various terror management theories, most of what we do in this life is in some way linked to a continual need to find comfort against the thought of death. And, really, even the Eternal Oblivion Theory amounts to exactly that. A bid to process the un-processable. To describe the indescribable. And to predict the seemingly unpredictable.


A favorite quote among humanists, and particularly Eternal Oblivion theorists, comes from another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who was born around forty years after Socrates died. He, too, didn’t shy away from contemplating death, most famously saying; "If I am, then death is not. And if death is, then I am not”. 


It’s perhaps the simplest way of approaching Eternal Oblivion. It’s not a mode of thought that everyone will like or believe in… but it does encourage us all to appreciate the present. To value the life that we’re living right now. Because, when death comes, the ultimate transformation is at hand. You are, and then you are not. 


Humans are naturally afraid of the unknown. Often, when we think of the dark depths of the ocean or the deep vastness of space, we feel an indescribable sense of unease. A fear of concepts that lie beyond. But nothing is shrouded in quite as much mystery, morbid intrigue or existential terror as what happens after we die.


What if we proved life after death?


If there’s one question in the history of the world that humanity most wants an answer to, it’s this one; what happens after we die? The problem of death is one that humans have contemplated for thousands of years… and we’ve never really got close to solving it. Modern science continually enables us to delay death just a little while longer, and average life expectancy has increased. But the ultimate end still inevitably comes one way or another. And… then what?


Most religions offer ideas about what comes after this life, including heaven and hell, reincarnation, or some other type of spirit world. Meanwhile, there are increasing numbers of science and future tech initiatives aiming to build an afterlife before we get there - including various plans to upload human consciousness onto digital drives, where it exists for all time. That’s the hope, anyway.


No matter what Faith you do or don’t subscribe to, though, no matter which speculative technology you most believe will actually be invented, it’s clear that the thought of death affects us in profound ways. That, throughout our lives, we’re guided by how and why and where it might end. Terror Management Theory posits that so much of what we do in life amounts to us trying to manage our subconscious concerns about dying. The general idea says that the main reason we build (or don’t build) relationships with other people, for example, or the reason why we follow religions, seek fame, or assume any number of cultural identities, is because we’re trying to make ourselves feel better about our own impermanence. We’re trying to build something that’s bigger than our own mortal selves… because actually everyone (whether they realize it or not) is worried about the fact that they won’t be here forever.


Immediately, all of this subconscious anxiety disappears were we to prove an afterlife. Now, this life wouldn’t be all there is, so there’d be much less pressure to try and preserve it. Or to create something that lasts longer than we can. Any irrefutable evidence that life after death exists would, then, have a massive effect on people’s personalities. On their morals. On the human character, as a whole. But for better… or worse?


One perhaps surprising improvement could be less prejudice. Concerningly, research shows that by simply reminding an individual of their own mortality, you can cause them to become more biased, prejudiced, and even aggressive - as part of a kind of in-built, misguided defense mechanism that humans have. One experiment in America, for example, showed that even judges can be swayed in this way… with it being found that when reminded of their mortality before sentencing, they’re more likely to give harsher punishments. We can say that even the justice system itself, then, is shaped by the specter of death. And we can see how the thought of death can provoke from within us a deep-rooted kickback, which could then lead to social problems ranging from unfairness to intolerance to perhaps even violence. But, if we knew that death wasn’t the end, then none of those things need happen.


There are other ways that our subconscious fear of death shapes how we feel and behave, too. Accounts of near-death experiences have increasingly interested scientists and psychologists in recent years. Reports often include an aspect of life flashing before eyes, a phenomenon also known as a life review, where people claim to not only witness their past actions, but also to see how those actions affected others. If this particular part of an NDE is something we all will ultimately experience, then we’re all set to spend our final moments self-evaluating. Coming to terms with everything we did (or didn’t) do. And, given that so many who come back from an NDE pledge to lead a better life from that point forward, it seems we more often than not judge ourselves as having behaved poorly. The prospect of death prompts us to doubt what we’ve done in our lives.


It’s possible, then, that proving an afterlife would lift a number of subconscious issues from our minds… alleviating pressure and ridding us of mental ties we might not even realize we have. Because this life would no longer be everything, our terror management impulses couldn’t run amok anymore, perhaps resulting in a fairer and more generous human race. But, also, because we’d know there was a second chance waiting for us, we might be able to cut ourselves some slack, and avoid deep-rooted feelings that we were living our lives incorrectly. Perhaps everyone would be imbued as standard with the do-good mentality of a near-death-experiencer, and we wouldn’t have to see the error of our ways in order to change. Or… perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. 


One counter argument says that the promise of a life after this one would mean that people would actually value this one far less. And that’s not a good thing. Suddenly, the consequences of anything you do on Earth matter very little, because really this existence is just a stepping stone into the future. At its best, this interpretation leads to reckless abandon. People doing what they want, when they want, because who cares? You’re guaranteed a “try again” after all of this is over, anyway. At its worst, though, it leads to selfishness and cruelty. With every cruel act now diluted by the human psyche, because everyone is scarily safe in the knowledge that nothing matters in this life so long as there’s another one on its way.


Naturally, so much of this hypothetical rests on what form our confirmed afterlife would take. Is it heaven and hell, is it reincarnation, do we all become ghosts, or is it nothing like what we expected? Is there a God waiting for us when we arrive, or isn’t there? And if there is, what type of God? Meanwhile, there are any number of scientific theories which could serve to shape our understanding, too. The US computer scientist, Bryon Ehlmann, for example, theorizes that the afterlife is merely our last moments before death played on repeat, a dream-like state he calls Natural Eternal Consciousness… so is that all we’d have proven? 


Needless to say, the particulars of life after death would completely reshape society on Earth. Religions could quickly disappear, with only those which most closely predicted the real-world afterlife retaining any followers. Science would head in all new directions too, as the revelation would go against many (and most) mainstream scientific theories. Physicists, in particular, would have a hard time trying to explain it in logical terms.


If there’s a good place and a bad place, a heaven and hell, then one offshoot could be an afterlife industry… built on products and schemes to get people where they most wanted to be. We’d see companies monetising the path to the hereafter… because some people would try to buy their way in. Products on shelves to better your chances of heaven. Supposed experts styling themselves as trusted gatekeepers between the here and there, guaranteeing you safe passage or your money back. In this incredible scenario, Earth could unfortunately descend like this… into a corrupt, insincere and fraudulent realm where everyone’s striving to boost their afterlife potential. A chaotic midway point on the road to a higher plane.


Or, if we assume that the better sides of humanity take hold, then a proven afterlife could prompt us all to help others. It could inspire equality, with everyone focused on the shared goal of enjoying this life and preparing for the next one. What do you think would most likely happen? Ruthless one-upmanship or altruistic harmony? 


According to the psychologist Steven Reiss, writing in 2016, one main reason why many religions offer an afterlife in the first place is to help us to find tranquility in this life. For terror management theorists, it’s more simply about us staving off death anxiety until the moment comes. But would life after death really make the here-and-now more tranquil? Would you worry less, or just worry differently? Because the questions wouldn’t stop there… For one, if there’s a life after this one, then what comes after that? And would the afterlife also be proof of immortality? Proof that whatever we did, on Earth or beyond, we’d know about it forever?


 Do these ideas dampen our fears, or intensify them? It’s an existential headache from here on out.

What’s your verdict on life and death? Do projects like the AWARE study reveal all there is to know? Is Heaven really a place that we should want to end up in? Or does the Eternal Oblivion Theory actually offer more in terms of comfort? And finally, what do you think would happen if we ever did prove life after death?


For now, we at least have our lives on Earth to enjoy, to experience, to learn from, and to remember. But, for that unknowable time hopefully long into the future, those are some ideas on what might happen when our lives run out.