• csalisbury
    2k
    This thread is a spin-off of the "How do I know I'm going to stay dead?" thread started by @dukkha.

    Most of have strong intuitive responses to both questions in this thread's title: Obviously, I won't exist again after I die. Obviously, I have no choice but to be concerned about what will happen to me in this life.*

    My wager is that it's tricky to defend the second intuition without eroding certainty in the first. The thought experiment I introduced in Dukkha's thread is simple (though I've tweaked the language a bit):

    Explain why it makes sense for someone who knows he will soon be tortured - but isn't being tortured yet - to fear the impending event.

    It may seem like a dumb question, because it's so obvious, but I'm hoping people can respond in the spirit of that old 'explain step-by-step how to make PB&J to someone who takes everything literally' game.

    *Maybe you could sidle around this by invoking some stoic principle of accepting anything one way or the other. Then consider, instead, someone dear to you undergoing the same thing, who hasn't been graced with such stoic insight.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    I'm not sure exactly what you are asking with the question as to whether I might exist again after I die, so I can't really answer it except to say that I am not certain or even convinced about anything at all in that connection.

    As to why I should fear being tortured in the future when I think I have every reason to believe that I will be, I'd say I would fear it due to a present identification with my future self.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    Cliches are of course cliche because they were overused tropes, that doesn't mean that one should ignore them on account of over exposure...

    Fear of death is a fear of life. Ghosts have "unfinished business". When you've done everything that you've wanted to, you won't mind.

  • csalisbury
    2k
    I understand the confusion about the first question. It's hard to phrase it right. It applies to heaven/hell and classic reincarnation, but I actually have more in mind a secular idea (as dukkha put it: I've already spontaneously come into existence once, why couldn't it happen again?)

    In any case I'd like to focus more on the second question. Identification with a future self is a good start. I think, actually I'm going to shift the question a little, if you're ok with that - I don't think it changes the essential point, but I think it brings things into even greater relief. Imagine, instead, you have an infant child that a bizarrely sadistic regime has sentenced to some sort of torture tomorrow. You've already been sentenced to death at midnight. The child can't identify with a future self. Do you still worry for the child you're looking at now or only for the future child who will be tortured?

    (If you think this change is bogus, I'll recant and start again according to the original question.)
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Explain why it makes sense for someone who knows he will soon be tortured - but isn't being tortured yet - to fear the impending event. — csalisbury

    Because it's impending? Does indeed seem a dumb question. Back in my day, we used to get caned for infractions at school - a practice long since banned - I have a vivid recollection of standing in the corridor outside the headmaster's office for about 15 minutes. That wait was an important part of the punishment.

    As for 'whether I exist after death' - as I responded in the other thread on this question, who am I but a chain of dependent causes? Again the Buddhist attitude is instructive in this matter. The Buddha teaches that there is 'no self that migrates from life to life'. But nevertheless beings are reborn according to their karma! So karma itself gives rise to future existences, which takes form as a being with a sense of 'me and mine'.

    I rationalise it from a secular perspective as follows: when I first studied prehistoric anthropology, I got some insight into how long our ancestors lived on the ancient plains. H. Sapiens appeared on the scene about 100,000 years back. And that is many generations ago! Who were those people who lived and died all those lifetimes? I believe in a real sense, they were earlier versions of myself. They too went through all the things that we go through now - birth, marriage, survival, old age and death (although I think they probably had a much, much higher pain threshold.)

    There's a poignant passage in the early Buddhist texts, where the Buddha is explaining to the sangha, how long they have been in the realm of samsara.

    What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?"

    "As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.

    Assu Sutta
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Obviously, I won't exist again after I die.csalisbury

    Is that really so obvious? Depending on your metaphysical presuppositions, this claim may or may not be so.

    Need I be concerned about what will happen to me in this life?

    You ask this as though you have a choice in the matter. You will be concerned about what happens to you regardless of whether you ought to. As to whether you ought to, irrespective of whether you have any choice, I think you ought to. To be concerned with what will happen to you in this life, to be concerned with suffering, is show moral awareness.

    Explain why it makes sense for someone who knows he will soon be tortured - but isn't being tortured yet - to fear the impending event.csalisbury

    Well, given that one cannot but fear potential harm, and having dismissed the possibility of the stoicism of the sage, then it is perfectly rational to feel in such a way. It would irrational not to fear harm.
  • csalisbury
    2k
    As I said to John, I'm not concerned, for the purposes of this thread, with answers (ancient or otherwise) to the first question. In saying that, I'm certainly not discounting your tradition or the power of its texts. It's just not my focus here.

    Because it's impending? Does indeed seem a dumb question. Back in my day, we used to get caned for infractions at school - a practice long since banned - I have a vivid recollection of standing in the corridor outside the headmaster's office for about 15 minutes. That wait was an important part of the punishment.

    But why were you worrying? After all, no one was caning you in the hallway. Caning may have been impending but it wasn't happening then. So why worry about it? (Again, I know these questions seem stupid)
  • Janus
    8.7k


    I would say you worry about the child you're looking at now and for the future child that will be tortured because you understand them to be one and the same. You worry for the child you see now because you believe she or he will be tortured.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    It's not a matter of respecting or not respecting 'my tradition'. The text I quoted addresses the question: one who was completely free of any self-concern, would not dread impending pain.
  • csalisbury
    2k
    Is that really so obvious? Depending on your metaphysical presuppositions, this claim may or may not be so
    That's true. But for the people for whom it's not obvious, it's usually not obvious for religious/mythological reasons. & I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm just trying to meet people who don't buy into those views on their own terms.

    You ask this as though you have a choice in the matter. You will be concerned about what happens to you regardless of whether you ought to. As to whether you ought to, irrespective of whether you have any choice, I think you ought to. To be concerned with what will happen to you in this life, to be concerned with suffering, is show moral awareness.

    I probably failed to phrase things right, then, because this is exactly what I wanted to emphasize (this is why I tried to footnote away any shallow stoic response and shifted the question, with John, to concerns about one's infant child, not oneself.)

    Well, given that one cannot but fear potential harm, and having dismissed the possibility of the stoicism of the sage, then it is perfectly rational to feel in such a way. It would irrational not to fear harm.

    Agreed, but harm to oneself. What does the suffering of someone in the future have to do with me?
  • dukkha
    206
    Explain why it makes sense for someone who knows he will soon be tortured - but isn't being tortured yet - to fear the impending event.csalisbury

    Because it would appear that there is personal identity over time. The very same 'thing' (I don't really know what word to use here, self? subjectivity?) which is having this current experience is the same thing which will experience the pain of torture in the future.

    I recently broke my hand and had to get it reset. I was sitting on the hospital bed (huffing nitrous thank god) dreading the pain I was about to experience. Why? Isn't that a problem for the person in the future, isn't that something which the 'future me' will have to deal with? Why should I be concerned?

    Because it is the same 'subjectivity' (?) which persists through the changing experience (persists through time). The 'thing' which is having the experience of dreading one person grabbing my elbow and the other grabbing my fingers and them both pulling extremely hard in opposite directions while the doctor smushes my hand bone back into alignment in the future, is the very same thing which undergoes that experience in the future. Whatever 'it' (scare quotes because "it" kind of makes it sound like it's an object in the world) is, it persists through the changing present experience.

    Right?

    It's like if we swapped experiences/lives. Even though the experience would have the same content if I were having it or you were having it, it would be an entirely different 'subjectivity' which is having the experience. That is, our experiences are not these free existing things which nothing has or owns. Some sort of 'thing' has or undergoes the experience.

    It has to, right? Because it hurt like a itch! If there wasn't something which persists through the changing experience (a 'haver' of the experience we might say) then how is it that 'I' felt both the dreading experience and the pain experience? Easiest way to account for this is to just posit a 'subject' of experience, a being which exists in some sense that felt both. It's hard to talk about whatever it is without making it seem like I think there is some sort of separate object which has the experience.

    I think there is this access issue, which is why I am having some much trouble thinking about or describing this 'thing', and that's that you wouldn't be able to find it within your conscious experience (because if you did, the thing would be the thing which has found the thing, ha). As in you can't consciously experience it (and therefore have some empirical idea of what it is) because it would be the thing which is having the conscious experience, and therefore not what is being consciously experienced. It can't be found within or accessed with conscious experience. Kind of like how an arrow can't shoot at itself.

    Why don't we just bite the bullet and start believing in souls, is it really that absurd?

    Do you still worry for the child you're looking at now or only for the future child who will be tortured.csalisbury

    The former, because personal identity through time does not depend on memories of the past or projections into the future. It doesn't matter the *content* of your conscious experience (eg, memory, projections into the future), because the thing which persists through time is outside of the contents of the conscious experience - it is what is experiencing the content. Sometimes I imagine animals like this (not claiming they are) - as having no experience of memory nor projection of themselves into the future. However even in this case I feel it would still be the same 'being' which has the experience at T1 as has the experience at T2.
  • csalisbury
    2k
    It's not a matter of respecting or not respecting 'my tradition'. The text I quoted addresses the question: one who was completely free of any self-concern, would not dread impending pain.

    I already explicitly anticipated and addressed that response though, in the OP. Imagine it's someone you love who wasn't, for whatever reason, 'completely free of any self-concern' (and, of course, though you appreciate the ideal, I have deep doubts, no disrespect, about whether you're at that level. I'm certainly not.)
  • csalisbury
    2k
    I would say you worry about the child you're looking at now and for the future child that will be tortured because you understand them to be one and the same. You worry for the child you see now because she or he will be tortured.

    But they're not the same person, are they? How could the present child be identical to the child in the future? Has literally nothing changed in the interval? What makes them the same person? (again, I have to emphasize, I'm playing the dumb person following the step-by-step instructions of the person explaining how you make PB&J - not to troll, just to draw out explicit explanations of implicitly understood ideas)
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Imagine it's someone you love who wasn't, for whatever reason, 'completely free of any self-concern' — csalisbury

    But then I'm back at, of course you'd be concerned, and that is a dumb question. Beings obviously are frightened of death and pain. What's your point?
  • Janus
    8.7k


    We know intuitively they are the same person, we just can't explain to ourselves how it is possible that they are. I guess my answer would be that it is a spiritual truth that they are the same, and as such it is not something that can be analyzed and given comprehensive (or for some inquirers, even satisfactory) account of in objective terms,

    Also, another question is, what do you mean when you say the future child is not identical with the present child? Do you mean her body will be different; will have grown, for example? If so, it must nonetheless be her body, and not someone else's that has grown, no? I think it is true that we cannot claim the two temporal instantiations (present and future) of the child are identical ( in the sense of absolutely identical); but rather that it is a case of their being two (obviously different) temporal instantiations of the same identity.
  • dukkha
    206
    The Buddha teaches that there is 'no self that migrates from life to life'. But nevertheless beings are reborn according to their karma!Wayfarer

    Pretty sure Mr. Sid was just utterly confused on this point. There must be personal identity through time if you come back into existence again reincarnated. Something must be racking up the karma. It just doesn't make sense it's like someone saying, "nothing persists through time, there's nothing which is having this experience, no soul exists which is racking up karma but... my next lifetime is going to be as a person in a lower caste because I was bad throughout my life".

    I think there are Hindu strands of 'dharma' which do believe in a soul, which makes far more sense if you believe in samsara. I really can't make sense of nothing existing and yet it comes back in the next lifetime.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Pretty sure Mr. Sid was just utterly confused on this point. — Dukkha

    Oh, right, well there's a great opportunity for you there, D, you can start a movement explaining to Buddhists what the Buddha got wrong.
  • Janus
    8.7k


    If you are reborn in a different body and with no memory of your past (that is, no memory of what is for you now, your present) identity, would you say that it would be a case of a self or identity that has "migrated"?
  • dukkha
    206
    But then I'm back at, of course you'd be concerned, and that is a dumb question. Beings obviously are frightened of death and pain. What's your point?Wayfarer

    If we imagine ourselves as just say, a collection of biological and physical processes (I don't actually believe this). The collection of processes at Time 2 is different than the collection at Time 1 (or we might say "the state of the processes at T1, or even, "the arrangement of matter at T1"), point is it's not the same at all. So from the perspective of you being at Time 1 why are you worrying about what the conscious experience will be at Time 2, because it will be an entirely different arrangement of matter, or state of processes, or etc. What is persisting through all these dynamic biological and physical processes such that whatever feels the experience at T1 feels the experience at T2?

    Or even if we forget materialism and just talk about phenomenology. Conscious experience is in a constant process of change. The conscious experience at T2 is entirely different than that at T1. But, with conscious experience in a constant state of change, how is it that the same thing which dreads the torture is the same thing which feels the torture? How do you feel/have both experiences if there is NOT something which persists through the constant change of conscious experience? How are both experiences undergone or known to you, if you didn't persist from T1 to T2?
  • dukkha
    206
    Oh, right, well there's a great opportunity for you there, D, you can start a movement explaining to Buddhists what the Buddha got wrong.Wayfarer

    He was just a human like you and me, not some infallible god. And I'm pretty sure people were already doing this - to the very Buddha himself - while he was alive. What makes the Buddha right about everything he said?
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    If we imagine ourselves as just say, a collection of biological and physical processes (I don't actually believe this). — Dukkha

    It's not 'a thing which anticipates torture'. There is obviously a process, a stream, if you like, of memories and anticipations, acting as a coherent whole, which is a self. But there is nothing specifically in that which can be said to be constant, unchanging, and existing apart from the chain of causes and conditions.
  • csalisbury
    2k
    We know intuitively they are the same person, we just can't explain to ourselves how it is possible that they are. I guess my answer would be that is a spiritual truth that they are the same, and as such it is not something that can be analyzed and given comprehensive (or for some inquirers, even satisfactory) account of in objective terms
    Ok, but at this point you've already settled on an answer - an unanalyzable spiritual connection. And that's fine, but there's nowhere left to go from here. I don't necessarily think you're wrong, but we can't reach any further ideas through debate.

    Also, another question is, what do you mean when you say the future child is not identical with the present child? Do you mean her body will be different; will have grown, for example? If so, it must nonetheless be her body, and not someone else's that has grown, no? I think it is true that we cannot claim the two temporal instantiations (present and future) of the child are identical ( in the sense of absolutely identical); but rather that it is a case of their being two (obviously different) temporal instantiations of the same identity. — John

    Yes, the insistence on the two bodies being absolutely identical is facile, I agree, but it's how you bridge the gap. Again, though, you've already provided an answer (the spiritual connection) so I can't agree or disagree.
  • csalisbury
    2k
    But then I'm back at, of course you'd be concerned, and that is a dumb question. Beings obviously are frightened of death and pain. What's your point?

    But you weren't experiencing pain or death (beyond the pain of anxious apprehension) waiting. in the hallway, to be caned. So why be frightened? What did the suffering of a boy, not in the hallway, have to do with you?

    (I have no point - I'm just asking you to explain why you were concerned about a future state of suffering?)
  • csalisbury
    2k
    @dukkha I'm not ignoring you - you just have a much longer post - I'm mounting a response.
  • Janus
    8.7k


    I'm sorry I couldn't have been more help to your inquiry csalisbury; I'd love to be able to say something more, but every attempt I have made over many years to analyze personal identity has fallen into aporia. :’(
  • csalisbury
    2k
    I'd love to be able to say something more, but every attempt I have made over many years to analyze personal identity has fallen into aporia. :’(
    That's just it though! I'm trying to make the aporia obvious and explicit, no matter what your spiritual background. (I agree that there's no way to avoid aporia.) My swoony dream suitor for this thread is an intelligent, but aporia-averse respondent who will tussle all the way. (that's a challenge! if there's anyone listening.)
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    (I have no point - I'm just asking you to explain why you're concerned about a future state of suffering) — csalisbury

    I have no anwer, other than 'anticipation'.
  • dukkha
    206
    If you are reborn in a different body and with no memory of your past ( that is, no memory of what is for you now, present) identity, would you say that it would be a case of a self or identity that has "migrated"?John

    It's really hard to talk about a future lifetime which has nothing to do with this life, while in this life. I'd say it would be the same 'being' which is experiencing this lifetime, with its human sense of ego, memories, etc, that would be experiencing the next lifetime. Because whatever it is, it is 'prior' to the experience of memory, human ego, projection into the future - personal identity (I don't mean this in the sense of "I am a male, I am x age, I have these political views", I mean in the sense of the same thing having/feeling the experience at T1 as feels T2) doesn't arise from, or is derived from those things, rather, identity must already be there for these things to all be known to or experienced by the same 'being'. In order for one to have an experience, and then remember that experience, identity through time must already be in place, it can't therefore be derived from those things.

    It would be the same 'prior to ego, memory, human identity' being which undergoes this life as feels the next. Not sure whether "migrated" would be the right word. I would think in this sort of poetic language it would be the persisting through time 'being' which is stationary (doesn't migrate anywhere) while this lifetime experience ends and then the next one starts. That's just how I'd characterise it anyway.

    I really can't think of the word to use here, 'being' makes it sound way too much like an object/thing. "Subjectivity" sounds better I'll start using that.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    OK, then just to make a very tentative start, there is the paradox of sameness and difference which has already been alluded to. My future self will be different than my present self in the sense that it will have had more experiences, it will have different memories and most likely different understandings about itself and the world, and so on. On the other hand it will be the same insofar as it must be the same in order for the very idea of it being my future self to make any sense at all.

    Should we think this is a conceptual impasse?
  • Janus
    8.7k


    OK, so you say that identity is not a matter of having a particular body, idea about oneself or set of memories. And yet all you know of your self (at least all that you can speak about, anyway) consists in those. Even if you have some ineffable inner sense of yourself, that sense must be the same or similar enough across time to constitute a sense of self, and the possibility for that would seem to be reliant on memory.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    I mean in the sense of the same thing having/feeling — Dukkha

    'You never step in the same river twice' ~ Heraclitus
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