Every sentient being has a form, a body that sustains it. Most accepted theories today assume that the body is the source and maintainer of mind. If the body, including the brain, ceases to exist, there is no longer mind, or consciousness associated with that body. It is as if a light switch is turned off for that particular living entity. Before diving into what it means to be alive, and then not to be alive, let’s establish what we are.
We are body and we are mind. Body sustains mind, and mind observes the body and the universe through the body’s senses. For humans, this is the sense of taste, smell, hearing, seeing, and feeling. The brain allows the mind to perceive, sense, feel, think, reflect, and so on. These are inherently subjective phenomena. One cannot touch a feeling or thought, like we can with parts of our body. We can hold a brain in our hands, but we can never probe its associated subjective mind. The only way to access mind is through mind itself. In this way, mind exists in and as a dimension separate of the physical world. Stimulation of the brain can create various subjective experiences, but we cannot study subjective experience as it is experienced through physical means.
Understanding the duality of body (objectivity) and mind (subjectivity) has been, and still is, under scientific scrutiny. Based on observation, we can infer that a physical body can exist without an associated subjective mind. In other words, while I am alive now – I am here and I perceive my body. When my body dies, the brain is no longer able to sustain the conscious mind, that which allows me experience myself as myself. My body can still linger for some time. So, in that sense, I am still around for a little while, until the body is no more. But I am not to witness the decomposition of my body. Only another sentient being can perceive my body. No sentient being can know its own death. We can experience the process of dying, but we cannot experience our death. Because if we did, then mind would still exist. Thus we would not be dead. So, any real meaningful definition of death must mean the cessation of mind, the capacity to experience. If I am conscious here and now, and there is a point in space and time where I am no more – and I cannot linger in non-being or death, wouldn’t the logical conclusion be that mind would still continue, but in another body? Not as me, but as the sentient being that is still here and now? Ponder this:
“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep…that was when you were born. You see? You can’t have an experience of nothing; nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience, or the same sort of experience of before you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience one at a time.”Alan Watts
Every sentient being can only be itself; one cannot be as two. But each is itself. The universe, as it is experienced, is within this mind. This is universally true. A sentient being that existed before (in space and time) experienced everything in this mind (their mind). A sentient being that exists now (in space and time) experiences everything in this mind (their mind). A sentient being that may exist in the future (in space and time) will experience everything in this mind (their mind). Mind is consciousness, the capacity to experience. What each sentient being experiences (the content of mind) differs, but what is shared among all minds is the capacity to experience – to be conscious, to be aware. Consciousness is thus timeless, not bound by space and time, which our bodies are. In this way, when my body dies, along with the content of my mind (including that which makes me uniquely me – my ego), I am still here, but as a new sentient being. Don’t be confused at this point. It is not the personal self that is somehow inserted into a new body (the traditional understanding of reincarnation). No, the new personal self emerges, being fully enclosed in itself, as itself. Just as I am, just as you are. We are all one, as one.
From the perspective of consciousness, there is only continuity. To use an analogy, consciousness could be understood as light, and non-consciousness (or death) as darkness. Remember, darkness is per definition the absence of light. Thus it does not really exist. It has no substance – be it physical or virtual. Darkness, or death, does not exist. Light exists, consciousness exists. They are the substance of itself. Light is, as light is, when it is. Consciousness is, as consciousness is, when it is. If this seems confusing or a play of words, read again.
What are the implications of continuity of consciousness as it relates to us as human beings?