Oct 4, 2007

Signifying Nothing


"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
(Act V, Scene V, Macbeth) William Shakespeare

The belief in the afterlife and in the divine is as ancient as the human consciousness itself. Religion began as the first self-conscious primate came into existence. There are evidences that indicate that even the earliest predecessors of the modern Homo sapiens such as the Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals practiced some forms of primitive religions. For instance, archeologists were able to find rich amount of fossilized pollen grains in ancient, Stone Age grave sites. The pollen grains were indicative that flowers were being offered to the departed love ones of these ancient hominid species. In much later cultures, potteries, ornaments and other worldly belongings were also found buried with the remains of ancient humans. What could be made sense out of these? These are clear indications that the ancient people believed in the afterlife. Most likely, these ancient people thought that they could still use their worldly possessions after death.

The belief in the afterlife is clearly evident in many ancient cultures. Even if these different cultures had not had any contacts with each other, they shared similar beliefs about the afterlife. Typically, the afterlife is thought to better than this world. For instance, the ancient Nordic people such as the Vikings believed in a heaven-like Valhalla wherein the departed ones could enjoy good hunting, endless feasts and a lot of sex. Later religions made the belief in the afterlife more refined and abstract. For instance, the Christian religion thought of the ideal afterlife as unimaginable bliss (that is if you happen to be one of the lucky ones will be rewarded with an entry pass to heaven). Hence, the Apostle Paul had quoted in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." This was actually a misquotation of Isaiah 64:4 which originally said: Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

I do not know if Apostle Paul deliberately misquoted the scriptures just to prove his point. However, that is beside the issue. Like other religions, the Christian religion firmly believes in the afterlife. Nonetheless, does this seemingly universal belief in the afterlife and its corollaries are solid proofs of the reality of the afterlife? Not by any means! A belief is not proven to be true simply because there are many people who adhere to it. Testing for truth is not a mere popularity game. For instance, there was a time when virtually all people in the world believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Some enlightened few who dared to contradict this general notion were imprisoned, humiliated and even burned alive at the stake. However, this geocentric theory was ultimately proven to be totally wrong. Arguing merely based on popularity is a common type of logical fallacy that is more technically known as argumentum ad populum or argument appealing to popularity.

Hence, the virtually universal belief about the afterlife and the divine is not a logical proof that the belief is indeed true. Ancient people merely invented the concept of the afterlife as a psychological coping mechanism to deal with their grief and fear of death. Even today, many people still believe in the afterlife simply because they want to comfort themselves. Death is something that they dread. However, if you think of it, if death is the complete and permanent cessation of consciousness, what is it to fear about it?


  1. Same thing with comets. For most of human history, people believed that comets were harbingers of doom. Eventually, some smart fellows figured out that they were natural phenomena and that they had predictable orbits.

  2. blessed are the credulous for they shall have false hope.

  3. Good post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information.

  4. Where does consciousness come from?


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