Lexicon

Afterlife: Existence after death.

Artificial intelligence (Strong/Weak)

Weak artificial intelligence: The view that a computer is a powerful tool for the study of the mind.

Strong artificial intelligence: The view that a properly programmed computer is a mind with cognitive states, so that it is not merely a tool for studying the mind. Its programs can provide psychological explanations, and it can literally be conscious and think.

Concept: A generally agreed upon role or problem that is supposed to be satisfied or answered by a particular conception. For example, the concept of justice is the problem of determining principles for the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society or the role those principles play in the organization of society; the concept of personal identity is the problem of explaining the persistence of a single person over time.

Conception: A particular interpretation of the proper role or a particular solution to the problem specified by a concept. For example, the principle of achieving the greatest net satisfaction of individual interests for the greatest number is one conception of justice; the possession of a chain of overlapping memories is one conception of personal identity. Rival conceptions provide competing answers to the problem or role referred to by a given concept.

Connectome: The neural structure or architecture of the brain. Some have contended that we are identical to our connectomes.

Cryonic suspension: Freezing an individual’s body with the hope of eventually reanimating it, i.e., thawing it out and supporting renewed consciousness in it.

Cyber-punk: A literary genre—within science fiction—in which issues of personal identity, immortality, and uploading are typical themes.

Death (criteria): There are various criteria (or “signs”) of death. On the heart/lung criterion, death occurs only when the heart and lungs do not continue to function (even with the aid of medical devices). On one prominent brain criterion, death occurs only after the brain stops functioning in a manner thought to be capable of supporting consciousness.

Death (definition): The cessation of life. (On some accounts, death is the permanent cessation of life, but this would rule out certain notions (e.g., reincarnation), as a conceptual matter; we thus prefer the simpler account, which does not require the permanent cessation of life.) It is an open question whether one still continues to “exist” even after death.

Dualism: The view that the mind is distinct from the body (or the brain). On this view, the world is made up of both the mental and the physical (or material). The view comes in different forms: substance dualism (as in Descartes) or property dualism. The substance dualist contends that the mind and the brain are distinct particular entities, whereas the property dualist holds that mental features or properties are distinct from physical features or properties. The notion of “distinctness” is controversial; some interpret Descartes as arguing that mind and body are distinct in the sense that they are possibly, although not actually, separate entities.

Empirical: An empirical claim is in principle falsifiable by means of observation or experience. Sometimes “empirical” is used as equivalent to “scientific”, where this is understood broadly to include social as well as natural sciences.

Enhancement: Improvement, as in improving bodies, parts of bodies or minds so as to support greater longevity. This can be envisaged as a biological process or even a process involving artificial means (e.g., robotic parts or computers).

Form of life: A commonly shared pattern of activity and response that functions as a background condition on meaningful interaction.

Functionalism: The view that mental states are defined in terms of their causal relations. On this view, we define mental states, such as beliefs, desires, intentions, fears, and so forth, in terms of their typical causes and effects and thus their role in the mental economy (as it were). A functional definition of pain might be that pain is the mental state that mediates between potential harm and avoidance behavior; that is, pain is typically caused by features of the environment that pose threats or dangers, and typically issues in behavior that is meant to avoid these dangers.

Heaven: Posited by Christianity as the place (perhaps not literally a location) in which an individual has blissful union with God. It is considered the ideal toward which all humans should ultimately strive, and it is typically thought to require a free acceptance of God’s grace and appropriate behavior (either during Earthly existence or subsequently in Purgatory). Some Christians (who accept versions of “universalism”) believe that all humans either actually will be “saved” and go to Heaven or at least will have the opportunity in the afterlife.

Hell: Posited by Christians as involving eternal torment or damnation. Alternatively, it is conceptualized as not involving “positive” badness, but the absence of the ultimate good (union with God). Typically assignment to hell would be the result of freely failing to accept God’s grace or behavior inconsistent with a belief in God.

Idealism: The view that the mental is all there is. Famously, Bishop Berkeley defended this kind of view, according to which all of reality is either actually a mental state or mental states, or would be such under specified circumstances. That is, on this view, all of reality is either a set of actual or hypothetical mental states.

Immortality (secular): Existing forever (without dying). This is compatible with not “living” forever, if there is some sort of cryonic (or other) suspension followed by reanimation in the form of uploading to a computer or non-biological system. It will be assumed that secular immortality implies not just actually existing forever but the inevitability of such existence, i.e., the impossibility of not existing forever. It will be assumed further that the immortal individual has knowledge that he or she cannot fail to exist forever. (Of course, weaker notions of immortality would involve the failure of one or both of these additional assumptions.)

Immortality (religious): Existing forever, typically involving the view that one dies but still continues to exist. Immortality on the religious view involves an afterlife. As with secular immortality, we will assume that religious immortality involves not just actually existing forever, but the impossibility of not existing forever. We also make the additional assumption that the immortal individual knows this. It is important to note that religious immortality is often characterized by the lack of one or both of the additional assumptions; so, for example, an immortal individual in the religious sense might believe that he or she will (or must) exist forever, without knowing it.

Infinite: Without limit. Immortality implies infinite continued existence. The mathematics of infinity is related to, but interestingly different from, the mathematics of finite numbers/sets.

Karma: This is a central concept in certain religions (or philosophies), such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. It is interpreted differently by the different religions (or even different strands within each religion). The basic idea is that one’s actions have a certain moral quality, and that as a matter of cause and effect (although not necessarily deterministic or unmediated by divine intervention), one is caused to experience something with a comparable or analogous moral nature. This would typically be in the context of reincarnation, but the sequence of cause and effect can occur within a single life.

Longevity: Length of one’s existence (typically, although not necessarily, one’s life). Various forms of enhancement seek to increase longevity; infinite longevity is immortality.

Materialism: The view that the physical (or material) is all there is. On this view, the mind is identical to the body (or brain), or perhaps is fully constituted by the body (or brain). On one version of materialism, although the mind is not, strictly speaking, identical to the brain, all mental states “supervene” on physical states, that is, there can be no difference in a mental state without some difference in the physical states of the brain.

Meaning of life: Although this phrase is used in different ways, typically it would be used to depict one overarching purpose of life. This purpose might be given to us by God or another individual, or it might not be given by a conscious being. (In the latter case, the purpose of life would emerge from natural facts.)

Meaningfulness of life: Various characteristics might be thought to increase or enhance the degree to which are lives are rewarding. The level of meaningfulness of our lives would vary with the presence (or absence) of these characteristics. There is a subjective and an objective notion of meaningfulness in life:

Subjective meaningfulness of life: meaningfulness of a life from the perspective of the individual whose life it is.

Objective meaningfulness of life: meaningfulness of a life from a suitably “objective” perspective, i.e., a perspective not exhausted by the internal orientation of the individual whose life it is.

Near-death experiences: These are experiences had by (some) individuals who soon thereafter actually die or come close to dying but do not in fact die. There are certain patterns or similarities in the experiences, as described and reported by those who have had them. These experiences often involve a stage in which there is an “out-of-body” type of experience and a stage in which there is some sort of “transcendent” experience–perhaps involving a religious being and an approach to a “frontier”. The experiences present themselves as experiences as of dying (or having died). It is controversial what these experiences indicate. Some contend that they are glimpses into another realm, whereas others interpret them naturalistically as illusions caused by perturbations of the brain.

Out-of-body experiences: These are experiences that present themselves to the individual having the experience in such a way that the individual appears to be in a different location from his or her body. So, for example, the individual might seem to him- or herself as “located” in, and gaining perceptual data from, a location that is “above” the body; from this apparent location or perspective, the individual having an “out-of-body” experience can apparently see or sense his or her own body as being in a different location.

Paranormal: Paranormal phenomena are those that are apparently at least not amenable to scientific or empirical explanation. These phenomena cannot (or to the best of our current knowledge cannot) be understood via the “normal” methods of science.

Personal identity: There are various questions about the identity of persons. Two central ones are:

What makes one a person?: An adequate answer to this question should allow us to distinguish persons from other kinds of creatures in a principled way. There are various views on offer. For example, the distinction may be drawn in terms of species-membership or in terms of the capacity to critically reflect on elements of one’s psychology (e.g., one’s desires).

What does it take for the same person to exist at different times?: An adequate answer to this question should allow us to distinguish in a principled way between cases where a person goes out of existence and cases where he or she persists. There are various views on offer. For example, one might hold that the person at T2 is identical to the person at T1 so long as her memories at T2 are linked in the right way with her memories at T1. Or one might hold that the person at T2 is identical to the person at T1 so long as his body at T2 is constituted by material that is related in the right way to the material that constituted his body at T1. On either view, if the posited relation between the persons at these different times does not hold, then the earlier person has gone out of existence; if it does hold, then he or she persists.

Philosophical: A philosophical claim relates to our concepts, especially their rational or logical relations and truth.

Purgatory (Intermediate state): Purgatory is posited by some Christians as an intermediate state between life and Heaven. It might be thought of as temporary punishment or suffering while preparations are made to enter Heaven. Different forms of Christianity have different views about the nature of this state, including how much latitude there is for improving one’s chances to enter Heaven without excessive delay. In certain forms of Buddhism, an individual enters an “intermediate state” after death and prior to reincarnation. Different specific forms of Buddhism have different conceptions of the role of the intermediate state, including the possibilities for individuals to affect the nature of their subsequent reincarnation prospects.

Rebirth: When one is reborn, at least some part of one’s consciousness begins life in some form after one’s death.

Reincarnation: When one is reincarnated, at least some part of one’s consciousness begins life in bodily form after one’s death. Reincarnation is a particular type of rebirth, involving a body.

Scientific: (see Empirical)

Theological: A theological claim relates to religious faith, doctrine, practice or experience.

The Singularity: Posited by some as a point at which human longevity will have been enhanced so that we can be immortal or at least exist in some form or another indefinitely. The proponents of the singularity hypothesis think that science is advancing sufficiently rapidly with respect to enhancing longevity that we will reach a point after which all remaining problems for achieving infinitely long life will have been solved.

Transhumanism: This is a philosophy and “movement” that contends that we can and ought significantly to enhance human longevity and also human capacities. Transhumanists believe that we ought to make maximum use of emerging technologies to increase longevity or even eliminate aging altogether and also to enhance both physical and intellectual or, more broadly, psychological capacities.

Uploading: Extracting “mental information” and placing it into a computer with the intent of allowing for continued existence of the individual. This process is not technologically feasible now, and it presupposes that a computer could in principle be conscious (and, further, that the relevant information can be extracted and transferred to a computer). Some scientists believe that the information in question is exhausted by the “connectome”, although this is controversial. (See connectome.)

The Science, Philosophy, and Theology of Immortality

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