Death has several purposes. It enables evolution, the emergence of more complex physical forms - without death the planet would soon be populated by primitive organisms and new ones would have no chance to appear. It is also an act of mercy on the biological level. The suffering of trapped, old, sick or injured animals would be indefinitely prolonged if there was no death. Death may also contribute to the individual development. Errors and mistakes of body and mind may accumulate during a life time to such an extent that is difficult to reverse them. Reincarnation (that will be discussed below) could offer a fresh start and still enable continuity, but reincarnation is impossible without death. Social development benefits from death too. If generations did not change, the societies would be far more conservative, solidified in their beliefs and practices.
Death is better considered a process rather than a point, and can be defined as the irreversible cessation of body functioning. However, this does not mean necessarily the end of life. Being an attribute of focused energy, life cannot cease to exist (as long as it remains focused), it can only be transformed. From this perspective, it is plausible that the soul continues its existence after death. Empirical support for the claim that an aspect of the human being remains alive after the body stops functioning is provided by research on NDEs (e.g. the work of professor Peter Fenwick in the UK). Because it is very difficult to locate the precise time of their occurrence, it is sometimes claimed that such experiences, in fact, happen before or after the period of brain inactivity, and therefore are a product of the brain. However, in several cases it was confirmed that they took place while the brain was not showing any activity. There are a number of other attempts to explain these experiences from the materialistic perspective, but none of them seem fully satisfactory.
A more contentious issue is what remains after death. Generally, there is a consensus that the body must return to its natural entropic state. However, a dualistic perspective, that identifies the soul with the mind, entertains the possibility that the mind can be preserved in its entirety (including all the memories, for example). There are several objections to this view: firstly it is unlikely that the mind can be fully preserved, considering the extent to which it depends on the brain. Secondly, many materials of the mind are domain-specific so it would be pointless to preserve them when the environment changes (e.g. what would be the purpose of knowing traffic signs in non-material reality?). The Synthesis perspective takes a view that the mind gradually disintegrates, but the non-material component of an organism (the soul) remains. When the body ceases to produce oscillations that resonate with the soul, the soul separates from it. The aura also slowly breaks down. If the resonance is what connects the soul and the body, full separation may not occur even when the brain stops functioning, which is why people can ‘return' after having an NDE.
- . For their more detailed analyses see for example Blackmore, 2005b, and Wade, 1996, chapter 12.
- . It is occasionally believed that even the body can be maintained in non-material reality but this is out of question. A body consists of atoms that are kept together by nuclear and electro-magnetic forces. If these forces do not apply, anything physical would be highly unstable - atoms would break up into energy, which would be the equivalent of a nuclear explosion. On the other hand, if that realm allows these forces, it could not be much different from material reality and should be susceptible to the effects of entropy (further deterioration). This point is brought up only to eliminate some unrealistic NDE claims.