“To die, to sleep –
To sleep, perchance to dream – aye, there’s the rub,
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come …”
So says Hamlet, pondering his own mortality in perhaps the most famous
soliloquy Shakespeare ever wrote. The question “Is there life after
death?” has fascinated human beings since the beginning of recorded
history. The Ancient Egyptians thought there was an afterlife – but
first the dead would have to endure a journey through a world populated by
crocodiles, snakes and demons, before having their hearts weighed against
the balance of good and evil.
The Hindus believe that that there is life after death, but that it comes in
the form of reincarnation. “As a man casts off his worn-out clothes and
takes on other new ones, so does the embodied soul cast off his worn-out
bodies and enters other new,” says the Bhagavad Gita.
Christians, of course, believe in the immortality of the soul – and
also of the literal resurrection of the body. “For the trumpet will
sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed,”
wrote St Paul to the Corinthians in the 1st century AD.
And atheists? Well, they say that there is no soul; and so nothing survives us
physically or in any other sense once brain function ceases, 20 seconds or
so after the heart stops beating. As Richard Dawkins puts it: “The
particular thing of surviving our own death [is] palpable wishful thinking
that goes against everything we understand about how the nervous system
works… we are apes, we are African apes.”
What do you think happens when we die? Please answer in the poll below.
And have you had a “near-death experience”? If so, please tell us
about it in the comments.
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