Why an afterlife would suck horribly

June 15, 2010

Warning:If you are religious and easily offended you might not want to read this. Consider yourself warned.

Those of you that know me probably know that I’m not a particularly religious person. In fact, religion kind of irritates me a lot of the time, for various reasons. Nonetheless, I had an interesting thought, in the middle of trying to get Windows Vista working on an ancient IBM PC:What if one or more religions was correct in predicting some sort of afterlife?

IMHO, it would actually be pretty horrible. Why?

1.Your mind would be blown

exploding head

There’s an entirely forgettable scene in The Matrix where some character mentions that most adults can’t be pulled out because the shock of learning that their whole lives had been spent doing nothing but sitting in a giant incubator would literally destroy their minds. A similar thing applies to an afterlife.

Most religions are pretty certain that a person’s body per se does not go into the afterlife. It just lies there rotting, while their soul, spirit, mind–some pattern of organized information that represents “them” is what gets transferred. Essentially, the software gets copied out of your cooling\sparkingnerve cells into into a cosmic backup facility. Here’s the thing though:we’re kind of used to having bodies. Most of the human brain is, in fact, dedicated to processing sensory information and controlling various body parts. So what happens if you don’t have a body? Well, we can kind of tell from amputees who have developed phantom limb syndrome, a condition where your brain insists it can feel an appendage that’s been cut off. It can be excruciatingly painful, and there’s almost no way to cure the pain because there’s nothing there to actually, you know, treat. Now imagine that. On your entire body. FOrever.(or maybe not forever…keep reading).

Looking forward to meeting your relatives/pets/friends in the afterlife? Chances are, if you find them, you won’t be able to understand them. At all. Keep in mind that there are major cultural rifts that result from growing up in different places on earth. The reason you read English comes down to just a few geographical and cultural factors, yet it’s a huge part of how you understand the world. But you share 95% of those factors with a farmer who grew up in india, and that’s still a big gap. So how are we supposed to relate to people who have been “living” without bodies for thousands  of years?

Of course there’s a way around all these problems, which is that the afterlife is like the Matrix–a simulation of normal life, just without poverty, disease, other bad things like that. But then you run into

2.Information overload

The human brain has a lot of memory. How much, we don’t know exactly because no one has ever “run out” of memory, and we don’t really know exactly how many synapses are available for storing memories versus how many are needed for things like breathing. But it’s not infinite. So, if the afterlife simulates a physical body(that lives forever), you’ll eventually run out.

When that happens, it probably won’t be neat and organized, with old memories displaced for new ones. Keep in mind that this is a malfunction that living humans(the ones subject to evolution) have never had to deal with. SO you might just stop forming new memories. Or your memories might just get overwritten randomly, as your brain searches for storage space. You’ll imagine things that never happened, because the brain will take the corrupted data and try to construct something sensible out of it. Given enough time, your entire life history will turn into one giant hallucination.

Of course, the god or gods responsible are probably pretty smart. Maybe they decide to make the afterlife like Gmail, and keep subtly increasing the amount of memory you have. yay! Crisis averted!


When you read that, in all likelihood, your brain pulled up all sorts of information on cats–a few pictures, a definition, maybe a reminder to clean the litterbox. Maybe you also called up some alternate meanings(“Could that be some sort of euphemism for a curse word?”) due to the strange context.Your brain searched through it’s memory, lightning fast, and pulled up information having to do with cats. But what if the amount of information you had to search through was say, 5 times as large? What about 5000 times? With enough information, “lightning fast” is going to turn into “molasses slow”. And this kind of searching is not something you can control. It’s vital for thought, and happens automatically. So as you acquire more information, , your mind will slowly grind to a halt until all you can do is sit there in your Matrix body and stare catatonically.

But you might never get to that stage because of

3.Heat death

You’ve finally gotten used to your new afterlife-life. You can move your fake body, communicate without speaking, and have another  50,000 years or so to go before your mind starts to turn to mush. So it’s actually pretty sweet.

Then this happens:

This graph shows the increase in entropy. What is entropy? Basically, it’s a principle that states that the amount of order in the universe is constantly decreasing..

For example, think about an egg. An egg can be broken or unbroken, but an unbroken egg is more “organized” than a broken one. It’s also very easy to break an egg, but very hard to un-break one. It’s entirely possible, given enough time and energy, but  that’s the key word:energy. Because in resembling the egg, you will cause it to be “organized” again, but you will create much more disorganization by consuming food, moving around, etc. So the universe still becomes more disorganized.

As it turns out, the least organized thing you can have is heat. The problem is, there’s not a whole lot of useful things you can do if the only thing in your universe is heat(and not a whole lot of it–because heat spreads out the average temperature will be just a few degrees above absolute zero.)

What this means for the average afterlife-dweller is the worst energy crisis in history. For the first time, there will be no solution. You won’t be able to buy more oil from OPEC, or build solar panels or nuclear power, because these organized forms of energy will not exist. Anywhere.

And then glitches will start to show in the Matrix. The gods that run it will die from lack of energy. The computer or whatever that it’s running on will grind to a halt whenever it runs out of power. You’ll basically go unconscious, but your soul will still be stored dormant somewhere. Then, over billions of years, the physical systems that store it will start to erode. At the end, the only thing left will be a completely uniform filed of heat–no planets, stars, black holes, anything. Any information about you will be destroyed.

Of course, some people will talk about faith and such, that the gods will somehow just make this not happen. That’s a nice theory, but it makes about as much sense as thinking faith will supersede the laws of gravity(that’s a thought experiment, please don’t actually try it). It’s a basic physical principle that is completely accounted for by faith-less theories. So it won’t work


One Response to “Why an afterlife would suck horribly”

  1. […] organs. Interestingly, this reluctance to do nothing even extends to sensory input(remember that the brain is fundamentally evolved to interact with an environment). In fact, it turns out that if your brain can’t receive enough sensory stimuli, it will […]

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