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I have been thinking along similar lines recently but hadn't quite reached a conclusion. Basically we are trying to reconcile the following observations:

***the physical universe we inhabit is full of pain and suffering. This is indisputable.

***paranormal and psychic-type phenomenon are real. This seems well-proved beyond any reasonable doubt to me and most of the readers on this blog.

***there is very good evidence that consciousness continues in some form after the death of the physical body.

***there is very good reason to believe that other planes of reality exist, both theoretical and evidential reasons.

***there is good reason to think that some of these reality planes are "better" than the one we currently experience, in the sense of being more loving and less brutal.

***so why does this universe suck so bad? The level of pain here certainly SEEMS to be excessive and beyond what a loving god would allow even as a teaching environment.

Possible solutions:

***The materialist solution as you point out is that none of these other planes exist and the physical universe is all that exists. However, this position ignores so much evidence that it is untenable to me.

***The new-agey solution accepts the paranormal evidence and the "universal love" stuff while ignoring or handwaving away the pain. But as you point out, this is an historical anomaly and not tenable either in the broader picture of history and nature.

***Another solution: God exists but It is an evil sadist. This seems possible but also unlikely, ignores much evidence, and is even bleaker than the materialist view.

***There is a good God but this God is not omnipotent. This seems possible.

Hi Michael,
I just couldn't get past the Russian report of "plankton" growing on the windows of the space station. This has got to be a joke! Not only is plankton more than just algae but also includes drifting animals, protists, archaea, and bacteria as well as algae that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. Unless there is water, a narrow range of warm temperatures and nutrients on the outside of the space station it is unlikely (impossible) that any living organism could grow there. (Spores maybe.) This does not even consider that the vacuum of space would implode any living cell. (What has happened to journalism these days?)

Now, I'll go on and read the rest of your article.- AOD

Well, I would say that for consciousness, either in wholeness (God) or in bits (us), 'creativity' is the prime directive. I have never ceased to be amazed at the variety of form and color shown in plant and animal species found on earth. It appears that every environmental niche, even those that seem unfavorable to life, has been considered and populated with some beautifully-designed perfect living organism. In addition to the beauty of design, I also see a kind of playfulness and humor in many of these creations and that there seems to be no evolutionary survival advantage or reason for much of that variety, that is, it really wasn't necessary. All birds could have been brown, olive green or black torpedo-shaped creatures and probably would have survived as well.

I have often thought that the Age of Dinosaurs, rather than being a dead end, really took design creativity to its logical completion and that either consciousness got bored with it or there wasn't any more that could be done with it. To keep things interesting conscious creativity had to go off in another direction with mammals and birds using dinosaurs as a template of sorts; making corrections where necessary and opening up other avenues for creativity. It's like any artist who goes to the canvas, drawing board, or potter's wheel---spends a lot of time on a creation, but then decides to trash the whole thing and start over. That's 'Intelligent Design'. I think it is telling that no dinosaurs, as we think of them, survived anywhere in the whole world. - AOD

Michael said:

"pain is built into the cosmic plan, not because the Mind behind it is that of a sadist, but because if pain were foreclosed, too many avenues of exploration would be foreclosed with it."

I agree. It's an important point, well-expressed.

And here's another rationale for pain. You know how much better food tastes when you're really, really hungry? *Astonishingly* more delicious, it sometimes seems to me.

Well, that's how much better safety, comfort, joy, and love feel when you've been longing for them.

As simple-minded as that dynamic might sound, it's the essence of the home-at-last narrative of the NDE, and, I think, central to the cosmic scheme.

Here's another way to say it: God wants to fully appreciate what it means to be God, and through the experience of our ultimately victorious selves, gets to do that.

That's the Jesus story as I see it (seriously distorted over the millennia) -- God comes to earth as a human being, willing to feel the agony, in order to know the ecstasy.

In that sense, we're all Jesus.

Notice that this answers the objections of those who see God as a superior being who toys with us. No -- he *is* us.

Pain teaches (imprints) the soul about the parameters of the physical body. Like bits of information, each one teaching consciousness/spirit about what it is like to be inside and controlling a physical body. About the limits of that body.

Consciousness comes from a place where time and space do not exist therefore it has to learn someway what it is like to be in a body, what it's like to control that body, what the physical limits of that body are, etc. The only way to learn something like that is by actually doing it. By actually "getting in" a body and "driving" it; in much the same way we get in a car and learn where the fenders are, where the front end and rear end are, where bumpers are, etc. We know where we can park the car and drive it because we have spent time in that car and learned where it can go. What it's limits are.

The soul is the driver and the body is the vehicle with which we learn about the physical universe. We learn what it's like to be separate, unique, individual, what it's like to live in body and control it, what it's like to live in a 3 dimensional + 1 time Universe.

And the more emotion these lessons evoke the more we remember because there is a very close connection between emotion and memory. The more emotional the experience the more powerful and long lasting the memory it creates.

This Earth life is a school and we are here for just a few simple reasons, to learn the things here that can't be learned in Heaven due to the difference between the physics of where we are now and where we are going.

According to near death experiencers there are overwhelming feelings of oneness and connectedness in heaven, time and space do not exist, and we are not limited to just one time direction like we are here. Simply by focusing our attention on something is what we experience.

So we come here so that we can learn what all these "feelings" are that we will encounter on our journeys in heaven. After the death of our physical body we essentially become the masters of time and space like Hiro Nakamura from Heroes the TV show.

"Well, I would say that for consciousness, either in wholeness (God) or in bits (us), 'creativity' is the prime directive."

Nice comment AOD.

Also, nice post, Michael. Though I would go beyond your focus on physical pain and add emotional pain, like that caused by betrayal, unwarranted vicious humiliation and other forms of psychological abuse, the untimely loss of a loved one. Sometimes this kind of cruelty is coupled with physical pain or death; making the physical pain that much worse to the victims. True, animals probably don't experience this too much, but humans sure do. It all seems so unnecessary yet humans appear to have an innate need to do it to each other.

On the basic level, though, don't you think pain is there to prevent us from harming ourselves? As in, don't put your hand in that fire; don't party before the test; etc.

I still adamantly maintain though that PEOPLE cause most of the suffering in this world. That lion in the photo eating (probably) a zebra is gory, but for the zebra, it was all over probably in about 10 minutes. The zebra may have been old, ill or suffering. And if lions didn't kill zebras, then the zebra population would multiply and probably outstrip the resources of the plains, causing many zebra to die slowly and painfully of starvation. The lion performs a service for the overall good. And the zebra wasn't forced into a crate for its whole life, as people do with factory farming.

The lion photo also brought to mind poor Cecil, the African lion killed to boost some dentist's ego. While the zebra (or water buffalo) in the photo died quickly, Cecil was wounded with an arrow, and spend four hours suffering before he was finished off by the dentist. And Cecil's death, unlike the death of the zebra, serves absolutely no purpose - except to boost the ego of the dentist, who will nail Cecil's corpse to the wall in his den. And his death means one less lion in an already dwindling and endangered lion population, and one less pretender to keep the ecological balance on the balance.

(Sorry if this was a bit of a lecturey rant, but I do see people causing most of the suffering in this world. I don't know why, but if a situation is bad, always be prepared for some person to make it worse.)

"Philosophically, pain becomes a problem only if we believe there is some higher purpose to existence, some grand design or ultimate end, and that the universe is meant to be a fundamentally good place. The materialist position is self-consistent and alluringly simple, but it's contradicted by a wealth of evidence indicating that consciousness is not ultimately dependent on the nervous system and that other planes of reality exist."

I keep hoping someone proves me that there is a necessary connection between "that the universe is meant to be a fundamentally good place" and "there is a personal afterlife". There is not because there is no contradiction between naturalism / materialism in broad sense and the empirical evidence on an afterlife and psi phenomena, because this evidence can be as naturalistic as any other kind of phenomena. This would be the fourth option: life is an accident, but there are an afterlife and psi phenomena as part of nature.

On the other hand, is there empirically verifiable difference between a creative but not omniscient God and the purely mechanical chance and natural selection?

@no one: I read C.S. Lewis' book some years ago and seem to recall that it was, in fact, emotional pain that gave him the impetus to write it. It followed the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, who blew his world apart (as you Americans say) both when she came into his life and when she died. 'The pain at the end is the price we pay for the love', she is purported to have said, or words to that effect, according to the film about her life. Incidentally, two of my friends who saw that film, 'Shadowlands', tell me they exclaimed out loud, "I know someone exactly like that!" as they watched Deborah Winger's portrayal of Joy Gresham. They meant me. I had never been aware of myself in that light until they pointed it out.

That aside, Michael, I find it interesting that you question whether or not your postulations carry weight. Who, other than you, can really decide that?

People intentionally hurt themselves. The question is, "what drives them to do that?" Inflicting pain on oneself is not that an uncommon thing to do. Cutters in high school, usually young girls living middle class lifestyles, intentionally take knives or razor blades and cut themselves, sometimes quite severely. When asked "why are you doing that?" they sometimes answer "I just wanted to feel something." They are living in a super clean sterile environment, no bugs, no thistles, no briars, no fleas, ticks, lice, flies, mosquitoes, etc. There is no input for the soul to learn about that body - so the soul gains information about the body any way it can. If it can't glean information from the natural way our ancestors did for thousands of years - it encourages these young "cutters" to get a knife and make cuts in their skin... because "I just wanted to feel something."

During the middle ages "self flagellators" intentionally took whips and hit their own backs. The superficial reason was it was some kind of religious ritual to punish themselves because they thought the black plague was a punishment from God but the deeper reason was that they were imprinting information on the soul about the parameters of their body, sending information to the soul about the size and shape of that body.

In Malaysia and Thailand religious zealots take iron bars and poke holes through skin pushing those hunks of metal through their skin. Intentionally hurting themselves. Just another way for the soul to learn about that body, bits of information about the extent of the body.

American Indians hung themselves with piercings through their chest and swung on ropes. Also another way to inflict pain and emotion so that the soul could learn about the body.

South American Indians have a ritual where they stick their hands in a bag of "bullet ants" whose bites are extremely painful and they say it feels like getting shot by a bullet. These Indians do it as a ritual to show how macho they are - but also for a much deeper spiritual reason it teaches the soul about the body, information about the extent of the body.

Tattoos, body piercings, etc. are all just different ways humans intentionally inflict pain on themselves to teach the soul about living in a physical body and the extent of that body.

We are simply spiritual beings living in a "physical" universe learning stuff here that can't be learned in heaven. We learn here what can't be learned there and it has to do with the difference between the physics of heaven and the physics of where we are now.

This post makes me think of the Vegan folks lecturing us non-Vegans about not killing things to survive. Like you said, Michael, plants are also alive. There is even research indicating that they can feel pain, so being a Vegan doesn't get you out of the "killing to survive" situation in my mind. We can't eat rocks.
I've always liked the Native American (and other cultures as well) approach of thanking the animal for giving it's body. Reincarnation helps me to understand not only ours, but the short and painful lives of all living things. The important thing to remember is that all suffering is temporary, just like this life. Maybe we planned our own lives with the knowledge that there would be pain, as well as joy. That means no omniscient God is responsible for the pain we suffer, but maybe we do need some perspective for the long run.

@Steven @Julie:

Just to be clear, not all vegans are vegans for animals rights reasons. I pointed out I've been vegan for awhile and many I know to counter a point that killing living things is necessary for survival. Thinking only of human survival and not taking "plants as living creatures" into consideration, I fully admit the errors in my argument.

That being said, I've never lectured anyone on their diet, as a vegan (and to my knowledge, neither have many of my vegan friends) or as a non-vegan, and have actively protested against some animal rights activist groups. I'm a much bigger fan of organizations that promote the betterment of humankind than those that pick and choose which animals to save and think that animal rights issues tend to tower over human rights issues. Cecil the Lion is a "tragedy"? What about the tragedy of and predicament of the dying Zimbabwean people that has been going on for decades? Theres no outrage there. Some random hunter (among 1000s) paid someone a lot of money to hunt live game. Cry me a river.

Immense suffering among all creatures, as pointed out, tends to lead many to atheism. I dabble in uncertainty constantly for this reason. I will say, this post, and the comments that follow, gives a whole new perspective on the ideas of suffering, Michael's position, although filtered through his own uncertainty, seems to make the most sense. Id like to read CS Lewis' book, but is this entirely a dogmatic Christian perspective?

I have always thought, especially at Thanksgiving and other holidays where a main meat dish like turkey is served that the thanksgiving prayer should include a thanks to the turkey for giving her life that we might live. I agree with the Native American Indians that we should express our thanks to all animals when we take their life for our food and materials that keep us alive. Not only should we thank God for bringing that food our way but thank the plant or animal for providing our sustenance.

I have a hard time accepting killing animals for sport or trophy. There is nothing sporting about killing an animal with a mega-powered weapon. - AOD

You have piqued my interest when you said, "Reincarnation helps me to understand not only ours, but the short and painful lives of all living things." Should I understand you to suggest that all living things reincarnate? If so, then perhaps you and I agree. I have often wondered about transmigration of animal souls into higher life forms as their consciousness grows toward God. While I have a tendency to think that reincarnation is 'onward and upward', perhaps human consciousness as it was developing once experienced life in forms other than human.

Now isn't that something to think about! - AOD

Pain causes (evokes) emotion. Emotion makes us remember. The things we experience and learn in this life have to be powerful enough to overcome those feelings of oneness and oneness and connectedness in heaven, and to overcome the lack of time and space. Heaven is a place where consciousness creates reality. We are "gods in training".

Heaven is a place where consciousness creates reality. Without spending time here we couldn't exist as separate unique individuals and wouldn't know what time and space was or what it was like to be embodied. We'd just be pure consciousness floating in a vast void of nothingness.

Emotions Make the Memory Last
More Detail, Easier Recollection With Emotional Memories

I have a bit more of a polytheistic bent, myself. That there are many Gods, and that they have differing agendas, doesn't strike me as too strange. That the gods, in and of themselves, are limited beings who cannot guarantee a life free of pain to everyone, seems likely. I can't even recall all of the near-death experiences I have read, with angels, or Hindu death-guides, or other sundry beings guiding people through the experience, but no one seems to cotton on to the fact that this might actually represent an ontological state of affairs, that there are numerous afterlives and Gods.

In the Neoplatonic philosophy of Proclus, which is old and so today must mean "wrong", the gods were separate beings, but were all also "in" each other, which is what made religious syncretisms possible. They are also what manifests material existence. This might be what underlies the sense of oneness in near death experiences.

I don't like the idea of God creating the universe to experience things. That seems like a cosmic version of the TV show Jackass. "Wouldn't it be cool to see what it would be like to get burned alive in a car crash? Maybe I could get out before getting killed? Wouldn't that be fun to see if I could?" It's a bit of an oversimplification, but it seems to reduce God or Spirit or even individual souls to adrenaline junkies, or at the very least people who are extremely bored with too much free time. Seeking experience for the sake of experience seems so very underwhelming to me. In its absolute worst form, as seen in some versions of "new age" literature, souls plan their lives beforehand in minute details, so you end up with a scenario where souls are basically masochists. A group of souls floating around planning their next life together when one soul says to the others "I'll be the child and you'll be my parents. At age five, no four and a half, I'll get cancer and die and break your hearts. Then, fifty years of misery later, you'll die and we'll meet up back here and I'll point and laugh and say 'fooled ya!' Then, the next go around I'll be the parent and you two can be the children who die. It will be rousing great fun!"

There are two explanations for this world of suffering that I see merit to. They both say primarily that our purpose here is to escape the world and only really differ in explaining how we got stuck here in the first place, to a degree.

In the perennial traditions and in A Course in Miracles, we individual souls exist because God needed someone to love. It's not loneliness in the everyday sense, because God lacks nothing. This is a higher level need based on over-abundance. God is so overflowing with love that it wanted someone to share it with. The world itself is seen as illusory, but even if it's not there need be no problem with suffering at all.

"Natural suffering" like volcanoes and asteroids and having to kill other creatures to survive is an easy one. The world is pretty close to as optimal as one can get. The photoreceptors in the eye can detect single photons, so they can't get any better, for example. There are trade-offs to everything because of the physical constraints of the world (which need to be unimaginably precise to permit the universe and life to exist). Humans have easily injured backs and knees, and narrow hips make childbirth painful, but those are offset by the greater benefits that are gotten through walking upright. So natural suffering can be explained through utilitarianism. Certain unpleasant situations must exist to permit much greater benefits.

The much bigger problem is human caused suffering, like rape and murder and war. That is traditionally explained through the free will defense. God wants us to share in the divine love voluntarily. Forcing us to love would be a form of metaphysical rape.

Even if the world is to an extent "real", more good is wrought through the way the world is than the bad caused by the suffering. We can share in love in more ways, even if we choose not to. Suffering then is no longer God's problem, it is a problem of our own refusal to be moral and treat one another as we should.

Of course, if the world is illusory, then we are tricking ourselves into thinking this suffering exists and our goal is to realize this and get out and back to the perfection into which we were created.

A Course in Miracles explains this wonderfully. God did not create the world, we did, and suffering exists because of our fear and guilt. Unsatisfied with the equal love God was giving to all of us in perfection, we (who find ourselves in this universe) demanded special love. We wanted to be loved more. When God refused to give in to our egoistic demands we then imagined this world up where we could be special. The dream of suffering and death "prove" we are more powerful than the God who refused us the special status we "deserve". Knowing we can't really hurt ourselves, God permits us to sulk in the corner until we get over our upset. At the same time God descended into the dream to remind us that we are dreaming and can wake up at any time when we are ready to return to the perfection into which we were created.

It makes sense because real people do this all the time. There is nothing new that we can't test about what may or may not be the motivations of spirits who want to experience horrible things just to see what it's like. The psychology of the Course is real world human psychology and can be seen in child development all over the world. Children sulk. Adults sulk. We project our emotions and delusions onto the world. We punish ourselves unnecessarily out of misplaced guilt. It makes sense to suppose that if we do this on Earth than we would do the same on a grander scale in some higher dimension. There's nothing in it that resembles speculation about what stunts Superman would pull to see if he could jump off the Empire State Building or whatever.

Suffering acts also as a motivation to escape the world. It acts as a motivation to do good to others so that we can grow in wisdom and compassion. So we move up the evolutionary ladder from plants to animals on to humans, and while the capacity for suffering increases so too do the benefits increase at a much faster rate. So a plant suffers less than a cow but it gets less out of life than the cow, and the cow suffers less than a human but it gets less out of life than the human. And this continues until we realize that the world is illusory and then we can either leave it forever or we can take the path of the bodhisattva and deliberately return to the world and choose to suffer more to alleviate the suffering of others. We can grow into perfect expressions of morality rather than just being bored and bouncing around the universe to see what it's like.

And as I've written over a thousand words by now I'll end here.

@Sleepers: The issue with Cecil is that, as a lion, he is a member of an endangered species. To my knowledge, humans do not fall into that category.

Meandering a little. I just came across this YouTube broadcast and found it interesting. I read Swedenborg many years ago but his work didn't really resonate with me because I found it a little too esoteric. However, the synchronicity of this finding struck me (I was ruminating on the concept of innocence which is mentioned late on in the session) but it also resonates with much of my intuitive understanding of spiritual matters:

Enoch said:

"And this continues until we realize that the world is illusory and then we can either leave it forever or we can take the path of the bodhisattva and deliberately return to the world and choose to suffer more to alleviate the suffering of others. We can grow into perfect expressions of morality rather than just being bored and bouncing around the universe to see what it's like."

I like the Course of Miracles, but what you're saying here doesn't sound very appetizing. If we're each here primarily to alleviate the suffering of others, where's the juice in that? Doesn't sound to me like much of an incentive to get up in the morning.

While helping others feels great, and it's a key aspect of the well-lived life, it's not the primary rationale for the existence of all universes.

So while I like your angle on caring for others, Michael's focus on maximizing diversity of experience, Amos's emphasis on creativity, and Art's stress on learning, I want to throw something else into the mix:

We want to *feel good*.

Honestly, isn't that what we're really after? It's certainly what matters to me more than anything else in the world.

Now before you call me superficial or amoral or selfish, please understand: I'm in no way invalidating any of those other rationales. Each is vitally important, and worthy of our deep commitment.

But in the long run, each one only make sense if it maximizes our experience of well-being, joy, and love.

I agree -- this simple truth is easy to forget given the depth of the suffering we often experience here on earth.

But that's why in our most profound moments of revelation -- our NDEs, our meditations, our spontaneous moments of understanding -- we see that our physical lives constitute only one small part of the cosmic scheme. Our life here only hints at what we have been and will be.

And the Big Picture is spectacular.

I think pain comes a lot from losing our loved ones to death. Some people believe that life is no dress rehearsal I think they are wrong like many others here do.

@Bruce: If all we want is to feel good then why come anywhere near this planet?

"Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn -- my God, you learn." - C.S. Lewis

I agree with Juan - there's no reason that an immaterial universe with an afterlife has to have a benevolent God.

I do think that philosophy suggests there has to be a Ground of Being, but as I recall Plotinus's One wasn't really a deity and more like the amoral force interpretation of Hinduism's Brahman.

I suspect the afterlives are, at least in the lower levels, as muddled as our world with corruption & confusion. (What Eric Weiss would call the Subtle Worlds our Transphysical selves move through.)

As I recall some astral travels + psychedelic accounts + shamanic visions describe such conditions where some realms are more benevolent than this world and others are worse. IIRC Theosophy has the Black and White Lodges - thanks where David Lynch got it from?

I think one of the hardest things for any spiritual seeker to accept is that life is full of suffering and misery and pain, and it will always be like that because we're stuck in a physical universe where nothing lasts forever, and, given time, everything will wear down to nothing, even planets and galaxies. In this physical universe, lifeforms have to consume energy to live, and that involves eating other lifeforms. We cannot change that fact no matter how badly we want to. We also can't change the fact that earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and volcano eruptions happen due to physical laws, and we cannot change those, either. we may be spiritual beings at heart, but while we're here in the physical world we are bound to its rules and laws.

We also can't escape the fact that a lot of people, to put it lightly, are dicks. They don't care about hurting others to get what they want, whether it's power, wealth, fame, or something else entirely. We can see these people as spirits who need to learn about treating others well, cooperating, and compassion, but that doesn't excuse the fact that they can be vile individuals who do more harm than good.

I also don't think the spiritual world is immune to this, either. Enoch did a much better job of pointing it out, but I sometimes wonder if the spiritual world's denzins can sometimes be naieve. They say all is love, but have either no idea just how hard it is to experience the physical, or have forgotten it after being embraced by divine love all the time (to be fair, I wouldn't blame them). When an entity says, “All is love!” I sometimes want to say, “Oh yeah? Come down here and live in North Korea and tell me if all really is love.” To them, pain and suffering is like a disease read about in a textbook. You can intellectually know what it's like, but until you actually experience it, you have no idea how horrific it really is.

However, I do think that, in the long run, pain can indeed serve a higher purpose, in making us realize that trying to help minimize the suffering and pain of others, whether human or animal, is one of the most important and rewarding things we can do. Eighty trillion years from now, we may look back from the spiritual and realize that what truly mattered was helping make life on Earth better for everyone, rather than just trying to acquire as many goodies for ourselves (which, as the old saying says, you can't take with you). We may also realize that everything we went through in the physical really was for the best, and by then the pain of our physical lives will be completely forgotten, just as how we, as adults, have largely forgotten or laugh at the misfortune and discomfort we had in kindergarten and grade school. The pain was very real to us then, but we look at it differently years later.

I hope that, eventually, it will be the same for us.

Julie said:

"If all we want is to feel good then why come anywhere near this planet?"

While "all we want is to feel good" is a bit of an oversimplification, I'll answer your question this way: in the long run, the time we spend here makes our *total* experience as cosmic citizens more satisfying.

And while I wouldn't say that "all is love" (a phrase that's being mockingly tossed around here, and that, at least as far as I'm concerned, is a straw man), I'm convinced that this cosmos is indeed rooted in love -- built from it, by it, and designed to maximize the experience of it.

But I think that to keep things interesting, we travel in and out of that love, to varying extents, over the course of eternity.

And by the way, "to keep things interesting" is another way of saying "to maximize our pleasure."

Excellent comment Ian!

I truly want to believe in an afterlife as my wife died of pancreatic cancer 5 years ago and I would dearly love to see her again. I have read everything I can about NDE's and PSI and visited mediums. Sadly I have not been totally convinced this is not a materialistic existence. I think a lot of people so desperately want there to be that they convince themselves that the evidence says there is. The ego cannot bear the thought of its non existence. I hate to say it but I suspect the reason there is so much pain in the world is because this is all there is. I want to believe otherwise but so far I have not been able to take that leap.

Inherent in the concept of an afterlife are certain implications. One of those is that death is not death, the physical is illusory, separation through grief is momentary and so on. Therefore pretty much everything people define as suffering - disappointment in all its variations, the physical sensation of pain, death and grief at the death of others - has considerably less, if any, meaning in the scheme of things if that scheme involves an afterlife.

This is not an argument for God, but an argument against an argument against God. If you see what I mean. If I survive then there is no death, so counting death - war, disease etc - as part of the "suffering" he allows makes no sense, surely? If I lose a loved one and am wracked with grief by their absence from my life but in fact they survive death and I shall too, and our separation is utterly momentary in the span of eternity, then counting my grief as part of the "suffering" he allows makes no sense either, does it? As surely its only a measure of my mistaken thoughts, or to the pious my lack of faith? You get the idea. God and an afterlife even as concepts take an awful lot of the alleged suffering out of the equation. It's all about perception, in those cirumstances, no more.

The dream/nightmare analogy I've used before is clear enough. If I am stabbed in my dream tonight then in my dream I am stabbed. My dream self will feel the sensation I imagine, and the fear. It is for me in that state absolutely real and all my responses are and ought to be based on that realness...but on waking do I carry that with me and say well it was real enough at the time so remains so and blame God or my parents for allowing it? The mental perspective changes..what was real in the moment is no longer considered so, and any sense of injury or injustice becomes silly. Such a change of perspective is implicit in any concept of survival of death. Isn't it?

Isn't it axiomatic that "no pain, no gain"? I sometimes have wondered if the running and fitness boom resulted from a need for humans to punish themselves in order to experience the pleasure that comes from feeling physically fit.

Doug, I'm sorry about your wife. It is horrible to lose someone we love. Nothing else comes close in this life.

Have you ever read any books about Death Bed Visions like Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and/or Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms by David Kessler? They are excellent and I found them very comforting and uplifting. I can just think of no evolutionary reason for death bed visions to exist. Evolution doesn't care about comforting us when we die yet death bed visions (sometimes also called nearing death awareness) is universal across cultures and happens to a large percentage of people who are in the process of dying.

There are some other books too about death bed visions that are good but my two favorites are Final Gifts and Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms. I hope you find some comfort in this life. I have a high degree of confidence that this life is not all there is and that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones in Heaven.

Good luck on your journey, Art

Yes, Ian I agree. Good comment! - AOD

"I hate to say it but I suspect the reason there is so much pain in the world is because this is all there is."

Have not you read my comment? Maybe there are no reasons for all the pain and suffering and an personal afterlife exists as indicated part of group of psychic phenomena.

Great post and comments! I agree in the main with the post. Some additional thoughts. Michael wrote (going a bit out of order here):

||A great deal of the suffering in the world is related to the fact that organisms so often survive by exploiting other organisms.||

Here's a poem by Wordsworth that covers a bunch of what I was going to say:


I HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


I think Wordworths it basically right:

1. Things in the natural world don't suffer much. There is inherent pleasure in their being while they are alive and healthy. I think we sense this when we go out in nature. It is positively, not negatively, charged.

2. The vast majority of the time, animals only suffer once. They get killed outright or they get sick and get killed because once they slow down they are vulnerable. We see our pets suffer and get old because we keep them alive as long as possible.

3. Animals have no understanding of their inevitable deaths and have no existential angst.

4. As both Wordworth suggests and Kathleen points out, the main cause of human suffering is other humans. If we could truly get along and support each other, life would still be tough because we still must lose everything here, but it would be a lot better.

5. The fundamental source of pain for humans is the pain of attachment and fearing our eventual aging, sickness, and death.

Michael wrote,

||Materialism sees no intellectual conundrum in the existence – and even the prevalence – of pain and suffering. The world is an accident, life itself is an accident, and pain is just part of the package. There is no reason to expect things to be any other way.||

I actually think that the way humans suffer is a big point against materialism. Is it better for reproduction and survival to feel *so much* attachment to others, to the point where we are broken for decades, sometimes, when we lose them? Is it better for us to be so cognizant of death that we worry about it as we do? I think not. I think in a world truly ruled by ev-psy, we'd be much lighter on our emotional feet, like the Eloi in HG Wells' "The Time Machine." We'd cavort and mate and eat and generally not worry about things too much. I think this deeper nature of ours points toward the spiritual reality and its inherent *meaning.*

And Michael wrote,

||Notice that this viewpoint leaves no room for an omniscient God. An omniscient God knows all the answers and doesn't need to experiment. On the other hand, it does leave room for a God or Universal Mind that is not omniscient but still vastly more aware than any human mind. And of course, human minds themselves are exploratory tendrils extending from this cosmic Source, and are part of the same experiment.||

I think this is very close to the truth! I think the missing piece is that "God" is the *product* of this cosmic program--but also its *cause* through retroactive causality (whether it be through time as we know it or other modes of change and transformation). We compose the Divine, and the Divine comprises us.

"Inherent in the concept of an afterlife are certain implications. One of those is that death is not death, the physical is illusory, separation through grief is momentary and so on."

The most popular conception of the afterlife has those implications, not the mínimum concept. Other conceptions of the afterlife are conceivable where the physical is not illusory, for example, because the afterlife realm is physical, or death is to be aware in an infinite void and devoid of activity. I do not claim that these conceptions of the afterlife are reliable (rather I think otherwise), but we must investigate what kind of afterlife leads empirical evidence and what implications it contains.

May be we need to suffer also as a snake!

If I'd started from the top
And worked my way down
There'd be no reason
To live forever

Dream Theater – To Live Forever

I don't see how an afterlife or a God necessarily negates the suffering of this life. If someone is victimized in this life, do they carry that pain over to the next life? Do evil souls in this world join up with larger "cartels" of demons from the Black Lodge, and the better people join up with the White?

Fred Alan Wulf said in his dream journeys he came across a Plane of Suicides, a place of rather creepy hungry souls. How just could it be IF such a place exists, where a good person overwhelmed by pain falls into a worse state just for committing suicide?

This life could be a dream but then not only does the suffering not matter - arguably neither does the good. I know of at least one NDE believer who has said that - life is a fun but pointless video game.

Still it seems to me the best take away is by Plato on the fundamental reward of the Good, put more succinctly by the writer Roberto Calasso:

"I think it was then that I told him truly why I was not on his side. Because the Good was more of an adventure."

\\"If I lose a loved one and am wracked with grief by their absence from my life but in fact they survive death and I shall too, and our separation is utterly momentary in the span of eternity, then counting my grief as part of the "suffering" he allows makes no sense either, does it?" - Lawrence//

What if the whole point is experiencing separation - in order to teach the soul what it means and how it feels to be separate - since many near death experiencers say they felt an overwhelming feeling of oneness and connectedness in heaven? What if it is impossible to "become" a separate unique individual in heaven, and the only way to do that is by coming here and experiencing lots and lots of separation? And the separation has to be so emotional because there is such a close connection between emotion and memory and without emotion we wouldn't remember the lesson? Or otherwise we would all just be part of some gigantic universal consciousness, like a cloud of consciousness with no separate identity of our own? No separation in heaven means if you want to be a separate "person" (or soul) it has to be learned here and perhaps that is why this life has so many different lessons in what it means and how it feels to be separate?

@Doug Gaze: You might enjoy the philosophical arguments for an afterlife, my personal favorite being Weiss' The Long Trajectory.

Of course not everyone thinks philosophy is convincing (I admittedly don't as much as I enjoy it) but I suggest it to offer you some possible comfort.

Again I think its worth trying to define what "suffering" means in practice.

It seems to me that it can only mean physical or mental/emotional anguish.. And most of the latter is about desire, what we would or wouldn't prefer in our lives. Those kind of feelings are matters of perception and are within our control. We can be stoical, we can be philosophical, calm and benign and detached from material wants etc if we choose. So at its most basic suffering in the sense under discussion seems to me to be about pain and fear.

So its worth noting that both of those conditions are absolutely necessary for us to survive in the physical world we inhabit.

Occasionally individuals are born with or by some trauma aquire a complete incapacity for either fear or pain. They sound like super powers. But what these idividuals have in common is that they don't survive very long. And for a very simple reason...those without pain are unaware of and unconcerned by their broken limbs or burnt flesh and so the internal trauma to their body reaches its natural conclusion untreated. And those without fear walk on railway tracks or lean over the edge of cliffs.

A world without these qualities would be a very briefly experienced one and few would make it past infancy. They are necessary requirements for living in the physical world.

Now that doesn't of course account for long years of painful illness which cannot be alleviated by medicine...why is that suffering "allowed"? But that just begs the question "allowed by whom?". If we're imagining a micromanaging deity who plots such details, or could but isn't that bothered, then we're calling for the abandonment of free will and some kind of heaven on earth prior to death...which seems even more pointless than the scenario we envisage at the moment.

What we're reduced to is asking what is the point of PHYSICAL existence if our true self is experienced on some other spiritual level?

And the answer to that is that we presumably don't know...yet. But we don't really know why we dream at night either....

"I actually think that the way humans suffer is a big point against materialism. Is it better for reproduction and survival to feel *so much* attachment to others, to the point where we are broken for decades, sometimes, when we lose them?" - Matt

But after the initial shock of losing a loved one we should really be able to go on as before. I think excessive grief is self indulgent. When our loved ones are alive they are not with us (in our company) all the time. When they are absent they are in our minds and our hearts. There are many people and things (pets?) that we feel affection towards and none lessens the value of any other. When someone dies they remain as they always were, a part of our life: a part that helps to make us who and what we are.

Viktor Frankl, as part of his logo therapy, described how prisoners of the death camps during WW2 found the strength to remain alive by living for others regardless of whether such others were alive or dead. For the above reasons, I believe that non-attachment, in the Buddhist sense, is a measure not only of our spiritual strength but of our power to survive.

Matt said:

"And Michael wrote,

||And of course, human minds themselves are exploratory tendrils extending from this cosmic Source, and are part of the same experiment.||

That *is* good! I missed that on my first read. Or wasn't very open to it, for some reason.

I swear -- I think sometimes I read stuff just so I can find something to argue about.

"We compose the Divine, and the Divine comprises us."

Nice, Matt!

Though I tend to think of the Divine as primary -- the ideal (translate: most ecstatic) state from which we come, and to which we return, in endless cycles.

Matt, Your comment of Aug. 3 at 3:45pm is superb. I agree. Humans suffer because 1. We have spiritual sensitivities and 2. what we do to each other, physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Michael said that "life on earth is so often painful and unpleasant.” Is life mostly painful, mostly pleasurable, or mostly nether? Well, compared to the hellscape of Venus and the frozen nitrogen plains of Pluto, life on earth is positively Edenic. Granted, there is the fact that all of us on this world are a potential meal for someone else. But, as I've led a life of devouring others, it only seems fit that my tasty bits should end up on some scavenger's dinner plate.

Even in a world of happy plants, devoid of trampling, rapacious herbivores, there would presumably be trees that blot out the light for plants below and species that crowd out other species. Is it wrong that some plants should be compelled to yield ground they have claimed to others? It seems to be the nature of life to wax and wane, for some to perish awhile as others increase.

The Darwinian notion of competition has yielded somewhat to a kinder and gentler philosophy of cooperation in nature. I prefer to use the more neutral and less anthropomorphic term harmony. Nature is harmonious. Yes, there is life and death of individuals, and whole species die out, but everything tends to work towards the wellbeing of the overall ecosystem. Life is a diverse multiplicity and also a unity.

Michael claims “Only the affluence and comfort provided by modern technology in the developed countries can allow some people to believe nature is benign.” Many of the indigenous tribes of North America seem to have had quite a reverent attitude towards the Earth and the spirits of the land, very unlike the white settlers bent on taming the wilderness and bringing unruly nature to heel. I don’t wish to romanticize indigenous people or glorify nature, but rather to illustrate that there is a wide diversity of belief and experience that humans have had towards the natural world down through the ages. While civilization has led us away from the intimacy with nature we once shared, we remain bound to it by the nurture required for bodily existence.

There is a useful function to pain, drawing attention to wounds that require attention, and conditions in need of healing. And, there is mental and spiritual pain that serves to propel us out of ruts and habits that no longer serve the soul. Sorrow and grief hollow out the heart, purging the debris of shallow feeling, often bringing a depth of compassion and empathy previously unknown. The bitter medicine of pain can be a very good thing. Unpleasant yes, but hurtful in a way that leads to ultimate wellbeing.

Finally, there is chronic, debilitating pain that may serve only to cause excess and needless suffering. We should seek to alleviate undue physical and psychological agony with a righteous vengeance. Likewise, the pain that we humans lavish upon each other, and our fellow creatures, and on the earth itself is wholly gratuitous and in our power to eliminate entirely.

There is a saying that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That isn't always true, but often it is the case. Suffering is a hard instructor, but my best lessons have come from that harsh hand. I love the poem The Man Standing by Rilke where he speaks of wrestling with the angel and being "defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings." Our culture glorifies success and happiness, what Rilke calls the triumph that makes us small. Yet, suffering is often the bitter cure that softens, and strengthens, and makes us whole.

Oops, I conflated Rilke's The Man watching with his other fine poem that begins "Sometimes a man stands up..."

@Julie “But after the initial shock of losing a loved one we should really be able to go on as before. I think excessive grief is self indulgent.”

The Gita advises to be “In sorrows not dejected, and in joys not overjoyed.” While sage advice, grief will have its way with us one way or the other. I can choose how to be composed in the midst of the storm, but come it will, sometimes with a fury. Love carries within it the seeds of grief and loss is the fertile soil that gives it purchase. Tempering our grief is not something we do just for ourselves, or to make others less uncomfortable around us, it presumably helps to aid the beloved as they make their transition. Live well. Die well. Love well. Grieve well.

From a NYT article about the world's best free diver, who just died while pursuing her sport:

“Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” Molchanova said in an interview last year. “When we go down if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think we are separate. On surface it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”

I probably should have mentioned that she has dived to a depth of more than 100 meters below the surface of the ocean, and has held her breath for more than 9(!) minutes. That certainly explains her ability to reach altered states of consciousness.

Thanks for the props, Bruce and no one!

So many great comments. I am not debating here, since I really don't find much to disagree with. Just lots of great observations and thoughts!

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