The after-life, as only human beings can conceive it, is simply what is imagined and hoped for; nothing more and nothing less. And of every one of these possible imaginings, a quality of retrospect must necessarily linger; for otherwise there could be no comparison between the ‘before’ and the ‘after,’ in which case only ambiguity would be known.
But our human lives are riddled with ambiguity and lack of conviction over countless problems and concerns. The remainder of these may hold conviction or they may not. I have a Chinese-Pinyin-English dictionary; the ‘v’ section begins with ‘vacancy’ and ends with ‘vulture,’ a section most interesting to the ear and viscera. Indeed, the viscera, and the taste generated out of this region, finally concludes upon all that is either good or bad; it’s not the faintly-beating heart which so amply teaches one to sing.
I usually think of myself as a scientifically-minded man; one who has read works for the layman about physics and astronomy, biology and animal behavior, as well as philosophers where I feel much more at home such as Hume and Peirce, Ortega and Cassirer. A consciousness of the extent to which one does not know can either be frightening or challenging, or merely elicit a dull and inaccessible and therefore uninteresting response. But the task of coming to grips with this ever-widening problem transpires over the entire course of everyone’s life.
After all, just how much can be remembered, and of that, put to some use, in any practical way? Science, as it turns out (a phrase scientists themselves often like to say), has become supremely useful; its contributions to civilization incalculable; its endeavor to take the measure of Man and all that human beings inhabit, including the grand scale of the cosmos itself, now a spectacular and ever-growing accumulation of knowledge. And yet we still quarrel over religions whose ideas were born thousands and thousands of years ago.
This apparently uncrossable breach toward a natural vision seems difficult to surmount, if not completely impossible. As people, we want assurances, guarantees, favorably-binding contracts; a slap on the back, or a soft stroke on the cheek. In our more childish moments we connive and complain and fashion trivial lies to smooth over the day. But, among those well-known and important individuals who make decisions which have lasting effects upon all of us, there invariably come into being ideas which in the long run prove to be harmful, and indeed even toxic or deadly. And just about the only way that we have as individuals to protect ourselves, to force their hand in a sensible direction in dealing with crucial matters of grave concern, is to behave in concert in a large group, in fact a very large group, also known as a political party.
Of course even within political parties certain individual voices tend to rise most prominently above the massive chorus; this has always been the case. Perhaps one of the most natural inclinations of a human being is to defer to authority. The breach which I spoke of a moment ago is most frequently thought of as the opposition of authority found in that of Science and Theology. For some of these celebrities of both science and religion, they have found themselves engaging in debate as though fighting an undeclared war. Some of the rhetorical tactics they employ would never fail to win the frowning disapproval of ardent logicians. Ad hominem and red herring fallacies abound, in one form or another, on both sides.
Why should a scientist bother about those who have rejected ideas which are held to be true by nearly everyone except the clinically crazed, those devoted to literalism of their scripture, or merely those who do not like what they perceive as the arrogance of Science? The scientific approach to the advance of any kind of understanding is most often both careful and open; where opinions and ideas are only conferred with the title of knowledge after they’ve been accepted by numerous co-contributors and disciples over a significant period of time.
The history of science, and particularly that of mathematics, is a record of extraordinary growth and contention over centuries. The acquisition of knowledge within a single mind is no less fraught with set-backs, mistakes, and blunders; no less a series of encounters with dead-ends and switch-backs.
But “whatever works is real,” as a man of pragmatism might bluntly say. Indeed, whatever works for us is real, as it must be.