I read a striking insight somewhere recently, but don’t remember where it was or who said it. The insight flips inside out the standard belief (at least among Christian faiths) that living a good life gets you into heaven, so that while your body perishes into dust, your spirit or soul survives, presumably (if you’ve been a good person) in heaven, forever.
(As an aside, I’ve never understood how this concept of eternal life in heaven makes a lick of sense. Eternal life, but what kind of life? Whatever it is, *forever*? Really?? Human imagination fails with spans of space and time outside ordinary human experience, and completely self-destructs, sort of like dividing by zero, when trying to comprehend ideas of infinity or forever. No matter how blissful one can imagine life in heaven — a standard idea is that one is reunited with all your loved-ones (but in what form? As they were just before the died? No. As they were at the prime of life? So everyone’s a strapping 30-year-old? [Or each person’s heaven is different from everyone else’s, which would mean they’re not the same and your version of your loved-ones isn’t, in a sense…real.]) to live in eternal happiness — would it be bearable to experience *forever*? Contemplate this, and the incoherencies and contradictions and paradoxes mount, spinning wildly out of control. Or is it the idea of eating one’s favorite food, performing one’s favorite sport, watching one’s favorite TV program …forever? Forever! Over and over and over and over and over and over and over. And an infinite times over. Whatever it is, it would becoming palling, quickly. Sounds more like eternal torture. –Or does God somehow reset you everyday, so that you experience your favorite experiences of life fresh each time without the pall of remembering all the earlier iterations? Like the background cast of Groundhog Day. But how is it satisfying to be such a manipulated automaton?)
Returning to the original point: In fact, the opposite is true. The substance of your mortal body survives, and the pattern that was you mind (soul if you like), vanishes just as a rainbow fades away as the clouds gradually shift or the angle of the sun changes. The atoms and molecules in your body are part of the biosphere of the planet, billions of years old, and they survive themselves, endlessly rearranging themselves into new forms, in endless combinations. But the *patterns* of those physical particles don’t survive. The rainbows, the flames, the minds. There is no heaven for rainbows; there is no heaven that compiles every sentence ever spoken. Once spoken, a sentence is gone; once sounded, the symphonic performance no longer exists. Once the substrate fails, the pattern it held vanishes. But the components of the substrate survive and form new substrates, which give rise to new patterns.
It’s been noted that, while alive, some 98% of all the atoms in your body are replaced annually. Your mind is pattern held by a particular formation of atoms and molecules, but not even the same ones from year to year!
The difference between minds, and rainbows or flames, is that, through the inescapable logic of biological evolution, the physical substrates (bodies) that hold the patterns of minds become more and more complex over time, thus the patterns they are able to support become more and more complex. So that as one substrate recycles into the biosphere and its pattern dissolves, the next substrate supports as complex a pattern, or a more complex pattern. But they’re new patterns, and thinking the old ones are preserved somewhere is a naive fantasy.