A Diametric View of Death and Resurrection
There is a kind of mental life after death according to Diametrics.
Posted Oct 03, 2020
From the diametric point of view, a person is complex in the sense in which numbers are: that is, the sum of a real and of an imaginary part. The real part is the DNA, body, and brain; the imaginary is the mind, personality, and self. The real part decays and dies, but what of the imaginary part? DNA is potentially immortal (or at least, very long-lived by any standards) and religious belief promises immortality to the imaginary part—what it would call the soul or spirit. But you don’t have to be religious to realize that the imaginary, mental dimension to a person’s life can persist after their death, kept alive in the minds and memories of others, and indeed that to this extent, resurrection is possible.
From this point of view, death is more like pupation in insects: a point in a person’s life between the larval stage of their actual life and a final one in which they become the mental equivalent of an imago, such as a moth or butterfly. Visibly, this bears no relation to the larva, or caterpillar, and has a completely different function. The caterpillar is a voracious eating machine, and often a repellent one where its need to put off predators is concerned: some mimic bird droppings! The imago, by contrast, exists only to mate and to fulfil the ultimate goal of a living organism: to pass on its DNA. And in doing so, the imago acquires characteristics quite different from those of the larva, notably wings—often beautiful ones—and the ability to fly. Even its food source is transfigured when the nectar of flowers replaces the chewed leaves of the caterpillar.
People can undergo a similar transformation from a real, live, larval human being to the imagined, imago-like memory which emerges after their death and pupation, completing their metamorphosis and conferring the only real life after death anyone can expect: a wholly mental one, lived in the minds of their successors and sustained by the interest of future generations. Indeed, for some this transforms them into cultural icons—and even revered religious ones in the case of the martyred Romanovs (left). They may not have been saints while they lived, but they certainly are now: metamorphosis indeed!
What you might call pupation from this point of view can begin while a person is still alive and seems to me to be a sympathetic way to view the concern with putting their affairs in order and the detachment from life that you see in many elderly people. A person’s writings are the closest parallel to their DNA, at least to the extent that you could compare DNA to a text, and leaving your writings to be posthumously published—or at least read—is a kind of pupation. Indeed, in drafting my autobiography informed by insights from the imprinted brain theory I can see an even closer parallel between literacy and genomics in my own particular case: as in a palimpsest, a DNA text can be read beneath the words written over it.
In fact, this might set a precedent—or at least, anticipate a likely development—in biography generally. Once personal genomics becomes widely established, biographers are bound to take such genetic insights into account when trying to answer the question of what made their particular subject tick. Biographers who today routinely take a psychologically-informed view of a subject’s childhood and family background can hardly ignore the kind of detailed genetic knowledge that will be increasingly on offer from DNA samples—and not necessarily just from the subject, but also perhaps from their relatives.
A final pertinent parallel with pupation is that this stage in a metamorphosing insect can last an entire winter, with the moth or butterfly only emerging in the spring. Much the same can happen where a person’s mental imago is concerned, and history is full of striking examples. In science in particular, brilliant butterflies have emerged to dazzle later generations decades after their real-life embodiments died: notable examples being Mendel (who remained in the pupal stage for a generation); Copernicus (whose death coincided with the publication of his pupal work, which remained largely ignored and almost universally disparaged for more than a century); and even Darwin, who contrary to what his subsequent success might lead you to expect, was in fact generally discounted on the question of natural selection for fifty years after his death and, where sexual selection was concerned, for exactly a century until strikingly vindicated in 1971 with the publication of Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man.
This is important because, if iconic lives can be sanctified and literally canonized as those of the Romanovs were, they can also be vilified and anathematized as is today the fate of those who find their statues and such like being defenestrated. (Literally in the case of the geneticist and mathematician, Sir Ronald Fisher (1890-1962), who appropriately in view of a metaphor I used in a previous post, had a stained glass window erected as his memorial, left). But as a visit to any major museum will immediately confirm, statues, stones, and even stained glass windows which have been vandalized, broken, and defaced can readily be rehabilitated in later, less iconoclastic times and to that extent find whatever degree of resurrection is due to them. Indeed, where science is concerned, even if you come to see someone more as a moth than a butterfly, their life lost in the dark and their fate self-immolated on a candle flame, you might still console yourself with the thought that they were at least seeking the light.