What we perceive as self is essentially a continuous flow of thoughts, leading from one to another, and awareness of stimuli that come through the senses... that includes senses within as well, on top of the five external. (i. e. things like hunger, sex drive, need to pee etc. etc.)
In different beliefs, this is called soul, spirit (chi?) etc. and is thought to be independent of the body itself. Thus, we hear out of body experiences, life after death, re-incarnation, going to hell or heaven and all that... that’s believing that our consciousness of self, would survive after death.
I believe that is not the case. There’s so much evidence in front of us, which supports that to be a fact. But we simply ignore them and go out looking for proof of life after death and re-incarnation. Because that’s what we really want to believe. We don’t want to die and that to be the end. We need to live beyond the death of out body; find an answer to the ultimate questions of life, suffering and universe.
A simple observation would show you weakened or lost awareness of self of those who have suffered brain damage or got Alzheimer's decease or other conditions that weakens or kills the brain. A patient under anesthesia doesn’t feel a thing even when doctors open the rib cage; patient only start to suffer, when his brain is awake again. When we are in deep sleep, we don’t have a flow of thoughts going on, nor are we aware of stimuli of the senses.
Another good point is that if our consciousness really is independent of the body, we should be able to think even while our body is sleeping. But as we fall asleep, we lose our awareness of self, because the brain sleeps too.
People argue that dreams are proof of our consciousness being active while we sleep. But firstly, if that’s the case, instead of experiencing nightmares and fantasy we should really be thinking, the same way we think while we are awake.
Secondly and most importantly, studies show that we dream only when we are close to being awake, not when we are in deep sleep. During a night’s sleep, we pass several dreaming stages, when the brain come closer to be awake, but goes back to sleep. When we wake up, we only remember the last dream we were having, not any between. Unless we were waken, and fell back in to sleep.
It may be disheartening to believe that when the brain is dead, that’s the end of being; given that all of our culture is developed around the idea of karma, samsara and re-incarnation. But, I simply think, we’ve been ignoring the facts much too long, and death really is the end of everything.
So, what then of moral values, happiness and other feelings? I'd write about them too in my next post, and explain why meditation still is a good idea...