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12: Proof

Monday, August 10, 2009 - 08:00 PM

Rotary phone Rotary phone (Robb North/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

This week on the podcast, we continue our meditations on death. Our After Life episode had eleven meditations, and now we’re gonna throw a new one at you each day, all week long, culminating in a very special treat at the end of the week. 

To get things started, Jad talks to Mary Roach about a bold claim she made in an article for the New Scientist. Read more about science's attempts to understand the afterlife in Mary's book, Spook. By the way that beautiful song, 'Old Fashion Morphine' is by Jolie Holland, off her album Escondida.


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Comments [18]

There is no afterlife. Theists are stupid.

Aug. 27 2016 07:29 AM
Phunkus from National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Golden, Co

I really can't resist commenting on the choice of the song "Old Fashioned Morphine" to close out this piece. Jolie Holland is fantastic and the song is wonderful, but wow, using that song to close out a piece that ends with the line "The believers win; the skeptics lose"... well, that's a pretty damn clever way of sneaking in a comment on belief/religion being the "opiate of the masses" (i.e. 'old fashioned morphine').
I don't know if that type of cynical commentary is necessarily in keeping with the feel of the rest of the piece, but I for one love that little touch of using a song to add another commentary, and I love that you guys snuck it in there with such subtlety. Once again, well done Radiolab.

Jul. 16 2013 02:31 PM

I find it a bit amusing the Scientist think it's a depressing to know that's there's nothing after life. To understand and make peace with the fact that there's nothing is very enlightening to me. It's OK that there's nothing.

A person lives on in the memories of the survivors and a great person lives on in the collective memories of many more. Information can out live anything. That's what I find most intriguing. Most literary thoughts can change over time. New generation with new interpretations. But some thoughts can survive with great fidelity, when communicated in language of Math.

'thoughts do perish’ ? I think so, but I think NOT also.

Feb. 11 2010 10:21 PM

I, like many people, was very upset to hear how this episode ended, so "matter of fact". I'd love to see radiolab do a follow up short on this asking the question "Do the people that believe win, and does that mean skeptics lose?" Interview one of the prominent skeptics such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, or Steven Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The skeptical view of how special life and death is can be just as beautiful and inspiring as any believer's. Just ask.

Sep. 17 2009 06:07 PM

At the end of this short Mary Roach says, "The people that believe win. The skeptics lose." Isn't that the same as saying, "Ignorance is bliss?" In the end should we all believe in something, anything just to assuage our fears about what happens to us after we die?

In any case, I don't agree with Mary that there is no peace in believing that there isn't an afterlife. I don't believe and I'm totally at peace with it. I don't fear death. I know I will die some day. I don't particularly want to die, but this life is enough for me. And I live it knowing that it's all that I have. I feel like I live my life more fully because I don't have to worry about devoting effort to an afterlife.

So do skeptics like me really lose? If there's nothing after this life, then I won't know it either. So what is there to fear or to feel particularly bad about? And why do we always chase after the eternal anyway? Of course we miss the people who aren't with us anymore, but that they lived, that we loved them, no matter how long or short the life, it still enriches us. Sometimes I might be greedy for more time, I'll admit, but I'm grateful for my life and the lives of those I love. Would eternity give me that? Would believing in eternity give me anything except empty expectations? I'd rather cherish the past and live in each day yet to come.

Sep. 10 2009 10:35 PM
Fernando Rosales

ugh! Apologies for the typos, I neglected to run a spell check! Silly me! :)

Aug. 16 2009 10:58 PM
Fernando Rosales

Jad, JAD!

You're missing a key point!

I'd like to offer you a pause for thought: We all know what death is like already.

Consider the age of the universe; 13.7 billion years. Where have "you", as you perceive yourself to be, been for 13.7 billion years.

You didn't exist. You weren't born. for all intents and purposes you WERE dead... for 13 Billion years.

As were all were prior to birth.

Before that heliocentric epoch of conception what were "you". "You" were the atoms and molecules provided by the big bang and our sun, the DNA of our species, the unified Genetic information provided by sperm and egg, the amassing of nutrients from plants and animals and fruits consumed by your mother, and finally the assimilation of data provided by the environment following birth.

Death is returning to the first step. It is essentially returning to the stuff of everything, though having nothing in terms of cognition.

You should investigate this, unless you already have in one of the subsequent shorts regarding Afterlife- I have yet to listen to the rest.



Aug. 16 2009 10:41 PM

Well, Tom... if you hate this subject so much, why don't you go make a show half as good, nay, one-millionth as good as Radiolab.

But enough of the attacks.

In my humble opinion, when I heard the After Life show, I thought: "Oh, that was very artful of them." The careful observer may note this quote from the Radiolab description: "...and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." I believe that Radiolab has covered ALL of these in the past few 'casts, so they've done nothing wrong at all.

Aug. 12 2009 05:58 PM

Well, no doubt Deborah put some of my thoughts in a far more eloquent manner than i would have done. Especially since i would probably aim at "attacking" sandspider notion that only believers "benefit internally".

In any case, just reading your post made ME calm Deborah. It's like... -no kidding here,- your words oozed peace, tho you were defending your point of view, i could not see any hostility towards sand's. Your words are just so... appeasing.

To MY mind anyway. It removed the need to be hostile toward anyone or anything... at least for today.

Good article too! I felt cheated that the "PROOF" they talk about cannot be shared... but i guess it was a good joke for everyone thinking that this subject will ever have proof of either theories.


Aug. 12 2009 05:19 PM

I like fantasy/supernatural stories very much, so I can find something to enjoy about these recent podcasts.

I hope the spirit of reason and science that used to embody this show is having a nice afterlife.

Aug. 12 2009 11:21 AM

No question about it...skeptics are the winners, not the after-live believers. After-life believers are often trapped in a dogma that causes a great deal of stress including not knowing for sure where exactly they are headed after this life. This life is just a weigh-station to them and many can't wait for an "armageddon" so as to leave as soon as possible. Skeptics on the other hand, understand how precious each day is. It never ceases to amaze me how most people's reasoning is so shallow and, frankly, ass-backwards when it comes to understandng this topic.

Aug. 12 2009 03:52 AM

Sandspider: Looking a previous threads on previous shows I'd have to say that anyone should expect to be attacked here. I understand your concern, I hope I can reassure you that I don't feel 'attacked' by your post. I hope you don't feel attacked by mine.

Personally, I simply try to post my views as best I can and don't intend them as an attack on anyone. Discussion is about communicating and clarifying wherever possible. If argument is valuable at all, and I think it is, it should be in the form of a discussion, not a barrage of attacks.

If you Sandspider, or anyone else, derive genuine peace from your belief that's fine, and maybe it is necessary for you. That's not my point. My point is that it's not necessary for everyone to believe to feel that same calm, and it's not necessarily true that believing will grant you that calm. And just as you have seen non-believers who suffer without the calmness your belief gives you, I don't doubt it, I've seen believers suffer greatly, even given their belief. Not believing, even doubting, you can still bear the inevitable with patience.

The trials of life (and death) can be born, and born well, without belief. I can't convince you that it's possible for you, but I might hope to convince you that it's possible for me.

Suffering to one extent or other is unavoidable, but it can be exacerbated or alleviated in a way by choice. If we come to accept it for what it is, pain, death, whatever, our suffering will be minimized and I really think it doesn't make a difference if we come to that acceptance through supernatural belief or a kind of simple pragmatic maturity. To try and explain what I mean by pragmatic maturity... It's like the difference between a young child and an adult when they get a shot. Almost all children make their suffering worse by focusing on it, by fighting it. They increase their suffering and trauma before, during, and after the fact. Adults accept it as an unavoidable necessity and suffer far less during the whole process.

I have diminished my suffering because I accept the fact that I can't be certain under the standards I've set myself, and that I accept that what is, is what is... whatever it is... and I don't make it worse by fighting it. Like getting a shot.

You've diminished your suffering, if I understand you correctly, because you accept that your belief in an afterlife makes any pain in this life endurable. You know it won't last so you can put up with it. Like getting a shot.

It would be great if we all meet in Summerland when our lives here are over. We can have a picnic and compare notes. But it could be so much better I think, when me all meet there, that we will have each of us lived this life as if it were the only one we get, regardless of what will come.

Now if you'll excuse me... I'm going over to You-tube to watch kitty videos for the next hour or so. ;)

Aug. 11 2009 04:18 PM

Ok, religious guy here! My arguments are strictly Bible based, so here goes nothing...

....But first, Kudos to Radio Lab, I love you guys, keep up the great work!

Ok, here is my make that 10 cents. :)-

Absolutely NOTHING happens when you die, you’re simply gone, you cease to exist. Your body breaks down into it’s original chemical compounds. There is no immortal soul that lives on after death. King David said so himself when he said that our 'thoughts do perish' upon death. (Psalm 146:4)

Consider the flame of a candle and compare it to life; when the flame goes's gone. It has not gone into “candle flame ever-after”…it's just gone. That’s what happens to us; we die, our flame goes out, we are simply gone.

Speaking of flames, I'll probably get flamed for my comments.

Aug. 11 2009 03:01 PM

"Believers live their lives and go to their deaths all the time tormented by the same fears, grief, and trauma as doubters, as non-believers"

I respectfully disagree think you're wrong on these issues. You are confusing two VERY different things here: the external environment and the internal environment.

All human beings go through the EXTERNAL environmental events of trauma, grief, loss, gain, etc - belief doesnt determine or affect these things. Believers benefit within themselves in the INTERNAL environment, because even though there may be sadness, grief, fear, etc they know that there is an afterlife and these things need to be bore with patience.

I personally am a religious believer (for reasons i'm not going to go in this short space) and there is a tranquility that comes with dealing with these external events that I do not see in those who lack that belief. A believer's attachment should be in the afterlife, so that allows him/her to deal with the loss and travails that come in life. If good things come then great I will enjoy them but if bad things come then my heart is ultimately attached to the afterlife - so what these traumatic events in life really do to me?

In fact, this is one of the proofs of belief/religion to me because this tranquility of dealing with things (due to the concept of believing in an afterlife) must have come from someone who knows (aka a Creator). Why? Because, again, it puts the person at ease and allows him/her to deal with the inevitable troubles/issues of life and this "ease" comes because humans were MEANT to have this knowledge to do so - which means that someone that knows human beings inside & out is giving them knowledge about whats best for them THAT ACTUALLY WORKS. And there's nobody who knows something better than the one who created it.

Well I know i'm going to get attacked for this post but thats ok I have to offer my 2 cents (in a few LONG paragraphs)

Aug. 11 2009 12:58 PM
Benjamin G Pratt

My Grandfather, J.G. Pratt, a well-known parapsychologist, devised a better experiment to prove life after death. (He wrote about it in a journal article and I’m sure one could dig it up).
In this experiment, he left a lock to which only he knew the combination. After dying, he would communicate the combination of this lock. The lock was six-digits long, and the communication would be in a six-word sentence. A word starting with “A” would correlate to “1”, a word starting with “B” would equal “@” and so on.
After he died (by natural causes) several members of my family had dreams, or visions of him communicating odd six-word sentences, but none opened the lock.
He died when I was a boy, and I wrote a paper about him in high school. Although I admire his work (and have his middle name,) I don’t believe there is an afterlife, ghosts, ESP, etc.

Aug. 11 2009 11:57 AM

Bah! Believers don't win. Not any more than anyone else, not by virtue of their belief certainly.

How did Thomas win exactly? The poor delusional man whose plan was destined to fail no matter what that girl heard?

Believers live their lives and go to their deaths all the time tormented by the same fears, grief, and trauma as doubters, as non-believers. It's a rare person who can face loss, and death and uncertainty (lack of proof) with complete calmness, acceptance, and grace... (notice the small g) And though belief in another life helps some people get to that state of mind, it isn't necessary to achieve it.

The tragic irony of belief in an afterlife is what it can do to this one. Some people cling so tightly to belief, so desperate for the hope that the next life won't end like this does, or simply that it will be better somehow, that they fail to take full advantage of the one life they can be sure they do have. There's no peace in that. In fact, more often than not, it becomes the seed of hate.

If we're lucky, and so far we haven't been lucky enough, that desperation doesn't turn outward in intolerance or violence.

Looking at the entirety of belief, I have to wonder... For every believer who manages to die in a state of grace, how many others have died in a hail of bullets, the tearing rain of shrapnel, or on the faith honed edge of a blade?

The dead have proof?

It's funny... Such a bad joke. A real groaner. *lol*

Only the dead know, and their knowing anything at all is of absolutely no use to us. Now this way to the Egress! ;)

So, yes... The dead have proof... if...


Otherwise, they are just dead, and have nothing... except that they had once lived.

Hopefully, believer or not, they lived well. Which is just possible for many of us if we give it a shot. Probably the most important thing, everything considered. Though of course it's not necessarily easy to do... Believer or not.

Apt choice, the morphine song...

Aug. 11 2009 01:15 AM

I can't say I've heard the 'cast yet, but it sounds interesting.

Hoorah for daily installments!

Aug. 10 2009 09:23 PM

The idea of placing a newspaper ad to prove the existence of an after life has a certain simple beauty to it. I don't know that the idea of committing suicide is quite accurate given the beliefs held by Bradford.
Another great short. Looking forward to the week.

Aug. 10 2009 08:18 PM

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