Heaven and Hell

English: Punishment Monument An historic colle...
English: Punishment Monument An historic collection of punishment equipment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As children we learn that there are consequences to everything. If we misbehave, we are punished in some ways. In earlier days we may have been smacked, but, thank goodness, those days are past. While corporal punishment has done little harm to most people who have suffered it as children, it is very very rarely justified and other options are available.

A child learns quickly that misbehaving leads to withdrawal of treats and privileges, which serves them well when they become adults and the punishments become imprisonment, restriction (like the loss of a drivers license) or the financial punishment of a fine.

English: The Prison
English: The Prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other side of the coin is rewards. For children the rewards for being good are treats and privileges. For adults the rewards of a virtuous life are esteem and again privilege. A virtuous life might also bring financial rewards – you are more likely to go back to a good lawyer, or a good mechanic if he or she does a good job and you may be prepared to spend a little more to do so.

When humans first contemplated death, the obvious question is what happened to the person, his self, his personality, after death. The answer that he just stopped is disagreeable and possibly upsetting. So it was natural to conjecture a non-physical something, a “soul” which encapsulated the persons personality which in some sense continued after the person died.

English: Depiction of a soul being carried to ...
English: Depiction of a soul being carried to heaven by two angels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some individuals claim to have had contact with souls after death, and claim to pass messages on to the living. Such “mediums” often get money or gifts in thanks or as a reward from the living relatives of the deceased person. Many so-called mediums have been discredited and proved to be merely charlatans, to the extent that to call someone a medium is tantamount to insinuating that they are a fraud.

It’s debatable whether a self-professed medium is a con artist or whether such a person is deluding themselves, but the concept of a soul is to my mind merely wishful thinking, or another name for the personality of the person, which is embedded in and part of a person’s mind. Since the mind is probably an emergent property of the brain I can’t see the soul or personality surviving the death of the brain.

English: Main regions of the vertebrate brain,...
English: Main regions of the vertebrate brain, shown for a shark and a human brain (the human brain is sliced along the midline). The two brains are not on the same scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, if you allow the concept of a soul, which inhabits a body during life, what does happen to it during and after death? Does it “softly and suddenly vanish away” like a sailor who has met a Boojum? Or does it continue, either in this world or some other? There are those who have claimed to have encountered incorporeal beings or ghosts, but like the stories of mediums, these claims are dubious.

The most common claim is that souls have passed on to other worlds, to some other realm, and this is where heaven and hell come into the picture. If a person has been a good person, then his soul goes to a better place, and if he has not, then his soul goes to a place of endless punishment of a mental and physical type.

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Many people over the year have been vouchsafed visions of both heaven and hell. Such visions are often weird and look to me more like the utterances of someone who is not completely sane, but the thing that strikes me is that they are all intensely physical – the sinner is thrown into a fiery pit for all time, and good person gets to consort with heavenly virgins or to worship the deity while being in his presence and partaking in his glory.

We know the physical because we live in it. We are it, in some senses. It seems to me that those with visions, even those whose visions are a result of their inner mental issues, can only talk of heaven and hell is physical terms. It is impossible for us to consider a world that is not physical. The very concepts of heaven and hell are concepts of places and places are physical.

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If, for the sake of discussion, we assume the visions are of something real, then if these visions represent something they are interpretations of something so different from out physical being that they must be severely distorted and much will have been lost in the translation. I myself don’t think that they represent anything more than the scrambled thoughts of a probably mentally sick person.

However that hasn’t stopped people building on the earlier visions of others. What happens to someone who dies? In the Christian tradition, if they are good they are allowed entry to heaven, and into the presence of the Deity and to worship Him. There is a certain blandness to this vision, and presumably the presence of the Deity makes up for this.

Pandemonium - One out of a set of mezzotints w...
Pandemonium – One out of a set of mezzotints with the same title (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who are sinners (that is, pretty much everyone!) is sent to hell. Eternal fire and so on. Now things get complicated. Pretty much everyone has sinned at some time, so everyone is going to burn in eternal fire. Theologians (alone with their private damning thoughts) came up with a number of issues. What about those innocent who died before having a chance to sin but had not been accepted into the Church? The theologians came up with the concept of Limbo, where these children, mainly those that died in the womb, can reside.

There are other complications, but probably the most famous complex description of hell comes from the Dante’s “Divine Comedy“. The hell contained in the work has nine circles and is a complex system within those. Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise are similarly complicated.

Frontispiece to Purgatory by Dante
Frontispiece to Purgatory by Dante (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All these visions of the afterlife are enthralling and entertaining it is true, but (seeing as no one has verifiably been there and returned), surely there contradictions embedded in the concepts of heaven and hell as found in religious and other literature.

It seems to me that the idea of heaven and hell as places which have a physical nature cannot be true. Dante’s heaven and hell for example, has physical attributes like distance and extent. Things are nearby or over there. Time also passes which allow the narrative development of course.

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However, distance and time are attributes of the physical world, and while scientists have postulated other worlds, the worlds that they postulate are very similar to the world that we experience. Heaven and hell, and any other layers of the afterlife, are conceptually in a different realm, and I can’t see why such a different realm would have anything recognisable as physics.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) ...
The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch. Oil on wood triptych, 220 cm x 389 cm, now in the Museo del Prado. High-resolution version from The Prado in Google Earth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Television as a medium is less than one hundred years old, yet in the sense of a broadcast over radio waves, it seems doomed as the rise of “streaming” sites takes over the role of providing the entertainment traditionally provided by broadcast television.

My first recollection of television was watching the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. I can’t say that I was particularly interested at the time, but I do remember that what seemed a large number of people (probably 20 or so, kids and adults) crowded on one side of the room while the television across the room showed its flickering images on its nine inch screen.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember when at a later date my father brought home our first television. It was a large brown cabinet with a tiny noticeably curved screen. When it was set up properly and working, it displayed a black and white image on a screen which was smaller than the screen of an iPad.

The scan lines on the screen were easily visible, and the stability of the circuits that generated the scan were unstable, so the picture would flicker and roll from top to bottom and tear from left to right. Then someone would have to jump up and twiddle some knobs on the rear of the set to adjust it back into stability, or near stability.

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To start with many people did not have aerials on their roofs. For one thing, television was new, and secondly the aerials were huge. They were generally large constructions, either in an X shape or in a H shape several feet in length. Most people started with an internal aerial, the so-called “rabbit’s ear” aerials.

These were small, low down and generally didn’t work too well as they were nowhere near comparable to the wavelength of the transmitted signal. Nevertheless they enabled people to, in most cases, get some sort of a picture on their new televisions.

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The trouble was that with a weak signal and unstable circuits, the person leaning over the television to tune it more often than not affected the circuits and signal. With the rest of the family yelling instructions and with a clear(-ish) picture on the screen, it only took the movement of the person tuning the set away from the set for the picture to be lost again.

Of course soon everyone had an aerial on the roof, and the aerials shrunk in size as television was moved to higher frequencies, and as the technology improved. The classic shape of a television receiver aerial consists of a bristly device, sometimes with smallish mesh reflector, one dipole and several reflectors and directors, which pretty obviously points towards a television broadcast station.

Nederlands: Zelfgemaakte schets Yagi antenne
Nederlands: Zelfgemaakte schets Yagi antenne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many tower sprung up on the tops of convenient hills to provide the necessary coverage and it is a rare place these days when the terrain or other problems prevent the reception of a television signal. Even then, coverage could probably be obtained by usage of satellite technology.

However, after several decades of dominance the end of the broadcast network looks like it is in sight. The beginning of the end was probably signalled by the Video Cassette Recorder, which enabled people to record programs for viewing later. People were no longer tied to the schedule of a broadcaster, and if they wanted to watch something that was not on the schedule, they went to a store and hired it.

English: TOSHIBA STEREO VIDEO CASSETTE RECORDER 日本語: 東芝製VHSビデオデッキ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The video cassette stores appear to be going to have an even shorter lifetime than television itself. Of course most of them have switched to DVD as the medium but that doesn’t make a significant difference.

What does make a difference is the Internet. Most people are now connected to the Internet in one way or another, and that is where they are getting a major part of their entertainment, music, news, films, games, and also that is increasingly where they are getting their TV-style entertainment, what would otherwise be called “TV series”.

English: Intertitle from the The CW television...
English: Intertitle from the The CW television program Nikita (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TV companies produce these popular series, an example of which would be “The Big Bang Theory”. This show has run for years and is still very popular on television, but it also available for download (legitimately) from one or more companies that are set up expressly for the purpose of providing these series online, on the Internet.

In countries at the end of the world, like here, it takes months or even years for the latest episodes to be broadcast here. If they ever are. So more and more people are downloading the episodes directly from the US, either legitimately or illegitimately.

English: Step 3 of Download
English: Step 3 of Download (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This obviously hits at the revenues of the companies that make these costly shows, so, equally obviously they are trying to prevent this drain on their revenues. The trouble is that there is no simple way of ensuring that those who download these programs are paying for the service. If they are paying and the supplier is legitimate then presumably the supplier will be paying the show producers.

Once an episode is downloaded, then it is out of the control of the show’s producers. The recipient’s ethics determine if he will share it around to his friends or keep it to himself. If thousands of people (legitimately) download it, then presumably some of the less ethical will then share it on, and it soon becomes available everywhere for free.

icon for Japanese File-sharing program perfect...
icon for Japanese File-sharing program perfect dark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It will at some stage reach a point where broadcasting a television program is no longer economic. The producers will have to primarily distribute their programs via the Internet and somehow limit or discourage the sharing of the programs around. That would mean the end of TV broadcasting as we know it.

We are not anywhere near that situation yet, and the program production companies will have to come up with a new economic model that allows them to make a profit on the shows without broadcasting them over radio waves. The more able companies will survive, although they may be considerably smaller. TV actors will only be able to demand much smaller salaries, and budgets will be tighter.

English: Captioned with "Professor A.W.H ...
English: Captioned with “Professor A.W.H (Bill) Phillips with Phillip’s Machine.” Phillips was an LSE economist known for the Phillips curve and he developed MONIAC, the analog computer, shown here, that modeled economic theory with water flows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another factor that the program production companies will have to take into account would be loss of advertising revenue. Losing advertisers can scuttle a television show, so this is not a minor factor.

Whatever happens in the long term, as I said above, a new economic model is necessary. I’ve no idea what this will look like, but I foresee the big shows moving to the Internet in a big way.

SeeSaw (Internet television)
SeeSaw (Internet television) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Broadcast TV will continue for some time, I think, as there are people who would resist moving away from it, but it is likely to be much reduced, with less new content and more reruns. It may be that the broadcast TV may be reduced to a shop window, with viewers seeing the previews and buying a series with a push of a button on their smart TVs.