Heaven and Hell

What if there is an afterlife? Personally I don’t believe in one, but still. What would it be like? The Christian version is that you get judged on your behaviour in this life then go to either heaven or hell. Some versions of Christianity require that you are at the very least baptised, or that you experience being “saved” or that you have taken part in certain rituals before your worldly behaviour is considered.

These lead to awkward questions about, for instance, babies who die before they have a chance to be baptised or whatever. Will they be condemned for ever? I hardly seems fair and various versions of Christianity have ways of getting around this issue. Some suggest that such babies go to a third type of afterlife where they experience neither heaven nor hell – a sort of post life waiting room, which to me seems to be a particularly cruel version of hell!

Bebe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is heaven like, though? It must be a pleasant place, as it is a given that it is a reward for a good life, and it has been suggested that it is a place where, the Deity, God, is glorified and worshipped, where all is light, and all the “souls” there experience the joy of being in the presence of the Deity.

Since no one who has died has reported back, the sources for these ideas come from speculation presented as fact, or, as some claim, divine inspiration, an actual message from the Deity. There’s a world of difference between these two options. In other words, it’s either a complete fiction, or absolute fact.

English: Pope Gregorius I dictating the gregor...
English: Pope Gregorius I dictating the gregorian chants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What could we logically deduce, given, for the sake of argument, the existence of an afterlife? It could be that we are reborn in this world, as either a new human or an animal. However, no human can remember any previous existence on this earth, or even on a planet circling a star somewhere across the Universe.

Of course some people claim to remember previous lives, but strangely, these remembered lives are frequently people who were famous when they were alive, like Anne Boleyn or Shakespeare, and the people who claim to be such reincarnated people often get well documented details of their lives wrong. Of course, history may be wrong, completely wrong, but it is more likely that people who claim to remember previous lives are mistaken or even purposefully deceitful.

If we dismiss the idea of reincarnation, what then? Certainly we can throw away all we know of physics. The only thing that we can be sure of is that things will be different. It may well be that there would be something analogous to our usual physics in play but we have no way of knowing what that would be.

English: Stylized light cone based on the logo...
English: Stylized light cone based on the logo for the World Year of Physics 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that personality as such would not exist. No meeting with a previously expired spouse in the afterlife would occur, as the personality of the spouse would not exist, and nor would the personality of the recently expired person.

If personalities of the dead did exist in the afterlife, then this could cause issues. What if the recently expired person had remarried after a spouse had previously died. Which of the two spouses would be matched up with the recently expired person? Maybe the physics would be similar to our current physics, but different enough that one person could spend eternity with two or more people?

I get the impression that there are many more versions or varieties of hell postulated than there are heavens. Visions of hell are often detailed and gruesome. One only needs to look at the right most panel of “The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch”  to see some extreme examples.

Hell is punishment for transgressions in this world. Punishment extends “for all time” which would seem harsh as, surely any sin would be expiated eventually, just as any punishment with the exception of capital punishment in this world is time limited. However this assumes that time in this world is the same as time in the next world, and this may not be so.

A painting by Georgios Klontzas (Γεώργιος Κλόν...
A painting by Georgios Klontzas (Γεώργιος Κλόντζας), at the end of the 16th cent., of the Second Coming: a detail showing the punishment of the wicked ones at the Hell. The original whole painting at Digital Archive of the Greek Institute of Venice (Ψηφιοποιημένο Αρχείο του Ελληνικού Ινστιτούτου Βενετίας). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eternity may pass in a different way in the next world – maybe how eternity feels to the sufferer may depend on the seriousness of the transgressions. That may be fairer than for a minor transgressor to suffer through an endless time, judged by the standards of this world.

In accounts of heaven and hell both have inhabitants who have never (so far as I understand it) ever been mortal or human. Angels inhabit heaven and devils and demons live in hell. In both realms the job of the inhabitants appears to be to provide direction for the souls or entities from this world. Angels presumably assist in providing the dead souls with their appropriate rewards and devils and demons punish the transgressors.

Over the centuries people have imagined or vouchsafed a vision of heaven and hell. It seems that both heaven and hell have a hierarchy of inhabitants. The hierarchies are power hierarchies with the Deity at the top of the one, and the anti-Deity at the top of the other one. This is either a reflection of the prejudices of the person who is imagining these realms, or an interesting structural characteristic or heaven and hell.

Naturally hell is nasty and heaven is nice. I don’t know if it is some cultural bias as a result of my background and upbringing, but it seems to me that the stories and legends of hell are much more detailed than the stories and legends of heaven. My thought is that people are more interested in the gruesomeness of hell than the niceness of heaven.

English: 19th century Burmese temple painting....
English: 19th century Burmese temple painting. Tempura-like paint on cotton. 47” x 35” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the Wikipedia articles on heaven and hell support this theory, as the section on the Christian hell is much longer than the corresponding article on the Christian heaven. The Christian heaven merely has “many mansions“, while the Christian hell is more complex. In fiction especially as exemplified by Milton’s Paradise Lost, and in myth as in Egyptian beliefs hell can be envisaged as complex hierarchies.

But basically, we have no way of knowing for sure if heaven and hell are real and separate realms from our standard world. There can be no physical contact between such realms and our own, since physics describes only the behaviour of things within a single realm and it has no purview outside of that.

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)

We can’t know for sure, so while we may think that they exist and believe in heaven and hell, we should look for our ethics only in this world. Any other course is illogical.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part II
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time and time again

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is often said that Einstein considered time to be an illusion, and web sites which collect notable quotes often just claim that Einstein said “Time is an illusion“. This a classic case of taking a quote and posting it out of context. What Einstein actually said was more complex and more subtle.

He actually said:

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

He did not claim that time is an illusion, but that the moment of “now” is an illusion. In fact his equations give time the same status as space. For instance, the square of the space time interval between two events is defined by combining the square of the space interval minus the square of the time interval interval. (Provided all values are expressed in the same units.)

Time dilation spacetime diagram06
Time dilation spacetime diagram06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The details don’t matter too much here. The point is that time is treated equally with the space dimensions, and no one is claiming that Einstein was arguing that space does not exist. There are many references to be found on the Internet which explain Einstein’s ideas with variable clarity and accuracy.

I said above that Einstein argued that the instance of “now” is an illusion, but I was over simplifying. What I believe that he was saying was that while we experience a “now” now, we also experienced a “now” ten seconds ago, and one second ago, and one instant ago. There is nothing special about the “now” moment and all instants of time are “now” moments.

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This isn’t that surprising really. If you consider where you are at a particular place and at a particular time, not only is there a “now” moment, there is also a “here” place. When you move to another place, you have another “now” moment, and another “here” place. To experience an event you have to have both.

If we are taking a road trip we have no difficulty with the concept that the “here” place changes continually and that a place we have passed through was a “here” place when we passed through it, and that a place further on will later be a “here” place. Where ever we are we are “here”.


You might argue that time is fundamentally different from space, in that we can see what is in front of us in space but we can’t see what is in front of us in time. This is true, but maybe we just don’t have the physical equipment to do so. We can use sight to look around as see what is not “here”, to some extent, but we don’t have complete visibility to things around us.

If we did we would not bump into things and fall off of things as much as we do. We use sight to build a picture of things around us, but we don’t have physical access to those things until we move up to them.

Human hand icon
Human hand icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we don’t have “time vision” we have use whatever abilities we can to work out what is in the future, such as reason and intuition, both of which have limited success. We do have some ability to fairly accurately guess the future, as evidenced by our abilities to catch a ball thrown to us. If you have ever watched a top table-tennis match, you will no doubt be amazed at how accurately we can so this, as the ball whizzes from end to end of the table.

Time is measured in seconds and space is measured in metres (or hours and yards or other equivalent units). This seems to be a difference between the space dimensions and the time dimension.

Time dilation spacetime diagram05
Time dilation spacetime diagram05 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However it is easy to show that there is little fundamental difference. Distances are often measured in terms of time – astronomers refer to a light year, which is the distance that light travels in one year. It is not often, however, that the opposite is true. Times could be measured in terms of light metres, or the time it takes light to move a given number of metres, but this is not usual, possibly because a light metre is such a very short period of time.

Interestingly some people claim to be able to “see” the future. They are claiming that they have a sense similar to vision which they use to determine what is going to happen in the future. While it is possibly conceivable to have such a sense, there appear to be no organs in the body which could be used to “view” the future.

Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from...
Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from the observation deck of the Phoenix-Lake Infopoint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such organs would have to have receptors which would have to receive information about the future just as the eyes receive information about things that are relatively distant, and that information would have to travel in time from the future to reach the receptors in the present. This appears to be counter to all known physics. Possibly “unknown physics” would allow this, but I suspect not.

In any case the human body doesn’t appear to have any receptors which could possibly serve this purpose, and although not everything is known about the human body, such organs, if such existed and could be used by some people, would be probably be apparent.

English: "Sight" - First of a series...
English: “Sight” – First of a series of 5 engravings illustrating the five senses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about the brain? Could the brain perhaps receive information about future events in some way? Well, the brain is an organ for processing information, not for receiving information from the future.  There is nothing like a receptor in the brain, though it is connected via nerves to receptors which terminate those nerves and when stimulated excite the nerves which then pass the stimulation to the brain.

In my opinion, which of course could be wrong, there is no way that information from the future could be detected by the human body, and in particular by the brain acting as a receptor. That does not mean that time is in any way different from space as a dimension. What it does mean is that we are able to perceive the dimensions of space differently from the dimension of time.

Diagram of human brain
Diagram of human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That doesn’t address the question as to why the space dimensions are accessible to vision and time is not. It only addresses the question of why we can “see” the space dimension, but cannot “see” the time dimension. Something links the space dimensions into one seeming whole, while the time dimension seem singularly different.

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