Prominent cosmologist Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview to the British newspaper, The Guardian, has said that , "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
While Hawking, (who suffers from severe motor neurone disease for the last 49 years, and "enjoys" computer assisted communication) , is surely entitled to his esteemed opinion as Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, at DAMTP in Cambridge, UK, I don't see how how regarding the brain as a computer , implies the presence or absence of heaven and/or afterlife.
Comparing the brain and a computer is like comparing the Himalayas with the hill in my backyard, or say, the movements in Kalarippayattu or Russian ballet , with my dodging actions and hesitant moves, as I attempt to cross the high traffic potholed road outside.
Brains are so superior to computers.
They have a built-in neural plasticity, that allows a particular sense or circuitry in the brain, to take over the functions of a disabled sense or ability, to some degree, and perform new learning. And so you have sightless people who have an amazing sense of hearing or touch, or someone so mathematically incapable, but who can navigate through the intricate alleys of classical music and "taalaa", with impeccable renditions, in languages you don't need to know, to understand them.
When did you last see a computer, where after a virus attack, the CPU remembered and learned to ward of other attacks ? When was the last time, the monitor conked out, and say, the DVD writer circuitry connections on the motherboard, self adjusted themselves to try and get the monitor working ? When was the last time, the engineer was able to repair your computer while you merrily carried on typing the blogpost ?
And have you heard of complicated surgeries , including those of the brain, being done, with the body anesthetized, and partially temporarily disabled musclewise, and that there is no such thing as a human body "reboot" ?
And have you wondered at what is called human will, which sometimes performs wondrous miracles, as yet unexplained by logic ?
And speaking of rebirth and heaven, nobody has been there and reported back. And so no one has the right to get up and make statements about these things in a definitive way.
Religions may or may not believe in afterlife and reincarnation. Many times, religions across the world, have been misused to get power, and divide normally peaceful people. Blind following of rituals, intimidation of folks in the name of religion, and suppression of education for those in need of it , can never be upheld in any society.
But when , as a child, our understanding of religion was restricted to saying prayers daily , and enjoying festivals, it worked, when someone who was fond of frequently making evil faces at someone was told, not to do so, because , in his/her next life, he/she would be granted a permanently crooked mouth. And it was believed.
Sometimes, one gets repetitive dreams, of some unfamiliar structures. Sometimes , you visit a place and feel something familiar about it, a sense of strange comfort. And sometimes, you feel terribly wary of someone you have just met. Such events are yet to be understood.
The feeling and understanding that this is Play 1, Act 1, and there is always a Act 2 possible, sometimes strengthens the individual when faced with the fall of curtains.
X, at 89 , was a formerly active , wiry, very imaginative, wilful person, who was now bedridden. He had a group of friends who would meet every week in some one's house, for reciting some prayers , some interesting talk, and prasad (blessed food). When he was absent continuously for awhile, his friends called to enquire and were unhappy to hear his news. They asked if they could visit, and the family invited them to have a prayer session with him.
X's face lit up on seeing then, and then he looked a bit confused, because , thanks to memory problems, he suddenly couldn't place some of his friend's names. The eldest member, in his nineties, and a veteran of pilgrimage walkathons, sat on his bed, his hands pressing X's legs.
He cleared his throat.
"Tell me, do you fear Death ? " he asked matter-of-factly . No one in the group thought this was odd. They looked at X.
X took a deep slow breath, and with a great effort so he could talk in a loud voice, shook is head and said "No. Not at all"; and then he smiled at his friend sitting on his bed.
The friend started saying a particular Sanskrit verse, and gestured to X, asking if he remembered the next line. He prodded X, and X exercised all his old and tired neurons at will, and slowly came up with the next lines. The rest joined in, and the prayer was completed with smiles on every ones lips, and eyes that were full.
I think X felt at peace. He wasn't worried about death, heaven, hell, afterlife, or anything. It didn't matter. He was happy now.
He never thought about Death normally, and would not do so now.
It was important to live in the moment, and live it honestly, truthfully and well.
That was heaven for him, in this life.
He would worry about afterlives later. His daughter was reading a book by Brian Weiss, and he was curious. He had noticed the title. "Many lives, many masters ". He would talk to her about it, sometime..... For the moment, he needed to take some rest.
Mr Hawking is supposed to have said, "I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. "
X was never afraid of the dark.
He never battled death. He didn't even play hide and seek.
He just went smiling, facing the bright lights at the end of the tunnel......