Where does the flame go when you blow out a candle?
In a fire, heat causes a chemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, water, and energy in the form of light and more heat. That heat feeds other chemical reactions between fuel and oxygen. This chain of reactions continues as long as we have fuel and oxygen and the burning fuel stays hot enough to support the reaction.
In a candle flame, the heat of the flame melts the wax. The melted wax moves up the wick where the heat boils it into a gas. The wax gas mixes with the air, and the oxygen in the air chemically reacts with the wax. This reaction gives off light and heat. The shape of the flame that we see is just the areas of the gas which are involved in the chemical reaction. If you look close to the wick, you’ll see a clear area that isn’t reacting yet. This is the pure wax gas that is in the process of mixing with the air.
Once you understand the chemistry and physics of combustion, the answer becomes clear. When you blow out a candle, the flame doesn’t go anywhere. A flame isn’t a thing. A flame is what we call that continuous chemical reaction that gives off light that we can see. When we blow out the flame, we cool down the wax gas to a temperature where the chemical reaction stops. When we stop the chemical reaction, it stops giving off light, and we no longer see the flame.
In the same way, the property that we call “life” is also just a set of complex chemical reactions. Seeing something that is alive is like seeing a flame. We’re seeing the effects of the chemical reactions that are taking place in the cells. Those chemical reactions are what cause the cells to behave as they do. Groups of cells act together as, for example, muscle tissue and digestive organs in a concerted effort to obtain fuel and oxygen to keep the chemical reaction going.
When something dies, then, what does that mean? It simply means that the conditions have changed to a degree that the chemical reactions can no longer take place, like blowing out the candle. When the chemical reactions in the cells stop, the cells can no longer perform their functions. This means that tissues and organs stop working. Since other cells depend on those tissues and organs to get their fuel and oxygen, those cells die too. As a result, the organism dies.
When this happens, where does that organism’s “life” go? Well, just like the flame, it doesn’t go anywhere. Life isn’t a thing. There isn’t a “life force” any more than there is a “fire force” that can leave the organism and go somewhere else. When an organism dies, the chemical reactions simply stop.
If, when I explain this, I say that the organism is a worm, then most people with a little knowledge of chemistry and biology will completely agree without having any issues with this. If, however, I say that the organism is a person, you or me, then a lot of people will have a problem with this. We are conscious beings. We have a feeling of being alive. We have a sense of ourselves as being something more than just a bunch of physical structures whose sole purpose is to sustain an ongoing (albeit complex) set of chemical reactions. We have a mind.
Our bodies are biological machines. As such, our brains are also just biological machines. There’s nothing about our mind, our consciousness, or our sense of self that is anything more than just the patterns of connections in our brain’s nerve cells and the chemical and electrical communications between them.
Once we realize this, we can do away with the idea of mind-body dualism. Our mind is not separate from our body. What we call our mind is just our body being aware of itself. Our brains evolved as an organ to control our bodies and to use information from our senses to find meaning in our various sensations to help us move through a complex world, protect ourselves, find food, and reproduce. As evolution shaped our brains to be better and better at this task, we developed a sense of consciousness — a sense of mind. One consequence of developing this sense of mind is that we feel that the mind is separate from the body. Since the mind feels separate from our bodies, ancient people came up with the idea that it must be an actual, separate entity — a soul. As we can see, that’s really just an illusion.
This brings us to the big question, then. Where do we go when we die? By “we”, I mean our consciousness, our minds, that thing that we perceive as being separate from our bodies. The mind is just like the flame. It’s not a thing. It’s just the shape of the chemical reaction of our brains that we can perceive. So where do we go when we die? The same place the flame goes.
Originally published at https://someforgottencorner.blogspot.com.