Arguably, ‘person permanence’, ‘simulation constraint’ and ‘psychological continuity reasoning’ (the term given to responses like that of the aforementioned extinctivist) are the innate building blocks of religious belief. Exposure to concepts of an afterlife – from vague ‘I believe there is something’ to the rich and elaborate systems of the worlds’ great religions, enhance the natural cognitive stance that the self survives physical death. The common view of death as a great mystery has, in the past, been seen as an emotionally-fuelled desire to believe death is not the end. Social psychologists talked of ‘Terror Management Theory’ that saw afterlife beliefs as elaborate defences against what would otherwise be crippling anxieties about the ego’s inexistence. Now, we have another possible explanation, one focused on what the mind does – and does not – find easy to imagine.
So, all you digital people, remember: It is thanks to the power of human imagination that you exist while online. But it is thanks to the limitations of human imagination that you continue to exist, even when completely offline.