Alt! Who Goes There? (Part 2) An Essay by Extropia DaSilva


In philosophy, investigations into the nature of self-consciousness can be divided into two main theories. ‘Theories of self’ attempt to determine what kind of thing the self is, or attempt to show that it is not a ‘thing’ at all. ‘Theories of personal identity’ are primarily concerned with personal identity over time. In other words, they set out to explain why a person at one time is (or is not) the same self as someone at different times. Both theories are thought to be expressions of the concern that the self will endure. This suggests that, where there is evidence of a belief in an afterlife, one will find people who thought about the nature of the self.

That being the case, theories of self are very old indeed, with origins going back further than human history. Paleontologists have discovered Neanderthal graves in which the dead are buried along with carefully arranged stones. Anthropologists interpret such activity as signifying a belief in an afterlife. They look to traditional cultures in order to try and understand what kind of rituals and behaviours early hominids might have exhibited. In traditional cultures, deceased ancestors are considered to part of society, and people routinely communicate with them. One major way in which afterlife beliefs in these cultures differs from, say, Christianity, lies in the notion that becoming an ancestor is neither a reward for worthy living in this life, nor a punishment one must work to avoid. It is, instead, simply a part of life, like the transition from child to adult.

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