The Afterlife of a metaphor

I'm an atheist, and I'm often asked to explain what I think happens after I die. To that end I look to the religious teachings for a clue.

Religious teachings tell us that we leave our physical body behind, and our mind moves on to an eternity of reward or suffering.

Well, reward or suffering aside - I tried to work out what it meant to move on leaving all things physical behind.

So I came up with a metaphor, and here it is.


You are at a concert, in a four hundred year old concert hall. You are hearing the glory of your local orchestra playing their best rendition of some of the classics.

Not sure if Bach had envisaged his works being played via electronic keyboard in conjunction with more traditional instruments - you enjoy the performance.

It is an imperfect reproduction, much like the concert hall itself - you notice cracks in the ceiling as funding hasn't been enough to repair. The pleasant musty smell of the centuries old hall is mixed in with what smells like a vinegar potato chip back, half eaten on the floor near you.

Hearing a significantly off key note from one of the violin players, and realising it might be your daughter's hand behind it - you distract yourself by looking at the amazing architecture this hall has given it wasn't a grand city performance hall - but just a community concern hall. How the carved columns and wood work on the chairs must have been so awesome in their day, and even with the chips and wear they still show amazing signs of workmanship.

After just under ninety minutes, the concert is over and the house lights brighten revealing a mix of original but converted light fittings and modern light fittings in a mash up of old and new. The older lights giving off a warm glow and the newer ones a sharper tech-laden pure white light.

Your eyes point to a sea of heads, tall, short balding and a few red heads - some people are getting up, others chatting to each other about the performance. Some of the orchestra make their way into the audience, presumably to greet their family and friends. Others remain on stage, the noise of instruments being packed taking on its own life.

You thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the sights, sounds and smells added to form a lasting memory of your daughters final performance in the orchestra before she moved interstate with her husband.


It is time to kill the concert, and see what remains of its afterlife.

The concert hall is gone, the vinegar smell, the red heads, the heads and all the people.

There are no seats and no instruments.

The light fittings are gone, old and new - and the lights emit no light.

But worst of all, there is no sound... no clanging of instruments, no chatter and no notes. No off key notes, no perfect notes.

In the afterlife, the music will continue.

But as what?

The music will continue its existence, in silence and darkness - robbed of everything that made it memorable. Robbed of everything that made it music.


If you believe in an afterlife, you will be leaving everything behind that made you human. To be human is to be part of a physical world.

In your afterlife, you will be music without sound.

You will be art without sight.

You will be nothing but some information. The notes of a song on a bit of paper.

And that is what physics teaches us, that at the fundamental level our information is all that is preserved.

Is that an afterlife worth looking forward to?