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Degrees of plausibility in science


What happens when we die?
Francis Crick Scientist
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I just take the conventional, non-religious point of view, you know, that after death that’s the… your… the end of you, and… and that… that’s it. But… but many people are reluctant to believe that, again because I think they have this picture in their minds of people, and the picture, sort of, goes on after the… after the person has died and so on. There’s certainly a very strong wish, you know, that somebody, even if they haven’t died and you… got another chance of seeing them again and…. There are all sorts of little problems with that. What age would they be when you see them again? Or will they have a body? And this sort of stuff, you know. And, of course, people invent a lot of fanciful answers, usually tying themselves into knots in the process. So, it doesn’t sound very plausible. I don’t say one can refute most of them; they don’t… they don't have the ring of truth to me.

[Q] Science doesn’t really offer any sort of consolation, does it, to the idea that one day… I mean, that you’re going to die soon. I mean… I mean, is that…

It doesn't… well, I don’t think it offers consolation, but I… I think it’s perfectly possible to… to live in that sort of way. I don’t think anybody… everybody needs to have that feeling. But maybe… maybe it’s a stronger need in some people than others.

[Q] But in personal terms it doesn’t bother you that [sic]?

No, because it… because I find the… I find the idea so implausible that I don’t really want to put any weight on it. I won't… I can’t say that it’s positively wrong, but I think, as we understand more about the brain, it'll become less and less plausible. But that may not be true. It may go the other way. For all we… all we know, the research on the brain will eventually lead us to embrace some point of view which is more like the ordinary man’s or religious point of view, that there is a soul which… which persists after death. I think it’s unlikely myself, but we can’t rule that out. The only way that I would claim to do it is to do experiments on… on the brain.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: religion, soul, afterlife, life after death, death, science, brain

Duration: 2 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010