Man in every culture sees himself and herself within a cosmic view as envisioned by that culture. Our culture has reduced the cosmic view to the physical but in other cultures the cosmic view has been metaphysical.
The Medieval view
of the universe was a transformation of the prevalent views. Ptolemy (90-168
AD), an Egyptian astronomers taught that the universe was an enclosed sphere
with the earth at its center and planets revolving around it. The stars were
another sphere revolving around the earth. Aritstotle (384-322
Men of the Middle Ages imbued with the Christian faith rejected the notion that matter is eternal because faith taught that God created the universe. Aristotle Prime Mover became the God of the Christian theologians and the outermost sphere of the universe became the Christian Heaven. Medieval man positioned Hell at the Earth's center and Purgatory in the space between the Earth and the Moon. The starry heavens, planets and stars were taught to be immortal because they were closer to God. "In the medieval cosmos the soul's "place" was beyond the stars, ... with a finite universe it was possible go imagine -- even if, strictly speaking, only in a metaphorical sense -- that there was plenty of "room" left outside the physical world. But once the physical world became infinite, where could any kind of of spiritual realm possibly be? ... That decision precipitated in the Western world a psychological crisis whose effects we are still wrestling with today." (Margaret Wertheim, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 1999,p. 151)
Modern man having lost the Medieval perspective of the universe is now forced to ask: "Is man the destined master of the universe, or is he a "worm in the dust?" What is the relation between man and the universe? Is man the center of the universe, the goal of all creation, or is he a mere incident of no more significance to the universe than a speck of dust? Is the universe friendly or unfriendly to man, or is it merely unconcerned? These are some of the questions man needs to answer to establish his place, his pride and his leadership in the universe." (Stephen Crane)
Modern man is now rethinking and refashioning the cosmic unity of the Middle Ages in terms and perspectives of science and faith. Science is making us aware that all things from the atom to the galaxy and all living forms are interrelated forming a cosmic unity. But, again, to what purpose? Is mankind here only to develop the universe or does he tend toward a transcendental unity, a movement toward the ultimate center of the universe?
The earth as cosmic center of mankind has passed away being replaced by another center which is eternal. Christ is now and forever the God-man in eternal splendor thus becoming the focal point toward which mankind finds its destiny. This had to be so because He is the first-born of all creation, that is, he was begotten by the Father from all eternity and everything was and is being created through Him and for Him. He is the principle of cohesion, thus, gravity which keeps things in their places and regulates their motions is an expression of His mind as the Word of the Father. Man is the goal of all creation precisely because the divine person, the Son of God, has taken on human nature which through His death-Resurrection has become an integral part of the Trinity and the focal point of mankind and of the whole universe.
As we saw the medieval man envisioned heaven located above the stellar sphere. In our evolutionary world view we can only say that Heaven is a dimension of the unbounded universe, a universe which has no definite physical limit. Heaven is not outside the physical world but is a transfigured dimension of the one same cosmos. Dante in the Paradiso expresses the essence of Heaven thus:
Medieval man sought an insight into what happens after death to theology and philosophy. Dante used both of these disciplines plus history, the cosmology of his day and his poetic imagination to create a rather concrete cosmic world view for his times.
Today we are just as interested to what happens to us after death but are more inclined to look to science for answers, thus research is done on the "near death experiences". There are a number of people today whose's hearts and brain had stopped functioning, thus considered clinically dead but were revived to tell us something of their disembodied experience. What they tell us is astounding. The realization that they are dead and yet conscious. The awareness of being in a different dimension in which light plays a prominent role. They experience an inability to contact persons they see in time and space, either by touch or voice. They also experienced a profound peace and an ability to travel faster than n they ever could in time. They all maintained that this experience was real and that they no longer feared death. Of course this was not death in the ultimate sense of the word which is the separation of soul from the body without the possibility of returning to the dimension of time and space.
Those of us who have not experienced this want to know if this was real. If there was a separation of consciousness from the physical body, how is it possible for the brain to remember what happened?
"The current theory is that consciousness is where the memories are stored, not the brain. Many scientists have postulated that as an information storage unit the brain cannot possibly hold all the information. Therefore, the brain is more of an accessing unit much like a radio receiver. Additional findings have shown that the way we remember is not as a computer disk drive, but rather we store a core memory attached to an emotion and then file it in a concept area in the brain. When we retrieve our memories, we are programmed to "fill in the gaps." Therefore brain memories rarely are 100% totally accurate. However, that being said, the NDEs report 100% life reviews of every thought, deed, and how we made others feel. This is the computer hard drive - the consciousness that survives death. When consciousness returns to the body, it takes typically 7 years to have those intense memories of the NDE to funnel through the brain. My guess is that it is such an intense experience that it may create in the brain what is known as a "flashbulb moment." These are times that the brain takes a picture of a particular instance, usually occurring in times of heightened sensory and emotional input or life-threatening moments. These memories are ingrained in the brain and the person can recall like it happened yesterday. (www.nderf.org/FAQs.htm#brain) Researchers are beginning to verify that these experiences are real. They do so by verifying events and objects seen in the experience which the the person clinically dead could not see from a prone position or have previously known.
From a theological perspective consider the following:
The origin of human consciousness lies in God who created man in his image and likeness, that is, with a personal immortal identity which we call a soul, spirit or person. Human consciousness is the expression of a living soul through the body. The spiritual soul cannot die as stated by Christ who said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; ...." (Mt. 20:28) God is the God of the living and not of the dead as St. Paul states is, "Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Mt.22:31-32) Or as Dr. George Ritchie in his 1943 near death experience states it, "But I wasn't dead! How could I be dead and still be awake? Thinking. Experiencing. Death was different. Death was ... I didn't know. Blanking out. Nothingness. I was me, wide awake, only without a physical body to function in."