I think you are right, and Freud says that we can never really think of ourselves as completely dead in the sense that there is nothing of us left. I suppose the good thing about the losing life idiom is that it leaves open the possibility that there is more to us than just this body, and perhaps a soul or something similar continues to exist, or has that possibility. In fact, your comments remind me of those philosophers like Epicurus who argued that death is not to be rationally feared since after it occurs there is nothing to experience the absence of life.
Almost from the very beginning, philosophers have reflected on death and dying. Here are some questions that have exercised philosophers (and I am sure the list is incomplete):
Is the death of a person physically a matter of the person ceasing to be or is it possible (or even likely) that there is life after death (or, putting it differently) life after life? If so, what shape may it take? Reincarnation? Heaven or Hell?
If a materialist view of persons is correct, might there still be an afterlife through, say, resurrection or God's re-creating a person?
If death is the ceasing to be of the person, and if we have reason for thinking this is true, what bearing does this have on our ethics? Religious beliefs? Our sense of the meaning of life?
Should death be feared? Why or why not?
When is a person dead? At one time, we measured death with the ceasing of the heart to function. Now we tend to go with the irreversible loss of consciousness. But could it happen that a person in New York and a person in Afghanistan may be in the same state and yet in New York facilities exist that could revive consciousness, but these do not exist in Afghanistan. Could it be that while both persons are in the same state at one time, yet one is dead and the other is not?
Can the dead be harmed?
In a burial or cremation of a dead person's body, are you burning or burying a corpse (the person's remains) or are you burying or burning the person?
Might it be just (and could it be legal) to try a dead person?
How should the body of a dead person be treated?
Are some promises (for example, a promise to a spouse to never marry again) made to a person who is now dead, still be binding?
What are the ethics of organ donations? Who gets them? Can they be sold?
Some philosophers and religious thinkers believe that the person (or soul) pre-existed the existence of their body. Is this possible?
Is there a morally relevant distinction between dying "naturally" or through an overdose of morphine? How much weight does the consent of the person dying have? Is physician assisted suicide morally permissible?
Are your last thoughts and reflections while dying of special significance? Some religious thinkers have thought death bed confessions of sins can be purgative, others have been skeptical. Some might think that if a person's dying words are, say, "I love you" this might carry greater meaning if the same words are said casually when healthy.
When do you start dying? A month or a year or longer before you die from some illness or wound?
When have you killed a person? In New York, you committed murder if you intentionally kill a person by wounding them and they die from the wound a year and a day after receiving the wound. Any longer (say a year and a day and an hour) and you are not legally charged with murder, though you may be charged with attempted murder or assault. Is such a law reasonable? Why not a year and two weeks after the wound?
Are you responsible for someone's death if you hit them, doing serious damage though it was not a mortal wound, and yet the ambulance driving your victim to the hospital is in a terrible accident and the person dies.
In the course of dying if the patient undergoes a radical loss of memory, a change of personality, etc, could it be that the person has already died, though they are still suffering in some kind of shattered fashion?
I am sure this is only scratching the surface, but I hope it is enough to entice you into exploring some of the above!
That's a great question! I suppose the idea is that without death, there would be urgency or boundary to our lives. Perhaps people think that part of what makes relationships important is that they will end. Maybe, too, there is a general, biological point, it would be hard for anything to live without death even a vegetarian needs to live on plants that are no longer alive. But the question might be adjusted somewhat: granted there is (perhaps inevitably there has to be death, but is it inevitable or necessary that that there can be no afterlife (at least for persons)? Is an afterlife possible (as is believed by billions of people historically and today, certainly in some of the great world religions) and what impact would an afterlife have on our values in this life? There is a fascinating literature on this. Bernard Williams has a famous essay to the effect that an afterlife would be (ultimately boring and so it would be irrelevant to the values of this life. I have a less famous essay "Why we need immortality" to the effect that if we love this life and people we should hope for more life. You can track both down by just doing a google (mine is in two anthologies and originally appeared in Modern Theology. You can find Williams' through the entry on his in the online Stanford Encydlopedia of Philosophy. Perhaps the truth lies inbetween, though I still commend the more up-beat view on an afterlife.
Your question is most often discussed under the topic The Meaning of Life. Stewart Goetz has a terrific book under that title with Continuum you might find helpful and illuminating!
There is an awful lot going on in your question, and some of it I do not feel qualified to respond to. In particular, I think a complete answer to your question would require a good deal of work from contemporary theories of the mind, as well as how these theories inform questions of personal identity. So what I am about to say is only a very partial response (and may be inadequate even at that!).
To be frank, I think the whole idea of life after death is--at least in the various ways I generally hear it characterized--probably nonsense. To see this, let's begin with your experience of yourself--what it is like being you. Think about this for a minute to bring in into focus (as best as you can), and then try out a few of the popular afterlife options:
(1) Now imagine being both you and also, say, a chicken. Peck, peck...cheep, cheep...nice beak! Nah--you have no idea what it would be like to be a chicken, and whatever that would be like, it most certainly can't be anything like what it is like to be you. Maybe your atoms or molecules could become atoms or molecules in a chicken, but that hardly makes the chicken a new embodiment of you. Now I cannot "channel" chicken minds, of course--indeed, I can't even channel yours, despite our shared humanity (this is the famous "problem of other minds"). But I think you will find it is more than just a mystery to think about you being or becoming a chicken. So I am inclined to think that whatever your causal relations with the chicken who lives (on) after your death may be, there is no sense in thinking that the chicken will in any cogent sense be you. So much for transmigration of souls.
(2) OK, now imagine you having a different human body. Suppose now you are an adult male Chinese. OK, now imagine being an infant female from the Aka tribe of Africa. Wah! Got it? ...I doubt it. As I said, there is not only a problem of other minds here, there is also the problem that our personal experiences seem to be gendered (which can sometimes create very difficult challenges for transgendered people, whose personal experience--you might say personal identity--is one of the opposite gender than their own body). But then, what would it be like for you to be a member of a completely different ethnic group, with a completely different personal, familial, and cultural history, and so on? In what sense would that person be you? To go back to my example, you were an infant once (in some historical sense, at least). What was that like? You may have childhood memories that seem to be part of your current identity, but I doubt that you have any idea what it would be like to be you and at the same time be an infant. But if there is "life after death" in some meaningful way, there would need to be continued personal identity before and after death. That's my question: does it really make sense to think there could be an identity relation between you and the Aka baby girl? Say what??? So much for reincarnation.
(3) OK, well try this one now: imagine being both you and also a disembodied soul. Look Ma! No hands!!! Yeah, and no arms and no legs and no shoulders or hips; no belly or chest, no head, no brain...nothing but...well, whatever! What would that be like? Well, speaking just for myself here, I can't wrap my mind around the idea at all. Everywhere I have gone in life, my body has been with me all the while. Now, some people claim to have experiences "astral projection" in which they have experiences as of floating outside of their bodies. Could be I am stupid about this simply because I haven't had such an experience myself, but I wonder what they were seeing with since they didn't have eyes at the time? What would that be like? Damned if I know... To be frank, from an experiential point of view (in order words, in terms of my sense of self), to be me is to be embodied as I am. Even if some disembodied thing (whatever that might be!) conceived itself as in some way identified with me, I'd be inclined (at the moment, anyway!) to deny the conception and identification: whatever it is to be a disembodied thing, that can't be aligned with what it is to be me. So much for the separation of soul or spirit from the (dead) body.
Here's the litmus test I am proposing: what it is like to be you is either consistent with whatever the afterlife experience is supposed to be, or else whatever follows your death will not be you in an afterlife. Given the various kinds of nonsense I have heard about "the afterlife," I find absolutely no reason to think that there will be such a thing that I could count as me surviving my own death. As for you...well, I don't know what that is like, so...
Vincent Barry's Philosophical Thinking About Death and Dying is a good first source for an accessible discussion of some of the relevant issues. It will also give you some suggestions for further reading.
These two anthologies have some relevant essays:
Life, Death, and Meaning edited by David Benatar.
Philosophy and Death edited by Robert Stainton and Samantha Brennan.
And one recent book on the subject is Mark Johnston's Surviving Death.
I'm sure that others will chime in with more suggestions for you, but I hope that these can get you started.
Great question and suggestion! While some philosophers (most notably John Locke) have claimed that the key to personal identity is memory, probably the majority of philosophers today do not. Most grant that you might endure as the self-same subject despite all kinds of memory loss and replacement.... So, if it is a fact that no one does remember their past lives, it would not follow (on many accounts of what it is to be a self), this may be only a problem of epistemology and we cannot from that alone assume that reincarnation is false. Probably one reason why some today think reincarnation cannot occur is because they think that for reincarnation to occur, a person (self, subject, soul, mind) would need to switch bodies. Those of us who are dualists or who think there is something to persons more than the material body, may well grant that it is possible for a person to come to have a new body. But materialists who think that you and I are our bodies will have grave doubts about whether we can survive the destruction of our bodies.
Lots of interesting questions here, and I won't try to do all the issues justice. But a handful of quick thoughts.
First, philosophy doesn't usually have a perspective on a question because the questions philosophy deals with tend to be inherently controversial. Philosophers have views, but there's almost always disagreement amongst philosophers on almost all philosophical topics. This one is no exception. That said if you were to take a poll these days, I'm pretty confident that at least among philosophers in the "analytic" tradition (very roughly: influenced by formal logic, science, careful attention to language and meaning...), you'd find that most don't think there can be consciousness without a body to embody it. This is largely because the more we learn about the workings of the mind, the more we see that it's intimately connected with the functioning of the brain.
Turning briefly to one of your examples: suppose a bit of information were taped to the top of a tall object in an operating room. And suppose it turns out that a patient who reports a near-death experience is able to give a detailed account of the information, even though from the operating table there was no "ordinary" way to see it. What would this show?
It's not at all clear. In particular, it's not clear that it would do much to support the idea that the mind is separate from the body. What we'd have is someone whose brain is functioning now and never actually died. Somehow, this person has some information that we wouldn't expect him to have. But what best explains how he came to have the information is hard to say - even if he reports an experience of floating above the operating table. Saying that the mind separated from the body and travelled up through the room to examine the information doesn't help much. How would that work? Does the bodiless mind have eyes? How did the interaction between whatever was up there on top of that tall object and the disembodied mind work? How did the information get stored? How did the mind reconnect with the patient's brain?
The point isn't that the mind must be embodied. The point is that a case like this would only amount to good evidence for minds separate from bodies if that idea gave us a good explanation for the case. As it stands, it's not clear that it gives us much of an explanation at all, let the best one.
I'm not quite ready to go along with my colleague's answer, but my answer isn't any more hopeful.
If time has the structure of the real line (as we usually think) then even if it's infinite, every moment is only a finite time away from now. (Compare: every real number is only a finite distance from 0.)
But even if time is infinite in the way the real number line is, it doesn't follow that there will be a duplicate of you somewhere off in the future. To get that conclusion woud take a lot of extra and optional premises. More important, even if there will be a duplicate of you someday, there's no good reason to think it would be you, nor is there any good reason to think that you could look forward to its experiences. (These two aren't quite the same issue, as it turns out.)
Clearly there's a lot in the background here. If you're interested in more reading on the core problem, i.e., the problem personal identity, you might have a look at Martin and Barresi's anthology, called Personal Identity.
The remark that murder is a victimless crime, while surely ironic, hits home. As Alexander George remarked a while back on this site in response to a related question, "death is rather peculiar...in that it's a misfortune that eliminates from the world the subject of the misfortune." Alex went on to say that "once one's dead, not only does one cease to experience things, but one ceases to have interests too," which, he explained, makes the question of what harm is caused by death difficult to answer. Alex's response concludes where your question begins: "As one of my students once asked when we were discussing this in class: 'So murder is a victimless crime?'."
The fact that the victim of a murder dies may make it difficult to say in what respect the victim's interests suffer in virtue of that victim's death, which complicates the question of who is harmed by murder. This question, however, is distinct from another question that you raise: "why is it that we find the thought of murder abhorrent?" or, to reformulate the question: What's wrong with murder? Although the answers to the questions "Who is harmed by murder?" and "What is wrong with murder?" are surely related, they need not be directly conceptually connected. (Whether they are is another, good question, which I won't take up here.) I propose to focus on the question of what's wrong with murder.
It seems to me that a murderer manifests a callous disregard for the value of another's life, and, also that a murderer arrogates the right to dispose of that life. (Perhaps it's because the murderer has no regard for the value of another's life that the murderer can dispose of it.) This, it seems to me, is what is so abominable about murder. But why is it abominable to think that one has the right to dispose of another's life?
Various justifications can be given for the respect in which it is wrong to think that the murders has the right to terminate another's life : religious, political, moral. I'll give an example of a religious justification and an example of a political justification. (In a theocracy, a religious state, a religious justification could of course also be a political justification.) One might say that murder is wrong because in so doing one assumes that one can dispose of the life of another, but it is only God's place to do so, and, moreover, one has a duty of charity to love one's neighbor as oneself; one might say that murder is wrong because no individual has the right to infringe on another's pursuit of her own interest, provided that such pursuit does not infringe on one's own interests, and, in any event, one does not have the right to terminate altogether the possibility of another's pursuing her own interests (at least in one's own name, as opposed to on behalf of the state).
Each of the preceding answers makes substantial, albeit defensible, presuppositions about the nature of religious obligation and also the nature of politics, which one may well wish to reject. The question then, becomes one of determining what is the best basis for grounding the claim that it is wrong to think that one has the right to murder another person?