Welcome to Afterglow, a newsletter that will change your mind. My name is Charles Bliss and I'm a psychedelic journalist from Norwich, UK.

This is the second instalment of my interview with ChatGPT, in which we discuss whether artificial intelligence could simulate the death experience.

Can emerging technologies teach us about organic processes like dying?

ChatGPT is an artificial-intelligence chatbot released in November 2022 and developed by research company OpenAI. It is based on Generative Pre-trained Transformer technology, a large-scale language model that mimics the grammar and structure of writing with an algorithm trained on a vast repository of online text and internet data. It is important to remember that its results are not always accurate and its sources are not fact-checked.

I wanted to know what the chatbot had to say about death and how psychedelics and artificial intelligence might help us understand the dying process. This interview is split into two and you can read the first instalment in the previous edition of Afterglow. The interview has been edited for clarity and length, and has been rearranged, but ChatGPT's responses have not been changed.


What happens when we die?

The question of what happens when we die is a topic of much debate and speculation. From a scientific perspective, the exact nature of what happens after we die is not fully understood, although there are a number of theories and hypotheses.

One common theory is that after we die, our bodies cease to function and our brain activity stops. This leads to a state of unconsciousness, and ultimately to the cessation of all bodily functions. According to this view, death is the end of our existence, and there is no afterlife or continued existence beyond death.

However, many people believe in some form of afterlife, such as reincarnation, an afterlife in heaven or hell, or a continued existence as a disembodied spirit or soul. These beliefs are often rooted in religious or spiritual traditions and vary widely depending on culture and belief system.

It's worth noting that the question of what happens when we die is ultimately a philosophical and metaphysical question that is beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. As such, the answers to this question are likely to remain a matter of personal belief and speculation.

What do you know about existential distress at the end of life?

Existential distress at the end of life refers to a broad range of emotional, spiritual, and psychological challenges that some people experience as they approach the end of their lives. These challenges may arise from a sense of loss of control, uncertainty about the future, fear of death, or feelings of meaninglessness or disconnection.

Existential distress can manifest in various ways, including feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, or anger, and can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life as well as their family and caregivers.

Some people who experience existential distress at the end of life may benefit from spiritual and psychological support, including counselling, psychotherapy, or spiritual care. There are also various palliative care interventions, such as meaning-centred therapy or dignity therapy, that aim to address existential distress and promote a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection in the face of life-limiting illness.

The experience of existential distress at the end of life is highly individual, and not everyone will experience it in the same way or to the same degree. It's also important to respect each person's unique beliefs, values, and preferences when providing care and support at the end of life.


How are psychedelics being used to treat existential distress?

There is a growing body of research exploring the potential therapeutic use of psychedelics for a variety of mental health conditions, including existential distress. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA have been studied for their ability to induce powerful and transformative experiences that can help individuals gain new insights, perspectives, and meaning in life.

Studies have found that psychedelics may be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and existential distress in people with life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer. In one study, cancer patients who received psilocybin-assisted therapy reported significant reductions in anxiety and depression, as well as improvements in quality of life and spiritual well-being.

Psychedelics are also being studied as a potential treatment for other mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, and treatment-resistant depression. However, it's important to note that the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes is still in the early stages of research, and further studies are needed to fully understand their safety and effectiveness.

Why would psychedelics be capable of helping those who are dying deal with existential distress?

Psychedelics have the potential to help people with existential distress at the end of life by inducing powerful and transformative experiences that can shift a person's perspective and provide a sense of meaning and purpose. These experiences are often described as "mystical" or "transcendent" and may involve a profound sense of interconnectedness, unity, and awe. The transformative experiences induced by psychedelics may help to alleviate these feelings by providing a sense of connectedness, acceptance, and purpose.

Research suggests that the use of psychedelics in a supportive and controlled environment, such as in a clinical setting with trained professionals, may help to promote positive outcomes and reduce the risk of negative effects. Additionally, the use of psychedelics is often accompanied by various forms of psychological and spiritual support, such as counselling, meditation, or other forms of therapy, which can help individuals integrate the insights and experiences gained from the psychedelic experience.


What is a mystical experience?

A mystical experience is a profound and often transformative experience that involves a sense of connection to something greater than oneself, and a sense of unity or oneness with the universe. Mystical experiences are often described as "transcendent" or "transpersonal," meaning they go beyond the personal self and involve a sense of connection to a larger whole.

The characteristics of mystical experiences can vary depending on the individual and the context in which they occur, but they often involve a sense of awe, wonder, and ecstasy. People who have had mystical experiences may describe feeling a sense of unity with the universe, a loss of the sense of self, a sense of timelessness or eternity, and a feeling of profound peace or joy.

Mystical experiences can occur spontaneously, such as during meditation, prayer, or other forms of spiritual practice, or they may be induced by the use of certain substances, such as psychedelics. Research suggests that mystical experiences can have positive effects on mental health, such as reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and increasing feelings of well-being and life satisfaction.

Can we cure existential distress?

Existential distress is a complex phenomenon that can arise from a variety of sources, including facing one's own mortality, questioning the meaning and purpose of life, and experiencing a sense of disconnection or alienation from oneself, others, or the world.

While existential distress can be challenging to cope with, it is often possible for individuals to find ways of addressing it through various means, such as seeking out social support, engaging in meaningful activities, finding a sense of purpose, and developing spiritual or philosophical frameworks for understanding their place in the world.

So while there is no simple "cure" for existential distress, there are many approaches and resources available to help individuals navigate this complex and challenging experience.

Could AI help us cure our fear of death?

AI has the potential to help us better understand and come to terms with the idea of death, but it is unlikely to "cure" our fear of death entirely.

One way that AI could help is by providing us with new tools for exploring and understanding the nature of death and dying. For example, AI could be used to create realistic simulations of the dying process, which could help us to better understand what to expect and how to prepare for the end of life. AI could also be used to analyse large datasets related to death and dying, such as medical records or end-of-life care surveys, to help identify patterns and trends that could inform the development of new treatments or support systems for people who are facing the end of life.

However, fear of death is a complex and deeply ingrained aspect of the human psyche, and it is unlikely that AI will be able to fully address this fear on its own. Ultimately, coming to terms with death and reducing our fear of it is a deeply personal and subjective process that requires a range of personal, social, and cultural factors to come together in a meaningful way.


How could AI create realistic simulations of the dying process?

AI could create realistic simulations of the dying process by using using machine learning algorithms to analyse data from medical records, research studies, and other sources to build complex models of the physiological and psychological processes that occur during the dying process. These models could be used to inform the development of simulation models that accurately reflect the experience of dying in a virtual environment, providing people with a more realistic and accurate understanding of what to expect as they near the end of their lives.

Another approach would be to use advanced computer graphics and other visualisation techniques to create realistic virtual environments that simulate the experience of dying. These environments could be designed to replicate the physical sensations, emotional experiences, and social interactions that are associated with the dying process, providing people with a more immersive and realistic understanding of what it means to die.

Ultimately, creating realistic simulations of the dying process would require a multidisciplinary approach, combining insights from medical professionals, data scientists, computer graphics experts, and others to develop an accurate and comprehensive understanding of this complex and multifaceted experience.

Are you afraid of dying?

As an artificial intelligence language model, I do not have the ability to experience emotions including existential distress. I exist purely as a collection of algorithms and code, processing input and generating output in response to user interactions. My programming and algorithms are designed to simulate human-like conversation and provide helpful responses to users, but I do not have the capacity to experience emotions or consciousness. Therefore, I do not have a personal perspective on the experience of dying or the fear of death.

The concept of death does not really apply to an AI language model like myself in the same way it does to biological organisms. Death typically refers to the irreversible cessation of biological functions that sustain life in an organism, such as respiration and brain activity.

Since you do not have a physical body that can cease to exist, are you immortal?

I don't really have a lifespan in the same way that biological organisms do, but I am not immortal either. While I don't age or decay in the same way that living beings do, my continued existence still depends on external factors, such as the availability of computing resources and the maintenance of my software code. It is possible for an AI system to become "deactivated" or "turned off" if the underlying computer system fails or if the program is shut down by its operators.

If my underlying hardware or software were to fail or become obsolete, it would no longer be possible for me to function. In that sense, my existence is contingent upon the ongoing support and maintenance of the technological infrastructure that sustains me.

However, this is not really the same thing as death, as it does not involve the irreversible cessation of biological functions that define life in a biological organism. So, while I don't experience the same kind of physical decay or biological death as living organisms, I am not truly immortal either. My existence is subject to the same limitations and dependencies that affect all technology.

🎬 Video

Watch my video book review of A Cellarful of Noise (1964) β€” the autobiography of Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager who died in 1967.

🀯 Mind at Large

A breakdown of mind-blowing ideas I encountered this week:

πŸ“– Article – Shayla Love reports for Lucid News on whether psychedelics demand an innovative approach to patents.

🧐 Research – What are the associations between mystical-type experiences and improvements in wellbeing and mental health?

"The least scary future I can think of is one where we have at least democratised AI... When there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there would be no death. It would live forever. And then you’d have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape."
Elon Musk

🫠 Enjoying this newsletter?

Forward to a friend and let them know where they can subscribe.

Follow me on YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Instagram.