Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives-David Eagleman


My father died a little over a year ago and that has raised many questions for me about what happens to us when we die.  These are questions I had thought answered before his death.

Eagleman’s forty tales are very brief–two to five pages–and provide various visions of the afterlife that run along a few themes.  One theme sees life in computing-networking terms.  We are a program, all code.  Our actions are determined, but we do not care.  Our programmers did not intend love, but it was a pleasing side effect that generated more power for the universe.

In one tale, everything that is created has an afterlife–coffee mugs along with pets and people.  Gods have afterlives and all of the discarded gods live together and sleep in a field at the edge of town because they cannot bear to sleep in houses like the creatures who once worshipped them.  Tiamat and Marduk have awkward conversation over coffee in which Marduk tries to start a conversation and Tiamat punishes him with silence.

In two tales we exist with our other selves.  In one we exist in the afterlife with our selves from other ages and find we have less in common with our other-aged selves than with those our own ages.  In another we exist with our potential selves, those who made different choices than we did.  We are annoyed both by those who achieved more because they make us feel inadequate and by those who achieved less because they could have done more if only they had made better choices.

In a wonderfully whimsical tale, Mary Shelley sits on a throne protected by angels in the afterlife because God’s favorite book is Frankenstein because he feels for the first time someone understands him.

In many tales God has made mistakes with creation–various mistakes creates various problems and provoke various reactions.  God is he.  God is she.  God is a group of tiny creatures who live inside the earth and created us as mobile cameras to record the surface and are disappointed when they find we only take pictures of each other and do not venture across the vast distances of the planet, but cluster together.

Sum is playful and provocative.  Ultimately for me Sum was reassuring because I was able to share in someone else’s questioning of what happens when we die and of why we are here in the first place.

Finished 3/7/15


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