Sum by David Eagleman Forty Tales from the Afterlives
by David Eagleman
ISBN: 9780307377340

These tales are brief, each offering a different take on what happens after you die. (As a neuroscientist, Eagleman probably spends more time than most of us considering the intricacies of consciousness, and our seeming inability to let it go.) I don’t think the expectation is that you will believe one of the forty tales, but maybe they will give you pause to consider how you are living your life now or why you believe what you believe.

What if you knew you had to experience everything again, but as continuous pieces with so many months of waiting on line, or brushing your teeth, or arguing? What if you could choose to come back and live again, as anything? Maybe God is really a married couple. Maybe what we think of as punishments are really rewards. Maybe there is a limbo. Maybe God has a favorite book. Maybe the last time someone speaks our name matters. Maybe our sense of cosmic scale is all wrong.

And maybe we’ll never know, because we aren’t supposed to know.

My favorite of these vignettes was “Ineffable” which is about that sense of belong to something greater than yourself, and how it happens across scales. From that story:

And it turns out that anything which enjoys life enjoys an afterlife. Platoons and plays and stores and congresses do not end–they simply move on to a different dimension. They are things that were created and existed for a time, and therefore by the cosmic rules they continue to exist in a different realm.

Although it is difficult for us to imagine how these beings interact, they enjoy a delicious afterlife together, exchanging stories of their adventures. They laugh about good times and often, just like humans, lament the brevity of life. The people who constituted them are not included in their stories. In truth, they have as little understanding of you as you have of them; they generally have no idea you existed.

It may seem mysterious to you that these organizations can live on without the people who composed them. but the underlying principle is simple: the afterlife is made of spirits. After all, you do not bring your kidney and liver and heart to the afterlife with you–instead, you gain independence from the pieces that make you up.

A consequence of this cosmic scheme may surprise you: when you die, you are grieved by all the atoms of which you were composed. They hung together for years, whether in sheets of skin or communities of spleen. With your death they do not die. Instead, they part ways, moving off in their separate directions, mourning the loss of a special time they shared together, haunted by the feeling that they were once playing parts in something larger than themselves, something that had its own life, something they can hardly put a finger on.

Feeling pensive? A bit curious? It’s not morbid, even though it presumes the end of a human life, probably yours. It’s as deep or as shallow as you interpret it to be. I found it to be a satisfying spend the afternoon in a quiet library in a comfy chair read.

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