A follow up to sum, I hope I don’t have to do long calculus in the afterlife

I did actually get a copy of the book: Sum – forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman and am enjoying it. It really is not the kind of book, however, that you sit and read straight through. You more revisit it from time to time. Each tale tends to be between 1-4 pages and are pretty, sharp little narratives on possibilities in the afterlife. There are an awful lot focused on technologically-saturated scenarios, but Eagleman is after all a neuroscientist.

Sum forty tales

There are some keen, moral insights; some stark, jarring possibilities generatedin response to human nature.

Here’s only one out of many I found truly interesting. My disclaimer is of course, that I am not intending to use this for commercial purposes, rather to highlight the book and will take it down if it causes any stir:

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Will-o’-the-Wisp

In the afterlife you are invited to sit in a vast comfortable lounge with leather furniture and banks of television monitors. Upon the millions of blue-green glowing screens, you watch the world unfold. You can control the audio coming through your headphones. With a remote control, you can change the angles of the celestial cameras to capture the right action.

So although you’re not part of life on Earth anymore, you can monitor its progress. If you think this coul get boring, you’re wrong. It is seductive. It is spellbinding. You learn how to watch well. You become invested in the outcome of your descendants’ lives. Dozens of intriguing details need to be kept under surveillance. Once you’ve sat down, the monitors command your attention completely.

In theory, you could choose to watch anything; the private activities of single people in their apartments, the unfolding plans of saboteurs, the detailed progress of battlefields.

But, instead, we all watch for one thing: evidence of our residual influence in the world, the ripples left in our wake. You follow the successes of an organization you started or led. You watch appreciative people read the books you donated to your local religious group. You watch an irrepressible girl with pink shoes climbing the maple tree you planted. These are your fingerprints left on the world; you may be gone, but your mark remains. And you can watch it all.

You may as well get comfortable: the stories play out over long time scales. You may choose to monitor the video screen showing your grandson, an aspiring playwright, deep in thought on a park bench, scribbling notes for a scene. In the meantime, waitresses drift by you with carts of sandwiches and coffee, and you only need to leave to sleep at night. When you return in the morning, you swipe your membership card at the security gate and choose a nice seat for the day.

But here’s the rub: everyone’s membership card expires at a different time, and expiration mens no more entry into the video lounge. Those who are excluded mill around outside the building, grousing and kicking at the dirt. Weren’t we good? they ask. Why should we be locked out while others watch?

They, too, want to discover how their contributions guide the course of the world, want to see their grandchildren develop, want to witness the proud future of their family name.

But they don’t know the full story. Locked outside, they miss seeing their organizations lose members. They miss watching their favorite people melt away with cancer. They miss seeing the aspiring playwright amount to nothing and do not have to watch his solitary death as he tries to drive himself to the hospital but draws his last ragged breath on the roadside. They miss the drift of social mores, their great-great-grandchildren changing religions, their lines of genetic descent petering out. They don’t have to watch as Moses and Jesus and Muhammed go the way of Osiris and Zeus and Thor.

Meanwhile, they kick the dirt and protest. They don’t understand they’ve been blessed with insulation from the future, while the sinners are cursed in the blue-green glow of the televisions to witness every moment of it.

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Also I love the last paragraph of the entry titled ” Ineffable“:

A consequence of this cosmic scene 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 seperate 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 it’s own life, something they can hardly put a finger on.

While it can be a morose topic, there are books that handle the topic of life after death with beauty, a sense of humor, some intense introspection. You might check out:

A Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Mary Roach

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