Sum by David Eagleman

Yes, being constantly connected to teh interwebs has brought on some form of ADD. Therefore it is quite rare for me to sit down and read a book these days (unless it’s about teh interwebs). Who has time to wade through a few hundred pages in teh off chance of being mentally-stimulated or experience something touching and beautiful when one can find out what’s trending in Dublin right now?

So it is with great relief that I can say that not only have I read an actual real book again, but it totally captured my imagination and I have to share.

David Eagleman’s Sum consists of 40 very brief descriptions of what the afterlife might be. In one version of the afterlife, we find ourselves accompanied only by people we know. We soon tire of being unable to meet strangers. In another, it turns out that our creators are have brought us back from life in order to ask us: “Do you have answer?”. Another version of the afterlife has all of the beings that have at some point in history been worshipped. They are now forgotten, marginalised and bored and we tiptoe around them oblivious of their previous glory.

This gem of a book is not one of those awful self-help things nor is it New Age gubbins. ‘Heaven’ is present in many of these tales, but the plurality of alternative afterlives reflects the fact that we no longer have to (can?) accept a prescribed or authoritative version of what comes next.

Here is a reading of the first and titular tale from the book. In this version of the afterlife, you live your life again, but instead of having events spread out, you experience everything one at a time. So, you spend 30 years sleeping soundly and two minutes thinking that you are falling etc etc. (The extract’s only a couple of minutes long.)

Each tale is similarly brief, witty and thought-provoking in a secular, modern way. I haven’t thought as much about existence and meaning since I was an annoying Philosophy undergrad.




  1. itwaseverthus

    “the plurality of alternative afterlives reflects the fact that we no longer have to (can?) accept a prescribed or authoritative version of what comes next.”
    I think that on matters that relate to faith or matters wooly in general there have always been alternatives we may consider. I do not agree though – and note your own question – as regards what we “can” accept. I think the whole point of faith is that we may choose or more correctly believe in a version irrespective of whether it is “prescribed or authoritative”. The question of effective prescription through imposition is perhaps a different matter. The extreme ends of belief and non belief seem determined that their point is valid though with one arguing that there is no proof and the other that no proof is required, it remains a debate that cannot be resolved short of a bit of smiting from on high.
    Just sayin…

  2. eguinan

    Forgive me; I’m not entirely sure that I understand your comment (apart from the smiting – that’s always clear!). This may be because we are thinking about faith (and maybe the word ‘can’) in different categories.

    I reject *all* notions of afterlives (apart from the inescapable worm-strewn ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed’ afterlife) and categorise these beliefs as comforting delusions. Yep, I’m on the extreme end.

    This book is a delight in that it consists of scenarios which through novelty and wit make one consider the meaning of what is experienced before death. The moping, redundant gods remind us that our current deities will in all probability become footnotes for some future culture vultures; the afterlife where we spend generations attempting to work out a way to establish communication with the Creator, only to have ourselves extinguished from existence once we were noticed, like a body destroys a bacterium without any regard of its significance.

    The stories illustrate how we like/need to impose significance on our experience, but how this can be done without recourse to supernatural third parties. We microbes are our own gods*.

    (*Except for Jan Moir. She’s just a cow.)

  3. itwaseverthus

    Not only will you spend eternity with a class two devil sticking a trident up your ass, you will also have to sit with Jan Moir.

    Excellent reply/put down – I like the line “We microbes are our own gods”.

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