Book Report – Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

Sum: Forty Tales from the AfterlivesSum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a quick, enjoyable read of forty different possibilities after death. I found all the stories intriguing. Each chapter is just a few pages long. I read it in just a couple of hours; starting it one evening before bed and finished the next as our plane was approaching home after a trip to Chicago.

It’s difficult to write about this without giving too much away; if you want take the stories at their freshest, stop reading my review and read the book now. Come back when you’ve finished (in an hour or two) to compare your thoughts with mine.

In many of the chapters we can’t communicate with God, or the creator(s), because there are such differences of scale or understanding. “Do you think it would have any meaning at all if you displayed one of your Shakespearean plays to a bacterium? Of course not. Meaning varies with spatial scale. So we have concluded that communicating with her is not impossible, but it is pointless.” (P 16). Also: “She is the elephant described by the blind men; all partial descriptions with no understanding of the whole.” (P 99)

This theme resonates with me; I first saw a form of this idea on the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan. Because God is beyond us we can’t perfectly conceive of him (Sagan was talking about aliens not God). Consider a two dimensional universe; one with length and width but no height – thinner than a flattest, thinnest paper. Beings in this universe would develop math and philosophy based on their experiences. Then suppose a cube appears over the universe casting a varying shaped shadow as it revolves above this two dimensional universe. The two dimensional beings could see the shadow shape change but could not conceive of a three dimensional cube. We can only conceive of those things which meet our scale.

Other stories show the creator(s) were imperfect and even heaven is imperfect. “He is in the position of an amateur magician who performs for small children and suddenly has to play to skeptical adults.” (P 93). Even then all is not lost: “He has recently faced his limitations, and this has brought Him closer to us.” (P 94)

Still another recurring theme considers our physical, atomic structure of bacterium, molecules, atoms and quarks. “But it turns out your thousand trillion trillion atoms were not an accidental collection; each was labeled as composing you and continues to be so wherever it goes. So you’re not gone, your’e simply taking on different forms.” (P106).

My favorite story was the last: Reversal where we live our lives backward “The pleasures of a lifetime of intercourse are relived, culminating in kissed instead of sleep.” (P109)

The most disturbing story was chapter four: Descent of Species. When given a chance to go back to earth as anything you want, pick wisely.

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, not a theologian or a philosopher. This book is not for conservative religious, regardless of faith. But if you would like a small diversion to consider what might be ahead of us.

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