The collection of David Eaglemen’s short vignette stories “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife” posits a profound question about human existence—what is the relevancy and meaning of all human experiences in time? Traditional Philosophy has always argued that the substance of consciousness manifests through time, but what happens when the singular consciousness of a person seizes to be? Do all impressions, perceptions, emotions, hopes, dreams, experiences, memories, habitual structures of one’s life, and ideas die? Is there an afterlife that can be defined as the counterpart to a conscious life-form? What would this counterpart would be like? Can the contemporary writer equally trained in science, literature, and humanities disciplines construct possible afterlife story paths revealing our deepest existential questions about how we envision human nature and what are our future longings considering a new growth of knowledge?

Every person who follows contemporary scientific discoveries agrees that human’s biological, physical, physiological, and mental functions are intertwined in a unique way and are manifested not only in the matter, but are actual energies. What happens in a moment when the life energies closes one’s center stage of the thriving desires, clad of roles, knots of knowing, and an ever vanishing, impressionist cloak of the self? If life powers are energies, according to physical laws of thermodynamics energy cannot just cease to be. Eagleman’s view is that we transform all of these abilities to the vastness of timeless absence in space, where everything rewinds in a slow motion, so the consciousness floats into a reversal end, which is, at the same time, a new beginning (Mirrors). The karmic character of one’s consciousness is one of the characteristic of the afterlife presented in the text, but between the end and a new beginning there is still timeless time to face as presented in his Conservation  story:  “So there is no afterlife, but instead a long intermission: all of us exist inside the memory of the particle, like a fertilized egg waiting to unpack”.

How does timeless time taste? In the very first story “Sum” Eagleman writes: “You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes….” And this first step is tempting for a reader to become engaged in a process of retrospection; so how many years I would spend writing on the computer or surfing online? One Era? Several Eons? This is one of the most interesting parts of Eagleman’s stories–the very time bending that invites a reader into her/his own thought process. We are inseparable from our interpretations, worldview on reality, and mind-work in time. Eagleman’s  stories of afterlife employ a reader to reason about the inner self and limits of mind’s concepts of time, which definitely comes from his neuroscience research primarily focusing on the brain and time perceptions.

Whilst reading Eagleman’s “Sum” it kept appearing to my mind verses and images from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The medieval walk through the afterlife secret arcades is marked by Dante’s work offering the vertigo perspectives where spiral ascension moves with a vigor of poetic rhymes from the pith of the inferno, through the limbo, and finally reaches healing salvation out of eternal love where pure and immortal Beatrice shines in glory of God’s grace. Unlike the Dantean allegorical maze of the afterlife, which depicts the medieval projection of the human nature defined as ascension from the hell of lust, passions, and devilish corruptions of the soul to the immortal love (highest aspects of spiritual enlightenment) Eagleman’s afterlife journey manages to ingeniously meld our present split-reality of the religious and scientific “possibillianisms.”  The modern expressions of afterlife stories are knitted in a way not to assume God as the principle of a theological judgment power regarding human vices and virtues. According to Eagleman, the afterlife principle gives everybody an opportunity to actually timelessly re-live all decisions, delusions, life heights, banalities, senseless pull of many habits reinforced with mass culture driven by capitalism and media, overwhelming crowed of unnecessary material things that surround us.

One of the most tempting Eagleman’s points is that the afterlife is equally trivial and complex as life is. This point is a leitmotif of the text, which brings the question with moral resonance: what if you re-live everything in perpetuity, what would you do to achieve  minimization of the time waste or talents?

In the majority of stories Eagleman reinforces a complex idea that God is Oneness—a simple everything. God is presence in all things—we are God’s organs such as eyes, fingers—our biology is a manifestation of the Creator. There is not only one God, but Gods as well. They are also trivial. Our bodies are tuned machines; the mind is software or a computer chip, and the source of our engineering are the programmers, the Gods. Eaglemen presents Gods as residing in the Pantheon of competing experts, who are losing the connection with the whole and their creatures. We are not any longer whole, but assemblage of parts. Our life is flooded with the “gargantuan angst,” the projection of us as separated in lower-dimensions, the three-dimensional egoistic beings, the parts that never achieve the full potential and allow the whole to be refracted in one’s singularity.

God is also more “She,” than “He,” but certainly both. The inexhaustible creation process of the female nature that everybody is within from the birth to the exit door, where she resides in Heaven (Egalitaire) “For months She moped around Her living room in Heaven, head drooped like a bulrush, while the lines piled up. Her advisers advised Her to delegate the decision making, but She loved Her humans too much to leave them to the care of anyone else.” God is the creation of all things, including the “yeast” of imagination, like Victor Frankenstein created by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, or bacteria, cancers, sickness, viruses that improve upon themselves and affect people’s lives. The Creator/Programmer is a sinner too. God needs to resolve the problem of his flaws by creating overpopulation on the Earth. In view of this, god is sort of a withdrawn and resentful personality nowadays—sitting at the bed of She and weeping “at night, because the only thing everyone can agree upon is that they’re in Hell.”; god is a married couple, god is also the artificer—you may re-live life—whatever you wanted to be–you or someone else, because there is timeless time—perpetuity. God holds the key to timeless apperception, the human holds the key of being immersed in time and times, something that is unique because is experienced only once, if repetitive and re-lived through all possibilities, then is timeless–it falls into forgetfulness, numbness, void, and dust of meaninglessness. Eagleman also offers to the reader to see the power of human perceptions which have changed god through time.

The wizard of Oz is God also, the God with a face of a cosmic power and the face that radiates all familiar perceptual
snapshots  of one’s life: “Indeed, it is larger than the moon’s orbit. It is a sight beyond the pens of lyric poets. It is the ocean in its terrifying power and rhythmic grace. It is a face that looks like your father and like your mother it commands the knowledge of a thousand scholars, the empathy of a thousand lovers, the mystery of a thousand strangers.” This particular God challenges human bravery–the thrive to dare and understand vastness of the universe.  But when one comes before the little yellow curtain and expects to discover all meaning, the wizard is just the old man, too human, and a common, invisible. shriveled man: “A wrinkled hand pushes up glasses on the face of a wrinkled little man. He is gout-ridden, has a resting tremor, and a vialful of colorful pills. He is stooped. He is swaybacked and balding. You look at each other. He says, ‘Ti is not brave who handle the big face, it is the brave who can handle its absence.” The Oz story emphasizes one more time the concept of Deus Absconditus, the god of absence and a source of the shadow that rises over the idea of the omnipowerful, omniscient, and all-loving God.

We cannot step twice in the same rivers, the pre-socratic philosopher Heraclitus stated, pointing to a uniqueness and novelty of a human conscious life-form. Whilst this is true for the life, it is, perhaps, questionable for the afterlife; once when we step in the river, we are already present in all rivers, and every singular life flow refracts a larger scaling of all experiences that finally is consumed by the larger, the cosmic scale (Scales).

Eagleman’s intriguing stories rethink the traditional question of meaning of life in an original writing style Scientific Odd Facts which dares to probe all loopholes of contemporary science shifting to the quantum reality. Humanity and gods share and create the same reality separated by the refraction of time bending: while life-forms are immersed in time, gods are timeless. Humans and gods are in a process of the continuous circling change in which the beginning is the end and the end is a beginning gaped with timeless energies, which the final realization is in the manifestation of time through the matter and consciousness. We live, we die, we re-live, we forget, and we begin again, but god is a pale, withdrawn sage who knows that She, the creation of nature itself, collapses upon itself, but neither death, nor the collapse of all is the end.  The Creator finally appears as the metaphor of a perpetual doubt presented in one of my favorite stories, Spirals—“Creator is a species of small, dim-witted, obtuse creatures….and they will be asking you the same thing: Do you have answer? Do you have answer? Do not be frightened. These creatures are kind and innocuous…… then they will timidly repeat: Do you have answer? Where the heck am I? you may ask. A scribe faithfully marks down your every word for future records……You try to explain this to the creatures, but it is fruitless: not only because they don’t understand you, but also because you realize how little you understand about our machines….”

“Our life is shaped by our mind: We are what we tink, having become what we thought.” The Dhammapada

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