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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives

Mind-blowing and very funny, a must-read.

Ever wondered what afterlife might be like? Sum: Tales from the Afterlives by neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman offers forty different mind-blowing hypotheses, some of them nightmarish, some of them appealing, most of them hilarious and all of them thought provoking.

Sum is meant to be an entertaining work of fiction with stories that, according to Eagleman ‘offers a different reason for our existence and the meaning of life and death. These are not serious proposals; they’re satirical and thought provoking lenses through which we see our lives at new angles.’ No scientific research went into writing this book; it is simply a collection of imagined possibilities of what afterlife might be like, tongue-in-cheek. And you sense that Eagleman had a blast while making it all up.

One scenario suggests the possibility that in afterlife you re-live your life grouped into events that are the same.

You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower.

In another version of afterlife, your life has an uncanny resemblance to your real life, the only difference being that everyone inhabiting this space are people you met or knew while you lived. It seems nice at first before you realise that all those unknown people were part of the spice of life.

The missing crowds make you lonely. You begin to complain about all the people you could be meeting. But no one listens or sympathizes with you, because this is precisely what you chose when you were alive.

Apart from being very funny, Sum is all about fantasising. There are scenarios where you get to choose what you want to be in the afterlife. A royal? Of the opposite sex? Or simply a horse? Or how about the one where you are kept in a sort of waiting room, halfway between life and death, until you are no longer remembered by anyone at which point you properly die? Pity the famous people from Antiquity.

And so it continues, with hilarious and inventive versions of one of the biggest mysteries there is.

You don’t need to be religious to enjoy this book; in fact, it is probably better if you are not. Eagleman describes himself as somewhere in between an atheist and a religious person, or what he has termed a ‘possibilian’.  In the author’s own words:‘ I think it’s possible and even desirable to have a deep awe for the mysteries around us, and one can call this a form of religion.’ Sum is all about opening our minds to possibilities and recognising how little we actually know.

The book has been published in 27 languages and was named Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble, Chicago Tribune, New Scientist, The Guardian, and The Scotsman when it came out.

One of the lessons we are left is that life on earth is quite appealing. The only afterlife that could possibly beat life on earth is the one where you live your life in reverse, starting out the moment you die. The thought of getting younger and younger appeals to me and I think I would be an excellent child had I been a parent first. The question is: would I have been any fun as a mum?

How do you classify a book like Sum? Fiction? Non-fiction? Perhaps a bit of both? Who knows? 

Still not convinced? Then watch this YouTube clip…

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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman published by Canongate Books, 110 pages