Book: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

I first discovered David Eagleman in a 2011 New Yorker article titled The Possibilian that Amy had torn off and put in my “to read” pile. It was a fascinating long article on his research, life, and ideas about time and death especially around the question, “Why does time slow down when we fear for our lives?”

In the section about studying drummers (yup – it’s a wide ranging article), Brian Eno is introduced. I’ve been intrigued with Eno ever since college when I listened to his Ambient albums over and over.

“Eno first met Eagleman two years ago, after a publisher he knew sent him a book of Eagleman’s short stories, called “Sum.” Modelled on the cerebral fiction of Borges and Calvino, “Sum” is a natural outgrowth of Eagleman’s scientific concerns—another spin of the lazy Susan that has circled back to the subject of time. Each of its forty chapters is a kind of thought experiment, describing a different version of the afterlife. Eagleman establishes a set of initial conditions, then lets the implications unfold logically.”

Yup – that got me. I downloaded Sum and read it. A spin of the lazy Susan is a great metaphor for it as each short story is a few pages long, totally random relative to the story before and after, and each about a different view of the afterlife.

While a few of them are “meh”, most are intriguing, surprising, depressing, unsettling, or powerful. It’s one of those books that stimulated me in a totally different way than normal. It wasn’t philosophy, but it wasn’t fiction, but it wasn’t science, nor was it science fiction. While defying categorization, it stimulated a lot of thought.

And, if you’d like a nice five minutes with Eagleman and Colbert, it’s a fun one. “There’s someone in my head but it’s not me” followed by “Are you high?” Nothing like a Pink Floyd reference by a neuroscientist.