What the ‘Afterlife’ Can Teach You About Life

I love Radiolab. It is in my top twenty list of my favorite things ever. (I list which includes my wife-like girlfriend, pizza, tigers and the ocean.) Recently, I happened to catch an old podcast about the afterlife. It featured a reading by actor Jeffrey Tambor of an excerpt from a weirdly wonderful book by David Eagleman called Sum*.

Unfortunately, the passage I wanted to quote was too long to qualify as fair use, and I was unable to secure permission from the publisher to quote it. As a way around this, I would like to send you to the following link, which has the extract I meant to include. Look out for the bit about how we spend our time in the ‘afterlife’:

The New York Times Review of Sum by David Eagleman

As you read it, consider what it would be like if life itself was like Eagleman’s speculative ‘afterlife’. I’ll bet we would want to live it very differently. The whole point of the story, I feel is exactly this: to take an honest look at how we spend our time being alive, and to begin considering spending it more wisely.

For some of it, I would prefer the afterlife option (like taking all my pain in one go), but for the rest of it, I’m not so sure (especially the part about having all of my joy at once.)

All of which raises three questions I would like to ask of you, loyal readers, as I ask them of myself:

  • How would you spend your time if you knew you had to relive it with all of the same things chunked together?
  • How would you prefer to spend your time?
  • Why aren’t you spending it that way?



Here’s a little snippet I feel can quote under fair use guidelines:

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together…

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 your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die…

Passage excerpted from Sum by David Eagleman.


* As in ‘cogito ergo sum’, thus ‘I am’ – ‘Sum’ is Published by Pantheon Books, 2009

Oh, and do find Radiolab on iTunes and download a few podcasts. I could easily spend two years solid listening to Jad and Robert. Easily.


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