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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Hardcover – February 10, 2009
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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.
In this little book, neuroscientist/writer David Eagleman imagines 40 possibilities of what the afterlife might be like. For example, you might arrive at the hereafter and discover that the good are going to Hell and the bad to Heaven, because, sometime way way way back when, God lost control and the afterlife was given over to committees.
Or, let's say, God is a woman whose heaven treats everyone as equals. So why is she weeping? Well, the communists are ticked off because they only achieved their perfect society with the help of a God they don't believe in and the meritocrats are ticked off having to live with pinkos and the liberals are grousing about having no downtrodden to help and the conservatives no penniless to disparage and it turns out that the only thing everyone, including God, can agree on is that this is Hell.
Or maybe you've reached the hereafter after a long and arduous life, only to make the happy discovery that you get to choose who you'll get to be in the next life. You decide what you want for next time is a simple life. So you choose to come back as a horse, never stopping to think that next time you reach the afterlife and get to choose again, your horse brain won't have the smarts to choose being a human.
None of the above quite the way you'd like to envision it? That's okay. Eagleman has 37 more for your reading pleasure.