Withering Bites

“‘Lucky Jim’ Goes to the Internet”

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives July 29, 2009

Filed under: Courtney,David Eagleman,Sum,Text — noisyhope @ 5:56 pm

Hey everyone, I know we’ve been away.  We’re still sorting out how the site can exist while we have lives and juggle grad school, the real world, and the surprises both carry.  But today I discovered Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman.  I have an interest in eschatology so it seemed like a good way to kill time, and I’ve had some difficulty putting it down.

The “tales” are short little vigniettes, no longer than four pages a piece, and very engrossing.  I love this book, I have a blog about books, I figured I should share some of that here.  Like this story, called “Adhesion.”

We are the product of large beings that camp out on asteroids and call themselves Collectors.  The Collectors run billions of experiments on the time scales of universes, subtly tuning the galaxy parameters this way and that, making bangs bigger and lesser, dialing fundamental physical constants a hair’s breadth at a time.  They are continually sharpening pencils and squinting into telescopes.  When the Collectors have solved a problem that was formerly mysterious to them, they destroy that universe and recycle the materials into their next experiment.

Our life on earth represents an experiment in which they are trying to figure out what makes people stick together.  Why do some relationships work well while others fail?  This is completely mysterious to them.  When their theoreticians could not see a patter, they proposed this problem as an interesting question to explore.  And so our universe was born.

The Collectors construct lives of parametric experiments: men and women who adhere well but are shot past one another too briefly–brushing by in a library, passing on the step of a city bus, wondering just for a moment.

And the Collectors need to understand what men and women do about the momentum of their individual life plans, when in the rush and glare of the masses they are put together as they move in opposite directions.  Can they turn the momentum of choices and plans?  The Collectors sharpen their pencils against their asteroids and make careful study.

They research men and women who are not naturally adherent but are held together by circumstance.  Those pressed together by obligation.  Those who learn to be happy by forcing adhesion.  Those who cannot live without adhesion and those who fight it; those who don’t need it and those who sabotage it; those who find adhesion when they least expect it.

When you die, you are brought before a panel of Collectors.  They debrief you and struggle to understand your motivations.  Why did you decide to break off this relationship?  What did you appreciate about that relationship?  What was wrong with so-and-so, who seemed to have everything you wanted?  After trying and failing to understand, they send you back to see if another round of experimentation makes it any clearer to them.

It is for this reason only that our universe still exists.  The Collectors are past deadline and over budget, but they are having a hard time bringing this study to a conclusion.  They are mesmerized; the brightest among them cannot quantify it.

I’m enjoying this book immensely, and can’t wait to finish it.  Once I have, I hope to have something more coherent up here.  Thanks for checking back, and I hope Michelle and/or myself will be able to give you guys a regular schedule.