Rice University
Rice Magazine| The Magazine of Rice University | No. 3 | 2009

Mystery of Life After Death

John Anderson likes to joke that he studies the Antarctic in the winter and the upper Gulf Coast in the summer, but what he sees happening along the Gulf Coast is no laughing matter.

This mystery has engaged the imagination of neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman ’93, who decided that there are many more possibilities than we have begun to fathom.
In “Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives” (Pantheon, 2009), Eagleman, who also is an assistant professor of psychology at Rice, presents 40 fictional vignettes that describe the purpose of our existence and what happens after we die.

In the book’s eponymous story, “Sum,” he proposes the possibility that similar events in our lives are reordered and experienced in groups: We spend 15 months looking for lost items, then spend the next 18 months waiting in line before moving on to a 200-day shower. “Ineffable” posits that everything that exists also gets an afterlife, including plays, stores and sessions of Congress. “Mary” hypothesizes that God’s favorite book is “Frankenstein,” and he has created a throne in the afterlife for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

In “Prism,” we are split into our multiple selves at all ages of our lives and can interact with ourselves along with everyone else in the afterlife. Other stories address the personality and substance of God — and whether all current ideas of God are completely off the mark — or whether there actually is no afterlife.
None of the 40 stories presents itself as a serious expectation of what comes after this life. Instead, in thought-provoking and often humorous ways, they embrace the idea that the opportunities for our uncertain future are endless.