Valentine’s Day was serious business when I was a kid. First there was the box decorated at school with construction paper hearts and white paper doilies: it needed to be flawless in both design and execution. Then each classmate needed to get the right Valentine, or at least not a stupid or embarrassing one (there were stupid and embarrassing ones even at a tender age). Finally there was the hard work of examining Valentines received. Life was pretty serious back then – even then – when I barely understood anything.
Today, I conclude my series on David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives with his chapter on “Angst.” I’m thinking that maybe I should have read this in third grade. Of course, maybe I’m reading it at just the right moment.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the series on Sum as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing this fantastic read! Many thanks to David Eagleman for allowing me to share so much of his work.
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As humans we spend our time seeking big, meaningful experiences. So the afterlife may surprise you when your body wears out. We expand back into what we really are – which is, by Earth standards, enormous. We stand ten thousand kilometers tall in each of nine dimensions and live with others like us in a celestial commune. When we reawaken in these, our true bodies, we immediately begin to notice that our gargantuan colleagues suffer a deep sense of angst.
Our job is the maintenance and upholding of the cosmos. Universal collapse is imminent, and we engineer wormholes to act as structural support. We labor relentlessly on the edge of cosmic disaster. If we don’t execute our jobs flawlessly, the universe will re-collapse. Ours is complex, intricate, and important work.
After three centuries of this toil, we have the option to take a vacation. We all choose the same destination: we project ourselves into lower-dimensional creatures. We project ourselves into the tiny, delicate three-dimensional bodies that we call humans, and we are born onto the resort we call Earth. The idea, on such vacations, is to capture small experiences. On the Earth, we care only about our immediate surroundings. We watch comedy movies. We drink alcohol and enjoy music. We form relationships, fight, break up, and start again. When we’re in a human body, we don’t care about universal collapse – instead, we care only about a meeting of the eyes, a glimpse of bare flesh, the caressing tones of a loved voice, joy, love, light, the orientation of a house plant, the shade of a paint stroke, the arrangement of hair.
Those are good vacations that we take on Earth, replete with our little dramas and fusses. The mental relaxation is unspeakably precious to us. And when we’re forced to leave by the wearing out of those delicate little bodies, it is not uncommon to see us lying prostrate in the breeze of the solar winds, tools in hand, looking out into the cosmos, wet-eyed, searching for meaninglessness.
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Image of candy hearts and history of the conversation heart from mentalfloss.com.