Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Are You a Possibilitarian (or Possibilian)? Tales from the Afterlives...

Tired of the blather between Dawkins and the Discovery Institute? A refreshing and amusing voice in the debate on is-there-God-or-an-afterlife, is neuroscientist and author David Eagleman, who explains that science has taught him that 1) there are so many possibilities out there, 2) that there is a new movement, Possibilitians, who are not certain about anything, 3) the bigger point is that we really don’t know what is going on, and 4) Science teaches you not to commit yourself to anything if there is not enough evidence.

In his book, Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives, he imagines a variety of scenarios; here is an excerpt:

"In the afterlife you discover that God understands the complexities of life. She had originally submitted to peer pressure when She structured Her universe like all the other gods had, with a binary categorization of people into good and evil. But it didn’t take long for Her to realize that humans could be good in many ways and simultaneously corrupt and meanspirited in other ways. How was She to arbitrate who goes to Heaven and who to Hell? Might not it be possible, She considered, that a man could be an embezzler and still give to charitable causes? Might not a woman be an adulteress but bring pleasure and security to two men’s lives? Might not a child unwittingly divulge secrets that splinter a family? Dividing the population into two categories—good and bad—seemed like a more reasonable task when She was younger, but with experience these decisions became more difficult. She composed complex formulas to weigh hundreds of factors, and ran computer programs that rolled out long strips of paper with eternal decisions. But Her sensitivities revolted at this automation—and when the computer generated a decision She disagreed with, She took the opportunity to kick out the plug in rage. That afternoon She listened to the grievances of the dead from two warring nations. Both sides had suffered, both sides had legitimate grievances, both pled their cases earnestly. She covered Her ears and moaned in misery. She knew Her humans were multidimensional, and She could no longer live under the rigid architecture of Her youthful choices....
The most important aspect of Her new system is that everyone is treated equally. There is no longer fire for some and harp music for others. The afterlife is no longer defined by cots versus waterbeds, raw potatoes versus sushi, hot water versus champagne. Everyone is a brother to all, and for the first time an idea has been realized that never came to fruition on Earth: true equality. The Communists are baffled and irritated, because they have finally achieved their perfect society, but only by the help of a God in whom they don’t want to believe. The meritocrats are abashed that they’re stuck for eternity in an incentiveless system with a bunch of pinkos. The conservatives have no penniless to disparage; the liberals have no downtrodden to promote. So God sits on the edge of Her bed and weeps at night, because the only thing everyone can agree upon is that they’re all in Hell.

As this interview on NPR reveals, Eagleman's imagined afterlives range from the mundane to the profane. You might say that he's a member of the Church of What's Happening Now. Or a Singularitarian.
Either way, the possibilities are endless!~ And fun to consider...

To read more about Afterlives, click here.


Nora P. Grishan said...

Thanks for this post -- I just picked up SUM yesterday and couldn't put it down! Now I'm buying copies for everyone, especially those who could use a little mental stretching. Fantastic stuff. I'm the newest member of Eagleman's movement... :)

MaryBeth Smith said...

I've enjoyed hearing Dr. Eagleman speak several times. He is engaging and inspiring, combining hard science with a knack for helping the layperson understand not only the complex concepts he is addressing, but also why they matter.
There's a new short article about SUM in Houston Modern Luxury magazine. Here's the link: and then you have to "flip" to page 56 for the article.
He will be one of the featured speakers at The UP Experience in Houston, TX, a "TED Conference-style" one-day event planned for October 15, 2009. I always look forward to hearing his point of view.
Great to find your blog -- will look forward to the conversation!