Wednesday, June 9, 2010


In one of the stories from the book "Sum: forty tales from the afterlives" David Eagleman imagines us reliving our lives with events not in chronological order, but in an order of commonality - so acts which have a similar quality about them get grouped together and are re-experienced together - so that one would spend say 6 days clipping nails, 7 months having sex, 15 months looking for lost items, the list goes on.

This I found fascinating and worrying at the same time. How much time would I personally be condemned to walk to and fro from the fridge?! How much time would I spend on Google (there may be those who envisage 7 continual months of searching internet more palatable than 7 months of having sex - but this is your problem) Looking for the kids shoes and other lost objects would take up a far larger percentage of my life than I am willing to admit. Shouting at the children? Ok - I think I'll just stop my own personal list right there.

The thought of being condemned to reliving events and habits clumped together puts a different perspective on what we do. Exactly like death does in general. Imagining Eagleman's events-orientated afterlife and the months envisaged smoking, or drinking, or arguing, or even commuting, spending time on the computer or phone, one is able to quantify the quality. Or qualify the quantity. It helps gage the importance, the damage, the utility, futility or absurdity of our actions and gives us a further time indication , the underlying suggestion being "to do more, or less?".

Questions such as: Do I really want to spend so much of my time emailing? Watching T.V? Sitting in a car? arise, prompting ideas of change. What action can I take to ensure that in my hypothetical afterlife I spend less than 8 months looking for keys and trying to disengage with people around me?

According to Tal Ben-Shahar, author of the book "Happier", our actions/activities can be divided into 4 types;

1. those which bring us present benefit (enjoyment) but to future detriment (regret it later) - think massive chocolate cake.

2. those that afford us future benefit but to present detriment - think colon cleansing and enemas.

3.those which provoke present and future detriment - Think seventh pint of beer.

4. activities which bring present enjoyment and which lead to future benefit/fulfillment. Think - YOGA!!!!

This later is according to Tal Ben-Shahar the key to happiness (yoga only indirectly!).

If Eagleman's thought provoking ideas give us an idea about how much time we (should) spend doing something, Ben-Shahar gives us a clearer idea about WHAT those actions should constitute.

What actions/activities do you do that bring you present AND future fulfillment? How much time do you spend on these?

And of Ben- Shahar's other three activity types?

Alastair Campbell, communications advisor/spin doctor to Tony Blair during his golden years, has just published his latest diaries. They are transcriptions of private conversations between political party members during Labour's "reign". It appears that often Campbell's political colleagues do not come out favorably , and some of the detail is downright damning. When Cambell was asked what conversations he'd decided to leave out as content was just too sensitive, he commented "I left out dialogues spoken by those who had since died, as it didn't seem fair."

This is the beauty of death: it's the ultimate judge of what we do and how we behave in life. Death is a very effective moral compass (and if Alastair's moral compass suggested to him, as it did, that with death these conversations should NOT be published, it is indicative that morally in and with life, the other dialogues too should have remained private). Death is a healthy indicator of where we should go and what we choose. If only we remembered a little more often that death may be just around the corner.

Death too, is a refrainer from doing harm to others. If you knew your difficult co-worker/boss/child/mother-in-law/teacher/neighbor were to die tomorrow, would you speak to him/her differently? How would your behavior change?

In life, death is the only certainty we have. And it's a precious one. Start using it rather than negating it. (Alastair's political colleagues will ALL die. Ignoring this fact does not turn something he thought morally suspect, into something acceptable.) Think of it and incorporate it in your every day life...."how would I react if?" Think of your actions and activities and alter them as death would indicate.

1 comment:

andrea said...

Non sono sicuro che la morte sia uno stato definitivo e certo. Piuttosto penso che tutto sia soggetto a trasformazione. Probabilmente il problema è che abbiamo stabilito che solo una forma d'essere (ammesso che sia soltanto una!) ha predominanza sulle altre: credo (ma è una mia convinzione assolutamente criticabile) che non sia così.
Sulla morte, così come da te prospettata, mi è venuta in mente la statua del Galata morente.
Chiamarla statua, per me, è un po' riduttivo.
Il vincitore rende omaggio allo sconfitto che muore lottando per la sua terra.
Lo sconfitto è bello, forte, coraggioso ma siamo sicuri che perda?
Lo si vede in un movimento di con-fusione con la terra per la quale si era battuto e, perdendo, sembra appunto che fondendosi penetra quella. Una strana unione tra un essere che si sviluppa nell'aria ma che abbraccia al terra, quasi che il respiro filtri non più solo ossigeno ma anche prima gli odori e poi la stessa terra.
Uno strano senso di estinzione come fine di un percorso che, arricchendoci di esperienze, ci porta noi ad essere ricchezza offerta alla nostra stessa origine.
Insomma, qualcosa del genere.