I just finished reading Sum by David Eagleman. For those who aren’t familiar with his work (or are too lazy to Google him) Eagleman is a genius level neuroscientist who studies the perception of time and other brain-related mysteries at Baylor University. He has published a bunch of books that are fascinating and surprisingly readable, even though they deal with super heady concepts like subconscious neural networking and the existential side effects of the internet.
Eagleman sometimes gets to a point in his studies where he is limited by the current extent of our scientific knowledge. But instead of contenting himself with random and open-ended speculation when he bumps up against these road blocks, Eagleman goes home at night and writes fiction. Sum is the product of his most recent efforts in this area. The book contains 40 short stories, each its own strange and intriguing hypothesis on what happens after we die.
In one story, we find out that god exists – only on a microscopic level, entirely unaware of the human bodies in which he/she/it travels. In another, we work as background characters in other people’s dreams. The stories are only a page or two long, and each one ends with some kind of poignant or contemplative thought on life and the nature of human existence.
Personally, what I’m hoping for in the afterlife is the chance to live life over again – only this time, with the benefit of hindsight. If there is a heaven, it would have to be something like that. Think about how cool it would be to go through life, knowing all of your mistakes before you make them. Imagine being able to milk every last drop of pleasure from your greatest memories, just by virtue of the fact that you know full well how great each experience is as you’re having it. You could make a pass at all of the girls you were intimidated by in high school, cash in on every great idea you had too late, be at the right place at the right time – every time.
I think this fantasy is what lies beneath the expression “youth is wasted on the young.” As you get older, you start to realize just how care-free your youth was and you start to think of all the ways you could have capitalized on it. For me this manifests itself in a sort of regretful nostalgia that runs the gamut from every beer I didn’t drink in college and piano lessons I didn’t practice for to money I should have made and things I should have said. It’s the kind of thing you never feel until you get older, because when you’re young life is full of second chances and new opportunities. You’re always thinking about what you might do tomorrow, not what you could have done yesterday.
I’m still a little too young to be facing this sort of existential crisis head-on, but I have begun to get a sense of it. Which is why I’m thankful for the new 7” Fuckin’ Up Young by The Dirty Nil. In just under four minutes this track takes all the wild, sloppy, exuberant joi de vivre of youth, loads it up with beer, strips it naked, turns all the dials to 10 and leaves it lying in a sweaty pile on the bedroom floor.
From the looks of it, the dudes in The Dirty Nil haven’t even hit their 20s yet, so it’s nice to see that they’re appreciating what they have while they have it. One can only hope that they take the next decade or so to rock hard, sleep around and live life to the fullest. Because whether they know it or not, that’s what heaven really is.
MP3: 'Fuckin Up Young'