Throughout Sum, we see humans afflicted by the same flaws in the afterlife that plagued them on Earth. Why can't humans escape these problems? What does their persistence tell us about Eagleman's view of the human condition?
In "Absence," God has gone missing. In his absence, Heaven becomes a battleground in which different factions are fighting not over the identity of God as embodied by a specific religion, but over "His whereabouts.”
In what other chapters do we see the deceased unable to escape the violent behavior that plagued them on Earth? What does this persistent violence say about the human condition and the hope for a peaceful world?
- False rewards
Even in the afterlife, Sum's characters are always longing for "something better" than what they have. In “Descent of Species,” the deceased can choose what they want to be in the next life. Sick of complications, one chooses to become a horse. Ironically, however, becoming a horse leaves a person bereft of the human ability to appreciate the pleasures of that simpler lifestyle. “Your choice to slide down the intelligence ladder is irreversible,” Eagleman writes.
As you read Sum, note other chapters in which the afterlife offers false rewards. What do humans wish for, and how are they disappointed by the fulfillment of those wishes? What does this say about the human condition in general?
In “Will-'o-the-Wisp,” humans spend eternity watching Earth via television, searching for the residual effects of their existence on the planet. In "Narcissus," human machines spend their time staring at each other rather than performing the task for which they were created: data collection.
What are other instances of narcissistic behavior in Sum? How does narcissism affect the lives of the characters in Sum? How does the narcissism of Sum's characters relate to the narcissism of humans living in modern civilization?
In "The Unnatural," the afterlife offers the chance to "make any single change you want." Despite warnings that it is not a good idea, many choose to "eradicate death." After an inital period of hailing this new freedom, people begin to hate immortality. "In an attempt to salvage their once dynamic lives, people begin to set suicide dates for themslves," Eagleman writes.
What are other instances in Sum in which shortsightedness plays a role? How does the inability to see into the future change the afterlife for Sum's characters, and how does it change our lives on Earth? If humans are innately shortsighted, is there such a thing as a "smart decision"?