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Sum, Perception


Throughout Sum, we encounter stories in which human notions of time, scale, and perception are turned on their heads.

In Sum's opening chapter, for example, we find an afterlife which requires us to relive our experiences, not in chronological order, but regrouped according quality. "You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex," for example.

In Chapter 5, we learn of "The Giantess," a life force so massive that there is no way to communicate "meaningfully" with her. "We are of insufficient size," an enlightened inhabitant of the star Terzan Four tells us. "Meaning varies with spatial scale."

According to The New Yorker, Eagleman's interest in perception took root after a childhood accident. As he fell from the roof of a house on a construction site he had been exploring, Eagleman experienced a hallucination in which his body rotated "weightlessly above the ground" and the seconds felt longer. Since then, he has grown "obsessed by time," spending "the past decade tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain’s biological clocks."

As you read Sum, note other chapters in which scales of perception come into play. In what ways do scales affect communication and knowledge on Earth? How do you think Eagleman's childhood fall and his work as a neuroscientist inform Sum's stories and themes?

Click here to watch Eagleman discuss his experiments in human perception.

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