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77 hours of confusion, 14 minutes of joy: A neuroscientist quantifies the mundane beauty of our lives

Reuters/Mike Blake
What’s in a life?
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

“Life,” John Lennon sings in Beautiful Boy, “is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

But it’s not just plans: it’s errands, routine tasks, boring work, and sleep that make up the largest part of our lives. In his 2009 Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlife, neuroscientist David Eagleman imagines the afterlife as a time during which you “relive all your experiences […] reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.”

All our time commuting is in one chunk, and so is the time we spend in pain, or in love. “You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line,” Eagleman writes in one of his tales. Though it’s fictional, this experience of the afterlife is also profoundly real: it’s a true breakdown of how our days pass, what we decide—consciously or otherwise—to prioritize, and what demands time from us.

Temujin Doran, an artist and filmmaker who runs the creative project Studiocanoe, has taken Eagleman a step forward, visualizing a life in the astonishing short film, Sum:

The short film is at once beautiful and tragic: on one hand, the thrill of all the things we get to do (and re-do) in our life, and the pure amazement of the human experience; on the other, the inevitable heartbreak of its finiteness.

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