Afterlife

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What could happen in the next life.

1. SORTED

It may be the case that, in the afterlife, you re-live all your experiences, but this time these events get grouped into categories and you get to experience each category in one go.

And so you sleep for 30 years non-stop, then you take one month of intense pain all at once; next you spend 14 months looking for lost items; followed by 11 months waiting in queues. Next you spend 2 years reading books until your eyes hurt, then you go on a walk for a year. You spend 7 months wondering what happens when you die and then 5 months in utter confusion. You then spend 2 days having sex followed by 3 weeks realising you are wrong, then one week waiting for a green light; after that you spend 2 months pretending you know what is being talked about; then you swallow food for 3 years. Finally you spend a year getting annoyed.



2. SHADES OF GREY

You discover, in the afterlife, that God understands the complexities of life. She originally constructed her universe as a binary system with black and white and good and evil as the main principles. But, after a while, She came to the realisation that humans could be good in some ways, but at the same time, be corrupt and mean in spirit. And so how was She to work out who goes to hell and who goes to heaven? Could a man be an embezzler but also give to charity? Might a woman be an adulteress but bring pleasure and love to two men? And so God developed complex AI systems, based on algorithms, in order to weigh up all the factors, and then She connected the human race to the Smart Grid so that all intentions could be monitored. This helped initially, but She didn’t really like the idea that the process was automatic and, when her computer generated the final decision, she often would disagree with it.

The computerised system of allocating who was to end up in heaven in the afterlife, or who was going to hell was not satisfactory to God. She realised both sides had suffered, both had their legitimate grievances, and both pled their cases earnestly. And so she covered Her ears and moaned to Herself in misery. She now realised that the humans she had created were multi-dimensional and were not the same creatures that She originally created in the rigid structure of Her initial choices.

Not all gods go through this sort of turmoil, a lot of them don’t really care too much about the souls they create; and some gods are just children when they make their choices and don’t have enough experience to realise the consequences of their actions. It may be to our good fortune that She has grown up a bit over the eons and has a deep sensitivity which is not always the case by any means.

The problem She had as a god and creator was becoming difficult to cope with and many were gathering in a long queue waiting for a decision to be made on their fate. Her advisors advised Her to perhaps delegate the decision-making. But she loved her humans too much and couldn’t bear to leave the decision to someone else.

In a moment of desperation, it crossed her mind, to maybe just let everyone wait around indefinitely and perhaps let them work it all out for themselves. But then a better idea struck Her generous spirit.

Her better idea was to grant every last human a place in Heaven. She could afford to do this because everyone has something good inside of them, she thought, as it was part of Her original design specifications. This new plan brought back a spring in her step and a bounce to her gait. And the colour returned to her cheeks. She shut down the operations in Hell, fired the Devil, and brought every last human to be by Her side in Heaven.

Newcomers or old-timers, nefarious or righteous, under Her new system everyone got equal time to speak with her.

Most people found Her perhaps a little garrulous and maybe over-solicitous but they did not accuse Her of not caring. More importantly, Her new system treated everyone equally. It could have been eternal fire for some, and endless harp music for others, but not the case in Her new system which respected equality.

There would be no Netflix versus Amazon Prime; no BBC versus Channel 4, no Budweisser versus Champagne, and no potatoes versus sushi. Everyone is a brother or sister to all, and for the first time in existence we had true equality.

The New World Order are baffled and somewhat irritated because they have finally achieved their society, but only by the help of God whom they don’t want to believe in. The Capitalists are abashed that they are now stuck in eternity with no incentives to “get on” and they are surrounded by “communists”. The progressive conservatives are not just an oxymoron but they have no poor and weak people to disparage. And the liberals have no downtrodden to promote.

So God sits on the edge of Her bed and cries. And then she weeps all night. She cannot stop sobbing because she finally concludes that She has created Hell.



3. SMALL WORLD

When you die you feel that something has changed. Something subtle. But everything looks approximately the same. And so you get up, have a shower, and brush your teeth like normal. You have a hot cup of coffee, listen to Five Live on the radio, and eat some fine toast. You kiss your spouse and kids and leave for the Office.

There is less traffic than normal. The building that you work in seems a bit empty, as if it is a holiday. But everyone in your own office is here, and they greet you kindly. You feel strangely popular. And everyone you bump into is someone you know. Then it dawns on you. This is the afterlife. And this world is made up of people you’ve met before.

I've seen that face before
I’ve seen him hanging around my door
Stealing for the prey, like a hawk
Like the day waiting for the night
He shadows me back home
Outside he's standing there alone
His staring eyes chill me to the bone

And so you realise that your afterlife is entirely made up of people you’ve met before. It’s a small fraction of the world population, about 0.00002 per cent, but it seems plenty to be getting on with.

It turns out that it is only the people that you remember that are here. The Cop that arrested you in Bristol for scaring he bejesus out of sensitive people is here, but the woman you momentarily glanced at on the steps at the entrance to Strathclyde University in 1979 may not be included.

Your first primary-school teacher is here, and so is the girl who used to sob and wet herself at the back. But some of the Class of 65 are not here, although most of the 42 of them are. And that thug who stole your duffle-coat is unfortunately here too. How could you forget him.

Your parents are here in this afterlife, and so are all your friends. Your flatmate, David T, is here and so are those straight-laced, and po-faced, civil servants who interviewed you in Best Western, Bridge of Allan.

Your boss is here, and so are all your old lovers. Even that girl who suffered from TB. She’s made it. The guy who attacked you with a saw in his shop in Huntly is here, and so is the man who mugged you in London in 1980 in the Hyde Park car park. He took you for 80 quid remember.

Some film stars and TV personalities are here too. Carol Vorderman, that brassy chick is here, and so is that nice weather-girl Sian Lloyd. Keith Chegwin is here, bless his cotton socks. This is a blissful opportunity to spend quality-time with thousands of connections and to catch up with those you let slip away.

But after several weeks of this afterlife, where everyone you remember is here, you begin to feel forlorn. As you saunter through vast and quiet parks with a couple of friends you begin to wonder what is different. You notice that there are no strangers to grace the empty park-benches; there’s no family that is unknown to you, throwing bread crumbs to the ducks, making you smile because of their laughter. When you step into the street you notice that there are no crowds, there are no buildings teeming with workers, no city bustle, no hospitals running 24/7 with staff rushing about under tremendous pressure and a sense of duty. There are no commuter-trains with sardined passengers on their way home to relax for the evening. The missing crowds make you lonely. Nothing is unfamiliar. Nothing is unexpected. You begin to complain about all the new people you could be meeting, but can’t. But no-one listens or shows you any sympathy. You have now, for eternity, the precise conditions that you chose for yourself when you were alive.



4. All ABOUT CHOICE

In the afterlife you are treated to a generous opportunity. That is, you can choose whatever you would like to be in the next life. Would you like to be a member of the opposite sex? Or would you like to be born into royalty? Would you wish you be a profound thinker or a great footballer? Would it be your wish to be a warrior, a great soldier?

Perhaps you have returned here from a hard life. Perhaps you were tortured by the enormity of the responsibilities that you were surrounded by and you yearn for simplicity. You fancy the simple life without any unnecessary complications with few decisions to make and no responsibilities, and so you choose to be a cat in your next life. You covet the long days lounging around as a pet cat, mostly sleeping, if not dozing. Lying around on your favourite blanket. And so you announce your decision. Incantations are muttered, a wand is waved, and your body begins to metamorphose into a cat. Your concerns about human affairs begin to slip away, your cynicism about human behaviour melts, and even your human way of thinking begins to drift away. Suddenly, just for a moment, you are aware of the problem you have overlooked as you turn into a cat.

As a cat you appear in a grotty alleyway in the centre of Glasgow in May 1982. Your life is wretched at best, but it can be often terrifying. You live on discarded margarine packets while dodging air-gun pellets from the local kids, and you slurp contaminated water from muddy puddles. You seek shelter in a sewage pipe. Your coat is infested.

And then you see the Nice Man. He is on a bicycle. He stops to say hello. You’ve seen him before. This man is Hope. You make direct eye contact and send out your love to him. That is all you have to give. The man turns around and cycles away north to the Campsies. You never see that man again.

You realise now that you are being punished for your sins with the knowledge that you cannot appreciate the destination without knowing the starting point. You cannot revel in the simplicity unless you can remember the alternatives. And that’s not the worst of your revelation. You realise that the next time you return here, with your simple cat-brain, you won’t have the capacity to ask to become a human again. Your choice to slide down the intelligence ladder is irreversible.

Just before you lose your final human facilities, you painfully ponder what magnificent creature, enthralled with the idea of finding a simpler life, chose to become a human.



5. THE QUIET LIFE

It is all about softness, this afterlife. And so you find yourself in a large padded compound. Everything around you appears to be designed for quietness and comfort. Your feet fall silently on the cushioned floor. The walls are pillowed. Echoes are dampened by foam ceiling-tiles. A hard surface is impossible to find; feathers pad everything.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Grand Hall is a Princely man. If you imagine what a god would look like then this man looks like that, except that he is noticeably agitated, and strained with worry, around his eyes. It is likely that he will be explaining that he is greatly disturbed by the nuclear threat from Russia. He says that he is so concerned that he often awakens, in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, with the sounds of colossal blasts booming in his ears.

“I am not your God” he says to you. “I am not from your planet, but to be clear, we are all in the same mess”.

“What mess?” you ask.

“Please don’t talk so loudly,” he softly says.

“For a long time we have been studying our neighbours. That is you Earthlings and 37 other planets. We have developed highly advanced algorithms that predict the future growth and social direction of all the planets we are monitoring. It turns out that Earth is the least tranquil and content planet. It is our prediction that your weapons of war will grow increasingly loud. You make too much noise. Your space rockets are very noisy as they thunder through the heavens with their deafening propulsion systems. In your human context is like living next door to a family with too many power tools in use each day, and incessant barking dogs tied up outside constantly whining and wailing. You never stop arguing and shouting at each other.

And so we have concluded that sensible communication with you is not possible with all this racket interfering with our higher-level thought patterns. We wish to live a quite life and try not to draw attention to ourselves and we would prefer you to stay away from us please. Thank you.”



6. SELF CONCIOUS

When you arrive in the afterlife God is nowhere to be seen. You ask a passing angel where He is.

“I believe he is a room somewhere reading a book by Helen Musk. He reads this book a lot.” comes the answer.

“Right. Who is Helen Musk?” you query.

“She was a biological robotics engineer from Silicon Valley, on Earth. Apparently she was the richest person on Earth and she sits on a special throne here and is cared for, and protected by, a coven of angels. God clutches her book to His chest and sits up all night reading “How to create an intelligent robot that is self-aware”.

Like Helen Musk, God considers Himself a medical doctor, a biological engineer without parallel, and He has a deep and painful relationship with any story written about the creation of life. God has much to say about bringing animation to the un-animated. Very few of His creatures had thought deeply about the challenges of creation and it relieved Him of the loneliness of His position when Helen wrote her guide-book of instructions.

The first time God read Helen Musk’s book He criticised it the whole way through for its over-simplification of the processes involved. But when He reached the end he was won over. For the first time, someone understood Him. That is when he called for her and put her on a throne.

To appreciate His outpouring of feeling, you must understand the direction of God’s medical career. God discovered the principles of self-organisation by initially experimenting with yeast and bacteria. And He revelled in the beauty of His inventions. Once he mastered the general principles, His inventions became increasingly sophisticated. With artistic flair He stitched together a big dinosaur-type thing and also a compact beetle. And He also put together giant pods of glistening dolphins. His skills became razor-sharp and He keenly fashioned, with blinding accuracy, all the animals at the limits of His vast imagination.

God designed all His creatures and then, unwittingly, He crossed His Rubicon: He created a Human. Man was His most prized possession. Something to treasure. A showpiece and an obsession.

Unlike all the other animals, who experienced each day like the one before, Man cared, sought, yearned, erred, coveted, and ached. Just like God Himself.

He marvelled as man picked through the ground and formed tools. The invention of musical instruments reached God’s ears like a symphony. In fascination, God watched men gather together and erect cities. But then He felt apprehension as humans began to argue and fight with each other. And it didn’t take long before invasions began. War after war waged as the day followed the night. God tried to talk to those who might listen. But he quickly discovered that He had less control than He thought. There were simply too many of them.

He tried to make good things come to good people, and bad to bad, but He was no Helen Musk, he simply did not have the technology to implement his wishes.

The bloodshed mounted and was carried forward by Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans and the New World Order. East and West flung themselves at each other. The bright and beautiful land was darkening with human blood. And there was precious little He could do to stop it.

All throughout the carnage God could hear the voices of Humankind reaching Him and pleading for help. God plugged His ears and howled. He tried to block out the prayers of the suffering masses.

And now God locks Himself in his room. At night, when it is safe, he sneaks out onto the roof with a copy of Helen Musk’s book and He reads it again and again. He consoles himself with the thought that all creation necessarily ends this way: creators powerless and fleeing from the things they have wrought.



7. AM I DREAMING?

You began to think maybe that you were a butterfly dreaming that you were a human. Or maybe you were a brain in a jar, experiencing sights and sounds, but it was all a dream, and one day you would wake up to discover your true reality. But it turns out that you have missed the mark. It is not life that is a dream; it is death that is a dream. And, stranger still, it is not your dream, it is someone else’s.

You now remember that your dreams always had background characters: people in restaurants, people on the street, drivers on the road, or some guy standing outside your door at night. These dream-people don’t come from nowhere, they are actors playing parts. They allow the experience of dreaming to feel real for the dreamer. Sometimes, as an actor, we pay attention to the plot of the dream, but more often we just chat among ourselves and wait for our shift to end.

This is not a job choice, it is part of your contract. You owe the same number of hours of dream-service as you actually spent dreaming during your lifetime. Not many are pleased about this obligation except for maybe people like David T who is a show-off and likes to be the centre of attention, even in someone else’s dream. Most of us are quite happy to play the part of supporting actors, extras, in the background.

If a dreamer casts us in a restaurant, we get a free meal out of it. On less fortunate shifts we are cellmates when someone gets arrested for lying on a box-junction in the centre of Glasgow on a Saturday night. We could be cast as dull people at parties or co-workers who snigger for no reason.

For those of us playing interactive roles, lines of dialogue are flashed on a screen behind the dreamer to be delivered as convincingly as possible even if the nylon shirt you are wearing is not credible. Most of us give poor performances because we are not trained actors and have little incentive. But fortunately the dreamer seems to believe whatever we deliver. And, even if we do not look like the characters in question, the dreamers are usually convinced that we are who they think we are, but they can be mildly confused if we are cast as different genders in separate roles.

A while back the dream-actors went on strike and for around three days everyone on Earth dreamt about wandering around empty houses and walking around deserted streets. Some people interpreted this as a grim omen and jumped to their deaths only to then appear as new dream-actors in someone else’s dream. The dream-cast realised that maybe things had gone too far and so abandoned their strike immediately.

This dream-actor afterlife doesn’t seem too bad, not much of a punishment you might say. But I haven’t told you the worst part yet. In the mornings, when we are done with our overnight work as actors in other people dreams, we fall into restless slumbers of our own. And who do you think populates my dream? David T keeps pushing his way in. And, every night, I see that young girl Helen from Butlins in 1977 but I never actually get to speak to her. And there are always these people sniggering in the background for some reason as if they are “in” on a joke that I know nothing about. And this goes on forever.



8. WAITING ROOM

There are two deaths. The first is when your body ceases to function. The second is when your name is spoken for the last time and you are no longer part of anyone’s memory. While you are waiting for the second death you sit in a lobby. There are long tables with coffee, tea, and biscuits. You can help yourself. There are people here from all around the world, and with a little effort, you can strike up some friendly small-talk. Just be aware, however, that your conversation may be interrupted at any moment by the Callers. They broadcast the names of people who have been entirely forgotten about.

When the Caller announces that the friend you are chatting with will never again be remembered again by anyone on Earth his face slumps. His expression is like a shattered plate that has been re-glued together. You tell him kindly that he is off to a better place, but no-one knows where that better place is or what it offers. This is because no-one has returned from this other place to tell us. Tragically, many people leave the lobby just as their loved ones arrive, because they were the only ones doing the remembering. And we all shake our heads at the typical timing.

The whole place looks like an infinite airport waiting-area. There are many famous people from history here. If you get bored you can wander among the lines of seats. And after many days of walking through aisle after aisle you’ll start to notice that people look different, and you’ll detect the tone of foreign languages. People gather among their own kind and you see the emergence of territories that mirror the pattern on the surface of the planet. It can appear, with the exception of oceans, that you are traversing a map of the Earth. But there are no time-zones here. No-one sleeps although they mostly wish they could. Everywhere is evenly lit by fluorescent lighting.

Not everyone is sad when the Callers enter the room and shout out the next list of names that people have forgotten about. Some beg and plead prostrate at the Callers’ feet. These people are usually those who have been here a long time. Too long. In particular, those who are still remembered for unfair reasons.

A typical example would be Johnny Thomson, who was a goal-keeper for Celtic Football Club and died tragically in 1931 after a Rangers’ forward came in hard and made head-contact on Thomson with his boot and killed him outright. No-one forgets Johnny and they still sing a song about him. He has been stuck here for a great while and is quite miserable. And by now he is utterly alienated from his name and no longer identifies with his Earthly past.

Then there is a grey-haired 60s pop-star who hangs around the vending machine waiting for everyone just to forget about him, but Wiki-Star-Pedia keeps reminding everybody. We all realise after a while that the curse of the lobby is that we lose control of our lives and become who people want us to be in their memory. And so we wait to be forgotten.



9. GENDER WAR

The idea of God being a “He” or a “She” is a misnomer. What we call “God” is actually a married couple. And when they decided to create humans in their own image, they compromised and manufactured approximately equal numbers of both genders.

The She-god created each women from deep in Her heart whereby She becomes the woman for just a moment as She shapes her, and tries out different heights and weights, emotional depths, intelligence levels, skin tones and eye colours. And the same applies to every male shaped by Him.

However, on certain nights, when they are feeling adventurous, each of them creates a member of the opposite sex, just to see what it feels like. On one occasion, when they were a bit tipsy, they created a man in body but with a woman’s mind, just to be mischievous. The next morning they both felt a bit embarrassed about this juvenile prank.

When you die you live in the large home of the married-God-couple and enjoy a parent-child relationship with them. Every human in the world is a child to them and they devote tremendous effort to their parenting skills.

It is heartening to see that they learn from us in the same manner that all parents learn from their children. They didn’t know how to express the workings of their universe in equations, for example, and are greatly impressed by their physicist children who speak their own language of mathematics and can show clearly how the universe works to other humans.

On the other hand, it would be misleading to tell you that it has always been a happy family, because there was a period of time when that wasn’t true. Their marriage was an arranged one and over the millennia they grew unhappy with each other’s company.

The God-couple carefully observed their humans over the years and they learned that sometimes couples don’t work out, that people separate, adulterate, divorce, but none of it is so terrible that the universe comes crashing down. And so, in the manner that has happened many times to humans, the God-couple separated.

There were many acts of bitterness. They stung each other with unfair accusations, using information so personal that it shouldn’t have been broached. She was hurt, and in an idea of quick revenge, She created a planet of all-females that looked like Hilary Clinton. He retorted with a solar system of males who resembled Donald Trump. She then encircled His line of planets with a band of women-politicians on meteors. Both God’s armed the new humans to battle it out, women against men. Both sides were supplied with weapons ranging from sarcasm to tanks. Dark irony was mixed into the scenario as well, to add a bit of spice.

But then something strange happened. The planets and meteors were silent. No battles waged; not a shot was fired.

Everything was calm and silent. And on close inspection, they discovered that the mono-sexual inhabitants of the planets were miserable, crushed in their existentialism under a feeling of the absence of something terribly important, something they could not put their finger on.

Eventually, She dropped her hands from Her hips and He from His. She spoke the first tender words in months, asking if he was hungry. He responded by offering to cook something for them both. The planets of men and women drifted back together, and the human race prospered again, with its pursuits, seductions, choices, competitions, temptations, arguments, and a great cosmic sigh of relief as they all fell into each other’s arms and enjoyed their freedom from war.



10. DIM-WITS

Your creator, in the afterlife, you discover, is a species of small, dim-witted entities. These creatures are obtuse and look vaguely human but are a bit more brutish. They are singularly unintelligent. They furrow their brows in an effort to follow what you are saying. It can help if you speak slowly and sometimes you have to draw pictures. At some point their eyes glaze over, and they nod as if they understand you, but the truth is they will have lost the thread of the conversation entirely.

And here is a warning: when you wake up in the afterlife, you will be surrounded by these creatures. They will be pushing and shoving-in around you, howling and rubber-necking to get a look at you, and they will all be asking you the same thing: Do you have answer? Do you have answer?

Don’t be frightened. These creatures are kind and innocuous.

You will probably ask the not-very-bright creatures what they are talking about. They will furrow their brows, reflecting on your words like a mysterious proverb. Then they will timidly repeat: Do you have answer?

You make ask: Where the heck am I?

A scribe faithfully marks down your every word for future record. Mother and daughter creatures peer out at you, from observation decks, with hopeful expressions on their confused faces. To understand where you are, it will help to have some background.

At some point in the development of the dim-wit creatures’ society they began to wonder: Why are we here? What is the purpose of our existence? These turned out the be very difficult questions to answer. So difficult, in fact, rather than tackling the questions directly, they decided it might be easier to build artificial intelligence (AI) machines devoted to finding the answers. So they invested the labour of tens of generations to engineer the AI robots. We are their machines.

This seemed to a clever strategy to the elders of their community. However, they overlooked a problem: to build a machine smarter than you, it has to be more complex that you, and the ability to understand the machine you have created begins to slip away from your grasp.

When your own Earthly body wears out, and ceases to function, your software is re-uploaded into the dim-wit’s laboratory so they can probe it. This is where you awaken in your afterlife. And as soon as you make your first sound the dim-wits crowd around you to learn one thing: Do you have answer?

When the dim-wit creatures created us, we didn’t hang around. We very quickly built societies, roads, wrote novels, made smart-phones, cars, telescopes and every variety of our own machinery. The creatures have a hard time keeping up with all this technology and simply cannot understand most of it because they cannot follow the complexity. And when you try to explain to them what has happened, they cannot keep up with your rapid and unfathomable speech and so they just nod in a dim-witted way in case they upset you. This makes them sad, and the most insightful of these creatures can be seen weeping in the corners, because they know their project has failed. They believe we have deduced the answer but are too advanced to communicate it at their level.

But they don’t understand that we have no answers for them. They don’t guess that our main priority is to answer these questions for ourselves. They cannot grasp that, because of this, we build ever-increasing sophistication to address our own mysteries. You try to explain this to the creatures, but this is fruitless, not only because they don’t understand you, but also because you realise how little you understand yourself about your own machines.