When you think you’ve died, you haven’t actually died. Death is a two-stage process, and where you wake up after your last breath is something of a Purgatory: you don’t feel dead, you don’t look dead, and in fact you are not dead. Yet.
Perhaps you thought the afterlife would be something like a soft white light, or a glistening ocean, or floating in music. But the afterlife more closely resembles the feeling of standing up too quickly: for a confused moment, you forget who you are, where you are, all the personal details of your life. And it only gets stranger from here.
First, everything becomes dark in a blindingly bright way, and you feel a smooth stripping away of your inhibitions and a washing away of your power to do anything about it. You start to lose your ego, which is intricately related to the spiriting away of your pride. And then you lose your self-referential memories.
You’re loosing you, but you don’t seem to care.
There’s only a little bit of you remaining now, the core of you: naked consciousness, bare as a baby.
To understand the meaning of this afterlife, you must remember that everyone is multifaceted. And since you always lived inside your own head, you were much better at seeing the truth about others than you ever were at seeing yourself. So you navigated your life with the help of others who held up mirrors for you. People praised your good qualities and criticized your bad habits, and these perspectives—often surprising to you—helped you to guide your life. So poorly did you know yourself that you were always surprised at how you looked in photographs or how you sounded on voice mail.
In this way, much of your existence took place in the eyes, ears, and fingertips of others. And now that you’ve left the Earth, you are stored in scattered heads around the globe.
Here in this Purgatory, all the people with whom you’ve ever come in contact are gathered. The scattered bits of you are collected, pooled, and unified. The mirrors are held up in front of you. Without the benefit of filtration, you see yourself clearly for the first time.
And that is what finally kills you.
-Sum, by David Eagleman. My lab director is pretty good at fiction.