Monday, 1 October 2007


Illustration (c) 2007 Carl Goodman


Copyright (C) 2007 David Such

First published in Planet Magazine (, 30th September 2007.

I remember dying, but my earlier memories are beginning to go. Being a particle physicist gives one a unique perspective on death, particularly while participating in the greatest experiment ever.

My initial thesis was to attribute my memory loss to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Our universe resists order and works to always try to increase disorder. We physicists refer to this disorder as entropy. The portion of the electromagnetic wave encoded with my personality and memories was obviously degrading, and taking me with it.

I thought back to earlier in the morning….

* * *

“Jim, are you sure you want to do this?”

I looked up at my brother from the medical trolley. “Mike, you know I have to. There is no other way to prove my theory.”

“This won’t bring back Jessie,” said Mike.

“I know, and I’m not planning on joining her just yet. That’s why I’ve got the best doctor I know — my own brother — supervising the procedure.”

“Jim, even if we bring you back there may be brain damage.”

“I know the dangers, and it is a risk I have to take. Otherwise, everything else has been for nothing. All the sacrifices and Jessie’s death will be meaningless. You have to do this, Mike, and if you won’t then I will find someone else who will. I trust you; please have faith in me.”

* * *

I had no way of estimating how quickly I was losing what defined that which was uniquely me. Being a wave of radiation, I must be moving at the speed of light, which meant that relative to everyone I used to know, time had stopped.

Did this explain reincarnation? Was I even now seeking out a new body to inhabit, or was I destined to drift in space forever? The one thing that really scared me was losing my mind before the Institute could bring me back.

* * *

Mike watched me die. Not once, but twice. First was clinical death when the heart and lungs stopped. Then there was brain death.

Mike was watching the monitors carefully. All electrical brain activity had flat-lined. “Nurse, what is the weight now?”

“It just dropped 20 grams,” she replied.

“OK, that is the signal. Commence resuscitation and start the clock. We have seven minutes to bring him back before the cerebral cortex dies.”

Anne Walker was the Institute’s in-house lawyer, and she was supervising the experiment in case it all went wrong. She was taking notes and gestured with her pen. “What is the significance of the weight loss?”

Mike replied absently as he supervised the medical team. “We lose approximately 21 grams in weight when we die, the so-called “weight of the soul”. Assuming that this is correct, and that the entire weight is converted to energy, my brother’s soul is now a wave of energy equivalent to almost half a megaton of TNT.”

Anne replied, “So that is your brother’s theory, but a wave going where?”

“That is the big question, Anne, and only one person can tell us. If we can bring him back, that is.”

There was a sudden flurry of activity around the supine form of the professor, and Mike rushed to assist. There were five minutes remaining on the clock.

* * *

I couldn’t feel anything, or see anything or sense anything. Maybe this was hell, drifting in limbo while my mind decayed. Dante described Limbo as the first circle of hell, populated by “neutralists” or “opportunists.” Thinking back on my life, that described me pretty well; however, I was hoping to prove something with my hopefully temporary death.

Memory was a funny thing. I loved Jessie but already my memories of her were dimming. It was the little things that went first, the smell of her hair, the feel of her skin. I always believed that you weren’t really dead until everyone had forgotten you.

I remember laughing when I read what Australian billionaire Kerry Packer allegedly said after his first heart attack: “I’ve been on the other side and let me tell you, son, there’s f—ing nothing there.” I wasn’t laughing now.

And if I remembered my catechism correctly, all I needed to do was hang around until Judgment Day; then I would be sent to either heaven or hell. Of course, suicide was a mortal sin, so there wasn’t much doubt where the Church thought I would be heading eventually. I think I had more chance of being extracted by the Institute.

There was one problem with my entropy theory. If time had stopped, then why were my memories disappearing? There must be some other mechanism at work.

So I turned all my attention inwards. I could feel something. I could sense an external influence alternately adding and subtracting from my essence. This ebb and flow seemed to be made up of million of voices. Concentrating, I could barely resolve fragments of sentences: “God, please help Becky…”, “…it will never work…”, “…love you,” “Jim, breathe, damn it….”

String theory claims that everything in the universe is made up of vibrating strings. Songs and prayers were adding to my energy, building the resonance and sustaining me. The negative thoughts and emotions were destructively interfering with the vibrations in the strings that defined me. I had to hope that the constructive influence would outweigh the destructive ones. I just needed to have faith.

* * *

Doctor Mike Andrews was working feverishly. “Charging….”
He glanced up at the clock, one minute to go. A tear rolled down his cheek. “Live, you bastard …clear!”

* * *

At that moment in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI sat down for a news conference. He adjusted his robes and began the address. “We have gathered you here today to announce that we have decided, after much analysis, interpretation, and prayer, that Limbo is only a theological hypothesis and is not a definitive truth of the Faith. From this moment, the International Theological Commission is abolishing the concept of Limbo.”

* * *

Jim Andrews looked up at the clock and started to sob. Mike was gone. So much for faith….


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