spiritualism is an excellent focal point from which the various dynamics inherent in the Victorian society can be examined and understood

One example of the cultural contextuality of death practices and beliefs:

As with Victorian religion and society at large, spiritualism sought to successfully integrate the traditional spiritual beliefs with the new tenets and methods of science (and the new confidence inspired by science). One writer claimed that “authority, in the world of physical science is backed up by the knowledge that it can always be checked,” as assertion that the modem religions of the nineteenth century and spiritualism hoped to be able to duplicate.

emphasis added

Thanks, medical science.

Interesting also that the author describes the relationship between “the scientific approach to spiritualism” and “the new field of psychology”, particularly how spirtualists rationalised their science using theoretical constructs of the self that were emerging in my own field: 

One writer applauded the discovery of the concept of “personality,” of a mental being wholly separate from the physical self, and related this as a “scientific proof” of the possibility of the “survival of the human personality after physical death.”

Points to a new rationalisation during that period of the concept of a soul separate from the physical human: “The general principle of spiritualism, that the soul was immortal, was seen to be proven by science”. This has been under debate throughout human history, and seems to be learned at an early age.

Frankenstein was, of course, the artificial intelligence debate of the Romantic Period. 

In Gregory, C. (1989-1990). A Willing Suspension of DisbeliefThe Student Historical Journal, Vol 21: Loyola University.

HT Ben

The will required servants to serve dinner every night just in case the Bowmans were hungry when they returned from the dead.

What people choose to posthumously bequeath to their surviving beneficiaries is, ultimately, their business. But it does say something about what they value and who they think are. This How Stuff Works article describes nine stories of so-called “strange” wills and testaments, from Harry Houdini’s (who left his wife a secret code so they could communicate after he made his final escape) to Marie Curie’s (who left her daughter a gram of radium).

For more celebrity-based will fun, read Elvis’ remarkably dull doc.

Will & Testament basics (different legal rules apply in different territories! this is not actual legal advice! please don’t sue me!) are on wikiHow.

"Avoid leaving gifts to pets" is a very good rule of thumb.

“Gilgamish, why dost thou run, (forasmuch as) the life which thou seekest
Thou shalt not find?” (Whereat) Gilgamish answer’d the warrior Shamash:

“Shall I, after I roam up and down o’er the waste as a wand’rer,
Lay my head in the bowels of earth, and throughout the years slumber
Ever and aye? Let mine eyes see the Sun and be sated with brightness,
(Yea, for) the darkness is (banish’d) afar, if wide be the brightness.
When will the man who is dead (ever) look on the light of the Sunshine?”

The singularity won’t destroy us, Kurzweil says. Instead, it will immortalize us.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity, from Wired 16.04 (24 March 2008), by Gary Wolf.

Technology. The end of theory (o rilly?). The end of death. The end… of humanity.

…while artificial intelligence will render biological humans obsolete, it will not make human consciousness irrelevant.

I don’t want to be a bot:

Kurzweil predicts that by the early 2030s, most of our fallible internal organs will have been replaced by tiny robots. We’ll have “eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus, and brain.”

Want to know more? Here’s a Q&A that Kurtzweil published in 2005. And if you’re *really* intrigued, you can enrol for a graduate programme at Singularity University.

(note: if you’re worried about misplaced thetans, your church is elsewhere)

I remembered this column I wrote for The Guardian’s gamesblog in early 2006 last night as I started to mentally aggregate the content for the Untangling the Web chapter about death.

I put my stake in the ground in the first sentence:

It has been a very difficult week. I have unexpectedly lost two family members on opposite sides of the United States. 

And then continue, as best I could, with a funeral for a beloved family member that afternoon.

The Silent Hill series… recreates the cacophonous emotional earthquake that often follows the loss of a loved one. The plots twist the psychological plights of men trying to come to terms with the deaths of close family, and throw them into nightmarish scenarios filled with horrifying obstacles. In one game, the main character fruitlessly chases the spectre of his missing daughter through zombie-infested schoolhouses, and in another, he desperately tries to save the doppelganger of his recently deceased wife from an onslaught of the undead.

It has been quite a few years since I wrote that, and I’m assured games have moved up in the emotion stakes. I don’t play them anymore though - I got tired of the lack of emotions - so I have to rely on the descriptions of friends to tell me this.

So are there any particularly emotionally captivating and accurate death experiences in any games that have been released since February 2006? Let me know on Twitter, @aleksk. Thanks.

Similar to a personal Facebook page, a “Living Headstone” archive site contains information you and friends can add about your loved one, such as: an obituary, family heritage and history, photos, comments by friends and relatives and even a map to locate the memorial in the cemetery.

Add a QR code, readable by a smartphone, to a granite gravestone.

Living Headstone™ | QR Code Turns Headstone into Interactive Memorial

HT @tamaleaver's presentation, “The Ends of Online Identity" at IR12 (October 2011, Seattle, WA).

…digital technology and global networks are overriding our natural ability to forget—the past is ever present, ready to be called up at the click of a mouse. Mayer-Schönberger examines the technology that’s facilitating the end of forgetting—digitization, cheap storage and easy retrieval, global access, and increasingly powerful software—and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it’s outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won’t let us forget.
Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2010). Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press.

Three dimensions regarding digital death were identified.

First dimension (D1) deals with the death of a living being. The death of a human begs the question: what happens to the mass of digital information left behind? Are there parts of the information space one would like to ‘leave’ to loved ones, for example photos or financial information. In addition, one must question whether there are any parts of the information space that one would want to ‘die’ with them. An equally important aspect of human death is the grieving process and whether the ritual of death is more important, or as important, as the dead body. If this is the case then can virtualization of death rituals assist in the grieving process? One can perhaps get a feeling of this process by wondering into a graveyard in Second Life.

Second dimension (D2) deals with the death of digital information. The death of information itself is also to be considered when your digital information dies before you. For example, the death of a person’s personal computer or hard disk. How does this ‘loss’ of a personal computer or hard disk affect people? This directly relates to how much information was lost and to how important and/or personal the information was. Another form of ‘information death’ is when a system progresses or technology advances and your information is left in a format that cannot be read, for example the move from floppy disk to CD. This information is then lost or ‘dead.’ Note that the preservation of digital material is a current worldwide concern.

Third dimension (D3) deals with immortality of digital information and the need to engineer its death. Digital information can be immortal, because anything you write in the virtual world remains. If it remains in circulation, your ‘bits’ will remain forever. However, this can also cause problems as there are an increasing number of people placing information online, 5 every day and this information remains forever, even after someone has died And we are only at the infancy of the Digital Era! If this trend continues we will soon be buried in graveyards of ‘dead’ personal information.

From DigitalDeath.eu, a site inspired by the 2009 paper, “Digital Death" (full text) by researchers in the Design Department at Goldsmiths (University of London) and the Department of Social & Political Sciences (University of Cyprus):

S. Pitsillides,S. Katsikides, M. Conreen. (2009). Digital Death, “Images of Virtuality: Conceptualizations and Applications in Everyday Life”, An IFIP WG9.5 “Virtuality and Society” International Workshop, April 23-24, Athens, Greece.

Paper abstract:

In this paper we introduce the concept of Digital Death, a topic we believe has not been discussed and researched in the literature previously, and argue that it is worthy of further research. We propose three different dimensions of digital death, analyse each one, and propose a number of representative applications which could be designed from a better understanding of digital death. We develop our theory and evaluate our ideas through background literature survey, discussions and questionnaires.

This is the fourth Digital Death Day organised by this group. It will be held this year in Amsterdam at the TropenMuseum during their Death Matters exhibit.

Death Matters shows how people deal with death in different parts of the world. How they mourn and commemorate: whether privately or openly, soberly or exuberantly, alone or communally. Various forms of leave-taking, mourning and commemorating are presented in the exhibition. These reveal much about what people think about life, death and the hereafter. Besides objects, personal stories and films, Death Matters also features recent work by international artists such as Marina Abramovic, Yang Jiechang, Jan Fabre, Carlos Amorales and Krien Clevis referring to various cultural traditions connected with death.

Here are Planned Departure’s notes from the second event, held in May 2010 in London.

HT to @tamaleaver and @tamaravw