Immortality discourse

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Fig. 1. Immortality toolkit.

About (and why we talk about it)

What shape our beings are going to take in the future? Physical, organic, synthetic, visible shape, or some other non definable matter or even energy?

The present culture is marked by obsession with the perfect-body-cult and is enhanced by the development of innovations leading to bodies separated from their images and their thoughts. In this situation it is difficult to imagine the after-life-style without physical or at least visible bodies. Considering this dichotomy, this speculative research-based workshop is looking into eternity of life and mummification of bodies.

Mummification refers back to the times when humans believed in postmortem life into which they would be reborn through their preserved bodies. In ancient Egypt an intact body was an integral part of a person's afterlife. Mummification process in that sense was an important element which dealt with the basic human fear — the fear of death. In addition, later in history mummies not only saved the afterlife of the dead, but also were thought to save lives of those still alive: until the 1920s ground mummies were used as a drug, and this ground powder was believed to cure any disease, not considering it any form of canibalism1.

Since Ancient Egypt this belief in afterlife has gone through many stages and even transformed into the new belief of immortality without body, suggesting alternative modes of further existence such as downloading your brain into the silicon machine (transferring yourself into a state of Singularity2). Some further techniques of preserving our bodies have also been discovered and applied in science (paraffin impregnation, embalming, plastination, cryopreservation) however none of the above has yet proved to be a success in a sense of hacking life.

In addition, innovations have significantly moved forward in the field of material and immaterial bodily extensions, some might be seen as balancing on the gap between life and the post-mortem. The examples are various — from "intelligent" artificial limbs, headsets, smartphones, to virtual social networks, online profiles, data collections, absorbing information about us (not without our own intense labor) and building new "bodies" for our further yet unknown existences.

No matter how much living conditions have changed and technology has advanced, human bodies remain unaltered, the same as they were created by natural evolution. They are still mortal, reproducing the same way, life is still very fragile and their appearance is very similar to those who lived thousands of years ago in completely different environments.

Limited by our own constructs of ethics we still have not applied the DIY principle to ourselves to design our own genes and to make ourselves yet more perfect. After all the attemps humans have not yet turned into machines either and their bodies are still non-resistant to natron.

Method

The mummification process itself consisted of several stages such as removing inner parts of body, drying the body in natron salt, embalming it with resins, cassia, cedar oil, myrrh, cassia, and palm wine (as drying or anti-microbal agents) and wrapping it up with linen1. This helped to protect the body from decay and allowed to preserve human skin and flesh for a very long time.

The longest and one of the most important parts of this process was drying out the body. The main component during the drying process was natron, because of its ability to absorb water and dry out substances. In changing conditions natron reacts with water creating a hostile envoronment for the bacteria and this way it may preserve the body from further damage. Egyptians used to leave bodies in natron for up to 70 days.

Natron is a naturally found mixture of the following ingredients:

  • washing soda (main ingredient) sodium carbonate decahydrate (Na2CO3·10H2O, soda ash Na2CO3
  • baking soda (main ingredient) 17% sodium bicarbonate NaHCO3)
  • table salt (small quantities found) sodium chloride NaChl
  • Glaubers salt (small quantities found) sodium sulfate Na2SO4

Other uses of natron in Egypt

In Egypt natron was used for many other household purposes like cleaning (home and body), to dry and preserve fish and meat, for making leather and as a bleach for clothing, as an ancient household insecticide, the mineral was also mixed into early antiseptics for wounds and minor cuts.

Workshop (Mummifying a fruit)

  • Step One: Prepare a mixture of baking soda and washing soda adding a pinch of salt and a pinch of Gauber's salt.
  • Step Two: prepare the apple for drying out its outer skin by taking its inner parts out with a sharp tool.
  • Step Three: Place the fruit in the mixture making sure it is fully covered. Leave it in the mixture at least for one week.

Leave it uncovered so the moisture can escape.

"Cheating the game" is borrowing the tools and methods of food preservation and household routines. At the same time it replicates the process of human mummification. Mummification preserves the fruit, it stops bacteria from growing, but makes the apple inedible.

Footnotes

[1] Wells S. A. American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/ethnic/mummy.htm

[2] Kurzweil, R. The Singularity is Near, Penguin Group, 2005

[3] Mummification in ancient Egypt, article online http://legacy.mos.org/quest/mummyegypt.php

References