BIDS FOR SYMBOLIC IMMORTALITY AND LONGEVITY

Arthur Koestler, noted author and founder of Exit, wrote before his own suicide: "If the word death were absent from our vocabulary, our great works of literature would have remained unwritten, pyramids and cathedrals would not exist, nor works of religious art-and all art is of religious or magic origin. The pathology and creativity of the human mind are two sides of the same medal, coined by the same mintmaster" (1977).

According to Franz Kafka, "Man cannot live without a continuous confidence in something indestructible within himself" (Choron, 1964:15). In other words, the will for immortality is a central drive of the human primate--perhaps even more so nowadays in postmodern cultures where an increasing proportion of the population not only survives into old age but reaches Maslow's need for transcendence.  For an inventory of human envisionments of an afterlife see the Life After Death Database.  Five cultural strategies have been identified by which such psychological needs for indestructibility have been addressed (Morgenthau, 1967; Shneidman, 1973; Lifton, 1979; Kalish, 1985): the biological, religious, creative, natural and mystic modes.  

The biological mode involves one's genetic immortality, which provides a sense of continuity with one's ancestors and descendants. Bertrand Russell, in discussing this aspect of parenthood, writes: "...there is an egoistic element, which is very dangerous: the hope that one's children may succeed where one has failed, that they may carry on one's work when death or senility puts an end to one's efforts, and, in any case, that they will supply a biologic escape from death, making one's own life part of the whole stream, and not a mere stagnant puddle without any overflow into the future" (cited in Shneidman, 1973:47-48). 

Developments in stem cell research have certainly enhanced hopes for one's own biological immortality.  Imagine being able to grow such spare body parts as new brain or muscle cells, skin, hearts or lungs, or being able to cure such ailments as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's, leukemia, spinal-cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, or blindness. (See site of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Report on Stem Cell Research.)   Unfortunately the most programmable of stem cells come from human embryos and fetuses, which has put this line of research into the crosshairs of the anti-abortionists. (See the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's "Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research.")  Also enhancing the prospects for biological immortality are developments in DNA preservation, which has now become a business with such players as Genternity LLC, whose website includes the thought "If the idea of physical immortality appeals to you, Genternity provides the only scientifically feasible means.  On the other hand, regardless of how you perceive the idea of physical immortality, to reject the option of DNA preservation is to deliberately decide, once and for all, to discard the individual's unique blueprint."

Let Lazaron BioTechnologies save the DNA of your favorite pet for future cloning.  Genetic Savings and Clone, the nation's first all-inclusive pet cloning enterprise, now finds itself in competition with RePet and others in the pet resurrection business.  And why, ask the folks at the Human Cloning Foundation, does just Fido get cloned?  One can also become involved in the Raelian Revolution and be shown a philosophy that links UFOs with personal cloning.  For Americans' attitudes toward human cloning see Bernice Kanner's "Are You Normal? Human Clones."   Other rich resources include Human Cloning: Religious Perspectives from the May, 2001 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning (2002) from the National Academy Press, and Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry (2002) from The President's Council on Bioethics.

The religious mode entails the eternal life of the believer, whether obtained through resurrection, reincarnation (see also the homepage of Reincarnation International), metempsychosis, or some other form of rebirth (latest twist: Christians For the Cloning of Jesus).  Perhaps to this list we should add belief in Transhumanism, which views aging and death as surmountable barriers to "total self-transformation and personal freedom." Of course, what could be better than living forever, eternally remaining oneself in some cosmic Disneyland realm? As developed in "You Never Have to Die!", Americans are not only among the world's firmest believers in an afterlife but they are quite optimistic about what this existence holds. This is not to deny that there are the detractors, that there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support belief in the existence of any other dimension(s) of reality beside the physical wherein the dead reside. Further, there are profound conceptual difficulties with the heaven construct, as Michael Martin develops in "Problems with Heaven."  

However, even if personal immortality or absorption into some collective oversoul are not possibilities, there are
technological strategies for transcending death: living as long as possible, being preserved at the moment of death and then being scientifically resurrected (see Cryonics Institute, which includes the full text of the book "that started the cryonics movement," Robert C.W. Ettinger's Prospect of Immortality, Trudy Weathersby's About: Cryonics, or the European Cryonics Page), or living to ensure the immortality of one's memory.

Oblivion can also be avoided through the symbolic mode, by remaining in the memories of others through one's works, deeds, eponym (and no institution appears to have produced more than the medical establishment), charities, and infamies. Of memory, Elie Wiesel wrote in All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, p.150):

Memory is a passion no less powerful or pervasive than love. What does it mean to remember? It is to live in more than one world, to prevent the past from fading and to call upon the future to illuminate it. It is to revive fragments of existence, to rescue lost beings, to cast harsh light on faces and events, to drive back the sands that cover the surface of things, to combat oblivion and to reject death.

Such immortality was evident in its Gershwin Centennial Celebration in 1998, when the San Antonio Symphony performed "Rhapsody in Blue." What made the performance special was that it was Gershwin who was playing the concert grand piano. The instrument was a 1912 player piano, flown in from Denver, with a roll that had preserved Gershwin's own keystrokes. As the music was about to begin a spotlight moved across stage as if following the composer as he was taking his seat. An attendant even brought a glass of wine and placed it above the keyboard for George to drink. Though "dead" since 1937, Gershwin was present. At the end of the concert, Wayne Marshall performed with Gershwin. Sitting on one half of the bench--and ever careful not to be in the way--he improvised on the upper scales as Gershwin played two more of his pieces.

Through memory the dead come to play many roles in the affairs of the living. Observes Sandra Bertman:

The dead do not leave us: They are too powerful, too influential, too meaningful to depart. They give us direction by institutionalizing our history and culture; they clarify our relationship to country and cause. They immortalize our sentiments and visions in poetry, music, and art. The dead come to inform us of tasks yet to be completed, of struggles to be continued, of purposes to be enjoined, of lessons they have learned. We need the dead to release us from obligations, to open new potential, to give us belongingness and strength to continue with our lives (1979:151).

Such is the essence of symbolic immortality. It is through memory that the living hold on to the dead, inspiring such creations as the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal. Memories of the dead bring continuity and meaning to human existence, which is why political regimes maintain national cemeteries for fallen warriors, build monuments, and display embalmed remains (When a Moscow visitor in the 1930s asked a Russian Communist, "Why did you embalm Lenin?" he was told: "Because we don't believe in the immortality of the soul" [Leszek Kolakowski, "The Mummy's Tomb." New Republic, July 4, 1983:33]).  New technologies are now employed in this transcendence enterprise as William Sims Bainbridge details in his "Web Based Resources Relating to Technological Means for Achieving Immortality."  Of the artistic variant of this mode of immortality, W.H. Auden observed in accepting his 1967 National Medal for Literature:

To believe in the value of art is to believe that it is possible to make an object, be it an epic or a two-line epigram, which will remain permanently on hand in the world. ... In the meantime, and whatever is going to happen, we must try to live as E.M. Forster recommends that we should: `The people I respect must behave as if they were immortal and as if society were eternal. Both assumptions are false. But both must be accepted as true if we are to go on working and eating and loving, and are able to keep open a few breathing holes for the human spirit' (cited in Laing, 1967:49).

But, as will be seen, such memories can also kindle fears of the dead, whose spirits and ghosts can create mischief in the world of the living unless properly placated ritually.  See SpiritHistory: Ephemera for glimpses of the nineteenth-century American spiritualism movement.

The natural mode of symbolic immortality involves the continuance of the natural world beyond the individual's lifetime. In a sense, the ecology movement can be seen as an immortality attempt of many individuals, whose efforts lead to the preservation of some natural habitat or species of life.  Interesting twists on this mode are provided by Eternal Reefs, Inc., which turns cremated remains into living coral reefs, and Memorial Ecosystems, which also reintegrates self remnants into the natural order.


CASE STUDY: 
IMMORTALITY FOR THE ELECT IN SPORTS

During the twentieth century has arisen the great spectator sports phenomenon. When archeologists dug up our culture and find a Dallas Cowboys helmet and pom-poms, what inferences will be made about the late twentieth century American culture? American cities float bonds to finance their community temples, the sports complex, paid for by taxpayers whether fans or not. Indeed, sports rivals religion and politics as a shaper and reinforcer of core cultural values.

There is, of course, much more to professional sports than the mere game. With all their rules, regulations, and rigors of training, baseball, football, and basketball have become high drama expressions of everyday life. As paintings abstract our visual experience, and music abstracts the auditory, so the game abstracts the interdependency of individuals occupying specialized roles within the economic sphere of life. There are within the sociology of sport at least two perspectives which address this relation of sport to cultural value systems. One, the sport a microcosm of American society thesis, directs attention to the exaggeration of cultural values within the sports institution: competition, materialism, sexism, the domination of the individual by bureaucracy, and the accentuation on youth (Eitzen and Sage, 1978). The second perspective portrays sport as a secular, quasi-religious institution which, through ritual and ceremony, serves to reinforce social values (Edwards, 1973, p. 90) and to celebrate social solidarities. It is for these reasons that, like business, sports gets its own section of newspapers.

Like religion, professional sports use past generations as referents for the present and confer conditional immortality for their elect, through statistics and halls of fame.  Given the dramatic use of anabolic steroids in sports, even at the risk of death, athletes are willing to die in exchange for symbolic immortality.  Chicago osteopath Bob Goldman (Death in a Locker Room, II) asked Olympic-level athletes, "If you could take a magic pill that would make you win every competition you were in for five years but at the end of that time you would die, would you take it?"  In 1995, more than half said yesAlthough the sampling was flawed, it nevertheless reveals that there are many willing to exchange fame for death within this highly visible social arena of an extremely competitive society.

Hickok Sports.com's Index to Museums & Halls of Fame
International Association of Sports Museums and Halls of Fame
Stickball Hall of Fame and Museum
Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum
The College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend
International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum (Canastota, NY)
Hockey Hall Of Fame
International Swimming Hall of Fame and Museum (Canastota, NY)
International Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum (Canastota, NY)

CASE STUDY: 
IMMORTALITY FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL ELECT

While academicians argued about our culture's death denials, the music of the post-war baby-boomers was to become imbued with death, not only being a frequent theme of its songs, but the premature fate of its performers (around whom dead rock star cults were to emerge).  One of the better known halls of fame enshrine their elect.

We'll Always Remember--a Rock Obituary and Tribute Website
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum


IMMORTALITY CAPITALISM-STYLE

Given its commodification of all aspects of life and death--coupled with Americans' death fears, faith in science, and desires for immortality--it is not surprising that capitalism has moved into the businesses of life-extension and scientific resurrection. In 1996, British researchers announced work on a "Soul Catcher" memory chip which,  within 30 years,  will be able to capture our feelings and thoughts. Said Chris Winter, head of the Telecom artificial life team, "By combining this information with a record of a person's genes, we could recreate a person physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is the end of death--immortality in the truest sense" (Reuters release cited in Parade Magazine, December 29, 1996). Can't wait until 2030? Check out the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the self-proclaimed leader in cryonic preservation, the feasibility studies brought to you from the American Cryonics Society, and a legitimating ideology from the Cryonics Institute.  See also "Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Cloning," a collection of presentations from the August 2001 workshop sponsored by the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy and the Board on Life Sciences.

One guaranteed way for the dead to remain "alive" in capitalist economies is to continue to produce or consume. Following this logic, Elvis (there he is now!), Jim Morrison, and other "deceased" rock stars are "alive" because they continue "producing" revenue from their record sales. (If you want to put the dead to work peddling your product odds are that you will have to deal with the Curtis Management Group.)  Mickey Mantle's afterlife seems assured given that the value of his game artifacts inflated 25 to 100 percent in the year following his death.  Numerous communities have grown dependent on the revenues generated by the dead, whose memories are collectively enshrined in the myriad of halls of fame (such as the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame in Appleton, Wisconsin, the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas, the American Police Hall of Fame in Tutisville, Florida,  or the Insurance Hall of Fame on the Campus of the University of Alabama). And the ten thousand Americans in irreversible vegetative states remain "alive" because they are still consumers of medical care.

The property rights of the dead were extended by the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.  In 1790, copyrights lasted 14 years.  The Bono act, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003,  lengthened protection by 20 years to 70 years after the death of the inventor or author, if the person is known. (Works owned by corporations are protected for 95 years.)

EMERGING TRANSCENDENCE INDUSTRIES

A new line of services are emerging where the deceased can continue interacting with the living.  In the early 1990s, for instance, a Fairport, N.Y. company called Cards From Beyond appeared, offering one the ability after death to send cards to loved ones for  Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and anniversaries.  From Loving Pup, Inc. came one of the first posthumous email services: "You care about your family, friends, and loved ones, show you care by leaving them each an e-mail to be delivered after you pass on." As of 2007, other postmortem emailing opportunities exist through The Last Email ("your thoughts live on") and Deathswitch ("bridging mortality").  Or how about placing a phone call from a deceased relative?  With AT&T Labs' Natural Voices speech software, voice cloning is now a reality.  Type your message and let the dead utter your words.

In addition to providing resources on estate planning, funeral planning, end-of-life care, grief and loss, FinalThoughts.com and MyLastEmail.com also offer "Afterlife Email Service." And there's also AFTERLIFE, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to archive Web sites after their authors die and can no longer support them.  This mission is shared with Immortality Foundation, "a non-profit corporation whose sole purpose is to be the permanent guardians of the collections of words and other materials entrusted to us, thus allowing these materials to remain alive as long as humanly possible."

Relict Memorials of  Mill Valley, California, will turn loved ones' cremated remains into customized granitelike slabs or sculptures.  Cremains are mixed with pulp by Timothy Hawley Books to produce the pages of  bound volumes called "bibliocadavers." SeaRest Inc. will encase cremains within concrete blocks to create artificial reefs off the Florida coast as a "living memorial." Space Services Inc., formerly Celestis, "makes it possible to honor the dream and memory of your departed loved one by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains in Earth's orbit, on the Lunar surface or deep space." Cremains are also turned into diamonds by LifeGem and into pencils by Carbon Copies.   By 2007, a Funerary Art Movement was recognized (see Funeria for examples) and the first gallery of cremation urns and memorial art opened in northern California.   (Click here for other cremains-dealing industries.)

From Germany comes a curious form of bodily immortalization called plastination.  Using a  process invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens, real corpses are transformed into plastic.  A revolutionary teaching tool for anatomy classes, von Hagens' creations now tour the world as  commercial exhibitions of "anatomical artwork," attracting crowds and ethical criticisms. Listen to NPR's April 30, 2001 report on "Body Art" here.

Electronically connect with the dead with Memory Medallion, a steel-encased computer chip that can be embedded in tombstones and memorial plaques. Activated by a "touch wand," visitors can download a five-minute minimovie into their laptops or PDAs.

Finally, comes a product foreshadowing things to come from the biotech industries: a Limited Edition Abraham Lincoln Pen containing replications of the 16th President's DNA, produced by StarGene Inc..   Founded by Kary Mullis, 1993 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, the company uses his patented PCR (polymerase chain creation) technology, to clone DNA.  This certainly is a new twist on the hair flowers Victorians made to help preserve the memories of deceased family members.

 

CEMETERIES

Beware ye who pass by As ye be now so once was I As I be now so must ye be Prepare for death and follow me.
--Common 18th-Century New England Epitaph

Another way of avoiding oblivion is at least having one's existence acknowledged on one's tombstone epitaph.  (See "The inevitable hour," a collection of 17th- and 18th-century epitaphs from The Economist.)

Cemeteries--the word from the Greek for "sleeping place"--are cultural institutions that symbolically dramatize many of the community's basic beliefs and values about what kind of society it is, who its members are, and what they aspire to be. We are, for instance, stratified in death as we are in life, evident in the segregations of community cemeteries (or within a community's cemetery) by race, ethnicity, religion, and social class. (Our class, in fact, has even located a "Republican Cemetery" in the Texas Hill Country.) In 1999, as a fence separating blacks and whites was being removed from a Jasper, Texas cemetery (where, a year earlier, three young white men dragged to death behind their pickup truck James Byrd Jr., a disabled 49-year-old black man) another was being erected in Tynan, Texas, separating the German-American section of the Waldheim Cemetery from the Hispanic-American section.

These cities of the dead may have been the precursors of the cities of the living. Lewis Mumford speculated in The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects

Early man's respect for the dead ... perhaps had an even greater role than more practical needs in causing him to seek a fixed meeting place and eventually a continuous settlement. Though food- gathering and hunting do not encourage the permanent occupation of a single site, the dead at least claim that privilege. Long ago the Jews claimed as their patrimony the land where the graves of their forefathers were situated; and that well-attested claim seems a primordial one. The city of the dead antedates the city of the living. In one sense, indeed, the city of the dead is the forerunner of the city of the living (1961:7).

As members of the Association for Gravestone Studies Home Page are quick to remind us, most of what we know of the past is based on grave contents and inferred from funerary artifacts. For example, anthropological excavations of graveyards have revealed that the average height of Icelanders decreased steadily from A.D. 1200 to 1800, coinciding with climactic deterioration; that, based on the bones of 87 women buried in a British crypt between 1729 to 1852, modern women's bones are weaker than those of their ancestors.

No content analysis of a cemetery would be complete without consideration of the tombstones and their inscriptions. The relative sizes of the stones have been taken as indicators of the relative power of males over females, adults over children, and rich over poor. In immigrant graveyards, the appearance of inscriptions in English signifies the pace of a nationality's enculturation into American society. The messages and art reflect such things as the emotional bonds between family members and the degree of religious immanence in everyday life (for insight into the meaning of tombstone iconography see Cristina Leimer's The Tombstone Traveller's GuideBetty Willsher's Emblems of Mortality, and Steve Johnson's [webmaster of Cemetery Records Online] The Cemetery Column). For one of the best resources on early American gravestones, see the Farber Gravestone Collection, courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.  What inferences can you make from the following chronology of images? Be careful. Consider the lessons learned in the analysis of early nineteenth-century gravestones of Geauga county, Ohio.

Here's one reading: The imminent millennialism sensed by the Puritans and their contempt for mortal existence led to the skull and crossbones being the most persistent tombstone symbol of early New England days (Habenstein and Lamers, The History of Funeral Directing 1962:201). Over time, with increasing hope in a desirable immortality and the Romantic faith in the man's perfectibility, there was a concurrent change from skeletal images to portrayals of winged cherubs on the gravestones.

With increasing religious pluralism, urbanization, literacy, and the growing role of science and technology, Christianity retreated from everyday life. With this fading of the sacred, moral absolutes were to dissolve, and no longer could identity taken for granted. During the nineteenth century, the private self and the cult of romantic death arose out of the emotional attachments that were replacing the traditional economic bondings of family members. People became more concerned with others' deaths than with their own, realizing that it was only through these significant others that one's true, unique self was made possible. As grief became the pre-eminent emotion, tombstone art shifted to willow trees, ornate urns, and grieving widows or angels.  For a tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery, the site that epitomized the rural cemetery movement of the first half of the nineteenth century, click here.

The contemporary uniformity of tombstones bearing brief bureaucratic summaries of the identities of those beneath can be taken as evidence of the rationalization, bureaucratization, and homogenization of our times.  But there are some clear signs of change.  Check out the product on the left, a digital tombstone.

If you enjoy such analyses you may be a taphophile and not even know it! For books and links on the subject check out "Books of Bones." Other resources:

A new strategy for body disposals is to send cremains into earth orbit, and even into deep space.  Four missions have been launched as of Spring 2001 (check site for launch photos and videos).  For $5,300 Celestis will orbit your ashes in its low-end "Earthview Service." Dr. Eugene Shoemaker (of comet fame) was a passenger on the first "Lunar Service," which will set you back  $12,500 (payment plans available).  Yet to come is the "Voyager Service," which will send cremains into deep space.


ELECTRONIC MEMORIALS

One product of Romanticism and the rural cemetery movement of the early nineteenth cemetery was the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This garden cemetery apparently captured the imaginations of the time as it became a major tourist destination for both American and European visitors, and was to be frequently modeled. It is a didactic place where the stories of unique selves are revealed on the tombstone inscriptions. How different these biographical markers are from the contemporary homogenized inscriptions, where little more than bureaucratic details (e.g., name with birth and death dates) are noted.

In reaction to such homogenized levelings, it is not surprising that individuals now seek alternative ways to provide dignity and identity to their deceased loved ones, to reaffirm that their lives have made a difference. For a formal sociological analysis of this trend see Hans Geser's "Yours Virtually Forever: Death Memorials and Remembrance Sites in the WWW". Examples of such electronic memorial sites include:

OTHER WAYS TO REMEMBER/ACKNOWLEDGE THE DEAD

OBITUARIES

One facet of funerary ritual involves the obituary. And for whom are they written and for what reason? Indeed, obituaries are written so that the broader community knows of the loss of one of its members and of the bereavement status of the principle survivors. But they also have a didactic function. Like the eulogy, it is here where a biography is summed up, an individual's contributions to the social order are recalled, and the meaning of a life is assessed. When you think about it, there are no other times when such grand summations are made and reflected upon.

Obituaries, these "social registers of the middle class" as George Gerbner called them, provide a wealth of information for social scientists. Want to observe changes in the sexism or racism in your community? Why not look at a sample of a century's worth of obituaries in your local newspaper and record the percentage of the obituaries going to women and minorities and note their length relative to obituaries given to white males (controlling for age at death and cause)? For an illustration, see "Death as a Measure of Life: A Research Note on the Kastenbaum-Spilka Strategy of Obituary Analyses" in Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 17(1), 1986-87:65-78. In his obituary analyses, Gary Long ("Organizations and Identity: Obituaries 1856-1972," Social Forces 1987, 65(4):964-1001) reported a longitudinal trend toward impersonal, standardized, categorical, "objective" portrayals of completed lives. Rarely do we learn nowadays from these resume-type bios how others' lives were impacted by this person. To what extent is such silence related to the moral crises of our times?

Tributes.com--"Because Every Life Has a Story"
Yahoo's Obituaries
National Obituary Archive
Obituary Links Page--State-by-state directory of obituaries & obituary resources
Obituary Central--"Headquarters for researching obits on the web"
New York TimesObituaries--both contemporary and "from the archives"
Good Bye! The Journal of Contemporary Obituaries
The Blog of Death
Annie Wiley and her Obituary Scrapbook (Kentucky obits from 1924-64)
Celebrity Obituaries
  • Fear of Flying Site: Celebrities who died in airplane crashes
  • The Bond Orchard: Deceased B-movie actors and directors
  • Fuller Up: The Dead Musician Directory (and how they got that way)
  • ROADSIDE MEMORIALS

    Across the country we see the proliferation of roadside crosses, or descansos, marking traffic fatalities. Though many point to Hispanic origins of the practice, other West European groups make similar memorializations.  They indicate not only the time of death, which we've long dutifully noted on gravestones, but also the precise place of individuals' untimely deaths.

  • From ChrisTina Leimer's Tombstone Traveller's Guide, Roadside Memorials: Marking Journeys Never Completed
  • Roadside Memorials: A Photographic Documentary
  • Another commodification of grief: Roadside Memorials--mail-order roadside crosses.  "Roadsidememorials.com will not be responsible for any accidents or injuries due to the placement of your cross."

  • HALLS OF FAME

    In February of 1985 six pioneer inventors were inducted into the The National Inventors Hall of Fame in Arlington, Virginia. These inventors, credited with originating air-conditioning, the artificial heart, phototypesetting, tape recording and Teflon, join 53 others. One year later, seven recently discovered asteroids were named for the seven astronauts who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. In 1991, Barry Goldwater, Chuck Connors ("The Rifleman") and James Drury ("The Virginian") were inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame Home in Oklahoma City. In 1994, the Comedy Hall of Fame inducted Bob Hope and George Carlin.

    Work, like religion, provides immortality to the elect. Art galleries and libraries are filled with works of the dead. Gutzon Borglum is immortalized by his Mt. Rushmore Memorial, Leonardo da Vinci by the "Mona Lisa", Thomas Edison by the incandescent bulb, and Henry Ford by the automobile bearing his name. The Hartford, Connecticut law firm of Day, Berry & Howard sports the name of three deceased partners, and the memories of scientists live on in the names of the astronomical bodies, plants and animals they either discovered or hybridized. Work provides individuals the major opportunity to "leave one's mark."

    As is evident in the links below, corresponding with the rapid differentiation of the workplace has been a proliferation of heavens. Memories of the work elite are maintained in a host of halls of fame, for pickle packers and auctioneers alike. If one fails to gain the highest forms of work-related immortality, as through induction into a hall of fame or through one's works, there still possible means for being remembered. In particular, there are the numerous "Who's Who" compilations (i.e., Who's Who Among Elementary School Principles, Who's Who In Commerce and Industry, Who's Who In Rock, and Who's Who In Science in Europe). And, for academicians, if one fails to make this compilation, one can at least make the card catalogue. Even better, one's ideas can be celebrated in school texts--one's name is at least remembered and perhaps even quizzed upon.

    National Inventors Hall of Fame
    International Photography Hall of Fame
    Labor Hall of Fame
    American Police Hall of Fame
    Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame
    U.S. Army Warrant Officer Hall of Fame (Ft. Rucker, Alabama)
    U.S. Army Military Police Hall of Fame (Ft. Leonard Wood, MO)
    Kansas National Guard Hall of Fame
    National Women's Hall of Fame
    International Aerospace Hall of Fame
    National Aviation Hall of Fame
    Accounting Hall of Fame
    National Mining Hall of Fame
    Poker Dealer Hall of Fame
    Rockabilly Hall of Fame


    TRANSCENDING DEATH THROUGH ORGAN DONATIONS

    UCI Willed Body Program: organ donation & mortuary science
    Body Donation
    Body Donations--Cadavers--Mortuary Science
    TransWeb - Transplantation and Donation

    THE POWER OF THE DEAD OVER THE LIVING:
    LAST WILLS AND TESTAMENTS

    ...a sociology of death not based on a sociology of types of inheritance risks being overly idealist and abstract.

    --Jean-Claude Chamboredon

    To what extent can the dead continue to exercise control over the living through stipulations in trusts and wills? Money is most certainly an instrument for perpetuating not only the family name (and whatever that might entail) but the memory of the deceased as well. An estate, a "patrimony," represents an image of the father, and in patriarchal societies not even socialist regimes are willing to destroy this immortal visage through massive estate taxes in order to redistribute the wealth of the living.  Need a research topic?  How about "incentive trusts"?

    Wills of Celebrities and Ordinary People, 1493-1998
    Mark Welch's Wills and Testaments of the famous and not so famous on the web
    Leave A Legacy

    NDEs: EVIDENCE OF A HEREAFTER?

    Since Raymond Moody's Life After Life (1975), we have heard much about Near-Death Experiences (or NDEs): the out-of-body experiences, a life-review, the tunnel of darkness, receptions with deceased loved ones, people of light, the sense of peace and painlessness, and the reluctance to return. A 1981 Gallup poll found some 15 percent of the surveyed reporting having had such experiences. Such reports became the cover story ("Visions of Life After Death: The Ultimate Mystery") of the March 1992 issue of Life magazine and the subject of Betty Eadies's best-seller Embraced by the Light. There is a Journal of Near-Death Studies, an International Association for Near-Death Studies, and over one hundred support groups.  In January 2002, ABC News ran the story "Brushes With Death: Scientists Validate Near-Death Experiences."

    International Association for Near Death Studies
    1999 International Conference
    University of British Columbia
    August 20-22

    What is to be made of such reports? Does their supposed universality suggest evidence of the existence of an afterlife or can they be explained (which, interestingly, comes from the Latin word "to flatten out") in terms the physical effects of brain activity, such as cerebral anoxia due to oxygen deprivation or the stimulation of some massive release of endorphins (perhaps Mother Nature's compensation for extinguishing the survival impulse)? Whatever they mean, they certainly call both faith and science into question. It is interesting how many religious figures accept the scientific explanation (it would be upsetting if the quality of NDEs was unrelated to the moral worthiness of the lives lived by their experiencers) while some scientists, like physician Michael Sabom (Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation), are accepting the religious perspectives.

    Several observations. First, such experiences are associated not with death but with the dying process. Second, increases in their reported frequencies may well be attributable to the evolution of our medical arts, which (as evidenced by the thousands of those in persistent vegetative states) have created a new purgatory, a new liminal realm between the worlds of the living and the dead. Third, there is an absence of language to describe their out-of-the-ordinary nature. Unlike the Tibetans, Americans do not have over one hundred words to describe different states of being; they do not have (at least before Moody and NDE tags) cultural "frames" for their decipherment. Fourth, we must not forget the highly religious nature of Americans (see "You Never Have to Die". And finally, such experiences may be one of those Jungian archetypes owing to their apparent universality. When observing parallel descriptions in religious and philosophical (recheck Plato's story of Er in the Republic) texts, Moody argues how NDEs may be the origin of such notions as the soul, the spirit, and human duality.

    It goes without saying that the research possibilities into Near-Death Experiences are numerous. Instead of exploring the veracity or universality of such experiences, we could focus on the understudied consequences of having had them. How are lives changed? For some, a NDE has led to new life missions. For one San Antonian, the experience was a catalyst for personal growth, and he now explores the ways in which NDEs can be painlessly duplicated for collective growth. For another, the experience instructed her to "do something" for children in exchange for her life. She created SAV- BABY (1-800-SAV-BABY; 301 S. Frio, Suite 480 San Antonio, TX 78207), a non-profit organization, now approaching its ninth year, dedicated to saving abandoned newborn babies.

    Given how NDEs may enrich the meaningfulness of existence and instill an altruistic direction to life, it should not be surprising that some researchers are attempting to artificially create the experience.  Dr. Karl Jansen responded to this page with reference to one substance that produces such experiences and to his new book Ketamine: Dreams and Realities.

    Kevin Williams' Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife
    International Association for Near-Death Studies
    Near-Death Experience Research Foundation
    From About.com, Guide Picks for Near-Death Experiences
    Kevin Williams' Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife
    Scott Roberts's Collection of personal accounts, researcher interviews on NDEs
    Home Page of the After-Death Communications Project
    Diane Goble's "Beyond the Veil--Q&A from a NDE experiencer
    Yahoo! Directory of Near-Death Experiences
    The Dannion Brinkley story and how NDEs supposedly produced visions of the future
    Keith Augustine's "The Case Against Immortality"


    GHOSTS: MORE EVIDENCE OF A SPIRITUAL REALM?

    In Man, God, and Immortality: Thoughts on Human Progress (Cambridge: Trinity College Press, 1968), Sir James George Frazer argues that the belief in the existence of ghosts is one manifestation of human's belief in the immortality of the human soul, leading to "race after race, generation after generation, to sacrifice the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of the dead" (p. 380). Any thoughts why Virginia, according to the Ghost Research Society, ranks first in ghost population? (You may want to check out the National Directory of Haunted Places for the spirit hangout closest to you.) Need a spiritual entity to commune with? In the early 1980s, clients of California's Ghost Adoption Agency could for $185 "adopt" such personages as William Shakespeare or Attila the Hun.

    SpiritWeb: A "Comprehensive Web-Site Promoting Alternative Spiritual Consciousness"
    About.com's Guide picks for Ghosts and Hauntings
    Prairie Ghosts. Ghost detecting equipment available here, along with the ghost photograph of the week.
    Ghost Hunters Gallery. Ghost photography is alive and well!
    Paranormal sites--with your mind in mind!

    Return to Kearl's Death Index