DMs From Beyond the Grave Are Changing How We Grieve

Image: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr
“When you experience those feelings and memories, it’s a little bit like losing someone all over again.”

By Michael Waters | MOTHERBOARD

This October, when NaKina Talbert glanced out the window of her temporary home in Guatemala and saw a volcano erupting less than 100 miles away, her first instinct was to snap a photo. “It’s pretty far away, but it booms like a cannon!” she tagged the image, with an arrow pointing to the volcano.

Talbert, a 58-year-old painter and former project manager from Dallas, Texas, then logged into her account on SafeBeyond, a digital legacy platform. Here she uploaded the image to her “vault,” a cache of photos, videos, audio messages, and letters she plans to have sent in installments to various family members after her death. There is the message for when her granddaughter (now 14) turns 21, the video for the first Christmas Talbert’s son (now 37) will spend without her, letters to her future great grandchildren (should there be any), and a slew of recordings from the bucket-list trips she has taken over the last year.

Talbert’s visit to Guatemala is her seventh such trip, though she doesn’t know how many more she will be able to make. According to her doctors, she wasn’t even supposed to live this long.

In 2014, Talbert was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, a rare and fast-acting neurodegenerative disease with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. She soon began making preparations. She knew she wanted to leave her children and grandchildren recordings of her voice—when Talbert’s father died nearly 40 years ago, that was the thing she forgot first. “I can still see his face as clearly as if it were yesterday,” she told me. “But I can’t quite grasp his voice anymore.”

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We Are Programmed to Die Early, and That’s a Good Thing

Image: JuliusKielaitis/Shutterstock
Complex systems theorists have created a model that overturns longstanding assumptions about the relationship between death and natural selection.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

Since the late 19th century, evolutionary biologists have assumed that natural selection favors individuals with long lifespans. It makes some intuitive sense: the longer you live, the more time you have to get busy making babies, maximizing your reproductive potential.

As for what determines an individual organism’s lifespan in the first place, scientists have largely concluded that this is a result of a mix of extrinsic factors (such as predation, disease, or accidents) and intrinsic factors (the biological decay that eventually results in death).

„Lifespans are selected for and genetically programmed.“

But according to new research published earlier this year in PLOS One, these theories are wrong: it turns out it’s natural selection may have pushed organisms to have an internal time for how long they’re supposed to life. We are, in essence, genetically programmed to self-destruct.

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Grow a Tree from Human Remains With This Internet Connected Urn

Image: Bios Incube
The ultimate IOT urn for the environmentally conscious city dweller.

By Anna Sterling | MOTHERBOARD

Burial practices wreak havoc on the environment. Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Metal caskets don’t biodegrade, and concrete vaults require natural resources for manufacturing. Then there are those those pesky herbicides used to keep cemetery lawns looking nice. Suffice it to say, we’re in need of better options.

Fortunately, green burials are on the rise. One option is planting a tree using your loved ones‘ remains. But what if you don’t have access to garden space? And what if you’re terrified of killing the plant, a connection or a tribute to your loved one?

Bios Urn, which is also known for its biodegradable urn, has created what co-founder and CEO Roger Moliné calls „a smart flower pot“ to house your loved one’s ashes. The Bios Incube, which plants a small tree, is made from recycled material, and designed with the urban dweller in mind.

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Cell Death Might Be Reversible, and Scientists Are Trying to Find Out Why

Image: Denise Montell
Image: Denise Montell
A mysterious cell process named anastasis (Greek for „rising to life“) challenges our idea of life being a linear march towards death, and suggests that cell death can actually be reversed under certain conditions—essentially allowing cells to un-die.

By Farnia Fekri | MOTHERBOARD

Even as the cell is shrivelling up in response to radiation, toxins, or other stresses, it can in some cases undo the dying process and repair itself if the stress is taken away before the cell is completely gone, said cell biologist Denise Montell of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

„In the field of people studying apoptosis—this programmed cell suicide mechanism—it has been a tenet in that field that once cells trigger this death process, it’s irreversible,“ Montell told me over the phone. Her research, beginning with a paper published by the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell in 2012, shows otherwise.

Montell’s lab wants to see if they can use anastasis to salvage hard-to-replace cells in the human body, which could be important in treating ischemia or heart attacks. But it could also provide an accidental, chilling glimpse into the hows and whys of cancer.

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A Universal Cancer Vaccine Might Be Closer Than You Think

Right now the odds are not much better than 50-50 that you, in particular, will have cancer at some point. And, aside from not smoking (especially) and generally trying to live healthy, there also isn’t a whole lot you can do to tweak those odds in any dramatic way. Even among smokers, obsessive sunbathers, and vegetable haters, cancer winds up being pretty random. The dice can be loaded (sometimes a lot), but they are still dice.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

There are so many cancers and so many things that can work in concert or independently to increase a person’s cancer risk—to say nothing of the sheer scope and scale of cancer as an epidemic—that the idea of a universal cancer vaccine seems pretty far-fetched. Hell, given the vast and increasingly effective ecology of cancer treatments, a vaccine doesn’t even seem fair (especially if you happen to be a pharmaceutical corporation pushing those often extremely expensive treatments).

Nonetheless, a universal cancer vaccine is something being actively pursued and it may prove to be attainable after all. In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University describe the development of a potential vaccine based on the immune system’s natural responses to viral infection. In early experiments based on mouse tumor models and three human patients with advanced melanomas, the vaccine, which essentially consists of nanoscale poison darts with of RNA payloads, was able to induce specific anti-tumor immune responses.

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The Chemistry of Death and Dying

Thank you, American Chemical Society, for bringing Halloween back to the brutally, unavoidably real world of death science.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

Fun fact: In the time it took you to watch these two videos, about 1,000 people died worldwide. Death lurks!

The Humanness of Death

Image: ​Richard Cassan/Flickr
I’ve got some bad news: You’re going to die. Well, probably; thanks to the new wave of immortality innovation, you might not.


So what happens if we ditch our biological bodies for technological ones that don’t face the limitations of organic DNA and death? Technological evolution has the potential to decouple us from death and other basic biological constraints, which would allow us to move forward with the group instead of waiting to become obsolete and, well, dead. This is probably a good thing, but also a potentially terrible thing too.

If you have offspring, that offspring isn’t you. They have some of your DNA and some of your partner’s in a new combination that adds variation to the population at large. This is how evolution works—it’s not like X-Men or Pokemon, where an individual can evolve in their own lifetime. Evolution acts on the population, not the person.

I think this is the greatest tragedy of evolution. It doesn’t happen to each of us; it happens to all of us. And the only way for the whole to progress is for you, me, and everyone else to eventually be left behind.

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Aubrey de Grey argues that aging is a disease that can be cured, which relies on the technological form of evolution, not the biological one.

Leaving the Body Behind: A History

Bild: Camille Flammarion, 1888; Color : Hugo Heikenwaelder, 1998, bearb.: bb
Over the past week, Motherboard has tackled the question of whether or not the human body is becoming obsolete from a variety of angles, from immortality to killer robots. The very fact that we are able to realistically pose this question is itself a meaningful sign of the times, indicating that we may  finally be on the threshold of abandoning the natural human body.

By Becky Ferreira|MOTHERBOARD

As I wrote earlier this week, the pursuit of a better body has been going on for at least 40,000 years, and has manifested itself in everything from zoomorphic religious sculptures to the incredible capabilities of modern prosthetics.

Still, even this long and storied history pales in comparison to the quest to abandon our meatbag bodies completely. In fact, achieving total incorporeality is arguably the most persistent preoccupation of our species, whether it takes the form of belief in a spirit-based afterlife, an out-of-body experience, or in the brave new world of the 21st century, uploading our brains into a digital format.

It’s impossible to pin down exactly where this obsession with immateriality originated or why it is such a powerful cross-cultural force. But speculatively speaking, the smart money is that it has something to do with the epic bummer that is mortality.

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The Scariest Ways Humanity Could Die Out Are the Ones We Haven’t Thought Of Yet

There are a few relatively obvious ways that humanity could be wiped out: climate change, nuclear conflict, killer artificial intelligence. And then there are less probable risks; the kind that delve so deep into the speculative and reach so far into the unknown that they’re almost impossible to imagine happening.

By Victoria Turk|MOTHERBOARD

A super-pollutant could make the human race sterile. The Large Hadron Collider could spin the Earth into a black hole. A video game could be so addictive humans die rather than press pause. Animals could be made more intelligent than humans through experimentation. Deadly aliens.

These are potential risks given as examples in one particularly compelling section of a report from the Global ​Challenges Foundation that outlines “risks that threaten human civilisation,” under the chapter heading “Unknown Consequences.”

They might sound preposterously improbable, but put them together and they give reason for pause. “[Uncertain risks] constitute an amalgamation of all the risks that can appear extremely unlikely in isolation, but can combine to represent a not insignifcant proportion of the risk exposure,” the report states. It also points out that “many of today’s risks would have sounded ridiculous to people from the past.”

“If you work with risks, that’s almost the most difficult but also the most interesting category,” Dennis Pamlin, executive project manager of global risks at the Foundation, told me in a phone call. “Basically, risk is about trying to foresee different consequences, and there’s always the unknown.”

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ISIS—the New Israel

Demonstrators chant Islamic State slogans last June as they carry the group’s flag in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul in Iraq. AP photo
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture.

By Chris Hedges|truthdig

It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East. ISIS now controls an area the size of Texas. It is erasing the borders established by French and British colonial powers through the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. There is little we can do to stop it.

ISIS, ironically, is perhaps the only example of successful nation-building in the contemporary Middle East, despite the billions of dollars we have squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its quest for an ethnically pure Sunni state mirrors the quest for a Jewish state eventually carved out of Palestine in 1948. Its tactics are much like those of the Jewish guerrillas who used violence, terrorism, foreign fighters, clandestine arms shipments and foreign money, along with horrific ethnic cleansing and the massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians, to create Israel. Antagonistic ISIS and Israeli states, infected by religious fundamentalism, would be irreconcilable neighbors. This is a recipe for apocalyptic warfare. We provided the ingredients.

I and Loretta Napoleoni, the author of the book “The Islamic Phoenix,” spoke at a Dec. 2 event in Manhattan at the headquarters of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Napoleoni pointed out that the message imparted to Muslims by ISIS is radically different from that of other jihadist groups, especially al-Qaida. ISIS does not call for martyrdom and self-immolation. It has launched a jihad against secular and discredited regimes in the Middle East rather than against Western targets abroad. It is seeking to establish, as the Zionists did in Palestine, a utopian, religious state. It holds up the ancient Caliphate—which united Muslims throughout the Middle East in the seventh century and whose time is considered the golden age of Islam—as an ideal, much as Jews held up the biblical kingdoms chronicled in the Hebrew Bible. ISIS, to build its state, has called on engineers, doctors and technicians to immigrate to the area it controls. And ISIS, although devoted to a fundamentalist form of Salafist Islam, is thoroughly modern. It has mastered sophisticated forms of electronic communication and delivers its messages through social media. And unlike groups such as al-Qaida, which bans television sets and radios, it views the technical advances of modern society as an asset. The mixture of fundamentalist religion with modernity is a potent and intoxicating brew for disenfranchised Muslims. And ISIS has attained what peaceful uprisings in the Middle East have not—liberation from detested regimes, at least for now.

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Westboro Baptist Church to Picket Robin Williams’ Funeral

The Westboro Baptist Church has gone into overdrive after the news of Robin Williams’ death was announced. In a tweet about the actor’s death, the group added the hashtag “#MustPicketFuneral.”

By Paul

The “church” then continued its sick tirade against the comic actor, who was found dead in his home at the age of 63, with tweets:


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Science Is Changing What It Means to Be Dead

Illustration by Hsiao-Ron Cheng/
If you could freeze yourself until a future age, are you sure you’d want to?

By Judith ShulevitzNew Republic

There are worse ways to die than by freezing. To be sure, it’s extremely unpleasant, but only for a while. At first, the cold gnaws at your skin, which soon goes slightly numb, the blood shunted away from the surface to protect your inner organs. Your body shakes as it tries to gin up heat, your heartbeat quickens, your breath comes faster, but the farther your body temperature drops from its usual 98-plus degrees, the less you feel or understand. At about five degrees below normal, you develop amnesia. As more warmth seeps out, you grow apathetic, then fall into a stupor. Just before you lose consciousness, you may engage in a mysterious activity called „paradoxical undressing“ripping your clothes offprobably because at this point the blood floods back to your skin and you are suddenly very hot. Your kidneys start to fail. Urine may flow out of you, though you probably won’t notice; nor will you be aware that your breathing has now slowed while carbon monoxide builds up inside you. Your metabolism sputters like an engine out of gas. Your heartbeat becomes erratic. When your temperature sinks to about 75 degrees, your heart stops. Very shortly after that, your brain flatlines.

One of the ironies of hypothermia, the extreme loss of body heat, is that the attendant shutdown of somatic processes can save as well as kill you. A stilled heart and brain need little oxygen. A stalled metabolism slows the breakdown of cells and organs. This is why the frozen can sometimes be brought back to life. It’s also the reason doctors deliberately chill the living; it buys them time to operate on people suffering from cardiac arrest, extreme bodily trauma, and stroke. The virtues of cooling the injured have been known since the Greek physician Hippocrates recommended packing wounded soldiers in snow and ice, but the modern science of therapeutic freezing dates back around 80 years. Emergency-room physicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are preparing to take the procedure further by removing the blood of people likely to die from knife and gunshot wounds and pumping icy saltwater into their veins, reducing their body temperatures to 50 degrees. This is an unprecedented degree of frigidity, to be imposed with record swiftness. These doctors will flash-freeze their patients to apparent death in order to then have a better chance of keeping them alive.

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Japanese woman ‘dies at hands of professional exorcist’
Japanese police probing the death of a woman who reportedly died after being forced to a drink a lot of water, have arrested an 81-year-old professional exorcist, her younger sister and the victim’s husband.

The Raw Story

Reports said Rie Fukuda, aged 51, was pinned down and made to swallow a large volume of water in what detectives said was an “exorcism” carried out by her husband and two elderly women.

Kosai Fukuda, 52, an associate professor at a university in the southern Japanese city of Kumamoto, was arrested alongside Eiko Noda, 81, and Keiko Kitayama, 77, police told AFP Friday.

Noda has been performing exorcisms for money for about three decades, Nippon Television reported, citing unnamed sources in the local police.

Noda and Fukuda told police that the dead woman “had been receiving exorcism for several years”.

No details were given on the religion of those allegedly involved.