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Posts Tagged ‘death’

A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster

In art, biology, philosophy, psychology on January 11, 2015 at 05:39

From: A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster, CABINET Magazine, http://www.cabinetmagazine.org

… Aristotle famously defined man as the rational animal (zoon echon logon), and as the political animal (zoon politikon). But there are also passages in his work that indicate another less remarked upon, though no less profound, definition. In Parts of Animals, he writes: “When people are tickled, they quickly burst into laughter, and this is because the motion quickly penetrates to this part, and even though it is only gently warmed, still it produces a movement (independently of the will) in the intelligence which is recognizable. The fact that human beings only are susceptible to tickling is due (1) to the fineness of their skin and (2) to their being the only creatures that laugh.”1 Perhaps this notion of the “ticklish animal” was further elaborated in the second book of the Poetics, the lost treatise on comedy; indeed, the relationship between ticklish laughter and comic laughter remains an open question. Should tickling be investigated under the heading of comedy or of touch? Touch, Aristotle argues, is the most primary sense, and human beings are uniquely privileged in possessing the sharpest sense of touch thanks to the delicate nature of their skin. Though other animals have more advanced smell or hearing, “man’s sense of touch … excels that of all other animals in fineness.”2 We might view tickling as a side effect of the hyper-sensitivity of human touch. Our peculiar vulnerability to tickling is the price to be paid for more sophisticated and discriminating access to the world.

Does not tickling violate the basic mechanism of cause and effect, the principle that every action entails an equal and opposite reaction? The tiniest stroking produces a wildly explosive response, while a more vigorous rubbing may hardly elicit any reaction at all. On the most stupid bodily level, there is something miraculous in the activity of tickling that seems to contravene the everyday experience of causality, turning us into spontaneous philosophical skeptics. It is as if the lived body were split into two: a practical body governed by regular principles and interactions, and an oversensitive flesh that, with the slightest tingle, is apt to plunge all coordination and mastery into spasmodic helplessness.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

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Linking the Living and the Dead by Paul Koudounaris

In anthropology, religion, society, sociology, South America on July 30, 2014 at 16:57

From: Linking the Living and the Dead: Skull Worship in Bolivia by Paul Koudounaris, United Academics, www.united-academics.org

In a corner of the interrogation room of the homicide division at the police headquarters in El Alto, the largest barrio of La Paz, Bolivia, two skulls sit in plexiglass cases on a table top. Respectively known as Juanito and Juanita, the latter has been kept in the room for over thirty years, while the former has been there for perhaps a century. They are not evidence in some unsolved murder, however, nor are they reminders of some grisly local slaying. Instead, they are there to solve crimes, the same as the detectives who use the room to question suspects. While it might seem unlikely that these silent crania can provide much assistance in criminal investigations, they are credited by Colonel Fausto Tellez, a retired commander of the department, with helping to solve hundreds of cases during his tenure. He even refers to Juanito as “longest-serving officer on the force.”
Identically dressed in knit caps and wide-band sunglasses, Juanito and Juanita are surrounded on the table top by various offerings. These include coca leaves, cigarettes, votive candles, and candy, all left by officers in thanks for services rendered. On difficult cases, homicide detectives traditionally write requests for information on slips of paper, which are placed in the shrines of the skulls. If need be, prayers may also be offered to the pair. Tellez estimates that the use of the skulls cuts investigative time in half, and notes that they also assist in interrogations. “They are brought in during the questioning of difficult people,” he explains, “and even if they want to lie, they cannot if the skulls are present. When the skulls are involved, people always tell the truth.”
To an outsider, this all sounds at the least unusual, if not downright bizarre, but it is not so here. Juanito and Juanita are ñatitas — the term literally means“the little pug-nosed ones,” but specifically refers to human skulls which house souls of the deceased, and act as protectors, helpers, and intercessors for the iving. While the veneration of these crania is little known outside Bolivia, within the country, and particularly in La Paz, their powers are renowned. Juanito and Juanita are merely two of thousands of similar skulls, found in homes or offices, their shrines familiar enough to be quotidian. Here, high up in the Andes, where traditional belief systems were never fully eradicated by European colonization, the ñatitas provide a unique insight into the bond
between the living and the dead.
Not every human skull is a ñatita. Those so designated are ones which have been adopted by individuals, families, or groups, who then perform rituals to honor the soul housed within the skull. The ñatita, then, is not simply the skull, but rather the  combination of the skull and a spirit which uses the skull as a locus, and provides various forms of supernatural assistance for its benefactors. Treated as close friends or family members, many ñatitas are passed down over several generations — it is not uncommon to find people who report that a skull has been with their family for many decades. In some cases, such as that of Juanito in the homicide division of the El Alto police office, a ñatita’s history of service may stretch back an entire century.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Putting Your Papers in Order by Richard Burt

In ethics, literature, philology, philosophy, theory, writers on August 8, 2013 at 05:34

From: Putting Your Papers in Order: The Matter of Kierkegaard’s Writing Desk, Goethe’s Files, and Derrida’s Paper Machine, Or, the Philology and Philosophy of Publishing After Death by Richard Burt, Rhizomes, http://www.rhizomes.net

When we write “by hand” we are not in the time before technology; there is already instrumentality, regular reproduction, mechanical iterability. So it is not legitimate to contrast writing by hand and “mechanical” writing . . . . I began by writing with a pen. . . . For the texts that mattered to me, the ones I had the slightly religious feeling of “writing,” I even banished the ordinary pen. I dipped into the ink a long pen holder whose point was gently curved with a special drawing quill, producing endless drafts and preliminary versions before putting a stop to them on my first little Olivetti, with its international keyboard, that I’d bought abroad. . . . But I never concealed from myself the fact that, as in any ceremonial, there had to repetition going on, and already a sort of mechanization. . . . Then, to go on with the story, I wrote more and more “straight onto” the machine: first the mechanical typewriter; then the electric typewriter in 1979; then finally the computer, around 1986 or 1987. I can’t do without it any more now, this little Mac. . .
—Jacques Derrida, “The Word Processor,” in Paper Machine (2005e), 20.

Some questions about posthumous publication are ethical: What happens if the author insistently tried to keep the works from publication? Are an author’s efforts presumed to be an expression of what he wanted, or does publication necessarily mean positing what the author would have wanted? What constitutes evidence of a dead author’s intention? A last will and testament? Paratextual evidence left in footnotes? Are some papers so private they should remain unpublished? Or are the papers of a dead man or woman public by definition? Still other questions concern the reception of posthumous publications: do readers connect the meaning of a posthumous text to the intention of the editor? In some cases, it would appear that the story of the editor cannot be divorced from the story of the posthumous publication. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson Sean Hemingway edited a “restored” edition of the posthumously published A Moveable Feast (2009), with a foreword Sean wrote. The New York Times excerpt from this version was published with a headnote explaining why this restored version was (supposedly) better than the “unrestored” edition (Rich 2009). Again, only decades after his father Vladimir Nabokov died did his son Dmitri see fit to publish his father’s novel, written on index cards, The Original of Laura (2009), against his father’s wishes. A journalist reports that “Vladimir Nabokov wrote the work on 138 index cards, which have been stored for the past 30 years in a bank vault in Switzerland, where Nabokov died in 1977” (Bloom 1999). The Original of Laura includes Dmitri’s introduction and a full-scale facsimile of each note card (which may be punched out of the book by the reader, if he or she so desires) and its transcription in black type below it on each page, followed by the reproduction of the reverse of each note card on the following page; facsimiles of two open pages of the book may be accessed in pdf files on the Amazon.com webpage for the book (see Figure 1). In both of these cases of posthumous publication, the editor’s personal motives to publish or restore a text are uncritically accorded more weight than is the usual paratextual foreword or introduction to shape the reader’s reading of the published work.

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes

Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder

In humanities, philosophy, religion, society on June 12, 2013 at 08:18

From: Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder, the new Humanism, http://www.thenewhumanism.org

The unspoken questions. The first time my father realized that I wasn’t expecting us to meet again in Heaven, he asked: “So you think we just die and that’s it, like animals?”

He said “like animals” as if it were obvious to any five-year-old that animals have no souls. I was fascinated by that assumption. But then I thought about who I was talking to. Dad has been a farmer all his life. He has killed, seen killed, or sent to be killed countless chickens, pigs, and cattle. And yet, I don’t believe he has ever murdered a human being.

Why is it OK to kill animals but not people? That’s an important question for any meat-eating farm culture. My father’s Christianity answers by putting a great metaphysical gulf between animals and humans: We have eternal souls and they don’t.

Meaning and the afterlife. The inevitability of death throws a monkey wrench into our stories. Usually our short-term stories get their meaning from the longer-term stories they fit into. Studying at 2 a.m. is meaningful because it’s part of the story where I ace tomorrow’s test. But the test is only meaningful as part of the longer-term story where I pass the class. And that matters because of the story where I get my degree, and so on.

But what if the longest-term story I can tell is the one where I die? Doesn’t that undercut all the others?

Because I might die at any moment, the stories I think I am in the middle of may never conclude in any satisfactory way. And even if my life is not cut off prematurely, then eventually I arrive at decrepitude and senility. What kind of climax is that?

So you see the problem. It’s not just that I will die. As I said at the beginning: That’s easy; everybody does it. But given that I am going to die, how can I tell the story of my life in a way that engages me and motivates me and gives me a sense of meaning?

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Reposted with permission from: the new Humanism

Ferryman by Daniel Bosch

In books, classics, poetry, writers on May 19, 2013 at 18:32

From: Ferryman by Daniel Bosch, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

When his second book of poems, Strangers, came out in 1983, after a 23-year silence, and David Ferry stood on the shore of its accomplishment, the doyen of Akkadian studies at Harvard, Bill Moran, gave him an assignment: translate the epic of Gilgamesh. When the hero of the poem, a stranger, approaches Urshànabi, the ferryman without whose guidance he could never cross the waters of death, Gilgamesh must retell the ferryman the story of the grief that is written on his face and body. The story serves to establish the hero’s identity, and his need, but it is also necessary because the retelling of stories is one of the things an epic must do — one of the things a hero does.

So it came to be that David Ferry, who cannot read cuneiform, an English professor and a stranger in the land of Ancient Near East Studies, gave a voice, his voice, to the ferryman Urshànabi. Bill Moran and David Ferry became ever-faster friends as Ferry worked on his assignment. Like Urshànabi, whose fate it was to move back and forth across a body of water, and who became, at a crucial moment, Gilgamesh’s life-coach, Moran helped his stranger-friend to reach Utnapishtim, from whom he might seek the secret of immortality and balm for grief. And like heroic Gilgamesh, Ferry succeeded, coming across with a beautiful rendering of the Akkadian epic, one strong enough to establish his claim to the name of translator, bearer of works across waters, bearer of works across time.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

The Last Days of Immanuel Kant by Thomas De Quincey

In biography, history, humanities, philosophy on March 5, 2013 at 22:46

From: The Last Days of Immanuel Kant by Thomas De Quincey, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

… At six o’clock he sat down to his library table, which was a plain ordinary piece of furniture, and read till dusk. During this period of dubious light, so friendly to thought, he rested in tranquil meditation on what he had been reading, provided the book were worth it; if not, he sketched his lecture for the next day, or some part of any book he might then be composing. During this state of repose he took his station winter and summer by the stove, looking through the window at the old tower of Lobenicht; not that he could be said properly to see it, but the tower rested upon his eye,—obscurely, or but half revealed to his consciousness. No words seemed forcible enough to express his sense of the gratification which he derived from this old tower, when seen under these circumstances of twilight and quiet reverie. The sequel, indeed, showed how important it was to his comfort; for at length some poplars in a neighboring garden shot up to such a height as to obscure the tower, upon which Kant became very uneasy and restless, and at length found himself positively unable to pursue his evening meditations. Fortunately, the proprietor of the garden was a very considerate and obliging person, who had, besides, a high regard for Kant; and, accordingly, upon a representation of the case being made to him, he gave orders that the poplars should be cropped. This was done, the old tower of Lobenicht was again unveiled, and Kant recovered his equanimity, and pursued his twilight meditations as before.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia by Rane Willerslev

In anthropology, culture, humanities, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:24

From: Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia: Is Animism Being Taken too Seriously? by Rane Willerslev, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

In many respects, the Yukaghir distribution of resources reflects a traditional hunter-gatherer economic model of sharing, in that they run a “demand sharing” principle.18 People are expected to make claims on other people’s possessions, and those who possess more than they can immediately consume or use are expected to give it up without expectation of repayment. This principle of sharing applies to virtually everything, from trade goods, such as cigarettes and fuel, to knowledge about how to hunt, but it applies most forcefully to the distribution of meat: “I eat, you eat. I have nothing, you have nothing, we all share of one pot,” the Yukaghirs say [figure 3].19 The important point for my argument, however, is that Yukaghir hunters engage with the nonhuman world of animal spirits in much the same way as they engage with other humans, namely, through the principle of demand sharing. In the forest, hunters will ask—even demand—that spiritual owners share their stock of prey. They will also address the spirits of the rivers and places where they hunt, saying, “Grandfather, your children are hungry and poor. Feed us as you have fed us before!” In this sense, their animist cosmology could be interpreted as an integrated system, an “all-embracing cosmic principle based in sharing” in which the forest is akin to a “parent” who gives its human “children” food in overabundance, without expecting anything in return, as has been suggested for hunter-gatherer peoples more generally by Bird-David.20 The trouble is that in proposing this argument, Bird-David assumes that the official rhetoric of these hunter-gatherers faithfully corresponds to their activity of hunting. But this is not so—if it were, we would have aligned the Yukaghir with something akin to a “death wish,”21 for surely a community that hunts simply by waiting for the forest to “feed” them, without making any effort to control their prey, would not survive long.

What this points to, then, is that the Yukaghirs’ rhetoric about the forest being a “generous parent” is not meant to be taken too seriously. Rather, it is a sophisticated means of spirit manipulation, which is an inherent, even necessary, part of Yukaghir hunting animism. This becomes evident when we realize that a paradox is built into the moral economy of sharing, which makes it risky—lethal, in fact—to take the principle of unconditional giving at face value.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice by Scott Esposito

In aesthetics, books, literature, North America, philosophy, society, writers on December 8, 2012 at 21:50

From: Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice: One Writer, Ten Novels, and a Career-Long Obsession by Scott Esposito, The Quarterly Conversation, http://quarterlyconversation.com

McCarthy has given new shades to the English language, and that should be enough. Were he a painter or a composer, or perhaps even a poet, it probably would be, but Cormac McCarthy is a fiction writer, and fiction is generally construed to carry burdens above and beyond anything so frivolous as mere style. Stories must mean something. They must appear to argue for or against moral systems—or at least interrogate them. They must be a little less inconstant than dreams.

It is strange to charge McCarthy with not caring about anything more than surfaces, as his single most famous public utterance indicates otherwise. This is the author who declared “I don’t understand [Proust and Henry James]. To me, that’s not literature” because real literature “deals with issues of life and death.”

Here McCarthy reveals his great interest in the choices his characters make. True, he may not realize that, to Proust and James, Swann’s choice to court Odette or Isabel Archer’s choice to marry Osmond are issues just as “life and death” as any murder or tryst found in McCarthy, but the quote still flatly contradicts the claim that McCarthy is a pure formalist. And does McCarthy’s work itself back up his claim? Yes. In fact, in each of his ten novels McCarthy has showed an obsession with the rare, crucial moments when people make the decisions that will define their lives forever.

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Reposted with permission from: The Quarterly Conversation

Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang

In Asia, books, government, history, politics on October 31, 2012 at 18:44

From: Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang, Literary Review, http://www.literaryreview.co.uk

The author saw his father starved to death but believed the official version of history and even joined the Party. He only found out the reality three decades later as he started his research for this book. As a senior Xinhua journalist he had privileged access to provincial archives. He cross-checked his findings against survivors’ stories to devastating effect, as he tells how at least 36 million Chinese citizens were persecuted or starved to death as the famine was sustained for over three years.

Yang’s research confirms that the official account, which blames Mother Nature and the Soviet Union, is make-believe. No unusual natural disaster or abnormal weather conditions occurred that could have caused the famine. He also proves that the withdrawal of Soviet aid during the period could not have had anything more than the most tangential impact on the food supply in China.

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Reposted with permission from: Literary Review

The Technological Elimination of Pain by Ben Goertzel

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, psychology, science on October 24, 2012 at 22:42

From: The Technological Elimination of Pain is Both Feasible and Possible by Ben Goertzel, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, http://ieet.org

The English word “pain” refers, primarily, to a subjective experience — the experience of something hurting.   But this experience isn’t a simple, indecomposable thing — it’s actually a complex experience with multiple layers.  Understanding the prospect of abolishing pain, involves carefully distinguishing these layers.

To abolish, or drastically reduce, our experience of pain, we will need to deal with pain in terms of its neural and cognitive correlates.  Subjective experiences — qualia — are different from neural or cognitive structures or dynamics.  But there are correlations.   For instance, deep thought correlates with the neocortex — if you remove it, the person doesn’t think deeply anymore.  The feeling of reminiscence correlates with cognitive structures related to emotion and episodic memory, and with neural regions such as the limbic system and the neocortex. And so forth.

What are the neural and cognitive correlates of the experience of pain?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Death and the Skeptic – Hiram Crespo

In philosophy, religion on May 2, 2012 at 03:28

 

Death and the Skeptic – Hiram Crespo – the Humanist

Epicurus also said:

So death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist death is not yet present, and when death is present, we do not exist. Therefore it is relevant neither to the living nor the dead, since it does not affect the former, and the latter do not exist. Most people flee death as the greatest of bad things and sometimes choose it as a relief from the bad things of life. But the wise man neither rejects life nor fears death.

Some critics of Epicurus claim that he doesn’t factor in the complex reaction to the finality of human life, particularly when such strong bonds exist between us. But this, again, is not unique to humanity. Apes, whales, dolphins, and elephants form bonds and the death of loved ones is extremely painful and traumatic. Elephants are known to visit the graves of their family members and observe in what appears to be a solemn state when in the presence of the bones of their ancestors.

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