AI and the Afterlife: From Digital Mourning to Mind Uploading
As part of Theos’ research on death, Nathan Mladin looks at how the emergence of AI is shaping our relationship with death. 15/02/2024
Anna Wheeler explores the childhood classic, The Snowman, and the symbolic illustration it draws of the human experience of life and death. 16/08/2022
Two legends of my childhood have died this Summer – Raymond Briggs, creator of The Snowman, and Bernard Cribbins, who narrated it. There was nothing too complex about the story of The Snowman to me as a child. I simply found it very sad because the boy makes a friend and then loses him. The complexity came once people in my life started to die. Briggs didn’t set out to make it a parable about loss and death, but said it made sense it was. What he did set out to do, as he said, was to take a fantasy thing and make it wholly real.
I don’t find it hard to identify with a snowman who moves on his own and happens to be able to fly through the air with a boy (just use your imagination). The boy, though shocked at first when he sees him move, doesn’t question it either. I always used to wonder what made that snowman move – was it that he was lovingly made by the boy and this is what brought him to life? Was it a need within the boy that made him move? Whatever you wonder or don’t wonder, what was more shocking for the boy was that eventually his friend the Snowman doesn’t last.
Howard Blake, composer of the music to the animated film The Snowman, says ‘There is something about the tune Walking in the air that spells something to people about freedom and joy and loss and all the things they would like to regain.’ Why is the story of The Snowman more complex as an adult? It reminds us that loss is always possible; our plans and creations rarely turn out how we might think they will, but like Resurrection, the end of The Snowman film resolves itself on a final major chord. There are many minor harmonies elsewhere in the musical score – suggesting discord and chaos. But that final chord suggests that however fleeting joy is – quite literally often something that melts away, there is a moment of inexplicable mysticism combined with triumph.
Whether you think the Snowman was a product of the boy’s imagination or a phenomenon, it is the boy’s cultivation of the life of the snowman which sticks with me and is a metaphor for how we nurture and make real each other, however briefly. Briggs’ story is profoundly fantastical whilst being simultaneously completely down to earth and raw – helped by Cribbins’ honest voice of storytelling. When I’m struggling to reconcile the unlikeliness of the Son of God offering hope to a lost world, I think of the boy in the snow who doesn’t really understand what’s happened, but knows he’s been left with the gift of memory and life.
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.