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Memorial VR forests instead of traditional cemetaries

Image credit: Illustration of cycle of life with a Bios Urn, created by Alice Bonpunt, downloaded from https://urnabios.com/forests-cemeteries-green-burials-bios-urn/ and edited.

jnikola Oct 21, 2021
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Introduction to the problem
When people die, we either bury them in a coffin or burn and turn them into ashes (cremation). The second option seems a bit better, because, according to an article, cemeteries are largely full and the world is running out of burial space. More specifically, nearly half of England's cemeteries could run out of space within the next 20 years .
We can fight this problem by digging the old coffins, burying them deeper, and putting new ones on top of them. It's hard physical labor and doesn't provide a long-term solution. Standard coffins also pollute the soil, since they are brushed and coated with many layers of chemicals to persist the decay.
We could also use more urns, but they are not allowed in every country. If the ashes are kept in sacks, then again, large buildings are needed. To turn bodies into ashes, wood or gas is required, which is not ecologically friendly. To fight this problem, new ways of "green cremation" are considered, such as this one (resomation), using chemicals.
Another problem is the separation of family members. Due to full cemeteries, families are forced to separate their dead members, which makes their visits much more difficult.

The solution

I propose burying people in memorial VR forests. Memorial forest would be a guarded and maintained forest where each tree represents a family (or a part of it, if the customer wants it that way). You could visit the forest, leave candles (although they are not ecological, too) or flowers and just walk in the nature for a bit. All what I mentioned is already done in places like Bios Park. The novelty of my idea would be a VR element of the visit.
The burial process
When somebody dies, it is brought to the forest. The forest officials take the body, prepare the burial hole and have any kind of religious ceremony the customer wants. The body is put in the ground without coffins, buried and on top of it, a small tree is planted. The selection of trees would be made according to the vegetation of that area, by choosing the most resistant trees. If the dead person is a member of a family that was buried in memorial forest before, than it is buried under the existing "family" tree.
A live family member would then give photos, videos, recordings and other materials. The materials would be organized by time periods taken, subject and family members. VR office would make an online library of the materials and the corresponding VR experience of the dead person.
The visit
When a person wants to visit a dead family member or a friend, it freely enters the forest and roam around. Every tree would be labeled, so you could easily find the ones you are looking for and leave flowers. You could also leave a note or ask for a professional to engrave the message, build a stone label or similar. If you want, you could just walk and enjoy the nature and the shade during hot summer days.
Also, when you visit the memorial forest, you would be able to use VR glasses and headphones to visit your tree and see/listen to your ancestor talk, laugh, work or anything else from the provided materials.
If the family allows the company to use social media accounts from the dead person, they could create even more detailed profile of the person and possibly make a bot out of it (like shown in previous idea; if someone find a link, please send it, I will put it here).
The advantages
  • If you forget to leave flowers, the tree would still be beautiful, maintained by official gardeners/foresters.
  • If the number of dead is increasing, that means we will have more forests, which is supporting the ecological movements and reduction of greenhouse gasses.
  • There is always enough land to plant a new tree.
  • The visits would be much more inspiring and emotional, since you would be able to see and hear your ancestors.
The downsides
  • The maintenance of the forest require the use of heavy machinery while the forest is "young".
  • Some people would not like the idea of creating bots from their ancestors, so that's an option to be discussed about.

What do you think? What would be the biggest reason why you wouldn't choose to bury your loved ones here? Do you have any add-ons on your mind?


Creative contributions

The value of such trees will become priceless

Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 21, 2021
If the relatives of a deceased person will start associating the tree with the memory of that person imagine how bad would be if the tree fell or even worse - was cut down for some reason. The tree which grew from the remains of a person gives a strong impression of the person turning into a tree. Even for people with strictly rational thinking, such intuitive notion would persist. Perhaps huge fines would be placed for damaging those trees, such natural cemeteries might therefore require security, CCTV, etc. Some people might not even like the idea of people or/and animals peeing on the tree of their deceased relative.
If the tree was long-lived, potentially many generations of descendants will be able to visit it and its value will rise even more. The longest living species of trees would therefore best suit such purpose.
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jnikola2 years ago
The tree would definitely become priceless and that's why a set of precaution measures should be implemented.
Physical guarding measures. First, gardeners, foresters and guards would constantly be "patrolling" the fenced forest. The fence should be prefabricated so it can be moved easily when required. Any kind of fire should be banned at the site, too.
Professional psychological support. The family of the dead should get familiar with the positive and negative sides of the memorial forest. The forest would be created to provide a different, immersive experience, compared to the standard cemeteries. Therefore, people experiencing strong emotions and hardly coping with them could ask for professional help at the site (someone to talk to). They should also get familiar with and understand the dynamics of nature and possible tree decay with time. Whenever the "family" tree gets cut for any reason, it should present a chance for successors to continue the family tradition. It could also be done in a way of traditional ceremony, with the family gathering and religious ritual, perhaps.
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A person chooses what data will represent him/her after death

Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 21, 2021
This contribution was partially inspired by Spook Louw's contribution to this idea.
Instead of (or in addition to) the relatives providing information about the deceased to create their virtual representation after death, a person could choose a certain set of artifacts to represent themselves/their life in advance, while they're still alive. They might choose to indicate their favorite phrases, songs, people they were inspired by the most, books, movies, etc. Also, and perhaps most importantly - their own work done through the lifetime (creative or otherwise).
I imagine this being similar to how you'd introduce yourself to a person who wants to get to know you. A person might write this all up into a story, create a video or present it in another way. A specialized app dedicated to this should perhaps be developed. A person could fill in the information gradually starting from whatever they felt that death is approaching.
Potentially anybody could visit the site of the burial and review the information, this would be like getting to know people personally after their death. History shows us that many now-famous people became famous only after their death, so anybody who's just a "random" deceased person could become a post-mortem celebrity in the future. In the latter case, many people would come to visit the burial site and review the self-made "profile" of the person.
But walking in such a new generation cemetery and getting to know even "random" deceased people that way would be an interesting experience for anybody, I think. The person would also indicate if anybody could review the information after their death or will it be only accessible to relatives/friends, etc. The profiles of the deceased should perhaps also be accessible through an online database, as Juran pointed out.
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jnikola2 years ago
That's definitely a better way of creating a personalized profile. It would be much more representative if a person creates it while it's alive. Some of us are maybe pretending to be someone else or not brave enough to admit some things, so this could be a chance for a person to have his/her moment and leave the "true him/herself" for the future.
It would definitely be fun to wander around a cemetery and check dead people's "profiles". If the profile is detailed and has a lot of material, it could also become a new source of information for people interested in someone's work and life.
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Online visits of the memorial VR forests

jnikola Oct 21, 2021
Why? Of course, a walk in nature is better than online surfing, but not all people have time or the possibility to visit their loved ones whenever they want.
Since all the materials about the dead would be stored on servers, the company could allow authorized "distant" visits. A person could submit a request for creating an online account. The account would be verified by the person's ID or a similar document. Once verified, a person would get the ability to do the online visit to the VR forest, submit new data to the profile of the dead or request to remove the old one.
The visit would be made to look like a video game inspired by Google Maps street view. You could choose to "walk" the forest and find your ancestors. Once you find them, you would be allowed to listen and see, if your account has access to the data. If you just want to find a specific ancestor, you could just search it and start the "visit" from there.
You could also see the basic information of other people buried in the forest and request to see their profiles. That way you could find your old friends, family members that moved long time ago, etc.
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jnikola2 years ago
Just by accident, today I found an app called Spiritus.
It is a platform that serves as a digital memory that can contain photos, videos (soon), and memorable life stories that best represent the life of a person that is no longer with you.
Basically, it's what I proposed in the contribution above. Therefore, there is no need to build an online platform that would collect and organize data of the dead, but only the service that would turn it into a VR experience.
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Finding creative ways how to utilize human ashes instead of burying the bodies

Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 21, 2021
The idea is great, Juran. I think that's exactly what the future of human burials should look like - forests instead of cemeteries with "spirits" of the ancestors dwelling in them - it seems like we're coming back to where we have started;)
To me, it seems better if we could bury the ashes of cremated deceased in such forests instead of burying their bodies. Ashes take way less space and they are already reduced to inorganic elements by burning. They can also be evenly dispersed in the soil. Human body, on the contrary, takes a relatively long time to decompose, therefore soil with a body buried underneath might not be a very convenient environment for a tree to grow.
Decomposing organic matter, if it's not evenly dispersed, creates a localized high concentration of chemical compounds which might be detrimental to (or suppress) the plant's growth, the remains might also obstruct the development of the tree's root system a bit. Also, adding more bodies under the same tree later will require digging, and inevitably a part of an already developed tree's root system will be damaged.
Some suggestions of how human ashes can be utilized:
Unfortunately, human ashes are not a suitable fertilizer for plant life, they can even be toxic in that regard. One way this could be solved is by mixing the ashes with something to dilute the concentrations of the minerals and salts to the level which is suitable for dispersing such mixture in the soil and planting some flora in it. This is pretty much how a Bios park, which you referenced, is created.
But instead of mixing the ashes with soil, another interesting way how they can be utilized suggested here is to mix them into cement or concrete and use it for building or making sculptures. Indeed, a sculpture of the deceased person made from his/her ashes could be placed near each tree so that the place would turn into something in between a forest and a sculpture park.
Another option I can think of is to make a square pavement tile from such building mixture and place it near the tree, a hologram of a deceased person could appear on that tile upon request and if the digital representation of the person were sophisticated enough one might even be able to talk with the hologram.
What are other creative ways in which human ashes can be utilized?
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NFC tags on the graves

jnikola Dec 15, 2021
Since I already described an existing platform that stores digital memories of the dead ones (Spiritus), we could create NFC tags on the graves that take you to the person's profile on Spiritus with just a single tap. You would also be able to connect the NFC to any social media platform, blog, or website.
Imagine walking around the graveyard, seeing a familiar name, and being able to check the person's profile in just one tap. It would be revolutionary in the context of creating a database of all the people (dead or alive), plus, old people who visit only hospitals, supermarkets, and graveyards could have an additional fun factor while visiting the dead ones (a.k.a. social media for the dead).
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