A Recipe for Death
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Photo by Gerrie van der Walt/Unsplash
Nature

A Recipe for Death

How the Body Ages
Tomasz Sitarz
Reading
time 6 minutes

How can we explain ageing? Some theories trace the source of the process back to the very essence of the living cell.

According to these theories, the essence of a cell features mechanisms programmed to bring about the death of that very same cell. This approach has a sense of purpose about it. Other concepts point to wear and tear as the reason for ageing. All biomolecules whose activity comprises the phenomenon known as life have to be produced as and when needed, because, having carried out their function several times, these molecules begin to go into decline and need to be replaced. This approach emphasizes the accumulation of damage. Today, there are more than 300 theories grappling with the mystery of ageing. The important thing, however, is to try not to perceive the hypotheses put forward as mutually exclusive; nor should we see the symptoms of ageing as discrete, given that each of them has its roots in all the others and influences them

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Deadly Spells
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Shaman/medicine man, Australia / Wellcome Images
Experiences

Deadly Spells

The Shamans of Australia and New Zealand
Tomasz Wiśniewski

In some societies, supernatural powers can bring not only healing, but also death. When a malicious curse or spell is cast against you, antibiotics, surgery, and other treatments won’t help. But there’s a catch – you have to believe in it.

We all know that society influences the individuals who form it. However, it is not obvious that this influence can be total, and can literally send any person to their death. In a somewhat forgotten 1936 study entitled “Physical effect upon the individual of the collectively suggested idea of death”, the renowned sociologist Marcel Mauss examined cases of such deaths. The collected ethnographic material came mainly from the life of the Indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand. The described details were closely related to phenomena that are no longer present in Europe, in particular magic and taboos. The incidents I describe below were most often ‘magically induced’ or resulted from a breach of a tribal ban. As it turns out, there truly are mortal sins.

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