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02/08 — 2022
19.58 cm   1.6 min

A Reference Counted Afterlife

I took interest in the Egyptian rendition of the afterlife recently.

Parts of the Soul

Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul comprised of several components:

  • ren
  • ka
  • ib
  • ba
  • sheut

Egyptians emphasized on preserving the different parts of the soul. Mummification for example, served to preserve the physical part of the soul. The other components have their respective preservation strategies.

Of all of these bits, I find ren, which simply means name, to be the most interesting. Ba, the human-headed chicken that represents personality, is a close favourite.

Ren is the name given to a person at birth. Egyptians believed that this portion of the soul would continue to live on for as long as it was spoken. If you were someone worthy of continued existence, your name would be inscribed all over the place. If you were the type to snatch away bread from children, your name would be condemned from memory, forgotten.


The concept of ren seems to be perfectly analogous to reference counted garbage-collection.

  • A name (ren) is assigned to an object (person) on initialization (at birth)
  • Names are used to refer to objects
  • Objects go out of existence when there are no more references to them

The concept of ren seems to model human-memory. The similarity with garbage-collection is now easily explained, because garbage-collection models a program’s memory.

Perhaps some cheeky Egyptian has attained immortality by creating a ren-cycle.


I'm Akshay, programmer and pixel-artist.

I write open-source stuff to pass time. I also design fonts: scientifica, curie.

Send me a mail at [email protected] or a message at [email protected].

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