Joss Paper – Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers

The Science (and culture!): Joss paper or ghost money is used by some asian cultures as a way to pay tribute to deceased ancestors.  The paper is printed to look like money or sculpted in the shape of valuable items like clothing, homes or even electronics!  It is believed that burning this paper will ensure wealth for relatives in the afterlife.  When paper burns,  a chemical reaction (pyrolysis) occurs and the cellulose fibers are broken down into carbon dioxide and water and also release energy in the form of heat.  This song mixes the science of combustion with the sociology of ancestor worship into one STEAMy mess!

The Lyrics:

In China, people take cardboard clothes and houses, phones and refrigerators to the graveyard

where they put them in metal cans around the tombstones of the people they love

and they watch them burn

They’re sending them riches in the afterlife

 

But what makes a house a house, and what makes a phone a phone

Is getting lost as heat (lost as heat, lost as heat lost as heat)

But maybe heat is what ghosts need

 

Slips of paper, printed up like $100 bills with Confucius Benjamins are going up in smoke

And the atoms split apart from each other as they rise in the heated air

And we watch them burn.  We’re sending them riches

In the world beyond

 

But what holds the atoms of a $100 bill together

Is getting lost as heat (lost as heat, lost as heat lost as heat)

But maybe heat is what ghosts need