Look upon my frozen blue face, ye Mighty, and Despair!
August 21, 2006 7:33 PM   Subscribe

What’s the best way to dispose of an accumulated fortune? Conventional wisdom tells us that you can’t take it with you. The inevitability of death has inspired otherwise ruthless men to contribute to the larger community with the goal of establishing a posthumous legacy. Carnegie built libraries. Bill Gates is working on global health initiatives. But the conventional wisdom on this matter could be wrong. And with that in mind, some wealthy men are choosing to turn themselves into cryonic popsicles and put their wealth in trust funds in the hope that at some point in the future, Science will be able to revive them.
posted by jason's_planet (52 comments total)

 
This is bad science, bad ethics, and bad economics. Until it is actually practical to freeze and thaw people, it should not be legal. Maybe not even then.
posted by owhydididoit at 7:38 PM on August 21, 2006


No one knows just what future technology may bring, or what form a new existence could take. Mr. Laughlin confronted that issue in a meeting last August with his lawyers while drafting a trust. Mr. Laughlin opted against allowing a mere biological clone to get his money. He insisted whoever gets the funds should have "my memories."

If the brain of a genetically identical clone could be implanted with your memories, would you agree to let your body die, if your fresh, youthful clone would live on with your memories?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:44 PM on August 21, 2006


This is bad science, bad ethics, and bad economics. Until it is actually practical to freeze and thaw people, it should not be legal. Maybe not even then.

Bad science, maybe. Nothing wrong with the ethics or economics, though.
posted by brain_drain at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2006


"If the brain of a genetically identical clone could be implanted with your memories, would you agree to let your body die, if your fresh, youthful clone would live on with your memories?"

I wouldn't, because I don't think this would really be the same as a transfer of consciousness - which I think is the goal of the "freeze and thaw" idea. I'm not real excited about the idea that life's gotta end sometime, but I'm not really thrilled with a Borg sort of existance either, so maybe good old fashioned death is an ok thing.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2006


It's worth noting that this procedure is no longer solely for the rich: a reasonable (albeit oddly gifted) insurance policy is enough to coverage whole-body storage (or a cheaper policy for head storage only, for the true believers).

owhy, I think you might be mis-interpreting the article. Cryonics companies (as the law currently exists) only freeze people after they are dead, not before. Freezing a living person is a whole seperate issue (and would still, at this point in time, end up with you being dead after 20 minutes or so).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2006


I always find it fascinating to see the reasoning of otherwise intelligent people deprived of some key fact and thus arriving at ludicrous conclusions as the consequence of a single mental misstep.

What I wish the article covered:

* what kind of liability, if any, does the cryogenic facility operator have in the event of, say, a power outage during a heatwave, either to the deceased individual or to the estate?
* what kind of assurance, if any, does the soon-to-be-frozen have that his resuscitation will be performed at a reasonable cost (and how much thought have they given, if any, to what it would be worth to them to be reborn -- how much of their future fortune would they give up)?
* what kind of maintenance fees does the cryogenic facility charge the estates, and under what conditions would the estate be authorized to discontinue freezing (if it cost too much or otherwise)?
* is there a cryogenics facility that works on a commission basis, that is, say, something like 'the freezing is free, but it'll cost 10% of your fortune to get unfroze'?
posted by little miss manners at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2006


It may be Ananova, but it's ironic.
posted by forrest at 7:54 PM on August 21, 2006


If the brain of a genetically identical clone could be implanted with your memories, would you agree to let your body die, if your fresh, youthful clone would live on with your memories?

I want my memories, my consciousness AND my body to die. It would be nice if I could stretch the scriptural three score and ten to six or seven score. It would be equally nice if some level of fame or recognition outlived me and my life. But I do want an eventual end to all of this. Striving for literal immortality strikes me as decadent and selfish.

The inspiration for this post was an essay by the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut called "Transformations of Narcissism" in which he argued -- paraphrasing wildly here -- that a big part of overcoming narcissism is learning to accept the inevitability of death, of limits on one's power, with graciousness and humility.

These guys seem not to have received that memo.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Jason, I believe that those opting for cryonics desire a choice about when they ultimately die (assuming, of course, they can be revived in the future). There is nothing to say that someone frozen and then successfully revived, say 1000 years from now could not take a look around, say "this ism't really for me, thanks", and decide to die in a more permenant manner.
While I sympathise with Kohut's view, I would also point out that much of human progress has been dependant on not accepting percieved limits.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:09 PM on August 21, 2006


Striving for literal immortality strikes me as decadent and selfish.

Why? I have to admit I have trouble understanding people who say stuff like this.
posted by nightchrome at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2006


These guys seem not to have received that memo.

I got that memo and I burned it.

Fuck me over like God did Job and I'd still take life, life, life.
posted by Alex404 at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2006


I saw this episode of Star Trek, it was pretty good and the rich guy was quite bummed that there was no such thing as money anymore.

I like the low budget plan where they just freeze your head.

And the Gods on Olympus are laughing their collective asses off at this concept of immortality.

Also, if your consciousness is put into another body then would that be called importality?
posted by fenriq at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2006


I'm surprised you didn't come here sooner.

It's not an easy thing to meet your maker.

What can he do for you?

Can the maker repair what he makes?

Would you like to be modified?

I had in mind something a little more radical.

What seems to be the problem?

Death.

Death? Well, I'm afraid that's a little out of my jurisdiction.

I want more life, fucker.

The facts of life. To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once its been established.

Why not?

Because by the second day of incubation, any cells that have undergone reversion mutations give rise to revertant colonies like rats leaving a sinking ship. Then the ship sinks.

What about EMS recombination?

We've already tried it. Ethyl methane sulfanate as an alkalating agent and potent mutagen. It created a virus so lethal the subject was dead before he left the table.

Then a repressive protein that blocks the operating cells.

Wouldn't obstruct replication, but it does give rise to an error in replication so that the newly formed DNA strand carries the mutation and you've got a virus again. But, uh, this-- all of this is academic. You were made as well as we could make you.

But not to last.

The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you. You're the prodigal son. You're quite a prize!

I've done questionable things.

Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time.

Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn't let you in heaven for.

posted by frogan at 8:27 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


LMM: There is a growing field in Cryonics Law. I sense a career opening.
posted by absalom at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2006


I think British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada and the US where cryonics is expressly illegal. I'm kind of baffled as to why.

So, if you've got a cryonics policy, stay away.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:32 PM on August 21, 2006


Striving for literal immortality strikes me as decadent and selfish.

Why? I have to admit I have trouble understanding people who say stuff like this.


Put it in purely economic terms. If Carnegie and Gates could just sock away their fortunes and collect compound interest for an infinite period of time (absent the death interruption) wouldn't they end up owning our respective behinds along with the rest of the world? Would you really want to be the 100th generation after people start living forever? Man, talk about no room at the top. That first generation of immortals would be known as the most fortunate humans ever born and every generation after would set new standards for least lucky.
posted by scheptech at 8:46 PM on August 21, 2006


Didn't the Pharaohs try something like this? I don't think it worked out for them either. [/clumsy sarcasm]
posted by jokeefe at 8:48 PM on August 21, 2006


If there were any justice in the world, the cryogenicists would blow the rich bastards' money on hookers, blow, and charity (perhaps all three at once) so that when unfrozen, the rich SOBs would have to spend their lives penniless.
posted by keswick at 8:50 PM on August 21, 2006


Put it in purely economic terms. If Carnegie and Gates could just sock away their fortunes and collect compound interest for an infinite period of time (absent the death interruption) wouldn't they end up owning our respective behinds along with the rest of the world?

Umm, no. Actually, they would make everyone else richer, albeit quite slowly.

How do you think interest is generated? It's because the principal is loaned out to others by the holding bank, which generates interest payments to the bank. The bank then pays a portion of that back to their account holders in the form of interest. This is how banks make money.

So what happens to all those people who take out loans? They buy houses, start businesses, send kids to college, etc.

Of course, we're assuming there's no batshitinsane runaway inflation or mind-gouging inflation to fuck this all up...
posted by frogan at 8:53 PM on August 21, 2006


Err, I meant, inflation and taxes.
posted by frogan at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2006


Well yeah, inflation would chew that up and besides there are all sorts of other ways that established people retain control of resources. That's why they're called the Establishment man!

How would anyone catch up with Gates? Really, who'd clean his toilets? Billionaires, that's who. We'd all be billionaires due to the magic of compound interest but he'd be a gigillionaire and hiring us to mow his lawn at a million dollars an hour.
posted by scheptech at 9:08 PM on August 21, 2006


Of course there is the potential for bankruptcy that led to the thawing at Cryonics Internment Corporation years ago - just trying to find more info on when and who got thawed. I remember seeing images of vats bubbling over with human soup - tasty.

And where did Timothy Leary's head end up? I just quickly checked on Wikipaedia and it suggests that ...

With the movie Timothy Leary's Dead, filmmakers capitalised on his initial desire for cryogenic preservation by secretly creating a fake decapitation sequence.

and that ...

For a number of years, Leary was reported to have been excited by the possibility of freezing his body in cryonic suspension. As a scientist himself, he didn't believe that he would be resurrected in the future, but he recognized the importance of cryonic possibilities. He called it his "duty as a futurist," and helped publicize the process. Privately he dismissed cryonics as "a joke" and did not seem to regard the process with much seriousness. Leary had relationships with two cryonic organizations, the original ALCOR and then the offshoot CRYOCARE. A cryonic tank was delivered to Leary's house in the months before his death, but when these relationships soured due to a great lack of trust Leary requested that his body be cremated, which it was, and distributed among his friends and family.

That last sequence in the doco that I saw ended with his freshly severed head sitting on ice as the credits rolled - hats off (so to speak) to the film makers' adept faking of the decapitation - it looked real to me. Can anybody verify this?
posted by strawberryviagra at 9:29 PM on August 21, 2006


I'm going to have myself cryogenically frozen so that one day I may speak out against the evils of human cryogenics.

Of course, in the future, I may have to learn a new language.

Maybe it's not worth it.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:33 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


If it is infeasible (currently true), then I think it is unethical because it is an egregious waste of resources; if feasible, then because it would exacerbate the already gross inequalities of fortune that free markets entail.

On preview: others have given better economic argument than I could muster.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:40 PM on August 21, 2006


You can have my cryonics when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands!
posted by Justinian at 9:50 PM on August 21, 2006 [2 favorites]


Frogan's refutation of the economic arguments was a lot better than the economic arguments; a ton of money just sitting in a bank earning interest would generate more wealth for others than it accrues for the account holder.
posted by Justinian at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2006


a big part of overcoming narcissism is learning to accept the inevitability of death, of limits on one's power, with graciousness and humility.

The thing is that pathological narcissists are stuck that way, in their disorder. For non-narcissists life is an interesting dance of hope and disappointment, successes and defeats, reaching out and taking, hopefully, healthy risks while also knowing one's own - and life's- limits.
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2006


The Chatsworth Scandal: The chilling story of the demise of the first cryonics business.
It left me cold...
/badpuns
posted by strawberryviagra at 10:04 PM on August 21, 2006


I remember seeing ads for this stuff in OMNI back in the 80's. I thought it was creepy then too. Although, if it worked, I'd be first in line.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:30 PM on August 21, 2006


Can't Find My Way Home

"Come down off your throne and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason I've been waiting so long.
Somebody holds the key.

But I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time
And I'm wasted and I can't find my way home.

Come down on your own and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason I've been waiting all these years.
Somebody holds the key."

Chorus

"But I can't find my way home.
But I can't find my way home.
But I can't find my way home.
But I can't find my way home.
Still I can't find my way home,
And I ain't done nothing wrong,
But I can't find my way home."

-Steve Winwood & Blind Faith
posted by paulsc at 10:53 PM on August 21, 2006


Another Cold Morning
posted by homunculus at 11:24 PM on August 21, 2006


"...we're assuming there's no batshitinsane runaway inflation or mind-gouging inflation to fuck this all up..."

TIPS can offer a hedge against inflation; they are by no means the only vehicle available. A portfolo can be properly setup to account for pretty much any eventuality that we can anticipate. And if they are actively managing the assets, it's a no brainer.

Although, over such a long horizon I admit there could be some truly left field events that we could never plan for. What if the Star Trek scenario became true, and money was no longer needed?

I once read a 50's pulp sci-fi book where some really advanced cryogenics had been invented, civilisation ended and some cave men came across the still running facility and accidentally started the revival sequence. The guy emerging from his tube was not happy with the life style the future offered him.
posted by Mutant at 11:25 PM on August 21, 2006


I would love to do this if I ever had the money. I mean why not? What are you going to do with your body otherwise, just throw it into the ground?

Chances are very slim it would ever work, but your chances are 0% if you don't do it.

What if the future people do invent this technology? I'd imagine they'd be very interested in learning about the past from first hand participants.

Unless they don't care so they pull the plug and throw my body into a hole in the ground, but it would have ended up there anyway.
posted by rfbjames at 2:07 AM on August 22, 2006


I'd imagine they'd be very interested in learning about the past from first hand participants.

What could you tell them they they wouldn't see from all the current records being stored away? That you were one of the people who actually watched Alf? And you liked it? You want to wake up in the 82nd century just to embarrass yourself? If they are going to need firsthand information from anyone from this age, it's not going to be from us, it's going to be from members of small Amazon tribes and the like.

The only reason to extend your life (unless you're a member of some tiny, poorly documented tribe) is to avoid death, and that is a natural instinct, but I don't want to live longer than the people I love, and even if we all went together, what the hell would we all do in the future? If you want to extend the only good part of your life you'll ever have, turn off the computer right now and go do something with people face to face.

[
It's the year 9327.
Technician 1: "Shit. This one is a bit off."
Technician 2: "Hmm. Looks like freezer burn. Toss him."
Technician 1: "Only 2,465,473,893 to go. For fuck's sake, what are we going to do with all these suburbo-pops from the 21st century? Hey, is this what I think it is?"
Technician 2: "Strawberries! D00d! Break time!"
]

posted by pracowity at 4:41 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


@frogan:

I want more life, fucker.

Huh. All these years, I'd've sworn Roy Batty was saying, "I want more life, Father." Which added a whole layer of meaning that I guess wasn't intended....
posted by pax digita at 4:44 AM on August 22, 2006


Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan series deals with this to an extent. In his view the people are revived out of contractual obligation and then just thrust out into the world with no time to adjust to the radical changes that took place during the time they were frozen. Naturally, the mind can barely deal with this and you end up with homeless crazy people wandering the streets, talking about stuff that happened a lifetime ago.

Just imagine transporting a person from 1906 -> 2006. The shock to the system would be immense. How do you explain 100 years of human history, technological advancement and paradigm changes? And technology is moving faster now than it ever has so the analogy is hardly apt.

I'm not sure I could deal with the massive shock of realising that not only all the people I knew are dead, but so are most of the ideologies and core values that make up who I am. As much as I want to see the future, I'm not sure I want to be thrust into it without knowing how we got there.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:57 AM on August 22, 2006


If the Gov't can't tax a dead guy's money, and the dead guy can't spend it, what good is it?

I always thought that there were two ways to group people:

Those who are alive, and those who are dead. What is a frozen guy then? Does this mean there is some new status only for the super rich where you are neither dead nor alive?
posted by maxpower at 6:15 AM on August 22, 2006


What’s the best way to dispose of an accumulated fortune?

Confiscate it and let impartial politicans, bureaucrats, and special interest lobbyists decide what to do with it, of course.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2006


IIRC, cryogenic people was the subject of an episode of "Star Trek: Next Generation." The people they thawed out had no clue what to do; their families and even businesses were long gone. They had been frozen too long. *shrugs* Seems like a waste of money to me.
posted by cass at 6:59 AM on August 22, 2006


Then again: Khan!
posted by pracowity at 7:45 AM on August 22, 2006


I am extremely disappointed with you all -- not one Futurama reference???
posted by evilcolonel at 8:42 AM on August 22, 2006


Striving for literal immortality strikes me as decadent and selfish.

Why? I have to admit I have trouble understanding people who say stuff like this.


This use of cryonics is the product of a sterile, bloodless culture, one in which everything is subsumed to the struggle for money and which has isolated itself from the ugly organic realities of human life such as birth, death and disease. For our pre-technological ancestors, these weren't abstractions, taking place in faraway hospitals. Babies were born at home. People died in their beds. It was a filthy, unhygenic world, in which people became sick and died at astonishing rates. It was an angry world. People took offense at the smallest things and settled the resulting scores with clubs and blades, with predictable results. It was a raw, rough, disgusting way of life. I certainly don't idealize it; I cite it simply to contrast it with the world in which we live now.

If death isn’t very real, in the above sense, it’s conceivable that some might choose to treat it as just another obstacle, an inconvenience comparable to business competitor or a shortage of tables at a favored restaurant.

Death is a fundamental fact of our existence, one that givces meaning to our lives by forcing us to make the most of them. It is not subject to market forces. The refusal to accept death and finitude is the product of a culture that is out of touch with human nature and with humanity itself. For this reason, I label it “decadent and selfish.”
posted by jason's_planet at 9:42 AM on August 22, 2006


The refusal to accept death and finitude is the product of a culture that is out of touch with human nature and with humanity itself. For this reason, I label it “decadent and selfish.”

Really? Whose culture? According to the article, interest in personal cryogenics isn't limited to any one country. Is all of humanity out of touch with itself? Can only jason's_planet see things correctly?

I don't see this as decadent and selfish. There's nothing wrong with a desire to extend life and avoid death. People live decades longer today than in centuries past. That isn't the result of decadence and selfishness. To the contrary, it's a product of a widespread appreciation of life.

As to the individuals who are already making plans to be frozen, I'm sure they have a variety of motives for doing so. What if someone believes that consciousness ends at death, i.e., there is no "afterlife"? Wouldn't it bring him some peace to know that even when he died, he might be revived in a new world someday? Who knows what factors are motivating these people, other than the very basic motivation that they generally aren't ready to die yet. I don't see that motivation as worthy of the scorn that you're heaping upon it.
posted by brain_drain at 10:10 AM on August 22, 2006


Of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to extend life and avoid death, up to a point. But to sequester resources that could otherwise be available to others who have a reasonable hope of living is irresponsible, selfish, and delusional. It's carpe diem, not corpse diem.
posted by owhydididoit at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2006


Wouldn't it bring him some peace to know that even when he died, he might be revived in a new world someday? Who knows what factors are motivating these people, other than the very basic motivation that they generally aren't ready to die yet.

He might also gain some peace of mind by learning to come to terms with some fundamental aspects of the human experience. It would probably be a lot cheaper than cryonics.

And, as mentioned above, wanting to preserve and extend life is rational up to a point. Cultivating healthy habits and avoiding danger is rational up to a point. A refusal to accept the ultimate end to all of this strikes me as not very mature or dignified. That's not an "appreciation of life;" that's desperate clinging to life.

And desperate clinging isn't love.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:57 AM on August 22, 2006


Huh. All these years, I'd've sworn Roy Batty was saying, "I want more life, Father." Which added a whole layer of meaning that I guess wasn't intended....

I thought it was "father," too. But when I went and looked it up, most sources have it as "fucker." I don't know the real answer. Someone get Rutger Hauer a free membership here and ask him...
posted by frogan at 12:09 PM on August 22, 2006


Filmsite:
Roy: (as he steps into focus and is face-to-face with Tyrell) I want more life, fucker. [His last word is deliberately muffled and slurred, and may be heard as 'father' - since Tyrell was Roy's 'creator'.]
posted by pracowity at 12:32 PM on August 22, 2006


We are as we consume, getting frozen keeps people alive in the only way that really matters, to use gas. Of course being frozen leaves people more boring then even Terri Schiavo at parties. She had the advantage of being warm and moist. All the frozen get is a cool metal cylinder. Plus a utility bill.
posted by econous at 12:41 PM on August 22, 2006


IIRC, cryogenic people was the subject of an episode of "Star Trek: Next Generation." The people they thawed out had no clue what to do; their families and even businesses were long gone.

They had no clue what to do initially, but even within the space of one episode had begun to adjust to the twenty-fourth century and begin thinking about how to move forward, cautiously optimistic, with their lives. The episode is by no means a condemnation of cryonics.

I sometimes think that death is the greatest injustice ever perpetrated by the universe on individual humans, and at the same time is its greatest gift to humanity as a whole. Attitudes seem to become more progressive over time (not uniformly, perhaps, but the overall trend is there), and though sometimes that happens when people change their minds, often it's just because older, more intolerant generations die off. Death may well be necessary for humanity to make any sort of progress.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:48 PM on August 22, 2006


This is bringing up all kinds of fun ideas espoused in the films Zardoz and Logan's Run. Anyone else thinking carousel for rich old people?
posted by maxpower at 2:45 PM on August 22, 2006


you'll see one day pracowity, when it turns out alf was the best achievement of our current times....

Actually, I see your point, but have to disagree. I mean, I can learn a lot about WWII from history books, films, shows etc. but I would still love to be able to talk to my grandfather who passed away about his experience there.

As for what I would do, I would love to see what happened after my passing, and imagine the future would supply a lot to keep me entertained. Unless the robots have taken over and just want to use me as a battery.

I still fall into the camp of why not? Doing it doesn't prevent me from living the life I have to the fullest now, the whole process takes place after my death.

Personally, I would leave just enough money for the process and not build up a massive trust ro give back to myself but give the rest away to family and charity. I'll probably never be rich enough to do that anyway.
posted by rfbjames at 3:29 PM on August 22, 2006


"His last word is deliberately muffled and slurred"... because he's a crazy Dutchman.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:13 AM on August 23, 2006


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