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Monday, January 23, 2006

Freezing some assets: A mini-thanatopsis

Interesting article at the Wall Street Journal site about how some people are planning to be financially secure after coming back from the dead. Believers in cryonics (i.e. freezing the body or decapitated head of the dearly departed in the hopes that future technology can restore life) want to ensure that what they've gained in this life will still be waiting for them when they return...
You can't take it with you. So Arizona resort operator David Pizer has a plan to come back and get it.

Like some 1,000 other members of the "cryonics" movement, Mr. Pizer has made arrangements to have his body frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as possible after he dies. In this way, Mr. Pizer, a heavy-set, philosophical man who is 64 years old, hopes to be revived sometime in the future when medicine has advanced far beyond where it stands today.

And because Mr. Pizer doesn't wish to return a pauper, he's taken an additional step: He's left his money to himself.

With the help of an estate planner, Mr. Pizer has created legal arrangements for a financial trust that will manage his roughly $10 million in land and stock holdings until he is re-animated. Mr. Pizer says that with his money earning interest while he is frozen, he could wake up in 100 years the "richest man in the world"...

At least a dozen wealthy American and foreign businessmen are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches hundreds, or even thousands, of years into the future.

Such financial arrangements, which tie up money that might otherwise go to heirs or charities, are "more widespread than I originally thought," says A. Christopher Sega, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and a trusts and estates attorney at Venable LLP, in Washington. Mr. Sega says he's created three revival trusts in the last year...

Okay, here's my take on this: trying to gain immortality like this is a horribly wrong thing to do. For one thing, I don't believe this is ever going to work. Even if technology is going to be discovered that might "resuscitate" a cryogenically-frozen corpse, the odds of this future technology bringing back someone who's been frozen prior to this point in time are extremely low. Current "freezing" is going to be considered crude and ineffective: whoever has received this treatment is going to be damaged beyond hope. Not to mention that this technology is probably so far off that the chances are rather slim that any corpsicles existing today are going to still be around tomorrow: most if not all will be lost to accidents, financial failures of cryonics firms, etc.

But the real reason why I think this is wrong is that cryonics is based on the notion that life is bound by the parameters of this physical world. If cryonics does work for a "patient" once, could it be guaranteed that it would work a second time, or a third, or an infinite number of times into eternity? Would such a person really want to go on with life neverending? I don't think so, and this goes back to something that took me a long, long time to understand: that death is not really a bad thing like we are used to thinking it is. It's just one more stage of growth in this life that we have. We just can't see what it's growing into from this side of things. If there were no death, we would each be cursed to live a life bereft of any change: utter stagnation would be our lot. There would be no real meaning to life if it was given the assurance of never having to end or change. Why would anyone want that?

So if anyone asks, I'm letting it be known here and now that I don't wish to be cryonically frozen when my time comes. Let me leave this world the way I've tried to live in it: dignified, but with humor. Just cremate my body while it's wearing my Jedi Knight costume and I'll be happy :-)


Mark Plus said...

death is not really a bad thing like we are used to thinking it is. It's just one more stage of growth in this life that we have.

In the interest of full disclosure: I have worked for David Pizer for the past 15 years, and I also have arrangements for cryonic suspension.

Regarding your comment: The people who live in a world where everyone has "engineered negligible senescence" (Google that phrase to see what it means) probably won't find this rationalization very persuasive. In a rational normative society, everyone who lives in a socially benign way should have both the right and the ability to live as long as he wishes. Moreover, I suspect they would think a lot more clearly about reality because death anxiety won't cognitively traumatize them the way it does to people now who delude themselves that their "souls" "go somewhere" when they die. (Look up "terror management theory" on Wiki.)

Chris Knight said...

Interesting. You are the first person I've ever "met" that I know of who is opting for this :-) I'm not disparaging those who are going for cryonics at all. If someone wants to pin their hopes on this, he/she has the right to do that. We're all given that choice.

Guess it's 'cuz I happen to be a believer in the school of thought that holds that we are more than this flesh, that I believe that this would be personally wrong for myself. We have a spiritual component that is the far greater part of our being. As a Christian, I have come to believe that my spirit is all too often at odds with my flesh, especially as it grows in accordance to - what I hope anyway - is the will of God. For me, THAT is the real life, the life that I cannot get enough of. The inner man grows, though the outer man will eventually weaken and die. I used to believe that this was a *bad* thing, but have since come to understand that in the spiritual context, death is neither "bad" or "good": it is merely the inevitable consequence of having a soul that will eventually grow too brilliant for corruptible flesh to contain. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, death is a safety mechanism for fallen man to prevent us from having eternal life in a corrupted state.

There is a LOT more to this world than what we see with our eyes, I've learned over the years. Sometimes we can see glimpses of that. Most of the time it's hidden from us. We really do see through a mirror darkly now... and though I do *not* want to die anytime soon, neither would I want to go an eternity without being able to see things through Heaven's eyes.

But who knows... maybe cryonics *will* work, and I might live to see that happen someday. It's even possible that it might become a perfectly acceptable medical procedure, in which case I might have no problem at all in believing that if we can do that much with the minds God has given us, that it would be no different from using that same knowledge to perform a heart transplant or blood transfusion.

Thanks for your thoughts Mark. And appreciate you swinging by my blog :-)