You Can't Take It With You

The latest round of publicity for cryonics was kicked off by thoughts on the age-old question of how to take your wealth with you - or at least keep it intact for later. This age-old question becomes somewhat more practical to consider when there is a non-zero, albeit unknown, chance of returning to society at some later date. A discussion is ongoing in the Extropy-Chat list (threads here, here and here) on this and related matters of how best to ensure your decisions are respected when you are no longer available to exert your own force of will.

When thinking about these matters, it's best to look at the incentives rather than the details. The trouble with property left undefended, as the ancient Egyptians and every other culture that buried wealth with the dead has handily demonstrated, is that no-one else's interests are aligned with yours. You'd like your wealth - in whatever form it happens to be in - to be your property once more when you are revived from cryonic suspension. Every other person in the world will benefit from taking these resources for themselves while you are out of the picture.

Options would seem to fall into the following categories:

  • Give the resources to some group you have charged to maintain them: perpetual trusts, complex legal manipulations, or simple trust absent the structures of law.

  • Convert the resources to something easily hidden and likely to retain some value due to scarcity - such as gold, or better, a cache of historical data - and hide it well.

  • Disburse all of your resources as you see fit and go into suspension with nothing to your name.

The inherent conflicts of interest mean that resources given over in trust are going to be raided or taken from you sooner or later - the only questions lie in the details of that theft.

Hidden wealth might seem to be a more attractive option - removing the human element insofar as that is possible - but any choice may turn out to be worth less than the dirt piled atop it. Hiding wealth as gems might have looked smart half a century ago, but gems will be be a mass-produced item within a decade. With advanced enough technology even rare elements are a mass-produced item. This is not even to consider that the society advanced enough to return you from cryonic suspension may just be advanced enough to scan your vitrified brain and read your memories of hidden caches from its fine structure.

Putting your body and brain into cryonic suspension is an educated gamble, we must recognize that much. I think it's a good gamble, since technology is advancing rapidly and comparatively few interests are aligned against you in the matter of revival and returning to a place in society. Trying to put your resources, your wealth, on ice strikes me as a much more risky endeavor - the long history of human attempts to take action or enforce a decision after death should amply demonstrate the futility of attempting to preserve post-mortem vision and wealth from the predations and honest choices of your fellow human beings.

But so what? If the future deals you a bad hand prior to the arrival of working anti-aging medicine, and cryonic suspension is the only alternative to the grave, then direct your wealth to those organizations that are working to produce the sort of world that will revive you and that you'd like to live in. I don't see that you can do better than that. If you should happen to be revived with nothing but a brain, body and debt in the future, then what of it? We've all conquered that situation at least once already; alive and challenged to win once more is a good deal better than the alternative.

Technorati tags: ,


I beg to differ. If legally deceased persons cannot reliably sequester money for specific purposes, then the entire concept of cryonics is unworkable. Cryonics itself requires maintenance funds to remain intact and unraided for centuries. And therein lies the fallacy of your argument: It's not true that every living person in the world potentially benefits by taking money from the incapacitated. An important class of persons that does not benefit is other cryonicists, because they themselves will want their own sequestered resources, either for maintenance or use upon revival, respected. Cryonicists have a vested interest in the protection of personal revival trusts. I predict the most durable of such trusts will be those that are in some manner monitored by cryonicists.

Posted by: cryoguy at January 28th, 2006 10:26 PM

Good point. Living cryonicists have a vested interest in actively defending the culture and processes that allow resources to be dedicated to the maintenance of cryonic suspension, and a lesser interest in ensuring that "stored" wealth not dedicated to suspension is managed well.

I imagine, however, that too much "stored" wealth could be a real albatross in terms of (a) attracting unwanted and dangerous attention, (b) generating corruption and deviation of goals within cryonics organizations and cultures. It's all a matter of degree and time preference - enough wealth and even the most ardent organization can subvert itself.

Posted by: Reason at January 28th, 2006 10:46 PM

Cryonicists have a more serious problem than just preserving wealth for decades or centuries until revival becomes possible, if at all: Cryonics hasn't even gotten to the point where it can exist as a for-profit business after nearly 40 years of effort. Cryonicists have had to defy "market signals" all along to maintain the ability to put and keep people in suspension, often subjecting themselves to considerable financial and legal hazards along the way. Given how the market has consistently judged cryonics a waste of resources, compared with, say, the urgent need to produce novels about bible prophecy, I have serious doubts about cryonics organizations' long-term survivability. I also have it on good authority that Alcor has wasted tremendous amounts of money on stupid business decisions, which adds to my pessimism. Bad enough that cryonics has to exist as an expensive hobby; but the lack of competent management makes the future look even more precarious.

Posted by: Mark Plus at January 29th, 2006 7:51 AM

Cryonics is only likely to be of value to a population that is already middle aged. The young have no need of it as the first real bridges to radical life exstention will be in place by the time they need them. Therefore the young will have no vested interest in supporting cryonics or its users.
Therefore I think you have hit on an area that has worried me as potential Cryonicist. No matter how clever you are at protecting your money, some legal eagle will find a way of getting to your wealth once you are legally dead. The living are going to be better off if you stay dead. The living will believe you are going to consume all kinds of increasingly limited resources, imagined or otherwise once you are revived, as well as wanting your money/house back. Even the ones that loved you when you were frozen: will they feel the same way 40 or 50 years hence?
The lucky talented few will be reanimated, the rest of us are going to have to take something with us that the living might want, information such as "where the hidden gems/gold/data is kept".
Until someone comes up with a good plan for ensuring there is a mechanisum for revival, I for one sadly will not be signing up for cryonic suspension.

Posted by: David Gifford at January 30th, 2006 2:40 AM

The belief that the need for cryonics is going to dry up in the foreseeable future is incredibly naive. There will always be a need for cryonics because there will always be ways that people slip beyond reach of available medicine. Traumatic accidents causing long periods of cerebral ischemia is one class of injury that will exist through the entire 21st century. In later centuries there will be iatrogenic diseases, and diseases caused by nanotech weapons, that we can hardly imagine today.

In addition to the ongoing need for cryonics, there is a more fundamental idea, Mr. Gifford, that you don't get. Cryonics is a COMMUNITY of people, not some faceless government bureaucracy. Those of us involved in cryonics are motivated by deep personal loyalty to friends and loved ones we have in those tanks. Any technological lifespan extension of the current generation of cryonicists STRENGTHENS the revival prospects of cryopreserved people rather than weakens it.

I suppose I should not be surprised at your cynicism, for it, like most of the world's cynicism about cryonics, is rooted in a perceived dichotomy between the interests of the living and the dead. And that is the basic fallacy of your entire perspective. The perspective of the cryonics community, which barring outside interference is the only perspective that really matter for the success of failure of cryonics, is that cryoprserved people are INCAPACITATED, not dead. They are part of our community, not relics to be forgotten.

Posted by: cryoguy at January 30th, 2006 9:37 AM

Don't get me wrong Cryoguy, I want to believe it will work. I believe all the technical problems will be solved. However the living will always be in control and if past history has anything to go by logic is the last thing that is used to guide people. I am further depressed by the upsurge of religious fundamentalism Christian in US and that of Islam in the rest of the world. "After life" based religion is always going to be appossed to immortalalist practise such as Cryonics.
You hope that saying it is NOT SO is enough to make it not so. Rarther I'm saying you are going to need to do something to make it not so. Do that and I'll sign up.
As to the long term use of Rescue cryosuspension I'm sure are right but while the technology may be the similar, it's intention is different. I'm involved already in that area of work, believe me, that it is fundamentaly different!
How will the Cryonics Community operate when all that need it, are in suppension and the next generation have no need as radical life extension is available to them?
I'm not arguing that the chances for revival are zero, no it better than zero. All I'm saying is that currently the better bet for my money(in my opinion) is calorific restriction/nutrition/etc etc.
I look forward to your next post

Posted by: David Gifford at January 31st, 2006 2:24 AM

You are too focussed on society at large. Again, the fate of cryonics depends on the cryonics community; its attitudes, its values, its priorities. Society at large only matters if they attack cryonics. Cryonicists, in their clumsy bids to thrust cryonics into public consciousness, sometimes forget that public indifference is a very valuable commodity.


"How will the Cryonics Community operate when all that need it, are in suppension and the next generation have no need as radical life extension is available to them?"

Where did you get this weird meme that radical life extension = instant repair of any injury? There will always be a need for cryonics in some form. You should read the essays of Thomas Donaldson sometime.

The life-extended people that do operate cryonics in the future will make the field more powerful, not weaker. They will have greater knowledge, greater wealth, and greater appreciation for the value of human life and the ability of technology to heal and extend it. They will also have personal connections to some of the earliest cryopreserved people. Those are all good pro-cryonics things.

The sooner lifespans are extended, the better for cryonics. The idea that cryonics somehow benefits from regular slaughter of human beings (as if cryonics would be stronger than today if mean lifespan were reduced to 20 years from 76?) is perverse.

Posted by: cryoguy at January 31st, 2006 11:28 AM

Here's a further thought for you. You have raised the question of whether, and how much of, a continuous influx of new patients is required for people to maintain an interest in cryonics. So far we have not discussed the opposite side of the equation, which is the OUTFLUX of patients being revived from cryonics. Cryonics has been described as a LIFO (last-in-first-out) process in which, all else being equal, the most recently cryopreserved patients will be the first to get revived because they will have been cryopreserved with the most advanced technology. Once ANYBODY gets revived from cryonics, the whole idea and tradition of medical time travel gets strongly reinforced in medicine and popular culture. Not only that, but such revivals also create a chain of people interested in getting back people preserved with still-earlier technologies. That chain reaches back to the very earliest cryonics cases. Food for thought.

Posted by: cryoguy at January 31st, 2006 5:14 PM

You accuse me of focusing on the world at large, guilty. Better that, than pretending it?s not there or that it will always be indifferent to you. That is faith.

My so called weird idea follows a line logic that goes like this:
If nanotechnology can be developed successfully for medical applications, it will first be used to cure a vast spectrum of degenerative diseases, halt then reverse the aging process - on the living. After further development it will be applied to cryonics patients to rectify the damage induced by the cryo-suspension process then used for the simple matter of curing what killed them. I?m sure other therapies and technologies will play their part, but you get the idea. Further this technology will be so useful and handy that it will be available at every emergency room, perhaps find its way into the hands of every medic, putting everyone in reach of a curative therapy within hours or less. Maybe moderate protective cooling will be required at any trauma site but that would be all.
Once cures/therapies are available for your ills and the aging process has been halted: why the further need for medial time travel? Maybe individuals will require it for other non medical reasons, I cannot comment on that.

I?m sure that the cryonics community will get stronger in the middle term, I hope they do.

I do not understand your interpretation of my post with this ?regular slaughter? thing, as I did not say it. This is an emotive term that detracts from an interesting and useful debate.
If you are saying that life spans will always be limited by biology, that we will always be hitting barriers (122, 600, 1,100 years and so on) then you may be right but I do not believe so. While we may hit barriers in the interim, ultimately they will be solved long before we reach them. Read Aubrey de Grey and his singularity concept.

Your last posting, I am familiar with the LIFO concept.
I do take your point that once you have a post cryonics population they will be benign protective of the technology and of any one still using it.

Posted by: David Gifford at February 2nd, 2006 8:40 AM

Actually the "singularity" wasn't invented by Aubrey de Grey. Perhaps you mean "escape velocity", which was popularized by de Grey, although strictly speaking not invented by him.

What I'm saying about cryonics always being needed, is that horrible things will always happen to people that will causes medicine to say, "What the hell are we going to do about that?" Today all those things are lumped into one word called "death." In the future (I hope) it will be medical tradition to take people who cannot immediately be repaired well and put them into stasis until they can be transported to better facilities, or until repair strategies can be devised for injuries that appear hopeless at that particular time and place.

But let's suppose you are right, and once medicine reaches the limits of physical law, then every injury will be either repairable in short order or obviously beyond any hope. Then anyone remaining cryopreserved at the time will also be either immediately repairable or beyond all hope. Then cryonics will be finished. But until such a time is reached, there will continue to be a contemporary need for cryonics, and that should keep the tradition and practice of cryonics going long enough to revive everyone that can be revived.

Posted by: cryoguy at February 2nd, 2006 10:29 AM

In a condensed form, Reason's argument states that because no one gains from protecting my assets after my death, they will eventually be stolen and I should therefore direct my wealth "to those organizations that are working to produce the sort of world that will revive [me] ...".

This type of reasoning is quite possibly harmful to the cryonics movement. People today usually do not direct their excess funds to the existing cryonics organization, and no amount of blogging will make it so. If, on the other hand, Alcor or CI had a fund to which patients could direct funds that will be returned upon revival, more people would do so out of selfish interest, and the cryonics organisation would benefit year after year from collecting a modest managment fee. We must now consider two objections raised by Reason:

1. The funds will harm the cryonics provider by generating corruption and attracting unwanted and dangerous attention.

Given how small the cryonics movement is today, this will not be a problem for a long time. Still, it is good to think ahead and place the funds in a separate legal entity with distinct staff. The proceeds from the fund should be use to fund research only, so that the patients are never in danger even if the funds are stolen.

2. The assets will eventually be stolen--hence no need for the fund.

Although this may be the case, there is always a positive probability that they will not be stolen in finite time. Furthermore, not everyone will be dissuaded so the fund will still attract money which will be useful for funding research.

Finally, I would like to suggest a way in which assets can be preserved even if any foundation eventually has its assets stolen. Simply branch into two independent foundations every time the assets triple in value. Provided the average survival time for foundations established after death is not too short, this should be enough to ensure survival of at least some assets.

Posted by: Snerker Flingrot at April 3rd, 2006 12:23 PM

What happens today for people in a similar situation, like in coma or in jail? I'm not asking what does the law say, but some statistics about what does really happen with that people's money.

Posted by: Antonio at January 15th, 2018 11:14 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.