Engagement As Respect

It saddens me to see funerals where attendees only say generic nice things about the deceased. Such as that he or she was a good neighbor, parent, or professional. I’d rather hear more specific descriptions and evaluations, some of them mildly negative, or at least not obviously positive. The usual platitudes suggest that people didn’t actually notice the deceased very much as a distinct person. “You say Fred from accounting’s funeral is Saturday; which one was Fred again?”

At my funeral, I prefer attendees to signal that they actually noticed me as a distinct person, and that they engaged that distinctiveness to some degree. I want them to have enough confidence in my reputation and the wider perception of my value to point out features of me that are not obviously positive. I want to have been a specific vivid person to them, who they often liked but sometimes didn’t. I’d like them to share specific anecdotes that remind them of my specific distinct features, both good and bad.

I feel similarly about book reviews. It saddens me to think of someone putting in all the effort it takes to write a book, but then even when their book seems to get a lot of attention, reviews mostly just rephrase the book jacket summary, or give generic praise like “must read” and “interesting”. It makes one suspect that most book reviewers haven’t actually read the book. Or if they read it, the book skimmed past their attention without making much of an impact, like an easy-watching TV show.

My first book comes out in May, and instead of having people generically “like” it, I’d much rather that my book had an impact on their thoughts, so that they became different in some way after reading it. I want them to have engaged my ideas enough that they actually grappled with some of the difficult issues I raise. They weren’t just carried along by my entertaining show, but they actually thought about what I said at some point. And readers who engage difficult issues discussed by an author almost never end up agreeing with that author all the way down the line. So the fact a reviewer disagrees with me on some points is a credible sign that they actually read and engaged my book. Which shows they thought my book worth engaging.

Yes, in a sense what I’m asking for here is counter-signaling. Acquaintances distinguish themselves from strangers by acting generically nice to you, such as by dressing nice, being polite, etc., but friends distinguish themselves from acquaintances by feeling free to speak their minds to you and dressing comfortably around you. At my funeral, I want people to see I had friends, and for my book I desire more impact on readers than just “I read some books on X and Y lately; they were okay, though I forget what they said.”

And yes, when signals are ranked by quality, then asking explicitly for a high quality signal is risky, because that can force people to say explicitly “Yes, some people deserve that high of a signal, but not everyone, and not you, you aren’t good enough.” But that is the risk I now take by saying: love me or hate me, but notice and remember me. Respect me by engaging me.

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  • Lord

    Or is it you want to learn something or be entertained from them? It is a tragic waste of time to read and not.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Respect me by engaging me.”

    Yeah, in an “attention economy”, engagement is the ultimate rivalrous good. Soon, you’ll find out how much people care about “electronic minds”.

  • Zhang Tingyu

    Why do you care about what happens after you’re dead? Honestly, why?

    • Well, Robin doesn’t think his death is necessarily the end of him. (Given this, would he even be entitled to a funeral? Do ems get funerals?)

    • Why do you care about anything at all? Seems obvious to me that we really do care about things we can’t directly see or experience, like our children not dying horribly the day after we die.

      • Yes, but nobody in their right mind would feel sorry for you on account of your children dying after your death. This suggests that our concern for our children following our death is something other than what it seems.

      • Huh? I mean, I’d feel *more* sorry for the people who are still around, but I’d love for my children to live forever, even if I don’t.

      • What I’m asking is like this: would your best friend feel sorry for you when your son, John, dies a day after you die? “I feel sorry for John’s surviving wife, but I feel particularly sorry for Malcolm, who didn’t even know his son would barely survive him.”

      • Zhang Tingyu

        Indeed it is obvious but have you stopped to think why? And a speech during your funeral is hardly as important as the life of your children.

  • Sam Dangremond

    Don’t worry, I promise to work with as many of your fans as possible to ensure that your funderal includes a slideshow of these:



  • AndyL

    When I die, I want to be frozen and fired from a cannon at the enemy.

  • Zhang Tingyu

    If medicine is about showing you care, and elections are about choosing a popular coalition; what does caring about your image post-death stand for?

    By your logic surely it can only be signaling right now to your friends that you are high status, and you expect from your friends a costly-signal such as making an effort at your funeral even though you can´t really appreciate it from the coffin.

    • IMASBA

      You never know, maybe his spirit will bless you with a plentiful harvest the next year…

  • Robert Koslover

    Well, you are in good company. Orson Scott Card’s novel “Speaker for the Dead” rather directly addresses your concern. See

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    Do you *expect* to have a funeral???

    I certainly hope that neither you nor I will have one, and once they reanimate all of Alcor’s patients we should meet to reminisce about the old days.


    • Most patients do have a funeral upon freezing, and rightly so give the high risks involved.

      • IMASBA

        Indeed, and even after successful reanimation the person will still die eventually.

      • IMASBA

        Indeed, and even after successful reanimation the person will still die eventually

      • Rafal Smigrodzki

        I’d call these memorial services rather than funerals. After all, the star of the show is called a patient, not the dear departed.

    • zarzuelazen

      I don’t believe cryonics is a likely avenue to immortality. The problem is not technical , but logistical/economic. Because cryonics is not popular, the infrastructure to support it in the society at large doesn’t exist. In practice, if you die, it is not likely they’ll get you to the freezer fast enough to save your brain.

      Medicine won’t work in any reasonable time frame either, because of the complexity of the human body. The life extension optimists are just deluding themselves.

      The only hope to avoid your demise at the hands of aging is to program a super-intelligence to solve the problem.

      • Max More

        This keeps coming up but relies on mistaken assumptions. Cryonics does not need to be popular (although I expect it will be eventually). Alcor has been around for over 43 years, and doesn’t require support from society as a whole. It’s our mission to bring our patient back — not for “society” to do so — and we plan to have the resources to do so. I also disagree that “it is not likely” that you will be cryopreserved quickly enough. Certainly, circumstances vary greatly, but you can do plenty to improve your chances of a quick response, and we get better over time at getting to you quickly. How much time do you think is needed before the procedure must start?

      • zarzuelazen

        Hi Max,

        Good to hear from you. I agree cryonics doesn’t need to be popular, I was just pointing out that without support from wider society, the probabilities of success are greatly reduced in individual cases.

        It seems to me that the most successful cases so far are the ones where people had plenty of advanced warning of their impeding death, like cases of terminal illness (for example Hal Finney).

        Most deaths aren’t like that…chances are a random person dies suddenly and not in immediate reach of medical help.

        Even in the cases where people had warning and could make preparations, things are still going wrong. I was extremely disappointed to read about the case of Kim Suozzi (to which I had made a donation), where there was an un-necessary delay of over an hour. This just illustrates my point about the consequences of lack of support from wider society (Kim’s father was apparently a cryonics skeptic, which may have contributed to the likely fatal delay)?

      • Max More

        For several years recently, we were in place with a team prior to legal death in over 80% of cases. That figure dropped somewhat over the last year for various circumstantial reasons. But there really is a lot you can do to improve your odds. For instance, we currently have a new, terminal member who is planning to relocate from England to Scottsdale in his final weeks. Difficult to do, but excellent idea. In 2014, 7 of our 13 patients made sure they were in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in time for cryopreservation.

        Fair enough re: Kim Suozzi. But consider that the time-to-surgery was still very brief. Her biggest problem was her brain tumor. Also, and very important, we learned from that case and will NEVER again allow a gap in nursing care that leads to a delay in pronouncement. It would be easy for us to blame the delay in a failure to abide by the promise made to us by the nursing service, but I would rather take on the full responsibility and not rely on such promises in future.

        Yes, broader social acceptance does make a difference. We have been making remarkable strides in that direction, as evidenced by the overall tone of media coverage, and the degree of cooperation from doctors, hospitals, hospices, and medical examiners. And we can do better if we keep working at it.

        For those thinking in terms of financing revival… that’s a topic it’s too late for me to discuss in detail. I just want to note that Alcor has a separate Patient Care Trust that is designed to last for as long as it takes. We have never yet had to draw on the principal, even though policy (and prudence) says we can up to 2% per year. With even a modest real return, we should have a lot of resources available to fund repair and revivals decades from now. Some members make further provision through individual Asset Preservation Trusts.

      • IMASBA

        Wouldn’t popular support/acceptance be the deciding factor in whether or not a future society will choose to honor the cryonics contracts? Will they choose to convert the trusts if a new financial systems is introduced? Will they refrain from usurping the trusts for health care expenses of future people, or to scramble resources in the event of a major catastrophe/war?

        I don’t doubt companies like Alcor are doing everything they can, but ultimately a future society could easily declare contracts signed in 2015 to be legally or effectively void.

  • I don’t see why we should wait until you’re dead. I highly respect you for your honesty. I realize that much is lacking even there but you are superior to the vast majority of humanity in that respect. And as for the negative part of the evaluation, you have a strong tendency to think things are true simply because they are interesting to you. So for example ems will be much more difficult to create than you realize, and it will take much longer.

  • John

    I will definitely read your book the way you describe.

  • Good blog post. 7/10 stars, would recommend.

  • Adam Casey

    You often write from the point of view of applying the commonplaces of social sciences to other topics.

    One way this can seem less than trustworthy to a layman is when those commonplaces aren’t supported by an obvious example the layman can think of. (Suppose we note it is universal that societies that promote left-handedness also promote baldness. I can’t think of such a society quickly, so I have no quick sanity-check on the claim).

    I’d be interested to know if you can think of commonplaces like this where no such obvious example or other stylised fact presents itself to you.

    Because such claims are less easy to convince people of we should expect theories based on them to be a) more reliable and b) less persuasive. I expect there is some gain to be made here by marginal adjustments to the theories we focus on.

    • But that problem should also apply to other specialized fields like physics. Yet it doesn’t; few people disbelieve physics because they’ve never personally seen a changing magnetic field induce an electric current.

      • They believe physics on the authority of physicists. Do you want comparable intellectual authority for social scientists? Is that what this is about?

      • Adam Casey

        Hmm, I think most people don’t have any expectations at all over things they can’t see, whereas in social sciences they do have strong expectations. If so then mechanics will be a good example.

        In mechanics it is often the case that people have false intuitions about things importantly different from ones they’ve already seen. Does this make it harder to believe physics in such topics?

        The first time I was told about gyroscopes I found it hard to believe/understand it. Likewise I found it took a while for me to believe non-newtonian fluids acted as I was told.

        I’m no longer convinced this is simply a lack of examples effect though.

  • Trevor Blake

    Professor Hanson practices what he preaches. He gave me the first review of my book “Confessions of a Failed Egoist” (tinyurl.com/theuniqueone)

    “I read and then skimmed your book, but couldn’t relate to it. I prefer clear and important claims to be analyzed, while you mostly seemed to ramble and free associate. Sorry, just not my style at all.”


    • Broken link.

      • Trevor Blake

        Try tinyurl.com/theuniqueone

        Original post added close parenthesis to the url. Above should work. Thank you!

      • The only review there says “Trevor Blake is the great underground thinker of the 21st Century.” Where did Hanson’s review appear?

      • Trevor Blake

        His review appeared (but appears no longer) at ovo127.com. It is quoted in full above (‘not my style’). My publisher declined to use it on the back cover of my book.

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