Mary Roach on Communicating with the Dead | Conversations with Tyler Cowen

Mary Roach on Communicating with the Dead | Conversations with Tyler Cowen


COWEN: To do a whirlwind tour of some of your
books, you have a book on corpses. If you could chat with the dead, what would you ask
them? ROACH: Oh, if I could chat with the dead.
Are we assuming the personality or the body? COWEN: Well, both.
ROACH: The corpse? COWEN: The corpse.
ROACH: Oh, is this a research corpse or . . . COWEN: It’s a research corpse.
ROACH: It’s a research corpse. COWEN: Yeah.
ROACH: OK. I’m just defining our parameters here. If you could talk with a research corpse — OK,
I know what I would ask it. As somebody who wrote this book, Stiff, about
medical cadaveric research, it kind of behooves me to donate myself, and yet, I still trip
over that image. Instead of having the image of my husband, tears coming down, scattering
ashes over the Pacific, which is quite lovely and romantic, I have first-year medical students
eating a sandwich and looking at, “Girls, look at her skin here. It’s really . . .” You
know that. So what I’d say to the cadaver is, “Is
this embarrassing for you? Are you OK with this? Are they treating you respectfully?
Do you wish you had some clothes on?” [laughs] COWEN: One of my friends, Robin Hanson, is
always trying to talk me into having my head frozen, either before I die —
[laughter] COWEN: — when I’m dying, after I die
— [laughter]
COWEN: — depends on your view of death. And he says the amount of money I would have
to spend on this, it might be a small chance of being revived in the distant future, but
I have no better way to spend the money. Does this argument convince you or does it disgust
you? ROACH: [laughs] To be just a head.
COWEN: Just a head. ROACH: Yeah, just a head.
COWEN: But with a chance of resurrection. ROACH: Yeah, Jack, good luck with that. No.
[laughter] ROACH: No. Because first of all, they’ve
got to solve the whole freezing-thawing and that’s going to destroy the cells. Right
now, what can they do? One layer of cells, freeze and thaw, right? Your basic sperm and
egg . . . COWEN: Right.
ROACH: You got that freeze-thaw, but a whole head, I just don’t see that coming anytime
soon. And then to reattach, and then the spark, how are they going to . . . ? It’s not like
you pull the cord on the lawnmower and rev the thing up again. I’m not sure.
You know what else? You know what’s interesting about cryogenics . . . cryonics . . .
COWEN: Yes. ROACH: I never know if it’s cryogenics or
cryonics. A lot of interesting legal issues because those people who’ve done that believe
they’re coming back. They feel like they’re in suspension and they’re not dead, and
that one day, they will be back, and they’re going to need their cash to live. So their
heirs, their estates, like, “This is my money,” but legally, they’re saying they’re
not dead. COWEN: The power of compound interest, right?
[laughter] ROACH: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
[laughs] Who gets that money?

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