Tyler on Cryonics

My friend and colleague Tyler Cowen is smart, well-traveled, writes on cultural diversity, and manages a large organization.  If his political writings forced him to flee for his life to live in "off the grid" in a distant foreign land, with only a small chance of success and even less of returning, I expect he'd take a very practical approach, and try with all his considerable strength.  Tyler's wife would try hard to help him, easily preferring the uncertainty of never knowing if he made it over the certainty of turning him in to certain death.  Even imagining the remote prospect of such a situation years ahead of time, I expect Tyler would be pretty rational and practical about this scenario.

But when Tyler considers the prospect of fleeing for his life into the future via cryonics, he thinks very differently:

[On cryonics] my current view is this: one's attention is extremely scarce and limited, as are one's affiliations.  Insofar as you have the luxury of thinking "bigger thoughts," those thoughts should be directed at helping others, not at helping oneself. … Furthermore the universe (or multiverse) may be infinite, so in expected value terms it seems my copies and near-copies are already enjoying a kind of collective immortality. … What probability of future torture would cause us to wish to die forever rather than be resurrected?  And should I therefore be scared by the idea of an infinite universe?  Do Darwinian selection pressures — defined in the broadest possible way — suggest it is worth spending energy on making entities happy?  Or do most entities end up as suffering slaves?

Huh?  Can you imagine Tyler giving himself up to be killed for his writings because maybe other Tylers exist in an vast universe, because maybe he'd be tortured in a foreign land, or because saving his live would be a selfish "big thought"?  No, like the woman in Monty Python's "Can we have your liver?" sketch, cowed into giving her liver after hearing how vast is the universe, Tyler has succumbed to the severe human bias to think about distant times and places in impractical abstract symbolic terms.   

Though I think they are mistaken, I can at least respect those, like Bryan Caplan or Penn and Teller, who reject cryonics because they think it has too little chance of working.  But most other reactions seem just bizarre.

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  • http://gov.state.ak.us burger flipper

    Very apt analogy.

    You two really need to do that blogginheads.

  • Ian C.

    How likely is this scenario?

    25 years from now, the necessary medical technology to halt aging is perfected. Some people choose to use the technology, and some ignore it and live a natural lifespan.

    Cryonics is now obsolete and the hundred or so people who have already done it are the only ones ever to do it. The cryonics companies can’t afford to research defrosting technologies from such a small client base, so those few people are given respectable funerals and the whole thing is quickly forgotten, a flash in the pan of human history.

  • Andrew G

    I do not think Bryan Caplan’s position is that cryonics is too unlikely to work. I think Bryan Caplan defines success much more narrowly than you do. You would probably include full brain emulation of your remains as scanned into a computer as a success. Likewise with your entire neural structure and memories recreated in a new body, or any of all sorts of other ways that you would be “resurrected” but also sort of duplicated. Bryan Caplan does not appear to consider those scenarios “success”.

  • pcranson

    I think Tyler is right to emphasize that “those thoughts should be directed at helping others, not at helping oneself.” As Carl pointed out, one’s money would likely be better spent on existential risk mitigation, or other charities, than on cryonics. Robin, how would cryonics be justified under a utilitarian calculus? Eliezer is right to note that we shouldn’t single out cryonics in our complaints, if we’re spending money on other wasteful things. But why not bite the bullet and conclude that we ought to spend money on neither cryonics nor other wasteful things? Do you think that purchasing an Alcor policy will lead to more expected preference satisfaction than donating the same amount to SIAI, FHI, CRN, et al.?

  • haig

    For all the pro-cryonics people out there arguing for cryonic as the most rational thing to do given our current circumstances, wouldn’t freezing yourself right now voluntarily before you die be the most probable way of saving yourself? Seeing that you might possibly be run over by a bus tomorrow morning and have your brains irrevocably destroyed along with the information within it, and weighing this possibility of compete annihilation against immortality, would not the most rational action be to freeze yourself as quick as you can? Why are you still blogging? Run, don’t walk, over to Alcor this instant!

  • Jeff

    Robin, do you respect the argument that anthropics + many words implies effective immortality (quantum immortality or attention immortality, it seems to be called)? If so, since you wouldn’t respect the diversion of all the copies out there in other universes and their opinions as a reason against cryonics, would already having immortality be enough to make cryonics a waste of money? If not, why not?

  • http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=26084222 John S.

    “In an infinite universe everything that can happen
    will happen an infinite number of times.”
    (I forget where I read that.)
    So in an infinite universe (which is something we have
    not observed, but some have inferred) will an infinite
    number of Tylers be tortured an infinite number of times?

  • PK

    Compartments! Robin and Eliezer, I regret to inform you that most people reading this blog probably don’t think of your ideas as literally as you do. Most people shelve the stuff on this blog in a certain cognitive compartment. They view it as “those psychedelic ideas that are fun to speculate about, and it’s just harmless fun to speculate about the future and how it might be like”.

    The idea of cryonics severely trespasses outside of its compartment. It proposes that you might live again after you die in the fun to imagine land called “the future”. Like FOR REAL! On top of that you have to pay a huge amount of money for the chance that this might work. This is not hypothetical money! This is REAL money like FOR REAL! Stuff from this compartment shouldn’t tell you what to do IN REAL LIFE.

    But enough hyperbole. Most people just don’t trust their highly abstract/speculative type reasoning that much or other people’s reasoning of this type. They use different intuitions to make pragmatic real life decisions. When an idea such as cryonics goes too far outside it’s compartment, this creates cognitive dissonance between the abstract reasoning and the pragmatic intuitions, an uncomfortable feeling which must go away.

    Since people believe they are still reasoning using their fancy abstract arguments only, they try to come up with new abstract arguments to put cryonics back into its compartment. The way to do this is to make cryonics not touch real life. This creates rather ad hoc or as Robin says bizarre reasoning, that is if you actually believe this is about the abstract arguments. That is not the cognitive machinery making the decision here.

    There is actually a very good reason we evolved to be this way. Reasoning is fragile. The longer the inferential chains the more fragile it is. A single mistake can lead you into complete nonsense. And historically humans would most likely start with faulty premises by default (such as beliefs in various spirits). So there was an evolutionary advantage to distrusting long reasoning chains that led to weird conclusions since they would most likely be wrong. It was a useful hack to have some intuitions to protect you from inferring yourself into oblivion.

    Is this hack still useful today or a hindrance? Well, reasoning chains made of certain kinds of math happen to be very sturdy. And over time we accrued various methods to make long chains with fewer mistakes. Also certain people are more talented/skilled at making longer correct chains. However, Bible literalists actually ignore the Bible all the time when it conflicts with their (relatively) modern morality.

    I guess it comes down to how confident are you that you won’t infer yourself into oblivion? Oh and if you are very confident don’t expect other people to be confident of your reasoning chains when you reach conclusions that imply they should change behaviour in real life in some way that seems wierd to them. Even if they seemed like thay were playing along before. After all a psychodelic indulgence doesn’t necessarily mean it’s relevant to real life. And people might give seamingly bizzare excuses not to change behaviour in real life. These excuses will seem rather sloppy and won’t conform to the rules of reasoning you think everyone implicitly preagreed to. But the real reason is that it’s an evolutionary hack that makes people distrust overly elaborate reasoning chains that tell them to change behaviour to something that seems wierd. Oh and there is the possibility that you ditractors are reasoning correctly but you are the one who reasoned wrong. Or the possibility that you are a super genious who reasoned correctly on every step except one which led you to the wrong answer. And you ditractors turn out to be right because of that evolutionary hack that makes people stick to the safe status quo. Holy crap it’s 3 AM already…

  • Jeremy

    Nobody has responded to Robin’s original point, which was that Tyler’s argument would seem to apply to other ways of preserving his life, besides cryonics. I assume that Tyler, like most people, devotes significant mental and perhaps physical energy to the maintenance of his basic health–visiting the doctor regularly, eating well, exercising. Would he argue that this time should have been spent thinking about ways to help others instead? Tyler needs to respond to this.

    Additionally, if Tyler thinks his life is of value to humanity, shouldn’t he be willing to preserve it for nonselfish purposes? The money and time required to sign up for cryonics really seems trivial compared to the good that he could do if his life span were significantly longer.

  • A S

    But what if Tyler *knows*, or at least has reason to strongly believe, that he will be tortured in the foreign land?

    There are things better than death and there are things worse than death. What these things are a matter of personal values. There are no universal set of circumstances when suicide is rational or irrational. Some might think that suicide is justified only when the alternative is extreme pain, others may think it is justified when the alternative is not being able to have freedom. Both of these can be rational if you have different assignments of values.

    So, the question of whether to sign up for cryonics is rational is not just a question of what probabilities you assign to the future but also how much you value (or not value) those futures as compared to the act of simply dying.

  • komponisto

    I think Tyler is right to emphasize that “those thoughts should be directed at helping others, not at helping oneself.” As Carl pointed out, one’s money would likely be better spent on existential risk mitigation, or other charities, than on cryonics.

    This argument seems highly suspicious to me. Why not say the money we spend on food or medicine for ourselves would be better spent by giving to charity or mitigating existential risks?

    Remember that people here have argued that cryonics should be thought of as something humanity as a whole ought to do, not something one does just for oneself. Would the opinion of Tyler or Carl be different if our hosts were explicitly advocating the subsidizing of others’ cryopreservation?

  • http://world.std.com/~mhuben/libindex.html Mike Huben

    Tyler has succumbed to the severe human bias to think of distant times and places in impractical abstract symbolic terms.

    It’s called the economic discount rate.

    As opposed to your “There’ll be pie in the sky when we die” and “no atheists in foxholes” attitudes.

  • Tim Tyler

    I can at least respect those, like Bryan Caplan or Penn and Teller, who reject cryonics because they think it has too little chance of working. But most other reactions seem just bizarre.

    You’re kidding right? Doesn’t evolutionary theory get a say in this?

    What would a biologist expect organisms to do if given a choice between a huge long shot at future resurrection, and a simple investment in their own relatives? The answer is obviously the simple investment in their own relatives. There is nothing remotely bizarre about this expectation – people are just behaving as standard biological thinking predicts that they will.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aroneus/ Aron

    To update my beliefs in Robin’s direction would require me to move further from the beliefs of the vast majority of people who have been made aware of this possibility. He is clearly a dramatic outlier. Also, we should assume he is operating under a ‘fear of mortality’ bias that leads him to believe in scenarios that grant immortality. In fact, he has not just one scenario but two if you count mind uploading while alive. So while the vast majority of people are preparing themselves mentally to die just as every other person in history has, Robin has prepared mentally for redundant solutions to the problem arising in the narrow sliver of his remaining natural lifetime. How fortunate.

  • Aaron

    To Haig’s point (which to me, makes a lot of sense: why wait until you are at death’s door to freeze? Why not freeze with the greatest chance of survival post thaw?), what are the legal ramifications of cryonics? Is it, in some sense, euthanasia, in the sense that you are bringing bodily functions to a halt for a period of time that would, in current legal thinking, entail being declared legally dead? Are we on the brink of having people die for tax purposes? And forget married couples, what about divorced couples where one ex-spouse is looking to get out of paying alimony? Should they legally be prevented from cryonics until their financial obligations have been met?

  • Mason

    So far I haven’t seen anyone combine cryonics with caring about relatives, sign them up as well. If it’s the best medical treatment, and you want to signal your loyalty, sounds like a win win. Now not everyone would want cryonics, but simply making the offer would signal some loyalty, and giving them the equivalent amount of money would signal much more.

    On a side note I’m sure Robin has spent much much more time looking into this than Bryan, why doesn’t Bryan default to the expert? Also I’m sure that every group decision making tool including decision markets would say cryonics is a waste of money, glitch in the system or in Robins estimate? I’d say Robins estimate, but I’m no expert.

  • http://cabalamat.wordpress.com/ Philip Hunt

    reject cryonics because they think it has too little chance of working

    Entirely possible, but if you’re dying you’ve nothing to lose anyway.

  • frelkins

    @Aron

    would require me to move further

    Yes, Aron, you must move. Robin is rational and truth-seeking.

    As Hal Finney has noted, you must take Robin into account or rudely disagree. The question you implicitly pose is how far is rational to move? You don’t want to move too much in overenthusiasm, or move too little from status quo bias.

    Chris Hibbert and I were talking about this yesterday. We briefly discussed a method whereby you set a reasonable discount rate and then use a geometric average. That will give you a figure and you should update by that amount. This is similar to a method I have discussed with Hal.

    If your new estimate is in the range of or higher than reasonable estimates of cryonics working, my impression from these discussions is that you should then seriously consider signing up for cryonics. I’d love to hear more elaboration on this.

  • Anonymous

    For all the pro-cryonics people out there arguing for cryonic as the most rational thing to do given our current circumstances, wouldn’t freezing yourself right now voluntarily before you die be the most probable way of saving yourself?

    That depends on your personal estimates of several probabilities. By staying in active mode you put yourself at risk of accidental brain destruction, but eliminate risk from 1) cryo company going bankrupt in your lifetime and thawing all patients 2) cryonics being prohibited by government (life extension medicine still allowed) 3) current suspension methods being not good enough and 4) unknown unknowns. I worry mostly about 1) and 4).
    In my opinion the risk of brain-destroying accident can be estimated from death statistics and further reduced by proper lifestyle choices to the levels significantly below that of the alternative. Once frozen, you can’t meaningfully react to the rapidly changing environment and your only option is to rely on others’ decisions, which may or may not be in your best interest. I’d rather live in a basement than lie frozen in a basement.

    Also, in many countries the case will be treated as suicide, with all the unfortunate consequences.

  • Tim Tyler

    On a side note I’m sure Robin has spent much much more time looking into this than Bryan, why doesn’t Bryan default to the expert?

    I have spent less time than The Pope thinking about God – why do I not defaut to the expert? It’s because I don’t share premises with The Pope.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    This argument seems highly suspicious to me. Why not say the money we spend on food or medicine for ourselves would be better spent by giving to charity or mitigating existential risks?

    We can modify this slightly to perform Nick Bostrom’s status quo bias detection trick:

    Suppose that all your friends and everyone you knew were signed up for cryonics; that it was routine in First World countries, like health insurance or life insurance. Would you voluntarily de-sign-up, relinquishing your future, in order to send the money to Africa? (Where? We’re learning that most money sent to Africa is actively counterproductive.) Or would it make more altruistic sense to stay signed up yourself, and cut out the money spent on movies – bittorrenting them instead, perhaps – in order to fund charitable cryonics in Africa?

  • http://rhollerith.com/blog/ Richard Hollerith

    I would voluntarily de-sign up (but would apply the savings to something other than Africa).

  • steven

    If IRL cryonics is 1. a huge hassle, 2. bad for one’s reputation, those strike me as relevant considerations and not just status quo bias.

  • Nick Tarleton

    De-signing-up in cryonics-world sounds like a considerably higher cognitive, emotional, and reputational cost proposition than not-signing-up in this world.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/rationaldisequilibrium/ Carl Shulman

    “Or would it make more altruistic sense to stay signed up yourself, and cut out the money spent on movies – bittorrenting them instead, perhaps – in order to fund charitable cryonics in Africa?”

    The point I was making was that *it is cheaper to maintain African brains warm and active, rather than in liquid nitrogen,* all things considered, unless cryonics costs fall by perhaps 50-fold through economies of scale and the like.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    All, most commetors ignore that this post is about a comparison.
    Burger, I await Tyler’s availability.
    Ian, <1%.
    Andrew, Bryan thinks ems aren't real minds, i.e., not conscious.
    Haig, if the odds of success now are low, best to wait.
    PK, Tyler should be smart enough to see that effect if pointed out to him.
    Mason, you must have missed that last ten OB posts.
    Philip, even if you will die soon you have ways you can spend money to get things you want.

  • Sternhammer

    I think the discussion around cryonics on this site has so far neglected a couple of important parameters to estimate. You all have your estimates of the possibility of the technology to revive the frozen heads. Fine. I’m not a biologist, so I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m a lawyer with a background in organizational dynamics. From that perspective, I think about:

    * the possibility that anyone will be willing to pay a massive amount to revive your frozen head. I have yet to hear any plausible explanation of why some future person would do that. I think the closest current analogy is all the frozen embryoes created in fertility treatments. Are you eager to pay a surrogate to bring one of them to term and raise it? No? Then why would some future person pay to revive you? Some commenter suggested that future people would revive us so that they could talk with a person from the past and/or put them in a museum. OK, they revive one head to do that. Out of how many? Unless you are much more famous and good looking than average, it won’t be you.

    * the chance that the money to keep your head frozen will not be embezzled. So there is some pot of money to pay to keep the refrigerators on. Someone will be in charge of that money. Or rather, a series of groups of someones, call it twenty employees every ten years for 500 years. 1000 people with embezzlement opportunities. And each of these people will be faced with the choice to spend the money on coke and hookers or on keeping your frozen head frozen. What is the chance that they will all choose you? Look at Wall Street before you make your estimate.

    * Accident and incompetence. Crime labs in this country are always getting the fridge unplugged and losing DNA evidence. And there are people who care a lot about maintaining that evidence. And who is it that will care enough about you to check that your frozen head is being treated well? The government doesn’t care enough about currently living people to avoid defrauding them and letting them die. Look at the state of VA hospitals or medicare abuses. They will care a lot less about your frozen head.

    * let’s imagine you get revived. What is your chance of survival then? What kind of job could a man from 1531 get today? In the future, you will be economically worthless because you won’t have any relevant education or skills. The Flynn effect suggests that people on average will be a lot smarter then. In the future you will be both stupid and ignorant. Who is going to care enough about you to train you for 20 years? Fewer and fewer people are willing to make that investment for their own children, hence the declining birth rate in the industrial world. If you haven’t invested in having kids now, what makes you think someone will make a comparable investment in your frozen head? Peole still get pregnant by accident, and oxytocin makes them love the kids. No one will feel that love for you.

    And that’s leaving out the risk of harsh economic downturns or wars and disasters. What if the Peak Oil theory is correct? If energy gets a lot more expensive then no way will they be able to pay to keep the fridge on.

    I think that the chance of being revived is less than .0001. But then Aubrey de Gray and Eliezer would dismiss that and say I am in the “death trance.” I would love to hear their estimates of these parameters.

    But I don’t think it is crazy to want to do cryonics. Facing death is very hard. Facing it with the hope of resurrection is a lot easier. It is worth something to give yourself the courage to face our condition. But for most people, there are far cheaper ways of convincing themselves they have that hope.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/tobyord/ Toby Ord

    Eliezer,

    We’re learning that most money sent to Africa is actively counterproductive

    This is a common and glib line, but I seriously doubt that you have evidence for it. Of course some aid is counterproductive, but that is a long way from it being on balance counterproductive. People say that if it was productive, we’d see some kind of improvement: well during the period from 1950 to 1997, life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 42%, at the cost of $32 per person in Africa per year in aid. Obviously some of this improvement might have happened anyway, but given the obviousness of how eliminating measles, fighting malaria etc through aid would be making these improvements, deniers require some kind of actual evidence for a claim like yours (and not just for certain cases, but of *net* ineffectiveness). If you have such evidence, then please share it.

    My own view is that aid is probably very effective overall, but there is a real chance (10% ?) that it is net-counterproductive, and we would greatly benefit from more controlled trials to find out more. In any event, there are interventions that are clearly very effective and far more so than cryonics, so you can just choose to donate to these rather than to the average charity.

  • James Andrix

    Ian C.:
    Not likely. The cryonics foundations aim to be self funding indefinitely, thats why it costs so much. If immortality were achieved, they would simply keep waiting.

    I think it’s unlikely that technology will stop at a point where thawing is still hard. It might yet be needed for space exploration (if you want to go there ‘yourself’) and could be a byproduct of advanced body modification, or treatments for specific conditions. (The immortality treatment probably won’t be a cure-all, people will still have injuries, odd genetics, or other issues. If it IS a cure all, then just use it to revive the cryonauts.)

  • pcranson

    Eliezer, yes, I think we ought to cancel a cryonics policy and give the money to existential risk mitigation. Do you think $10,000 is better spent on a cryonics policy or on a donation to SIAI?

    Komponisto, our survival today increases the amount of money and time we can donate to risk mitigation. Our cryonic survival does not have this expected value. The technologies needed for cryonic resuscitation would also enable whole brain emulation. So by the time we could be resuscitated, the world would likely be populated by a large number of ems of higher value. Our money would be better spent mitigating risk to save the future, than saving ourselves for a future where our help won’t be needed.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    pcranson, are you an SIAI donor?

  • steven

    Does anyone have an estimate of what a cryonic suspension would cost if millions of people got suspended every year?

  • Jason Malloy

    No, like the woman in Monty Python’s “Can we have your liver?” sketch, cowed into giving her liver after hearing how vast is the universe, Tyler has succumbed to the severe human bias to think about distant times and places in impractical abstract symbolic terms

    Ha, I must say this was an incisive analogy. But, sorry, the “bias” you list is actually the correct Bayesian bias. Thinking about distant times and places in the abstract are the only way you can practically think about those times and places, because you don’t have the requisite amount of correct information to think about them in the concrete manner that would be useful in the limited context of your existence. (e.g. to make informed trade-offs)

    I think we need to take it as a given that Tyler does not see “getting killed for his writings” on the same level of practical reality as “I’ll bet science and the distant future will look how I think they will”. We also need to please admit that Tyler has the far more practical opinion here.

    You are not a “practical” thinker, you are a romantic thinker. A high-stakes intellectual gambler in search of the big pay off, who doesn’t quite realize, as Tyler suggests, that your attention and affiliations are a valuable limited resource that you are indeed gambling with to achieve that remote pay-off.

    See also the post linked here where a cryonics enthusiast advises men to choose speculative technological gambles over probably the most valuable domain of one’s short existence.

  • Matt

    There are basic personal identity issues simply swept under the rug in this post, and in many comments. Suppose I painlessly dissolve you, wait 15 seconds, and then reconstitute a physically identical being out of different atoms–down to whatever level of detail would be required to replicate personality and memory–and pay you $100,000 to boot. Wouldn’t you feel you had been dead for 15 seconds? Would you regard your successor as “you.” And those identical and nearly identical copies elsewhere in the multiverse–Are they “you”? How different do they have to be before they stop being “you.” Do you care about the other yous in the same way you care about the you reading this? The attraction of cryogenics is that it preserves the physical continuity of the person. Why that should or shouldn’t matter to our conception of self is core issue in the personal identity literature.

  • bambi

    Sternhammer, most cryonics enthusiasts overlap strongly with the views of “singularitarians” which, following the standard reasoning of those scenarios, claims that the ability to revive the frozen will occur in something like 30 – 80 years, not 500. Further, it is assumed that these technological tricks will become relatively easy (inexpensive). Given that, the “cryonics community” or the biological descendents of the frozen will be sufficiently motivated to do the revival, even if simple random decency for something so easy isn’t enough.

    I think your point about facing death with some hope is a very good one; for some, those “far cheaper methods” don’t take. Honestly, if you are a believing Christian, cryonics seems very dumb or even sinister. So most people in the US (who profess to be Christian) are not going to be supportive of cryonics.

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    “I assume that Tyler, like most people, devotes significant mental and perhaps physical energy to the maintenance of his basic health–visiting the doctor regularly, eating well, exercising.”

    Most people don’t do any of those things.

    Isn’t not signing up for cryonics a lot like not exercising? Or like not writing a will? How many people write a will before they’re 60? I don’t think we need to treat this as a special case.

    If it’s a special case, I think it may just be that people are dismissing low-probability outcomes (being revived) without computing their expected value.

    Also, computing the “value” of living vs. dying, or the monetary value of your life, can lead to infinities, or at least to ridiculous outcomes (eg, never riding in a car), unless you are very thorough about it and own up to your life having a finite monetary value to you. In other words, doing the necessary computation is beyond both the technical ability and the comfort zone of most people.

  • Jason Malloy

    Let’s look at future-time orientation with the time-horizon scale and parameters where it is practical and where it is not practical.

    Time scale 1 day-1 month: On the one end of the spectrum we have the marshmallow game, where you can have two marshmallows tomorrow or one today. Here the pay-off is high, the sacrifice is low, and the information content is high. (i.e. you can be certain that the trade-off is as presented) This is one of easiest examples of where thinking about the future concretely is beneficial.

    Time scale 10 years-50 years: Next we have the real life choices that people must make across their lifespan. This includes issues like whether to smoke, to exercise, to brush and floss their teeth daily, and save for retirement. Here the pay-off is good, the sacrifice can be moderate to high, and the information content is decent. Again, this is an example where concrete thinking about the future is almost certainly beneficial.

    Time scale 50 years-150 years: Next to last we have an issue like, say, global warming, where we have to make difficult choices about how to structure our economy today in order to stave off disaster in the near long-term future. Here the pay-off is potentially high, the sacrifice is potentially high, but the information content is (to my best reading) fairly poor. This is an example where we are pushing up against the limits of how much we can predict about the future, and where just sticking with more immediate likely consequences of our behaviors might be preferable. In this case eating the one marshmallow today might be preferable to waiting until tomorrow and being told, sorry, the bag is empty.

    Time scale Death to Infinity: Here we have Pascal’s Wager. Here the pay-off is potentially infinite, the sacrifice is high to very small (depending on the demands of the particular religion), but the information content is so low, in fact, that all mutually contradictory versions of the wager have an equal probabilty of being right. And here we are far beyond the limits of knowledge where “thinking” about the future is a practical behavior. Any action taken, including just praying or believing, all else being equal, is a completely wasted sacrifice on your part.

    Cryonics is somewhere between the global warming and Pascal’s Wager examples. Much closer to the global warming example, certainly, but not close enough where we can’t say that it is indeed impractical thinking and, yes, a bit kooky.

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    I’d still like to know how much cryonics costs. People have told me “you just take out life insurance”. I don’t know how much this life insurance costs.

    Can somebody signed up tell us what it costs them per month?

  • James Andrix

    Matt:
    Where was the information you use to reconstitute me stored for those seconds? Why isn’t that me?

    And how different are the atoms? are they just a little different, or very different?

  • http://pancrit.org Chris Hibbert

    I’m signed up for whole body, which is more expensive than the more-common neuro-only (just your head). I have whole life insurance from USAA which would pay the $150K Alcor requires, and I pay $500/quarter. I’m paying more for insurance than most, but I consider having a truly stable insurance company to be worth extra money. (Rudy Hoffman is the go-to guy for buying cryonics insurance. His page says $1000/year.) Alcor charges me $130 quarterly. I’m 50, and signed up about 15 years ago. (Your age at sign-up has a large effect on your insurance rates.)

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    I for one find it remarkable how often Robin Hanson can have the same points raised in objection to his claims without his admitting they’re valid – or even acknowledging that they exist.

    Jason Malloy is quite right: Hanson is a romantic thinker who can convince himself that his cherished beliefs are terribly hard-headed and rational.

  • Sternhammer

    Bambi,

    Thanks. That helps me see why this makes sense to some. I guess that pushes the question of whether cryonics makes sense back to the question of whether singularity is plausible. And further technological improvement does seem highly likely, and a takeoff seems possible. But that time scale seems optimistic. A hundred years ago, a lot of people predicted that we would have vacations on the moon by now. Luddites predict technological progress poorly, but so do technophiles.

    And technological progress doesn’t make economics disappear like on Star Trek. If improved technology allows us more power over the natural world, and longer lifespans, I expect more competition for resources, not less. And I don’t think the living will invite extra competition from the dead. The more our tech power expands, the more we will have to spend money on. In the 30s, economists predicted that when average income hit $4,000 people would only work one day a week, because what could they spend the money on? Positional goods will remain scarce and will be the subject of hot competition.

    As far as “simple random decency” … I have a different estimate of the probability of that. You could save lives in Africa by donating 10 mosquito nets soaked in insecticide. That costs maybe $5. The great majority of people do not do that.

    And of the people who have enough altruism to do that, why choose thawing frozen dead people, disproportionately wealthy and well-educated in life? Cowen wouldn’t. Nor I. I gave 30k to fund microcredit in Cameroon last year. How much would I give to revive Eliezer and Robin? Nothing. I’d rather give one life to the poor than two to the privileged.

    As far as the Cryonics Community, I think that is the most interesting idea you raise. I agree with you that the Singularity, Cryonics, fighting aging, and super AI seem to load together on the same factor. What do we call the belief system that bundles belief in
    1) a coming paradise on earth;
    2) immortality for group members in the paradise;
    3) the resurrection of the body so that the faithful departed can be in the paradise;
    4) a beneficent super-human intelligence that will watch over us.

    Coolest of all, this super intelligence will be created by man, not the other way around, but coincidentally, that will happen in one week.

    I agree with you that this community will likely not include people who are members of the ancient religions. Or to put it another way, in terms of meeting the deepest psychological needs this belief is substitutable for a religion.

    People in this community don’t like to be compared to a religion. But I think that’s a mistake. They are much more likely to be able to work together to achieve shared goals if they adopt the social-psychological methods that have proven successful. Maybe don’t call it a religion, but I would advise Singularitarians to have services on the weekend, support a clergy, have dedication ceremonies for their kids, etc. If you had an order of monks dedicated to raising the dead that might work. Hiring random people to watch the books won’t.

  • pcranson

    Eliezer, I’m an SIAI donor. What do you think of the relative cost-effectiveness of cryonics vs donations to SIAI?

  • http://causalityrelay.wordpress.com/ Vladimir Nesov

    Several commenters dismissed the value of their life outright. How much money would you take (to give to whatever charity/cause you value) in exchange for dying right now? Assuming that you still have most of your life ahead of you? That’s roughly how much you are willing to spend on yourself, before any altruistic considerations. Multiply this sum by estimate of probability of successful outcome of cryonics, that’ll be your threshold for the cost of the procedure. If you assume hard takeoff, probability of success (if not revival, then something better) is roughly the same as probability of positive takeoff, so the rest of humanity loses at the same time as you do and can’t take advantage of your charity.

  • bambi

    Sternhammer, there’s also the “last in first out” theory, which states that because the last cryopreservations are likely to be the best and because the most-recently-frozen will have living friends in the community when the day comes, they will be revived first. Then, because of remembered personal relationships with other slightly less-recent corpsicles and sheer gratitude for their own revival, they will be motivated to help get the next wave out. I suppose I would.

    Also, even if many like you would rather spit on the rich dead than save them, surely not everybody will feel that way.

  • bambi

    It would be ironic, though, if the coherently extrapolated volition of humanity agreed with you and the eschaton unplugged the frozen.

  • rand

    >>>
    But I don’t think it is crazy to want to do cryonics. Facing death is very hard. Facing it with the hope of resurrection is a lot easier. It is worth something to give yourself the courage to face our condition. But for most people, there are far cheaper ways of convincing themselves they have that hope.
    <<< "Most people" cling to religion instead. How much does *that* cost over a lifetime? Cryonics seems like a bargain by comparison.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Phil, I pay $120/year for Cryonics Institute membership plus $180/year for 10-year term life insurance with a clause stating it’s upgradeable without evidence of insurability if I wish – I’m amazed that such a thing exists, but Rudi Hoffman provided it. The policy is for $250K but CI requires only $50K of that.

    pcranson, if you’re actually an SIAI donor then your view is defensible. For a long time, I didn’t sign up for cryonics using exactly the same logic – that the resources could be better spent on existential risks. But a lot of people in the transhumanist community I was in, did not accept that as an explanation; they were using the (highly reasonable) heuristic that anyone not signed up for cryonics was simply not taking the whole thing seriously, since they didn’t think that such total other-devotion was plausible. Eventually, I staged a one-hour crisis of faith, cleared my mind, and decided to sign up with the cheapest provider just for the passport it provided into transhumanist circles. Having done so, I was surprised by the lightness in my heart that came from putting on the necklace for the first time. Even though I don’t expect to take that particular route through life, having any kind of second chance at all, apparently counted for something emotionally.

    You wouldn’t literally trade off dollars to SIAI against dollars to a cryonics organization. But most people will have many other things in their lives that are worth trading off against a cryonics policy. It’s certainly not an excuse that I would accept from anyone who wasn’t actually donating to SIAI.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Calendonian, I cannot win a word war of attrition – there are just too many people too willing to spend too much time typing. When there is a way to identify the critics most worthy of a response, I’ll respond more to those.

  • Sternhammer

    Rand, surveys like the GSS show that religious people report higher happiness (and more frequent sex, lower incidence of depression, etc). That suggests that if one had the power to choose belief then that would be an expected net bonus to utility. And there is evidence in the public health literature that religious affiliation correlates with slightly extended lifespan (about 2 years).

    From Eliezer’s last comment, it does sound plausible to me that similar gains might come from affiliation with “transhumanism” or “Singularity-arianism.” Especially since there are transhumanist “circles” that one struggles to earn acceptance into. It might be even better, since can also tell yourself a plausible story that you are helping make the belief into fact. A christian doesn’t think that by joining she increases the chance of God existing. I’m curious, other transhumanists out there, do you feel happier since you become one?

    Bambi, I’m not sure how you translated my claim that the living poor are more deserving than the dead rich into “I spit on rich people.” I think the first, not the second. And I do think that powerful decision makers in the future are likely to agree with the first. But, as you point out, it only takes one.

    But I do think that Cryonicists are underestimating (or more commonly, not estimating at all) the difficulty posed by agency issues and the decision-making of future actors. I cannot imagine a more attractive victim for robbery than a rich frozen head. Easier than taking candy from a baby, and with a lot less guilt.

    As to your view that the currently impossible will shortly become the trivially easy, and trivially cheap, well, we have different forecasts.

  • kurt9

    The people working in the various cryonics organizations need to develop better cryopreservation techniques (decent neuro-preservation, vitrification) in order to convince more people that it can work. If the neuro-structure is intact, it is plausible to regenerate the rest of the body (and repair the brain) using stem-cell based regenerative medicine or some kind of synthetic biology. Skepticism about the technical issues of cryonics is certainly valid. I consider other arguments against cryonics to be bogus.

    Curing aging in the near future will not eliminate the need for cryonics. Other things like accidental injury, homicide, and infectious diseases can still “mortally” injure you such that a more advanced technology will be necessary to repair you (on the cellular or molecular level) than is currently available, even in a post-mortal society of 30 years later.

    Infectious diseases may be more sophisticated in the future. Some of them may even be synthetic.

    The cost of revival in the future is likely to be very cheap and could possibly be done by the same organizations that do the cryopreservation today. The reason why I believe this is because biotech is now following a cost/performance curve similar to that of semiconductors (Moore’s Law). As the technology becomes more advanced, it becomes cheaper as well and smaller groups of individuals are able to do leading-edge work. This has been the case with electronics and computer technology for the past 40 years. I see no reason why it should not be the same for biotechnology and bio-engineering over the next 40 years. The DIY bio-hacking movement will do the same for biotech and medicine that the Apple PC did for computers. Medicine is currently expensive because it is still stuck in the “mainframe” era. The “PC” era will bring many changes.

    The person who said that cryonics is bad if it works because you will be unemployable in the future obviously has not met any of the “boat people” immigrants from Asia during the 70’s and 80’s. These people came to the U.S. in the wake of the Vietnam war and found ways to be economically productive. Is it not likely that the people who are resourceful and driven enough to make into the future are likely to be resourceful enough to figure out how to make it once there? This objection say more about a person’s character more than anything else.

  • michael vassar

    Robin: I think that Aron was giving you back your explanations for not agreeing with Eliezer. PK is accusing Tyler of something which is between a sort of dishonesty and an error. How smart Tyler is may be irrelevant if he’s also not an outlier truth seeker.

    Eliezer: You ignored Toby, but I’ll ask again. Can you cite a source on the claim that most money sent to Africa is counterproductive? In any event, the relevant concern is the average of the charities one can identify as “best”, not the over-all average, and certainly not the median, but I am also somewhat skeptical of the fact you are asserting about the median.

    Sternhammer “I’d rather give one life to the poor than two to the privileged.”
    That’s very odd. I’m not sure I understand your reasoning. It would be interesting to hear it.

    Jason Malloy: PK was talking about people like you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/sentience Eliezer Yudkowsky
  • Sternhammer

    MV,

    Fair point. I phrased that poorly. It sounds like I was saying that one life is more valuable than two.

    What I meant to say was that giving the opportunity for one complete life to a person who would otherwise die before age 5 seems more important to me than giving an extra life to someone who had already lived 80 years. Simple distributional equity.

    Also, if, as I think Kahneman and Tversky (1974) showed, utility curves for any good are convex, then we would predict less expected utility for years 81 – 160 than for 1 – 80. Yeah, I know, the kind of person who has faith in Cryonics probably also believes that their resurrected body will be immortal, will have a flying car, etc, so the calculation is more complex than that.

    I’d rather move someone 0 to 1 than 1 to 2. And since moving someone 0 to 1 has about a 100% chance of success for very little money, like say $50, that seems a much better use of that pile of money I allocate for human life expansion than a very slim chance of moving someone 1 to 2 for $150k. Even if the beneficiary is me.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ Michael G.R.

    I’m currently researching cryonics options available in Canada (Ottawa region). Will probably sign up if it’s possible.

  • Jason Malloy

    PK was talking about people like you.

    If I said something irrational or bizarrely reasoned, I’m afraid you’ll have to elaborate.

  • michael vassar

    Sternhammer: I’m pretty sure then that you should be looking at http://www.givewell.net
    I’m sorry to say that $50 with a high probability sounds like a false promise to me, though $500 might be realistic and $5000 certainly is, leaving your point intact. To even save a life for $500 requires a lot of research. OTOH, it’s highly plausible that $50 can be used to influence the allocation of aid money in such a manner as to transfer thousands of dollars from a project that doesn’t effectively save lives to one that does, in which case $50/life may be an underestimate if the money is combined with careful thought about how to do this.
    Cryonics advocates might plausibly suggest that with adequate economies of scale cryonics could be equivalently cheap, but this is a much less certain claim.
    Life isn’t a good in the relevant sense to apply to your behavioral psychology point, but it isn’t needed to make your case WRT Africa.
    OTOH, asteroid and comet detection for non-extinction threatening threats might still be a highly measurable better deal. Impacts by large objects of less than a billion tons would be expected to kill several hundreds of millions to a couple billion people happen every million years or so, hence with a .01% chance in the next century. Such bodies, if detected years in advance would be deflected with high probability, but because of the low (though fairly precisely calculable) probability of danger there has been long term underinvestment in finding them. (as discussed in books such as Richard Posner’s “Catastrophy: Risk and Response” http://www.amazon.com/Catastrophe-Risk-Response-Richard-Posner/dp/0195178130). The expected value of a dollar spend on detecting such objects may be subject to calculation more precise than the expected value of a dollar spend on aid to Africa and may simultaneously be lower.

    Another potential target for donations is the nuclear threat initiative. Its expected value is difficult to calculate as precisely as that of asteroid defense but seems unlikely not to be greater. http://www.nti.org/index.php

    Eliezer: Your link shows evidence that marginal aid fails to cause economic development, which doesn’t surprise me, not that aid fails to save lives, which would surprise me. Showing aid to fail to provide non-survival health benefits, e.g. in cleft pallet correction and the like, would require something really weird to be happening, though it could be that at the margin this is true, or that other effects of those charities make them a net bad.

  • Jason Malloy

    Exactly, the fact is is that aid does help, when the spending and the goals are defined right:

    More broadly, however, aid can be effective even if it doesn’t boost economic growth … these days, there are far fewer … blind beggars, and one reason is the extraordinary work that Jimmy Carter has done in leading the fight against river blindness. It hasn’t been quite wiped out, but in a quarter-century it has gone from a major peril in Africa to a marginal problem.

    In fact aid efforts in fighting disease have been extraordinarily effective—with one big exception, AIDS. Average life expectancy in the developing world was forty in 1950 and has risen in those countries to about sixty-five today. It’s difficult to quantify the economic impact of medical aid or be sure that it has boosted economic growth, but in any ordinary sense of the word it has been hugely effective. Leprosy has been a burden on humanity for thousands of years, and you still see victims in Africa and India who lost their fingers, toes, and noses to it decades ago. But international aid efforts have largely overcome leprosy, and when people get it now it is treated before patients lose their extremities.

  • sternhammer

    MV,

    Thanks for the tip on Givewell. We could debate the numbers, but you might be right that I was underestimating. I am thinking of clean water wells — say $8000 — that could eliminate giardia and amebic dissentery for a substantial village population. Could I save 160 lives for that? Maybe not, but I would guess 20. And 10 very cheap mosquito nets might save a life. I think those are like $5 each, but I guess I am leaving out program costs. I cede your point.

    I would push back on life years being a good with convex utility. In the Eliezer/Aubrey bloggingheads Aubrey says that earlier years are more strongly recalled, hence more deeply felt. That matches my partial experience (I’m only 42), with the exception that years with young children are also very vivid. If you could choose to live a year at any age, to maximize hedonistic utility, what year would you pick? I’d go for 20. Partly that’s bodily decay, but part of it is the curiosity and wonder that come from inexperience. The first time you fall in love is better than the 10th, or would be if you held quality of lover constant.

  • frelkins

    who reject cryonics because they think it has too little chance of working

    I remember Evan Gamble giving me a copy of Varley’s Ophiuchi Hotline, which features cloning, when we were stuck in a miserable public school. I believe it was the social studies teacher who saw me reading this and asked what it was about.

    He responded to my summary with “Cloning is impossible; it will never happen, what a foolish story for you to waste your time with.” And he thoughtfully gave me a cookbook from the school library.

    That would have been in ’77, before Evan left jr. high for college. Not 20 years later Dolly the Sheep was made.

    Some parts of biotech are proceeding faster than Moore’s Law. There are no guarantees, but it might be rational to ask Bryan to update his estimates accordingly and politely inquire if he would think again.

  • michael vassar

    Sternhammer: I’d like to see your response to the points about asteroids and about the nuclear threat initiative.

  • http://www.superbad.com John Sabotta

    “The cryonics facilities of today will become the creepy haunted ruins of the far future” – Me

  • http://www.superbad.com John Sabotta

    “The cryonics facilities of today will be the creepy haunted ruins of the far future” – me

  • rand

    Can someone enumerate the advances in cryonics since it first started in the late 60s? That seems like an amazing amount of time for innovations, yet afaict not much has changed. On the flip-side, what happens if better preservation techniques are discovered that don’t involve cryonics. Will your policy be transferable, or will you be locked into an obsolete technology?

  • Steven Simon

    can anyone tell me groups that are against cryonics

  • homunq

    This is about people who reject the hope of cryonics as not worth the trouble. It is a separate question from the probability of success. And I absolutely defend my right to dilute my assessment of the value through distancing techniques.

    Let’s take the flee-to-another-country metaphor. You secretly learn that a tsunami will hit your city in a short time. You know that you cannot convince all your friends that this will happen. For some reason, there is only one way out of town: a single truck, which will take you to a place you have never been, which you may or may not like. In order to be loaded on the truck, you have to agree to be anaesthetized and put in a box. But there are more people in line for the procedure than there are spaces, so what they are going to do is anaesthetize everyone and then randomly choose which ones to load on the truck. There is also some opportunity cost for agreeing; say, you give up the chance to live it up/help people/write the perfect haiku/understand general relativity in your precious remaining time.

    OK, the details need work, but the aspects are all there: on the one hand death, on the other uncertain value, imperfect probability, temporary total loss of control, opportunity cost. There are clear models (expected value) for discounting for all of the latter factors, except temporary total loss of control. For me, that break in the causal chain needs a discount too. What I am doing is *deliberately* using the it to dilute my sense of self and so assume a more universal standpoint: here ends me, the only thing that matters after that is world peace/maximum fun/ whatever.

    So would I forego life-saving surgery with total anaesthesia? Well, yes, actually, the fact of total anaesthesia would probably significantly alter the opportunity cost/success probability package I’d accept – say, I’d need a 15% instead of a 10% chance for the surgery to work perfectly before committing half of my current and future savings to it. And yes, if the doctor was someone I could know nothing about before the surgery – if in fact I’d never met a surgeon in my life, or ever heard of anybody surviving anaesthesia – that would also make me increase my price to accept the deal – say, 25% in the same case. And if the surgery were opt-in and the death it prevented years in the future, sure, 50%. It may seem that I value my life especially poorly, as many people would give their whole life savings for a smaller chance of perfect recovery. Though I admit I am possibly exaggerating, I am pretty sure I’m atypical in the direction I signal – not that my life is cheap, but that that I value quality (opportunity to help others included) over quantity, and the cost of the surgery is ultimately expressed in foregone quality.

    The point is, I am perfectly willing to live with a bias here, an extra penalty factor on the expected value of cryonics because of passing through what my experience counts as death, the universal price for birth. Because it is just using one bias – deliberate distancing to use “far” thinking – to overcome another – my bias for personal survival, instead of maximum worldwide fun and minimum suffering.

    I don’t know if that’s Tyler’s conscious reasoning, but given that he refers to the ultimate distance – his copies and near-copies in distant corners of the multiverse – I think that that is what he’s striving for here.

    Would I have come to this conclusion in a world where freezeheads were as common as religious folk in this one, so I could opt out and use the money for myself and the poor? Maybe not, but quite possibly.

  • http://www.dreambazaar.com Basiec

    You don’t have to be rich or selfish to be a cryonaut. I want to get to the future to help a disabled boy. He will be then much older and need my help. If they could they would revive me because I would have rare gold coins hidden in a National Park. There is only one way they can get to it in the future.

    Basiec

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