More Getting Froze

Eliezer and I posted last fall on cryonics, and someone connected with the cryonics firm Alcor recently told us that 7-8 recent signing-up customers, a notable fraction of the total, mentioned Eliezer, I, or these posts!  OB reader Fortune Elkins was apparently also instrumental. 

I'm proud to have had some influence, though it is still sad that the numbers are so low that our modest effort could make such a difference.  I'll post more on cryonics soon.

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  • Stefano Bertolo

    Robin, can you please explain what is the legal setup? Since, presumably, for the US law you will be dead by the time you are frozen, who is the counterpart of the contract for the service provided by Alcor (or others)? Thanks.

  • Eric

    Any thoughts on Ebonmuse’s criticism of cryonics? I don’t know that there’s much to say, but I noticed he specifically referenced OB, so I was wondering if anyone here saw it/responded.

  • http://changegrow.com James Andrix

    You’ve also moved me from ‘not going to’ to ‘going to at some point’

  • kevin

    I would like to second James Andrix. I wasn’t, now I am going to at some point.

  • http://youlikeadajuice.wordpress.com/ Ben

    Eric, I’ll take a stab at responding to Ebonmuse. I think his points can safely be summarized as:

    1) The future may be a place we don’t want to live in.

    2) Cryonics contracts are unenforceable and future humans might not wake people up.

    3) Cryonics might not work.

    4) We should spend money instead on helping poor people.

    2 and 3 seem the strongest points, and both have been addressed by Robin. The argument isn’t that cryonics is infallible; it’s that given the costs and potential benefits, the probabilities you assign to cryonics doesn’t need to be very high.

    #1 is a fairly reasonable point if you assign high likelihood to a truly terrible future, in which life is worth than death. I think most people don’t.

    #4 can be applied to a host of other behaviors that Ebonmuse really doesn’t want to get into. Cryonics is nowhere near the top of the list of things that people do instead of helping poor people.

  • kevin

    Regarding Ebonmuse, I would also add:
    1)If the future is really horrible, then we can still probably commit suicide, and go back to being non-conscious.
    2) Someone probably would thaw us out if it became relatively inexpensive (which seems likely given that advanced nanotech is needed to revive humans).
    3) The comparison to Pascal’s wager is inevitable, but the difference is that Pascal claims an infinite benefit for having faith (something we probably can’t control anyway) whereas the benefit for cryonics is merely very large but finite (since the merely human capacity for happiness is limited and entropy/random chance will kill us eventually). Therefore, we can come up with a half-decent, rational estimation of whether cryonics is worth it, and I think it seems to be.

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

    kevin: You are trying to reverse the stupidity of Pascal’s wager by also requiring the positive benefit to be reduced. If you get an unlimited life of expanding capacity for happiness, it’s a strictly better deal than a limited life of limited capacity. There is no requirement for the benefit to be “merely” very large. You are implicitly translating the absurdity of overly large benefit into the low probability of the claim.

  • steven

    #1 is a fairly reasonable point if you assign high likelihood to a truly terrible future, in which life is worth than death. I think most people don’t.

    Or if you disvalue truly terrible futures extremely much more than you value truly wonderful futures on a per-future basis. I’m not sure how to resolve this question, but I would caution against motivatedly reasoning for the cryonics-justifying answer.

    BTW, that Pascal guy seems to have made any discussion of very large payoffs impossible, even very large payoffs with nontiny probabilities.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/MarkPlus AdvancedAtheist

    Regarding: “The future may be a place we don’t want to live in.”

    I point to the example of the Hmong refugees from Laos let in by the U.S. Government. From their perspective, they jumped into a time machine and traveled several centuries into the future. The older ones have had a lot of problems adapting, but they would probably say that they prefer watching their children and grandchildren grow up in a strange society, and speaking a strange language, than not watching them grow up at all.

  • kevin

    Vladimir Nesov: I don’t think that is a correct characterization of what I was saying. I was claiming that because Pascal’s benefit was supposedly infinite, he could claim that we should accept his argument *even if* the odds of success were infinitely small but non-zero. This would be “multiplying by infinity” which is mathematically worthless, and can be used to justify anything. I think that a real cost-benefit could be done for cryonics.

  • Zac

    I consider the chances of revival to be less than one in a trillion.. so cryonics is not substantially different from Pascal’s wager to me.

    I think any other argument against cryonics (condemning it for its “selfish” nature, the future might not be a place we want to live in, etc) is essentially foolish. Its just so unlikely it essentially has a zero probability of occurrence. If I could be convinced that the chances of revival were even as large as 1 in ten million, I’d be likely to sign up.

    I think Ben (above) summarizes Ebonmouse’s points succinctly. The only point is 3) and I think that’s a strong enough point.

  • Anna Salamon

    There may be more OB-triggered sign-ups still in the pipeline; I know a couple people who said they wanted to sign up, after reading the posts, but haven’t navigated the paperwork.

    If you want to increase cryonics sign-ups, maybe it would be good to borrow a page from Cialdini? Invite that life insurance salesman who works with cryonics to post something short on OB, describing the steps in a non-intimidating manner, and offering himself as a contact person to help people through. (Maybe embed it in a post with intellectual content, if that makes it more OB-like.) And invite people who want to be signed up but who’ve been having trouble actually getting through the steps to note in the comments that they mean to, so that commitment/consistency pressures can help that intent prevail against executive function difficulties and distractions.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I’d like to offer an observation on this point by Kevin:

    1)If the future is really horrible, then we can still probably commit suicide, and go back to being non-conscious.

    While this is quite true, it misses the point of my objection. I’ve observed that many cost-benefit analyses of cryonics assume that the future can only get better. But I don’t see any reason to take that as a given, and if you assume that the future might be worse instead of better, that significantly changes the analysis. You might wake up in a future far worse than our time, and while you could choose to commit suicide, you’d still be considerably worse off, overall, than if you had used the money you’d spent on cryonics to improve your (pre-freezing) life instead.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/MarkPlus AdvancedAtheist

    I’ve observed that many cost-benefit analyses of cryonics assume that the future can only get better. But I don’t see any reason to take that as a given, and if you assume that the future might be worse instead of better, that significantly changes the analysis.

    “The future” doesn’t exist as a lump given all at once to revived cryonauts. If we survive to a time where we have realistic expectations of healthy superlongevity but the immediate conditions don’t appeal to us, what keeps us from toughing it out, especially if we band together for mutual support, until either we or the conditions change so that things suit us better?

  • kevin

    @Ebonmuse: I think the main point is that any scenario in which corpsicles are being revived is unlikely to be very bad. Obviously civilization has not collapsed if they have this advanced technology. Presumably they are likely to be wealthy as well (again due to having advanced tech). Also, probably a society that would bother to revive 21st century cavemen like us is either trying to learn something or trying to do something benevolent and altruistic. I can’t imagine anything useful being achieved by reviving someone just to torture him. Presumably we wouldn’t be useful slaves by the standards of this advanced civilization.

    All in all, I don’t see a lot of downside in the post-thawing scenario, although there probably are serious financial and social costs prior to preservation.

  • Patri Friedman

    Ok, I like the future, and I think revival is possible, so I don’t believe in any of the standard anti-cryo arguments. But cryonics seems quite expensive relative to other things I could do with my money. Like get more “life” by having to work less, hiring a trainer in order to be in better shape (and have less chance of death), that sort of thing.

    So I don’t do it for cost reasons. Am I wrong?

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

    Patri, when considering the cost of financial payments, you must weigh both when they happen, and in what state of the world they happen. Cryo costs are low until the time and state in which you would have died, at which point you likely have no better uses for your money, at least if not much poorer than I think you are.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    On the one hand, you could say, “But the insurance company expects to make a profit and your utility function is convex in money; so if you wouldn’t spend $28,000, you shouldn’t spend $300/year.” However, this only equates to the question of whether you would spend $28,000 to avoid certain death.

  • MartinB

    >I consider the chances of revival to be less than one in a trillion

    Zac, how did you arrive at that number?

  • mathusalem

    no need to go into trillions. (i think it works 1 in 2.7 trillions. as if that matters)
    no way this humans thing has a happy end. things are moving too fast now for society to learn/adapt. i put this at 30%.

    also if we’re forced to cram to the poles to survive a meek 4C increase in temp as it’s expected, do you think humanity will carry the freezers of dead kooks with them? i put this at .1%

    also by the time they freeze you, your aged brain will have lost most of the functions/memories anyway. unless you do it at 50 in which case you’re nuts. and don’t deserve to be preserved.

    and even if it works, who wants to work/commute forever anyway?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p011168f25f92970c Ralph

    I’ve added a discussion of Pascal’s Wager and its application to cryonics at http://www.merkle.com/cryo/wager.html

  • http://www.infoaxe.com Vijay Krishnan

    I have had one fundamental question with the motivation for cryonics. Why does one want to be open to the possibility of immortality in a theoretical sense like this? There is no “reason” why I want to live except that it is hardwired into me by evolution, the same way the sex drive is hardwired into me.

    And my hardwiring doesn’t predispose me to be very enthusiastic about being potentially alive in a theoretical sense that cryonics might offer. Suppose it were even possible to store perfect information about me w.r.t where all the fundamental particles in me are present. I would see no reason to pay money so that a future technology will resurrect me in that fashion using that information.

    I guess the reason we dislike death is that it is usually painful or annoying in some way and doesn’t happen in a wierd discontinuous fashion. Otherwise the post death state is probably no different than before we were born, and I doubt if any of us have a problem with the knowledge that there existed times in the past when we did not exist.

  • http://www.xuenay.net/ Kaj Sotala

    Vijay’s point seems to me like a near/far distinction. Thinking in near mode, we don’t want to die. In far mode, we don’t really care.

    I would answer it by pointing out that the prospect of death may seem far and remote now that it really is in the far future, but people tend to dislike the thought of their own death more the closer that they get to it. Young people who’ve seen old people in helpless conditions have said “kill me if I ever end up in that state”, then preferred to go on living even when they’ve ended up in the state in question, and worse. You may think that dying isn’t such a big deal, now… but if you end up old enough that the prospect of death is actually relevant, then you may very well find that you’d actually prefer to go on living, and regret not having made preparations for it earlier.

    (This, of course, is exactly what the near/far hypothesis would predict.)

  • mitchell porter

    A question for cryonics advocates. Would you also encourage people who can’t obtain a cryonics contract to keep thorough diaries, on the grounds that such diaries would one day allow the creation of a person with memories and personalities modelled on those recorded in the diaries?

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    What do you all think is the population split between the amount of people we want cryo preserving themselves, and the people we want donating their brains to brain banks for medical research? 1% vs. 99%? I’m aware of various easy outs one could take to avoid the question (“So few people are signing up for cryo that the question is mute”) -I’m curious about an honest answer from the perspective of our interest as those who are planning on cryo for themselves.

  • kurt9

    If future society is really bad, the chances of revival from cryonics is non-existent. Any future society that can revive us will be, by definition, an advanced technological society. Now, such a society could be dystopian, but I think any such dystopian will be more like a cyberpunk SF novel than anything like “1984”. The key benefit of the dystopias depicted in cyberpunk novels is that they have considerable energy and diversity. This means that even if society is screwed up along these lines, we can still do things to create the lives that we want, regardless of the external conditions. I could most certainly create personal happiness in any of the societies depicted in cyberpunk.

    Ebonmuse’s criticisms of cryonics (and of life extension in general) are very typical of someone who views them self as a passive participant in life. One who views them self as a hapless victim of life events.

    If he actually spent time around cryonics and life extension people, he would find that many of us do not share this world-view, nor do we live by it. Many of these people are activists and entrepreneurs who take a active do it yourself effort to create whatever lives they want. This is much like the do it yourself spirit of the original immigrants who built up the U.S. Analogous to the immigrants who crossed distances to come to the expanded opportunities of the new world, cryonics people seek to immigrate across time to pursue the expanded opportunities that a future society will have to offer. Any sufficiently advanced technological society that can revive people from cryonics suspension will, by definition, be one with far greater opportunities for the individual that present day society.

    I can tell you that, if we make it, we have no intentions of being passive victims of future society. We will do whatever it takes to create whatever lives we want for ourselves, come hell or high water. Failure is not an option here.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    @Ebonmuse: I think the main point is that any scenario in which corpsicles are being revived is unlikely to be very bad. Obviously civilization has not collapsed if they have this advanced technology. Presumably they are likely to be wealthy as well (again due to having advanced tech). Also, probably a society that would bother to revive 21st century cavemen like us is either trying to learn something or trying to do something benevolent and altruistic.

    Or maybe they’d be reviving us so that they can put us on trial for the crimes committed by our era. I think that’s actually a fairly likely scenario, if we take our baseline plausibility level to be the probability that cryonics works and frozen people can be successfully revived.

  • Patri Friedman

    Eliezer: However, this only equates to the question of whether you would spend $28,000 to avoid certain death.

    But it isn’t spending $28K to avoid certain death, it is spending $28K for a small shot at avoiding death. And that’s very different. That $28K can do good things for the lives of people I care about – like my kids. If it’s a 1% shot, than I am taking $2.8M away from my kids to live instead of dying. I don’t know that I have enough money for that to be a good deal.

    And the insurance funding takes money out of my pocket in the worlds in which I live a long and healthy life and don’t need cryo, because the singularity comes first.

    Also, $28K? Alcor’s FAQ tells me at least $150K for whole-body, and $80K for head-only.

    Robin: Patri, when considering the cost of financial payments, you must weigh both when they happen, and in what state of the world they happen. Cryo costs are low until the time and state in which you would have died, at which point you likely have no better uses for your money, at least if not much poorer than I think you are.

    What do you think the odds of revival are? There are lots of useful things I can think of doing with my money when I am dead, that matter to me now. Cryo is expensive – Alcor says $80K. If we are optimistic and think revival is 10%, that’s $800K to live. If it’s 1%, that’s $8M to live. I value my life at somewhere in that range, so it really matters to me what the odds are.

    BTW, I find it kind of baffling that I am a cryo-resister because I disagree violently with pretty much every anti-cryo comment I read here on OB. When I hear things like There is no “reason” why I want to live except that it is hardwired into me by evolution, the same way the sex drive is hardwired into me. I roll my eyes and laugh. Yeah, there is no reason for a nihilist to sign up for cryo…or to ever do anything else in life, so, whatever, let’s move on to those of us who have goals and motives and believe life matters.

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

    Patri, on odds see my latest post. For a lower price, see CI.

    Ebonmuse, I find the trail-for-crimes scenario pretty unlikely. But if that happened, well wouldn’t it most likely be a good thing to make myself available to stand trial?

    Hopefully, the gains to med research from donated brains are pretty small. I actually doubt most get used.

    Mitchell, that could add some value, but at a pretty large cost, so no I wouldn’t bother.

    Kaj, yes, we seem to see a lot of far-thinking rejection, which wouldn’t translate into near opinions.