Space Ash Vs. Cryo

Celestis, Inc. says it did:

  • the first ever private launch into outer space (1982),
  • the first private, post-cremation memorial spaceflight (1997),
  • the first lunar burial (1999)

Its prices range from $12,500, for standard service to put “one gram of cremated remains, first priority, into deep space,” to $40,000 for “preferred services” to put “seven grams of cremated remains, first priority, into deep space.” They currently have the cremated remains of 115 men and 21 women launched or waiting to launch.  (Thanks to Sun Cho for doing the count.)

Compared to cryonics, the ashes-into-space industry has over half as many delivered customers, collected in a far shorter time and with far less free publicity. While cryonics is on average more expensive, the cheapest cryonics option, $28,000 via CI, is cheaper than the most expensive ash launch.

While space-ash customers are even more male dominated, and probably just as tech nerdy, my intuition guesses they suffer far less “hostile-wife phenomena” than cryonics. (Will someone please check?)  And I’d guess this reduced hostility has much less to do with costs than image – cryonics freaks folks out more. Why?

The obvious explanation is that people think cryonics might actually work – frozen folk might actually live again someday. This is what elicits ghoulish feelings and objections – that cryo wannabes are selfish and arrogant, that it blocks closure, that the future won’t want them, that immortality is immoral, that population is already too large, etc.   Since they don’t fear space-ash folks will live again, wives don’t object as much to space-ash plans.

If so, this really is modern male sati – it is the prospect of their husbands living longer than they that most upsets hostile cryo wives.

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  • Aron

    “it is the prospect of their husbands living longer than they that most upsets hostile cryo wives.”

    The wives could opt for cryonics as well. Problem solved. Even a woman can figure that out. However there are numbers in your post so I see you did your research and will only pose that solution tentatively.

    • http://walnut-palace.blogspot.com Zaphodora Beeblebrox

      I think that the “yuck factor,” and jealously may not be the only issues:

      If you don’t believe in cryonics, you feel that your loved one is being scammed; so some reactions are “protective” as opposed to jealous emotional responses.
      It still requires a lot of money, that could be used otherwise; if you don’t believe that cryonics is currently viable, why would you spend twice as much? Even if the person is very rich there is a sense of the “dead” (I’m not going to split hairs) stealing from the living. We’re hardwired to avoid apparent waste…….
      cryopreservation is a more rational choice that sending your ashes out to space, but maybe women’s view on cryogenics are a result of cognitive differences that result in different evaluations of the probabilities of success (and the utility balance of it.)
      “even a woman” figured this out.

  • Roko

    A telling comment from the NTY article:

    As the spouse of someone who is planning on undergoing cryogenic preservation, I found this article to be relevant to my interests!

    My first reactions when the topic of cryonics came up (early in our relationship) were shock, a bit of revulsion, and a lot of confusion. Like Peggy (I believe), I also felt a bit of disdain. The idea seemed icky, childish, outlandish, and self-aggrandizing. But I was deeply in love, and very interested in finding common ground with my then-boyfriend (now spouse). We talked, and talked, and argued, and talked some more, and then I went off and thought very hard about the whole thing.

    Part of the strength of my negative response, I realized, had to do with the fact that my relationship with my own mortality was on shaky ground. I don’t want to die. But I’m fairly certain I’m going to. Like many people, I’ve struggled to come to a place where I can accept the specter of my own death with some grace. Humbleness and acceptance in the face of death are valued very highly (albeit not always explicitly) in our culture. The companion, I think, to this humble acceptance of death is a humble (and painful) acceptance of our own personal lack of consequence. To rail against death; to grasp at the faintest of odds to avoid it; these behaviors seem to assert a brazen self interest, an arrogance, and fly in the face of the quiet, self-effacing acceptance the rest of us struggle for every day.

    “I have worked so hard to abandon hope,” my heart was saying. “Who are you to arrogantly seize it, as though that was even an option? Who are you to raise the terrible idea of hope, after I have worked so hard to convince myself there IS no hope?” There’s this strange blend of fear and jealousy at work, I think, in the gut-punch reaction that many of us have to the idea of cryonics. And once you start unpacking this response and looking at it with clear eyes, it becomes obvious how selfish, how irrational, and unhelpful it is. So my husband has chosen to pursue an unlikely hope. How does that affect me? Can I seriously say to him, “you must abandon this hope, because for reasons that have everything to do with me and nothing to do with you, I find it icky”? If I did, I would be a terribly selfish person.

    Ultimately, my struggle to come to terms with his decision has been more or less successful. Although I am not (and don’t presently plan to be) enrolled in a cryonics program myself, although I still find the idea somewhat unsettling, I support his decision without question. If he dies before I do, I will do everything in my power to see that his wishes are complied with, as I expect him to see that mine are. Anything less than this, and I honestly don’t think I could consider myself his partner.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Yes, I pointed that one out to Tyler, and he linked to it from MR.

    • http://infiniteinjury.org Peter Gerdes

      Whoa but I’m still pretty baffled.

      I mean people react in the exact opposite way regarding cancer. Sure, some people who are told they have incurable terminal cancer and all they can do is try to enjoy their remaining time do try and accept the total lack of hope in the same manner described here. However, my impression is they don’t harbor any resentment toward those who want to fight even certain doom.

      Indeed, our culture lionizes BOTH acceptance of unavoidable demise and stubborn totally futile attempts to avoid that fate. Our movies and media venerate both the calm submission to an unavoidable death (Obi Wan in Star Wars) and futile attempts to cling to any thread of hope no matter how narrow (every action movie ever).

      —-

      My speculation is that cryonics is different because people lack a deep seated emotional confidence in their evaluation of cryonics and other afterlife style escapes. When the doctor tells you cold hard statistics about 22/25 people dying within 6 months and 24/25 dying within a year it’s pretty easy at an emotional level to trust those statistics when delivered by medical authority. So if we decide that such a tiny chance of living out the year isn’t worth the indignity and pain of treatment we aren’t threatened by the guy in the other room who makes the other choice. After all his choice doesn’t cause us to doubt the statistics only to infer something about his personality.

      On the other hand if your spouse is into cryonics but you aren’t they will almost surely assign a massively higher probability for reanimation than you do and that can’t help but make you question your own judgment, especially if they try to evangelize. Provided the influence of society, other confidantes, your own gut instinct, religion, or historical generalization, etc.. is strong enough that you aren’t convinced to sign up the effect will merely be to raise unpleasent doubts about the wisdom of your resignation to death.

      Hmm, maybe your opposition has to be grounded in some kind of belief system or dogma or social norm since we don’t react the same way to other disagreements over risk. If you spouse and you are diagnosed with the same disease and on the basis of the journal articles you both read you conclude that drug A is 2x as likely to reverse the illness in time but your spouse thinks that drug B is the one 2x as effective you would be troubled thinking they were running an unnecessary risk but you wouldn’t be angry or troubled because they weighed the evidence differently.

  • curious

    The obvious explanation is that people think cryonics might actually work

    … or the other obvious explanation is that people think cryonics won’t work, but they know that the technology to carry little jars into space has been around and functioning reasonably well for half a century. so people paying for space burial have an excellent chance of getting what they’ve paid for, in contrast to cryonics.

    you seem to be working really hard to prove that objections are *solely* about squishy feelings rather than reasoned considerations. it’s convenient to lump all critics together and charge the whole lot with irrationality, but this argument falls short.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      You really think wives divorce husbands for buying a product that doesn’t work?

      • curious

        when that product looks for all the world like vaporware with a price tag running to tens of thousands of dollars? yeah, i can definitely imagine that raising some big questions for a rational spouse.

      • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

        When the husband invests in a ticket that leads to a future with other women? Buying that ticket might be considered to be a bad sign – irrespective of whether or not the vehicle is likely to crash along the way.

      • Luke

        No, people are not usually that upset about other people wasting money, even when they are married to them. It is more about the perception (and fear) of false hope. The contract costs less than a cell phone, after all, and disposable income level does not seem to be a predictor of hostility.

        It seems strange but if the cryonicist did not believe it was for a worthwhile cause the spouse would not be as threatened. The fact that the cryonicist might have a chance of being right puts the noncryonicist on potentially shaky moral grounds, and they do not want to think about that.

      • Sticky

        @ Tim Tyler

        If a young married woman had a terminal disease, would she object if her husband didn’t plan to kill himself after she died? What if he also had a potentially fatal disease and was having it treated? The latter is similar to cryo in that he’s taking definite action (not just abstaining from suicide) to reach a future without her, and probably with other women. What would we think of her if she did demand her husband forgo treatment?

      • Jack (LW)

        Curious’s reply suggests he doesn’t get the point of his own comment. The issue isn’t that people divorce their partner for purchasing a product that doesn’t work. You’re right that that is not a good explanation for cryonics divorces. However, you tried to explain the differing adoption rates of cryonics and space burial as a result of marital pressure. But there are lots of simpler more obvious explanations for the different adoption rates, the most obvious one being that customers know space burial works. It also isn’t that different from regular burial. It is a little eccentric but probably near universally regarded as a romantic and acceptable burial service. As such it is likely that men as well as women would find space burial more pleasant than cryonics. Therefore it is plausible the fast adoption rate of space burial is just due to more men liking it than like cryonics.

        It isn’t clear to me why this is a meaningful comparison. One is a burial service the other is an attempt at not dying. All the reasons people don’t adopt cryonics apply save the cost issue.

        And btw I’d like to see some evidence that space burial customers are “probably just as tech nerdy” as cryonics patients. My gut reaction is that space burial customers are probably just absurdly rich more than they are tech nerdy. I imagine plenty of people who don’t read science fiction would still think getting rocketed out into space is still a bad ass way to go.

    • Roko

      What evidence do you think there is in favor of cryo?

      Many critics will criticize cryo as unrealistic, but then be surprised at the large pile of evidence that exists in its favor.

      • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

        It is easy to say X doesn’t/won’t work and then make fun of people who believe in X, when you do your best to ignore any evidence that it should, or at least might, work. Not just cryonics either; I have seen the same thing by supposed professionals about nanotech, cloning, singularity, AI, uploading, and so on.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      It is true that cryonics is rather pricey with no certainty of outcome. However, the cost having your cremated remains sent up into space also strikes me as extravagant as well. You do have a point about the extravagance of cryonics for something that you do not think is possible.

      I think closure is a very big deal for those who do not believe cryonics can work. We are used to people being either actively alive or definitively dead with no in between state. A person in suspension is obviously not “alive” in the emotional sense that we recognize as such. Yet, they are not dead because there is a possibility that cryonics can work (even if you do not think it likely). I believe this psychological state of confusion, which prevents closure for the family, can be very distressing for family members who do not think cryonics can work.

      Anyone who has looked after an aging family member and has experienced death of a family member can tell you of the emotional trauma of closure, whether you believe in cryonics or not. I think because those of us who are into cryonics and life extension tend to be of a “super-rational” nature, we tend to discount the anxieties and emotional trauma that most people have with closure.

      I would put the closure issue at the top of the list.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Whether cryonics or space ash “works” depends on how the product is exactly defined. If cryonics is defined as freezing your remains, well that succeeds all the time, as does the space-ash product of dumping your ash in space. If the space ash product were defined as some sort of oneness with the universe or something, it is far less clear if it “works.”

  • James D. Miller

    I have talked to a lot of people about cryonics. (I have discussed my cryonics decision with several of the classes I have taught at Smith College.) Most don’t think it will work, or believe the probability of it working is too small to justify the cost.

    The next most common objection is that it seems icky.

    The third most common objection is that if it did work you would wake up in a strange world with no family, friends or job prospects and you would be better off dead than living in this world. What I find most shocking is many people believe that a child with a terminal disease is better off dying than going through a successful cryonics experience.

    • http://thelifeofmanquamanonearth.blogspot.com/ Mark Plus

      The anti-cryonics arguments seem to want it both ways: Either nothing fundamental in the human condition will change, therefore no progress in solving aging, death and cryonics revival as engineering problems; or else the human condition will change so radically that you wouldn’t want to live in the advanced society that had the ability to revive you in good health.

      • Tyrrell McAllister

        The anti-cryonics arguments seem to want it both ways:

        There are kinds of change that would meet both descriptions.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      I am sympathetic with the first tow arguments, even though I think they are wrong. I am not only unsympathetic with the third argument, but I strongly believe in showing utter contempt for this argument and towards the people who bring it up even to the point of being an obnoxious asshole. I believe that you are doing society a favor by doing this.

      The reason is because this country itself, America, was founded by people who did precisely what these people think is a fate worse than death. The original settlers and later Western pioneers who created our country left their family, friends, and familiar ties and connections to come to America to create a whole new life for themselves. Like those of us who enter cryonic suspension, the people who boarded those ships or got on the covered wagons to come out west faced an uncertain future, often alone and on their own. They did not hesitate in the face of this uncertainty and doubt to go on and to create the new life and opportunities that they wanted.

      This is precisely what cryonics is about. It is about immigrating across time to an uncertain future of advance technology that should offer opportunity and possibility far greater than anyone can imagine today. Cryonics people are the modern day pioneers. This should be intuitive to anyone trying to understand who we are and our motivations and desires.

      The fact that a vast majority of Americans cannot understand this or cannot relate to the pioneering principle, in general, is indicative of the intellectual rot that permeates modern America. People who cannot relate to pioneering betray the values of their forefathers. They deserve utter contempt.

      • Tyrrell McAllister

        So, you have utter contempt for the Europeans who decided not to be among the colonizers of America because the separation from their familiar world would be too hard for them to bear?

      • Abelard Lindsey

        So, you have utter contempt for the Europeans who decided not to be among the colonizers of America because the separation from their familiar world would be too hard for them to bear?

        No I don’t. But those that cannot handle such separation have no business criticizing the choices of those that can.

      • Abelard Lindsey

        So, you have utter contempt for the Europeans who decided not to be among the colonizers of America because the separation from their familiar world would be too hard for them to bear?

        Having thought about this for a while, I’ve decided that people who cannot handle separation from familiarity really are pansies.

        I moved from my home town to SoCal when I graduated from college at age 22. It was a big change for me. Even thought both places are in the same country, there still was “culture shock” for me. I adapted, overcame, and improvised and created a new life for my self with new friends. This is also where I got into the life extension/cryonics/space development milieu.

        Later, I ended up in Japan at a time I never expected to live outside the U.S. I mean, until I actually went to Japan, the very thought of living in a society like Japan was completely alien to me. Talk about culture shock. As with the previous case I adapted, overcame, and improvised and created a new life for my self with new friends. I also met my wife in Japan as well.

        So, yeah, I consider the ability to have the adaptability to uproot oneself and to create a entirely new life for oneself as a fundamental personal survival skill.

      • Luke

        You might note that there is a difference between being able to handle something and being able to imagine it. I think most people would be able to handle a lot more change than they can (or are willing to) imagine handling.

  • Michael Foody

    I don’t think it is (just) that outsiders fear cryonics will work. I think it is that outsiders think those that choose cryonics are foolish for thinking it will work. It allows them to feel superior to those that choose cryonics. The story they tell themselves is probably something like “ha they are so scared of death that they are willing to believe an obviously silly story to cling to hope”.

    It’s really a lot like how some athiests view the religeous with a sort of superior pity. I am not saying that the two sentiments are entirely equivelent since I think the cryonics camp is both more realistic about the probabilities involved and has at least some actual reason to believe their version of events.

    • http://infiniteinjury.org Peter Gerdes

      But that doesn’t explain anything. If you found out your spouse was so terrified of dying in an airplane crash they refused to fly on flights whose number contained ’13′ despite being otherwise totally dismissive of superstitions you would feel sympathetic for them and view it as a quirk that you could humor for their sake.

      You surely wouldn’t be outraged/aghast or feel it threatened the marriage unless it became a massive practical problem. Even if it meant they always spent a bit more on airfare.

      • Michael Foody

        That’s a good point. I think what I’m after is the idea that wives are sensitive to external social cues. I took that part for granted in my explanation. Then I outlined why I believed that that social cue exists.

        For a woman it might well be “disgusting” to have a partner who is looked down on by others.

        So how is cryonics different from triskaidekaphobia? We have in this society a codified acceptance of superstition with rules for behavior. We expect a humility from the superstitious, we wouldn’t like it if a person claimed that his superstitions were somehow actually correct. We have different rules for religeon. We have still different rules for compulsions and taboos that aren’t codified. They get to be a disease.

        I think women are reacting to the low status of cryonics as a belief. I think the low status is primarily a consequence of the rarity of the belief, the consequence of the belief, and the sincerity with which it is held.

  • Jess Riedel

    I really like this post because it helps eliminate some alternative hypotheses for why wives often object to cryonics for their husbands. But after reading this comment from Anne on the first cryonics post in this series, I really think it’s that “gut reaction” that you should focus on if you want to get at the root of these objections.

    Yes, if you want you can model everyone as a perfect rational agent and–when they follow a gut reaction (which in this case might have terrible consequences)–you can righteously equate their actions with sati. Or, more constructively and more charitably (given the fact that most people operate on an intuitive morality which they have not exposed to much philosophical critique), you can try to help objectors understand their gut reaction better and, hopefully, disarm it.

  • andrew kieran

    a solution would be to consider the cryoed person to be dead. otherwise it seems like you’ve voluntarily gone into a long-term coma.

    if someone i know went into cryo i don’t think i’d be able to cope with that idea of that uncertain half-life. if we knew it worked i guess it wouldn’t be so bad. but we don’t. at the moment, if you go into cryo, the chances are you’re going to die, and also the chances are that those who love you will never be allowed to give up on the slim hope that you’ll survive.

    it’s that faintest glimmer of hope in the midst of the certainty of death that strikes me as an unpleasant thing to foist upon your loved ones.

    if we knew it worked on the other hand, you could simply be considered to be sleeping.

    could this perhaps be something that could be solved over time by social conditioning? or will the question of whether cryo works or not be solved before people have time to get their heads around the idea of uncertain cryo?

    • Luke

      The coma is involuntary, except in the sense that it is a voluntary alternative to death. You won’t be conscious or half-alive, but in a moral sense you will have “life”.

      The glimmer of hope is a good thing. Especially if it is true. I think people know this, but are afraid to hope because they feel like they might get hurt.

  • tylerh

    All societies have burial rituals and taboos. Those who go against these cultural norms suffer. This is true of all societies.

    The Cryo-movement challenges not one, but two widely help American cultural practices, while the space Ash folks conform to these same practice.

    1. By custom, and often by law in America, the corpus of the deceased is processed (typically by cremation or embalming) and them placed somewhere that requires little or no maintenance. Space Ash conforms to this cultural practice, cryonics does not.

    2. Large scale ongoing technical intervention of the body is reserved for the “living,” and discontinued as part of the death ritual/morning process. Cryonics precisely flips this boundary. Space Ash does not.

    Cremation followed by a deeply personal ash scattering is well accepted in our society. The space ash folks are just a more expensive and sillier version of the Neptune Society.

    The Cryo folks, however, are doing something deeply weird. The whole point is to hookup a dysfunctional corpus to a machine. In America, that is what is done BEFORE legal death, not AFTER.

    Small wonder so many people find the cryo movement deeply creepy and morally dubious, but can’t articulate why.

  • MichaelG

    I was off the net when this last round of cryonics posts were made, so forgive me if these points have already been made.

    1. We’re group-oriented animals, and expressing loyalty to the group is generally pretty important to us. I think some of the gut reaction against cryonics is due to this. The person signing up is saying he’ll continue on without his family, friends, nation, even species if need be. It’s seen as traitorous to all existing groups and offensive on that basis. Sort of “so long, losers, I’m off to the wonderful future full of people like me!”

    2. The cryonics people are ignoring something fundamental about the world that they enter.

    If you are revived via scanning and simulation, you must be entering a world with human-equivalent AIs (you would be one of them.) Even if your body is repaired by nanobots instead of scanned, this is probably true. If bots can pull the ice crystals from all your damaged brain cells, they can certainly scan them. If the technology can create and coordinate the billions of bots needed to reconstruct you before your cells die again, they probably also have the compute power to simulate your brain.

    If there are human-equivalent AIs in the new world, there are probably superhuman AIs as well. Either you speed up the simulated human minds, or you experiment with versions of them until you create superhuman intelligence. If there’s a capable nanotechnology, people will be immortal and also able to alter their bodies and minds. As I’ve said previously, there’s almost no disease or accident that would damage your body more than cutting your head off and freezing it. So revival implies a world with these very powerful technologies.

    The revived human is not just out of date and from a foreign culture. The revived person is a relic from a previous stage of evolution. Like a revived pre-human ancestor would be for us, he’s obsolete. He’s shut out of society not just because of his culture, but because of his fundamental biology. He’s gone from being top of the food chain to something basically helpless. Yes, with powerful technologies, you could alter him. But going from biological humanity with all its limitations to something virtual, with rewritable mind and body, means not much of the original is going to be left.

    The cryonics crowd think of themselves as immigrants to some future land where they will be welcomed as pioneers. A more accurate metaphor would be hoping to be reincarnated as a dog in a world of humans.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      This is also an asinine comment. I know of several Vietnamese immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1980′s with nothing but the shirts on their backs and with no skills other than subsistence farming. All of these people managed to make it into the middle class within 15 years. I see no reason why, assuming that it works, those of us coming out of suspension will not be able to accomplish the same feat. If anything, I think it will be easier because the technologies necessary to reanimate us will result in a human space with far greater opportunities and possibilities than what we have now. Also, developments in neuroscience will make learning and acquiring abilities far easier than now.

      • Carl Shulman

        They do mean that current people won’t be economically valuable except as sources of archaeological or aesthetic information: if minds with arbitrary capacities can be created and copied at will, the market price of those capacities will be bare subsistence, with little incentive to invest in transforming cryonauts.

  • Metacognition

    Cryonicists are selfish, they are putting many implicit obligations and responsibilities on people they don’t even know, aren’t born yet and couldn’t possibility have been party to any agreement.

    I think it comes down to the golden rule. Are you helping others in a similar manner to that which you expect future people to help you? If you eat less cognitively adept mammals today then why should a more cognitively adept creature in the future revive you, you’ll be just some ancient selfish predator. Why would I revive a bunch of slave owners or sociopaths, certainly resources would be better spent on more ethical or interesting creatures.

    • Greg Colbourn

      This is precisely why I think transhumanists and potential future cryonauts should set a good example by being vegan.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      Were the people who left their obligations and responsibility towards those in Europe to immigrate to America also selfish?

    • http://thelifeofmanquamanonearth.blogspot.com/ Mark Plus

      “Cryonicists are selfish, they are putting many implicit obligations and responsibilities on people they don’t even know, aren’t born yet and couldn’t possibility have been party to any agreement.”

      How does that differ from the way societies function now? I didn’t have a say in Social Security or Medicare, but I still have to pay taxes to support these programs. At least some cryonicists plan to set up trusts to try to offset the costs of their revival and reintegration into Future World.

    • Carl Shulman

      The obligation is being willingly accepted by the cryonics organization members, made up of both suspended members, and living ones who desire the insurance of cryonics availability. It’s like a fraternal organization or insurance plan in that respect.

      • Metacognition

        I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that people will stop needing cryonics before the repair technology is available. Keeping someone alive is easier than unfreezing them, repairing them and keeping them alive. So, these cryonics organizations could easily go bust before the repair technology is available.

      • Luke

        The need for cryonics is not going to simply vanish, just because people start living a long time. Curing aging is only the beginning. People will still “die” of incurable diseases and accidents. While they wait for a cure to be developed, they will need to be put into cryostasis. Cryonics won’t be as big of an industry when aging is no more, but it will still be a significant one.

        Even if the need for cryonics were to vanish, it does not follow that the immortal caretakers would instantly pull the plug. Keeping things cold is cheap now and will be cheaper in the future. Provided they still feel some human empathy for the patients (and why shouldn’t they, especially if they know some of them personally?) the situation should remain favorable.

  • Fnord

    @MichaelG:
    You make some good points, but you seem to be overstating some things, especially regarding your second point:

    If there are human-equivalent AIs in the new world, there are probably superhuman AIs as well. Either you speed up the simulated human minds, or you experiment with versions of them until you create superhuman intelligence.

    If the super-AIs are just fast human minds, nothing’s stopping me speeding up my mind. Even if superhuman intelligences exist, it’s hardly certain there’s no place for humans.

    If there’s a capable nanotechnology, people will be immortal and also able to alter their bodies and minds.

    Leaving aside the immortal point (see below), what’s stopping me from taking advantage of nanotechnology to alter my mind and body?

    As I’ve said previously, there’s almost no disease or accident that would damage your body more than cutting your head off and freezing it.

    No accident? Many modern day fatal accidents would be curable by any society capable of reviving cryonic brains, but not all; the ability to repair the widely ranged but limited damage done by vitrification does not imply the ability to repair gross brain trauma, whether caused directly by traumatic brain injury, or prolonged (non-cryonic) oxygen deprivation. And then, of course, there’s intentional violence: while massive cultural and psychological change drastically limiting violence is possible, it’s hardly inevitable.

  • Mike

    How about the simplest explanation? To most people, cryonics just feels “creepy” and “sick” in a way that ashes don’t. To justify their gut reactions against the idea of cryonics, people come up with rationalizations like “it’s selfish” and maybe even end up believing them, but it’s the creepiness factor of a frozen head in a vat that got to them in the first place.

    • Luke

      I agree. It starts as an irrational phobia and moves from there. It might be slightly more complex than just ick factor — there’s social nonconformity and fear of the unknown. But none of these alone (or even in combination) justify the position they suggest, so people invent all kinds of more complex and reasonable-sounding rationalizations prior to doing any serious research — which they later feel no obligation to reevaluate as they accrue more facts, given the that they are supported by (or supportive of) the gut feeling.

  • James Andrix

    >The obvious explanation is that people think cryonics might actually work

    I think jumping to this possibility is a flawed case of “you’re geting emotional because you know I’m right” (about cryonics being possible)

    I think a far simpler explanation is that wives are upset that husbands want it to work. They don’t like that their husbands are willing to invest in a future that might not include them. This can be true whether the wives think it will work or not. It’s a meta-preference that crosses individuals.

    Another possible source of hostility to the idea is that it brings up questions of extremely long term monogamy. Multi-decade marriages are easy to imagine working. Multi-millennia marriages are easy to imaging failing at some point.

    The lack of closure argument makes no sense to me, since most people today expect to see lost loved ones in an afterlife.

    • andrew kieran

      “The lack of closure argument makes no sense to me, since most people today expect to see lost loved ones in an afterlife.”

      i know three people in my age group that believe in an afterlife.

      and i know a lot more than three people.

      also, stated beliefs do not equate to gut feelings. why would a christian be grief-stricken at the loss of a loved one if they knew they were up in heaven sitting with god and jesus? the mind may think one thing, but the body knows another.

      • Abelard Lindsey

        I think most people really do not believe in an afterlife. After all, old people do not talk about dying and going to the afterlife the same way a high school senior talks about graduation and going off to college.

        Also, most religions I know of disapprove of suicide. If we really do survive physical death, would that make getting rid of an old body (suicide) analogous to getting rid of an old car?

        I think we can discard the afterlife explanation.

  • John Richardson

    This is a really interesting thread. Lovin it. thanks to all you guys, esp RH.

    MikeG’s point about group loyalty seems like it might be right. General irrational disgust at moral uncleanliness, too, sure. I think there is also a rational objection to cryonics, especially if it works.

    In a finite universe, existence will ultimately become a congestion good. Your continued existence will ultimately come at a cost to others. You can’t maintain a society in which a) people are effectively immortal and b) also reproduce. I think I ultimately have to choose between immortality and having children. I prefer having children. Wives might prefer it too.

    Worse, I am not content to let you choose between immortality and having children. A society as a whole would have to choose, because the immortals would tend to crowd out new people economically. They can build up their bank accounts for a long time. Every spot permanently occupied by an immortal is one less for my spawn.

    So I am against revival, at least until you invent a cheap way to send colonists to other planets. Tho I guess if you are planning on being ghosts in someone’s desktop I wouldn’t care so much.

    I’m sure most of you wouldn’t agree with my reasoning, but I think you should consider the probability of others agreeing with me.

    I think it is unlikely that a future society would permit mass revival. Think of it this way: if they found a Roman citizen frozen in a glacier, and scientists could revive him, would I want that? Sure, it would be fascinating to study him. If they found ten million of them, would I want them revived? No way. Not if you want them to live in America. What would we do with them?

    Right now, South Korea doesn’t want the government in the North to collapse because then they would be responsible for the impoverished, hopeless North Koreans. And those people have cousins on the other side! Will people in the far future feel more or less warmly toward the Hansons and Yudkowskys than South Koreans feel for NorKs?

    I think this should be a branch in probability trees about the likelihood of success, and I also think it explains some of the animosity that non-cryo people feel (though probably less than straight ickiness).

    Peter G’s post poses an interesting challenge, though. We don’t get mad at cancer victims for beating it. Why get mad at cryonicists?

    If there is ultimately a distribution problem about living space, which is especially sharp when dealing with immortals, then there is a question of fairness in the outcome. People think about fairness by comparing outcomes to reference points. Kahneman & Tversky have lots of stuff on that. Natural lifespan seems like the most salient reference point, and people may resent cryo-guys for taking more than their share (or trying to). I guess medical interventions that keep you from dying before natural senescence don’t trigger a feeling of violation there.

    • anon

      You can’t maintain a society in which a) people are effectively immortal and b) also reproduce. I think I ultimately have to choose between immortality and having children. I prefer having children. Wives might prefer it too.

      There is a lot of middle ground between immortality and a normal human lifespan. Why not have children after a few decades or a century of fulfiling, healthy lifespan?

      Worse, I am not content to let you choose between immortality and having children. A society as a whole would have to choose, because the immortals would tend to crowd out new people economically.

      As far as I can tell, there is no perceptible difference between staying immortal and bequeathing your assets (your “spot” in the economy) to your children. In both cases, assets will be maintained and built up for generations (decades or centuries). Yes, some people or families will be resented if they accumulate more than their “fair share” of assets, but this can be dealt with by mild redistribution; there’s no need to force a choice on society as a whole.

    • Roko

      > Every spot permanently occupied by an immortal is one less for my spawn.

      So you think it is morally OK to take someone’s life if you feel that you want another child? Does this desire to murder others have a limit, like, say 10 people you want to kill for child-lebensraum, or not?

      Why not get started now? Go to your local rest home and free up some spaces for more of your spawn. Old people are disproportionately expensive, and don’t contribute positively to the economy. In fact in the UK, we’re closing schools to keep hospitals full of OAPs open.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      Worse, I am not content to let you choose between immortality and having children. A society as a whole would have to choose, because the immortals would tend to crowd out new people economically.

      This is zero-sum thinking that I do not accept. I do believe that immortals and convention people can peacefully co-exist in the same society. If not, we are in for the same kind of partitioning similar to that of India and Pakistan following independence. A world where immortals and conventional live in separate political entities would be an interesting one. As more people come to choose immortality over having kids, then the political regions composed of immortals will grow and those with conventional people will shrink. Eventually, the human race transitions to immortality. This is how I think it will play out.

      If I accept your argument for sake of debate, then I want to end reproduction in favor of personal immortality. I would want to make sterilization of all people mandatory. I think this could be easily arranged. Just put birth control in the water supply along with the fluoridation.

      • Jeffrey Soreff

        “I would want to make sterilization of all people mandatory. I think this could be easily arranged. Just put birth control in the water supply along with the fluoridation.”

        Hey wait a minute! Some of we childfree are traditionalists, and have used the safe, proven, technology of vasectomy rather than ingesting hormones from the water supply. :)

    • Abelard Lindsey

      The issue of immortality vs. having children is definitely resolving itself on its own. Demographic bores like Mark Steyn whine on and on about how people in developed countries no longer have kids and that the fertility rates of 65 countries are already below replacement.

      There is even talk of a “demographic winter” by 2050.

      http://www.demographicwinter.com/index.html

      http://www.newamerica.net/publications/books/the_empty_cradle

      http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/59894/phillip-longman/the-global-baby-bust

      It looks to me that the issue of immortality vs. having children is already playing itself out. I think if we get immortality, that reproduction will go the way of the dodo bird.

      I really don’t see any conflict here.

      • Sticky

        Some immortals don’t reproduce at all. Others reproduce one every, say, few hundred years. Who wins?

    • Lucy

      You can’t maintain a society in which a) people are effectively immortal and b) also reproduce. I think I ultimately have to choose between immortality and having children. I prefer having children. Wives might prefer it too.

      I don’t know about “wives” as a monolith, but I’d take immortality every time. XD

      anon’s system seems workable. Immortality as the general rule, and anyone who wants a child must agree to die after that child reaches a certain age, at which time they transfer all their assets to that child.

      • Abelard Lindsey

        anon’s system seems workable. Immortality as the general rule, and anyone who wants a child must agree to die after that child reaches a certain age, at which time they transfer all their assets to that child.

        This is reasonable. I’d go for this.

  • Doug S.

    I’m going to post two paragraphs of Isaac Asimov story that I think are relevant.

    “I couldn’t tell you, or the people at Feingold and Charney. I was sure I would be stopped. See here, if it is the brain that is at issue, isn’t the greatest difference of all the matter of immortality? Who really cares what a brain looks like or how it was formed? What matters is that brain cells die, must die. Even if every other organ in the body is maintained or replaced, the brain cells, which cannot be replaced without changing and therefore killing the personality, must eventually die.”
    “My own positronic pathways have lasted nearly two centuries without perceptable change and can last for centuries more. Isn’t that the fundamental barrier? Human beings can tolerate an immortal robot, for it doesn’t matter how long a machine lasts. They cannot tolerate an immortal human being, for their own mortality is endurable only so long as it is universal. And for that reason, they won’t make me a human being.”

    • Luke

      “Even if every other organ in the body is maintained or replaced, the brain cells, which cannot be replaced without changing and therefore killing the personality, must eventually die.”

      Everything eventually breaks down somewhere short of eternity, including robots. There’s not some magical difference between machines and brains. We can make brains more reliable, keep our personalities intact for thousands of years. We can also make robots more capable of change and “death” in the same sense. There’s not a sharp dividing line, but a broad spectrum of possibilities. Cryonics gives us the freedom to choose where on the spectrum we wish to be.

      • Doug S.

        The key sentence is:

        They cannot tolerate an immortal human being, for their own mortality is endurable only so long as it is universal.

      • Luke

        So, make immortality universal instead :)

      • Luke

        But yes, point taken. People are threatened by the idea of immortals for as long as they see themselves as mortal. That at least has an air of plausibility. I’m not sure it is the only factor, but I can see it playing a significant part in the phobia-complex we see here.

  • tndal

    If you’re frozen can you still contribute to this blog?

    I hope not and I hope something happens soon, so that someone else can post something more interesting than “Space Ash vs. Cryo”.

    Got anyone who can provide interesting info about the current state of AI on this soon-to-be-retitled “Overcoming Boredom” blog?

    • mjgeddes

      Time for a pep talk in the form of some lyrics from Queen (“Princes of the Universe”)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnrXiaPVeHY

      “We’re the princes of the universe
      Here we belong, fighting to survive
      In a world with the darkest powers, heh”

      “I am immortal, I have inside me blood of kings – yeah – yeah ”

      “I’m a man that will go far
      Fly the moon and reach for the stars
      With my sword and head held high
      Got to pass the test first time – yeah”

      And (“It’s a Kind of Magic”)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLFZzInXAWI

      “One dream one soul, one prize
      One goal, one golden glance of what should be
      It’s a kind of magic
      One shaft of light that shows the way
      No mortal man can win this day”

      “The waiting seems eternity
      The day will dawn of sanity
      Is this a kind of magic?
      It’s a kind of magic
      There can be only one”

      “This rage that lasts a thousand years
      Will soon be, will soon be
      Will soon be done”

      Cryonics represents failure. Even the immortals (“Highlander”) warn that: “If your head separates from your body, it’s over”.

    • mjgeddes_PUA

      You’re right about transhumanist blogs getting boring though. In fact, its always been just a tiny subset of nerds, and I realize now that virtually no one cares, the status of nerds in society in general is just so low. To be honest, I could freeze myself right now and cryo-sleep probably wouldn’t that much more boring that pre-Singularity life in general.

      The ‘PUA’ next to my name indicates a new career since my retirement from transhumanism – a comprehensive reserch project to understand that other great mystery of universe – women – this will require detailed ‘hands on’ empirical investigation.

      Meanwhile, to avoid further yawns I think I’ll only come back to transhumanism when SAI (Super Artificial Intelligence) comes into existence and immediately hacks both ‘Overcoming Bias’ and ‘Less Wrong’ – now that will be exciting. With the coming of SAI I look forward to a steady stream of new content on these blogs, uninterrupted kick-arse insights into the deepest secrets of reality, combined with an endless stream of virtual hot chicks.

  • http://www.existenceiswonderful.com AnneC

    So I presume you are only referring to female partners (or “wives” as the case may be) who aren’t geeks or nerds themselves? Because as a nerdy female (happily partnered to a nerdy guy) who can think of at least three other non-cryonics-hostile nerdy females off the top of my head, I find it rather bizarre that a geek woman partnered to a geek man would leave him over something like cryonics. Maybe these men referred to in the original post are just focusing on the wrong things in selecting partners, when they’d be better off seeking out nerdier women.

    • Roko

      Anne, this is a good point.

      Unfortunately for smart men, “nerdy” (Intellectually interesting, rational and generally not just a tits/ass-value-proposition) girls are rare. Even at Cambridge University there were few intellectually interesting women.

    • Luke

      I think a person can be an artistic/social personality type and still embrace cryonics, if they are well-rounded enough. My wife is a good example of this. She likely wouldn’t have thought to do it on her own, but being married to me made it seem interesting enough, and she says cremation and burial are creepy. Mainly it is her way of signalling to me that she wants to share my interests and hopefully see the future with me. (She isn’t much interested in the head-only option though.)

      • http://www.existenceiswonderful.com AnneC

        Luke, good observation re. artistic types. I can certainly see someone being intrigued by (or at least “okay with”) the notion of cryonics on the basis of it being an aesthetically interesting proposition. I am now actively curious as to whether anyone has signed up for cryonics as a “performance art” move!

  • Abelard Lindsey

    There is a misconception that most people signed up for cryonics are techno-nerds. This characterization is accurate of those, the activists, who are actively involved in the cryonics organizations themselves. However, most of the rank and file members are not techno-nerds at all and they almost never have any involvement with the day-to-day operation of the cryonics organizations.

    For example, Alcor cryopreserved a retired television repair shop owner on the day Robert Heinlein died in May of 1988. This guy was not a techno-nerd at all.

    Check out “The Door into Nowhere” by Mike Darwin on “page 16″ of the following text link:

    http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8806.txt

    You do not have to be a techno-nerd to want the open unlimited future. I think everyone who has commented on cryonics here should read this document. I think it provides insight into character.