Silly Mayans

In my morning paper, today’s possible apocalypse was mentioned in five comics, but no where else. I’ve heard many mention the issue of the last few weeks, but mostly mocking it; none seem remotely concerned. Why so many mentions of something so few believe? To mock it of course – to enjoy feeling superior to fools who take such things seriously.

So are we ridiculing only those who fear apocalypse based on ancient predictions, or all who fear apocalypse? Alas, as I’ve discussed before, it seems we ridicule all of them:

On average, survivalists tend to display undesirable characteristics. They tend to have extreme and unrealistic opinions, that disaster soon has an unrealistically high probability. They also show disloyalty and a low opinion of their wider society, by suggesting it is due for a big disaster soon. They show disloyalty to larger social units, by focusing directly on saving their own friends and family, rather than focusing on saving those larger social units. And they tend to be cynics, with all that implies. (more)

Over the years I’ve met many folks who say they are concerned about existential risk, but I have yet to see any of them do anything concrete and physical about it. They talk, write, meet, and maybe write academic papers, but seem quite averse to putting one brick on top of another, or packing away an extra bag of rice. Why?

Grand disaster is unlikely, happens on a large scope, and probably far away in time, all of which brings on a very far view, wherein abstract talk seems more apt than concrete action. Also, since far views are more moral and idealistic, people seem especially offended about folks preparing selfishly for disaster, and especially keen to avoid that appearance, even at the expense of not preparing.

This seems related to the wide-spread rejection of cryonics in a world that vastly overspends on end of life medicine; more folks pay a similar amount to launch their ashes into space than try to extend life via cryonics. The idea of trying to avoid the disaster of death by returning in a distant future also invokes a far view, wherein we more condemn selfish acts and leaving-the-group betrayal, are extra confident in theories saying it won’t work, and feel only weak motivations to improve things.

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  • Martin355

    “Why so many mentions of something so few believe? To mock it of course”

    I see lots of people mentioning the supposed Mayan apocalypse, but I don’t think anyone has been mocking it. There’s no point in mocking a belief that no-one has. People just see it as a fun (non-)event; some spread fun apocalypse-related memes on Facebook; others go further and dress up in apocalypse-themed ways or have apocalypse-themed parties. I don’t see anyone mocking the Mayan apocalypse; sure, no-one believes in it, but no-one believes in Santa Claus either, and yet they think Christmas is a fun event.

  • dmytryl

    Over the years I’ve met many folks who say they are concerned about
    existential risk, but I have yet to see any of them do anything concrete
    and physical about it. They talk, write, meet, and maybe write academic
    papers, but seem quite averse to putting one brick on top of another,
    or to packing away an extra bag of rice. Why?

    Well, the very simple explanation is that the risk isn’t real or haven’t actually been demonstrated. During cold war the risk was real, and people and entire governments were digging shelters and packing rice. But when risk is not real, the people ‘concerned’ are a self selected bunch.

    This seems related to the wide-spread rejection of cryonics in a world
    that vastly overspends on end of life medicine; more folks pay a similar
    amount to launch their ashes into space
    than try to extend life via cryonics. The idea of trying to avoid the
    disaster of death by returning in a distant future also invokes a far
    view, wherein we more condemn selfish acts and leaving-the-group betrayal, are extra confident in theories saying it won’t work, and feel only weak motivations to improve things.

    or, you know, cryonics is simply unlikely to work, and is hard enough to make work, and people are not so much wanting to live forever.

    • advancedatheist

      The scientists who say “cryonics can’t work” basically mean:

      1. They can’t figure out how to make it work;

      and,

      2. They don’t want to think about cryonics any more. 

      To which I respond: Fine. Thank you for your contribution. No shame in admitting your incompetence or incapacity regarding these problems.

      But it doesn’t follow that other scientists, perhaps the ones active in 2023 or 2033, will necessarily agree with them. Yet the scientists in the first group who try to dissuade others from thinking about how to solve cryonics’ many challenges abuse their authority as scientists. They have no business telling other people what to do with their minds.  

      • dmytryl

         Are you working in anything neuro related? What are you doing? What’s your competence?

        The scientists and engineers in question work on the very technologies that will someday, if ever, make revival possible. The techniques that allow to preserve samples for scanning.

        The cryonicists are not working on anything relevant to preservation of brains for future scanning, being too afraid of doing anything with the slightest risk to discover that the frozen corpses are just that – corpses.

        It’s like work on an anti-gravity flying car. LHC team works on it, as much as it can be done. Some people that go ahead and build it but it’s just missing the antigravity drive, do nothing for it.

  • kurt9

    What’s worse are the people who think its wrong to pursue life extension and cryonics and, at the same time, think its wrong to commit suicide when one is old and decrepit. I mean, what the hell do these bozos want?

    • QQ

      Perhaps it’s the naturalistic fallacy.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      I wonder whether believing in cryonics makes suicide more or less probable.

      • kurt9

         Current law with regards to cryo-preservation makes suicide a necessity in some cases to secure an effective cryo-preservation. For example, a member with a brain-wasting disease (brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.) may seek cryopreservation before the disease has destroyed their memory and identity. Sure, in the legal sense, this is suicide. However, we do not consider such to be suicide because as long as that person gets a decent cryopreservation, they have a chance at reanimation.

        People who are not “into” cryonics often have difficulty understanding this issue.

      • http://www.facebook.com/CronoDAS Douglas Scheinberg

         Unfortunately, current law in the U.S. also mandates autopsies in cases of suspected suicide. :(

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  • http://www.facebook.com/goetzphil Phil Goetz

    “They talk, write, meet, and maybe write academic papers, but seem quite averse to putting one brick on top of another, or packing away an extra bag of rice. Why?”

    What do you expect them to do?  Tell you about it?  I don’t tell people who travel in the kind of circles that you do anything about any such preparations that I may have made.  Because people who do that are “silly”.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      I don’t tell people who travel in the kind of circles that you do anything about any such preparations that I may have made.

      A good sign, prima facie, that you unconsciously realize that your “preparations” are nonsensical.

  • Doug

    “Grand disaster is unlikely, happens on a large scope, and probably far away in time, all of which brings on a very far view, wherein abstract talk seems more apt than concrete action.”

    Even if we believe the probability of existential disaster is high (e.g. great filter argument), the probability of existential disaster in any reasonable time frame is very small. 

    E(Years till disaster | P(Existential Disaster) ~= 1.0) > 100 years.

    So the question is what concrete action even can be taken today. Probably not much. In 100 years or more economic growth will mean our civilization is far wealthier, and thus has far more resources to defend against existential crisis. It’d be like people in Somalia contributing to Hurricane Sandy relief. 

    The best thing we can do to combat existential risk today is to try to maximize economic growth so we have the most resources available when the time comes. 

  • Tim Tyler

    > They talk, write, meet, and maybe write academic papers, but seem quite averse to putting one brick on top of another, or packing away an extra bag of rice. Why?

    They probably think that those things would prove to be ineffective defenses against an intelligent adversary of the type they anticipate.

  • dmytryl

    “They talk, write, meet, and maybe write academic papers, but seem quite
    averse to putting one brick on top of another, or packing away an extra
    bag of rice. Why?”

    I’d say it is a rather optimistic view that this is all talks.  Some are mailing bombs to researchers (ITTS), and unknown numbers may well be preparing to do something of that kind if some AI starts solving problems too well.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

    Based on a very small sample, it seems cryonics appeals to former religious fundamentalists who refuse the main task incumbent upon atheists: overcoming their dread of death.

    • Mestroyer

      “Overcoming dread” is a very manly way of saying “giving up.”

      • VV

         If you are going to get inspiration from religion, try this:

        God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

        The courage to change the things I can,

        And the wisdom to know the difference.

      • Drewfus

        That’s fine for personal stuff or Robinson Crusoe, but at the social level, cooperation and competition are the best source of those virtues, not some personal God. Modern social organization is God 2.0.

    • Drewfus

      Quite like expensive med then. Actually, just like like expensive med because Cryonics is med.

      • dmytryl

        More like a herbal homoeopathic something. There’s the sample preparation techniques for the 3d microscopy, those work, and there’s this stuff inspired by analogy to meat in the fridge.

      • Drewfus

        What’s not to like about homeopathy? It’s a simple, cheap placebo-tech with no side-effects. Compare to psychotropic drugs, which have a strong association with shooting rampages – Antidepressants, Violence and School Shootings
        It is obvious to me why Psychiatric medication has so much science and government money supporting it, versus the bias against harmless stuff like homeopathy – how else could it justify itself with results so bad?

        As for Cryonics, why are you so sure about the possibility of ems this century, but so down about the possibility of resurrecting frozen brains?

      • VV

        @723ee19d7833b655f7c3503385350270:disqus

        What’s not to like about homeopathy? It’s a simple, cheap placebo-tech

        Certainly it’s not cheap for a placebo.

        with no side-effects.

        Actually, many “homeopathic” remedies contain herbal concoctions or even real drugs, of unknown quality and in unknown doses, which administered without medical expertise, can cause severe side effects.

        While true plain-water homeopathic remedies have no side effects on their own, if got a severe disease and take them instead of getting real treatment, your health will deteriorate.

        Compare to psychotropic drugs, which have a strong association with shooting rampages – Antidepressants, Violence and School Shootings

        Geez crazy people taking psychiatric medication! How could that possibly be?

      • dmytryl

        Ultra expensive homoeopathic something, then. The point is, generally very dubious and unproven to work.

        Also, I don’t see people opting to have their brain cut into pieces and then embedded in resin as in sample preparation for block-face microscopy. This is an option of potentially lower dubiousness but considerably higher eww-ness.

      • Drewfus

        @5dcdf28d944831f2fb87d48b81500c66:disqus “Geez crazy people taking psychiatric medication! How could that possibly be?”

        I like your implicit equating of those suffering from depression with “crazy people”. Very scientific.

        “…many “homeopathic” remedies contain herbal concoctions or even real drugs, of unknown quality and in unknown doses, which administered without medical expertise, can cause severe side effects.”

        Let’s hope the severe side-effects don’t include shooting rampages like the crazies put on psychiatric drugs, where, in spite of the claimed medical expertise, doesn’t seem to stop these people from doing just that.

        “…instead of getting real treatment…”

        “real treatment” – is that like proper medication?

      • Drewfus

        If the probability of resurrecting already frozen brains is extremely slight, what probability do you place on Cryonics ever working? What odds would you give for success by 2050 or 2100?

      • VV

        I like your implicit equating of those suffering from depression with “crazy people”. Very scientific.

        Strawman detected. Clearly the majority of people who are on antidepressants don’t commit such acts. People who do obviously are either misdiagnosed as depressed or have a disease that mimics or includes depression.

        Let’s hope the severe side-effects don’t include shooting rampages like
        the crazies put on psychiatric drugs, where, in spite of the claimed
        medical expertise, doesn’t seem to stop these people from doing just
        that.

        I’d love to see the scientific evidence establishing a causal link between antidepressants and shooting rampages. I suppose it is published in the same journal cryonics research is published, isn’t it?

        “real treatment” – is that like proper medication?

        Certainly not like homeopathic snake oil.

      • Drewfus

        @5dcdf28d944831f2fb87d48b81500c66:disqus 
        “Clearly the majority of people who are on antidepressants don’t commit such acts.””I’d love to see the scientific evidence establishing a causal link between antidepressants and shooting rampages.”

        You want to see a majority or a causal link? I think your strawman detection might be a false positive. The point is, a large majority of school shooters have been found to be taking antidepressants, while i’m not sure if any of them have been found to be using homeopathic treatments (your claims to severe side effects notwithstanding). That points to something worth investigating.

        If you’re claiming that school shooters represent a subset of those already detected as having mental issues and on medication as a consequence, then general restrictions on gun ownership are probably not required to eliminate school shootings – only those on psychiatric medication need be prevented from having access to guns. That strikes me as an argument someone from the gun lobby would make.

        “I suppose it is published in the same journal cryonics research is published, isn’t it?”

        Argument from authority is the antithesis of true science.

        “Certainly not like homeopathic snake oil.””Certainly it’s not cheap for a placebo.”

        Placebo or snake oil, or, placebo = snake oil ?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        I say, add cryonics to Medicaid and Medicare.

      • Drewfus

        Yeh, if it promises to be the ultimate lifesaver, why not? Is it just a lack of faith in science that has prevented Cryonics rights (free procedures and storage) from becoming an issue?

      • dmytryl

        Drewfus: it’s the lack of faith among the scientists, which somehow the proponents fail to find disturbing.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Is it just a lack of faith in science that has prevented Cryonics rights (free procedures and storage) from becoming an issue?

        Well, I can’t see Robin Hanson, Peter Thiel, or Eliezer Yudkowsky advocating free head freezing on demand. Are cryonicists all right-libertarians? If so, what’s the connection?

      • Drewfus

        @f26939f398e5b2e21ea353b06370c426:disqus “Are cryonicists all right-libertarians? If so, what’s the connection?”

        That’s a small subset to make a generalization from. You yourself want cryonics to be a listed treatment, and i believe you’re a Democratic Centralist. Thinking out loud about a connection between right-Libertarians and cryonics seems like a motivated search, as in not just a curiosity or necessity driven one. True?

      • Carl Shulman

        Drewfus,

        Google reveals a survey, from the late 1980s, of Alcor cryonics members. There were 36 Libertarians to 12 Republicans and 7 Democrats:
        http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8909.txt

      • Drewfus

        Carl,
        thanks for the information. So what do you make of those numbers?

      • dmytryl

        Drewfus:

        Libertarians being more blind to the dependence of such things on other’s good will. The whole ideology is based upon being blind to the dependence of “private property” on wilful cooperation of others.

      • Drewfus

        @google-8a859b151b507f070cefe46a035c0a99:disqus 
        “The whole ideology (the anti tax variety at least) is based upon being blind to the dependence of “private property” on wilful cooperation of others.”

        Being one of those blind-to-dependence Libertarians, i have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Drewfus,

        Sorry if I sounded like the recommendation to add cryonics to Medicaid and Medicare was seriously intended. I intended to bring out the ironies in Robin’s positions on medicine versus cryonics.

        Yes, I wouldn’t have relied on so small a sample size if I didn’t have agreeing “priors.”

        Carl Shulman essentially substantiates. The reason I would have predicted that cryonics is a libertarian proclivity is that libertarians tend to be egoists, and the last thing an egoist will part with is his own existence. As they say, it’s their most valuable property.

        They overvalue their existence because they are social atomists.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        “The whole ideology (the anti tax variety at least) is based upon being blind to the dependence of “private property” on wilful cooperation of others.”Being one of those blind-to-dependence Libertarians, i have no idea what you’re talking about.

        Many libertarians (not you) see private property as a natural right rather than a social construct.

        “Taxation is theft” epitomizes the outlook in question, which is widespread among libertarians if not in alt-right circles.

  • Drewfus

    “This seems related to the wide-spread rejection of cryonics in a world that vastly overspends on end of life medicine”

    How related is the rejection of cryonics to human cloning? The cryonics customer is engaging in an activity that could be vaguely regarded as self-cloning, so cryonics is a cloning type moral issue. Cloning is a form of copying. Why copy anything?

    1. The copied item is both unique and valuable (relative to the copying process), and not worth risking to a single instance.

    2. The 1 -> many relationship of the copying process is more efficient than multiple one-off production.

    3. A means to consistency. This might be compared to the value of diversity in the entity set.

    In regards to cryonics, 1. suggests the assertion of self-assigned status – I am uniquely valuable and worth storing safely, pending resurrection. Self-assigned status is morally “illegal”. In regards to cloning (and somewhat to cryonics), 2. implies a change in the status and dynamics of social groups. Not requiring the wombs of women or the semen of men to create new humans or resurrect existing humans carries big social implications and uncertainty. Cryonics customers are “messing” with a lot of evolutionary and cultural selection, without a mandate. 3. implies a loss of genetic diversity, which might cause an association with the disgust reaction to inbreeding.

  • dmytryl

    I did think some more on cryonics and it seems to me that:There’s relatively simple experiments with perfusion of variety of animal brains, or ideally, cadaver brains, at different times after death, which could be done to drastically improve the outlook of cryonics with regards to, at least, not shredding the brain.

    The only thing I can find is study on a rabbit. The usual instinctive reaction to such cases is “not going to sign up”, which may seem irrational based on naive expected value estimate, but may be rational response to situation where more information can be made available by another party – you create higher payoff for e.g. doing wider range of actual experiments (ideally on cadavers but at least cows/dogs/etc. not just 1 rabbit) to see if the cryoprotectants do reach the whole brain. Note that expected value of not signing up until a condition is met can be higher than expected value of signing up.

    Plastination looks intriguing.

    • Drewfus

      Okay, that’s interesting. So does the rejection of cryonics for humans carry over to experiments on other mammals? If yes/no, what does that suggest?

      Before attributing religious meaning to all support for cryonics, it would be reasonable to first admit that opinions on the prospects for successful cryonic resurrection vary widely for scientific reasons, and not just out varying capacities to deal with the certainty of our own deaths (particularly in the case of those weak-minded Right-Libertarians ;-))

      Suppose that a cryonic head or body could be resurrected with all episodic memory deleted. Personal skills (including language related) remain intact, but the individual is otherwise ‘generalized’, or ‘clean-slated’, on the basis that the memories of the prior life are no longer valid in the new ‘life’/era/context. In a sense, the ‘old’ person has died, because the ‘new’ person has no memories of that ‘old’ person. Now suppose this episodic memory cleansing were made mandatory, on the grounds that those retaining their old episodic memory set would be emotionally ungrounded and unstable. In that case, would the support for cryonics remain? If yes, cryonics is not so much about overcoming the dread of death. If no, it is.

      • dmytryl

        My point is that cryonicists don’t seem to strive to produce good evidence for their claims, which is a: bad sign and b: decision making is more subtle than naive expected utility maximization; en masse, not signing up unless there’s reasonably expected evidence can have higher utility as you would still almost certainly sign up for cryonics if it wasn’t some sort of self delusion/scam mixture.