Tyler Thursday on cryonics: “My question is: why not save someone else’s life instead?” Today, Tyler elaborates: [Some] asked why I compare cryonics (unfavorably) to acts of charity, rather than comparing other acts of personal consumption (I enjoy the gelato here in Berlin) to charity. My view is this: the decision to have one’s head frozen is not primarily instrumental but rather expressive. Look at the skewed demographics of the people who do it, namely highly intelligent male readers of science fiction, often with tech jobs. … It’s a chance to stand for something and in a way which sets them apart … for instrumental rationality, for Science, … for the conquering of limits, … and for the notion that the subject sees hidden possiblities and resources which more traditional observers do not. …
"Cryonics is silly. Tyler is right to point out that it’s nonsense, and just a bunch of, “Hey, look how contrarian I am. Have fun ‘meeting God’, I’ll be partying in a thousand years in a cyborg body when you’re nothing, wooo!” That sentiment is often perceived as intellectually penetrating, just like the nonsense that goes along with the Singularity." Not saying "the Singularity" is the best concept ever (yeah..), but I find these (very common) highly immature internet comments about it annoying. Almost always very poorly "argued". In rare serious rebuttals to the concept, they usually demonstrate far more confidence that it will not ever occur than seems credible. I cannot be confident that an AGI driven techno-scientific/economic explosion (etc., etc., etc.) will or will not occur sometime in the indefinite future. There are many arguments for and against, and for the most part they are sufficiently plausible that they shouldn't be completely discarded as utter bullshit. I must say I find this absurdly high confidence, almost total certainty that it will never occur very, err, head-scratch worthy (especially since it so common). Anyway, the obvious reply to cryonics skeptics is that even an extremely low chance of survival is better than zero. There is very very high doubt that it could work (in large part for non-scientific reasons), but I don't think this is a compelling reason to see it as utterly unworthy of consideration given the stakes. I really don't like the attitude "not only is cryonics completely and *obviously* impossible, if you disagree you're some sort of fanatical wack-job".
This is actually very insightful. Thank you Sarah.
I think there's confusion as to what he means.
If cryonicists are trying to tell the world something -- to value human life more, to value reason more, to overcome technological limits -- it's hard to get the message across if you're just buying something for yourself. (Namely, a cryonics policy.) Tyler is observing that cryonics is a particularly idealistic kind of purchase, and then criticizing it for not being very good at spreading ideals.
Vaccination -- another technology that helped people live longer -- was promoted through community vaccinations, funded by a charitable organization (Edward Jenner's Jennerian Institution.) The convention of vaccination did not spread because a small group of scientists chose to vaccinate themselves. It spread through charitable and, soon after, governmental support. People can respond well to the call "Help save children's lives!" They don't respond so well to "I want to save my own life with my own money."
In other words, if you want cryonics to catch on, buy it for somebody else.
Reducing Robin's interest in cryonics to 'signalling'--while parading his own 'wholesome'/'highbrow' preference for Berlin's gelato--Tyler signals his own sanctimony.
What are these "advances" of which you speak? Enlighten us...
"My view is this: the decision to have one's head frozen is not primarily instrumental but rather expressive. Look at the skewed demographics of the people who do it, namely highly intelligent male readers of science fiction, often with tech jobs. Is it that they love their lives especially much? Unlikely. "
This is a weak basis for a signaling theory of Cryonics. Of course intelligent, tech-oriented people are going to be the ones cognizant of a complex, technical solution. But the Problem of Death is more widely agreed upon; it's just that less intelligent people without technical interests believe the correct solution is religion.
In fact, it would make more sense to say that religious people are just signaling, since it is less plausible that low intelligence people have enough future-time orientation to truly care about "life after death".
2) Poor ghetto kids would raise their status among people they don’t care about (us) by donating to charity instead of conspicuous consumption, but they would probably lower it among their own kind, which is what really matters to them.
That is a very good point. However, I suspect that many of those kids are making a fundamental mistake. I suspect that many of them are trying to raise their status with people who they care about, but who don't care about them in turn. Also, much of the basis for the perception of benefit is emotional, as it is with my peers who talk about buying iPhones.
Those who have not spent time around actual members of [X] usually do not understand [X] nor the motivations of those involved in it.
One real benefit of being involved deeply in something with real value but which lies outside of the mainstream, is the opportunity to observe the distortions of the mainstream view. Our society runs on a panoply of disdainful mutual caricatures and incomplete understandings. These can be exploited for economic gain.
Could it be Tyler knows that tech nerds are low status in our society and fair game for criticism?
I hope tech nerds are low status. Under-appreciated people with real skill and knowledge tend to accrue the most concentrated caches of value.
no mark of status is universal. even something obvious like having a lot of money would be status lowering in certain groups.
status is relative to what your group values. a status raising move for one community would be status lowering in another (example: tattoos).
Tyler knows that tech nerds are low status in our society and fair game for criticism
How much longer are you going to continue to take orders Robin? You should man up. You know and I know how your status can be massively increased...develop artificial general intelligence first and over-throw the system altogether, placing tech-nerds firmly at the top of the status pole once and for all.
"but driving a ragtop significantly raises the chances your brains could end up an indecipherable pink glyph on the pavement, which suggests to me that you aren’t that serious about preserving it."
You've missed all the recent advances in cog sci? Sounds like you're operating on a naive version of a revealed preference model of the human mind.
Hopefully - agreed. A secretive cryonicist clearly isn't using it as a signaling device (regarless of what cryonics signals).
I'm also skeptical of Tyler Cowen's suggestion of raising status by switching expenses from cryonics to some misc. charity for another reason: I don't know what his social sphere is like, but at my workplace, at least, I haven't heard what other people contribute to charity, and I haven't mentioned what my own budget for this is. If I don't know theirs, and they don't know mine, how can it possibly function as a signal???
eating fancy foods and deep-freezing your noggin both bring Katja Grace's post on murder to mind.
you've mentioned driving a little red convertible, and described your bumper stickers, which of course are both signalling.
but driving a ragtop significantly raises the chances your brains could end up an indecipherable pink glyph on the pavement, which suggests to me that you aren't that serious about preserving it.
cold, if Tyler had just meant "don't do weird stuff if you want people to like you" he could have just said that.
Econonomics, yes of course one can introduce arguments that distinguish those two cases, but we'd want to hear those arguments. Similarly, Tyler could offer arguments that say nerd expressions are worse than foodie expressions.
One more thing - conspicuous consumption isn't just about spending money - it's also about taste. The kind of status display rich people do (buying art or whatever) is more impressive to most people than cryonics is. Paying for cryonics would probably actually lower your status among normal people, sort of like buying velvet paintings of the Insane Clown Posse instead of the "right" art would. It's "tasteless" by conventional standards.