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On the unpopularity of cryonics: life sucks, but at least then you die

65 Post author: gwern 29 July 2011 09:06PM

From Mike Darwn's Chronopause, an essay titled "Would You Like Another Plate of This?", discussing people's attitudes to life:

The most important, the most obvious and the most factual reason why cryonics is not more widely accepted is that it  fails the “credibility sniff test” in that it makes many critical assumptions which may not be correct...In other words, cryonics is not proven. That is a plenty valid reason for rejecting any costly procedure; dying people do this kind of thing every day for medical procedures which are proven, but which have a very low rate of success and (or) a very high misery quotient. Some (few) people have survived metastatic head/neck cancer – the film critic Roger Ebert, is an example (Figure 1). However, the vast majority of patients who undergo radical neck surgery for cancer die anyway. For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Cryonics is not proven, and it is aesthetically disturbing (indeed even disgusting) to many people. It is also costly, and not just in terms of money alone. It is costly in countless other ways, ranging from the potential for marital discord, social alienation, ridicule, social isolation, disruption of family relationships (and with grief coping mechanisms) during the dying process, and on and on and on. And it does cost a lot of money, because if you figure the lost present value of capital for life insurance, dues, and end of life expenses related to cryonics, then that is a very significant dollar amount; my guess is that for a whole body patient who signs up at age 35 with Alcor, it is in the range of ~ $500,000 to $750,000 2010 dollars!

...Beyond this, many other factors come into play, such as perceived interference or lack of competitiveness with religion by cryonics, lack of endorsement by authority figures, such as physicians and scientists, actual marketing faux pas’s, such as the Chatsworth debacle and the use the words “death” and “dead” to describe cryonics patients. Then come factors which would, if cryonics were proven to work, be down in the noise, or more accurately, nonexistent, such as they way the current cryonics facilities look, the appearance and qualification of staff and so on.

...Over the past few days, with the passing of Robert Ettinger, cryonics has received a level of planet-wide media attention it has not received in decades. One interesting and valuable result of this is that various news venues have solicited public comment about cryonics, and what’s more, about immortalism, or radical life extension. As usual, cryonicists have been deaf to the criticism, expressed and implied in these remarks from the “marketplace. Or worse, they have been contemptuous, without being clever in their contempt and in their responses.

[quotes from comments & people]

What do these remarks mean? Well, they mean exactly what they say they mean in most cases. That may be hard to understand, especially if you look at the demographic data for how “happy” people are the world over. What you will find, if you do, is that people in Western Developed nation-states are extraordinarily happy. In fact, they are unbelievably happy (Figure 3).

Figure 4: Your life and future prospects can still be grim and relatively hopeless and yet your evaluation of your satisfaction with life vary dramatically depending upon whether you have a full belly, or even if you’ve had a meal in the past few hours.

How is this possible? The answer is that happiness is complex and exists on many different levels. The most important and the most difficult to measure is existential happiness. The issue of their existential happiness is something most people rarely, if ever confront, and almost never do so in public when asked (unless you ask them in the right way, such as, “Would you want to live forever?”). The reason for this is that if they respond by saying “My life is a boring exercise in getting from day-to-day with a lot of nagging miseries and frustrating inconveniences,” they would appear as failures, as whingers , and as losers. Few people find that acceptable!

...Figure 5: Humans were not evolved to be confined to a fixed space day-after-day and to do boring and repetitive work which is usually personally meaningless, and is done on the orders of others who are also omnipresent to supervise its execution. That is the working definition of hell for hunter-gatherers and they are uniformly both horrified and disgusted to to see “civilized” man behave in this way.

...Then there are the other people you must necessarily interact with. Several of the people you work with are complete monsters, in fact, they despise you and they go out of their way to make your job and your hours at work more difficult. And the customers! Most are OK, but some are horrible – encounters with them leave you shaking, and sometimes fearful for your job. Speaking of which, there is always some degree of apprehension present that you might lose your job; you might screw up, the economy may take a nosedive… In any event, your survival is critically dependent upon your job. Others whom you work with are better compensated, and those that own the enterprise you work for are getting rich from it, and that rankles. But, beyond these concerns, this isn’t what you really wanted to do with your life and your time. When you were fifteen, you wanted to _______________, to travel, to see the world, and to meet interesting people and do interesting things. Instead, here you are. And every day you are a little older and a little more run-down. The clock is ticking. When you looked in mirror this morning, you had to face it yet again; you aren’t young anymore and you aren’t going to get any younger.

...And frankly, why should you even try? You were raised with a very limited repertoire of interests, ambitions, and capabilities. It is so hard to survive in this world, even in this relative paradise of Western Technological Civilization, that mostly what you had to learn and spend your time thinking about were how to acquire the skills to compete and to make a living and support your offspring and your dying parents. All so that this cycle can be repeated, yet again (and to what end?). You laugh at people who talk about what makes the stars shine, how long the universe will last, where all the dark matter is, are there multiverses, what would it be like to “see” in the full electromagnetic spectrum, or even what it would be like to sit down and talk with Chinese workers or Egyptian shop keeps, and find out what they really think about Islam, democracy or the USA, without someone on the TV telling you what they think (and getting wrong)?

...The fundamental problems are these, in no special order:

  • Most people lack autonomy in their daily lives. Next to life itself, freedom is the most precious value; and most people’s lives are functionally devoid of it. Many cryonicists fail to see this, because they are self employed, are in jobs that offer them compensating satisfaction, or that they don’t perceive as “work” (e.g., they are not watching the clock just waiting for the torture to be over for another day).
  • Most people have a very limited range of interests and possibilities for gratification. This problem cannot be fixed for most by giving them more money, or even more money and autonomy. Do that, and they will drown themselves in what they already have, or kill themselves with drugs. How many cars, planes, and pairs of shoes or houses can you really gain joy from?
  • The vast majority of people over 30 don’t feel well a significant fraction of the time. They have colds, flu, osteoarthritis, and most importantly, they are poorly conditioned as a result of jobs that enforce immobility and make them sedentary. As a result, they are tired and drained from their work and home responsibilities at the end of each day, and worst of all, they spend that part of the day when they feel the best and are most alert, doing what other people tell them to do – not what they want to do.
  • They are losing their own youth and health and watching others suffer and die around them. How’s that for a satisfying life experience? Every day they turn on the news or talk to friends or family, and find that another fixture in their life is dead, or dying. As John Donne said, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

...Thus, when it comes to happiness, people who are socially inept and who have trouble coping emotionally with the exigencies of life are, on average, the least happy. It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society. They are also smart enough to know that many of the rules and orders given them are arbitrary and have no basis in reason beyond maintaining the status quo. As sociologist and educator Bill Allin has observed: “People with high intelligence, be they children or adults, still rank as social outsiders in most situations, including their skills to be good mates and parents.”[4]

The relevance of this to cryonics should be obvious to most cryonicists; cryonics attracts, with massive disproportionality, the highly intelligent. Indeed, many of the arguments that make cryonics credible, require a remarkable degree of both intelligence and scholarship. Inability to understand the enabling ideas and technologies usually means the inability to understand, let alone embrace, cryonics.  A disproportionately unhappy population of smart people translates to a disproportionately large population of ideal market candidates for cryonics being unwilling and indeed, unable to embrace it.

...There is no one solution or easy fix. The first step is to realize that what the marketplace is telling us is true: many people don’t want to live because the existential ground state of their lives is a gray-state of dysphoria at best, and at worst, a state of active misery, relieved only occasionally by a few quickly snatched minutes of relief, or if they are lucky, joy. That state of affairs can only be addressed by showing people very real and concrete ways in which the quality of their lives can be improved, both here and now, and in the future. Heaven isn’t waking up from cryopreservation and having to go into work two weeks later – FOREVER. That is the very definition of hell for most people. And the mystics have been smart enough to carefully exclude any mention of time-cards from their hereafters. The Mormons and the Islamists have even had the good marketing sense to offer up eternities where each man commands his own world, or at the least, his own harem.

Conclusion, graphs, and references in article. As usual, I recommend reading Chronopause.com as Darwin has many good articles; to quickly link a few:

  1. ALCOR finances
  2. Master biomarker for health & aging
  3. Technological evitability
  4. The AIDS Underground (lessons for transhumanists)
  5. Harry Potter and Deathism
  6. Robert Ettinger obituary
  7. Damage in the aging brain
  8. Business & charity failure rates
  9. Factors in corporate longevity
  10. "Does Personal Identity Survive Cryopreservation?"
  11. Cryonics PR in Google N-gram
  12. "A Visit to Alcor"
  13. Soviet ICBM sites

Comments (465)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 July 2011 07:12:04AM 31 points [-]

I've met that guy-- I was talking about life extension with a random person-- he sounded like he was in his thirties. He didn't want life extension because his life was bad (ordinary job-- he was doing a survey for a bank, and this was probably about ten years ago) and he didn't want more of it and couldn't imagine things being any better.

Working conditions are somewhat better for Europeans (the author writes about a two-week vacation), but they aren't scrambling to sign up for cryonics.

Extended families are great if you're in a good one. My impression is that a fair number of people want to get away from them, but I don't know what the proportion is compared to people in nuclear families.

Michael Vassar had (has?) a theory that the three things which keep people trapped and which keep getting more expensive-- housing, credentialed education, and medical care-- are monopolized.

It would be interesting if, just as work on FAI has led to an interest in improving access to rationality, work on life extension leads to work on improving quality of life.

Comment author: Dustin 29 July 2011 11:01:19PM 16 points [-]

I like that theory of Vassar's because it fits my personal experience.

I was raised in an extremely religious household which caused me to miss out on advanced education. The internet has alleviated that to a degree, but the credentialed part certainly hasn't been alleviated. By the time I "woke up" from the indoctrination of being raised in such a religious household, I was already approaching 30 years old and relatively unwealthy while at the same time being stuck with the work skills I was taught while growing up...that is construction and remodeling of homes. While I have made the best of that by being self-employed, it certainly has kept me from doing what I really would like to do when I "grow up".

The internet has really been a boon for me as I self educated in software development and am slowly working to transition over to making my living from doing that. That's closer to what I would rather do, but I doubt I'll ever be able to get to the point where I can do what I really would love (research in any of the scientific fields I'm interested in...CS/medicine/AI/physics). At times this can be quite depressing and it feels like the person I was, was wasted.

However, all this makes me more of a fan of cryonics. Second chances and all that.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 29 July 2011 10:38:21PM 8 points [-]

Cryogenics pretty much isn't AVAILABLE in most of Europe. Not at a price, acceptability, or reliability comparable to the US at least.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 July 2011 09:43:58PM 4 points [-]

I'm signed up, and I'm in the UK. The options aren't as good, but you take what you can get.

Comment author: hairyfigment 29 July 2011 10:46:04PM 4 points [-]

Why not? Does this seem like a good investment opportunity (for people who actually have money)?

Comment author: Armok_GoB 29 July 2011 11:10:19PM 5 points [-]

It almost certainly is. I have no idea why nobody have done it, but I'd guess some kind of coordination fail is involved. If you know any European investors you should tip them of on this, it could save lives.

It's really annoying not knowing or being the kind of person who can do stuff. My brain seems to generate potential brilliant business plans and million-dollar-ideas at an alarming rate and not having to force myself to forget them all the time so that they wont haunt me with possibilities just out of reach would probably be good for my mental health.

Comment author: Hyena 29 July 2011 04:51:42AM 16 points [-]

Am I alone in actually liking life? Are the rest of my compatriots so eager to die?

Comment author: Vaniver 29 July 2011 08:59:22PM 9 points [-]

Consider Eliezer's "proof" that he wants to live forever: "I want to live one more day. Tomorrow I will still want to live one more day. Therefore I want to live forever, proof by induction on the positive integers."

The breakdown, of course, is the belief that all tomorrows are the same. Some people realise that youth is temporary, and so don't look forward too much to being 70, because as infirmities crop up life gets less pleasant until they could take it or leave it. So, they like life- when life is good, and realize that life won't always be good. They also view life extension in terms of time-discounted pleasure, and so if they have to regularly starve themselves in order to live longer when they're 70, they won't because overall life pleasure will be lower.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 30 July 2011 03:57:14AM 10 points [-]

As a young person, I am shocked and horrified by the idea of being 70.

Yet I suspect that when I am 70, I will want to live one more day.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2011 05:58:12PM 3 points [-]

I suspect that when I am 70, I will feel like I've lived a complete life, and it's now more important for other people to be happier than for me to survive longer.

Comment author: katydee 29 July 2011 07:19:49PM 5 points [-]

You are not alone.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 July 2011 04:40:36AM 3 points [-]

Are the rest of my compatriots so eager to die?

For many reasons, revealed preferences point to the answer being "yes", if for some reason you want to model humans as rational.

Comment author: gwern 29 July 2011 03:40:18PM 11 points [-]

(Copying over my comment from there)

For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Indeed. It takes a lot of willpower to live from day to day. I am reminded of Hal Finney’s article announcing his ALS diagnosis, Dying Outside ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ab/dying_outside/ ):

Although ALS is generally described as a fatal disease, this is not quite true. It is only mostly fatal. When breathing begins to fail, ALS patients must make a choice. They have the option to either go onto invasive mechanical respiration, which involves a tracheotomy and breathing machine, or they can die in comfort. I was very surprised to learn that over 90% of ALS patients choose to die. And even among those who choose life, for the great majority this is an emergency decision made in the hospital during a medical respiratory crisis. In a few cases the patient will have made his wishes known in advance, but most of the time the procedure is done as part of the medical management of the situation, and then the ALS patient either lives with it or asks to have the machine disconnected so he can die. Probably fewer than 1% of ALS patients arrange to go onto ventilation when they are still in relatively good health, even though this provides the best odds for a successful transition. With mechanical respiration, survival with ALS can be indefinitely extended.

Or (thank goodness for Evernote which lets me refind those old citations) http://www.fastcompany.com/node/52717/print :

Then the knockout blow was delivered by Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University. He turned the discussion to patients whose heart disease is so severe that they undergo bypass surgery, a traumatic and expensive procedure that can cost more than $100,000 if complications arise. About 600,000 people have bypasses every year in the United States, and 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties — all at a total cost of around $30 billion. The procedures temporarily relieve chest pains but rarely prevent heart attacks or prolong lives. Around half of the time, the bypass grafts clog up in a few years; the angioplasties, in a few months. The causes of this so-called restenosis are complex. It’s sometimes a reaction to the trauma of the surgery itself. But many patients could avoid the return of pain and the need to repeat the surgery — not to mention arrest the course of their disease before it kills them — by switching to healthier lifestyles. Yet very few do. “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said. “And that’s been studied over and over and over again. And so we’re missing some link in there. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.”

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 01:01:22PM 3 points [-]

I think refusals come from people not foreseeing returning to their set points (like they overestimate the benefits of winning the lottery). As of right now, I don't think Ebert needs willpower, or even thinks "Darn, this sucks" whenever he has to do something related to his disabilities.

Comment author: Yvain 29 July 2011 12:30:20AM 61 points [-]

Upvoted for several reasons:

  • excellent theory about cryonics, much more plausible than things like "people hate cryonics because they're biased against cold" that have previously appeared on here.

  • willingness to acknowledge serious issue. Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

  • spark discussion on whether this will continue into the future. I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago. A Hansonian-style far future could lead to more of the same, and Hanson even defends this to a degree. In my mind, this is something futurologists should worry about.

  • summary of the article was much better than the article itself, which was cluttered with lots of quotes and pictures and lengthiness. Summaries that are better than the original articles are hard to do, hence, upvote.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 02:25:58AM *  11 points [-]

Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

I've wondered about this a lot myself. Note along with figure 3 of the quoted article, according to a Gallup poll the average self reported life satisfaction in America is around 7/10. Presumably this average includes even including the sick/elderly/poor. I believe that my own self reported life satisfaction would be considerably lower than that if I were living the life of an average American.

I would guess that the difference is mostly accounted for by my own affective response to a given situation diverging heavily from the affective response that members of the general population would have in the same situation.

Comment author: shokwave 29 July 2011 05:06:58AM 12 points [-]

It's entirely possible for working life to be awful and people living those lives to genuinely self-report an average of 7/10 on a happiness scale. This is likely due to facts about how humans set their baseline happiness, how they respond to happiness surveys, and what social norms have been inculcated.

Like, when given a scale out of 10, people might anchor 5 as the average life, and for social signaling and status purposes, reasons for them being different-better are more available to their conscious mind than reasons for them being different-worse, so they add a few points.

There are also other problems with the average happiness level being above average - it suggests some constant is at work.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 05:45:39AM *  2 points [-]

I just realized that a link to an article by Angus Deaton about a Gallup poll that I meant to include in the comment above didn't compile. I've since added it.

It's entirely possible for working life to be awful and people living those lives to genuinely self-report an average of 7/10 on a happiness scale.

I agree. But I don't see the considerations that you bring up as decisive. Several points:

•According to Angus Deaton's article

I focus on the life satisfaction question about life at the present time, measured on an eleven-point scale from 0 (“the worst possible life”) to 10 (“the best possible life”)

If I were to give a response of 7/10 to this question it would indicate that my life is more good than it is bad. You're right that my interpretation may not be the one used by the typical subject. But I disagree with:

There are also other problems with the average happiness level being above average - it suggests some constant is at work.

it could be that everyone finds their lives to be more good than bad or that everyone finds their lives more bad than good.

• You raise the hypothetical:

for social signaling and status purposes, reasons for them being different-better are more available to their conscious mind than reasons for them being different-worse, so they add a few points

but one could similarly raise ad hoc hypotheticals that point in the opposite direction. For example, maybe people function best when they're feeling good and so they're wired to feel good most of the time but grass-is-greener syndrome leads them to subtract a few points.

• Note that suicide rates are low all over the world. A low suicide rate is some sort of indication that members of a given population find their lives to be worth living.

• Note that according to Deaton's article, life satisfaction scores by country vary from ~ 4 to ~ 7 in rough proportion to median income in a given country. This provides some indication that (a) life satisfaction scores pick up on a factor that transcends culture and that (b) Americans are distinctly more satisfied with their lives than sub-Saharan Africans are. But in line with my above point, sub-Saharan Africans seldom commit suicide. In juxtaposition with this, the data from Deaton's article suggests that the average American's life satisfaction is well above the point at which he or she would commit suicide.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 July 2011 01:01:40PM *  12 points [-]

Suicide rates could be low even when the average experience of the general population is worse than unconsciousness. People may apply scope insensitivity and discount large quantities of non-severe future suffering for themselves. Happiness reports can lead to different results than an hour-to-hour analysis would. Asking for each hour, "Would you rather experience an exact repeat of last hour, or else experience nothing for one hour, all other things exactly equal? How much would you value that diffence?" might lead to very different results if you integrate the quantities and qualities.

People with lives slightly not worth living may refrain from suicide because they fear death, feel obligated toward their friends and family, or are infected with memes about reward or punishment in an imaginary afterlife. A very significant reason is probably that bearably painless and reliable suicide methods are not universally within easy reach (are they in sub-Sahara Africa?). In fact, there is a de facto suicide prohibition in place in most contries, with more or less success. The majority of suicide attempts fail.

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 04:27:17PM 10 points [-]

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

I agree. See also this comment and subsequent discussion. I consider low suicide rates to be weak evidence that people find their lives worth living, not definitive evidence. There's other evidence, in particular if you ask random people if their lives are worth living they'll say yes much more often than not. Yes they may be signaling and/or deluded, but it seems hubristic to have high confidence in one's own assessment of their quality of lives over their stated assessment without strong evidence.

Comment author: Yvain 29 July 2011 08:48:02PM 18 points [-]

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

Somewhat confident. I work at a medical clinic. The number of people who come in with physical complaints relating to their job, psychological/stress complaints relating to their job, or complaints completely unrelated to their job but they talk to the doctor about how much they hate their job anyway because he's the only person who will listen - is pretty impressive.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 08:58:43PM *  19 points [-]

But there's a clear selection bias here; maybe the 10% of people who are most unhappy with their jobs visit medical clinics 5x as much as anybody else.

In any case, thanks for the info.

Comment author: Morendil 30 July 2011 03:47:29PM 8 points [-]

Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this.

I've been wondering why no one has yet broached this issue on LW, that I recall.

Comment author: jhuffman 17 August 2011 02:36:36PM *  4 points [-]

Ugh field? People don't like to talk about this. I will say something like "my job is a soul-sucking vortex" and people think I'm only joking. I am joking, but like many jokes it is also true.

My job doesn't make me hate life; much of what I value in life is supported by my job which is why I keep it.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 03:16:36AM *  29 points [-]

I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago.

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status. Once a society is wealthy enough that basic subsistence is a non-issue, people probably won't work as much as they would in a Malthusian trap where constant toil is required just to avoid starvation, but they will still work a lot because they're locked in these zero-sum competitions.

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging, and even though starvation is no longer a realistic danger for those less prudent and industrious in developed countries, homelessness remains so.

There is also the problem of the locked signaling equilibrium. Your work habits have a very strong signaling component, and refusing to work the usual expected hours strongly signals laziness, weirdness, and issues with authority, making you seem completely useless, or worse.

As for working conditions, in terms of safety, cleanliness, physical hardship, etc., typical working conditions in developed countries are clearly much better than fifty years ago. What arguably makes work nowadays worse is the present distribution of status and the increasing severity of the class system, which is a very complex issue tied to all sorts of social change that have occurred in the meantime. But this topic is probably too ideologically sensitive on multiple counts to discuss productively on a forum like LW.

Comment author: CarlShulman 29 July 2011 07:01:51AM *  11 points [-]

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging

Housing need not be as scarce as land, if regulatory permission for tall buildings and good transport networks exist. There is a lot of variation on this dimension already today. Automated mining, construction and cheap energy could make sizable individual apartments in tall buildings cheap, not to mention transport improvements like robocars.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 09:32:59PM *  8 points [-]

I agree that the situation can be improved that way, though it's arguable how much it runs against the problem that packing people tightly together has the effect of increasing discomfort and severely lowering status. But even with optimistic assumptions, I think it's still the case that housing can never become non-scarce the way food and clothing could (and to a large degree already have). There is in principle no limit to how cheaply mass-produced stuff can be cranked out, Moore's law-style, but this clearly can't work anywhere as effectively for housing, even with very optimistic assumptions.

Comment author: CarlShulman 30 July 2011 03:22:24AM 6 points [-]

I basically agree, and don't mean to nitpick, but there's also in the long run virtual environments/augmented reality.

Comment author: soreff 30 July 2011 03:40:36AM *  3 points [-]

Another possibility that would reduce the effective cost of housing would be small scale distributed manufacturing (I'm thinking Drexler/Merkle nanotech here). That would mean that most goods would not need to travel, they would be "printed" locally. There are exceptions for goods which require uncommon atoms, which would still need transport. (To be a bit more explicit: I'm trying to weaken the "near other people" restriction. As is, a lot of what we exchange with other people is information, and we ship that around globally today. Goods are another major category, which I commented on above. Physical contact is a third category, but a lot of that is limited to family members in the same household anyway.)

One factor which hasn't been directly discussed, is that housing, while partially designed to protect us from weather, is also partially to protect us from other people. The former function can be reduced in cost by better or cheaper materials. The latter is to some extent a zero-sum game. (There is a whole range of interacting social issues involved. Some of the protection is from thieves, some from obnoxious neighbors, some from intruding authorities - and these groups differ greatly in their ability to bring greater resources to bear, and also differ in their interest in doing so.)

Comment author: saturn 29 July 2011 04:46:58AM 8 points [-]

Do you know of a forum where this could be discussed productively?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 08:19:41AM 10 points [-]

No, not really. Opportunities for good and insightful discussion open up from time to time in all kinds of places, and sometimes particular forums can have especially good streaks, but all of this is transient. I don't know any places that are particularly good these days.

Comment author: steven0461 29 July 2011 09:59:50PM *  14 points [-]

Could this be solved by setting up a new forum and being sufficiently selective about whom to let in (e.g. only sufficiently high-quality and sufficiently non-ideological thinkers, as vetted by some local aristocracy based on comment history elsewhere), or is there some other limiting factor?

I would love there to be a place suitable for rational discussion of possibly outrageous political and otherwise ideologically charged ideas, even though I wouldn't want it to be LessWrong and I wouldn't want it to be directly associated with LessWrong.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 30 July 2011 02:50:37AM 10 points [-]

I'd love to have such a place too, and based on my off-line conversations with some people here, I think there are also others who would. So maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to set up a new forum or mailing list, perhaps even one without public visibility. I have no idea how well this would work in practice -- there are certainly many failure modes imaginable -- but it might be worth trying.

Comment author: steven0461 22 August 2011 10:19:26PM 4 points [-]

Here's one thing I'm worried about. What if discussion between those of widely varying ideological background assumptions is just intrinsically unproductive because they can never take basic concepts for granted? Even the best thinkers seem to mostly have strongly, stably different ideological outlooks. You could pre-select for ideology and possibly have multiple groups, but that has its own downsides.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 July 2011 02:43:00AM 9 points [-]

Strongly agree. Mailing lists are easy but damn have I become addicted to nested comments and upvoting/downvoting (automatic moderation!).

Comment author: wedrifid 30 July 2011 02:52:02AM 5 points [-]

Strongly agree. Mailing lists are easy but damn have I become addicted to nested comments and upvoting/downvoting (automatic moderation!).

I know what you mean. I follow along with the decision theory list but is almost painful being limited to email format!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 30 July 2011 03:55:37AM 5 points [-]

(Yup. Can't downvote Stuart. Frustrating. And the impact of saying so aloud without anonymity is not quite what I want to enact.)

Comment author: steven0461 22 August 2011 10:20:14PM 2 points [-]

Do you or does anyone else know of free online services, analogous to mailing lists, that allow such nesting and upvoting/downvoting?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 23 August 2011 12:53:39AM *  3 points [-]

Presumably it'd be easy to clone LW's git code, change the logos, ask SingInst to host it, and put it behind a locked gate. https://github.com/tricycle/lesswrong . Louie would be the SingInst guy to ask I think. Besides that, no.

Comment author: kpreid 29 August 2011 10:20:10PM 2 points [-]

Reddit. If you create your own subreddit I know you get to moderate it, but I don't know how well it would work for a deliberately exclusive community.

Comment author: Strange7 19 August 2011 03:57:00AM 2 points [-]

Maybe make it hidden to the public (like Koala Wallop's Octagon) and invitation-only, with any given member limited to one invitation per hundred upvotes they've received?

Or... a nested thing, maybe. The onion has as many layers as the Grand High Administrator deigns to create, and said administrator can initiate anyone to any desired depth, or revoke such access, at will. A given user can issue one invite to their current layer per 100 net upvotes they have received on the layer in question; when someone receives 100 net downvotes on a given layer, they are banned from that layer until reinvited (at which point they start from scratch). Invites to a given layer can only be directed to users who have already been initiated to the layer immediately outside that one.

There might also be a branching structure; nobody knows for sure until they find parallel layers.

Comment author: Yvain 29 July 2011 09:04:06PM *  26 points [-]

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

And although I don't think it quite related, I am less pessimistic than you abou the ability of a post-scarcity society to deal with land and status issues. Land is less zero-sum than the finitude of the earth would suggest because most people are looking not for literal tracts of land but for a house in which to live, preferably spacious - building upward, or downward as the case may be, can alleviate this pressure. I'm also not convinced that being near other people is as big a problem as you make it out to be: a wealthier society would have better transportation, and cities have enough space to expand outward (giving people access to other humans on at least one side) almost indefinitely. There will always be arbitrarily determined "best" neighborhoods that people can compete to get into, but again, this is a totally different beast from people having to struggle to have any home at all.

I think a genuinely post-work society would have its own ways of producing status based on hobbyist communities, social interaction, and excellence at arts/scholarship/sports/hobbies; the old European nobility was able to handle its internal status disputes in this way, though I don't know how much fo that depended on them knowing in the back of their mind they were all superior to the peasantry anyway.

Agreed that the class system is an important and relevant issue here.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 July 2011 10:16:29PM 8 points [-]

I like this framing (I almost never thought on this topic): money as status as measure of socially enforced right to win competitions for resources, but with a baseline of fairness, where you can still get stuff, but less than high-status individuals (organisations). Right-based bargaining power rather than a measure of usefulness.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 29 July 2011 10:21:12PM 5 points [-]

current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

This seems like a good place to point out the US centrism issue, as mentioned http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/6qr/lw_systemic_bias_us_centrism/ . Many countries do have safety nets that while not enough for actual comfort at the current tech level still makes plain survival a non-issue, and to some degree higher things through institutions like public libraries where you'll often be able to access the internet.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 10:09:35PM *  12 points [-]

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

Of course, completely forsaking status would mean all sorts of unpleasantness for a typical person, but this is only because we hate to admit how much our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions after all.

I think a genuinely post-work society would have its own ways of producing status based on hobbyist communities, social interaction, and excellence at arts/scholarship/sports/hobbies; the old European nobility was able to handle its internal status disputes in this way, though I don't know how much fo that depended on them knowing in the back of their mind they were all superior to the peasantry anyway.

Don't forget about the status obtained from having power over others. That's one part of the human nature that's always dangerous to ignore. (The old European nobility was certainly not indifferent to it, and not just towards the peasants.)

Also, there would always be losers in these post-work status games who could improve their status by engaging in some sort of paid work and saving up to trade for the coveted status markers. These tendencies would have to be forcibly suppressed to prevent a market economy with paid labor from reemerging. It's roughly analogous to the present sexual customs and prostitution. Men are supposed to find sexual partners by excelling in various informal, non-monetary status-bearing personal attributes, but things being zero-sum, many losers in this game find it an attractive option to earn money and pay for sex instead, whether through out-and-out prostitution or various less explicit arrangements.

Comment author: Yvain 31 July 2011 08:44:27AM 17 points [-]

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

One could probably remain alive for long periods just by begging and being homeless, but this raises the question of what, exactly, is a "life worth living", such that we could rest content that people were working because they enjoy status competitions and not because they can't get a life worth living without doing so.

This is probably way too subjective to have an answer, but one thing that "sounds right" to me is that the state of nature provides a baseline. Back during hunter-gatherer times we had food, companionship, freedom, et cetera without working too hard for them (the average hunter-gatherer only hunted-gathered a few hours a day). Civilization made that kind of lifestyle impossible by killing all the megafauna and paving over their old habitat, but my totally subjective meaningless too-late-at-night-to-think-straight opinion is that we can't say that people can opt-out of society and still have a "life worth living" unless they have it about as good as the hunter-gatherers they would be if society hadn't come around and taken away that option.

The average unemployed person in a developed country has a lot of things better than hunter-gatherers, but just the psychological factors are so much worse that it's no contest.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 August 2011 03:27:18PM 11 points [-]

Speaking from a lifetime of experience on welfare in the US (I'm disabled, and have gotten work from time to time but usually lost it due to factors stemming either from said disability, or the general life instability that poverty brings with it), your impressions are largely correct.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

What I'd say is that the shift (and it's been more like the last forty years, albeit the pace has picked up since Reagan) is towards "preventing abuse" as a generic goal of the system; the result has been that the ability to deliver the services that ostensibly form the terminal goal of welfare-granting organizations is significantly diminished -- there's a presumption of suspicion the moment you walk in the door. Right now, SSI applicants are auto-denied and have to appeal if they want to be considered at all, even if all their administrative ducks are otherwise in a row; this used to be common practice, but now it's standard.

This also means that limits are fairly low. I can't receive more than 40 dollars a month in food stamps right now because my apartment manager won't fill out a form on my behalf stating the share of rent and other services I pay in my unit. He has an out; he's not involved in the household finances. But without that in writing, from that person, the office presumes that since I have roommates declared, my share of the household expenses is zero, ergo I'm entitled to the minimum allowable (they can't just deny me since I'm on SSDI).

And having been homeless for a little while (thankfully a friend helped me get the down payment on a place I could just barely afford), yeah...Vladimir_M's comments are based more on rhetoric than substance. One thing I observe is that many people who are long-term impoverished or homeless (self included) will project a bit of being inured to status as a way of just securing ourselves some dignity in our interactions with others -- but nobody in that situation could miss how deeply that status differential cuts whenever it's used against us, even implicitly in the way people just ignore or dismiss them,

As luck would have it, I have some limited experience with living for periods of about a month at a time in a household where we gathered about 80 percent of the food we ate (no exaggeration). Rich in what the land around of offered, rich in the basic assets needed to make use of it, rich in ability to keep ourselves entertained and occupied during our copious free time.

I could easily see the typical hunter-gatherer experience being very, very good. Certainly, I'd rather be financially and material poor under the conditions I described above, than in my present circumstances.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 31 July 2011 06:53:43PM *  15 points [-]

The specific situation in the U.S. or any other individual country doesn't really matter for my point. Even if I'm wrong about how easy freeloading is in the U.S., it's enough that we can point to some countries whose welfare systems are (or even just were at some point) generous enough to enable easy freeloading.

Ironically, in my opinion, in places where there exists a large underclass living off the welfare state, it is precisely their reversal to the forager lifestyle that the mainstream society sees as rampant social pathology and terrible deprivation of the benefits of civilized life. I think you're committing the common error of idealizing the foragers. You imagine them as if you and a bunch of other highly intelligent and civilized people had the opportunity to live well with minimal work. In reality, however, the living examples of the forager lifestyle correctly strike us as frightfully chaotic, violent, and intellectually dead.

(Of course, it's easy to idealize foragers from remote corners of the world or the distant prehistory. One is likely to develop a much more accurate picture about those who live close enough that one has to beware not to cross their path.)

Comment author: mikedarwin 02 August 2011 08:37:09AM 21 points [-]

You are not wrong about "freeloading," though that term is probably (unnecessarily pejorative). The Developed world is so obscenely wasteful that it is not necessary to beg. You can get all the food you want, much of it very nice - often much nicer than you could afford to buy by simply going out and picking it up. Of course, you don't get to pick and choose exactly what you want when you want it.

Clothing, with the exception of jeans, is all freely available. The same is true of appliances, bedding and consumer electronics of many kinds. The one commodity that is is very, very difficult to get at no cost is lodging. You can get books, MP3 players, CDs, printers, scanners, and often gourmet meals, but lodging is tough. The problem with housing and why it is qualitatively different that the other things I've cited is that while it is technically illegal to dustbin dive, in practice it is easy to do and extremely low risk. It is incredibly easy in the UK, if you get a dustbin key (easy to do).

However, the authorities take a very dim view of vagrancy, and they will usually ticket or arrest the person who has either "failure to account," or is clearly living in a vehicle or on the street. This is less true in the UK than the US. However, get caught on the street as a vagrant AND as a foreigner in the UK (or in the US, or in any Developed country) and you are in a world of hurt - typically you will be deported with prejudice and be unable to renter the country either "indefinitely," or for some fixed period of time.

If you can swing lodging, then the world is your oyster (for now). I travel with very little and within 2 weeks of settling on a spot in large city, I have cookware, flatware, clothing, a CD player, a large collection of classical CDs, and just about anything else I want to go looking for. There is an art to it, but the waste is so profligate that it is not hard to master, and absolutely no begging is required (except for lodging ;-))

Comment author: hairyfigment 29 July 2011 10:39:52PM 4 points [-]

If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S.,

I don't know how you're using the word "easily", then. Do you classify all forms of social interaction as easy?

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 10:25:16PM 2 points [-]

Of course, completely forsaking status would mean all sorts of unpleasantness for a typical person, but this is only because we hate to admit how much of our lives revolves around zero-sum status competitions after all.

I agree that we hate to admit how much of our lives revolves around zero-sum status competitions. Here human modification via genetic engineering, supplements, & advanced technologies provides a potential way out, right? That we don't like the fact that our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions implies that there's motivation to self-modify in the direction of deriving fulfillment from other things.

Of course there's little historical precedent for technological self-modification and so such hypotheticals involve a necessary element of speculation, but it's not necessarily the case that things will remain as they always have been.

Also, there would always be losers in these post-work status games who could improve their status by engaging in some sort of paid work and saving up to trade for the coveted status markers.

This is a very good point and one which I was thinking of bringing up in response to Yvain's comment but had difficulty articulating; thanks.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 10:58:02PM 7 points [-]

That we don't like the fact that our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions implies that there's motivation to self-modify in the direction of deriving fulfillment from other things.

Trouble is, once you go down that road, the ultimate destination is wireheading. This raises all sorts of difficult questions, to which I have no particularly interesting answers.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 04:48:08AM 4 points [-]

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status.

I agree that the zero-sum character of status makes it unlikely that technology will shorten work hours (barring modification of humans).

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging, and even though starvation is no longer a realistic danger for those less prudent and industrious in developed countries, homelessness remains so.

I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 05:38:43AM *  20 points [-]

I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

You're right, things are a bit more complicated than in my simplified account. Lodging can be obtained very cheaply, or even for free as a social service, in homeless shelters and public housing projects, but only in the form of densely packed space full of people of the very lowest status. This is indeed more than adequate for bare survival, but most people find the status hit and the associated troubles and discomforts unacceptably awful, to the point that they opt for either life in the street or working hard for better lodging. And to raise the quality of your lodging significantly above this level, you do need an amount that takes quite a bit of work to earn with the median wage.

This is in clear contrast with food and clothing, which were also precarious until relatively recent past, but are nowadays available in excellent quality for chump-change, as long as you don't go for conspicuous consumption. This is because advanced technology can crank out tons of food and clothing with meager resources and little labor, which can be shipped to great distances at negligible cost, and the population is presently far from the Malthusian limit, so there is no zero-sum competition involved (except of course when it comes to their purely status-related aspects). In contrast, habitable land isn't quite zero-sum, but it has a strong zero-sum aspect since it's difficult to live very far from the centers of population, and wherever the population is dense, there is going to be (more or less) zero-sum competition for the nearby land.

Another striking recent phenomenon that illustrates this situation is that increasing numbers of homeless people have laptops or cell phones. Again we see the same pattern: advanced technology can crank out these things until they're dirt-cheap, but acceptably good habitable land remains scarce no matter what.

Comment author: Desrtopa 29 July 2011 08:39:33PM 3 points [-]

As for working conditions, in terms of safety, cleanliness, physical hardship, etc., typical working conditions in developed countries are clearly much better than fifty years ago.

For many people's psychological welfare, I think these may be lesser concerns than mobility, autonomy, and freedom from monotony.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 09:09:19PM *  17 points [-]

I don't think that typical jobs from 50 years ago were better in any of these regards. On the contrary, the well-paid blue collar manufacturing jobs that are associated with bygone better times in folk memory were quite bad by these measures. Just imagine working on an assembly line.

Focusing specifically on North America, where these trends appear to be the most pronounced, the key issue, in my opinion, is the distribution of status. Fifty years ago, it was possible for a person of average or even below-average abilities to have a job, lifestyle, and social status that was seen as nothing spectacular, but also respectable and nothing to scoff at. Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history. Of course, these are not hereditary castes, and meritocracy and upward mobility are still very strong, but the point is that the great masses of people who are left behind in the status race are no longer looking towards a mundane but respectable existence, but towards the low status of despised losers.

Why and how the situation has developed in this direction is a complex question that touches on all sorts of ideologically charged issues. Also, some would perhaps disagree whether the trends really are as severe as I present them. But the general trend of the status distribution becoming more skewed seems to me pretty evident.

Comment author: nerzhin 29 July 2011 10:00:14PM 8 points [-]

Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history.

How do you measure this kind of thing? Do you have a citation?

Comment author: Dustin 29 July 2011 10:41:55PM *  5 points [-]

I too would be interested in sources for this assertion. It goes contrary to what I would say if I were asked to guess about classes of today compared to classes of fifty years ago.

edit: Oops, I should have refreshed page before commenting, as I now see Vladimir_M responded. Leaving comment for content about my state of mind on this issue.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 11:14:05PM 5 points [-]

Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history.

There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory.

What does one say about differences in solidarity between and church members, as it varies from Sunday to other days of the week, and from now to fifty years ago? Likewise for football fans in a city...What does one say about it as it varies from during the Olympics to during an election, within country, party, etc...During war? During strikes? And so on.

To make this claim one would have to establish a somewhat arbitrary "basket" of status markers and see how they varied (willingness to marry people from group X, willingness to trust random members of group X not to steal, willingness to make fun of people from group X for amusement, etc.) One would then have to integrate over time periods (war, etc.), and it's not obvious how to do that. It's also not obvious how to aggregate the statistics into a single measure expressible by a sentence like the above even if we have somehow established a score for how each individual thinks of and would think of each other individual. It's not obvious what constitutes members of a class, nor how much the classes are to be judged by their worst members as against, say, their average or typical or idealized member.

What I most disagree with the connotation of is "the distribution of status much more skewed". For status, each of us views others in certain ways, has representations of how we are viewed, has representations of how we view others, has representations of how others think they view us...status is not a thing for which the word "distributed" is at all apt.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 11:39:31PM *  9 points [-]

There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory.

It's hard to discuss these things without getting into all sorts of overly controversial topics, but I definitely disagree that there are no obviously appropriate ways to establish whether this, so to say, skew of the status distribution is increasing.

Admittedly, these are fuzzy observations where it's easy to fall prey to all kinds of biases, but there is still useful information all over the place. You can observe the level of contempt (either overt or more underhanded) that people express for those below their class, the amount of effort they invest just to make sure they're insulated from the lower classes, the fear and disgust of mere proximity to anyone below a certain class, the media portrayals of people doing jobs at various percentiles of the income distribution, the reduction and uniformization of the status criteria and the disappearance of various sources of status available to those scoring low in wealth, fame, and bureaucratic rank, and so on. Of course, my observations and interpretations of all these trends may well be biased and inaccurate, but it's certainly incorrect to claim that no conclusions could be drawn from them even in principle.

Comment author: soreff 30 July 2011 12:34:29AM 10 points [-]
  • I basically agree with you - The U.S. has certainly been headed in the direction of a winner-take-all society over the last few decades.
  • I think some of this is measurable. The Gini coefficient certainly captures some of the economic aspects, and it has gotten higher over time
  • "the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history" seem too strong. History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"
Comment author: Vladimir_M 30 July 2011 01:07:23AM *  9 points [-]

History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"

I agree that was probably a too hyperbolic statement. History certainly records much more extreme instances of domineering and oppression. However, "dehumanized" was not a very good choice of term for the exact attitudes I had in mind, which I think indeed have little historical precedent and, and which don't really correspond to the traditional patterns of exercising crude power by higher-status groups and individuals, being a rather peculiar aspect of the present situation. But yes, in any case, I agree I exaggerated with the rhetoric on that point.

Comment author: lessdazed 30 July 2011 12:49:18AM 7 points [-]

it's certainly incorrect to claim that no conclusions could be drawn from them even in principle.

I wouldn't claim that, my claim is that there can't be one formula specifying what you want to measure, so for reasonably similar societies like this one and that of fifty years ago, you can't draw conclusions like that. If one looks at all the equally (in)appropriate ways to measure what you're making claims about, the modern USA outperforms 18th century Russia in enough ways that we can draw conclusions. I'll elaborate a bit on your examples.

fuzzy observations

The observations are the least fuzzy part.

the fear and disgust of mere proximity to anyone below a certain class

With something like this, you could perhaps quantify fear disgust of millions of people if in proximity to other people. You might find that in one society, 50% are extremely disgusted by the bottom 5%, and nonplussed by the others, and the top 10% of that is disgusted by the whole bottom 50%, while in another society, the top 20% is moderately disgusted by the bottom 80%, and the top 40% absolutely repulsed by the bottom 1%...etc.

What exactly, or even approximately, are your criteria, and how much do you think others on this site share them?

What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan.

the media portrayals of people doing jobs at various percentiles of the income distribution

What that brings to mind for me is the honest labor memes from the Puritans, and how so many were ready to identify with the common man, Joe the plumber, etc. One might say that this was primarily or only because he is white, and I think we all discount its value because of that to some extent, and if you idiosyncratically discount it more than others, you should be upfront about that by being more specific, and not make implicit claims that according to your readers' values, what you say is true.

Were I trying to call out a certain statement as being sexist, I might quote the statement and tell people that the statement is sexist. That's totally legitimate if I think that, would they reflect rationally and calmly, they would come to the same conclusion, according to their values. But if the reason I think that the statement is sexist is because it's written in English, which has a long history of being used by sexists, it would be totally illegitimate for me to simply say to normal human beings that the statement is sexist, because the reason I think it sexist is its mere expression in English.

If you believe that your claims resonate with normal conceptions of fairness upon reflection by people, it's fine for you to just make them. But this particular claim of yours is so, let's say counter-intuitive, that I suspect you have very idiosyncratic values in which the worth of a great many things is reduced to zero where other people would think it worth something, perhaps a great deal. If so, please clarify that when you say "The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history," you just don't mean "contempt" and "dehumanized" the way your readers do.

I think there may be some "rosy retrospection" going on here.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 30 July 2011 01:50:38AM *  11 points [-]

It seems like we have some essential misunderstandings on these points:

What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan.

The "status skew" I have in mind has nothing to do with the issues of fairness and meritocracy. In this discussion, I am not concerned about the way people obtain their status, only what its distribution looks like. (In fact, in my above comment, I already emphasized that the present society is indeed meritocratic to a very large degree, in contrast to the historical societies of prevailing hereditary privilege.)

What I'm interested in is the contrast between the sort of society where the great majority of people enjoy a moderate status and the elites a greater one, and the sort of society where those who fall outside an elite minority are consigned to the status of despised losers. This is a relevant distinction, insofar as it determines whether average people will feel like they live a modest but dignified and respectable life, or they'll feel like low-status losers, with the resulting unhappiness and all sorts of social pathology (the latter mostly resulting from the lack of status incentives to engage in orderly and productive life).

My thesis is simply that many Western countries, and especially the U.S., have been moving towards the greater skew of the status distribution, i.e. a situation where despite all the increase in absolute wealth, an increasingly large percentage of the population feel like their prospects in life offer them unsatisfactory low status, and the higher classes confirm this by their scornful attitudes. (Of course, all sorts of partial exceptions can be pointed out, but the general trend seems clear.)

In fact, one provocative but certainly not implausible hypothesis is that meritocracy may even be exacerbating this situation. Elites who believe themselves to be meritocratic rather than hereditary or just lucky may well be even more arrogant and contemptuous because of that, even if they're correct in this belief.

I think there may be some "rosy retrospection" going on here.

Well, I'm not that old, and I honestly can't complain at all about how I've been treated by the present system -- on the contrary. Of course, I allow for the possibility that I have formed a skewed perspective here, but the reasons for this would be more complex than just straightforward "rosy retrospection."

Comment author: [deleted] 29 July 2011 08:30:04PM *  3 points [-]

Demonstrably the cost of housing has not dropped as much as the cost of a byte of hard drive storage, but that is not necessarily only because space is zero-sum. A lot of technologies have failed to advance at anywhere near the rate of computer technology, in particular housing-related technologies - the cost of building a structure, the cost of lighting it, air conditioning it, etc. I think that science fiction authors in the past tended to imagine that housing-related technologies would change much more rapidly than they actually did.

Transportation has also, in recent years, not changed all that much. That's another one that science fiction writers were massively overoptimistic about. Transportation changes the value of proximity, and the changes that we did experience starting with steam powered vehicles probably did radically change the nature of what counts as proximity. I am, for example, an order of magnitude or so "closer" to the city center now than I would have been two hundred years ago, holding everything constant except for transportation.

Building construction and transportation are at a kind of plateau, at least compared with computers, possibly in part because they require a more or less fixed amount of energy in order to move stuff around. In order to transport a person you need enough power to move his body the required distance. In order to build a building, you need enough power to lift the materials into place. I had the misfortune of working next to a construction site and I recall that for weeks we could feel the thumping of the pile drivers.

Comment author: pengvado 31 July 2011 05:04:36AM *  5 points [-]

... they require a more or less fixed amount of energy in order to move stuff around. In order to transport a person you need enough power to move his body the required distance. In order to build a building, you need enough power to lift the materials into place.

There's no hard lower bound on the amount of energy needed to move something horizontally. Any expenditure in transportation is all friction, no work. Now, reducing friction turns out to be a harder engineering problem than making smaller transistors, but just saying "energy" doesn't explain why.

And the gravitational potential energy in 1 ton of stuff lifted by 1 storey would cost all of .001$ if bought from the grid in the form of electricity. So clearly the energy requirement of lifting construction materials into place is not the primary cost of construction either.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 August 2011 10:22:28AM 4 points [-]

So clearly the energy requirement of lifting construction materials into place is not the primary cost of construction either.

The cost of the fuel itself is not the only cost that increases when the amount of energy increases. When a large amount of energy is applied all at once, it becomes important to apply the energy correctly, because otherwise the results can be catastrophic. If you take the energy required to lift a ton one storey, and misapply it, then you could damage property or, worse, kill people.

We let children ride bikes but not drive cars. Why? One reason is that a typical moving car has a much larger amount of kinetic energy than a typical moving bicycle, so if the car is steered badly, the results can be much worse than if a bike is steered badly.

So the more more energy is applied, the more carefully it must be applied. And this extra care costs extra money.

In a controlled environment such as a factory, the application of energy can be automated, reducing costs. But in an uncontrolled environment such as we see in transportation or building, significant automation is not yet possible, which raises costs.

Other costs also rise with energy use. For instance, the machinery that employs the energy must be built to withstand the energy. A toy car can be built of cheap plastic, but a real car needs to be strong enough not to fly apart when you step on the gas. And the machine has to be built so that it doesn't wear down quickly in reaction to the great stresses that it is being subjected to as it operates.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 31 July 2011 08:04:47AM *  4 points [-]

Land is only a problem because of the dept of education. Competition wouldn't be nearly so fierce if there wasn't a monopoly on good schooling. Look at a heat map of property values. They are sharply discontinuous around school district borders.

Comment author: Swimmer963 02 August 2011 01:28:06PM 2 points [-]

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status. Once a society is wealthy enough that basic subsistence is a non-issue, people probably won't work as much as they would in a Malthusian trap where constant toil is required just to avoid starvation, but they will still work a lot because they're locked in these zero-sum competitions.

That is the clearest explanation I've seen so far for this. (I've read a lot of SF, and asked myself the question.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2011 08:46:18PM 19 points [-]

I don't think that's a complete explanation. I would say it's more along the lines of "If you start with somebody working a three-day week, it's much easier to employ them for another two days, than to hire a new person to work two days because that requires creating a whole new business relationship." Then both corporations and governments, I think, tend to be as inefficient as they can possibly get away with without dying, or maybe a little more inefficient than that. Work expands to fill the time available...

I would have to sit down and write this out if I really wanted to think it through, but roughly I think that there are forces which tend to make people employed for a full workweek, everyone want to be employed, and society to become as inefficient as it can get away with. Combine these factors and it's why increasing productivity doesn't increase leisure.

Comment author: Swimmer963 03 August 2011 01:14:17AM 3 points [-]

The full work week makes sense, depending on what sort of job you're talking about. Is it a job where a certain number of staff have to be working at a given time but it doesn't really matter who, i.e. my job at the pool, etc, or is it a job where a certain amount of work has to get done and it's simpler for one person to do a set of tasks because sharing the tasks between brains is complicated, i.e. my job at the research institute? For the former, it doesn't really matter whether you have 20 staff working 40 hours a week or 40 staff working 20 hours a week. (In fact, at the pool we tend to flip between the two: in winter, when most employees are in school, there are a lot more staff and many of them have only 1 or 2 shifts a week. In summer, the number of staff drops and nearly everyone is full-time.) It doesn't matter whether a given staffperson is there on a certain day; lifeguards and waitresses and grocery store cashiers (and nurses, to a lesser degree) are essentially interchangeable. For the latter, it makes a lot of sense for any one employee to be there every day, but why 8 hours a day? Why not 5? If the full-time employees at the research institute were each in charge of a single study, instead of 2 or 3, they could do all the required work in 5 hours a day plus occasionally overtime or on-call work.

I'm guessing that most work for corporations and governments is in the latter category. Most work in the former category is relatively low-paying, so adults in this jobs have to work full-time or more to make ends meet. I can see why right now, neither corporations nor the government are endorsing shorter work-days or work-weeks: they would have to hire more staff, spend more time on finding and interviewing qualified people, and providing these extra staff with the expected benefits (i.e. health insurance, vacation time) would be more complicated. The current state is stable and locked in place, because any business or organization that tried to change would be at a disadvantage. But in theory, if every workplace transitioned to more employees working fewer hours, I can't see why that state wouldn't be stable as well.

Comment author: jhuffman 17 August 2011 04:20:16PM *  3 points [-]

Yes but as Eliezer said the work expands to fill the time. So if you cut the time correctly, you just cut out the useless work and don't give up any competitive advantage. This is how large corporations can lay-off 50,000 people without falling apart. Sometimes that means giving up products or markets, but more often it means a haircut across the organization - e.g. trimming the fat. At first the people left are paniced about how they will get everything done without all these resources, but what really happens is priorities get clarified and some people have to do more work during the day instead of reading Less Wrong. The same thing would happen if the work week were reduced, although management's job would get harder as Eliezer points out.

Comment author: soreff 02 August 2011 02:49:20PM 4 points [-]

It is a plausible argument, but it seems at least partially incompatible with known international differences within the wealthy industrialized world. "Using the most recently available data, the ILO has determined that the average Australian, Canadian, Japanese or Mexican worker was on the job roughly 100 hours less than the average American in a year -- that's almost two-and-a-half weeks less. Brazilians and British employees worked some 250 hours, or more than five weeks, less than Americans.". I'd expect very similar zero sum competitions to exist in all of these nations, yet the work hours have substantial differences.

Comment author: kragensitaker 13 August 2011 03:09:56PM 10 points [-]

If we accept the premise that most of this work is being spent on a zero-sum game of competing for status and land, then it's a prisoner's-dilemma situation like doping in competitive sports, and a reasonable solution is some kind of regulation limiting that competition. Mandatory six-week vacations, requirements to close shops during certain hours, and hefty overtime multipliers coupled with generous minimum wages are three examples that occur in the real world.

A market fundamentalist might seek to use tradable caps, as with sulfur dioxide emissions, instead of inflexible regulations. Maybe you're born with the right to work 1000 hours per year, for example, but you have the right to sell those hours to someone else who wants to work more hours. Retirees and students could support themselves by getting paid for being unemployed, by some coal miner, soldier, or sailor. (Or their employer.) This would allow the (stipulated) zero-sum competition to go on and even allow people to compete by being willing to work more hours, but without increasing the average number of hours worked per person.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 August 2011 02:59:06PM *  4 points [-]

Japan‽ That can't be right. This study says indeed it isn't. What's going on?

Edit: What's going on is that it's a recent change. Thanks, soreff.

Comment author: soreff 02 August 2011 08:28:57PM 7 points [-]

Ouch! "The more I find out, the less that I know". This site gives extensive statistics, broken out nationally and by year from 2000-2010. According to their numbers, for 2010, Korea had the largest numbers of hours worked, with the U.S. 12th on the list and Japan 15th. It looks like the shifts across this decade are considerable (10%-20%, for many of the nations). Looking at a bunch of sites, there seems to be considerable differences in reported numbers as well - the definitions of what hours they include and who they include may differ...

Comment author: Armok_GoB 29 July 2011 10:12:17PM 8 points [-]

The prospect of an hansonain future does seem like a pretty good reason to delete all records of yourself, dispose of anyone with significant memories of you, and incinerate your brain in a large explosion enough to spread the ashes of your brain for miles around. At sea.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 July 2011 11:55:53PM *  9 points [-]

It should make you happy with the present, though, if you use the past and the future as the baseline for comparison. As John Derbyshire once said in a different context, "We are living in a golden age. The past was pretty awful; the future will be far worse. Enjoy!"

Comment author: Armok_GoB 30 July 2011 11:52:39AM 3 points [-]

Now I'm confused, how's other people being even worse of supposed to make me feel better?

Comment author: soreff 31 July 2011 03:09:31PM *  5 points [-]

A couple of comments:

  • Yes, a hansonian future looks appalling. Anything that gets us back into a Malthusian trap is a future that I would not want to experience.

  • I'm not sure that active measures to prevent oneself from being revived in such a future are necessary. If extreme population growth makes human life of little value in what are currently the developed nations, who would revive us? Cryonics has been likened to a four-dimensional ambulance ride to a future emergency room. If the emergency rooms of the 22nd century turn out to only accept the rich, cryonicists will never get revived in such a world anyway.

  • I find it bizarre that Robin Hanson himself both endorses cryonics and actively endorses population growth - both in the near term (conventional overpopulation of humans) and in the long term (explosive growth of competing uploads/ems).

Comment author: Armok_GoB 31 July 2011 06:25:49PM 2 points [-]

@2: Most of it was humour, indicating excessive paranoia. Under that was basically a mix of being humble (might have reasons we would never think of to do it), and the implication that it's not only bad but so bad every little trace of probability must be pushed as close as possible to 0.

Comment author: gwern 29 July 2011 11:10:15PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 08:21:38PM 8 points [-]

It seems to me that most life-saving medical procedures are done at the time of need. People tend not to get their appendix removed "as a precaution", and the most preventative care I can think of is an annual visit and vaccinations (and somehow we have managed to get a small segment of the population stupid enough to start protesting even that...)

I have no clue what the numbers are, but how many people actually have a will? A medical directive? Actively engage in preventative care before they have a problem? How many people go so far as to invest a large sum of money in advance, to ensure their health?

The most I've heard of is basic lifestyle changes: exercise more, eat healthy, regular checkups. In a different vein, setting up a will or an advanced medical directive. That's it. I can't think of a single example of someone spending $10,000 today, in order to prevent something ten years down the road.

Comment author: dripgrind 29 July 2011 10:28:02PM 6 points [-]

Women with a high hereditary risk of breast cancer sometimes opt to have both their breasts removed pre-emptively. People take statins and blood pressure drugs for years to prevent heart attacks. Don't you have eye tests and dental checkups on a precautionary basis? There's plenty of preventative medical care.

Maybe the availability and marketing varies between countries - the fact that you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health suggests you're from the US or another country with a bad healthcare system. My country has a national health service which takes an interest in encouraging preventative medicines like statins, helping people give up smoking, and so on, since that saves it money overall. I'm sure the allocation of preventative care is far from ideal and shaped by political and social factors and drug company lobbying, but it does exist.

It would be a bad tradeoff to go through painful appendectomy to prevent the small chance that you might get appendicitis (and you can get your appendix removed when it's actually infected, and the appendix may have an evolutionary function acting as a reservoir of gut bacteria, and it can also be used to reconstruct the bladder).

Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 10:45:40PM 3 points [-]

Don't you have eye tests and dental checkups on a precautionary basis?

I tend to view there as being a strong difference between "go for a 2 hour checkup" and "invest $28K in cryonics". I wasn't aware of the pre-emptive breast removals, though, that would definitely qualify as the sort of thing I was looking for - and I still wonder how common it is, amongst people who would benefit.

the fact that you assume people have to invest their own money

I'm not aware of any country whose socialized healthcare pays for cryonics, so cryonics is certainly an out-of-pocket cost. If I'm wrong, please let me know so that I can move ASAP :)

That does make me wonder if cryonics is a harder sell in countries with socialized healthcare, just because people aren't used to having to pay for healthcare at all. The US, at least, is used to the idea of spending money on that scale.

Comment author: dripgrind 30 July 2011 01:21:27AM 3 points [-]

When I said "you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health" I was obviously referring to preventative medical interventions, which is what you were actually asking about, not cryonics.

The breast/ovarian cancer risk genes are BRCA 1/2 - I seem to remember reading that half of carriers opt for some kind of preventative surgery, although that was in a lifestyle magazine article called something like "I CUT OFF MY PERFECT BREASTS" so it may not be entirely reliable. I'm sure it's not just a tiny minority who opt for it, though. I'm sure there are better figures on Google Scholar.

If you consider the cost of taking statins from age 40 to 80, in total that's a pricy intervention.

Maybe the lack of people using expensive preventative measures is because few of them exist - or few of them have benefits which outweigh the side-effects/pain/costs - not that people don't want them in general. If there was a pill that cost $30,000 and made you immune to all cancer with no side effects, I'm sure everyone would want it.

I think the real issue is that people don't consider cryonics to be "healthcare". That seems reasonable, because it's a mixture of healthcare and time travel into an unknown future where you might be put in a zoo by robots for all anybody knows.

Comment author: byrnema 29 July 2011 02:03:37PM 7 points [-]

My impression of all sorts of people is that they have lots of pleasure on a daily minute-to-minute level from lots of sources. (Not every minute, but often enough to consider themselves happy if you ask them superficially when they're in a good mood.) However, the emphasis on existential happiness is spot-on. Most people don't even think about existential happiness, but you can measure it in what they do. I think the bad choices people make over and over (the first teen pregnancy, then the second one, not arriving to work on time when they most need the job) is evidence that they feel fatalistically unhappy and at some level are passive-aggressively sabatoging what is at core a crappy life. This latter bit is from U.S. culture. I don't remember what it was like in Europe at the moment (though I might hypothesize that a certain cultural cynicism is actually protective and comforting) and I think some Eastern Europeans I've met have a culture that existential happiness is unobtainable or meaningless and they are strong for that and I fail to interpret what seemed like ennui or indifference in some African families I spent time with.

Personally, I'm highly motivated and I think I make 'carpe-diem-type' decisions. Yet when I get too enthusiastic about something, I do (deliberately) temper that down with reminders that I'll be 'old' in a subjectively short period of time; it's not like I'll live forever. I do this because I don't want it to be such a rude shock as things start changing over the decades. In other words, even though I relatively have a lot of subjective freedom, I feel existential angst too.

Comment author: shokwave 29 July 2011 05:23:50AM 27 points [-]

That is an interesting and concerning view. Cryonics makes the usual argument:

  1. You want to live forever
  2. Cryonics has a chance of working
  3. Therefore, you should take out a cryonics policy,

And the average person does not agree with the conclusion. They might not be consciously aware of why they don't want to live forever, but they damn well know that idea doesn't appeal to them. The cryonics advocate presses them for a reason, and the average person unknowingly rationalises when they give their reason - they refuse the second premise on some grounds - scam, won't work, evil future empire, whatever. The cryonics advocate resolves that concern, demonstrates that cryonics does have a chance of working, and the person continues to refuse.

Cryonics advocate checks if they refuse premise 1 - person emphatically responds that they love life not because they actually do, but because it is a huge status hit / social faux pas / Bad Thing (tm) to admit they don't. Actually, their life sucks, and dragging it out forever will make it worse, but they can't say this out loud - they probably can't even think it to themselves.

Wow. It's kinda scary to think that people refusing cryonics is a case of revealed preferences, and that revealed preference is that they don't like life. Actually, it might not be scary, it might just be against social norms. But I'd like to think I genuinely like life and want life to be worth living for everyone. Of course, I'd say that if it was a social norm to say that. Damn.

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 July 2011 02:18:48PM 4 points [-]

Probably false.

People don't find flimsy excuses to refuse conventional life-saving treatments, and non-conventional treatments can become conventional (say, antibiotics). This holds, though less so, even if the treatments cost quality of life and money.

I didn't start out liking life, but I seem to be very atypical in that regard (often suffer from anhedonia, for example). But it's more likely that I've moved away from the norm, not toward it, especially since I'm bad at distinguishing norms for X from norms for "X"... shudder

Scary. Someone please disprove this.

Comment author: Konkvistador 30 July 2011 10:50:12AM *  3 points [-]

Growing up religious I assumed I'd have a second different (not necessarily better), chance at life, that wouldn't have an expiration date. As I grew up I saw the possibility grew more distant and less probable in my mind.

I still feel entitled to at least get a try at a second one. Also for the past few years I generally feel much of the things I vaule will be lost and destroyed and that they are probably objectively out of my reach to try and save. So perhaps a touch of megalomania also plays a role or maybe I just want to be the guy to scream:

"YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"

Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 08:12:22PM 6 points [-]

That logic only holds if there's no cost, or no alternate investment. Currently the cost of cryonics is ~$28,000. If I donated that to GiveWell instead, I'd be saving ~28 lives. The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to.

I've given it a lot of thought, and this does appear to be my True Rejection of Cryonics; if I can find a satisfying reasoning to value my immortality over those 28 mortal lives, I'd sign up.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 July 2011 10:55:40PM 12 points [-]

The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to.

I find the answer "be immortal" satisfying, personally. Your mileage may vary.

Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 11:14:46PM 2 points [-]

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion? I'm sort of viewing it as a trolley problem: I can either kill my immortal self, or I can terminate 28 other lives that much sooner than they would have.

(I'm also realizing my conclusion is probably "I don't do THAT much charitable to begin with, so let's just go ahead and sign up, and we can re-route the insurance payoff if we suddenly become more philanthropic in the future")

Comment author: wedrifid 29 July 2011 11:31:17PM 10 points [-]

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion?

Evidence is a wrong question, and reasoning not much better. Unless, of course, you mean "evidence and reasoning about my own arbitrary preferences". In which case my personal testimony is strong evidence and even stronger for me given that I know I am not lying.

I prefer immortality over saving 28 lives immediately. I also like the colour "blue".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 July 2011 04:32:29AM 3 points [-]

What epistemic algorithms would you run to discover more about your arbitrary preferences and to make sure you were interpreting them correctly? (Assuming you don't have access to an FAI.) For example, what kinds of reflection/introspection or empiricism would you do, given your current level of wisdom/intelligence and a lot of time?

Comment author: wedrifid 30 July 2011 07:22:32PM *  5 points [-]

It's a good question, and ruling out the FAI takes away my favourite strategy!

One thing I consider is how my verbal expressions of preference will tend to be biased. For example if I went around saying "I'd willingly give up immortality to prevent 28 strangers from starving" then I would triple check my belief to see if it was an actual preference and not a pure PR soundbite. More generally I try to bring the question down to the crude level of "what do I want?", eliminating distracting thoughts about how things 'should' be. I visualize possible futures and simply pick the one I like more.

Another question I like to ask myself (and frequently find myself asked by other people while immersed in SIAI affiliated culture) is "what if an FAI or Omega told you that your actual extrapolated preference was X?". If I find myself seriously doubting the FAI then that is rather significant evidence. (And also not an unreasonable position. The doubt is correctly directed at the method of extrapolating preferences instilled by the programmers or the Omega postulator.)

Comment author: Xachariah 30 July 2011 01:11:40AM *  7 points [-]

Look at it in terms of years gained instead of lives lost.

Saving 28 lives gives them each 50 years at best until they die, assuming none of them gain immortality. That's 1400 man-years gained. Granting immortality to one person is infinity years (in theory); if you live longer than 1400 years then you've done the morally right thing by betting on yourself.

Additionally, money spent on cryonics isn't thrown into a hole. A significant portion is spent on making cryonics more effective and cheaper for others to buy. Rich Americans have to buy it while it's expensive as much as possible, so that those 28 unfortunates can ever have a chance at immortality.

Comment author: orangecat 29 July 2011 10:48:43PM 12 points [-]

Have you spent $28,000 on nonessentials for yourself over the course of your life? Most people can easily hit that amount by having a nicer car and house/apartment than they "need". If so then by revealed preference, you value those nonessentials over 28 statistical lives; do you also value them over a shot at immortality?

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 01:08:28PM 25 points [-]

Getting seriously sick of hearing "VillageReach beats cryonics" from people who don't also say "VillageReach beats movies, cars, and dentists. spits out rotten teeth". We do have a few heroes like that here (Rain and juliawise), but if you are not one quit it already.

Comment author: handoflixue 01 August 2011 07:14:48PM 7 points [-]

spits out rotten teeth

That would be stupid. If I produce, say, $5,000/year for charity, and a dentist adds even a year of productive life to me, then it's worth $5,000 to go see that dentist. At worst I break even.

I don't have a car, but for most people a car probably allows them to get to their job to begin with, so that's $50K+/year in income, vs a $10K used car every few years. Again, you'd have to be really stupid not to think this is a smart investment. A rational person should optimize by getting a high paying job and donating that income to charity, not by skipping the car and working at whatever happens to be otherwise reachable.

Movies? Well, I'm an emotional being. This is the place where we do get in to personalities, but for me, personally, if I'm unhappy, my productivity drops. Going to a movie refreshes my productivity. I do better work, don't get fired, and might even make a raise. So for me, personally, it still works out. It's not like I'm spending $1,000/month on these things.

And, all that aside, just because I'm not a perfect philanthropist doesn't mean I should automatically default to cryonics. Maybe I should self-modify to sign up for cryonics, or maybe I should self-modify to be more like Rain and juliawise. It's important to ask questions and try and determine an actual answer to that. It's easy to push for cryonics when you genuinely ignore the opportunity costs, but for those of us actually stopping to consider them, a response of "shut up, you're no Rain" is really, amazingly unhelpful.

Given that there are 2000 people in the world signed up for cryonics, I think there's a lot more people who have open objections to it, too. If our community's response to "But what about VillageReach?" is really "Oh, like you're so selfless", we are going to lose. Rationalists ought to win.

Even if we ignore the practicalities, even if we ignore my personal situation, it's still a damned useful question if we actually care about the rest of the world. And if you want cryonics to be mainstream like Eliezer seems to hope for, you have to actually care about the mainstream.

So, if all you have is a witty ad hominen attack about how I'm not truly selfless, kindly quit already.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 August 2011 01:52:06PM 14 points [-]

Anger seems to be existing so to get the emotional level out of the way: I'm not attacking you. I think you're cool and I like you. I'm not accusing you of not being a perfect philanthropist, or saying that if you're not one then you deserve blame.

I admit the argument is personality-dependent in an ad-hominem-ish way, but since I got upvoted I think I'm not exclusively being an asshole here. It goes like this: If you're the kind of person who usually takes altruistic opportunity costs into account, then it makes perfect sense that you'd care about that of cryonics. If you're not, then it's more likely than you're saying "VillageReach beats cryonics", not because you tried to evaluate it and thought of altruistic opportunity costs, but because you rejected it for other reasons, then looked for plausible rejections and hit on altruistic opportunity costs.

Would a perfect philanthropist see a dentist, drive a car, and watch movies? Yes, probably and maybe. But the algorithms that Rain and MixedNuts use to decide to watch a movie are completely different, even if they both return "yes". Rain asks "Will this help me make and donate enough money to offset the costs, and are there any better alternatives to make me relaxed and happy and generally productive?". MixedNuts asks "Is this nifty, and will movie geeks like me better if I watch it?". I can claim that watching movies makes me more productive, and it'll probably be true; but still as a matter of fact it's not what made me decide.

Is it possible that a perfect philanthropist would buy shiny stuff and expensive end-of-life treatments but not sign up for cryonics? Yes. For example, they could have tiny conformity demons in their brain that make them have to do what society likes (either by addiction-like mechanisms or by nuking their productivity if they don't). Since cryonics is weird, the conformity demons don't demand it, so the money it would have cost can go to charity. But that's still a different state of mind from obeying the conformity demons without knowing it.

Conversely, there are possible states where you don't usually care about altruistic opportunity costs, but start doing so for cryonics for strange reasons. But it's still an unusual state of mind, and if you don't say why you're in it it's going to prompt doubt about whether it's your true rejection.

Also, the reason I was a snappy jerk is that I've heard the argument a lot before. Standard arguments happen over and over and over (I should know, I read atheist blogs), and you've got to be willing to have them many times if you want an idea to spread; but I'd prefer Less Wrong to address the question once and move on, with the standard debate rehappening elsewhere.

I'm not sure what your argument about the mainstream is. Is it "Lots of people have this objection a lot; they wouldn't if it sucked", or is it "Yeah, this objection sucks, but boy do you ever need a reply that doesn't make you sound like a complete asshole"?

Comment author: handoflixue 02 August 2011 03:59:48PM *  7 points [-]

Thank you for the calm, insightful response :)

I'd prefer Less Wrong to address the question once and move on, with the standard debate rehappening elsewhere.

If someone had linked me to a "one and done" article, I'd feel a lot more confident that this is a standard argument with a good/interesting answer. Instead I mostly got responses that seemed to work out to "I'm not a terribly nice person so it was simple for me" and "you're not a terribly nice person so it should be simple for you".

If there is a "one and done" you want to link me to, I wouldn't object at all. I've read most of LessWrong, but not much else out there. I don't think I've seen this specific objection addressed before.

it's still an unusual state of mind

My mind seems to be weird in a lot of ways. For cryonics, it seems to come down to: cryonics is a far-off future thing, therefore my Planning mode gets engaged. Planning mode goes "I have more money than I need to survive. Why am I being selfish and not donating this?"

I'm not real inclined to view this as problematic, because on a certain level charity does feel good, and I like making the world a better place. On the other hand, I also grew up with a lot of bad spending habits, so my short-term thinking is very much "ooh, shiny thing, mine now".

I will say that the idea of a $28,000 operation that gives me six more months in a hospice really bothers me - it's a horrifically irrational or selfish thing to think I'm worth that much. If push came to shove, I'm not sure I'd have the courage and energy to refuse social norms and pressure, but the idea bothers me.

Eliezer raises a good point, that one can do both, but it implies a certain degree of financial privilege. Thus, there's still the open question of priorities. While psychologically we have "different budgets" for different things, all of those do fundamentally come out of one big budget.

When people say "I'd only accept that argument from Rain", it makes me wonder if I should be pursuing cryonics or being more like Rain. It's only very recently that I've had much of any financial flexibility in my life, so I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. I'm trying to figure out whether I want to become the sort of person who is signed up for cryonics, or the sort of person who funnels that extra money in to charity.

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 August 2011 06:54:49PM *  13 points [-]

If you are currently donating everything you practically can to charity, fair enough, don't sign up for cryonics.

If you think you should but haven't yet, then sign up for cryonics first. As a person with one foot in the future, you're more likely to do what the future will most benefit from. As someone who avoids thoughtful spending because you feel like you should spend it on charity, you'll end up at XKCD 871.

Comment author: steven0461 02 August 2011 09:51:43PM 4 points [-]

As a person with one foot in the future

Cryonics only makes the difference between your seeing the future and your not seeing the future if 1) sufficiently high tech eventually gets developed by human-friendly actors, 2) it happens only after you die, 3) cryonics works, 4) nothing else goes wrong or makes cryonics irrelevant. For the median LessWronger, I would put maybe a 10% probability on the first two combined and maybe at most a 50% probability on the last two combined. So maybe at best I'd say something like cryonics gives you two and a half toes in a future where you used to have two toes.

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 August 2011 10:30:46PM *  3 points [-]

I mean "one foot in the future" to refer to your resulting psychological state, not to a fact related to your likely personal future. I think it's pretty unlikely I'll be suspended and reanimated - many other fates are more likely, including never being declared dead. But I think signing up is a move towards a different attitude to the future.

Comment author: steven0461 02 August 2011 10:45:10PM 4 points [-]

But I think signing up is a move towards a different attitude to the future.

Is this just a plausible guess, or do we have other evidence that it's true, e.g. people spontaneously citing being signed up for cryonics as causing them to feel the future is real enough to help optimally philanthropize into existence?

Comment author: MixedNuts 03 August 2011 10:39:11AM 3 points [-]

(I just love that I can de-escalate drama on LW. This site rocks.)

I'll concede that the previous discussions were insufficient. Let's make this place the "one and done" thread.

Do you accept that singling out cryonics is rather unfair, not as opposed to all spending, but as opposed to other Far expenses? To do this right we have to look at "How heroic should my sacrifices be?" in general; if we conclude cryonics is not worth the cost in circumstances X we should conclude the same thing about, say, end-of-life treatments.

I've tried to capture my intuitions about sacrificing a life to save several; here are the criteria that seem relevant:

  • Most importantly, whether it pattern-matches giving one's life to a cause, or regular suicide. Idealism is often a good move (reasons complicated and beyond the scope of this), whereas if someone's fine with suicide they're probably completely broken and unable to recognize a good cause. I expect people who run into burning orphanages just think about distressed orphans, and treat risk of death like an environmental feature (like risk the door will be blocked; that doesn't affect the general plan, just makes them route through the window), as opposed to weighing risk to themselves against risk to orphans. I endorse this; the policy consequences are quite different even if they roughly agree on "Kill self to save more" (for example CronoDAS is waiting for his parents to croak instead of offing himself right away).
  • Whether the lives you trade for are framed as Near or Far.
  • Whether the life you trade away is framed as Near or Far. (I feel cryonics as Nearer than most would, for irrevelant reasons.)
  • Whether the lives you trade for are framed as preventing a loss, or reaching for a gain.
  • Whether the life you trade away is framed as accepting a loss, or refusing a gain.
  • Whether the life you trade away is mine or someone else's, and who is getting the choice.

Note knock-on effects: If someone hears of the Resistance, and is inspired to give their life to a cause, I'm happy. (If the cause is Al-Qaeda, they've made a mistake, but an unrelated one.) If someone hears of people practicing Really Extreme Altruism and are driven to suicide as a result, I'm sad. Refusing cryonics strikes me as closer to the latter.

Comment author: Rain 01 August 2011 08:31:38PM *  10 points [-]
spits out rotten teeth

That would be stupid.

That's why I brush and floss every night, and see the dentist every 6 months. Gum disease is linked with heart disease, and damaged teeth create pain. I like to be comfortable.

Though I perform routine maintenance on my life, I try to reduce the cost as much as possible, and when I spend money, I recognize and acknowledge the tradeoffs. It's a simple exercise to create a graph of benefit from lowest to highest, and start plotting things. This makes it easier to remember there are more alternatives.

Comment author: Konkvistador 02 August 2011 04:35:36PM *  8 points [-]

I just really really dislike the idea of dying. Singing up for cryonics refreshes my productivity.

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 August 2011 07:35:49PM *  12 points [-]

Rephrasing it as my favorite argument...

"Hey, what's that dorky necklace you're wearing?"
Oh, this? Well, you see, it turned out I was born with a fatal disease, and this is my best shot at overcoming it.
"That necklace will arrest the progress of a fatal disease?"
Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right.
"How much did the necklace cost?"
Oh, about $28,000.
"And what disease is this that you can somehow fight with a $28,000 necklace?"
Mortality.

"But ... but ... that's not a disease!!!"
Looks like someone gets tripped up by definitions a little too easily...
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2011 03:53:08AM 17 points [-]

XKCD 871: The problem of scaling the sane use of money is a problem of not crushing people's wills, not a problem of money being a limited resource. It simply isn't true that money spent on cryonics comes out of Givewell's or SIAI's pockets, unless you're Rain, which is why I'll accept that answer from Rain but not from you.

Comment author: Voldemort 30 July 2011 11:15:27AM *  8 points [-]

You have not considered this thoroughly.

What are 28 mortal lives for one that is immortal? If I was asked to choose between the life of some being that shall live for thousands of years or the lives of thirty something people who shall live perhaps 60 or 70 years, counting the happy productive hours of life seems to favour the long lived. Of course they technically also have a tiny chance of living that long, but honestly what are the odds that absent any additional investment (which will have the opportunity cost of other short lived people), they have of matching the mentioned being's longevity?

Now suppose I could be relatively sure that the long lived entity would work towards making the universe, as much as possible, a place that in which I, as I am today, could find some value in, but of those thirty something individuals I would know little except that they are likley to be at the very best, at about the human average when it comes to this task.

What is the difference between a certainty of a two thousand year lifespan, or the 10% chance of a 20 000 year one? Or even a 0.5% chance of a 400 000 year life span? Perhaps the being can not psychologically handle living that much longer, but having assurances that it would do its best to self-modify so it could dosen't seem unreasonable.

Why should I then privilege the 28 because the potentially long lived being just happens to be me?

Only I can live forever. - is a powerful ethical argument if there is a slim but realistic chance of you actually achieving this.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 July 2011 01:33:53AM 5 points [-]

What are 28 mortal lives for one that is immortal?

Genuine question: would you push a big red button that killed 28 African children via malaria, if it meant you got free cryonic suspension? I'm fine with a brutal "shut up and multiply" answer, I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

Comment author: Voldemort 31 July 2011 07:29:26AM *  17 points [-]

I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

Ha ha ha. I find it amusing that you should ask me of all people about this. I'd push a big red button killing through neglect 28 cute Romanian orphans if it meant a 1% or 0.5% or even 0.3% chance of revival in an age that has defeated ageing. It would free up my funds to either fund more research, or offer to donate the money to cryopreserve a famous individual (offering it to lots of them, one is bound to accept, and him accepting would be a publicity boost) or perhaps just the raw materials for another horcrux.

Also why employ children in the example? Speaking of adults the idea seemed fine, children should probably be less of a problem since they aren't fully persons in exactly the same measure adults are no? It seems so attractive to argue to argue that killing a child costs the world more potential happy productive man years, yet have you noted that in many societies the average expected life span is so very low mostly because of the high child mortality? A 20 year old man in such a society has already passed a "great filter" so to speak. This is probably true in many states in Africa. And since we are on the subject...

There are more malnourished people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa, yet people always invoke an African example when wishing to "fight hunger". This is true of say efforts to eradicate malaria or making AIDS drugs affordable or "fighting poverty" or education intiatives, ect. I wonder why? Are they more photogenic?Does helping Africans somehow signal more altruism than helping say Cambodians? I wonder.

Comment author: handoflixue 31 July 2011 06:40:06PM 9 points [-]

There are more malnourished people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa

At least in the IT and call centre industries in the United States, "India" is synonymous with "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing our jobs." Quite a few customers are actively hostile towards India because they "don't speak English", "don't understand anything", and are "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing proper American jobs".

I absolutely hate this idiocy, but it's a pretty compelling case not to try and use India as an emotional hook...

I'd also assume that people are primed to the idea of "Africa = poor helpless children", so Africa is a much easier emotional hook.

Comment author: Voldemort 01 August 2011 08:55:59PM 2 points [-]

It seems Lucid fox has a point. LW isn't that heavily dominated by US based users, also dosen't it seem wise for LW users to try and avoid such uses when thinking of difficult problems of ethics or instrumental rationality?

Comment author: handoflixue 01 August 2011 09:18:25PM 2 points [-]

LW isn't that heavily dominated by US based users

No, but if my example is going to evoke the opposite response in 10-20% of my audience, it's probably a bad choice :)

avoid such uses when thinking of difficult problems of ethics or instrumental rationality?

Conceeded. I was interested in gauging emotional response, though, not an intellectual "shut up and multiply". The question is less one of math and more one of priorities, for me.

Comment author: mikedarwin 01 August 2011 02:33:36AM *  16 points [-]

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath. This is so not because this individual is willing to sacrifice others in exchange for improved odds of his own survival (all of us do that every day, just by living as well as we do in the Developed World), but because he revels in it. It is even more ominous that he sees such choices as being inevitable, presumably enduring, and worst of all, desirable or just. Just as worrisome is the lack of response to this pathology on this forum, so far.

The death and destruction of other human beings is a great evil and a profound injustice. It is also extremely costly to those who survive, because in the deaths of others we lose irreplaceable experience, the opportunity to learn and grow ourselves, and not infrequently, invaluable wisdom. Even the deaths of our enemies diminishes us, if for no other reason than that they will not live long enough to see that they were wrong, and we were right.

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind, because it either fails, or is incapable of grasping the value that interaction and cooperation with others offers. It is a mind that is willing to kill children or adults it doesn't know, and is unlikely to know in a short and finite lifetime, because it does not understand that much, if not almost all of the growth and pleasure we have in life is a product of interacting with people other than ourselves, most of whom, if we are still young, we have not yet met. Such a mind is a small and fearful thing, because it cannot envision that 10, 20, 30, or 500 years hence, it may be the wisdom, the comfort, the ideas, or the very touch of a Romanian orphan or of a starving sub-Saharan African “child” from whom we derive great value, and perhaps even our own survival. One of the easiest and most effective ways to drive a man mad, and to completely break his will, is to isolate him from all contact with others. Not from contact with high intellects, saintly minds, or oracles of wisdom, but from simple human contact. Even the sociopath finds that absolutely intolerable, albeit for very different reasons than the sane man.

Cryonics has a blighted history of not just attracting a disproportionate number of sociopaths (psychopaths), but of tolerating their presence and even of providing them with succor. This has arguably has been as costly to cryonics in terms of its internal health, and thus its growth and acceptance, as any external forces which have been put forward as thwarting it. Robert Nelson was the first high profile sociopath of this kind in cryonics, and his legacy was highly visible: Chatsworth and the loss of all of the Cryonics Society of California's patients. Regrettably, there have been many others since.

It is a beauty of the Internet that it allows to be seen what even the most sophisticated psychological testing can often not reveal: the face of the florid sociopath. Or perhaps, in this case I should say, the name of same, because putting a face to that name is another matter altogether.

Comment author: Nornagest 01 August 2011 03:07:40AM 19 points [-]

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath.

I imagine that's the point of writing under a Voldemort persona.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 August 2011 02:42:58PM 12 points [-]

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind

A Dark Lord, no less!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 August 2011 05:23:33AM 8 points [-]

Cryonics has a blighted history of not just attracting a disproportionate number of sociopaths (psychopaths), but of tolerating their presence and even of providing them with succor

Details?

I've seen a couple of cases of people disliking cryonics because they see its proponents as lacking sufficient gusto for life, but no cases of disliking or opposing cryonics because there are too many sociopaths associated with it.

Comment author: Nisan 01 August 2011 04:57:21AM 7 points [-]

To be absolutely clear, the commenter you are responding to is a troll and a fictional character.

Comment author: mikedarwin 01 August 2011 06:24:10AM 2 points [-]

I'm curious as to how you know "Voldemort" is a troll?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 August 2011 02:48:32PM *  17 points [-]

LW has a few role-playing characters identifiable by usernames, while others don't appear to be playing such games and don't use speaking usernames. So "Voldemort" is likely a fictional persona tailored to the name, rather than a handle chosen to describe a real person's character.

Comment author: Voldemort 01 August 2011 08:49:59PM *  8 points [-]

Correct, though I prefer to think of it as using another man's head to run a viable enough version of me so that I may participate in the rationalist discourse here.

Comment author: Clippy 02 August 2011 07:14:56PM 10 points [-]

Who are the other role-playing characters on LessWrong?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2011 03:48:54AM 12 points [-]

True evil geniuses don't reveal their intentions openly. (They also don't post this blog comment.)

Comment author: Pavitra 02 August 2011 04:27:27AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: mikedarwin 02 August 2011 07:54:48AM *  4 points [-]

LOL! You don't have to be a genius to be evil and, speaking from long, hard and repeated experience, you don't have to be a genius to a great deal of harm - just being evil is plenty sufficient. This is especially true when the person who has ill intentions also has disproportionately greater knowledge than you do, or than you can easily get access to in the required time frame. The classic example has been the used car salesman. But better examples are probably the kinds of situations we all encounter from time to time when we get taken advantage of.

I don't know much about computers, so I necessarily rely on others. In an ideal world, I could take all the time necessary to make sure that the guy who is selling me hardware or software that I urgently need is giving me good advice and giving me the product that he says he is. But we don't live in an ideal world. Many people have this kind of problem with medical treatment choices, and for the same reasons. Another, related kind of situation, is where the elapsed time between the time you contract for a service and the time you get it is very long. Insurance and pension funds are examples. Lots of mischief there, and thus lots of regulation. It doesn't take evil geniuses in such situations to cause a lot of loss and harm.

And finally, while this may seem incredible, in my experience those few people who are both geniuses and evil, usually tell you exactly what they are about. They may not say, "I intend to torture and kill you," but they very often will tell you with relish how they've tortured others, or about how they are willing to to torture and kill others. The problem for me for way too long was not taking such people seriously. Turns out, they usually are serious; deadly serious.

Comment author: FeepingCreature 01 August 2011 06:13:32PM *  6 points [-]

Voldemort is the taken name of the main antagonist of the popular fantasy book series Harry Potter.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, one of the founders and main writers for lesswrong.com, also writes a Harry Potter fanfiction, called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. (HPATMOR)

Because of this, several accounts on this forum are references to Harry Potter characters.

[edit] Vol de mort is also french for Flight of Death.

Comment author: gwern 01 August 2011 07:11:37PM 9 points [-]

I feel obligated to point out that one of the links at the end of the OP was a link to Darwin's review of the last Harry Potter movie; he knows who Voldemort the character is.

Comment author: Voldemort 01 August 2011 08:43:41PM *  2 points [-]

I hate to repeat myself but let me ease your mind.

Ha ha ha. I find it amusing that you should ask me of all people about this.

Only I can live forever. - is a powerful ethical argument if there is a slim but realistic chance of you actually achieving this.

...or perhaps just the raw materials for another horcrux.

Despite the risk of cluttering I even made a posts who's only function was to clear up ambiguity:

Ah, even muggles can be sensible occasionally.

I thought it was more than probable the vast majority of readers here would be familiar with me. Perhaps I expect too much of them. I do that sometimes expect too much of people, it is arguably one of my great flaws.

Comment author: advancedatheist 02 August 2011 04:10:52PM 2 points [-]

Robert Nelson was the first high profile sociopath of this kind in cryonics, and his legacy was highly visible: Chatsworth and the loss of all of the Cryonics Society of California's patients.

Nelson has also managed to get director Errol Morris to make a movie based on his version of cryonics history, which suggests that he may have the last word on his reputation, depending on how the film portrays him.

Comment author: Magneto 01 August 2011 07:58:06PM *  2 points [-]

The ugly truth is that sometimes sociopaths are useful, though you are probably correct in stating that visible and prominent sociopaths that support cryonics hurt it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 July 2011 11:33:58AM 3 points [-]

(nods) Absolutely.

Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me.

So I consider judgments that depend on my evaluations of the likelihood (or likely consequences) of something happening to me vs. other people suspect, because applying them depends on data that I know are suspect (even by comparison to my other judgments).

But, sure, that consideration ought not apply to someone sufficiently rational that they judge themselves no less accurately than they judge others.

Comment author: Voldemort 30 July 2011 11:54:05AM *  10 points [-]

Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me.

Then work towards the immortality of another. Dedicate your life to it.

Comment author: Konkvistador 30 July 2011 12:00:28PM *  6 points [-]

That points out that people who think cryonics might work but forgo it because of the uncertainty of being bias towards themselves seldom consider committing to not get it for themselves yet provide it for another and then considering the issue while at the same time being a discreet call to join the Death Eaters.

I can't help myself but upvote it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 July 2011 06:51:48PM 2 points [-]

(nods) Yup, that makes more sense.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2011 05:53:27PM 2 points [-]

If I donated that to GiveWell instead, I'd be saving ~28 lives.

If you donated that to VillageReach, you'd be saving about 28 lives. If you donated that to GiveWell, you'd help them to find other charities that are similarly effective.

Comment author: handoflixue 01 August 2011 07:16:53PM 5 points [-]

Apologies if I was unclear: For "GiveWell", please read "The charity most recommended by GiveWell right now, because VillageReach will probably eventually reach saturation and become non-ideal".

Comment author: Konkvistador 30 July 2011 10:11:27AM *  6 points [-]

It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society.

Disproportionate compared to ... what? Criminals, as in people who get convicted, are a pretty dim group overall.

If his point was that all else being equal "social coping skills" are valued in society, well duh. Humans are social animals. I however suspect this particular formulation was used because it (I believe falsely) implies there are huge losses of intelligence because of imprisonment, when they are probably negligible especially considering poor "social cooping skills" often impose costs on others.

Comment author: VictoryAtNight 30 July 2011 02:15:01PM *  4 points [-]

It's a well documented trend that criminals in jail for committing more serious crimes, especially the sociopaths and murderers, are generally of higher average individual intelligence (as measured by things like IQ tests) compared with the local population in which they live. And that's just the criminals that get convicted. (Although street crime, on the other hand, tends to have bellow-average IQ perpetrators.)

Studies have also found that areas with populations of lower average intelligence tend to have more crime, but that's a very different statement entirely.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 August 2011 04:36:20PM 2 points [-]

but that's a very different statement entirely.

Huh? That sounds like it calls into questions the implications of the first study- if an IQ 90 person gets arrested for murder in an IQ 85 neighborhood, that has very different implications from an IQ 120 person getting arrested for murder in an IQ 115 neighborhood.

Comment author: Raw_Power 11 August 2011 10:57:26AM *  16 points [-]

This article made me tear up a little. It finally put in words the form of my nightmares.

It might be a good idea to find ways to make this world less of a hell...

But there is one massive oversight in that article. Fiction. Escapism. Videogames. They are getting better and better every day. More entertaining, challenging, absorbing, and gratifying. To the point that some choose to live at the margins of the social system, to be the lowest-status possible besides being an outright vagrant, because, immersed in their fiction, their social status only matters insofar as it can keep them fed and phyically able to interact with the fiction and enjoy it.

That some can be satisfied with this much may not mean they are "insane", as many people say, disturbed and disgusted by this sheer escape of both the rules and the consequences of breaking them. Instead, it may mean that one may actually derive more happiness from regularly saving the world (which is to say, a handful of beloved characters) through fictional avatars, discussing in virtual fora, or reinventing it outright through artistic and literary creation, rather than from actually living in that world.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 02 August 2011 04:50:11PM *  12 points [-]

Sometimes I wonder. Status is zero sum. The extremely long lived are high status (this includes fictional entities such as Gods, Elves or wizards). Cryonics or life extension may just sound like "I'm higher status than you."

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

I'm sure someone has brought this up before, can anyone provide links? I'm afraid I still haven't caught up to the LW culture and am not done with the sequences or catching up on the old debates (which I'm guessing from this thread, is a regular topic) by a long shot.

Comment author: gwern 02 August 2011 06:58:15PM *  11 points [-]

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

A common reaction; I was reading up on the hostile wife phenomenon for a mini-essay on cryonics, and the quote from Robin Hanson's wife was quite striking (https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/magazine/11cryonics-t.html):

“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”

(As one commentator on, I think, Katja Grace's blog said - what's so bad about you that you should die?)

Comment author: advancedatheist 03 August 2011 12:26:15AM *  11 points [-]

I found that article about Robin discouraging. He comes across to me as a geek version of Al Bundy, with 50 more IQ points, an academic job and a wife named Peggy who doesn't respect him. In fact, she holds her husband in so much contempt in the area of cryonics that it wouldn't surprise me if she has plans to cremate his body ASAP after his death to make sure he has no chance of "living forever."

Robin's marriage makes an interesting contrast with the marriage between Robert Ettinger and his second wife Mae. I got to meet Robert and Mae at cryonicist Don Laughlin's ranch near Kingman, AZ in 1994. Robert gave a talk about his history of cryonics activism and how he lacked the sort of personality to have made more of an impact on public opinion. "I'm not a fun guy," he said. Mae interrupted him by saying, "But I think you are!" I could detect genuine admiration for him in that exchange, and it seemed consistent with other things I've heard about the relationship between the two.

Comment author: gwern 03 August 2011 01:06:31AM 7 points [-]

In fact, she holds her husband in so much contempt in the area of cryonics that it wouldn't surprise me if she has plans to cremate his body ASAP after his death to make sure he has no chance of "living forever."

Well, that does seem in line with her comment about cremation - she gets the rest of his body.

Or did you mean she will frustrate the cryonic suspension and burn the brain as well? Well, that's different. I don't think that'll happen - the article reads as she's made her peace with it. So, I've registered a more general prediction: Robin Hanson’s brain will be cryogenically frozen. (The 2041 date comes from looking at an actuarial table for a 52 year old man and then adding a few years.)

Comment author: [deleted] 29 July 2011 02:22:14AM 12 points [-]

Not wanting MORE years of this shit was my main reason for not wanting to sign up for cryonics. I may be shifting my view on that, slowly.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 02:29:59AM *  5 points [-]

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement. Possibly, things would have changed so much that being nice to you wouldn't work (e.g., none of your friends are revived, your significant other was revived along with married partners of five or so permutations of physical sexual configurations and orientations, etc.

It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

Comment author: Raemon 29 July 2011 07:16:51AM 9 points [-]

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement.

That actually sounds pretty accurate.

It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

I actually end up having the opposite reaction. I LIKE my life. The life I'm living right now. If I die tomorrow, I will be upset in the moments leading up to it, not because I wanted to continue existing, but because I am emotionally entangled with the events occurring now.

What cryonics offers is not an extension of life in a way that I care about, but rather, knowledge of the future. I am very curious about the future, and have considered cryonics just so I could see how things turned out. But that curiosity is not infinite utility in the way most cryonics advocates consider immortality to be. And I'd rather use my life insurance policy to help bring about a good future than have a chance at seeing that future.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 28 July 2011 10:36:20PM *  12 points [-]

This is an important issue, a form of slavery that persists in present times without attracting comparable attention and condemnation, but bad as an explanation for low popularity of cryonics, since a sizeable fraction of population doesn't have this problem.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 02:24:34AM *  4 points [-]

a form of slavery

Eliezer has said something wise on exactly this point...somewhere. It is somewhat in contention with what you say here, or at least how you say it.

If your foundational principle that you program into in AI is that slavery is bad, taxes become impossible to collect.

So arguing against something by saying that it is qualitatively slavery is suspect, akin to arguing against food because it is qualitatively cyanide. An argument against apples should have to enumerate the quantity of cyanide in the pits and the lethal dose to humans.

I'd rather say current work conditions have specific negative qualities, or if the best way to bring them to mind is with "slavery", then be careful to say it is bad because it is too much slavery, rather than bad because it is slavery.

Edit: it was Yvain who said it here

Comment author: magfrump 29 July 2011 07:54:50AM 10 points [-]

While I agree that the discussion could better be furthered by tabooing slavery, I think there is a much stronger analogy here than there is between, say, slavery and paying taxes.

For example, in theory, taxes constitute a high level social agreement to pursue certain goals which benefit all people, executed by an entity that fairly represents the collective interest. (obviously in practice this is a bit different.) In a perfect world, I envision myself willingly paying taxes to a law-enforcing singleton. This seems decidedly unlike "slavery."

However most people's day to day jobs are:

  • Not chosen by them
  • Required for their economic well-being
  • Take up the vast majority of their time
  • Have no autonomy in the work
  • Basically all of the wealth they create is transferred to their employer

Slavery in the historic sense essentially had these characteristics, although in the sense of slavery in the historic USA it was often coupled with things like physical abuse and an intense loss of legal standing; and while desk jobs are harmful to one's health and the rich certainly have a different legal standing than the working poor I don't think that this makes for a good comparison.

Comment author: Incorrect 28 July 2011 10:44:57PM 2 points [-]

Unless lack of existential happiness is considered as a factor in determining public perception of immortality and cryonics. Existentially happy people then make decisions based on that public perception.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 July 2011 06:13:05PM 44 points [-]

This is a fantastically burdensome explanation for why people don't sign up for cryonics. Do people who do sign up for cryonics usually have happier lives? (Not that I've heard of.) Do the same people who turn down cryonics turn down other forms of medical care? (Not that I've heard of.) If we found that people signing up for cryonics were less happy on average, would we be able to construct an equally plausible-sounding symmetrical argument that people with happy, fulfilled lives see no need for a second one? (Yes.)

I hate to go into psychologizing, but I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration.

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

Asking them about cryonics gets their prerecorded verbal behaviors about "immortality" which bear no relation whatsoever to their feelings about whether or not life is fun.

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million? How could you possibly need any elaborate explanation of why they don't sign up for cryonics? Risk-aversion, loss-aversion, ambiguity-aversion, status quo bias.

Cryonics sounds strange and not-of-our-tribe and they don't see other people doing it, a feeling expressed in words as "weird". It's perceptually categorized as similar to religions or other scams they've heard about from the newspaper, based purely on surface features and without any reference to, or remediability by, the strength of the underlying logic; that's never checked. Mike Darwin thinks that if you have better preservation techniques, people will sign up in droves, because right now they're hearing about cryonics and rejecting it because the preservation techniques aren't good enough. This is obviously merely false, and the sort of thing which makes me think that Mike Darwin needs a grand narrative which tells him what to do to solve the problem, the way that Aubrey de Grey thinks that good enough rejuvenation results in mice will grandly solve deathism.

I recently got a phone call saying that, if I recall correctly, around a quarter - or maybe it was half - of all Alcor's cryonics signups this year, are originating from LW/Yudkowsky/rationality readers. If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques. Nothing else that cryonics advocates have tried, including TV ads, has ever actually worked. There's no simple reason people don't sign up, no grand narrative, nothing that makes sense of cryonicists' frustration, people are just crazy in rather simple and standard ways. The only grand narrative for beating that is "soon, your annual signups will equal 10% of the people who've gone through a rationality bootcamp plus 1% of the people who've read both Eliezer's nonfiction book and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality."

Comment author: Yvain 31 July 2011 08:30:31AM *  38 points [-]

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

I agree with almost all of what you say about no grand narrative and mostly just conformity, but I'm not willing to entirely dismiss this explanation as even a small part of the puzzle. It doesn't seem much different than the theories that poor people with few life prospects have higher temporal discount rates and are more likely to engage in risky/criminal behavior because they have less to protect. People aren't coherent enough to think "Well, stealing this watch has a small probability of landing me in prison, but my life now isn't so satisfying, so I suppose it's worth the risk, and I suppose it's worth risking a lot later for a small gain now since I currently have so little", but there's some inner process that gives more or less that result.

If even the few people who get past the weirdness factor flinch away from the thought of actually being alive more, I expect that would make a significant difference.

I'm going to try a test question that might differentiate between "cryonics sounds weird" and "I don't like life enough to want to live even more" on my blog. Obviously no one from here post on that since you already know where it's going.

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

Alternate hypotheses: your followers are mostly technophile singularitarians, and technophile singularitarians are attracted to cryonics independently of rationalist training. Your followers believe there may be a positive singularity, which means the future has a reason to be much better than the present and avoid the unpleasantness Darwin describes in the article. Your followers are part of maybe the one community on earth, outside the cryonics community itself, where the highest-status figures are signed up for cryonics and people are often asked to justify why they have not done so. Your followers are part of a community where signing up for cryonics signals community affiliation. Your followers have actually heard the arguments in favor of cryonics and seen intelligent people take them seriously, which is more than 99.9% of people can say.

Comment author: Yvain 01 August 2011 06:37:20AM 17 points [-]

Judging by the experiment with the secretly identical question, I seem to have been wrong. Everyone says they would jump at the chance to be reincarnated, so lack of desire to live longer apparently doesn't play as significant a role in cryonics refusal as I thought.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 12:51:25PM 5 points [-]

Your readers are still part of a contrarian cluster. (Hell, ciphergoth commented!) But I don't dispute the result.

Comment author: Maniakes 02 August 2011 12:49:44AM 8 points [-]

I answered yes to your hypothetical, but I am not currently signed up for cryonics and have no short- or medium-term plans to do so.

My reasons for the difference: 1. In your hypothetical, I've received a divine revelation that there's no afterlife, and that reincarnation would be successful. In real life, I have a low estimate of the likelihood of cryonics leading to a successful revival and a low-but-nonzero estimate of the likelihood of an afterlife.

  1. In your hypothetical, there's no advance cost for the reincarnation option. For cryonics, the advance cost is substantial. My demand curve for life span is downward-sloping with respect to cost.

  2. In your hypothetical, I'm on my deathbed. In real life, I'm 99.86% confident of living at least one more year and 50% confident of living at least another 50 years (based on Social Security life expectancy tables), before adjusting for my current health status and family history of longevity (both of which incline my life expectancy upwards relative to the tables), and before adjusting for expected technological improvements. This affects my decision concerning cryonics in two respects: a. Hyperbolic discounting. b. Declining marginal utility of lifespan. c. A substantial (in my estimation) chance that even without cryonics I'll live long enough to benefit from the discovery of medical improvements that will make me immortal barring accidents, substantially reducing the expected benefit from cryonics.

  3. In your hypothetical, I'm presented with a choice and it's an equal effort to pick either one. To sign up for cryonics, I'd need to overcome substantial mental activation costs to research options and sign up for a plan. My instinct is to procrastinate.

Of course, none of this invalidates your hypothetical as a test of the hypothesis that people don't sign up for cryonics because they don't actually want to live longer.

Comment author: ciphergoth 01 August 2011 06:20:01AM 6 points [-]

I signed up as a result of reading Eliezer's writings. I don't think the first two points of your "alternate hypotheses" are really alternatives for me, since I only fall into either of those camps as a result of reading Eliezer.

Comment author: gjm 31 July 2011 10:54:36PM 2 points [-]

on my blog

I was about to comment there saying "I think I know what this is about, and if so he definitely means a younger healthy body rather than an 80-year-old one on the point of death" -- but I thought I'd check here, and I'll respect your preference for no cross-contamination. You might want to do that bit of disambiguation yourself.

Your LJ readers are probably not an entirely representative sample of people who aren't signed up for cryonics, though perhaps they are of {people who aren't signed up for cryonics but might be persuaded}.

Comment author: lessdazed 31 July 2011 02:17:09AM 15 points [-]

Cryonics sounds strange and not-of-our-tribe and they don't see other people doing it, a feeling expressed in words as "weird". It's perceptually categorized as similar to religions or other scams they've heard about from the newspaper, based purely on surface features and without any reference to, or remediability by, the strength of the underlying logic; that's never checked

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

The implication of the latter quote is that the sanity techniques are being applied, and cryonics is being signed up for largely because of its merits.

I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly.

I have a testable prediction that can partially parse out at least one factor. One disproportionately powerful influence on human beings in addition to (and mutually reinforcing) group think/behavior is accepting authority. (It is true that what others do is valid evidence for the validity of what they are doing, and is greater evidence the more the other(s) resemble(s) (an) optimal reasoning system(s) and is/are informed,)

I predict that if/as it becomes better known that Eliezer Yudkowsky signed up with the Cryonics Institute and not Alcor, the ratio of people signing up with Alcor and citing LW/HPATMOR to the people signing up with the Cryonics Institute and citing LW/HPATMOR will decrease.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 31 July 2011 08:18:57AM 5 points [-]

"I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly."

Very much so. People don't actually believe in the future.

Comment author: advancedatheist 31 July 2011 04:16:44PM *  7 points [-]

People don't actually believe in the future.

Unfortunately that has an element of truth in it. Cryonics now has a reputation has a paleo-future fad from the 1960's, along with visions of space colonization, the postindustrial leisure society and the like. Many of the articles about Robert Ettinger's recent suspension present that as a subtext in describing his career. For example. the Washington Post obit says:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/from-phyics-teacher-to-founder-of-the-cryonics-movement/2011/07/24/gIQAupuIXI_story.html

Most scientists also scoffed at Mr. Ettinger’s vision, but his manifesto came as the world was adjusting to the atomic bomb, Sputnik’s robotic spacecraft and a host of other sci-fi-seeming technologies. To many at the time, Mr. Ettinger’s optimism seemed appropriate.

With the implication that in our disillusioned era, Ettinger sounds like a crank and a fool.

Comment author: soreff 31 July 2011 05:31:21PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure that the intent was quite that harsh. "a crank and a fool" wasn't in the original obit. To view Ettinger's optimism as more in keeping with the zeitgeist of the 1960s than of the 2010s does not seem wholly unreasonable. Just in stark economic terms, U.S. real median household income peaked back in 1999. The median person in the U.S. has lost quite a lot over the last decade: income, security, access to health care, perhaps social status (as Vlaimir_M pointed out). It isn't unreasonable of them to disbelieve in an improving future.

Comment author: lsparrish 01 August 2011 01:34:40AM 13 points [-]

I've been really impressed by the focused cross-pollination between transhumanism and rationality that I see at LW. I am not sure I would agree that increased individual rationality is the direct cause of increased cryonics signups because there are other explanations which seem more likely. As others have noted, this is a rare community where it is not weird, and is highly esteemed, to be signed up for cryonics.

And since humans are (at least in many situations) motivated by social factors more than abstract rational considerations, I expect the social factors to have more explanatory weight. That isn't to say cryonics is not more rational than the alternative of no cryonics! More like this community is one that tries (i.e. individuals are rewarded for trying) to build its standards on rationality, and reject standards which aren't, and cryonics is able to survive that process. If there were something grossly irrational or unethical about cryonics (as is commonly contended), it would not be able to survive very easily in the memesphere of lesswrong.

But this brings us back to the concept of "advanced" rationality. If you can a) keep your community continually pruned of bad ideas by shooting them down with the strongest logic available (and rewarding this behavior when it crops up), and b) let that community's norms dominate your decisions when they are strongly rationally grounded, the outcome is that you will be a more rational person in terms of decisions made. This is not less valid from the perspective of "rationality = winning" than divorcing yourself from social impulses and expending loads of willpower to contradict the norm.

Comment author: shokwave 01 August 2011 01:48:35AM 3 points [-]

This is not less valid from the perspective of "rationality = winning" than divorcing yourself from social impulses and expending loads of willpower to contradict the norm.

It's more valid! It's why we have meet-ups, it's why SingInst runs rationality camps that are highly desired and applied for!

(Yes, I agree with you)

Comment author: paper-machine 31 July 2011 04:32:58AM *  13 points [-]

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

With all due respect, where's the evidence that reading LW/HPMOR trains people in advanced sanity techniques?

It seems reasonably plausible that, for example, Harry's argument with Dumbledore primes people toward "death is bad". If they hang around long enough and read what LW has to say about cryonics, that priming tends some fraction of those people toward subscribing to cryonics, without them learning anything about e.g. Bayes' law.

But I don't know, I don't know the numbers. What's the readership of HPMOR versus Alcor's 2011 signups?

Comment author: Prismattic 31 July 2011 04:05:58AM 11 points [-]

It sometimes seems to me that many Lesswrongers seriously underestimate the degree to which they need to first persuade the skeptical to adopt transhumanism/singulatarianism more generally before cryonics is actually going to appear rational to them.

Revival from cryonics that involved growing a new biological body using the original DNA would have the broadest appeal, but accepting this conception of cryonics requires convincing people either a)that we are going to solve our topsoil and other issues that would actually allow us to feed the exploding biological population that would result from mass use of cryonics or b)people should stop having children, neither of which people are likely to accept unless they're already inclined to singulatarianism (for a) or transhumanism (for b).

Revival from cryonics with a cybernetic body is going to seem less appealing to most people unless they've already been convinced that a number of things that are currently inherent in being human are not actually essential to their identity. Revival as an emulation faces the same problem to a vastly greater degree.

TL;DR version – Not accepting transhumanism might be irrational. Not accepting cryonics given that one is not already a transhumanist – not irrational. Lesswrongers should plan their outreach accordingly.

Comment author: komponisto 31 July 2011 04:31:38PM 8 points [-]

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million?

Wow. I don't think I'd heard that one.

Comment author: Tesseract 31 July 2011 07:49:54PM 11 points [-]

I was very surprised to see that too, to the point of questioning whether the result was real, but apparently it is. (The particular result is on page 10 — and possibly elsewhere, I haven't read it through yet.)

Comment author: roystgnr 06 August 2011 03:17:39PM 5 points [-]

Let's be fair: that study was measuring the fraction of people that say they'd take an imaginary $500 over an imaginary 15% chance at an imaginary $1 million.

I doubt that most respondents were deliberately messing with the survey results, but I do think that people may use different decision-making resources for amusing hypotheticals vs. for the real world. E.g. the percentage of people getting the Wason Selection Task correct can jump from under 10% to over 70% when you change the task context from more abstract to more concrete. I suspect that for lots of people imaginary money counts as too abstract.

Comment author: HughRistik 31 July 2011 11:48:13PM 5 points [-]

I guess some folks could really use $500.

Comment author: gwern 01 August 2011 01:08:16AM 9 points [-]

Assuming you weren't joking, that doesn't seem likely. The PDF Tesseract linked is about surveying college students, primarily, from elite institutions like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, or CMU. They are people one would especially expect to be making the expected value calculation and going with that.

Comment author: HughRistik 01 August 2011 01:18:35AM 5 points [-]

In that case, let's say I was joking ;)

Comment author: gwern 05 August 2011 02:06:23AM *  6 points [-]

Another painful statistic I ran into during some terrorism research: in investigating US Army personnel choosing between large lump sums and pensions ($25,000-$50,000 range): pg 48 of http://www.rau.ro/intranet/Aer/2001/9101/91010033.pdf

Enlisted personnel who were planning on leaving had a nominal discount rate of 57.2%.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 30 July 2011 07:52:38PM 27 points [-]

I recently got a phone call saying that, if I recall correctly, around a quarter - or maybe it was half - of all Alcor's cryonics signups this year, are originating from LW/Yudkowsky/rationality readers. If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

Your conclusion doesn't follow from your premise. Moreover I don't know what you mean by "advanced sanity techniques." I agree that you've probably increased to number of cryonics signups substantially but I doubt that increased rationality has played a significant role.

Comment author: mikedarwin 31 July 2011 05:20:26AM *  40 points [-]

Rationality Bootcamp and Advanced Sanity Techniques? The first things sane and rational people do, are to exercise due diligence in gathering the facts before they make crazy and unfounded public statements such as:

1) "I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration." and

2) "Mike Darwin thinks that if you have better preservation techniques, people will sign up in droves, because right now they're hearing about cryonics and rejecting it because the preservation techniques aren't good enough."

Really? Not only don't I believe those things to be true, I've never said that they were. Au contraire, the only grand narrative of why people haven't embraced cryonics in droves is a very complicated one which, onto 40 years later, I'm still learning about and struggling to fully understand. In 1981 I wrote an article (with Steve Bridge) entitled "The Bricks in the Wall" about the many reasons why people find it difficult to embrace cryonics: http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8111.txt. If I recall correctly, there were at least a dozen reasons given in that essay, including things like loss of others, loss of self, lack of technical confidence, incompatible worldview, high social cost, fear of temporal displacement... Since that article was written, I've learned of many more reasons why people reject cryonics and why they don't decide to opt for it - which, as it turns out, can be two very different things.

Ironically, much of my career in cryonics has been spent arguing against "the big idea," "the grand solution," "the magic bullet," or "the single rich individual who will provide the solution to the problem of why cryonics has fared so poorly." There is no single reason, unless you want to consider the myriad individual reasons, in aggregate, as a single cause of the failure. If you insist on that approach, then the best you will do (and you could do far worse) is to note that by any normal market standards, cryonics is a shitty product. It costs a lot, it is unproven, there are many commonplace reasons to believe that existing institutional structures have a poor chance of surviving long enough for the patients to be recovered, it has been plagued by legitimate scandals and failures and the constraints imposed by the existing medico-legal infrastructure mean that, statistically, you've got a ~30% chance of being autopsied, or otherwise so badly degraded that whoever it is that is recovered from the procedure isn't very likely to be you (e.g., presumably if your DNA is intact a clone could be made). So cryonics doesn't stack up very well as a normal market product.

Having said that, if you want to 'sell' cryonics as part of brainwashing package, or a religion, I'd be the first to say that it can probably done. It has been my observation that you can get people to do almost anything if you rob them of their will, and subvert their reason. For myself, I don't think that's a good idea.

As to the issue of improved preservation techniques causing people to sign up in droves, surely you jest? Any improvement in cryopreservation techniques short of fully reversible suspended animation will 'only' have an incremental effect. So for example, if organ cryopreservation for the kidney were achieved tomorrow, and organ banks for kidneys opened their doors 6 months later, I would indeed expect to see an increase in people opting for cryonics, but not a stampede.

Historically, the same was true of the introduction into cryonics of credible ideas for repairing cryoinjury and of scientific documentation that brain ultrastructure was surviving cryopreservation (under ideal conditions) reasonably well. Both of those advances widened the appeal of cryonics to a very small group of people. Nevertheless, they were significant, because if you have 40 members, and such advances give you 240, or a 1,040 - then that's a huge benefit.

Finally, if reversible whole body suspended animation were developed tomorrow, the vast majority of people would still not opt for it. In fact, they more or less never would. What would have to happen first is that a relatively small cohort of the population who command respect, authority and power, would have to decide that it is in their interest to have suspended animation become a commonplace medical treatment. By this, I do not mean to imply some focused or intelligent cabal, or group of conspirators, but rather that all kinds of empowered people in many walks of life must be persuaded before the society at large will embrace cryonics. In other words, it will be a process and probably a complex one, before Mrs. Smith sits in her doctor's office and is either offered, or asks about, suspended animation as a possible alternative to her ending up dead from her advanced ovarian cancer.

In my opinion there are no magic bullets. Rather, there are just a lot bricks in a large wall of opposition that have to be patiently worried away, one, or a few at a time. It's all too easy to see TV coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down and say, "Jeeze, look how quick and easy that was!" Not. The back-story needs to be considered and in the case of cryonics that back-story has been unfolding for nearly fifty years - and there are still less than 2K people signed up worldwide.

Finally, it is indeed a cruel and unpleasant reality that life isn't very rewarding for many people, and that it all but completely lacks the zest, joy and wonderful sense of adventure that can be seen in the eyes of any well cared for child. The biology of maturation and aging do much to drain away that sense of wonder and appetite for life. But it is much more likely the case that the way we lead our lives is the primary culprit. I recommend watching multiple episodes of a TV program called "Undercover Boss." Just watch what people who work in factories, in offices, in laundries and in loo cleaning businesses do all day. It is horrible. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the situation we DEMAND that children be in. Indeed, one of the most repellant things to people in the West is "child labor." Well, if the normal workaday work is so horrible for children, what makes it good for adults? And if we propose to live for millennia, and longer, then don't we, by definition, have to be as children: open, mobile, playful and exploring in our interaction with the world? I have done all kinds of jobs, from working at Mc Donald's (2 years) to cleaning loos and dirty motel rooms. Work is a good and character building thing. But it can also be a corrosive and soul destroying thing that robs people of any strong desire to fight for life. Methinks that perhaps you need to work at McDonald's dressing hamburger buns for a year or two.

Comment author: brazil84 04 August 2011 09:41:18PM 11 points [-]

I think this is a good point, but perhaps followers of Lesswrong are signing up for cryonics for basically the same reason ordinary people are not. i.e. it's what high status members of their group do.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 31 July 2011 12:25:30AM 3 points [-]

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon. He presents the most impassioned cryonics arguments I have seen. In particular the AIDS activism post is something I could recommend to anybody including die-hard cryonics haters.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

To me the reason conventional wisdom treats cryonics with disdain may be summed up in two cultural memes: 1.) Walt Disney's frozen head and 2.) Ted Williams's frozen head. The disdain is like a fashion consensus. I doubt we will live long enough to ever see any public figure's pro publicity people endorsing a pro-cryonics stance.

Thank you very much for posting this here!

Comment author: mikedarwin 31 July 2011 09:28:13AM *  35 points [-]

The reason I haven’t posted here before is that I’ve had no burning reason to, and I’m busy.

While there are many discrete reasons why cryonics hasn’t been (more) successful, the single biggest reason is the most obvious one; it has not been demonstrably shown to work. If suspended animation were a demonstrated reality tomorrow, and it was affordable (i.e., not like spaceflight, which is demonstrably workable, but not yet affordable) then the tide would be turned. Even then, it is unlikely there would be any kind of flash-stampede to the freezers.

A schoolmate and friend of mine just died a few weeks ago of pulmonary fibrosis. He was an ideal candidate for a lung transplant. But, he couldn’t afford it, so he just laid there and died. Thousands of people who need transplants die each year, even though it is a proven modality of treatment that is yielding a significant number of quality years of life. But, it is costly, there aren’t enough donors, and here’s the really remarkable thing, the vast majority of people who could benefit from a transplant are never even candidates.

Consider Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway: http://www.rickross.com/reference/amway/amway24.html. In 1983 DeVos, suffering from coronary artery disease, had bypass surgery. In 1992 DeVos had another bypass surgery, and by 1995 it was clear he had end stage congestive heart failure (CHF). How many people have you known or heard about who fit that description, and subsequently go on to die a perfectly pedestrian death; at home or in the ICU? Such deaths are so routine no one gives them a second thought.

And it’s for damn sure that no one gives them a second thought when the patient is a 71 year old man! However, if you are absolutely fixated on staying alive, and your net worth is well in excess of 2 billion 1997 dollars, well, the rules of the game are different for you. DeVos got his heart in London, and the Amway corporate jet flew him there from Grand Rapids, MI. That was in 1997, and as far as I know, DeVos is still alive. There are countless ~71 year old men in the US, and elsewhere in the Developed World, dying of CHF right now. In those cases, the word "transplant" is neither uttered nor heard – even though it is very much a reality that if you have the money, the persistence and the luck – a heart transplant offers the prospect of another 5 years of reasonably good quality life, on average.

I worked in hospital, mostly in critical care medicine, for 7 years. The overwhelming majority of patients are passive – they do what their physicians advise and if they do have alternative ideas, they are usually easily dissuaded from pursuing them. And, truth to tell, most of the “alternative ideas” patients have are bad ones, including Steve Jobs. But, if you are smart, lucky and rich – and you come to your senses, as Jobs did, it can be whole other ball game. Jobs suffered recurrent pancreatic cancer (islet cell neuroendocrine tumor) after a Whipple procedure in 2004. That is just about as close as you can get to a death sentence, since the usual location of the met(s) is the liver. It is current medical consensus that liver transplantation in patients with recurrent pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver is contraindicated. In fact, I know a couple of transplant surgeons who call such a procedure a murderous waste of a liver, and a life! However, Jobs got a liver transplant in 2009. I strongly suspect that he has very recently received additional cutting edge treatment not widely available.

Cryopreservation/cryonics is likely to creep in on little cat’s feet – with a big jump or two along the way. Cryobanking of parenchymatous organs will probably be one jump, reversible cryopreservation of the brain another, and finally, whole body suspended animation. But it behooves us to beware that lots and lots of people are “calmly” accepting their fates today, who could in fact be ‘rescued’ by already extant medical technology - but for the knowledge, the money and the will. And THAT is what is NOT likely to change. To a surprising degree, people stay alive because it has been made very easy for them to do so. Make it difficult, and you start to see people dropping away.

Cryonics demands a very high passion for and commitment to staying alive, not just because it is currently such a lousy product, but because, to be really credible, it DEMANDS ACTION to improve the odds of its success. Most people are not activists, and what's more, most people will refuse a chance at more life when you take away the superficial things that they mistake for their person-hood, or identity. And cryonics proposes to do exactly that. There is historical precedent for this. In his incredibly insightful book, MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING, Viktor Frankl noted that the people in the Nazi concentration camps fell into two groups. The first group consisted of the majority of those interned there, and they were people who defined themselves in terms of their social milieu: if you asked them who they were, they would say, "I am a doctor, a lawyer, a mother..." The second group consisted of a small minority of people who thought of themselves as existing completely independent of any label, any role, or any relationship they had with others, or with society.

When you entered a concentration camp, they took away you clothes, your profession, your family and even your name. For most people, that was the equivalent of taking away their very identity, and thus their will to live. As Frankel observed, it was mostly only the people in second, much smaller group, that survived.

It is from that tiny minority in the population as a whole, that cryonics draws it adherents. They are people who want to live, regardless, and who do not define their sense of self on the basis of their jobs, their social interactions, or really, on anything other than a raw, visceral passion to survive. Some find that absolutely terrifying.

Comment author: Cog 03 August 2011 02:24:05AM 4 points [-]

Could you clarify this notion of a group of people who exist independently of labels? Perhaps a name that Frankl used to classify them? I have found nothing online about it.

This jives relatively well with one way I classify people. I imagine what would happen if I were to suddenly take them out of their life and drop them in a city across the country without friends or family and less than a grand on their person. I think most people I know would find it incredibly taxing. A relative minority would simply take in their surroundings and start building again.

Comment author: mikedarwin 03 August 2011 05:36:33AM 9 points [-]

Frankl didn't provide a nomenclature. His book was useful to me because it alerted me to what I was (and am), and also offered a reasonable explanation of the nature of so many of the people I found myself involved with in cryonics. Frankl observed that those people who lived independently, not just independently of the labels others put on them, but also of their roles and purpose (internal as well as external) in their social world, had in common a certainty of purpose and meaningfulness in their lives. For Frankl, those things were god and love - principally love for his wife. But this was clearly not the case for many others who survived. Their purpose might best be described as an imperative to always live and grow, and to gain knowledge and experience. A purpose that was rooted in the very nature of their being, or in their experience of reality. For whatever reason, these people understood that there is no universe without me, and that because I know from experience that life can be good, I must continue and pursue more of it. Frankl was not thrilled about this cohort, and he famously remarked, "The best of us did not survive." Frankl has little to say to me beyond the message that such people exist, that an unshakeable sense of purpose and joy in living is essential to indefinite survival, and that people who draw their purpose and identity from what they do, where they fit into their family or society, or on the basis of their rank or achievements, quickly die when these things are taken away from them. I think that's quite a lot for being so little of what he otherwise has to say in the book.

Comment author: gwern 31 July 2011 12:58:29AM *  9 points [-]

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon.

I'm glad to hear that; that was one of the goals - to introduce LW to Darwin a bit.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

LW is a very recent thing. Darwin got involved in cryonics in, like, the 1960s. It's not surprising if, as he began polishing and dumping online what sometimes feels like decades of material, he didn't do so on some popular new transhumanist website; so there may be nothing there to explain. If there was, it may be that Darwin differs philosophically from LW in general (certainly Yudkowsky has vociferously criticized the excerpted post).

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 31 July 2011 04:03:23PM 3 points [-]

& then I found this on Darwin's site:

google ngram research on cryonics

Specifically he has a graph of "cryonics" (the word) citations in all periodicals scanned by google up to February 2011 versus time and it appears the most talked about item in the history of cryonics, ever, may well be Ted Williams's frozen head. He has a photograph of Williams in his article.

(& also I had never heard of this google ngram thing before and it looks remarkable.)

Comment author: lurking_physicist 30 July 2011 01:55:21PM 6 points [-]

If humankind survives long enough for upload/immortality to become possible, then the living people of that time, or the recently dead, will do equally or better for the task than long frozen corpses. Yes the technology may quickly develop and be able to upload frozen brains, but it is not required.

I do not agree with calculations linearly summing the worth of immortal beings. My guess is that the return will quickly saturates: once you have a being that is willing and capable to improves itself, no more uploads are required. The immortal being can acquire diversity in other ways, and may create diversity too (you don't need a human body to do that). The amount of redundancy in two humans is incredibly high compared to the possibilities in being-space.

Would it have no cost to me and humankind, I would sign up. But given the resources required, I don't think anyone should do it (in the same way that I don't think anyone should drive a Hummer in a city).

I deem that I have other means of becoming "immortal" that are more efficient (yes, including "having kids and transferring them part of my values/knowledge"). My take is that intelligent people should spend their energy trying to convince the population to minimize existential risks, not to sign up for cryonics.

Comment author: lsparrish 30 July 2011 05:25:55PM 5 points [-]

Would it have no cost to me and humankind, I would sign up. But given the resources required, I don't think anyone should do it (in the same way that I don't think anyone should drive a Hummer in a city).

Would it change your mind if the resource cost per person goes down the more people do it? That is something that is not true of people driving a Hummer -- or burial in a graveyard for that matter.

Comment author: lurking_physicist 31 July 2011 01:33:32AM 2 points [-]

Yes, if large economy of scales changes the situation before I die, I may change my mind.

Here are some points that may help identify the source of the disagreement.

  1. For a given amount of resources, the benefits of cryonics have (among other things) to be compared to the benefits of increasing the probability to reach the technological level enabling the upload (i.e. before extinction of the specie).

  2. The utility of uploading 10^10 people is not 10 times greater than the one of uploading 10^9 people.

  3. If part of a transhuman being to which I have not been uploaded happens to turn out as I would have myself, then I am already there.

Comment author: Nisan 29 July 2011 09:02:20AM 2 points [-]

Mitchell Porter wrote something with a similar message.

Comment author: christina 29 July 2011 04:38:30AM 2 points [-]

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present. I am unconvinced that people being dissatisfied with their current lives is a significant reason for rejecting this procedure. Then again, it might take more evidence to convince me simply because even when I am dissatisfied with my current life, I still think life is far too short. I am more interested in methods of life extension that have more research behind them (alas, so little seems to be known at present). There are lots of unproven methods of life extension, so I'd greatly prefer to invest in something more proven. Perhaps in the future cryonics will have more of a scientific basis. Until then, I'd be more interested in donating to general life extension research than paying for cryonics specifically.

Comment author: nshepperd 29 July 2011 07:59:00AM 7 points [-]

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present.

Effectively unknown more than effectively zero. The latter makes it sound like you're expecting revivals to have already happened to demonstrate that it works. Or that you have some other positive information that allows you to conclude that people cryopreserved today will never be revived.

Comment author: player_03 30 July 2011 07:46:04AM *  6 points [-]

Until then, I'd be more interested in donating to general life extension research than paying for cryonics specifically.

This is very similar to my primary objection to cryonics.

I realize that, all factors considered, the expected utility you'd get from signing up for cryonics is extremely, if not infinitely, large. In any case, it's certainly large enough to be worth the price.

However, it seems to me that there are better alternatives. Sure, paying for cryonics increases your chances of an unlimited life by many orders of magnitude. On the other hand, funding longevity research makes it more likely that we will ever overcome aging and disease. Unlimited life for most or all of the future human population is far more important than unlimited life for yourself, right? (One might object that life extension research is already on its way to accomplishing this regardless of your contributions, which brings me to my next point.)

If an existential risk comes to pass, then no one will have a chance at an unlimited life. All of the time and money spent on cryonics will go to waste, and life extension research will have been (mostly) squandered. Preventing this sort of risk is therefore far more important than preserving any one person, even if that person is you. To make matters worse, there are multiple existential risks that have a significant chance of happening, so the need for extra attention and donations is much greater than the need for extra longevity research.

To summarize: Cryonics gives you alone a significant chance of gaining unlimited life. Working to prevent existential risk gives billions of people a slightly increased chance of the same.

It seems to me we shouldn't be spending money on freezing ourselves just in case a singularity (or equivalent scientific progress) happens. Instead, we should focus on increasing the chances that it will happen at all. To do anything else would be selfish.


Ok, time to take a step back and look at some reasons I might be wrong.

First, and perhaps most obviously, people are not inclined to donate all their money to any cause, no matter how important. I freely admit that I will probably donate only a small fraction of my earnings, despite the arguments I made in this post. Plus, it's possible (likely?) that people would be more inclined to spend money on cryonics than on existential risk reduction, because cryonics benefits them directly. If someone is going to spend money selfishly, I suppose cryonics is the most beneficial way to do so.

Second, there's a chance I misestimated the probabilities involved, and in fact your money would be best spent on cryonics. If the Cryonics Institute webpage is to be believed, the cheapest option costs $28,000, which is generally covered by insurance, costing you $120 per year (this option also requires a one-time payment of $1,250). Unfortunately, I have no idea how much $1,250 plus $120 per year would help if donated to SIAI or another such organization. Cryonics certainly give a huge expected reward, and I'm just guessing at the expected reward for donating.

Comment author: mikedarwin 04 August 2011 10:14:04AM 5 points [-]

I'm not sure if this comment will stand for long here, because the questions I'm about to ask are probably mostly of interest just to me.

Christina, wen you say you'd be more interested in funding "life extension research,"(LER), I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically? What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan? When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost? How long do you think it is likely that advances in LER will be able to extend your lifespan - including as incremental bridges to increasingly better technologies? Finally, how much of your income are you currently contributing to LER, and if I could ask, to what kinds of LER are you contributing money?

Many thanks. I'm really quite interested in the answers to these questions.

As an aside, I'd be fascinated to conduct a comprehensive survey of lesswrong members to establish the demographics not just with respect to cryonics and LE, but across the board, and in a robust way.

Comment author: shokwave 04 August 2011 11:20:04AM *  4 points [-]

Most of LessWrong would be fascinated too, I daresay! We've had a few attempts at surveys previously; nothing extremely rigorous and (as far as I recall) usually only focused on already-outstanding features - so we might be missing an opportunity to discover surprising regularities in our makeup.

Comment author: mikedarwin 04 August 2011 11:58:07PM 7 points [-]

I can't speak to your situation, per se. I can only tell you that in my experience (managing and marketing in both the for-profit and NPO sectors), comprehensive demographic information was very valuable. Since I don't know the agenda of LessWrong in detail, I can't say if, for instance, knowing the income distribution and the markers for charitable giving amongst LessWrongers would be of use. These typesof data help you to define the kinds of projects you can reasonably hope to fund, and thus reasonably hope to market to your demographic. Markers for giving were very reliable in my experience - today, given the economy, I don't know.

Beyond money, a well constructed survey will almost invariably reveal all kinds of insights, not just about your members, customers or readers, but about your own operation - how it is perceived, what people like but aren't getting, and sometimes, insights into your own psychology and approach that you didn't previously have. The key words here are "well designed," because it is surprisingly hard to do a comprehensive survey and get most of the questions you that you want answered, answered. And to avoid bias in the way the questions are phrased, or even in the order in which they appear in your survey. While I can't prove it, I think it likely that intelligent use of survey information, gathered in the 1980s, was in part responsible for the brief period when Alcor membership growth was nearly exponential. While such data will never do that for you absent many other things being done "right," they can, IMHO, amplify the effect of good management and marketing.

Comment author: christina 08 August 2011 01:56:28AM 2 points [-]

I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically?

My vision of life extension is something that allows maximum and average lifespan to increase significantly. The most effective way to do this would be to cure aging. Also I think drastically increasing the effectiveness for heart disease, cancer treatments, and Alzheimer's will be important (although these might also be significantly decreased by any treatment that reverses the aging process itself). I think the mechanism that will eventually drastically increase human lifespan should ultimately be some sort of nanotechnology that can repair damage to the cells. I think Aubrey de Grey may have some good ideas on what to repair from what I've read about his work (Mostly what I know about his research is in the Ending Aging book he wrote with Michael Rae, and from various internet articles).

What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan?

I don't think that any current technologies are likely to help for anything except possibly modestly increasing my lifespan by perhaps a couple decades at best. On the other hand, given the rate at which medicine is advancing, I feel some optimism that this could increase in my lifetime. I continue to watch advances in this area with great interest.

When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost?

I don't really know, but I hope that there will be something I can take advantage of in my lifetime. Since I am very risk averse, I prefer to invest in medical interventions that are better understood. I prefer to avoid ones that are poorly understood, given that they could make my situation worse instead of better (by definition, if they don't work, they have made my situation worse since they have drained some amount of time and resources from me.) On the other hand, I am open to the idea of putting some money into making poorly understood treatments into better understood ones.

How long do you think it is likely that advances in LER will be able to extend your lifespan - including as incremental bridges to increasingly better technologies?

I do not know enough to guess, but if I had to pick a number that looked likely, I'd say to 150. At this point, I don't know what type of technology would give me that option, just that something probably will. If I'm lucky, this will be a large underestimate.

Finally, how much of your income are you currently contributing to LER, and if I could ask, to what kinds of LER are you contributing money?

Currently less than 1% (I was not in the habit of donating money to any cause at all for most of my life, but in recent years I have started working on changing this). For life extension research, I have been contributing money here.

Incidentally, the message board Help seems to have disappeared for me (can't find it under the comment box anymore), so I wasn't able to markup your questions.

Comment author: lukstafi 29 July 2011 09:23:37AM *  3 points [-]

Got me wondering about a charity that signs up important (mostly in the sense of being interesting) people for cryonics: the charity would work on convincing them and covering the cost.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 August 2011 04:39:03PM *  3 points [-]

Many important people have been offered no-cost cryopreservation and rejected it, the most relevant of which is the sci-fi author who had written books about cryopreservation.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 14 August 2011 09:09:06PM 2 points [-]

For the record, he believed in reincarnation, and probably not in the sense of Belief in Belief.