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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Cryonics

6 Post author: bekkerd 09 May 2012 03:17PM


What are your thoughts on cryogenic preservation and the idea of medically treating aging?

His response:

A marvelous way to just convince people to give you money. Offer to freeze them for later. I'd have more confidence if we had previously managed to pull this off with other mammals. Until then I see it as a waste of money. I'd rather enjoy the money, and then be buried, offering my body back to the flora and fauna of which I have dined my whole life.


Comments (106)

Comment author: komponisto 09 May 2012 05:44:29PM *  24 points [-]

The view of cryonics Tyson expresses here is, unfortunately, just the standard high-status-scientist conventional wisdom at the moment.

On the other hand, this is interesting:

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment scientifically? In life as a whole?

Made a prediction some years ago that there were 10x as many galaxies in the universe than had then been catalogued. based on a careful review of observation bias in how people obtained data on the universe. The actual number turned out to be about 5x as many galaxies. I got the wrong answer but for the right reasons, and it stimulated much further work on the subject.

In other words, he considers his greatest scientific achievement to be an improved estimate for a particular quantity, based on an analysis of biases in other people's data. That's rather...LWish.

Comment author: XFrequentist 09 May 2012 07:54:41PM 12 points [-]

(Nitpick: Cryogenics is the study of producing near absolute zero temperatures. You mean "cryonics".)

Comment author: bekkerd 10 May 2012 12:06:11PM 2 points [-]

Thank you. Title updated.

Comment author: James_Miller 09 May 2012 04:25:44PM 23 points [-]

A marvelous way to just convince people to give you money.

  1. The best way to convince people to give you money is to offer them something of exceptionally high value.

  2. It's perverse logic to imply that a service has lower value because people are willing to pay for the service.

  3. Tragically, the extremely small number of people who have signed up for cryonics proves it's not a "marvelous way" to "convince people to give you money."

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 May 2012 04:58:20PM *  14 points [-]

I think the fixed version of the statement is that the persuasiveness-to-actual-value ratio is high, so even if persuasiveness is low, that just translates to the actual value being lower still.

Comment author: gwern 09 May 2012 04:56:51PM 18 points [-]

I'd rather enjoy the money, and then be buried, offering my body back to the flora and fauna of which I have dined my whole life.

That's a lovely bit of rhetoric to appeal to the Greens. (I say rhetoric because if you are cremated, there's nothing to offer back, and if you are buried, you are usually embalmed and now 'the flora and fauna' will be poisoned if they try to take your offer anytime soon.) I wish I could manage that trick.

Comment author: AstraSequi 14 May 2012 05:20:32AM 2 points [-]

now 'the flora and fauna' will be poisoned if they try to take your offer anytime soon.

All the biological material will be cycled back into the ecosystem, most of it quite soon - even despite the presence of toxins (formaldehyde-eating bacteria, etc). His statement is correct in the sense that if you are cryopreserved, the net amount of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc in the biosphere will be slightly lower than it otherwise would have been.

Not attacking your position, just pointing that out.

Comment author: LordSnow 09 May 2012 05:29:39PM 7 points [-]

"I'd have more confidence if we had previously managed to pull this off with other mammals."

Some mammals are pretty good at doing it themselves... http://users.iab.uaf.edu/~brian_barnes/publications/1989barnes.pdf

Comment author: benbest 10 May 2012 03:40:26PM 6 points [-]

You could say that billions of dollars spent on cancer research is a huge waste of money because curing cancer has not been proven to work in small mammals. There is no proof that cancer can be cured. I am not being entirely sarcastic about this, but I would give a higher probability for success to most of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence to achieve rejuvenation. Knowledge of the forms of damage that result in aging is the first step toward repairing that damage. With cryonics the problem is similar: there is damage to be repaired, and it is not unreasonable to believe that in 50 or 100 years the molecular repair technology will be available. It would be foolish to believe that humans will never be able to live on Mars until you see humans living on Mars. The ability to extrapolate from present technology to future technology requires more sophistication than simplistic empiricism.

Comment author: kalla724 11 May 2012 10:07:10PM 9 points [-]

If what you say were true - we "never cured cancer in small mammals" - then yes, the conclusion that cancer research is bullshit would have some merit.

But since we did cure a variety of cancers in small mammals, and since we are constantly (if slowly) improving both length of survival and cure rates in humans, the comparison does not stand.

(Also: the integration unit of human mind is not the synapse; it is an active zone, a molecular raft within a synapse. My personal view, as a molecular biophysicist turned neuroscientist, is that freezing damage is not fixable from basic principles (molecular drift over a few years is sufficient to prevent it completely). In my mind, the probability that some magical "damage repair" technique will be developed is within the same order of magnitude with probability that Rapture will occur. Cryonics is important primarily in the sense that it provides impetus for further research; but a radically different method of preservation is required before possibility of revivification reaches any reasonable level.)

Comment author: amcknight 13 May 2012 09:09:25PM 1 point [-]

I'm not quite sure what you mean by molecular raft, but do you think you need to record properties of molecular rafts or just properties of the population of molecular rafts in the neuron? (e.g. amount of each type)

Comment author: kalla724 13 May 2012 10:04:11PM 3 points [-]

Perhaps a better definition would help: I'm thinking about active zones within a synapse. You may have one "synapse" which has two or more active zones of differing sizes (the classic model, Drosophila NMJ, has many active zones within a synapse). The unit of integration (the unit you need to understand) is not always the synapse, but is often the active zone itself.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 December 2012 11:40:23PM 0 points [-]

I might as well post this here because I don't think it's worth a new thread. Let's assume for the purposes of this argument that you have a suitably high confidence in cryonic revival at some future time. How much do you weigh the number of deaths as a direct consequence of electricity consumed keeping you frozen, against your irreplaceablity in the future society? I'm assuming that there is a non-trivial amount of electricity involved, and substituting the monetary costs of electricity per Folding@Home user per year, with the amount paid per person per year to purchase cryonics services.

Does this train of thought hold at all? If anyone has the time and knowledge to run some numbers, that would be great...

Comment author: [deleted] 14 December 2012 12:28:51AM 1 point [-]

Cryonics storage doesn't consume even a visible fraction of industrially produced liquid nitrogen. And it won't for ten-thousands of patients to come.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 December 2012 01:15:13AM 2 points [-]

Retracted after a bit of research; they just add more liquid nitrogen to counteract evaporation, and don't actually use any electricity. (I honestly didn't know this.)

Comment author: TraditionalRationali 03 July 2012 09:31:42PM 0 points [-]

Anyone who knows what these two picturse are and where they come from? Nemesis is doing some I think not very accurate critique of LessWrong on the Swedish Skeptics internet forum. It is in Swedish, and sorry, I have not time to translate into English. But though I do not know, I suspect that Nemesis have not produced them by himself but found them somewhere. If anyone knows I would be glad to know. (If someone should know already and recogises them, I do not ask anyone to spend significant time on it.)