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[Help]: Social cost of cryonics?

10 [deleted] 11 September 2011 07:26PM

Over the past few months I've been doing a lot of reading about cryonics, and though I agree with the arguments of Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson on the issue, I still feel uncomfortable about actually signing up. Upon reflection, my true rejection is my fear of the social cost of cryonics, i.e. being perceived as weird and completely incomprehensible by everyone around me. I've read the "Hostile Wife Phenomenon" article on Depressed Metabolism, the New York Times Magazine article on Robin Hanson's personal situation (as well as Robin's reply), and scores of comments on LessWrong, and it looks a lot of cryonicists do indeed experience the feeling that Eliezer describes in Lonely Dissent.

My concerns about the social cost of cryonics can be broken down into two categories:

  • Loss of existing relationships with family, friends, etc. I value the relationships I currently have with my family and friends, and signing up for cryonics would jeopardize many of these relationships. Most of my friends and family members are not interested in rationality and would be completely baffled if I decided to sign up. Nonetheless, I do not want to lose these relationships, as they are currently an important part of my life; I would consider my life to be significantly worse than it is now if I had to sever a lot of these emotional ties.
  • Increased difficulty of forming relationships in the future. I'm not particularly good at forming new relationships, and I'm very worried that signing up for cryonics will create an insurmountable social stigma that will make it nearly impossible for me to do so.

Overall, though, I have very little information about what the social cost of cryonics really is beyond a few scattered anecdotes and secondhand descriptions of cryonicists' lives. Ultimately, I don't really know how many of my fears would actually be realized if I signed up. This makes it difficult to for me to make a decision, as I am very risk-averse and I feel reluctant to choose something that could potentially make the next six or seven decades of my life miserable. As a result, I have decided to engage in some data collection.

To do so, I would like to hear about your experiences. If you are currently signed up for cryonics, I would very much appreciate it if you took a minute or two to describe the effects that signing up has had on your relationships and your social life in general. If you are not signed up, your feedback on this topic is still welcome. Links to articles would be good, but discussion of personal experiences would be better.

Comments (43)

Comment author: Konkvistador 12 September 2011 12:23:47AM *  9 points [-]

Your funeral arrangements are a private matter. At least they are in my culture. If it is the same in yours rely on that convetion rather than try and explain to them why you think this will make you not-quite-dead. You don't need to be an evangelist about cryonics, when the subject does come up just state these are your wishes. If you opt for neuro preservation your relatives can still cremate the corpse and do with it as they please.

As to relationships, don't worry starting new relationships shouldn't be affected by this since its unlikely to come up. Perhaps just bring it up around the time oxytocin induced pair-bonding is peaking. "Love" helps people rationalize all sorts of stuff and later inertia and precedence should carry you through.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 12 September 2011 07:28:16PM *  0 points [-]

Perhaps just bring it around the time oxytocin induced pairbonding is peaking. "Love" helps people rationalize all sorts of stuff and later inertia and precedence should carry you through.

This post is the epitome of the timing I should have planned for in my last predicament.

Comment author: Hyena 12 September 2011 11:37:47AM 7 points [-]

Why does anyone have to know? The social cost of cryonics is determined by the spread of knowledge about your choices.

Comment author: CharlesR 12 September 2011 10:20:56PM 7 points [-]

Because family members have been known to interfere. Your odds are better if these people are on-board.

Comment author: Hyena 13 September 2011 05:54:53AM 0 points [-]

Sadly, ths is an urge I simply can't understand. My only question in cryonics is whether I should erect a cenotaph or not.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 September 2011 11:34:45PM 5 points [-]

People being baffled by life choices doesn't generally by itself make them sever ties. While you obviously have better data about the state and nature of your personal relationships than other people here, it does seem to me that you are overestimating the risk of damage to personal relationships.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 10:30:37PM 0 points [-]

You're probably right, and I may have gotten a bit carried away by my fear of a worst-case outcome. Thanks for pointing this out.

Comment author: beriukay 11 September 2011 10:27:39PM 5 points [-]

While I have had a few arguments with friends about the issue, I find that it is largely orthogonal to my regular life. I have actually been a little disappointed by how little it has come up in conversations. Usually the only way anyone finds out is because of the bracelet and necklace I wear that bears instructions about what to do with my corpse. The friends I have argued with tend to ignore it, and if it comes up they just say something like "oh yeah, your cryo-thing". My girlfriend jokes about the "no embalming/no autopsy" bit. I have asked my family their opinions about it, not that it was going to stop me. They all said they'd support me, though my mom fought the most with me over it. Even still, she caved when I told her it meant a lot to me. Most friends don't get it, but at worst they just see it as a silly quirk of mine.

The most powerful argument I've had set against it is the ecological cost of refrigerating my ass for the next few centuries before (if!) I wake up again. After thinking about that for a long time, I decided that making babies was about as bad, since mass refrigerating is cheaper than feeding/housing/educating a new American. The if still bothers me, but not as much as investing in the stock market. Not for any rational reasons, so much as that the cost of Alcor is fixed, automatic, and when averaged over the course of a year, less than eating out every day. Though if I felt more altruistic, I'd be worried that this cost could help a decent charity a lot more than the value of resurrecting me.

But that is all tangential to your question. My answer is that nobody cares what you do with your time/money, unless you annoy them with it. Don't bug them, and they won't ostracize you. But if you can't convince anyone you love to do it too, and it works, you will be all alone when you wake up. I find that much more frightening than losing friends now because they don't like you doing weird things.

Comment author: gwern 12 September 2011 01:21:46AM 5 points [-]

The most powerful argument I've had set against it is the ecological cost of refrigerating my ass for the next few centuries before (if!) I wake up again.

Is that a real argument? I'm not sure, but I thought I read somewhere that much commercial liquid nitrogen is generated as a by-product, so the ecological cost is pretty minimal.

(Of course, ecological cost is a dangerous route to travel if it isn't to be a full-time job. Leaving aside the obvious hypocrisy of anyone suggesting it while living a modern First World lifestyle, it's too easy to get wrong; for example, apparently a hybrid car is a massive net negative because it increases demand for heavy metal mining.)

Comment author: beriukay 14 September 2011 10:48:32AM 0 points [-]

That argument was made before I considered the economy of scale aspect, so I found it rather troubling at the time.

Comment author: ciphergoth 14 September 2011 11:32:47AM 0 points [-]

Do you have a reason to think that this will be more damaging to the climate than whatever else you might spend the money on?

Comment author: beriukay 14 September 2011 12:31:56PM 0 points [-]

Not on an individual level, but I do wonder about crowding and the related infrastructure, were it to become the default option for humans. This is not a true concern of mine though, and would not count towards a real rejection.

Comment author: CharlesR 11 September 2011 09:43:04PM *  9 points [-]

We have had to borrow heavily from family for our son's therapies. If it got out we were signed up for cryonics, we would almost certainly be cut off. I can't think of any way around this.

Comment author: Eneasz 12 September 2011 09:41:24PM 3 points [-]

I am signed up. It has not affected my social life negatively at all. If anything it's provided for a few entertaining conversations. But no one who already cares about me (friends, family) would stop caring about me because of my funeral arrangements, and I'm extremely surprised that you fear the loss of important relationships because of a decision that basically doesn't impact their lives at all.

If you don't mind me asking, where do you live that funeral arrangements are considered so important that choosing an unpopular/unorthodox method of handling your remains is grounds for ending a relationship with your child/sibling?

I've made several new friends in the meantime, situation is the same there. When they find out they think it's a bit odd, and then we keep on being friends. It's not like I'm a LARPer or something. ;)

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 10:29:17PM 1 point [-]

I live in the eastern United States; at the moment I'm in central Pennsylvania. It's not the community that I'm concerned about (though the community is very conservative), it's my family members, most of whom take their religious practices moderately seriously and may cut off anyone who defects.

Comment author: Eneasz 13 September 2011 05:38:43AM *  2 points [-]

I can't speak to your specific situation, but it seems people generally over-estimate how ostracized they will be made if they defect from religious norms. My family was extremely religious and conservative when I came out as an atheist at 14. It was pretty shitty for a few weeks, but they got over it. Things went back to normal quickly. And this is from a religion that proscribed complete ostracism of any "apostates", and several times a year would praise from the pulpit parents who threw their non-believing children out on the street. I have come to the conclusion that generally these are empty threats. The religion wants you to fear that they will cut off anyone who defects, but almost no parent can actually do that.

For a while I was married to a christian (I was young and stupid) and I reassured her that my puny human technologies certainly couldn't thwart the will of an all-mighty god. If he wanted me in an afterlife I'd certainly find my way there. After this she agreed to support my suspension if I should die before her. A similar comment may reassure any religious family who thinks of it as a way to escape god's plan.

Comment author: kilobug 12 September 2011 07:06:12PM 3 points [-]

As I'm thinking more and more about cyronics (I didn't gave it a serious thought before reading LW) I ended up into a similar, but also quite different temporary conclusion : I value my life a lot, but a huge part of that value comes from my relationships with family and friends. So... if all of them would be taken away from me suddenly, my pain would be terrible and my life would lose of its value, and I might even end up committing suicide (I don't really know how badly I'll take it, but I know it'll be very, very hard).

So signing to cyronics alone, to be awaken in a world in which I know no one, all my friends and family lost forever in one blow, and in addition a world that will be totally alien to me, sounds like a nightmare, that is probably above my forces... I'm not sure its worth it. That's my preliminary thoughts on the issue, but I'm still thinking, I gave cryonics a serious consideration only since a few months, I can't make up a final decision on it just now.

Comment author: orthonormal 13 September 2011 01:33:11AM 6 points [-]

If that's your true rejection, you could work on finding at least one really good friend or family member who's willing to sign up along with you. (Think of it as the exact opposite of a suicide pact.)

Comment author: ciphergoth 14 September 2011 11:37:19AM 5 points [-]

You're imagining the first moments after you wake up, rather than your second century. If such a disaster were to befall you today, you would feel much better after six months than you might anticipate.

Comment author: advancedatheist 14 September 2011 05:11:34PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, show some backbone, or view it as an opportunity for personal growth. The social objection to cryonics revival reminds me of a kid who fears going to a new school: What if the kids at the new school don't like me? What if they won't let me play with them? What if they make fun of me?

In my case, I have the advantage of relative emotional independence. I don't consider myself a warm or caring person, though I suppose I have my moments, and politicized appeals to "empathy" (otherwise known as "paying more taxes") make my skin crawl. A number of women have told me over the years that they find me "cold," whatever that means. Apparently that serves as an efficient way of saying, "I don't want your genes combined with mine."

So the prospect of waking up in Future World socially disconnected doesn't bother me because it doesn't differ radically from the sort of life I've had so far. Just give me a cat for a companion, and I'll do fine emotionally.

Comment author: James_Miller 11 September 2011 10:24:14PM 3 points [-]

My wife thinks cryonics is disgusting although she has promised to call Alcor if something bad happens to me. My parents and sister are fine with it. My students are shocked when I reveal it to them but respond with laughter.

I would consider my life to be significantly worse than it is now if I had to sever a lot of these emotional ties.

Perhaps those of us who have signed up for cryonics should get to know each other.

I'm not particularly good at forming new relationships, and I'm very worried that signing up for cryonics will create an insurmountable social stigma that will make it nearly impossible for me to do so.

You can keep it a secret. Chances are if you die you will know ahead of time so not wearing the neckless/bracelet won't greatly reduce your odds of survival. Also, think of cryonics as peacocking.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 10:36:34PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps those of us who have signed up for cryonics should get to know each other.

There are a bunch of cryonics-themed meetups on meetup.com, which is inspiring. (I'm going to attend one soon to gather more data, in fact.)

Comment author: atucker 12 September 2011 07:41:52PM *  2 points [-]

Here are a few related links:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/4qf/how_best_to_show_dying_is_bad/

http://www.alcor.org/magazine/2011/01/14/signing-up-your-relatives/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/59k/cryonics_convincing_my_parents/

They're mostly about trying to convince other people to sign up for cryonics, but there's a lot of overlap with the idea of convincing relatives to take the idea at all seriously.

Comment author: Morendil 11 September 2011 10:52:44PM 2 points [-]

Most of my friends and family members (...) would be completely baffled if I decided to sign up.

How do you know that?

Comment author: [deleted] 11 September 2011 11:26:27PM 3 points [-]

I assign a high probability to this being the case based on discussions with friends and family. I've casually mentioned cryonics and related topics like anti-deathism and have been met with a surprisingly strong "ugh" reaction.

Comment author: Morendil 12 September 2011 06:20:06AM 2 points [-]

It might make sense to work through that as a priority. I've talked it over with my wife and parents, who have a different outlook. My mom is a neuroscientist; it's in her case that it's most disturbing not to reach the same conclusions. However, all have clearly come out in support; respecting my wishes and plans would take priority.

Well, you know, that's kind of what I expect from a relationship of love and trust: that it can weather some quirks of mine, not fall apart at the first such. I'd expect an initial "ugh" reaction to unexpected and offputting news on my part, but I would also expect them to keep right on accepting me.

The usual tactics should work: "I know it's weird but I have an online friend who's definitely signing up, and when we discussed his/her motivations they seemed actually quite reasonable, I'm thinking about it a lot".

If someone won't accept that you are an independent thinker and make your own mind about things, and thinks less of you for that - that in itself is telling something about the relationship; better know where you stand.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 10:32:46PM 2 points [-]

Those are all very good points, thank you. I strongly agree with all of that, with the exception of:

The usual tactics should work: "I know it's weird but I have an online friend who's definitely signing up, and when we discussed his/her motivations they seemed actually quite reasonable, I'm thinking about it a lot".

I don't know how effective this really is, but I'm skeptical of this approach because "I read it on the Internet" is generally not a good arguing tactic.

Comment author: orthonormal 13 September 2011 01:29:05AM 4 points [-]

Delete the word "online", then.

Comment author: Jack 11 September 2011 08:41:51PM *  3 points [-]

This, finances, and the fact that I'm a very low risk for salvageable death right now are the reasons I'm not signed up (I may also have a lower p for it working than others). I have found that if you talk about it jokingly at first "Hell yeah I want to freeze my brain. I want to see the future! You should totally come with we can fly around with jet packs and see other planets it'll be crazy romantic" makes it easier to bring up seriously later. Maybe you'll just seem quirky rather than weird.

This approach had my girlfriend comfortable with the idea, though I'm not sure what would have happened if I had actually signed up or if she ever would have.

Comment author: RobertLumley 12 September 2011 12:30:41AM 0 points [-]

"This, finances, and the fact that I'm a very low risk for salvageable death right now are the reasons I'm not signed up (I may also have a lower p for it working than others)."

Me too. Mostly this though, and the low risk part. If I'm honest with myself, I can afford it, although I can certainly think of other things I'd spend that money on.

Comment author: JasonSeba 14 September 2011 02:28:07PM 1 point [-]

I am in the process of signing up (lots of paperwork!), and those family and friends who are aware of it have been perfectly fine with it so far. It helps that I have a very accepting family and one particularly close friend who is also signing up.

Keep in mind that familial support is absolutely critical. You don't necessarily need to inform your friends of your decision, but your family members (especially your spouse, if any) must be completely informed and respectful of your intentions because they have final legal say over the disposition of your remains in most legal jurisdictions.

With your family, it might help to bring up more mundane end-of-life issues first, eg. making sure that your parents have wills, do-not-resuscitate orders, organ donor cards, etc. People in general don't like thinking about this stuff, and its not any easier when you throw talk of liquid nitrogen into the mix. Having an existing ongoing adult conversation about general end-of-life issues first might make it easier for you to eventually "come out" as a cryonicist.

By the way, if you are interested in talking to other people about their experiences in person, the Annual General Meeting of the Cryonics Institute is this Sunday (9/18/2011) in Clinton Township, Michigan. It is open to the public, and I will be there. http://cryonics.org/CI_AGM_2011.html

Comment author: r_claypool 12 September 2011 07:49:31PM *  1 point [-]

I have not signed up, although I have talked with Rudi Hoffman about the costs and I think about it often.

On a related note, I wonder about the ethics of enrolling a child (I have children). Any thoughts on that?

Comment author: CharlesR 12 September 2011 10:26:29PM 5 points [-]

Would you give them a choice when it came to health insurance?

Comment author: Eneasz 12 September 2011 09:44:31PM 2 points [-]

On a related note, I wonder about the ethics of enrolling a child (I have children). Any thoughts on that?

Enroll the child. It's much cheaper, and they'll thank you when they're older.

If you aren't choosing between textbooks and food, then you can afford to sign up your kids for cryonics. I don't know if it's more important than a home without lead paint, or omega-3 fish oil supplements while their brains are maturing, but it's certainly more important than you going to the movies or eating at nice restaurants.

Comment author: advancedatheist 15 September 2011 02:42:17PM 1 point [-]

The evidence suggests that children resist the generational transmission of a commitment to cryonics. Marce Johnson, for example, had about 40 years through precept and example to impress upon her children the importance of cryonics to her, yet in the end one of the adult children with power of attorney had her cremated and then apparently told her cryonicist friends of the fact out of spite, even though the Venturists helped to raise money to give Marce a suspension at CI.

Comment author: Eneasz 15 September 2011 04:24:32PM 1 point [-]

That's only one anecdote. It's also one of the most depressing things I've ever read.

Comment author: unperson102 15 September 2011 01:13:25PM 0 points [-]

over on cryonet, mark plus wrote:

"Some of the "social costs" of revival sound pretty lame. Do the people who bring up these objections suffer from social anxiety in general?

http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/7kj/help_social_cost_of_cryonics/

Mark Plus"

Mark, that is a very relevant question, and I think that if we could get at the fundamental answers to it, we might gain tens of thousands of new cryonicists. Posing these sorts of questions and searching for the answers to them are probably the most worthwhile things we can do to help cryonics.

In your question above, you refer to "social anxiety" in a way that implies that anyone who would wonder about the social costs of cryonics may be suffering from a mental disorder. I think you are completely wrong.

Here are some quotes from that article you cite, and my responses are below them:

Tetronian wrote:

"Over the past few months I've been doing a lot of reading about cryonics, and though I agree with the arguments of Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson on the issue, I still feel uncomfortable about actually signing up. Upon reflection, my true rejection is my fear of the social cost of cryonics, i.e. being perceived as weird and completely incomprehensible by everyone around me. "

Nice to see someone addressing the biggest obstacle to more signups--being seen as a weirdo! Cryonicists do not seem to understand this. And this lack of perception is why cryonics only has 1000-2000 signups or people who want to sign up.

Cryonicists do not seem to understand that people need other people to survive, and if you do not need other people to survive, you might not be a person, at least in some sense of the word.

Seriously. And I say this as one of you. My own connection to family and society has greatly weakened since I signed up, since my worldset changed so that I could see the value of cryonics.

I think that there was more to than just the simple act of signing up and telling my family about it. The thing is that before one can become 'psychologically eligible' for cryonics, one has to first divorce oneself from the majoritarian worldview. This iS a process, a journey that we take, and at the end of it, whether we sign up for cryonics or not, we have in a very real sense alienated ourselves from family and from society. We live in a universe of ideas, and not social connections.

99 percent of normal humanity lives in the world of social connections. The very idea of cryonics is so alien to them that scares them. It is literally unworldly. And by the time we pre-cryonicists get to the point where we might sign up, so too are we ourselves unworldly.

more from the article:

"Loss of existing relationships with family, friends, etc. I value the relationships I currently have with my family and friends, and signing up for cryonics would jeopardize many of these relationships. Most of my friends and family members are not interested in rationality and would be completely baffled if I decided to sign up. Nonetheless, I do not want to lose these relationships, as they are currently an important part of my life; I would consider my life to be significantly worse than it is now if I had to sever a lot of these emotional ties. Increased difficulty of forming relationships in the future. I'm not particularly good at forming new relationships, and I'm very worried that signing up for cryonics will create an insurmountable social stigma that will make it nearly impossible for me to do so.

Overall, though, I have very little information about what the social cost of cryonics really is beyond a few scattered anecdotes and secondhand descriptions of cryonicists' lives. Ultimately, I don't really know how many of my fears would actually be realized if I signed up. This makes it difficult to for me to make a decision, as I am very risk-averse and I feel reluctant to choose something that could potentially make the next six or seven decades of my life miserable. As a result, I have decided to engage in some data collection.

To do so, I would like to hear about your experiences. "

The thing is, Tetronian, that you have already started on that journey away from society and from your family. Signing up for cryonics is just the culmination of this journey.

As an avid reader of books and newspapers, I was aware of cryonics from an early age. I had read about the chatworth scandal. But I only gave cryonics serious thought when I saw an interview with Bill Falloon on TV in the 80s and later found a book about cryonics written in the sixties or seventies by a grad student. She wrote about some of the people in cryonics, particularly saul kent and curtis henderson. She did so from a sociological perspective, and although her approach was clinical/analytical, cryonicists, I think, were not portrayed all that favorably in her book. Reading the book, I was fascinated by it, and yet at the same time I was worried about myself because I felt that I was somehow being tainted by their weirdness. I did not want to be seen as a flake. I was young. YOung people do not want to be seen as flakes. Young people want to conform and be accepted and be like everyone else. As you grow older, you become more independent. Your sense of self becomes stronger. This is when it may become easier to sign up. Unfortunately, by then it is too late to get affordable life insurance.

Thus the vast majority of actual signed up cryonicists are people who became alienated and disconnected enough from society at a fairly young age, young enough to get insurance. YOur basic weirdo, in other words. Like Mark and Mike and me. Weirdos.

If you are a normal 55 year old and well educated, well read, basically godless, independent, childless, well, then you just might have what it takes to be a cryonicist (if cryonics were mainstream and not a playground for outsider flakes, that is...). One big obstacle, though: how do you pay for it? Well, you cannot really get insurance affordable enough to pay for it. Well, maybe a straight freeze from CI. I dunno. Better than nothing, I guess. The thing is that even atheists find god at that point. Most of them, anyway. Keeps the fear at bay. If we could make cryonics a part of society, done locally, and cheaply, we could tap into that older market.

But look at me, rambling on here.

Now, you asked about our personal experiences. Well, back about 20 years ago, I was sitting down at the kitchen table in my Aunt Mary's kitchen. My dad had driven me over there because he wanted me to have a good talk with her about these weird ideas I had about cryonics etc. Aunt Mary listened to what I had to say about cryonics and then smiled tolerantly at me and said to me, "well, what if when you die, we, your family, decide that you are going to be buried and not frozen?"

I don't remember what my response was to that. But I can tell you that she did not mean it maliciously. She just could even accept into her head the idea that cryonics might just work. She could not understand that from my point of view, that would be murdering me. I think she did come to understand my point of view. Not because I ever discussed it with her, but she no doubt considered my point of view over the years. When she called me on the phone from what was to be her death bed, when she was dying from cancer, that conversation, although not mentioned aloud, hung in the air between us. She went to her death, certain of her faith. But it was not just cryonics that separated me from her. It was also this vast array of book knowledge I had accumulated over the decades. Yes, that knowledge made it possible for me to accept cryonics. But it also formed a gulf between me and Aunt Mary, between me and my brothers, between me and everyone else. Nowadays, I hide the extent of my knowledge. I try to act like a normal person.

So what is the take away, the moral of story? We cryonicists want to live. We are gonna live, and to hell with everthing else. Because that is the only way we are gonna make it happen.

As for this old atheist, I am studying the Bible, looking for every verse, every phrase, every word I can find to support the idea that science is the proper work of Man, the work that God wants us to do, and that god wants us to live forever, here on earth, through science. We are gonna have to take this battle to the churches, go right after the beating heart of humanity. No other strategy will work.

See ya in the pews, brother....

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2011 01:32:00AM 0 points [-]

Thank you for sharing your story. Your insight on this issue is also very interesting. I must admit, the phrase "[Y]ou have already started on that journey away from society and from your family" gave me chills. I wish you best of luck with your own family.

Comment author: jimmy 13 September 2011 09:16:47PM *  0 points [-]

Signing up had no discernible impact on my social life. It is pretty much in character for me, so it wasn't something I'd expect to change anything.

I've had no "arguments" with anyone about it, and in the discussions I've had, people seem to agree that its a good idea but aren't persuaded enough to actually sign up (haven't pushed it). My girlfriend did sign up with me, though :)

When I meet new people it generally doesn't come up (unless I'm at a LessWrong meetup).