Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

The Brain Preservation Foundation still needs money

23 Post author: jaibot 21 August 2012 02:04PM

Remember the Brain Preservation Foundation? This is Kenneth Heyworth's project to test methods of brain preservation, with a large rewards going to (1) the first group to preserve a mouse brain, and (2) the first group to preserve a large mammalian brain. Two teams, attempting preservation via cryonics and plastination respectively, are ready to have their mouse brain preservations evaluated. But the BPF lacks the funds to carry out the tests (5nm 3D scans of a randomly selected cubic millimeter to verify high-fidelity preservation).

Solicitations for donations have come from both Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky, but the response has been...underwhelming thus far.

The BPF general fund has 9 donors listed; The Evaluation Fund has 5, one of whom is BPF's President. This does not include large donations from the anonymous $100k prize backer, Robin Hanson, John Smart, Daniel Crevier, and (again) Kenneth Hayworth. This puts an upper limit on the number of people in the world willing to donate to find out if there exists a method of reliably preserving brains indefinitely at...18 people.

I know that there are more than 17 other people like me in the world, who really want to see the results of these attempts. A world in which brains can be cheaply preserved indefinitely is a world I want to live in - and it would just be sad if this project fizzled because it lacked the funds to verify the already-existing results.

Donate here.

Comments (69)

Comment author: CronoDAS 22 August 2012 04:15:18AM *  19 points [-]

I'm one of the 9.

Comment author: faul_sname 22 August 2012 04:11:32PM 9 points [-]

As am I... though I am surprised they list a donation of only $100.

Comment author: Konkvistador 22 August 2012 11:36:07AM 4 points [-]

This deserves recognition, up voted.

Comment author: laman_blanchard 22 August 2012 03:47:38PM 14 points [-]

This post inspired me to make a small donation.

Comment author: bcoburn 22 August 2012 10:28:01PM 9 points [-]

Me as well.

Comment author: zntneo 22 August 2012 10:35:39PM 9 points [-]

I donated a small amount

Comment author: faul_sname 21 August 2012 06:01:06PM 9 points [-]

When do they need the money by? I'm currently a bit low on funds due to tuition and rent, but I can probably spare $500-1000 in a couple of weeks (I try to maintain an emergency fund, and don't want to dip into that if I don't need to).

Also, do you have a page I link to where they describe the immediate funding gap? If possible, I will turn this into a donation-matching thing, probably on /r/transhuman (leverage is always good).

Comment author: Ben_Scarlato 24 August 2012 03:59:52PM 5 points [-]

I'm one of the volunteers at the Brain Preservation Foundation. Although sooner is always better, there isn't a specific reason why now is better than 2 weeks in the future. If you need the money for an emergency fund, I'd wait to donate.

The page describing the need for our current fundraising campaign is here: http://www.brainpreservation.org/content/letter-president-brain-preservation-foundation

Comment author: faul_sname 24 August 2012 11:00:36PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for that. It looks like I do indeed have a new job, so as soon as the paycheck comes in I will not need to dip into the emergency fund.

By the way, do you happen to know what would happen if the funding didn't come about? Would you dip into the prize fund, or simply hold off on testing until you got sufficient funding.

Comment author: Ben_Scarlato 26 August 2012 03:43:22AM 1 point [-]

I can't speak authoritatively, but I think testing would have to be put on hold.

The $100,000 for the prize fund is pledged specifically for when the prize is won, so there's no easy way to change that.

Comment author: gwern 21 August 2012 09:55:09PM 1 point [-]

As Bakker's Prince of Nothing-verse books say (which I have lost the last 5 days or so to reading), "Measure is unceasing".

These first tests, while perhaps the most valuable (as the initial observations of anything usually are), are - hopefully - only the first; if your donations do not change whether the first ones happen, they may change whether the second batch does.

(Even in the extraordinarily unlikely scenario where all the techniques produce perfect preservation according to the first test, one would still want periodic tests to check that the techniques are still being done right.)

Comment author: faul_sname 21 August 2012 10:17:36PM 4 points [-]

That doesn't answer the question of whether they need the money now or in two weeks. I dislike exposing myself to unnecessary financial risk, particularly at the beginning of a semester and when my work is undergoing layoffs (not that I consider either particularly likely to be a problem, but the risk is distinctly elevated right now and my reserves are lower than I like).

Comment author: gwern 21 August 2012 11:40:32PM 4 points [-]

That doesn't answer the question of whether they need the money now or in two weeks.

Oh, I didn't realize you really meant now or a few weeks. As far as I know, there is no significant reason why donating now would be better than in a few weeks, aside from looking good here and maybe encouraging some other people to donate (for which a public commitment ought to be enough).

Comment author: Benquo 21 August 2012 06:46:07PM 6 points [-]

Does anyone here know if BPF is a 501(c)(3) organization? If so, I can probably get some of my donation matched by my employer.

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 07:03:14PM 11 points [-]

"The Brain Preservation Foundation was incorporated in Delaware on August 27, 2010. We hold Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit scientific research organization. Your contributions are fully tax deductible. Thank you."

http://www.brainpreservation.org/content/donate

Comment author: Benquo 21 August 2012 07:21:19PM *  8 points [-]

Thanks - I'm not sure why I didn't see that before. I've now requested a match, for an additional $956.

Comment author: faul_sname 21 August 2012 07:37:20PM 3 points [-]

It took me googling "tax exempt site:brainpreservation.org" to find that, so it may not just be you.

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 07:46:21PM 2 points [-]

Yeah, same here. Their site could use some work.

Comment author: Konkvistador 21 August 2012 05:45:01PM *  11 points [-]

This not being funded would indeed be very sad. Recently a story about the tragedy that is death touched a lot of people on LessWrong, I think me editing that article to link to here and encouraging people to donate would be an appropriate move.

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 07:47:05PM 3 points [-]

This is appreciated; Thank you.

Comment author: V_V 21 August 2012 11:43:07PM 7 points [-]

So, some anonymous person can give away 100k$ to back the prize, but not the 25-50k$ to fund the evaluation process needed to award the prize?

Why don't they offer a 50k$ prize and use the other 50k$ to fund the evaluation, instead of soliciting donations? Why don't they just offer a medal of insignificant material value? The winner is going to get lots of bragging rights anyway.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2012 04:30:58PM 3 points [-]

Donated $100 dollars. I think there are 26 total donors now.

Comment author: advancedatheist 21 August 2012 03:18:04PM 6 points [-]

I'd like to donate, but at the moment I may have to direct discretionary time and money towards saving Kim Suozzi:

http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/ydsy5/reddit_help_me_find_some_peace_in_dying_young_im/

The lack of interest in the prize puzzles me. Some very wealthy cryonicists want to tie up fortunes in speculative revival trusts, yet they depend on financially inadequate cryonics organizations to keep them in suspension against foreseeable adversities, and they seem uninterested in trying to improve the science of preserving their own brains. I don't understand this business model.

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 03:29:59PM 8 points [-]

Behavior like that has deepened my skepticism of the cryonics crowd - there are glaring discrepancies between professed beliefs and actual behavior.

Comment author: BrassLion 21 August 2012 07:39:06PM 9 points [-]

Prisoner's dilemma. If someone else donates and I don't, I get to eat my cryopreservation and have it too. Or something like that.

At least this thread has rustled up a few more donations.

Comment author: V_V 23 August 2012 10:11:55PM 1 point [-]

I think the best esplanation for this behavior is that cryonics is essentially a religious funeral ritual.

Most people who get cryopreserved don't really expect, at a deep level, that it will extend their life, much like most believers in traditional religions don't really expect an afterlife in the otherworld or reincarnation (that's why they all fear death and generally try to postpone it as much as possible).

Professing belief in the religious tenets and performing the required rituals may provide some emotional solace as long as willing suspension of disbelief (self-deception, if you prefer) can be maintained. That might explain the lackluster interest in a potentially falsifying experiment: should it turn out that preserved brains are manifestly damaged, maintaing suspension of disbelief would become much more difficult.

Another typical function of religious beliefs and rituals is social signalling: they are a way for a community (transhumanists, in the case of cryonics) to and maintain and reinforce social cohesion.

Comment author: ScottMessick 23 August 2012 11:22:54PM 0 points [-]

I think this hypothesis is worth bearing in mind. However, it doesn't explain advancedatheist's observation that wealthy cryonicists are eager to put a lot of money in revival trusts (whose odds of success are dubious, even if cryonics works) rather than donate to improve cryonics research or the financial viability of cryonics organizations.

Comment author: V_V 23 August 2012 11:56:46PM 0 points [-]

Maybe it's something like the Egyptian pharaohs putting gold and valuables in their pyramids

Comment author: jaibot 24 August 2012 04:29:51PM *  5 points [-]

The hypothesis "many people are engaging in cryonics as signalling/psychological-reassurance" is not incompatible with the hypothesis "there exist people interested in cryonics on a practical level, eager for potentially falsifying experiments". Indeed, it's even possible for both of these things to be true of a single person.

Many long-shot medical procedures serve similar functions - but this does not preclude them from being legitimate medical procedures. And there, too, I would expect a non-trivial subset of patients (and doctors) to be reluctant to seek out falsifying evidence.

There is likely some truth in your assertion that cryonics is fulfilling many of the same psychological and social functions of burial rituals - but that does not adequately explain all behavior in the cryonics arena.

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 03:31:25PM 4 points [-]

Has Suozzi's story been confirmed by CI yet?

Comment author: advancedatheist 21 August 2012 04:10:06PM 11 points [-]

I don't know about CI's due diligence. As the secretary of the Society for Venturism, which has the ability to raise money for Miss Suozzi's suspension, I can confirm that we've pursued our end of checking out her story.

We helped out in getting William O'Rights cryosuspended a few years ago, for example:

http://www.cryonics.org/reports/CI93.html

One of our directors has interviewed Miss Suozzi, and she may have a article about her written up soon which we'll post on the Venturists' website:

http://venturist.info/

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 06:30:54PM 6 points [-]

Just donated to Kim's fund.

Comment author: JGWeissman 21 August 2012 04:44:51PM 6 points [-]

Do you have any plans to manage a donation fund for her?

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 04:28:52PM 5 points [-]

Thank you! Could you publicize your confirmation? I believe there are a number of people willing to donate who were holding off until the story was confirmed. What is the best way to donate to the fund?

Comment author: gwern 21 August 2012 04:05:30PM 12 points [-]

I'd like to donate, but at the moment I may have to direct discretionary time and money towards saving Kim Suozzi: http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/ydsy5/reddit_help_me_find_some_peace_in_dying_young_im/ The lack of interest in the prize puzzles me.

Why would you be puzzled when you have answered your own question?

Comment author: V_V 21 August 2012 11:14:14PM *  2 points [-]

saving Kim Suozzi

saving?

and they seem uninterested in trying to improve the science of preserving their own brains

Maybe they don't want to spread the flour on the dragon

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2012 05:32:18AM 1 point [-]

Some very wealthy cryonicists want to tie up fortunes in speculative revival trusts, yet they depend on financially inadequate cryonics organizations to keep them in suspension against foreseeable adversities, and they seem uninterested in trying to improve the science of preserving their own brains. I don't understand this business model.

Think pyramids, only you don't need thousands of slaves and a truly inconvenient amount of sandstone.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 21 August 2012 04:06:14PM 5 points [-]

How much money do they need?

Comment author: jaibot 21 August 2012 04:25:19PM *  7 points [-]

According to them, approximately $25-50k - less than the cost of a single cryosuspension. This should be easily fundable with token contributions from people who have expressed an interest in brain preservation.

Comment author: grendelkhan 29 August 2012 06:52:25PM *  2 points [-]

I've donated a relatively small amount, and will donate more when my finances allow (that's not open-ended; I'm expecting a small windfall in a few months). It should go without saying, but if you have a good employer, check to see if they match charitable donations! Mine turned my donation from a pitifully small one into a just plain small one.

Wouldn't it be weird if it turns out that there's an excellent and durable method of preserving brains, but it's not the one that's been used for the last half-century or so? Horrifying, obviously, but profoundly weird as well. The two positions I've seen on the topic have been "it never has and never will work", and "it's worked since some possibly-specified time in the past". A world in which people who sign up for preservation avoid death if and only if they're lucky enough to have signed up after, say, 2030, feels weirder than a world where the rational are rewarded, the irrational punished. The zog, I suppose.

Comment author: gwern 20 April 2013 11:32:04PM 7 points [-]

A world in which people who sign up for preservation avoid death if and only if they're lucky enough to have signed up after, say, 2030, feels weirder than a world where the rational are rewarded, the irrational punished

It feels weirder, but has many precedents. Many 'bubbles' can be profitably interpreted as people being 100% correct about their vision of the future - but messing up the timing (see http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/5646 and http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21575737-lessons-americas-long-history-property-booms-betting-house for examples). I used this in another comment, but consider the case of an investor in the ill-fated Pets.com: was the investor right to believe that Americans would spend a ton of money online such as for buying dogfood? Absolutely, Amazon is a successful online retail business that stocks thousands of dog food varieties, to say nothing of all the other pet-related goods it sells. But the value of Pets.com still went to ~0. Many startups have a long list of failed predecessors who tried to do pretty much the same thing, and what made them a success was that they happened to give the pinata a whack at the exact moment where some cost curves or events hit the right point. (Facebook is the biggest archive of photographs there has ever been, with truly colossal storage requirements; could it have succeeded in the 1990s? No, and not even later, as demonstrated by Orkut & Friendster, and the lingering death of MySpace.) You can read books from the past about tech visionaries and note how many of them were spot-on in their beliefs about what would happen (The Media Lab was a good example of this - I read it constantly thinking 'yes, you were right, for all the good it did you' or 'not quite, it'd actually take another decade for that to really work out') but where a person would have been ill-advised to act on the correct forecasts. Or look at computers: imagine an early adopter of an Apple computer saying 'everyone will use computers eventually!' Yes, but not for another few decades, and 'in the long run, we are all dead'.

If cryonics turned out to be worthless for everyone doing it before 2030 while perfectly correct in principle and practical post-2030, it would simply be yet another technology where visionaries were ultimately right despite all nay-saying & skepticism from normals but nevertheless jumped on it too early.

When a knife drops, a fraction of a second divides a brilliant save from an emergency-room visit. They don't call it the 'bleeding edge' for nothing.

Comment author: grendelkhan 22 April 2013 05:14:25PM *  2 points [-]

Wow; that just reminded me of a bit from The Smartest Guys In The Room, where Enron partnered with Blockbuster to stream movies-on-demand over the internet in 2000. It was a scam, but clearly someone thought it was a real thing. (Netflix started streaming movies in 2007.)

And--yes, you said it. Projects like this and OpenWorm are particularly important because they help narrow down really uncertain things; OpenWorm, for instance, might be able to settle the "neurons are really complicated"/"neurons are accurately simulatable-in-bulk by simple models" dispute, as well as the "the connectome is/is not sufficient" thing.

Comment author: grendelkhan 20 April 2013 10:40:28PM 0 points [-]

Well, a number of things have gone not-as-planned, but it did help to make a public commitment here, and I've (finally!) donated an order of magnitude more than I did last year, along with the corresponding employer match. Last year's donation drive is over, but I expect they'll still have science to do.

I look forward to seeing the results.