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A survey of anti-cryonics writing

71 Post author: ciphergoth 07 February 2010 11:26PM

(This was originally a link to a post on my blog, A survey of anti-cryonics writing. Eliezer asked me to include the entire text of the article here.)

For its advocates, cryonics offers almost eternal life. To its critics, cryonics is pseudoscience; the idea that we could freeze someone today in such a way that future technology might be able to re-animate them is nothing more than wishful thinking on the desire to avoid death. Many who battle nonsense dressed as science have spoken out against it: see for example Nano Nonsense and Cryonics, a 2001 article by celebrated skeptic Michael Shermer; or check the Skeptic's Dictionary or Quackwatch entries on the subject, or for more detail read the essay Cryonics–A futile desire for everlasting life by "Invisible Flan".

That it seems so makes me sad, because to my naive eyes it seems like it might work and I would quite like to live forever, but I know that I don't know enough to judge. The celebrated Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman tells a story of a US general who spoke to him at a party and explained that one big challenge in desert warfare is keeping the tanks fuelled given the huge distances the fuel has to travel. What would really help, the general said, would be if boffins like Feynman could invent a sort of engine that was powered by sand. On this issue, I'm in the same position as the general; in the same way as a tank fuelled by sand seems plausible enough to him, it makes sense to me to imagine that however your brain stores information it probably has something to do with morphology and chemistry, so there's a good chance it might not evaporate right away at the instant of legal death, and that freezing might be a way to keep the information there long enough for future societies to extract it with their future-technology scanning equipment.

And of course the pro-cryonics people have written reams and reams of material such as Ben Best's Scientific Justification of Cryonics Practice on why they think this is exactly as plausible as I might think, and going into tremendous technical detail setting out arguments for its plausibility and addressing particular difficulties. It's almost enough to make you want to sign up on the spot.

Except, of course, that plenty of totally unscientific ideas are backed by reams of scientific-sounding documents good enough to fool non-experts like me. Backed by the deep pockets of the oil industry, global warming denialism has produced thousands of convincing-sounding arguments against the scientific consensus on CO2 and AGW. Thankfully in that instance we have blogs like Tim Lambert's Deltoid, RealClimate, and many others tracking the various ways that the denialists mislead, whether through cherry-picking evidence, misleading quotes from climate scientists, or outright lies. Their hard work means that denialists can barely move or speak without someone out there checking what they have to say against science's best understanding and pointing out the misrepresentations and discrepancies. So before I pony up my £25 a month to sign up to cryonics life insurance, I want to read the Deltoid of cryonics - the articles that take apart what cryonics advocates write about what they do and really go into the scientific detail on why it doesn't hang together.

Here's my report on what I've found so far.

Nano Nonsense and Cryonics goes for the nitty-gritty right away in the opening paragraph:

To see the flaw in this system, thaw out a can of frozen strawberries. During freezing, the water within each cell expands, crystallizes, and ruptures the cell membranes. When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.

This sounds convincing, but doesn't address what cryonicists actually claim. Ben Best, President and CEO of the Cryonics Institute, replies in the comments:

Strawberries (and mammalian tissues) are not turned to mush by freezing because water expands and crystallizes inside the cells. Water crystallizes in the extracellular space because more nucleators are found extracellularly. As water crystallizes in the extracellular space, the extracellular salt concentration increases causing cells to lose water osmotically and shrink. Ultimately the cell membranes are broken by crushing from extracellular ice and/or high extracellular salt concentration. [...] Cryonics organizations use vitrification perfusion before cooling to cryogenic temperatures. With good brain perfusion, vitrification can reduce ice formation to negligible amounts.

Best goes on to point out that the paragraph I quote is Shermer's sole attempt to directly address the scientific claims of cryonics; once the opening paragraph has dispensed with the technical nitty gritty, the rest of the piece argues in very general terms about "[blind] optimistic faith in the illimitable power of science" and other such arguments. Shermer received many other responses from cryonics advocates; here's one that he considered "very well reasoned and properly nuanced".

The Quackwatch entry takes us little further; it quotes the debunked Shermer argument above, talks about the cost (they all talk about the cost and a variety of other issues, but here I'm focussing specifically on the issue of technical plausibility), and links to someone else making the same already-answered assertions about freezing damage.

The Skeptic's Dictionary entry is no advance. Again, it refers erroneously to a "mushy brain". It points out that the technology to reanimate those in storage does not already exist, but provides no help for us non-experts in assessing whether it is a plausible future technology, like super-fast computers or fusion power, or whether it is as crazy as the sand-powered tank; it simply asserts baldly and to me counterintuitively that it is the latter. Again, perhaps cryonic reanimation is a sand-powered tank, but I can explain to you why a sand-powered tank is implausible if you don't already know, and if cryonics is in the same league I'd appreciate hearing the explanation.

It does link to the one article I can find that really tries to go into the detail: Cryonics–A futile desire for everlasting life by "Invisible Flan". It opens on a curious note:

If you would like my cited sources, please ask me and I will give them to you.

This seems a very odd practice to me. How can it make sense to write "(Stroh)" in the text without telling us what publication that refers to? Two comments below ask for the references list; no reply is forthcoming.

And again, there seems to be no effort to engage with what cryonicists actually say. The article assets

it is very likely that a human would suffer brain damage from being preserved for a century or two (Stroh).

This bald claim backed by a dangling reference is, to say the least, a little less convincing than the argument set out in Alcor's How Cold is Cold Enough? which explains that even with pessimistic assumptions, one second of chemical activity at body temperature is roughly equivalent to 24 million years at the temperature of liquid nitrogen. Ben Best quotes eminent cryobiologist and anti-cryonics advocate Peter Mazur:

...viscosity is so high (>1013 Poise) that diffusion is insignificant over less than geological time spans.

Another part of the article points out the well-known difficulties with whole-body freezing - because the focus is on achieving the best possible preservation of the brain, other parts suffer more. But the reason why the brain is the focus is that you can afford to be a lot bolder in repairing other parts of the body - unlike the brain, if my liver doesn't survive the freezing, it can be replaced altogether. Further, the article ignores one of the most promising possibilities for reanimation, that of scanning and whole-brain emulation, a route that requires some big advances in computer and scanning technology as well as our understanding of the lowest levels of the brain's function, but which completely sidesteps any problems with repairing either damage from the freezing process or whatever it was that led to legal death.

Contrast these articles to a blog like Deltoid. In post after painstaking post, Lambert addresses specific public claims from global warming denialists - sometimes this takes just one graph, sometimes a devastating point-by-point rebuttal.

Well, if there is a Tim Lambert of cryonics out there, I have yet to find them, and I've looked as best I can. I've tried various Google searches, like "anti-cryonics" or "cryonics skeptic", but nearly all the hits are pro-cryonics. I've asked my LiveJournal friends list, my Twitter feed, and LessWrong.com, and found no real meat. I've searched PubMed and Google Scholar, and again found only pro-cryonics articles, with the exception of this 1981 BMJ article which is I think more meant for humour value than serious argument.

I've also emailed every expert I can find an email address for that has publically spoken against cryonics. Sadly I don't have email addresses for either Arthur W. Rowe or Peter Mazur, two giants of the cryobiology field who both have strongly anti-cryonics positions; I can only hope that blog posts like these might spur them into writing about the subject in depth rather than restricting themselves to rather brief and unsatisfactory remarks in interviews. (If they were to have a change of heart on the subject, they would have to choose between staying silent on their true opinions or being ejected from the Society for Cryobiology under a 1982 by-law.) I mailed Michael Shermer, Steve Jones, Quackwatch, and Professor David Pegg. I told them (quite truthfully) that I had recently started talking to some people who were cryonics advocates, that they seemed persuasive but I wasn't an expert and didn't want to fall for a scam, and asked if there was anything they'd recommend I'd read on the subject to see the other side.

The only one of these to reply was Michael Shermer. He recommended I read David Brin, Steve Harris and Gregory Benford. This is a pretty surprising reply. The latter two are cryonics advocates, and while Brin talks about a lot of possible problems, he agrees with cryonics advocates that it is technically feasable.

I expanded my search to others who might be knowledgable: Society of Cryobiology fellows Professor Barry Fuller and Dr John G Baust, and computational neuroscience Professor Peter Dayan. I received one reply: Dayan was kind enough to reply very rapidly, sounding a cautionary note on how much we still don't know about the structure of memory and referring me to the literature on the subject, but was unable to help in my specific quest for technical anti-cryonics articles.

In his 1994 paper The Molecular Repair of the Brain, cryptology pioneer Professor Ralph Merkle remarks

Interestingly (and somewhat to the author's surprise) there are no published technical articles on cryonics that claim it won't work.

Sixteen years later, it seems that hasn't changed; in fact, as far as the issue of technical feasability goes it is starting to look as if on all the Earth, or at least all the Internet, there is not one person who has ever taken the time to read and understand cryonics claims in any detail, still considers it pseudoscience, and has written a paper, article or even a blog post to rebut anything that cryonics advocates actually say. In fact, the best of the comments on my first blog post on the subject are already a higher standard than anything my searches have turned up.

If you can find any articles that I've missed, please link to them in the comments. If you have any expertise in any relevant area, and you don't think that cryonics has scientific merit - or if you can find any claim made by prominent cryonics advocates that doesn't hold up - any paragraph in Ben Best's Scientific Justification of Cryonics Practice, anything in the Alcor Scientists’ Cryonics FAQ or the Cryonics Institute FAQ, or anything in Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap (which isn't directly about cryonics but is closely related) - then please, don't comment here to say so. Instead, write a paper or a blog post about it. If you don't have somewhere you're happy to post it, and if it's better than what's already out there, I'll be happy to host it here.

Because as far as I can tell, if you want to write the best anti-cryonics article in the world, you have a very low bar to clear.

Related articles: Carl Schulman links to Robin Hanson's What Evidence in Silence or Confusion? on Overcoming Bias, which discusses what conclusions one can draw from this.

Comments (309)

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Comment author: PeerInfinity 29 March 2011 11:31:57PM 6 points [-]

I recently found this article, that attempts to survey the arguments against cryonics. It only finds two arguments that don't contain any obvious flaws:

  1. Memory and identity are encoded in such a fragile and delicate manner that cerebral ischemia, ice formation or cryoprotectant toxicity irreversibly destroy it.

  2. The cell repair technologies that are required for cryonics are not technically feasible.

Comment author: propater 08 March 2011 02:15:43PM *  3 points [-]

Is anyone aware of any article discussing scalability issues?

I agree that from an individual standpoint it is rational to sign up for cryonics but is it really a good idea for mankind in general to massively sign up for cryonics? Would it not create an awful drag on the economy that would delay or maybe even prevent mankind to acquire the technology necessary for reviving the "dead"?

From what I read on the business model of Alcor and CI, the costs of sustaining cryonisation are paid by the dividends/interests of a small capital constituted through life insurance. If more and more people enter cryonisation, there will be more and more of that capital that needs to find investment opportunities. Is it economically feasible to provide capital revenue for an ever growing amount of capital?

Has someone really considered a society where the number of the "dead" equals the number of the living? Has someone considered a society where the number of the "dead" equals ten times the number of the living?

I saw "economies of scale" mentioned a number of time. Have those economies of scale been quantified? Are they real or is it a magical word? What if we do not manage to grow the energy supply fast enough to ensure cryostasis for everyone?

Have the ethical implications of the risk posed to future generations potential economic and technological growth by massive cryonisation been considered? What if what I pay for my cryonisation would be better used in medical or AI research? What if that money could be used to accelerate the coming of "immortality" for my grand-children? What if my cryonisation slows down or prevents the coming of "immortality" for everyone (including myself but also my grand-children)?

Comment author: gwern 08 March 2011 02:22:57PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 March 2011 03:13:29PM *  2 points [-]

If more and more people enter cryonisation, there will be more and more of that capital that needs to find investment opportunities. Is it economically feasible to provide capital revenue for an ever growing amount of capital?

I think it depends on whether there are good ideas which haven't been funded, and whether the economic and social structure is such as to take advantage of the good ideas.

You might be interested in The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowan-- as I understand it, he argues that economic grow has slowed in the developed countries (just the US?) because of a lack of good ideas.

I've heard the theory that the recent recession can be traced back to unduly low interest rates, which led to vast amounts of capital wandering the world searching for excessively high returns, and therefore vulnerable to scams.

Has someone really considered a society where the number of the "dead" equals the number of the living? Has someone considered a society where the number of the "dead" equals ten times the number of the living?

In science fiction, there's Why Call Them Back from Heaven? by Simak and Cryoburn by Bujold.

Comment author: propater 08 March 2011 03:54:36PM 0 points [-]

Thanks to both of you for your pointers.

Comment author: Vaniver 19 November 2010 05:46:46AM 5 points [-]

I'm not sure whether or not Melody Maxim should count. She isn't anti-cryonics, but is thoroughly disgusted with the cryonics organizations that exist today- which seems strongly relevant for anyone deciding whether or not to sign up, but not for anyone interested in theoretical probabilities.

Comment author: ciphergoth 19 November 2010 06:48:22AM 2 points [-]

I certainly don't want to sign up with organisations like Alcor and CI. I want to sign up with Virgin Cryonics. Unfortunately the latter doesn't exist, so I'm signed up with CI. In answer to your question I think there's a huge gulf between "cryonics is a good idea that should be better implemented than it is" and "cryonics is crazy".

Comment author: wedrifid 19 November 2010 08:36:23AM 0 points [-]

Virgin Cryonics?

Comment author: ciphergoth 19 November 2010 02:14:45PM 1 point [-]

If anyone was going to turn cryonics into a mass-market product, Richard Branson might...

Comment author: wedrifid 19 November 2010 05:04:12PM *  1 point [-]

Wow. The same 'Virgin' that is known here for the budget airline. I had no idea that he was likely to be into cryonics kinds of ventures too.

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 November 2010 05:33:37PM 1 point [-]

Having flown on VirginBlue in Australia, presumably this would entail setting up a cryonics operation that buys thirty-year-old equipment cheap, and charging the patients' families for extra LN2 by the litre. Flying on VirginBlue involves a certain amount of the passengers waving their arms and chanting "I believe in aviation! I believe in aviation!" Why no, it wasn't a great flight ...

Comment author: wedrifid 19 November 2010 05:40:02PM 0 points [-]

Having flown on VirginBlue in Australia, presumably this would entail setting up a cryonics operation that buys thirty-year-old equipment cheap, and charging the patients' families for extra LN2 by the litre.

Could not have said it better!

Comment author: ciphergoth 20 November 2010 10:17:46AM 0 points [-]

Not that he's a transhumanist, he just runs a huge variety of different businesses and doesn't mind doing unusual things eg Virgin Galactic.

Comment author: Jakeness 18 December 2012 10:07:49PM 0 points [-]

Now that the blog has been made private, could you provide a summary of her claims?

Comment author: Vaniver 19 December 2012 02:48:50AM *  0 points [-]

It would have been much easier before the blog was made private! (Looking around, apparently that happened over a year ago.)

I think this will give a better impression than one that I can build from my memory. The basic takeaway I recall was that, to a cryomedical technician, the cryonics culture looked like one of wishful thinking, incompetence, and corruption.

It looks like Melody is still posting on LW, though infrequently.

Comment author: gwern 04 June 2011 02:36:45AM 0 points [-]

Your link isn't very useful - I'm told I don't have permission to read it.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 June 2011 02:52:26AM 0 points [-]

It appears to no longer be public. No clue what's up with that.

Comment author: Perplexed 04 June 2011 02:52:09AM 0 points [-]

In fact, the link takes me to a Google login screen - which makes it look like that phishing scheme Google just warned us about. There is no reason I should have to login just to read a blog posting.

As far as I can tell, it is a real Google login screen, but still ...

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 04 June 2011 03:12:26AM 0 points [-]

It looks like a real google login screen, but I'm clearly logged into google since I'm checking my email in another tab, and it still wants my password. I don't trust it.

Comment author: gwern 04 June 2011 03:23:42AM 1 point [-]

Blogger seems to be a bit different and not quite integrated. For example, I get no password request - it just tells me I'm not allowed and suggests trying a different account.

Comment author: topynate 19 November 2010 09:49:05AM 0 points [-]

Is there a ceremony theoretical probabilities must undergo to become practical? :-)

Comment author: Vaniver 19 November 2010 04:49:00PM 0 points [-]

Yes- it must describe a practical event, not a theoretical event. "Can I survive brain surgery?" is a theoretical question about technology; "Will I survive brain surgery performed by X?" is a practical question that is the conjunction of the first question and "Is X good enough at performing brain surgery?"

Comment author: CarlShulman 17 March 2010 09:24:52AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: ciphergoth 12 February 2010 10:23:17PM 2 points [-]

I've written a short followup blog entry detailing the latest in my ongoing search.

Comment author: roland 12 February 2010 07:43:43PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not worried about the technical aspects, I believe it is just a matter of time especially considering the singularity.

What worries me more are economic reasons: will our civilization be stable long enough until we reach the singularity? What about resource shortage, peak oil, global warming, wars? Eventually the cost of cryopreservation will be too high to maintain and cryonics corporations will go bankrupt. The weakpoint is the assumption that the US$ 80,000 will be enough to keep you freezed over the next decades. Conjunction fallacy anyone? Still I think that cryonics is the best bet for those who want a shot at eternity.

EDIT: I think I need to flesh out the conjunction here a bit more: what assumptions went into the cost of US$ 80,000? How stable has the economy have to be for those assumptions to hold? What if peak oil suddenly becomes a reality and the economy collapses as a lot of folks predicted? How high will the price for cryopreservation climb in that scenario? And this is just one scenario of 1000s that can happen over the next decades.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 10 February 2010 12:18:28AM *  3 points [-]

I added the sub-debates suggested by Earendil, pdf23ds, and ciphergoth, giving us a total of 7 sub-debates for the cryonics debate:

  • Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?
  • Is cryonic restoration technically feasible in the future?
  • Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
  • Does cryonic preservation with today's best technology cause irreversible brain damage?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is deterioration of the brain after death slow enough for cryonics to be worthwhile?
  • Assuming it was technically possible, would a cryonically suspended person actually get reanimated?

http://www.takeonit.com/question/318.aspx

Once again, let me know if there's a major sub-debate missing. For the sake of cleanliness I'll attempt to edit this post if someone suggests another sub-debate, rather than adding a new post.

Comment author: teageegeepea 09 February 2010 07:56:53PM 3 points [-]

I'm an AGW believer (is that the right term), but I'm skeptical whether there's more money for the pro or anti side. Steve McIntyre is retired and gets by on tips (though admittedly he has not outright denied AGW), how many grants have the RealClimate bloggers gotten? At any rate, I think it's a poor form of argumentation to suggest some side of a dispute is just crap inflated with money while overlooking the substantial amounts on the opposite side.

Comment author: Earendil 08 February 2010 08:52:13PM 19 points [-]

This is the best anti-cryonics argument I've heard so far. I largely agree with the replies about why it's wrong, but at least it's an argument rather than a gut "ewww..." or "blasphemy!" or "crazy talk!" reaction.

http://forums.unicornjelly.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=2090#p21074

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 08:34:43AM *  12 points [-]

Your reply really is excellent!

Still - and I've been noting this a lot - not to do with technical feasibility. A word I have finally been learning to spell what with writing it so much.

It may seem weird to be so focussed on this one thing what with all the other ways that cryonics can fail, but feasibility is what creates the seriousness barrier. As soon as you think that it stands a really good chance of working, you're over the line with us wacky people, and you're arguing about economics or whether the future wants us or suchlike with real skin in the game.

Comment author: whpearson 09 February 2010 01:07:21PM 3 points [-]

I'm surprised. I'd have though the biggest barrier to it being taken seriously is the comfort of normality barrier. That is most people are comfortable with the narrative of birth-life-death and anything that takes them outside that makes them uncomfortable and is ignored.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 01:17:54PM 3 points [-]

Yes, that's what motivates people to come to a negative conclusion, but I think it's the plausibility issue that allows them not to worry about the conclusions. Not many people say "if my heart stops, don't resuscitate me".

Comment author: whpearson 09 February 2010 02:41:45PM 2 points [-]

I don't think it is the coming back from the dead that makes people uncomfortable so much the world and technology that is supposed in the future to enable it. The eternal life from that point on also drastically changes the narrative.

Comment author: MatthewB 09 February 2010 07:06:24AM *  4 points [-]

I find this to be a silly argument, as it assumes that not much will change about the methods of teaching, or of rejuvenation by the time that these people (who have been frozen) are re-constituted in one manner or another.

True, we would be antiquated and ignorant by the standards of the day, but just going into the process of freezing gives us a mind-set that shows us that we must be ready to abandon just about everything we know when and if we wake again. The Man from 1400 discussed in the article did not have that mindset and it was discussed as if his freezing had been an accident rather than an act of intention.

Plus, there is another reason to thaw the people out who have been frozen: Rule of Law. These people have all signed contracts based upon their conception that when and if we develop the technology to reanimate them, that we will do so. I have not examined a contract from Alcor or another cryonics program, so this may be an implicit assumption of the process.

If that is the Best anti-cryonics argument heard so far, then it is a lousy argument.

Edit: Also, if, when revived, the person is going to have an indefinitely long life, then any re-training would be trivial in terms of cost.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 February 2010 10:18:23PM 10 points [-]

Earendil wins so hard it makes my ears bleed.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 February 2010 10:43:11PM 5 points [-]

Whoops, I just sent off a "you should join LW" message to Earendil on the board without noting that Earendil was the one who posted the link here!

Comment author: UnholySmoke 09 February 2010 10:56:46PM 9 points [-]

+1 rationality point for reading comments without checking the author. -1 social point for the faux pas.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 February 2010 09:17:14PM 0 points [-]

I sort of agree with the argument.

Comment author: Laoch 02 June 2011 04:14:13PM 1 point [-]

Which argument?

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 June 2011 09:33:23PM *  0 points [-]

The one in the link.

Basically, that the cost of reviving and taking care of large numbers of frozen people will exceed the value of those people to the future, so there won't be very many frozen people revived.

Comment author: Laoch 03 June 2011 08:34:42AM *  0 points [-]

How do you work that out? We're talking about a future society that can revive a cryonics patient, how can you be so certain that cost would be an issue for them?

Comment deleted 08 February 2010 11:20:37PM *  [-]
Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 08:39:59AM 1 point [-]

most futures that still have biological humans will reanimate all cryo patients

Most futures that still have human values will reanimate all cryo patients, if scanning and WBE counts as reanimation.

Comment deleted 09 February 2010 02:43:43PM [-]
Comment author: CarlShulman 09 February 2010 03:51:47PM 2 points [-]

Disagree that you should be scared rather than curious. Such scenarios are not well worked out.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 February 2010 11:29:38PM 1 point [-]

I don't know if they will or won't, but if they do, we'd be a burden and not an asset.

Comment author: Kutta 09 February 2010 09:40:54AM 11 points [-]

Is it such an outlandish scenario that given adequate and safe technology cryonics patients will be revived because of humanitarian and moral concerns? I see no reason why we'd switch to a burden-asset evaluation scheme of human beings when we have moved beyond that a long time ago (or more likely we never really adhered purely to it). As of now, there are rather few slaves around and we mostly refrain from killing retarded infants.

Comment author: Rain 09 February 2010 01:55:17PM *  1 point [-]

there are rather few slaves around

Human trafficking is a massive problem that goes mostly unreported in the media.

Due to the illegal nature of trafficking and differences in methodology, the exact extent is unknown. According to United States State Department data, an "estimated 600,000 to 820,000 men, women, and children [are] trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 70 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors. The data also illustrates that the majority of transnational victims are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation." However, they go on to say that "the alarming enslavement of people for purposes of labor exploitation, often in their own countries, is a form of human trafficking that can be hard to track from afar."

Comment author: gwern 10 May 2010 02:17:34AM 5 points [-]

800,000 out of 7 billion people? That doesn't sound like very much at all.

Comment author: byrnema 09 February 2010 02:26:15PM *  2 points [-]

Further, consider this from the point of view of a parent. It's OK for a 20-something young adult to decide to take this risk, but how can a parent take this risk for their child? I wouldn't have children if I didn't feel as though I had some control over whether they were well taken care of -- how could I send them to an unknown point in the future? Today, there are many people and organizations that exploit children. I'm supposed to glibly pretend that these problems will completely disappear just with future technology? That would be pretty irresponsible.

A lot of people make some argument along the lines of, 'if they revive us, it's because they value us." Yeah. And if they value children, without their mommies?

Comment author: Alicorn 09 February 2010 02:34:47PM 9 points [-]

This just breaks my heart, because I can understand the fear. I wouldn't want to have children if I thought they'd be taken away from me. But if I already had them, I would want them alive first and foremost. Even if that meant they'd be taken away. Living far away > dying in my arms.

Comment author: byrnema 09 February 2010 02:53:19PM *  6 points [-]

I can imagine my kids in bad situations, and in most of those situations I would want them to keep living. If I was dying during some kind of terrible revolution, I wouldn't kill my children to protect them from an unknown future. They're already alive, come what may.

Cryonics feels like a choice again, and for me this is a moral choice -- perhaps a deontological one. I am willing to hear a variety of moral solutions/arguments, I just think this is something that needs address.

I wrote in another comment,

I depend upon society to help me explore what the ethical issues are so that I can make up my own mind in an informed way. I’m not an ethicist or a pastor, I’ve specialized in a different area.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 February 2010 07:06:54PM 3 points [-]

By "cryonics feels like a choice again", do you mean it bears emotional similarity to choosing to have children in the first place, more than choosing to let them go on living, and therefore you wouldn't sign your children up to be revived under any circumstances you wouldn't have chosen to have them in the first place?

If so, I hope you will do everything you can to reverse that impression. Think of the frozen people as asleep, comatose, blinking, time-traveling - not dead. They will be revived not as infants, not as new people, not as ontologically unrelated snippets of personhood wearing secondhand names - they will wake up. If your children are frozen and revived, then afterwards, they will be alive. If your children are not frozen and revived, then absent really convenient timing, they will be dead.

Comment author: JGWeissman 09 February 2010 07:04:59PM 1 point [-]

Cryonics feels like a choice again, and for me this is a moral choice -- perhaps a deontological one. I am willing to hear a variety of moral solutions/arguments, I just think this is something that needs address.

You seem to be thinking as if a person dies, and then cryonics is a way that can maybe bring them back to life. It is more accurate to say that a person loses the capacity to to sustain their own life (and experience it), and cryonics is a way to keep them alive until potential future technology can restore their ability to sustain and experience their life.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 02:34:35PM *  3 points [-]

Can we please focus on one argument against cryonics at a time? Isn't this shifting to a new counterargument whenever an old one is addressed just logical rudeness?

If you don't dispute anything I actually say about technical feasibility, please take this discussion elsewhere.

EDIT: Downvotes are useful information, but comments explaining them are even better - thanks!

Comment author: byrnema 09 February 2010 03:57:58PM *  1 point [-]

I didn't down vote you but I do feel frustrated about the censure. First, I obviously don't think technological feasibility is anywhere near the right question. So I should just ignore this post. (But) secondly, other people are discussing other issues -- this whole thread is all about whether or not we'll get revived and why; it has nothing to do with technology. If I don't respond to this thread because it's off-topic, then I'm just missing an opportunity to further an agenda that is very important to me. I like to follow rules but I'm not likely to follow them sacrificially while others disregard them.

Comment author: Morendil 09 February 2010 04:21:20PM 3 points [-]

An important subtext of the current extended discussion, which in one sense can be seen as fallout from the "Normal Cryonics" article, is how to conduct a debate in a manner that is both epistemically and instrumentally rational.

One major issue, raised by the "Logical rudeness" post, is that ordinary conversation has a nasty tendency to go in circles revolving around each interlocutor's pet anxiety or trigger issue. No one is exempt: I tend to focus on the financial and logistical aspects, and that says something about me.

Rather than think of ciphergoth's intervention as "censure", please think of it as the unpleasant but necessary work of a volunteer facilitator, doing his best to keep the conversation on track.

This conversation touches on an issue that is deeply important to you, that much I understand. Perhaps your interests are better served by your drafting a separate post to lay out this issue as clearly as you can, a post in which you'd set out to apply the thinking tools you've learned from LW or that you wish to introduce to LW?

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 04:07:02PM *  0 points [-]

Your first point I think you answer yourself, is that fair? Your second is a good one, but I wonder what the right thing to do about it is. I did reply to the top-level ancestor comment of this one to say "this is off-topic"; are you saying that where discussion blossoms anyway, that railing against in-thread commenters is a mistake? Certainly where top-level comments have started talking about other arguments, I think that is logical rudeness, and you don't seem to disagree; is there anything to be done about it beyond the comment on the top-level comment?

EDIT to make clear: questions are not rhetorical.

Comment author: Kutta 09 February 2010 03:17:55PM 1 point [-]

Rain, I'm aware of human trafficking and other abuses, which is the reason I said "rather few" instead of "no". But compared to just a few hundred years ago slaves are as rare as hen's teeth.

Comment author: Bugle 09 February 2010 03:37:55PM 1 point [-]

And yet population nowadays is so much larger than in ancient times so there are claims the absolute number of slaves is currently higher than ever before

Comment author: kragensitaker 23 February 2010 01:43:35PM 5 points [-]

The number given in that article is 27 million slaves. Yet Wikipedia claims that 55 million people lived in the Roman Empire in AD 300-400. Were less than half of them slaves? (And that's ignoring the slaves in the rest of the world at the time.) The same page claims that in 1750, the world population was almost 800 million. Were 29 out of 30 people at the time really free? Surely slavery was more widespread among the hierarchical city cultures that left written records than among the "barbarians", but it's hard to imagine that the number has always been less than 27 million. During the Middle Ages, throughout all of Europe, the vast majority of the people were serfs, bound to their land, living and dying at the mercy of their lords.

If it's true that 249 out of every 250 people today is free, that sounds like a huge improvement over almost all of human history.

Comment author: Kutta 09 February 2010 04:09:51PM *  2 points [-]

Moral standards in general can improve irregardless of the number of people involved. Besides, one could argue that having more slaves is outweighed by having much more non-slaves living good lives. In regard to cryonics: all else being equal I'd favor to be reanimated in a world with low slave to non-slave ratios if I preferred the probability of my becoming a slave to be as low as possible.

Comment author: DanArmak 23 February 2010 05:49:41PM 0 points [-]

If I can create a new person from a frozen corpse, I can probably also create a new person by duplicating a living person. Why would the corpse have precedence on any moral grounds? Either way a new person is created; and duplication results in a person better adjusted to their era and so happier.

Given limited resources, persons will be created by the highest bidders. Many living persons will have a strong interest in self-duplication. Historical interests in reviving people would face economic competition. That's why I think they would switch to a burden/asset view.

Comment author: Kutta 23 February 2010 06:10:43PM *  1 point [-]

It definitely depends on the what kind of future there'll be. Robin Hanson's Malthusian future of scarcity and effective reproduction is a place where your described things would be indeed commonplace. I personally wouldn't welcome an explosive wave of replication creating so much scarcity that there'd be an actual competition for resources for an number of additional people that is as small as the number of cryonics patients.

Besides, the corpse would have a great deal of precedence on moral grounds, because a death or failure of reanimation is a huge loss of value that already exists (knowledge, personality, memories, psychological complexity etc.), while duplication only enables the additional person to grow into a unique individual sometimes in the future.

Comment author: DanArmak 23 February 2010 06:37:38PM 0 points [-]

I personally wouldn't welcome an explosive wave of replication creating so much scarcity that there'd be an actual competition for resources for an number of additional people that is as small as the number of cryonics patients.

Even if nearly all people were against replication - which is far from given - to prevent explosive replication you would need to either effectively limit everyone's access to basic resources (so they couldn't replicate) or to execute, exile or severely limit the rights of illegally created replicas (including allowing them to die of hunger or equivalent resource starvation).

Short of a sysop scenario, I don't see how this could be accomplished. Of course my inability to see it isn't proof of anything much, but just hoping it will happen without describing how to make it happen is pretty flimsy. That's why I regard resource scarcity as a primary feature of any future until proven otherwise.

the corpse would have a great deal of precedence on moral grounds, because a death or failure of reanimation is a huge loss of value that already exists (knowledge, personality, memories, psychological complexity etc.), while duplication only enables the additional person to grow into a unique individual sometimes in the future.

"Loss of value" - value to whom? Not value to the frozen person, because they don't exist until revived. Do you think the general public has a moral obligation to increase the diversity of the set of persons in existence? If so, then instead of reviving or duplicating people or even breeding the old fashioned way, they would spend their time artificially engineering new and radically different life forms. Is that what you have in mind?

Comment author: Kutta 24 February 2010 12:33:19PM *  3 points [-]

scarcity as a primary feature of any future until proven otherwise.

I agree with that; the other default future would be extinction. My problem is that I regard full-blown Hansonian future as equivalent to extinction because it similarly leads to the total loss of everything humans care about now, but note that this is a subject of heated dispute and I'm on Eliezer's and Nick Bostrom's side.

"Loss of value" - value to whom? Not value to the frozen person, because they don't exist until revived.

And anaesthetized people don't exist until resuscitated? There is no meaningful sense in which suspended people automatically cease to exist and then pop back to existence. The sense in which people cease to exist is rather a continuous function of the amount of lost information about people's brain states. Reanimation from suspension can have as much effect on the subject's psychology than waking from sleep, or as much as a severe brain injury, depending on the circumstances and the technologies involved. Legal death is a magical category in this case. Of course they exist.

Also, not wanting to die only requires you to not want to die while you're alive. We would agree that it's not moral to kill a lot of people on the basis that once they're nonexistent they won't care about the matter. To give a closer analogue, it's not right either to kill sleeping people because they at the moment cannot want to be not killed. Never reviving the suspended me simply equals killing me, with all the moral implications of an ordinary murder. And the fact the revival has some costs does not give it a special status. After all, keeping me alive has its own costs; I could be shot anytime so that more food is left for others.

Do you think the general public has a moral obligation to increase the diversity of the set of persons in existence? If so, then instead of reviving or duplicating people or even breeding the old fashioned way, they would spend their time artificially engineering new and radically different life forms. Is that what you have in mind?

Does the public has a moral obligation to refrain from killing people? I (personally) disapprove of murder, in general. I suspect that the general public has the same feelings - and yes, this is the primary element of what I have in mind about reanimation.

Aside from this consideration above, I (still) argue that reviving people is more valuable than duplication, for other people. There is stuff there in those frickin' brains you might find amusing, funny, interesting, useful or aesthetically pleasing. It's a waste to leave that utter amount of complexity and information that a human brain boasts frozen in ice, inactive and unreachable. The act of duplication, on the other hand, creates not a single bit of information that wasn't already available, it "just" doubles the total future capacity to think, learn, feel, interact and experience.

To turn back to the quote above, we definitely value individuality and diversity. But I just won't spend my life mindlessly increasing some amount of a specifically defined "diversity" because I'm not like a paperclip optimizator. Also, "Increase diversity" is not a well-formed moral sentence. The concept of diversity is extremely complex to begin with; diversity as it is valued by people is also a magical category with obfuscated boundaries.

Comment author: DanArmak 24 February 2010 12:56:36PM 0 points [-]

Of course they exist.

That assumption creates some unpleasant conclusions. To make sure I understand you, please consider the following scenarios.

Suppose that our descendants acquire a deep understanding of human brain operation. They build a machine which can generate a brain-description to given parameters, as different from any existing human as normal humans are different from one another. Given a description, a living brain and body can be built and a person created.

Suppose we generate 10^10 different descriptions. Do we now have a moral duty to instantiate them all in real bodies, because once we have some information-theoretical descriptions of them, they are "existing persons"? Note that we haven't simulated them; we just computed the single-moment-in-time initial states of possible simulations.

Never reviving the suspended me simply equals killing me, with all the moral implications of an ordinary murder.

Then, does reviving you once equal killing the potential second copy of you we could also have revived?

Does the public has a moral obligation to refrain from killing people?

A better comparison would be: does the public have a moral obligation to support minimal living conditions for all already-existing people, and keep them from dying from hunger or disease? I think the answer is yet, but it is not absolute; it works so far because the burden happens to be economically easily bearable. It might also work for reviving people if very few people will ever be frozen, so that the total burden of reviving is small. If ever it came to a real economic tradeoff, reviving people wouldn't necessarily win.

There is stuff there in those frickin' brains you might find amusing, funny, interesting, useful or aesthetically pleasing.

Giving birth to children, the old-fashioned way, and so growing new people also creates interesting new brains. Why would reviving ancient people (who were not outstanding thinkers or personalities in their own time) be so rewarding?

The question about diversity referred to the moral situation. You think there's a moral obligation to revive people, and you justify doing that instead of duplicating people because the duplicates increase the diversity of society. Is there a factor for diversity in your purely moral calculation, or do you think that morally it doesn't matter what new person you create, and diversity is only a selfish reason to revive a more interesting person?

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 February 2010 10:30:04AM 0 points [-]

We don't kill many infants, but we do abort lots of fetuses, though. I don't see any obvious reason why we should give a frozen corpse more rights than a fetus. Everyone who is cryopreserved actually did die; reviving one is more like creating a new person than it is like providing medical care to an existing, living person.

Comment author: Kutta 09 February 2010 03:52:14PM *  3 points [-]

Everyone who is cryopreserved actually did die; reviving one is more like creating a new person than it is like providing medical care to an existing, living person.

At Alcor and CI there is much written about the definitions of death; their preferred version (mine too) is information-theoretic death. To be precise, legal death is the moment the doctors decide to stop caring for the patient, mostly because they estimate the chance of successful resuscitation too low. On the other hand, information-theoretic death is the point beyond which no technology can restore a mind. This definition is a bit more precise as it being vague requires us to consider the possibility of reversing entropy (EDIT: in other words, the finality of legal death is pretty questionable, but we can only argue against the finality of information-theoretic death if there is a way to reverse entropy).

The subjective experience of waking up from cryonic suspension could range from identical to waking up from sleep to having suffered a serious and pervasive brain trauma, depending on the circumstances of suspension and reanimation. I wouldn't automatically categorize reanimated people as newly created persons as I wouldn't do so in the case of sleeping people or victims of brain injury. They are new persons to the extent the continuity between their pre- and post- suspension selves is lost, and I think the same applies to brain injury victims.

We don't kill many infants, but we do abort lots of fetuses, though.

Aborting a fetus may or may not be fully moral depending on how developed the fetus is. Killing a zygote is as morally charged as killing a random bacterium. Otherwise, causing suffering to fetuses by abortion is sure a possibility, albeit one that can be reduced by regulations informed by a detailed knowledge of neurosciences.

However, I think the strongest reason why likening cryonics patients to fetuses is ridiculous is that cryonics patients (can) have a huge pile of accumulated life experiences, memories and a unique and rich personality.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 05:00:17PM 1 point [-]

requires us to consider the possibility of reversing entropy.

That doesn't sound quite right, can you be a little more precise? If cryonics depended on breaking the Second Law I would have no time for it.

Comment author: Kutta 09 February 2010 05:10:59PM *  1 point [-]

I meant that information theoretic-death is a point beyond which restoring a person requires reversing entropy. Thus we can only argue against the finality of this kind of death if there is a way to reverse entropy (which seems not to be the case). I admit my sentence there was too opaque.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 February 2010 06:39:50PM 7 points [-]

Reversing entropy is insufficient. You have to interact with a past that no longer has any traces in the present. It's not enough to have a way to turn steam into ice cubes. You need a time camera.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 05:19:40PM 0 points [-]

I think the definition is clearer if you avoid reference to entropy, but I get what you're getting at now. Thanks!

Comment author: knb 09 February 2010 12:48:39AM 4 points [-]

No, I agree with Roko. Some people would probably want us. It's just that we'd be consumption goods rather than capital goods.

Just like kids, really. Most 1st Worlders don't have kids because they are good little workers, they have them because they make them happy. The few dozen cryopreserved people would be a scarce commodity in a world with very few scarcities.

Obviously this would only happen in a nice post-singularity world, or a weird future in which advanced nanotech comes before AI.

Comment author: CaptainOblivious2 09 February 2010 03:42:10AM *  3 points [-]

It seems to me that my death is most likely to come from one of 2 scenarios:

1) I become fatally ill with some disease (e.g. cancer) and, after a period of time, succumb to it.

2) I die suddenly as a result of great physical trauma (e.g. car accident)

Obviously other scenarios are possible, but I think these are the most likely. In case 1 I have plenty of time to sign up for cryonics (and could possibly pay for it with a "settlement" of some sort on my life insurance). In case 2, my body and brain suffer massive physical damage, and the cryonics company probably doesn't get involved until there's nothing left to salvage.

In either case, no great harm befalls me for waiting - over time the process will become more plausible (or possibly even proven), or maybe it'll be disproven, and in any event the costs will likely come down as my income and net worth rise... so what's the rush?

Comment author: Alicorn 09 February 2010 03:45:32AM 11 points [-]

Life insurance will become more expensive after you are diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Comment author: CaptainOblivious2 09 February 2010 01:03:32PM 3 points [-]

True, but I've got life insurance already - this would just be a matter of "re-purposing" a small percentage of it. Or maybe I'll just pay it out of my pocket after I get sick - the insurance isn't really a critical part of the plan.

P.S. does anyone know the legalities of cryonics? For example, suppose I pay for it with cash advances on all my credit cards, and then "die". Many years later I'm somehow brought back to life... do I still have that debt (plus interest and penalties, of course), or has it been wiped out? Maybe it depends on how I'm brought back: if my physical body were to be brought back, I think most people would expect the debt to stick with me (after all, I didn't really die - I just took a long nap)... but if I'm reincarnated as a computer program, it might be a little murkier...

Comment author: gwern 10 May 2010 02:23:47AM 4 points [-]

P.S. does anyone know the legalities of cryonics? For example, suppose I pay for it with cash advances on all my credit cards, and then "die". Many years later I'm somehow brought back to life... do I still have that debt (plus interest and penalties, of course), or has it been wiped out?

Legally, you're just dead. Your life insurance gets paid out as specified, your assets get sold off and dispersed, your creditors take what they can, and after a while, the files are finally closed. What happens to your corpse is a private detail.

There are cases of people returning long after being declared dead, but from what I remember, they usually got very little back. The law doesn't like loose threads; eg. statute of limitations.

(And seriously - interest? What's the point of charging a returnee a few centuries of interest? If the relevant currencies, sovereignties, and entities even exist, compounded interest could be in the billions.)

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:37:15PM 2 points [-]

this would just be a matter of "re-purposing" a small percentage of it.

Why do you want to be frozen only when your death is long anticipated? Why would you prefer not to be frozen if your death was sudden?

Or is there some advantage you get from waiting I'm not seeing?

(Death meaning of course legal death here)

Comment author: mattnewport 09 February 2010 10:53:15PM 4 points [-]

Did you read his original post? Sudden death for an otherwise healthy adult is likely to involve severe physical trauma (car accident) or require an autopsy (unexpected deaths of healthy adults generally do) and so greatly lower your chances of being successfully preserved.

This is one of the reasons I don't think cryonics is a good investment for me in my current situation - based on what I've been able to glean from mortality statistics there is a fairly narrow range of circumstances where I might die in the next 20 years and be in a good state for successful preservation.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 February 2010 08:20:51AM 6 points [-]

Alcor/CI will dispense with the money according to your instructions if there's no chance of cryopreservation. The only difference between relying on this and re-purposing in time is that if you do die young in a cryopreservable way, you get the wrong outcome.

Also, sorting out cryonics is hard enough when you're not terminally ill.

(I can't remember if we actually know CaptainOblivious2's gender - am following your example)

Comment author: gwern 04 June 2011 02:41:54AM 0 points [-]

True, but I've got life insurance already - this would just be a matter of "re-purposing" a small percentage of it. Or maybe I'll just pay it out of my pocket after I get sick - the insurance isn't really a critical part of the plan.

Oh, and I'd point out that you may have issues renewing your insurance if you get a terminal disease. I don't know the ins-and-outs but it wouldn't surprise me terribly if term insurance might be hard to get if you outlive a particular time period. ('Why yes, we'd be glad to renew your term insurance policy Mr. Oblivious2; there's just the small matter of your health records...')

Comment author: RobinHanson 08 February 2010 08:27:19PM 9 points [-]

there is not one person who has ever taken the time to read and understand cryonics claims in any detail, still considers it pseudoscience, and has written a paper, article or even a blog post to rebut anything that cryonics advocates actually say.

This is an implicit appeal to an intuition about a missing dataset. So let me repeat my plea to make this dataset formal! Collect disputes from the past and dig for similar data on them - how many tech arguments by who in their favor, how many against, and so on. And especially - who was eventually right?

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:37:28AM 3 points [-]

How could we do this? It seems to me that even if you were trying hard to avoid it, you'd have a very hard time not biasing your search in favour of examples that suited what you wanted to prove. Is there some external source of examples you could lean on that would unbias your survey, the way that people publish search terms in public databases when doing surveys of scientific consensus?

Comment author: RobinHanson 09 February 2010 01:41:15PM 2 points [-]

This is an issue with data collection on any interesting topic. It doesn't prevent such efforts from being useful. You choose a criteria and collect data that way, others who think your criteria off complain and choose a subset of your data to see if that makes a difference, or go collect more data according to criteria they prefer.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 01:48:36PM 5 points [-]

How would you start on a project like this? Serious, not rhetorical question.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 08 February 2010 09:26:17PM 3 points [-]

make this dataset formal!

Hence TakeOnIt, a database of expert opinions. Over the last few hours I've peen entering in all the expert opinions on cryonics that people have been posting links to:

Cryonics debate: http://www.takeonit.com/question/318.aspx

FYI - Robin Hanson's opinions on TakeOnIt: http://www.takeonit.com/expert/656.aspx

Comment author: RobinHanson 08 February 2010 09:41:00PM 2 points [-]

Sorry, that's just not the same thing at all.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 08 February 2010 10:17:18PM 2 points [-]

My point is that the same infrastructure can be used to capture any debate, whether its the current cryonics debate or other various debates in the past. The good thing about having a database of expert opinions is it makes questions like the one you asked easier.

Comment author: RobinHanson 08 February 2010 10:35:55PM 1 point [-]

Infrastructure is really not anything like the limiting factor. I'd donate pencils and paper too if that would help, but it won't. Beware overrating the stone in stone soup.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 February 2010 10:14:27PM 1 point [-]

It's a start. If it became popular and scaled up, it would provide that dataset.

Comment author: Document 19 December 2010 11:02:38AM 0 points [-]

I misread the last line, and briefly imagined you had a page for "Is TakeOnIt a useful resource?".

Comment author: mattnewport 08 February 2010 05:17:38PM 9 points [-]

The paragraph on climate change seems a little out of place. You must be aware that some of your readership will feel it undermines your case so its inclusion seems almost intended to pull in an unrelated debate into the discussion.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 08 February 2010 02:27:51PM *  11 points [-]

Interestingly (and somewhat to the author's surprise) there are no published technical articles on cryonics that claim it won't work.

Also interestingly, there appear to be no published technical articles that claim that it will.

Last week, I searched for articles on how mammalian cryopreservation is done. I found nothing. Not a single journal article on any of the techniques Alcor uses. There are many articles on cryopreserving sperm, and embryos; there are studies on attempting to preserve other types of tissue samples. But I could not find a single article on methods to attempt to cryopreserve adult mammals. Not even in the journal Cryobiology, which is entirely about cryopreservation.

Go to the current issue of Cryobiology and look at the article titles to see what actually is being done in the field. Also notice that the author names are almost all Asian and (non-English/French/German) European. Cryonics for humans is most popular in nations that don't publish on cryonics. (Don't know if it's popular in the Nordic countries.)

Comment author: quanticle 09 February 2010 03:39:43AM 1 point [-]

I'm having the same problem. All the studies I've looked at have only studied the plausibility of cryonics. None have actually attempted to freeze and thaw a mammal (or any other warm blooded animal). All the examples of "natural" cryonic preservation deal with cold blooded animals (usually frogs or fish).

Can anyone point me to studies showing that cryogenic freezing and thawing in warm blooded creatures is possible? I'd hate to throw down a bunch of money on a cryonics policy, only to end up dead anyway, because the freezing process permanently damaged my tissues.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 08:43:22AM 4 points [-]

Not an entire mammal, but Greg Fahy has cryopreserved a kidney, brought it back and shown a rabbit able to live using it as its sole kidney.

Comment author: Morendil 09 February 2010 08:52:34AM *  3 points [-]

Perhaps just as importantly for this whole discussion, nematodes have been shown to survive cryopreservation, with "memories" intact.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 02:16:55PM *  1 point [-]

Very interesting! Again, not LN2 temperatures though.

EDIT: I'm wrong - thanks for the correction!

Comment author: Morendil 09 February 2010 03:38:18PM 1 point [-]

The abstract I linked to does mention LN2. Though I'm not sure how much difference various sub-freezing temperatures make, if our concern is how well the current protocols of cryonics can protect the brain against freezing damage.

I Googled for articles concerning nematodes because they're the standard "simplest organism with a nervous system", and this was among the first hits, filtering to exclude all publications by cryonicists.

What would be the next "higher" organism someone might have tried that on, that also has a nervous system?

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 03:26:22PM 8 points [-]

Not a single journal article on any of the techniques Alcor uses.

That's forbidden by the Society for Cryobiology by-laws.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 08 February 2010 03:54:12PM 3 points [-]

Why?

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 04:31:52PM 4 points [-]

See Alcor's side of the story (also linked in the article).

Comment author: MBlume 08 February 2010 11:10:58PM 1 point [-]

That's one of the most depressing things I've read in a while >.<

Comment author: JenniferRM 09 February 2010 06:08:23AM 7 points [-]

Pretty much agree.

The only thing that gives much comfort is that was written in 1991 so there's theoretically enough time for some of the obstructionist cohort to have retired or run out of steam on the subject. Perhaps the upside of a pessimistic view on scientific progress could be kicking in by now?

I tried to verify the actual current state of the Society for Cryobiology's bylaws to see if they even contain the provisions banning cryonicists or their research any longer. With 20 years for them to have realized that such censorship is at the very least in poor taste, maybe things have settled down? When I tried looking for an online version of the document with the it didn't appear to be something they have on display.

Does anyone else have stronger google-fu than I? It would be neat to track down the document so we could see for ourselves :-)

Comment author: MBlume 09 February 2010 08:09:33AM 3 points [-]

Wow, I'm actually having a very hard time finding any information on relations between the two more current than the '91 article

Comment author: Morendil 08 February 2010 05:38:31PM 2 points [-]

Aha. I hadn't been aware of that conflict between cryonics and cryobiologist. I plan to go and read the Alcor page in full, then the letter in full, but right now one thing comes to mind: whatever document justifies the cryobiologists' decision to outright ban cryonics should lay out the most credible extant arguments against cryonics. They wouldn't take such a serious decision on a whim.

Comment author: ciphergoth 12 February 2010 11:09:39PM 2 points [-]

I'm wrong: I found the document and some earlier drafts.

Comment author: byrnema 12 February 2010 11:38:59PM *  1 point [-]

Very interesting. I like to synthesize and summarize, so this is my synopsis.

I read that they have one mild moral objection, that they were willing to stand behind over several drafts, and one scientific objection, that they were not willing to reiterate.

1st objection: you shouldn't sell a technological service that hasn't been scientifically demonstrated (presumably, even if the buyer is aware that they're only buying a potential technology)

It is interesting that they would like to call this fraud even though they can't quite:

"the implication of ultimate reanimation borders more on fraud than either faith or science."

(This reminds me of the argument I lost as to whether people would be justified in thinking that cryonics was a scam for some weak interpretation of 'scam' .)

2nd objection: that however people are cryo-preserved now, it is unlikely to be un-doable

in light of current scientific understanding of freezing injury in cells and tissues, even in the presence of cryo-preservatives, it is the Board’s scientific judgment that the prospects for re-animation of a frozen human, particularly a legally dead human, are infinitesimally low.

I don't agree with the first objection: if informed people want to pay for the chance of reanimation, I think that's their decision.

The second objection would be strong, if it were true that cryo-preservation causes irreversible damage (information loss), but that appears currently undecided.

Comment author: ciphergoth 13 February 2010 12:17:29AM *  1 point [-]

The second objection would be strong, if it were true that cryo-preservation causes irreversible damage (information loss), but that appears currently undecided.

All the arguments I've found so far that are in favour of that position are either very vague on details, or fatally flawed on details. Most cryonics critics don't appear to understand the issue of information theoretic death clearly enough to articulate a position on it.

Comment author: Morendil 12 February 2010 11:28:02PM 1 point [-]

Thanks. The revision history is particularly interesting.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 05:44:20PM *  4 points [-]

[EDIT: the below is wrong.]

As far as I can tell, there is no such document. This I consider very striking evidence on the credibility of anticryonics.

Of course the by-law is 28 years old, so even if there were such a document it would need updating.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 08 February 2010 05:23:04PM 1 point [-]

Nice link - I added Alcor's side of the story to the question "Is cryonics worthwhile?":

http://www.takeonit.com/question/318.aspx

Thanks to everyone's suggestions, there's now 5 sub-debates for cryonics:

  • Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?
  • Is cryonic restoration technically feasible in the future?
  • Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Does cryonic preservation with today's best technology cause information-theoretic death?
Comment author: Psy-Kosh 08 February 2010 04:45:19PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the link, and eeew.

Comment author: Jordan 09 February 2010 09:33:18AM 0 points [-]

Wow, that really stirs up the rebel in me.

I'm curious now to look more into the state of the art in cryopreservation. How close are we to successfully cryopreserving an organ?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 09 February 2010 07:44:37PM 5 points [-]

I think most cryobiologists are going about it the wrong way, trying to get incrementally better at cryopreserving tissue. The work I'm aware of that seems most promising (I say, having almost no familiarity with the field) is Ken Storey's work with wood frogs. They can freeze and thaw naturally.

I looked into it because I hoped I might be able to move some genes from a wood frog into a mouse, freeze it, thaw it later, and win the Methuselah Mouse prize. But it turns out that the frog has an anti-dessicant response to protect tissue from lack of water, an anti-ischemia response to protect tissue from lack of oxygen, a glucose response to produce glucose as a cryoprotectant, an anti-glucose response to protect cells from the huge amounts of glucose, and a bunch of other mysterious responses. It involves hundreds of genes. It's going to take a large program to import entire gene pathways from one organism to another.

Comment author: Friendly-HI 13 June 2011 10:19:15PM 0 points [-]

Haha. Creative thinking, but I'm not sure if that would count as life extension by the rules of the M-Prize.

It would have been stupendously trivial if all one had to do is to copy-paste some genes into a mouse egg, or do some gene-therapy, in order to become freeze-resistant. Aubrey's beard would go white in an instant.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:38:36AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Jordan 09 February 2010 07:52:22PM 0 points [-]

Awesome. Thanks for the links.

Comment author: Rain 08 February 2010 06:55:38PM *  3 points [-]

My critique of cryonics: other things are more important, and more worthy of my money, than preserving my own life.

Comment author: Unknowns 08 February 2010 07:15:12PM 2 points [-]

Do you also donate all the money you would otherwise spend on health insurance?

Comment author: Rain 08 February 2010 07:23:17PM *  12 points [-]

I have three buckets of spending:

  • Life support - food and shelter. It's expensive to keep on living, and earning more money. Consider this overhead.
  • Frivolous pursuits - WoW, booze, the occasional passion in music or literature. This takes less money than you might think. Wastage.
  • Donations - I'm planning for this to be 22.5 percent of my gross income this year. By contrast, this will be 20 times my actual health insurance costs, barring unexpected personal injury, and will likely be more than life support and frivolous pursuits combined.

To note another contrast, the cost of a single full body preservation at Alcor, plus membership dues, appears to be close to the SIAI yearly budget.

Comment author: James_Miller 09 February 2010 02:28:34AM 4 points [-]

The real cost of your "Frivolous pursuits" is time. Spend less time drunk or on WoW, use the saved time to work at Burger King and use the money from Burger king to pay for cryonics.

Comment author: Rain 09 February 2010 04:11:11AM *  2 points [-]

At that point, the equation would be, "work at Burger King and use the money <to donate to cause X>". The same for getting life insurance. And that option is currently not feasible due to the fact that I already have a hard time going to work at the job I have. There's a reason I called it wastage.

I know it sounds like a status grab and signalling and all that jazz, so let me explain: I consider my martyrdom to be a symptom of depression that just so happens to benefit certain organizations. I doubt they'd complain, despite its effects on my life. I used to tell people I didn't know what to do with my money (interesting aside: the dozen or so times I said this, the answer was always the same, nearly verbatim: "give it to me"), then for a while I told people I was going to live forever (cryonics, transhumanism, etc), now I tell people I'm going to save the world.

Ideally, I'd like to do both, but right now the cost of cryonics is outrageous when compared with the (lack of) funding put toward such important issues as existential risk. I honestly believe the values don't even fit on the same scale.

Comment author: Jordan 09 February 2010 05:25:05AM 1 point [-]

Power to you.

I'd only note that the monthly cost of WoW is roughly half as much as the monthly insurance cost for cryonics.

Comment author: Rain 09 February 2010 01:48:32PM 5 points [-]

Yes. And if I had life insurance, I don't see why I wouldn't sign that over to the same organizations I donate to, since the cost is not the monthly dollar figure, but the amount spent on the process. For $150,000, you can preserve one failed human body with a low chance of success, or you can fund existential risk research for most of a year.

If I were some kind of perfect utility maximizer, I would be able to cut out all the non-essentials, but I have akrasia more strongly than I've heard it stated by anyone else on this site. I can actively look at a situation, say to myself, "Y is wrong. It will hurt me, it will hurt the other people involved, and produces no good in the foreseeable future. X is better in every way." And then I take action Y. If I were a theist, I'd say I was possessed, as I walk down the sidewalk ranting at myself, "What are you doing?! You know it's wrong! You don't even want it! Why are you doing it?!" on my way to do Y.

I take my victories where I can get them. I consider the value equation to be very rational - existential risk is far more important than one life. The possibly rationalized part is where I don't do both to mitigate uncertainty. I can see this as potentially a form of cryocrastination brought on by low self-esteem. I can also see it as counteracting the abnormally large emphasis we place on our own continued existence, bringing the value comparison more fully into view... it's just a good thing not everyone feels that way.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 February 2010 07:18:09AM 3 points [-]

That's for term life insurance that becomes worthless if you don't die within a specified time period. After that time period, if you don't have $50,000 in the bank, you'll have to pay a much higher premium because you're older.

Comment author: timtyler 08 February 2010 11:21:31PM *  0 points [-]

Would you say you are a utiliarian - or aspire to be one? [edit: thanks for your reply]

Comment author: Rain 09 February 2010 01:42:32AM *  1 point [-]

I try not to apply labels to myself since they limit options. I currently have strong issues with the concept of value / utilons.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 04:30:41PM *  4 points [-]

I found this article in which John Bischof speaks out against cryonics, so I mailed him, and he very politely replied almost immediately to say that cryobiologists consider cryonics a "faith based approach". Sadly he provided no more detail; I've mailed again asking him to write on the subject at greater length.

Update: he replied to my reply. I have also had mail from Ralph Merkle! Will make a new post on my blog with details later.

Comment author: k3nt 12 February 2010 08:54:29PM 0 points [-]

For those of us who are relatively newcomers to the site, please provide a link to your blog. Thanks.

Comment author: Cyan 12 February 2010 08:58:39PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: k3nt 12 February 2010 09:16:06PM *  1 point [-]

I know i'm a dumbass sometimes. Re-reading I found the link at the top of the page even! Sigh.

I have bookmarked the blog now.

Comment author: Cyan 12 February 2010 09:18:43PM 2 points [-]

I'm just waiting for the day someone pulls that shit on me. I know I'll get mine...

Comment author: pre 08 February 2010 05:43:13PM *  2 points [-]

I'm a long way from being an expert neuroscientist, but as far as I can tell the mechanism under which neural change happens essentially involves a few physical changes:

1) Myelination - the Myelin coating over the Axon of a neuron grows, making the Axon conduct it's signal more powerfully and quickly

2) Change in number and distribution of neurotransmitter receptors in the dendrites of the neuron. Obviously the more of them you have, the more likely the neuron is to fire in the presence of the transmitter which fits that receptor.

3) Change in the number and distribution of vesicles which release neurotransmitters in the Axon Terminal. When the neuron fires, the vesticles in it's Axon terminal's release their load of neurotransmitters. Again, the more of them you have the stronger the signal to make the neuron the other side of the synapse fire.

4) The actual path the Axon's and Dentrites take, snaking from one cell to the next. Litterally the 'wiring'.

There may well be other changes to the neural structure which change the way it behaves, but these seem to be the major mechanisms. Interestingly, a neuron firing tends not only to release neurotrasmitters from it's vesticles, but also to change the structure of the neuron, make it grow more receptors etc

So does Cryonics actually preserve these things?

I'm not in a position to tell. If the cell walls were really being burst, then no, I doubt that the number and distribution of vesticles and receptors would be preserved since those things are built into the cell walls. My impression was that proper cryopreservation did indeed store the cells intact though.

If the cells are stored intact, including the position of the receptors and releasors in the cell walls at each end of every branch of the axons in the neurons, then I think this seems likely to be where the brain's long-term state is stored.

There'll doubtless also be short-term memories which are just feedback loops of signals travelling around the brain. They'll be lost, I would think, just as they were lost in my brother when he spent a few weeks in a coma and remembered nothing until the day before he got beaten up.

Course, I'm nowhere near qualified to really judge either. All I've done is read a bit.

I signed up for the Alcor UK mail-list at the beginning of the year. It's pretty much silent though. As far as I can tell, shipping your dead body to the US is the only way it's really gonna work. I fear that makes it much less viable here than there.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 05:57:16PM *  2 points [-]

If the topic is the technical plausibility of cryonics then this is on-topic, but I'm hoping to focus a little more narrowly than that, on the specific subject of existing writing that argues against cryonics, its accuracy and quality, and what we can infer from that.

BTW: I too am in the UK and having real trouble!

Comment author: pre 12 February 2010 11:44:32PM 1 point [-]

Heard back from the guy I emailed. Sounds like the meeting next month is mostly for folks who are signed up already, with more policy and practice stuff than enrolment and talk about the actual process.

I've asked him if he'll either do a Q&A here on exactly what UK folks would have to do, or else suggest someone who will.

Seems like it'd be a lot of effort to trek up to Sheffield for just the answers to some questions.

Hopefully he'll say yes :)

Comment author: pre 08 February 2010 06:41:58PM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, I can't help on finding stuff written on cryo though I'm afraid. That's the topics it'd have to address to have much meaning to me: Whether or not the distribution of those proteins in the cell membrane are stored or destroyed. It might still not work even if it saves those things, but if it doesn't save those things it's not got a chance.

There's some kinda cryonics UK meeting next month which I'd half planned to think about going to. Will give it more thought when I get back from a work-trip next week.

{EDIT: Actually, I'll email 'em now and see what the score is]

Comment author: CarlShulman 08 February 2010 01:46:46PM *  4 points [-]

The general problem of deciding what to make of theses cases was discussed in the Overcoming Bias post What Evidence in Silence or Confusion?

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 01:53:26PM 1 point [-]

Thanks - have added to the body of the post.

Comment author: whpearson 08 February 2010 08:43:53AM *  10 points [-]

Cryonics is hard to argue against as it partially involves magic (in the sufficiently advanced technology sense) and it involves something we don't fully understand, how information is stored in the brain. So the lack of technical criticism might be a rare instance of people shutting up about things they don't understand.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:29:58PM *  5 points [-]

BTW, I've been bugging people for being off-topic all thread, so I thought I should say somewhere: this is exactly on-topic, this objection is as specific to my argument as can be. Thank you.

Comment author: matt 19 February 2010 04:42:10AM 0 points [-]

This is off topic too, but kudos to you for splitting off two comments from one when you're making two unrelated points. It keeps the discussions much clearer.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 09:57:39AM 0 points [-]

Cryonics advocates make lots of specific claims - see the articles linked at the end. Is there no claim on any of those articles that could be countered?

Comment author: whpearson 08 February 2010 12:28:05PM 1 point [-]

I don't know. The thing is the concrete claims do not add up to water tight case for cryonics doing what people want, that is preserving identity over the long term. The Alcor Scientist's article says as much.

There is space for later understanding of the way that the brain stores memories or just some chemical state important for identity to not be preserved by cryonics as it is currently practised.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 12:47:40PM *  2 points [-]

There is space for that. It could turn out, say, that memories depend on some chemical or other being in one of two isomeric states, and that vitrification fluids will flip all the isomers the same way, leading to immediate information theoretic death.

However, I think that the case that Alcor and others present is enough to shift the burden of proof. At the moment there seems no reason to think that homeopathy or sand-powered tanks will work, and the burden is on proponents to come up with such a reason. By contrast, while we're a long way from being able to say with confidence that cryonics will work, we are at the stage where we can say that we should expect that it is likely to work until someone can come up with a reason why it shouldn't work.

Scenarios like the one in my first paragraph above would be quite a surprise; as far as I know they don't form any part of our current understanding of how memory is stored. It's not enough to throw out a bunch of "maybes": if you accept that there's no part of the evidence presented above that can be taken apart and shown to be flawed, then it is sufficient that it's a mistake to have low confidence in the technical plausibility of cryonics until someone presents a biologically plausible way for it not to work.

Comment author: whpearson 08 February 2010 02:06:51PM 5 points [-]

I'd say It depends how complete you think modern neuroscience is. If you think neuroscience is fairly complete and there won't be many gotcha's about how things work then I would adopt your view.

The less complete it is, and the more known unknowns and unknown unknowns there might be before we get a full understanding the more chance that one of those unknowns will interact with the vitrification fluid or how quickly we manage to get people vitrified at the moment (we might not be being quick enough to preserve some chemical structures).

I half jokingly compared it to alchemy in the pre-chemistry days, they had so many unknown unknowns people couldn't find convincing arguments against it. Should they have expected it to work? That is an extreme example though, I think we have a better handle of the brain than the alchemists did of the possibilities of transmuting lead to gold.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 February 2010 12:50:54PM 4 points [-]

I don't know whether this is on topic since it is not a technical argument, but it is from my field of expertise which is economics. From the CI Faq: "Cryonics is practiced because of a belief that the damage caused by current cryopreservation can someday be repaired."

Now from the preceding paragraphs I get the feeling that science proceeds in the way of developing better preservation techniques that reduce the potential damage. So damage repairing technologies would have to be developed separately. In order for those technologies to be developed, however, there needs to be an economic gain expected. Now what would that gain be? The money payed for cryonics has already been payed. New customers are gained by better preservation techniques not by repairing techniques. The knowledge of the preserved people would probably be obsolete by then.

A small amount of people signing up for cryonics is necessary to show that to be a viable market so that preservation technologies are being developed at all. However if the customer base is too large without significant advances in this field the pressure to develop better preservation technologies is reduced. In any case the people already preserved the old way are probably dead unless there would be a significant amount of preserved people whom future societies value only for their personalities or any inflicted damage is in fact negligible already.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 01:20:47PM *  2 points [-]

No, I wouldn't consider this to be on-topic, sorry. I'd like to stay focussed on technical feasibility and the arguments raised in the article.

Comment author: rortian 09 February 2010 08:44:47PM 0 points [-]

I think he raised a very valid concern. Also, cost is a very important dimension in terms of technological development. If money were not an issue, I have little doubt that we would have seen manned missions to Mars and several asteroids. However, money is very much an issue.

Why will so much go into recovering brains when new ones are so damn cheap?

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:07:46PM 2 points [-]

I'm not disputing that it's a valid concern, I'm trying to focus on one particular question in the discussion rather than just opening another general discussion on the subject of cryonics.

Comment author: ata 08 February 2010 02:15:39AM *  26 points [-]

The allegation that cryonics is pseudoscience reminds me of the allegations that Singularitarianism/Transhumanism are "atheist religion", "the rapture for nerds", etc. That confusion, I think, comes when people see the questions we're investigating — "Could we live forever?", "Could we end suffering?", etc. — and assume that we're answering the questions in a way similar to how religion does... or they don't even think to remember why they believe religion is bad, and they assume that it's the questions rather than the answers. Obviously, the problem with religion isn't the questions it asks, nor their motives for asking those questions; the problem is the way religion acquires answers to those questions. The same applies to seeking eternal life. Eternal life as a goal isn't wishful thinking; it's wishful thinking when people mistakenly believe that the goal is easy or has already been reached ("you can live forever if you believe in Jesus", etc.). Yet it's not surprising that many perfectly intelligent people buy into these memes. They are used to hearing completely bullshit answers to these completely legitimate questions, so they get to the point where the questions themselves set off their bullshit alarms, even in the context of attempting to investigate them within a rigorous scientific/rational framework.

The "singularity == religion" and "cryonics == pseudoscience" memes are comparable to someone in the early 1960s comparing the Apollo program to the story of the Tower of Babel, and then dismissing the program on that basis as a technically infeasible religious fantasy.

Comment author: zero_call 09 February 2010 12:25:06AM *  2 points [-]

Actually the Apollo program was quite well supported by the advancing missile technologies that were developed from the 1940s and onwards. Those early and ongoing tests made clear demonstrations of the ability to launch man-made objects into orbits around the earth and the moon. There's no such similar testing that has been done for cryonics. That analogy is really exaggerating things.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 08:30:36AM 8 points [-]

If you think that the Apollo program was better supported by missile evidence than cryonics is by the rabbit kidney vitrification, you're going to have to show your workings. You should do so in more than a comment, though, since whatever you post will as I show above be the best anti-cryonics article in the world.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 February 2010 11:05:25PM 6 points [-]

Reading this back, I have to add that the Apollo program was much better supported by missile evidence than cryonics is by the rabbit kidney vitrification. However, I don't think the difference is qualitative.

Comment author: Bugle 08 February 2010 02:54:34AM *  0 points [-]

I've also encountered people who criticize the predictions surrounding the singularity, which misses the point that the singularity is the point beyond which predictions cannot be made.

edit: Didn't mean that as a comprehensive definition.

Comment author: timtyler 08 February 2010 11:25:27PM *  1 point [-]

There is no "point beyond which predictions cannot be made". That is a SF fantasy.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 08 February 2010 03:56:57AM *  14 points [-]

That is not the most common usage here. See Three Singularity Schools and the LW wiki page.

EDIT: The parent comment does not deserve to be at -4. This is a reasonable thing for an inexperienced commenter to say.

Comment author: magfrump 08 February 2010 06:24:53PM 5 points [-]

Voted up for niceness.

Comment author: Bugle 09 February 2010 08:18:52PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for saving me from karmic hell, but I still don't see the conflict. I seem to follow the Vinge version, which doesn't appear to be proscribed.

I may have been too categorical, obviously one can make all the predictions he likes, and some with a high percentage of certainty, for instance "If cryorevival is possible then post singularity it will be trivial to implement" but that still doesn't give us any certainty that this will be so, for instance a post singularity paperclip maximizer would be capable of cryorevival but have no interest in it.

Comment author: ata 08 February 2010 03:32:39AM *  6 points [-]

If that were true about the Singularity, then wouldn't it be correct to criticize the people who make predictions about it?

Comment author: Bugle 09 February 2010 07:57:56PM 1 point [-]

Depends on your objectives. If you believe the singularity is something that will happen regardless then it's harmless to spin scenarios. I gather that people like Elizier figure that the Singularity will happen unavoidably but that it can be steered towards optimum outcomes by setting down the initial parameters, in which case I suppose it's good to have an official line about "how things could be/how we want things to be"

Comment author: DanielVarga 08 February 2010 11:16:24AM 4 points [-]

Just two minutes ago, a very good anti-cryonics argument appeared to me. This is not my opinion, just my solution to an intellectual puzzle. Note that it is not directly relevant to the original post: I will not claim that the technology does not work. I will claim that it is not useful for me.

Let us first assume that I don't care too much about my future self, in the simple sense that I don't exercise, I eat unhealthy food, etc. Most of us are like that, and this is not irrational behavior: We simply heavily discount the well-being of our future selves, even using a time-based cutoff. (Cutoff is definitely necessary: If a formalized decision theory infinitely penalizes eating foie gras, then I'll skip the decision theory rather than foie gras. :) )

Now comes the argument: If I sign up for cryonics, I'll have serious incentives to get frozen sooner rather than later. I fear that these incentives consciously or unconsciously influence my future decisions in a way I currently do not prefer. Ergo cryonics is not for me.

What are the incentives? Basically they all boil down to this: I would want my post-cryo personality to be more rather than less similar to my current personality. If they revive my 100 years old self, there will be a practical problem (many of his brain cells are already dead, he is half the man he used to be) and a conceptual problem (his ideas about the world will quite possibly heavily diverge from my ideas, and this divergence will be a result of decay rather than progress).

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 11:21:23AM *  5 points [-]

To be honest, I'd prefer that discussion here stay focussed on the things that I raise in the article rather than becoming another general discussion about cryonics. My blog post on the subject ends with a "comment policy" that asks commenters to stay focussed on technical feasibility, and to avoid presenting novel arguments against technical feasibility in the comments, since if you accept what I argue, any such argument that had merit would deserve more prominence than a comment.

Comment author: LauraABJ 08 February 2010 05:06:03PM 1 point [-]

There were some fantastic links here. Thankyou!

Does anyone here know what the break-down is among cryonics advocates between believing that A) in the future cryopreserved patients will be physically rejuvinated in their bodies and B) in the future cryopreserved patients will be brain-scanned and uploaded?

I think there is a reasonable probability of effective cryopreservation and rejuvination of a mammal (at least a mouse) in the next 25 years, but I think our ability to 'rejuvinate' will be largely dependent on the specific cryoincs technologies developed at that time, and that it is very unlikely cryonics methods developed before that time will be acceptable for rejuvination. Realize that once an effective cryopreservation method has been developed, socially there will be much more interest in perfecting it than there will be in going back to the old technology used to freeze past generations and figuring out how we can get that to work for their sake.

Comment author: orthonormal 08 February 2010 09:04:36AM *  4 points [-]

cryptology pioneer Professor Ralph Merkle

Er, should this be "cryonics pioneer"?

EDIT: Huh, apparently he's both! Never mind...

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 09:58:36AM 0 points [-]

I'm a crypto guy first of all, so that's the context I think of him in.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 08 February 2010 12:38:44PM 1 point [-]

I've added most of your sources to the TakeOnIt wiki debate:

"Is cryonics worthwhile?"
http://www.takeonit.com/question/318.aspx

The cryonics debate now has four sub debates:

  • Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?
  • Is cryonic restoration technically feasible in the future?
  • Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
  • Is there life after death?

Am I missing any major sub-debate?

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 01:03:23PM *  3 points [-]

Wow, the Caplan and Stark arguments against aren't worth adding here, I don't think.

Edited to add: the question I'm most keen to hear arguments on is "does the cryonic freezing process cause information-theoretic death?"

Comment author: BenAlbahari 08 February 2010 02:45:01PM 0 points [-]

OK, per your suggestion I added the question: "Do the best currently available cryonic techniques cause information-theoretic death?". I can't actually find any expert who answers yes to this question. Any pointers?

P.S. I actually think the Caplan and Stark arguments reasonably reflect the mainstream objections to cryonics. However, if you know of better critics, please suggest some.

Comment author: pdf23ds 09 February 2010 10:29:01AM *  0 points [-]

I forget who brought this up--maybe zero_call? jhrandom?--but I think a good question is "How quickly does brain information decay (e.g. due to autolysis) after the heart stops and before preservative measures are taken?" If the answer is "very quickly" then cryonics in non-terminal-illness cases becomes much less effective.

Comment author: pdf23ds 09 February 2010 10:48:12AM 3 points [-]

I came across a few cites supporting the "quite a bit" answer in the "Cold War" article at Alcor (linked elsewhere on this thread).

It is interesting and more than a little ironic to note that fifteen years prior to the time that Persidsky wrote the words above, a large and growing body of evidence was already present in the scientific literature to discredit the "suicide-bag concept" of lysosomal rupture resulting in destruction of cells shortly after so-called death. I cite below papers debunking this notion:

  • Trump, B.F., P.J. Goldblatt, and R.E. Stowell, "Studies of necrosis in vitro of mouse hepatic parenchymal cells; ultrastructural and cytochemical alterations of cytosomes, cytosegresomes, multivesicular bodies, and microbodies and their relation to the lysosome concept," Lab. Invest., 14, 1946 (1965).

  • Ericsson, J.L.E., P. Biberfeld, and R. Seljelid, "Electron microscopic and cytochemical studies of acid phosphates and aryl sulfatase during autolysis," Acta Patho Microbio Scand, 70, 215 (1967).

  • Trump, B.F. and R.E. Bulger, "Studies of cellular injury in isolated flounder tubules. IV. Electron microscopic observations of changes during the phase of altered hemostasis in tubules treated with cyanide," Lab Invest, 18, 731 (1968).

Eight years before Persidsky pronounced the situation hopeless due to lysosome rupture after death, an excellent and exhaustive paper appeared, entitled "Lysosome and phagosome stability in lethal cell injury" (Hawkins, H.K., et al., Amer. Jour Path., 68, 255 (1972)). The authors subjected human liver cells in tissue culture to lethal insults such as cyanide poisoning and then evaluated them for lysosomal rupture. They state: "In conclusion, the findings do not indicate that the suicide bag mechanism of lysosomal rupture prior to cell death was operative in the two systems studied. On the contrary, the lysosomes appeared to be relatively stable organelles which burst only in the post-mortem phase of cellular necrosis." And when does this "post-mortem phase of cellular necrosis" occur? Again, to quote from the Hawkins paper: "As late as four hours after potassium cyanide and iodoacetic acid poisoning, where irreversible structural changes were uniformly seen, it was clear that the great majority of lysosomes continued to retain the ferritin marker within a morphologically intact membrane . . ." To translate: even four hours after poisoning with drugs that mimic complete ischemia, the cells had stable lysosomes.

There's more at the link.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 08 February 2010 03:50:20AM 4 points [-]

this is what tipped the scales heavily in favor of cryonics for me. the skeptics make ridiculous claims, and the people who know about the current state of biological research seem genuinely optimistic about it. that's good enough for me considering the low cost and potentially very very high utility payoff.

Comment author: MBlume 08 February 2010 02:50:50AM 4 points [-]

Your link seems to be broken, but I assume you meant to link this post?

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 07:25:49AM *  1 point [-]

Gah! fixed - thanks!

EDIT: have now put in entire text as per Eliezer's request.

Comment author: Morendil 08 February 2010 02:14:04AM 4 points [-]

The New Yorker recently had an article titled The Iceman. Judging from the abstract, it's anti- and not very high quality (excerpt: "The consensus appears to be that when you try to defrost a frozen corpse you get mush", a type of argument covered in your post.)

Comment author: FrF 08 February 2010 04:00:32AM 3 points [-]

Hint: Just in case you're not within reach of this issue of The New Yorker, a little bit of Google-fu turns up a scan of said article.

I found the piece not particulary exciting. It's certainly well-written but Jill Lepore obviously wasn't interested in digging too deeply re: the scientific or non-scientific foundations of cryonics. Instead we get a lot of impressionistic descriptions of Michigan (where the Cryonics Institute is located), slightly disdainful accounts of the CI's facilities and many synopses of SF stories .The latter isn't without reason, though, because Robert Ettinger was very influenced by Science Fiction.

Mrs. Lepore does her best to let Ettinger come across as grumpy, though I suspect that this "grumpiness" has to do with him knowing all to well what will very likely come out of it when a general interest magazine visits the CI. In other words, we are witness to a small culture clash: Of course it must be strange to a historian like Lepore that Ettinger has a completely different sensibility!

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 10:02:01AM *  2 points [-]

Reading that led me to this: Corpsicles in The New Yorker

Comment author: DonGeddis 08 February 2010 05:20:30AM 2 points [-]

"Pseudoscience" isn't the only possible criticism of cryonics. One could believe that it may be scientifically possible in theory, still without thinking that it's a good idea to sign up for cryonics in the present day. (Basically, by coming up with something like a Drake equation for the chance of it working out positively for a current-day human, and then estimating the probability of the terms to be very low.)

You're right, that most of the popular criticism of cryonics is mere non-technical mocking. Still, there's a place for reasoned objections as well.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 07:26:11AM 5 points [-]

there's a place for reasoned objections as well.

There certainly is. Please point me to them.

Comment author: clay 08 February 2010 05:53:30AM 4 points [-]

This article http://www.alcor.org/printable.cgi?fname=Library%2Fhtml%2FWillCryonicsWork.html gives something like a drake equation for cryonics

Comment author: MichaelHoward 08 February 2010 03:51:27PM *  6 points [-]

Maybe it's the correlation between believing in cryonics and being a smart rationalist, but for my money the most rational arguments against cryonics [Edit: or how cryonics is being practiced] don't come from people against cryonics. They come from cryonics supporters exploring the other side of the argument, or confronting what's wrong so they can try to fix it. I take that as strong evidence that those against cryonics are getting something badly wrong.

I nominate the appropriate bits of the above Alcor article as currently the best anti-cryonics article in the world.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 February 2010 11:10:30PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: gwern 10 May 2010 02:00:43AM 2 points [-]

Did he ever write it? It's been 2 or 3 months, and I don't see anything in http://www.benbest.com/cryonics/cryonics.html

Comment author: ciphergoth 11 May 2010 12:03:13PM 2 points [-]

Not that I heard about. I don't think there's much point to be honest, he wouldn't have credibility with disbelievers.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 09 February 2010 02:18:44PM 0 points [-]

The first 4 minutes of this is another good example. The guy on the left is Mike Darwin.

Comment author: k3nt 12 February 2010 09:14:44PM 0 points [-]

Love love love this article! A ton of interesting questions to chew on as I wrestle with this problem.

Thanks very much for the link. I bookmarked it and will return to it.

Comment author: brazil84 08 February 2010 02:52:25AM *  3 points [-]

I agree that the link doesn't seem to be working. But I would very interested to learn more. I haven't been all that skeptical of cryonics until now. Logically it seems like if there is a way to preserve the information in your brain, then one day somebody will figure out how to extract it. I guess that's a bit like running an engine on sand. After all, sand in theory contains a great deal of energy in the form of nuclear bonds.

BTW I've studied the issue carefully and probably disagree with you about global warming. Probably it's too charged an issue for rational debate in this forum, but I did lay out my case here:

brazil84.wordpress.com

Comment author: orthonormal 08 February 2010 03:13:39AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks again! I'd still prefer if this sentence were modified so that it doesn't appear to be your thesis on first reading:

The idea that we could freeze someone today in such a way that future technology might be able to re-animate them is nothing more than wishful thinking on the desire to avoid death.

You could bracket it in a "skeptics claim X" the way a (good) journalist would, perhaps...

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 08:32:13AM 1 point [-]

I've replaced the full stop with a semicolon, to make it clearer that the "To its critics" opening covers that whole claim.

Comment author: gregconen 08 February 2010 02:50:59AM 2 points [-]

Betting on technology that doesn't currently exist is never a sure thing. But cryonics is a good deal even if the probability of revival is low.

Comment author: MichaelGR 08 February 2010 01:23:20AM 2 points [-]

Your "read more" link doesn't work.

Comment author: jsalvatier 08 February 2010 03:37:01AM 1 point [-]

I really appreciate this post. I am in the cryonics process, so it is nice to read an evaluation of the prospects. Even if I have made my decision for now, I could always cancel my life insurance.

Comment author: twanvl 08 February 2010 02:48:58AM 1 point [-]

The difference between cryonics and, for example, global warming denialism is that the former makes a claim like "it is probably a good thing to do X", while the latter makes a claim like "X is/is not true". These are completely different things!

Perhaps it is better to compare it to the anti vaccine movement. They do make a claim of the form "X is good/bad for you". Now the difference becomes about evidence. For cryonics there is little evidence either way: it has never worked, and it has never not-worked. In such a case there is little we can do beyond trying to use reason alone (always a dangerous thing) and waiting for more experiments.

On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that vaccines work just fine. Denying that evidence is wrong.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 February 2010 10:36:14PM 6 points [-]

Why is it a sin to deny a lot of evidence, but not a little evidence?

Comment author: randallsquared 09 February 2010 04:39:16PM 1 point [-]

Because the less evidence there is, the better the chance that we're mistaken about it, all else equal. But this seems obvious enough that I guess I'm missing your point.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 10:34:56PM 1 point [-]

Sure, the weaker the evidence, the less you'll be misled on average by ignoring it. But there doesn't come a point where ignoring evidence is not misleading at all compared to updating on it. It's never going to be a good idea to start saying to yourself "that's only a little bit of evidence, so I'll just pretend it wasn't there".

Comment author: randallsquared 10 February 2010 02:17:24AM 2 points [-]

If updating were costless, I'd agree.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 February 2010 03:40:19AM 13 points [-]

For cryonics there is little evidence either way: it has never worked, and it has never not-worked.

Your definition of evidence is too narrow.

Comment author: daginikkafa 11 February 2010 08:55:31PM *  0 points [-]

Here is another idea that might be argued to be anti-cryonics. Should we clone Neanderthals?

Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, doesn't believe that creating a Neanderthal clone would be an ethical problem in and of itself. The problem lies in how that individual would be treated by others. "I don't think it is fair to put people...into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared," he says, "and this is equally important, it's not going to have a peer group. Given that humans are at some level social beings, it would be grossly unfair." The sentiment was echoed by Stringer, "You would be bringing this Neanderthal back into a world it did not belong to....It doesn't have its home environment anymore."

There were no cities when the Neanderthals went extinct, and at their population's peak there may have only been 10,000 of them spread across Europe. A cloned Neanderthal might be missing the genetic adaptations we have evolved to cope with the world's greater population density, whatever those adaptations might be. But, not everyone agrees that Neanderthals were so different from modern humans that they would automatically be shunned as outcasts.

Comment author: mariz 08 February 2010 10:47:11PM 0 points [-]

I posted an argument here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1mc/normal_cryonics/1i92

I didn't see a major criticism. There were some interesting responses and questions, like what constitutes a 5% increase in quality of life (I don't know; it's a crude metric), but my point stands. You're better off spending your money on marginal increases in quality of life with high probabilities of success than on cryonics.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 February 2010 08:24:26AM *  2 points [-]

That argument does not address technical feasibility and is not on-topic for this post. Instead, you assume that feasibility is very low.

Also, my survey doesn't include blog comments - I'm looking specifically for articles and other writing designed to stand alone.