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

73 gwern 29 July 2011 09:06PM

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

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

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Deliberate and spontaneous creativity

22 Kaj_Sotala 29 March 2009 07:45PM

Related to: Spock's Dirty Little Secret, Does Blind Review Slow Down Science?

After finding out that old scientists don't actually resist change, I decided to do a literature search to find out if the related assumption was true. Is it mainly just the young scientists who are productive? (This should be very relevant for rationalists, since we and scientists in general have the same goal - to find the truth.)

The answer was a pretty resounding no. Study after study after study found that the most productive scientists were those in middle age, not youth. Productivity is better predicted by career age than chronological age. One study suggested that middle-aged scientists aren't more productive as such, but have access to better resources, and that the age-productivity connection disappears once supervisory position is controlled for. Another argued that it was the need for social networking that led the middle-aged to be the most productive. So age, by itself, doesn't seem to affect scientific productivity much, right?

Well, there is one exception. Dietrich and Srinivasan found that paradigm-busting discoveries come primarily from relatively young scientists. They looked at different Nobel Prize winners and finding out the age when the winners had first had the idea that led them to the discovery. In total, 60% of the discoveries were made by people aged below 35 and around 30% were made by people aged between 35 and 45. The data is strongest for theoretical physics, which shows that 90% of all theoretical contributions occurred before the age of 40 and that no theoretician over the age of 50 had ever had an idea that was deemed worthy of the Nobel prize. Old scientists are certainly capable of expanding and building on an existing paradigm, but they are very unlikely to revolutionize the whole paradigm. Why is this so?

Actually, this wasn't something that Dietrich just happened to randomly stumble on - he was testing a prediction stemming from an earlier hypothesis of his. In "the cognitive neuroscience of creativity", he presents a view of two kinds of systems for creativity: deliberate and spontaneous (actually four - deliberate/cognitive, deliberate/emotional, spontaneous/cognitive and spontaneous/emotional, but the cognitive-emotional difference doesn't seem relevant for our purposes). Summarizing the differences relevant to the aging/creativity question:

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