Who wants cryonics?

Arnold Kling reports:

[Robin] Hanson says that the expected return from being cryonically frozen is positive. If it works, the benefits are high, and the probability of it working is greater than zero. Yet few people sign up for it. I think that we are afraid of looking weird if we sign up for it.

I wonder if people who already look weird, for whatever reason, sign up at disproportionate rates.  I suspect not and that only some very particular preexisting unusual traits predict an interest in cryonics.  Is the best predictor of signing up is interest in science fiction?  If so, does this mean that the non-signers are simply people who are not able to imagine the potential benefits?  Or does an interest in science fiction already label the person in some way where the marginal image cost of signing up is then especially low?  Both cryonics and science fiction of course have very high rates of male participation, some exceptions aside.  I predict that the reading of fantasy novels does not so well correlate with interest in cryonics, once you adjust for any prior interest in science fiction.

Comments

I'm not suggesting causation, but of course a disproportionate number of people who sin up for cryonics already "look weird". You really suspect not?

I imagine people who do not sign up for cryonics have already invested in some rationalization about the goodness or necessity of death, decreasing the benefit for them.

You're making "signing up" for cryonics sound as if it was some low-cost personal choice. But surely the ongoing annual maintenance costs of cryonic freezing are significant: storage, energy, rock-solid emergency generators and staff on standby.

You need to have the financial means to buy yourself a perpetual annuity. I suspect the eccentric childless millionaire demographic is overrepresented. Who else can afford it?

What are the real survival rates? IE how many people have been sucessfully revived after having been frozen? Even, how many chimps.

Maybe it correlates with religion. The male-female ratio of atheists tends to suggest that males are more likely to be atheists. Or perhaps the field of science itself which tends to be more male dominated. Even then, you’ve already narrowed it down to a very small field of likely consumers.

Unless you want to inevitably die since there’s no cure for ageing- yet- cryonics is your best bet. But it's not like this is something you can sign up for and buy on Amazon. I think the reason few people sign up for it is:

1)There’s very little actual support for it. When you die you need to get your body frozen immediately. It’s not like there are cryogenic centers on every corner.

2)It still costs a fortune. And the only way to get a discount is to only have your head frozen. That only makes the whole thing even less unsettling.

3People don’t really even know about it. It’s not like the field of death prevention in science is exactly a thriving enterprise, mostly due to no success rate.

Call me weird, but someone explain to me why cryonics isn't a solution to the healthcare cost crisis?

I would think there is a high correlation with people who know they are dying soon.

I agree with winterminute. The freezing process requires the draining of all your blood -- you die. You are not "flash-frozen" while alive. I think most people who would believe that reanimation might be possible in the future also believe that when the brain gets emptied of all of its blood, then that's pretty much it, and any attempt to "re-animate" you will not necessarily reconstruct your consciousness.

The Pascal's Wager comparison doesn't really hold, because PW can be rebutted by noting that you could just as well end up worshipping a false god and be punished by the correct one in the afterlife. There's no equivalent for cryonics, except perhaps the assumption that you'll wake up in a horrible dystopia (but the probability of the people in a horrible dystopia caring enough to bring back the dead seems pretty low).

As for whether freezing kills brain cells - well, for one, cryonics doesn't freeze bodies, it vitrifies them - replaces part of the water in the cells with protective chemicals, so that no freezing occurs, preserving the structure. Vitrified kidneys have been successfully recovered. Whatever the probability of successful recovery becoming possible is, it sure is a lot bigger than the probability of suddenly getting superpowers.

Kaj Sotala:

Changing the chemical composition of brain cells is exactly as destructive as regular freezing; or does Alcor also keep detailed notes about the exact concentration of each specific ion in each brain cell so that future scientists can rebuild the electrochemical potentials exactly as they were?

Short answer: Have Alcor (or any other company) successfully preserved and restored a mammalian brain and had its owner survive the experience? Do they have any idea how such a thing might be possible? Nothing in the sites you linked to suggests that anyone can answer "yes" to those questions.

Sure, the osmotic membranes in your kidneys might still be working after you're thawed out, but if your brain has been filled with antifreeze that doesn't really do you a lot of good.

The radio show "This American Life" had an amazing episode on early cryonics:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1239

If you listen, you won't think of cryonics in the same way ever again.

I think most people look weird, and especially those who care about 1) looking weird and 2) don't care about cryonics.

or does Alcor also keep detailed notes about the exact concentration of each specific ion in each brain cell so that future scientists can rebuild the electrochemical potentials exactly as they were?

The goal is to preserve the person, not his exact mental state at the moment of death. For that, it should be sufficient to preserve the overall structure of the brain. Alcor reports that for patients preserved with post-2001 techniques, "whole neurons are visible with intact membranes and well defined structure". They also have a published study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reporting excellent preservation of the brain.

Short answer: Have Alcor (or any other company) successfully preserved and restored a mammalian brain and had its owner survive the experience?

Not yet.

Do they have any idea how such a thing might be possible?

Yes.

One of the most important reasons why so few people make cryonics arrangements appears to be that cryonics implies resuscitation in a far and unknown future,perhaps even without most family and friends.

Why is cryonics so unpopular?

The goal is to preserve the person, not his exact mental state at the moment of death. For that, it should be sufficient to preserve the overall structure of the brain. Alcor reports that for patients preserved with post-2001 techniques, "whole neurons are visible with intact membranes and well defined structure". They also have a published study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reporting excellent preservation of the brain.

OK, let's put it like this:

Neurons work by exchanging ion solutions that alter the electrical potential of each individual brain cell. That precise level of electrical potential in each cell is what defines who you are. More importantly, it's the biggest single difference between you and a corpse.

Sure, future scientists might have enough know-how to be able to make your brain work again, on a basic level, but without knowing which atoms go where, and exactly how much charge each individual cell had, the resulting person will not be you.

As an analogy, we have the ability to chop DNA up into individual codons, and to put them back together again. But if someone were to disassemble your DNA without keeping a map of what it had looked like assembled, and then put it back together, they may well end up with a human (assuming that's their goal), but the result will not, in any respect, be you.

Do they have any idea how such a thing might be possible?

Yes.

Sure, their answer is "It's the future! They'll have magic robots that can repair the damage we're doing!", which is not so much a potential solution as a hope that someone else will come up with a potential solution. And it still ignores the basic fact that the future scientists will have no idea what state they're trying to restore.

Let me say it again: destruction the isochemical balance of braincells cannot be repaired by any currently known or imagined technology. They have had success with reducing brain function in animals to zero for an hour, but this did not involve removing and replacing chemicals within the braincells, and is therefore not relevant to their preservation method.

I have seen nothing on their website that indicate that they think the brain is any more complex than a kidney. They think that so long as gross structural damage to cells is minimised, then there's going to be no problem in thawing people out, even if everything inside the cell wall is replaced with antifreeze.

Maintaining the delicate balance of soluble chemicals is of the utmost importance, if you want to end up with a functional brain. Alcor's techniques are clearly far more sophisticated than those of Egyptian embalmers, but they're basically making the same mistake of thinking that the brain (or at least, its constituent chemicals) is this big mass of pudding that doesn't really do anything, and can be safely removed. Five thousand years ago, this belief was defensible. Today, though...

"Let me say it again: destruction the isochemical balance of braincells cannot be repaired by any currently known or imagined technology. They have had success with reducing brain function in animals to zero for an hour, but this did not involve removing and replacing chemicals within the braincells, and is therefore not relevant to their preservation method."

What do you mean with "replacing chemicals within the braincells"? Animals have been routinely resuscitated from complete circulatory arrest without adverse neurological effects by completely washing out their blood and replacing it with a synthetic organ preservation solution. Why is this necessarily different from replacing the blood with a cryoprotectant agent?

In both cases the ionic composition of the intracellular and extracellular space in the brain is modified. You argument would only make sense if cryopreservation would radically change the durable structure of brain cells.

See also

Securing Viability of the Brain in Cryonics

What do you mean with "replacing chemicals within the braincells"? Animals have been routinely resuscitated from complete circulatory arrest without adverse neurological effects by completely washing out their blood and replacing it with a synthetic organ preservation solution. Why is this necessarily different from replacing the blood with a cryoprotectant agent?

Replacing their blood is very different from removing water and soluble chemicals from the brain cells (so that they don't shatter on freezing) and replacing it with antifreeze.

Unlike blood, which can be replaced by pretty much any oxygenated fluid in the short term, the internal chemistry of brain cells is very delicate, and can't be easily restored once it's been altered.

I'm hoping for a whole brain emulation constructed from my frozen brain, not to reboot the chemical processes that existed in my brain.

The expected result may be greater than zero, but the expected return would surely be negative. It isn't free.

People believe what they want to be true.

completely analogous to Pascal's wager, even down to the multiple religions problem

Down to the multiple gods problem how?

Most people don't really want to live forever, but they do fear dying. So having died, why get revived only to once again face the fear of dying?

These discussions of whether cryonics is feasible are interesting. I think the chances are slim that it will work for me, more for political reasons than technological ones, but, this is why I'm signed up for cryonics, regardless:
- It costs about the same as cable (w/insurance), so I can afford it.
- As slim as the chances are, they are much greater than there being an afterlife based on religion (and one I'd enjoy, as opposed to the religious concept of an afterlife).
- I'm NOT interested in an afterlife because of fear of dying. Yes, I fear dying (not being dead), and as someone pointed out, cryonics makes you face this twice. But, I AM interested in an afterlife because I want to know what happens to humans in the far future, and the answers to the questions we still have. Maybe that desire comes from being a male science fiction reader, and I want to know the ending :)
- If it doesn't work, I haven't lost anything, I'm dead anyway.
- If it does work, it will be really cool!

FTR, I'm a woman and I love science fiction. I also love science and technology, so I'm not just into the fantasy of it, but also the potential. I'm an apatheist, but see how theists can take solace in believing in an unimaginably-better-than-here afterlife. I for one love the world we're in and want to stay here as long as possible.

I think that optimism about the future is a predictor of interest in cryonics. I am signed up because I think the future will be better than the present, and that technology is advancing at such a rate that if I'm lucky, aging may be cured before I need cryonics. Cryonics is my backup plan. People fear age and debility; future medicine will be able to greatly delay those at the very least.

I am not rich; I have a life insurance policy that will pay for my suspension. If I had a family, I'd see to it that we all had them.

Your identity is not dependent on precise chemical balances or even precise atomic positions. Chemicals change whenever you have a drink, or whenever you are angry or scared or in love. The atoms change continuously; your brain is quite a bit different now than it was ten years ago, and you are still you. More or less. Tomes have been written on the philosophy of identity. What I know is that I want to preserve as much of me as possible, and I think that me-cryonically-preserved has a lot better chance of being restored to someone like me-now than does me-rotted-in-the-ground or me-burnt-to-ashes.

Jens Fiederer: Suppose the people of the future revive you only to torture you endlessly for their entertainment?

Nick Tarleton: Do you really believe this is nearly as likely as a positive revival?

If negative outcomes are much worse than positive outcomes are good, then they may not need to be "nearly as likely" to nonetheless dominate the decision.

I don't think that the brain cells are quite as sensitive as Wintermute implies, but there are huge hurdles.

Here's the thing. We don't know how to cure a lot of diseases right now. But, we are spending gobs of money on them, pointless treatments and fruitless research. What if we spent some money researching one option that at least postpones death from innumerable other diseases?

Any major medical problem costs $300K in about the time it takes the doctor to tell you to cough, or at least that's what they bill the insurance companies. If we got to $100K for freezing and a few hundred bucks a year to maintain, this would push off a lot of major costs into the future when their treatments are cheaper.

All you have believe that when enough people are frozen there will be enough desire to iron out the technical wrinkles.

There is a problem with first principles in Kling's theory: it's easy for one to sign up for cryonics anonymously.

The question is still a good one, I suspect the answer may be rooted in evo psych. A good place to start, in my opinion, is why do we have an aesthetic to bury, cremate or mummify the dead? Is it neural wiring? What's the natural distributions of such body disposal aesthetic preferences? What's their elasticity in individuals and societies?

Well, when I told some friends I was interested in curing aging, they definitely thought I was weird. Not like, cool weird, either. More like, "shame on you, bless your heart" weird. I probably wouldn't go there with cryonics. That sounds weird AND selfish.

kurt9 wrote:

When I was in high school, I correctly figured out that the questions "Do we survive physical death?" and "Is there a god?" were actually two separate issues, without there necessarily being a connection between them.

Moreover, how does the existence of an "afterlife" imply "immortality"? An impermanent afterlife involves no logical contradiction, and in fact Eastern religions promote such beliefs.

A cryopreservation is an ambulance ride to the future, where they have more advanced medical technology. Asking for an initial demo of cryo-revival before you get preserved, is like saying "I'm not getting into this ambulance until it's already at the hospital."

What do you mean, this airplane goes to France? It's not in France, and I want to be in France. Call me when the airplane is in France - then I'll get on the airplane.

Hey, we got this guy who flew over to Paris because he wants your advanced medical care. Will you take him? Money? I dunno, he's got a bunch of investments back in the USA, I dunno what they're worth here. No? Then what am I supposed to do? I can't just dump him out on the street. Right. You say I can't just dump him out on the street either. And I can't take him back where he came from. No, that's true, you aren't responsible for him. Ah, you say if I sign him over to you then I'm not responsible for him either? OK, done.

It's true that some chance is more than no chance. If your brain is frozen then someday somebody might figure out how to recover your memories, and if your brain is burned or rotted away they can't. And there's a *chance* they'll honor your rights. They might revive you or make a copy with your memories, maybe a mechanical computer copy or a flesh copy, and let you start a new life. It's a gamble where you can't possibly know the odds. It looks like very thin odds at best, given the history of how people have treated the helpless in the past. And you can't get much more helpless than dead and frozen. But it's a chance and otherwise you have only a religion's chance.

So how much should you discount this slim far-future chance. How much should you pay -- now -- to have a slim chance of an unknown future life? I'd put $50 on it today, if I could buy a chance for that.

I'm thinking that in a future where they can put dead people's memories into new brains, frozen people might make very good servants. True you start out not knowing anything useful, but your master tells you that when you die there will be a lottery to see who gets to replace you. Every day you serve him perfectly and delightfully, you get a lottery ticket. Every day you displease him in any way you don't get one, or you might lose some, or at worst you'll be erased and replaced by somebody else that very day. It sounds like it would be highly motivating for people who'd already had himself frozen for a lottery chance.

Although the cryonics groups do not often talk about it in their literature, the assumption has always been that it will be future members of these organizations as well as life extension activist themselves who will do the revivals.

That's an interesting assumption. You suppose that there will be a Ponzi effect, that people who are loyal to the idea of cryonics but who have not needed it yet, will help out the old guys. Kind of like the late-adopters in a chain letter send money to the earlier guys, assuming that when their names migrate to the top of the list others will send money to them.

It could work. Stranger things have happened. Even in a society where so many medical conditions are curable that hardly anybody needs to be frozen, there could be a large group of people who are loyal to those from the past who got themselves frozen and need their help to be reborn. After all, there's a large group today campaigning to save fetuses -- only potential personalities -- from their own parents. Would they be even more interested in helping people who've already lived one life get another to live?

To my way of thinking, the biggest single threat would be a total war. When the government decides it needs all the liquid nitrogen for the war effort, you aren't going to get much. After all, if the enemy wins the war you won't have anything like a worthwhile life that way either.... But there's a chance that there won't be a total war during the time you stay frozen.

All together it looks to me like a pretty slim chance. But it *is* a chance. If your brain rots unrecorded then there's no chance at all.

"The people involved in cryonics see themselves as a mutual support group. People get involved and sign up for cryonics because they want to make it (to a time of indefinite life extension). This is commitment that is a shared value of the people who make up the cryonics organizations."

A shared value of the people today who make up the cryonics organizations now, before a time of indefinite life extension has arrived.

J. Thomas seems to be wondering, once that time does arrive, how many other people who will be living their first lifetimes then will want to sign up for cryonics to reach it and how many will skip that step? They won't need cryonics to reach that time themselves - they'll already be living in that time.

Likewise, suppose cures for cancer are effective and affordable for the masses from 2100 onward. How many people born in 2200 and diagnosed with cancer years later will contact cryonics organizations and ask to join, hoping to be revived and cured within a few centuries? How many of them will instead contact their family doctors and ask for appointments and referrals, hoping to be cured within a few months?

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