The best sentence I read yesterday

Yes, I am skeptical of most medicine because on average it seems folks who get more medicine aren’t healthier.  But I’ll heartily endorse one medical procedure: cryonics, i.e., freezing folks in liquid nitrogen when the rest of medicine gives up on them.

Here is the full post and of course that is Robin Hanson.  The post has another very good sentence:

It seems far more people read this blog daily than have ever signed up for cryonics.

Here is Robin’s excellent post on why cryonics is unpopular.  Here is Bryan Caplan’s.  My current view is this: one’s attention is extremely scarce and limited, as are one’s affiliations.  Insofar as you have the luxury of thinking "bigger thoughts," those thoughts should be directed at helping others, not at helping oneself.  The real opportunity cost of cryonics is not just the money but whatever else you would have done with that intellectual energy. 

Furthermore the universe (or multiverse) may be infinite, so in expected value terms it seems my copies and near-copies are already enjoying a kind of collective immortality

There is an anthropic effect insofar that only people who are not regularly tortured have the luxury of thinking about cryonics.  But not all worlds have to be so peaceful.  What probability of future torture would cause us to wish to die forever rather than be resurrected?  And should I therefore be scared by the idea of an infinite universe?  Do Darwinian selection pressures — defined in the broadest possible way — suggest it is worth spending energy on making entities happy?  Or do most entities end up as suffering slaves?

Addendum: Robin responds.


Healthcare inneffectiveness, cryonics, and helping others are not independent.

There should be, essentially two areas of medical research, cryonics and anti-aging.

On the social taboo front, when I told some friends that I was going back to school to help "cure" aging, they said, in essence, "well bless your heart" with no small measure of disapproval.

"Insofar as you have the luxury of thinking "bigger thoughts," those thoughts should be directed at helping others, not at helping oneself."

Wouldn't it be wiser to direct your thoughts at helping yourself, and let the invisible hand take care of the rest?

So he's skeptical of existing technology, which has known costs and known drawbacks. But he endorses hypothetical future technology, which has unknown costs and unknown drawbacks.


"those thoughts should be directed at helping others"

It is possible Tyler to think for a few days about cryonics, make your decision, and then go back to helping others without destroying any aid you are giving the present.

If you think you can help other people now, in this time, and that you owe it to them to do so, do you not also owe it to help them in the future if you are reasonably confident you can do so?

In this way, if we believe we should be helping others, then we should be signing up as volunteers to aid future folks as well. The problems of humankind have always lacked resources dedicated to solving them; never have we had the issue of too many resources devoted to mankind's welfare. Dedicate yourself to being one of the resources the future will need: get froze.

On hostile wives: this is an interesting situation. I am a wife. I have given my life to my husband and possibly to our children. I believe in and love our family unconditionally, and want to be together; that is why I formed my family after all.

Having caused them to come into being, why would I not go forward with them into the future? It denies the unconditional love I claim to feel for them today. It smacks of resentment and withholding.

Indeed, it is not the husband that is bailing on the family, but rather the wife; she is the one determined to leave forever, permanently.

In fact, to be blunt, isn't it a form of emotional blackmail? - the wife is using her refusal as a suicide weapon to manipulate her family's actions via guilt.

How could any reasonable person claim to love another and not follow them? Altho' not a religious person at all, I must say that the Bible has great poetry, and one of the best lines is Ruth's "For whither thou goest, I goest also."

We are going to the future in the most rational way, Tyler, and I hope that you come with us. We will need you, and the future will need you.

On this I agree with Eliezer Yudkowsky: for the people who are still alive, and those to come.

Actually, Zach, the way I see it is existing technology has extreme costs and dubious value, whereas potential technology has minimal cost and infinitely greater value. The medical industry makes its bank on the last 6 months of people's morbid lives.

Imagine going to someone in poor health and making this deal with them "you can go to sleep for 5 years and wake up in perfect health." How many would do it? A lot, I bet.

Getting to the point where everyone has their own reason for passing on cryonics would be an improvement over the main reason being everyone else's disapproval, if that's what the problem is.

Cheap compared to what, your average organ transplant? Chemotherapy? Cheap just in terms of dollars, or in terms of terrible last months/days versus hope?

How much proof does one need for a POTENTIAL technology to work?

Ummm, "ethics issues standing in the way of your reanimation, and so on"

I really don't get what it is about this topic that makes normally rational people go completely insane.

Its the issue of closure. It is not the possibility that cryonics may work that causes many people to hate it. It is the lack of certainty that it will work. When someone gets frozen, they exist in a sort of indeterminate state between life and death. Its difficult for most people to think of them as either alive or dead, and this indeterminate state breaks most peoples' brains. They cannot handle it. Since the person is not actively alive to be around, people think of them as dead. So, they want emotional closure so that they can move on in life. Cryonics prevents them from doing this. Thus they do not like it.

just to pile on:

"those thoughts should be directed at helping others"
does seem strange from someone who self-identifies as a "moderate, small-l, libertarian."

Is the distinction in what qualifies as a "big thought?"


So he's skeptical of existing technology, which has known costs and known drawbacks. But he endorses hypothetical future technology, which has unknown costs and unknown drawbacks

What I would say is that it is a bet on civilization. Unless civilization collapses, then you should expect future technology to be broadly better than current technology. People will not knowingly choose to pursue technology that is worse AND future researchers will put in effort to make improvements, not dis-improvements. There is a ratcheting effect.
You could say the same thing about policy making and societal changes.


You make a GREAT analogy. Compare the equally ridiculous high expectations that stem cells get to the pooh-poohing that the relatively conservative expectations of cryonics.

Stem cells do have real ethical problems (although we are finding it much easier to obtain adult stem cells than originally feared by the screamers) and are probably not going to work for the near-infinite list of miracles expected of them. Freezing definitely works, and unfreezing will probably work at some point.

But, why the huge gap in how these two technologies are treated? Maybe it is BECAUSE stem cells almost conform to the imagination of what people believe their potential could be, regardless of how unrealistic.


"Since the person is not actively alive to be around, people think of them as dead. So, they want emotional closure so that they can move on in life."

Wait - Let me follow this. I should kill my beloved for my own psychological comfort? Isn't this taking Oscar Wilde a little bit too far?


With all due respect, kurt, I get it. And it's just the most selfish thing I've ever heard. Rather than bear any uncertainty myself, I will permanently destroy the one I love the most. This is truly pop psychology at its worst.

I myself have truly loved but 2 people so far. And I can tell you with great sincerity that I loved them more than myself. I would throw myself in front of a train for them.

I would run naked in the snow from Philly to Chicago just to tie their shoes. I would live under a bridge for a year just to have a lock of their hair.

Like Heloise, I could be locked in a convent for 20 years and still write to "I would rather be your whore than the Bride of Christ."

In short, I would do anything for them at any cost to myself - the idea that I would begrudge them a future doesn't compute as any kind of unconditional love to me. Who on earth are you people marrying?

I don't know what to think of this post, but I don't think I like how you framed things in terms of happiness versus suffering.

Even looked at from a purely selfish angle, I think cryonics will continue to be unpopular as long as it remains unproven. Why? To sign up for it requires a rare and peculiar combination of traits:

1. Completely, utterly atheist to the point of being *absolutely sure* there is no spiritual or quantum component to consciousness and identity.
2. Simultaneously possessing a mystical belief that scientific progress will eventually solve death (and aging, and disease)completely.
3. Having a bunch of money to spare.

Or to put it another way it is a leap of faith for the faithless.

I'm not an extreme atheist, and I don't have mythical belief in science. I just believe that once frozen indefinitely, eventually people will figure out the unfreezing part. And I simply don't believe that aging and death are blessings for our spiritual edification.

And, as technology improves, the benefits will become more palpable and economies of scale will naturally bring the price down.

And should I therefore be scared by the idea of an infinite universe? Do Darwinian selection pressures -- defined in the broadest possible way -- suggest it is worth spending energy on making entities happy? Or do most entities end up as suffering slaves?

I think the book on that topic is here.

Weren't you the one who subscribes to the repugnant conclusion that creating a billion people to live lives of abject terror is better than creating a million people to live lives full of joys and freedom? (much less no people at all)

I think the idea of the multiverse (in some of its popular iterations) is pretty much the most terrifying idea conceivable. The Christian hell is just one you suffering in hell forever, the multiverse is an infinite number of yous suffering in every way forever.

has anyone studied how various factors -- economic or otherwise -- can tip the balance between selfishness and altruism?
even having a decision point -- where you and your relatives decide to get frozen before decaying too badly -- would probably make a huge difference there.
and you would def. want to have enough cash in hand to get frozen at all costs, so you would do whatever to get it.
my point is that cryonics => selfishness in a huge way


The concept you seek is Kundera's litost. I think of a passage from his famous work, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. The term arises from a quarrel two lovers have when one swims faster than another, where there is a power struggle:

"Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery. . . .Litost works like a two-stroke engine. Torment is followed by the desire for revenge. The goal of revenge is to make one’s partner be as miserable as oneself. The man cannot swim, but the slapped woman cries. It makes them feel equal and keeps their love going.

Since revenge can never equal its true motive, it must put forward false reasons."

I wonder if the hostile wife syndrome is a form of litost. She will win the power struggle even if it kills them both. As Kundera sagely notes, "revenge can never equal its true motive," so wives put forward these false reasons, closure, betrayal, money, etc.

Men in these relationships should in fact divorce, not over the cryonics, but over the fact that it's plain unhealthy to be in such a relationship of resentment, where time and grudged debt have become the exoskeleton supporting such a tattered bond.

It is possible to start anew, to live in real love, and to do so would be better for all: wife, husband, and certainly children. But other people's marriages are opaque to us; we will never truly understand them, which is why we have novels.

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