Why pick on cryonics?

A few of my lunch compadres have asked why I compare cryonics (unfavorably) to acts of charity, rather than comparing other acts of personal consumption (I enjoy the gelato here in Berlin) to charity.  My view is this: the decision to have one's head frozen is not primarily instrumental but rather expressive.  Look at the skewed demographics of the people who do it, namely highly intelligent male readers of science fiction, often with tech jobs.  Is it that they love their lives especially much?  Unlikely.  Instead it's a chance to stand for something and in a way which sets them apart from many others.  It's a chance to stand for instrumental rationality, for Science, for attitudes which go beyond traditional religion, for the conquering of limits, for probabilistic reasoning, and for the notion that the subject sees hidden possibilities and resources which more traditional observers do not.

It's like voting for a very unusual political candidate.

In my view the people interested in cryonics are often highly meritorious, as is Robin.  So I'm very sympathetic with a) letting them do what they want, and b) praising them and their affiliations, simply because they are productive and smart and also not harming others.  Those factors militate in favor of cryonics and indeed I am happy to endorse laissez-faire for the practice but still I don't find myself settling into really liking the idea.

Let's say I use another Hansonian construct and put everyone behind a contractarian veil of ignorance.  I then ask: given that we don't know who will be born into which position, which expressive symbols do we want these highly intelligent individuals to send, and also to identify with, given that reputation is limited and publicity is scarce?  Keep also in mind that society is insufficiently appreciative of intelligence and we would prefer that more people had greater respect for analytic thinking.  There are also many worthy causes out there.

I don't see the positive deal here.  I believe the world would be better off, and the relative status of the virtuous nerds higher, if instead the cryonics customers sent more signals which were perceived as running contrary to type.  Ignoring cryonics, and promoting charity, would do more to raise the status of intelligence and analytical thinking than does cryonics.

On the practical side, while I am a non-believer, I also think that charity has a greater chance of bringing a longer life to one's self – or immortality — than does signing a cryonics contract.  That's an even stronger triumph for probabilistic thinking than what the cryonics customers have on tap.

Addendum: If you haven't already, do go back and read both Quentin and #44 on these issues.  Bracing stuff.


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