The Cambridge UK meet-up on Saturday 12 February went really well. Many thanks to everyone who came and provided a wonderful and entertaining discussion.
One of the topics that came up was that of cryonics. This is the idea of having your body (or maybe just your brain) frozen after death, to be thawed and revived in the far future when medical technology has advanced to the point where it can heal you. Is this a rational thing to do?
The argument I heard from some of the other attendants effectively boils down to “what have you got to lose?” In other words, have yourself frozen just in case it works and you can be resurrected.
This struck me as awfully reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager, which is similarly a “what have you got to lose?” type argument. Cited in its original form, it is about belief in a god and goes something like this:
You can either believe in God or not. If you do, you will either be rewarded with eternity in heaven (if you’re right) or nothing happens (if you’re wrong). But if you don’t believe, you will either be punished by eternal torture (if you’re wrong) or nothing happens (if you’re right). It’s a no-brainer! You’re better off believing.
This argument falls down on many counts, but I’ll concentrate on a specific one. It makes a far-fetched assumption about the set of possible outcomes. It assumes that there are only the two possibilities quoted and no others. It ignores the possibility of a god that only rewards sceptical atheists.
Coming back to cryonics, the argument seems to proceed approximately like this:
You can either have yourself frozen or not. If you do, you will either wake up in a wonderful, happy-go-lucky utopian future with amazing technological advances (if cryonics works) or nothing happens (if it doesn’t). But if you don’t have yourself frozen, nothing happens either way. It’s a no-brainer! You’re better off in cryopreservation.
If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, the assumption that the future you wake up in is at all desirable for you is a far-fetched one. It ignores the possibility of waking up as a slave with no opportunity for suicide.
What are everybody’s thoughts on this?