Jan 27, 2013
I'm about a third of the way through "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" by David Graeber, and am enjoying the feeling of ideas shifting around in my head, arranging themselves into more useful patterns. (The last book I read that put together ideas of similar breadth was "Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works" by Goodwin.) "Debt" goes into the origins of debts, as compared to obligations; and related topics, such as exchanges considered beneath economic notice ("Please pass me the salt"), debts too big or unique to be repaid, peaceful versus violent interactions, the endless minor obligations that form the network of social connections, and even the basis of whole societies.
The reason I'm posting about this book here... is that it's giving me some new perspectives from which to consider the whole cryonics subculture, and, for instance, why it remains just a subculture of a couple of thousand people or so. For example, a standard LessWrong thought experiment is "Is That Your True Rejection?"; and most of the objections people raise to cryonics seem to be off enough that, even if those objections were solved, those particular people still wouldn't sign up - that is, they feel some fundamental antipathy to the whole idea of cryonics, and unconsciously pick some rationalization that happens to sound reasonable to them to explain it.
I still have two-thirds of "Debt" to go... but, at the moment, I have a strong hunch that one extremely strong reason people feel an emotional revulsion to cryo is, simply, that even if they do wake up in the future, they will have been cut off from all their social connections. This may not sound like much - but the part of "Debt" I'm currently reading discusses how one of the more fundamental aspects of slavery is that becoming a slave involves being cut off from one's family and society; and another fundamental aspect is that being a slave is being without honor, and in many senses literally having died (eg, in some societies, when someone was taken as a slave, their will was read and their spouse considered a widow). On a certain emotional level, many people really do seem to think that being probably-permanently cut off from all their loved ones is a fate no better than simply dying outright.
What's even more interesting is that if this idea has any actual basis in reality... then it offers the possibility of coming up with approaches to counter it: promoting the idea that waking up from cryo will involve being enmeshed in a community rightaway. I'm not actually sure how this might be managed. The Venturists seem to be heading in the general direction of that idea - but don't quite seem to be capturing it; maybe its the annual fee, maybe it's the dearth of concrete plans about how to help cryonic revivees, maybe it's something more abstract.
One possible alternative approach might be to take the thought experiment - what if we could revive someone from cryo not next century, or next decade... but tomorrow. What could we do to help them integrate into modern life, instead of merely waking up in a hospital bed with the day's newspaper and being shown the door? Bedford was frozen in 1967; how hard would it be to either collect or assemble a set of yearbooks, describing what's happened since then, and storing a small library of such reference texts at both CI and Alcor? Perhaps the cryonics providers' boards of directors could offer their members a revival fund that could be donated to, specifically targeted to help future revivees to rejoin society? I'm not even scratching the surface of possibilities here, so even if these particular ideas turn out to be wrong, at least they suggest further possibilities.
So: If someone was revived from cryonics tomorrow, would you be willing to at least let them crash on your couch for a few weeks?