An exercise in really going through with it

by [anonymous]4 min read23rd Apr 201222 comments


Personal Blog

I'm re-posting a small bit of writing from my blog that was inspired by reading some recent discussions about cryonics on LW. I'm by no means a skillful fiction writer, but I found it emotionally rewarding to write this and really try to mentally simulate what it would be like to choose cryocide if I was cognizant of my own quickly approaching mental decline.

Constructive comments are welcome.

An exercise in really going through with it:

Well, this is it. You had thought it would be more like a retirement party all those months ago when you first suggested the idea. The truth is, you had to frame it that way to get your daughter to go along with it. Thank god she's of a different generation, one with ubiquitous electronics; everyone's a software developer. She understands that the weirdness of your request isn't something to be afraid of, but she's human after all. She still wants to show that she cares. Yes, you had to say it was like a retirement party. Good thing you were an accomplished scientist, a person whose understanding and reputation on matters like this had to be respected. It was the only way to trick them all into respecting your wishes... wishes that fly in the face of everyone who loves you.

You wonder how long cake will be a thing. We have hydrogen-powered cars and technology has cut our work weeks to 25 hours, and yet we still celebrate occasions with cake. It seems like such a foolish thing, knowing what will happen tomorrow. And yet it's still so human. It reminds you of your own childhood which seems long gone. Everyone around you was big and in charge and when there was a cake at something it meant it was a Big Deal. And here you are, surrounded by pictures of yourself. People are giving short speeches about your accolades. People are giving short speeches about morally questionable things you once did to goof off. And everyone is laughing in that very plastic it's-ok-to-laugh-at-questionable-things-because-we're-at-an-event sort of way.

But their guts get hit by gravity as the evening wears on. You are going to die, after all. For all their moralizing, all their pseudo-respect for your wishes, all their sophisticated rational utility calculations, they can only contort their facial muscles to provide paltry masks for their visceral uneasiness. The ones who traveled here, not your family, just want to say their goodbyes and head home, and remark to each other in the car that it's such a sad situation, that they hope it never comes to this for them. Your family members' contorted facial disguises are the flimsiest of all. They are obviously terrified, as are you. You suffer momentary flashes of anger that a recounting of the social prevalence of cake will probably be among your final thoughts.

The party dies down. People say hilariously insufficient goodbyes to you. Some wish you well. They just want to leave. Your family cleans up the mess and puts leftovers into a refrigerator. They sit with you in the family room. You look at photo albums with them and everyone just cries. You tell stories about your own long-dead parents and how, compared to them, you're making such a better decision. You hope your children will make a similar one.

It gets late and you become tired. Your children cry and they do not want you to go to bed. In an act of extreme sentimentality, you offer to tuck them each into bed, in some sort of silly and needless gesture to impart a final happy memory. You tell them how proud you are. You love them very much. But the truth is, on those days when you can't recognize them, how could you even tell if you loved them? And on the days when you wake up and your memory returns, you are terrified. This way, you tell them, you can remember them forever. They just cry and they do not understand. But they respect your wishes.

You change into more comfortable clothes. You lay down. Not even the looming injection can keep your tired bones from wanting a good night's sleep. Your mind is racing. You'll actually have to go through with it. If you can just force yourself to think about something else for now then you can fall asleep. You think about your wife. You can't bear a life in which you cannot even treasure her memory. She can only be fully gone if you cannot remember her, you tell yourself. You set your rationalization engine to work and you fall asleep.

This is it. You arranged for an attendant to pick you up early, before the others could awaken. You ride silently in a car with hard, unworn seats. You study the landscape, mind racing, for the last time. Why is there always so much graffiti and trash along the embankments of railroad tracks? Why are there always soda bottles and shopping carts and ugly rocks stained the color of a lifelong coffee-drinker's teeth?

They wheel you in the door in your wheelchair. Everything has a sobering sterility. It doesn't smell like life or the world. There are no forms to sign, you made sure of that. Just straight to business. Your heart is racing as they help you change into a gown. They don't even bother checking your vital signs. They show you what will happen to your body just afterwards. You'll be wheeled down the hall to a preservation lab. They will replace the blood in your body with a specially developed protectant liquid that will prevent cellular decay for up to hundreds of years. If you weren't a scientist the whole thing would be morbid, and it almost is anyway.

You try to imagine that it's just like going to sleep. They're just putting you under for a looong operation, you try to tell yourself. It does not stop your racing heart. But the injection will.

The time finally comes. They wheel you into an operating room with a chairlike apparatus. It is tilted back about forty-five degrees. Your last sights and sensory experiences are the following: unpleasant fluorescent lighting against a backdrop of a perfectly white tiled ceiling; a smell that vaguely reminds you of the polish the dentist uses when you come in for cleanings; air-conditioned air chilly enough to give you goosebumps. Various technicians and doctors reassuring you that everything will be OK as they move instrument tables around; the taste of your own mouth, sterile from the morning's toothbrushing but with a small hint of the coffee you drank.

The hospital you are in now does this same procedure hundreds of times per month, you remark to yourself. It's not so unusual. Don't be a coward. Fulfill your duty.

An officer from the county coroner's office stands in front of you and requests that you attest to some things. You make your wishes clear and it satisfies him. Your heart is racing.

An attendant tilts your head back and places an oxygen mask over your face. The reality is terrifying; your heart is pounding. You don't want your last sights to be of a pristine white hospital ceiling, but the oxygen does its job and you calm down. You think about your children and the wonderful lives they will lead, free of burden. You are happy that you can remember their faces and all the irreplaceable memories of their growth. You don't want to have a brain that doesn't include a photo album of their lives.

The attendant asks you to count backwards from 10, and you play along until you get to 7. Your mind is too preoccupied with the thought that you love your children and that they will have wonderful lives. You wish you could be there with them... but this is... for the... best...


22 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:10 AM
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Your family cleans up the mess and puts leftovers into a refrigerator.

Was this part intentionally disturbing?

[-][anonymous]9y 7

No, it was not intentional. That would be Hemingway-quality if it had been intentional. I just tried to think about the little details. But you're correct that that is disturbing.

I think cleaning up 'leftovers' is definitely a lifelong-friend kind of duty. Like bailing you out of jail at four in the morning...

[This post's ID is "bye"]

That's ... impressive. p4wnc6, did you do that on purpose or was it just a staggeringly appropriate coincidence?

[-][anonymous]9y 1

I didn't do anything intentional. I didn't know that posts could have IDs like this. I assumed it was something that Vladimir_Nesov arranged, but was unsure.

Every post has an ID in a peculiar encoding of alphanumeric characters (I think it's just base 36). Pure coincidence.

*Base 37, I think you mean

What's the 37th character?

I now realize that it is in fact base 36. Sorry about that, I was responding on autopilot by some muddied rule in my head which said "Non-decimal base -> Add 1", probably a result of remembering that base 10, for instance, only has digits up to 9. What I failed to realize, naturally, was that this included 0, coming out to ten symbols.

Sorry about that, I was wrong.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

The stuff after "bye" doesn't actually matter, so directs to this post.

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I'm not sure I like the word "cryocide" -- it sounds like a description of the act of destroying a viable cryopatient. Not sure I can think of a better word for it though. (Language designed to describe death tends to break down around cryonics.) Some candidates:

  • Voluntary deanimation
  • Assisted deanimation
  • Premortem cryopreservation
  • Metabolic interruption
  • Suspension of living

The ideal candidate would get the point across without conveying any intent to mislead. I've seen people get up in arms about "deanimation" as a supposed euphemism for death.

Maybe we should ignore the technique details (cryopreservation), which may change in the future, and talk about the real purpose.

  • Skip a century.
  • Ticket to the future.
  • Go to slow time.
  • Cryonap. [Edit: on reflection I like this one best. It's one word, and it emphasizes the presumption of waking up again. By contrast, "cryopreservation" evokes "preservation (of the dead body)", like mummification.]

Or maybe we should encourage longer, more varied expressions because they sound less like euphemisms. There's no reason we should use always just one name (which is "cryonics" anyway).

  • This is boring. Wake me up when you've solved P=NP.
  • Tomorrow morning I'll be shopping for a personal jetpack! Aren't you jealous?
  • I'm putting myself in a time capsule.
  • Going to the future KTHXBIE!
  • By the magic of compound interest, I'll wake up so rich I'll be able to simulate myself living on immortally from today on without being frozen!

Sure, these are "irreverent" and so people may dislike them. But here's what I'm thinking of - I've no clear idea if it'll work but I think it might.

People have this horrible tendency to try to paint death as a positive thing, right? If we can't stop that, let's coopt it. Let's make people talk about cryopreservation as a positive thing. [Edited here for clarity] If a loved one is due to be cryopreserved tomorrow, you should act afraid-but-happy, like you would about his undergoing any other life-saving new medical treatment.

There are traditions that very explicitly paint death as a good event. Like those were you go to heaven. Or those where it's the "necessary and proper" completion of a life well lived, providing catharsis and resolution to yourself and others (seen in traditions that don't have specific beliefs about the afterlife, just that it exists).

I have a particular example in mind: Tolkien's writings. In Middle-Earth, the very best (most pious, worthy and good) men are said to one day "lay down their lives" voluntarily while yet sound in mind and body, and this is one of the most moral and "in alignment with nature as God intends it" acts that someone can perform. In contrast are depicted those who live as long as they can, until "death takes them unwilling" - and before that they are punished with "dotage", i.e. mental decrepitude.

This isn't generalizing from fictional evidence. My point is that this writing resonates with a lot of readers. Even when some few people object to the general tone of Tolkien (like David Brin does), his pro-deathism isn't one of the things I've ever seen them complain about (and I used to read quite a lot about Tolkien and his writings).

So, why can't we have a tradition that upholds the ideal of voluntary cryopreservation? Perhaps as soon as someone begins to seriously slip mentally and other treatments have failed - as in the OP story.

I think there is a ton of untapped potential in emphasizing the more non-obvious paths to cryonics-positive attitudes. However one obstacle worth considering is that the reasons people are comfortable with death are likely to be the same reasons they find cryonics to be shady and uncomfortable. Consider the following articles of wisdom:

  • Cryonics is an open ended exploration of the future.
  • ... Death grants "closure", as long as we can accept it and move on with our lives.
  • Cryonics cleverly leverages economics and technology to escape death.
  • ... Death is the "great leveler" that inevitably comes for rich and poor alike.
  • Cryonics is a heroic intervention to save lives.
  • ... Death comes for us all without our seeking it, and by accepting it we attain inner peace.
  • Cryonics represents hope for a future devoid of death.
  • ... Death has been with us from the beginning, and unites us with our ancestors.

It seems many of the things that make people feel good about cryonics are basically the things that make people feel bad about death and vice versa, depending largely on the framing of the issue and how they are willing to think about it.

It's all in the framing. Everyone is happy to celebrate life in other contexts (i.e. when people aren't dying from old age): they celebrate all the things you list - exploration of the future, clever technology, heroic interventions, hopes for a better world.

the problem is they don't believe in cryonics. If people perceived cryonics, on a gut level, as having some non-negligible chance of successful revival - rather than at best a Pascal's Bargain that any odds are better than none - then I think some of those people would be able to switch to viewing cryonics as bravely taking a risk for a chance of a better life.

There's confirmation bias and priming, too. If the person going cryonapping acts cheerful about it, all the way through (not like the one in the OP article), he might help others feel cheerful about it as well.

Most of those sound like irritating euphemisms, which, while more technically accurate, don't exactly roll off the tongue (unlike cryocide, which has a decent ring to it). On the other hand, accuracy is important, and cryocide has misleadingly negative connotations. So I think out design goals should be: One word, non-technical-sounding, rolls off the tongue, neutral or at least positive connotations. So, how about...

Cryonide? (Ugh.) Suonics? (Double Ugh.) Crythanasia? (Triple Ugh.)

Maybe we should just give up on portmanteaus. Any suggestions?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I agree with you. I was borrowing from the title of another LW post. I would find it interesting to see a discussion post on this.

Beautiful, thanks for the story.

Interesting, although I've always wondered what the value would be of preserving an older individual (I'm assuming s/he's on the old side). Maybe I'm simply not well-versed in medical advancements, but it seems the problem of reviving a cryonic (if that is the term) is a completely different problem from reversing the aging process, or in short, preventing death entirely. Of course, there could be large overlap with the advancements, just my two cents.

The patient shouldn't be revived until both problems can be solved cheaply.

The usual assumption is that neuropreservation is just to store your information, and you won't be revived until a brand new body can be built for you. It's not so much that aging will be solved by then, as that it isn't even in the same ballpark.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

What message is this story intended to communicate or is it just a piece of creative writing?

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