Cryonics Wants To Be Big

by lsparrish2 min read5th Jul 2010192 comments


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Cryonics scales very well. People who argue from the perspective that cryonics is costly are probably not aware of this fact. Even assuming you needed to come up with the lump sum all at once rather than steadily pay into life insurance, the fact is that most people would be able to afford it if most people wanted it. There are some basic physical reasons why this is the case.

So long as you keep the shape constant, for any given container the surface area is based on a square law while the volume is calculated as a cube law. For example with a simple cube shaped object, one side squared times 6 is the surface area; one side cubed is the volume. Spheres, domes, and cylinders are just more efficient variants on this theme. For any constant shape, if volume is multiplied by 1000, surface area only goes up by 100 times.

Surface area is where heat gains entry. Thus if you have a huge container holding cryogenic goods (humans in this case) it costs less per unit volume (human) than is the case with a smaller container that is equally well insulated. A way to understand why this works is to realize that you only have to insulate and cool the outside edge -- the inside does not collect any new heat. In short, by multiplying by a thousand patients, you can have a tenth of the thermal transfer to overcome per patient with no change in r-value.

But you aren't limited to using equal thickness of insulation. You can use thicker insulation, but get a much smaller proportional effect on total surface area when you use bigger container volumes. Imagine the difference between a marble sized freezer and a house-sized freezer. What happens when you add an extra foot of insulation to the surface of each? Surface area is impacted much as diameter is -- i.e. more significantly in the case of the smaller freezer than the larger one. The outer edge of the insulation is where it begins collecting heat. With a truly gigantic freezer, you could add an entire meter (or more) of insulation without it having a significant proportional impact on surface area, compared to how much surface area it already has. (This is one reason cheaper materials can be used to construct large tanks -- they can be applied in thicker layers.)

Another factor to take into account is that liquid nitrogen, the super-cheap coolant used by cryonics facilities around the world, is vastly cheaper (more than a factor of 10) when purchased in huge quantities of several tons. The scaling factors for storage tanks and high-capacity tanker trucks are a big part of the reason for this. CI has used bulk purchasing as a mechanism for getting their prices down to $100 per patient per year for their newer tanks. They are actually storing 3,000 gallons of the stuff and using it slowly over time, which implies there is a boiloff rate associated with the 3,000 gallon tank in addition to the tanks.

The conclusion I get from this is that there is a very strong self-interested case (as well as the altruistic case) to be made for the promotion of megascale cryonics towards the mainstream, as opposed to small independently run units for a few of us die-hard futurists. People who say they won't sign up for cost reasons may actually (if they are sincere) be reachable at a later date. To deal with such people's objections and make sure they remain reachable, it might be smart to get them to agree with some particular hypothetical price point at which they would feel it is justified. In large enough quantities, it is conceivable that indefinite storage costs would be as low as $50 per person, or 50 cents per year.

That is much cheaper than saving a life any other way. Of course there's still the risk that it might not work. However, given a sufficient chance of it working it could still be morally superior to other life saving strategies that cost more money. It also has inherent ecological advantages over other forms of life-saving in that it temporarily reduces the active population, giving the environment a chance to recover and green tech more time to take hold so that they can be supported sustainably and comfortably. And we might consider the advent of life-health extension in the future to be a reason to think  it a qualitatively better form of life-saving.

Note: This article only looks directly at cooling energy costs; construction and ongoing maintenance do not necessarily scale as dramatically. The same goes for stabilization (which I view as a separate though indispensable enterprise). Both of these do have obvious scaling factors however. Other issues to consider are defense and reliability. Given the large storage mass involved, preventing temperature fluctuations without being at the exact boiling temperature of LN2 is feasible; it could be both highly failsafe and use the ideal cryonics temperature of -135C rather than the -196C that LN2 boiloff as a temperature regulation mechanism requires. Feel free to raise further issues in the comments.


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Please go away.

7wedrifid11yI've already told this guy how to quote properly and he said he was too lazy. That's just rude. People who are not even willing to follow basic standards for grammar, spelling and presentation and are disrespectful when asked are not likely to be welcome anywhere they go even in those rare cases that such an individual actually has something worthwhile to add!
6JoshuaZ11yIn fairness to Sam the post he was replying to for some reason wasn't displaying any of the content between the two html links. His reply makes marginally more sense in that context. (And I got to learn a new German phrase).
3Vladimir_Nesov11yStill, the quality of discussion is better defended by driving him away [] than by writing quality rebuttals, at least after the points useful to general lurkers are covered. The problem is not his position, but his lack of skill for participating in a rational argument (which can change in the future, but not overnight).
2wedrifid11yI would go a step further and suggest it is a lack of skill in participating in community discussions. Terrible argument is by no means the distinguishing feature. In fact, a complete lack of skill in participating in rational argument would not stop someone from being accepted (even) here assuming they had the right set of social traits.
1RichardKennaway11ySkill in participating in rational argument is one of the social traits that is valued here. Absent an actual example, I find your claim implausible. Is there anyone who you think is socially accepted here while displaying such complete lack of skill?
2wedrifid11yAnd exactly how would someone with rudimentary social skills answer that? Almost certainly not by supplying an example with proof! ;) What I am comfortable saying, and I would be surprised if others didn't share my sentiment at least partially, is that there are people here who I would welcome even if they lacked any talent in argument. There are contributions that can be made that are rather independent of being able to argue well.
1Vladimir_Nesov11yIf one can be moved by a rational argument, other aspects become much less relevant.
2wedrifid11yAnd yet I suggest that if one has those other aspects the ability to be moved by rational argument becomes less relevant to an even greater degree. For the purpose of predicting social acceptance even here it is useful to model 'being moved by a rational argument' as an act of submission, something that is vital if you lack social prowess but can be detrimental when other people would respect your dominance even when speaking nonsense. We may try to compensate for it but we're still apes. Social considerations completely dwarf rational ones for the purposes we are considering.

The most important reason that cryonics wants to be big is because if people thought that they were going to be alive in the future, then they would work hard to prevent the future from going wrong. They would also work hard to prevent cryonics from going wrong, and it would be made illegal for cryopatients to be thawed, eliminating a huge risk in the success of cryonics.

Developed societies in the 21st Century have started to break down in certain ways because we live in "the long run" discounted by people who made bad decisions for us when they ran things decades ago. I've seen this happen in cryonics organizations, even though, as Roko speculates, you'd expect that the members who have a stake in cryonics' success would insist on better performance.

5lsparrish11yAbsolutely true. The cryonics meme spread widely is more sustainable -- and thus more useful -- than if only a few people have it. Not to mention the fact that it could raise the sanity waterline [] quite a ways. That is a benefit that would be of lasting value (and perhaps steer us clear of a few existential risks) regardless of whether cryonics works. Obviously if we knew cryonics wouldn't work it would not raise the sanity waterline to pretend otherwise -- but the fact is that we don't know any such thing. It is a quite valid assumption that it will work, as far as we can tell. And the cheaper cryonics is, the less sane the refusal to consider it becomes.

Incorrect demanding further proof for an idea with as many single points of failure as cryonics is logical and sensible. The ability to make a rational decision means you need sufficient evidence of a sufficient quality to make you conclusions. Eliminate some more single points of failure from cryonics then maybe. Its like thinking you can solve a math problem with ten variables where you only have information and relations for two.

This paragraph seems very confused. You have made a decision, have you not? You have decided not to be cryopreserved. And you've made it with no more information than we have. The fact that your decision consists of deciding upon inaction, doesn't make it not a decision. Whether you choose to be cryopreserved or not, you have to choose one way or the other, albeit not necessarily explicitly. You are simultaneously claiming that a rational decision is impossible while arguing for your decision! It's not clear to me how that can be considered consistent. One of these choices is the "default" one, to be sure, but that's just a result of current circumstances; it's not inherent in the problem.

Furthermore you seem to be insisting that it ... (read more)

Gosh I have no life here I am throwing more pearls before swine.

We are clearly not worth your time. Please give up on us.

In fact, we can be mathematically precise about this. Consider the equation for heat conduction (Q watts) through a spherical shell, where T and t are the outside and inside temperatures, R is the outer radius, r is the inner radius:

Q = 4 x k x pi x R x r x (T-t)/(R-r)

For R > 2r, this equation says that the power getting from the outside to the inside scales only linearly in the overall size of the system (and further increases in R/r make no more difference). But the volume of cryogen stored in the inside sphere scales as the size cubed. This means that the boiloff time scales inverse-quadratically in system size, which in turn means that you could construct a sufficiently large system that it wouldn't need topping up for a century or so (sufficiently large being a mere r=15m or 3000 tons of liquid nitrogen, and a cost of $50M or so). Such a system would virtually eliminate the risk that the patient is killed because the cryo company goes bust, because it would have zero maintenance cost, and would be like a "cryonics grave".

2gwern11yI wonder how much a 30 meter diameter dewar would cost? A cryonics system that needs such infrequent maintenance goes a long way to improving the odds, and might be worthwhile from an organization's point of view.
6Roko11yI used to be a cryogenic engineer. My impression is that the cost of a large-scale cryonics grave would be high, on the order of $50-100M because of the reliability required of the vacuum and the extreme insulation requirements. It would probably require ~20 concentric layers of vapour shielded vacuum insulation (i.e. 20 concentric shells of metal with an ultra-high vacuum between each layer). The outermost layer might be 35-40 meters in diameter. The required strength of the neck to support 3000 tons is quite extreme. Perhaps a better solution that I have thought of is an active cooling system that uses a no-moving parts refrigerator and a radioisotope power source. That way the system doesn't need to be huge. In fact, it benefits from being small. The roadblock there is getting regulatory permission to bury a radioisotope power source, as they are highly radioactive and if they fell into the hands of terrorists could be used to build a dirty bomb. (The solution would be to bury in a very remote location like the Antarctic, and minimize knowledge that there even is radioactive material in it)

Roko... you must have been dealing with small scale cryonics. I am an engineer in the LNG industry, and we routinely design cryogenic storage tanks up to 200,000 m3 in volume. Vacuum is never used on this scale, in fact we use pearlite powder insulation and wood blocks to support the inner liner, and glass or polyurethane foam to insulate the shell. The PU foam is cheap and can be more or less as thick as you wish. Heat loss for LNG tanks is around 5 watts/sqm, for large tanks this represents a boil-off of around 1/50th of 1% per day. I'm sure this can be lowered. $100 million will buy a 140,000 m3 tank. If you want one, let me know :)

(AFAIK, powder is also used in vacuum flasks instead of multiple layers).

2Roko11yMy suspicion is that the best insulation performance for this application would be aerogel in a rough vacuum. This article [] states: I suspect that with a vacuum of 1 Torr you could get down to 0.001W/m-K or even below. So perlite powder apparently [] has a thermal conductivity of 0.02W/m-K
2Roko11yThanks for your comment. I worked with superconducting magnets and ultra-low temp systems, so yes, you are clearly more in the know about these kinds of sizes and temperatures. Could it be lowered by a further factor of 8 or so? What is the thermal conductivity of pearlite powder? Is there something that isn't a vacuum that is just one order of magnitude more insulating? What about filling with a mix of aerogel and pearlite? Seriously, if we can get a boiloff time of > 80 years for a cost of < 20 million we might have a serious chance of this being implemented.
4D_Alex11yThe boil-off can be lowered by increasing the insulation thickness, using better materials etc... the current designs are far from optimised for heat loss, since the gas companies do want to eventually sell the LNG in gaseous state. I think that a factor of 8 is doable with current techniques at abt 2x the overall price (this is a guesstimate not a quotation, OK? ;)
2Roko11ySee A proposal for a cryogenic grave for cryonics [] I think that you can do much, much better than this by using a rough vacuum filled with powder or aerogel granules. I actually think that you can make a tank of diameter only 10 meters that would last for centuries. Such a small tank would probably only cost $200,000 or so to build, yes? The main issue would be maintaining the vacuum, but it would only need to be a rough vacuum (1/100 atmospheres). I'm actually seriously considering pitching this idea to Ben Best when he comes to the UK in 15 days.
1Roko11ySo perlite powder apparently [] has a thermal conductivity of 0.02W/m-K
2lsparrish11yAt 125 neuro patients per m3, we're talking room for 25 million patients in a single 200,000 m3 tank. Total boiloff would be 40 m3 per day, which would take 5000 days if the tank is full of cryogen, or 1250 days (~4y) if the patients take up 75% of the volume. If we wanted to get it to the century range, I wonder how much thicker the insulation needs to be... a factor of 25? Number of watts would need to go down to 200 milliwatt/sqm.
6ShardPhoenix11yBy my estimate, such a container could hold up to 125000 heads, at $800 each. Very affordable. On the other hand, if you needed a coffin-size space for full body, the price would be more like $25000.
4Roko11ySure, the problem is getting 125000 people to sign up for cryo. If you could just do that, you wouldn't need to worry about thawed cryo bodies, because cryo would be practically mainstream at that stage.
6lsparrish11yAnd that is the dilemma. But I notice cryonics is popular among the geek-set, which is not as small as one might think. Most cryonicists have computer science backgrounds. What would happen if IT companies and engineering firms started offering cryonics as part of their standard benefits package?
6advancedatheist11yCryonics doesn't necessarily need more male propeller heads. I think it would benefit from more women, married couples and entire families, which would give it the vitality and durability of mainstream social structures like churches. Unfortunately I don't know how to overcome the "hostile wife phenomenon," as well as the fact that a commitment to cryonics resists generational transmission. As an example of the latter, Marce Johnson entered the paleo-cryonics scene in the 1960's, and she had 40 years to show her children through precept and example that she wanted cryonic suspension for herself. To summarize a long story, despite efforts to raise money for her cryotransport with CI after she developed Alzheimer's and lost her suspension arrangements with another organization, she died and the daughter with POA over her had her cremated, then informed Marce's cryonicist friends after the fact, apparently out of spite.

Early adopters are (relatively) crazy and have to put up with ridicule from their friends because it's not cool yet. That's just how it goes. The trouble is that cryonics has stayed in the early adopter phase for 40 years.

Suddenly I have the mental image of a t-shirt reading "I was into cryonics before it was cool."

6ata11yI want one.
4Alicorn11yI want a shirt that says "I was into cryonics before I was cooled."
3advancedatheist11yWith a few exceptions, why does cryonics continue to repel female early adopters? I draw the contrast with Mormonism, which drew a lot of female early adopters despite sanctions against their participation in it. One, they had to defy taboos about getting involved in weird, heretical new religions; and two, they especially had to defy taboos against polygyny and adultery. Yet their participation turned Mormonism into a demographically successful church. If Mormonism had attracted mostly men, its demographic breakthrough wouldn't have happened.
4RobinZ11yA few exceptions []? I don't get the impression that the statistics are that severely skewed.
5arundelo11yAccording toKerry Howley's NYT article [] justlinked by ciphergoth []: (Problematic, but not quite "few exceptions" territory.)
1lsparrish11yI imagine Mormonism gave women the spiritual connection which most church groups do. I doubt it is coincidental that women outnumber men in churches. The protection of a powerful alpha male, as God is portrayed, might be something they can connect with more easily than men, on average. But religion is not the only thing that disproportionately attracts women... For example, the Twilight fandom is mostly female.
4[anonymous]11yWhile we're speculating, I think it's that "kin work" (keeping up with family and friends, taking care of the elderly, child-rearing) primarily falls to women. Churches provide a framework to do that. If you've noticed, women are highly active in the parts of a church that aren't explicitly about God -- fundraising committees, education committees, various organizing functions. It's community-building glue. Cryonics, unlike Mormonism, doesn't have that aspect. As of now, it's a transaction made by an individual. I'm not sure how one would make cryonics by itself "church-like." You could try to make a rationalist social institution -- like a Masonic lodge -- that combined charitable work, socializing, activities for children, educational lectures, and activities/volunteering opportunities for the elderly. Cryonics could be built into that. The point is, it has to be a family and community institution.
2Alicorn11yPerhaps coincidentally, Twilight was written by a Mormon.
3lsparrish11ySome of my favorite authors are Mormon. Orson Scott Card [], Brandon Sanderson [], and Howard Tayler []. Somehow they seem to go to greater extremes in their fiction than non-Mormons on average. And they have no qualms about literally turning a character into God (given that Mormon theology includes this eventually happening to the faithful anyway). There's a kind of balance of creepiness/weirdness and old-fashioned family values, which is in itself perhaps more disturbing in a way. I think it has to do with how success of a meme seems to have a lot to do with its power to resolve cognitive dissonance [] -- but what this implies is that the cognitive dissonance must exist to begin with. When they encounter the creep factor of cryonics, most people resolve cognitive dissonance by ignoring it, downplaying its chances of success, or imagining fantastic reasons it would not work. Cryonicists themselves might resolve the dissonance factors by reassuring themselves that it's the only sane thing to do in face of inevitable deanimation, reading up on the facts, and hoping for improvements in the process before they die. But that sort of thing takes a lot of activity in the logical areas of the brain. Mormons seem to resolve the cognitive dissonance factors of their religion (and the weirder aspects of life in general) by turning to a focus on human relationships -- family, romance, etc. Perhaps the cognitive functions involved in this are easier to stimulate in a group that is highly inclusive of women and children.
2Alicorn11yZenna Henderson is another splendid Mormon author. One of my Mormon friends aspires to write children's books, although she's not yet been published, and her writing is reasonably good as well. Said friend accounts for this strong representation of Mormons in the fiction world by saying that the religion encourages imagination and creativity. (It's perfectly acceptable to plan for being one of the future deities who gets to run a universe later, so one may as well think about how one plans to do it.)
2simplicio11yCrikey, I didn't know that... the other cool thing is, you learn about genealogy and get to save all of your unbaptized relatives from hell! That religion has some pretty kickass memes.
4Alicorn11yThey are so hardcore about genealogy. I have one friend whose tree goes back all the way to some crackpot king who demanded that genealogers trace his lineage back to Adam, so my friend can trace hers back that far too.
9wedrifid11yThat's impressive. I can only trace my lineage back to people who actually existed.
1wedrifid11y... per household?
4[anonymous]11yIt's true that social institutions do better if they have women and families on board. Since you mentioned churches: keep in mind that anybody who believes in bodily resurrection will have a problem with their loved ones being buried without heads. Cryonics would have to recruit from among the non-religious, which is a big handicap to begin with.
2JoshuaZ11yAnyone who believes in a resurrection that is so fixed in nature that their deity will have trouble resurrecting the person if the body is in two pieces is probably so far removed from rationality that it probably isn't worth trying to convince them that cryonics is reasonable. (On a marginally related topic I've been thinking on and off of the halachic(Orthodox Jewish law) ramifications of cryonics and I think an argument can be potentially made for cryonic preservation as long as one does full body preservation. It might be interesting to talk to some Modern Orthodox Rabbis and see what they say. Judaism has generally been more willing to adopt new medical technology than Christianity so if one is trying to aim at religious individuals that might be one possible avenue of attack. ETA: Thinking slightly more about this, I think a strong argument can be made that if halachah allows for cryonics then halachah would actually mandate it (based on the rules about the measures one goes to save lives)) I suspect that among the less strongly religious, such as moderate Christians and Jews in the US, religion is not itself a major reason against cryonics. I suspect that the weirdness aura and cached thoughts about death are much larger elements.
2lsparrish11yYes, Christians I've talked to seem not to have a problem with God gathering scattered ashes on the resurrection day. It would detract from his omnipotence if he were unable to do so. And plenty of martyrs were burned at the stake or beheaded. In fact, the book of Revelation specifically reserves a place in heaven for those who are beheaded for not taking the mark of the beast. I don't know if other religions feel differently, but Biblically based Christianity does not have anything that says separating the body from the head is cause for grief on the part of the individual.
3apophenia11yI don't tell any of the programmers or computer scientists I work with about cryonics for social reasons. While many cryonicists have computer science backgrounds, I do not feel the reverse is true.
2Blueberry11ySocial reasons? You're scared they'll think you're weird? I'd think most programmers would be open to a discussion about the brain as a program, at least. Is it really that weird?

Things like this are 90% self-confidence and 10% innate weirdness. Talk about it like it's obvious, normal, and you're part of a community of smart people out there, and they'll pick up on the cues.

I know saying that won't help a lot of people, but it's what I do. When I introduce cryonics to someone, I don't sound nervous and timid and censure-expecting, I take off my necklace and say "This is my contract of immortality with the cult of the severed head."

9Alicorn11yAren't you signed up with CI, which doesn't do neuro? Whence the severed head?
5apophenia11yI actually have the self confidence that it's the correct decision, just not that I'll be socially accepted. Analogously, I came out about being bi many years back and was completely wrong--it appears to be fine among people I know. It's completely reasonable that I may be wrong again. Have you found that cryonics is socially acceptable, or do you just think it's important to change its reputation?

I have found that anything is socially acceptable so long as you effectively signal that your non-conformity is a choice, not a result of an inability to conform or a way of coping with fear of rejection. Weird is NEVER OK with successful people. Deliberately different is ALWAYS OK so long as you are willing to not draw attention to it all the time.

Example. Vibrams with a suit are generally the best attire for most formal situations in my experience. You show that you are able and willing to conform, not psychologically unable to do so, but you also show that you aren't afraid of the penalties for not conforming and that you will stand up for some principles some of the time. That's attractive. The devil classically does it, in myths where he can/will take any form and disguise himself perfectly except for retaining cloven hooves, a tail and/or some similar indication of his identity.

4LucasSloan11ySo the trick to doing what you suggest is to conform on most axes, but be obviously non-conformist about the things you care about in a confident, but not confrontational way?
3Blueberry11yEw. I really hope no one seriously does that. Especially in a courtroom.
-1MichaelVassar11yOf course not in a courtroom. That's not "most formal situations" but rather almost literally a contest to publicly display willingness to conform to elite norms and generally to submit.
5Blueberry11yCan you elaborate on this? It seems obviously wrong to me. I also don't understand how wearing Vibrams with a suit to a formal occasion signals anything but lack of fashion sense and being unaware of social norms. I mean, sure, if you're in charge, you can wear whatever you want, but if you're not in charge, someone seeing you wear footwear that doesn't go with the clothes will just think you don't know how to dress appropriately.
1MichaelVassar11yIt's a matter of how far you push it. It wouldn't belong at a funeral or an opera, but it works well in any situation where a suit would be desirable but not close to mandatory. You want to signal awareness but lack of fear, not insensitivity. Vibrams aren't something that someone could wear by mistake, or out of carelessness. Pushing things somewhat farther, you could be formally dressed with a very conspicuous fake tattoo.
2NancyLebovitz11yI'm wondering how much the vibrams + business suit works because you're dealing with geeks, so that they're responsive to a weird/cool/potentially practical combination-- something which I don't think would go over well with mainstream bankers.
1MichaelVassar11yIt works with a variety of types, not just geeks, as do the fake tattoos. It might not work with heirarchy climbing types, especially with the fearful types who climb a little way up a heirarchy and then sit there unable to go further, but I think its frequently a mistake to have anything to do with such people anyway except when absolutely necessary. You can't influence their behavior with ideas, friendship or passion, only with fear of being ostracized or (to a much lesser extent) penalized.
0khafra11yUnfortunately, the Vibrams-and-suit look is derivative and geeky [] , not original; but the principle (even applied using Vibrams) certainly works for me.
0Kevin11ySo you will be wearing Vibrams at the Singularity Summit? (there is actually some legitimate market demand for barefoot type shoes that are styled appropriately to be worn formally)
2whpearson11yThere are Vivo Barefoots [], which are probably more appropriate.
4Blueberry11yI talk about the idea with a lot of people, and no one seems to think poorly of me for wanting to do it, though many people say they wouldn't want to. I just don't see it as that weird or not socially acceptable.
1lsparrish11yI wonder if there is a measurable talent distribution? Are any of the really famous hackers also cryonicists, or open to the idea? Come to think of it, I haven't heard of any. Too bad. If there was a link between being a good hacker and being a cryonicist, that would make it an easier sell.
4apophenia11yThat's an interesting question. Intense, good hackers might be more open to it than it's-a-job-programmers, if only because people less mainstream in one area often are in others. I really have no idea. I'll do an informal survey of people I know online (hackers) and people at my work (programmers). I've seen P.J. Eby posting to the python development list, so I'd label him a hacker. What is your opinion on cryonics, pjeby?
1Jolly11yI'm a hacker, good at it, and signed up for cryonics. I also know of at least one other hacker who is signed up, and another who is in the process of being signed up.
2ata11yThere's Hal [\(cypherpunk\]) Finney [], for one. Not sure if he counts as "famous", though he's at least famous enough to merit a Wikipedia article, and he surely qualifies as a "good hacker".

For me, the deciding factor is cost. I would be willing to sign up for cryonics at 1/3 the current cost. However, this is unlikely, since I had to negotiate to get the smaller amount of life insurance I actually needed -- my cost would currently be about $15/month life insurance and $10/month CI fee. No matter how much we cut the cost of cryonics, my life insurance refuses to charge less. One solution is a cryonics group willing to take care of the life insurance themselves -- go under $100,000 -- then this would help cut the bottleneck cost.

Oh, also I'll commit to signing up for cryonics when it drops below $10/month. And perhaps before, since there's a good chance cryonics prices slowly drop or a singularity occurs before I'm 40.

7Roko11yInteresting that you think cryo is worth £6 a month but not £15 a month. What calculation did you do to get this figure?
0apophenia11yAs far as the cost-benefit tradeoff, it's arbitrary. Gut feeling. I wrote a Scheme program to calculate the chance I would be successfully deanimated and then reanimated. It ended up being significantly lower than I expected--I was wavering before.
1Roko11ywhat probability did you get out of your program? (I ask this as my figure for that probability for myself is ~ 15%, when I actually pay up for the contract)
5apophenia11yHere's my program, with my probability estimates removed to avoid bias. If anyone wants to use it, feel free. It calculates the probablilty a person will be revived after X years. If you want a final probability, plug in some priors, including a distribution over how long you think it will take you to be revived. Here is my final probability, rot13 []ed: Gur cebonovyvgl V'yy or erivirq va svsgl, bar uhaqerq lrnef ner svir-cbvag-guerr-creprag, gjb-cbvag-guerr-creprag erfcrpgviryl. Edit: I'm having a hard time getting this program source to display properly, but it should run fine with some line breaks.
3apophenia11yOkay, so I updated my chance that the correct information is present in the brain - from 75% to 99% after seeing this talk [] by Brian Wowk, with the team that preserved a rabbit liver. My estimates went down, not up. There was an error in my program, which I've corrected above. Even with this correction, I strongly recommend against using it without checking it yourself first. My probability estimates are now nearly ten times higher, and I will sign up for cryonics. I guess I should either not stake my life on my programming skills, or program better.
1Roko11yWhat do you think life after revival would be like? What is your median expectation? Your 80% expectation (i.e. the post-revival life that is just better than four fifths of the possibilities)?
1apophenia11yI haven't the faintest idea. I don't apply Bayesian rules in everyday life, and I don't like to guess. But, let me even put that aside. Suppose my personal happiness would be about what it is now, and that I would continue to enjoy life for at least as long as I've been alive currently (about 2 decades). That's already more happiness than I can get a subjective impression of, so I don't feel like I can come up with a helpful answer.
4Roko11yThere seems little point in spending a relatively long time coming up with probabilities if you don't have a rough model of what the utilities of the outcomes are... One argument in favour of cryonics is that the utility of a life on the "other side" would be high, because the technology and willingness to revive, combined with your savings having grown via compound interest, seems to imply that you would be rich and in a world where the good life is very cheap. The unfriendly/friendly AI dichotomy reinforces this point. The value you are placing on your post-cryo life implied by your cost and probability is $200,000 or so, which is about 41 times smaller than the $5,000,000 EDIT $8,200,000 standard statistical value of a life today. If you just assumed that your post revival life would be worth the same as the standard statistical value of a life, you would be prepared to pay $410/month for cryo. (unless you discount your future self, of course, in which case if depends on your discount rate) EDIT: Suppose you discount exponentially at 5% per annum and expect to die in about 50 years, then once you die you'd be reanimated subjectively instantly. You should discount by a factor of 11 for 50 years, so you should pay $410/11 ~ $38 per month for cryo. If you make some allowance for increased quality of life, and increased length, this should go up. I am not sure how to make such allowances: discounting a billion year life exponentially at 5% seems silly to me.
2apophenia11yWhere did you get $5,000,000, and what exactly does it represent? I'll think about this, though. You're right in saying I've spent too much time thinking about the probability of success, and not enough on the value of success. I strongly suspect my $10 comes from some idea of what a reasonable monthly fee should be as an anchor, adjusted for the probability. As such, I should reconsider it.
2Roko11ySo you should look up value of a statistical life []
1Larks11yIIRC the figure is the average life insurance pay-out in the US. In the UK, it's more like £1,000,000
2Roko11yIncidentally, what value would you place on life optimized by a friendly AI? i.e. how much per month would you be prepared to pay for, say, a 10% shot at it?

I already stated that I disregarded the last link for lack of evidence that the source is trustworthy (published papers and the like).

I don't see where you said that. And even given that, I find that response to be deeply confusing. We are talking about this post yes? That post has nothing to do with specific claims of evidence. It is a self-contained argument about what sorts of arguments are or are not valid when discussing cryonics, or for that matter, when discussing any future ... (read more)

Given the large storage mass involved, preventing temperature fluctuations without being at the exact boiling temperature of LN2 is feasible; it could be both highly failsafe and use the ideal cryonics temperature of -135C rather than the -196C that LN2 boiloff as a temperature regulation mechanism requires. Feel free to raise further issues in the comments.

Wow, that's incredibly attractive - it would completely eliminate cracking as we pass through the glass transition temperature. I take it that would also reduce LN2 costs by a further 30% or so?

3Roko11y-135 might not be cold enough. Some biological reactions persist at -140. Better not to take risks like that
5Paul Crowley11yI haven't directly applied the formula, but How Cold is Cold Enough? [] suggests that 500 years at -140 is equivalent to slightly over an hour at body temperature.
4lsparrish11yThanks for linking to that. I was having a hard time remembering where I had read about all this stuff. From the same article: In other words, the effect at -135C in terms of molecules being locked in place is better than before the glass transition is occurred. I assume he means in addition to the Arrhenius effect. The main reason for cooling in a cryogen like LN2 directly is the fact that its boiling point keeps the system at a constant temperature easily at a small scale. Scaled up, keeping the temperature constant should prove less of a challenge, or at least cheaper (per unit volume) to solve.
1lsparrish11yI'm not convinced it is much of a risk. Maybe if you're assuming thousands of years will need to pass.
0Blueberry11yWas this comment a joke? If so, I like it.

Incorrect demanding further proof for an idea with as many single points of failure as cryonics is logical and sensible. The ability to make a rational decision means you need sufficient evidence of a sufficient quality to make you conclusions. Eliminate some more single points of failure from cryonics then maybe.

You seem to be confusing matters. It might help to reread the essay about the particular proof demand. No one is arguing that more evidence wouldn't be a very good thing. I have my own list of things that I'd like to see. No one is arguing that... (read more)

Actually to be fair cryonics has to many single points of failure yet to be avoided to make deciding about it any thing more then a total crapshoot.

Are you stating a preference for allocating resources towards finding out whether it will work or not?

I can respect that. Let's make a deal. When you can get science to prove cryonics is not going to work, I will give up my intention to be cryopreserved.

As a side note, what if you knew the exact odds of it working, and it was say 1 in a million. Assuming that your life is worth 5 million dollars, would you put $5 towards cryonics?

Ok, this is the point where I decide to be mildly obnoxious and use Sam's work as an indication that humans have many more cognitive biases and fallacies than even people at LW realize. In particular, the above post displays a large amount of artificial classification in trying to claim that specific scale issues somehow become differences in kind. This seems very similar to (for example) creationists who claim to accept microevolution but not macroevolution. Moreover, the presence of these problems does not leave in some cases even after prolonged exposur... (read more)

Yes. I think LW's problems as an introduction to rationality go far beyond this. The Sequences are a great introduction to rationality if you were in to them from early on and could take part in the discussions they generated, but as a sequence of cold blog posts they're a large, disconnected and forbidding introduction, and in any case there's no easy way to read them in order. LW in general doesn't come across as a website with a mission of improving rationality so much as a community with curious shared interests like deciding how many boxes to take and getting our heads frozen.

5JoshuaZ11yI'm not sure that's the case. I read most of the sequences before posting here, and I'm aware of at least two people personally who've started reading the sequences fairly recently. And I know a third person who refuses to read anything linked to on LW because she's heard that "LW's archives are addictive like TVtropes on crack" which suggests that to at least some people the Sequences are interesting enough to read. I'm more inclined to wonder a) are they having an impact? And b) how do you get people like Sam who are clearly intelligent and educated to read them or to improve their rationality by some other means?
2Paul Crowley11yThat's encouraging! Doubtless there's much more we can do to make it easier for people to get into this sort of thing, but I'll adjust my estimate of how well we're doing right now upwards - thanks!
3NancyLebovitz11yMaybe we need to do more with "This ia a part of my life I'd like to improve, how do I apply rationality to it?". Sometimes it helps to have good examples of a skill in action rather than being told about solved problems.
5Strange711yRotten wood cannot be carved. Failure to reach Sam in a year of text-only contact is not a strong indictment of our rationality, any more than failure to transcend mass-energy conservation and speed-of-light limits is an indictment of intelligence. Some people just can't be persuaded, and others can't be persuaded within the resources and ethical principles we're willing to apply. Sam has claimed repeatedly that he wishes to disengage from this discussion. This isn't a particularly credible claim, considering his willingness to violate it, but let's honor it anyway. Move on to someone who might be a better investment.
3Roko11yOne solution would be to "Do Science" to the problem. I.e. fund cognitive psychology experiments to ascertain what methods actually verifiably work best for making people rational.
3Roko11yI think that the problem is humans innately, viscerally prefer motivated cognition to bayesian-style belief updating. Humans engaging in rationality rather than sophistry is like (to borrow a metaphor from Ciphergoth) dogs walking on their hind legs []. I mean sure, you can train an able and willing human to do it, under favorable circumstances. But don't expect it to always work or be easy.

Does anyone have some actual numbers on what fraction of the expenses of existing cryonics companies are spent on cooling? That should give an indication on how much can be saved by scaling up.

8lsparrish11yHere [] is a table with Alcor costs. Surprisingly, for a Bigfoot dewar the LN2 is less than half the total cost. The other big ones are janitorial work for the space around it and alarm systems.
1MichaelVassar11yInteresting. Makes me wonder how those would scale. They also sound like they would scale well.

The reply link isn't there for the post where you laid out your point of view.

I can understand thinking that cryonics is unlikely to work and therefore thinking that it's not worth doing. What I can't figure out is why you're so angry about it.

Cryonics wants to be small, or why should the future want you?

All this technical discussion misses what I see as the major problem of cryonics if it works as advertised - why should the future want us?

Imagine if today were discovered few frozen Homo habilis and had technology to revive them. After, they would spend their lives in comfortable zoo that is paradise by ape men standards ( plentiful food! no dangerous beasts! warm shelter!)

Now try the same scenario, but with few millions of our frozen ancestors. The results will be same - at best, few dozens wo... (read more)

6lsparrish11yI hear this from cryo skeptics all the time. Doubts -- not so much as to whether it works or not, but as to whether the patients who could be revived are human or not. Your whole argument treats the patients as dead and gone, and the people who would die without cryonics as expendable. It is simply not consistent with cryonics working in the first place. If cryonics works in the first place, it means everyone who could be preserved but isn't, is a human casualty -- and everyone who could be reanimated but isn't is stuck in a coma against their will. I don't care if you give that an arbitrarily low probability, but if you are going to argue about what is the case if it does work, you have to remain consistent with that assumption if you want to criticize it effectively. Luckily, future humans will have experience with suspended animation and radical surgery long before they can realistically revive a cryonics patient. Getting someone suspended with near-zero damage is an unsolved challenge, but few seem doubtful that it will be solved at some point. Repairing the damage of a current-day cryonics case is necessarily further down the road. Simply having experience with reanimating suspendees (and seeing major surgery such as full body replacement using regrown organs), I expect they will have a much more enlightened perspective on this situation than your average cryonics critic today. Death will then be viewed as something extremely uncommon and in need of extremely good evidence before medical procedures and ethics can be cast aside.
2AlexM11yNo, the question is whether the advanced posthuman civilisation will see the frozen primitive men as human beings. How many resources are we spending to save and improve lives of apes? The purpose of cryonics , at least as as advertised here, is to save specifically your life, not humanity in general. And, for the purpose, is simply better to be one of a few rare specimens than one in a mass. why would they care about our will? death of one of them, yes, but one of us?
3RobinZ11yHow many resources are we spending to save and improve lives of the mentally retarded? My cursory research has over half a billion U.S. dollars in the United States in the year 2002.
4mattnewport11ySurely the US spends more on healthcare than that?
0RobinZ11yAbout a thousand times more by the government on health care, yes. This is just the estimates I found of governmental spending on people with mental retardation .
0mattnewport11yToo subtle.
1RobinZ11yI thought I was quite explicit. AlexM implied that future posthumans would not be interested in reviving comparatively moronic predecessors by suggesting their attitude towards these would be akin to our attitude towards apes. I suggested that the more appropriate analogy would be to human beings with developmental disabilities, for whom substantial sums of public money are spent. What's overly subtle about that?
4mattnewport11yI meant I was too subtle. It was a joke. Apparently a failed one.
5RobinZ11yOh, yeah. That is clever. Probably would have worked better in person.
4NancyLebovitz11yThis might depend on how long it takes to develop revival. Any estimates? If it's just a few decades, cryonics companies might want to signal trustworthiness by reviving everyone. In The First Immortal [], a science fiction novel about cryonics, there's a law that no one gets revived unless there's someone willing to do the work of integrating them into the future society. In other words, you'd do well to be an interesting person, and better to be from a family with a very strong culture of loyalty, though I suppose that integration could also be a matter of contract with a cryonics company.
0AlexM11yIt depends on the gap between us and the future society - if the wilder/more optimistic predictions of transhumanism and artificial intelligence come true - and they have to come true for cryonics to work, the gap between 2050 and now will be bigger that between us and Stone Age. Would you invite your great...grandfather Ugg for dinner?
0NancyLebovitz11yI've wondered if the revived people might end up as an underclass, or as several underclasses.
0Roko11yWhat's wrong with getting revived in 2320?
2Soki11ySomeone who knew you may want to bring you back. If it takes centuries, then the more people frozen the better since it will be more likely that someone you knew would be brought back by someone else. And then he may bring you back too. This assumes that the government does not prevent people form doing this.

to many single points of failure = a crapshoot when trying to be rational about something

Actually, it's pretty simple. Take each point of failure and rate its probability of actually happening. Then multiply all those chances. Say you stack three 99% chances of failure. That's a one in a million chance. If your life (in terms of willingness to pay) is $5M, it is rational to pay $5.

2RobinZ11y...assuming independence. A die has a 50% chance of rolling an odd number in each roll and a 50% chance of rolling an even number in each roll, but the odds of rolling both simultaneously in each roll is 0% by definition. Or, going the other way, a 50% chance of even and ~16.7% chance of a six - but a 16.7% chance of an even six.

On thing that strikes me: has anyone told you about information theoretic death vs. legal death?

The idea of somebody being information-theoretically alive is simply that if their brain is in a state such that you could read it with some kind of advanced technology (e.g. advanced nanotech) and logically infer what their brain used to be like before they died, which would then allow you to repair the brain atom-by-atom.

The difference between information theoretic death and what we would call medical or legal death is that legal death changes over time as technology gets better.

Information theoretic death is what cryonicists care about.

I really think people shouldn't downvote SamAdams to -7. This is a reasonable comment from somebody who hasn't read the sequences.

Using a large unit for cryonics does have some complications. One would need to be able to be able to add people in at different times without disrupting the temperature. And when we eventually start taking people out they'll need to be able to remove the the then repairable ones without disruption to the more injured/sick. I suspect that neither of these will be a large technical hassle. Maybe someone who knows more about low temp engineering can comment if that's correct.

4lsparrish11yI envision a steady stream of new patients for one or more years after its construction. There would be a robotic system to place them, and they would be cooled prior to entry. Delivery mechanism could be as simple as lowering them on a chain, but I suspect getting them settled in stably would involve some kind of robotic mechanisms operating withing the container itself. It would make sense to stack with accessible spaces given to more repairable patients, But with high-precision robotic removal it shouldn't be impossible to shuffle patients without shock. (They would be wrapped in something like fiberglass within their boxes to minimize this anyway.) On the other hand, it might be simpler to just take them out, assess them one by one, and place the ones that need to wait into a different dewar.
6Paul Crowley11yAre there robots that operate at those temperatures?
2Roko11yIt's not so much of a problem. Liquid cryogens such as LN2 will ensure the temperature stays constant until they have entirely boiled off, so you just open the thing up, put the body in, and close it again.
1NancyLebovitz11yI'm wondering whether the most efficient size isn't the largest imaginable-- that there's some medium-sized unit which would be better.
7lsparrish11yThe largest imaginable is probably somewhere in the millions [] of cubic meters. Bringing in futuristic mass-beam [] tech (hey, it's feasible with superconductors and you're under cryogenic temperatures already) and you can go bigger than any building built to date, perhaps even hitting the kilometric cube -- a billion cubic meters. So we might say 30 meters is a relatively small one. But even still, you are absolutely right that smaller ones are worth considering. In fact they are more worth considering because they can be done sooner. Every time you scale up by 1000, thermal transfer drops by 10. So if you just want to go from $22k to $2.2k, all other things equal, you can do this by going from 14 patients to 14000 patients. The next wave of cryonics could take the form of relatively small (but still huge) urban cryo-centers that replace graveyards. A place like the UK where they are running short on grave spaces might be a good starting point for that. Another important idea to look at is piggybacking cryonics onto other forms of cryogenic storage, or perhaps renting out storage in our cryogenic warehouses for other purposes as a source of funding.
2Roko11yWrong scaling. See my post: if you scale up by 1000 in volume, boil-off time goes down by 100. It's better than you think!
1lsparrish11yI'm not quite sure I understand the math, but it sounds like you are saying that since there is a tenfold increase in volume per unit area that means not only does less heat reach the cryogen there is more of it to be reached. So the energy efficiency is 10 times, but the storage capacity is also 10 times. Or am I barking up the wrong tree? 100 times as much slack time between refills, wow. That reduces a lot of costs and risks.
2Roko11yThe math is simply that the heat leak scales linearly with radius, not quadratically, because as you pointed out in your post, a larger container can have thicker walls. So, heat leak ~ r Volume ~ r^3 Volume/(heat leak) ~ r^3/r = r^2
0[anonymous]11yOh, that makes sense. If you scale outer radius at the same rate as inner radius, the thickness increases. And that impacts cost of boiloff by bringing it down by 100 times. Beautiful.

In large enough quantities, it is conceivable that indefinite storage costs would be as low as $50 per person, or 50 cents per year.

Could you provide a cite for this? Thanks!

0handoflixue10yI'll echo this. My research suggests that most of this post is wildly optimistic, if it's talking about whole-body cryonics...

Looking at: shows lots of small freezers on wheels - and not one big one.

So, perhaps there are factors involved which have not been considered in this analysis. It would seem that the benefits of large size run into diminishing returns, and the costs rise faster. It is the same reason why there are no surviving land animals bigger than an elephant.

Is it established that molecular nanotech is required? Uploading might be possible with scanning technology of sufficient speed and accuracy, for example. Just because someone three hundred years ago might have suggested that flapping wings was necessary to flight doesn't mean that the technology that eventually succeeds need use them.


The nanotech required is so far outside of current science that trying to predict what it can do is a hard problem at best

I wanted to pick on this in particular, because you seem to be saying "there's no overwhelming evidence either way, so I can believe whatever I want". But really, advanced molecular nanotechnology does have evidence in favor of its eventual achievement:

For example, progress in self-assembly with DNA nanotechnology (, primitive nanomachines that locomote ( (read more)

Sorry. Er, that post had a formatting error that was making most of the post not appear (I don't fully understand how to do html links. Sometimes they garble stuff up and make sections not visible). The full post is now actually visible. If someone else had wrote was visible there I'd have probably downvoted it to if I could.

3Vladimir_Nesov11yMaybe the guide on the wiki [] has what you need.
0JoshuaZ11yEr, that doesn't make at all clear what wasn't working. When I tried to properly format the links everything between them would not display. I don't see from there any obvious reason why that would occur.
2RichardKennaway11yI don't know what went wrong, but the usual thing that goes wrong with link formatting is that the URL contains characters that mean something special to the Markdown processor. See the "Escaping special symbols" section of the document that Vladimir linked to for the complete list and an example.

I don't think we should go into details on this. It's creepy enough that lifesaving stasis now involves having your head cut off. I don't think it will reassure people to learn that the ideal it to then drop it into a giant jar of heads. i know it would be a giant frost metal ball, but in my mind's eye it's transparent and the heads are shrunken.

4Kazuo_Thow11yIt seems like the focus of this post is not to do public outreach directly. The comparative advantage we have here at LW (in the particular domain of promoting cryonics) probably lies further upstream than that: coming up with ideas behind business strategy rather than hashing out marketing campaigns to make cryonics seem less "creepy" and more acceptable to the general public.
3lsparrish11yWhat I had in my mind's eye was more like this []. Jar is probably not the best metaphor. More like a long-term warehouse.
4JamesAndrix11yI'd expect the liquid nitrogen to provide an interesting set of challenges in the design of warehousing equipment. I suppose there would at least have to be shelves to prevent crushing. But I was thinking this setup would be a lot easier to work with on the assumption that there would one day be a general immortality solution, and you could take heads out top to bottom. It just seems easier to design the whole thing if you never try to get someone out of the middle, and never have to immerse complex machinery in the nitrogen. Maybe this method would still be popular as a budget solution, while wealthier patients retain the option to be revived as soon as it is possible for them.
5lsparrish11yPoint taken. Complex machinery on the inside seems like it would be a pain to maintain. A hoist that lowers patients from the top could be simplest. Computer controlled for precision and safety (perhaps still human operated). Rather than shelves, I suspect steel boxes of a cubic meter or more would be used to contain the patients. Stacking the heads in a heap sounds like a recipe for crushed skulls and mixed-up brain matter. (Though who knows what nanotech can solve, eh?) In the cold-air version of the system (above LN2 temperature), these would act as heat sink and thermal conductor while providing strength. Fans would probably also be used to circulate the air to prevent stratification. Stacking directly in LN2 might prove interesting. A reason to use cold-air temperatures over LN2 might be to make the stacking mechanism easier to design. Remember, the process of stacking patients is only going to take a few years, and it can be filled with cryogen later. Cooling to LN2 temps over that last few degrees could be done at a rate that takes months (or even years), which I assume would induce fewer cracks. Then it would be filled with LN2. If we use the steel boxes, the inside of the boxes might need to be filled as well in which case they would need to have openings. (Perhaps they should be cages rather than solid boxes.) This is just to maximize cryogen volume; you could always keep it cool by just cooling the outside.