The case for lifelogging as life extension

by Matthew Barnett3 min read1st Feb 202013 comments



Those in the cryonics community want to be frozen upon legal death, in order to preserve the information content in their brain. The hope is that, given good protocol, damage incurred during the freezing process will not destroy enough information about you to prevent people in the future from reconstructing your identity.

As most who want cryonics will understand, death is not an event. Instead, it is a process with intermediate steps. We consider a long-decayed corpse to be dead because it no longer performs the functions associated with a normal living human being, not because any sort of spirit or soul has left the body.

But philosophers have also identified important dilemmas for the view that death is a process rather than an event. If what we call death is simply my body performing different functions, then what do we make of the fact that we also change so much simply due to the passage of time?

I find it easy to believe that I am the 'same person' as I was last night. Enough of the neural pathways are still the same. Memories from my childhood are essentially still identical. My personality has not changed any significant extent. My values and beliefs remain more-or-less intact.

But every day brings small changes to our identity. To what extent would you say that you are still the 'same person' as you were when you were a child? And to what extent are you still going to be the 'same person' when you get old?

In addition to the gradual changes that happen due to every day metabolic processes, and interactions with the outside world, there is also a more sudden change that may happen to your identity as you get old. By the age of 85, something like 25 to 50 percent of the population will get a form of dementia. Alzheimer's is a very harsh transformation to our connectome.

Ironically, those who are healthiest in their youth will have the highest chance of getting Alzhiemers, as it is typically a disease of the very-old, rather than the somewhat old. Furthermore, most forecasters expect that as medical technology advances, the rate of Alzhiemers will go up, since it's among the hardest diseases to fix with our current paradigm of medical technology, and therefore you won't be as likely to die of the others. And Alzhiemers is just one brand of neurodegenerative diseases.

If you care about preserving your current self, and you think that death is a process rather than event, then it follows that you should want to preserve your current self: memories, personality, beliefs, values, mannerisms etc.

The technology to store the contents of our brains is currently extremely limited and expensive, but we have an alternative. We can store external information about ourselves, in the form of lifelogging. The type of content we preserve can take a variety of forms, such as text, audio and video.

It might seem like preserving an audio of your voice will do little to restore your identity. But that might not be the case. If you are cryopreserved, then much of your connectome will be preserved anyway. The primary value of preserving external information is to 'fill in the blanks' so to speak.

For example, the most famous symptom of Alzheimers is memory loss. This occurs because the hippocampus, the primary component of our brain responsible for storing long-term memories, shrinks radically during the progression of the disease. If you consider memory to be important to your identity, then preserving external information about you could help function as an artificial memory source.

What I'm trying to say is that if death is a process, it's not correct to say that you will either be revived or not in the future, like a binary event. Rather, part of you will be revived. How much that part resembles you depends on how much information about you is preserved.

There are many clever methods I currently see for how future civilization could reconstruct your identity using your cryopreserved brain contents, and external memory together. If you can't see how the external memory helps at all, then I consider that a fault of imagination.

Some will object by saying that lifelogging is embarrassing, as you are carrying a camera or audio recording device wherever you go. Indeed, most of the reason why people don't sign up for cryonics in the first place is because they fear that their peers will not approve. Lifelogging makes this dire situation worse. But I think there are steps you can take to make the appeal better.

The more information you preserve now, the better. There's no sharp cutoff point between having too little information and having just enough. If you feel uncomfortable walking around with a camera (and who wouldn't?) you don't have to. But consider taking small steps. Perhaps when you are in a video call with someone, ask them if they are OK with you recording it and later storing it as an mp3 on a hard disk. Or maybe you could write more of your personal thoughts into documents, and upload them to Google Drive.

Little actions like that could add up, or not. I claim no silver bullet.

Part of the worst part of death is how terrible we are at motivating ourselves to avoid it. Among people who say they are interested in signing up for cryonics, only a small fraction end up signing the paperwork. And among those who do, the number who get preserved in optimal conditions is far too low. It seems that outside pressure from society is simply too powerful.

But as indicated by the Asch conformity experiments, the best way to overcome societal pressure is by having peers that agree with and encourage you. If just a few people took this post seriously, this could be enough to puncture the equilibrium, and perhaps a lot of people will be interested in recording their lives. Who knows?