death-is-bad-ism going a little bit more mainstream?

by Psy-Kosh1 min read24th Mar 201135 comments

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So, apparently appsumo is having a custom reddit bundle, a bundle meant to appeal to redditors, and 10% of the proceeds get donated. On the surface, doesn't sound _that_ interesting, except...

 

Take a closer look: http://appsumo.com/reddit-special-deal/ and find that the recipient of the donations will be... SENS!

 

I find this to be an interesting development. It wasn't the "custom transhumanist bundle" or "the custom sens bundle" but "the custom reddit bundle". Yes, "reddit" doesn't, in and of itself, count as extremely mainstream as such, but I'd say it's still an interesting development.

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Here's a personal anecdote: I recently asked a discussion group composed of non-rationalists if they would like to have the option of "living as long as you want in good health". I got a mixed response of "yes" and "maybe". On the other hand, even the "yes" people said that no way would they want cryonics, and they couldn't explain why. So not a complete success.

There's probably an absurdity bias going on in the rejection of cryonics (the dead just don't come back, and frozen people look dead). It also violates tradition (burying and incineration). And in our culture, the mere image of frozen bodies in a fridge has more disgusting connotations than happy ones.

So that's my speculation about why someone who never actually thought about cryonics might reject it. Maybe if we tell those people about these reasons, they could change their mind?

Agree with the absurdity bias. For most (even smart) people their exposure to cryonics is things like Woody Allen's Sleeper and Futurama. I almost can't blame them for only seeing the absurd... I'm still trying to come around to it myself.

[-][anonymous]11y 1

Futurama was actually my introduction to cryonics, and I'm a future cryonaut.

And in our culture, the mere image of frozen bodies in a fridge has more disgusting connotations than happy ones.

But I'm not sure that frozen bodies in a fridge is more disgusting than rotting corpses in a casket.

I'm not completely sold on the cryogenics idea though. The main thing I don't understand is what incentive does anyone have to keep me plugged in after I passed away? It would seem that unplugging me would be the easiest thing to do. I'm already dead, I'm not producing anything of value, and not paying you anymore--why not unplug me at the least inconvenience? Lets say there's an earthquake or a tornado in the area, it would be easy enough to say that this was the reason why the bodies were lost. It would always make more sense to people to save the living rather than the dead.

But I'm not sure that frozen bodies in a fridge is more disgusting than rotting corpses in a casket.

Right, but people are used to rotting corpses in a casket. So they don't think about that when they think burial. They think of pleasant-looking graveyard with pretty flowers.It is precisely the uncommon nature of cryonics that causes one to think about what it looks like.

The main thing I don't understand is what incentive does anyone have to keep me plugged in after I passed away?

Well, most of the people running cryonics organizations are themselves signed up. They want to keep people preserved so that they will get preserved. Moreover, friends and family should want to keep you preserved so that they can see you again one day.

Lets say there's an earthquake or a tornado in the area, it would be easy enough to say that this was the reason why the bodies were lost. It would always make more sense to people to save the living rather than the dead.

Sure. Given that choice that is the correct course of action. I would disagree with calling the cryonicly preserved people "dead" since that implies ontological and moral claims. But, in general, they are less likely to end up functioning than the people who are currently alive in the traditional sense. In that regard this isn't any different than deciding that when one has a choice between rescuing an aging, terminally ill cancer patient, and rescuing the healthy 18 year old, you rescue the 18 year old. But this isn't an argument against cryonics except in so far as it is an example of one of many situations where the cryonic preservation might be terminated. But there are a lot of those. That's one major reason even most cryonics proponents don't estimate very high chances of any given cryonically preserved individual being successfully revived.

I think one reason to expect them to keep you there is the same reason people don't always ignore their dead relatives' wills. If one promotes a culture of ignoring wills/unplugging cryopreserved people, then one increases one's own chance of being ignored/unplugged. It's sort of a bargain between generations, each generation honoring its commitment to the previous one with the expectation that the next generation will honor its commitment to them. I'm not sure how solid the game theory on this is, but it mostly works in the real world with wills.

The main thing I don't understand is what incentive does anyone have to keep me plugged in after I passed away? It would seem that unplugging me would be the easiest thing to do. I'm already dead, I'm not producing anything of value, and not paying you anymore--why not unplug me at the least inconvenience? Lets say there's an earthquake or a tornado in the area, it would be easy enough to say that this was the reason why the bodies were lost. It would always make more sense to people to save the living rather than the dead.

I'm going to call this muddled thinking. Triage in an emergency situation is not equal to casually murdering patients "at the least inconvenience."

As far as the implication that "humans who are not producing anything of value have no social status", that's simply untrue. There are plenty of trust fund babies, for example, who do no useful work for their entire lives yet enjoy a much higher social status than the average wage-slave.

why not unplug me at the least inconvenience? Lets say there's an earthquake or a tornado in the area, it would be easy enough to say that this was the reason why the bodies were lost. It would always make more sense to people to save the living rather than the dead.

I'm going to call this muddled thinking. Triage in an emergency situation is not equal to casually murdering patients "at the least inconvenience."

I think Gray was trying to say "They'll unplug me to save money and lie saying they had to because of the disaster," not "They'll be forced to unplug me if there's a disaster." If that's what you meant, Gray, my answer is only that that would be illegal, so with any luck they won't do it. While there's always a risk of abuse when some people are tasked with caring for others, there's still decent odds.

I have this question too.

That said, I have the same question about cemeteries... why would anyone choose to keep devoting increasingly valuable real-estate to storing my moldering corpse?

Of course, I don't care so much about cemeteries... I endorse them getting rid of bodies once nobody who cares about that body is going to visit, as long as they aren't fraudulent in the process.

Then again, it does seem that individual graves in cemeteries do continue to exist long after there's any reason I understand for them to, so it seems that there are more factors in play than I'm considering... perhaps a simple metonymic respect for the dead?

Which might not manifest in the same way for cryonics... and then again, it might.

Careful, someone else just gave me the "dumb question" lecture. For what it's worth, I think your analogy is the right line of inquiry. I agree that the two analogues (cryogenics and burial) aren't strictly analogous though, cryogenics does take more resources.

For what it's worth, here's what the Cryonics Institutes gives in (their FAQ)[http://www.cryonics.org/prod3.html]:

Q: Why would people in the future want to revive us?

A: Why are scientists talking about cloning from the DNA of the pharoahs or the frozen sperm of prehistoric animals? Because the past interests people. Why do people donate to charitable hospitals? Because people care about one another. Complete indifference to human life isn't as common as we sometimes let ourselves think.

Mind you, we aren't depending on that sort of help in the least. We hope to be revived — and helped in leading new future lives — not by some featureless "them", but by the efforts of our own cryonics organizations. After all, it's their — and our — job.

CI has a legal and moral obligation to do its best for its patients — some of whom will be friends and relatives of future CI officers and directors — and we are confident those obligations will be respected.

This answer doesn't inspire me with confidence at all. It's true that the past interests people, but this isn't the same as wanting hundreds or maybe thousands of members of this past living with us. It would look more like an immigration from the past, and we all know how immigrants are traditionally treated.

It's true that we're not completely indifferent to human life, yet I don't think this extends to people who are technically dead. This is more of an unknown problem--will society treat preserved human beings as potentially alive human beings? Much hinges on this.

CI's legal and moral obligation is factual at present, but this will become less certain the further we have to project into the future. Will the CI become one of those few seemingly immortal institutions like the Catholic Church, or will it degenerate? I guess there's a good case for its own immortality if a few important thresholds are reached. For one, the revival process on a human being has to be demonstrated. This would be enough to put human interest into the preservation of this, or similar, institution.

(their FAQ)[http://www.cryonics.org/prod3.html]:

I used to have trouble remembering the exact Markdown syntax for links. It's easier to remember when viewed in light of Markdown's intent of being as close as possible to normal human-readable text:

  • The first character is an open square bracket, not an open parenthesis, because square brackets are less common in normal text.
  • The link text comes first, not the URL, because that's what's visible to the human reader after the conversion to HTML. The URL is like a footnote. (Not a mistake you made in your comment, but still an easy one to make.)

Edit -- other pitfalls:

  • There must be no space between the close square bracket and the open parenthesis.

  • If the link contains a close parenthesis it must be preceded with a backslash. So if a link's last few characters are foo) the Markdown version's last few characters should be foo\)) (note the two close parentheses -- a backslash-escaped one that is part of this particular link, followed by one that is part of the Markdown link syntax).

  • In Less Wrong's Markdown implementation, the link needs to include the

    http://
    

    or

    https://
    

    part at the beginning. If it's left out, the link text and everything will disappear.

Careful, someone else just gave me the "dumb question" lecture.

Yeah, I saw that, and thought it was unjustified.

Anyway, I can see where "it's our job" angle is just as good an answer to "why won't you ditch the body first chance you get?" as it is to "why won't you just store the body indefinitely rather than revive it?"

And I can see where it isn't a very confidence-inspiring answer, as you say.

That said, I'm not sure there's a better answer to be had. We do all kinds of things that depend on the assumption that legal and financial arrangements will remain more or less as they are; signing up for cryonics is no less justified on that basis than setting up a trust fund for my grandchildren.

For alcor atleast, the people in charge of the money are REQUIRED to be signed up for cryonics and I believe 3 of them need to have close relatives or significant others already in cryonics. This means that's it's in the interest of the people in charge to not screw themselves or the people they love, instead of not screwing random frozen strangers.

(nods) I know, and I think that's cool.

Of course, if I run a cemetery and I have close relatives buried in that cemetery I'm probably motivated not to plow the whole thing over to put up condos, and I'm probably motivated to ensure that my own relatives aren't disinterred to make room for new paying customers, but that doesn't necessarily make me equally motivated to ensure the same for people I don't know.

(Caveat: I keep using the cemetery analogy, not because I think it's particularly close, but because I suspect that if I raise these sorts of questions directly about cryonics I'll get interpreted as someone who just wants to reject cryonics and is looking for reasons to do so, whereas if I raise the same questions about cemeteries the focus has a higher chance to be on the questions instead of speculations about my psychology.)

If I wanted to be revived, I'd hide a bunch of gold and tattoo a note to that effect on my chest before being frozen.

The main thing I don't understand is what incentive does anyone have to keep me plugged in after I passed away?

I could answer this, but this question can be easily answered by yourself by thinking a little more and doing some googling and reading of cryonics literature - your question is obvious and so, since cryonics advocates are not known for their stupidity or for simply ignoring obvious problems, you should expect them to have at least tried to answer it.

You might benefit from reading http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

I don't understand the downvotes on this. It looks like an appropriate answer to a confused newbie question to me. The financial and moral incentives for not pulling the plug are all well represented in the cryonics literature.

For my part, my takeaway from the downvotes is this: if I respond to a question by saying RTFM, and I bother to include a link in my response, but instead of choosing to include a link to the actual FM I include a link to an etiquette guide about how not to ask dumb questions, it ought not surprise me if some folks take this as evidence that I'm being snotty rather than being helpful and appropriate.

I don't think it's fair to characterize gwern's post (or the excellent ESR article he linked to, for that matter) as simply saying RTFM. The fact is that the question(s) posed by Grey are rather layered and multifaceted, i.e.. have fairly deep explanations that xe probably isn't ready for yet. But the fact that it was all jammed together into a simple-sounding question tends to obscure that. It's a common heuristic (frequently exploited by e.g. creationists) that when you ask a simple sounding question there should be a simple sounding answer. There has to be some way of providing people with the negative feedback they need to update on how little they really know on a topic -- linking to a well-written ESR essay on how to ask more epistemically useful questions is hardly the most offensive way of so doing if you ask me.

I certainly agree that it's far from the most offensive way of encouraging someone to "update on how little they really know."

I sympathize with the difficulty of being asked simple-sounding questions that conceal a lot of complexity. And I agree with you that this is often maliciously exploited. Of course, it is also often the genuine consequence of being new to and interested in a subject.

I'm intrigued by the notion that Grey's question can be so obvious that he should have obtained an answer via a simple web search without wasting anyone's time here (which is what I understood gwern to be saying) and at the same time so layered and multifaceted that Grey probably isn't ready for the answer. I suspect I'll have to think about that some more before I fully understand it.

I didn't get the impression that gwern was implying that it could be solved quickly and easily with a google search, so much as that it's the kind of question you are better off flexing your intellectual muscles a bit and at least trying fairly hard to find an answer before offering an opinion, given the high probability that lots of smart cryonics advocates have had a similar experience already.

I didn't provide any useful links beyond ESR's excellent guide because I didn't have the energy to go looking at the time. (I only had enough energy to point out why one should expect there to be a resource answering the question and that the general comment was not very thoughtful.)

I also thought that there was at least 1 obvious reason why the corpses would be kept vitrified that a person should be able to think of in a few seconds with only a passing familiarity with cryonics organizations: because that's what the trust fund/organization is paying for!

So I was also little disgusted that Gray was ignorant, did nothing to remedy his ignorance - that involved work on his part - and didn't even think about it a little. Which destroyed whatever was left of my motivation to make a good, as opposed to snarky, comment by doing the research he should've. (And cryonics is an important issue, too. If you aren't willing to even google about a technique that plausibly promises to transport you into the distant awesome future and save your life, that says a lot.)

EDIT: Although lsparrish is quite correct when he points out that it can be dangerous to try to quickly answer a deceptively simple question. We all know that if someone argues for a position, they can brainwash themselves into believing the position more than they did before. So what happens if you fail to link the authoritative industrial-strength explanations and instead post a few quick flawed arguments, which your interlocutor then knocks down? You may have done them a deep disservice.

Thanks for the clarification.

My impression was different from yours, but I agree that your impression doesn't contradict the text.

I've put in a couple of replies into this text box, and deleted them because I realized I was responding defensively. (Although it's clear to me that "the answer is obvious" is a rather underhanded way of calling me an idiot.)

But you're right I'm new here. The most charitable interpretation of the response I received is that the standard of discourse on this site is that I shouldn't discuss any topic until I have familiarized myself with the literature on that topic. I know that most of the discourse that I've seen so far on this site doesn't live up to this standard, and I think the character of my response has more to do with the subject matter ("cryonics") than the standard of my discourse.

That said, on reflection, I think this standard is a laudable thing. I know that scholarship is considered a virtue on this site. If some of the discussion on this site doesn't meet this standard, this doesn't excuse lowering the standard. Seeing people discuss a topic on this site that I'm not familiar with (even if I'm not particularly interested in cryonics) is a great excuse to learn something about that topic, if only to earn the right to partake in that discussion.

The most charitable interpretation of the response I received is that the standard of discourse on this site is that I shouldn't discuss any topic until I have familiarized myself with the literature on that topic.

This is still coming across as kind of defensive. Logically extrapolating from your assertion that most of the discourse on this site doesn't live up to the standard, it doesn't follow that cryonics should not be given a privileged status, e.g. as one of perhaps a select few topics where we insist on holding oneself to an ultra-high standard of discourse. Why would it be a less charitable interpretation to claim that gwern cares more about asking smart questions on cryonics than on most other topics discussed on this site? It's not like most topics have a direct bearing on the survival of billions. Is there something about cryonics that makes you think Harry Potter fanfiction deserves equal standards?

I'm not saying scholarship isn't laudable in all forms, but surely it's okay to have priorities.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Why would it be a less charitable interpretation to claim that gwern cares more about asking smart questions on cryonics than on most other topics discussed on this site? It's not like most topics have a direct bearing on the survival of billions. Is there something about cryonics that makes you think Harry Potter fanfiction deserves equal standards?

I think it's because you, or gwern, are assuming that certain things are a settled matter that I'm doubtful actually are. Cryonics, it seems to me, should deserve the same status of nuclear fusion. It needs to be proven to be (1) technically possible, (2) not have serious shortcoming in implementation, and (3) efficient and cost-effective. Given its implausibility, but not impossibility, I don't think the topic deserves a privileged status. If it meets the above criteria, then it would be very valuable, but I would want to know about some actual demonstration and not speculation.

From Wikipedia:

Cryopreservation of people or large animals is not reversible with current technology.

From the Cryonics Institute:

Note that cryonics is science-based, but cannot correctly be called current science. Cryonics is a protoscience based on expectations of the repair capabilities of future science. Although the projection is less, possible human habitation of Mars is similarly a science-based concept based on projections of the capabilities of current science.

Cryonics revival doesn't seem to be impossible, or at least we don't know it is impossible. But I think it is implausible given what we know right now.

Your point is good, and I upvoted gwern--not because his comment was particularly good, but because it didn't deserve to be in the negatives.

To add on to what you said: I don't think people on LW should be punished for telling confused newbies to do some web searching.

Edit: BTW, gwern, thanks for posting the ESR link. I found it interesting and probably useful.

Thanks for the tip. I will talk about those things, but I'm not optimistic--the people I was referring to are theists and may not be very good at changing their minds. I think it's worth an attempt, though.

What exactly do you mean by mainstream? If you mean accepted by the general population, then I'm guessing not. In fact, as a random individual, I know nothing appsumo AND reddit (I didn't even know appsumo existed until you said they did so in this blog post), so if those things are not mainstream, then I highly doubt "death-is-bad" would become somehow become mainstream by associating with non-mainstream stuff.

I meant "random company wanting to make a deal that would appeal to the overall reddit demographic ended up selecting SENS as a charity that it thought would appeal to them."

Reddit may not be "random person on the street", but it's more mainstream than, say, LW or your favorite transhumanist group. So it's interesting that a company trying to appeal to reddit overall decided that SENS would be the organization of choice to donate some of the profits to.

If "mainstreamness" means "popularity", which is a spectrum as opposed to being binary, then reddit is far more mainstream than, say, lesswrong, using Alexa traffic rankings as our metric.

What do you mean by calling yourself "a random individual"? It is generally not a good sampling technique to survey people who step forward and volunteer information.

You're right, it isn't a good sampling technique. When I said "random individual" though, I wanted to state some sort of distance from the LessWrong Community. It is very possible that most people in that community know of appsumo and reddit, but since I'm outside of that community, I knew nothing about it. I suppose, in retrospect, I should have said "outsider" instead, and I also realize that the extent of an outsider's knowledge likely doesn't have any relevance here for this topic.

[-][anonymous]11y -4

I'm still alive, which is pretty cool.