From Mike Darwn's Chronopause, an essay titled "Would You Like Another Plate of This?", discussing people's attitudes to life:

The most important, the most obvious and the most factual reason why cryonics is not more widely accepted is that it  fails the “credibility sniff test” in that it makes many critical assumptions which may not be correct...In other words, cryonics is not proven. That is a plenty valid reason for rejecting any costly procedure; dying people do this kind of thing every day for medical procedures which are proven, but which have a very low rate of success and (or) a very high misery quotient. Some (few) people have survived metastatic head/neck cancer – the film critic Roger Ebert, is an example (Figure 1). However, the vast majority of patients who undergo radical neck surgery for cancer die anyway. For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Cryonics is not proven, and it is aesthetically disturbing (indeed even disgusting) to many people. It is also costly, and not just in terms of money alone. It is costly in countless other ways, ranging from the potential for marital discord, social alienation, ridicule, social isolation, disruption of family relationships (and with grief coping mechanisms) during the dying process, and on and on and on. And it does cost a lot of money, because if you figure the lost present value of capital for life insurance, dues, and end of life expenses related to cryonics, then that is a very significant dollar amount; my guess is that for a whole body patient who signs up at age 35 with Alcor, it is in the range of ~ $500,000 to $750,000 2010 dollars!

...Beyond this, many other factors come into play, such as perceived interference or lack of competitiveness with religion by cryonics, lack of endorsement by authority figures, such as physicians and scientists, actual marketing faux pas’s, such as the Chatsworth debacle and the use the words “death” and “dead” to describe cryonics patients. Then come factors which would, if cryonics were proven to work, be down in the noise, or more accurately, nonexistent, such as they way the current cryonics facilities look, the appearance and qualification of staff and so on.

...Over the past few days, with the passing of Robert Ettinger, cryonics has received a level of planet-wide media attention it has not received in decades. One interesting and valuable result of this is that various news venues have solicited public comment about cryonics, and what’s more, about immortalism, or radical life extension. As usual, cryonicists have been deaf to the criticism, expressed and implied in these remarks from the “marketplace. Or worse, they have been contemptuous, without being clever in their contempt and in their responses.

[quotes from comments & people]

What do these remarks mean? Well, they mean exactly what they say they mean in most cases. That may be hard to understand, especially if you look at the demographic data for how “happy” people are the world over. What you will find, if you do, is that people in Western Developed nation-states are extraordinarily happy. In fact, they are unbelievably happy (Figure 3).

Figure 4: Your life and future prospects can still be grim and relatively hopeless and yet your evaluation of your satisfaction with life vary dramatically depending upon whether you have a full belly, or even if you’ve had a meal in the past few hours.

How is this possible? The answer is that happiness is complex and exists on many different levels. The most important and the most difficult to measure is existential happiness. The issue of their existential happiness is something most people rarely, if ever confront, and almost never do so in public when asked (unless you ask them in the right way, such as, “Would you want to live forever?”). The reason for this is that if they respond by saying “My life is a boring exercise in getting from day-to-day with a lot of nagging miseries and frustrating inconveniences,” they would appear as failures, as whingers , and as losers. Few people find that acceptable!

...Figure 5: Humans were not evolved to be confined to a fixed space day-after-day and to do boring and repetitive work which is usually personally meaningless, and is done on the orders of others who are also omnipresent to supervise its execution. That is the working definition of hell for hunter-gatherers and they are uniformly both horrified and disgusted to to see “civilized” man behave in this way.

...Then there are the other people you must necessarily interact with. Several of the people you work with are complete monsters, in fact, they despise you and they go out of their way to make your job and your hours at work more difficult. And the customers! Most are OK, but some are horrible – encounters with them leave you shaking, and sometimes fearful for your job. Speaking of which, there is always some degree of apprehension present that you might lose your job; you might screw up, the economy may take a nosedive… In any event, your survival is critically dependent upon your job. Others whom you work with are better compensated, and those that own the enterprise you work for are getting rich from it, and that rankles. But, beyond these concerns, this isn’t what you really wanted to do with your life and your time. When you were fifteen, you wanted to _______________, to travel, to see the world, and to meet interesting people and do interesting things. Instead, here you are. And every day you are a little older and a little more run-down. The clock is ticking. When you looked in mirror this morning, you had to face it yet again; you aren’t young anymore and you aren’t going to get any younger.

...And frankly, why should you even try? You were raised with a very limited repertoire of interests, ambitions, and capabilities. It is so hard to survive in this world, even in this relative paradise of Western Technological Civilization, that mostly what you had to learn and spend your time thinking about were how to acquire the skills to compete and to make a living and support your offspring and your dying parents. All so that this cycle can be repeated, yet again (and to what end?). You laugh at people who talk about what makes the stars shine, how long the universe will last, where all the dark matter is, are there multiverses, what would it be like to “see” in the full electromagnetic spectrum, or even what it would be like to sit down and talk with Chinese workers or Egyptian shop keeps, and find out what they really think about Islam, democracy or the USA, without someone on the TV telling you what they think (and getting wrong)?

...The fundamental problems are these, in no special order:

  • Most people lack autonomy in their daily lives. Next to life itself, freedom is the most precious value; and most people’s lives are functionally devoid of it. Many cryonicists fail to see this, because they are self employed, are in jobs that offer them compensating satisfaction, or that they don’t perceive as “work” (e.g., they are not watching the clock just waiting for the torture to be over for another day).
  • Most people have a very limited range of interests and possibilities for gratification. This problem cannot be fixed for most by giving them more money, or even more money and autonomy. Do that, and they will drown themselves in what they already have, or kill themselves with drugs. How many cars, planes, and pairs of shoes or houses can you really gain joy from?
  • The vast majority of people over 30 don’t feel well a significant fraction of the time. They have colds, flu, osteoarthritis, and most importantly, they are poorly conditioned as a result of jobs that enforce immobility and make them sedentary. As a result, they are tired and drained from their work and home responsibilities at the end of each day, and worst of all, they spend that part of the day when they feel the best and are most alert, doing what other people tell them to do – not what they want to do.
  • They are losing their own youth and health and watching others suffer and die around them. How’s that for a satisfying life experience? Every day they turn on the news or talk to friends or family, and find that another fixture in their life is dead, or dying. As John Donne said, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

...Thus, when it comes to happiness, people who are socially inept and who have trouble coping emotionally with the exigencies of life are, on average, the least happy. It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society. They are also smart enough to know that many of the rules and orders given them are arbitrary and have no basis in reason beyond maintaining the status quo. As sociologist and educator Bill Allin has observed: “People with high intelligence, be they children or adults, still rank as social outsiders in most situations, including their skills to be good mates and parents.”[4]

The relevance of this to cryonics should be obvious to most cryonicists; cryonics attracts, with massive disproportionality, the highly intelligent. Indeed, many of the arguments that make cryonics credible, require a remarkable degree of both intelligence and scholarship. Inability to understand the enabling ideas and technologies usually means the inability to understand, let alone embrace, cryonics.  A disproportionately unhappy population of smart people translates to a disproportionately large population of ideal market candidates for cryonics being unwilling and indeed, unable to embrace it.

...There is no one solution or easy fix. The first step is to realize that what the marketplace is telling us is true: many people don’t want to live because the existential ground state of their lives is a gray-state of dysphoria at best, and at worst, a state of active misery, relieved only occasionally by a few quickly snatched minutes of relief, or if they are lucky, joy. That state of affairs can only be addressed by showing people very real and concrete ways in which the quality of their lives can be improved, both here and now, and in the future. Heaven isn’t waking up from cryopreservation and having to go into work two weeks later – FOREVER. That is the very definition of hell for most people. And the mystics have been smart enough to carefully exclude any mention of time-cards from their hereafters. The Mormons and the Islamists have even had the good marketing sense to offer up eternities where each man commands his own world, or at the least, his own harem.

Conclusion, graphs, and references in article. As usual, I recommend reading as Darwin has many good articles; to quickly link a few:

  1. ALCOR finances
  2. Master biomarker for health & aging
  3. Technological evitability
  4. The AIDS Underground (lessons for transhumanists)
  5. Harry Potter and Deathism
  6. Robert Ettinger obituary
  7. Damage in the aging brain
  8. Business & charity failure rates
  9. Factors in corporate longevity
  10. "Does Personal Identity Survive Cryopreservation?"
  11. Cryonics PR in Google N-gram
  12. "A Visit to Alcor"
  13. Soviet ICBM sites

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Upvoted for several reasons:

  • excellent theory about cryonics, much more plausible than things like "people hate cryonics because they're biased against cold" that have previously appeared on here.

  • willingness to acknowledge serious issue. Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

  • spark discussion on whether this will continue into the future. I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago. A Hansonian-style far future could lead to more of the same, and Hanson even defends this to a degree. In my mind, this is something futurologists should worry about.

  • summary of the article was much better than the article itself, which was cluttered with lots of quotes and pictures and lengthiness. Summaries that are better than the original articles are hard to do, hence, upvote.

I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago.

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status. Once a society is wealthy enough that basic subsistence is a non-issue, people probably won't work as much as they would in a Malthusian trap where constant toil is required just to avoid starvation, but they will still work a lot because they're locked in these zero-sum competitions.

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work... (read more)

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

And although I don't think it quite related, I am less pessimistic than you abou the ability of a post-scarcity society to deal with land and status issues. Land is less zero-sum than the finitude of the earth would suggest because most people are looking not for literal tracts of land but for a house in which to live, preferably spacious - building upward, or downward as the case may be, can alleviate this pressure. I'm also not convinced that being near other people is as big a problem as you make it out to be: a wealthier society would have better transportation, and cities have enough space to expand outward (giving people access to other humans on at least one side) almost indefinitely. There will always be arbitrarily determined "best" neighborhoods that people can compete t... (read more)

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

Of course, completely forsaking status would mean all sorts of unpleasantness for a typical person, but this is only because we hate to admit how much our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions after all.

I think a genuinely post-work society would have its own ways of producing status based on hobbyist communities, social interaction, and excellence at arts/scholarship/sports/hobbies; the old European nobility was able to handle its internal status disputes in this way, though I don't know how much fo that depended o

... (read more)

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

One could probably remain alive for long periods just by begging and being homeless, but this raises the question of what, exactly, is a "life worth living", such that we could rest content that people were working because they enjoy status competitions and not because they can't get a life worth living without doing so.

This is probably way too subjective to have an answer, but one thing that "sounds right" to me is that the state of nature provides a baseline. Back during hunter-gatherer times we had food, companionship, freedom, et cetera without working too hard for them (the average hunter-gatherer only hunted-gathered a few hours... (read more)

The specific situation in the U.S. or any other individual country doesn't really matter for my point. Even if I'm wrong about how easy freeloading is in the U.S., it's enough that we can point to some countries whose welfare systems are (or even just were at some point) generous enough to enable easy freeloading.

Ironically, in my opinion, in places where there exists a large underclass living off the welfare state, it is precisely their reversal to the forager lifestyle that the mainstream society sees as rampant social pathology and terrible deprivation of the benefits of civilized life. I think you're committing the common error of idealizing the foragers. You imagine them as if you and a bunch of other highly intelligent and civilized people had the opportunity to live well with minimal work. In reality, however, the living examples of the forager lifestyle correctly strike us as frightfully chaotic, violent, and intellectually dead.

(Of course, it's easy to idealize foragers from remote corners of the world or the distant prehistory. One is likely to develop a much more accurate picture about those who live close enough that one has to beware not to cross their path.)

You are not wrong about "freeloading," though that term is probably (unnecessarily pejorative). The Developed world is so obscenely wasteful that it is not necessary to beg. You can get all the food you want, much of it very nice - often much nicer than you could afford to buy by simply going out and picking it up. Of course, you don't get to pick and choose exactly what you want when you want it.

Clothing, with the exception of jeans, is all freely available. The same is true of appliances, bedding and consumer electronics of many kinds. The one commodity that is is very, very difficult to get at no cost is lodging. You can get books, MP3 players, CDs, printers, scanners, and often gourmet meals, but lodging is tough. The problem with housing and why it is qualitatively different that the other things I've cited is that while it is technically illegal to dustbin dive, in practice it is easy to do and extremely low risk. It is incredibly easy in the UK, if you get a dustbin key (easy to do).

However, the authorities take a very dim view of vagrancy, and they will usually ticket or arrest the person who has either "failure to account," or is clearly living in a v... (read more)


Speaking from a lifetime of experience on welfare in the US (I'm disabled, and have gotten work from time to time but usually lost it due to factors stemming either from said disability, or the general life instability that poverty brings with it), your impressions are largely correct.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

What I'd say is that the shift (and it's been more like the last forty years, albeit the pace has picked up since Reagan) is towards "preventing abuse" as a generic goal of the system; the result has been that the ability to deliver the services that ostensibly form the terminal goal of welfare-granting organizations is significantly diminished -- there's a presumption of suspicion the moment you walk in the door. Right now, SSI applicants are auto-denied and have to appeal if they want to be considered at all, even if all their administrative ducks are otherwise in a row; this used to be common practice, but now it'... (read more)

Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially? There had to be a mechanism to prevent them from exceeding their region's carrying capacity. If a tribe of 50 people grew at a rate of 1% for 2000 years there would 24 billion people in it. Clearly that didn't happen; in fact there have been massive die-offs from starvation due to cyclical climate change, or to resource warfare (sometimes fought to extinction) between neighboring tribes.
You cannot be considered financially and materially impoverished if you have access to abundant natural resources. Nevermind if you own that or can enforce the exclusive status of your rights to it - if you have those resources available to you they at least count as cash flow if not assets. Limited access to limited resources is far more typical, and life is not so leisurelly when you spend every hour of daylight working to procure food that still isn't enough to provide for you and your family. That is also the state of nature and was a situation that a great many people have found themselves in for the brief time that they managed to survive it.
That...actually doesn't represent the human condition for most of our ancestral history, nor the current state of surviving forager peoples for the most part. Resources are limited, but you only need about 15 hours of work a week per hunter-gatherer individual devoted to food-producing activities. Overdo that and you may well tax your ecosystem past carrying capacity. This is why foragers wander a migratory circuit (although they tend to keep to a known, fixed route) or live in areas where there's sufficient ecological abundance to allowed for a sedentary lifestyle while still using hunter-gatherer strategies. It's also why they tended to have small populations. Scarcity was something that could happen, but that's why people developed food preservation technologies and techniques that you can assemble with nothing more than accumulated oral tradition and some common sense. Tie a haunch of meat down to some stones and toss it down to the bottom of a cold lake. That meat will keep for months, longer if the lake freezes over. It'll be gamy as hell, but you won't starve -- and this is a pretty typical solution in the toolkit of prehistoric humans from Northern regions. Drying, salting (sometimes using methods that would squick you -- one branch of my ancestors comes from a culture that used to preserve acorns by, kid you not, burying them in a corner of the home and urinating over the cache), chemical preservation, favoring foods that store long-term well in the first place, fermentation, and a flexible diet are all standard knowledge. In the American Southwest (a hot, harsh, dry and ecologically-poor climate), Pueblo people and many others used to rely on the seasonal abundance of Mormon Crickets for protein. You can gather eighteen pounds of them an hour when they pass through, basically just by walking around and picking up bugs. The nutritional profile beats the hell out of any mammal meat, and they can be preserved like anything else. Think about that for a secon
Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially? There had to be a mechanism to prevent them from exceeding their region's carrying capacity. If a tribe of 50 people grew at a rate of 1% a year for 2000 years there would 24 billion people in it. Clearly that didn't happen; in fact there have been massive die-offs from starvation due to cyclical climate change, or to resource warfare (sometimes fought to extinction) between neighboring tribes.

Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially?

I am so glad you asked, because the answer to your question reveals a fundamental misapprehension you have about forager societies and indeed, the structure and values of ancestral human cultures.

The fact is that forager populations don't grow as fast as you think in the first place, and that across human cultures still living at or near forager methods of organization, there are many ways to directly and indirectly control population.

It starts with biology. Forager women reach menarche later, meaning they're not fertile until later in life. Why? Largely, it's that they tend to have much lower body fat percentages due to diet and the constant exercise of being on the move , and that's critical for sustaining a pregnancy, or even ovulating in the first place once you've reached the (much higher) age where you can do that. Spontaneous abortions or resorption of the fetus are rather common. Women in an industrial-farming culture attain menarche quite a bit earlier and are more likely to be fertile throughout their active years -- it only looks normal to you because it's what you're close to. So right out of the gate,... (read more)

I've heard claims like these several times, but this situation where individuals voluntarily limit their reproduction for the common good can't possibly be a stable equilibrium. It faces a coordination problem, more specifically a tragedy of the commons. As soon as even a small minority of the forager population starts cheating and reproducing above the replacement rate (by evolving either cultural memes or hereditary philoprogenitive behaviors that motivate them to do so), in a few generations their exponential growth will completely swamp everyone else. The time scales on which forager societies have existed are certainly more than enough for this process to have taken place with certainty.

In order for such equilibrium to be stable, there would have to exist some fantastically powerful group selection mechanism that operates on the level of the whole species. I find this strikingly implausible, and to my knowledge, nobody has ever proposed how something like that might work.

It happened in the real world, ergo the issue lies with your understanding of the system we're talking about and not with its inability to conform to your model. You're looking at this backwards. This is the reproductive context in which humanity evolved, and the Malthus-driven upward spiral of population and competition is the result of comparitively recent cultural shifts brought on by changing lifestyles that made it viable to do that. You don't need to invoke group selection in the form you're thinking of -- the cultural "mutations" you're positing can't gain a foothold until some branch of humanity has access to a lifestyle that makes it advantageous to defect like that. Forager societies don't have that incentive because if they overtax their resource base here and now they have to move, and for most of human prehistory (and the modern history of hunter-gatherers) the population densities were low enough that this gave the affected area time to recover, so when someone came back, things were fine again. A long-term climatic shift alters the range of viable habitats near you, but it takes something pretty darn catastrophic (more than just a seasonal or decadal shift) to entirely render a region uninhabitable to a group of size n. The biggest filters to population growth in this system are entirely passive ones dictated by biology and resources -- the active ones are secondary measures, and they're undertaken because in a system like this, the collective good and the individual good are inextricably linked. It was a stable equilibrium for most of our evolution, and it only broke when and where agriculture became a viable option that DIDN'T immediately overtax the environment. That's a state of affairs that took most of human existence to come into being.
You assert these things very confidently, but without any evidence. How exactly do we know that this state of affairs existed in human prehistory? You say: This, however, provides no answer to the question why individuals and small groups wouldn't defect, regardless of the subsequent collective consequences of such defection. You deny that you postulate group selection, but you keep talking in a very strong language of group selection. Earlier you asserted that "population growth unto itself is not a goal or a value of forager societies," and now you say that "[f]orager societies don't have that incentive." How can a society, i.e. a group, have "values" and "incentives," if you're not talking about group selection? And if you are, then you need to answer the standard objection to arguments from group selection, i.e. how such group "incentives" can stand against individual defection. I have no problem with group selection in principle -- if you think you have a valid group-selectionist argument that invalidates my objections, I'd be extremely curious to hear it. But you keep contradicting yourself when you deny that you're making such an argument while at the same time making strong and explicit group-selectionist assertions.
Archaeological evidence regarding the health and population density of human beings and their dietary habits. Inference from surviving examples. The null hypothesis, that we didn't start with agriculture and therefore must have been hunter-gatherers for most of our existence as a species. The observatiion that the traits generally associated with the Malthusian trap are common experiences of agricultural societies and dependent upon conditions that don't obtain in predominantly and purely hunter-gatherer societies. They might defect, but it'd gain them nothing. Their cultural toolkits and food-gathering strategies were dependent upon group work at a set quota which it was maladaptive to under- or overreach. An individual can''t survive for long like this compared to a smallish group; a larger group will split when it gets too big for an area, a big group can't sustainably form. The answer to this lies in refuting the following: "A small minority of the forager population" has to be taken in terms of each population group, and those are small. A small percentage of a given group might be just one or two people every handful of generations, here. A social umbrella-group of 150 scattered into bands of 10-50 throughout an area, versus just one or two people? Where's the exponential payoff? The absolute numbers are too low to support it, and the defectors are stuck with the cultural biases and methodologies they know. They can decide to get greedy, but they're outnumbered by the whole tribe, who are more than willing to provide censure or other forms of costly social signalling as a means of punishing defectors. They don't even have to kill the defectors or drive them out; the defectors are critically dependent on the group for their lifestyle. The alternatiive will be unappealing in all but a vast majority of cases. You need the kind of population densities agriculture allows to start getting a really noticeable effect. It's not to say people don't ever become tempt

a larger group will split when it gets too big for an area

Say there are two kinds of forager groups, one which limits reproduction of its members by various means, and another that does not limit reproduction and instead constantly grows and splits and invades other groups' territories if needed. Naively I would expect that the latter kind of group would tend to drive the former kind out of existence. Why didn't this happen?

Archaeological evidence regarding the health and population density of human beings and their dietary habits. Inference from surviving examples.

This isn't necessarily evidence against a Malthusian equilibrium. It could be that the subsequent farmer lifestyle enabled survival for people with much poorer health and physical fitness, thus lowering the average health and fitness of those who managed to survive in the Malthusian equilibrium.

Can you give a reference that specifically discusses how a non-Malthusian situation of the foragers can be inferred from the existing archaeological evidence?

The observatiion that the traits generally associated with the Malthusian trap are common experiences of agricultural societies and dependent upon conditions that don't obtain in predominantly and purely hunter-gatherer societies.

This is not true. Humans are (more or less) the only species that practices agriculture, but the Malthusian trap happens to non-human animals too. As long as reproduction above the replacement rate is possible, it will happen until the resource limit is reached. (Admittedly, for animals that aren't apex predators, the situation is more complicated due to the p... (read more)

I'd like to remind you that the ancestral environment was not completely stable, and no one is disputing that exponentially-expansive Malthusian agriculture happened. The question is why it took as long as it did, not why it was possible at all.
Estimates of world population growth come from: Essentially human for our first 2 million years of existence, human population worldwide went from about 10,000 to 4 million. Given that virtually all major models of long-run human population converge very closely, and they all assume a relatively steady growth rate, we're talking a doubling period of 250,000 years. Malthus' estimates assume a doubling rate of 25 years, or a single human generation. The difference is a factor of 10,000. World population simply did not grow as fast as you're assuming, and humanity did not start outstripping local carrying capacities in a major, systematic way until we'd developed technologies that allowed us to make those sorts of population growth leaps. According to Michael Kremer in "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million BC to 1990", the base rate of technological change in human societies scales proportional to population -- small population, slow technological change. This equals very long inferential distances to the sorts of techniques and behaviors that make agriculture a viable prospect. You need intermediate steps, in the form of settled horticulture or nomadic pastoralism, to really concentrate the population enough to have a chance at developing agriculture in the intensive sense. Those sorts of cultural developments took a long time to come into being, and it was a gradual process at that. So, yes, it's true that if you grow certain grasses and just harvest their seeds reliably, grinding them into a fine powder and mixing that with water and then heating the whole mixture somehow without actually burning it in your fire directly, you can produce a food source that will unlock access to population-doubling intervals closer to the Malthusian assumption of one doubling per generation. But that is a series of nested behaviors, NONE of which is intuitively obvious by itself from the perspective of
I don't understand your argument here at all. Earlier you said that growth to the Malthusian limit was prevented by a cooperative strategy of restraining reproduction. Now you say that lack of food production technology was limiting population growth. But if foragers did breed up to the limit where food became the limiting resource, that's by definition a Malthusian equilibrium. You are also presenting a strawman caricature of Malthus. His claim about a 25-year doubling period refers to agricultural societies with an ample supply of land, such as existed in North America of his day. He presents it as an empirical finding. When he discusses foragers, he notes that they'll reproduce to the point where they run against the limited food supply available from foraging, which given the low supply of food relative to farming, means a much less dense population. Some of his discussions of foragers are actually quite interesting. He notes that among the North American hunter-gatherers, resource limitations lead to constant disputes and warfare. He also cites accounts of European explorers' contacts with forager peoples that seem to have been on the Malthusian limit. It doesn't matter -- it still needs to be explained. Humans don't just magically develop cultural norms that solve collective action problems.
What I said was that growth to the point of constant warfare, competition and struggle for enough food to subsist wasn't an accurate picture of ancestral forager lifestyles. He also says that smallpox was endemic among the Indians of all these cultures. Smallpox originated in Eurasia, thrived among farmers, and Native Americans had no immunity to it. His example of the squallor and disease these people live in is an example of the conditions they were subjected to at the hands of an invading power with novel biological agents their immune systems simply weren't adapted to handle. The nastiest conflicts. Warfare among Northwest Coast Natives, prior to colonization, was usually over petty disputes (that is, interpersonal ones) between peoples who had long-standing trade and treaty relationships, and only occasionally over resources (usually slaves, and the institution of slavery as it was practiced here does not compare readily with slavery as it was practiced by agriculturalists in Eurasia and Africa). The bloodier wars of the inland northwest are similarly a historical novelty, unparalleled in scope or stakes until the ravages of introduced diseases and the dislocation of various tribes by white invaders into territories they'd never been in competition for caused clashes that simply hadn't occured at such a level of intensity prior to that point. The formation of reservations only exacerbated this -- we're talking about groups with age-old rivalries who had never seen fit to exterminate one another or conquer one another's lands, but who would happily send a war canoe full of men to go steal things because of a petty vendetta between two people that started long ago. This isn't war of extermination. Don't get me wrong, it's violent, people die, the stakes are real, but it's not a zero-sum, winner-take-all competition for survival. A direct translation out of Old Chinook from Franz Boas' ethnography, regarding the rules of warfare should make this clearer: "Befo

Malthus, in looking at the conditions of North American natives during the 19th century, reports on the dire conditions of a people devastated by introduced diseases, direct conquest by white settlers, and the disruption of their social fabric and ways of life.

Some of the accounts presented by Malthus were given by very early explorers and adventurers who ended up deep in unexplored territory, far ahead of European conquest and colonization. For example, the one by Cabeca de Vaca would be circa 1530.

The only way these societies could have already been devastated is if epidemics had ravaged the whole continent immediately in the first decades after the first Europeans landed, ahead of any European contact with the inland peoples. I don't know enough about the relevant history to know how plausible this is, but even if it happened, there are two problems with your claim:

  1. Diseases wouldn't cause famine, at least in the long run. These early explorers describe peoples who had problems making ends meet during bad seasons due to insufficient food, and who fought bitterly over the existing limited supply. If the population had already been thinned down by disease by the time they ca

... (read more)
Smallpox emerged in the Old World around 10,000 BC and is believed to have originated via cattle farming. It reached very high concentrations in Europe and became a common plague there; it was spread around the world to peoples who had never encountered it by European exploration and conquest. It and other Old World disease spread very rapidly among American native populations, rendering whole cultures extinct and reducing others to scattered survivors often incapable of rebuilding. The total population of the Americas lost to European diseases after the arrival of Columbus and Cortez is estimated at 90 to 95 percent. Given that many Native nations were at least modestly dependent on agriculture (the Iroquois, Navajo, Aztecs, Incas, Mississipians -- indeed, most of the well-known groups), such population losses coming so quickly are nothing short of catastrophic. Most of your resource base collapses because one person is going to have to work MUCH harder to provide enough food for themselves -- fields go unplanted, vegetables don't get tended, wild game is much more dangerous to hunt by oneself, and one cannot expect any assistance with gathering. Even a small number of people used to an agriculture-enriched lifestyle are going to be hit much harder. It's also worth noting that Cabeza da Vaca actually described the Coahuiltic as a healthy and prosperous people -- and ant eggs, lizards and so on were just normal parts of their diet. Ant eggs in particular are STILL a cultural delicacy among the Latino groups descended from the Coahuiltecs (escamole taco, anyone?). Diet adapts to local circumstances. That is precisely what happened. One infected slave from Spanish-held Cuba is believed to be the Patient Zero that transmitted an infection which would go on to wipe out about fifty percent of the Aztec population. Hernando de Soto, exploring the southeast, encountered many towns and villages abandoned just two years prior when most of their inhabitants died of the pla

And because it's generally acknowledged within anthropological, archaeological and historical fields now that modern research bears out a picture of generally healthy, sustainable populations for most of the foragers of the Americas?

How exactly does this modern research reconstruct the life of American foragers centuries ago, and based on what evidence? Could you cite some of this work? (I'd like to see the original work that presumably explains its methodology rigorously, not popular summaries.)

I also note that you haven't answered Wei Dai's question.

Regarding Malthus and de Vaca, you say:

Malthus *seriously misrepresents Cabeza de Vaca's case -- the Floridians were in a bad way, but they were also right next door to Spanish early conquest -- his accounts of the Coahuiltecs of coastal and inland Texas describe them as a healthy and prosperous people...

Here is a translation of de Vaca's original account:

On closer look, it turns out that de Vaca's description cited by Malthus actually refers to a people from southeastern Texas, not Florida. So while Malthus apparently mixed up the location by accident, his s... (read more)

I reject Malthus' picture of pre-Columbian America for the same reason I reject Lysenko's account of evolution.

Lysenko was motivated by politics. Baez was motivated by politics.

Physics improves, but history deteriorates. Those writers closest to events give us the most accurate picture, while later writers merely add political spin. Since 1830, history has suffered increasingly drastic, frequent, and outrageous politically motivated rewrites, has become more and more subject to a single monolithic political view, uniformly applied to all history books written in a particular period.

If you read old histories, they explain that they know such and such, because of such and such. If you read later histories, then when they disagree with older histories, check the evidence cited by older histories, you usually find that the newer histories are making stuff up. The older history says X said Y, and quotes him. The newer history say that X said B, and fails to quote him, or fails to quote him in context, or just simply asserts B, without any explanation as to how they can possibly know B.

Both Clark and Tainter (Collapse of Complex Civilizations) disagree with this claim as stated. A massive reduction in the population means that the survivors get increased per-capitas because the survivors move way back along the diminishing marginal returns curve and now have more low-hanging fruit (sometimes literally). In fact, Tainter argues that complexity often collapses because the collapse is the only way to increase per-capita wealth. Hunter-gatherers spend much less time per calorie than do advanced agriculturalists eg. Or (Quotes brought to you by my Evernote; it's a pain in the ass to excerpt all the important bits from a book, but it certainly pays off later if you want to cite it for various assertions.)
Some quotes from Clark's Farewell to Alms (he also covers the very high age of marriage in England as one way England held down population growth):
Just to be clear, and so everyone knows where the goalposts are: as per the definition here: , a forager society relies principally or entirely on wild-gathered food sources. Modern examples include the Pila Nguru, the Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands, the Pirahã, the Nukak, the Inuit until the mid-20th century, the Hadza and San of southern Africa, and others. To those not deeply familiar with anthropology this can lead to some counterintuitive cases. The Yanomamo, who depend mainly on domesticated bananas supplemented by hunting and fishing, aren't foragers in the strict sense. The modern Maya, and many Native American groups in general weren't pure foragers. The Salish and Chinook peoples of the Pacific Northwest of the United States were sedentary foragers.
The Polynesians and Chinese of those periods were not foragers -- both societies practiced extensive agriculture supplemented by hunting and gathering, as in preindustrial Europe.
I never said they were foragers; I thought the quotes were interesting from the controlling population perspective.
My apologies -- skimmed rather than read in detail and missed the purpose of your comment. Reply left up anyway since it may clarify terminology and definitions re: foragers for anyone who happens uipon the thread later. Thank you for clarifying!
Well that is certainly a lot for me to learn more about. Sorry I missed this post. How much of this has been directly observed in modern forager societies versus inferences from archaeology?
There's a lot of other studies about different passive fertility in forager groups that bear out the cross-cultural applicability of the San studies as well. Forgot to add that. Studies of forager groups on several continents have come to the same basic conclusions around that. Some of those findings are summarized here:
The bits about breastfeeding and the other biological limiting factors (the indirect controls, basically) came to light during Richard Lee's fieldwork with the San and Ju/'hoansi peoples of South Africa in the 1960s. The bit about active measures is available if you peruse the anthropological literature on the subject (I don't have a specific citation in mind), and the sort of thing covered in introductory classes to the field -- it's common knowledge within that domain.
As to resource warfare, it's a non-starter for most foragers. You walk away, or you strike an agreement about the use of lands. There are conflicts anyway, but they're infrequent -- the incentive isn't present to justify a bloody battle most of the time. And it doesn't come up as often as you think, either, because as I've stated, forager populations don't grow as quickly (they tend to stay around carrying capacity when different groups are summed over a given area) and indeed, devote active effort to keeping it that way, which supplements the tremendous passive biases in favor of slow growth. Where it does come into prominence is with low-tech agriculturalists, pastoralists and horticulturalists. Those people have something to fight over (a stationary, vulnerable or scarce landbase, that rewards their effort with high population growth and gives incentive to expand or lock down an area for their exclusive use).
So in a forager society, population growth is managed how, specifically? Abstinence?
See my other reply, the long one, which goes into some detail answering that question.
Sorry, I don't see where you do. Food preservation techniques, migratory habits, gathering crabs or berries doesn't tell me anything at all about how people avoided population growth.
0[anonymous]13y Right here.
It turns out that homelessness, in and of itself, approximately quadruples one's mortality risk: study pointer:
I don't know how you're using the word "easily", then. Do you classify all forms of social interaction as easy?
Well, "easy" is clearly a subjective judgment, and admittedly, I have no relevant personal experience. However, it is evident that large numbers of people do manage to survive from charity and the welfare state without any employment, and many of them don't seem to invest any special efforts or talents in this endeavor. In any case, my original arguments hold even if we consider only rich countries with strong welfare states, in which it really is easy, in every reasonable sense of the term, to survive by freeloading. These certainly hold as examples of societies where no work is necessary to obtain food, housing, medical care, and even some discretionary income, and yet status concerns still motivate the overwhelming majority of people to work hard.
this seems very difficult if you aren't a member of a protected class. can a young white healthy male freeload easily?
I don't know about race, but I did read a piece by a young man who viewed homelessness as a sort of urban camping. He didn't use drugs and he didn't beg-- he found enough odd jobs.
Ten years ago I read a "news of the wierd" story about a young homeless man in silicon valley. He earned something like $90K a year working as a junior programmer or some such occupation. He slept under a bridge, but had a bank account, mailbox, cell phone, laptop and gym subscription. He worked out and showered at the gym every morning before work. He socked away lots of money and spent a lot of his free time surfing the internet at a coffee shop or other hang out. The reason the story got picked up is that his parents or someone in his family was trying to get him committed for psychiatric treatment. Its more bold and daring than most people but that behavior in and of itself doesn't really sound crazy to me.
A long time friend of mine wrote an article for the New York Times about her boyfriend's decision to become homeless.
I agree that we hate to admit how much of our lives revolves around zero-sum status competitions. Here human modification via genetic engineering, supplements, & advanced technologies provides a potential way out, right? That we don't like the fact that our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions implies that there's motivation to self-modify in the direction of deriving fulfillment from other things. Of course there's little historical precedent for technological self-modification and so such hypotheticals involve a necessary element of speculation, but it's not necessarily the case that things will remain as they always have been. This is a very good point and one which I was thinking of bringing up in response to Yvain's comment but had difficulty articulating; thanks.
Trouble is, once you go down that road, the ultimate destination is wireheading. This raises all sorts of difficult questions, to which I have no particularly interesting answers.
Though I know others feel differently (sometimes vehemently), aside from instrumental considerations (near guaranteed longevity & the welfare of others) I personally don't mind being wireheaded. My attitude is similar to the one that denisbider expresses here with some qualifications. In particular I don't see the number of beings as so important and his last paragraph strikes me as sort of creepy.

I like this framing (I almost never thought on this topic): money as status as measure of socially enforced right to win competitions for resources, but with a baseline of fairness, where you can still get stuff, but less than high-status individuals (organisations). Right-based bargaining power rather than a measure of usefulness.

Wah. Neat conceptualization, and much easier for me to wrap my head around than my previous non-models. Thanks!
This seems like a good place to point out the US centrism issue, as mentioned . Many countries do have safety nets that while not enough for actual comfort at the current tech level still makes plain survival a non-issue, and to some degree higher things through institutions like public libraries where you'll often be able to access the internet.

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging

Housing need not be as scarce as land, if regulatory permission for tall buildings and good transport networks exist. There is a lot of variation on this dimension already today. Automated mining, construction and cheap energy could make sizable individual apartments in tall buildings cheap, not to mention transport improvements like robocars.

I agree that the situation can be improved that way, though it's arguable how much it runs against the problem that packing people tightly together has the effect of increasing discomfort and severely lowering status. But even with optimistic assumptions, I think it's still the case that housing can never become non-scarce the way food and clothing could (and to a large degree already have). There is in principle no limit to how cheaply mass-produced stuff can be cranked out, Moore's law-style, but this clearly can't work anywhere as effectively for housing, even with very optimistic assumptions.

I basically agree, and don't mean to nitpick, but there's also in the long run virtual environments/augmented reality.
Another possibility that would reduce the effective cost of housing would be small scale distributed manufacturing (I'm thinking Drexler/Merkle nanotech here). That would mean that most goods would not need to travel, they would be "printed" locally. There are exceptions for goods which require uncommon atoms, which would still need transport. (To be a bit more explicit: I'm trying to weaken the "near other people" restriction. As is, a lot of what we exchange with other people is information, and we ship that around globally today. Goods are another major category, which I commented on above. Physical contact is a third category, but a lot of that is limited to family members in the same household anyway.) One factor which hasn't been directly discussed, is that housing, while partially designed to protect us from weather, is also partially to protect us from other people. The former function can be reduced in cost by better or cheaper materials. The latter is to some extent a zero-sum game. (There is a whole range of interacting social issues involved. Some of the protection is from thieves, some from obnoxious neighbors, some from intruding authorities - and these groups differ greatly in their ability to bring greater resources to bear, and also differ in their interest in doing so.)

Do you know of a forum where this could be discussed productively?

No, not really. Opportunities for good and insightful discussion open up from time to time in all kinds of places, and sometimes particular forums can have especially good streaks, but all of this is transient. I don't know any places that are particularly good these days.

Could this be solved by setting up a new forum and being sufficiently selective about whom to let in (e.g. only sufficiently high-quality and sufficiently non-ideological thinkers, as vetted by some local aristocracy based on comment history elsewhere), or is there some other limiting factor?

I would love there to be a place suitable for rational discussion of possibly outrageous political and otherwise ideologically charged ideas, even though I wouldn't want it to be LessWrong and I wouldn't want it to be directly associated with LessWrong.

I'd love to have such a place too, and based on my off-line conversations with some people here, I think there are also others who would. So maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to set up a new forum or mailing list, perhaps even one without public visibility. I have no idea how well this would work in practice -- there are certainly many failure modes imaginable -- but it might be worth trying.

Here's one thing I'm worried about. What if discussion between those of widely varying ideological background assumptions is just intrinsically unproductive because they can never take basic concepts for granted? Even the best thinkers seem to mostly have strongly, stably different ideological outlooks. You could pre-select for ideology and possibly have multiple groups, but that has its own downsides.
That would mean a collection of echo chambers which are worse than useless.

Strongly agree. Mailing lists are easy but damn have I become addicted to nested comments and upvoting/downvoting (automatic moderation!).

I know what you mean. I follow along with the decision theory list but is almost painful being limited to email format!
(Yup. Can't downvote Stuart. Frustrating. And the impact of saying so aloud without anonymity is not quite what I want to enact.)
Do you or does anyone else know of free online services, analogous to mailing lists, that allow such nesting and upvoting/downvoting?
Reddit. If you create your own subreddit I know you get to moderate it, but I don't know how well it would work for a deliberately exclusive community.
Presumably it'd be easy to clone LW's git code, change the logos, ask SingInst to host it, and put it behind a locked gate. . Louie would be the SingInst guy to ask I think. Besides that, no.
Maybe make it hidden to the public (like Koala Wallop's Octagon) and invitation-only, with any given member limited to one invitation per hundred upvotes they've received? Or... a nested thing, maybe. The onion has as many layers as the Grand High Administrator deigns to create, and said administrator can initiate anyone to any desired depth, or revoke such access, at will. A given user can issue one invite to their current layer per 100 net upvotes they have received on the layer in question; when someone receives 100 net downvotes on a given layer, they are banned from that layer until reinvited (at which point they start from scratch). Invites to a given layer can only be directed to users who have already been initiated to the layer immediately outside that one. There might also be a branching structure; nobody knows for sure until they find parallel layers.
I am curious as to whether such a thing actually exists, do you or anyone else here end up producing an exclusive, private, invite only community in order to commune in high signal political discussion?
I agree that the zero-sum character of status makes it unlikely that technology will shorten work hours (barring modification of humans). I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

You're right, things are a bit more complicated than in my simplified account. Lodging can be obtained very cheaply, or even for free as a social service, in homeless shelters and public housing projects, but only in the form of densely packed space full of people of the very lowest status. This is indeed more than adequate for bare survival, but most people find the status hit and the associated troubles and discomforts unacceptably awful, to the point that they opt for either life in the street or working hard for better lodging. And to raise the quality of your lodging significantly above this level, you do need an amount that takes quite a bit of work to earn with the median wage.

This is in clear contrast with food and clothing, which were also precarious until relatively recent past, but are nowadays available in excellent quality for chump-change, as long a... (read more)

Land is only a problem because of the dept of education. Competition wouldn't be nearly so fierce if there wasn't a monopoly on good schooling. Look at a heat map of property values. They are sharply discontinuous around school district borders.
How does one school district with good schools prevent its neighbor districts from also having good schools? There are certainly plenty of examples of contiguous districts with good schools.
For many people's psychological welfare, I think these may be lesser concerns than mobility, autonomy, and freedom from monotony.

I don't think that typical jobs from 50 years ago were better in any of these regards. On the contrary, the well-paid blue collar manufacturing jobs that are associated with bygone better times in folk memory were quite bad by these measures. Just imagine working on an assembly line.

Focusing specifically on North America, where these trends appear to be the most pronounced, the key issue, in my opinion, is the distribution of status. Fifty years ago, it was possible for a person of average or even below-average abilities to have a job, lifestyle, and social status that was seen as nothing spectacular, but also respectable and nothing to scoff at. Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history. Of course, these are not hereditary castes, and meritocracy and upward mobility are still very strong, but the point is that the great masses of people who are left behind in the status race are no longer looking towards a mundane but respectable existence, but towards the low status of despised losers.

Why and how the situation has developed in this direction is a complex question that touches on all sorts of ideologically charged issues. Also, some would perhaps disagree whether the trends really are as severe as I present them. But the general trend of the status distribution becoming more skewed seems to me pretty evident.

How do you measure this kind of thing? Do you have a citation?
I too would be interested in sources for this assertion. It goes contrary to what I would say if I were asked to guess about classes of today compared to classes of fifty years ago. edit: Oops, I should have refreshed page before commenting, as I now see Vladimir_M responded. Leaving comment for content about my state of mind on this issue.
No, it's a conclusion from common sense and observation, though I could find all kinds of easily cited corroboration. Unfortunately, as I said, a more detailed analysis of these trends and their components and causes would get us far into various controversial and politicized topics, which are probably best left alone here. I stated these opinions only because they seemed pertinent to the topic of the original post and the subsequent comments, i.e. the reasons for broad dissatisfaction with life in today's developed world, and their specific relation to the issues of work.
There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory. What does one say about differences in solidarity between and church members, as it varies from Sunday to other days of the week, and from now to fifty years ago? Likewise for football fans in a city...What does one say about it as it varies from during the Olympics to during an election, within country, party, etc...During war? During strikes? And so on. To make this claim one would have to establish a somewhat arbitrary "basket" of status markers and see how they varied (willingness to marry people from group X, willingness to trust random members of group X not to steal, willingness to make fun of people from group X for amusement, etc.) One would then have to integrate over time periods (war, etc.), and it's not obvious how to do that. It's also not obvious how to aggregate the statistics into a single measure expressible by a sentence like the above even if we have somehow established a score for how each individual thinks of and would think of each other individual. It's not obvious what constitutes members of a class, nor how much the classes are to be judged by their worst members as against, say, their average or typical or idealized member. What I most disagree with the connotation of is "the distribution of status much more skewed". For status, each of us views others in certain ways, has representations of how we are viewed, has representations of how we view others, has representations of how others think they view us...status is not a thing for which the word "distributed" is at all apt.

There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory.

It's hard to discuss these things without getting into all sorts of overly controversial topics, but I definitely disagree that there are no obviously appropriate ways to establish whether this, so to say, skew of the status distribution is increasing.

Admittedly, these are fuzzy observations where it's easy to fall prey to all kinds of biases, but there is still useful information all over the place. You can observe the level of contempt (either overt or more underhanded) that people express for those below their class, the amount of effort they invest just to make sure they're insulated from the lower classes, the fear and disgust of mere proximity to anyone below a certain class, the media portrayals of people doing jobs at various percentiles of the income distribution, the reduction and uniformization of the status criteria and the disappearance of various sources of status available to those scoring low in wealth, fame, and bureaucratic rank, and so on. Of course, my observations and interpretations of all these trends may well be biased and inaccurate, but it's certainly incorrect to claim that no conclusions could be drawn from them even in principle.

  • I basically agree with you - The U.S. has certainly been headed in the direction of a winner-take-all society over the last few decades.
  • I think some of this is measurable. The Gini coefficient certainly captures some of the economic aspects, and it has gotten higher over time
  • "the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history" seem too strong. History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"

History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"

I agree that was probably a too hyperbolic statement. History certainly records much more extreme instances of domineering and oppression. However, "dehumanized" was not a very good choice of term for the exact attitudes I had in mind, which I think indeed have little historical precedent and, and which don't really correspond to the traditional patterns of exercising crude power by higher-status groups and individuals, being a rather peculiar aspect of the present situation. But yes, in any case, I agree I exaggerated with the rhetoric on that point.

I wouldn't claim that, my claim is that there can't be one formula specifying what you want to measure, so for reasonably similar societies like this one and that of fifty years ago, you can't draw conclusions like that. If one looks at all the equally (in)appropriate ways to measure what you're making claims about, the modern USA outperforms 18th century Russia in enough ways that we can draw conclusions. I'll elaborate a bit on your examples. The observations are the least fuzzy part. With something like this, you could perhaps quantify fear disgust of millions of people if in proximity to other people. You might find that in one society, 50% are extremely disgusted by the bottom 5%, and nonplussed by the others, and the top 10% of that is disgusted by the whole bottom 50%, while in another society, the top 20% is moderately disgusted by the bottom 80%, and the top 40% absolutely repulsed by the bottom 1%...etc. What exactly, or even approximately, are your criteria, and how much do you think others on this site share them? What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan. What that brings to mind for me is the honest labor memes from the Puritans, and how so many were ready to identify with the common man, Joe the plumber, etc. One might say that this was primarily or only because he is white, and I think we all discount its value because of that to some extent, and if you idiosyncratically discount it more than others, you should be upfront about that by being more specific, and not make implicit claims that according to your readers' values, what you say is true. Were I trying to call out a certain statement as being sexist, I might

It seems like we have some essential misunderstandings on these points:

What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan.

The "status skew" I have in mind has nothing to do with the issues of fairness and meritocracy. In this discussion, I am not concerned about the way people obtain their status, only what its distribution looks like. (In fact, in my above comment, I already emphasized that the present society is indeed meritocratic to a very large degree, in contrast to the historical societies of prevailing hereditary privilege.)

What I'm interested in is the contrast between the sort of society where the great majority of people enjoy a moderate status and the elites a greater one, and the sort of society where those who fall outside an elite minority are consigned to the status of despised losers. This is a relevant distinction, insofar as it... (read more)

Demonstrably the cost of housing has not dropped as much as the cost of a byte of hard drive storage, but that is not necessarily only because space is zero-sum. A lot of technologies have failed to advance at anywhere near the rate of computer technology, in particular housing-related technologies - the cost of building a structure, the cost of lighting it, air conditioning it, etc. I think that science fiction authors in the past tended to imagine that housing-related technologies would change much more rapidly than they actually did. Transportation has also, in recent years, not changed all that much. That's another one that science fiction writers were massively overoptimistic about. Transportation changes the value of proximity, and the changes that we did experience starting with steam powered vehicles probably did radically change the nature of what counts as proximity. I am, for example, an order of magnitude or so "closer" to the city center now than I would have been two hundred years ago, holding everything constant except for transportation. Building construction and transportation are at a kind of plateau, at least compared with computers, possibly in part because they require a more or less fixed amount of energy in order to move stuff around. In order to transport a person you need enough power to move his body the required distance. In order to build a building, you need enough power to lift the materials into place. I had the misfortune of working next to a construction site and I recall that for weeks we could feel the thumping of the pile drivers.
There's no hard lower bound on the amount of energy needed to move something horizontally. Any expenditure in transportation is all friction, no work. Now, reducing friction turns out to be a harder engineering problem than making smaller transistors, but just saying "energy" doesn't explain why. And the gravitational potential energy in 1 ton of stuff lifted by 1 storey would cost all of .001$ if bought from the grid in the form of electricity. So clearly the energy requirement of lifting construction materials into place is not the primary cost of construction either.
The cost of the fuel itself is not the only cost that increases when the amount of energy increases. When a large amount of energy is applied all at once, it becomes important to apply the energy correctly, because otherwise the results can be catastrophic. If you take the energy required to lift a ton one storey, and misapply it, then you could damage property or, worse, kill people. We let children ride bikes but not drive cars. Why? One reason is that a typical moving car has a much larger amount of kinetic energy than a typical moving bicycle, so if the car is steered badly, the results can be much worse than if a bike is steered badly. So the more more energy is applied, the more carefully it must be applied. And this extra care costs extra money. In a controlled environment such as a factory, the application of energy can be automated, reducing costs. But in an uncontrolled environment such as we see in transportation or building, significant automation is not yet possible, which raises costs. Other costs also rise with energy use. For instance, the machinery that employs the energy must be built to withstand the energy. A toy car can be built of cheap plastic, but a real car needs to be strong enough not to fly apart when you step on the gas. And the machine has to be built so that it doesn't wear down quickly in reaction to the great stresses that it is being subjected to as it operates.
2Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
That is the clearest explanation I've seen so far for this. (I've read a lot of SF, and asked myself the question.)

I don't think that's a complete explanation. I would say it's more along the lines of "If you start with somebody working a three-day week, it's much easier to employ them for another two days, than to hire a new person to work two days because that requires creating a whole new business relationship." Then both corporations and governments, I think, tend to be as inefficient as they can possibly get away with without dying, or maybe a little more inefficient than that. Work expands to fill the time available...

I would have to sit down and write this out if I really wanted to think it through, but roughly I think that there are forces which tend to make people employed for a full workweek, everyone want to be employed, and society to become as inefficient as it can get away with. Combine these factors and it's why increasing productivity doesn't increase leisure.

5Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
The full work week makes sense, depending on what sort of job you're talking about. Is it a job where a certain number of staff have to be working at a given time but it doesn't really matter who, i.e. my job at the pool, etc, or is it a job where a certain amount of work has to get done and it's simpler for one person to do a set of tasks because sharing the tasks between brains is complicated, i.e. my job at the research institute? For the former, it doesn't really matter whether you have 20 staff working 40 hours a week or 40 staff working 20 hours a week. (In fact, at the pool we tend to flip between the two: in winter, when most employees are in school, there are a lot more staff and many of them have only 1 or 2 shifts a week. In summer, the number of staff drops and nearly everyone is full-time.) It doesn't matter whether a given staffperson is there on a certain day; lifeguards and waitresses and grocery store cashiers (and nurses, to a lesser degree) are essentially interchangeable. For the latter, it makes a lot of sense for any one employee to be there every day, but why 8 hours a day? Why not 5? If the full-time employees at the research institute were each in charge of a single study, instead of 2 or 3, they could do all the required work in 5 hours a day plus occasionally overtime or on-call work. I'm guessing that most work for corporations and governments is in the latter category. Most work in the former category is relatively low-paying, so adults in this jobs have to work full-time or more to make ends meet. I can see why right now, neither corporations nor the government are endorsing shorter work-days or work-weeks: they would have to hire more staff, spend more time on finding and interviewing qualified people, and providing these extra staff with the expected benefits (i.e. health insurance, vacation time) would be more complicated. The current state is stable and locked in place, because any business or organization that tried to change woul
Yes but as Eliezer said the work expands to fill the time. So if you cut the time correctly, you just cut out the useless work and don't give up any competitive advantage. This is how large corporations can lay-off 50,000 people without falling apart. Sometimes that means giving up products or markets, but more often it means a haircut across the organization - e.g. trimming the fat. At first the people left are paniced about how they will get everything done without all these resources, but what really happens is priorities get clarified and some people have to do more work during the day instead of reading Less Wrong. The same thing would happen if the work week were reduced, although management's job would get harder as Eliezer points out.
It is a plausible argument, but it seems at least partially incompatible with known international differences within the wealthy industrialized world. "Using the most recently available data, the ILO has determined that the average Australian, Canadian, Japanese or Mexican worker was on the job roughly 100 hours less than the average American in a year -- that's almost two-and-a-half weeks less. Brazilians and British employees worked some 250 hours, or more than five weeks, less than Americans.". I'd expect very similar zero sum competitions to exist in all of these nations, yet the work hours have substantial differences.

If we accept the premise that most of this work is being spent on a zero-sum game of competing for status and land, then it's a prisoner's-dilemma situation like doping in competitive sports, and a reasonable solution is some kind of regulation limiting that competition. Mandatory six-week vacations, requirements to close shops during certain hours, and hefty overtime multipliers coupled with generous minimum wages are three examples that occur in the real world.

A market fundamentalist might seek to use tradable caps, as with sulfur dioxide emissions, instead of inflexible regulations. Maybe you're born with the right to work 1000 hours per year, for example, but you have the right to sell those hours to someone else who wants to work more hours. Retirees and students could support themselves by getting paid for being unemployed, by some coal miner, soldier, or sailor. (Or their employer.) This would allow the (stipulated) zero-sum competition to go on and even allow people to compete by being willing to work more hours, but without increasing the average number of hours worked per person.

Japan‽ That can't be right. This study says indeed it isn't. What's going on? Edit: What's going on is that it's a recent change. Thanks, soreff.

Ouch! "The more I find out, the less that I know". This site gives extensive statistics, broken out nationally and by year from 2000-2010. According to their numbers, for 2010, Korea had the largest numbers of hours worked, with the U.S. 12th on the list and Japan 15th. It looks like the shifts across this decade are considerable (10%-20%, for many of the nations). Looking at a bunch of sites, there seems to be considerable differences in reported numbers as well - the definitions of what hours they include and who they include may differ...

0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
This sounds like such an interesting topic for discussion, though!
Trouble is, it touches on just about every controversial and ideologically charged issue imaginable. (Which is not surprising, considering that it concerns the fundamental questions about how status is distributed in the whole society.)

Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

I've wondered about this a lot myself. Note along with figure 3 of the quoted article, according to a Gallup poll the average self reported life satisfaction in America is around 7/10. Presumably this average includes even including the sick/elderly/poor. I believe that my own self reported life satisfaction would be considerably lower than that if I were living the life of an average American.

I would guess that the difference is mostly accounted for by my own affective response to a given situation diverging heavily from the affective response that members of the general population would have in the same situation.

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

Somewhat confident. I work at a medical clinic. The number of people who come in with physical complaints relating to their job, psychological/stress complaints relating to their job, or complaints completely unrelated to their job but they talk to the doctor about how much they hate their job anyway because he's the only person who will listen - is pretty impressive.

But there's a clear selection bias here; maybe the 10% of people who are most unhappy with their jobs visit medical clinics 5x as much as anybody else.

In any case, thanks for the info.

It's entirely possible for working life to be awful and people living those lives to genuinely self-report an average of 7/10 on a happiness scale. This is likely due to facts about how humans set their baseline happiness, how they respond to happiness surveys, and what social norms have been inculcated.

Like, when given a scale out of 10, people might anchor 5 as the average life, and for social signaling and status purposes, reasons for them being different-better are more available to their conscious mind than reasons for them being different-worse, so they add a few points.

There are also other problems with the average happiness level being above average - it suggests some constant is at work.

I just realized that a link to an article by Angus Deaton about a Gallup poll that I meant to include in the comment above didn't compile. I've since added it. I agree. But I don't see the considerations that you bring up as decisive. Several points: •According to Angus Deaton's article If I were to give a response of 7/10 to this question it would indicate that my life is more good than it is bad. You're right that my interpretation may not be the one used by the typical subject. But I disagree with: it could be that everyone finds their lives to be more good than bad or that everyone finds their lives more bad than good. • You raise the hypothetical: but one could similarly raise ad hoc hypotheticals that point in the opposite direction. For example, maybe people function best when they're feeling good and so they're wired to feel good most of the time but grass-is-greener syndrome leads them to subtract a few points. • Note that suicide rates are low all over the world. A low suicide rate is some sort of indication that members of a given population find their lives to be worth living. • Note that according to Deaton's article, life satisfaction scores by country vary from ~ 4 to ~ 7 in rough proportion to median income in a given country. This provides some indication that (a) life satisfaction scores pick up on a factor that transcends culture and that (b) Americans are distinctly more satisfied with their lives than sub-Saharan Africans are. But in line with my above point, sub-Saharan Africans seldom commit suicide. In juxtaposition with this, the data from Deaton's article suggests that the average American's life satisfaction is well above the point at which he or she would commit suicide.

Suicide rates could be low even when the average experience of the general population is worse than unconsciousness. People may apply scope insensitivity and discount large quantities of non-severe future suffering for themselves. Happiness reports can lead to different results than an hour-to-hour analysis would. Asking for each hour, "Would you rather experience an exact repeat of last hour, or else experience nothing for one hour, all other things exactly equal? How much would you value that diffence?" might lead to very different results if you integrate the quantities and qualities.

People with lives slightly not worth living may refrain from suicide because they fear death, feel obligated toward their friends and family, or are infected with memes about reward or punishment in an imaginary afterlife. A very significant reason is probably that bearably painless and reliable suicide methods are not universally within easy reach (are they in sub-Sahara Africa?). In fact, there is a de facto suicide prohibition in place in most contries, with more or less success. The majority of suicide attempts fail.

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

I agree. See also this comment and subsequent discussion. I consider low suicide rates to be weak evidence that people find their lives worth living, not definitive evidence. There's other evidence, in particular if you ask random people if their lives are worth living they'll say yes much more often than not. Yes they may be signaling and/or deluded, but it seems hubristic to have high confidence in one's own assessment of their quality of lives over their stated assessment without strong evidence.

Yeah, re-reading my post it's very handwave-y. However, a point you made about more good than bad / more bad than good stuck out to me. I wonder if a survey question "On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is every thing that happens to you is a bad thing, and 10 is every thing that happens to you is a good thing, what number would you give to your life?" would provide scores correlated with life satisfaction surveys. (Ideally we would simply track people and, every time a thing happened to them, ask them whether this thing was good or bad. Then we could collate the data and get a more accurate picture than self-reporting, but the gain doesn't outweigh the sheer impracticality so I'll be content with self-reported values). I feel like if it correlated weakly, you would be right. And now that I think about the experiment, I'm fairly convinced it would come out correlated.

The prospect of an hansonain future does seem like a pretty good reason to delete all records of yourself, dispose of anyone with significant memories of you, and incinerate your brain in a large explosion enough to spread the ashes of your brain for miles around. At sea.

It should make you happy with the present, though, if you use the past and the future as the baseline for comparison. As John Derbyshire once said in a different context, "We are living in a golden age. The past was pretty awful; the future will be far worse. Enjoy!"

Now I'm confused, how's other people being even worse of supposed to make me feel better?
Well, if we (the present humans) are indeed extraordinarily fortunate to live in a brief and exceptional non-Malthusian period -- what Hanson calls "the Dreamtime" -- then you should be happy to be so lucky that you get to enjoy it. Yes, you could have been even luckier to be born as some overlord who gets to be wealthy and comfortable even in a Malthusian world, but even as a commoner in a non-Malthusian era, you were dealt an exceptionally good hand.
No, I'm UN-lucky. I'd prefer a different, counterfactual universe where EVERYONE is happy at all times, and given any set universe I see no reason how which entity in it is me should matter.
A couple of comments: * Yes, a hansonian future looks appalling. Anything that gets us back into a Malthusian trap is a future that I would not want to experience. * I'm not sure that active measures to prevent oneself from being revived in such a future are necessary. If extreme population growth makes human life of little value in what are currently the developed nations, who would revive us? Cryonics has been likened to a four-dimensional ambulance ride to a future emergency room. If the emergency rooms of the 22nd century turn out to only accept the rich, cryonicists will never get revived in such a world anyway. * I find it bizarre that Robin Hanson himself both endorses cryonics and actively endorses population growth - both in the near term (conventional overpopulation of humans) and in the long term (explosive growth of competing uploads/ems).
@2: Most of it was humour, indicating excessive paranoia. Under that was basically a mix of being humble (might have reasons we would never think of to do it), and the implication that it's not only bad but so bad every little trace of probability must be pushed as close as possible to 0.
Hey now, the poor also smile!
I've been wondering why no one has yet broached this issue on LW, that I recall.
Ugh field? People don't like to talk about this. I will say something like "my job is a soul-sucking vortex" and people think I'm only joking. I am joking, but like many jokes it is also true. My job doesn't make me hate life; much of what I value in life is supported by my job which is why I keep it.
It's not very hard to do when the original author is Mike Darwin. The man really needs an editor. Consider "Doing the Time Wrap", which looks for all the world like someone wrote 2 or 3 amazing, wonderful essays on completely different topics, and then decided to cut and paste random sections of them to form a single article, with random song lyrics thrown in for good measure.

This is a fantastically burdensome explanation for why people don't sign up for cryonics. Do people who do sign up for cryonics usually have happier lives? (Not that I've heard of.) Do the same people who turn down cryonics turn down other forms of medical care? (Not that I've heard of.) If we found that people signing up for cryonics were less happy on average, would we be able to construct an equally plausible-sounding symmetrical argument that people with happy, fulfilled lives see no need for a second one? (Yes.)

I hate to go into psychologizing, but I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration.

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

Asking them about cryonics gets their prerecorded verbal behaviors about "immortality" which bear no relation whatsoever to their feelings about whether or not life is fun.

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million? How could you possibly ... (read more)

Rationality Bootcamp and Advanced Sanity Techniques? The first things sane and rational people do, are to exercise due diligence in gathering the facts before they make crazy and unfounded public statements such as:

1) "I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration." and

2) "Mike Darwin thinks that if you have better preservation techniques, people will sign up in droves, because right now they're hearing about cryonics and rejecting it because the preservation techniques aren't good enough."

Really? Not only don't I believe those things to be true, I've never said that they were. Au contraire, the only grand narrative of why people haven't embraced cryonics in droves is a very complicated one which, onto 40 years later, I'm still learning about and struggling to fully understand. In 1981 I wrote an article (with Steve Bridge) entitled "The Bricks in the Wall" about the many reasons why people find it difficult to embrace cryonics: (read more)

Your hyperlink is broken, it has a period at the end of it.
The concern that lesswrong might be a cult has been dealt with extensively already. Like it or not, lesswrong is likely one of the greatest allies cryonics has right now -- and I would say this is not so much because of all the new recruits and fresh blood, but because of the training in rationality that it provides and ultimately injects into the cryonics community (among the other communities it intersects with). Because of this emphasis, lesswrong is actually pretty good insurance against cryonics becoming a cult.

I just read over my post, and I didn't say (or imply) anything about lesswrong being a cult. I know almost nothing about lesswrong, beyond reading interesting posts here, from time to time, usually as a result of google searches. My proximate reason for posting here was that Gwern suggested I do so, and also pointed me specifically to this discussion. So I guess my question would be, "Why would anyone think that I would think lesswrong was a cult?"

My remarks about "selling cryonics as part of a cult" are long-standing ones, and go back to decisions that I and others consciously made about how we wanted to proceed back in the 1970s. Having been in a cult briefly from 1974-75, I have a good understanding of the social mechanics of breaking people down and rebuilding them in a way that is "more desirable" to whomever is doing the "human re-engineering." There was not much question in my mind then or now that many people could be "converted" to cryonics by this expedient. The questions were about "should it be done?" Ironically, I got into that cult because the founders of Alcor thought that the "guru" running the operation would make cryonics a requirement for all of his adherents. -- Mike Darwin

Perhaps I got confused about what you were replying to exactly there. My big issue with your post is that it seems to assume there are only two options that result in widespread adoption: sell it as a traditional product, or create an odious mind-control cult. What about the option of raising people's sanity level so they can come to the conclusion on their own?
First, I should point out that I don't believe the choices about how to increase success for cryonics are binary, as you lay them out above. While I don't use the same language you do, my argument has been that it is not possible to get people to freely adopt cryonics in larger numbers, unless you change them, as opposed to trying to change cryonics, or how it is "marketed." You use the words "raising people's sanity level" to describe the change you believe is necessary, before they are able to choose cryonics rationally. The dictionary definition of sanity is: "The ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health." I don't know if that is the definition you are using, or not? Depending upon how you define "rational," "normal," and "sound mental health," we may be on the same page. I would say that most people currently operate with either contra-survival values, or effectively no values. Values are the core behavioral imperatives that individuals use in furtherance of their survival and their well being. It is easy to mistake these as being all about the individual, but in fact, they necessarily involve the whole community of individuals, because it is not (currently) possible for individual humans to survive without interaction with others. Beyond these baby steps at explanation, there is a lot that must be said, but clearly, not here and not now. What I've said here isn't meant to be rigorous and complete, but rather to be exemplary of the position I hold (and that you asked me about). It is also the case that not everyone has the biological machinery to make decisions at a very high level of thought or reasoning. And amongst those who do, arguably, few do so much of the time, especially in terms of epistemological questions (and none of us do it all of the time). That's in part what culture is for. If we considered every decision in penultimate detail, we'd never get anything done. If the culture is bankrupt, then the situatio
It's partially a reference to this post.
-8Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
Do you refer to your time in the Galambosian cult? BTW, according to Galambos's beliefs about intellectual property, people owe me a royalty every time they use the word "singularitarian."

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

I agree with almost all of what you say about no grand narrative and mostly just conformity, but I'm not willing to entirely dismiss this explanation as even a small part of the puzzle. It doesn't seem much different than the theories that poor people with few life prospects have higher temporal discount rates and are more likely to engage in risky/criminal behavior because they have less to protect. People aren't coherent enough to think "Well, stealing this watch has a small probability of landing me in prison, but my life now isn't so satisfying, so I suppose it's worth the risk, and I suppose it's worth risking a lot later for a small gain now since I currently have so little", but there's some inner process that gives more or less that result.

If even the few people who get past the weirdness factor flinch away from the thought of actually being alive more, I expect that would make a significant difference.

I'm going to try a test question that might differentiate between "cryonics sounds weird" and "I don't like life enough to want to live even mor... (read more)

Judging by the experiment with the secretly identical question, I seem to have been wrong. Everyone says they would jump at the chance to be reincarnated, so lack of desire to live longer apparently doesn't play as significant a role in cryonics refusal as I thought.

Your readers are still part of a contrarian cluster. (Hell, ciphergoth commented!) But I don't dispute the result.
One of the reasons why I'd accept the angel's offer but I haven't signed up for cryonics is that in the former case I'd expect a much larger fraction of my friends to be alive when I'm resurrected.
6Paul Crowley12y
So far, have you ever gone a thousand years without making new friends?
I answered yes to your hypothetical, but I am not currently signed up for cryonics and have no short- or medium-term plans to do so. My reasons for the difference: 1. In your hypothetical, I've received a divine revelation that there's no afterlife, and that reincarnation would be successful. In real life, I have a low estimate of the likelihood of cryonics leading to a successful revival and a low-but-nonzero estimate of the likelihood of an afterlife. 2. In your hypothetical, there's no advance cost for the reincarnation option. For cryonics, the advance cost is substantial. My demand curve for life span is downward-sloping with respect to cost. 3. In your hypothetical, I'm on my deathbed. In real life, I'm 99.86% confident of living at least one more year and 50% confident of living at least another 50 years (based on Social Security life expectancy tables), before adjusting for my current health status and family history of longevity (both of which incline my life expectancy upwards relative to the tables), and before adjusting for expected technological improvements. This affects my decision concerning cryonics in two respects: a. Hyperbolic discounting. b. Declining marginal utility of lifespan. c. A substantial (in my estimation) chance that even without cryonics I'll live long enough to benefit from the discovery of medical improvements that will make me immortal barring accidents, substantially reducing the expected benefit from cryonics. 4. In your hypothetical, I'm presented with a choice and it's an equal effort to pick either one. To sign up for cryonics, I'd need to overcome substantial mental activation costs to research options and sign up for a plan. My instinct is to procrastinate. Of course, none of this invalidates your hypothetical as a test of the hypothesis that people don't sign up for cryonics because they don't actually want to live longer.
7Paul Crowley13y
I signed up as a result of reading Eliezer's writings. I don't think the first two points of your "alternate hypotheses" are really alternatives for me, since I only fall into either of those camps as a result of reading Eliezer.
I was about to comment there saying "I think I know what this is about, and if so he definitely means a younger healthy body rather than an 80-year-old one on the point of death" -- but I thought I'd check here, and I'll respect your preference for no cross-contamination. You might want to do that bit of disambiguation yourself. Your LJ readers are probably not an entirely representative sample of people who aren't signed up for cryonics, though perhaps they are of {people who aren't signed up for cryonics but might be persuaded}.
1Paul Crowley13y
Saw this after your post - guessed it was cryonics but didn't spill the beans.
Same here.

I recently got a phone call saying that, if I recall correctly, around a quarter - or maybe it was half - of all Alcor's cryonics signups this year, are originating from LW/Yudkowsky/rationality readers. If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

Your conclusion doesn't follow from your premise. Moreover I don't know what you mean by "advanced sanity techniques." I agree that you've probably increased to number of cryonics signups substantially but I doubt that increased rationality has played a significant role.

Cryonics sounds strange and not-of-our-tribe and they don't see other people doing it, a feeling expressed in words as "weird". It's perceptually categorized as similar to religions or other scams they've heard about from the newspaper, based purely on surface features and without any reference to, or remediability by, the strength of the underlying logic; that's never checked

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

The implication of the latter quote is that the sanity techniques are being applied, and cryonics is being signed up for largely because of its merits.

I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly.

I have a testable prediction that can partially parse out at least one factor. One disproportionately powerful influence on human beings in addition to (and mutually reinforcing) group think/behavior is accepting authority. (It is true that what others do is valid evidence for the validity of what the... (read more)

"I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly." Very much so. People don't actually believe in the future.
Unfortunately that has an element of truth in it. Cryonics now has a reputation has a paleo-future fad from the 1960's, along with visions of space colonization, the postindustrial leisure society and the like. Many of the articles about Robert Ettinger's recent suspension present that as a subtext in describing his career. For example. the Washington Post obit says: With the implication that in our disillusioned era, Ettinger sounds like a crank and a fool.
I'm not sure that the intent was quite that harsh. "a crank and a fool" wasn't in the original obit. To view Ettinger's optimism as more in keeping with the zeitgeist of the 1960s than of the 2010s does not seem wholly unreasonable. Just in stark economic terms, U.S. real median household income peaked back in 1999. The median person in the U.S. has lost quite a lot over the last decade: income, security, access to health care, perhaps social status (as Vlaimir_M pointed out). It isn't unreasonable of them to disbelieve in an improving future.

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

With all due respect, where's the evidence that reading LW/HPMOR trains people in advanced sanity techniques?

It seems reasonably plausible that, for example, Harry's argument with Dumbledore primes people toward "death is bad". If they hang around long enough and read what LW has to say about cryonics, that priming tends some fraction of those people toward subscribing to cryonics, without them learning anything about e.g. Bayes' law.

But I don't know, I don't know the numbers. What's the readership of HPMOR versus Alcor's 2011 signups?

I've been really impressed by the focused cross-pollination between transhumanism and rationality that I see at LW. I am not sure I would agree that increased individual rationality is the direct cause of increased cryonics signups because there are other explanations which seem more likely. As others have noted, this is a rare community where it is not weird, and is highly esteemed, to be signed up for cryonics.

And since humans are (at least in many situations) motivated by social factors more than abstract rational considerations, I expect the social factors to have more explanatory weight. That isn't to say cryonics is not more rational than the alternative of no cryonics! More like this community is one that tries (i.e. individuals are rewarded for trying) to build its standards on rationality, and reject standards which aren't, and cryonics is able to survive that process. If there were something grossly irrational or unethical about cryonics (as is commonly contended), it would not be able to survive very easily in the memesphere of lesswrong.

But this brings us back to the concept of "advanced" rationality. If you can a) keep your community continually pruned of ba... (read more)

It's more valid! It's why we have meet-ups, it's why SingInst runs rationality camps that are highly desired and applied for! (Yes, I agree with you)

It sometimes seems to me that many Lesswrongers seriously underestimate the degree to which they need to first persuade the skeptical to adopt transhumanism/singulatarianism more generally before cryonics is actually going to appear rational to them.

Revival from cryonics that involved growing a new biological body using the original DNA would have the broadest appeal, but accepting this conception of cryonics requires convincing people either a)that we are going to solve our topsoil and other issues that would actually allow us to feed the exploding biological population that would result from mass use of cryonics or b)people should stop having children, neither of which people are likely to accept unless they're already inclined to singulatarianism (for a) or transhumanism (for b).

Revival from cryonics with a cybernetic body is going to seem less appealing to most people unless they've already been convinced that a number of things that are currently inherent in being human are not actually essential to their identity. Revival as an emulation faces the same problem to a vastly greater degree.

TL;DR version – Not accepting transhumanism might be irrational. Not accepting cryonics given that one is not already a transhumanist – not irrational. Lesswrongers should plan their outreach accordingly.

We could just use organ printing to create a new body from the neck down. One of the scientists in this field mentions this as a possibility in an article he published in The Futurist a few years ago, though not in the context of a cryonics revival scenario:

I think this is a good point, but perhaps followers of Lesswrong are signing up for cryonics for basically the same reason ordinary people are not. i.e. it's what high status members of their group do.

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million?

Wow. I don't think I'd heard that one.

I was very surprised to see that too, to the point of questioning whether the result was real, but apparently it is. (The particular result is on page 10 — and possibly elsewhere, I haven't read it through yet.)

Your link doesn't work for me.
Let's be fair: that study was measuring the fraction of people that say they'd take an imaginary $500 over an imaginary 15% chance at an imaginary $1 million. I doubt that most respondents were deliberately messing with the survey results, but I do think that people may use different decision-making resources for amusing hypotheticals vs. for the real world. E.g. the percentage of people getting the Wason Selection Task correct can jump from under 10% to over 70% when you change the task context from more abstract to more concrete. I suspect that for lots of people imaginary money counts as too abstract.
I guess some folks could really use $500.

Assuming you weren't joking, that doesn't seem likely. The PDF Tesseract linked is about surveying college students, primarily, from elite institutions like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, or CMU. They are people one would especially expect to be making the expected value calculation and going with that.

In that case, let's say I was joking ;)

Another painful statistic I ran into during some terrorism research: in investigating US Army personnel choosing between large lump sums and pensions ($25,000-$50,000 range): pg 48 of

Enlisted personnel who were planning on leaving had a nominal discount rate of 57.2%.


I've met that guy-- I was talking about life extension with a random person-- he sounded like he was in his thirties. He didn't want life extension because his life was bad (ordinary job-- he was doing a survey for a bank, and this was probably about ten years ago) and he didn't want more of it and couldn't imagine things being any better.

Working conditions are somewhat better for Europeans (the author writes about a two-week vacation), but they aren't scrambling to sign up for cryonics.

Extended families are great if you're in a good one. My impression is that a fair number of people want to get away from them, but I don't know what the proportion is compared to people in nuclear families.

Michael Vassar had (has?) a theory that the three things which keep people trapped and which keep getting more expensive-- housing, credentialed education, and medical care-- are monopolized.

It would be interesting if, just as work on FAI has led to an interest in improving access to rationality, work on life extension leads to work on improving quality of life.

I like that theory of Vassar's because it fits my personal experience.

I was raised in an extremely religious household which caused me to miss out on advanced education. The internet has alleviated that to a degree, but the credentialed part certainly hasn't been alleviated. By the time I "woke up" from the indoctrination of being raised in such a religious household, I was already approaching 30 years old and relatively unwealthy while at the same time being stuck with the work skills I was taught while growing up...that is construction and remodeling of homes. While I have made the best of that by being self-employed, it certainly has kept me from doing what I really would like to do when I "grow up".

The internet has really been a boon for me as I self educated in software development and am slowly working to transition over to making my living from doing that. That's closer to what I would rather do, but I doubt I'll ever be able to get to the point where I can do what I really would love (research in any of the scientific fields I'm interested in...CS/medicine/AI/physics). At times this can be quite depressing and it feels like the person I was, was wasted.

However, all this makes me more of a fan of cryonics. Second chances and all that.

Cryogenics pretty much isn't AVAILABLE in most of Europe. Not at a price, acceptability, or reliability comparable to the US at least.

6Paul Crowley13y
I'm signed up, and I'm in the UK. The options aren't as good, but you take what you can get.
Why not? Does this seem like a good investment opportunity (for people who actually have money)?
It almost certainly is. I have no idea why nobody have done it, but I'd guess some kind of coordination fail is involved. If you know any European investors you should tip them of on this, it could save lives. It's really annoying not knowing or being the kind of person who can do stuff. My brain seems to generate potential brilliant business plans and million-dollar-ideas at an alarming rate and not having to force myself to forget them all the time so that they wont haunt me with possibilities just out of reach would probably be good for my mental health.
Does it seem that way?
That's what I said. It almost certainly is a thing that seems that way. I don't know if it actually seems that way, and even if it seem that way it might not actually be that way... um, guess I could have expressed that more clearly.

That is an interesting and concerning view. Cryonics makes the usual argument:

  1. You want to live forever
  2. Cryonics has a chance of working
  3. Therefore, you should take out a cryonics policy,

And the average person does not agree with the conclusion. They might not be consciously aware of why they don't want to live forever, but they damn well know that idea doesn't appeal to them. The cryonics advocate presses them for a reason, and the average person unknowingly rationalises when they give their reason - they refuse the second premise on some grounds - scam, won't work, evil future empire, whatever. The cryonics advocate resolves that concern, demonstrates that cryonics does have a chance of working, and the person continues to refuse.

Cryonics advocate checks if they refuse premise 1 - person emphatically responds that they love life not because they actually do, but because it is a huge status hit / social faux pas / Bad Thing (tm) to admit they don't. Actually, their life sucks, and dragging it out forever will make it worse, but they can't say this out loud - they probably can't even think it to themselves.

Wow. It's kinda scary to think that people refusing cryonics is a case of... (read more)

Probably false. People don't find flimsy excuses to refuse conventional life-saving treatments, and non-conventional treatments can become conventional (say, antibiotics). This holds, though less so, even if the treatments cost quality of life and money. I didn't start out liking life, but I seem to be very atypical in that regard (often suffer from anhedonia, for example). But it's more likely that I've moved away from the norm, not toward it, especially since I'm bad at distinguishing norms for X from norms for "X"... shudder Scary. Someone please disprove this.
That logic only holds if there's no cost, or no alternate investment. Currently the cost of cryonics is ~$28,000. If I donated that to GiveWell instead, I'd be saving ~28 lives. The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to. I've given it a lot of thought, and this does appear to be my True Rejection of Cryonics; if I can find a satisfying reasoning to value my immortality over those 28 mortal lives, I'd sign up.

Getting seriously sick of hearing "VillageReach beats cryonics" from people who don't also say "VillageReach beats movies, cars, and dentists. spits out rotten teeth". We do have a few heroes like that here (Rain and juliawise), but if you are not one quit it already.

That would be stupid. If I produce, say, $5,000/year for charity, and a dentist adds even a year of productive life to me, then it's worth $5,000 to go see that dentist. At worst I break even. I don't have a car, but for most people a car probably allows them to get to their job to begin with, so that's $50K+/year in income, vs a $10K used car every few years. Again, you'd have to be really stupid not to think this is a smart investment. A rational person should optimize by getting a high paying job and donating that income to charity, not by skipping the car and working at whatever happens to be otherwise reachable. Movies? Well, I'm an emotional being. This is the place where we do get in to personalities, but for me, personally, if I'm unhappy, my productivity drops. Going to a movie refreshes my productivity. I do better work, don't get fired, and might even make a raise. So for me, personally, it still works out. It's not like I'm spending $1,000/month on these things. And, all that aside, just because I'm not a perfect philanthropist doesn't mean I should automatically default to cryonics. Maybe I should self-modify to sign up for cryonics, or maybe I should self-modify to be more like Rain and juliawise. It's important to ask questions and try and determine an actual answer to that. It's easy to push for cryonics when you genuinely ignore the opportunity costs, but for those of us actually stopping to consider them, a response of "shut up, you're no Rain" is really, amazingly unhelpful. Given that there are 2000 people in the world signed up for cryonics, I think there's a lot more people who have open objections to it, too. If our community's response to "But what about VillageReach?" is really "Oh, like you're so selfless", we are going to lose. Rationalists ought to win. Even if we ignore the practicalities, even if we ignore my personal situation, it's still a damned useful question if we actually care about the rest of the world. And if you want cry

Anger seems to be existing so to get the emotional level out of the way: I'm not attacking you. I think you're cool and I like you. I'm not accusing you of not being a perfect philanthropist, or saying that if you're not one then you deserve blame.

I admit the argument is personality-dependent in an ad-hominem-ish way, but since I got upvoted I think I'm not exclusively being an asshole here. It goes like this: If you're the kind of person who usually takes altruistic opportunity costs into account, then it makes perfect sense that you'd care about that of cryonics. If you're not, then it's more likely than you're saying "VillageReach beats cryonics", not because you tried to evaluate it and thought of altruistic opportunity costs, but because you rejected it for other reasons, then looked for plausible rejections and hit on altruistic opportunity costs.

Would a perfect philanthropist see a dentist, drive a car, and watch movies? Yes, probably and maybe. But the algorithms that Rain and MixedNuts use to decide to watch a movie are completely different, even if they both return "yes". Rain asks "Will this help me make and donate enough money to offset the cost... (read more)

Thank you for the calm, insightful response :) If someone had linked me to a "one and done" article, I'd feel a lot more confident that this is a standard argument with a good/interesting answer. Instead I mostly got responses that seemed to work out to "I'm not a terribly nice person so it was simple for me" and "you're not a terribly nice person so it should be simple for you". If there is a "one and done" you want to link me to, I wouldn't object at all. I've read most of LessWrong, but not much else out there. I don't think I've seen this specific objection addressed before. My mind seems to be weird in a lot of ways. For cryonics, it seems to come down to: cryonics is a far-off future thing, therefore my Planning mode gets engaged. Planning mode goes "I have more money than I need to survive. Why am I being selfish and not donating this?" I'm not real inclined to view this as problematic, because on a certain level charity does feel good, and I like making the world a better place. On the other hand, I also grew up with a lot of bad spending habits, so my short-term thinking is very much "ooh, shiny thing, mine now". I will say that the idea of a $28,000 operation that gives me six more months in a hospice really bothers me - it's a horrifically irrational or selfish thing to think I'm worth that much. If push came to shove, I'm not sure I'd have the courage and energy to refuse social norms and pressure, but the idea bothers me. Eliezer raises a good point, that one can do both, but it implies a certain degree of financial privilege. Thus, there's still the open question of priorities. While psychologically we have "different budgets" for different things, all of those do fundamentally come out of one big budget. When people say "I'd only accept that argument from Rain", it makes me wonder if I should be pursuing cryonics or being more like Rain. It's only very recently that I've had much of any financial flexibility in my life, so I'm trying to figure

If you are currently donating everything you practically can to charity, fair enough, don't sign up for cryonics.

If you think you should but haven't yet, then sign up for cryonics first. As a person with one foot in the future, you're more likely to do what the future will most benefit from. As someone who avoids thoughtful spending because you feel like you should spend it on charity, you'll end up at XKCD 871.

Cryonics only makes the difference between your seeing the future and your not seeing the future if 1) sufficiently high tech eventually gets developed by human-friendly actors, 2) it happens only after you die, 3) cryonics works, 4) nothing else goes wrong or makes cryonics irrelevant. For the median LessWronger, I would put maybe a 10% probability on the first two combined and maybe at most a 50% probability on the last two combined. So maybe at best I'd say something like cryonics gives you two and a half toes in a future where you used to have two toes.
5Paul Crowley13y
I mean "one foot in the future" to refer to your resulting psychological state, not to a fact related to your likely personal future. I think it's pretty unlikely I'll be suspended and reanimated - many other fates are more likely, including never being declared dead. But I think signing up is a move towards a different attitude to the future.
Is this just a plausible guess, or do we have other evidence that it's true, e.g. people spontaneously citing being signed up for cryonics as causing them to feel the future is real enough to help optimally philanthropize into existence?
3Paul Crowley13y
It's a guess.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
If there were a one-and-done answer, I think this'd be it.
(I just love that I can de-escalate drama on LW. This site rocks.) I'll concede that the previous discussions were insufficient. Let's make this place the "one and done" thread. Do you accept that singling out cryonics is rather unfair, not as opposed to all spending, but as opposed to other Far expenses? To do this right we have to look at "How heroic should my sacrifices be?" in general; if we conclude cryonics is not worth the cost in circumstances X we should conclude the same thing about, say, end-of-life treatments. I've tried to capture my intuitions about sacrificing a life to save several; here are the criteria that seem relevant: * Most importantly, whether it pattern-matches giving one's life to a cause, or regular suicide. Idealism is often a good move (reasons complicated and beyond the scope of this), whereas if someone's fine with suicide they're probably completely broken and unable to recognize a good cause. I expect people who run into burning orphanages just think about distressed orphans, and treat risk of death like an environmental feature (like risk the door will be blocked; that doesn't affect the general plan, just makes them route through the window), as opposed to weighing risk to themselves against risk to orphans. I endorse this; the policy consequences are quite different even if they roughly agree on "Kill self to save more" (for example CronoDAS is waiting for his parents to croak instead of offing himself right away). * Whether the lives you trade for are framed as Near or Far. * Whether the life you trade away is framed as Near or Far. (I feel cryonics as Nearer than most would, for irrevelant reasons.) * Whether the lives you trade for are framed as preventing a loss, or reaching for a gain. * Whether the life you trade away is framed as accepting a loss, or refusing a gain. * Whether the life you trade away is mine or someone else's, and who is getting the choice. Note knock-on effects: If someone hears of the Resistanc
spits out rotten teeth

That would be stupid.

That's why I brush and floss every night, and see the dentist every 6 months. Gum disease is linked with heart disease, and damaged teeth create pain. I like to be comfortable.

Though I perform routine maintenance on my life, I try to reduce the cost as much as possible, and when I spend money, I recognize and acknowledge the tradeoffs. It's a simple exercise to create a graph of benefit from lowest to highest, and start plotting things. This makes it easier to remember there are more alternatives.


I just really really dislike the idea of dying. Singing up for cryonics refreshes my productivity.

Heh, I never thought of it that way. Neat :)
Actually, I started flossing just recently. Those little floss picks are inexpensive and work great.

XKCD 871: The problem of scaling the sane use of money is a problem of not crushing people's wills, not a problem of money being a limited resource. It simply isn't true that money spent on cryonics comes out of Givewell's or SIAI's pockets, unless you're Rain, which is why I'll accept that answer from Rain but not from you.

The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to.

I find the answer "be immortal" satisfying, personally. Your mileage may vary.

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion? I'm sort of viewing it as a trolley problem: I can either kill my immortal self, or I can terminate 28 other lives that much sooner than they would have. (I'm also realizing my conclusion is probably "I don't do THAT much charitable to begin with, so let's just go ahead and sign up, and we can re-route the insurance payoff if we suddenly become more philanthropic in the future")

Look at it in terms of years gained instead of lives lost.

Saving 28 lives gives them each 50 years at best until they die, assuming none of them gain immortality. That's 1400 man-years gained. Granting immortality to one person is infinity years (in theory); if you live longer than 1400 years then you've done the morally right thing by betting on yourself.

Additionally, money spent on cryonics isn't thrown into a hole. A significant portion is spent on making cryonics more effective and cheaper for others to buy. Rich Americans have to buy it while it's expensive as much as possible, so that those 28 unfortunates can ever have a chance at immortality.

The game theory makes it non-obvious. Consider the benefits of living in a society where people are discouraged from doing this kind of abstract consequentialist reasoning.

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion?

Evidence is a wrong question, and reasoning not much better. Unless, of course, you mean "evidence and reasoning about my own arbitrary preferences". In which case my personal testimony is strong evidence and even stronger for me given that I know I am not lying.

I prefer immortality over saving 28 lives immediately. I also like the colour "blue".

What epistemic algorithms would you run to discover more about your arbitrary preferences and to make sure you were interpreting them correctly? (Assuming you don't have access to an FAI.) For example, what kinds of reflection/introspection or empiricism would you do, given your current level of wisdom/intelligence and a lot of time?
It's a good question, and ruling out the FAI takes away my favourite strategy! One thing I consider is how my verbal expressions of preference will tend to be biased. For example if I went around saying "I'd willingly give up immortality to prevent 28 strangers from starving" then I would triple check my belief to see if it was an actual preference and not a pure PR soundbite. More generally I try to bring the question down to the crude level of "what do I want?", eliminating distracting thoughts about how things 'should' be. I visualize possible futures and simply pick the one I like more. Another question I like to ask myself (and frequently find myself asked by other people while immersed in SIAI affiliated culture) is "what if an FAI or Omega told you that your actual extrapolated preference was X?". If I find myself seriously doubting the FAI then that is rather significant evidence. (And also not an unreasonable position. The doubt is correctly directed at the method of extrapolating preferences instilled by the programmers or the Omega postulator.)

Rephrasing it as my favorite argument...

"Hey, what's that dorky necklace you're wearing?"
Oh, this? Well, you see, it turned out I was born with a fatal disease, and this is my best shot at overcoming it.
"That necklace will arrest the progress of a fatal disease?"
Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right.
"How much did the necklace cost?"
Oh, about $28,000.
"And what disease is this that you can somehow fight with a $28,000 necklace?"

######"But ... but ... that's not a disease!!!" ######

######Looks like someone gets tripped up by definitions a little too easily...######

Your line "Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right. " is where most people will be put off. It strikes of dishonesty, presumably to yourself. You're saying "definitely" and then clarifying that's it not actually definite. Which indicates that you're not being honest, you're trying to give an incorrect impression. At which point, your idea of what is plausible becomes entirely untrustworthy. Which for a person desperate to find a way to overcome a fatal disease is commonplace.
I agree with what you say, but the rest of the discussion could go essentially unchanged if the line were replaced with "Perhaps, my best estimate of the odds are 1% or so" (which would be my response in an analogous discussion) I think that what seems to me to be the main point of the dialog, is fairly insensitive to a wide range of possible odds for cryonics working.

Have you spent $28,000 on nonessentials for yourself over the course of your life? Most people can easily hit that amount by having a nicer car and house/apartment than they "need". If so then by revealed preference, you value those nonessentials over 28 statistical lives; do you also value them over a shot at immortality?

You have not considered this thoroughly. What are 28 mortal lives for one that is immortal? If I was asked to choose between the life of some being that shall live for thousands of years or the lives of thirty something people who shall live perhaps 60 or 70 years, counting the happy productive hours of life seems to favour the long lived. Of course they technically also have a tiny chance of living that long, but honestly what are the odds that absent any additional investment (which will have the opportunity cost of other short lived people), they have of matching the mentioned being's longevity? Now suppose I could be relatively sure that the long lived entity would work towards making the universe, as much as possible, a place that in which I, as I am today, could find some value in, but of those thirty something individuals I would know little except that they are likley to be at the very best, at about the human average when it comes to this task. What is the difference between a certainty of a two thousand year lifespan, or the 10% chance of a 20 000 year one? Or even a 0.5% chance of a 400 000 year life span? Perhaps the being can not psychologically handle living that much longer, but having assurances that it would do its best to self-modify so it could dosen't seem unreasonable. Why should I then privilege the 28 because the potentially long lived being just happens to be me? Only I can live forever. - is a powerful ethical argument if there is a slim but realistic chance of you actually achieving this.
Genuine question: would you push a big red button that killed 28 African children via malaria, if it meant you got free cryonic suspension? I'm fine with a brutal "shut up and multiply" answer, I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

Ha ha ha. I find it amusing that you should ask me of all people about this. I'd push a big red button killing through neglect 28 cute Romanian orphans if it meant a 1% or 0.5% or even 0.3% chance of revival in an age that has defeated ageing. It would free up my funds to either fund more research, or offer to donate the money to cryopreserve a famous individual (offering it to lots of them, one is bound to accept, and him accepting would be a publicity boost) or perhaps just the raw materials for another horcrux.

Also why employ children in the example? Speaking of adults the idea seemed fine, children should probably be less of a problem since they aren't fully persons in exactly the same measure adults are no? It seems so attractive to argue to argue that killing a child costs the world more potential happy productive man years, yet have you noted that in many societies the average expected life span is so very low mostly because of the high child mortality? A 20 year old man in such a society has already passed a "great filter" so to speak. This is probably t... (read more)

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath. This is so not because this individual is willing to sacrifice others in exchange for improved odds of his own survival (all of us do that every day, just by living as well as we do in the Developed World), but because he revels in it. It is even more ominous that he sees such choices as being inevitable, presumably enduring, and worst of all, desirable or just. Just as worrisome is the lack of response to this pathology on this forum, so far.

The death and destruction of other human beings is a great evil and a profound injustice. It is also extremely costly to those who survive, because in the deaths of others we lose irreplaceable experience, the opportunity to learn and grow ourselves, and not infrequently, invaluable wisdom. Even the deaths of our enemies diminishes us, if for no other reason than that they will not live long enough to see that they were wrong, and we were right.

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind, because it either fails, or is incapable of grasping the value that interaction and cooperation with others offers. It is a mind that is willing to kill children or... (read more)

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath.

I imagine that's the point of writing under a Voldemort persona.

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind

A Dark Lord, no less!

Cryonics has a blighted history of not just attracting a disproportionate number of sociopaths (psychopaths), but of tolerating their presence and even of providing them with succor


I've seen a couple of cases of people disliking cryonics because they see its proponents as lacking sufficient gusto for life, but no cases of disliking or opposing cryonics because there are too many sociopaths associated with it.

For what it's worth, LessWrong has done a pretty good job of firming up exactly that perspective for me. In fairness, I don't mind psychopathic behavior, and I'm still signing up. I've definitely developed a much lower opinion of cryonics advocacy since being here, though.
I'm curious as to what brought you to these conclusions. Can you explain further?
Well, that line captures a lot of it. Eliezer's response was to link me to an XKCD comic. So, thus far, the quality of discourse here has been sociopathic fictional characters and webcomics...
The post by "Voldemort" was an obvious joke/fakepost, though, and Eliezer's comment was on the mark even if he did use a webcomic to illustrate his point...
What makes you so certain that the Voldemort post was a joke, and not simply a sociopath posting on an alternate account to avoid the social consequences of holding such a stance? Certainly, there seem to be quite a few other people here who would pick immortality over saving 28 other lives, if you put the two choices "side by side".

Lots of people choose luxury over saving 28 lives. Doing so may be wrong, but if it's that common, it can't be strongly indicative of sociopathy.

Lots of people let akrasia, compartmentalization, etc. keep themselves from realizing that it's actually a choice. When they're put side by side and the answer is a casual "of course I'd choose my own life", I tend to consider that stronger evidence of sociopathic behavior. That said, yes, I consider most people to exhibit some degree of sociopathic behavior. LessWrong just demonstrates more :)
I'm inclined to agree with steven0461, Actually, this is true even for rather low values of "luxury". I, like tens of millions of other people in the developed world, am a homeowner. Yes, the cost of my (rather modest) home would have saved ~100 lives if I had instead donated it to a maximally effective charity. That isn't what I did. That isn't what the other tens of millions of homeowners did. If you want to count that as sociopathic behavior, fine. But that casts a rather wide net for what would count in that category. Is "sociopathic behavior" even a useful category if it is extended so widely? Is there much behavior left that falls outside it?
The Voldemort account is overtly a role-playing character, which are not that uncommon here (see also: Quirinus_Quirrell, GLaDOS, and Clippy).
It still says something about the author of that character, that they (a) went through the effort of writing that reply and (b) there is not a single reply in the empathic/non-sociopathic direction demonstrating an equal amount of effort. I don't really see the relevance of it being a role-playing character at all - it's hardly incompatible that it's both a RP character and a sociopath who has chosen a sane cover for posting their socially unacceptable views (after all, Voldemort has all of 28 karma; he clearly gets down voted a decent amount) The simple Bayesian evidence is that someone cared enough to write a sociopathic reply that was fairly in depth, and the only non-sociopathic replies were a link to a webcomic and personal preferences of "well, yeah, I'd pick immortality over 28 lives..." Also, lumping Clippy in with clearly fictional characters is just rude ;)
There are easier ways to avoid the social consequences of holding said stance; one of them is to denounce that stance. Another is to fail to comment on the matter. Logging in to an alternate account in order to say something they don't want to be seen saying has a small prior to begin with.
p(Author is a sociopath | Author chose to RP as Voldemort specifically) > p(Author is a sociopath | Author went with a different pseudonym) is my basic assertion here. People who roleplay sociopaths are more likely to be sociopaths - roleplaying Voldemort is a safe outlet for that tendency. That the author is writing Voldemort also seems like evidence for the hypothesis that the author agrees with Voldemort (I'd assume possibly not to that extreme, but who knows). Much the same as everyone assumes that the author behind shokwave agrees with shokwave's writing...
Sure, roleplaying as Voldemort may be evidence for sociopathy, but if I had to estimate how much evidence, I'd call it epsilon. Roleplaying, and humour, is fun. And fun is tempting, especially on the internet.
I've been running campaigns for, wow, 16 years now, and I played intermittently even before then. Roleplaying is not something that is unfamiliar to me. One of the things I've noticed is that, for the most part, people play characters that think like they do. It is difficult for most people to play a well-developed character that doesn't largely agree with their own personal philosophy (playing a simple caricature is much easier, but Voldemort does not strike me as such) If it's only an epsilon of evidence then my life is an absolutely ridiculous statistical anomaly o.o

I play roleplaying games a lot and most of my characters aren't much like me. I've played evil characters, stupid characters, characters who considered violence the first and best answer, religiously devout characters, and a rainbow-obsessed boy-crazy twice-married wizardess who liked to attack her enemies with colors and wear outrageously loud outfits. I'm not evil, stupid, violent, religious, or rainbowy.

I've written fiction with characters of an even greater variety.

I was claiming deeper differences than that.
I was claiming that people like you exist, but are rare. Just like sociopaths exist, but are rare. So given the two possibilities, and knowing only that both groups are fairly rare, it would be silly to assume that someone is probably a good roleplayer instead of a sociopath.
Ah, I see. It wasn't plain to me from the bare link which part of the comment you were pointing at.
Those mostly seem too unlike you, from what I can tell, to be clear examples of someone playing a non-caricature. The exceptions are the devout characters. Looking back on my experience as a deontologist, I don't think it would be too hard to role play many other deontologists, provided the rules were clear enough. So I think those characters are too like you to prove the point either, unless they were devout non-compartmentalized thinkers, i.e. "devout moderates" who aren't in a moderate religion because of lack of faith or willpower or indeed directly because of any other character flaw. I will simply take your word you role play characters who neither think like you do nor are caricatures, You have not lowered the amount I would have to believe you to the level of merely having to believe that you role played the listed characters, because I still have to believe that the characters are good examples, which is not self evident.
Far more people play chaotic evil than can be explained by them being fine with killing people for personal gain. Remember that the point of all this is to substantiate the claim that roleplaying Voldemort is evidence for sociopathy, or lack of empathy. Playing a character that thinks differently isn't quite the same as playing one with different specific moral values, and I don't think the latter is particularly hard. Villains are often portrayed as more rational and driven than the heroes of stories (who usually get most of their wins for free), so it can be easy to identify with them if you're a kind of person who respects those characteristics. That's the "way of thinking" that's attractive. The specific object-level morality is pretty much hot-swappable. (Plus, we wouldn't want to fall victim to the fundamental attribution error on the basis of a single blog comment, I don't think...)
That's interesting.. If my current wizard ever dies, I think I'm going to try playing a psychopathic psion. I think I'd be able to give it a decent go.
I suppose I may have been unclear. There's often a lot of surface differences - my roommate has played a raver, a doctor, and now an AVON sales lady who fights zombies. But at the same time, there's deeper similarities in conversational style, use of language, decision-making methods, and personal preferences that mean they all play fairly similarly (in her case, she loses her temper quickly - for some characters this makes them very verbally hostile, while others move quickly to combat) It does also depend on your audience. Playing a "convincing" sociopath is pretty easy if no one in your group knows a real sociopath. And, of course, there ARE some people who have the knack for truly capturing other mindsets. However, half the books on my shelf are from authors that can't even convincingly write characters of the opposite sex. Maybe Voldemort has sociopathic tendencies. Maybe they're just a good roleplayer. However, I don't think sociopath is really that much rarer than a good, convincing role player.
Why thank you, I do try. Except for stealing everything that isn't nailed down you mean? To step out of character, my regular account has 2000+ karma on LW and I don't think I've been acused of sociopathy before. I guess I'm just that good at hiding it.
Can you expand on that claim? I find this claim to be very shocking.
0handoflixue13y I'll go ahead and keep this to one thread for my own sanity :)

To be absolutely clear, the commenter you are responding to is a troll and a fictional character.

I'm curious as to how you know "Voldemort" is a troll?

LW has a few role-playing characters identifiable by usernames, while others don't appear to be playing such games and don't use speaking usernames. So "Voldemort" is likely a fictional persona tailored to the name, rather than a handle chosen to describe a real person's character.

Who are the other role-playing characters on LessWrong?

GLaDOS started as one, though the account seems to be being used for regular interaction now.
Quirinus Quirrell.

Correct, though I prefer to think of it as using another man's head to run a viable enough version of me so that I may participate in the rationalist discourse here.

True evil geniuses don't reveal their intentions openly. (They also don't post this blog comment.)

LOL! You don't have to be a genius to be evil and, speaking from long, hard and repeated experience, you don't have to be a genius to a great deal of harm - just being evil is plenty sufficient. This is especially true when the person who has ill intentions also has disproportionately greater knowledge than you do, or than you can easily get access to in the required time frame. The classic example has been the used car salesman. But better examples are probably the kinds of situations we all encounter from time to time when we get taken advantage of. I don't know much about computers, so I necessarily rely on others. In an ideal world, I could take all the time necessary to make sure that the guy who is selling me hardware or software that I urgently need is giving me good advice and giving me the product that he says he is. But we don't live in an ideal world. Many people have this kind of problem with medical treatment choices, and for the same reasons. Another, related kind of situation, is where the elapsed time between the time you contract for a service and the time you get it is very long. Insurance and pension funds are examples. Lots of mischief there, and thus lots of regulation. It doesn't take evil geniuses in such situations to cause a lot of loss and harm. And finally, while this may seem incredible, in my experience those few people who are both geniuses and evil, usually tell you exactly what they are about. They may not say, "I intend to torture and kill you," but they very often will tell you with relish how they've tortured others, or about how they are willing to to torture and kill others. The problem for me for way too long was not taking such people seriously. Turns out, they usually are serious; deadly serious.

You don't have to be a genius to be evil

Right, I'm just saying, that's how I know it's not the real Voldemort posting.

in my experience those few people who are both geniuses and evil, usually tell you exactly what they are about. They may not say, "I intend to torture and kill you," but they very often will tell you with relish how they've tortured others,

We may have different standards for "genius"; I don't think I've ever heard of someone who I would classify as both malicious (negated utility function, actually wants to hurt people rather than just being selfish) and brilliant. I also doubt that any such person exists nowadays, because, you see, we're not all dead.

that's how I know it's not the real Voldemort posting.

That's how you know it's not Voldemort posting?

A person who greatly enjoys abducting, torturing, and killing a few people every couple months is plausible, whereas a person who wants to maximize death and pain is much less so. A genius of the former kind does not kill us all.

The people who cause the most damage do it because they have disproportionate power rather than disproportionate knowledge.
Voldemort is the taken name of the main antagonist of the popular fantasy book series Harry Potter. Eliezer Yudkowsky, one of the founders and main writers for, also writes a Harry Potter fanfiction, called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. (HPATMOR) Because of this, several accounts on this forum are references to Harry Potter characters. [edit] Vol de mort is also french for Flight of Death.

I feel obligated to point out that one of the links at the end of the OP was a link to Darwin's review of the last Harry Potter movie; he knows who Voldemort the character is.

I have seen all the movies, most more than once. I have not yet read the books.
I hate to repeat myself but let me ease your mind. Despite the risk of cluttering I even made a posts who's only function was to clear up ambiguity: I thought it was more than probable the vast majority of readers here would be familiar with me. Perhaps I expect too much of them. I do that sometimes expect too much of people, it is arguably one of my great flaws.
Nelson has also managed to get director Errol Morris to make a movie based on his version of cryonics history, which suggests that he may have the last word on his reputation, depending on how the film portrays him.
The ugly truth is that sometimes sociopaths are useful, though you are probably correct in stating that visible and prominent sociopaths that support cryonics hurt it.

There are more malnourished people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa

At least in the IT and call centre industries in the United States, "India" is synonymous with "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing our jobs." Quite a few customers are actively hostile towards India because they "don't speak English", "don't understand anything", and are "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing proper American jobs".

I absolutely hate this idiocy, but it's a pretty compelling case not to try and use India as an emotional hook...

I'd also assume that people are primed to the idea of "Africa = poor helpless children", so Africa is a much easier emotional hook.

It seems Lucid fox has a point. LW isn't that heavily dominated by US based users, also dosen't it seem wise for LW users to try and avoid such uses when thinking of difficult problems of ethics or instrumental rationality?
No, but if my example is going to evoke the opposite response in 10-20% of my audience, it's probably a bad choice :) Conceeded. I was interested in gauging emotional response, though, not an intellectual "shut up and multiply". The question is less one of math and more one of priorities, for me.
(nods) Absolutely. Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me. So I consider judgments that depend on my evaluations of the likelihood (or likely consequences) of something happening to me vs. other people suspect, because applying them depends on data that I know are suspect (even by comparison to my other judgments). But, sure, that consideration ought not apply to someone sufficiently rational that they judge themselves no less accurately than they judge others.

Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me.

Then work towards the immortality of another. Dedicate your life to it.

That points out that people who think cryonics might work but forgo it because of the uncertainty of being bias towards themselves seldom consider committing to not get it for themselves yet provide it for another and then considering the issue while at the same time being a discreet call to join the Death Eaters. I can't help myself but upvote it.
(nods) Yup, that makes more sense.
Ah, even muggles can be sensible occasionally.
And a good thing too, since we're all we've got.
If you donated that to VillageReach, you'd be saving about 28 lives. If you donated that to GiveWell, you'd help them to find other charities that are similarly effective.
Apologies if I was unclear: For "GiveWell", please read "The charity most recommended by GiveWell right now, because VillageReach will probably eventually reach saturation and become non-ideal".
Growing up religious I assumed I'd have a second different (not necessarily better), chance at life, that wouldn't have an expiration date. As I grew up I saw the possibility grew more distant and less probable in my mind. I still feel entitled to at least get a try at a second one. Also for the past few years I generally feel much of the things I vaule will be lost and destroyed and that they are probably objectively out of my reach to try and save. So perhaps a touch of megalomania also plays a role or maybe I just want to be the guy to scream: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"
That's an interesting point. I am signed up for cryonics, but I'm actually rather ambivalent about my life. One major wrinkle is that, if cryonics does succeed, it would almost certainly have to be in a scenario where aging was solved by necessary precursor technologies. For me, a large chunk of my ambivalence is simply the anticipated decline in health as I age. By the same token, existential risks that might prevent me from, for instance, living from age 75 to age 85 tend not to worry me much.
It could also be a revealed preference that they don't like life enough to give their fate completely into the hands of unknown future people, or simply that they don't think the probability of successful cryonics + a good future is high enough to justify the costs.
Actually, when you put the argument for cryonics like this, it kind of sounds like a version of Pascal's Mugging. Perhaps we could call this: Pascal's Benefactor.
It's just Pascal's regular Wager. Edit: I mean, this presentation makes it look like Pascal's Wager. Cryonics is too high-probability to actually be Pascal's Wager.
As MixedNuts pointed out, it's Pascal's Wager - yet you have a point. Putting the argument like this might cause the Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy (which is still one of my favourite posts on this site).
Hm! Someone I know wants to write a post called "Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy", because (the claim is) that post doesn't correctly analyze the relevant social psychology involved when someone is afraid of being seen to commit to a very-possibly-indefensible-in-retrospect position where they predict they'll be seen as to-the-other-person-unjustifiably having chosen a predictably immoral or stupid course of action, or something like that.
See this comment. (Disclaimer 1: it's mine. Disclaimer 2: my objection isn't really about the social psychology involved -- but I think that gives it more right to use the word "fallacy".)
Then it would make sense to call it "Not-taking-social-costs-into-consideration Fallacy" but not "Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy". That post wasn't really about the feasibility of cryonics, it only made claims about the logical validity of comparing the reasoning behind cryonics to Pascal's Wager and that's not something that can be affected by social psychology.

Am I alone in actually liking life? Are the rest of my compatriots so eager to die?

Consider Eliezer's "proof" that he wants to live forever: "I want to live one more day. Tomorrow I will still want to live one more day. Therefore I want to live forever, proof by induction on the positive integers."

The breakdown, of course, is the belief that all tomorrows are the same. Some people realise that youth is temporary, and so don't look forward too much to being 70, because as infirmities crop up life gets less pleasant until they could take it or leave it. So, they like life- when life is good, and realize that life won't always be good. They also view life extension in terms of time-discounted pleasure, and so if they have to regularly starve themselves in order to live longer when they're 70, they won't because overall life pleasure will be lower.

As a young person, I am shocked and horrified by the idea of being 70.

Yet I suspect that when I am 70, I will want to live one more day.

I suspect that when I am 70, I will feel like I've lived a complete life, and it's now more important for other people to be happier than for me to survive longer.
Personally, I will relish the day when I can pass off being a curmudgeon and telling people to sit-and-spin as dementia. And if, by the grace of medical advance, I cannot, I don't see why I'd have much problem with the loss of my excuse.
You are not alone.
For many reasons, revealed preferences point to the answer being "yes", if for some reason you want to model humans as rational.
Even less alone.

This article made me tear up a little. It finally put in words the form of my nightmares.

It might be a good idea to find ways to make this world less of a hell...

But there is one massive oversight in that article. Fiction. Escapism. Videogames. They are getting better and better every day. More entertaining, challenging, absorbing, and gratifying. To the point that some choose to live at the margins of the social system, to be the lowest-status possible besides being an outright vagrant, because, immersed in their fiction, their social status only matters insofar as it can keep them fed and phyically able to interact with the fiction and enjoy it.

That some can be satisfied with this much may not mean they are "insane", as many people say, disturbed and disgusted by this sheer escape of both the rules and the consequences of breaking them. Instead, it may mean that one may actually derive more happiness from regularly saving the world (which is to say, a handful of beloved characters) through fictional avatars, discussing in virtual fora, or reinventing it outright through artistic and literary creation, rather than from actually living in that world.

Sometimes I wonder. Status is zero sum. The extremely long lived are high status (this includes fictional entities such as Gods, Elves or wizards). Cryonics or life extension may just sound like "I'm higher status than you."

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

I'm sure someone has brought this up before, can anyone provide links? I'm afraid I still haven't caught up to the LW culture and am not done with the sequences or catching up on the old debates (which I'm guessing from this thread, is a regular topic) by a long shot.

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

A common reaction; I was reading up on the hostile wife phenomenon for a mini-essay on cryonics, and the quote from Robin Hanson's wife was quite striking (

“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”

(As one commentator on, I think, Katja Grace's blog said - what's so bad about you that you should die?)

I found that article about Robin discouraging. He comes across to me as a geek version of Al Bundy, with 50 more IQ points, an academic job and a wife named Peggy who doesn't respect him. In fact, she holds her husband in so much contempt in the area of cryonics that it wouldn't surprise me if she has plans to cremate his body ASAP after his death to make sure he has no chance of "living forever."

Robin's marriage makes an interesting contrast with the marriage between Robert Ettinger and his second wife Mae. I got to meet Robert and Mae at cryonicist Don Laughlin's ranch near Kingman, AZ in 1994. Robert gave a talk about his history of cryonics activism and how he lacked the sort of personality to have made more of an impact on public opinion. "I'm not a fun guy," he said. Mae interrupted him by saying, "But I think you are!" I could detect genuine admiration for him in that exchange, and it seemed consistent with other things I've heard about the relationship between the two.

Well, that does seem in line with her comment about cremation - she gets the rest of his body. Or did you mean she will frustrate the cryonic suspension and burn the brain as well? Well, that's different. I don't think that'll happen - the article reads as she's made her peace with it. So, I've registered a more general prediction: Robin Hanson’s brain will be cryogenically frozen. (The 2041 date comes from looking at an actuarial table for a 52 year old man and then adding a few years.)
Like women never lie to their husbands. Women have a history of interfering with the menfolk's interest in cryonics, and I don' t see that changing any time soon. In fact, I'd like to run an experiment: What if Alcor and CI both announced that they would no longer accept new female members, but they would tolerate the existing female members as "grandmothered" in? I doubt we'd see any women outside of cryonics motivated enough to challenge that policy by, say, filing a lawsuit for discrimination.
I would.
I'm hesitant to downvote the proposal of a way to put one's beliefs to the test, even a hypothetical one, but I seriously doubt your prediction.
Cryonics organizations can't even give suspensions away. Alcor and Omni magazine (remember that publication?) about 20 years ago offered a contest with a free suspension membership as the prize. As I recall, someone with a disability won the contest, but he didn't follow through with the arrangements and didn't respond to efforts to communicate with him. About 30 years ago, Mike Darwin offered the science fiction writer Frederik Pohl a free suspension, which he refused despite having written a novel and some other things about cryonics in the 1960's. So do you think we'd see "reverse psychology" at work by forbidding women from joining, with the effect of getting them interested in cryonics for the same reasons they've wanted to invade the other male-dominated social spaces they associate with power? Or would the discrimination just reinforce something they don't want to do anyway?
I don't know if it would make any women want cryonic preservation who didn't want it already, but I'm sure it would anger plenty of women aside from those who wanted cryonic preservation in the first place.. It's arbitrary discrimination. You don't have to want to attend a country club to be angry that other people want to keep you out.
Well that's the trick isn't it? Convincing people to sign up for something because another group says they shouldn't even if it takes money, many of us have sworn to avoid similar mind-hacks but the ones who haven't may find something to use here.
If you were to actually attempt that approach, I think you'd get a reduction in signups because it would make cryonics seem even more cultish and anathema to mainstream norms, reducing the number of potentially amenable people who would consider it at all.

There are plenty of dark arts to choose from other than those relating to scarcity. To reduce the perception of cultishness around an idea, raise awareness of cultish groups that oppose it, and count on people mistaking reversed stupidity for intelligence and being repelled by the negative halo.

Like so.

Alternately, just use a Boombox
No, see, what you do is you have one cryonics group forbid women, and the rest of them make a lot of noise about how the first group is a bunch of jerks and don't speak for the community at all. The first group takes a status hit, yeah, but the other groups get a nice status boost, and the whole thing generates a fair bit of attention - and high-quality, 'this relates to me personally' attention, at that - if done right.
Interesting, if i ever attempt it ill take that into account :)
Can't speak for anyone else, but I would find it terribly irritating. Would also wonder how much money I could get off a lawsuit. I am not yet sure if cryonics would be helpful in living to my maximum lifespan (which I would like to be as long as possible), but I certainly don't think this proposal sounds reasonable. Also, how would it make sense to stop offering cryonics to women who decide to get the procedure in order to punish women who don't? And wouldn't that also punish husbands with wives who agree to be placed in cryonics with them? And if you are only postulating stopping unmarried women from joining, rather than women who have husbands who also want to join, again how does this punish these people you dislike who would probably only smile smugly at the news and think "well at least that's a few less people who can try for immortality!" These women aren't really any different from a large number of men who say they object to cryonics mainly because they think immortality is wrong (I don't really think this objection makes any sense, but a lot of people seem to think this way). The only difference is that they happen to be married to men who want this procedure. And if one or the other seriously thinks this disagreement is a problem, maybe they need to end the relationship.

This is an important issue, a form of slavery that persists in present times without attracting comparable attention and condemnation, but bad as an explanation for low popularity of cryonics, since a sizeable fraction of population doesn't have this problem.

Eliezer has said something wise on exactly this point...somewhere. It is somewhat in contention with what you say here, or at least how you say it. If your foundational principle that you program into in AI is that slavery is bad, taxes become impossible to collect. So arguing against something by saying that it is qualitatively slavery is suspect, akin to arguing against food because it is qualitatively cyanide. An argument against apples should have to enumerate the quantity of cyanide in the pits and the lethal dose to humans. I'd rather say current work conditions have specific negative qualities, or if the best way to bring them to mind is with "slavery", then be careful to say it is bad because it is too much slavery, rather than bad because it is slavery. Edit: it was Yvain who said it here
While I agree that the discussion could better be furthered by tabooing slavery, I think there is a much stronger analogy here than there is between, say, slavery and paying taxes. For example, in theory, taxes constitute a high level social agreement to pursue certain goals which benefit all people, executed by an entity that fairly represents the collective interest. (obviously in practice this is a bit different.) In a perfect world, I envision myself willingly paying taxes to a law-enforcing singleton. This seems decidedly unlike "slavery." However most people's day to day jobs are: * Not chosen by them * Required for their economic well-being * Take up the vast majority of their time * Have no autonomy in the work * Basically all of the wealth they create is transferred to their employer Slavery in the historic sense essentially had these characteristics, although in the sense of slavery in the historic USA it was often coupled with things like physical abuse and an intense loss of legal standing; and while desk jobs are harmful to one's health and the rich certainly have a different legal standing than the working poor I don't think that this makes for a good comparison.
Since when do people not choose their jobs or spend the vast majority of their time at work? Even the classic "nine-to-five grind" uses only a third of the day (discounting travel time), and none of the day on weekends.

Rather than saying something from memory, I am going to go through my facebook friends list and tally all of the people that I know that are at jobs simply because they were the only job the person could find. I will also tally people who, due to overtime, strange shifts or stress from work, spend most of their waking time at work, preparing for work, or recovering from work. I will exclude persons that I do now know well enough to know all of this information about, and persons that I know to be on gap years or otherwise temporarily-unemployed-by-choice.

Of 75 persons whose employment status I was familiar with and was not temporary, 17 have jobs that they are in because it is the only job they can get. Five have jobs that, due to odd scheduling or stress, take up the majority of their waking hours. A further 49 I met in college, probably over 40 of these I met in graduate school. Because only about a third of developed world citizens have a college degree and less than 10% of US citizens have advanced degrees (I pulled these figures off wikipedia without looking into them too heavily).

So if I normalize my experience for demographics: ~40 graduate degrees, 2 people with jobs ... (read more)

168 hours a week, minus 56 hours sleeping, leaves us with 112 waking hours. If we spend 11.2 hours per workday dealing with work, lunch, and commutes (say, an hour commute each way, an hour lunch, and an 8 hour shift) then it's actually entirely possible for work to have managed to eat half our waking hours.

Even for a regular 30 minute commute and 30 minute lunch, you're still looking at 9.5 hours of work time vs 6.5 hours of personal time during your waking hours.

Work really does consume a huge fraction of our time and energy.

Good points here-- I hadn't considered commute, as I am blessed with a few solid jobs that let me work from home. This post definitely made me think about the whole conventional work schedule and how it can affect people's lives.
Was Eliezer really embracing taxes as good, here, as you imply? Seems like more of a consistency argument against taxes.
From a consequentialist point of view, it's not obviously invalid to say no taxes should ever be collected. Humans naturally think in terms of rules, your term "consistency" was a fine one. Hence, in the real world, the consequences of things include how they interact with this delusional proclivity of ours. For this reason, the slippery slope argument is often not a fallacy. As used it often is a fallacy when an arguer is sufficiently mistaken about the degree to which we think in terms of rules. "If you allow barbers to cut hair, before you know it they'll be marauding through the streets, dismembering people!" For us humans, it may be valid to say that we should never collect any tax ever (or, as is popular, any income tax ever), as if one begins to collect any, a line will be crossed in our minds, and we will then collect too much than is good, and be worse off than if none had been collected. This would at least be a coherent libertarian argument, one that would be worthy of some consideration. In contrast, to claim that for each good or service anyone ever produces, has produced, or will produce, there is no level of tax greater than zero that would have optimal consequences if collected, if only we didn't think non-reductively in terms of rules, would be a monumentally ambitious claim. It is possible that only our rule based thinking is making certain otherwise good actions bad. To the extent this is the case, we should overcome our bias, not embrace it and cater to it by pretending accommodating it is the best we can do if it isn't in fact the best we can do. As it doesn't naturally occur to people to apply their pro-tax (which means pro-some tax, some of the time) outlook to endorse actually harmful slavery, it is invalid to raise the consistency argument as a reason to abolish taxation. "Embracing taxes as good" is a confusing phrase, one with which I think you are intentionally confusing others or have accidentally confused yourself. Yes, he was "em
I accept that you found it confusing, though I'm not sure that the analogy with the phrase "embracing killing as good" is on target. I certainly had no intention of meaning anything other than "embracing some level of taxation as acceptable". I don't really want to have an argument about whether some taxes are good, so I'm willing to stipulate for this conversation that it may be that some are, but I did find this interesting: I note that the only way to make this sentence true was to include "actually harmful", a phrase which handily excludes any types of slavery it naturally occurs to people to argue for, such as the draft or prison labor.
I have either changed my mind or had inexcusably poorly worded my thoughts. I think you were accidentally sneaking in negative connotations, but do not think you intend to confuse or are confused by this phrase. My analogy to killing was fantastic, but if you are a deontologist, it is not because this particular phrasing with its strong incorrect connotations has confused you. Categorical thinking leads to the same sort of problem in each case. If you like, they are in the same logical category and the large difference in connotations etc. shows why it isn't practical to try and align moral intuitions with logical categories.
When I thought about the issue, the phrase you used did not come to my mind as it seems to me to imply too much. Total quantity of taxation in a society is an important factor, but not as much as other structural arrangements. That is to say, your phrasing with the word "level" offended my libertarian sensibilities, which entertain tax schemes such as only taxing imported luxuries, for which the word "level" seems inappropriate; in my opinion "level" to strongly connotes rates oriented around less differentiated categories, and implies that the most important factor is the amount, whereas in my mind the amount of taxation in society is less important than how it is distributed. Even setting aside issues of proportion paid per class, whether taxes are levied on income or spending, whether they are passed on to consumers or put upon them directly, these are issues I think important. As I believe there to be many important variables distinguishing one tax from another, it is not surprising that I think some combination of those variables produces a good outcome, as there is so much theoretical space for a good solution to be in, as against if I thought the only important thing were, say, tax as a percentage of GDP, in which case it would be more plausible to say no outcome is favorable, because there would only need to be a one-dimensional search along the "how much" axis. The particular problem for the "taxation is slavery" position that I was thinking of is the lack of boundary between taxes and fees that mirrors the lack of boundary between taxation and slavery, though it is on a different axis. In general, the absolutist position that defines things within a category as bad has these boundary problems. One can change the terms of how the government, directly or indirectly, takes and spends money and one subtle change at a time gradually make something once best described as a "fee" become better and better characterized by the word "tax". One could respond by say
I may have a longer response later, but I just want to point out that since no one would suggest that all conceivable taxes are good, the phrase "embracing taxes as good" does not have the connotation you imply I was assigning to it. ( I'm... startled (!) that deleting doesn't delete. I guess that must have been thrown out in the redesign, but I hadn't noticed it until now.)
Unless lack of existential happiness is considered as a factor in determining public perception of immortality and cryonics. Existentially happy people then make decisions based on that public perception.

(Copying over my comment from there)

For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Indeed. It takes a lot of willpower to live from day to day. I am reminded of Hal Finney’s article announcing his ALS diagnosis, Dying Outside ( ):

Although ALS is generally described as a fatal disease, this is not quite true. It is only mostly fatal. When breathing begins to fail, ALS patients must make a choice. They have the option to either go onto invasive mechanical respiration, which involves a tracheotomy and breathing machine, or they can die in comfort. I was very surprised to learn that over 90% of ALS patients choose to die. And even among those who choose life, for the great majority this is an emergency decision made in the hospital during a medical respiratory crisis. In a few cases the patient will have made his wishes known in advance, but most of the time the procedure is done as part of the medical manage

... (read more)
I think refusals come from people not foreseeing returning to their set points (like they overestimate the benefits of winning the lottery). As of right now, I don't think Ebert needs willpower, or even thinks "Darn, this sucks" whenever he has to do something related to his disabilities.

Not wanting MORE years of this shit was my main reason for not wanting to sign up for cryonics. I may be shifting my view on that, slowly.

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement. Possibly, things would have changed so much that being nice to you wouldn't work (e.g., none of your friends are revived, your significant other was revived along with married partners of five or so permutations of physical sexual configurations and orientations, etc. It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement.

That actually sounds pretty accurate.

It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

I actually end up having the opposite reaction. I LIKE my life. The life I'm living right now. If I die tomorrow, I will be upset in the moments leading up to it, not because I wanted to continue existing, but because I am emotionally entangled with the events occurring now.

What cryonics offers is not an extension of life in a way that I care about, but rather, knowledge of the future. I am very curious about the future, and have considered cryonics just so I could see how things turned out. But that curiosity is not infinite utility in the way most cryonics advocates consider immortality to be. And I'd rather use my life insurance policy to help bring about a good future than have a chance at seeing that future.

It seems to me that most life-saving medical procedures are done at the time of need. People tend not to get their appendix removed "as a precaution", and the most preventative care I can think of is an annual visit and vaccinations (and somehow we have managed to get a small segment of the population stupid enough to start protesting even that...)

I have no clue what the numbers are, but how many people actually have a will? A medical directive? Actively engage in preventative care before they have a problem? How many people go so far as to invest a large sum of money in advance, to ensure their health?

The most I've heard of is basic lifestyle changes: exercise more, eat healthy, regular checkups. In a different vein, setting up a will or an advanced medical directive. That's it. I can't think of a single example of someone spending $10,000 today, in order to prevent something ten years down the road.

Women with a high hereditary risk of breast cancer sometimes opt to have both their breasts removed pre-emptively. People take statins and blood pressure drugs for years to prevent heart attacks. Don't you have eye tests and dental checkups on a precautionary basis? There's plenty of preventative medical care. Maybe the availability and marketing varies between countries - the fact that you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health suggests you're from the US or another country with a bad healthcare system. My country has a national health service which takes an interest in encouraging preventative medicines like statins, helping people give up smoking, and so on, since that saves it money overall. I'm sure the allocation of preventative care is far from ideal and shaped by political and social factors and drug company lobbying, but it does exist. It would be a bad tradeoff to go through painful appendectomy to prevent the small chance that you might get appendicitis (and you can get your appendix removed when it's actually infected, and the appendix may have an evolutionary function acting as a reservoir of gut bacteria, and it can also be used to reconstruct the bladder).
I tend to view there as being a strong difference between "go for a 2 hour checkup" and "invest $28K in cryonics". I wasn't aware of the pre-emptive breast removals, though, that would definitely qualify as the sort of thing I was looking for - and I still wonder how common it is, amongst people who would benefit. I'm not aware of any country whose socialized healthcare pays for cryonics, so cryonics is certainly an out-of-pocket cost. If I'm wrong, please let me know so that I can move ASAP :) That does make me wonder if cryonics is a harder sell in countries with socialized healthcare, just because people aren't used to having to pay for healthcare at all. The US, at least, is used to the idea of spending money on that scale.
When I said "you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health" I was obviously referring to preventative medical interventions, which is what you were actually asking about, not cryonics. The breast/ovarian cancer risk genes are BRCA 1/2 - I seem to remember reading that half of carriers opt for some kind of preventative surgery, although that was in a lifestyle magazine article called something like "I CUT OFF MY PERFECT BREASTS" so it may not be entirely reliable. I'm sure it's not just a tiny minority who opt for it, though. I'm sure there are better figures on Google Scholar. If you consider the cost of taking statins from age 40 to 80, in total that's a pricy intervention. Maybe the lack of people using expensive preventative measures is because few of them exist - or few of them have benefits which outweigh the side-effects/pain/costs - not that people don't want them in general. If there was a pill that cost $30,000 and made you immune to all cancer with no side effects, I'm sure everyone would want it. I think the real issue is that people don't consider cryonics to be "healthcare". That seems reasonable, because it's a mixture of healthcare and time travel into an unknown future where you might be put in a zoo by robots for all anybody knows.

My impression of all sorts of people is that they have lots of pleasure on a daily minute-to-minute level from lots of sources. (Not every minute, but often enough to consider themselves happy if you ask them superficially when they're in a good mood.) However, the emphasis on existential happiness is spot-on. Most people don't even think about existential happiness, but you can measure it in what they do. I think the bad choices people make over and over (the first teen pregnancy, then the second one, not arriving to work on time when they most need the job) is evidence that they feel fatalistically unhappy and at some level are passive-aggressively sabatoging what is at core a crappy life. This latter bit is from U.S. culture. I don't remember what it was like in Europe at the moment (though I might hypothesize that a certain cultural cynicism is actually protective and comforting) and I think some Eastern Europeans I've met have a culture that existential happiness is unobtainable or meaningless and they are strong for that and I fail to interpret what seemed like ennui or indifference in some African families I spent time with.

Personally, I'm highly motivated and I think I mak... (read more)

That's interesting about not letting yourself feel too happy. Is preventing a rude shock which may not happen (you could die suddenly or anti-aging tech could be developed) worth putting the brakes on feeling happy? I've realized that one reason [1] I don't reliably allow coordinated joint mobility in T'ai Chi is that it doesn't feel natural/allowable for me to feel that good. I'm not sure what's behind that. [1] The other reason is that it takes a lot of mental focus to change movement habits.
Perhaps. I make a lot of choices that are aimed to mitigate the negatives[1] I anticipate of being older. Other reasons that I do it are to just keep a balanced whole-lifetime perspective and curb manic tendencies. [1] I wanted to add that this doesn't mean I anticipate mostly negatives. In any case I feel that since being older relative to my current self might last for decades I should focus on that self more than people seem to. I must look into coordinated joint mobility ... would it feel as good for anyone?
I think it would feel good for anyone, but I'm not sure what proportion of people already have it. Anyone who's a natural athlete would have it. "Coordinated joint mobility" is what I what I came up with to call what my teacher is trying to teach me. I don't know whether it's got a standard name. The general idea is that skilled movement involves moving at least a little through a lot of joints. If people are unsure of what they're doing, they'll try to simplify the process by moving as few joints as possible. (The Frailty Myth, a book about women and sports, has somewhat on the subject-- there've been studies on how people learn to throw, and it turns out that "throwing like a girl" (throwing from the shoulder instead of involving the whole body) is exactly equivalent to throwing like someone who's unskilled at throwing.) Feldenkrais Method is very good for preventing some of the effects of aging. The idea is that if you don't use part of your movement repertoire, you forget you have it. Feldenkrais has gentle repeated movements that remind you of your range of possibilities.

If humankind survives long enough for upload/immortality to become possible, then the living people of that time, or the recently dead, will do equally or better for the task than long frozen corpses. Yes the technology may quickly develop and be able to upload frozen brains, but it is not required.

I do not agree with calculations linearly summing the worth of immortal beings. My guess is that the return will quickly saturates: once you have a being that is willing and capable to improves itself, no more uploads are required. The immortal being can acquire... (read more)

Would it change your mind if the resource cost per person goes down the more people do it? That is something that is not true of people driving a Hummer -- or burial in a graveyard for that matter.
Yes, if large economy of scales changes the situation before I die, I may change my mind. Here are some points that may help identify the source of the disagreement. 1. For a given amount of resources, the benefits of cryonics have (among other things) to be compared to the benefits of increasing the probability to reach the technological level enabling the upload (i.e. before extinction of the specie). 2. The utility of uploading 10^10 people is not 10 times greater than the one of uploading 10^9 people. 3. If part of a transhuman being to which I have not been uploaded happens to turn out as I would have myself, then I am already there.

It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society.

Disproportionate compared to ... what? Criminals, as in people who get convicted, are a pretty dim group overall.

If his point was that all else being equal "social coping skills" are valued in society, well duh. Humans are social animals. I however suspect this particular formulation was used because it (I believe falsely) implies t... (read more)

It's a well documented trend that criminals in jail for committing more serious crimes, especially the sociopaths and murderers, are generally of higher average individual intelligence (as measured by things like IQ tests) compared with the local population in which they live. And that's just the criminals that get convicted. (Although street crime, on the other hand, tends to have bellow-average IQ perpetrators.) Studies have also found that areas with populations of lower average intelligence tend to have more crime, but that's a very different statement entirely.
Huh? That sounds like it calls into questions the implications of the first study- if an IQ 90 person gets arrested for murder in an IQ 85 neighborhood, that has very different implications from an IQ 120 person getting arrested for murder in an IQ 115 neighborhood.

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon. He presents the most impassioned cryonics arguments I have seen. In particular the AIDS activism post is something I could recommend to anybody including die-hard cryonics haters.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

To me the reason conventional wisdom treats cryonics with disdain may be summed up in two cultural memes: 1.) Walt Disney's frozen head and 2.) Ted Williams's frozen head. The disdain is like a fashion consensus. I doubt we... (read more)

The reason I haven’t posted here before is that I’ve had no burning reason to, and I’m busy.

While there are many discrete reasons why cryonics hasn’t been (more) successful, the single biggest reason is the most obvious one; it has not been demonstrably shown to work. If suspended animation were a demonstrated reality tomorrow, and it was affordable (i.e., not like spaceflight, which is demonstrably workable, but not yet affordable) then the tide would be turned. Even then, it is unlikely there would be any kind of flash-stampede to the freezers.

A schoolmate and friend of mine just died a few weeks ago of pulmonary fibrosis. He was an ideal candidate for a lung transplant. But, he couldn’t afford it, so he just laid there and died. Thousands of people who need transplants die each year, even though it is a proven modality of treatment that is yielding a significant number of quality years of life. But, it is costly, there aren’t enough donors, and here’s the really remarkable thing, the vast majority of people who could benefit from a transplant are never even candidates.

Consider Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway: In 19... (read more)

Could you clarify this notion of a group of people who exist independently of labels? Perhaps a name that Frankl used to classify them? I have found nothing online about it. This jives relatively well with one way I classify people. I imagine what would happen if I were to suddenly take them out of their life and drop them in a city across the country without friends or family and less than a grand on their person. I think most people I know would find it incredibly taxing. A relative minority would simply take in their surroundings and start building again.

Frankl didn't provide a nomenclature. His book was useful to me because it alerted me to what I was (and am), and also offered a reasonable explanation of the nature of so many of the people I found myself involved with in cryonics. Frankl observed that those people who lived independently, not just independently of the labels others put on them, but also of their roles and purpose (internal as well as external) in their social world, had in common a certainty of purpose and meaningfulness in their lives. For Frankl, those things were god and love - principally love for his wife. But this was clearly not the case for many others who survived. Their purpose might best be described as an imperative to always live and grow, and to gain knowledge and experience. A purpose that was rooted in the very nature of their being, or in their experience of reality. For whatever reason, these people understood that there is no universe without me, and that because I know from experience that life can be good, I must continue and pursue more of it. Frankl was not thrilled about this cohort, and he famously remarked, "The best of us did not survive." Frankl has little to say to me beyond... (read more)

There have been studies of resilient people.

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon.

I'm glad to hear that; that was one of the goals - to introduce LW to Darwin a bit.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

LW is a very recent thing. Darwin got involved in cryonics in, like, the 1960s. It's not surprising if, as he began polishing and dumping online what sometimes feels like decades of material, he didn't do so on some popular new transhumanist website; so there may be nothing there to explain. If there was, it may be that Darwin differs philosophically from LW in general (certainly Yudkowsky has vociferously criticized the excerpted post).

& then I found this on Darwin's site: google ngram research on cryonics Specifically he has a graph of "cryonics" (the word) citations in all periodicals scanned by google up to February 2011 versus time and it appears the most talked about item in the history of cryonics, ever, may well be Ted Williams's frozen head. He has a photograph of Williams in his article. (& also I had never heard of this google ngram thing before and it looks remarkable.)
Yeah, N-gram can give some interesting insights. I used it for anime the other week.

Got me wondering about a charity that signs up important (mostly in the sense of being interesting) people for cryonics: the charity would work on convincing them and covering the cost.

Many important people have been offered no-cost cryopreservation and rejected it, the most relevant of which is the sci-fi author who had written books about cryopreservation.
For the record, he believed in reincarnation, and probably not in the sense of Belief in Belief.

It's not clear to me whether I should spend this sum of money (considering opportunity cost etc.) on potentially cryopreserving myself or reducing existential risk or making some other charitable contribution or actually passing on substantially more of my money to my relatives or whatever else. Namely, I'm not sure how to estimate the probability of actually being revived at some point. It might help to determine the probability of legally "dying" in such a way as to be around people during death or "dying" only a short time before whi... (read more)

Mitchell Porter wrote something with a similar message.

"life's a bitch and then you die" -Young Sinatra III (

That's a Nas sample. You might like Illmatic.

So, to summarize, people don't want to live forever because life sucks so why would you want any more of it?

And yet, people seem to put a lot of effort into other life-extension technologies, like diet and exercise and medicine and health-and-safety. 

It seems that people can and do go to great effort to live an extra year or two. It's years in the distant future that they don't want. 

My own aged parents have put a very lot of effort into not getting killed by COVID this year, but they're resistant to the idea of cryonics to the point where I've stopped badgering them about it. They actually believe me that it might work, they just don't want to live forever.  The best argument I can get out of them is that the idea of living forever 'seems a bit American'. 

I think that main reason is actually somewhat different. Let's remove one aspect from the cryonics proposal : "far future" part. Then it will sound something like that:

A new sort of emergency medical procedure is developed. After complete cessation of brain activity, body is frozen with liquid nitrogen and operation using is performed. Then patient awakes alive and healthy next Friday, or no body to speak of is left for funeral. Estimated chances for success are single-digit percents, and cost several tens of thousands dollars.

How many people... (read more)

From too much love of living,
    From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.

"The Garden of Proserpine", Swinburne

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present. I am unconvinced that people being dissatisfied with their current lives is a significant reason for rejecting this procedure. Then again, it might take more evidence to convince me simply because even when I am dissatisfied with my current life, I still think life is far too short. I am more interested in methods of life extension that have more research behind them (alas, so little seems to be known at present... (read more)

I'm not sure if this comment will stand for long here, because the questions I'm about to ask are probably mostly of interest just to me. Christina, wen you say you'd be more interested in funding "life extension research,"(LER), I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically? What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan? When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost? How long do you think it is likely that advances in LER will be able to extend your lifespan - including as incremental bridges to increasingly better technologies? Finally, how much of your income are you currently contributing to LER, and if I could ask, to what kinds of LER are you contributing money? Many thanks. I'm really quite interested in the answers to these questions. As an aside, I'd be fascinated to conduct a comprehensive survey of lesswrong members to establish the demographics not just with respect to cryonics and LE, but across the board, and in a robust way.
Most of LessWrong would be fascinated too, I daresay! We've had a few attempts at surveys previously; nothing extremely rigorous and (as far as I recall) usually only focused on already-outstanding features - so we might be missing an opportunity to discover surprising regularities in our makeup.

I can't speak to your situation, per se. I can only tell you that in my experience (managing and marketing in both the for-profit and NPO sectors), comprehensive demographic information was very valuable. Since I don't know the agenda of LessWrong in detail, I can't say if, for instance, knowing the income distribution and the markers for charitable giving amongst LessWrongers would be of use. These typesof data help you to define the kinds of projects you can reasonably hope to fund, and thus reasonably hope to market to your demographic. Markers for giving were very reliable in my experience - today, given the economy, I don't know.

Beyond money, a well constructed survey will almost invariably reveal all kinds of insights, not just about your members, customers or readers, but about your own operation - how it is perceived, what people like but aren't getting, and sometimes, insights into your own psychology and approach that you didn't previously have. The key words here are "well designed," because it is surprisingly hard to do a comprehensive survey and get most of the questions you that you want answered, answered. And to avoid bias in the way the questions are ph... (read more)

I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically? My vision of life extension is something that allows maximum and average lifespan to increase significantly. The most effective way to do this would be to cure aging. Also I think drastically increasing the effectiveness for heart disease, cancer treatments, and Alzheimer's will be important (although these might also be significantly decreased by any treatment that reverses the aging process itself). I think the mechanism that will eventually drastically increase human lifespan should ultimately be some sort of nanotechnology that can repair damage to the cells. I think Aubrey de Grey may have some good ideas on what to repair from what I've read about his work (Mostly what I know about his research is in the Ending Aging book he wrote with Michael Rae, and from various internet articles). What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan? I don't think that any current technologies are likely to help for anything except possibly modestly increasing my lifespan by perhaps a couple decades at best. On the other hand, given the rate at which medicine is advancing, I feel some optimism that this could increase in my lifetime. I continue to watch advances in this area with great interest. When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost? I don't really know, but I hope that there will be something I can take advantage of in my lifetime. Since I am very risk averse, I prefer to invest in medical interventions that are better understood. I prefer to avoid ones that are poorly understood, given that they could make my situation worse instead of better (by definition, if they don't work, they have made my situation worse since they have drained some amount of time and resources from me.) On the other hand, I am open to the idea of putting some money into making poorly
There was a fairly in-depth LW survey a couple years back.
Effectively unknown more than effectively zero. The latter makes it sound like you're expecting revivals to have already happened to demonstrate that it works. Or that you have some other positive information that allows you to conclude that people cryopreserved today will never be revived.
Well, I do think that someone has to be revived to demonstrate it works. This is not the same as saying that cryonics as it is practiced today couldn't work. Something can still work even if it hasn't been demonstrated, but to be demonstrated to work, it has to have already been done. However, I understand why you might want to try it even if it hasn't been demonstrated, given the potential for benefit. So I still say that the success rate is zero at present, but this number has the potential to go up in the future. I do not equate success rate with probability of success. The probablility of success is unknown.
Something is known about it, and correct decision depends on its value, so by making a decision you implicitly estimate its value. See I don't know, logical rudeness and Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence.
Yes, I certainly do know things about cryonics. I know it is a process where those who are currently considered deceased can have their bodies preserved at extremely low temperatures. I know this is done with the hope of reviving those people in the future. I recently learned that I could probably afford it, which was not something I knew before. I also recently learned that cryonics techniques preserve more fine detail than they once did. In fact, both of the things I learned push up the probability that this procedure might be useful to me. Unfortunately, the probablity of success is still unknown. This is because the utility of the procedure is largely determined by a.) what information we need to preserve to preserve personality and memories and b.) changes in technology, culture, and the physical environment in the future. What do I know about what we need to preserve personality and memories? Well, we need the brain. We need cells in the brain and their connections. What parts of cells? I have no idea. Do neurotransmitter states matter? Again, I have no idea. Is the brain like RAM--do we need to keep a constant current, however small and disorganized, to keep it viable? Good question--but I don't know the answer. What I don't know about neuroscience vastly dwarfs what I do. This is because a.) I am not a neuroscientist and b.) even neuroscientists currently know very little about how the brain works, although they know considerably more than I do. What about b.)? How will technology change in the future? My guess is that it becomes more advanced, but in what way? Well, that depends on people's priorities, which depends on culture, which is extremely unpredictable. I did not expect, when I was a child, that by the time I became an adult, computers would be involved in nearly every aspect of my life. I also did not predict any of the stock market crashes, any of the wars that occurred, or any of the natural disasters that occurred. My approach to planning for
This is very similar to my primary objection to cryonics. I realize that, all factors considered, the expected utility you'd get from signing up for cryonics is extremely large. Certainly large enough to be worth the price. However, it seems to me that there are better alternatives. Sure, paying for cryonics increases your chances of nigh-immortality by orders of magnitude. On the other hand, funding longevity research makes it more likely that we will ever overcome aging and disease. Unlimited life for most or all of the future human population is far more important than unlimited life for yourself, right? (One might object that life extension research is already on its way to accomplishing this regardless of your contributions, which brings me to my next point.) If an existential risk comes to pass, then no one will have a chance at an unlimited life. All of the time and money spent on cryonics will go to waste, and life extension research will have been (mostly) squandered. Preventing this sort of risk is therefore far more important than preserving any one person, even if that person is you. To make matters worse, there are multiple existential risks that have a significant chance of happening, so the need for extra attention and donations is much greater than the need for extra longevity research. To summarize: Cryonics gives you alone a far bigger chance of nigh-immortality. Working to prevent existential risk gives billions of people a slightly increased chance of the same. It seems to me we shouldn't be spending money on freezing vitrifying ourselves just in case a singularity (or equivalent scientific progress) happens. Instead, we should focus on increasing the chances that it will happen at all. To do anything else would be selfish. ---------------------------------------- Ok, time to take a step back and look at some reasons I might be wrong. First, and perhaps most obviously, people are not inclined to donate all their money to any cause, no mat
This does not seem to me to be a very solid objection. Cryonics doesn't depend logically on that even being possible. Agreed. It may be a reason, but I don't think it is the main reason.
The success rate of not-cryonics is a guaranteed zero. I'd go with cryonics.