It is obvious that many people find cryonics threatening. Most of the arguments encountered in debates on the topic are not calculated to persuade on objective grounds, but function as curiosity-stoppers. Here are some common examples:

  • Elevated burden of proof. As if cryonics demands more than a small amount of evidence to be worth trying.
  • Elevated cost expectation. Thinking that cryonics is (and could only ever be) affordable only for the very rich.
  • Unresearched suspicions regarding the ethics and business practices of cryonics organizations.
  • Sudden certainty that earth-shattering catastrophes are just around the corner.
  • Assuming the worst about the moral attitudes of humanity's descendants towards cryonics patients.
  • Associations with prescientific mummification, or sci-fi that handwaves the technical difficulties.

The question is what causes this sensation that cryonics is a threat? What does it specifically threaten?

It doesn't threaten the notion that we will all die eventually. Accident, homicide, and war will remain possibilities unless we can defeat them, and suicide will always remain an option. It doesn't threaten the state, the environment, anyone's health, or any particular religion. It doesn't cost much on a large scale, doesn't generate radioactive waste or pollution, has a low carbon footprint, and is both religiously neutral and life affirming.

Rather, it seems to threaten something else, less conspicuous and more universal. This something I have termed the "Historical Death Meme", and is something which we can see influencing all human cultures throughout history. It is something we probably aren't too comfortable about leaving behind, and perhaps in fact shouldn't be. And yet, it is at least as prescientific and as hazardous as creationism.

According to the HDM, if you die the cosmetic state of your body matters. If it is grotesque, you are dishonored; if not, you are respected. Society has taken advantage of this in historical times by flaying, beheading, or hanging corpses. The idea is that despite the fact that these things have zero direct impact on a living individual who can feel them, the disgust and revulsion felt in looking at them from the outside is symbolic in some way. Likewise, when a person dies and is embalmed or cremated, the features are either restored to normal or obliviated entirely.

A second aspect of the HDM is that your attitude and feelings at the end of your life matter more significantly than ever before. We tend to place great store in people's last words and final wishes. If a person is dying, their social status changes dramatically. We can't easily despise a dying person -- at least not without stooping to the level of truly despising them.

These elements of human culture and psychology have intertwined to make acceptance of cryonics very difficult. Cryonics does not regard the individuals in question as dead. Thus it would be immoral to focus on cosmetic surgery rather than on reducing the amount of brain damage. The fact that disfigurement happens isn't the problem, it is that cryonicists don't care about the amount of disfigurement. This contradicts the HDM and represents a threat to anyone who strongly identifies with it.

Cryonics also encourages an attitude of resistance towards death, of rational decision making, and of taking exception to social norms we disagree with. The HDM states that attitudes towards the end of life are important, and in fact amplifies them such that a whisper is the same as a shout. It seemingly shows that the person not only thinks they are capable of making a better decision than the vast majority of other individuals, but are not above bragging about it and rubbing it in the faces of those who make a worse decision. A simple step of enlightened self-interest is suddenly escalated to the perceived level of extreme narcissism.

The HDM does not attempt to establish irreversibility of death beyond a shadow of a doubt, it assumes it based on loss of vital signs and lack of immediate revival. Originally the breath was used, then heartbeat; now the brainwave is considered an acceptable signal. In whatever case, the presumed criteria for reversibility is that it must be immediately measurable and based on current technologies. To remove the ability to be certain of death -- making it a complex ongoing research project rather than a simple testable hypothesis, is a threat. The HDM depends on death being an immediately known quantity, because it depends on simplistic human emotions being engaged rather than complex human reasoning processes.

Problems notwithstanding, the HDM is one of the most poignant displays of humanity ever. Throughout history, humans have buried their dead, mourned and cried over their dead, honored their dead, and used obscene displays of corpses to punish their dead. For millions of years there has been nothing we could possibly do about death, once it happens, and it has been pretty much crystal clear exactly when it has happened. Our art, our culture, our very humanity, has been anchored in this one seemingly immutable aspect of life. Then cryonics comes along, something we can possibly do about the matter. It's not a guarantee of survival, nor a risky operation that you'll get immediate feedback on. The only guarantee it provides an escape from unnecessary death, subject to certain abstract conditions and unknown facts about the universe. You can't just stop thinking about death, you have to start thinking about it in another way entirely. A more rational, imaginative, creative, lateral way.

It makes a strange sort of sense, that so many of the world's leaders and thinkers are united in their opposition -- be it passive or active -- for this threat to the traditional way of thinking. It cuts deep. The reason it is such a threat is that it takes one essential human value, respect for life, and pits it against another: traditional respect for the dead. The latter is more fragile, its value less clear, and its cognition level less conscious. It has never had to defend itself. In a fight, we all know which would win. And that is precisely why cryonics is a threat.

Who stands to lose face if cryonics is taken seriously? The answer is: Lots of good people. Practically everyone who participates in the HDM does. Here are some specific examples that come to mind.

  • Doctors who pronounce death in unambiguous terms.
  • Lawyers and lawmakers who write and defend laws based on unambiguous notions of death.
  • Morticians whose cosmetically based surgery is ethically dubious when applied to a patient that might survive.
  • Heirs who accept money that could be used to save the life of their benefactor.
  • Writers and movie-makers whose stories involving death have less satisfactory and romantic conclusions.

The list goes on. The unavoidable fact is that in asking society to accept cryonics, we are asking for a lot. We are asking humans to admit how fallible they are, asking a generation to turn against the deeply honored ways of their ancestors. The costs are dire indeed.

And yet we cannot ethically just shut up about it. No lives should be lost, even potentially, due solely to lack of a regular, widely available, low-cost, technologically optimized cryonics practice. It is in fact absolutely unacceptable, from a simple humanitarian perspective, that something as nebulous as the HDM -- however artistic, cultural, and deeply ingrained it may be -- should ever be substituted for an actual human life.

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This may amuse some of us: anyone remember the pilot of House)?

Rebecca Adler: I just want to die with a little dignity.
Dr. House: There's no such thing! Our bodies break down, sometimes when we're 90, sometimes before we're even born, but it always happens and there's never any dignity in it. I don't care if you can walk, see, wipe your own ass. It's always ugly - always! We can live with dignity - we can't die with it.

Until very recently, I tended to think of cryonics as something nutty and tacitly assumed that cryonics organisations were a little shady. These weren't strong beliefs, and I knew that I had no real basis for them, so I would never have tried to argue them to others, but they were my impressions. I blame the anti-cult and anti-scam heuristics identified in the comments by Jonathan Graehl and Pavitra.

Now that I've come here and seen all of you rational people into cryonics, I've looked at the references here and realised that my impressions were wrong. So cryonics is not terribly expensive and might well work; how interesting! And yet, I have no desire to sign up myself.

Why not? I believe that the reason is that, to spout a cliché, I've come to terms with death. There was a time when I found it very attractive to believe religious ideas promising immortality, but once I abandoned those as irrational, I faced the realisation that I was going to die permanently some day. That worried me for a while, but then I got used to it; I no longer desired to live forever. I didn't even desire to live longer than about a century.

And since I no longer desire to live so long, I have no des... (read more)

This might be a inappropriate question, while also seeming like a rephrasing to me.

Do you foresee, that there will be a day in your future, when you will prefer to die on that day over living to see the next one?

I try to grab the FAR notion of 'i do not want to live forever == i want to die at some point' and make it NEAR into 'yeah, that was a fun run, now today is the day it all shall end for me'

The desire to die seem to correlate often with the weaknesses and diseases of old age, which is a different issue than cryogenics. Age related things can be prevented to some degree, and hopefully get much more explored in the near future.

Now the bag of arguments against cryo and for dying can generally be used also to argue for suicide in old age (as seen on a StarTrek:TNG episode), or against medical treatment of those who do not wish it. But I rarely see that side argued. And to me it looks very similar. Cryo as the very slow ambulance ride till a hospital that can treat you has been built.

Yes, I think that this is quite possible. However, the reasons are, as you say below ‘the weaknesses and diseases of old age’, so they're not really relevant. I can also easily imagine that I will never want to die. I can easily imagine that, as health care improves ahead of my aging, many of the people who are alive now will live forever, and I will also. That would be fine. But cryonics is different. Here, you are asking me to take a break of time during which technology advances far beyond what it is today, not to live into the future one day at a time. That does not interest me. I'm not even interested in being revived from a coma after several years, using only contemporary technology. Certainly I don't consider it worth the expense. In fact, the main reason that I don't sign up for DNR now is that I know some people who would suffer if I did not at least outlive them (plus the bother of signing up, although at least it costs nothing). But I think that your question may be a good one to ask other people who have come to terms with death and thereby find cryonics unappealing. Ask when, after a short or long period of apparent death, they would not want to be revived. For me, that time comes when the people that I care about are no longer around and the things that interest me are no longer current. But I can imagine that some other people would realise that the answer is never and decide to sign up.

You appear to have completely abandoned your original reason for not signing up for cryonics (that you've come to terms with death) in light of MartinB's question and switched to a new reason (that you would only like to live indefinitely if your life is not interrupted by an intermission of unknown duration) without explicitly acknowledging that you have done so. This makes me somewhat suspicious of your reasoning on this issue.

For what it's worth, I'm currently unconvinced by the arguments for signing up for cryonics but your reasoning here looks dubious to me even though I share your conclusion.

I don't see these as different reasons, but two components of a point of view that hasn't been fully articulated. However, I share it. To accept death: once it's over, it's over. The things that you valued about life cannot be recovered by resuscitation 200 years later. Nevertheless, life is good. One more day, one more year, one more decade like today would be great. (If anyone can articulate this more fully, please do!)
This seems somewhat analogous to me to a situation where war or natural disaster destroys your home and kills most of your friends and family but you escape and have the opportunity to start afresh in a new and unfamiliar culture. Now that obviously sounds like a pretty unpleasant situation and vastly less preferable than if the war or disaster never occurred but I would still prefer to survive than to die. I can imagine that some people might feel differently when presented with that choice however.
byrnema agreeing with TobyBartels in wanting always to live another day, but being indifferent to his or her own cryonic suspension and revival: I, too, want always to live another day (unless my health gets so bad I no longer pay attention to anything or anyone except myself and my pain) but am indifferent to my being cryonically revived. The way I place these two aspects of my desire into a coherent view is to note that I am useful to the world now (and tomorrow, and next year). In fact, on any given day, the way for me to maximize my usefulness to the world will almost certainly be for me to try to keep on living and to stay as healthy as possible because the source of almost all "wealth" or "usefulness" is human creativity (that is, human intelligence combined with a sincere desire to be useful to the world) and a human's creativity ends when his or her life ends. Now if I were to be cryonically suspended and then revived, it is almost certain that an intelligence explosion -- more precisely an explosion of engineered intelligences which will be much more useful (for whatever purpose to which they are put) than any human intelligence ever was -- has taken place because that is the only thing anyone can think of that would make possible my revival. But I would not be able to help engineered intelligences improved the world: with my relatively puny intelligence, I would just get in their way. Oh, sure, the machines could radically improve my intelligence, making me a "transhuman", but from where I stand now, this strategy of continuing my usefulness into the post-human era by becoming a transhuman has very low expected utility relative to my simply leaving the post-human era up to the machines (and transhumans other than me) and a much better application of my resources is for me to try to increase the probability of a good intelligence explosion. In other words, I see the fact that no one has yet figured out how to transform ordinary matter like you would fin
Regarding being useful, this is something I strongly identify with. I am not a highly self-interest valuing person, though I see self-interest as itself being a useful value (in the right context). I find that I am more motivated to sign up for cryonics when I look at it as an example to set for others than when I look at it as a way to save my own skin. I am essentially more motivated to support than (directly) to adopt cryonics. Presumably, a well written CEV optimizer would see our desire to be useful and put us in situations where we can be useful. However, I think it's worth noting that there is quite a bit of wriggle room between the invention of fooming AGI and the development of reversal mechanisms for cryonic suspension. Reversal for cryonic suspension could end up being something that is specifically and painstakingly developed over the course of several decades by humans with normal levels of intelligence.
So far as trustworthiness is concerned, iterated prisoner's dilemna suggests that an expectation of ongoing transactions leads to trustworthiness. So, signing up for cryonics implies being slightly more trustworthy than not.
The prisoner's dilemma is only one part of the human landscape, and no one has argued that it will prove the most decisive part. Well, Robert Wright comes close by having chosen to write an entire book on the iterated prisoner's dilemma, but that book's analysis of the causes of increasing human wealth completely neglects the wealth-increasing potential of an explosion of engineered intelligence. I can make the counterargument that the more resources a person needs to fulfill his desires, the more likely the person is to impose harm on a fellow human being to acquire those resources and that for example I have little to fear from the proverbial Buddhist mystic who is perfectly happy to sit under a tree day after day while his body decays right in front of him. My simple counterargument implies that everything else being equal, I have more to fear from the one who desires cryonic suspension and revival than the one who does not. But the more important point is that human trustworthiness is a very tricky subject. For example, your simple argument fails to explain why old people and others who know they are near the end of their lives are less likely to steal, defraud or cheat than young healthy people are. I do not claim to know which of the groups under discussion is more trustworthy. (My only reason for advancing my counterargument was to reduce confidence in the insightfulness or your argument.) I am just passing along my tentative belief obtained from discussions with and reading of other singularitarians and cryonicists and obtained from observation of the evolution of my own beliefs about human trustworthiness that people tend to think they know. They think it is the same group they belong to.
I was answering the question that Martin asked. I stand by my old reason for not signing up. Actually, it's not so much that I have a reason for not signing up, as that I have no reason for signing up. So in my original post, I addressed what seemed to be the obvious reason for signing up: that one would hold long life of value in itself, which I don't. Then Martin suggested another reason (that on any given day, I would want to live another day), so I addressed that one.

If you were signing up for a health-insurance program which included coverage for cryonics by default, along with other available treatments for severe injuries, would you opt out of that part of the coverage, and ask to be embalmed or cremated rather than frozen? What if it cost extra to do so?

Probably not. I wouldn't seek out such a plan, and the way things are now, such a plan would cost far more than other plans, so I wouldn't buy it. But things may be different in the future.
What I mean is, if the plan which otherwise provided all the benefits you wanted for the least cost also included cryonics (as some sort of silly package deal, due to market forces otherwise beyond your understanding) how much would it be worth to you to have the opportunity to randomly get hit by a bus someday and not wake up at all?
Not much, and possibly a negative amount (meaning that I'd prefer the cyronics coverage); I'll have to think about it when the time comes. Really, a lot depends on whether my relatives and friends have also signed up for cyronics. If the situation you describe ever exists, it will probably only be when cryonics has become normal, in which case it's much more likely that I will want it for myself, thanks to having friends waiting for me in the future. Heck, getting involved in Less Wrong meet-ups might be enough! I find that hard to predict (and unlikely to be tested soon, given where I live and how full my social life is now).
Originally you said: And then when Martin asked if you foresee a day in the future where you would prefer to die than live another day you said: Which suggests that you either do now desire to live forever or are at least comfortable with the idea of doing so. It looked to me like you changed your mind on the question of whether you would actually want to live forever after all but maybe this was a misinterpretation of your position. You almost seem to be viewing the question of whether you value a long life as fundamentally different to the question of whether you would want to continue living on any given future day. This seems bizarre to me.
That's just part of my history. I carefully put it in the past tense. Then I wrote a paragraph saying that I no longer had any particular opinion as to how long I should live, that I would just see it day by day. Actually, the paragraph covered more than that, including how I transitioned from a feeling that a century was about right to the idea that it was silly to judge such things. But then, on proofreading my original post, I cut that paragraph. So now my original post reads The transition from past tense to present tense is not very clear there, for which I apologise. But currently I have no particular desire about my length of life. I could make a prediction, based on what is likely to happen in the future and what I am likely to want, as to whether I will always want to live a bit longer, and if I predict that I will, then I could say now that I want to live forever. But signing up for cryonics now would not help me achieve any of the wishes that I anticipate having in the future, because that's not how I'll want to live longer. (And if this prediction is wrong, then I can sign up later.) In that case, taboo wanting to live forever. For some people, that seems to be a value for its own sake; I think that it was for me once. But now I'm rational like you, and I only want to live forever if I'll forever want to live. So the only question is whether I want, assuming that I get hit by a bus today, to wake up a hundred years later. And I don't particularly. But once upon a time, I really wanted to live forever, because I liked the idea of living forever. In holding this idea, wasn't thinking about whether some day I would like to die; it was, if not a terminal value in its own right, something close to that. Furthermore, death was scary and unknown, and I was taught about Heaven and Hell; even after I realised that this was a fairy tale, I harbored an idea that death was bad in and of itself. There are probably good evolutionary reasons why somebody would fee
This is a really pithy and compelling way of putting this. I definitely have, at a gut level, a desire to wake up tomorrow. But I don't even have at that same gut level a desire to come out of a coma 20 years from now. Cryonics presses my survival instinct even more gently. (Edit: I see that Bartels made the coma analogy a few comments up. Excuse the redundancy, or take it for emphasis.)
Thank you for answering. I find it strange how society at large frowns upon cryo, while also not doing a serious effort to prolong the healthy lifespan (wallbangerific). But on the other side frowns upon suicide. I also usually avoid the topic due to its iffyness, and i am not signed up myself yet, so its basically armchairing anyway. I think Matt got a point. And of course if you go into the search for your real reasons all kinds of bad things might happen for you. But what jumped me, was that a long lifespan is fine, while a long lifespan with a coma/pause in the middle is not. I dont get that. Of course cryo people would love to take their loved ones with them, and are horrified when they ignore the chance.
I agree with that! I'm interested in the work by Aubrey de Grey. It's not useful to me now, but I predict that someday it will be. Well, I don't suppose that there are many people who feel that way. If you can get across the idea that cryonics is a way of turning one's death into a very long coma, then that may help make it more attractive. But I get up in the morning because there are things that I left unfinished the day before. By the time that I am revived from cryonics, they will all be finished. If my loved ones signed up for cryonics, that would be reason enough for me.
Yes. Exploring how people would feel about a very long coma could be a good way of exploring how they feel about cryonics-minus-the-creep-factor. In other words, if they didn't have the psychological obstacles centered around cryonics, how would they really feel about it?
What a horrendous case of prisoner's dilemma...

What a horrendous case of prisoner's dilemma...

It is a horrendous case of a sub-optimal equilibrium in a coordination game. You know, one of the examples of game theory that isn't the @#%@ Prisoner's Dilemma.

I've been spending so much of my social time among people who treat swearing with complete nonchalance that I had forgotten how much power even a censored swearword can have in a setting where it is never used.
Yes, I'm wrong about this being prisoner's dilemma. One side defecting (dieing) against other cooperating (cryopreserving) won't make first side better off and second one worse off. So it's just insufficient communication/coordination.
We could also consider a game that was perhaps a step closer to the original. Leave cooperation and defection (and their PD laden connotations) behind and just consider a pair who would sincerely rather die than live on without the other. This is plausible even without trawling Shakespeare for fictional examples. Here on lesswrong I have seen the prospect of living on via cryopreservation without a friend joining them described as 'extrovert hell'. Then, as you say, a 'cremation' equilibrium would be the result of insufficient communication/coordination. A high time and or emotional cost to transitioning preferences would contribute to that kind of undesirable outcome. Incidentally, if we were to consider pair-cryo selection as an actual PD the most obvious scenario seems to be one in which both parties are overwhelmingly spiteful. Cryopreservation is the defect option. Where life is preferred but it is far more important to ensure that the other dies.
Not really. If any of my loved ones were at all interested in cryonics, then we could discuss it and choose to sign up together. In the Prisoner's Dilemma, you don't know what your counterpart is doing.
I am starting to wonder if there needs to be more of a recognized social niche for cryo supporters who aren't signed up themselves (or whose arrangements simply are not public).
My niche is young people with little money living in Europe. To sign up I need to a) make money - which will happen soon b) figure out how the necessary arrangements for germany regarding transport, legal and what not, c) get the paperwork. After the writing the earlier comment I got another reality-shock about how stupid it is that society at large doesnt jump on the longevity issue. Way worse than smoking....
Me neither. I would like to write a clause that I am awoken only if a living relative feels like they need me. This may seem like a cheat, because it's very unlikely that a child or a grandchild won't want to revive me, but the truth is, I would be content to leave it in their hands. There is no value to my life beyond my immediate network of connections. If I am awoken in 200 years to a world that doesn't know me, I might as well be someone else, and I don't mind being someone else. There's no difference between my experience of 'I' and the one that will develop in some number of years in a newly born baby.
There is no value to my life beyond my immediate network of connections. That is the saddest statement I have read this whole week.
Indeed. It always amazes me how successful the meme of self-sacrifice has become at persuading otherwise intelligent people to embracing even the most extreme forms of self-abnegation. For my part, I'll stick with enlightened self-interest as the foundation of my values and self-worth. It isn't perfect, but at least it isn't going to lead me into elaborate forms of suicide.
It sometimes amazes me (but only when I forget about evolutionary psychology, which easily explains it) how successful the meme of self-interest has become at persuading otherwise intelligent people that their life has more value than another's. (Say another intelligent person's, to head off one common rationalisation.) Edit: This paragraph seems to have been confusing. It is somewhat facetious. To be sincere, it should say ‘[…] persuading otherwise intelligent people that it is unintelligent not to value one's own life more than another's.’. I see no elaborate forms of suicide proposed here. But of course I would sacrifice my life for another's, in some situations. (Or at least I think that I would; my evolutionary heritage may have more to say about that when the time comes.) Already I have had occasion to sacrifice my safety for another's, but so far I'm still alive. Actually, I'm not really an altruist. But I don't pretend that my selfishness has a rational justification.

It sometimes amazes me (but only when I forget about evolutionary psychology, which easily explains it) how successful the meme of self-interest has become at persuading otherwise intelligent people that their life has more value than another's. (Say another intelligent person's, to head off one common rationalisation.)

It sometimes amazes me how often commenters on LessWrong (who really should know better if they've read the sequences) commit the mind projection fallacy, e.g. by assuming that "value" is a single-place function ("value(thing)") instead of a two-place one ("value(thing, to-whom)").

I meant for the otherwise intelligent person in question, of course. Sorry for the confusion. By the way, I interpreted ewbrownv's comment in precisely the same vein.
I don't think you understand me. You said: implying that it is wrong to define one person's life as having more value than another's. I was pointing out that this is the mind projection fallacy, because things do not have value. They only have value to someone. Thus it is perfectly sane to speak of one's life as having more value [implied: to one's self] than another's.
Yes, of course it is! And it is equally sane to speak of one's life as only having value in its relation to others. My comment was a reply to the comment to which it was a reply; it does not make sense out of context. Edit: I have edited the comment in question to be more clear.
What if a living relative just misses you and would like to have you around?
As long as the internet is around, you will be able to find people with your interests. It doesn't matter how outdated they are. Besides, why not sign up for cryonics on the off chance that you will like the future? You can always change your mind. Unless they outlaw suicide, and can effectively stop it, in the future. Which doesn't seem that unlikely considering we're assuming they're willing and able to revive your body just because they can.
Because it costs thousands of dollars (a price which reflects its cost in resources). For me, that's a large amount of money. I don't spend it on off chances.
byrnema agrees in a sibling to this comment, and I agree, too. ADDED. Sewing-Machine agrees too though he refers to a 20-year coma rather than a coma of several years.
You appear to have completely abandoned your original reason for not signing up for cryonics (that you've come to terms with death) in the light of MartinB's question and switched to a new reason (that you would only like to live indefinitely if your life is not interrupted by an intermission of unknown duration) without explicitly acknowledging that you have done so. This makes me somewhat suspicious of your reasoning on this issue. For what it's worth, I'm currently unconvinced by the arguments for signing up for cryonics but your reasoning here looks dubious to me.

This must be an example of a much broader theme. One wants X but comes to the belief that X is impossible. Then one stops wanting X, which is probably a healthy response when X really is impossible. When it turns out that X is possible after all, one still does not want X.

You could call it "digesting sour grapes", perhaps.

Learned helplessness, perhaps?
I like that. While Aesop's sour grapes were a hot-headed passionate thing, this is something that develops slowly. Classical sour grapes are a hypocritical rationalisation, and a fox who suddenly realised how it could get the grapes after all would jump at the chance. But with digested sour grapes, the lack of desire is a permanent part of oneself. Some of the other replies to my comment seem to be trying to convince me that I do really want the grapes deep down. Aesop's fox does, and there was probably a time that I did too. But now I don't.
8Paul Crowley
Apply the reversal test.
I don't see how to do that; whether I am revived from cryonic storage is not a continuous thing. But you could ask analogous questions. Am I glad that I was born? No, why should I care? I certainly don't think that it's a good thing to contribute to the birth to as my people as I can, just so that they can live; I only care about people who already exist, and that goes for me as well as for anybody else. But I think that this would be a good question to ask to a lot of other people who might find cryonics unappealing because they've come to terms with death. I think that a lot of people have, or think they have, accepted that they will die but are still glad that they were born. So you might ask them if they would similarly be glad to find themselves cryonically revived. But I would not.
I'm curious why people say things like: * "value is subjective and I happen to care only about people who already exist" * "value is subjective and I happen to care only about people who live in the same country as me" * "value is subjective and I happen to care only about my friends and family" but not: * "value is subjective and I happen to care only about whoever is currently in my field of vision".
I wrote: I didn't write that accurately. I should have said: I even care about people who potentially will exist in proportion to the probability that they will exist, which really should be included in the term ‘actually’. So for example, I care that the people who become pregnant next year get good prenatal care for the sake of the children that they will bear the year after (as well as for their own sakes). However, I don't care whether they actually become pregnant, or (given that they do) that those children actually are born, except as this affects them and other actual people. All in all, I wish that fewer people became pregnant and fewer babies were born, for various reasons having to do with how this affects other people, although my main emphasis is that women should have the freedom to choose whether to become and remain pregnant. (So in this vein, I donate to Planned Parenthood, and once did volunteer work for them, and may do so again. This also helps with the prenatal care.)
Then is it fair to say that, all else being equal, for people who don't currently exist, you're indifferent between them having no life and an OK life, and you're indifferent between them having no life and a great life, but you prefer them having a great life to an OK life?
This must be a standard problem in utilitarian theory, but I don't know its name. In case you haven't read my comment introducing myself, know that my ultimate social value is freedom, a sort of utilitarian calculus where utility is freedom. So to judge whether someone should live, the main question to ask is whether they want to live. (I forgot to say in my reply to MartinB that of course I am against medical treatment of those who do not wish it.) But those who do not exist do not wish anything. So it doesn't matter. If by ‘a great life’ you mean a life of great freedom, then I prefer that to the alternative life. But one can only judge what such a life actually is once the person actually exists and has wants. I support prenatal care only on the basis of a prediction about what people will want later, like wanting to be healthy. It still doesn't hang together mathematically, since I should simply take expected utitlity/freedom. As I also said in my introductory comment, I don't really believe that any utilitarian calculus captures my values. I can understand decision theory once the utilities are assigned, but I don't understand how to assign utilities in the first place.
Pretty sure this is just the flip side of the repugnant conclusion, which is about whether you should care about average welfare or total welfare.
Thanks, that's it!
I do say that. I care (in terms of how I actually act) about people I see, people I like, people in my extended networks, and all living people. For example, if someone had a heart attack, I would help them even if rationally, the time I spent could be converted into far more lives through optimal giving.
Sure, but my point is you probably wouldn't use this example of "caring" as a justification in abstract philosophical debates about, e.g., the ethics of cryonics, because visual-field-dependent morality is absurd enough to make it intuitively reasonable that values you truly care about should hold up to some sort of reflection. It's important not to be too loose with the idea of "care in terms of how I actually act", or you'll end up saying you care about being near large masses or making hiccup noises. You can plausibly argue that falling and hiccups aren't behavior in the way that helping someone with a heart attack is, but it's not like there's a bright dividing line. You know the "extended mind" hypothesis that says things like calculators or search engines can in some circumstances be seen as parts of your mind? It seems like the flip side of that is an "abridged mind" hypothesis where some parts of your brain are like alien mind control lasers, except located in your skull.
Well, yes. I have a reflectively endorsed belief that being an altruist is good and proper. If I were to endorse selfishness, I would include exceptions for those categories, in increasing order of affect on my decisions.
If value is subjective, there's nothing particularly odd about saying the first things but not the second. That's just their subjective preference.
Because that's not really how humans work. We care more about things right in front of us, but we don't stop caring about someone just because they're not in our field of vision, and we don't necessarily start caring about anyone who is.
So imagine that I said "to a substantial extent".
Sure, but there are things close enough to what I said that are true but that would have been more of a pain to write down.
7Paul Crowley
If the prospect of an unboundedly long life stretched ahead of you and everyone else, would you be thinking "I wish my lifespan were much shorter - perhaps less than a century"?
No, feeling that a century was about the right length was just a phase that I went through. (Although I put it in past tense, I didn't really make that clear, sorry.) In fact, right now, I only want to live a few more years, because that's how long it will take to do the things that I want to do now. However, I predict that in a few more years, I'll want to live a few years more, and so on for a while, so I plan ahead in that expectation, but that's all. (There are also a few people that I want to outlive, for their sakes, but that reason will expire in a few decades and it would not help them if I were cryonically preserved, since they probably won't live long enough to see my awakened.) It's hard to be sure about a century from now, but I predict that, given that I live for a century, I'll want to live (possibly a few years of wanting at a time) to live for another century. So I have a long-term interest in life extension, which gives me the prospect that you described. But that's not the same as cyronics.
5Paul Crowley
What's the big difference with cryonics - is it the time you spend frozen? How long would you have to spend frozen before you prefer death? Clearly eight hours would be OK with you, since I assume you sometimes sleep that long - so is there a cutoff period after which you would rather die than be revived?
Somewhere between a few years and a few decades, I think.
(IANAL) I think that would be a very simple clause to include in any freezing arrangement.
The extremely small chance that cryonics will work within that time doesn't justify the expense. But for those who can afford more, it would be interesting to see short-term cryonics added to a health insurance plan.
I've seen people post a number of practical guidelines like this (which is new to me). Another example might be the Litany of Tarski. Someone (Eliezer?) suggested that instead of asking "Why should I pick X over Y?" one replaces it by "Should I choose X or Y?", especially if the decision is made. Is there some collection of practical guidelines, either as a post or a wiki category? I've find these measurably improve my rationality.
Back Up and Ask Whether, Not Why.
Well, one is, if faced with the choice between X and Y, consider the third alternative.
Sounds like Off The Table. Specifically, when it's a defience of Sweet and Sour Grapes. Great. I think in terms of tropes now.
It may just be me, but it seems like Less Wrong and TV Tropes could productively merge their output, perhaps even into the same site. They both seek to discuss interesting patterns in human thought and behavior, for the purpose of not only entertaining the reader but also giving them the ability to make more useful predictions and analyses. Though one focuses on fictional worlds while the other focuses on the real world, people at both sites would agree that there is a significant amount of overlap between these two models, to the point where it's often productive and enlightening to study one through indirect analysis of the other. Plus, they both have a surfeit of snappy meme names, cross-linking, and internal culture.

I've sometimes pondered the bizarrely high level of rationality on TV Tropes, and my guess is that it has something to do with people zooming in, thinking about details, trying to find the obvious consequences and moral implications that no one else sees, thinking in "near mode" about things that would usually be considered in "far mode", and possibly just being made up of nerds.

Cases in point:

See Remember that you can be horribly wrong about what you want.
There's no way to calculate ultimate values. It's not that I don't want to live forever because I think that this would have a negative effect. It's just not something that I want. You could argue that living forever would further other of my values. In some ways, this is probably true. In the case of being restored from cryonics, however, I doubt it. I would have even less influence on that future world than I have on this, and none of the people that I care about are likely to be there. I am rather equivocal about living forever. Maybe someday cryonics will be cheap and easy, something that everybody does (or something as cheap and easy as things that everybody does, even if people still don't do it, perhaps for irrational reasons). My best guess is that I would sign up for it in that case. So if somebody else wants to sign me up for cryonics, handle the paperwork and make the payments, then I don't mind, but I wouldn't bother for my own sake.
If there is fact of the matter of what you should do, if there are moral arguments to change your mind about what you believe you should do, then there is a good chance that your current beliefs about what you should do are wrong is some way. And given that chance, you must decide under uncertainty, do an expected utility calculation, taking into account what value a given action would have if you have so and so possible values. You are not allowed to ignore the value uncertainty. Maybe it's the main hypothesis that you don't want to live much longer than normal, but the other hypotheses cry for help, they are not absent, and with the moral strength behind their claims you can't pretend they are not there. Maybe they lose a decision, but they still contribute to its expected moral value, which is therefore not indifference.
But of course there isn't. What you've said is fine theoretically, but it's meaningless unless I have some ultimate values that drive everything else. (You saw some of them on the introductions thread.) I do not value long life for its own sake, and I do not see how being cryogenically revived will further any of the values that I actually hold. In particular, I don't see how it will enhance the freedom of other people, and I don't see how it's at all relevant to any of my personal goals, which will all be obsolete. If you have a suggestion as to why it would be a good thing for me to sign up for cryonics, that maybe the future will be in dire need of people with my old-fashioned ideas and historical knowledge, or that you have fallen in love with over the Internet and will miss me when I'm gone, or anything more reasonable but which I can't think of myself, then please say it. Otherwise I have no reason to do it.
That you shouldn't care about living for a very long time is exactly a claim about this fact. If there is no fact of the matter of what you should do, you can't claim that the thing you should do is to not care. As often, I argue with a faulty argument, but not about its conclusion.
Where have I made that claim? It's enough that I don't care about living for a very long time.
And if I say that you do, what is the criterion for telling which statement is the correct one? That criterion is what I referred to as the fact of the matter about what you (should) care about. And if there is a fact, there is possibility of being wrong about it. Unless by "not caring about X" you by definition mean that there are statements being pronounced like "I don't care about X", or certain chemicals being released in your brain, you'd have to settle for not having absolutely privileged knowledge about what you actually care about.
As long as we can agree that whether someone cares about X is an empirically discoverable fact, then there seem to be two currently-possible methods of finding out what that is: introspection and viewing their actions ("revealed preference"). There is no amount of evidence about facts external to a person that could possibly bear on whether they care about X. You might change whether they care about X by presenting external input, but that's a rather different thing.
You mentioned the fact of the matter of what I should do. I would hold the fact of the matter of what I should care about in the same contempt. As for the fact of the matter of what I care about, you don't know what you're talking about. The only reason why I'm replying at all is that this is a site dedicated to cognitive biases, and maybe you will cite an interesting post here about how I might be horribly wrong about what I care about. Of course I could be horribly wrong about my intermediate values, but the calculation is not coming out that way.
I think an issue here may be that your statement of caring or not caring about something doesn't carry much weight when you not only are personally unfamiliar with X, but so is everyone else who ever lived. You can truthfully state that you aren't terribly attracted by what you imagine living a second life in Futurama is like; but your mental picture of it is likely to bear very very very little resemblance to what a potential second life will actually feel like. Since cryonics offers a small chance of giving you an actual future life, you should evaluate on the basis of that and therefore pay little attention to what your hopelessly flawed imagination suggests. It's like stating that you care/don't care for a particular hallucinogen without having ever tried it, or any substance similar to it before, or having ever read reports by people who actually tried it. You don't have a sufficient basis to make your model of it, about which you state a claim of caring/not caring, at all meaningful.
Cryonics costs time and money. The burden of proof is there. If I'm completely ignorant of what it would be like, then I will not spend any effort to bring it about. Byrnema said it well; let the resources be expended on a baby rather than on me. I would kind of like to try LSD, because I know something about that, and what I've heard is mostly positive, when following certain guidelines. A random unknown hallucinogen would pose a danger of long-term health effects. So let hallucinogen X be one whose safety is guaranteed but whose other effects I'm completely ignorant of. Then I don't care that I've never tried hallucinogen X. I am not going to spend time and money seeking it out.
See, for example, this post (although its connection to our discussion is rather indirect).
This seems wrong to me. That Toby should X does not imply that Toby does X, so determining what Toby should want does not settle whether Toby in fact wants it. Toby does not seem to be making that claim, though perhaps implicitly so. (Much like it could be argued that "X" implies "I believe that X", it could be argued that "I did X" implies "I should have done X". But that fails on common usage, where "I did X but I should not have done X" is ordinary.)

I think the real reason people are reluctant to sign up for cryonics is that it raises all the classic red flags for a scam. People are asked to invest a significant amount of money in a non-mainstream plan that, even if it works exactly as claimed, won't pay off until well after the mark is no longer able to sue.

Consider the situation from the perspective of someone just hearing about cryonics for the first time: if cryonics is a sham, then they should expect to be presented with a lot of generally plausible-sounding (but falsified) evidence, most of which will probably be too technical for them to follow (so that they can't figure out that it's bogus).

I would agree - but then i read the comment after yours, by TobyBartels. And, of course, as lsparrish mentioned, there seems to be cultural opposition to it in much literature. Pragmatic concerns like "is this organization legitimate" would not make people deny wanting to live.
Not in itself, no, but once they had already generated that metabelief for unrelated reasons, it would be very easy to reuse the meme for deflecting scammers.
Something deeper is involved. Otherwise they would just do the research required to figure out the answer (that it's not a scam) and sign up. Also, I've seen relatively high status people who have relevant background dismissing this in ridiculous ways (e.g. claiming it is no better than mummification, or "turning hamburger into a cow"). I don't think they would risk their reputation without doing the research if there wasn't some kind of serious curiosity-stopping bias going on.

Most people don't have the scientific literacy to distinguish good science from bad with any amount of research, and know this. Even if you had some reason to think that this probably-a-scam thing had enough of a chance to be worth expending nontrivial effort to check out, it's hard to distinguish a good scam from a weird truth.

Once someone's decided (unconsciously, most likely) that they want to avoid cryonics because it seems sketchy, they will generate excuses to avoid it without having to actually say outright that they think it's a scam, because accusing people without hard (scientific, not Bayesian) evidence of guilt is socially inappropriate.

I'm not sure about the high status people with relevant background information, though I do note that that demographic seems more likely per capita to actually sign up. However, I would speculate that academics may be leery of being seen to take seriously anything "fringy" that might damage their reputation, and will endorse any line of argument that appears to oppose it.

3Paul Crowley
It's not just scientific literacy though: the "hamburger into a cow" line comes from Society for Cryobiology fellow Arthur W. Rowe.
I think this doesn't explain nearly as much as you think it does. There are only a couple hundred people on the planet actually signed up for cryonics. There are plenty of "sciency" scams which have attracted more people and more money (per person). Why doesn't cryonics attract those sorts of fools?
Actual scams are designed to make the scammer money, and the scammer therefore has the funds to make the scam more effective. Cryonics, having been optimized for a different goal, resembles a scam only accidentally and therefore only somewhat; it is most like an underfunded, incompetently run scam.
Should we therefore encourage cryonics companies to mimic the tactics of scammers so as to make cryonics more popular, so as to make it less expensive for individual people to sign up? Or in other words: maybe instead of donating to SIAI, we should donate to a fund to hire a good PR agency for a cryo corporation.
While that may outperform the current approach, it is almost surely not the best of all possible approaches. You won't be revived if everyone is turned into paperclips first.
Perhaps because it isn't built to? Indeed, "sciency" scams often rely on a lot of woo, whereas cryonics appears to require getting past the "soul" idea...
more like a couple thousand, actually; 200 preserved to day, 424 funded members with contracts in CI only Still very few, though.
5Paul Crowley
Here's a list of classic red flags for a scam - first on I found Googling for "scam red flags". Not sure there are that many matches with cryonics.
Yeah, that's a good point. And yet... reading the list, I don't so much get the impression that cryonics is unscamlike as that it belongs to a different genre of scam. But I notice that I am rationalizing, and I need to go update. ETA: No, I see now. Cryonics resembles-in-genre a religion. If you follow a certain burial rite, you will have eternal life in a better world. People generate religious objections: they say that it is morally wrong, that it destroys the immortal soul. People treat cryonics as though accepting it as valid would require them to give up their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are actually compatible with cryonics. Furthermore, cryonics doesn't sell itself as a religion: it doesn't claim to have answers to the great terrible questions that unsettle the mind. So people looking for a new religion tend not to choose it. This leaves open the question of why cryonics is uncommon among self-professed atheists. Do so few "unbelievers" truly disbelieve?
I strongly suspect that it is more common per-capita among atheists than theists. If that is so, it suggests that maybe cryonics is fooling some atheists by setting off their religion-alarms, and/or the like-a-religion objection is only one of a suite of reasons why cryonics is unpopular.
Cryonics may be less uncommon among atheists than among theists, but that's not what interests me. Being cryopreserved is much more uncommon among atheists than not being cryopreserved is among atheists. That requires explanation.
The absurdity heuristic is a good enough explanation to first order. The fact that cryonics is becoming more, not less, common is (weak) evidence that there's good reasoning behind it; this evidence can be improved by noting that most irrational fast-growing fringe movements (i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses) achieve their growth via making members afraid that they will lose out if they don't evangelize. Cryonics doesn't have that dynamic†. † Even though cryonics would be cheaper if it were more popular, that's more of a group coordination problem than an urgent personal incentive. I don't see a lot of cryonics advocates feeling pressured to evangelize for it, just a lot of people who happen to think that they're obviously right on the issue.
As was pointed out elsewhere in this thread, the absurdity heuristic alone doesn't explain why cryonics is significantly less common than, say, Raëlism.
I don't know the cause or cure, but I think geeks tend to be lousy at publicity. Tentative theory-- they're independent-minded enough that they can't really model people who want a little pixie dust (aka status, supernormal stimuli, or fantasies of value) sprinkled on things. Alternate theory: geeks like pixie dust, too, but it's a different sort of pixie dust.
nitpick,; not all geeks are aspiring rationalists.
Cryonics is pretty much the opposite of all of those, in fact.
Except, usually, 10. "Something Doesn’t Feel Right" is a pretty good description of most people's reaction to cryonics.
Yes, because those are the red flags associated with successful scams. Cryonics retains the creep-out factors, but misses the niche of effective marketing.
If you'd like a little science fiction on the subject, try Simak's Why Call Them Back from Heaven?.

I think that some version of the sunk cost fallacy might be at least part of the "threatening" feeling people get from talk of major life extension. People invest a lot of emotional energy toward accepting the inevitability of death (and a lot of mental energy toward rationalizing it as not just inevitable but desirable), both their own eventual death and the past and future deaths of their loved ones, and being told that people might not have to die after all is like being told that you wasted all that agonizing soul-searching and grieving. (Or, worse, like being told that you wasted your loved ones' (future) lives by not convincing them to sign up for cryonics — I can easily see why a person would rather believe "All must perish, that is good and natural and right" than "My mother could have lived and I did nothing".)

I think the real reason is not so much the sunk cost, but the related, anticipated cost of being wrong. If people are going to die, people want to know that so they can say good-bye and wrap things up properly. Not knowing if I'm going to be woken up in 150 years would cause me a lot of anxiety. A gamble, taking a chance, is something you can comfortably do about something that doesn't really matter. Living longer -- living another lifetime -- is something of such value that people can't feel detached about the possibility. I bring up the subject of cryonics occasionally to see what people think of it. But I feel distinctly guilty when I bring it up around an elderly person. I'm afraid I'm going to upset them, 'Why are you telling me this? You are shallow and flippant about a topic I must seriously face." Or worse, give them hope in something I couldn't actually guarantee. They will either delude themselves into thinking it's definitely going to work, or they will exist in that anxious not-knowing space I just described.
How is an uncertainty about cryonics any different than the more popular "life after death" fantasy scenarios the majority engage in? Answer: social pressures. Those who subscribe to many traditional religions may grapple with their faith in light of their impending demise. I suspect that for many acceptance of cryonics creates conflicts with their uncertainties with their religious beliefs which become especially relevant at the end of life.
1Paul Crowley
I feel bad bringing it up with anyone whose age or health rules out life insurance as a means of funding and who doesn't have the suspension costs in the bank.
3Paul Crowley
Yes, I've thought of this as the major component in the hostility you see towards cryonics for a while.

I believe that HDM accounts for some smallish component of why I feel threatened by cryonics, and I think this component could be easily addressed with some preparations and rituals once cryonics became more mainstream.

For example, I hate the idea of going to the grocery store to buy ice to chill a person so they can be preserved. (Because I'd rather they stay dead than buy ice? No. Something about going to buy a bag of ice with an igloo on it, intended for soda and beer, feels disrespectful.) But if an ambulance came prepared with ice, that would be great. And the development of 'normal' cryonics rituals: 'So-and-so has been cryopreserved, a memorial service will be held Sunday.'

Since the main perceived (or real) threat seems to be to the social status of the family, along with participating personnel and experts, perhaps the answer is to be more generous with our praise towards those currently in stasis. They are pioneers from our time, after all.

The trouble with that is that they are expected to eventually be reanimated and may thus hear of this gushing praise one day. Imagine how awkward a funeral would be if the corpse could actually hear the sobs and kind words being spoken over them.

An alternate method of allocating the needed status towards cryonics could be to cultivate pride in the community itself. The issue there is that the community is still small and it could devolve into elitism.

Another possibility could be to house the dewars in some kind of monument, say a time capsule, with prominent displays of our cultural achievements to date. Perhaps the Timeship project is less frivolous than I thought.

Actually, some people are into that kind of thing. There's a whole subculture that fetishizes consensual, reversible death; it's called 'snuffie.'
As much as I might regret it, this idea is bizarre enough to me that I'd like to read more about it. Google doesn't appear to turn up anything relevant, have you got a link?
these three stories seem to cover the basics.
All I'm getting is Do they require a login? FurAffinity has had new user registration locked for a while, now.
Did you try bugmenot? It might have a login.
That's a good idea - I should have tried it earlier, but I've never been one for bugmenot. Sadly:
Living funerals are not that unusual or awkward.
Depends what kind of living funeral we're talking about...

Just like joining a cult that promises a post-mortem reward, signing up for cryonics means that anyone who (used to) respect you is forced to evaluate your evidence for doing so, or else save themselves the effort by calling you crazy. I think anti-cryonics backlash is a byproduct of an anti-cult heuristic.

People are even further annoyed when a cult promises that the evidence necessary to convince a thinking person to believe is available now and not just after death - that they're not asking you to take anything on faith (often, this turns out to be a li... (read more)

The HDM includes the notion that death can be easily determined by experiment in the here and now. So the idea that a brainwave or heartbeat is something that once lost (or once absent for 10 minutes, etc.) is part of it. My thought is that doctors get a certain amount of social status when they are able to give an unambiguous answer on the topic of whether someone is "too far gone" or not. Lawyers deal with words on paper that say whether someone was dead or not at a specified time. While there's not a technical problem with differentiating legal death from say, moral death, the fact that the HDM more or less corresponds to legal death doubtless makes it easier for such things to be processed. Writers have to relate their stories to the audience, so if they try to make death a totally bad/avoidable/ambiguous thing there is a high probability they won't connect with the audience. Morals about how evil it is to grasp for immortality are by contrast a highly popular fantasy trope. The essential threat is to the comfort level of a large number of people. Their entire notion of death is fuzzy, instinctive, and full of prescientific influences and outdated concepts.
I think you mean this trope.
I wonder if Harry Potter would have run into backlash - I mean a wider backlash - if at the end of Philosopher's Stone, the (good-aligned) alchemist who made the Stone had been reported to be still living as a happy immortal rather than deciding to quit peacefully.

Some aspects of what you call the HDM don't seem to be universal. Note for example that some cultures have deliberately left bodies out on high towers to be consumed by scavengers. The Pirahã dig a hole, toss the body in, and have little or no ceremony. So the idea of having the corpses treated respectfully doesn't really exist in some cultures.

The HDM does not attempt to establish irreversibility of death beyond a shadow of a doubt, it assumes it based on loss of vital signs and lack of immediate revival. Originally the breath was used, then heartbeat;

... (read more)
I actually did make that up based on my intuition on the matter. However I was able to find some support via google. Here is a book that claims that cold body and cessation of breath are predate cardiac criteria: Trauma: Critical Care By William C. Wilson, Christopher M. Grande, David B. Hoyt, pp. 1218 I would say that while social norms regarding what is unacceptable treatment of a corpse vary, there seems to be a prevailing theme of cultures adopting strong norms regarding such treatment. Sky burial is just one such norm. I see no reason cryonics (including neuro) could not be another. It is interesting that the Wikipedia article claims that the Pirahã do not have a social hierarchy. Perhaps this supports my position that treatment of corpses is primarily status-related (as opposed to a method of avoiding inflicting trauma on the living).

The question is what causes this sensation that cryonics is a threat? What does it specifically threaten?

It doesn't threaten the notion that we will all die eventually. Accident, homicide, and war will remain possibilities unless we can defeat them, and suicide will always remain an option.

Even if cryonics does not in fact threaten the notion of eventual death, it might still cause the sensation that it poses this threat.

I am against cryonics, and here's why (though I would love to hear a rebuttal):

Cryonics seems inherently, and destructively, to the human race, grossly selfish. Not only is cryonics a huge cost that could be spent elsewhere helping others, nature and evolution thrive on the necessity of refreshing the population of each species. Though it's speculation, I would assign the probability of evolution continuing to work (and improve) on the human race as pretty high - what gain does the human species have in preserving humans from the 21st century indefinitely,... (read more)

I agree, cryonics is selfish. But no more so than lots of other things people indulge themselves in, like buying a house. It would be hypocritical to single out cryonics specifically, using this criterion as justification. This is not your true rejection.


I would assign the probability of evolution continuing to work (and improve) on the human race as pretty high

Then you probably don't understand evolution very well. Evolution doesn't "improve" things, it makes more of whatever survives and reproduces.

Based on the current trends, I'd say we' re evolving in the direction of "too dumb to use birth control".

Fundamentalists are also more fecund than average :-(

Cryonics seems inherently, and destructively, to the human race, grossly selfish. Not only is cryonics a huge cost that could be spent elsewhere helping others

It is not very expensive (and could get even cheaper — see Cryonics Wants To Be Big), and many of its supporters see it in a primarily humanitarian sense (advocating that it be easily and cheaply available to everyone, not just being concerned with having it themselves).

Also, as for "spent elsewhere helping others": there are charities that can reliably save a life for between $200 and $1000. Every time you spend some amount of money on that order or some multiple thereof, do you think about whether what you're doing is more important than that many children's lives? Or is it just with medical procedures that have some chance of saving your life? Or is cryonics in particular being singled out for some reason?

nature and evolution thrive on the necessity of refreshing the population of each species. Though it's speculation, I would assign the probability of evolution continuing to work (and improve) on the human race as pretty high - what gain does the human species have in preserving humans from the 21st century

... (read more)
Why encourage people to make a mistake in one domain, just because they're already making the same mistake in many other domains?
It wasn't completely a rhetorical question. I actually did want to see if jtolds applied that standard consistently; I wasn't necessarily saying that that's a bad idea. (Myself, I remain confused about that question. A typical consequentialism would seem to compel me to weigh any cost against that of saving a life, but I'm not sure whether I have to bite that bullet or if I'm doing something wrong.)
It's not a given that "excessive" egoism is a mistake.
Whether or not it's a given, it's an assumption behind the particular argument I was responding to. I disagree with the linked post but it would take some thinking/writing/comments-reading time to explain why. And surely if "shut up and divide" is a reason for egoism it's also a reason for myopia?
The argument is that there is significant uncertainty, not that we certainly (or even probably) are that selfish. Values can in principle say anything about preferred shape of spacetime, so selfishness at present doesn't automatically imply not caring about the future.
If due to scope insensitivity we care about living for a billion years only a million times as much as about eating an extra cookie, then if you apply Wei Dai's "shut up and divide" principle, we should prefer the extra cookie to 500 years of life. (ETA: while this is extreme myopia, it may not be enough myopia to make cryo a bad idea.)
I just made a small calculation : The number of deaths in the US is about 2.5 million per year. The cost of cryonics is about $30000 per "patient" with the Cryonics Institute. So if everyone wanted to be frozen, it would cost 75 billion dollars a year, about 0.5% of the US GDP, or 3% of the healthcare spending. This neglects the economies of scales which could greatly reduce the price. So even with a low probability of success, cryonics seems to be a good choice.
I don't think comparing total cost of cryonics to the total cost of healthcare is useful. We need to consider just the cost of those aspects of healthcare which would no longer be required if we have a cryonics-friendly population: life-saving operations with a high-chance of failure, and end-of-life curative care (attempting to extend lifespan but only for a short while) and palliative care (reducing suffering as people near death). After some brief googling, I was unable to find much information on expenditures specifically for the above categories, but I can at least find an upper bound. According to this chart, nursing home expenses account for 6.1% of US health care expenses, and hospital care accounts for 30.4%. Guessing that most nursing patients are reasonable candidates for cryonics, and that most hospital expenses are for very serious cases (since less urgent problems can be handled at a clinic), that sets an upper bound of healthcare costs which would be cut by cryonics at 36.5% of 2 trillion, 730 billion, of which the estimated cryonics cost is still only about 10%. So cryonics still seems to come out ahead, provided my stated assumptions bear out fairly well.
I don't think this quiet answers jtold's problem though. What about when all these cryogenically frozen people will be unfrozen? What about refreshing each generation / where each generation starts anew so to speak?
When the people are unfrozen, it's reasonable to think that medical technology will be advanced enough not only to cure them of whatever was about to kill them, but to do so fairly inexpensively. So, there's a net reduction in resource usage by cryogenically freezing people. One way for me to support that is by referencing the accelerating rate of technological improvement, but a simpler argument is that if it weren't yet cheap to cure the frozen people at a given date, there wouldn't be very much motivation for the people of that time period to unfreeze them. Plus, even if the cost were the same later on as it is now, there's certainly benefit in spending more resources to fix the problems that are immediate existential threats (i.e. environmental disaster, global nuclear conflict, some here would say unfriendly AI) and saving those problems which can wait indefinitely for later. I don't think jtold's other reason really makes much sense: he's concerned about reducing the rate of evolutionary change in humanity, but cryogenics wouldn't stop new people from being born, just keep the old people around as well. The gene pool will keep on churning. More importantly, and as other people on this thread have pointed out, why is evolutionary change worth preserving? Medical science is much faster and can arrive at all the same desirable goals, i.e. reducing genetic diseases and enhancing human capabilities. Plus, evolution punishes individuals with suffering in order to achieve its broader goals, while medical science advances both the welfare of each individual and of the species as a whole.
Thank you for all your replies! I guess I should figure out how to turn on email notifications or something. A few thoughts. 1) Yes, if cost goes down, then this becomes much more palatable, I agree. However, I didn't mean to strictly imply monetary cost. But yes, overall, a great point. Driving costs down sounds like a reasonable goal. 2) As a few of you pointed out, you're absolutely right that I should be consistent in my claims about selfishness - if the cost of cryonics is equal to that of buying a house, then either I should not buy a house or my objection is elsewhere. I think this comes back to the problem of not considering monetary cost solely. I don't object to buying a house as much, even for the same monetary cost, because presumably I am alive and am productively helping society (at least, I would hope so). As far as vacations to the Bahamas go, yeah, I'm not sure I would choose to take said vacation for similar reasons (seems real selfish to me). So perhaps I'm somewhat consistent (ha). 3) True, evolution does not have a human-style "goal" in mind, and perhaps we have beaten evolution in the sense that it no longer will continue to produce productive results, or at least as productive as our technological advancements can achieve. So, that's definitely a fair point. 4) My feeling on death is that your time is your time, but I guess in retrospect I have no more reason to feel that way than anyone has to feel that they should avoid death. Certainly the point that there is no real reason the current life expectancy is what it is is a good one. So, all, excellent points, well taken. I think I am to the point where my objection to cryonics is only a little above my objection to vacations in the Bahamas. :) Which is to say, still strong - I can understand that others are likely to want to do so, but I doubt I will be encouraging anyone, much less planning trips of my own.
Cryonics is a cost, yes, but living is a cost as well. Is spending my money on cryonics more or less selfish than a 2-week vacation in the Bahamas every year for 10 years? In both cases, my money supports an economy, and I get a benefit --a recharge, in the latter, a possible regeneration in the former-- that will enhance my contribution to society.
If the next couple centuries of human evolution are anything like the last several dozen, the only way we'll be "improved" by evolution is the addition of a few more disease immunities. If they're not it will probably be because (a) we can just directly modify the geonome, and what nature would take millions of years to get around to artifice can do nigh-immediately or (b) some sort of terrible disaster has occured (and even then most of the selective forces will just be for immunities.) I think it's hard to dispute that there are more pressing uses of limited resources than cryonics. But this is an argument against frivolties in general. It's reasonable to say "we should rob the rich and give to the poor, so that more resources are expended on food and basic medicine than smartphones and frozen heads," if that's where your values lie, but "cryonics is more objectionable than smartphones" doesn't follow.
You seem to be referring to the theory that no significant evolution has occurred in humans in recent history. This theory is increasingly disputed in light of the evidence.
Immunities are awfully significant! If you didn't have them you'd enjoy a swift death. Either way, though, it's not the case that evolution would "continue" "improving" us, just that we'd be different in whatever way we'd be different. We're not more evolved at later points than earlier points; Azathoth doesn't care about that kind of directionality.
While I agree with you to some extent, I believe I can play devil's advocate. Is it clear that progress through evolution is optimal? Evolution is insensible and doesn't consistently result in linear progress (e.g., we could be wiped out by a virus). In any case, relying on evolution is futile: we seem to be at a new stage of pattern formation where cultural and technical evolution is working at a far greater pace than generational, genetic evolution. Evolution, and any plans that it might have had for us, is falling to the wayside. This is not to say that a 70-100 year lifespan is ideal. We spend so much of our productive lifetimes learning, it seems we could be much more productive if the working sector had more productive years before retirement. What is the value of the group if the individual doesn't matter? Death is something hanging over us that causes a lot of misery, fear and anxiety. Death is a very unpleasant consequence for sentient beings -- I would argue that it should never have been allowed to happen, this combination of sentience and mortality. Wouldn't it be good to fix that problem for all sentient beings, now and in the future?

Evolution, and any plans that it might have had for us, is falling to the wayside.

There are no authoritative plans for what Homo Sapiens "should be" in thousands of years!

In any case, what I wrote doesn't make sense, because I could not coherently specify which alternate reality I would be speaking of. (E.g., one in which humans didn't have technology? Why not?) But sure, permitting the anthropomorphism, mechanisms have 'plans'. Evolution evolves things according to certain rules, and the results have patterns. These patterns are 'plans' built into the mechanism. But if you meant to emphasize that evolution doesn't have plans in the sense of an end result it is trying to achieve through us in particular, there's no argument from me.
Getting from "cryonics might interfere with natural selection" to "cryonics is bad" requires crossing a large inferential distance, with plenty of caveats along the way. Evolution has its own ideas about what is better, and they are often things that humanity would consider worse. Genetic engineering might replace evolution entirely. This argument is valid - money spent on cryonics might be better spent on charity. But it isn't valid at all price points. For example, if cryonics cost only $100, then even the small benefit to future anthropologists would be worth it. And the cost gets cheaper as time passes and technology improves, so eventually it will be cheap enough to be worth it; the only question is, how cheap is cheap enough?
I agree that evolution will continue for the human race, though I think a lot of it will become memetic rather than. However, it's hard to tell what's an improvement and what isn't. I admit to concerns about increased no-pause longevity-- the same people could stay in charge for a very long time. Institutions are less likely to get refreshed with new ideas. Cryonics is relatively safe for that problem-- people aren't going to be able to sustain power if they're gone for decades. (Or at least there's some interesting science fiction work to be done figuring out how they could.) My assumption is that revived people will be a smallish part of the population, and will add variety by keeping old points of view from getting lost. In particular, artists aren't fungible, and I think it would be an advantage to continue to get new works from the good ones.
"My assumption is that revived people will be a smallish part of the population, and will add variety by keeping old points of view from getting lost." This. I can't help but feel we are all too often swept into crazy herd behavior. And at least currently we seem trending towards fewer languages and more globalized intellectual currents. What is that saying? The past is a foreign country.
—L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between —Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything (commenting on the effect of time-travel) —yours truly
Voted up for pithiness - "The past is a foreign country", I will definitely remember that. It's very useful to have one-liners for important concepts like this, helps to keep the meme propogation going.
I'm also concerned by this. Particularly troublesome is the observation that moral progress seems to require multiple generations. When we defeat aging, we will have to develop the art of evolving one's terminal values so that everyone can participate in moral progress.
‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’ — Max Planck Of course, it is the purpose of this site (in some ways) to make Planck wrong, but there's a lot of work ahead.
Improve humans in what respect? Do you think that high intelligence is positively correlated in modern society with number of offspring? How about moral character? More attractive people are certainly seen as more sexually desirable, but do they have more children? Evolution doesn't improve species, it increases their fitness within a particular environment, and it only does so in response to selection pressure. It doesn't matter how wildly successful a person with an IQ of 220 would be, if people with higher IQs do not have better odds of producing surviving offspring, evolution will not make humans smarter, and the same goes for any other measure you might apply to the worth of a person. In any case, most of the difference between a person now and several generations from now will not be genetic, unless we start tinkering around with human genomes ourselves. Other adaptation mechanisms, such as memes and technology, change much faster.
We can do gene therapy to update the 21st century humans to 23rd century humans.
I find it strange that no one seems to be arguing what my answer is; I want to be cryopreserved because my primary value is my life. In any situation where A is certain death and B is any probability of life, I choose B. This is why your argument is irrelevant given my utility function.
Would you be willing to kill $LARGE_NUMBER other people to save your own life, then?
"In any situation where A is certain death and B is any probability of life, I choose B." No, you don't.
I concur with your skepticism, but don't see your evidence. My skepticism is because a "situation where A is certain death" is almost always certain death with some time delay (could be seconds, could be years, it depends on the case...) and I'd expect that there is at least the possibility of a trade-off between quality of life during that time delay and a sufficiently small odds of surviving. This regularly comes up in experimental chemotherapy decisions Atul Gawande has a good article on some of these cases Disclaimer: I'm an Alcor member - but I view cryonics as a long shot, and my arrangements for it could restrict my choices in ways that might induce me to change my mind and cancel them under certain circumstances.
I didn't provide evidence because I figured it just needed a bit of imagination. You provided one reason for such cases to come up in real life. Here's a case which is unlikely to come up in real life, but which makes the point clearly: A is certain and immediate death, within the next ten seconds. B is a 100% chance of infinite torture (and therefore also infinite life.) I don't believe Alex would choose B. Or if, like Hopelessly Anonymous, he chooses B originally, he would change his mind after the torture started.
I suppose that the people who deride cryonics as ‘selfish’ do so because they think that every cryonicist is like you.

Elevated burden of proof. As if cryonics demands more than a small amount of evidence to be worth trying.

Well, maybe from a Pascal's Wager's perspective -- but since cryonics cost a significant amount of money and chances of success are, as far as I know, small at best, one could argue that there may be better returns-on-investment elsewhere. One could give money to, say, the SENS Foundation. Or to researchers on brain-uploading, or other such efforts. Their chances of success may not be very big either, but overall it's not clear that the expected-extra-life-expectancy-per-dollar (EELEPD) is worse than that for cryonics.

Fair enough, but cryonics opponents who make this kind of argument don't usually do any of those things either. Instead they point out that thesuccess of cryonics isn't 100% certain, and use this as an excuse to ignore the whole issue.

and used obscene displays of corpses to punish their dead

Perhaps the most prominent example.

No, that's a bad example. In Catholicism, the bodies of martyrs and saints were (are) exhumed and displayed all the time for the purpose of being exalted and venerated. Indeed, often pieces of their bodies are treated with awe, even ones as unseemly as a severed tongue. The Cadaver Synod was a humiliation because Formosus's helpless corpse was subjected to a nasty show trial, and because after the trial it did get stripped, 'tortured', and thrown in the water. But the exhumation and display of his corpse in and of themselves weren't the point.

I challenge the notion of the article and some comments that people make up their minds consciously about that topic. There are good and rational arguments against cryo, but those are rarely heard. Instead we get snap reactions. But that is not related particularly to this topic, it is a general effect, and deserves general exploration. We annoying rationalists have to habits to deal with some of the deep rooted topics. And death is one of them. Many rituals are old, strict, rarely talked about or questioned. And some religions have the habit to bury the d... (read more)

Society has taken advantage of this in historical times by flaying, beheading, or hanging corpses. The idea is that despite the fact that these things have zero impact on a living individual who can feel them

That line of reasoning is incorrect, I believe. I can imagine seeing someone I love treated that way: that would be distinctly worse than knowing they died painlessly and were treated with respect.

The reason is that among my preferences is the wish that my family, friends etc. be treated at least respectfully by others. If this kind of fate is visit... (read more)

The whole point of cryonics is to ensure it's NOT your final wish.
A paradox! It's their final wish if and only if we do not comply with it. But we should comply with it if and only if it's not their final wish. (The latter ‘only if’ requires some external reason, such as waste of money; of course we assume that the relatives who make this decision don't believe in the promise of cryonics.) Therefore, whatever we do will be immoral, one way or another.
Amended to "direct impact" for clarity. I don't mean to say no individual will feel the impact in any way, only that the person whose corpse it is has no capacity for pain or humiliation at that point. That's an exception rather than a rule. Being stored in LN2 defaults to being emotionally hard to relate to, and the HDM effect is very emotionally based. Also it has much to do with signaling to the general society. Specific individuals seem to easily disregard it when there is enough money at stake, possibly because the prospect of money dampens the emotions they would otherwise feel.
That is correct but has no bearing on the matter: the wish that our corpses shouldn't be mutilated is not, as you claim, a purely "symbolic" or "cultural" matter, it is a wish that arises out of our concerns for the feelings of others rather than out of concerns for our own feelings, and so our own "capacity for pain" after death is immaterial. Others' feelings about our corpses are not irrational or arbitrary. They stem from the psychological fact that the mental image you keep of someone is typically the most recent that has made an impression on you. Seeing the mutilated corpse of someone you loved would make remembering them a traumatic experience, adding to the normal experience of grief. Suppose I know that my wife is skeptical about cryonics, and I further know that it would cause her distress to see my body undergo the preservation procedure. In that case there is a small but distinct harm to her in my getting preserved. The only argument that presents a benefit outweighing that harm is the hypothesis that I am not actually dead. You are correct that this implies society reconstructing its conception of "death"; what I take issue with is your labeling of the current attitude toward death as "symbolic" and entirely detached of any actual consequences. The term "meme" is ill-chosen to describe something like attitudes toward death; it alludes to properties (meme-as-replicator) which are unimportant to your argument. Instead, this would be an ideal occasion to use a phrase such as "death is a social construction", and a good illustration that "social constructions" aren't whimsy - they are the way humans adapt to a given set of circumstances.

Actually I don't agree that preventing grotesque displays of one's corpse is primarily motivated by concern for the trauma a living person might receive by looking at it. It seems more to me to have to do with status. We identify with our social status, and the concept of being dishonored (and thus having our social status decline) after we die is something we find unappealing. This is indeed a self-interest based consideration, and indeed alterations in social status for the deceased could have consequences for their family.

However, the link between a given corpse's cosmetic state and one's social status after death seems to me a self-replicating cultural idea (i.e. a meme) with plenty of instinctive impetus but no inherent ethical merit.

A lot of the recent discussion of cryonics in the blogosphere is about others' basis for rejecting it. If you want it to become more available that's probably one of the steps to take. But grossly selfish? Or ghoulish, or an affront to nature, or any of those things? Much of medicine today would seem that way to someone living two centuries ago. For my part, I don't oppose it if others want to do it, and I applaud anyone who wants to use technology to improve their lives even if I think they're barking up the wrong tree; I don't plan to do it myself. ... (read more)

I'm signed up with Alcor. Several reasons: * Suicide is usually illegal and will get you an autopsy. * Cryopreservation techniques get better over time. * Cryonics probably won't work, but the expected value calculation favors signing up. The people staffing the cryo facility. You don't just toss some heads in a tank and forget about them. Constant monitoring and maintenance is necessary. You're also assuming that no friends or family sign up, and that you don't make friends with any cryonicists. And you're assuming it will always be expensive to revive people. You're talking about a society that uses nanotech or uploading to bring unproductive people back from the dead. You think it likely that life in that society would be worse than death? PS: Your website gives me a malware warning in Google Chrome.
I'm not (yet) a 'cryonicist', but the answer to the first question seems simple to me: by being frozen while still more or less healthy, you're giving up a variable length of time which you are certain to get, in exchange for improving by an unknown amount your small chances of maybe getting an unknown extra length of time (resurrection does not necessarily imply immortality, after all). You can't put exact numbers on any of that, but enjoying your current life (while hopefully fastening your seat belts) at least until the first signs of fatal disease seems a sensible choice. I would agree, however, that initiating "live cryonics" procedures makes sense once you're stuck on a deathbed and too tired to lead at least a decent intellectual life. [Disclaimer: I have bookmarked your post but haven't read it yet, so I apologise if the above was addressed.] Your second question I subscribe to, and is in fact currently one of my main doubts about cryonics.

Terror Management seems to explain the reactions to cryonics pretty well. I've only skimmed the OP enough to want to trot out the standard explanation, so I may have missed something, but so far as I can tell the Historical Death Meme and Terror Management make the same predictions.

It is in fact absolutely unacceptable, from a simple humanitarian perspective, that something as nebulous as the HDM -- however artistic, cultural, and deeply ingrained it may be -- should ever be substituted for an actual human life.

Accepting something is the first step to changing it, so you'll have to do better than that.

Even if cryonics work, won`t everybody die anyway, eventually?

You can make a general theoretical argument for that, based on entropy and the heat death of the universe. But this still allows us all to live very long lives, potentially longer lives than the life so far of the universe since the Big Bang. (And it's so far off that I wouldn't be too confident of our theoretical predictions either.) If you mean that somebody dying of cancer now will still die of old age after they've been thawed, then this is a risk, but then you simply freeze them again until there's a cure for old age. (And people are working on that.) Remember, you only have to live long enough that medical science learns to extend life faster than you age.
In another words, cryonics is not a qualitative change, but a quantitative one. Life will just be longer, it still remains finite.

"Unresearched suspicions regarding the ethics and business practices of cryonics organizations."

I consider this to be a real issue. There just isn't much transparency among the handful of players, and sentiments like yours aren't making them any less opaque.

I don't have a problem with researching any suspicions you have, only drawing conclusions without research. FWIW, the players involved seem extremely transparent to me (more so than is merited perhaps). What sort of information do you feel is being hidden?

Note that one could just as easily come up with a two page article about a "Futuristic Life Meme" which represents the cryonics supporters' sense of being threatened by death.

The analysis of a new, emerging science deserves critique. From what I can tell, this particular critique is essentially ad-hominem, in that it attempts to attack a belief based on the characteristics of the individuals, rather than their arguments.

It trivializes the fact that there are reasons for being reluctant to invest in cryonics. Lastly, this writing conflates cryonics skepticism with unwillingness to invest.

We've argued a lot about the advisability of cryonics. This article takes that advisibility as a given and attempts to further discussion among those who agree. If you don't agree, that's fine, but It's OK for an article to move on sometimes.

Thank you ciphergoth.
Is there anything particularly remarkable about being threatened by death? I would find that strange, given that threatening someone with death has historically been such a popular form of intimidation. Cryonics has been "emerging" for over 40 years. People still choose not to think about it, despite lots of exposure to the concept. There has to be a reason. If you think there are rational reasons, I'm interested in hearing what they are. Contrary to popular expectation, it's not particularly expensive. But the real problem I'm attacking is unwillingness to think about the issue. I haven't invested money in this myself yet. I have invested the time and energy to understand it, and come to the conclusion that I should endorse and support it. There's no particularly good humanitarian or ethical reason I can think of not to.
You're right - it's worth noting that the article does not describe all cryonics objectors.

Re: "Historical Death Meme".

The appearance of the dead body typically matters somewhat to those relatives and friends who look at it. What did you expect?

The "protecting family from trauma" theory does not explain why societies hung the bodies of criminals and traitors in public as gruesome reminders of how disgusting and unacceptable their behavior was. A "decent burial" is likewise a social signal of reward for honorable conduct, e.g. in a battlefield.
If you see the body of a criminal hung by a roadside, you will be deterred from embarking on a life of crime yourself, if you still have some social attachments, such as a family; more so than if you see that criminal being given a decent trial, execution and burial. On the other hand, choosing to be a criminal or a traitor is already choosing a low-status social position: it's legitimate to be skeptical of the supposed power of the mere status threat of having your body mangled, compared to the very real risk of being hunted down and killed which inheres to the social position of criminal in the first place. This is one more instance where I suspect status of being used as a fake explanation.
The status threat is in addition to being killed. In other words, once the society has already exercised the option of killing you they would also attempt to destroy your credibility and dehumanize you by publicly displaying your rotting carcass. This is obviously supposed to be an additional deterrent above and beyond being killed. It makes a huge amount of sense that this would be because you can't rationalize it as easily by thinking "hey even if I'm caught and killed at least I'll be remembered as a pretty cool guy". It makes no sense in the context of the tender feelings of family and friends of the criminal. Also, I'd be willing to bet the criminals most likely to suffer such a fate are high-status ones whose exploits are most legendary -- the revolutionaries and traitors, more than common criminals. Another obvious reason to think corpse treatment is a status symbol is the amount of care given to the bodies of kings and emperors, and as I've mentioned, fallen warriors. It's like the reason people buy bigger houses. On the surface, yes it provides a little more comfort for their family. But when it comes down to it, they do it primarily to signal their status.
The status threat is in addition to being killed. In other words, once the society has already exercised the option of killing you they would also attempt to destroy your credibility and dehumanize you by publicly displaying your rotting carcass. This is obviously supposed to be an additional deterrent above and beyond being killed. It makes a huge amount of sense that this would be because you can't rationalize it as easily by thinking "hey even if I'm caught and killed at least I'll be remembered as a pretty cool guy". It makes no sense in the context of the tender feelings of family and friends of the criminal. Also, I'd be willing to bet the criminals most likely to suffer such a fate are high-status ones whose exploits are most legendary -- the revolutionaries and traitors, more than common criminals. Another obvious reason to think corpse treatment is a status symbol is the amount of care given to the bodies of kings and emperors, and as I've mentioned, fallen warriors. It's like the reason people buy bigger houses. On the surface, yes it provides a little more comfort for their family. But when it comes down to it, they do it primarily to signal their status.
As a deterrent, obviously.
"Deterrent" has no explanatory power. It's just a label. You need to consider why a person would be deterred by it.
I have no idea why this comment is being downvoted. Can someone explain?
But why should it? 'Where death is, I am not.'
The relatives use the appearance for purposes associated with resolving grief. A gruesome death mask stimulating negative memories of the departed is unlikely to help much with that. Thus: cosmetics.
I doubt it is very useful for the purpose of resolving grief. However if you can cite studies that back this claim that would be helpful.
Here's on the topic: "After being dressed for visitation/funeral services, cosmetics are applied to make body appear more lifelike and to create a "memory picture" for the deceased's friends and relatives." Here's what can happen if it is done badly: "Family Sues Funeral Home Over Bad Corpse Condition" * On the effect on mourners: "The funeral industry promotes embalming and viewing as a means to show "proper respect for the body," and to establish the "clear identity" of the corpse so that the reality of death cannot be denied by those who view the body. Many funeral directors are convinced that seeing the body is a necessary part of the grieving process, even if the death was long anticipated. " *
None of this seems to offer direct empirical support for the hypothesis that the mental health of mourners is actually helped by viewing the corpse. Note how in the case where it is done badly, it is embarrassing and socially problematic. Further down: "Few funeral directors will participate in the public viewing of a body without embalming and cosmetic restoration. While some people may be comforted by "a beautiful memory picture," as it's called in the trade, 32% of consumers reported that viewing was a negative experience, according to a 1990 survey." 32% of the people who view their loved one's corpse find it to be a negative experience. That does not sound to me like something optimized for helping the grieving process.
I wouldn't expect anyone to be happy about paying their last respects to a loved one's remains. It's not a walk in the woods. The question at hand is relative, not absolute: would someone be worse off (in the long term) it their last memory of a loved one was of their mangled body, or of a version of it resembling the person in life.
The question is whether they would be worse off with cremation or simply with no ceremony... or with cryonics of course, for that matter.