My paternal grandmother is dying of cancer (not brain cancer). She is still relatively healthy, and is taking chemo, but there is little hope of remission (and even if that does happen, she'll probably die of heart failure fairly soon). Her current plan is to be cremated and have the ashes buried in a graveyard (in my opinion, the worst of both of the "standard" approaches, but that's not the point of this post).

I would prefer if she were cryopreserved, but am unsure how to even begin to broach the subject. I also have no idea how to convince her. She is not particularly religious, but is concerned with leaving as much money for my grandfather (and later my parents and me) as possible. I have previously discussed cryonics with my parents; my father brushed off the idea and my mom looked into it but dismissed the idea because the future isn't likely to want her (I find this argument ridiculous on several grounds). This means that I can't count on them to help talk to my grandmother. I may be able to talk to my grandfather first, but this would probably not be much of an asset: he is into several different conspiracy theories (the most recent ones center around the world secretly being controlled by the "elites" who use the U.S. President, U.K. Prime Minister, etc. as figurative puppets), but my grandmother doesn't seem to believe these and probably wouldn't listen much to his talk of cryonics either.

Any suggestions of how to broach the topic or convince her once the topic is broached would be appreciated. I am currently at my grandparents' house, but am leaving less than a day after posting this (most of which will be spent at the local nighttime, and thus asleep). I would prefer not to upset her, both for obvious reasons and because I may not be able to bring myself to bring it up on the day we depart if it will cause us to leave on a bad note.


New Comment
73 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:00 AM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

If you're able to directly discuss what her plans are for after death (cremation etc) then could you just talk about your own plans in the same context - don't explicitly suggest that she get it done, just discuss that it's what you want for yourself.

This is a good idea. Mentioning up front that you think it's a long shot makes you sound a lot less crazy. Definitely try to raise a discussion, instead of lecturing. It comes of less as 'Hi, let me induct you into our crazy cult.'

Ask her about her reasons for her wishes for disposal of her remains, and then come to terms with the fact that her reasons are (probably) not the same as your reasons.

On more practical grounds... is the money to pay for the cryopreservation available? Cryonics isn't impossibly expensive, but it's not cheap.

As I understand it, the money is available.

She's a woman, so whatever difficulty you are expecting, double or triple it. Women don't like cryonics.

She is not particularly religious, but is concerned with leaving as much money for my grandfather (and later my parents and me) as possible.

Yeah, I'd give up here. Signing up is hard, it's expensive, it's much too late, there's a sure-fire competing desire, and the target is female. The odds of success are, at a minimum, <5% (if you actually try, I'd be happy to record a prediction or bet on it). This will not end well for you. Don't try.

The odds of success are, at a minimum, <5%... Don't try.

One does not necessarily follow from the other. Don't expect too much (I would put the odds around 1% myself) but it might still be worth a few hours or days of your time.

These odds depend a great deal on the behavior of cryonicists in the here and now, instead of depending completely on the haphazard. Refer to: RESPONSIBILITY, PROBABILITY, AND DURABILITY, by Thomas Donaldson [] Specifically Donaldson writes: So the cryonicist, Donaldson argues, needs to think more like the owner of the casino in this example instead of like a passive gambler. This odds-based thinking also tends to encourage passivity, a fault which I find in typical "skeptical" evaluations of the idea. The usual skeptic says something like, "Cryonics can't or won't work," period; whereas the skeptic who likes solving problems looks at the situation and thinks more along the lines of, "Hmm, cryonics can't or won't work - if you do it that way." Then he might try to think of ways to improve the statement of the problem so that it looks more solvable.
I read gwern and faul_sname as talking about the odds of convincing a relative to sign up, not the odds of revival.
Yes []. Unfortunately, freezing is the only option as of right now, and it seems to require that a lot of things go right.
What made you believe this? Is there a pattern to the declared reasons?

You can look at cryonic signup rates by gender, and there's also the article that advancedatheist linked. I'll add that in my anecdotal experience, women seem more likely to dismiss the idea when I bring it up in casual conversation.

For myself, personally, I don't like cryonics because I think the research largely points to it being non-viable. Of the three other women I can remember speaking to recently, two others had the same objection, and the last one's issue is that they live in Australia so the difficulty of getting cryopreserved soon after death is ridiculously high (they view it as plausible-but-unlikely)

Yeah, I'm wondering if plastination might catch on better. Most people I talk to are on board with the "death is bad" philosophy, but cryonics is just too much of a long shot.
Is there a large contingent of people who want to sign up for cryonics but are worried about the strict temperature requirements and so forth? If not, plastination probably won't catch on much better than cryonics.
With cryonics, if somebody messes up at any point (the cryonics company goes broke, the LN2 production company experiences unexpected problems and any local stores are running low, an employee mishandles your body, etc.) then you are unlikely to be revived. With plastination, there's a lot less that can go wrong; even if the future caretakers of your brain don't believe it will work, it is more effort to destroy your brain than to leave it be. They may decide to bury it in a graveyard, but that's less likely to prevent revival than thawing from cryonics. In either case, the probability that revival will be technologically and socially possible given it's physically possible approaches 1 as time approaches infinity, and the probability that something bad and irreversible happens to you given that you aren't revived also approaches 1 as time approaches infinity. In either case, you're betting that the former happens before the latter. However, this seems a much better bet with plastination than cryonics because it's a lot harder for something bad to happen to you.
It may catch a bit better because cryonics is very sci-fi sounding. There are a lot of sci-fi novels and movies using cryonics, and for many, those who believe in cryonics are just those who take sci-fi for reality. Plastination isn't used in sci-fi, it's something that most people just never heared about, so they don't have "it's just sci-fi" prior belief. Also, cryonics are very expensive because of the high upkeep required to keep the temperature, so there is good hope that plastination could be made much cheaper, lowering the entrance barrier.
My understanding from reading Darwin and various other materials is that the ongoing maintenance cost of LN2 (one of the cheapest fluids around) storage is pretty low, and the major cost in cryopreservation are the original procedures.
One public image advantage of plastination is that, if you're doing it on whole bodies, you could (Plausibly) put the plastinated patient on a standard bed (Maybe in a 2001-esque pod for extra effect (No, no need to mention Robert Nelson pulled the same stunt [])) and make it look closer to real medicine. Though I'm not sure it's completely prudent to let a plastinated body out in the open collecting dust for show.
I guess you missed the controversy this article generated a couple years back: [] I've wondered if we do make a transition to a society where extreme healthy life extension becomes feasible and a part of mainstream medicine whether we'll see a pattern where women on average still choose to die more or less on schedule while men on average choose the longevity treatments. That could work out well for the straight alpha males and the alpha wannabes who value women for sex but not much else, because they would always have new crops of women coming to fruition for their sexual adventures while they forget the dying older ones; but the situation could distress the men who become emotionally involved with the women in their lives, value their companionship and don't want to see these women age and die. I've noticed that the relatively few women who sign up for cryonics on their own initiative generally don't have, and apparently don't want, children, though I know of a couple of fertility-oriented mom types. One of these motherhood-averse women told me that well before she discovered cryonics and sought out male cryonicists as companions, she had a tubal ligation in her early 20's. (She had a scar in the right place.) But for the most part the cryonics movement remains a male-dominated social space, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
To add a data point, I found myself, to put it strongly, literally losing the will to live recently: I'm 20 and female and I'm kind of at the emotional maturity stage. I think my brain stopped saying "live! Stay alive!" and started saying "Make babies! Protect babies!", because I started finding the idea of cryopreserving myself as less attractive and more repulsive, with no change in opinion for preserving my OH, and an increase in how often I thought about doing the right thing for my future kids. To the extent that I now get orders of magnitude more panicked about anything happening to my reproductive system than dying after future children reach adulthood. I'm not sure for what proportion of women the thought process goes "The future wouldn't want me (because I won't be able to make babies)", with the part in brackets powering the rationalisation-hamster. Fortunately I learned to spot rationalisation from instinct a while back, but I'm still not sure what I can do, if anything, to correct for the shift.
Would you say you're basically shifting into a mindset where your future babies are more important than you are? Like the proverbial friendly AI which values its own existence, not because that's a terminal value, but because that's an instrumental value - it can't do good if it doesn't still exist.
My hamster (human instinct) very definitely is. The rational me shouldn't be: I know I'm more than my reproductive organs! The problem is, on issues like this hamster is pretty loud, and it's not obvious on an intuitive level that "hamster terminal values" are actually "me-instrumental values" (since my life is not about placating hamster, but placating hamster helps me be happy and productive)! I'm suspecting that most people don't have this kind of grasp on their hamster-minds though, and female hamsters are pretty destructive on these issues.
Are you aware that eggs can be frozen []? Given how many women hit their 40s and discover they cannot bear children, the cost-benefit analysis might be interesting to do.
Thanks for the advice. Do you have an idea of the probabilities for a 30-yo? I'm highly unlikely to wait any longer due to said fertility concerns.
There was this article from a couple of years ago: [] Also, as another data point, it is possible that the recent change in your "will to parent" might reverse polarity again once you hit your late twenties and early thirties. I've been amazed at this change that has sort of crept up on me over the last few years - from wanting "at least three" in my early to mid twenties to finding the whole enterprise rather frightening (in terms of lifestyle changes and sacrifices needing to be made). It's possible I'm completely atypical since there are no shortage of stories of women in their thirties becoming even more desperate for children.
Is losing eggs an issue if there isn't a quality decrease? I mean, I only need one at a time... Thanks for the info though :)
For a 30-yo? No; I'm afraid I just understand the fertility curve looks something like an inverted U centered around the late teens. If I had to guess, I think the infertility rate is something like a quarter or fifth by the 40s so maybe half that or less for 30? This is something you should really research yourself. On the plus side, if you keep notes and you write up your final cost-benefit calculation and actual decision, it'd make a good Article or Discussion post.
As the aforementioned OH, I'm wondering if "quizzical" counts as a normal reaction to reading this.
I have definitely told you about this.
Yes. (It was intended as humour, but apparently that wasn't clear)
Thank you for the link! Note that the .pdf version of the article (which is also referenced in dbaupp's link) has a record of the "hostile-wife" cases over a span of 8 years.
Mainstream society thinks it's normal for everyone to want to stay young for as long as possible. Women spend billions on preserving youth and beauty - no aversion to "extreme healthy life extension" there.
Somewhat off topic, but still interesting (to me): Why do you mention the scar? Should we have a high prior that women in this situation would lie about having had a tubal ligation?
I think it's an empirical belief, e.g. even Robyn Hanson's wife [] is resistant to cryonics.
The second sentence of your comment is missing a qualifier of some sort.
Like "statistically." The language a person uses affects [] their view of what they're speaking about, and I suspect that not adding qualifiers when taking about things most members of a faction do causes one to notice/believe in atypical cases less.
Yes! Exactly what I'm talking about. Such concerns have [] been raised here before, y'know. But it's also that, well, a newcomer unfamilliar with LW thought patterns might take offense.
Seeing as there was a thriving thread about eating human babies a few months ago, that wasn't really on my list of concerns.

Misogyny is Near, Babyeaters are Far.

Heck, I've been here quite a while and it still rubbed me the wrong way.
Likewise, it seems a large generalisation, and other facts about the person in question seem more relevant (e.g. age, educational background, financial situation.)
Really? Just knowing we are discussing a female instantly lets you chop the base rate down to something like a third or fourth or maybe less. That's pretty impressive to me, and I don't actually know that any of those factors are better predictors. (Nor, I strongly suspect, do you, even though you want to think that it's a large generalization and not a useful one.)
The most obvious other factor I was thinking of was age. My mental model of an average 20 year old of any gender is far more likely to be open to cryonics than a 50+ year old. I would think there would be massive cultural diffferences in feelings about death, religion, speculative technology, etc. that would massively shift their likely evaluation of cryonics. [But I confess I haven't looked into data on this.] Age is also more useful as it gives you more categories than (standard) gender, subdividing by decade say gives you 5+ categories in the adult population not 2(ish). I will acknowledge that the phrasing of your original comment "women don't like cryonics" caused it to stand out more to me than it otherwise would, so I began to critically consider it. But I still think my comments about other factors are valid.
A 20 year old is also much more likely to not worry about death, and be unable to spare a thousand bucks a year or so. As well, modern 20 year olds come from an era where cryonics is a joke they see on TV (Futurama), and not a real possibility like it was for people at the start in the '60s or '70s. If your age inference is right, shouldn't we see a lot of young people in cryonics? But recall that one of Eliezer's cryonics was about a cryonics conference aimed at recruiting young people; not the sort of thing you do if you're reaching them very well... This also lines up nicely with my previous post about the increasing cost of cryonics due to ending grandfathering: it was previously supportable because cryonics was growing, but now...? It also means your inferences are less reliable because your total n is being split over 5+ groups and not just 2.
I'm a little surprised that this didn't turn into a Pascal's Mugging calculation if we're balancing an unpleasant relationship right before death against not-death. Would people set a higher odds of success cutoff for starting a cryonics argument than they would for an extension of life treatment? Is this because cryonics is more stigmatized while aggressive intervention to extend life is generally viewed by the mainstream as praiseworthy?

Would people set a higher odds of success cutoff for starting a cryonics argument than they would for an extension of life treatment?

I would. Advocating cryonics, a known minority belief, has the chance to blowback and make you look like an ambulance-chaser or worse. Even if the dying person would calculate that cryonics is +EV for them, that doesn't mean that it's a good idea for someone else to try to intervene and get them to sign up (unless that other person is perfectly altruistic and doesn't mind the possible negatives they might suffer).

Advocating some horribly painful low-value - yet medically approved - treatment or heroic measure, on the other hand, has no downsides for you.

Check out Signing up your relatives.

Best of luck, and all my sympathy.

I'm not clear on whether I should advocate this, but I wonder if you could spin not-cryo as a conspiracy (without outright lying):

"Have you heard of cryonics?"

"Heard of what?

"Yeah, didn't think so. They have a hell of a time getting past the typical story about death. Cryonics isn't even like crackpot theories, like the Rapture or what have you, that get a hearing simply for being ridiculous -"

"Okay, but what are you talking about?"

"There are organizations that will preserve legally dead bodies, frozen. The defini... (read more)

It's the grandfather that's in to conspiracies, not her. And it was mentioned that the grandmother doesn't much listen to conspiracy theories, so this is probably a Very Bad Approach.
Presumably she means to advocate it to the grandfather
I considered this because of your article Light Arts [], and rejected it because I disagree with that article in at least some cases, this being one of them. I could talk about it as I think about it -- a good idea that people, even scientists who should know better, reject because of unwillingness to think about death and unwillingness to believe it isn't final -- and let him draw his own opinions on why it isn't common knowledge (like I could prevent him anyway), but saying myself that it has a reasonable chance of being a conspiracy, or even implying it, is not something I could do.

New icebreaker & rebuttals:

"If there was a technology that might save your life, would you consider it?"

This is going to get an almost definite yes.

If no: Ask her "So, you WANT to die?" - this is likely to snap her out of whatever fog she's in if she's still got a significant will to live. Ask that here. If she shows enough will to live, ask the first question again, you may be able to continue. If she actually wants to die, which is not inconceivable for a person in pain, obviously stop here, determine why, and talk it out. ... (read more)

Illegal frozen bodies rebuttal: "Morgues have been keeping them frozen for years. They're not illegal." (I'm pretty sure this is true.) If it's about having dead bodies on your property: "Cemeteries are full of bodies. Cemeteries are totally legal, and have been legal for how many thousands of years? Even if we sprinkle you in the yard, then there's a dead body in the yard. You've got to go somewhere, right?" If it's about resource distribution between living and dead people: "Rich people spend how much on caviar and cars? That's not illegal." "The cryogenics movement will argue that if they can't freeze the bodies, those people are gone forever. What happens if they find a cure for them? We'll look back on it, looking at how many people we lost. That will be looked on as a huge tragedy, like a massacre. That's what the families of these cryogenics customers will argue. Are they going to take the risk that their actions will be perceived as a huge tragedy or a massacre? No. Whatever their problem is, they'll look for other ways of solving it."


"There is new information in the field of cryonics, do you mind if I make sure you know the important pieces of info?"

(That gets you space to talk about whatever technological advancements you want to talk about or whatever, get her thinking about it, and make sure she's informed.)

If refused: "From my point of view, this is something that could save your life. If it can save your life, then no matter how small the chance is, I'm ethically obligated to talk about it with you, right?" (Make sure to phrase it as a question.)

(Even ... (read more)

This can help when a discussion is started, but it cannot really help start the discussion. It is useful, though, and I'll remember it. Thanks.
Okay. I think you'll agree this is a much better attempt [].

Heavy use of dark arts, not logic or rationality is your best, if flimsy, hope.

You might be able to sell it as a really expensive burial of his wife to the conspiracist grandpa, and to both of them together as a glimmer of hope of them reuniting in the after(cryo)life. You might be able to use what Alicorn suggested on your grandfather, if you spin it right. Think about other arguments they (not you) might find convincing enough to spend a few hundred thousand dollars on. Is either of them big into lottery or gambling? What other biases that can be exploi... (read more)

I imagine the author has written this with a healthy dose of self-irony. I applaud him for being so forthright about what we should all do as advocates of cryonics.
If this post had the irony suggested by brilee, I wasn't able to pick it up and am responding as though it is serious. As I said in response to Alicorn, I refuse to use dark arts. Not only would I not be good at it, it violates my morality in many ways. You'd have better luck convincing EY to use the dark arts for Singularity talks, simply because that's a bigger issue. If he's not willing to use dark arts when it's the entire world or more at stake, it's his Something To Protect and he needs to Shut Up and Do The Impossible, then I have no excuse using them simply to save just one person. As for my mom, I believe that is her true rejection. She readily admits that the technology is feasible, but doesn't see why somebody would revive her and things it somewhat plausible that it will be illegal to keep frozen bodies around between now and then.

I have found that though the dying and the imminently bereaved won't go for it, they are nevertheless profoundly appreciative of the thought.

New to LessWrong?