An observation on cryocrastination

byAndrewH10y22nd Jul 200947 comments


Why do people cryocrastinate? The most common explanation I’ve heard from intelligent people for not getting cryonics is that the money is better spent on some altruistic cause. By itself there is nothing wrong with this belief, but irrationality lies near.

Before I continue, I am not here to argue that cryonics works or not. That has been done before. From this point on, I will assume cryonics derives expected utility from it giving a reasonable chance of continuing life past many currently terminal events, with life being a valuable thing.

We begin with a quick overview of the cost of cryonics. Let us break our cost analysis into two parts: acquisition of the cryonics and life insurance contracts and maintenance of these contracts.

First, acquisition. The main costs here is the time that could be invested in other activities. I would estimate a reasonably organized person could get it done with 20 hours of continuous work and $200 (all costs USD) upfront. Let us say this is $600 worth of costs. For people in the US, see rudi hoffman, he will do pretty much everything.

Second, maintenance. For myself who lives in a non-silly country like New Zealand, life insurance is $10 per month, and membership fees for e.g. Cryonics Institute is $10 a month, totaling 70 cents a day. Let us say it is $1 a day for places such as the US, as insurance costs an arm and a leg there.

So cryonics costs one dollar a day. Put this way, it doesn't seem much. This comes out to be two starbucks coffees a week. Let me repeat that: in the long term, cryonics costs TWO STARBUCKS COFFEES A WEEK. Very few people can say they cannot optimize themselves so as to have $1 a day more disposable income.

As someone once put it to Eliezer “No, really, that's ridiculous.  If that's true then my decision isn't just determined, it's overdetermined.”. I agree, cryonics is cheap.

Let us now consider the following two beliefs from someone who has a favorite cause, in which donating money gives lots of positive utility. The amount we are considering to donate is exactly the amount we would think about using to get cryonics:

1: Compared to cryonics, which is almost entirely selfish spending, my cause can benefit far more from the money than spending it on cryonics.

2:  Below a certain amount, the contribution I could make to my cause is not that helpful. It becomes merely a drop in the bucket, of negligible utility.

The first point implies that if people are to optimize themselves (and most people can optimize themselves to get $1 more a day), they should optimize themselves to donate more money to their favorite cause. The second point implies they don’t see the small donations as useful to their cause, so they shouldn’t bother to optimize themselves. The net result is that you decide it is better to keep on drinking that cup of coffee.

So cryonics is sidestepped in a conversation by point one, at most activating peoples thoughts to donate more. But since the change in donation is so small, the effort is too much that ultimately they do nothing.

There is an assumption in the second point above that if the amount of money you donate is too small, you wont bother donating. However, you do know logically, at a System 2 level, that even a small amount of money counts; $30 a month is useful to any cause. But you usually don’t get the pressing feeling that you must optimize your life to donate just a bit more money from logical arguments.

System 1 thought processes see your dollar coin being lost in a sea of dollar coins, so why bother? Of course, it does not help that you might have to give up things that make you personally happy. The outcome is the same: you do not optimize yourself and you go on drinking that cup of coffee.

It is harder to let go of money than it should be, but in this case you should simply shut up and multiply. If you believe you can contribute more money to a cause, contribute, it will help, but don’t use your cause as an excuse for cryocrastinating. If you believe you have no more money to give to your cause, look to see at what you spend on yourself personally, can it really be worth more than the small cost of cryonics in the long run? Remember, without cryonics death is truly game over.

So for the majority of you still not signed up, consider carefully: how more optimized can you be?