"It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead.  There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead."
        -- The Princess Bride

My co-blogger Robin and I may disagree on how fast an AI can improve itself, but we agree on an issue that seems much simpler to us than that:  At the point where the current legal and medical system gives up on a patient, they aren't really dead.

Robin has already said much of what needs saying, but a few more points:

Ben Best's Cryonics FAQ, Alcor's FAQ, Alcor FAQ for scientists, Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics

• I know more people who are planning to sign up for cryonics Real Soon Now than people who have actually signed up.  I expect that more people have died while cryocrastinating than have actually been cryopreserved.  If you've already decided this is a good idea, but you "haven't gotten around to it", sign up for cryonics NOW.  I mean RIGHT NOW.  Go to the website of Alcor or the Cryonics Institute and follow the instructions.

• Cryonics is usually funded through life insurance.  The following conversation from an Overcoming Bias meetup is worth quoting:

Him:  I've been thinking about signing up for cryonics when I've got enough money.

Me:  Um... it doesn't take all that much money.

Him:  It doesn't?

Me:  Alcor is the high-priced high-quality organization, which is something like $500-$1000 in annual fees for the organization, I'm not sure how much.  I'm young, so I'm signed up with the Cryonics Institute, which is $120/year for the membership.  I pay $180/year for more insurance than I need - it'd be enough for Alcor too.

Him:  That's ridiculous.

Me:  Yes.

Him:  No, really, that's ridiculous.  If that's true then my decision isn't just determined, it's overdetermined.

Me:  Yes.  And there's around a thousand people worldwide [actually 1400] who are signed up for cryonics.  Figure that at most a quarter of those did it for systematically rational reasons.  That's a high upper bound on the number of people on Earth who can reliably reach the right conclusion on massively overdetermined issues.

• Cryonics is not marketed well - or at all, really.  There's no salespeople who get commissions.  There is no one to hold your hand through signing up, so you're going to have to get the papers signed and notarized yourself.  The closest thing out there might be Rudi Hoffman, who sells life insurance with cryonics-friendly insurance providers (I went through him).

• If you want to securely erase a hard drive, it's not as easy as writing it over with zeroes.  Sure, an "erased" hard drive like this won't boot up your computer if you just plug it in again.  But if the drive falls into the hands of a specialist with a scanning tunneling microscope, they can tell the difference between "this was a 0, overwritten by a 0" and "this was a 1, overwritten by a 0".

There are programs advertised to "securely erase" hard drives using many overwrites of 0s, 1s, and random data.  But if you want to keep the secret on your hard drive secure against all possible future technologies that might ever be developed, then cover it with thermite and set it on fire.  It's the only way to be sure.

Pumping someone full of cryoprotectant and gradually lowering their temperature until they can be stored in liquid nitrogen is not a secure way to erase a person.

See also the information-theoretic criterion of death.

• You don't have to buy what's usually called the "patternist" philosophy of identity, to sign up for cryonics.  After reading all the information off the brain, you could put the "same atoms" back into their old places.

• "Same atoms" is in scare quotes because our current physics prohibits particles from possessing individual identities.  It's a much stronger statement than "we can't tell the particles apart with current measurements" and has to do with the notion of configuration spaces in quantum mechanics.  This is a standard idea in QM, not an unusual woo-woo one - see this sequence on Overcoming Bias for a gentle introduction.  Although patternism is not necessary to the cryonics thesis, we happen to live in a universe where "the same atoms" is physical nonsense.

There's a number of intuitions we have in our brains for processing a world of distinct physical objects, built in from a very young age.  These intuitions, which may say things like "If an object disappears, and then comes back, it isn't the same object", are tuned to our macroscopic world and generally don't match up well with fundamental physics.  Your identity is not like a little billiard ball that follows you around - there aren't actually any billiard balls down there.

Separately and convergently, more abstract reasoning strongly suggests that "identity" should not be epiphenomenal; that is, you should not be able to change someone's identity without changing any observable fact about them.

If you go through the aforementioned Overcoming Bias sequence, you should actually be able to see intuitively that successful cryonics preserves anything about you that is preserved by going to sleep at night and waking up the next morning.

• Cryonics, to me, makes two statements.

The first statement is about systematically valuing human life.  It's bad when a pretty young white girl goes missing somewhere in America.  But when 800,000 Africans get murdered in Rwanda, that gets 1/134 the media coverage of the Michael Jackson trial.  It's sad, to be sure, but no cause for emotional alarm.  When brown people die, that's all part of the plan - as a smiling man once said.

Cryonicists are people who've decided that their deaths, and the deaths of their friends and family and the rest of the human species, are not part of the plan.

I've met one or two Randian-type "selfish" cryonicists, but they aren't a majority.  Most people who sign up for cryonics wish that everyone would sign up for cryonics.

The second statement is that you have at least a little hope in the future.  Not faith, not blind hope, not irrational hope - just, any hope at all.

I was once at a table with Ralph Merkle, talking about how to market cryonics if anyone ever gets around to marketing it, and Ralph suggested a group of people in a restaurant, having a party; and the camera pulls back, and moves outside the window, and the restaurant is on the Moon.  Tagline:  "Wouldn't you want to be there?"

If you look back at, say, the Middle Ages, things were worse then.  I'd rather live here then there.  I have hope that humanity will move forward further, and that's something that I want to see.

And I hope that the idea that people are disposable, and that their deaths are part of the plan, is something that fades out of the Future.

Once upon a time, infant deaths were part of the plan, and now they're not.  Once upon a time, slavery was part of the plan, and now it's not.  Once upon a time, dying at thirty was part of the plan, and now it's not.  That's a psychological shift, not just an increase in living standards.  Our era doesn't value human life with perfect consistency - but the value of human life is higher than it once was.

We have a concept of what a medieval peasant should have had, the dignity with which they should have been treated, that is higher than what they would have thought to ask for themselves.

If no one in the future cares enough to save people who can be saved... well.  In cryonics there is an element of taking responsibility for the Future.  You may be around to reap what your era has sown.  It is not just my hope that the Future be a better place; it is my responsibility.  If I thought that we were on track to a Future where no one cares about human life, and lives that could easily be saved are just thrown away - then I would try to change that.  Not everything worth doing is easy.

Not signing up for cryonics - what does that say?  That you've lost hope in the future.  That you've lost your will to live.  That you've stopped believing that human life, and your own life, is something of value.

This can be a painful world we live in, and the media is always telling us how much worse it will get.  If you spend enough time not looking forward to the next day, it damages you, after a while.  You lose your ability to hope.  Try telling someone already grown old to sign up for cryonics, and they'll tell you that they don't want to be old forever - that they're tired.  If you try to explain to someone already grown old, that the nanotechnology to revive a cryonics patient is sufficiently advanced that reversing aging is almost trivial by comparison... then it's not something they can imagine on an emotional level, no matter what they believe or don't believe about future technology.  They can't imagine not being tired.  I think that's true of a lot of people in this world.  If you've been hurt enough, you can no longer imagine healing.

But things really were a lot worse in the Middle Ages.  And they really are a lot better now.  Maybe humanity isn't doomed.  The Future could be something that's worth seeing, worth living in.  And it may have a concept of sentient dignity that values your life more than you dare to value yourself.

On behalf of the Future, then - please ask for a little more for yourself.  More than death.  It really... isn't being selfish.  I want you to live.  I think that the Future will want you to live.  That if you let yourself die, people who aren't even born yet will be sad for the irreplaceable thing that was lost.

So please, live.

My brother didn't.  My grandparents won't.  But everything we can hold back from the Reaper, even a single life, is precious.

If other people want you to live, then it's not just you doing something selfish and unforgivable, right?

So I'm saying it to you.

I want you to live.

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Can you point me to any positive evidence that the information needed for resuscitation survives death and freezing, rather than being carried in volatile state?

Without that, it seems to me that your argument boils down to "you can't prove it won't work." Which is true, but not much of an inducement to part with cash.

I understand this is from ages ago but is worth a response. See the Wiki page on Deep hypothermic circulatory arrest (a procedure used in some surgeries today):

Deep Hypothermic Circulatory Arrest (DHCA) is a surgical technique that involves cooling the body of the patient and stopping blood circulation.

The procedure requires keeping the patient in a state of hibernation at 12 - 18 degrees Celsius with no breathing, heartbeat, or brain activity for up to one hour. Blood is drained from the body to eliminate blood pressure. [emphasis mine]

The existence and success of this procedure seems like incredibly strong evidence in favor of people having a purely chemical identity stored in their head. When timely applied and non-lossy preservation techniques (which I consider modern cryonics to be) are used, you should be able to be successfully re-animated.

There's a bit of a difference, as I'm sure you're aware, between being refrigerated for seven minutes and frozen for a decade or more. Proteins denature, lipid membranes break down, cells and tissues are destroyed either by expanding liquids or toxic antifreeze compounds.

Some of that damage might be reversible. Much could well be to fungible parts of the body; having to replace an ear or a spleen shouldn't overly impact whether the reanimated person is you or not. But in the absence of knowledge about how / where "chemical identity" is stored in the brain and how vulnerable those systems are to damage (much less how one would go about putting the bits back together), it is preposterous to make a definite claim that cryonics is reversible.

Some damage cannot be reversed, some information cannot be recovered/decrypted within the time until heat death, and there is not sufficient evidence to believe that a frozen brain is any less 'erased' than a letter which has been dissolved in acid.

There is, in fact, ridiculously good evidence to think that more information is preserved by cryonics than a letter dissolved in acid. The incredibly important question is 1) How much information is preserved, and 2) whether it is the right information.

I have signed up with Alcor. When I suggest to other people that they should sign up the common response has been that they wouldn't want to be brought back to life after they died.

I don't understand this response. I'm almost certain that if most of these people found out they had cancer and would die unless they got a treatment and (1) with the treatment they would have only a 20% chance of survival, (2) the treatment would be very painful, (3) the treatment would be very expensive, and (4) if the treatment worked they would be unhealthy for the rest of their lives; then almost all of these cryonics rejectors would take the treatment.

One of the primary cost of cryonics is the "you seem insane tax" one has to pay if people find out you have signed up. Posts like this will hopefully reduce the cryonics insanity tax.

I'm almost certain that if most of these people found out they had cancer and would die unless they got a treatment and (1) with the treatment they would have only a 20% chance of survival, (2) the treatment would be very painful, (3) the treatment would be very expensive, and (4) if the treatment worked they would be unhealthy for the rest of their lives; then almost all of these cryonics rejectors would take the treatment.

It's painful, expensive, leaves you in ill health the rest of your (shortened) life, and you've only got a 20% chance?

Why would someone take that deal?

This is more than slightly odd. I am considering cryonics but I would never take that cancer treatment. It seems like a horrible deal .

I find the idea of cryonics having a 20% chance of working to be orders of magnitude too optimistic.

I actually had a nightmare recently where I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and would have preferred not to go through treatment, but felt pressured by other, more aggressively anti-death members of the rationality community. Was afraid people would think I didn't care about them if I didn't try to stay alive longer to be with them, etc. (I'm an ICU nurse; I have a pretty good S1 handle on how horrific a lot of life saving treatments are, and how much quality of life it's possible to lose.)

I've thought about cryonics, but haven't made a decision either way; right now, my feeling is that I don't have anything against the principle, but that it doesn't seem likely enough to work for the cost-benefit analysis to come out positive.

Can you describe the reasons are that make you think it is not likely enough to work? Totally understandable if you can't articulate such reasons, but I'm just curious about what the benchmarks are that you might find useful in informing your probability estimate.

That is to say, it's unlikely that actual reversible cryopreservation would be possible; if it were, the technique probably wouldn't be called cryonics anymore. So, other more intermediate steps that'd you'd find informative might be good to know about.

If we could revive frozen people from the 1800's, why wouldn't we?

If you could revive a frozen Genghis Khan, would you? What kind of life would he be able to live, if he were revived today?

Someone from the 1800s would suffer severe culture shock if he or she were revived today. Just think of what they'd have to deal with, from their perspective:

1) A nigger President 2) Sodomites and faggots embracing publicly and actually getting married to each other 3) Parents and teachers forbidden from properly disciplining their children when they aren't respectful. Which they never are. 4) Ordinary young women dressing - and acting - like whores! Obscenity and shamelessness everywhere! 5) Heathen superstition and atheism replacing good, honest faith in God and the Bible

Chances are, it would look like most of what they found good and righteous in the world is gone. Would you inflict that on someone?

I'm almost certain that if most of these people found out they had cancer and would die unless they got a treatment and (1) with the treatment they would have only a 20% chance of survival, (2) the treatment would be very painful, (3) the treatment would be very expensive, and (4) if the treatment worked they would be unhealthy for the rest of their lives; then almost all of these cryonics rejectors would take the treatment.

I'd turn down the cancer treatment, if my relatives would let me. I certainly wouldn't pay for it myself. Spend the money on, say, saving people from malaria in Africa - why is my own life that special?

As I said on an earlier cryonics thread, I don't want the future to contain "me". I want it to contain something better than "me". Why resurrect a southern white slave owner from the 1800s and try to re-educate him when you could just have a baby instead?

I'm going to stick out my neck. Eliezer wants everyone to live. Most people don't.

People care about their and their loved ones' immediate survival. They discount heavily for long-term survival. And they don't give a flying fuck about the life of strangers. They say "Death is bad.", but the social norm is not "Death is bad.", it's "Saying "Death is bad." is good.".

If this is not true, then I don't know how to explain why they dismiss cryonics out of hand with arguments about how death is not that bad that are clearly not their true rejection. The silliness heuristic explains believing it would fail, or that it's a scam - not rejecting the principle. Status quo and naturalistic bias explain part of the rejection, but surely not the whole thing.

And it would explain why I was bewildered, thinking "Why would you want a sucker like me to live?" even though I know Eliezer truly values life.

People care about their and their loved ones' immediate survival. They discount heavily for long-term survival. And they don't give a flying fuck about the life of strangers. They say "Death is bad.", but the social norm is not "Death is bad.", it's "Saying "Death is bad." is good.".

If this is not true, then I don't know how to explain why they dismiss cryonics out of hand with arguments about how death is not that bad that are clearly not their true rejection. The silliness heuristic explains believing it would fail, or that it's a scam - not rejecting the principle. Status quo and naturalistic bias explain part of the rejection, but surely not the whole thing.

If this is true, then I still don't know how to explain it, do I? If bias isn't enough to explain not being horrified at the lack of universal cryonics, so you must resort to "they secretly don't care", then you still have to explain not being horrified by the deaths of their loved ones. Or rather, being visibly horrified, but not taking this option to prevent it. Why would bias be enough to explain this but not the latter?

And you have to explain how they got so good at lying, too.

I think the earlier post doesn't interpret what people say charitably enough--what the LW jargon would describe as failure to steelman.

Someone who dismisses cryonics by saying that death isn't bad probably doesn't literally mean that death isn't bad at all. What he is likely to mean is that death is not comparatively bad to cryonics. This can happen either because death isn't that bad or because cryonics isn't that good--in other words, it's just another way to express believing that it would fail, believing that it's a scam, etc. after all.

Well, I probably don't evangelise as much as I should with cryonics being such a low-hanging fruit and all, but I've still had conversations where people argued against living forever/ immortality isn't as good as life on Earth, as a counter argument to cryogenics - this being after I've explained that yes, it exists and has a decent chance of working, in at least the most recent and fresh in my memory case (today, halfway through writing this comment.)

Does that answer your question? I'm not sure if I parsed your comment correctly.

Cryonics Institute, if you don't pay for standby from a separate agency, is the cheap form of cryonics - they're driven by the consideration of keeping the cost as low as possible to get as many people as possible on board. Alcor seems to me to be higher quality, and has a higher annual cost of membership. Which provider you go with should be determined by your age and probability of death, and by your financial situation. I'm younger than Robin and I expect poorer. So while I can't speak for Robin, it makes sense that he would be with Alcor and I would be with CI.

Carl, why say that about cryonics funding in particular rather than money spent on going to the movies? Also, anything to do with Africa has to be extremely carefully targeted or it ends up being worse than useless - actively harmful - this should always be mentioned in the same sentence, since Africa has been actively harmed by most aid money spent there.

Sufficient popularity of cryonics, if the world lasts that long, would benefit a very large number of people. African aid couldn't compete, only existential risk mitigation could.

I'm willing to accept such a reply from people who (a) don't go to the movies and (b) spend a large fraction of their disposable income on existential risk mitigation, but not otherwise.

I have a standard answer for cryonics advocates: ask me in 10 years.

In 10 years, I'll be 32, and if all goes well I'll have my life together, I'll be able to point to a few successes, and I'll be able to say that my life isn't a waste. If I like being alive at 32, I'll probably like being alive hundreds of years from now. On the other hand, if I'm 32 and everything has gone wrong, and I'm down and out, and I wake up every morning wishing I hadn't, then I'm probably not going to want to live one more year, let alone hundreds.

In the meantime, I really don't know. I'm in limbo. Sometimes I want to be around to see what happens next, sometimes I really don't. Sometimes I'm crazy excited about planning for my future and how great it's going to be, and sometimes I feel certain that I'll never make it, and all I want is to have never been born, and anyone who thinks well of me must either be lying or must be a loser himself.

So... call me in ten years.

From my perspective, I think you've set too high a bar for yourself. I'm 51, with no very notable successes. I find just the ability to enjoy a sunset and a good meal sufficient reason to want to go on living, and were sufficient to motivate me to join Alcor. (Now the odds of being successfully revived are quite another matter, and subject to much disagreement.)

Perhaps happy you and sad you should be considered separate entities. Sad you wants to die, happy you wants to live. So your goal should be to kill sad you without killing happy you. Antidepressants maybe?

Modulo the specific numbers 10 and 32, this is exactly how I feel about it. I don't think I've ever seen anyone express this point of view before!

That said, if signing up for cryonics were easy (as in a 5-minute form online, say), there's a good chance I would have signed up already during a "good" moment.

What if your take on life remains just as variable as it is now?

So, in that case, what would be an appropriate use of that money?

Surely one can expect the long-term future to be different enough that one's quality of life 10 years from now isn't a particularly trustworthy estimate?

It isn't the future I'm worried about, it's me. If I don't like me then I'm not looking forward to any future; if I like me, then I want to stick around and see how the future turns out (except perhaps the most horrible possible futures.)

In 10 years, I'll be 32 as well. My main reason for trying to put off procrastinating is because I know I'd be kicking myself (metaphorically) if I died when I was 31 due to some stupid accident.

I'm in the process now of trying to figure out how to spend my first few decades in a way that will be most conducive to making the future an even better place to live.

For me, I really can't see the downside to signing up. Life insurance is something most people sign up for anyway and the additional ~120 bucks for cryonics is pocket change. I mean, common people; That's like the cost of Netflix!

Life rocks and I want to go on living for as long as I want. If I get bored in 2 million years, I'll reserve the option to check myself out. Or, more likely, I'll just change what I'm doing.

As far as I'm concerned, if it only costs twice as much as an X-Box live subscription and it might (with varying degrees of hopefulness - I'm at the high end) procure my immortality, worst case scenario it's money well wasted.

Someone from the 1800s would suffer severe culture shock if he or she were revived today. Just think of what they'd have to deal with, from their perspective:

But cryonics isn't about bringing back random people from the past whether they like it or not. Cryonics is about bringing back people who have explicitly consented for being brought back in the future, and who are prepared for awakening in a radically altered world.

Eliezer, although you and Robin agree on the general principle, Robin has signed up with Alcor, while you have signed up with CI. (Despite the fact that you say you could afford Alcor also.) How much of a disagreement is this, and what does it reflect?

More generally, how should one rationally approach this decision?

So, OK, I'll bite: can anyone point me at a reasonable legal/economic analysis of why I should trust an existing corporation (and its various descendants) to continue preserving my frozen brain for long enough to be revived?

Despite the context, I don't mean this to exclusively apply to cryonics... I have the same question about why I should expect a cemetery not to dump my body somewhere and re-sell my plot to someone else once N years pass without anyone visiting my grave, as I do about why I should expect a cryonics corporation not to dump my skull and re-sell the storage space.

The board managing Alcor's trust fund is deliberately made up of people who have relatives or significant others in cryo preservation. It's structured so that the people in charge have incentives exactly against doing this.

I would imagine that the people involved with cemeteries care more, but I'd also think that it'd be pretty hard to dig up even one grave without the one relative that does visit a neighboring grave from noticing. But maybe it is pretty common; especially over centuries or longer.

It is in fact very common, at least in some parts of the world. Once the body has decayed to the point that the cemetery's management doesn't feel awkward digging them up and that any living relatives have stopped paying attention there's really nothing stopping them from re-using the plot.

Dennis (and others) argue: The chances that average frozen body would be tried to be restored are close to zero.

I keep seeing variations of this argument, and it strikes me over and over as a ridiculous argument because it utilizes a number of faulty premises in creating its conclusion: mainly, that an economic or utilitarian model is or will be the driving force behind such a choice; and more deeply flawed, that humans' choices are or will be some set of monolithic guidelines to which all and sundry do or will subscribe.

That is, the claim arises, "I wouldn't bring back a bunch of people from the Middle Ages, because I don't see the value in it," and to make the argument the speaker assumes, "therefore no one would do so or see value in it." Ignoring both the logical error and the fact that there are people today, who have such funding, who would like to bring a mammoth back to life, or a Bronze Age man frozen in a glacier -- even if it is only (today) through some process of cloning, entirely despite the absolute lack of economic or utilitarian need to do so, or the nay-sayer's own views of the value of such an attempt.

The frank truth is that the world, its governments, its scientists, its researchers, and so on will not act as one, and any argument founded in any way upon the belief that they will are poor, thoughtless, narrow arguments. The world of the future, like the world of today, will have plenty of individuals who will be fascinated by or even driven to bring back the (frozen) dead for one reason or another.

Thus the claim that no one will ever want to bring back the (frozen) dead is about as much nonsense as the claim that "It is inconceivable that anyone would ever want to give birth to a cloned human baby, much less put any amount of research into such a possibility" or "It is inconceivable that anyone would want to eat or grow cloned meat or genetically altered grains." A claim clearly disproven by the fact that some groups clearly would like to do this and have been researching the possibility (or even claiming success in such an enterprise) right now today in the face of years of previous skepticism.

So the truth is that SOME people won't, but SOME people will. And some of those who wish to, will have, find, or create the means to do so.

But if the drive falls into the hands of a specialist with a scanning tunneling microscope, they can tell the difference between "this was a 0, overwritten by a 0" and "this was a 1, overwritten by a 0".

Not really true.

They can tell that there were various 1s and 0s - but telling what order they were in is impossible ("data written to the disk prior to the data whose recovery is sought will interfere with recovery just as must as data written after - the STM microscope can't tell the order in which which magnetic moments are created").

Not to mention that reading bits with a STEM takes so long as to be pointless ("it would take more than a year to scan a single platter with recent MFM technology, and tens of terabytes of image data would have to be processed") - and that's pretty "secure", in combination, for any plausible meaning of the term.


However, more on topic, you said Pumping someone full of cryoprotectant and gradually lowering their temperature until they can be stored in liquid nitrogen is not a secure way to erase a person".

Not at the deepest theoretical level, perhaps (though perhaps not - I don't see any reason to assume that the cryonics process might not in fact be destroying the patterns enough to make there be no information to recover by any means that turns out to actually be possible in the future; remember we know only that it preserves "remarkable fidelity" in the fine structure... we have no idea if that's sufficient fidelity).

However, Iit's secure enough a way to "delete" them if for whatever reason they never get thawed out other than to throw their bodies away.

What about the possibility (probability?) of a sufficient economic downturn or failure of the company before the technology exists to "restore" the preserved "dead", even if we ignore the possibility that current cryopreservation might simply not be preserving well enough?

Alcor is honest about previous thawing events (at other projects), and is also honest enough to promise only that their investments are the most sound they can make. A future great depression sounds a lot like a great time for a thaw, to me - if the bonds tank, nobody's buying liquid nitrogen by the truckfull.

The conclusion that the calculus must come out in favor of cryogenic preservation (rather than, say, investing one's money in either one's living family or some productive trust, if one cares about "the future") seems unsupportable.

I agree that one can honestly and rationally make a choice in its favor, but this post reads more like an attempt at religious conversion to cryo-mania than anything else.

Call me back when a creature has been cyropreserved and then fully restored, and we can use the language of certainty, and talk in terms of "believing in the future".

I have $250K of life insurance of which only $50K is needed for CI, and only $120K (I think) would be needed for Alcor.

At the point where the current legal and medical system gives up on a patient, they aren't really dead.

A corollary to this is the fact that some people who are clearly considered alive by the medical system might be good candidates for cryonics: Alzheimer's and mad-cow type diseases destroy the most important brain patterns, and at some point a rational person would take a chance on cryonics.

I read somewhere that on average something like 80% of individual's medical expenses get spent in the last year of life. Clearly much of this is futility. Imagine if this money was used to actually put scientific resources into cryonics? Really, really sad.

By signing up for cryonics, do I increase the probability that I am a simulation of history by a post-singularity entity?

Okay, I'm convinced (actually, I was convinced when I first looked into cryonics but I irrationally put off signing up due to the minor inconvenience). However, I don't really know how to best go about signing up, and a google search didn't really clear it up. I am a 17-year-old male living in Canada, could anyone tell me what the best way would be for me to go about signing up for cryonics? It seems that the cryonics sign-up forms are targeted towards people over 20.

I'm a member of Alcor. When I was looking into whether to sign up for Alcor or CI, I was comforted by Alcor's very open communication of financial status, internal research status, legal conflicts, and easy access via phone, etc. They struck me as being a highly transparent organization.

Eliezer, well written! :)

Grant, yes.

Burger I think you overestimate the effect of agreeing to be an organ donor.

Steve,

A life insurance policy for 50k-120k could be used to save dozens to hundreds of lives funding medical services in Africa (http://www.givewell.net/PSI), or to reduce existential risk.

Cryonics is usually funded through life insurance. ... it doesn't take all that much money.

Insurance is a way to avoid catastrophic losses. It is not a way to reduce costs. On the average, an insurance company's customer will pay more in premiums than the amount paid out by the policy. If $X is too much money, $X is too much money even if paid by insurance.

I pay $180/year for more insurance than I need

If you're paying for more insurance than you need, and it's enough more to pay for $X worth of cryonics, it is also enough more to pay for $X of something else. Money is not free just because it comes out of waste; there is still the opportunity cost of not being able to use it for something else once you stop wasting it.

There are programs advertised to "securely erase" hard drives using many overwrites of 0s, 1s, and random data. But if you want to keep the secret on your hard drive secure against all possible future technologies that might ever be developed, then cover it with thermite and set it on fire. It's the only way to be sure.

Hard drives don't decay, not in the time period covered by the analogy. All that is erased is what you specifically erase. A proper analogy to what happens to the brain after death would be some process that affects all parts of the hard drive whether someone specifically chose them or not. Thermite is actually a pretty good one--death is a lot more like erasing a drive using thermite than erasing it by overwriting it with 0s and 1s.

I also see no reason why future technologies will be able to recover a drive overwritten with 0s and 1s. Erasure and recovery are asymmetrical; you can't improve the erasure method and always be able to make up for that by improving the recovery method. If it's really erased, it's really erased.

Not signing up for cryonics - what does that say? That you've lost hope in the future. That you've lost your will to live. That you've stopped believing that human life, and your own life, is something of value. ... The first statement is about systematically valuing human life. ... The second statement is that you have at least a little hope in the future.

Notice something all these statements do? They imply that probabilities are irrelevant. You just need to have hope in the future--any finite quantity of hope will do, it just has to be a little. You just need to value human life; the probability of getting that value doesn't matter. For all that proponents of cryonics claim they are not actually advocating Pascal's mugging, suggesting that people should buy cryonics on the grounds that it has some chance of letting you live--and that the size of that chance doesn't matter--is a recipe for Pascal's mugging.

Thermite is actually a pretty good one--death is a lot more like erasing a drive using thermite than erasing it by overwriting it with 0s and 1s.

Just dying isn't much like erasing a drive with thermite. Damage from ischemia takes time. It's not like your brain instantly turns into pudding the minute the nearest doctor says "time of death". Now, dying and then rotting in the ground somewhere for 50 years is a lot more like erasing a drive using thermite than overwriting it. That's the point of cryonics.

Edit RE insurance:

Insurance is a way to avoid catastrophic losses. It is not a way to reduce costs. On the average, an insurance company's customer will pay more in premiums than the amount paid out by the policy. If $X is too much money, $X is too much money even if paid by insurance.

Of course this is all true. However in the case of life insurance it is also a way to offload the expense to your future self, who presumably has more income than you. If I had to pay the whole thing upfront it would be certainly impossible for me to get cryonics at my current age.

Actually, now that I think about it, it is potentially not true that you would pay more in premiums than the payout, since insurance companies can make a profit on people who let their insurance lapse before dying (which is apparently quite frequent in life insurance). Picking two random life insurance company's websites, it looks like a healthy human of my age could pay as little as 75% of the payout in premiums, assuming a life expectancy of 70 years.

Insurance is priced so that if you buy insurance for some period of time, the likelihood of dying (and thus the payout) during that time is balanced by the premiums. This applies just as much to people who let their insurance lapse as to people who people who intentionally buy insurance for only a limited period.

Note that someone who lets his insurance lapse will not only not get a payout, he will also not be paying premiums after he lapses. Since the post-lapse premiums are balanced against the post-lapse payout, and the no-lapse premiums are balanced against the no-lapse payout, you can subtract the two scenarios and conclude that premiums-with-lapsing are balanced against no-payout-after-lapsing.

it is potentially not true that you would pay more in premiums than the payout, since insurance companies can make a profit on people who let their insurance lapse before dyin

Yes, but you might fall into that category as well -- future is uncertain. The expected value of the payout is less than the sum of premiums (after proper time discounting).

Actually, now that I think about it, it is potentially not true that you would pay more in premiums than the payout, since insurance companies can make a profit on people who let their insurance lapse before dying

Wait? You are using whole life? Buy a 30 year term policy (get ~5-10x the coverage benefit) and invest the difference in the premiums. You'll be way better off. Or get some guaranteed no-lapse universal life. Whole life in is never the answer.

They also invest the money for profit, which allows them to take in less than they expect to pay.

@Sigivald: You're right. A sufficiently severe economic downturn will kill Alcor and CI dead, along with all those currently in cryostasis. Economic/political/infrastructure instability is the biggest "existential risk" for cryonicists, but nobody can be arsed to prepare contingency plans for it because I guess it's doesn't have the sexy science-fictiony cachet of asteroid hits or grey goo.

Reverse absurdity bias anybody?

Disclaimer: I am signed up.

"You Only Live Twice" is a beautiful, moving post, Eliezer.

Two sentences that stand out:

"If you've been hurt enough, you can no longer imagine healing."

and

"And it [the capital "F" Future] may have a concept of sentient dignity that values your life more than you dare to value yourself."

I agree with Carl that investing in existential risk mitigation is likely to be much more cost-effective than investing in cryonics. Eliezer, I don’t see movies and I donate most of my income to risk mitigation. Do you agree that donating $10,000 to SIAI is preferable to investing $10,000 in cryonics? If so, why not recommend the former rather than the latter? (And why don’t you donate your cryonics money to SIAI?) If cryonics subscribers come to feel they have a larger stake in the future, and only after subscribing decide to make larger donations to risk mitigation, then I could see your blog appeal being justified. However, I expect this is rarely the case. It seems better to encourage donations to SIAI, FHI, CRN, et al.

Bill Mill: I continue to not understand the economics of reviving people in the future. Your argument here seems to be that reviving frozen heads, no matter the cost, is a moral obligation. That does not make sense to me.

He isn't saying that it will happen "at any cost". Obviously, there will be a time when reviving people will be too expensive. But you're assuming that it will stay too expensive forever, even if people were, say, revived gradually during a period of two thousand years. That seems bizarre, especially considering how much money societies spend on charity, welfare and historical research even today - let alone how much they can spend in a post-Singularity future, when poverty might very well be entirely eradicated.

Bill: Alternative scenario: Tomorrow FedExKinkos announce a service through which, for $3.25, you can revive a random victim of the flu epidemic of 1918.

with no selection pressure whatsoever, has designed the brain so that that none of its contents are stored in a volatile way?

Well, people exposed to very low temperatures have ended up in states where they were considered clinically dead, and then revived at least up to an hour later, with the cold preserving their brain even at a point where there was no blood circulation. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/620609.stm for one example.) AFAIK, their brain worked just fine afterwards, even though "volatile" functions had been interrupted (but I'm under the impression that there may have been a minor amnesia of the moments just before falling unconscious). Also, lower mammals have been frozen and brought back with no ill effects.

Why write everything to disk if the computer never gets turned off?

Don't take the computer metaphor too literally. There's no separate disk and RAM in the brain, after all.

If I thought that we were on track to a Future where no one cares about human life, and lives that could easily be saved are just thrown away - then I would try to change that. Not everything worth doing is easy.

Spare me the dramatics!

I continue to not understand the economics of reviving people in the future. Your argument here seems to be that reviving frozen heads, no matter the cost, is a moral obligation. That does not make sense to me.

Thought experiment: tomorrow, John Q. Scientist reveals that he can, for the cost of $1 million, revive any person who has been cryogenically frozen. Say 1000 people are frozen cryogenically in an acceptable state right now. Do we revive them? Why? What if they will only get (maybe) another year? 5 years? 10 years? Who pays for it? What if it's $100 million?

The only people I imagine willing to pay for the operation are loved ones. Very rich loved ones. And in a large portion of the scenarios I imagine, there's at least a few generations between yourself and the technology to defrost people. Who will pay when there's no remaining loved ones? Is it a moral responsibility to spend the money? Why?

1) Why do you think a revival will remain prohibitively expensive forever?

2) If you've got no living relatives, then one reason for revival could be commercial. A company could simply revive you for a certain cost and then you have to pay them back in the long run.

The latter couldn't even be argued to be a forced contract without consent. Considering that you were taking the trouble of freezing yourself, it can safely be assumed that you'd be more than happy and willing to pay for the cost of your revival in the same way you'd pay off any ordinary debt. Hell, I should own that company.

I might pose I similar thought experiment: if a scientist today, discovered he could raise the dead, restore anyone who had ever lived, what would we do with that power? Do we have a moral responsibility to "save" all humans ever? Even if resurrection were free, the earth couldn't (currently) support a population of every human (and perhaps some pets?) who's ever been. We'd have to decide who gets to live and who doesn't. Restoring past-people will almost certainly entail displacing some people who might otherwise have been born. Why do we privilege those that already got to live a "full" (typical human) life over the millions of potential humans that could populate the earth in our stead?

Furthermore, I don't see much of a distinction between deciding who gets revived and who doesn't, on the one hand, and killing the people we don't want around, on the other. Faced with a delemia of "who gets to live", unless we aim for a sort of "equality of time alive", out of a sense of fairness (in which case, most modern humans are running a deficit), it seems we would kill the ass-holes to make room for the cool people from history. Is that inhumane?

Or consider, maybe we'd stop giving birth entirely, so that all the existent people can take turns being the one's alive. Does a world where every person is old, where no one is falling in love for the first time, where children are absent, so that we can have more life, see like a good one?

I'm asking these questions sincerely. Maybe that is the world we want.

I'd expect the answer to be similar to an analogous situation involving birth. If everyone had more children than they could afford to raise, society would collapse. We like to think that since the children are not responsible for their situation, we as a society would choose to support them, but this only is possible because the number of people who have children and demand that society support them is limited. At some point the drain on resources would make it impossible to support them as a society, and we would have to let them starve, and/or not permit immigrants from countries with high birth rates.

The same would go for resurrection. If you resurrect someone, you are responsible for supporting them for a maximum of 18 years and a minimum that depends on how long they are dead (so you're not on the hook for 18 years if you resurrect someone who died last week). If you resurrect more people than you can afford to support, this is treated like having more children than you can afford to support; the resurrected will have to live in poverty or starve. There will be a safety net to help some of them but it will be imperfect and it may not be possible to help them all. And of course you don't allow immigration from countries who like resurrecting lots of people and sending them across the border to take advantage of our social services.

If it is significantly easier to resurrect than to have children, we may need to have penalties that we wouldn't tolerate in the case of children, such as arresting people if they resurrect more than X others and do not support them, something we currently do only for child support cases.

Call me back when a creature has been cyropreserved and then fully restored, and we can use the language of certainty, and talk in terms of "believing in the future".

You can do better than that, for example, what if you die and after a X years, people are routinely reanimated and live healthy lives at whatever age they wish? You would feel like Mr Silly then, if you were alive at least you would.

If you wait for being able to talk about something "in the language of certainty" then you also advocate ignoring existential risks, as when they happen, it is all over. Is this very rational?

There are ways if you feel like using your brain to get close to "certainty"(defined as the probability of occurrence being above some number between 0 and 1) belief in some event occurring without observing it occurring. Science is not fast after all.

Not signing up for cryonics - what does that say? That you've lost hope in the future. That you've lost your will to live. That you've stopped believing that human life, and your own life, is something of value.

Um... there are lots of other reasons why someone might not sign up for cryonics. For example, my reason. And when I explained my reason to you (Eliezer) in person, you didn't seem to have any strong rebuttal to it, though you did give a personal reason (that didn't reply to me) for why you are signed up for cryonics.

Also, as an aside, of the 10-ish people I've spoken to about cryonics for more than 5 minutes, 2 of them turned out to have the same reason as I did for not signing up. (They were skeptics/atheists and accepted that cryonics might be feasible in the future, just not confidently-enough desirable.)

There are, though, a few blocks...

For one, I'm not financially independent, and my parents so happen to be Catholic-ish, so they think my dreams of immortality are foolishness of young age, and that cryonics wouldn't work because of "souls", whatever they may mean by that.

Also, I happen to live in the southeastern corner of Brazil. I'm... not positively sure that Alcor can reach me, let alone the CI.

I cannot, also, just quit college and teleport to the US and hope for the best. And I will, obviously, sign up as soon as I have the ability to do so and move to the US, and hope that I'm not hit by a car in the meantime.

Still, it's not exactly a dream I can achieve right now. Sadly.

This is an awesome post. May I take parts of it, add some background info, and share it with a discussion group I'm in? I want to introduce them to cryonics and anti-deathist ideas, and this piece conveys the spirit of it well.

If I wanted to share a public blog post with a discussion group, I wouldn't feel the need to ask permission first!

You might want to email Eliezer, you can find his contact info on yudkowsky.net, though in general I think it's a safe bet that Eliezer is pro-anti-death-propaganda.

Chances are, it would look like most of what they found good and righteous in the world is gone. Would you inflict that on someone?

How about you let him quickly experience the last 200 years for himself. As quickly or as slowly as necessary, maybe even actually living through each subjective day, or maybe doing the whole thing in five years. Allow his mind to reconfigure itself to our newer (improved) understanding of morality by the same process by which ours did.

Exactly. What are the chances that typical information that is [not securely] deleted today will be even tried to be restored? The chances are close to zero. The chances that average frozen body would be tried to be restored are close to zero too.

I give you my personal guarantee that post-singularity, I will do all in my power to revive everyone.

"to live" or "to be frozen to death"?

People in coma's even if completely unresponsive, still can be healed with a small amount of technological assistance and a huge amount of biological self repair (mechanisms that were constructed by evolution discarding countless bodies). What is the difference between that and healing people with a great deal of technology and very little biological assistance? A.K.A: repairing de-animated people in cryogenic suspension. None.

I strongly second everyone advocating SIAI over cryonics, especially Carl's last paragraph.

I also suspect that informational reconstruction will make cryonics unnecessary, but not strongly enough that I wouldn't be signed up even without the above concern.

"Carl, why say that about cryonics funding in particular rather than money spent on going to the movies? Also, anything to do with Africa has to be extremely carefully targeted or it ends up being worse than useless - actively harmful - this should always be mentioned in the same sentence, since Africa has been actively harmed by most aid money spent there."

Agreed, that's why I linked to GiveWell, an organization that evaluates charities for their demonstrated effectiveness, but it's worth being explicit about it here for those who don't check out the linked site.

"Sufficient popularity of cryonics, if the world lasts that long, would benefit a very large number of people. African aid couldn't compete, only existential risk mitigation could."

I would say the following:

  1. If you expect a Singularity to occur by 2050, and have a pot of money to spend on ensuring that current people make it, the best 3rd world health initiatives will be more effective per individual you pay to help directly than paying for cryonics. Even if you expect a later Singularity, you can invest the money in a fund to be spent the cheapest triage opportunities involve malaria and the likethen there are cheaper triage methods available.

  2. Once the cheap infectious-disease triage opportunities are exhausted, cryonics can be scaled to a much larger total population.

  3. If cryonics were to become acceptable and desired, people would pay for their own, so there may be more chance for individual adoption of the practice by OB readers to meaningfully boost cryonics growth than to trigger a growth in effective philanthropy.

  4. Existential-risk mitigation is clearly much better than either.

"I'm willing to accept such a reply from people who (a) don't go to the movies and (b) spend a large fraction of their disposable income on existential risk mitigation, but not otherwise."

What if they agree with Derek Parfit that altruism towards our future selves and altruism to others are on a par with each other? Movies are a present temptation, but cryonics does not force itself on them, so they're not motivated to favor their frozen selves over others who might make up the future population?

I'd like to sincerely thank Eliezer and Robin for their encouragement to sign up for cryonics. Although I haven't finalized my life insurance arrangements, I'm in that process. It took me well under a year from hearing a serious argument for cryonics for me to apply, so I find it pretty disheartening when I hear stories about people taking far longer to decide. I'm only 18 and don't have a lot of good sources of income, but cryonics is cheap and one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I'm confused. What is the relationship between Alcor and the Cryonics Institute? Is it either-or? What is the purpose of yearly fees to them if you can just take out insurance which will cover all the costs in the event of your death?

"I pay $180/year for more insurance than I need - it'd be enough for Alcor too." Sorry, mind rephrasing? I've read that statement several times, and I just don't follow it.

Also, CI doesn't do neuro, just whole body preservation, right? And Alcor's membership fees are independent of whether one's signed up as a neuro or whole body patient? (Near as I can tell from looking over their site, that's sadly the case.) (Just trying to decode all the relevant things to see if I actually can sign up right now after all. I want to.)

I'm still having trouble trying to assign value to cryogenics. Mostly because I'm having trouble assessing the odds of it working.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that signing up for Alcor costs $500/year, for the next 40 years. That comes to $20,000 (more then that if I invest some of the money earlier instead, but let's skip that for the sake of argument). It does seem that there's a non-zero chance that cryogenics could save my life. On the other hand, I'm having trouble weighing that against the chance that that same $20,000 40 years from now might otherwise let me purchase, let's say, the first generation of longevity treatments, the "first bridge" as it's sometimes called, which will let me live long enough to make it to the second generation of longevity treatments, ect.

I'm not even sure I have enough information to sensibly compare those two probabilities at this point.

Jeff's spreadsheet might help you evaluate the odds. (Although see the discussion of this approach.)

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, there's an ongoing subplot about the golems, which are immortal beings controlled by the words in their head. Through some chain of events, one golem ends up having the words removed from his head and becomes an autonomous individual. He then sets up a Golem Foundation that works to locate or purchase golems and liberate them.

Thus, I see singularity mailing lists and OB as, in part, efforts to replace the racial fellow-feeling of the golems with an artificial sense of community. When Eliezer says he wants you to live, it's important.

The process that improved our morality involved the hard-core bigots dying off. I suspect that it's not a coincidence that the civil rights movement didn't gain any traction until after all the Civil War veterans were dead.

Morality advances one funeral at a time.

I would really like a full poll of this blog listing how many people are signed up for cryonics. Personally, I'm not, but I would consider it if existential risk was significantly lower OR my income was >$70K and would definitely do it if both were the case AND SIAI had $15M of pledged endowment.

[I accidentally posted this on the previous thread and am shamelessly reposting here in case someone on the fence would have missed it.]

I signed up for cryonics with Alcor last summer after learning of it in the spring and doing extensive research. I am a college student in my early twenties, and the combined fee for my $250,000 level term life insurance policy and cryonics membership is EASILY affordable: $40 monthly.

I don't plan on dying any time soon, but I have peace of mind knowing that I got a good deal on insurance while healthy and that I am not procrastinating on a potentially life-and-death decision. I consider cryonics arrangements be an excellent investment even if there is only a 0.1% chance of success.

I urge anyone dragging their feet because of financial concerns to at least research it enough to estimate the cost if you were to sign up today. You may find that working part-time for minimum wage would not exclude you!

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