Cryogenics – Stonesoup Readers Say – Not Really Crazy

Sadly, though our audience seems to treat trendy topics like the football playoffs, the value of Twitter, and the Cadillac tax as catnip for commenting, only a few have deigned to respond to questions about more whimsical topics like zombies and the modern version of mummification. Anyway, the responses we’ve gotten (plus my conversation with others since I’ve posted) seems to confirm my view that cryogenics isn’t  universally considered as kooky (as seemed to be indicated by the New Yorker article that inspired the question). Here’re my views and my impressions (David may add his in later) after hearing comments about the question: what do people think about the idea of trying to freeze yourself after death in the hopes of eventually being resurrected by a futuristic civilization?

Trying to state the question in as plain terms as possible shows the utter weirdness and ridiculousness of the method. Most people who comment are (unsurprisingly, given that I bet StoneSoup’s audience is largely atheistic) enthused about the idea of immortality, but the cryogenic method of achieving it seems like a pretty big long shot. Alex says, concisely, “I’d do it. Gotta keep living,” which most closely mirrors my view. Some people (including my parents) that I’ve talked to about the idea have told me that they don’t want to live forever. I think those people are either extremely depressed or foolish. Personally, I enjoy life a lot and would like it to continue (I certainly prefer it to the alternative of nonexistence). Admittedly, being stuck in a bizarre future world with few if any of the people you knew in life would be strange and lonely, but after a while of moping around, I feel like I’d perservere and make new friends; if I didn’t, I could always decide to die later. I just don’t see the downside of immortality.

Cryogenic preservation is, however, an admittedly feeble vehicle to reach the intended goal. Lepore’s article at one point briefly and devastatingly lays out why this is true; basically, with cryonics you’re hoping that, somehow, after your brain has died (and its electrical impulses silenced) and then endured the enormous cellular damage of being rapidly frozen, your consciousness will then exist to be restored and that that restoration will still be you in a meaningful way. This seems really unlikely, so I totally recognize that my plan of freezing myself has a very very low chance of success (I’d guess about 5-10%). That said, the costs are fairly low (I think it’s about $30K which can be paid from life insurance) and the potential benefits (living forever) are extremely high.

As to Thomas’s comment about preserving your consciousness as a digital copy, this brings up some really interesting questions that I might write about in depth at some point relating to the ship of Theseus paradox in philosophy and its relationship to consciousness. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this post that (1) there’s no way of doing this currently, whereas there is a way of freezing yourself, and (2) my own consciousness is tied up in my particular physical brain, so a copy of my consciousness would not necessarily continue my experience of life, it might just be the creation of another person who is very very similar to me.  While the preservation of a version of oneself might be someone’s preference, even if they can’t experience it, that doesn’t particularly appeal to me; children seem like enough immortality in that particular sense.

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