My quick take on Cryogenics.

I think Josh pretty much covered everything in his final summary. Like Josh and others, given the technology, I wouldn’t hesitate to freeze myself, especially if my assets would be taken in the estate tax. But I do have two thoughts to add.

First, when do you freeze yourself? Time and timing are both important. In order to maximize your chance at future resurrection, you should probably freeze yourself before you die, as Josh points out. As soon as you die, your brain cells are deprived of oxygen, and start a rapid cascade into death. In a more compelling example, if you’re shot in the face, chances are future scientists won’t bring you back, cryogenics or no. This means that you basically have to decide at some point before death that you want to go into a deep freeze. There’s a chance that you won’t ever be brought back, in which case you’re basically exchanging a few hours, days, or perhaps months/years of life for the possibility of a presumably longer period of time later. I’d probably have to calculate the expected value of the cryogenically extended life vs. the probably amount of life I’d be potentially giving up by freezing myself before death. I’d be far more worried about that sacrifice than the specific monetary cost, i.e. I don’t know if I’d want to “die early.”

Second, in response to Tom’s idea of downloading a digital copy of your brain, I’m not sure that I’d benefit from that. Josh might blog later about how he believes that the idea of a unified consciousness is false, but the fact is that we perceive ourselves as a unified being, a unified self. I am the same person as I was when I was 5 years old, even though my neuronal patterns are very different. More importantly, I’m making decisions right now… right now, n-now… er, now… that will affect me, my future self. So the downloading thing is only valuable IF I think that I, a unified self, will be able to appreciate being alive in the future. One of Josh’s links had a great example of why this might not be the case. So if you (say, David 1) downloaded your exact neuronal signaling, etc. into a computer, and then uploaded it perfectly into a cloned body, the clone (David 2) would think that it was me. It would perceive that it was David 1, the unified self. But what if I were still alive? It’d be clear to me, the true and original David 1, that David 2 was just an imposter, even though he might genuinely believe himself to be the original. So if I died, and my memories were just transplanted into a cloned body, I think that clone (or even several clones) would think himself to be “me” but…. they’d still be imposters. That means that I wouldn’t enjoy the fruits of the process; I’d still fear the eternal death just the same. The difference is being able to replicate oneself, and being able to live forever as a unified self. And if the only advantage to the “digital download” is there’s someone running around with my genetic material thinking that he’s me… well, like Josh, I think I might as well just have natural genetic progeny.

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2 thoughts on “My quick take on Cryogenics.

  1. You guys are getting too caught up in worrying about if a new, “digital” copy of consciousness would really be a continuation of one’s being. You make a good point, David, about yourself now vs. yourself as a child: you are the same person despite the fact that the physical ‘hardware’ is actually quite different. Most of the cells in our bodies our replaced at one point or another (nerve cells, however, do not appear to be as replaceable). If our body is constantly rebuilding itself in very tangible ways, and our consciousness is only “unified” in a very illusory self (which I also think is backed up my cognitive science), who cares if the transition of my consciousness into computerized storage is impossible? Obviously, it would take generations of such machines to better duplicate the specific, organic pathways that really might duplicate my human experience of consciousness, but that will all be part of the challenge! In the meantime, if they can figure out how to simply “image” my brain adequately, I could potentially go through continues technological incarnations, culminating, perhaps, in a far more perfect sense of “immortality”.

    Of course I’m more inclined to pursue “natural progeny” — but more because I think that I might be able to make them better than myself. After all, I’ve been skirting around the question of whether or not my particular web of neural pathways is really worth all the trouble of saving.

    Good responses, guys.

  2. Freezing before death is currently illegal because it is considered a form of assisted suicide. As forms of true assisted suicide become legal, premortem cryonics (which is of course not actually suicide, intent-wise) may be provided. For now, you have to wait for a doctor to pronounce death. As soon as they do, the cryonics protocol is to pack ice around the head immediately so that it will be cooled, which prevents ischemic damage from happening as fast. Then they perfuse the blood vessels with cold water and ice crystal prevention chemicals (very similar to the antifreeze you put in your car). The main goal is to preserve the brain, so in many cases the vessels leading to the rest of the body are clamped off or the head is actually separated from the body. This reduces the amount of time that the brain is warm, while it waits for the rest of the body to cool, so it prevents information loss (as measurable by brain cell death).

    The media often likes to make a big deal about severed heads, but that is not the point of cryonics. Nobody is talking about putting literal heads on robot bodies like in Futurama. Rather it is about keeping the brain intact. If you try to take an unfixed brain out of its skull it has the consistency of Jello. Keeping the skull in place protects the brain from bruising and other kinds of damage. Currently there is work being done in labs to regrow new organs from stem cells. This same approach will probably be usable to recreate an entire body, given a few hundred years. It’s just that to define “survival” you probably want to keep the same brain… Or at the very least a brain with some of the same memories. Otherwise it’s not survival it’s cloning a biological progeny, which is possibly a comfort for some but for different reasons.

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