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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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.

Ask the Audience — Cryogenics: Crazy Like a Fox or Just Crazy?

Today I read this disappointing (and disappointingly paywalled) New Yorker article about cryogenic preservation. For those of you not steeped in science fiction as a child, cryogenic preservation is the idea of freezing your corpse in the hopes that someday an advanced civilization will use their futuristic technology to defrost and then resurrect you. This is a concept that most people (including the author of the piece, Jill Lepore) find ridiculous, and the reasons one might think that are obvious — the prospect of spending eternity stuck in an ice-cold metal canister in storage somewhere sounds pretty silly, and the eventual success of such a project seems dubious.

That said, the reason I was disappointed in the article was that I don’t find the idea of cryogenic preservation absurd; I was a bit surprised by the tone of the article (which talks about the silliness of the concept’s 91-year old chief spokesman and the absurdity of several mid-twentieth century sci-fi works that discuss the idea), since I wasn’t sure that cryogenics was that crazy.

So, out of curiosity about this, I thought I’d ask the readers of this blog to post comments about their thoughts on cryogenic preservation. Does it strike you as farcical? If so, why? Do you understand the motivation behind it but think its ultimately misguided? Any few brave souls willing to admit that they (like me) think it might be a good idea?

I’ll post a rundown of people’s comments as well as my own views this Friday.

isI say disappointing rather than bad because the author approached the subject in a different way than what I had hoped for.