On Cryonics

Last summer I wrote a post, “Why I’m Skeptical of the Singularity“, which gave some reasons for doubting that godlike machine intelligences will ever come into being. Today I’ll discuss another idea popular among enthusiasts of transhumanism, namely life extension through cryonics. Here, too, I intend to offer a qualified skepticism.

Overcoming Bias presents a strong case for cryonics, in a post which pleads with readers to sign up for the process. I’ll use them as my foil. My own viewpoint, meanwhile, hasn’t changed significantly since I first touched on the topic in “Life Is Fleeting“:

While in the remote future it is a very real possibility that we will unlock the key to personal immortality, for the time being such rosy scenarios are more science fiction than science fact… The most advanced freezing technology in existence today still causes massive cellular damage, irreversible in all except the most fantastic scenarios of what future technology will be capable of. In essence, this is little more than a materialist version of Pascal’s Wager.

I realize comparing cryonics to Pascal’s Wager is likely to raise some hackles, but the comparison is unavoidable when advocates of cryonics so often defend the idea using Pascal’s Wager-like logic: If you bet on cryonics and lose, you lose nothing, since you’d have died anyway; but if you win, you might wake up in a future where science has perfected immortality! Isn’t this a potentially infinite payoff with zero risk?

But just as Pascal’s argument overlooked the problem of choosing the wrong religion and ending up condemned, cryonics overlooks the possibility that the future, rather than being better, may be worse. What if the future is a 1984-style dictatorship or post-apocalyptic anarchy, or is run by malevolent superintelligences (like the vindictive supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s classic story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream) that take pleasure in tormenting us? What if the future revives cryonically frozen human beings only to put them on trial for the crimes of our era? (I find this last possibility the most plausible of the four.) The potential payoffs of cryonics, needless to say, become far more complicated if we do not assume that we can only wake up in a world far better than the one we left.

Second: Even disregarding this problem, why will the future want to revive us? Any plausible scheme for resurrecting frozen humans – nanotechnological repair, whole-brain uploading, cloning new bodies – is certain to be a difficult and resource-intensive process. What will they want us for? The future is not likely to be short of people, and even if it were, there are easier ways of producing new ones. And by the time revival is perfected, if it ever is, it’s probable that the cryonically preserved will have no living relatives who feel any particular kinship for them.

For historical research? But if cryogenically frozen people survive into the distant future, then it’s almost certain that the Internet and other records from our time will have survived as well; information is more easily preserved than entire people. The flood of news stories, blog entries, and other chronicles from our era will provide as much data as future historians could ever want and would make the existence of live people superfluous. It may be done the first few times for the sake of novelty, but I can’t see it happening much beyond that, especially if there are thousands and thousands of frozen people.

Third: Even if the future is a benevolent one and is willing to revive us, will the person who’s revived really be me? Even staunch cryonics advocates admit that the damage done to brain tissue by freezing is irreversible with any current technology. And the revival process, no matter how it works, is likely to cause additional damage.

To truly revive a person, it would be necessary to preserve the incredibly delicate, submicroscopic connections between neurons in exactly the same state as when the person was alive. If neurons die or their synapses are severed during recovery – even if only a small percentage suffer these side effects – the result would be massive brain damage. Even if future technology could repair this damage, it could only operate probabilistically in terms of restoring neural connections – after all, there’s no map of the brain to tell which neurons are supposed to connect to which other neurons – with the result that the person revived might be missing memories, might have a drastically altered personality or character traits. Would it really be better to be revived in such a fragmented state? Would the person who’s revived even be me, or would he more justly be considered a different person altogether?

Finally, it’s worth asking whether investing on cryonics is the best use of our society’s resources. While people alive today are still suffering and deprived of life’s basic needs, it strikes me as selfish for a wealthy, privileged few who’ve already enjoyed long and happy lives to grasp after immortality. In my view, it’s better to accept that we all get one chance at life, to live it to the fullest while we possess it, and when we’re gone, to give away to others whatever we leave behind so that they can enjoy the same opportunity.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Penguin_Factory

    Hmm….

    I agree with you in the essentials. I like to dream about future technologies just as much as anyone else, but I’ve always thought it was foolish to pin all our hopes on them. I don’t expect to see anything like advanced cryogenics in my lifetime, and I think only a relatively small amount of money and time should be spent on it.

    On the other hand, if I had the money to sign myself up to be frozen, I would. I don’t think the pascal’s wager transhumanists present is comparable to the religious version, for the simple reason that it would only require a substantial amount of money, wheras betting on a religion might necessitate a complete lifestyle change and a long-term commitment. Plus, signing up for a cryonics program doesn’t violate any of my skeptical principles. I would also argue that the chance of being revived in a better future, no matter how unlikely, is still far more probable than the existence of an afterlife.

    The pessemistic scenarios you bring up are likely, of course, but then again, any of those things could potentially happen within our lifetimes as well (okay, maybe not the malevolent AI one). Personally, I think a much more likely scenario is that an accident or simple apathy would switch off the cryonics technology long before any hope of revival is found.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    Erm, modern cryonics isn’t freezing. Rather, the ice-free process of vitrification. I describe this in my recent post about cyronics. That said I still have serious doubts about how well vitrification protects the brain during cooling.

    I think being cryonically preserved and revived is probably more likely than any religious afterlife I’ve heard about… but still not that likely.

    I think the Pascal’s Wager comparison is partly valid. Your Sci-Fi scenarios seem quite unlikely to me. A society might become too lazy or decadent to bother reviving people, but it would have to be quite malicious to go to the effort you describe.

    On the other hand, how would you know if you’d chosen the right preservation technique? There are a few companies to chose from and while they could all work, it’s more likely that they won’t all work if any do. This seems a closer parallel to the cosmic shell game you describe.

  • Freak

    Or read the issue of Transmetropolitan dealing with Cryonics.

  • Fargus

    Ebonmuse, you should get hold of the podcast for the This American Life episode called “Mistakes Were Made.” It doesn’t have to do with the future implications of cryonics, but rather with a little-known (I think) incident called the Chatsworth Disaster. Absolutely fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

  • Mark Plus

    While people alive today are still suffering and deprived of life’s basic needs, it strikes me as selfish for a wealthy, privileged few who’ve already enjoyed long and happy lives to grasp after immortality.

    You’ve got to try harder than that.

    I’ve had cryonics arrangements with Alcor since 1990, funded with life insurance, and I’ve earned less than the median U.S. household income all along. I show that plenty of nonwealthy people can afford it.

    As for playing your hypocritical “selfishness” card, how about posting a photo of the cardboard box next to the open sewer you live in. Oh, you live in dramatically better conditions than that, like in an apartment with electricity, a toilet and hot and cold running water you can drink from the tap without making you sick? How can you live in such selfish opulence when “people alive today are still suffering and deprived of life’s basic needs”?

    As for the technical problems of cryonics, how about coming up with a constructive criticism along the lines of: “No, you cryonicists aren’t doing it right. Here, let me show you how to do it better given my scientific/medical/engineering expertise.”

  • Polly

    If we could revive people from 200/500/1,000 years ago and ask them about life and events of the time it would be a boon to the study of history and culture of those periods and places. I can see great benefit in preserving people. People dig up time-capsules, how much more interest would there be in reviving people!

    A society that continues to advance to the point of figuring out immortality is likely to be at least as enlightened as we are. And if they aren’t, well then you ain’t wakin up, anyway. It’s always possible that there arises a shortage of food and your corpse happens to be the best freeze-dried, or vitrified, meal available, but I doubt that.

    I think the technical problems could eventually be figured out, but not any time soon.

  • Polly

    I should also mention that this technology has applications in long-distance space travel. So, it’s not just all about self-preservation. There’s exploration and discovery, too. But, you could argue the same thing about where we put our resources. But, in that case, we should scrap NASA. It’s pure pride of accomplishment. The returns are incidental, and not guaranteed while the costs ae huge.

  • Jim Baerg

    What if the future is a 1984-style dictatorship

    In the 1970s Larry Niven had an interesting take on that idea & why such a society would bother to revive a corpsicle. He did it in the short story _Rammer_ which he later expanded into the novel _A World Out of Time_.

    Some time ago I read someone mocking anyone who pays for cryonics, but who is sedentary or smokes or east lots of junk food. His reasoning was that some sort of anti-aging technique or mind upload into a computer is easier & likely to be developed sooner that the technology for repairing ‘severe whole body frostbite’, if the latter is even possible.

    So if you are a technological optimist who wants to live forever, your best bet is to exercise & otherwise live healthy to maximize your chances of living until better life extension technology comes along.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Ebonmuse, this is all speculation. Until the technique is perfected, it is in the realm of sci-fi and therefore irrelevant.

    I must point out an unrelenting pessimism in your posts about the future. My perspective is that the same basket of technologies which will allow cryonics without tissue damage will also enable other life-sustaining improvements.

    All future dystopias, which you seem to uncritically accept, presuppose an exponentially increasing population facing inexorable resource decline. It’s clear to me that we will be forced to solve the sustainability problem in the next generation or two. We have to figure out how to have increased productivity with a constant resource base. If we don’t, we won’t have to worry about cryonics, the singularity, or anything else.

    I want to point out that your severely constrained notions of the future are just as filled with unfounded assumptions as the cornucopians. I prefer to let the future unfold while maintaining a cautious optimism. I think if we play our cards right we can have our cake and eat it too.

  • Alex Weaver

    Ebonmuse, you should get hold of the podcast for the This American Life episode called “Mistakes Were Made.” It doesn’t have to do with the future implications of cryonics, but rather with a little-known (I think) incident called the Chatsworth Disaster. Absolutely fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

    Err, is that the 1887 collision or the 2008 collision?

  • exrelayman

    Ebon,

    ‘The future is not likely to be short of people, and even if it were, there are easier ways of producing new ones.’

    I might substitute ‘more pleasant’ for ‘easier’ in that sentence (grin).

    All,

    Tithonus, a wonderful poem by Tennyson, speaks powerfully on the issue of immortality – I would not pretend that it is the final word on this topic.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Polly

    If we could revive people from 200/500/1,000 years ago and ask them about life and events of the time it would be a boon to the study of history and culture of those periods and places. I can see great benefit in preserving people. People dig up time-capsules, how much more interest would there be in reviving people!

    No argument about the benefit of us doing that, but as Ebon says in the OP future generations will have most of that cultural record anyway, and beyond reviving a few people for the heck of it they will gain little historical insight by reviving thousands.
    In general (to quote Woody Allen in a slightly different context) I’d rather have immortality by “living forever” than by cryonics but I’ll settle for an abnormally long and healthy life otherwise.

  • Maynard

    The thought of immortality is intriguing. I have often wondered about the future that exists far beyond my personal mortality. It’s not really about wanting to live forever, it’s the desire to find out what comes next. And then after that, and then after that…

    I don’t think that I would sign up for being frozen, suspended, vitrified, etc. What if the unfreezing process is flawed and you do “wake up” with brain damage. You may not only not be your former self, but much less of the self than you were before.

    What do people who believe in an afterlife think about this? Are they dead or is their soul stuck in an immovable body? If they are dead and their soul goes to heaven (or hell) what happens when they wake? Does their spirit get ripped out of the supernatural plane and shoved back into the body? Can’t remember the title but there is a Ray Bradbury story about putting a soul back into a body. It was described like trying to force water into concrete.

    Concerning the “severely constrained notions of the future”: Whatever the future holds, it will always be much better and much worse at the same time, depending on who you ask. Remember the good ol’ days? Simpler, slower paced times, when women couldn’t vote, black people were considered property, “witches” were burned. That was great for some, others…not so much. I’m sure that many people of the past, given the opportunity, would find their lot in today’s world, having all that is available, much less desirable.

  • Quath

    I like the article. However, I do see one huge difference with this and Pascal’s Wager. If a person is revived to a bleak future, he should be able to kill himself. So if living is worse than death, that option should be there.

    I liked all the other arguments though.

  • Chet

    cryonics overlooks the possibility that the future, rather than being better, may be worse.

    Yeah, but when has that ever been true? You’re basically betting against 10,000 years of aggregate human history.

    Not a good bet, in my opinion. On the other hand, I’m not having my body frozen. After all, assuming human progress can solve the freezing problem, a little more time and they’ll just grab enough information to reconstruct my entire self from holographic space. Cost to me – zero, cost to my descendants if any – zero, and since I’m already dead there’s no way I can be disappointed.

    I don’t know that I’m any kind of transhumanist, but betting against human ingenuity and invention has not ever been a good bet.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    The thing that’s always bugged me about cryonics is this: Even if, in the future, people have come up with both a way to cure whatever I died of and a way to cure the damage done by the cryonics process itself, how likely is it that they’d come up with a cure for, you know, death?

    We can’t bring people back to life from the dead. And it’s not like AIDS or cancer, where we don’t yet have a reliable cure but we have some good treatment options and the possibility of a cure is not that remote. We’re not even in the ballpark. Heck, we’re not even in the same county as the ballpark. We’re not even seriously trying. We don’t have a clue. And I’ve never heard a response to that other than, “In the future, technology will be so magic that it will bring people from the dead.”

    And if they can bring people back to life from the dead, then I hope they have space colonization or something… because they’re going to have a heck of an overpopulation problem otherwise. If they can bring the long-dead and cryonically preserved back from the dead, they can presumably bring the recently dead back from the dead too, and almost nobody will be dead… and where are they going to put everybody?

    I think the Pascal’s Wager analogy, while not perfect, is not bad. Both religious believers and cryonics proponents act as if the cost to betting on their side is zero. But it’s not. There is a financial cost to cryonics, and speaking for myself at least, I think there’d be an emotional/ psychological cost as well. Hanging on to what I consider false hope would come at a price. It’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    What do people who believe in an afterlife think about this?

    I researched this for my own cryonics article expecting the religious to be shaking their fists in fury, but apparently they’re not bothered. Alcor has written a few articles trying to square their work with Christianity. It’s the usual – “Well the Bible says this, therefore we must…” blah blah, but I can understand them making the effort as they are in the US.

    I can see some useful and interesting research coming out of it, but perhaps it isn’t our best use of resources. You could say the same of Formula one, however. Considering the trouble with getting lots of people to put money into genuinely philanthropic projects, couldn’t this produce something worthwhile? If they want it to be tax-funded that’s another question, but if it’s their own money…?

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    Greta,

    “In the future, technology will be so magic that it will bring people from the dead.”

    Firstly, I think the idea is that they’re not dead. More like a deep coma. I suspect this distinction is made partly for the reasons of keeping religious people off their case, but they do admit that cyronics is of no use to a long-dead person. The cooling procedure does have to occur after legal death (otherwise you’d be killing them), but before they go… erm, off? Plenty of people have come back from legal and even clinical death, at least within a few minutes.

    Actually there’s a fair bit of research into longevity, mostly genetic therapy. So far they’ve massively extended the lives of mice – OK, that’s a long way from immortal humans, but that’s how most such research starts. I don’t think there’s any reason why things shouldn’t go on living indefinitely. I’m hazy on this subject, but I believe the thinking is that it’s a genetic trait which never got evolved out, as things only need to live to reproductive age. From the gene’s point of view that’s immortal enough.

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to bother getting myself super-chilled, I’m just going to make the most of what I’ve got by staying healthy and happy. But as Chet said, I wouldn’t bet against human ingenuity and rule it out.

  • Leum

    What if the future revives cryonically frozen human beings only to put them on trial for the crimes of our era? (I find this last possibility the most plausible of the four.)

    Cicada published a story along these lines back in 2003, “The Trial of Thomas Jefferson,” (can’t find the story for free, sorry, but the linked page has a synopsis). We should remember that even the most commonplace aspects of our lives may appear deeply immoral, even evil, to our descendants (one of the reasons that Lewis’ argument from morality fails is that there is a clear progression of morality throughout human history).

    Personally, cryonics is in the “unimportant and irrelevant” category. Until we actually have the demonstrated ability to pull people out of that state I’d rather just die. Like Greta, I think the psychological cost is too high (which is, of course, entirely irrational. I don’t care).

  • Entomologista

    But, in that case, we should scrap NASA

    Actually, I think he’s said already said something like this about space travel – that’s it’s selfish and pointless. I’m sure he’d say the same thing about revising a tribe of New World butterflies or recording primate behavior. It doesn’t feed starving Africans, so who gives a shit?

    That’s not to say that I think cryogenics is something we should all get into. Based on my knowledge of human physiology, which is limited, I don’t believe that I would have myself frozen with current technology. However, I don’t think that’s a reason to halt research into cryogenics or other anti-aging/life-lengthening technology.

  • Alex Weaver

    There is a financial cost to cryonics, and speaking for myself at least, I think there’d be an emotional/ psychological cost as well. Hanging on to what I consider false hope would come at a price. It’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

    Not to mention the cost of having to, you know, go get yourself frozen, presumably with a bit of life left you could otherwise enjoy…

  • Justin

    I think criticism of cryonics itself is somewhat misplaced. It’s clearly very unlikely that someone is going to rebuild you based on your vitrified corpse in the future, but that really just puts cryonics in the company of other expensive vanity funeral arrangements.

    Seriously, other than it almost certainly being a waste of money, who cares? By that metric, all funerals are a waste. Burying your corpse in a piece of prime real estate? Maintaining a nice lawn and stone arrangement? What a waste. We could just toss the bodies in a ditch and let insects deal with the flesh.

    If someone wants to be vitrified and stored in a cold vat, big deal.

    I think the only real concern is that it raises false hopes in people. Instead of accepting that their relatives have died and that they too will die, some people hold on to the possibility that they’ll all see each other in some techno future.

    In this sense, I think cryonics can sometimes be just like the promises of religion for people. And that can be just as harmful to them as religion is to their ability to live a productive life.

    But the technology? Well, it might work. It’s very unlikely, though. If you say for cryonics, you’re almost certainly just paying for an upgrade to your funeral. And that’s ok.

    Personally, I’d prefer to be entombed in an enormous pyramid though, surrounde by mummified cats.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    But just as Pascal’s argument overlooked the problem of choosing the wrong religion and ending up condemned, cryonics overlooks the possibility that the future, rather than being better, may be worse. What if the future is a 1984-style dictatorship or post-apocalyptic anarchy, or is run by malevolent superintelligences (like the vindictive supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s classic story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream) that take pleasure in tormenting us? What if the future revives cryonically frozen human beings only to put them on trial for the crimes of our era? (I find this last possibility the most plausible of the four.) The potential payoffs of cryonics, needless to say, become far more complicated if we do not assume that we can only wake up in a world far better than the one we left.

    Good point. Gets my vote.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Eshu:

    Erm, modern cryonics isn’t freezing. Rather, the ice-free process of vitrification.

    I realize that there are technical differences to the process intended to prevent the formation of ice crystals in tissue, but I believe “freezing” is a word that adequately captures the sense of what’s being done to people who sign up for cryonics.

    BlackSun:

    I must point out an unrelenting pessimism in your posts about the future… All future dystopias, which you seem to uncritically accept, presuppose an exponentially increasing population facing inexorable resource decline.

    Please read my post more carefully. I didn’t say that I believe any of those things are likely to happen – I don’t think they are. What I said was that the possibilities can’t be ruled out, and that disrupts the Pascal’s Wager-like argument that cryonics has potentially infinite payoff and zero risk. Just as Pascal overlooked the possibility of choosing the wrong religion and ending up eternally condemned, cryonics needs to come to terms with the possibility that people might wake up in a future far worse than the era they left.

    I actually expected more comments along the lines of Mark Plus’:

    As for playing your hypocritical “selfishness” card, how about posting a photo of the cardboard box next to the open sewer you live in. Oh, you live in dramatically better conditions than that, like in an apartment with electricity, a toilet and hot and cold running water you can drink from the tap without making you sick? How can you live in such selfish opulence when “people alive today are still suffering and deprived of life’s basic needs”?

    Obviously, if we wish to alleviate the suffering of people who lack access to life’s basic needs, it doesn’t do any good for us to renounce those same needs. That would be worsening the problem, not helping it. So yes, I do live in an apartment with indoor plumbing, clean running water and heat, nor do I intend to apologize for that. But I do conserve where I can and donate as much to charity as I can reasonably afford, and I do my best to practice an ethic of simplicity and live life with as few unnecessary desires as possible.

    My point was something different: cryonics, unlike food and water, is not a necessity but a luxury. Moreover, it’s a luxury that necessarily can only be offered to the elite (and yes, if you live in the First World at all, you are a member of the planet’s elite, like it or not). It would be impossible to freeze everyone in the world who dies; it would be impossible even to freeze most of them. Cryonics will never be anything other than the dream of a rare and privileged few. Given this, I think it’s a much better use of our resources to help people who are in need of the basic elements of life, rather than offering a fantasy of even more to those who already have so much.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Ebonmuse, you’re right, you did put this in terms of a hypothetical.

    I have one more argument in favor of life-extension: Yes, the future will most likely have plenty of people. But as Kurzweil has argued, a lifetime of experience is highly valuable. I seem to remember the estimate being between $2-5 million. Every time someone dies, profoundly valuable knowledge is lost to the world forever.

    The problem of overpopulation is likely to subside as the planet gets wealthier and adopts sustainable methods. Then, as people breed less, others will live longer and achieve a stable population. I also have to think that people with longer healthier lives have more to lose from violence, and a population of wiser people with rejuvenated bodies and brains should form a more peaceful society than what we have today.

    When I think of likely futures, it certainly includes dystopias. But I prefer to imagine the life-extension and life-expansion of the transhumanists and the benefits it would bring. If we never get there, it’s still no shame to try. I think the problems of poverty and the problems of longevity will be solved by the same technologies. Now, I clearly have much less faith in political institutions to keep pace with those improvements.

    Maybe our elder statesmen will save us. It’s a long shot, I agree. But certainly more likely than the false hopes and dreams of supernatural rescue.

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    I agree with you on the essentials here and also think you are essentially correct in your interesting use of Pascal’s wager. I would argue that there is a difference in the wager between picking religions and choosing cryogenics. That is one can make rational decisions by extrapolating from past history and current directions. It seems reasonable to suspect that the future will be better based on what the human race has so far accomplished. That is no guarantee that things will continue this way, of course and one could easily make arguments based on water shortages, etc. that things may become rather bleak. But at least there is evidence on which one can base rational discourse one way or the other, at least for the purposes of weighing risk and making your bet. In choosing religions, there is none. I think you do implicitly make that clear when you point out that cryogenics proponents argue the zero risk factor. Still, it is all speculation for the technical reasons argued above and certainly neural damage will remain a high risk factor for some time to come.

    On the lighter side of things, the idea of a trial of someone cryogenically frozen would make for an interesting Twilight Zone (unless it is already an episode I somehow missed). But I guess we’ll make do with a Cyclops and robots named Bender. :)

  • bbk

    It’s unfair to compare cryonics to transhumanism. Cryonics is a fancy funeral option which appeals to some people. Some people look for finality, others cringe at it, but it’s generally accepted for people to care what happens to their bodies after death. Transhumanism is something that people are interested for a broad number of reasons without necessarily having a selfish personal stake in the matter.

    I agree that cryonics is wasteful and as a form of life extension it’s selfish and unethical. But in that same context, so are all organ transplants. In terms of total years of life extended, it would be much more effective to spend our limited resources to provide basic medical care to those who don’t have it.

  • Christopher

    bbk,

    It’s unfair to compare cryonics to transhumanism.

    Well, it is one of the many modes of life promoted by those who call themselves transhumanists – of course, thise term is itself rather vague as transhumaninsts of varying stripes see many potential post-human futures. While I don’t count myself among their number, a part of me does desire for at least some of their ideas to be correct (particularly those portions related to life extention): of course, I’ll readily admit that all this is possibly just a deluded fantasy – but one can never be too certain of the future though…

  • http://lostaddress.org Ray

    What, exactly, would we offer to the hypothetical future people that the stored data cannot give? Yes, we could be frozen now and wake up 1000 years in the future and give a real first hand account of the 20th/21st Centuries (assuming that our brains aren’t damaged and we don’t go insane immediately). But we have no skills to offer – if someone from the Middle Ages were to arrive here now, once we’ve gained all the first hand knowledge we can they would be unable to function, they would have no idea of cars or air travel, they wouldn’t be able to operate a computer or even a microwave. Would it be fair or right for our descendants to unfreeze us (assuming that they even wanted to)?

  • Ric

    The biggest loss is the money and resources now. That’s a serious tangible loss for a dubious gain. That defeats the ridiculous Pascal’s Wager-like logic easily.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    But we have no skills to offer -

    And probably no other means of support unless we also take a significant proportion of whatever wealth we have out of the current economy and risk it in a 1000 year investment program.(“please note: investments can go down as well as up”)

  • Chet

    I think people are vastly overestimating the amount of electronic data that is going to survive into the future. I mean, even setting aside the usability horizon for the CD’s and hard drives that we use to archive information in the first place, there’s quite a bit of churn on the internet, and relatively few people are doing anything to archive any of it.

    And that’s just static information in webpages. What about things that only emerge socially? Could a future historian, for instance, gain a complete picture of video game entertainment in the early 21st century without playing World of Warcraft? The most popular video game ever? No, of course not. But a hundred years hence, with no surviving WOW servers in operation, no operating systems able to run current Mac or Windows software, and no graphics hardware compatible with the engine, how will he be able to? And even if he could, is it really the same game without 12-year-olds chatting in the Barrens? Of course not.

  • Leum

    I agree with you, Chet. Electronic data are some of the most easily lost around, even paper has a better chance of survival. It’s actually a significant concern for a number of historians and archivists.

    Back to cryonics, without knowing the cost I can’t comment too much on whether it’s a waste of money, but the idea that the money is necessarily wasted because it could go to a worthier cause is a noble sentiment, but ignores the fact that the real waste is in overspending on military affairs, the war on drugs, and other government schemes. Also, we spend money on other luxuries that could also go towards helping others (e.g. books, beer, baseball, balliteration). (Although those do not cost as much. As I said, I don’t know how much cryonics cost (costs?).)

  • Polly

    but ignores the fact that the real waste is in overspending on military affairs, the war on drugs, and other government schemes.

    Fuckin’ A!!! We actually spend trillions on shortening lifespans, maiming for life, or incarcerating for decades people by the millions, thus adding to human misery today.

    How’s that for a return on investment?

  • StaceyJW

    When I think of a future with cryogenics, I can’t help but picture John McCain during the end of the campaign. He looked ancient and tired, as old and outdated as the ideas he was promoting. Whenever I flip past C-Span, I am reminded that there is an entire class of very wealthy old men that refuse to pass the reins to the next generation- physically or philosophically. These men always look creepy to me; an air of privileged preservation follows them wherever they go. These guys are as close to cryogenically suspended as we’ve been able to get.

    Do we really want a world where people don’t die- or at least the part of the population that can afford it? If this became possible, for the first time in human history the ruling elite could hold on to power indefinitely, personally. Only the wealthiest would have the means to do this, making themselves into the image of their immortal idols, setting themselves ever further apart for the masses.

    There are many possible futures, but vital to progress and social evolution is the constant annihilation and regeneration of the population, and the bad ideas that they carry with them. Do you think we would have gotten as far as we have if the secret to immortality was discovered hundreds of years ago?

    People are very slow to change their worldviews, beliefs and attitudes

    many changes require many generations

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Do we really want a world where people don’t die- or at least the part of the population that can afford it?

    I’m always amazed (not in a good way) when I hear such deathist attitudes from humanists. This is definitely a view that we’re going to have to get beyond. The solution to stultification is not to demand people who are inconvenient follow the “natural order” into the grave. At its core, that’s a fundamentalist sentiment.

    Everyone who’s still breathing has the potential to learn, change, and grow, whether you like them or not.

    We’ve already dramatically extended life spans compared with 150 years ago. Imagine if every medical advance had been met with this kind of resistance. No vaccinations, organ transplants, or heart bypasses, to name a few. “Die already!” is not a humanist sentiment. Since this life is the only one we will ever have, we should welcome and value its extension by any means that’s practical. To advocate otherwise is not humanism.

    Death to deathism.

  • jack

    I can only chuckle when I read about the idea of people frozen in our time being resurrected in some distant magical future. People of my generation (boomers) will be such a crushing burden on society in 20 or 30 years that the legalization of euthanasia will become enormously appealing to the younger generations who change our diapers, put up with our demented rantings, and pay our Social Security and Medicare expenses (not to mention the staggering debt we are still running up on the national credit card). To think that they, or any of their descendants, would go to great expense and effort to preserve and resurrect a frozen few of us is a bit of a stretch, even if it were within the realm of the possible, which it certainly is not.

  • http://www.currion.net Paul C

    At its core, that’s a fundamentalist sentiment.

    Fundamentalist in relation to what, exactly?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Paul C, as in “threescore and ten,” obviously.

  • http://www.agnostik.org Suey

    I totally agree with; why will the future want to revive us? part.. we all want to be important, even when we are frozen.. Bernal said that there are two futures, the future of desire and the future of fate, and man’s reason has never learned to separate them.

  • Leum

    Out of curiosity, who’s Bernal?

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    But cryogenics worked in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it must work! I’m just too poor for immortality, unfortunately.

  • dubious

    One aspect of this argument that always seems to get left out, is what is actually happening on the ground in these horribly run cryonics businesses. People don’t seem to realize that they are making a lot of money from people’s death, and that cryonics is a financial scam.
    As many people have stated, cryonics is not science, its like a religious faith.
    It is Pascal’s Wager, but worse, its being promoted by people who want to make money off it.

    As far as how badly these cryonics companies are run, there is a whistleblower book coming out soon from a former senior member of Alcor.

    Cryonics, Ted Williams and Alcor
    http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,64749,page=1

  • Luke

    If cryonics works, it is no more a luxury than any other life-saving medical treatment. It is an absolute necessity — without it, you die. And it is by no means impossible to freeze everyone. It just requires a much bigger and more efficient industry than is currently available.

    This is not likely to happen until demonstrably reversible cryonics procedures are invented, so people know for sure they aren’t going to die (and don’t have to wait for legal death). I would expect it to happen by 2020 or so, as it only needs near-term nanotech (for better temperature control and such), as opposed to the actual nanobots that will be needed to repair the kinds of damage we see in todays procedures.