LessWrong and cryonics

Since I occasionally mention LessWrong and Eliezer Yudkowsky in favorable ways, I get questions about them from people who are suspicious. One thing that makes people suspicious is apparent high levels of enthusiasm for cryonics, which Quackwatch has labeled quackery, in part reasoning that we know brain cells deteriorate within minutes after death.

Two things are worth noting here, though. First, my impression is that LessWrongians typically are not expecting the revival of the frozen biological organism, they’re expecting frozen brains to be used as the basis for brain uploading. That’s a topic I plan to write more about in the near-future, but for now those interested in the topic should read this report by Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom. It seems that there are very good reasons to think uploading at least at what they call the 6a level will be possible eventually.

Second, the average level of confidence at LessWrong that current cryonics techniques will work is not that high. A survey of the readership conducted last year found a median confidence in the statement “Average person cryonically frozen today will be successfully revived” of only 10%. Robin Hanson (Eliezer’s former co-blogger, cryonics sign-up-ee, and economist who’s written about the possible economic impact of uploading) has also said just today that he has doubts about the effectiveness of current cryonics techniques.

So if you’re entire impression of what folk on LessWrong think about cryonics is “Wee! Everyone should sign up for cryonics!” you’ll probably think they’re a lot nuttier than they actually are. Personally, I don’t see myself signing up for cryonics any time soon, but if I had a sufficiently large chunk of cash that I had no other use for (big “if” there), I might sign up even in spite of philosophical worries and even if I thought the chance of success was low.

And I think Quackwatch is very wrong to say that “marketing an unproven method to the public is quackery.” We all make decisions under uncertainty all the time, and what we need to do is ask whether something is proven, but how likely is it to work, what are the potential benefits, what are the risks, what are the costs, and make a decision based on all those things taken together.

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  • machintelligence

    I will admit to occasionally reading LessWrong. It has at least given me a reason to become a “one boxer” in Newcomb’s Problem — time travel! http://lesswrong.com/lw/nc/newcombs_problem_and_regret_of_rationality/

  • Hank Fox

    The probability that you will die and stay dead without cryonics is 100 percent.

    If the probability of revival through cryonics is .0000000001 percent, that’s still almost infinitely more likely than the other option.

    This has seemed like one of those no-brainers to me, since the day I heard of it.

  • thztds

    @Hank Fox

    But what is the probability of zombies enjoying refreshing “brainsicles” after the coming apocalypse? Since I’m planning on being a zombie, I want to know.

  • advancedatheist

    >we know brain cells deteriorate within minutes after death.

    We need to change the laws so that people can undergo cryosuspension as an elective medical procedure before things get that far.

    BTW, believe it or not, cryonics has science behind it.

    For example:

    Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification

    From that paper:

    “Microscopic examination showed severe damage in frozen–thawed
    slices, but generally good to excellent ultrastructural and histological preservation after vitrification. Our results provide the first demonstration that both the viability and the structure of mature organized, complex neural networks can be well preserved by vitrification.”

    Also refer to Mike Darwin’s blog, Chronosphere:


    And to MIT neuroscientist Sebastian Seung’s book Connectome, where he defends brain cryopreservation as a feasible scientific experiment.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    In ideal circumstances, a standby team will begin cooling the head with a portable ice bath as soon as the patient is declared dead. The rate of damage through warm ischema slows rapidly as a result. Total “room-temperature-equivalent” ischemia experienced may be a lot less than you think. Read this if you’re interested in learning more about the technical reasons why cryonics may work:


    There has only been one effort by someone who understood it to present a proper technical case against cryonics, and that one seems to go no further than observing that we’re not currently able to revive people, see my blog for details:


  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    BTW, QuackWatch don’t seem particularly truth-oriented here:


  • Pyrrhus

    Ok, but what about Roko’s basilisk and Yudkowsky’s claim that science and Bayes’ theorem are in contradiction to each other?