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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