Why I’m Not A Cryonicist
As far as weird posts I’ve written go, this is probably up there with arguing that Hitler should go to heaven (though I’m sticking to my guns on that one). Although I suppose I’m likely in the majority when it comes to this, rather than the minority.
So before I get into the meat of this post I should probably say that I’m not a transhumanist. This is not because I do not share certain principles of transhumanism, but rather because the term by itself is frustratingly vague and implies almost nothing.
But I will say that I have no ethical objections - in principle - to cryopreservation. As a rule I’m in favor of people living longer, as long as we have a social model that can accommodate it. (This is not to say that I currently think old people should be killed off to make way for us whippersnappers; merely that the human lifespan has larger social consequences that need to be taken into account.) I’m not really one of those people who considers extremely long life to be a curse, for reasons much too complicated to get into here; but even if I was, I would be in favor of allowing other people to choose preservation, should it be a feasible option.
My objection is rather to the state of the science today.
Not many people seem to be aware that you can actually sign yourself up for cryopreservation. Really. Assuming you’ve met some sort of insurance standard, you pay some amount of money per year, and in return you get to be frozen instead of dying outright and, in the outcome that revival technologies progress far enough to make up for the deficiencies of today’s freezing technologies, you get to wake up in THE FUTURE!
A number of people have criticized this as a scam, and on the surface it does look like one (barring the sums the company actually spends on this stuff instead of pocketing the takings). But the point that gets missed a fair amount is that the American services aren’t making guarantees. It’s actually more of an investment than a purchase: they’re using the money you pay not just to arrange for your preservation, but to do the research that might one day make the techniques viable. This obviously doesn’t prevent them from scamming you anyway, but the point is that pretty much everyone, including these guys, concedes that the preservation and revivification of a human being is not currently possible. Which is a pretty big thing to concede, I would think.
But even assuming that this isn’t a scam, I ain’t doing it, and here’s why:
The poor quality of anti-cryonics literature.
I’m serious. Neutral parties have done the research, and I’ve gone looking myself. The absence of scientific literature that even engages with the current claims of groups like Alcor. As Paul Crowley writes - and I’m inclined to agree with him:
Cryonics isn’t hiding in some separate magisteria; it makes claims that science is clearly best placed to evaluate. And cryonics advocates make lots of scientific claims about all sorts of things, like the extent of ischemic or freezing damage, the toxicity of their vitritification solutions, or the likely anatomical basis of memory or personality, all of which are ripe for scientific challenge.
Whether or not I actually think cryonic preservation will be feasible is entirely irrelevant. What disturbs me is the absence of any literature directly taking apart cryonics as a whole, point-by-point, the way science educators so often do with things like discussion of climate or natural selection. I’m not going to go into conspiracy theories here.
The point is, I am not a scientist. Specifically, I’m not a biochemist or neuroscientist, and I lack the personal critical and experiential tools to evaluate specific claims. The problem with a body of thinking like cryonics for a guy like me is, as a rule, I like to weigh in favor of the data - but the current data are entirely one-sided and untested.
This puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to reject things people more qualified than me are saying - because no one’s bothering to critique them. Science thrives under scrutiny; but there’s no real scrutiny here, and thus no real science.
This is why I’m going to go out on a limb and disagree with Eliezer Yudkowsky for claiming that you’re a bad parent if you don’t sign your kids up for cryopreservation (I’ll also go out on a limb and call him a patronizing, self-important asshole with no concept of how people and society actually work, because that’s how he behaves in the article and comments, but that’s really neither here nor there). Regardless of how qualified the source of the one-sided and biased data may be, the data still one-sided and biased and therefore not scientific. And I see more value in investing in my (future possible) children’s wellbeing as far as this lifetime goes than spending what is likely to be an important chunk of my (and/or possibly my partner’s/s’) income on what is frankly bad science, regardless of what the future turns out to show.
There is no amount of fearmongering that renders Pascal’s Wager appropriate in this context. Only hard information will change my mind.
So there you have it, a likely unnecessary and overlong statement as to why I am not a cryonicist and will remain as such until the scientific community gets its ass in gear over this.