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Dean Pomerleau

Cryonics Anyone?

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All,

 

Here is a new, really good (long) blog post on the details of cryonics, the rationale for it, and responses to the criticisms of skeptics, from someone who was initially pretty skeptical about it himself, Tim Urban from the great blog Wait But Why?

 

Highly recommended reading for anyone on the fence about cryonics.

 

--Dean

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If someone were so fed up with his health problems - or even simply with having gotten a old - and was otherwise psychologically well, and believed (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant here) the probability of being revived in the future given an absolutely optimal cryonic preservation today (which would require breaking the law or doing it in a country that permits legal suicide) was, say, 20%, would it be reasonable to consider that person 80% (pathologically) suicidal?

 

"Just" (sort of) wondering.

 

Zeta

 

P.S. Dean, nice blog post, thanks! (Imperfect analogy, but that's unimportant).

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Zeta,

 

If someone were so fed up with his health problems - or even simply with having gotten a old - and was otherwise psychologically well, and believed (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant here) the probability of being revived in the future given an absolutely optimal cryonic preservation today (which would require breaking the law or doing it in a country that permits legal suicide) was, say, 20%, would it be reasonable to consider that person 80% (pathologically) suicidal?

 

"Just" (sort of) wondering.

 

I'm not against rational suicide if one's life really does get bad enough (e.g. having a terminal illness with no hope of recovery and accompanying physical pain and suffering). My heart went out to Brittany Maynard, for obvious reasons, when she chose recently to end her young life early rather than deal with the potentially horrible end stages of glioblastoma. Since I believe rational suicide can sometimes be justified, like in Brittany's case, there would certainly be circumstances where I'd condone rational suicide followed by cryonic preservation, perhaps even a bit earlier in order to achieve optimal cryonic preservation to maximize the chance of future recovery. 

 

This brings to mind the heart-wrenching decision of the parents of the 3-year-old Thai girl named Einz, who recently became the youngest Alcor patient. After she died (ironically also from brain cancer), her body was flown from Thailand to Alcor for (neuro-)preservation in a cooled capsule prepared ahead of time by her parents and Alcor engineers. Her parents acknowledge it's a longshot that she'll be recovered someday so the family can be reunited, but they wanted to give their child a chance at life. I can't see blaming or criticizing them for doing anything wrong, although obviously poor Einz wasn't able to give truly informed consent - in fact no one can really give informed consent for cryonics, since nobody can predict what the future will be like.1

 

Kyle knew I was interested in cryonics, and several times I thought about talking to him about it during his final 10 months. But I'm pretty sure he thought (and I know the rest of my family thinks) it's just another of my crazy ideas and is just too creepy. Fortunately he never broached the subject of assisted suicide either - I'm not sure how I would have handled that. The closest we got was the joint decision he, my wife and I had to made to discontinue treatment and enroll him in home hospice care (a shout out to all hospice workers out there, you are terrific and perform a noble service). The doctors and his hospice nurse promised him they had the drugs to keep him from too much pain. Kyle loved life, and lived it as fully and as cheerfully as he could right up until the end, thanks in part to his naturally optimistic disposition, in part to Zoloft (which he called his "happy drug") and thanks to some pretty heavy narcotics which (thank goodness) kept his pain manageable right up to the end, as promised. 

 

Back to cryonics. At 18 and mature beyond his years, Kyle was old enough to decide for himself. And honestly I didn't (and still don't) think the 'bet' one is making with existing cryopreservation procedures (e.g. Alcor or the Cryonics Institute) even if applied optimally, is a very good one. I put the odds at much less than 20% (I'd say closer to 0.2% at best) based on the evidence (or lackthereof) about the ability of preserve the fine details of brain structures, which from my reductive materialist point of view must be restored if there is to be any hope of recovery. So I didn't advocate for cryonics, even though Kyle was in the exact situation where it might conceivably be rational, although obviously end-stage brain cancer poses unique challenges regarding timing and odds of success. And it's because of this extreme skepticism about cryonics as currently practiced that I personally haven't signed up with a cryonics company either. I don't believe the extremely long odds of recovery can justify the upfront and yearly costs now, and the added burden on my family of implementing my wish to be cryopreserved if I should happen to die or become terminally ill and incapacitated soon. If it was a death that was inevitable, relatively soon (so no waiting for better procedures) and I could see it coming and therefore make all the arrangements with Alcor myself, rather than burdening my family with the task, that would be a different story and I'd probably go through with it, despite the long odds.

 

In the same vein, in the case of someone who isn't imminently dying from a terminal illness (obviously we all gotta go sometime), who feels miserable about this particular life, but otherwise loves life in general and is just looking for a better one - I'd vehemently attempt to steer them away from the current cryonics options, due to the extremely low odds of success. I'd argue that if they really love life and want a true chance at a better one, but rationally can't imagine finding it anytime soon in the world as currently configured due to serious (though not life-threatening) health problem and/or decrepitude, they are much better off to hang in there a while longer. Why?

 

Because the Brain Preservation Prize was recently won, and that tells me that researchers are making tremendous strides towards better cryopreservation techniques. These advancements mean that unlike effective life extensions (which is still several decades away at best even according to its strongest advocates, like Aubrey), human trials of new experimental procedures for effective cryopreservation may be only a few years away. So it's better to wait. By analogy, cryonics today is like the first generation iWatch or other (arguably) new technology. Why buy one of the first generation models (especially a $10+K one!) when if you wait a year or two there will be much better, more functional second generation models available? In the case of cryonics, being a voluntarily "early adopter" is definitely not to one's advantage.

 

In fact, recent rapid progress in cryopreservation techniques may provide a unique opportunity for someone in the hypothetical position you speculate about Zeta.

 

By waiting a few years and volunteering to be (one of) the first humans to undergo one of the new cryopreservation procedures under development, such a person would optimize their own chances for effective recovery for three reasons. First the procedure would be better, and therefore more likely to succeed. Second the doctors & researchers involved would have personal incentive to prove their technology works in humans and would be under very close scrutiny, and so will take great care to maximize your chances of successful preservation on the "front end". And third, being the first human preserved via a viable cryopreservation technique will make you a much more interesting candidate for future recovery, compared with the 135th Alcor patient preserved via the same old (dubious & damaging) procedure. Finally, there is the bonus of feeling good knowing you are a pioneer and helping further science and human society by volunteering for a new procedure. Heck, you could probably even get some kicks from the fame and attention you'd receive in the time leading up to becoming the first viable "cryonaut".

 

So I'd tell your hypothetical person to fix what they can physically, see a mental health professional for the deathwish thing, and hang on a few more years until the opportunity presents itself to have a real chance of effective cryopreservation, and for a chance to make a positive contribution to humanity in as big a way as possible.

 

--Dean

 

1For anyone interested in the philosophy & ethics of this kind of decision, I highly recommend this book I just recently read The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future PeopleEinz was a poster child for the kind of dilemmas discussed in the book - most of which revolved around the ethics of bringing a child into a world in which they will likely be seriously disadvantaged or ill-equipped to handle (e.g. blind), when bringing them into the world could easily be avoided. Add "back" to the above phrase "bringing a child into the world" and the dilemma perfectly fits the tragic situation Einz's parents faced. 

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If someone were so fed up with his health problems - or even simply with having gotten a old - and was otherwise psychologically well, and believed (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant here) the probability of being revived in the future given an absolutely optimal cryonic preservation today (which would require breaking the law or doing it in a country that permits legal suicide) was, say, 20%, would it be reasonable to consider that person 80% (pathologically) suicidal?

 

"Just" (sort of) wondering.

 

Zeta

 

P.S. Dean, nice blog post, thanks! (Imperfect analogy, but that's unimportant).

My opinion only, Zeta, but I'd say no, absolutely not. It's an edgy decision, though, and clearly you're on novel ground; but I don't think it sounds suicidal. In fact, it sounds the opposite -- life affirming. But clearly you know it's a gamble.

 

The prospects for cryonics are good, I think, and the technology will only improve -- especially as AI dawns ever brighter into our present. If my own suffering was deep and persistent enough, with no end in sight, and I had money and familial support, I'd probably be seriously considering a longterm hibernation.

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Sthira and Dean,

 

Thanks for your interesting thoughts.

 

For me the question is partly whether, if one's productivity has gotten so low because of the seeming unending need to visit doctors and surf PubMed, it would make sense to pack it in for a while. It's less about being unhappy, though that's part of it.

 

But you raise an interesting point about timing, Dean: if significantly better preservation techniques are likely only a few years away, then perhaps muddling through the wait period would be acceptable.

 

I'l also like to see more work done on a sort-of low temperature but not supercold preservation option, as noted earlier. We already know that that large animals (pigs and a dog, under experimental conditions; and a couple humans, by accident) can have their metabolism essentially stopped -- though not quite -- with very low temperatures, but without being actually frozen, and then revived after many hours with no apparent harm (a small percentage of the pigs were harmed, actually -- but the technique could be perfected). If the period of this "pretty darn cold" preservation could be extended to a few months, and made safer (a goal that I'd say is easier than perfecting real cryonics), then one could take long few-month sleeps, wake up and celebrate with family and friends for a few days between sleeps, and wait for something better: cures for ailments, or perfected cryonics.

 

Dean, that must have been difficult not to broach the subject of cryonics with Kyle, though it also manifests realism, and respect.

 

Zeta

Edited by Zeta

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All,

 

Here is an interesting update on the appeal of existing cryonics techniques. It appears one of my scientific heros, and one of the great brains behind the field of artificial intelligence, the recently-deceased Marvin Minsky may have been preserved at Alcor. I say may because Alcor won't say one way or the other, citing privacy concerns (Alcor's emphasis): 

 

In a public ceremony at the Extro-3 conference in 1997, nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler presented Prof. Minsky with a bracelet given to all new Alcor members. This bracelet provides emergency contact information and basic instructions. Minsky has spoken publicy many times about his advocacy of overcoming aging and the inevitability of death and about cryonics (human cryopreservation) as a last resort. He was also among the 67 signatories of the Scientists Open Letter on Cryonics and a member of Alcor’s Scientific Advisory Board. This much is public knowledge. None of this necessarily means that Prof. Minsky had cryopreservation arrangements at the time of legal death. Alcor neither confirms nor denies whether Prof. Minsky had such arrangements.

 

Some people on Reddit think the well-known futurist (and big mouth) Ray Kurzweil confirmed that Marvin is indeed on (dry) ice in the last minute of his eulogy for Marvin, as captured in this video:

 

 

Whether or not Marvin was preserved seems ambiguous to me based on Ray's speech. Ray mentions he got a frantic phone call from Alcor people shortly after Minsky died asking "Where is Marvin's body?" Ray didn't know where he was, and the call doesn't bode well for the quality of any possible  preservation efforts that may have been performed...

 

Ever the optimist however,  Ray says at the end of the video that he predicts "by around 2045 we'll be able to revive Marvin" so he can participate in the dawning of Ray's Singularity. 

 

Good luck with that...

 

I can't help but be reminded of this satirical video tribute to Ray and roboticists (like Marvin) entitled Forever Young by the irreverently-named group "Humanity Death Watch" (discussed here):

 

 
Ray really should get rid of the hair implants / comb-over. I know he wants to stay forever young, but his new hairdo isn't helping - it only makes him look silly...
 
                        Old Ray                                                                                        "New" Ray
 
ray_kurzweil.jpg   ray-kurzweil-corbis.jpg
 
--Dean

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Glad you pointed that out, Dean.

 

I actually met Ray in person late last year (only to pose for a brief picture and to mention a person's name to him), and noticed the "hair."

Ironically, I'm less than half his age and have had my head completely shaved for several years; I don't know why he doesn't just do the same. We all *know* that ridiculous cocktail of supplements and ionized water regimen ain't stopping the aging, Ray! Does he want us to believe that all the green tea magically reawakened his hair follicles?

 

I acknowledge the fact that he's been the single most successful communicator of relevant ideas (radical life-extension, transhumanism, etc) to the lay public, but I worry that his relentless addiction to prophecy, especially the imaginary "singularity," make him the Edgar Cayce of our time.

 

Everyone's so high off Ray's *ideas* (which are good) that few have actually bothered to check how his prophecies have panned out (not well at all, especially given the fact that he bizarrely INSISTS on providing more or less the exact year for x technology to be in wide use). Since it is impossible to know what *new knowledge* will exist in the future, any claim that purports to date events the way Kurzweil does is just prophecy.

 

Case in point:

 

"by around 2045 we'll be able to revive Marvin"

 

picard-facepalm_mkuu.1280.jpg

Edited by Taurus Londono

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It was just announced that a team has won the Large Mammal Brain Preservation Prize. The microscope photos show the synaptic structure, and perhaps even ion channels, were remarkably well preserved using a technique which combined low temperatures with aldahyde stabilization. The team that won the prize has created a startup called Nectome. For a $10K deposit they are taking advance reservations for the procedure.

 

I'm skeptical as to whether the digital entity who might someday be reconstructed from a brain preserved this way would be "me". Nevertheless, given the slow rate of progress towards true life extension, this seems like the most likely path to immortality for those of us currently at or beyond middle age.

 

I'm not ready to plunk down money yet, but I'd be more inclined to sign up for this service than ALCOR's, when it becomes available.

 

--Dean

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I figure I'll never make it to the singularity, but before I plunk any $ on this, I'll wait until the last moment, when I'm about 90+, so yet a few decades from now, who knows, maybe something better will turn up by then... $10K invested over 40 years is a fair chunk of cash, probably more useful 40 years from now, instead of giving it to some dodgy company that may not be around more than a few years anyway :).

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I figure I'll never make it to the singularity, but before I plunk any $ on this,...

 

I think one of the (many) reasons "wealthy" folks plunk $$ on such highly-theoretical and highly-speculative LE strategies like cryonics (among others) is that they have not invested time into researching real-world efficacy.

 

Maintaining wealth requires considerable time investment. That's time that cannot be allocated to reading books and blogs or  browsing forums and groups like CRS. Any type of mind-changing conviction takes time to construct ... or deconstruct.  Indeed, today's social-media world of distraction, short attention spans and 280 characters exacerbates the situation.

 

Maybe -- via cognitive dissonance -- their subconscious is aware of stark reality. But their conscious state intervenes: ignorance is bliss. And maybe that's what the pursuit of cryonics is about ... havin' fun!

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Well, yes, but the whole idea of being wealthy is that you hire & rent - mostly expertise. We're all time limited. If you're wealthy though, you can buy some time - have people do the drudge work for you, saving you time which you can now use as you please, while the mere pleb is selling his/her time at their factory/job just so they can eat. Money buys you expertise in all things - TOP lawyers, TOP accountants, TOP doctors, TOP analysts. The experts presumably have spent their entire time focusing on their area of expertise, while a mere pleb can only focus the free time they have left after selling the rest at their job. That puts the expert - theoretically - at an advantage compared to the generalist puttering about. Assuming you have hired the best experts available, you follow their advice. Why would you pay a good chunk of $ to a top lawyer (doctor, analyst etc.), if you are not going to follow his/her advice? Seems counterintuitive. I'm certainly not wealthy by any definition, and I regard this as a very poor gamble, I would not engage in it unless I was literally on the verge of death, and probably not even then. I don't know if cognitive dissonance is enough to explain cryonics, but until science/technology takes cryonics out of the realm of sci-fi and hucksterism, it'll languish in the realm of the cargo cult. We need proof and demonstration. If it's a gamble, I'm not placing any bets.

 

That said, I'm prone to senseless gambling myself. I am super close to rolling the dice on some rapa/metformin plus assorted ameliorating agents (against side effects). My hand is being forced - time is running out. If a pharmacological approach is to yield any returns, the sooner I start, the greater the potential payoff. I just hope the odds are better than cryonics. Upside - win a small % life extension. Downside - lose a small (hopefully small!) percentage of my natural lifespan. Crazy as it is, I prefer this gamble to cryonics at this point in my life. Can't justify it on rational grounds, just a personal preference :)

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That said, I'm prone to senseless gambling myself. I am super close to rolling the dice on some rapa/metformin plus assorted ameliorating agents (against side effects). My hand is being forced - time is running out. If a pharmacological approach is to yield any returns, the sooner I start, the greater the potential payoff. I just hope the odds are better than cryonics. Upside - win a small % life extension. Downside - lose a small (hopefully small!) percentage of my natural lifespan. Crazy as it is, I prefer this gamble to cryonics at this point in my life. Can't justify it on rational grounds, just a personal preference :)

 

Of course assuming rapalogs and other ancillary drugs may be a faustian bargain, but having some conditions or being 'short in time' as you say may surely shift the balance of pros/cons.

 

All done in a reasoned and careful manner, it would not constitute senseless gambling, although the risk would remain non-negligible.

That's how I see it. Cryionics seems more of a gamble, zero results presently, although the potential benefit is huge.

 

Also if you start out and you are willing to share your experience, that might be hugely useful to others. 

Edited by mccoy

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I've been thinking about signing up to cryonics more and more lately.

I'm only 33, but I'm getting concerned and worried about whether not we will get life-extending therapies in time. Cryonics seems like a bit of a gamble, but it's still better than anything else we have currently. I better start saving!

 

I don't understand why approaches such as SENS isn't being funded more. Compared to other strategies, it seems that reversing the damage we accumulate would yield results much faster and you could "prove" the efficacy of such treatments in a much shorter period of time than targeting pathways to slow down aging...  which takes *years* to see if the treatments even work.

 

In Kurzweil we trust.  :rolleyes:

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Don't wanna come down on cryonics too much. Belief in it (= funding) may one day yield positive (net) results.

 

I can question the ALCOR's use of its Scotsdale, AZ facility as the repository for the Dewar units. While I realize that ALCOR has limited funding, a better location seems more sensible.

For example, the approach the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has taken for bio-preservation seems more sensible. It's not just cold temps ... but elevation (floods), seismicity, and remote location (protection from tampering, sabotage, etc.).

 

Note that, in any case, highly-engineered projects introduce a whole range of "Normal Accidents".

 

In that book, author C. Perrow identifies three conditions that make a system likely to be susceptible to Normal Accidents. These are:

 

The system is complex
The system is tightly coupled
The system has catastrophic potential

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