I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey
via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion
. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
I don’t understand your logic here. I’m well aware of the issues you mention regarding the quality of Alcor’s and CI’s preservations, and I’ve never suggested that any current cryonics service is the same quality as regular medicine. Why do you think it would need to be that good to justify signing up?
I don't think it would have to equal regular medicine to be worthwhile. But the gap is big, and cryonics is expensive.
You said everyone should sign up for cryonics, for the same reason they have regular health insurance. This suggests that cryonics has traits seen with regular medicine, like being run pretty competently, providing value for cost, routinely providing good outcomes, and making your life better. Cryonics currently provides none of those.
To answer your question about what would justify signing up: First, I'd want cryonics organizations to be run in a competent and responsible way. Second, I'd want cryonics technology to improve enough to preserve brains well enough to optimistically expect the relevant information (about one's mind and ideas) to be preserved, and I would want cryonics organizations to provide quality persuasive intellectual explanations on this point. I think those two problems are deal breakers.
Regarding preservation, without staff errors, one big problem is fracturing – meaning breaks in the brain. Alcor's attitude seems to be that fracturing doesn't destroy information and nanotech can theoretically fix it because the breaks are smooth and the separated parts of the brain do not end up far apart. I'm not convinced; I think they'd need much better reasons to say this physical brain damage is OK and the relevant information still preserved. (I also think the idea of nanotech repairs is misguided. The focus should be on one day getting the information from the brain into a computer, not on fixing and reviving the original organic brain.) Fracturing is not the only serious technological problem.
If those two issues were fixed, I still would not recommend cryonics to "everyone", or most people, because it'd be a large financial burden for most people on Earth, in return for a long shot. Unless cryonics improved SPECTACULARLY, it wouldn't be worth signing up at a big cost to one's standard of living now. There's also the issue that the majority of people don't value life and don't want to live, in some pretty fundamental philosophical ways, as explained e.g. in Atlas Shrugged. Cryonics, like SENS, doesn't fit everyone's values and preferences.
It would also help if societal institutions handled cryonics better, e.g. if you could conveniently go a cryonics facility and kill yourself on site with staff present, rather than having them wait around for you to die (possibly suffering increasing brain damage from your disease in the meantime), wait for you to be pronounced legally dead, and perhaps deal with days of interference from regular medical personnel. Similarly, sometimes courts order people removed from cryo facilities. These things lower the chance of getting a good patient outcome, but I don't see fixing this as a strict requirement to sign up.
It would also be nice if I was a lot more convinced that Alcor and CI won't go out of business within the next 50 years, let alone 1000 years. Cryo preservation requires frequent maintenance and upkeep costs.
Two more points:
- A key feature that you don’t mention is that the poor preservations you list are cases where the individual did not do what I also strongly recommend, namely get themselves to the vicinity of their provider while their heart is still beating. Other cryonicists’ self-neglect isn’t a very good basis for one’s own decisions.
I don't think you read the cases closely. The Alcor case said he was in the Phoenix area, which is around 12 miles from Scottsdale, where Alcor is. It is the vicinity. Alcor refers to the "Scottsdale/Phoenix metropolitan area" on their website when explaining why they chose their location.
The reason for that bad outcome, and bad case report writing, was not due to location. For the CI case, it doesn't say what the reason for the bad outcome was, so we don't know if it had to do with location or not.
There are plenty of cases where people did everything right and got bad outcomes. There are even plenty of cases where cryo personnel irresponsibly caused bad outcomes. I include an example at the bottom of this email. There are, unfortunately, more examples available at the links I provided.
- As you say, current cryonics technology has a ways to go; but that’s another reason to sign up, since the more members Alcor and CI have, the more they can work to improve the technology.
Signing up for medical purposes, and for donation purposes, are different.
You said that, "... everyone should have a life insurance policy with Alcor or Cryonics Institute, for exactly the same reason that they should have any other kind of health insurance."
Signing up because you want to donate is not signing up for "exactly the same reason" as one has regular health insurance.
And I do not think everyone is in a financial position where they should donate money to cryonics research (or to anything).
For a younger American signing up for Alcor, the rough ballpark cost is 35 minutes of minimum wage work, 365 days a year. That's a big deal. That is a lot of one's life! Cost increases with age, so that's a minimum. (CI costs less than half that, which is still a lot of money for most people, and the quality drops along with the price.)
And I think if people have the means to make medical donations, SENS is a better option than cryonics. The SENS project you explain very well in Ending Aging, and elsewhere, makes a lot of sense and is a great idea, and you're working on it in a reasonable, competent, and effective way. Cryonics is an in-principle good idea, but unfortunately it doesn't go much further than that today. And I don't think throwing money at the issue will fix problems like some of the bad ideas of the people involved with Alcor and CI.
Example of what can happen with cryonics, not the patient's fault:
Curtis deanimated under as favorable a set of circumstances as any of us could have hoped-for.
A number of CI Directors have become concerned that I have been modifying the cryoprotectant carrier solutions without adequate testing ... In response to concerns by CI Directors (and my own concerns) I will not make more modifications to the carrier solutions, and I believe we should return to using the traditional VM−1 carrier for the time being
Ben Best, CI president (at that time), was experimenting on people who paid to be preserved. The result was failure to perfuse with cryoprotectants. And this is written by the guilty party. For an outside perspective, Mike Darwin comments:
Even in cases that CI perfuses, things go horribly wrong – often – and usually for to me bizarre and unfathomable (and careless) reasons. My dear friend and mentor Curtis Henderson was little more than straight frozen because CI President Ben Best had this idea that adding polyethylene glycol to the CPA solution would inhibit edema. Now the thing is, Ben had been told by his own researchers that PEG was incompatible with DMSO containing solutions, and resulted in gel formation. Nevertheless, he decided he would try this out on Curtis Henderson. He did NOT do any bench experiments, or do test mixes of solutions, let alone any animal studies to validate that this approach would in fact help reduce edema (it doesn’t). Instead, he prepared a batch of this untested mixture, and AFTER it gelled, he tried to perfuse Curtis with it. ... Needless to say, as soon as he tried to perfuse this goop, perfusion came to a screeching halt. [In other CI cases,] They have pumped air into patient’s circulatory systems…
Ben Best and Mike Darwin discuss the matter further here:
Continue reading the next part of the discussion