PSA: Very important policy change at Cryonics Institute

post by Coscott · 2013-10-03T05:47:47.004Z · score: 20 (32 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 99 comments

In the past, the Cryonics Institute has had a policy that said that they would not accept anyone who is not a member. This has changed. The policy now is that someone who has full legal authority over your body can sign you up after you die. It costs $36,250 to be frozen if you are not signed up, which is more expensive. They also will not do anything until you have been on dry ice for 2 weeks after they have been contacted, so not being a member is more risky. 

This is very important news for anyone who is currently cryocrastinating. It means that you can drastically increase your chances of survival without filling out any forms. All you have to do is tell a loved one you want to be frozen upon death, and that you would like them to take responsibility for making sure this happens. This takes literally 30 seconds. Do it now!

This news might also be a reason to not sign up right away, if you think something better (like radical life extension or uploading) will come along in your lifetime. We should discuss this in the comments.

Edit: The general consensus of this discussion is that this is a really bad reason not to sign up for cryonics. 

99 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by dvasya · 2013-10-02T19:42:51.946Z · score: 31 (31 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

tell a loved one you want to be frozen upon death, and that you would like them to take responsibility for making sure this happens. This takes literally 30 seconds

...and they probably won't do it when the time comes to act.

The history of cryonics teaches us that, while people often contact cryonics companies to freeze their already or soon-to-be dead relatives on their own incentive, it is a much more common situation that the relatives of a person who has already completed all the paperwork and paid for the cryopreservation with their own money try to actively prevent the preservation.

Note also that the non-signed-up people's relatives come from a population many orders of magnitude larger than signed-up people's relatives.

comment by nshepperd · 2013-10-02T08:31:10.105Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This does seem like valuable information, but conversely, 2 weeks on dry ice still sounds extremely harmful for survival odds, so this is probably not a good reason to put off signing up.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-10-03T03:38:07.188Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see what the rush for signing up for cryonics is all about.

My understanding is that while I'm young, accidents are the most common cause of death, and it's hard to cryopreserve someone after an accident & cryonics works much better if you die in a hospital. So being covered for cryonics isn't that useful when you're young.

Once you accept that premise, it seems like you're better off just putting more money in to your retirement fund or other investments in order to pay for your suspension when you're older. Putting money in your retirement fund has tax benefits, and you'll actually make money through the interest you earn rather than losing money to an insurance company. (Insurance companies are only profitable because they take more money in through premiums than they pay out, while the stock market has historically gotten decent returns, at least in the US.) I don't find Rudi Hoffman's reasons to fund your suspension through insurance very convincing.

As an added benefit, you can put off the decision of whether you want to go for plastination or not, whether you're wealthy enough for full-body Alcor as opposed to head-only CI, and maybe other things until you have more information about cryonics technology and how much money you're going to earn over the course of your career. (Another possibility is that the cost of cryonics will drop drastically and you'll end up with way more life insurance than you wanted.)

Even if signing up through insurance is marginally better, it seems like a relatively small optimization, and I feel like I've got much better things to do at this stage of my life.

(FWIW, an LWer friend of mine who is a finance professional with a history of achieving above-market returns did a fairly thorough analysis of this, factoring in the possibility of an early un-suspended death, and independently came to the same conclusion I did.)

comment by philh · 2013-10-03T16:02:00.481Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

whether you're wealthy enough for full-body Alcor as opposed to head-only CI

Did you get this the wrong way around? I thought Alcor was more expensive but offered both full-body and head-only, and CI only offered full-body.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-10-04T01:12:22.915Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not a cryonics expert and assumed that CI, being cheaper, would do head-only. Thanks for the correction.

comment by curiousepic · 2013-10-03T18:22:45.830Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to hear rebuttals of this reasoning, since it is a big contributor to my current cryocrastination and choice-stress.

The other big contributor is the article (written by Rudi himself) which insists that the cost of the procedure will increase significantly in our lifetimes and thus encourages you to fund your insurance as much as possible, rather just up to the current coverage costs.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-10-03T20:24:20.638Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a rebuttal, exactly, but mostly this seems like haggling over the price.

If you believe that signing up for cryonics makes sense at 50, then presumably you believe that your probability (Pd50) of dying that year in a cryopreservable way (e.g., in a hospital, not in an accident, whatever), your probability (Pv) of being revived post-mortem if you die in a cryopreservable way, and your estimate of the value (V) of being revived post-mortem are such that (V Pv Pd50) is greater than the differential cost of signing up at 50 vs 51.

It seems clear that Pd50 is higher than Pd20. All this business about accidents aside, you're simply less likely to die at 20 than you are at 50. Call that factor X. You can look up actuarial tables to get a sense of it; it's probably smaller than 1000.

You can also look up what you pay for your first year of coverage if you sign up at 20, vs 50. Call that difference Y.

So, the question is, is your estimate of (Pv V X) higher than Y?

If so, then it seems that the value of signing up for a year of coverage at 20 is worth the cost.
If not, then it isn't.

I find the idea of being confident of this equation at 50 but not at 20 to be outright bizarre... it seems to me that the vast uncertainty inherent in estimating V and Pv is such that if I'm confident cryonics is a good bet at 50, a few orders of magnitude one way or the other ought not significantly alter my confidence.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-04T03:50:06.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can look up actuarial tables to get a sense of it; it's probably smaller than 1000.

For total deaths, sure; for cryopreservable deaths, I have my doubts.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-10-04T05:23:31.616Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough.
I just have trouble believing that it's a factor that's actually large enough to affect the EV calculations people are actually doing, to the extent that people do EV calculations before signing up for cryonics at all.

comment by TsviBT · 2013-10-03T06:25:02.838Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested to see rough figures, if possible. I was under the (vague) impression that a life policy could be worth it given how much premiums go up as you age.

But yeah, I'm way more worried about my older friends and family failing to sign up.

comment by BrienneYudkowsky · 2013-10-21T01:35:09.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the time, when I listen to discussions like this I hear, "How much exactly do you want to not die?" To which my unequivocal response is "A WHOLE FUCKING LOT."

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-10-23T05:28:12.662Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My impression is there is much lower-hanging fruit than cryonics for young people.

Although, I've recently heard that the Young Cryonicist Gathering ends up being worth more as a vacation than you pay for cryonics. So that seems worth considering if the event sounds appealing.

comment by BrienneYudkowsky · 2013-10-21T01:32:21.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) There are an awful lot of relatively probable accidents that end with me dying in a hospital after a trip to the emergency room. I'd actually really like to see statistics on what percentage of people who die in each age group have their brains squished. 2) If you take FAI seriously, it may be worthwhile to attempt to preserve yourself regardless of what kind of shape you're in. I'm not certain a superinteligence could repair damage I can't even begin to imagine how to repair, but I'm not very confident it can't in many cases either.

comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2019-11-15T18:13:14.751Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

according to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4733321/, 2 weeks on dry ice seems to be equivalent to 3 seconds at room temperature (seems acceptable)

according to https://alcor.org/Library/html/HowColdIsColdEnough.html, 2 weeks on dry ice seems to be equivalent to 19.5 minutes at room temperature (seems unnecessarily risky)

comment by Dorikka · 2013-10-03T04:41:25.300Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...From what little I've read, there's really no point if you wait that long.

comment by MichaelAnissimov · 2013-10-03T10:05:35.423Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being on dry ice for two weeks is suicide. That's my take based on intermittent research for the past 12 years and talking to numerous cryobiologists.

comment by amacfie · 2013-10-03T19:18:04.519Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

interesting use of the word "suicide"

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-06T13:54:19.037Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

interesting use of the word "suicide"

True, it could be "murder", "manslaughter" or "tragic accident" instead.

comment by amacfie · 2013-10-06T15:38:46.684Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, murder of someone already dead

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-07T00:57:24.751Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, murder of someone already dead

I see I misinterpreted your earlier comment. My mistake, vote corrected.

Even assuming your premise is correct (that cryopreserved humans can not be considered in any sense 'alive') it wouldn't be a misuse of the word suicide for that reason. Anissimov would be using the typical use of the word to express a claim that you believe to be false.

comment by amacfie · 2013-10-07T04:39:22.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just meant "dead" as in the current legal sense.

comment by gjm · 2013-10-02T11:23:34.685Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see people saying things like

2 weeks on dry ice still sounds extremely harmful for survival odds

but I'd thought the truth was nearer to

2 weeks on dry ice rather than proper vitrification is so much worse on account of ice-crystal damage that you might as well not bother

Do I have a mistaken idea of how useless mere freezing is for cryopreservation?

comment by Baughn · 2013-10-02T14:24:00.714Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You do not. If you're frozen instead of cryopreserved, there is absolutely no chance that any simple procedure will be able to read out your mindstate.

However, there is still a chance[1] that a sufficiently smart intelligence would be able to time-reverse the ice damage and resurrect you that way, or at least extract enough data to construct a reasonable facsimile for your family and friends that's more than simply their memories. That might still be worth paying for, if you believe such intelligences will exist.

1: Pulling a number out of my ass, I'd say about 5% of the chance that vitrification works. I don't have much faith in the information-scattering abilities of ice crystals. I do, however, consider it possible that important data is stored in volatile form.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-02T21:57:02.564Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have much faith in the information-scattering abilities of ice crystals

It may be a bit difficult for most individuals to visualize ice formation with enough clarity and detail. It is not just the expansion of water upon freezing that is a problem. Ice crystals don't appear out of nothing. They are formed out of water that is there. During freezing, the ice crystals initially get made of pure water, forcing everything else into inter-crystal spaces (smashing it together into smaller volume).

In addition to the already grave damage of shredding something that is made of fairly identical parts, the cell membrane fragments get to float in the concentrated brine (as the pure water was removed), which would assuredly restrict the space of possible states of multitude of proteins in the receptor gates and the like, losing information irreversibly. Which is also the case for most "cryoprotectants".

At molecular scale, there's no tiny scratches, lost hairs, and the like, that the future superintelligent Sherlock Holmes can look at with a better magnifying glass.

comment by Baughn · 2013-10-02T23:20:00.148Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True. If the molecular scale matters, we're boned. :P

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-03T07:03:58.573Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It definitely does, i.e. the ion gates and receptors and such are molecular complexes, and most of the information is virtually certain to be in the states of molecules (shapes for those that can be in either shape, adhesion of molecules, etc etc), the sort of stuff that will get irreversibly lost when proteins denature due to either high salinity or "cryoprotectants".

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-03T08:20:07.575Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm skeptical that the brain could be this delicate in operation and still work as robustly as it does.

edit: I suppose it's plausible that memories could be stored this way if they're done so redundantly, in which case a systematic unraveling of proteins might destroy them in a way that normal wear-and-tear wouldn't.

"Virtually certain" seems like overreaching as far as I'm aware though - is this the standard point of view among biologists?

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T07:13:54.117Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm skeptical that the brain could be this delicate in operation and still work as robustly as it does.

States of molecules are in no way delicate. There's points plotted on a line:

delicate----------------not so delicate------------robust--------------------will withstand solvent replacement or brine.

The molecules that unravel and change their shapes (and detach, and lose state information) upon the changes involved would never (for any practical meaning of never) change their shape in such ways in normal conditions. It is not delicate - it is just that changes in the properties of solvents are very non delicate kind of change at all.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-10-03T09:17:20.798Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There isn't so much of a "standard point of view" because the people in the area just really don't take cryonics seriously at all.

Here is a comment from one of the previous threads on the topic, with ensuing discussion.

Not even a superintelligence can restore an ice sculpture from a glass of water.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T11:04:22.988Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not even a superintelligence can restore an ice sculpture from a glass of water.

Yes.

It may be helpful to outline what exactly - in terms of information - makes an ice sculpture irrecoverable or recoverable. It is the fact that distinct ice sculptures will result in precisely identical glass of water. Even if you look at the individual water molecules in the glass and try to retrace their motion backwards, due to the introduction of unknowns (interaction of those molecules with the molecules in the actual glass, then in the air, etc etc), they map to every possible ice sculpture.

The ice sculpture is irrecoverable because the final state corresponds to many possible initial states.

Likewise, massive changes in the solvent - which occur in either cryoprotected or non-cryoprotected cryonics - will force bistable molecules and molecular complexes to transition into a third state, losing their state information. This is because changes in the solvent affect intermolecular forces between parts of a protein (making proteins denature, i.e. unfold or re-fold into a different shape), and between different proteins.

Cryonics as it is can not be seen as science fictional stasis field with cracking and distortion that can in principle be undone someday. It involves massive, many-to-one chemical changes.

It is clear that if the cryonics involved cooking your head in a pot and then freezing it - or even letting the head remain at room temperature for a few hours - the chances would seem fairly minuscule to you, due to extensive many to one chemical changes that would occur during cooking. Likewise, the chances of cryonics - without any cooking - seem fairly minuscule to me due to extensive many to one chemical changes that result from either the introduction of the "cryoprotectants" (at concentrations which denatures some proteins) or due to the concentration of all solutes including salt in the inter crystal boundaries (which also denatures proteins). This is all quite far outside the range of any "robustness" against normal environmental conditions, too - I do not expect memories to be any more delicate than rest of the changeable chemical state (By the way, more chemically 'robust' storage would also require more energy for writing memories).

Now, of course, given the unknowns, we can't tell for sure that cryonics does not work. But we can have no reasonable expectation for cryonics to work better than, say, doing good deeds in the hope that it raises chances at resurrection through some sort of look-into-the-past technology utilizing unknown laws of physics, or resurrection possibilities in simulated worlds, or the like - all the other things that no one can prove impossible.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-03T09:45:24.505Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that's a good analogy; IIRC organs (eg rabbit kidneys) have been successfully frozen and revived (good enough to implant), so it's more a matter of whether that can be extended to human brains (which, sure, may be more delicate) rather than being something inherently absurd.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-03T16:20:15.821Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rabbit kidneys are much smaller than human brains.

The square-cube law is the main showstopper: you can remove heat form a thing at a rate proportional to its surface area, while its heat capacity is proportional to mass and thus to volume. Therefore, maximum attainable cooling speed decreases with size (if you try to cool any faster, youl'll just crack the surface).

Rabbit kidneys can be vitrified without using a toxic concentration of cryprotectants, moreover, IIUC the circulatory system of a kidney allows higher flow and pressure (a kidney is just a blood filter, after all), making cryoprotectant perfusion easier. Even then, cryopereservation isn't perfect: microscopic damage has been observed.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2013-10-04T16:59:43.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am an absolute amateur, but wasn't vitrification about replacing the ice-crystal-generating water in the brain/body with a liquid that turns into a glass when cooled? If you can get that liquid into the furthest reaches of the brain, wouldn't you also be able to distribute coolant through its interior, turning the effective cooling surface area proportional to the volume?

comment by V_V · 2013-10-06T00:18:17.412Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this case cooling speed would be limited by the coolant flow and its thermal capacity and conductivity. You would have to use the cryoprotectant has a coolant. IIUC typical cyroprotectants are not good coolants at that temperature range. Nothing can be a good coolant close to its own glass transition temperature, since by definition their viscosity becomes very high (solid-like) at that temperature.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-03T22:59:57.601Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the information, but that suggests that preserving a human brain will be difficult and may require more advanced techniques than currently used, not necessarily that it's some crazy impossible thing that shouldn't even be thought about. Hell, maybe it would be possible to carefully cut up the brain into smaller chunks before freezing it (a sharp cut along the right line being perhaps not so damaging compared to bad freezing).

A lot of it is going to come down to exactly how memories are stored and how redundant they are. Last time I checked this wasn't yet fully understood. If they really do depend on fine details of molecules that are inevitably irreversibly scrambled by freezing, then it probably is impossible after all.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-04T10:20:11.519Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think anybody is claiming that viable brain preservation will be necessarily forever impossible. The claim is that brain preservation as currently offered by cryonics comapanies is probably flawed and unlikely to maintain the relevant aspects of somebody's personal identity.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-04T10:36:51.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough, though I do think this opinion is sometimes expressed a bit over-confidently given that the physical basis of memory is not yet well understood.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T08:06:13.274Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough, though I do think this opinion is sometimes expressed a bit over-confidently given that the physical basis of memory is not yet well understood.

Suppose that I were sceptical that boiling a head in a cooking pot for 2 hours followed by freezing preserved the information... you could say exact same words and they would be equally relevant (or irrelevant).

The "not yet well understood" does not mean it is warranted to plug in some entirely unspecified magic. We know that how-ever it is stored, it must affect transmission of the signals between brain cells. Which leaves us with receptor densities, positioning of receptors, adhesion of molecules to receptors, states of receptors, and the like.

Ultimately, when we do not have an actual reason to believe some procedure works, and only assume it might work from ignorance and introduction of too much magic, it falls to the background of considerations such as "what if donating that amount of money to best charities will make it more likely that the future people will use look-into-the-past wormholes to resurrect you?". Or all the variations on the theme of living in a simulator (which may well use your brain's data for something provided it fits some criteria). You need evidence to elevate one such idea above the milliard others.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-07T10:37:12.649Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's already enough evidence to locate the hypothesis - eg experiments on animal organs and small animals. Therefore your assertion that this is some crazy idea plucked out of nowhere doesn't hold.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T11:22:16.182Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The other hypotheses were located in similar manner, though. And far too much has to be ignored to generalize from said animal organs or said microscopic animals. Generalization from kidneys to brains is particularly dubious. Especially as great many of said frozen corpses are frozen corpses precisely because of their brain's unusual fragility with regards to loss of blood supply.

edit: The issue is not with cryonics in principle. The issue is with cryonics as it is. Similar to the people jumping off towers with some wings vs an airplane. Seeing a bird fly really doesn't make for a case that you can fly by your own muscular power with some homemade birdlike wings, with the early prototype, in fact it makes for the opposite case (as none of the birds are as heavy as you are). Evidence against a hypothesis can locate it too.

edit2: And with regards to information theory, it is absolutely trivial and clear cut: given that there is a mapping from a larger phase space, to a smaller phase space, meaning that some information is irretrievably lost. It is not there anymore for any super-intelligence to deduce. Just that. This summarizes everything information theory has to say about the issue. Whenever that information is important or not, that is a question of neurobiology.

With regards to the future cryonics, there's two possibilities:

1: Revival. If we can cryopreserve brain tissue, revive it, and it retains learning, that would be an indication that the procedure works.

2: Fixatives. The opposite of revival. If we find out how exactly the memories are stored, we can develop a fixative mix that would lock those proteins in place by cross linking, i.e. adding strong chemical bonds in place of weak intermolecular bonds. That is a drastic measure which would require pumping the brain full of highly toxic, carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde. (This may even permit room-temperature storage, or may require cooling). Without knowledge of how it is stored one can make a shot in the dark and hope that particular fixatives would work.

Current cryonics is neither, and is hence not taken seriously by experts in any fields expertise in which is actually necessary for evaluating whenever the lost information is relevant. I've a nagging suspicion that an effective procedure for future uploading would end with a brain diced into small slices and stored at room temperature in a jar of some cheap cocktail of fixatives. With all molecules neatly cross linked in their original places rather than unravelled and detached by solvents.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-07T22:57:24.518Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I'm mostly interested in brain/mind-preservation in general - I don't care if it's by fixatives or freezing. I've heard discussion of "plastination" which seems similar to your point #2. Even aside from whether it's more likely to actually work or not, it seems like it could be cheaper and more practical as well. I'm all in favour of more research along those lines.

(Earlier you gave me the impression that you thought the entire concept of preserving a brain was some wild fantasy not even worth thinking about (ie the typical opinion of Very Serious People), but this seems more like you were disagreeing with the effectiveness of cyroprotectants specifically, which I don't have strong grounds for an opinion on).

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-08T18:20:14.982Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Keep in mind that cryonics generally advertises the possibility of in-place repair of some kind, biological revival. The uploading possibilities are not optimized for. The kind of compounds you would want to add to preserve information (to avoid loss due to denaturation) are very toxic at much lower concentrations.

With regards to plastination, it has the extra destructive steps of trying to get a solid in the end, and to avoid cutting it into pieces.

ie the typical opinion of Very Serious People

I doubt it's the typical opinion, really. If by very serious people you mean top scientists and the like... they have more complex opinions because due to the training and intelligence they can relatively effortlessly hold complicated relations in the heads. Opinions could be "no future technology will permit revival of [currently] frozen corpses", "freezing and biological revival is unlikely to ever be workable", and so on.

And on a tangent, correct opinions about such topics are a matter of knowledge and capability involved in simulating said processes in your head.

To deal with a simpler example without cryoprotectants (e.g. as described here). When a scientist with relevant expertise considers dropping a head into liquid nitrogen, within mere seconds they do a lot of work in their heads - they correctly estimate the cooling rate inside the head (going to take many minutes to freeze), they picture the ice crystals growing, everything other than pure water (up until -18 celsius) getting squished into inter-crystal spaces and getting ripped and scraped in the process (irreversibly losing a lot of information due to many to one transitions - and no redundancy will help you when the 'redundant' storage is subject to same destruction), chemical damage due to high salinity (also irreversibly losing information), and so on and so forth.

The rationalists on the other hand seem not to even realize that such considerations are required, let alone occur. It does not matter for how long you are going to think about it if your thought is not even simulating any destructive processes that occur.

With cryoprotectants, the issue is considerably more complicated, with lesser possibility for a simple conclusive disproof, but no better reason to expect it to work (pumping brain full of solvents at denaturing concentrations doesn't seem like a good idea, and all those references to rabbit kidneys at much lower concentrations mostly serve as evidence of bad faith rather than evidence that it works). The one perhaps big advantage though is that at least the connectivity map would be readable for sure, that's provided that the cryo-protectants actually do reach most of the brain, which is uncertain as well.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-10-09T07:16:26.287Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's clear at this point that your opinion is not as extreme as I the impression I originally got (unlike some people) and I don't really disagree much with what you say here. I too am skeptical of current methods (and I'm not signed up for this and other reasons), but I'd like to see further work on both traditional cyropreservation and other methods such as plastination, taking into account any new research on memory formation and storage. The idea being to get to a point where we can preserve an animal brain and check to see that the important information seems to be preserved (even if we can't read it back out yet).

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-10-03T10:07:42.559Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's an exaggeration, but not far off. The information seems pretty damn fragile. From the linked thread: "The damage that is occurring - distortion of membranes, denaturation of proteins (very likely), disruption of signalling pathways. Just changing the exact localization of Ca microdomains within a synapse can wreak havoc, replacing the liquid completely? Not going to work."

The counterarguments appear to be "but do we really need all that detail for a good-enough copy of the person?" Which is a "prove my negative" - the people arguing that don't know either.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-10-03T13:41:20.709Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That argument seems to me to be based on an incredibly oversimplified view of what the recovery process would look like. It's not going to involve restoring operation to the system.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-10-03T16:06:11.325Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a double-edged negative... not only do we not know how good the copy will be, we don't know how good is good enough. (Of course, if our standards for "good enough" are sufficiently low, then they can be satisfied by other people being born.)

Ultimately the cryonics argument is that the value to me of someone who meets my standards for being me existing in the future is so high that any increase, however small, in the chance of that happening has a higher expected value than anything else I could do with the resources consumed by post-mortem cryonic preservation of my brain (or at least, higher EV than many things I am currently doing with them, which I should therefore give up doing in favor of cryonics).

comment by Baughn · 2013-10-03T10:45:57.563Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite. We don't know, so what are the chances?

They don't need to be very high for cryonics to be an improvement on, y'know, definitely dying.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-03T16:10:00.462Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics is quite expensive. Success chance has to be non-negligible in order for cyronics to be worth the price.

comment by Baughn · 2013-10-03T20:20:14.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends. What else are you going to spend your money on?

comment by V_V · 2013-10-04T10:13:52.859Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything else you like. You can even give it to others while you are alive or after you die.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-10-03T08:05:27.480Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, there is still a chance that a sufficiently smart intelligence would be able to time-reverse the ice damage

What does that sentence even mean?

comment by Baughn · 2013-10-03T10:44:30.332Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Figure out the past state from the current state". Or at least some close approximation of the past state.

Which involves attempting to time-reverse the laws of physics, on some level. Which is impossible, strictly speaking, but you may be able to get close enough for government purposes.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-02T07:10:18.772Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This news might also be a reason to not sign up right away, if you think something better (like radical life extension or uploading) will come along in your lifetime. We should discuss this in the comments.

I don't see any possible scenario where this applies, so long as you are insurable. Cost of cryonics through term life insurance is cheap, and the risks of 2 weeks on a slab is huge.

But by all means, if you don't have a cryo plan yet, then have that conversation with your loved one, now.

comment by fezziwig · 2013-10-02T18:46:55.941Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The two-week delay makes sense from a risk management perspective, but it makes this change a really, really bad reason to put off signing up. The only interesting case I see offhand is the one where the person with legal control of the corpse wants them cryopreserved, but the dead person inside does not.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-03T10:20:40.610Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Question: when people say that two weeks on dry ice is suicide, is the 'two weeks' part significant? Are two weeks on dry ice worse than two days and better than two months on dry ice or is it that the moment you get frozen without cryoprotectant, you're done?

comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-10-06T04:32:49.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's the latter.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-10-02T08:10:40.613Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They also will not do anything until you have been on dry ice for 2 weeks after they have been contacted, so not being a member is more risky.

That seems prima facie to be really, really detrimental for the purposes of keeping the informational state unscrambled / recognizable (it may be sensible from a legal / PR POV, but I'm not much interested in that).

In a fun twist, it may well turn out that the "first" reconstituted bodies are worse off (lower-fidelity reconstruction), and you could argue that once mankind (shepharded by an automated sheepdog) reached a stage of thawing the dead, you're better off waiting for the trajectory to continue on, i.e. to stay frozen for a few centuries longer until perfect fidelity is achieved (on the flipside, society may be even less recognizable). One way to do that is to make sure the damage is severe, e.g. by botching the cryonic procedure somewhat, such as staying on dry ice for 2 weeks. Shmart (the 'h' is an artifact)!

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-10-03T13:47:44.881Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

o.O

that is a terrible idea. The damage could very easily be severe enough that you just killed yourself such that even a superintelligence couldn't figure out who you'd been.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-10-03T14:18:19.629Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I'm glad we agree the two week waiting period is bad policy.

comment by Coscott · 2013-10-02T08:18:25.427Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is possible, but I do not think that damaged bodies are any more likely to be last than they are likely to be first.

comment by curiousepic · 2013-10-02T20:41:02.191Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why? It seems obvious to me that the first recovered bodies will be those that were frozen shortly before the recovery procedure was available, with the best freezing procedure at that time.

comment by katydee · 2013-10-02T07:47:39.273Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post seems much more appropriate for the Discussion section.

comment by Coscott · 2013-10-02T08:24:25.464Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? According to the most recent survey, 55% of Less Wrong is either cyrocastinating or still thinking about whether or not they want to sign up. I tried to make the post as short as possible to not waste anyone's time, while trying to get what I think is a very important message across to as many of that 55% as possible.

If a mod disagrees with me, I would not be offended at all if this gets moved to discussion.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-10-03T05:50:33.632Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Left it in Main for a bit and then moved to Discussion.

comment by Coscott · 2013-10-03T07:03:47.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. That seems like the best way to maximize visibility in the short term without getting in the way in the long term.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-03T06:11:57.336Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They also will not do anything until you have been on dry ice for 2 weeks after they have been contacted, so not being a member is more risky.

Why this part?

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-10-03T08:02:31.603Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably to illustrate that you (person in charge) and the authorities storing the body will cooperate with them.

comment by joaolkf · 2013-10-03T22:45:12.521Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This will increase cryocrastinating by a factor far greater than the number of people actually being cryopreserved because they randomly told a love one about this.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-10-03T03:11:56.363Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All you have to do is tell a loved one you want to be frozen upon death, and that you would like them to take responsibility for making sure this happens.

You mean a loved one who is willing to shell out $36,250.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-03T06:06:24.218Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean a loved one who is willing to shell out $36,250.

Where 'willing' includes the case where your estate is worth more than $36,250, they inherit it and they are 'willing' to honour your wishes regarding the disposition thereof even if they are not legally obliged to by you telling them formally in your will.

comment by knb · 2013-10-03T20:42:31.889Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if cryonauts ever prepare some kind of detailed information packet about their personalities, values, etc. to help a future superintelligence put them back together. It seems like getting a full genome sequence, some personality test data, and maybe some video of you would be very cheap on the scale of current cryonics costs. The genome would be expensive, but prices seem to be falling steadily, so in a few years it might be a trivial expense compared to cryonics.

Does anyone do anything like this?

comment by roystgnr · 2013-10-03T22:05:56.710Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Under what conditions would it matter? If a reconstruction of me isn't accurate enough to tell how extroverted I am, for example, then a "25%" on an accompanying form isn't going to help much. If you don't know what a picture looks like, "the average color is 0x295a5e" isn't enough information to help.

A full genome sequence might be enough information to be slightly useful, but cryonauts have trillions of those already frozen. ;-)

comment by Moss_Piglet · 2013-10-03T22:41:29.070Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the future denizens are capable of restoring a cryogenically frozen person to life they shouldn't need our help with the DNA sequencing. After all, we can do that with fairly good reliability today on mummies and bog men so our Walt Disneys shouldn't be too hard to get a decent sample out of.

The epigenome, on the other hand, is a stickier issue; there's a lot of proteins vital to gene expression which are not going to fair well in either the initial freeze or long-term storage. Once we get reliable sequencing of that I'd say that sort of info would be much closer to what you're thinking of.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2013-10-03T14:05:36.517Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Considering Michael's comment this post might be an information hazard as it will encourage people to cryosticate ("I can always tell a loved one on my death bed").

comment by V_V · 2013-10-07T16:13:51.112Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suppose that even the people who, in contrast with expert opinion, assign non-negligible chance of success to prompt cryonics with vitrification (e.g. the kind of procedure Mike "Darwin" suggests), will agree that two weeks on dry ice without any form of cryoprotection mean no realistic chances of success.

What does the fact that the Cryonics Institute is offering that implies about their honesty and/or competence?

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-02T21:17:00.447Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is very important news for anyone who is currently cryocrastinating. It means that you can drastically increase your chances of survival without filling out any forms. All you have to do is tell a loved one you want to be frozen upon death, and that you would like them to take responsibility for making sure this happens. This takes literally 30 seconds. Do it now!

Geez. My take: cryonics as it is very probably does not work, consequently the desire to sign up for cryonics is frequently coincident with otherwise low functioning, including the inability to deal with forms.

With regards to dry ice and slow freezing in general: that totally mashes up everything by ice crystals. At the scales involved, you are dealing with positioning of single molecules and very small, identical molecular complexes, and that positioning and state information gets irreversibly lost during freezing. A problem which is yet to be resolved for the whole volume of the human brain, as it is difficult to get vitrification enabling compounds everywhere. edit2: and with regards to dropping heads into buckets of liquid nitrogen or the like, that is still slow freezing. Only micrometre thick slices can be glassified without ice formation. Liquid nitrogen is at -196 Celsius. Think of oil at +200 Celsius, it doesn't flash-cook a big piece of frozen fish, and neither does liquid nitrogen flash freeze a big piece of fish. Even the absolute zero is not very far from room temperature. If you set up a guillotine with a bucket of liquid nitrogen for the head, what's going to happen is that not even the skin would be well preserved.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-10-02T23:28:52.597Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A problem which is yet to be resolved for the whole volume of the human brain, as it is difficult to get vitrification enabling compounds everywhere.

So, I think this is why they use perfusion- everywhere important in the brain is going to be near to blood vessels, because otherwise it would die (and thus can't be important). If you deliver cryoprotectants through blood vessels, and then lower the temperature with some liquid delivered through blood vessels, you can have relatively uniform relatively protected freezing.

(I get the sense, though, that if someone is dead, it's no longer a good assumption that everywhere important in their brain is close enough to navigable blood vessels, and so I would be way more interested in cryonic preservation of the living than the dead. I also get the sense that the technical ability of cryonics organizations at perfusion is questionable, which further reduces the chance of success.)

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-03T07:11:29.424Z · score: 5 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get the sense, though, that if someone is dead, it's no longer a good assumption that everywhere important in their brain is close enough to navigable blood vessels

Exactly. Keep in mind also that blood vessels are not steel pipes, it is very difficult to keep capillaries open, and the circulatory system also relies heavily on the pumping action by the blood vessels themselves.

Between this and the protein denaturation by the "cryoprotectants" (and/or by the concentrated brine that you get when water freezes out first), to the best of current knowledge the frozen bodies are irreversibly dead irrespective of any future scanning or simulation technologies (barring fundamental discoveries in physics, at which point you could as well hope for your brain to be scanned via some sort of look-into-the-past wormholes).

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-06T14:03:41.315Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

to the best of current knowledge the frozen bodies are irreversibly dead irrespective of any future scanning or simulation technologies

I do not believe this individual is in possession of the best of current knowledge or at all capable of judging the capabilities of all future scanning or simulation technologies.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T06:59:37.566Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the local junkies speaks again... Look. Most neuroscientists do not think it works. Most physicists do not think it works. You have to pick that careful ground in the middle where you are trusting cryonics organization (literal scams run by unscrupulous individuals who gone as far as to have people make the last wish to be freezed after weeks on dry ice!) and not people with measurable success at making something actually work. The reason it doesn't work is that there is extensive chemical damage, i.e. the state information of proteins, protein adhesion, and so on, is lost irreversibly. It is almost as implausible that it works as if you literally cook the head in a pot for an hour or two prior to freezing it.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-07T07:58:09.502Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most physicists do not think it works.

This claim would require citation and such a citation does not exist. Most physicists have not thought about the subject one way or the other. Moreover, most physicists (those who don't have particular expertise in information theory) are not particularly qualified to evaluate the subject except, of course, as intelligent laymen.

Most neuroscientists do not think it works.

It is possible to find neuroscientists who are not aware of their own incompetence outside their area of expertise and who claim that cryonics cannot work. All such 'expert' testimony that is dragged up here over and over has included claiming that cryonics cannot work because it is not possible to repair preserved neurons in place. Since this is not remotely how cryonics works whatever dubious claims to authority that they may have had are screened off.

The private_messaging account is one of the many identified sockpuppets of a persistent troll. Me choosing to reply to it constitutes feeding a troll---it is deeply disappointing that voting standards make it necessary. Nothing said to it will influence its behaviour except by virtue of providing more information about typical beliefs so that it can better target its provocation.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-10-07T08:31:36.824Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Moreover, most physicists (those who don't have particular expertise in information theory) are not particularly qualified to evaluate the subject except, of course, as intelligent laymen.

I never seen a pro cryonics argument that actually relied on information theory.

Even cryonics proponents would generally agree that you won't leave enough information if you boil a head in a cooking pot for 2 hours then freeze it. A valid pro cryonics argument must concern specifically the chemical damage (and loss of information stored in the chemical states), and distinguish between cryonics and hypothetical "boiling then cryonics". edit: that is to say, before information theory enters consideration, you have to deal with chemistry and physics enough as to not be making a fully generic argument that is equally applicable to the hypothetical "boiling then cryonics".

All such 'expert' testimony that is dragged up here over and over has included claiming that cryonics cannot work because it is not possible to repair preserved neurons in place.

And when further asked about actual information content, they tell that they do not think information is preserved either.

Since this is not remotely how cryonics works

That's how it is generally advertised, so this is what they are going to opinion on before they are actually informed of your specific variety of cryonics belief.

Since this is not remotely how cryonics works whatever dubious claims to authority that they may have had are screened off.

Yeah, except you're the one who were trying to argue by authority in the first place.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-07T16:56:29.579Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This claim would require citation and such a citation does not exist.

A proper test of that claim would require a poll, but since most physicists are not signed up for cryonics, don't make public statements endorsing it, and when specifically interviewed about it say they don't believe cyronics works, it seems fair to infer that most physicists indeed don't believe cyronics works.

Most physicists have not thought about the subject one way or the other.

What makes you believe that? Cryonics is relatively well known among scientifically educated audiences. it's even the main plot device of a tv show aimed at general audiences (Futurama).
Moreover, physicists are usually atheists, therefore in principle they should have no religous objection to cryonics.

Moreover, most physicists (those who don't have particular expertise in information theory) are not particularly qualified to evaluate the subject except, of course, as intelligent laymen.

Seriously, where do you think information theory comes from? And do you actually even know what information theory is about? Because people here seem to be using the term as a buzzword without actually using any information theory in their arguments.

t is possible to find neuroscientists who are not aware of their own incompetence outside their area of expertise and who claim that cryonics cannot work.

Except that cryonics is actually in their area of expertise. And in the area of expertise of cryobiologists (the people who cryopreserve tissues in a way that can be shown to actually work). What do cryobiologists say about cryonics? I bet you already know the answer...

The private_messaging account is one of the many identified sockpuppets of a persistent troll.

Irrelevant ad hominem.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-08T05:54:23.180Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you believe that? Cryonics is relatively well known among scientifically educated audiences. it's even the main plot device of a tv show aimed at general audiences (Futurama).

This physicist has never heard anyone talk about cryonics in meatspace, and assumed that the Futurama thing was fictional until reading Less Wrong. (Also, Fry was alive when he got frozen.)

Moreover, physicists are usually atheists, therefore in principle they should have no religous objection to cryonics.

For some not-very-large value of “usually”. Where I am, physicists aren't that less likely to be religious than random people the same age and geographic provenance (but it's probably different elsewhere).

comment by V_V · 2013-10-08T12:55:32.589Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This physicist has never heard anyone talk about cryonics in meatspace, and assumed that the Futurama thing was fictional until reading Less Wrong. (Also, Fry was alive when he got frozen.)

How old were you when you started reading Less Wrong?

For some not-very-large value of “usually”. Where I am, physicists aren't that less likely to be religious than random people the same age and geographic provenance (but it's probably different elsewhere).

That would be surprising. Do you have any reference?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-09T00:44:49.676Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How old were you when you started reading Less Wrong?

24. Why?

That would be surprising. Do you have any reference?

No statistics about that, I'm afraid. You'd have to accept my anecdata. I have met at least a dozen Catholic physicists, many of whom engaged in various kinds of Catholic associations; that's somewhere around half the physicists I know well enough to know their religious stance. (Also, [REDACTED].)

That's less surprising if you know that the person most people where I'm from think of first when they hear "physicist" is this guy.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-09T13:13:28.113Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Why?

Because the younger you started reading Less Wrong the higher the probability that you were first exposed to its common topics by it.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-08T09:48:45.391Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you believe that? Cryonics is relatively well known among scientifically educated audiences. it's even the main plot device of a tv show aimed at general audiences (Futurama).

You seem to be suggesting that the knowledge physicists have about cryonics is based on their generalist knowledge as educated layment. You further observe that much of this knowledge comes from fictional evidence in popular culture. I heartily agree.

Seriously, where do you think information theory comes from?

Physics and mathematics. My comment doesn't suggest otherwise. This does not mean that all physicists are particularly well versed in it when it is not their area of expertise.

Except that cryonics is actually in their area of expertise.

This is your core confusion. Reasoning from this premise would indeed lead you to the conclusion you reach. Given that I reject this premise it follows that I can gain little information from all the chains of reasoning that you base upon it. Neuroscientists are not experts in extracting one to one mappings from preserved brain tissue to individual identities. This is why the expected behaviour of neuroscientsists is to do what experts nearly always do when thinking about things outside their field---pattern match to the nearest thing within their field and overestimate the relevance of their knowledge.

Irrelevant ad hominem.

False. You have the common misunderstanding of what that logical fallacy refers to. If my argument was "this is a confirmed troll therefore its words are false" it would be an ad hominem fallacy (mind you, a slightly weakend variant would hold even then, to whatever extent personal testimony of the troll was considered evidence). This was not argument in that quote. It is highly relevant to why I believe it was necessary to excuse myself for the act of replying to disruption attempts.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-08T13:01:41.284Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be suggesting that the knowledge physicists have about cryonics is based on their generalist knowledge as educated layment. You further observe that much of this knowledge comes from fictional evidence in popular culture. I heartily agree.

The existence of cryonics is common knowledge. You just need an internet connection to look up the details.

Physics and mathematics. My comment doesn't suggest otherwise. This does not mean that all physicists are particularly well versed in it when it is not their area of expertise.

Still I expect them to be more proficient in it than random people who use the term as a buzzword over the interwebs.

Neuroscientists are not experts in extracting one to one mappings from preserved brain tissue to individual identities.

While the people who would keep you on dry ice for two weeks obviously are.
You are making classical crackpot excuses to handwave away expert knowledge. I don't think there is any productive way for us to continue this discussion.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-08T14:37:59.531Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While the people who would keep you on dry ice for two weeks obviously are.

Um... no? I seem to recall questioning that choice elsewhere on this thread and giving partial support to another (MichaelAnisimov) who claimed in colourful terms that it is a critical failure.

You are making classical crackpot excuses to handwave away expert knowledge.

No I'm not. I'm disagreeing with you about which people are experts. You are not an expert at choosing appropriate experts to defer to. You are appealing to absurdly irrelevant authority. "Expert" status and prestige is not transferable across domains. Or at least it shouldn't be for those who are interested in attaining accurate beliefs.

I don't think there is any productive way for us to continue this discussion.

Obviously not. Our disagreement about how how rational thinking works is rather fundamental, with all that entails.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-10-07T18:03:05.507Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A proper test of that claim would require a poll, but since most physicists are not signed up for cryonics, don't make public statements endorsing it, and when specifically interviewed about it say they don't believe cyronics works, it seems fair to infer that most physicists indeed don't believe cyronics works.

Yeah ... you're simply wrong here, Wedrifid.

physicists are usually atheists

Really? I thought they were merely disproportionately non-religious?

Except that cryonics is actually in their area of expertise. And in the area of expertise of cryobiologists (the people who cryopreserve tissues in a way that can be shown to actually work).

Is it? Techniques for minimising the damage might be within their purview, but the possibility of reconstruction in the future?

Actually, no, technically that would be a subset of their field. But that isn't the same as everyone in that field being an expert in it. Or even most of them.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-07T23:27:58.511Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? I thought they were merely disproportionately non-religious?

I was using atheist as a synonym of irreligious, which was an imprecision, but according to the references I can find, scientists are indeed mostly irreligious or atheists:
"Scientists and in particular eminent scientists are mostly atheists, perhaps the only demographic in the West in which this occurs." - Demographics of atheism

Techniques for minimising the damage might be within their purview, but the possibility of reconstruction in the future?

I suppose nobody is really an expert in technologies that don't yet exist anywhere outside sci-fi books, but cryobiologists and neurobiologists are the people best equipped to undestand the type and extent of damage that crypreservation causes to nervous tissue and the effect this damage is likely to have on personal identity.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-10-08T17:38:21.905Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was using atheist as a synonym of irreligious

So was I. I was under the impression physicists were only more irreligious than baseline, rather than most of them being irreligious; although "top" scientists are much more so.

Trying to look up the actual statistics ... OK, a lot of it is behind paywalls and frankly I'm too lazy to do much beyond a quick Google, but Wikipedia claims scientists in general are about equal numbers atheists, agnostics and theists (i.e. 2/3rds non-theist.) And physicists are just under that, apparently (29%). But I can't read the actual sources for these vaguely-worded assertions (they have some, though!)

The most - practically the only, in popular discussions of this - cited study on this topic seems to be this, which, naturally, isn't much good (short, though.)

So going with WPs figure ... eh, it's a bit higher than I expected offhand, so hey, new data! I wouldn't call that "usually", but ultimately that's a semantic question of usage. I don't attach huge confidence to Wikipedia's figures, though I would say they're in the right ballpark; do you by any chance have better ones?

We may be getting offtopic, though, since I'm not sure how much bearing atheism has on reactions to cryonics in practice.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-10-08T17:35:58.131Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[section split off into separate comment.]

I suppose nobody is really an expert in technologies that don't yet exist anywhere outside sci-fi books, but cryobiologists and neurobiologists are the people best equipped to undestand the type and extent of damage that crypreservation causes to nervous tissue and the effect this damage is likely to have on personal identity.

At risk of repeating myself: determining whether damage has passed information-theoretic death falls under the purview of physics and cryobiology, among a variety of other fields. That is not at all the same thing as saying that it is "in the area of expertise" of every physicist and cryobiologist, and thus a (hypothetical) survey of them would be "expert opinion".

Frankly, I suspect I've learned all I can from this discussion. I'll read your reply in case I'm wrong, but I'm tapping out.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-10-08T17:58:11.546Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At risk of repeating myself: determining whether damage has passed information-theoretic death falls under the purview of physics and cryobiology, among a variety of other fields. That is not at all the same thing as saying that it is "in the area of expertise" of every physicist and cryobiologist, and thus a (hypothetical) survey of them would be "expert opinion".

I agree with what you are saying here and think you've struck the right balance between acknowledging genuine competence and expecting universal expertise over general fields of knowledge. Elsewhere and at a different time it might be worth having a conversation about how to select experts in subjects similar to this one. There is something of a recursive problem in as much as it requires knowledge to know which experts are the ones that are relevant or knowledge to know which person to ask-which-people-should-be-asked. Different beliefs about how to choose authorities to believe seems to be a huge source of disagreement over a variety of problems and frequently results in "reference class tennis".

comment by V_V · 2013-10-08T18:24:36.258Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems that you are venturing into No true Scotsman territory:

Clearly you can divide any research field in sub-fields and sub-sub-fields. You could even try to argue that nobody is an expert in anything they haven't pubished a scientific paper on (and even then, maybe the paper had multiple authors and Author 1 was not an expert in what Author 2 did, and the referees who did the peer review weren't really experts, and so on...), but I don't think that would lead to a viable concept of expertise.

Realistically, we expect researchers within any relatively self-contained field (such as neurobiology or cryobiology) to understand the general principles and issues of their field well enough to tell potentially viable scientific and technological ideas from fringe stuff unlikely to work and outright crackpottery.

Moreover, we expect scientists to be accurate in estimating the level of their own understanding within their field (or at least err predominantly on the side of underconfidence, as per Dunning–Kruger ). Therefore, when multiple scientists independently make a claim about something within their field, barring evidence to the contrary, it seems fair to assume that they know what they are talking about.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-10-08T19:13:34.526Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems that you are venturing into No true Scotsman territory:

It seems like you're doing exactly the same thing you did before: confusing subsets with their parent sets. A subset of various fields would, I assume, have enough relevant expertise to debunk cryonics; these individuals are, traditionally, distinguished from laymen with PHDs by their arguments.

What I observe, however, is that most people, including those in the referenced fields, have only the vaguest position on cryonics picked up from pop-culture. If you're lucky, something like "those idiots spend a fortune on con artists who tell them freezing a body means it can be revived after Science develops a cure for whatever killed them."

Most "experts" are not, in fact, any such thing; and most people, expert and non-, have not considered the possibility in any detail. The fact that physicists have not flocked to cryonics providers is not in any sense strong evidence that they possess evidence we don't.

Tapping out now.

comment by V_V · 2013-10-09T13:41:21.143Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I observe, however, is that most people, including those in the referenced fields, have only the vaguest position on cryonics picked up from pop-culture. If you're lucky, something like "those idiots spend a fortune on con artists who tell them freezing a body means it can be revived after Science develops a cure for whatever killed them."

Common sense positions aren't necessarily wrong: any astrogeologist will agree that the Moon is indeed not made of green cheese.

Anyway, comments by "kalla724", who identifies him/herself as a neuroscientist (I can't verify that, but I have no reason to believe he/she is lying) seem quite detailed, and PZ Myers, an evolutionary biologist specialized in the nervous system, also made a technical comment against cryonics.
The Society for Cryobiology, which was initially sympatetic towards cryonics and included cryonicists as their members, later formally distanced themselves from the practice and even banned cryonicists from being members. Is their position on cryonics just vaguely picked up from pop-culture?

So why aren't more scientists writing detailed debunkings of cryonics? Well, one of the house rules of the scientific community is that the burden of providing evidence lies on who is making the claim. Most scientists will not invest time and effort to debunk every detail of arguments in the form of "you can't prove this doesn't work".
At least not until those who make these claim generate enough noise in the arena of public opinion and start political lobbying. At that point, scientists may feel compelled to debunk as a form of civic duty.

The fact that physicists have not flocked to cryonics providers is not in any sense strong evidence that they possess evidence we don't.

No, but the fact that neurobiologists and cryobiologists haven't flocked to cryonics, and in particular cryobiologists have flocked away from it, implies that according to the best available scientifc understanding of the subject, cryonics is unlikely to work.

Tapping out now.

Bye.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-10-07T17:58:38.331Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most physicists have not thought about the subject one way or the other.

I would assume most physicists hold the standard pop-culture position, actually, just like anyone else.

However, the rest of your comment is entirely correct, including the disappointing karma result; I personally didn't downvote them, but only because my karma is being periosidally mass-reduced by someone whenever I get close to passing the limit that would exempt me from the anti-troll restrictions :/