Those in the cryonics community want to be frozen upon legal death, in order to preserve the information content in their brain. The hope is that, given good protocol, damage incurred during the freezing process will not destroy enough information about you to prevent people in the future to reconstruct your identity.
As most who want cryonics will understand, death is not an event. Instead, it is a process with intermediate steps. We consider a long-decayed corpse to be dead because it no longer performs the functions associated with a normal living human being, not because any sort of spirit or soul has left the body.
But philosophers have also identified important dilemmas for the view that death is a process rather than an event. If what we call death is simply my body performing different functions, then what do we make of the fact that we also change so much simply due to the passage of time?
I find it easy to believe that I am the 'same person' as I was last night. Enough of the neural pathways are still the same. Memories from my childhood are essentially still identical. My personality has not changed to any significant extent. My values and beliefs remain more-or-less intact.
But every day brings small changes to our identity. To what extent would you say that you are still the 'same person' as you were when you were a child? And to what extent are you still going to be the 'same person' when you get old?
In addition to the gradual changes that happen due to every day metabolic processes, and interactions with the outside world, there is also a more sudden change that may happen to your identity as you get old. By the age of 85, something like 25 to 50 percent of the population will get a form of dementia. Alzheimer's is a very harsh transformation to our connectome.
Ironically, those who are healthiest in their youth will have the highest chance of getting Alzhiemers, as it is typically a disease of the very-old, rather than the somewhat old. Furthermore, most forecasters expect that as medical technology advances, the rate of Alzhiemers will go up, since it's among the hardest diseases to fix with our current paradigm of medical technology, and therefore you won't be as likely to die of the others. And Alzhiemers is just one brand of neurodegenerative diseases.
If you care about preserving your current self, and you think that death is a process rather than event, then it follows that you should want to preserve your current self: memories, personality, beliefs, values, mannerisms etc.
The technology to store the contents of our brains is currently extremely limited and expensive, but we have an alternative. We can store external information about ourselves, in the form of lifelogging. The type of content we preserve can take a variety of forms, such as text, audio and video.
It might seem like preserving an audio of your voice will do little to restore your identity. But that might not be the case. If you are cryopreserved, then much of your connectome will be preserved anyway. The primary value of preserving external information is to 'fill in the blanks' so to speak.
For example, the most famous symptom of Alzheimers is memory loss. This occurs because the hippocampus, the primary component of our brain responsible for storing long-term memories, shrinks radically during the progression of the disease. If you consider memory to be important to your identity, then preserving external information about you could help function as an artificial memory source.
What I'm trying to say is that if death is a process, it's not correct to say that you will either be revived or not in the future, like a binary event. Rather, part of you will be revived. How much that part resembles you depends on how much information about you is preserved.
There are many clever methods I currently see for how future civilization could reconstruct your identity using your cryopreserved brain contents, and external memory together. If you can't see how the external memory helps at all, then I consider that a fault of imagination.
Some will object by saying that lifelogging is embarrassing, as you are carrying a camera or audio recording device wherever you go. Indeed, most of the reason [LW · GW] why people don't sign up for cryonics in the first place is because they fear that their peers will not approve. Lifelogging makes this dire situation worse. But I think there are steps you can take to make the appeal better.
The more information you preserve now, the better. There's no sharp cutoff point between having too little information and having just enough. If you feel uncomfortable walking around with a camera (and who wouldn't?) you don't have to. But consider taking small steps. Perhaps when you are in a video call with someone, ask them if they are OK with you recording it and later storing it as an mp3 on a hard disk. Or maybe you could write more of your personal thoughts into documents, and upload them to Google Drive.
Little actions like that could add up, or not. I claim no silver bullet.
Part of the worst part of death is how terrible we are at motivating ourselves to avoid it. Among people who say they are interested in signing up for cryonics, only a small fraction end up signing the paperwork. And among those who do, the number who get preserved in optimal conditions is far too low. It seems that outside pressure from society is simply too powerful.
But as indicated by the Asch conformity experiments, the best way to overcome societal pressure is by having peers that agree with and encourage you. If just a few people took this post seriously, this could be enough to puncture the equilibrium, and perhaps a lot of people will be interested in recording their lives. Who knows?
Death hack: instead of logging accurate information, log information that paints you in a good light by your eyes. With luck, the future society revives a version of you who is slightly more aligned with your values than you are.
This concept apparently goes back at least as far as Robert Ettinger, the originator of cryonics. From his seminal book introducing cryonics,
We normally think of information about the body as being preserved in the body - but this is not the only possibility. It is conceivable that ordinary written records, photographs, tapes, etc. may give future technicians enough clues to fill in missing or damaged areas in the brain of the frozen.
The time will certainly come when the brain's method of coding memories is thoroughly understood, and messages can be "read" directly from nervous tissue, and also "read" into it. It is not likely that the relation will be a simple one, nor will it necessarily even be exactly the same for every brain; nevertheless, by knowing that the frozen had a certain item of information, it may be possible to infer helpful conclusions about the character of certain regions in his brain and its cells and molecules.
Similarly, a mass of detailed information about what he did may allow advanced physiological psychologists to deduce important conclusions about what he was, once more providing opportunity to fill in gaps in brain structure.
It follows that we should all make reasonable efforts to obtain and preserve a substantial body of data concerning what we have seen, heard, felt, thought, said, written, and done in the course of our lives. These should probably include a battery of psychological tests. Encephalograms might also be useful.
Reviewing the comments I see only a glancing mention, so I'll point out the leading projects I'm aware of in this space are those by Terasem folks (Terasem might be poorly explained as a "transhumanist religion"). For example. I recall them doing some work on things like questions to elicit responses that might be particularly useful in reconstructing a person from writing, etc. and then also doing some work on persistent storage of the resulting data.
I still expect something like writing ourselves into the future to be useful, whether or not it takes the form a lifelogging. For myself, it's an excuse to write about my experiences and thoughts on social media: truly a lifelog for the ages.
With the power of a controllable superintelligent AI, it may even be possible to create very accurate instances of your past self (and you could take action today or in the near future to make this easier by using lifelogging tools such as these glasses).
A friend I know actually goes everyday with a GoPro recording his interactions.
Also, I'm wondering if you have thoughts on where to store this preserved information? Making sure that future people have access to it seems like the important part. But obviously just making it all available publicly online for everyone seems too vulnerable. Maybe some sort of dead-man's switch type setup, where it gets made public after you die?
What you describe is a passive digital immortality, or just recording of everything. Active digital immortality is writing something like an autobiography and-or dairy.
I descrived different practical approaches here. For example, the best source of unique personal information is audio channel, and one could record almost everything he speaks by constantly running a recording app on his laptop or a phone. It will not look crazy for peers.
Regularly writing and posting content to a website (that is not likely to be lost to the future) also works in this direction. However these days I'm serious questioning [LW(p) · GW(p)] whether life extension in this sense is even a good idea.
Agreed. I do a weak version of this via handwritten morning pages, which I intend to digitize someday and store in multiple places, probably including Alcor.
Aside: I'm unaware of a good reason to conclude that Alzheimer's destroys the connectome. It seems quite possible for neurons to shrink while remaining connected. Bredesen's work provides some weak evidence that this is what's happening.
With regard to the cryonics perhaps the issue is more that it really does not postpone death -- it merely claims a path to resurrection or reincarnation, presumably with knowledge of the prior life. I think that last aspect is critical for most, particularly those in the western cultures that tend not a believe or have a cultural history of such beliefs. (Is that testable? I think so.)
I ran through a thought experiment for myself a number of years back regarding choices and problems in a world where someone claimed technology that would allow me to transfer my "self" (knowledge, memories, experiences, personality...) into a bio-engineered clone of myself that was then a perfectly healthy body that would last another 70 or 80 years. (My personal expectations now are 100 years give or take a bit on either side. Parents and many uncles and aunts made it well into 90s and some over 100).
Well, I would ask for a demonstration to prove it works. If that is successful....what to do. I could say, okay that's good lets do the copy for real. Well, here is where some of my dilemma comes in. What to do with the test version? Kill it? To me that would be murder. See it as success, kill myself? Well that hardly solves the problem of dying from my perspective.
If I say, we've been successful and let both live, I will later die my natural death and the copy will continue living and so I will continue living -- but that will be a different me, especially since each of these version will diverge in experience. So I still die and the I that I know that is different from the life extending version loses everything since the copy event.
Even if I ignore any of the issues around the demo copy of me and then go though the process which by design is a transfer from my aging body into the new, healthy body I don't have a great baseline for claiming I don't die in the process and that transfer is really me rather than some copy.
However, that is not the case for the demo copy or the actual "new" me. They have been though that process and "woken up" in the new body.
I think once we actually have this type of technology then we can take the experiences from those that took the jump as part of our own baseline and the basis for forming some priors on the results. I think we lack that now so it seems reasonable to me that few pursue such an approach. In the end I would say today such choices are not really rational but made on the basis of faith or hope, along with a view of not really risking or losing anything.
As this is not about life-logging it needed to be put somewhere else!
With regard to life-logging though, I wonder how different that might be from the idea than one's children and those one mentored are their life extension. A bit along the lines of as long as someone remembers us we are still alive.