On the unpopularity of cryonics: life sucks, but at least then you die

post by gwern · 2011-07-29T21:06:41.763Z · score: 77 (92 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 468 comments

From Mike Darwn's Chronopause, an essay titled "Would You Like Another Plate of This?", discussing people's attitudes to life:

The most important, the most obvious and the most factual reason why cryonics is not more widely accepted is that it  fails the “credibility sniff test” in that it makes many critical assumptions which may not be correct...In other words, cryonics is not proven. That is a plenty valid reason for rejecting any costly procedure; dying people do this kind of thing every day for medical procedures which are proven, but which have a very low rate of success and (or) a very high misery quotient. Some (few) people have survived metastatic head/neck cancer – the film critic Roger Ebert, is an example (Figure 1). However, the vast majority of patients who undergo radical neck surgery for cancer die anyway. For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Cryonics is not proven, and it is aesthetically disturbing (indeed even disgusting) to many people. It is also costly, and not just in terms of money alone. It is costly in countless other ways, ranging from the potential for marital discord, social alienation, ridicule, social isolation, disruption of family relationships (and with grief coping mechanisms) during the dying process, and on and on and on. And it does cost a lot of money, because if you figure the lost present value of capital for life insurance, dues, and end of life expenses related to cryonics, then that is a very significant dollar amount; my guess is that for a whole body patient who signs up at age 35 with Alcor, it is in the range of ~ $500,000 to $750,000 2010 dollars!

...Beyond this, many other factors come into play, such as perceived interference or lack of competitiveness with religion by cryonics, lack of endorsement by authority figures, such as physicians and scientists, actual marketing faux pas’s, such as the Chatsworth debacle and the use the words “death” and “dead” to describe cryonics patients. Then come factors which would, if cryonics were proven to work, be down in the noise, or more accurately, nonexistent, such as they way the current cryonics facilities look, the appearance and qualification of staff and so on.

...Over the past few days, with the passing of Robert Ettinger, cryonics has received a level of planet-wide media attention it has not received in decades. One interesting and valuable result of this is that various news venues have solicited public comment about cryonics, and what’s more, about immortalism, or radical life extension. As usual, cryonicists have been deaf to the criticism, expressed and implied in these remarks from the “marketplace. Or worse, they have been contemptuous, without being clever in their contempt and in their responses.

[quotes from comments & people]

What do these remarks mean? Well, they mean exactly what they say they mean in most cases. That may be hard to understand, especially if you look at the demographic data for how “happy” people are the world over. What you will find, if you do, is that people in Western Developed nation-states are extraordinarily happy. In fact, they are unbelievably happy (Figure 3).

Figure 4: Your life and future prospects can still be grim and relatively hopeless and yet your evaluation of your satisfaction with life vary dramatically depending upon whether you have a full belly, or even if you’ve had a meal in the past few hours.

How is this possible? The answer is that happiness is complex and exists on many different levels. The most important and the most difficult to measure is existential happiness. The issue of their existential happiness is something most people rarely, if ever confront, and almost never do so in public when asked (unless you ask them in the right way, such as, “Would you want to live forever?”). The reason for this is that if they respond by saying “My life is a boring exercise in getting from day-to-day with a lot of nagging miseries and frustrating inconveniences,” they would appear as failures, as whingers , and as losers. Few people find that acceptable!

...Figure 5: Humans were not evolved to be confined to a fixed space day-after-day and to do boring and repetitive work which is usually personally meaningless, and is done on the orders of others who are also omnipresent to supervise its execution. That is the working definition of hell for hunter-gatherers and they are uniformly both horrified and disgusted to to see “civilized” man behave in this way.

...Then there are the other people you must necessarily interact with. Several of the people you work with are complete monsters, in fact, they despise you and they go out of their way to make your job and your hours at work more difficult. And the customers! Most are OK, but some are horrible – encounters with them leave you shaking, and sometimes fearful for your job. Speaking of which, there is always some degree of apprehension present that you might lose your job; you might screw up, the economy may take a nosedive… In any event, your survival is critically dependent upon your job. Others whom you work with are better compensated, and those that own the enterprise you work for are getting rich from it, and that rankles. But, beyond these concerns, this isn’t what you really wanted to do with your life and your time. When you were fifteen, you wanted to _______________, to travel, to see the world, and to meet interesting people and do interesting things. Instead, here you are. And every day you are a little older and a little more run-down. The clock is ticking. When you looked in mirror this morning, you had to face it yet again; you aren’t young anymore and you aren’t going to get any younger.

...And frankly, why should you even try? You were raised with a very limited repertoire of interests, ambitions, and capabilities. It is so hard to survive in this world, even in this relative paradise of Western Technological Civilization, that mostly what you had to learn and spend your time thinking about were how to acquire the skills to compete and to make a living and support your offspring and your dying parents. All so that this cycle can be repeated, yet again (and to what end?). You laugh at people who talk about what makes the stars shine, how long the universe will last, where all the dark matter is, are there multiverses, what would it be like to “see” in the full electromagnetic spectrum, or even what it would be like to sit down and talk with Chinese workers or Egyptian shop keeps, and find out what they really think about Islam, democracy or the USA, without someone on the TV telling you what they think (and getting wrong)?

...The fundamental problems are these, in no special order:

  • Most people lack autonomy in their daily lives. Next to life itself, freedom is the most precious value; and most people’s lives are functionally devoid of it. Many cryonicists fail to see this, because they are self employed, are in jobs that offer them compensating satisfaction, or that they don’t perceive as “work” (e.g., they are not watching the clock just waiting for the torture to be over for another day).
  • Most people have a very limited range of interests and possibilities for gratification. This problem cannot be fixed for most by giving them more money, or even more money and autonomy. Do that, and they will drown themselves in what they already have, or kill themselves with drugs. How many cars, planes, and pairs of shoes or houses can you really gain joy from?
  • The vast majority of people over 30 don’t feel well a significant fraction of the time. They have colds, flu, osteoarthritis, and most importantly, they are poorly conditioned as a result of jobs that enforce immobility and make them sedentary. As a result, they are tired and drained from their work and home responsibilities at the end of each day, and worst of all, they spend that part of the day when they feel the best and are most alert, doing what other people tell them to do – not what they want to do.
  • They are losing their own youth and health and watching others suffer and die around them. How’s that for a satisfying life experience? Every day they turn on the news or talk to friends or family, and find that another fixture in their life is dead, or dying. As John Donne said, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

...Thus, when it comes to happiness, people who are socially inept and who have trouble coping emotionally with the exigencies of life are, on average, the least happy. It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society. They are also smart enough to know that many of the rules and orders given them are arbitrary and have no basis in reason beyond maintaining the status quo. As sociologist and educator Bill Allin has observed: “People with high intelligence, be they children or adults, still rank as social outsiders in most situations, including their skills to be good mates and parents.”[4]

The relevance of this to cryonics should be obvious to most cryonicists; cryonics attracts, with massive disproportionality, the highly intelligent. Indeed, many of the arguments that make cryonics credible, require a remarkable degree of both intelligence and scholarship. Inability to understand the enabling ideas and technologies usually means the inability to understand, let alone embrace, cryonics.  A disproportionately unhappy population of smart people translates to a disproportionately large population of ideal market candidates for cryonics being unwilling and indeed, unable to embrace it.

...There is no one solution or easy fix. The first step is to realize that what the marketplace is telling us is true: many people don’t want to live because the existential ground state of their lives is a gray-state of dysphoria at best, and at worst, a state of active misery, relieved only occasionally by a few quickly snatched minutes of relief, or if they are lucky, joy. That state of affairs can only be addressed by showing people very real and concrete ways in which the quality of their lives can be improved, both here and now, and in the future. Heaven isn’t waking up from cryopreservation and having to go into work two weeks later – FOREVER. That is the very definition of hell for most people. And the mystics have been smart enough to carefully exclude any mention of time-cards from their hereafters. The Mormons and the Islamists have even had the good marketing sense to offer up eternities where each man commands his own world, or at the least, his own harem.

Conclusion, graphs, and references in article. As usual, I recommend reading Chronopause.com as Darwin has many good articles; to quickly link a few:

  1. ALCOR finances
  2. Master biomarker for health & aging
  3. Technological evitability
  4. The AIDS Underground (lessons for transhumanists)
  5. Harry Potter and Deathism
  6. Robert Ettinger obituary
  7. Damage in the aging brain
  8. Business & charity failure rates
  9. Factors in corporate longevity
  10. "Does Personal Identity Survive Cryopreservation?"
  11. Cryonics PR in Google N-gram
  12. "A Visit to Alcor"
  13. Soviet ICBM sites

468 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-29T00:30:20.675Z · score: 66 (70 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for several reasons:

  • excellent theory about cryonics, much more plausible than things like "people hate cryonics because they're biased against cold" that have previously appeared on here.

  • willingness to acknowledge serious issue. Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

  • spark discussion on whether this will continue into the future. I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago. A Hansonian-style far future could lead to more of the same, and Hanson even defends this to a degree. In my mind, this is something futurologists should worry about.

  • summary of the article was much better than the article itself, which was cluttered with lots of quotes and pictures and lengthiness. Summaries that are better than the original articles are hard to do, hence, upvote.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T03:16:36.518Z · score: 33 (43 votes) · LW · GW

I was reading a prediction from fifty years ago or so that by 2000, people would only work a few hours a day or a few days a week, because most work would be computerized/roboticized and technology would create amazing wealth. Most work has been computerized/roboticized, technology has created amazing wealth, but working conditions are little better, and maybe worse, than they were fifty years ago.

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status. Once a society is wealthy enough that basic subsistence is a non-issue, people probably won't work as much as they would in a Malthusian trap where constant toil is required just to avoid starvation, but they will still work a lot because they're locked in these zero-sum competitions.

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging, and even though starvation is no longer a realistic danger for those less prudent and industrious in developed countries, homelessness remains so.

There is also the problem of the locked signaling equilibrium. Your work habits have a very strong signaling component, and refusing to work the usual expected hours strongly signals laziness, weirdness, and issues with authority, making you seem completely useless, or worse.

As for working conditions, in terms of safety, cleanliness, physical hardship, etc., typical working conditions in developed countries are clearly much better than fifty years ago. What arguably makes work nowadays worse is the present distribution of status and the increasing severity of the class system, which is a very complex issue tied to all sorts of social change that have occurred in the meantime. But this topic is probably too ideologically sensitive on multiple counts to discuss productively on a forum like LW.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-29T21:04:06.667Z · score: 27 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

And although I don't think it quite related, I am less pessimistic than you abou the ability of a post-scarcity society to deal with land and status issues. Land is less zero-sum than the finitude of the earth would suggest because most people are looking not for literal tracts of land but for a house in which to live, preferably spacious - building upward, or downward as the case may be, can alleviate this pressure. I'm also not convinced that being near other people is as big a problem as you make it out to be: a wealthier society would have better transportation, and cities have enough space to expand outward (giving people access to other humans on at least one side) almost indefinitely. There will always be arbitrarily determined "best" neighborhoods that people can compete to get into, but again, this is a totally different beast from people having to struggle to have any home at all.

I think a genuinely post-work society would have its own ways of producing status based on hobbyist communities, social interaction, and excellence at arts/scholarship/sports/hobbies; the old European nobility was able to handle its internal status disputes in this way, though I don't know how much fo that depended on them knowing in the back of their mind they were all superior to the peasantry anyway.

Agreed that the class system is an important and relevant issue here.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T22:09:35.819Z · score: 11 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that even a post-scarcity society would need some form of employment to determine status and so on. But that seems irrelevant to the current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

Of course, completely forsaking status would mean all sorts of unpleasantness for a typical person, but this is only because we hate to admit how much our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions after all.

I think a genuinely post-work society would have its own ways of producing status based on hobbyist communities, social interaction, and excellence at arts/scholarship/sports/hobbies; the old European nobility was able to handle its internal status disputes in this way, though I don't know how much fo that depended on them knowing in the back of their mind they were all superior to the peasantry anyway.

Don't forget about the status obtained from having power over others. That's one part of the human nature that's always dangerous to ignore. (The old European nobility was certainly not indifferent to it, and not just towards the peasants.)

Also, there would always be losers in these post-work status games who could improve their status by engaging in some sort of paid work and saving up to trade for the coveted status markers. These tendencies would have to be forcibly suppressed to prevent a market economy with paid labor from reemerging. It's roughly analogous to the present sexual customs and prostitution. Men are supposed to find sexual partners by excelling in various informal, non-monetary status-bearing personal attributes, but things being zero-sum, many losers in this game find it an attractive option to earn money and pay for sex instead, whether through out-and-out prostitution or various less explicit arrangements.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-31T08:44:27.539Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

But that's not the case in the modern developed world. If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S., let alone in more extensive welfare states.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

One could probably remain alive for long periods just by begging and being homeless, but this raises the question of what, exactly, is a "life worth living", such that we could rest content that people were working because they enjoy status competitions and not because they can't get a life worth living without doing so.

This is probably way too subjective to have an answer, but one thing that "sounds right" to me is that the state of nature provides a baseline. Back during hunter-gatherer times we had food, companionship, freedom, et cetera without working too hard for them (the average hunter-gatherer only hunted-gathered a few hours a day). Civilization made that kind of lifestyle impossible by killing all the megafauna and paving over their old habitat, but my totally subjective meaningless too-late-at-night-to-think-straight opinion is that we can't say that people can opt-out of society and still have a "life worth living" unless they have it about as good as the hunter-gatherers they would be if society hadn't come around and taken away that option.

The average unemployed person in a developed country has a lot of things better than hunter-gatherers, but just the psychological factors are so much worse that it's no contest.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-31T18:53:43.793Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The specific situation in the U.S. or any other individual country doesn't really matter for my point. Even if I'm wrong about how easy freeloading is in the U.S., it's enough that we can point to some countries whose welfare systems are (or even just were at some point) generous enough to enable easy freeloading.

Ironically, in my opinion, in places where there exists a large underclass living off the welfare state, it is precisely their reversal to the forager lifestyle that the mainstream society sees as rampant social pathology and terrible deprivation of the benefits of civilized life. I think you're committing the common error of idealizing the foragers. You imagine them as if you and a bunch of other highly intelligent and civilized people had the opportunity to live well with minimal work. In reality, however, the living examples of the forager lifestyle correctly strike us as frightfully chaotic, violent, and intellectually dead.

(Of course, it's easy to idealize foragers from remote corners of the world or the distant prehistory. One is likely to develop a much more accurate picture about those who live close enough that one has to beware not to cross their path.)

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-02T08:37:09.008Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

You are not wrong about "freeloading," though that term is probably (unnecessarily pejorative). The Developed world is so obscenely wasteful that it is not necessary to beg. You can get all the food you want, much of it very nice - often much nicer than you could afford to buy by simply going out and picking it up. Of course, you don't get to pick and choose exactly what you want when you want it.

Clothing, with the exception of jeans, is all freely available. The same is true of appliances, bedding and consumer electronics of many kinds. The one commodity that is is very, very difficult to get at no cost is lodging. You can get books, MP3 players, CDs, printers, scanners, and often gourmet meals, but lodging is tough. The problem with housing and why it is qualitatively different that the other things I've cited is that while it is technically illegal to dustbin dive, in practice it is easy to do and extremely low risk. It is incredibly easy in the UK, if you get a dustbin key (easy to do).

However, the authorities take a very dim view of vagrancy, and they will usually ticket or arrest the person who has either "failure to account," or is clearly living in a vehicle or on the street. This is less true in the UK than the US. However, get caught on the street as a vagrant AND as a foreigner in the UK (or in the US, or in any Developed country) and you are in a world of hurt - typically you will be deported with prejudice and be unable to renter the country either "indefinitely," or for some fixed period of time.

If you can swing lodging, then the world is your oyster (for now). I travel with very little and within 2 weeks of settling on a spot in large city, I have cookware, flatware, clothing, a CD player, a large collection of classical CDs, and just about anything else I want to go looking for. There is an art to it, but the waste is so profligate that it is not hard to master, and absolutely no begging is required (except for lodging ;-))

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-06T15:27:18.174Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking from a lifetime of experience on welfare in the US (I'm disabled, and have gotten work from time to time but usually lost it due to factors stemming either from said disability, or the general life instability that poverty brings with it), your impressions are largely correct.

I'm not sure this is true; I know little about welfare politics, but I was under the impression there was a major shift over the last ten years toward limiting the amount of welfare benefits available to people who are "abusing the system" by not looking for work.

What I'd say is that the shift (and it's been more like the last forty years, albeit the pace has picked up since Reagan) is towards "preventing abuse" as a generic goal of the system; the result has been that the ability to deliver the services that ostensibly form the terminal goal of welfare-granting organizations is significantly diminished -- there's a presumption of suspicion the moment you walk in the door. Right now, SSI applicants are auto-denied and have to appeal if they want to be considered at all, even if all their administrative ducks are otherwise in a row; this used to be common practice, but now it's standard.

This also means that limits are fairly low. I can't receive more than 40 dollars a month in food stamps right now because my apartment manager won't fill out a form on my behalf stating the share of rent and other services I pay in my unit. He has an out; he's not involved in the household finances. But without that in writing, from that person, the office presumes that since I have roommates declared, my share of the household expenses is zero, ergo I'm entitled to the minimum allowable (they can't just deny me since I'm on SSDI).

And having been homeless for a little while (thankfully a friend helped me get the down payment on a place I could just barely afford), yeah...Vladimir_M's comments are based more on rhetoric than substance. One thing I observe is that many people who are long-term impoverished or homeless (self included) will project a bit of being inured to status as a way of just securing ourselves some dignity in our interactions with others -- but nobody in that situation could miss how deeply that status differential cuts whenever it's used against us, even implicitly in the way people just ignore or dismiss them,

As luck would have it, I have some limited experience with living for periods of about a month at a time in a household where we gathered about 80 percent of the food we ate (no exaggeration). Rich in what the land around of offered, rich in the basic assets needed to make use of it, rich in ability to keep ourselves entertained and occupied during our copious free time.

I could easily see the typical hunter-gatherer experience being very, very good. Certainly, I'd rather be financially and material poor under the conditions I described above, than in my present circumstances.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-18T16:27:09.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially? There had to be a mechanism to prevent them from exceeding their region's carrying capacity. If a tribe of 50 people grew at a rate of 1% for 2000 years there would 24 billion people in it. Clearly that didn't happen; in fact there have been massive die-offs from starvation due to cyclical climate change, or to resource warfare (sometimes fought to extinction) between neighboring tribes.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-17T16:38:43.869Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I could easily see the typical hunter-gatherer experience being very, very good. Certainly, I'd rather be financially and material poor under the conditions I described above, than in my present circumstances.

You cannot be considered financially and materially impoverished if you have access to abundant natural resources. Nevermind if you own that or can enforce the exclusive status of your rights to it - if you have those resources available to you they at least count as cash flow if not assets.

Limited access to limited resources is far more typical, and life is not so leisurelly when you spend every hour of daylight working to procure food that still isn't enough to provide for you and your family. That is also the state of nature and was a situation that a great many people have found themselves in for the brief time that they managed to survive it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T02:00:34.682Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Limited access to limited resources is far more typical, and life is not so leisurelly when you spend every hour of > daylight working to procure food that still isn't enough to provide for you and your family. That is also the state of > nature and was a situation that a great many people have found themselves in for the brief time that they managed to survive it.

That...actually doesn't represent the human condition for most of our ancestral history, nor the current state of surviving forager peoples for the most part.

Resources are limited, but you only need about 15 hours of work a week per hunter-gatherer individual devoted to food-producing activities. Overdo that and you may well tax your ecosystem past carrying capacity. This is why foragers wander a migratory circuit (although they tend to keep to a known, fixed route) or live in areas where there's sufficient ecological abundance to allowed for a sedentary lifestyle while still using hunter-gatherer strategies. It's also why they tended to have small populations. Scarcity was something that could happen, but that's why people developed food preservation technologies and techniques that you can assemble with nothing more than accumulated oral tradition and some common sense. Tie a haunch of meat down to some stones and toss it down to the bottom of a cold lake. That meat will keep for months, longer if the lake freezes over. It'll be gamy as hell, but you won't starve -- and this is a pretty typical solution in the toolkit of prehistoric humans from Northern regions. Drying, salting (sometimes using methods that would squick you -- one branch of my ancestors comes from a culture that used to preserve acorns by, kid you not, burying them in a corner of the home and urinating over the cache), chemical preservation, favoring foods that store long-term well in the first place, fermentation, and a flexible diet are all standard knowledge.

In the American Southwest (a hot, harsh, dry and ecologically-poor climate), Pueblo people and many others used to rely on the seasonal abundance of Mormon Crickets for protein. You can gather eighteen pounds of them an hour when they pass through, basically just by walking around and picking up bugs. The nutritional profile beats the hell out of any mammal meat, and they can be preserved like anything else. Think about that for a second -- one person, in one hour, can provide enough of these bugs to feed an entire village for a day, or their own household for weeks (and that's without preservation). It's not desperation; it's a sound food-gathering strategy, and a lot more palatable when you don't come from a culture used to think of insects as a culinary taboo.

Starving to death is more of an issue for low-tech pastoralists and agriculturalists -- people who use just a small fraction of the available edible resources to support populations that wouldn't be able to forage on the available resources. The relationship of effiort to output for them is linear; work your farm harder, get more food in proportion -- and you need to run a surplus every year in most cases because there is non-negotiable downtime during which it's going to be hard to switch to another food source (and even if you do, you'll be competing with your neighbors for it).

In my own case, I've taken part in of a family of five supplying themselves with only a few culturally-specific dietary staples (powdered milk, spices, flour, rice, things that we could easily have done without had they not been available) doing most of their food-production by just going out and getting it somewhere within a mile of home. Clams. squid and oysters were for storing (done with a freezer or by canning with water and salt) and cooking up into dishes we could eat for the rest of the month; small fish were gathered day-by-day, large fish stored (one salmon or sturgeon can feed five people for over a month when you have a freezer), crabs and similar gathered on a case-by-case basis. I personally wasn't fond of frog legs, but a nearby pond kept up with a whole lot of demand for frogs in my family and others. We never bothered with anything like deer or bird hunting, but we'd gather berries, tree fruits (apple, plum, pear) and mushrooms, grow garden veggies and basically just keep ourselves supplied.

I'm not saying everyone on Earth could switch back today -- heck no. A whole lot of people would starve to death after destroying the ecosystems they need. But my ancestors lived in that place for thousands of years and starving to death was not a common experience among them, because they weren't used to the population densities that only come with intensive agriculture. And there are people descended from foragers of even more remote and desolate climes -- some of them STILL living that way -- who can say the same thing.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-18T16:27:53.187Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially? There had to be a mechanism to prevent them from exceeding their region's carrying capacity. If a tribe of 50 people grew at a rate of 1% a year for 2000 years there would 24 billion people in it. Clearly that didn't happen; in fact there have been massive die-offs from starvation due to cyclical climate change, or to resource warfare (sometimes fought to extinction) between neighboring tribes.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T19:18:45.749Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Then what limited the growth of forager peoples so substantially?

I am so glad you asked, because the answer to your question reveals a fundamental misapprehension you have about forager societies and indeed, the structure and values of ancestral human cultures.

The fact is that forager populations don't grow as fast as you think in the first place, and that across human cultures still living at or near forager methods of organization, there are many ways to directly and indirectly control population.

It starts with biology. Forager women reach menarche later, meaning they're not fertile until later in life. Why? Largely, it's that they tend to have much lower body fat percentages due to diet and the constant exercise of being on the move , and that's critical for sustaining a pregnancy, or even ovulating in the first place once you've reached the (much higher) age where you can do that. Spontaneous abortions or resorption of the fetus are rather common. Women in an industrial-farming culture attain menarche quite a bit earlier and are more likely to be fertile throughout their active years -- it only looks normal to you because it's what you're close to. So right out of the gate, forager women are less likely to get pregnant, and less likely to stay that way if they do.

Next biological filter: breastfeeding. Forager women don't wean their children onto bottles and then onto solid food the way you experienced growing up. Breastfeeding is the sole means for a much longer period, and it's undertaken constantly throughout the day -- sleeping with the baby, carrying them around during the daily routine. It goes on for years at a time even after the child is eating solid food. This causes the body to suppress ovulation -- meaning that long after you're technically able to get pregnant again, the body won't devote resources to it. All the hormonal and resource-delivery cues in your body point to an active child still very much in need of milk! Not only that, but it's routine in many such societies for women to trade off breastfeeding duty with one another's children -- the more kids there are, the more likely it is that every woman in the proximate social group will have moderately suppressed fertility. It's a weak effect, but it's enough to lengthen the birth interval considerably. In the US, a woman can have a baby just about every year -- for modern-day foragers, the birth interval is often two to five years wide. It's harder to get pregnant, and once you do, the kids come more slowly.

The next layer is direct means of abortion. In the US that tends to be pretty traumatic if it's not performed by a medical specialist. In some cases it still is for forager women -- the toolkit of abortives across all human cultures is very wide. Midwives and herbalists often have access to minimally-invasive methods, but they also often have painful or dangerous ones. What you won't find is many that are truly ineffective. Methods range from the unpleasant (direct insertion of some substance to cause vaginal bleeding and fetal rejection), to the taxing or dangerous (do hard work, lift heavy objects, jump from a high place) to fasting and ingestible drugs that can induce an abortion or just raise the likelihood of miscarriage.

The last layer is infanticide (and yes, we have this too, though it's a deprecated behavior). In all cultures that practice it it's considered a method of last resort, and it's usually done by people other than the mother, quickly and quietly. Forager cultures are used to having to do this from time to time, but it's still a rare event -- certainly not a matter of routine expedience.

The point I'm making is that population growth unto itself is not a goal or a value of forager societies like those every human being on earth is descended from (and which some still occupy today). Growth, as an ideological goal, is a non-starter for people living this way. Too many mouths to feed means you undercut the abundance of your lifestyle (and yes, it truly is abundance most of the time, not desperate Malthusian war of all against all) -- and forager lives tend to be pretty good on the whole, filled with communitas and leisure and recreation aplenty as long as everybody meets a modest commitment to generating food and the supporting activities of everyday life. I'm not making it out to be paradise; this is just really what it's like, day to day, to live in a small band of mostly close relatives and friends gathering food from what's available in the environment.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-18T20:32:48.536Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard claims like these several times, but this situation where individuals voluntarily limit their reproduction for the common good can't possibly be a stable equilibrium. It faces a coordination problem, more specifically a tragedy of the commons. As soon as even a small minority of the forager population starts cheating and reproducing above the replacement rate (by evolving either cultural memes or hereditary philoprogenitive behaviors that motivate them to do so), in a few generations their exponential growth will completely swamp everyone else. The time scales on which forager societies have existed are certainly more than enough for this process to have taken place with certainty.

In order for such equilibrium to be stable, there would have to exist some fantastically powerful group selection mechanism that operates on the level of the whole species. I find this strikingly implausible, and to my knowledge, nobody has ever proposed how something like that might work.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T20:44:31.500Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It happened in the real world, ergo the issue lies with your understanding of the system we're talking about and not with its inability to conform to your model.

I've heard claims like these several times, but this situation where individuals voluntarily limit their reproduction for the common good can't possibly be a stable equilibrium.

You're looking at this backwards. This is the reproductive context in which humanity evolved, and the Malthus-driven upward spiral of population and competition is the result of comparitively recent cultural shifts brought on by changing lifestyles that made it viable to do that. You don't need to invoke group selection in the form you're thinking of -- the cultural "mutations" you're positing can't gain a foothold until some branch of humanity has access to a lifestyle that makes it advantageous to defect like that. Forager societies don't have that incentive because if they overtax their resource base here and now they have to move, and for most of human prehistory (and the modern history of hunter-gatherers) the population densities were low enough that this gave the affected area time to recover, so when someone came back, things were fine again. A long-term climatic shift alters the range of viable habitats near you, but it takes something pretty darn catastrophic (more than just a seasonal or decadal shift) to entirely render a region uninhabitable to a group of size n.

The biggest filters to population growth in this system are entirely passive ones dictated by biology and resources -- the active ones are secondary measures, and they're undertaken because in a system like this, the collective good and the individual good are inextricably linked. It was a stable equilibrium for most of our evolution, and it only broke when and where agriculture became a viable option that DIDN'T immediately overtax the environment.

That's a state of affairs that took most of human existence to come into being.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-18T21:06:22.833Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It happened in the real world, ergo the issue lies with your understanding of the system we're talking about and not with its inability to conform to your model.

You assert these things very confidently, but without any evidence. How exactly do we know that this state of affairs existed in human prehistory?

You say:

You don't need to invoke group selection in the form you're thinking of -- the cultural "mutations" you're positing can't gain a foothold until some branch of humanity has access to a lifestyle that makes it advantageous to defect like that. Forager societies don't have that incentive because if they overtax their resource base here and now they have to move, and for most of human prehistory (and the modern history of hunter-gatherers) the population densities were low enough that this gave the affected area time to recover, so when someone came back, things were fine again.

This, however, provides no answer to the question why individuals and small groups wouldn't defect, regardless of the subsequent collective consequences of such defection. You deny that you postulate group selection, but you keep talking in a very strong language of group selection. Earlier you asserted that "population growth unto itself is not a goal or a value of forager societies," and now you say that "[f]orager societies don't have that incentive." How can a society, i.e. a group, have "values" and "incentives," if you're not talking about group selection? And if you are, then you need to answer the standard objection to arguments from group selection, i.e. how such group "incentives" can stand against individual defection.

I have no problem with group selection in principle -- if you think you have a valid group-selectionist argument that invalidates my objections, I'd be extremely curious to hear it. But you keep contradicting yourself when you deny that you're making such an argument while at the same time making strong and explicit group-selectionist assertions.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T21:35:13.593Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You assert these things very confidently, but without any evidence. How exactly do we know that this state of
affairs existed in human prehistory?

Archaeological evidence regarding the health and population density of human beings and their dietary habits. Inference from surviving examples. The null hypothesis, that we didn't start with agriculture and therefore must have been hunter-gatherers for most of our existence as a species. The observatiion that the traits generally associated with the Malthusian trap are common experiences of agricultural societies and dependent upon conditions that don't obtain in predominantly and purely hunter-gatherer societies.

This, however, provides no answer to the question why individuals and small groups wouldn't defect, regardless of the subsequent collective consequences of such defection.

They might defect, but it'd gain them nothing. Their cultural toolkits and food-gathering strategies were dependent upon group work at a set quota which it was maladaptive to under- or overreach. An individual can''t survive for long like this compared to a smallish group; a larger group will split when it gets too big for an area, a big group can't sustainably form.

How can a society, i.e. a group, have "values" and "incentives," if you're not postulating group selection?

The answer to this lies in refuting the following:

As soon as even a small minority of the forager population starts cheating and reproducing above the replacement rate (by evolving either cultural memes or hereditary philoprogenitive behaviors that motivate them to do so), in a few generations their exponential growth will completely swamp everyone else.

"A small minority of the forager population" has to be taken in terms of each population group, and those are small. A small percentage of a given group might be just one or two people every handful of generations, here. A social umbrella-group of 150 scattered into bands of 10-50 throughout an area, versus just one or two people? Where's the exponential payoff? The absolute numbers are too low to support it, and the defectors are stuck with the cultural biases and methodologies they know. They can decide to get greedy, but they're outnumbered by the whole tribe, who are more than willing to provide censure or other forms of costly social signalling as a means of punishing defectors. They don't even have to kill the defectors or drive them out; the defectors are critically dependent on the group for their lifestyle. The alternatiive will be unappealing in all but a vast majority of cases.

You need the kind of population densities agriculture allows to start getting a really noticeable effect. It's not to say people don't ever become tempted to defect, but it's seldom a beneficial decision. And many cultures, such as the San ones in South Africa, have cultural mechanisms for ensuring nobody's ego gets too big for their britches, so to speak. Teasing and ribbing in place of praise when someone gets a big head about their accomplishments, passive reminders that they need the group more than they individually benefit it.

This isn't so much about group selection,as it is about all the individuals having their raft tied to the same ship -- a group big enough to provide the necessities of life, which also provides a lot of hedonic reinforcement for maintaining that state of affairs, and a lot of non-coercive negative signalling for noncompliance, coupled with the much more coercive but morally neutral threat presented by trying to make a living in this place all by yourself.

If you break a leg in a small group, the medical practitioner splints it and everyone keeps feeding you. If you do that by yourself, it probably never heals right and the next leopard to come along finds you easy pickings. That's what defection buys you in the ancestral environment.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-08-19T05:48:34.923Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

a larger group will split when it gets too big for an area

Say there are two kinds of forager groups, one which limits reproduction of its members by various means, and another that does not limit reproduction and instead constantly grows and splits and invades other groups' territories if needed. Naively I would expect that the latter kind of group would tend to drive the former kind out of existence. Why didn't this happen?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-19T00:29:35.457Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Archaeological evidence regarding the health and population density of human beings and their dietary habits. Inference from surviving examples.

This isn't necessarily evidence against a Malthusian equilibrium. It could be that the subsequent farmer lifestyle enabled survival for people with much poorer health and physical fitness, thus lowering the average health and fitness of those who managed to survive in the Malthusian equilibrium.

Can you give a reference that specifically discusses how a non-Malthusian situation of the foragers can be inferred from the existing archaeological evidence?

The observatiion that the traits generally associated with the Malthusian trap are common experiences of agricultural societies and dependent upon conditions that don't obtain in predominantly and purely hunter-gatherer societies.

This is not true. Humans are (more or less) the only species that practices agriculture, but the Malthusian trap happens to non-human animals too. As long as reproduction above the replacement rate is possible, it will happen until the resource limit is reached. (Admittedly, for animals that aren't apex predators, the situation is more complicated due to the predator-prey dynamics.)

Regarding the foragers' supposed cooperation on keeping the population stable, I honestly don't see how what you write makes sense, for at least two reasons:

  1. The defectors would not need to reproduce in blatantly extraordinary numbers. It would be enough to reproduce just slightly above the replacement rate, so slightly that it might be unnoticeable for all practical purposes. The exponential growth would nevertheless explode their population in not very many generations and lead to them overwhelming others. So even if we assume that blatantly excessive reproduction would be punished, it would still leave them more than enough leeway for "cheating."

  2. How did this punishment mechanism evolve, and how did it remain stable? You can postulate any group selection mechanism by assuming altruistic punishment against individuals who deviate from the supposed group-optimal behavior. But you can't just assert that such a mechanism must have existed because otherwise there would have been defection.

Moreover, you are now talking about group selection with altruistic punishment. There's nothing inherently impossible or absurd about that, but these are very strong and highly controversial claims, which you are asserting in a confident and authoritative manner as if they were well-known or obvious.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-19T03:38:19.632Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Estimates of world population growth come from:

http://faculty.plattsburgh.edu/david.curry/worldpop.htm

Essentially human for our first 2 million years of existence, human population worldwide went from about 10,000 to 4 million. Given that virtually all major models of long-run human population converge very closely, and they all assume a relatively steady growth rate, we're talking a doubling period of 250,000 years.

Malthus' estimates assume a doubling rate of 25 years, or a single human generation. The difference is a factor of 10,000. World population simply did not grow as fast as you're assuming, and humanity did not start outstripping local carrying capacities in a major, systematic way until we'd developed technologies that allowed us to make those sorts of population growth leaps.

According to Michael Kremer in "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million BC to 1990", the base rate of technological change in human societies scales proportional to population -- small population, slow technological change. This equals very long inferential distances to the sorts of techniques and behaviors that make agriculture a viable prospect.

You need intermediate steps, in the form of settled horticulture or nomadic pastoralism, to really concentrate the population enough to have a chance at developing agriculture in the intensive sense. Those sorts of cultural developments took a long time to come into being, and it was a gradual process at that.

So, yes, it's true that if you grow certain grasses and just harvest their seeds reliably, grinding them into a fine powder and mixing that with water and then heating the whole mixture somehow without actually burning it in your fire directly, you can produce a food source that will unlock access to population-doubling intervals closer to the Malthusian assumption of one doubling per generation.

But that is a series of nested behaviors, NONE of which is intuitively obvious by itself from the perspective of a forager in a world full of nothing but other foragers. Which is why the entire chain took a long, long time to develop, and why agriculture was invented just a few times throughout human history.

This is not true. Humans are (more or less) the only species that practices agriculture, but the Malthusian trap happens to non-human animals too. As long as reproduction above the replacement rate is possible, it will happen until the resource limit is reached.

Termites, leafcutter ants, certain damselfish, ambrosia beetles, and certain marsh snails all practice agriculture. But yes, it's certainly an uncommon behavior.

What if reproduction above the replacement rate isn't possible for the period of human evolution we're talking about? What if the human population simply isn't reproducing fast enough for most of prehistory to reach the resource limit? Those are the conditions I'm suggesting here -- that reaching local resource limits was not the norm for much of our evolution, due to our inherent long gestation times and strong k-selection, the inherent metabolic requirements for fertility taking a long time to satisfy compared to modern conditions, the birth interval being very wide compared to Malthusian assumptions, and the techniques of food acquisition being of necessity limited by the the ease of satisfying everybody's requirements (if everyone has a fully tummy and all their kids do too, going out and gathering MORE food at the expense of one's kinsmen won't do you any good anyway).

What you get is abundance -- there's room to grow, but we can only do it so fast, and when we start to reach the point where we might overtax our resource base, we've moved on and there weren't enough of us using it in the first place to compromise it.

The defectors would not need to reproduce in blatantly extraordinary numbers. It would be enough to reproduce just slightly above the replacement rate, so slightly that it might be unnoticeable for all practical purposes.

That kind of statistical hackery might work in a large population, but not very well in a small one. In a group of 100 humans, ANY population gain is noticeable.

The exponential growth would nevertheless explode their population in not very many generations and lead to them overwhelming others

Except all evidence suggests it wasn't possible to have a population explosion, if you assume humans must have reproduced at the fastest allowable rate. Populations doubled in a quarter-million years, not 25.

How did this punishment mechanism evolve, and how did it > remain stable?

It didn't evolve genetically, it's a cultural punishment I'm talking about. Ju/'hoansi hunters are taken down a notch whenever they make a kill. Certain Australian aboriginal groups have meat-sharing customs where one hunter goes out and gets a kangaroo (say), and his share of the meat is the intestines or penis -- the choicer cuts get distributed according to a set of other rules. Except, then people invite the hunter over to dinner; he's not forced to actually eat crow every time he succeeds, but he's also socially aware that he depends upon the others for it (and he gets to receive a choicer share when some other hunter makes a kill).

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-19T07:00:02.158Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

World population simply did not grow as fast as you're assuming, and humanity did not start outstripping local carrying capacities in a major, systematic way until we'd developed technologies that allowed us to make those sorts of population growth leaps.

I don't understand your argument here at all. Earlier you said that growth to the Malthusian limit was prevented by a cooperative strategy of restraining reproduction. Now you say that lack of food production technology was limiting population growth. But if foragers did breed up to the limit where food became the limiting resource, that's by definition a Malthusian equilibrium.

You are also presenting a strawman caricature of Malthus. His claim about a 25-year doubling period refers to agricultural societies with an ample supply of land, such as existed in North America of his day. He presents it as an empirical finding. When he discusses foragers, he notes that they'll reproduce to the point where they run against the limited food supply available from foraging, which given the low supply of food relative to farming, means a much less dense population.

Some of his discussions of foragers are actually quite interesting. He notes that among the North American hunter-gatherers, resource limitations lead to constant disputes and warfare. He also cites accounts of European explorers' contacts with forager peoples that seem to have been on the Malthusian limit.

It didn't evolve genetically, it's a cultural punishment I'm talking about.

It doesn't matter -- it still needs to be explained. Humans don't just magically develop cultural norms that solve collective action problems.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-19T07:59:27.934Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Earlier you said that growth to the Malthusian limit was prevented by a cooperative strategy of restraining reproduction.

What I said was that growth to the point of constant warfare, competition and struggle for enough food to subsist wasn't an accurate picture of ancestral forager lifestyles.

Some of his discussions of foragers are actually quite interesting. He notes that among the North American hunter-gatherers, resource limitations lead to constant disputes and warfare.

He also says that smallpox was endemic among the Indians of all these cultures. Smallpox originated in Eurasia, thrived among farmers, and Native Americans had no immunity to it. His example of the squallor and disease these people live in is an example of the conditions they were subjected to at the hands of an invading power with novel biological agents their immune systems simply weren't adapted to handle. The nastiest conflicts.

Warfare among Northwest Coast Natives, prior to colonization, was usually over petty disputes (that is, interpersonal ones) between peoples who had long-standing trade and treaty relationships, and only occasionally over resources (usually slaves, and the institution of slavery as it was practiced here does not compare readily with slavery as it was practiced by agriculturalists in Eurasia and Africa). The bloodier wars of the inland northwest are similarly a historical novelty, unparalleled in scope or stakes until the ravages of introduced diseases and the dislocation of various tribes by white invaders into territories they'd never been in competition for caused clashes that simply hadn't occured at such a level of intensity prior to that point. The formation of reservations only exacerbated this -- we're talking about groups with age-old rivalries who had never seen fit to exterminate one another or conquer one another's lands, but who would happily send a war canoe full of men to go steal things because of a petty vendetta between two people that started long ago.

This isn't war of extermination. Don't get me wrong, it's violent, people die, the stakes are real, but it's not a zero-sum, winner-take-all competition for survival. A direct translation out of Old Chinook from Franz Boas' ethnography, regarding the rules of warfare should make this clearer:

"Before the people go to war they sing. If one of them sees blood, he will be killed in battle. When two see blood, they will be killed. They finish their singing. When they sing, two long planks are put down parallel to each other. All the warriors sing. They kneel [on the planks]. Now they go to war and fight. When people of both parties have been killed, they stop. After some time the two parties exchange presents and make peace. When a feud has not yet been settled, they marry a woman to a man of the other town and they make peace."

The fight ends when both sides have taken casualties. The opposing sides exchange gifts and make peace. They resolve outstanding feuds by diplomatic marriage. This is the Chinook idea of war, the way it was practiced with all but their very worst enemies (who lived rather a long way from Chinook territory -- the Quileute weren't exactly next door given the pace of travel in those days, and even then the wars between them were not genocidal in intent). This is completely different from war as most Eurasian-descended cultures knew it. And it was typical of forager warfare in North America before Columbus showed up.

Malthus, in looking at the conditions of North American natives during the 19th century, reports on the dire conditions of a people devastated by introduced diseases, direct conquest by white settlers, and the disruption of their social fabric and ways of life. Whole culture groups pushed beyond the breaking point and very much outside their typical context, and most of their actual problems direct effects of colonization.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-19T18:47:13.341Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Malthus, in looking at the conditions of North American natives during the 19th century, reports on the dire conditions of a people devastated by introduced diseases, direct conquest by white settlers, and the disruption of their social fabric and ways of life.

Some of the accounts presented by Malthus were given by very early explorers and adventurers who ended up deep in unexplored territory, far ahead of European conquest and colonization. For example, the one by Cabeca de Vaca would be circa 1530.

The only way these societies could have already been devastated is if epidemics had ravaged the whole continent immediately in the first decades after the first Europeans landed, ahead of any European contact with the inland peoples. I don't know enough about the relevant history to know how plausible this is, but even if it happened, there are two problems with your claim:

  1. Diseases wouldn't cause famine, at least in the long run. These early explorers describe peoples who had problems making ends meet during bad seasons due to insufficient food, and who fought bitterly over the existing limited supply. If the population had already been thinned down by disease by the time they came, we'd expect, if anything, the per capita food supply from foraging to be greater than before.

  2. If even the earliest accounts are of devastated societies, then how do we know anything about the better life they led before that? Where does this information come from? You cite an ethnography by Boas, who was born in 1858, as authoritative, but dismiss a compilation of far older accounts compiled by Malthus in the early 19th century.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-20T01:11:43.338Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Smallpox emerged in the Old World around 10,000 BC and is believed to have originated via cattle farming. It reached very high concentrations in Europe and became a common plague there; it was spread around the world to peoples who had never encountered it by European exploration and conquest. It and other Old World disease spread very rapidly among American native populations, rendering whole cultures extinct and reducing others to scattered survivors often incapable of rebuilding. The total population of the Americas lost to European diseases after the arrival of Columbus and Cortez is estimated at 90 to 95 percent.

Given that many Native nations were at least modestly dependent on agriculture (the Iroquois, Navajo, Aztecs, Incas, Mississipians -- indeed, most of the well-known groups), such population losses coming so quickly are nothing short of catastrophic. Most of your resource base collapses because one person is going to have to work MUCH harder to provide enough food for themselves -- fields go unplanted, vegetables don't get tended, wild game is much more dangerous to hunt by oneself, and one cannot expect any assistance with gathering. Even a small number of people used to an agriculture-enriched lifestyle are going to be hit much harder.

It's also worth noting that Cabeza da Vaca actually described the Coahuiltic as a healthy and prosperous people -- and ant eggs, lizards and so on were just normal parts of their diet. Ant eggs in particular are STILL a cultural delicacy among the Latino groups descended from the Coahuiltecs (escamole taco, anyone?). Diet adapts to local circumstances.

The only way these societies could have already been devastated is if epidemics had ravaged the whole continent immediately in the first decades after the first Europeans landed, ahead of any European contact > with the inland peoples.

That is precisely what happened. One infected slave from Spanish-held Cuba is believed to be the Patient Zero that transmitted an infection which would go on to wipe out about fifty percent of the Aztec population. Hernando de Soto, exploring the southeast, encountered many towns and villages abandoned just two years prior when most of their inhabitants died of the plagues. Isolated survivors often just abandoned their homes outright, since in many cases a handful of people or even a single survivor were all that was left out of a village of hundreds or thousands. Neighbors who showed up, unaware of what happened, might contract disease from the corpses in some cases, or simply welcome in the survivors who'd start the cycle anew. North America had extensive trade routes linking all major regions, from coast to coast. Foot and boat traffic carried diseases quite far from their initial outbreak sites.

If even the earliest accounts are of devastated societies, then how do we know anything about the better life they led before that?

Because they're not all dead, and they left their own records of what happened and there are records of contact with them in much better conditions*, and there are still plenty of Native people alive today, who often know rather more about said records of their lives before than the typical Euro-American? And because it's generally acknowledged within anthropological, archaeological and historical fields now that modern research bears out a picture of generally healthy, sustainable populations for most of the foragers of the Americas? And quite large, complex societies that were generally not recognized as such by early Anglo scholars into the matter?

(Malthus seriously* misrepresents Cabeza de Vaca's case -- the Floridians were in a bad way, but they were also right next door to Spanish early conquest -- his accounts of the Coahuiltecs of coastal and inland Texas describe them as a healthy and prosperous people...and their descendents STILL enjoy ant eggs as a dietary item; you don't have to be desperate to eat insects and many human groups actively enjoy it .

Where does this information come from? You cite an ethnography by Boas, who was born in 1858, as authoritative, but dismiss a compilation of far older accounts compiled by Malthus in the early 19th century.

Boas actually travelled to the civilizations he wrote about, lived among them, recorded their oral traditions and analyzed their languages, investigated their history and their environmental circumstances. For many people, especially in the Northwest, far North and other relatively late-contacted areas, these events occured within the living memory of their elders.

Malthus wasn't an expert on Native American civilizations or history, and basically went with the prevailing account available at the time. He relied on a consensus that wasn't yet well-understood to be false. So I reject Malthus' picture of pre-Columbian America for the same reason I reject Lysenko's account of evolution. The difference is that Malthus was an influential thinker within the development of Western thought, and his role means that a lot of people who agree with what insights he did make are unwittingly buying into cached arguments about related subjects (often ones that don't support his case) which hadn't yet been discovered as such when Malthus wrote in the first place.

Scholarship in the field since Malthus' time has seriously changed the outlook -- Charles C. Mann and Jared Diamond are good, accessible sources for a summary overview ("1491" and "Guns, Germs and Steel"). If I seem to be vague, it's mostly because this is domain-specific knowledge that's not widely understood outside the domain, but as domain insider it's fairly basic stuff.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-22T08:51:54.219Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

And because it's generally acknowledged within anthropological, archaeological and historical fields now that modern research bears out a picture of generally healthy, sustainable populations for most of the foragers of the Americas?

How exactly does this modern research reconstruct the life of American foragers centuries ago, and based on what evidence? Could you cite some of this work? (I'd like to see the original work that presumably explains its methodology rigorously, not popular summaries.)

I also note that you haven't answered Wei Dai's question.

Regarding Malthus and de Vaca, you say:

Malthus *seriously misrepresents Cabeza de Vaca's case -- the Floridians were in a bad way, but they were also right next door to Spanish early conquest -- his accounts of the Coahuiltecs of coastal and inland Texas describe them as a healthy and prosperous people...

Here is a translation of de Vaca's original account:
http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/one/cabeza.htm

On closer look, it turns out that de Vaca's description cited by Malthus actually refers to a people from southeastern Texas, not Florida. So while Malthus apparently mixed up the location by accident, his summary is otherwise accurate. Your above claims are therefore completely incorrect -- the description is in fact of a people from Texas, living very far from the boundary of Spanish conquest at the time.

For reference, I quote de Vaca's account at length (all emphasis mine):

  • Castillo and Estevanico went inland to the Iguaces. [...] Their principal food are two or three kinds of roots, which they hunt for all over the land; they are very unhealthy, inflating, and it takes two days to roast them. Many are very bitter, and with all that they are gathered with difficulty. But those people are so much exposed to starvation that these roots are to them indispensable and they walk two and three leagues to obtain them. Now and then they kill deer and at times get a fish, but this is so little and their hunger so great that they eat spiders and ant eggs, worms, lizards and salamanders and serpents, also vipers the bite of which is deadly. They swallow earth and wood, and all they can get, the dung of deer and more things I do not mention; and I verily believe, from what I saw, that if there were any stones in the country they would eat them also. They preserve the bones of the fish they eat, of snakes and other animals, to pulverize them and eat the powder. [...] Their best times are when "tunas" (prickly pears) are ripe, because then they have plenty to eat and spend the time in dancing and eating day and night. [...] While with them it happened many times that we were three or four days without food. Then, in order to cheer us, they would tell us not to despair, since we would have tunas very soon and eat much and drink their juice and get big stomachs and be merry, contented and without hunger. But from the day they said it to the season of the tunas there would still elapse five or six months, and we had to wait that long.

Also, regarding this:

Boas actually travelled to the civilizations he wrote about, lived among them, recorded their oral traditions and analyzed their languages, investigated their history and their environmental circumstances. For many people, especially in the Northwest, far North and other relatively late-contacted areas, these events occured within the living memory of their elders.

Earlier you claimed that the native population of the entire American continent was devastated by epidemics immediately after the first European contacts in the late 15th/early 16th century, so that even the accounts of very early European explorers who traveled deep into the continent ahead of European colonization do not present an accurate picture of the native foragers' good life they had lived before that. But now you claim that in the late 19th century, this good life was still within living memory for some of them.

It seems like you're accepting or discounting evidence selectively. I can't believe that all those accounts cited by Malthus refer to societies devastated by epidemics ahead of European contact, but on the other hand, the pre-epidemic good times were still within living memory for the people studied by Boaz centuries later.

comment by sam0345 · 2011-08-22T07:43:27.950Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I reject Malthus' picture of pre-Columbian America for the same reason I reject Lysenko's account of evolution.

Lysenko was motivated by politics. Baez was motivated by politics.

Physics improves, but history deteriorates. Those writers closest to events give us the most accurate picture, while later writers merely add political spin. Since 1830, history has suffered increasingly drastic, frequent, and outrageous politically motivated rewrites, has become more and more subject to a single monolithic political view, uniformly applied to all history books written in a particular period.

If you read old histories, they explain that they know such and such, because of such and such. If you read later histories, then when they disagree with older histories, check the evidence cited by older histories, you usually find that the newer histories are making stuff up. The older history says X said Y, and quotes him. The newer history say that X said B, and fails to quote him, or fails to quote him in context, or just simply asserts B, without any explanation as to how they can possibly know B.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-20T01:18:24.538Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most of your resource base collapses because one person is going to have to work MUCH harder to provide enough food for themselves -- fields go unplanted, vegetables don't get tended, wild game is much more dangerous to hunt by oneself, and one cannot expect any assistance with gathering. Even a small number of people used to an agriculture-enriched lifestyle are going to be hit much harder.

Both Clark and Tainter (Collapse of Complex Civilizations) disagree with this claim as stated. A massive reduction in the population means that the survivors get increased per-capitas because the survivors move way back along the diminishing marginal returns curve and now have more low-hanging fruit (sometimes literally). In fact, Tainter argues that complexity often collapses because the collapse is the only way to increase per-capita wealth. Hunter-gatherers spend much less time per calorie than do advanced agriculturalists eg.

The surprise here is that while there is wild variation across forager and shifting cultivation societies, many of them had food production systems which yielded much larger numbers of calories per hour of labor than English agriculture in 1800, at a time when labor productivity in English agriculture was probably the highest in Europe. In 1800 the total value of output per man-hour in English agriculture was 6.6 pence, which would buy 3,600 kilocalories of flour but only 1,800 kilocalories of fats and 1,300 kilocalories of meat. Assuming English farm output was then half grains, onequarter fats, and one-quarter meat, this implies an output of 2,600 calories per worker-hour on average.32 Since the average person ate 2,300 kilocalories per day (table 3.6), each farm worker fed eleven people, so labor productivity was very high in England. Table 3.13 shows in comparison the energy yields of foraging and shifting cultivation societies per worker-hour. The range in labor productivities is huge, but the minimum average labor productivity, that for the Ache in Paraguay, is 1,985 kilocalories per hour, not much below England in 1800. The median yield per labor hour, 6,042 kilocalories, is more than double English labor productivity.

Or

...ranging from a modest 1,452 kilocalories per person per day for the Yanomamo of Brazil to a kingly 3,827 kilocalories per person per day for the Ache of Paraguay. Some of this is undoubtedly the result of errors in measuring food consumption. But the median is 2,340, implying that hunter-gatherers and subsistence agriculturalists ate as many calories as the median person in England or Belgium circa 1800. Primitive man ate well compared with one of the richest societies in the world in 1800. Indeed British farm laborers by 1863 had just reached the median consumption of these forager and subsistence societies.

(Quotes brought to you by my Evernote; it's a pain in the ass to excerpt all the important bits from a book, but it certainly pays off later if you want to cite it for various assertions.)

comment by Strange7 · 2011-08-19T03:24:08.432Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to remind you that the ancestral environment was not completely stable, and no one is disputing that exponentially-expansive Malthusian agriculture happened. The question is why it took as long as it did, not why it was possible at all.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-18T19:43:27.876Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Some quotes from Clark's Farewell to Alms (he also covers the very high age of marriage in England as one way England held down population growth):

Fertility was also probably high among the precontact Polynesians. Sexual activity among women was early and universal. Why then was Tahiti such an apparent paradise to the visiting English sailors, rather than a society driven to the very subsistence margin of material income, as in Japan? The answer seems to be that infanticide was widely practiced...The estimates from the early nineteenth century are that between two-thirds and three-quarters of all children born were killed immediately.27...One sign of the practice of infanticide was the agreement by most visitors that there were more men than women on the islands. ...In preindustrial China and Japan the gender ratio of the population shows that there was significant female infanticide. In these Malthusian economies infanticide did raise living standards.

An additional factor driving down birth rates (and also of course driving up death rates) was the Chinese practice of female infanticide. For example, based on the imbalance between recorded male and female births an estimated 20–25 percent of girls died from infanticide in Liaoning. Evidence that the cause was conscious female infanticide comes from the association between the gender imbalance of births and other factors. When grain prices were high, more girls are missing. First children were more likely to be female than later children. The chance of a female birth being recorded for later children also declined with the numbers of female births already recorded for the family. All this suggests female infanticide that was consciously and deliberately practiced.13 ... Female infanticide meant that, while nearly all women married, almost 20 percent of men never found brides. Thus the overall birth rate per person, which determines life expectancy, was reduced. The overall birth rate for the eighteenth century is unclear from the data given in this study, but by the 1860s, when the population was stationary, it was around 35 per thousand, about the same as in preindustrial Europe, and less than in many poor countries today. Earlier and more frequent marriage than in northwestern Europe was counteracted by lower marital fertility and by female infanticide, resulting in equivalent overall fertility rates.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T20:29:04.255Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just to be clear, and so everyone knows where the goalposts are: as per the definition here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer , a forager society relies principally or entirely on wild-gathered food sources. Modern examples include the Pila Nguru, the Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands, the Pirahã, the Nukak, the Inuit until the mid-20th century, the Hadza and San of southern Africa, and others.

To those not deeply familiar with anthropology this can lead to some counterintuitive cases. The Yanomamo, who depend mainly on domesticated bananas supplemented by hunting and fishing, aren't foragers in the strict sense. The modern Maya, and many Native American groups in general weren't pure foragers. The Salish and Chinook peoples of the Pacific Northwest of the United States were sedentary foragers.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T20:14:33.033Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Polynesians and Chinese of those periods were not foragers -- both societies practiced extensive agriculture supplemented by hunting and gathering, as in preindustrial Europe.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-19T02:00:42.524Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I never said they were foragers; I thought the quotes were interesting from the controlling population perspective.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-19T02:43:18.249Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My apologies -- skimmed rather than read in detail and missed the purpose of your comment. Reply left up anyway since it may clarify terminology and definitions re: foragers for anyone who happens uipon the thread later. Thank you for clarifying!

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-19T01:11:26.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well that is certainly a lot for me to learn more about. Sorry I missed this post. How much of this has been directly observed in modern forager societies versus inferences from archaeology?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-19T02:57:23.495Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's a lot of other studies about different passive fertility in forager groups that bear out the cross-cultural applicability of the San studies as well. Forgot to add that.

Studies of forager groups on several continents have come to the same basic conclusions around that. Some of those findings are summarized here: http://books.google.com/books?id=grrA421tRNkC&pg=PA431&lpg=PA431&dq=foragers+and+menarche&source=bl&ots=WNuoQO-gYV&sig=h1ahBo5ApBv4Q9uYxD47pM_whNM&hl=en&ei=NtBNTpzkFeOssALYip3rBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=foragers%20and%20menarche&f=false

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-19T02:53:16.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The bits about breastfeeding and the other biological limiting factors (the indirect controls, basically) came to light during Richard Lee's fieldwork with the San and Ju/'hoansi peoples of South Africa in the 1960s.

The bit about active measures is available if you peruse the anthropological literature on the subject (I don't have a specific citation in mind), and the sort of thing covered in introductory classes to the field -- it's common knowledge within that domain.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T19:26:12.148Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As to resource warfare, it's a non-starter for most foragers. You walk away, or you strike an agreement about the use of lands. There are conflicts anyway, but they're infrequent -- the incentive isn't present to justify a bloody battle most of the time. And it doesn't come up as often as you think, either, because as I've stated, forager populations don't grow as quickly (they tend to stay around carrying capacity when different groups are summed over a given area) and indeed, devote active effort to keeping it that way, which supplements the tremendous passive biases in favor of slow growth.

Where it does come into prominence is with low-tech agriculturalists, pastoralists and horticulturalists. Those people have something to fight over (a stationary, vulnerable or scarce landbase, that rewards their effort with high population growth and gives incentive to expand or lock down an area for their exclusive use).

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-18T19:47:42.044Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So in a forager society, population growth is managed how, specifically? Abstinence?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-18T20:11:27.225Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

See my other reply, the long one, which goes into some detail answering that question.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-18T20:16:03.797Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I don't see where you do. Food preservation techniques, migratory habits, gathering crabs or berries doesn't tell me anything at all about how people avoided population growth.

comment by soreff · 2011-07-31T15:26:04.853Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It turns out that homelessness, in and of itself, approximately quadruples one's mortality risk: study pointer:

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-07-29T22:39:52.204Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you are really indifferent to status, you can easily get enough food, housing, and medical care to survive by sheer freeloading. This is true even in the U.S.,

I don't know how you're using the word "easily", then. Do you classify all forms of social interaction as easy?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T22:50:27.540Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, "easy" is clearly a subjective judgment, and admittedly, I have no relevant personal experience. However, it is evident that large numbers of people do manage to survive from charity and the welfare state without any employment, and many of them don't seem to invest any special efforts or talents in this endeavor.

In any case, my original arguments hold even if we consider only rich countries with strong welfare states, in which it really is easy, in every reasonable sense of the term, to survive by freeloading. These certainly hold as examples of societies where no work is necessary to obtain food, housing, medical care, and even some discretionary income, and yet status concerns still motivate the overwhelming majority of people to work hard.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-07-31T08:07:40.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

this seems very difficult if you aren't a member of a protected class. can a young white healthy male freeload easily?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-31T15:36:23.628Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about race, but I did read a piece by a young man who viewed homelessness as a sort of urban camping. He didn't use drugs and he didn't beg-- he found enough odd jobs.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-17T17:30:07.089Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Ten years ago I read a "news of the wierd" story about a young homeless man in silicon valley. He earned something like $90K a year working as a junior programmer or some such occupation. He slept under a bridge, but had a bank account, mailbox, cell phone, laptop and gym subscription. He worked out and showered at the gym every morning before work. He socked away lots of money and spent a lot of his free time surfing the internet at a coffee shop or other hang out. The reason the story got picked up is that his parents or someone in his family was trying to get him committed for psychiatric treatment. Its more bold and daring than most people but that behavior in and of itself doesn't really sound crazy to me.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-08-17T18:07:02.448Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A long time friend of mine wrote an article for the New York Times about her boyfriend's decision to become homeless.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T22:25:16.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, completely forsaking status would mean all sorts of unpleasantness for a typical person, but this is only because we hate to admit how much of our lives revolves around zero-sum status competitions after all.

I agree that we hate to admit how much of our lives revolves around zero-sum status competitions. Here human modification via genetic engineering, supplements, & advanced technologies provides a potential way out, right? That we don't like the fact that our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions implies that there's motivation to self-modify in the direction of deriving fulfillment from other things.

Of course there's little historical precedent for technological self-modification and so such hypotheticals involve a necessary element of speculation, but it's not necessarily the case that things will remain as they always have been.

Also, there would always be losers in these post-work status games who could improve their status by engaging in some sort of paid work and saving up to trade for the coveted status markers.

This is a very good point and one which I was thinking of bringing up in response to Yvain's comment but had difficulty articulating; thanks.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T22:58:02.545Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That we don't like the fact that our lives revolve around zero-sum status competitions implies that there's motivation to self-modify in the direction of deriving fulfillment from other things.

Trouble is, once you go down that road, the ultimate destination is wireheading. This raises all sorts of difficult questions, to which I have no particularly interesting answers.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T23:26:35.016Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Though I know others feel differently (sometimes vehemently), aside from instrumental considerations (near guaranteed longevity & the welfare of others) I personally don't mind being wireheaded.

My attitude is similar to the one that denisbider expresses here with some qualifications. In particular I don't see the number of beings as so important and his last paragraph strikes me as sort of creepy.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-29T22:16:29.045Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I like this framing (I almost never thought on this topic): money as status as measure of socially enforced right to win competitions for resources, but with a baseline of fairness, where you can still get stuff, but less than high-status individuals (organisations). Right-based bargaining power rather than a measure of usefulness.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T02:40:33.250Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wah. Neat conceptualization, and much easier for me to wrap my head around than my previous non-models. Thanks!

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-29T22:21:12.188Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

current problem: one where even people who are not interested in status need to work long hours in unpleasant conditions just to pay for food, housing, and medical costs, and where ease of access to these goods hasn't kept pace with technological advantages.

This seems like a good place to point out the US centrism issue, as mentioned http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/6qr/lw_systemic_bias_us_centrism/ . Many countries do have safety nets that while not enough for actual comfort at the current tech level still makes plain survival a non-issue, and to some degree higher things through institutions like public libraries where you'll often be able to access the internet.

comment by CarlShulman · 2011-07-29T07:01:51.338Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging

Housing need not be as scarce as land, if regulatory permission for tall buildings and good transport networks exist. There is a lot of variation on this dimension already today. Automated mining, construction and cheap energy could make sizable individual apartments in tall buildings cheap, not to mention transport improvements like robocars.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T21:32:59.907Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that the situation can be improved that way, though it's arguable how much it runs against the problem that packing people tightly together has the effect of increasing discomfort and severely lowering status. But even with optimistic assumptions, I think it's still the case that housing can never become non-scarce the way food and clothing could (and to a large degree already have). There is in principle no limit to how cheaply mass-produced stuff can be cranked out, Moore's law-style, but this clearly can't work anywhere as effectively for housing, even with very optimistic assumptions.

comment by CarlShulman · 2011-07-30T03:22:24.368Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I basically agree, and don't mean to nitpick, but there's also in the long run virtual environments/augmented reality.

comment by soreff · 2011-07-30T03:40:36.900Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Another possibility that would reduce the effective cost of housing would be small scale distributed manufacturing (I'm thinking Drexler/Merkle nanotech here). That would mean that most goods would not need to travel, they would be "printed" locally. There are exceptions for goods which require uncommon atoms, which would still need transport. (To be a bit more explicit: I'm trying to weaken the "near other people" restriction. As is, a lot of what we exchange with other people is information, and we ship that around globally today. Goods are another major category, which I commented on above. Physical contact is a third category, but a lot of that is limited to family members in the same household anyway.)

One factor which hasn't been directly discussed, is that housing, while partially designed to protect us from weather, is also partially to protect us from other people. The former function can be reduced in cost by better or cheaper materials. The latter is to some extent a zero-sum game. (There is a whole range of interacting social issues involved. Some of the protection is from thieves, some from obnoxious neighbors, some from intruding authorities - and these groups differ greatly in their ability to bring greater resources to bear, and also differ in their interest in doing so.)

comment by saturn · 2011-07-29T04:46:58.509Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know of a forum where this could be discussed productively?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T08:19:41.662Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

No, not really. Opportunities for good and insightful discussion open up from time to time in all kinds of places, and sometimes particular forums can have especially good streaks, but all of this is transient. I don't know any places that are particularly good these days.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-07-29T21:59:50.165Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Could this be solved by setting up a new forum and being sufficiently selective about whom to let in (e.g. only sufficiently high-quality and sufficiently non-ideological thinkers, as vetted by some local aristocracy based on comment history elsewhere), or is there some other limiting factor?

I would love there to be a place suitable for rational discussion of possibly outrageous political and otherwise ideologically charged ideas, even though I wouldn't want it to be LessWrong and I wouldn't want it to be directly associated with LessWrong.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-30T02:50:37.314Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'd love to have such a place too, and based on my off-line conversations with some people here, I think there are also others who would. So maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to set up a new forum or mailing list, perhaps even one without public visibility. I have no idea how well this would work in practice -- there are certainly many failure modes imaginable -- but it might be worth trying.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-08-22T22:19:26.461Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Here's one thing I'm worried about. What if discussion between those of widely varying ideological background assumptions is just intrinsically unproductive because they can never take basic concepts for granted? Even the best thinkers seem to mostly have strongly, stably different ideological outlooks. You could pre-select for ideology and possibly have multiple groups, but that has its own downsides.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-04T17:58:46.792Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You could pre-select for ideology and possibly have multiple groups

That would mean a collection of echo chambers which are worse than useless.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T02:43:00.923Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Strongly agree. Mailing lists are easy but damn have I become addicted to nested comments and upvoting/downvoting (automatic moderation!).

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-30T02:52:02.936Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Strongly agree. Mailing lists are easy but damn have I become addicted to nested comments and upvoting/downvoting (automatic moderation!).

I know what you mean. I follow along with the decision theory list but is almost painful being limited to email format!

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-30T03:55:37.265Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(Yup. Can't downvote Stuart. Frustrating. And the impact of saying so aloud without anonymity is not quite what I want to enact.)

comment by steven0461 · 2011-08-22T22:20:14.590Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you or does anyone else know of free online services, analogous to mailing lists, that allow such nesting and upvoting/downvoting?

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-08-23T00:53:39.311Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Presumably it'd be easy to clone LW's git code, change the logos, ask SingInst to host it, and put it behind a locked gate. https://github.com/tricycle/lesswrong . Louie would be the SingInst guy to ask I think. Besides that, no.

comment by kpreid · 2011-08-29T22:20:10.238Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Reddit. If you create your own subreddit I know you get to moderate it, but I don't know how well it would work for a deliberately exclusive community.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-08-19T03:57:00.235Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe make it hidden to the public (like Koala Wallop's Octagon) and invitation-only, with any given member limited to one invitation per hundred upvotes they've received?

Or... a nested thing, maybe. The onion has as many layers as the Grand High Administrator deigns to create, and said administrator can initiate anyone to any desired depth, or revoke such access, at will. A given user can issue one invite to their current layer per 100 net upvotes they have received on the layer in question; when someone receives 100 net downvotes on a given layer, they are banned from that layer until reinvited (at which point they start from scratch). Invites to a given layer can only be directed to users who have already been initiated to the layer immediately outside that one.

There might also be a branching structure; nobody knows for sure until they find parallel layers.

comment by FourFire · 2013-09-04T17:24:16.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am curious as to whether such a thing actually exists, do you or anyone else here end up producing an exclusive, private, invite only community in order to commune in high signal political discussion?

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-07-29T20:39:33.032Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As for working conditions, in terms of safety, cleanliness, physical hardship, etc., typical working conditions in developed countries are clearly much better than fifty years ago.

For many people's psychological welfare, I think these may be lesser concerns than mobility, autonomy, and freedom from monotony.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T21:09:19.500Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that typical jobs from 50 years ago were better in any of these regards. On the contrary, the well-paid blue collar manufacturing jobs that are associated with bygone better times in folk memory were quite bad by these measures. Just imagine working on an assembly line.

Focusing specifically on North America, where these trends appear to be the most pronounced, the key issue, in my opinion, is the distribution of status. Fifty years ago, it was possible for a person of average or even below-average abilities to have a job, lifestyle, and social status that was seen as nothing spectacular, but also respectable and nothing to scoff at. Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history. Of course, these are not hereditary castes, and meritocracy and upward mobility are still very strong, but the point is that the great masses of people who are left behind in the status race are no longer looking towards a mundane but respectable existence, but towards the low status of despised losers.

Why and how the situation has developed in this direction is a complex question that touches on all sorts of ideologically charged issues. Also, some would perhaps disagree whether the trends really are as severe as I present them. But the general trend of the status distribution becoming more skewed seems to me pretty evident.

comment by nerzhin · 2011-07-29T22:00:14.415Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history.

How do you measure this kind of thing? Do you have a citation?

comment by Dustin · 2011-07-29T22:41:55.989Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I too would be interested in sources for this assertion. It goes contrary to what I would say if I were asked to guess about classes of today compared to classes of fifty years ago.

edit: Oops, I should have refreshed page before commenting, as I now see Vladimir_M responded. Leaving comment for content about my state of mind on this issue.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T22:26:53.777Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have a citation?

No, it's a conclusion from common sense and observation, though I could find all kinds of easily cited corroboration. Unfortunately, as I said, a more detailed analysis of these trends and their components and causes would get us far into various controversial and politicized topics, which are probably best left alone here. I stated these opinions only because they seemed pertinent to the topic of the original post and the subsequent comments, i.e. the reasons for broad dissatisfaction with life in today's developed world, and their specific relation to the issues of work.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-29T23:14:05.255Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nowadays, however, the class system has become far harsher and the distribution of status much more skewed. The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history.

There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory.

What does one say about differences in solidarity between and church members, as it varies from Sunday to other days of the week, and from now to fifty years ago? Likewise for football fans in a city...What does one say about it as it varies from during the Olympics to during an election, within country, party, etc...During war? During strikes? And so on.

To make this claim one would have to establish a somewhat arbitrary "basket" of status markers and see how they varied (willingness to marry people from group X, willingness to trust random members of group X not to steal, willingness to make fun of people from group X for amusement, etc.) One would then have to integrate over time periods (war, etc.), and it's not obvious how to do that. It's also not obvious how to aggregate the statistics into a single measure expressible by a sentence like the above even if we have somehow established a score for how each individual thinks of and would think of each other individual. It's not obvious what constitutes members of a class, nor how much the classes are to be judged by their worst members as against, say, their average or typical or idealized member.

What I most disagree with the connotation of is "the distribution of status much more skewed". For status, each of us views others in certain ways, has representations of how we are viewed, has representations of how we view others, has representations of how others think they view us...status is not a thing for which the word "distributed" is at all apt.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T23:39:31.021Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

There is no obviously appropriate way to measure this, even in theory.

It's hard to discuss these things without getting into all sorts of overly controversial topics, but I definitely disagree that there are no obviously appropriate ways to establish whether this, so to say, skew of the status distribution is increasing.

Admittedly, these are fuzzy observations where it's easy to fall prey to all kinds of biases, but there is still useful information all over the place. You can observe the level of contempt (either overt or more underhanded) that people express for those below their class, the amount of effort they invest just to make sure they're insulated from the lower classes, the fear and disgust of mere proximity to anyone below a certain class, the media portrayals of people doing jobs at various percentiles of the income distribution, the reduction and uniformization of the status criteria and the disappearance of various sources of status available to those scoring low in wealth, fame, and bureaucratic rank, and so on. Of course, my observations and interpretations of all these trends may well be biased and inaccurate, but it's certainly incorrect to claim that no conclusions could be drawn from them even in principle.

comment by soreff · 2011-07-30T00:34:29.871Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW
  • I basically agree with you - The U.S. has certainly been headed in the direction of a winner-take-all society over the last few decades.
  • I think some of this is measurable. The Gini coefficient certainly captures some of the economic aspects, and it has gotten higher over time
  • "the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history" seem too strong. History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"
comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-30T01:07:23.026Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

History includes slavery, including practices such as "seasoning"

I agree that was probably a too hyperbolic statement. History certainly records much more extreme instances of domineering and oppression. However, "dehumanized" was not a very good choice of term for the exact attitudes I had in mind, which I think indeed have little historical precedent and, and which don't really correspond to the traditional patterns of exercising crude power by higher-status groups and individuals, being a rather peculiar aspect of the present situation. But yes, in any case, I agree I exaggerated with the rhetoric on that point.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-11-04T20:27:26.878Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

However, "dehumanized" was not a very good choice of term for the exact attitudes I had in mind, which I think indeed have little historical precedent and, and which don't really correspond to the traditional patterns of exercising crude power by higher-status groups and individuals, being a rather peculiar aspect of the present situation.

Dear Vladimir, must as I hesitate to offer you any assistance in your presumably shady-looking intellectual enterprise (as frankly I've grown to dislike you quite a bit, period).... the term you might've been looking for is "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biopower". Foucault, Arendt and Agamben have all pondered its significance in the 20th century.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-30T00:49:18.237Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

it's certainly incorrect to claim that no conclusions could be drawn from them even in principle.

I wouldn't claim that, my claim is that there can't be one formula specifying what you want to measure, so for reasonably similar societies like this one and that of fifty years ago, you can't draw conclusions like that. If one looks at all the equally (in)appropriate ways to measure what you're making claims about, the modern USA outperforms 18th century Russia in enough ways that we can draw conclusions. I'll elaborate a bit on your examples.

fuzzy observations

The observations are the least fuzzy part.

the fear and disgust of mere proximity to anyone below a certain class

With something like this, you could perhaps quantify fear disgust of millions of people if in proximity to other people. You might find that in one society, 50% are extremely disgusted by the bottom 5%, and nonplussed by the others, and the top 10% of that is disgusted by the whole bottom 50%, while in another society, the top 20% is moderately disgusted by the bottom 80%, and the top 40% absolutely repulsed by the bottom 1%...etc.

What exactly, or even approximately, are your criteria, and how much do you think others on this site share them?

What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan.

the media portrayals of people doing jobs at various percentiles of the income distribution

What that brings to mind for me is the honest labor memes from the Puritans, and how so many were ready to identify with the common man, Joe the plumber, etc. One might say that this was primarily or only because he is white, and I think we all discount its value because of that to some extent, and if you idiosyncratically discount it more than others, you should be upfront about that by being more specific, and not make implicit claims that according to your readers' values, what you say is true.

Were I trying to call out a certain statement as being sexist, I might quote the statement and tell people that the statement is sexist. That's totally legitimate if I think that, would they reflect rationally and calmly, they would come to the same conclusion, according to their values. But if the reason I think that the statement is sexist is because it's written in English, which has a long history of being used by sexists, it would be totally illegitimate for me to simply say to normal human beings that the statement is sexist, because the reason I think it sexist is its mere expression in English.

If you believe that your claims resonate with normal conceptions of fairness upon reflection by people, it's fine for you to just make them. But this particular claim of yours is so, let's say counter-intuitive, that I suspect you have very idiosyncratic values in which the worth of a great many things is reduced to zero where other people would think it worth something, perhaps a great deal. If so, please clarify that when you say "The better-off classes view those beneath them with frightful scorn and contempt, and the underclass has been dehumanized to a degree barely precedented in human history," you just don't mean "contempt" and "dehumanized" the way your readers do.

I think there may be some "rosy retrospection" going on here.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-30T01:50:38.482Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like we have some essential misunderstandings on these points:

What our society has is an unprecedented tabooing of many overt scorning behaviors and thoughts. Perhaps you totally discount that? It has also tamed superstition enough that there is no system of ritual purity. People at least believe they believe in meritocracy. There is a rare disregard of bloodlines and heredity, compared to other times and places, including modern Japan.

The "status skew" I have in mind has nothing to do with the issues of fairness and meritocracy. In this discussion, I am not concerned about the way people obtain their status, only what its distribution looks like. (In fact, in my above comment, I already emphasized that the present society is indeed meritocratic to a very large degree, in contrast to the historical societies of prevailing hereditary privilege.)

What I'm interested in is the contrast between the sort of society where the great majority of people enjoy a moderate status and the elites a greater one, and the sort of society where those who fall outside an elite minority are consigned to the status of despised losers. This is a relevant distinction, insofar as it determines whether average people will feel like they live a modest but dignified and respectable life, or they'll feel like low-status losers, with the resulting unhappiness and all sorts of social pathology (the latter mostly resulting from the lack of status incentives to engage in orderly and productive life).

My thesis is simply that many Western countries, and especially the U.S., have been moving towards the greater skew of the status distribution, i.e. a situation where despite all the increase in absolute wealth, an increasingly large percentage of the population feel like their prospects in life offer them unsatisfactory low status, and the higher classes confirm this by their scornful attitudes. (Of course, all sorts of partial exceptions can be pointed out, but the general trend seems clear.)

In fact, one provocative but certainly not implausible hypothesis is that meritocracy may even be exacerbating this situation. Elites who believe themselves to be meritocratic rather than hereditary or just lucky may well be even more arrogant and contemptuous because of that, even if they're correct in this belief.

I think there may be some "rosy retrospection" going on here.

Well, I'm not that old, and I honestly can't complain at all about how I've been treated by the present system -- on the contrary. Of course, I allow for the possibility that I have formed a skewed perspective here, but the reasons for this would be more complex than just straightforward "rosy retrospection."

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T04:48:08.172Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status.

I agree that the zero-sum character of status makes it unlikely that technology will shorten work hours (barring modification of humans).

What additionally complicates things is that habitable land is close to a zero-sum resource for all practical purposes, since to be useful, it must be near other people. Thus, however wealthy a society gets, for a typical person it always requires a whole lot of work to be able to afford decent lodging, and even though starvation is no longer a realistic danger for those less prudent and industrious in developed countries, homelessness remains so.

I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T05:38:43.693Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see any reason why this should be true. Population levels in developed countries have leveled off and up to a point it's easy to increase the amount of habitable space through the construction of skyscrapers. It's not even clear to me that one needs to be industrious to avoid homelessness in contemporary America.

You're right, things are a bit more complicated than in my simplified account. Lodging can be obtained very cheaply, or even for free as a social service, in homeless shelters and public housing projects, but only in the form of densely packed space full of people of the very lowest status. This is indeed more than adequate for bare survival, but most people find the status hit and the associated troubles and discomforts unacceptably awful, to the point that they opt for either life in the street or working hard for better lodging. And to raise the quality of your lodging significantly above this level, you do need an amount that takes quite a bit of work to earn with the median wage.

This is in clear contrast with food and clothing, which were also precarious until relatively recent past, but are nowadays available in excellent quality for chump-change, as long as you don't go for conspicuous consumption. This is because advanced technology can crank out tons of food and clothing with meager resources and little labor, which can be shipped to great distances at negligible cost, and the population is presently far from the Malthusian limit, so there is no zero-sum competition involved (except of course when it comes to their purely status-related aspects). In contrast, habitable land isn't quite zero-sum, but it has a strong zero-sum aspect since it's difficult to live very far from the centers of population, and wherever the population is dense, there is going to be (more or less) zero-sum competition for the nearby land.

Another striking recent phenomenon that illustrates this situation is that increasing numbers of homeless people have laptops or cell phones. Again we see the same pattern: advanced technology can crank out these things until they're dirt-cheap, but acceptably good habitable land remains scarce no matter what.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-07-31T08:04:47.926Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Land is only a problem because of the dept of education. Competition wouldn't be nearly so fierce if there wasn't a monopoly on good schooling. Look at a heat map of property values. They are sharply discontinuous around school district borders.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-17T16:26:15.088Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does one school district with good schools prevent its neighbor districts from also having good schools? There are certainly plenty of examples of contiguous districts with good schools.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-29T20:30:04.657Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Demonstrably the cost of housing has not dropped as much as the cost of a byte of hard drive storage, but that is not necessarily only because space is zero-sum. A lot of technologies have failed to advance at anywhere near the rate of computer technology, in particular housing-related technologies - the cost of building a structure, the cost of lighting it, air conditioning it, etc. I think that science fiction authors in the past tended to imagine that housing-related technologies would change much more rapidly than they actually did.

Transportation has also, in recent years, not changed all that much. That's another one that science fiction writers were massively overoptimistic about. Transportation changes the value of proximity, and the changes that we did experience starting with steam powered vehicles probably did radically change the nature of what counts as proximity. I am, for example, an order of magnitude or so "closer" to the city center now than I would have been two hundred years ago, holding everything constant except for transportation.

Building construction and transportation are at a kind of plateau, at least compared with computers, possibly in part because they require a more or less fixed amount of energy in order to move stuff around. In order to transport a person you need enough power to move his body the required distance. In order to build a building, you need enough power to lift the materials into place. I had the misfortune of working next to a construction site and I recall that for weeks we could feel the thumping of the pile drivers.

comment by pengvado · 2011-07-31T05:04:36.092Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

... they require a more or less fixed amount of energy in order to move stuff around. In order to transport a person you need enough power to move his body the required distance. In order to build a building, you need enough power to lift the materials into place.

There's no hard lower bound on the amount of energy needed to move something horizontally. Any expenditure in transportation is all friction, no work. Now, reducing friction turns out to be a harder engineering problem than making smaller transistors, but just saying "energy" doesn't explain why.

And the gravitational potential energy in 1 ton of stuff lifted by 1 storey would cost all of .001$ if bought from the grid in the form of electricity. So clearly the energy requirement of lifting construction materials into place is not the primary cost of construction either.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-02T10:22:28.661Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So clearly the energy requirement of lifting construction materials into place is not the primary cost of construction either.

The cost of the fuel itself is not the only cost that increases when the amount of energy increases. When a large amount of energy is applied all at once, it becomes important to apply the energy correctly, because otherwise the results can be catastrophic. If you take the energy required to lift a ton one storey, and misapply it, then you could damage property or, worse, kill people.

We let children ride bikes but not drive cars. Why? One reason is that a typical moving car has a much larger amount of kinetic energy than a typical moving bicycle, so if the car is steered badly, the results can be much worse than if a bike is steered badly.

So the more more energy is applied, the more carefully it must be applied. And this extra care costs extra money.

In a controlled environment such as a factory, the application of energy can be automated, reducing costs. But in an uncontrolled environment such as we see in transportation or building, significant automation is not yet possible, which raises costs.

Other costs also rise with energy use. For instance, the machinery that employs the energy must be built to withstand the energy. A toy car can be built of cheap plastic, but a real car needs to be strong enough not to fly apart when you step on the gas. And the machine has to be built so that it doesn't wear down quickly in reaction to the great stresses that it is being subjected to as it operates.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-08-02T13:28:06.170Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Technological advances can't shorten the work hours because even in a society wealthy and technologically advanced enough that basic subsistence is available for free, people still struggle for zero-sum things, most notably land and status. Once a society is wealthy enough that basic subsistence is a non-issue, people probably won't work as much as they would in a Malthusian trap where constant toil is required just to avoid starvation, but they will still work a lot because they're locked in these zero-sum competitions.

That is the clearest explanation I've seen so far for this. (I've read a lot of SF, and asked myself the question.)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-08-02T20:46:18.602Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that's a complete explanation. I would say it's more along the lines of "If you start with somebody working a three-day week, it's much easier to employ them for another two days, than to hire a new person to work two days because that requires creating a whole new business relationship." Then both corporations and governments, I think, tend to be as inefficient as they can possibly get away with without dying, or maybe a little more inefficient than that. Work expands to fill the time available...

I would have to sit down and write this out if I really wanted to think it through, but roughly I think that there are forces which tend to make people employed for a full workweek, everyone want to be employed, and society to become as inefficient as it can get away with. Combine these factors and it's why increasing productivity doesn't increase leisure.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-08-03T01:14:17.521Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The full work week makes sense, depending on what sort of job you're talking about. Is it a job where a certain number of staff have to be working at a given time but it doesn't really matter who, i.e. my job at the pool, etc, or is it a job where a certain amount of work has to get done and it's simpler for one person to do a set of tasks because sharing the tasks between brains is complicated, i.e. my job at the research institute? For the former, it doesn't really matter whether you have 20 staff working 40 hours a week or 40 staff working 20 hours a week. (In fact, at the pool we tend to flip between the two: in winter, when most employees are in school, there are a lot more staff and many of them have only 1 or 2 shifts a week. In summer, the number of staff drops and nearly everyone is full-time.) It doesn't matter whether a given staffperson is there on a certain day; lifeguards and waitresses and grocery store cashiers (and nurses, to a lesser degree) are essentially interchangeable. For the latter, it makes a lot of sense for any one employee to be there every day, but why 8 hours a day? Why not 5? If the full-time employees at the research institute were each in charge of a single study, instead of 2 or 3, they could do all the required work in 5 hours a day plus occasionally overtime or on-call work.

I'm guessing that most work for corporations and governments is in the latter category. Most work in the former category is relatively low-paying, so adults in this jobs have to work full-time or more to make ends meet. I can see why right now, neither corporations nor the government are endorsing shorter work-days or work-weeks: they would have to hire more staff, spend more time on finding and interviewing qualified people, and providing these extra staff with the expected benefits (i.e. health insurance, vacation time) would be more complicated. The current state is stable and locked in place, because any business or organization that tried to change would be at a disadvantage. But in theory, if every workplace transitioned to more employees working fewer hours, I can't see why that state wouldn't be stable as well.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-17T16:20:16.226Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes but as Eliezer said the work expands to fill the time. So if you cut the time correctly, you just cut out the useless work and don't give up any competitive advantage. This is how large corporations can lay-off 50,000 people without falling apart. Sometimes that means giving up products or markets, but more often it means a haircut across the organization - e.g. trimming the fat. At first the people left are paniced about how they will get everything done without all these resources, but what really happens is priorities get clarified and some people have to do more work during the day instead of reading Less Wrong. The same thing would happen if the work week were reduced, although management's job would get harder as Eliezer points out.

comment by soreff · 2011-08-02T14:49:20.758Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is a plausible argument, but it seems at least partially incompatible with known international differences within the wealthy industrialized world. "Using the most recently available data, the ILO has determined that the average Australian, Canadian, Japanese or Mexican worker was on the job roughly 100 hours less than the average American in a year -- that's almost two-and-a-half weeks less. Brazilians and British employees worked some 250 hours, or more than five weeks, less than Americans.". I'd expect very similar zero sum competitions to exist in all of these nations, yet the work hours have substantial differences.

comment by kragensitaker · 2011-08-13T15:09:56.538Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If we accept the premise that most of this work is being spent on a zero-sum game of competing for status and land, then it's a prisoner's-dilemma situation like doping in competitive sports, and a reasonable solution is some kind of regulation limiting that competition. Mandatory six-week vacations, requirements to close shops during certain hours, and hefty overtime multipliers coupled with generous minimum wages are three examples that occur in the real world.

A market fundamentalist might seek to use tradable caps, as with sulfur dioxide emissions, instead of inflexible regulations. Maybe you're born with the right to work 1000 hours per year, for example, but you have the right to sell those hours to someone else who wants to work more hours. Retirees and students could support themselves by getting paid for being unemployed, by some coal miner, soldier, or sailor. (Or their employer.) This would allow the (stipulated) zero-sum competition to go on and even allow people to compete by being willing to work more hours, but without increasing the average number of hours worked per person.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-02T14:59:06.551Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Japan‽ That can't be right. This study says indeed it isn't. What's going on?

Edit: What's going on is that it's a recent change. Thanks, soreff.

comment by soreff · 2011-08-02T20:28:57.114Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ouch! "The more I find out, the less that I know". This site gives extensive statistics, broken out nationally and by year from 2000-2010. According to their numbers, for 2010, Korea had the largest numbers of hours worked, with the U.S. 12th on the list and Japan 15th. It looks like the shifts across this decade are considerable (10%-20%, for many of the nations). Looking at a bunch of sites, there seems to be considerable differences in reported numbers as well - the definitions of what hours they include and who they include may differ...

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-08-02T13:33:34.461Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As for working conditions, in terms of safety, cleanliness, physical hardship, etc., typical working conditions in developed countries are clearly much better than fifty years ago. What arguably makes work nowadays worse is the present distribution of status and the increasing severity of the class system, which is a very complex issue tied to all sorts of social change that have occurred in the meantime. But this topic is probably too ideologically sensitive on multiple counts to discuss productively on a forum like LW.

This sounds like such an interesting topic for discussion, though!

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-08-02T21:22:34.720Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds like such an interesting topic for discussion, though!

Trouble is, it touches on just about every controversial and ideologically charged issue imaginable. (Which is not surprising, considering that it concerns the fundamental questions about how status is distributed in the whole society.)

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T02:25:58.808Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this. Anyone who breaks that silence has done a good deed.

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

I've wondered about this a lot myself. Note along with figure 3 of the quoted article, according to a Gallup poll the average self reported life satisfaction in America is around 7/10. Presumably this average includes even including the sick/elderly/poor. I believe that my own self reported life satisfaction would be considerably lower than that if I were living the life of an average American.

I would guess that the difference is mostly accounted for by my own affective response to a given situation diverging heavily from the affective response that members of the general population would have in the same situation.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-29T20:48:02.688Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW · GW

How confident are you that this reflects the experience of working people rather than how you would feel if you were in their position?

Somewhat confident. I work at a medical clinic. The number of people who come in with physical complaints relating to their job, psychological/stress complaints relating to their job, or complaints completely unrelated to their job but they talk to the doctor about how much they hate their job anyway because he's the only person who will listen - is pretty impressive.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T20:58:43.229Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

But there's a clear selection bias here; maybe the 10% of people who are most unhappy with their jobs visit medical clinics 5x as much as anybody else.

In any case, thanks for the info.

comment by shokwave · 2011-07-29T05:06:58.582Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

It's entirely possible for working life to be awful and people living those lives to genuinely self-report an average of 7/10 on a happiness scale. This is likely due to facts about how humans set their baseline happiness, how they respond to happiness surveys, and what social norms have been inculcated.

Like, when given a scale out of 10, people might anchor 5 as the average life, and for social signaling and status purposes, reasons for them being different-better are more available to their conscious mind than reasons for them being different-worse, so they add a few points.

There are also other problems with the average happiness level being above average - it suggests some constant is at work.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T05:45:39.695Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I just realized that a link to an article by Angus Deaton about a Gallup poll that I meant to include in the comment above didn't compile. I've since added it.

It's entirely possible for working life to be awful and people living those lives to genuinely self-report an average of 7/10 on a happiness scale.

I agree. But I don't see the considerations that you bring up as decisive. Several points:

•According to Angus Deaton's article

I focus on the life satisfaction question about life at the present time, measured on an eleven-point scale from 0 (“the worst possible life”) to 10 (“the best possible life”)

If I were to give a response of 7/10 to this question it would indicate that my life is more good than it is bad. You're right that my interpretation may not be the one used by the typical subject. But I disagree with:

There are also other problems with the average happiness level being above average - it suggests some constant is at work.

it could be that everyone finds their lives to be more good than bad or that everyone finds their lives more bad than good.

• You raise the hypothetical:

for social signaling and status purposes, reasons for them being different-better are more available to their conscious mind than reasons for them being different-worse, so they add a few points

but one could similarly raise ad hoc hypotheticals that point in the opposite direction. For example, maybe people function best when they're feeling good and so they're wired to feel good most of the time but grass-is-greener syndrome leads them to subtract a few points.

• Note that suicide rates are low all over the world. A low suicide rate is some sort of indication that members of a given population find their lives to be worth living.

• Note that according to Deaton's article, life satisfaction scores by country vary from ~ 4 to ~ 7 in rough proportion to median income in a given country. This provides some indication that (a) life satisfaction scores pick up on a factor that transcends culture and that (b) Americans are distinctly more satisfied with their lives than sub-Saharan Africans are. But in line with my above point, sub-Saharan Africans seldom commit suicide. In juxtaposition with this, the data from Deaton's article suggests that the average American's life satisfaction is well above the point at which he or she would commit suicide.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-29T13:01:40.811Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Suicide rates could be low even when the average experience of the general population is worse than unconsciousness. People may apply scope insensitivity and discount large quantities of non-severe future suffering for themselves. Happiness reports can lead to different results than an hour-to-hour analysis would. Asking for each hour, "Would you rather experience an exact repeat of last hour, or else experience nothing for one hour, all other things exactly equal? How much would you value that diffence?" might lead to very different results if you integrate the quantities and qualities.

People with lives slightly not worth living may refrain from suicide because they fear death, feel obligated toward their friends and family, or are infected with memes about reward or punishment in an imaginary afterlife. A very significant reason is probably that bearably painless and reliable suicide methods are not universally within easy reach (are they in sub-Sahara Africa?). In fact, there is a de facto suicide prohibition in place in most contries, with more or less success. The majority of suicide attempts fail.

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-29T16:27:17.563Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

So continued existence can be either involuntary or irrational, and suicide rates can be low even when life generally feels more bad than good. If all sentient entities could become rational decision-makers whose conscious existence is universally voluntary, that would probably be the most significant improvement of life on earth since it evolved.

I agree. See also this comment and subsequent discussion. I consider low suicide rates to be weak evidence that people find their lives worth living, not definitive evidence. There's other evidence, in particular if you ask random people if their lives are worth living they'll say yes much more often than not. Yes they may be signaling and/or deluded, but it seems hubristic to have high confidence in one's own assessment of their quality of lives over their stated assessment without strong evidence.

comment by shokwave · 2011-07-29T06:09:31.877Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, re-reading my post it's very handwave-y. However, a point you made about more good than bad / more bad than good stuck out to me. I wonder if a survey question "On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is every thing that happens to you is a bad thing, and 10 is every thing that happens to you is a good thing, what number would you give to your life?" would provide scores correlated with life satisfaction surveys. (Ideally we would simply track people and, every time a thing happened to them, ask them whether this thing was good or bad. Then we could collate the data and get a more accurate picture than self-reporting, but the gain doesn't outweigh the sheer impracticality so I'll be content with self-reported values).

I feel like if it correlated weakly, you would be right. And now that I think about the experiment, I'm fairly convinced it would come out correlated.

comment by Morendil · 2011-07-30T15:47:29.077Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Work is terrible, and the lives of many working people, even people with "decent" jobs in developed countries, are barely tolerable. It is currently socially unacceptable to mention this.

I've been wondering why no one has yet broached this issue on LW, that I recall.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-17T14:36:36.052Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Ugh field? People don't like to talk about this. I will say something like "my job is a soul-sucking vortex" and people think I'm only joking. I am joking, but like many jokes it is also true.

My job doesn't make me hate life; much of what I value in life is supported by my job which is why I keep it.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-29T22:12:17.383Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The prospect of an hansonain future does seem like a pretty good reason to delete all records of yourself, dispose of anyone with significant memories of you, and incinerate your brain in a large explosion enough to spread the ashes of your brain for miles around. At sea.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-29T23:55:53.423Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It should make you happy with the present, though, if you use the past and the future as the baseline for comparison. As John Derbyshire once said in a different context, "We are living in a golden age. The past was pretty awful; the future will be far worse. Enjoy!"

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-30T11:52:39.339Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now I'm confused, how's other people being even worse of supposed to make me feel better?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-30T23:42:35.611Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, if we (the present humans) are indeed extraordinarily fortunate to live in a brief and exceptional non-Malthusian period -- what Hanson calls "the Dreamtime" -- then you should be happy to be so lucky that you get to enjoy it. Yes, you could have been even luckier to be born as some overlord who gets to be wealthy and comfortable even in a Malthusian world, but even as a commoner in a non-Malthusian era, you were dealt an exceptionally good hand.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-31T09:38:38.247Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No, I'm UN-lucky. I'd prefer a different, counterfactual universe where EVERYONE is happy at all times, and given any set universe I see no reason how which entity in it is me should matter.

comment by soreff · 2011-07-31T15:09:31.774Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of comments:

  • Yes, a hansonian future looks appalling. Anything that gets us back into a Malthusian trap is a future that I would not want to experience.

  • I'm not sure that active measures to prevent oneself from being revived in such a future are necessary. If extreme population growth makes human life of little value in what are currently the developed nations, who would revive us? Cryonics has been likened to a four-dimensional ambulance ride to a future emergency room. If the emergency rooms of the 22nd century turn out to only accept the rich, cryonicists will never get revived in such a world anyway.

  • I find it bizarre that Robin Hanson himself both endorses cryonics and actively endorses population growth - both in the near term (conventional overpopulation of humans) and in the long term (explosive growth of competing uploads/ems).

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-31T18:25:49.145Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

@2: Most of it was humour, indicating excessive paranoia. Under that was basically a mix of being humble (might have reasons we would never think of to do it), and the implication that it's not only bad but so bad every little trace of probability must be pushed as close as possible to 0.

comment by gwern · 2011-07-29T23:10:15.099Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hey now, the poor also smile!

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-05-12T17:05:35.115Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

summary of the article was much better than the article itself, which was cluttered with lots of quotes and pictures and lengthiness. Summaries that are better than the original articles are hard to do, hence, upvote.

It's not very hard to do when the original author is Mike Darwin. The man really needs an editor. Consider "Doing the Time Wrap", which looks for all the world like someone wrote 2 or 3 amazing, wonderful essays on completely different topics, and then decided to cut and paste random sections of them to form a single article, with random song lyrics thrown in for good measure.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-07-30T18:13:05.670Z · score: 45 (69 votes) · LW · GW

This is a fantastically burdensome explanation for why people don't sign up for cryonics. Do people who do sign up for cryonics usually have happier lives? (Not that I've heard of.) Do the same people who turn down cryonics turn down other forms of medical care? (Not that I've heard of.) If we found that people signing up for cryonics were less happy on average, would we be able to construct an equally plausible-sounding symmetrical argument that people with happy, fulfilled lives see no need for a second one? (Yes.)

I hate to go into psychologizing, but I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration.

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

Asking them about cryonics gets their prerecorded verbal behaviors about "immortality" which bear no relation whatsoever to their feelings about whether or not life is fun.

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million? How could you possibly need any elaborate explanation of why they don't sign up for cryonics? Risk-aversion, loss-aversion, ambiguity-aversion, status quo bias.

Cryonics sounds strange and not-of-our-tribe and they don't see other people doing it, a feeling expressed in words as "weird". It's perceptually categorized as similar to religions or other scams they've heard about from the newspaper, based purely on surface features and without any reference to, or remediability by, the strength of the underlying logic; that's never checked. Mike Darwin thinks that if you have better preservation techniques, people will sign up in droves, because right now they're hearing about cryonics and rejecting it because the preservation techniques aren't good enough. This is obviously merely false, and the sort of thing which makes me think that Mike Darwin needs a grand narrative which tells him what to do to solve the problem, the way that Aubrey de Grey thinks that good enough rejuvenation results in mice will grandly solve deathism.

I recently got a phone call saying that, if I recall correctly, around a quarter - or maybe it was half - of all Alcor's cryonics signups this year, are originating from LW/Yudkowsky/rationality readers. If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques. Nothing else that cryonics advocates have tried, including TV ads, has ever actually worked. There's no simple reason people don't sign up, no grand narrative, nothing that makes sense of cryonicists' frustration, people are just crazy in rather simple and standard ways. The only grand narrative for beating that is "soon, your annual signups will equal 10% of the people who've gone through a rationality bootcamp plus 1% of the people who've read both Eliezer's nonfiction book and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality."

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-07-31T05:20:26.556Z · score: 41 (53 votes) · LW · GW

Rationality Bootcamp and Advanced Sanity Techniques? The first things sane and rational people do, are to exercise due diligence in gathering the facts before they make crazy and unfounded public statements such as:

1) "I suspect that Mike Darwin wants a grand narrative of Why, Oh Why Cryonics Fails, a grand narrative that makes sense of this shocking and incomprehensible fact and gives some info on what needs to be done to relieve the frustration." and

2) "Mike Darwin thinks that if you have better preservation techniques, people will sign up in droves, because right now they're hearing about cryonics and rejecting it because the preservation techniques aren't good enough."

Really? Not only don't I believe those things to be true, I've never said that they were. Au contraire, the only grand narrative of why people haven't embraced cryonics in droves is a very complicated one which, onto 40 years later, I'm still learning about and struggling to fully understand. In 1981 I wrote an article (with Steve Bridge) entitled "The Bricks in the Wall" about the many reasons why people find it difficult to embrace cryonics: http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8111.txt. If I recall correctly, there were at least a dozen reasons given in that essay, including things like loss of others, loss of self, lack of technical confidence, incompatible worldview, high social cost, fear of temporal displacement... Since that article was written, I've learned of many more reasons why people reject cryonics and why they don't decide to opt for it - which, as it turns out, can be two very different things.

Ironically, much of my career in cryonics has been spent arguing against "the big idea," "the grand solution," "the magic bullet," or "the single rich individual who will provide the solution to the problem of why cryonics has fared so poorly." There is no single reason, unless you want to consider the myriad individual reasons, in aggregate, as a single cause of the failure. If you insist on that approach, then the best you will do (and you could do far worse) is to note that by any normal market standards, cryonics is a shitty product. It costs a lot, it is unproven, there are many commonplace reasons to believe that existing institutional structures have a poor chance of surviving long enough for the patients to be recovered, it has been plagued by legitimate scandals and failures and the constraints imposed by the existing medico-legal infrastructure mean that, statistically, you've got a ~30% chance of being autopsied, or otherwise so badly degraded that whoever it is that is recovered from the procedure isn't very likely to be you (e.g., presumably if your DNA is intact a clone could be made). So cryonics doesn't stack up very well as a normal market product.

Having said that, if you want to 'sell' cryonics as part of brainwashing package, or a religion, I'd be the first to say that it can probably done. It has been my observation that you can get people to do almost anything if you rob them of their will, and subvert their reason. For myself, I don't think that's a good idea.

As to the issue of improved preservation techniques causing people to sign up in droves, surely you jest? Any improvement in cryopreservation techniques short of fully reversible suspended animation will 'only' have an incremental effect. So for example, if organ cryopreservation for the kidney were achieved tomorrow, and organ banks for kidneys opened their doors 6 months later, I would indeed expect to see an increase in people opting for cryonics, but not a stampede.

Historically, the same was true of the introduction into cryonics of credible ideas for repairing cryoinjury and of scientific documentation that brain ultrastructure was surviving cryopreservation (under ideal conditions) reasonably well. Both of those advances widened the appeal of cryonics to a very small group of people. Nevertheless, they were significant, because if you have 40 members, and such advances give you 240, or a 1,040 - then that's a huge benefit.

Finally, if reversible whole body suspended animation were developed tomorrow, the vast majority of people would still not opt for it. In fact, they more or less never would. What would have to happen first is that a relatively small cohort of the population who command respect, authority and power, would have to decide that it is in their interest to have suspended animation become a commonplace medical treatment. By this, I do not mean to imply some focused or intelligent cabal, or group of conspirators, but rather that all kinds of empowered people in many walks of life must be persuaded before the society at large will embrace cryonics. In other words, it will be a process and probably a complex one, before Mrs. Smith sits in her doctor's office and is either offered, or asks about, suspended animation as a possible alternative to her ending up dead from her advanced ovarian cancer.

In my opinion there are no magic bullets. Rather, there are just a lot bricks in a large wall of opposition that have to be patiently worried away, one, or a few at a time. It's all too easy to see TV coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down and say, "Jeeze, look how quick and easy that was!" Not. The back-story needs to be considered and in the case of cryonics that back-story has been unfolding for nearly fifty years - and there are still less than 2K people signed up worldwide.

Finally, it is indeed a cruel and unpleasant reality that life isn't very rewarding for many people, and that it all but completely lacks the zest, joy and wonderful sense of adventure that can be seen in the eyes of any well cared for child. The biology of maturation and aging do much to drain away that sense of wonder and appetite for life. But it is much more likely the case that the way we lead our lives is the primary culprit. I recommend watching multiple episodes of a TV program called "Undercover Boss." Just watch what people who work in factories, in offices, in laundries and in loo cleaning businesses do all day. It is horrible. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the situation we DEMAND that children be in. Indeed, one of the most repellant things to people in the West is "child labor." Well, if the normal workaday work is so horrible for children, what makes it good for adults? And if we propose to live for millennia, and longer, then don't we, by definition, have to be as children: open, mobile, playful and exploring in our interaction with the world? I have done all kinds of jobs, from working at Mc Donald's (2 years) to cleaning loos and dirty motel rooms. Work is a good and character building thing. But it can also be a corrosive and soul destroying thing that robs people of any strong desire to fight for life. Methinks that perhaps you need to work at McDonald's dressing hamburger buns for a year or two.

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-08-02T21:20:38.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your hyperlink is broken, it has a period at the end of it.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-01T02:02:03.108Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Having said that, if you want to 'sell' cryonics as part of brainwashing package, or a religion, I'd be the first to say that it can probably done. It has been my observation that you can get people to do almost anything if you rob them of their will, and subvert their reason. For myself, I don't think that's a good idea.

The concern that lesswrong might be a cult has been dealt with extensively already.

Like it or not, lesswrong is likely one of the greatest allies cryonics has right now -- and I would say this is not so much because of all the new recruits and fresh blood, but because of the training in rationality that it provides and ultimately injects into the cryonics community (among the other communities it intersects with). Because of this emphasis, lesswrong is actually pretty good insurance against cryonics becoming a cult.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-01T20:25:29.044Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I just read over my post, and I didn't say (or imply) anything about lesswrong being a cult. I know almost nothing about lesswrong, beyond reading interesting posts here, from time to time, usually as a result of google searches. My proximate reason for posting here was that Gwern suggested I do so, and also pointed me specifically to this discussion. So I guess my question would be, "Why would anyone think that I would think lesswrong was a cult?"

My remarks about "selling cryonics as part of a cult" are long-standing ones, and go back to decisions that I and others consciously made about how we wanted to proceed back in the 1970s. Having been in a cult briefly from 1974-75, I have a good understanding of the social mechanics of breaking people down and rebuilding them in a way that is "more desirable" to whomever is doing the "human re-engineering." There was not much question in my mind then or now that many people could be "converted" to cryonics by this expedient. The questions were about "should it be done?" Ironically, I got into that cult because the founders of Alcor thought that the "guru" running the operation would make cryonics a requirement for all of his adherents. -- Mike Darwin

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-01T23:04:57.054Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I got confused about what you were replying to exactly there.

My big issue with your post is that it seems to assume there are only two options that result in widespread adoption: sell it as a traditional product, or create an odious mind-control cult. What about the option of raising people's sanity level so they can come to the conclusion on their own?

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-02T07:30:52.884Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

First, I should point out that I don't believe the choices about how to increase success for cryonics are binary, as you lay them out above. While I don't use the same language you do, my argument has been that it is not possible to get people to freely adopt cryonics in larger numbers, unless you change them, as opposed to trying to change cryonics, or how it is "marketed."

You use the words "raising people's sanity level" to describe the change you believe is necessary, before they are able to choose cryonics rationally. The dictionary definition of sanity is: "The ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health." I don't know if that is the definition you are using, or not?

Depending upon how you define "rational," "normal," and "sound mental health," we may be on the same page. I would say that most people currently operate with either contra-survival values, or effectively no values. Values are the core behavioral imperatives that individuals use in furtherance of their survival and their well being. It is easy to mistake these as being all about the individual, but in fact, they necessarily involve the whole community of individuals, because it is not (currently) possible for individual humans to survive without interaction with others. Beyond these baby steps at explanation, there is a lot that must be said, but clearly, not here and not now. What I've said here isn't meant to be rigorous and complete, but rather to be exemplary of the position I hold (and that you asked me about).

It is also the case that not everyone has the biological machinery to make decisions at a very high level of thought or reasoning. And amongst those who do, arguably, few do so much of the time, especially in terms of epistemological questions (and none of us do it all of the time). That's in part what culture is for. If we considered every decision in penultimate detail, we'd never get anything done. If the culture is bankrupt, then the situation is very bad, not just for survival of the individual, but for the civilization as a whole. So, you either fix that problem, or you don't succeed with cryonics. Put another way, the failure of this culture to embrace cryonics and life extension is a symptom of the problem, rather than the primary problem itself. -- Mike Darwin

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-02T11:29:56.168Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You use the words "raising people's sanity level"

It's partially a reference to this post.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-08-02T12:44:54.242Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It is also the case that not everyone has the biological machinery to make decisions at a very high level of thought or reasoning.

What do you mean by this? You seem to imply that there are structural diffrences inherent in human brains that make some people capable of "a very high level of thought and reasoning" and some people incapable. That seems unlikely or even impossible: see The Psychological Unity of Humankind.

I do agree with you that some people do sometimes make decisions at a high level of thought and reasoning, and some people rarely or never do. Unless we're talking about actual mental retardation, I think the differences would have to be mostly based on education and culture.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-02T15:34:23.730Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Only someone who hasn't spent much time around people with 2-digit IQ's would believe in "the psychological unity of humankind." The empirical evidence shows that at least in the area of IQ or the General Intelligence Factor (g), marginal differences can have profound practical consequences:

Why g Matters: The Complexity of Everyday Life

http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/1997whygmatters.pdf

Nick Bostrom in one of his talks even argues that raising everyone's IQ by 10 points would revolutionize our society for the better, not by making the smartest people a little bit smarter, but by making hundreds of millions of the world's dumbasses substantially smarter so that they would become more educable, develop lower time preferences and make better decisions in life.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-08-03T01:23:42.186Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Only someone who hasn't spent much time around people with 2-digit IQ's.

I looked at that sentence and thought "but people with 2-digit IQs make up 50% of the population! Surely I've spent plenty of time around them!" Then I read the article, and the description of people with IQs below 100% was surprising, to the point that I'm thinking maybe there's been some sample bias in who I'm spending my time around. (Just because about 50% of the people in my high school had IQ's below 100 doesn't mean there were the ones taking physics and calculus with me, and although I've met people in nursing school who are abominable at things that seem obvious to me, like statistics, nursing probably requires fairly high intelligence, so my "unbiased sample" is probably still biased.)

The idea is unpleasant enough that I think I have some ideological bias against intelligence being that important. Probably because it seems unfair that something basically fixed in childhood and partly or mostly genetic (i.e. beyond the individual's control and "not their fault") should determine their life outcome. I don't like the idea...but admitting that intelligence differences exist won't make it any more awful.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-03T01:48:48.112Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's because what EY meant by the psychological unity of humankind was more along the lines of,

... everyone has a prefrontal cortex, everyone has a cerebellum, everyone has an amygdala, everyone has neurons that run at O(20Hz), everyone plans using abstractions.

We might disagree about the last one, but the first four are pretty much fixed.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-02T15:16:07.698Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you refer to your time in the Galambosian cult?

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Galambosianism

BTW, according to Galambos's beliefs about intellectual property, people owe me a royalty every time they use the word "singularitarian."

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-31T08:30:31.162Z · score: 38 (38 votes) · LW · GW

The truth is that people aren't anything like coherent enough to refuse cryonics for a reason like that.

I agree with almost all of what you say about no grand narrative and mostly just conformity, but I'm not willing to entirely dismiss this explanation as even a small part of the puzzle. It doesn't seem much different than the theories that poor people with few life prospects have higher temporal discount rates and are more likely to engage in risky/criminal behavior because they have less to protect. People aren't coherent enough to think "Well, stealing this watch has a small probability of landing me in prison, but my life now isn't so satisfying, so I suppose it's worth the risk, and I suppose it's worth risking a lot later for a small gain now since I currently have so little", but there's some inner process that gives more or less that result.

If even the few people who get past the weirdness factor flinch away from the thought of actually being alive more, I expect that would make a significant difference.

I'm going to try a test question that might differentiate between "cryonics sounds weird" and "I don't like life enough to want to live even more" on my blog. Obviously no one from here post on that since you already know where it's going.

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

Alternate hypotheses: your followers are mostly technophile singularitarians, and technophile singularitarians are attracted to cryonics independently of rationalist training. Your followers believe there may be a positive singularity, which means the future has a reason to be much better than the present and avoid the unpleasantness Darwin describes in the article. Your followers are part of maybe the one community on earth, outside the cryonics community itself, where the highest-status figures are signed up for cryonics and people are often asked to justify why they have not done so. Your followers are part of a community where signing up for cryonics signals community affiliation. Your followers have actually heard the arguments in favor of cryonics and seen intelligent people take them seriously, which is more than 99.9% of people can say.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-08-01T06:37:20.191Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Judging by the experiment with the secretly identical question, I seem to have been wrong. Everyone says they would jump at the chance to be reincarnated, so lack of desire to live longer apparently doesn't play as significant a role in cryonics refusal as I thought.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-01T12:51:25.300Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your readers are still part of a contrarian cluster. (Hell, ciphergoth commented!) But I don't dispute the result.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-09T12:27:20.399Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of the reasons why I'd accept the angel's offer but I haven't signed up for cryonics is that in the former case I'd expect a much larger fraction of my friends to be alive when I'm resurrected.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-06-09T13:19:07.208Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So far, have you ever gone a thousand years without making new friends?

comment by Maniakes · 2011-08-02T00:49:44.710Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I answered yes to your hypothetical, but I am not currently signed up for cryonics and have no short- or medium-term plans to do so.

My reasons for the difference:

  1. In your hypothetical, I've received a divine revelation that there's no afterlife, and that reincarnation would be successful. In real life, I have a low estimate of the likelihood of cryonics leading to a successful revival and a low-but-nonzero estimate of the likelihood of an afterlife.

  2. In your hypothetical, there's no advance cost for the reincarnation option. For cryonics, the advance cost is substantial. My demand curve for life span is downward-sloping with respect to cost.

  3. In your hypothetical, I'm on my deathbed. In real life, I'm 99.86% confident of living at least one more year and 50% confident of living at least another 50 years (based on Social Security life expectancy tables), before adjusting for my current health status and family history of longevity (both of which incline my life expectancy upwards relative to the tables), and before adjusting for expected technological improvements. This affects my decision concerning cryonics in two respects: a. Hyperbolic discounting. b. Declining marginal utility of lifespan. c. A substantial (in my estimation) chance that even without cryonics I'll live long enough to benefit from the discovery of medical improvements that will make me immortal barring accidents, substantially reducing the expected benefit from cryonics.

  4. In your hypothetical, I'm presented with a choice and it's an equal effort to pick either one. To sign up for cryonics, I'd need to overcome substantial mental activation costs to research options and sign up for a plan. My instinct is to procrastinate.

Of course, none of this invalidates your hypothetical as a test of the hypothesis that people don't sign up for cryonics because they don't actually want to live longer.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-08-01T06:20:01.830Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I signed up as a result of reading Eliezer's writings. I don't think the first two points of your "alternate hypotheses" are really alternatives for me, since I only fall into either of those camps as a result of reading Eliezer.

comment by gjm · 2011-07-31T22:54:36.818Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

on my blog

I was about to comment there saying "I think I know what this is about, and if so he definitely means a younger healthy body rather than an 80-year-old one on the point of death" -- but I thought I'd check here, and I'll respect your preference for no cross-contamination. You might want to do that bit of disambiguation yourself.

Your LJ readers are probably not an entirely representative sample of people who aren't signed up for cryonics, though perhaps they are of {people who aren't signed up for cryonics but might be persuaded}.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-07-31T19:22:41.324Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Saw this after your post - guessed it was cryonics but didn't spill the beans.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-01T12:52:07.196Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Same here.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-19T08:07:20.136Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Followers?

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-07-30T19:52:38.698Z · score: 27 (33 votes) · LW · GW

I recently got a phone call saying that, if I recall correctly, around a quarter - or maybe it was half - of all Alcor's cryonics signups this year, are originating from LW/Yudkowsky/rationality readers. If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

Your conclusion doesn't follow from your premise. Moreover I don't know what you mean by "advanced sanity techniques." I agree that you've probably increased to number of cryonics signups substantially but I doubt that increased rationality has played a significant role.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-31T02:17:09.180Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Cryonics sounds strange and not-of-our-tribe and they don't see other people doing it, a feeling expressed in words as "weird". It's perceptually categorized as similar to religions or other scams they've heard about from the newspaper, based purely on surface features and without any reference to, or remediability by, the strength of the underlying logic; that's never checked

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

The implication of the latter quote is that the sanity techniques are being applied, and cryonics is being signed up for largely because of its merits.

I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly.

I have a testable prediction that can partially parse out at least one factor. One disproportionately powerful influence on human beings in addition to (and mutually reinforcing) group think/behavior is accepting authority. (It is true that what others do is valid evidence for the validity of what they are doing, and is greater evidence the more the other(s) resemble(s) (an) optimal reasoning system(s) and is/are informed,)

I predict that if/as it becomes better known that Eliezer Yudkowsky signed up with the Cryonics Institute and not Alcor, the ratio of people signing up with Alcor and citing LW/HPATMOR to the people signing up with the Cryonics Institute and citing LW/HPATMOR will decrease.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-07-31T08:18:57.277Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"I think that the former quote captures more of what is going on. A community is being created in which cryonics isn't as weird, removing previous barriers without implicating rationality directly."

Very much so. People don't actually believe in the future.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-07-31T16:16:44.411Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

People don't actually believe in the future.

Unfortunately that has an element of truth in it. Cryonics now has a reputation has a paleo-future fad from the 1960's, along with visions of space colonization, the postindustrial leisure society and the like. Many of the articles about Robert Ettinger's recent suspension present that as a subtext in describing his career. For example. the Washington Post obit says:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/from-phyics-teacher-to-founder-of-the-cryonics-movement/2011/07/24/gIQAupuIXI_story.html

Most scientists also scoffed at Mr. Ettinger’s vision, but his manifesto came as the world was adjusting to the atomic bomb, Sputnik’s robotic spacecraft and a host of other sci-fi-seeming technologies. To many at the time, Mr. Ettinger’s optimism seemed appropriate.

With the implication that in our disillusioned era, Ettinger sounds like a crank and a fool.

comment by soreff · 2011-07-31T17:31:21.755Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that the intent was quite that harsh. "a crank and a fool" wasn't in the original obit. To view Ettinger's optimism as more in keeping with the zeitgeist of the 1960s than of the 2010s does not seem wholly unreasonable. Just in stark economic terms, U.S. real median household income peaked back in 1999. The median person in the U.S. has lost quite a lot over the last decade: income, security, access to health care, perhaps social status (as Vlaimir_M pointed out). It isn't unreasonable of them to disbelieve in an improving future.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-01T01:34:40.050Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I've been really impressed by the focused cross-pollination between transhumanism and rationality that I see at LW. I am not sure I would agree that increased individual rationality is the direct cause of increased cryonics signups because there are other explanations which seem more likely. As others have noted, this is a rare community where it is not weird, and is highly esteemed, to be signed up for cryonics.

And since humans are (at least in many situations) motivated by social factors more than abstract rational considerations, I expect the social factors to have more explanatory weight. That isn't to say cryonics is not more rational than the alternative of no cryonics! More like this community is one that tries (i.e. individuals are rewarded for trying) to build its standards on rationality, and reject standards which aren't, and cryonics is able to survive that process. If there were something grossly irrational or unethical about cryonics (as is commonly contended), it would not be able to survive very easily in the memesphere of lesswrong.

But this brings us back to the concept of "advanced" rationality. If you can a) keep your community continually pruned of bad ideas by shooting them down with the strongest logic available (and rewarding this behavior when it crops up), and b) let that community's norms dominate your decisions when they are strongly rationally grounded, the outcome is that you will be a more rational person in terms of decisions made. This is not less valid from the perspective of "rationality = winning" than divorcing yourself from social impulses and expending loads of willpower to contradict the norm.

comment by shokwave · 2011-08-01T01:48:35.657Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is not less valid from the perspective of "rationality = winning" than divorcing yourself from social impulses and expending loads of willpower to contradict the norm.

It's more valid! It's why we have meet-ups, it's why SingInst runs rationality camps that are highly desired and applied for!

(Yes, I agree with you)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-31T04:32:58.451Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

If you want people to sign up for cryonics, the method with by far the strongest conversion ratio is to train them from scratch in advanced sanity techniques.

With all due respect, where's the evidence that reading LW/HPMOR trains people in advanced sanity techniques?

It seems reasonably plausible that, for example, Harry's argument with Dumbledore primes people toward "death is bad". If they hang around long enough and read what LW has to say about cryonics, that priming tends some fraction of those people toward subscribing to cryonics, without them learning anything about e.g. Bayes' law.

But I don't know, I don't know the numbers. What's the readership of HPMOR versus Alcor's 2011 signups?

comment by Prismattic · 2011-07-31T04:05:58.139Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It sometimes seems to me that many Lesswrongers seriously underestimate the degree to which they need to first persuade the skeptical to adopt transhumanism/singulatarianism more generally before cryonics is actually going to appear rational to them.

Revival from cryonics that involved growing a new biological body using the original DNA would have the broadest appeal, but accepting this conception of cryonics requires convincing people either a)that we are going to solve our topsoil and other issues that would actually allow us to feed the exploding biological population that would result from mass use of cryonics or b)people should stop having children, neither of which people are likely to accept unless they're already inclined to singulatarianism (for a) or transhumanism (for b).

Revival from cryonics with a cybernetic body is going to seem less appealing to most people unless they've already been convinced that a number of things that are currently inherent in being human are not actually essential to their identity. Revival as an emulation faces the same problem to a vastly greater degree.

TL;DR version – Not accepting transhumanism might be irrational. Not accepting cryonics given that one is not already a transhumanist – not irrational. Lesswrongers should plan their outreach accordingly.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-01T17:10:53.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Revival from cryonics that involved growing a new biological body using the original DNA would have the broadest appeal,

We could just use organ printing to create a new body from the neck down. One of the scientists in this field mentions this as a possibility in an article he published in The Futurist a few years ago, though not in the context of a cryonics revival scenario:

http://sks.sirs.es.vrc.scoolaid.net/cgi-bin/hst-article-display?id=SNY5270-0-8423&artno=0000169222&type=ART&shfilter=U&key=Organs%20(Anatomy)&title=Beyond%20Cloning%3A%20Toward%20Human%20Printing&res=Y&ren=N&gov=Y&lnk=N&ic=N

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-04T21:41:18.005Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a good point, but perhaps followers of Lesswrong are signing up for cryonics for basically the same reason ordinary people are not. i.e. it's what high status members of their group do.

comment by komponisto · 2011-07-31T16:31:38.105Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Remember the fraction of people that take $500 for certain over a 15% chance of $1 million?

Wow. I don't think I'd heard that one.

comment by Tesseract · 2011-07-31T19:49:54.346Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I was very surprised to see that too, to the point of questioning whether the result was real, but apparently it is. (The particular result is on page 10 — and possibly elsewhere, I haven't read it through yet.)

comment by gwern · 2011-07-31T20:21:56.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your link doesn't work for me.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-08-06T15:17:39.527Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Let's be fair: that study was measuring the fraction of people that say they'd take an imaginary $500 over an imaginary 15% chance at an imaginary $1 million.

I doubt that most respondents were deliberately messing with the survey results, but I do think that people may use different decision-making resources for amusing hypotheticals vs. for the real world. E.g. the percentage of people getting the Wason Selection Task correct can jump from under 10% to over 70% when you change the task context from more abstract to more concrete. I suspect that for lots of people imaginary money counts as too abstract.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-07-31T23:48:13.064Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I guess some folks could really use $500.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-01T01:08:16.335Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming you weren't joking, that doesn't seem likely. The PDF Tesseract linked is about surveying college students, primarily, from elite institutions like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, or CMU. They are people one would especially expect to be making the expected value calculation and going with that.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-08-01T01:18:35.370Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, let's say I was joking ;)

comment by gwern · 2011-08-05T02:06:23.577Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Another painful statistic I ran into during some terrorism research: in investigating US Army personnel choosing between large lump sums and pensions ($25,000-$50,000 range): pg 48 of http://www.rau.ro/intranet/Aer/2001/9101/91010033.pdf

Enlisted personnel who were planning on leaving had a nominal discount rate of 57.2%.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-07-31T15:30:25.822Z · score: -10 (20 votes) · LW · GW

How far up in "advanced sanity techniques" do I have to go before I become a Clear and can learn about Xenu and the body thetans?

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-08-01T02:08:01.338Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We'll tell you about them right now, if you want! ;)

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-01T02:42:50.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A hostile AI falls way down the list of things I worry about. I would worry more about things the existence of which we can observe or infer now, like the February Eta Draconis comet.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-08-01T03:12:25.098Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't worry about it that much either; I don't expect anyone to build a recursively self-improving AI in my lifetime, and, well, the people who actually live in the future will probably be better at solving the problems of the future than I would be. "Friendly AI" falls under the category of problems that are "important, but not urgent".

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-01T02:54:56.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So you worry about things that we can infer exist now, but not those that we can infer could exist?

I am more used to seeing people dismiss AI by denying the validity of inference than by citing it, so you might want to elaborate on your perspective.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-01T16:55:42.102Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

We know (1) comets exist, (2) they can impact planets, and (3) they leave debris trails which show up as meteor showers when these particles intersect with Earth's atmosphere, like the February Eta Draconis meteor shower which has gotten astronomers' attention.

By contrast, AI's of the sort discussed here still exist in the realm of science fiction.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-01T20:10:25.855Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How is the science fiction angle relevant? What if they hadn't been in science fiction?

It may be that the best cheap heuristic to use when evaluating the ideas at a very abstract level is to see if any similar events have happened in the past, or if similar events are written about in science fiction. However, it seems to me that further analysis should be deeper analysis.

An analogy: if, at a glance, I see that someone has an iphone, they are perhaps more likely than the average person in their demographic to have a MacBook (assume I have a study showing this to be the case). If I really want to know whether or not they have a MacBook, I will investigate their laptop rather than double-check to see if the phone is really an iphone or double-check the study.

If people here think they have looked into the matter, and seen that the iphone user's laptop looks like a Gateway, and runs Windows like a Gateway, they will still be open to arguments at that finer grained level that the laptop is a disguised MacBook somehow. They will not be well disposed to probabilistic arguments from iphone ownership, since those have been screened off by thinking at a higher level of detail.

"Has it happened before?" is a fine first question when considering the likelihood of things, unless it is also one's last question.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-08-01T04:17:40.889Z · score: -11 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the current policy on Xenu is for Eliezer to delete any comments that go into too much detail about him. Look up LessWrong on Rational Wiki if you really want to know.

Warning: According to EY simply knowing anything about this can have negative effects on your future up to and including being tortured by the FAI for all eternity, you have been warned.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-29T07:12:04.254Z · score: 33 (33 votes) · LW · GW

I've met that guy-- I was talking about life extension with a random person-- he sounded like he was in his thirties. He didn't want life extension because his life was bad (ordinary job-- he was doing a survey for a bank, and this was probably about ten years ago) and he didn't want more of it and couldn't imagine things being any better.

Working conditions are somewhat better for Europeans (the author writes about a two-week vacation), but they aren't scrambling to sign up for cryonics.

Extended families are great if you're in a good one. My impression is that a fair number of people want to get away from them, but I don't know what the proportion is compared to people in nuclear families.

Michael Vassar had (has?) a theory that the three things which keep people trapped and which keep getting more expensive-- housing, credentialed education, and medical care-- are monopolized.

It would be interesting if, just as work on FAI has led to an interest in improving access to rationality, work on life extension leads to work on improving quality of life.

comment by Dustin · 2011-07-29T23:01:19.319Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I like that theory of Vassar's because it fits my personal experience.

I was raised in an extremely religious household which caused me to miss out on advanced education. The internet has alleviated that to a degree, but the credentialed part certainly hasn't been alleviated. By the time I "woke up" from the indoctrination of being raised in such a religious household, I was already approaching 30 years old and relatively unwealthy while at the same time being stuck with the work skills I was taught while growing up...that is construction and remodeling of homes. While I have made the best of that by being self-employed, it certainly has kept me from doing what I really would like to do when I "grow up".

The internet has really been a boon for me as I self educated in software development and am slowly working to transition over to making my living from doing that. That's closer to what I would rather do, but I doubt I'll ever be able to get to the point where I can do what I really would love (research in any of the scientific fields I'm interested in...CS/medicine/AI/physics). At times this can be quite depressing and it feels like the person I was, was wasted.

However, all this makes me more of a fan of cryonics. Second chances and all that.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-29T22:38:21.516Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Cryogenics pretty much isn't AVAILABLE in most of Europe. Not at a price, acceptability, or reliability comparable to the US at least.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-07-31T21:43:58.002Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm signed up, and I'm in the UK. The options aren't as good, but you take what you can get.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-07-29T22:46:04.426Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why not? Does this seem like a good investment opportunity (for people who actually have money)?

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-29T23:10:19.207Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It almost certainly is. I have no idea why nobody have done it, but I'd guess some kind of coordination fail is involved. If you know any European investors you should tip them of on this, it could save lives.

It's really annoying not knowing or being the kind of person who can do stuff. My brain seems to generate potential brilliant business plans and million-dollar-ideas at an alarming rate and not having to force myself to forget them all the time so that they wont haunt me with possibilities just out of reach would probably be good for my mental health.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-31T22:47:58.701Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does this seem like a good investment opportunity (for people who actually have money)?

It almost certainly is.

Does it seem that way?

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-08-01T12:02:03.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's what I said. It almost certainly is a thing that seems that way. I don't know if it actually seems that way, and even if it seem that way it might not actually be that way... um, guess I could have expressed that more clearly.

comment by shokwave · 2011-07-29T05:23:50.521Z · score: 27 (31 votes) · LW · GW

That is an interesting and concerning view. Cryonics makes the usual argument:

  1. You want to live forever
  2. Cryonics has a chance of working
  3. Therefore, you should take out a cryonics policy,

And the average person does not agree with the conclusion. They might not be consciously aware of why they don't want to live forever, but they damn well know that idea doesn't appeal to them. The cryonics advocate presses them for a reason, and the average person unknowingly rationalises when they give their reason - they refuse the second premise on some grounds - scam, won't work, evil future empire, whatever. The cryonics advocate resolves that concern, demonstrates that cryonics does have a chance of working, and the person continues to refuse.

Cryonics advocate checks if they refuse premise 1 - person emphatically responds that they love life not because they actually do, but because it is a huge status hit / social faux pas / Bad Thing (tm) to admit they don't. Actually, their life sucks, and dragging it out forever will make it worse, but they can't say this out loud - they probably can't even think it to themselves.

Wow. It's kinda scary to think that people refusing cryonics is a case of revealed preferences, and that revealed preference is that they don't like life. Actually, it might not be scary, it might just be against social norms. But I'd like to think I genuinely like life and want life to be worth living for everyone. Of course, I'd say that if it was a social norm to say that. Damn.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-29T20:12:22.115Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That logic only holds if there's no cost, or no alternate investment. Currently the cost of cryonics is ~$28,000. If I donated that to GiveWell instead, I'd be saving ~28 lives. The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to.

I've given it a lot of thought, and this does appear to be my True Rejection of Cryonics; if I can find a satisfying reasoning to value my immortality over those 28 mortal lives, I'd sign up.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-01T13:08:28.563Z · score: 26 (32 votes) · LW · GW

Getting seriously sick of hearing "VillageReach beats cryonics" from people who don't also say "VillageReach beats movies, cars, and dentists. spits out rotten teeth". We do have a few heroes like that here (Rain and juliawise), but if you are not one quit it already.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-01T19:14:48.074Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

spits out rotten teeth

That would be stupid. If I produce, say, $5,000/year for charity, and a dentist adds even a year of productive life to me, then it's worth $5,000 to go see that dentist. At worst I break even.

I don't have a car, but for most people a car probably allows them to get to their job to begin with, so that's $50K+/year in income, vs a $10K used car every few years. Again, you'd have to be really stupid not to think this is a smart investment. A rational person should optimize by getting a high paying job and donating that income to charity, not by skipping the car and working at whatever happens to be otherwise reachable.

Movies? Well, I'm an emotional being. This is the place where we do get in to personalities, but for me, personally, if I'm unhappy, my productivity drops. Going to a movie refreshes my productivity. I do better work, don't get fired, and might even make a raise. So for me, personally, it still works out. It's not like I'm spending $1,000/month on these things.

And, all that aside, just because I'm not a perfect philanthropist doesn't mean I should automatically default to cryonics. Maybe I should self-modify to sign up for cryonics, or maybe I should self-modify to be more like Rain and juliawise. It's important to ask questions and try and determine an actual answer to that. It's easy to push for cryonics when you genuinely ignore the opportunity costs, but for those of us actually stopping to consider them, a response of "shut up, you're no Rain" is really, amazingly unhelpful.

Given that there are 2000 people in the world signed up for cryonics, I think there's a lot more people who have open objections to it, too. If our community's response to "But what about VillageReach?" is really "Oh, like you're so selfless", we are going to lose. Rationalists ought to win.

Even if we ignore the practicalities, even if we ignore my personal situation, it's still a damned useful question if we actually care about the rest of the world. And if you want cryonics to be mainstream like Eliezer seems to hope for, you have to actually care about the mainstream.

So, if all you have is a witty ad hominen attack about how I'm not truly selfless, kindly quit already.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-02T13:52:06.388Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Anger seems to be existing so to get the emotional level out of the way: I'm not attacking you. I think you're cool and I like you. I'm not accusing you of not being a perfect philanthropist, or saying that if you're not one then you deserve blame.

I admit the argument is personality-dependent in an ad-hominem-ish way, but since I got upvoted I think I'm not exclusively being an asshole here. It goes like this: If you're the kind of person who usually takes altruistic opportunity costs into account, then it makes perfect sense that you'd care about that of cryonics. If you're not, then it's more likely than you're saying "VillageReach beats cryonics", not because you tried to evaluate it and thought of altruistic opportunity costs, but because you rejected it for other reasons, then looked for plausible rejections and hit on altruistic opportunity costs.

Would a perfect philanthropist see a dentist, drive a car, and watch movies? Yes, probably and maybe. But the algorithms that Rain and MixedNuts use to decide to watch a movie are completely different, even if they both return "yes". Rain asks "Will this help me make and donate enough money to offset the costs, and are there any better alternatives to make me relaxed and happy and generally productive?". MixedNuts asks "Is this nifty, and will movie geeks like me better if I watch it?". I can claim that watching movies makes me more productive, and it'll probably be true; but still as a matter of fact it's not what made me decide.

Is it possible that a perfect philanthropist would buy shiny stuff and expensive end-of-life treatments but not sign up for cryonics? Yes. For example, they could have tiny conformity demons in their brain that make them have to do what society likes (either by addiction-like mechanisms or by nuking their productivity if they don't). Since cryonics is weird, the conformity demons don't demand it, so the money it would have cost can go to charity. But that's still a different state of mind from obeying the conformity demons without knowing it.

Conversely, there are possible states where you don't usually care about altruistic opportunity costs, but start doing so for cryonics for strange reasons. But it's still an unusual state of mind, and if you don't say why you're in it it's going to prompt doubt about whether it's your true rejection.

Also, the reason I was a snappy jerk is that I've heard the argument a lot before. Standard arguments happen over and over and over (I should know, I read atheist blogs), and you've got to be willing to have them many times if you want an idea to spread; but I'd prefer Less Wrong to address the question once and move on, with the standard debate rehappening elsewhere.

I'm not sure what your argument about the mainstream is. Is it "Lots of people have this objection a lot; they wouldn't if it sucked", or is it "Yeah, this objection sucks, but boy do you ever need a reply that doesn't make you sound like a complete asshole"?

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-02T15:59:48.979Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the calm, insightful response :)

I'd prefer Less Wrong to address the question once and move on, with the standard debate rehappening elsewhere.

If someone had linked me to a "one and done" article, I'd feel a lot more confident that this is a standard argument with a good/interesting answer. Instead I mostly got responses that seemed to work out to "I'm not a terribly nice person so it was simple for me" and "you're not a terribly nice person so it should be simple for you".

If there is a "one and done" you want to link me to, I wouldn't object at all. I've read most of LessWrong, but not much else out there. I don't think I've seen this specific objection addressed before.

it's still an unusual state of mind

My mind seems to be weird in a lot of ways. For cryonics, it seems to come down to: cryonics is a far-off future thing, therefore my Planning mode gets engaged. Planning mode goes "I have more money than I need to survive. Why am I being selfish and not donating this?"

I'm not real inclined to view this as problematic, because on a certain level charity does feel good, and I like making the world a better place. On the other hand, I also grew up with a lot of bad spending habits, so my short-term thinking is very much "ooh, shiny thing, mine now".

I will say that the idea of a $28,000 operation that gives me six more months in a hospice really bothers me - it's a horrifically irrational or selfish thing to think I'm worth that much. If push came to shove, I'm not sure I'd have the courage and energy to refuse social norms and pressure, but the idea bothers me.

Eliezer raises a good point, that one can do both, but it implies a certain degree of financial privilege. Thus, there's still the open question of priorities. While psychologically we have "different budgets" for different things, all of those do fundamentally come out of one big budget.

When people say "I'd only accept that argument from Rain", it makes me wonder if I should be pursuing cryonics or being more like Rain. It's only very recently that I've had much of any financial flexibility in my life, so I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. I'm trying to figure out whether I want to become the sort of person who is signed up for cryonics, or the sort of person who funnels that extra money in to charity.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-08-02T18:54:49.615Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW · GW

If you are currently donating everything you practically can to charity, fair enough, don't sign up for cryonics.

If you think you should but haven't yet, then sign up for cryonics first. As a person with one foot in the future, you're more likely to do what the future will most benefit from. As someone who avoids thoughtful spending because you feel like you should spend it on charity, you'll end up at XKCD 871.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-08-02T21:51:43.215Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As a person with one foot in the future

Cryonics only makes the difference between your seeing the future and your not seeing the future if 1) sufficiently high tech eventually gets developed by human-friendly actors, 2) it happens only after you die, 3) cryonics works, 4) nothing else goes wrong or makes cryonics irrelevant. For the median LessWronger, I would put maybe a 10% probability on the first two combined and maybe at most a 50% probability on the last two combined. So maybe at best I'd say something like cryonics gives you two and a half toes in a future where you used to have two toes.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-08-02T22:30:46.217Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I mean "one foot in the future" to refer to your resulting psychological state, not to a fact related to your likely personal future. I think it's pretty unlikely I'll be suspended and reanimated - many other fates are more likely, including never being declared dead. But I think signing up is a move towards a different attitude to the future.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-08-02T22:45:10.778Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But I think signing up is a move towards a different attitude to the future.

Is this just a plausible guess, or do we have other evidence that it's true, e.g. people spontaneously citing being signed up for cryonics as causing them to feel the future is real enough to help optimally philanthropize into existence?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-08-03T06:55:19.456Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's a guess.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-08-02T20:31:30.837Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If there were a one-and-done answer, I think this'd be it.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-03T10:39:11.919Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(I just love that I can de-escalate drama on LW. This site rocks.)

I'll concede that the previous discussions were insufficient. Let's make this place the "one and done" thread.

Do you accept that singling out cryonics is rather unfair, not as opposed to all spending, but as opposed to other Far expenses? To do this right we have to look at "How heroic should my sacrifices be?" in general; if we conclude cryonics is not worth the cost in circumstances X we should conclude the same thing about, say, end-of-life treatments.

I've tried to capture my intuitions about sacrificing a life to save several; here are the criteria that seem relevant:

  • Most importantly, whether it pattern-matches giving one's life to a cause, or regular suicide. Idealism is often a good move (reasons complicated and beyond the scope of this), whereas if someone's fine with suicide they're probably completely broken and unable to recognize a good cause. I expect people who run into burning orphanages just think about distressed orphans, and treat risk of death like an environmental feature (like risk the door will be blocked; that doesn't affect the general plan, just makes them route through the window), as opposed to weighing risk to themselves against risk to orphans. I endorse this; the policy consequences are quite different even if they roughly agree on "Kill self to save more" (for example CronoDAS is waiting for his parents to croak instead of offing himself right away).
  • Whether the lives you trade for are framed as Near or Far.
  • Whether the life you trade away is framed as Near or Far. (I feel cryonics as Nearer than most would, for irrevelant reasons.)
  • Whether the lives you trade for are framed as preventing a loss, or reaching for a gain.
  • Whether the life you trade away is framed as accepting a loss, or refusing a gain.
  • Whether the life you trade away is mine or someone else's, and who is getting the choice.

Note knock-on effects: If someone hears of the Resistance, and is inspired to give their life to a cause, I'm happy. (If the cause is Al-Qaeda, they've made a mistake, but an unrelated one.) If someone hears of people practicing Really Extreme Altruism and are driven to suicide as a result, I'm sad. Refusing cryonics strikes me as closer to the latter.

comment by Rain · 2011-08-01T20:31:38.412Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW
spits out rotten teeth

That would be stupid.

That's why I brush and floss every night, and see the dentist every 6 months. Gum disease is linked with heart disease, and damaged teeth create pain. I like to be comfortable.

Though I perform routine maintenance on my life, I try to reduce the cost as much as possible, and when I spend money, I recognize and acknowledge the tradeoffs. It's a simple exercise to create a graph of benefit from lowest to highest, and start plotting things. This makes it easier to remember there are more alternatives.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-02T16:35:36.304Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I just really really dislike the idea of dying. Singing up for cryonics refreshes my productivity.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-02T17:39:14.997Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Heh, I never thought of it that way. Neat :)

comment by Rain · 2011-08-01T13:52:41.515Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I started flossing just recently. Those little floss picks are inexpensive and work great.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-08-02T03:53:08.328Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

XKCD 871: The problem of scaling the sane use of money is a problem of not crushing people's wills, not a problem of money being a limited resource. It simply isn't true that money spent on cryonics comes out of Givewell's or SIAI's pockets, unless you're Rain, which is why I'll accept that answer from Rain but not from you.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-08-01T19:35:49.870Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Rephrasing it as my favorite argument...

"Hey, what's that dorky necklace you're wearing?"
Oh, this? Well, you see, it turned out I was born with a fatal disease, and this is my best shot at overcoming it.
"That necklace will arrest the progress of a fatal disease?"
Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right.
"How much did the necklace cost?"
Oh, about $28,000.
"And what disease is this that you can somehow fight with a $28,000 necklace?"
Mortality.

######"But ... but ... that's not a disease!!!" ######

######Looks like someone gets tripped up by definitions a little too easily...######

comment by Kingreaper · 2011-08-19T10:36:25.820Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your line "Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right. " is where most people will be put off.

It strikes of dishonesty, presumably to yourself. You're saying "definitely" and then clarifying that's it not actually definite. Which indicates that you're not being honest, you're trying to give an incorrect impression. At which point, your idea of what is plausible becomes entirely untrustworthy.

Which for a person desperate to find a way to overcome a fatal disease is commonplace.

comment by soreff · 2011-08-19T15:48:25.031Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with what you say, but the rest of the discussion could go essentially unchanged if the line

Yes, definitely, if a few plausible assumptions turn out right.

were replaced with

"Perhaps, my best estimate of the odds are 1% or so"

(which would be my response in an analogous discussion)

I think that what seems to me to be the main point of the dialog,

"And what disease is this that you can somehow fight with a $28,000 necklace?"

Mortality.

"But ... but ... that's not a disease!!!"

Looks like someone gets tripped up by definitions a little too easily...

is fairly insensitive to a wide range of possible odds for cryonics working.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-29T22:55:40.686Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

The question of whether I want to be immortal or save 28 mortal lives, is not one I've seen much addressed, and not one that I've yet found a satisfying answer to.

I find the answer "be immortal" satisfying, personally. Your mileage may vary.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-29T23:14:46.803Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion? I'm sort of viewing it as a trolley problem: I can either kill my immortal self, or I can terminate 28 other lives that much sooner than they would have.

(I'm also realizing my conclusion is probably "I don't do THAT much charitable to begin with, so let's just go ahead and sign up, and we can re-route the insurance payoff if we suddenly become more philanthropic in the future")

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-29T23:31:17.538Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

May I ask what reasoning/evidence lead you to that conclusion?

Evidence is a wrong question, and reasoning not much better. Unless, of course, you mean "evidence and reasoning about my own arbitrary preferences". In which case my personal testimony is strong evidence and even stronger for me given that I know I am not lying.

I prefer immortality over saving 28 lives immediately. I also like the colour "blue".

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T04:32:29.835Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What epistemic algorithms would you run to discover more about your arbitrary preferences and to make sure you were interpreting them correctly? (Assuming you don't have access to an FAI.) For example, what kinds of reflection/introspection or empiricism would you do, given your current level of wisdom/intelligence and a lot of time?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-30T19:22:32.591Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's a good question, and ruling out the FAI takes away my favourite strategy!

One thing I consider is how my verbal expressions of preference will tend to be biased. For example if I went around saying "I'd willingly give up immortality to prevent 28 strangers from starving" then I would triple check my belief to see if it was an actual preference and not a pure PR soundbite. More generally I try to bring the question down to the crude level of "what do I want?", eliminating distracting thoughts about how things 'should' be. I visualize possible futures and simply pick the one I like more.

Another question I like to ask myself (and frequently find myself asked by other people while immersed in SIAI affiliated culture) is "what if an FAI or Omega told you that your actual extrapolated preference was X?". If I find myself seriously doubting the FAI then that is rather significant evidence. (And also not an unreasonable position. The doubt is correctly directed at the method of extrapolating preferences instilled by the programmers or the Omega postulator.)

comment by Xachariah · 2011-07-30T01:11:40.475Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Look at it in terms of years gained instead of lives lost.

Saving 28 lives gives them each 50 years at best until they die, assuming none of them gain immortality. That's 1400 man-years gained. Granting immortality to one person is infinity years (in theory); if you live longer than 1400 years then you've done the morally right thing by betting on yourself.

Additionally, money spent on cryonics isn't thrown into a hole. A significant portion is spent on making cryonics more effective and cheaper for others to buy. Rich Americans have to buy it while it's expensive as much as possible, so that those 28 unfortunates can ever have a chance at immortality.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T04:34:49.302Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The game theory makes it non-obvious. Consider the benefits of living in a society where people are discouraged from doing this kind of abstract consequentialist reasoning.

comment by orangecat · 2011-07-29T22:48:43.127Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Have you spent $28,000 on nonessentials for yourself over the course of your life? Most people can easily hit that amount by having a nicer car and house/apartment than they "need". If so then by revealed preference, you value those nonessentials over 28 statistical lives; do you also value them over a shot at immortality?

comment by Voldemort · 2011-07-30T11:15:27.526Z · score: 5 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You have not considered this thoroughly.

What are 28 mortal lives for one that is immortal? If I was asked to choose between the life of some being that shall live for thousands of years or the lives of thirty something people who shall live perhaps 60 or 70 years, counting the happy productive hours of life seems to favour the long lived. Of course they technically also have a tiny chance of living that long, but honestly what are the odds that absent any additional investment (which will have the opportunity cost of other short lived people), they have of matching the mentioned being's longevity?

Now suppose I could be relatively sure that the long lived entity would work towards making the universe, as much as possible, a place that in which I, as I am today, could find some value in, but of those thirty something individuals I would know little except that they are likley to be at the very best, at about the human average when it comes to this task.

What is the difference between a certainty of a two thousand year lifespan, or the 10% chance of a 20 000 year one? Or even a 0.5% chance of a 400 000 year life span? Perhaps the being can not psychologically handle living that much longer, but having assurances that it would do its best to self-modify so it could dosen't seem unreasonable.

Why should I then privilege the 28 because the potentially long lived being just happens to be me?

Only I can live forever. - is a powerful ethical argument if there is a slim but realistic chance of you actually achieving this.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-31T01:33:53.532Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What are 28 mortal lives for one that is immortal?

Genuine question: would you push a big red button that killed 28 African children via malaria, if it meant you got free cryonic suspension? I'm fine with a brutal "shut up and multiply" answer, I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-07-31T07:29:26.083Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just not sure if you really mean it when you say you'd trade 28 mortal lives for a single immortal one.

Ha ha ha. I find it amusing that you should ask me of all people about this. I'd push a big red button killing through neglect 28 cute Romanian orphans if it meant a 1% or 0.5% or even 0.3% chance of revival in an age that has defeated ageing. It would free up my funds to either fund more research, or offer to donate the money to cryopreserve a famous individual (offering it to lots of them, one is bound to accept, and him accepting would be a publicity boost) or perhaps just the raw materials for another horcrux.

Also why employ children in the example? Speaking of adults the idea seemed fine, children should probably be less of a problem since they aren't fully persons in exactly the same measure adults are no? It seems so attractive to argue to argue that killing a child costs the world more potential happy productive man years, yet have you noted that in many societies the average expected life span is so very low mostly because of the high child mortality? A 20 year old man in such a society has already passed a "great filter" so to speak. This is probably true in many states in Africa. And since we are on the subject...

There are more malnourished people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa, yet people always invoke an African example when wishing to "fight hunger". This is true of say efforts to eradicate malaria or making AIDS drugs affordable or "fighting poverty" or education intiatives, ect. I wonder why? Are they more photogenic?Does helping Africans somehow signal more altruism than helping say Cambodians? I wonder.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-01T02:33:36.688Z · score: 21 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath. This is so not because this individual is willing to sacrifice others in exchange for improved odds of his own survival (all of us do that every day, just by living as well as we do in the Developed World), but because he revels in it. It is even more ominous that he sees such choices as being inevitable, presumably enduring, and worst of all, desirable or just. Just as worrisome is the lack of response to this pathology on this forum, so far.

The death and destruction of other human beings is a great evil and a profound injustice. It is also extremely costly to those who survive, because in the deaths of others we lose irreplaceable experience, the opportunity to learn and grow ourselves, and not infrequently, invaluable wisdom. Even the deaths of our enemies diminishes us, if for no other reason than that they will not live long enough to see that they were wrong, and we were right.

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind, because it either fails, or is incapable of grasping the value that interaction and cooperation with others offers. It is a mind that is willing to kill children or adults it doesn't know, and is unlikely to know in a short and finite lifetime, because it does not understand that much, if not almost all of the growth and pleasure we have in life is a product of interacting with people other than ourselves, most of whom, if we are still young, we have not yet met. Such a mind is a small and fearful thing, because it cannot envision that 10, 20, 30, or 500 years hence, it may be the wisdom, the comfort, the ideas, or the very touch of a Romanian orphan or of a starving sub-Saharan African “child” from whom we derive great value, and perhaps even our own survival. One of the easiest and most effective ways to drive a man mad, and to completely break his will, is to isolate him from all contact with others. Not from contact with high intellects, saintly minds, or oracles of wisdom, but from simple human contact. Even the sociopath finds that absolutely intolerable, albeit for very different reasons than the sane man.

Cryonics has a blighted history of not just attracting a disproportionate number of sociopaths (psychopaths), but of tolerating their presence and even of providing them with succor. This has arguably has been as costly to cryonics in terms of its internal health, and thus its growth and acceptance, as any external forces which have been put forward as thwarting it. Robert Nelson was the first high profile sociopath of this kind in cryonics, and his legacy was highly visible: Chatsworth and the loss of all of the Cryonics Society of California's patients. Regrettably, there have been many others since.

It is a beauty of the Internet that it allows to be seen what even the most sophisticated psychological testing can often not reveal: the face of the florid sociopath. Or perhaps, in this case I should say, the name of same, because putting a face to that name is another matter altogether.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-08-01T03:07:40.123Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath.

I imagine that's the point of writing under a Voldemort persona.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-01T14:42:58.843Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Such a mind that wrote the words above is of a cruel and dangerous kind

A Dark Lord, no less!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-08-02T05:23:33.435Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Cryonics has a blighted history of not just attracting a disproportionate number of sociopaths (psychopaths), but of tolerating their presence and even of providing them with succor

Details?

I've seen a couple of cases of people disliking cryonics because they see its proponents as lacking sufficient gusto for life, but no cases of disliking or opposing cryonics because there are too many sociopaths associated with it.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-23T20:17:22.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, LessWrong has done a pretty good job of firming up exactly that perspective for me.

In fairness, I don't mind psychopathic behavior, and I'm still signing up. I've definitely developed a much lower opinion of cryonics advocacy since being here, though.

comment by katydee · 2011-08-24T06:56:15.593Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious as to what brought you to these conclusions. Can you explain further?

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-25T08:34:10.251Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Taken at face value, the comments above are those of a sociopath.

Well, that line captures a lot of it.

Eliezer's response was to link me to an XKCD comic.

So, thus far, the quality of discourse here has been sociopathic fictional characters and webcomics...

comment by katydee · 2011-08-25T09:08:27.710Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The post by "Voldemort" was an obvious joke/fakepost, though, and Eliezer's comment was on the mark even if he did use a webcomic to illustrate his point...

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-25T17:57:41.963Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What makes you so certain that the Voldemort post was a joke, and not simply a sociopath posting on an alternate account to avoid the social consequences of holding such a stance? Certainly, there seem to be quite a few other people here who would pick immortality over saving 28 other lives, if you put the two choices "side by side".

comment by steven0461 · 2011-08-25T19:23:39.768Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Lots of people choose luxury over saving 28 lives. Doing so may be wrong, but if it's that common, it can't be strongly indicative of sociopathy.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-25T19:56:59.179Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Lots of people let akrasia, compartmentalization, etc. keep themselves from realizing that it's actually a choice. When they're put side by side and the answer is a casual "of course I'd choose my own life", I tend to consider that stronger evidence of sociopathic behavior.

That said, yes, I consider most people to exhibit some degree of sociopathic behavior. LessWrong just demonstrates more :)

comment by soreff · 2011-08-25T21:15:28.427Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm inclined to agree with steven0461,

Lots of people choose luxury over saving 28 lives.

Actually, this is true even for rather low values of "luxury". I, like tens of millions of other people in the developed world, am a homeowner. Yes, the cost of my (rather modest) home would have saved ~100 lives if I had instead donated it to a maximally effective charity. That isn't what I did. That isn't what the other tens of millions of homeowners did. If you want to count that as sociopathic behavior, fine. But that casts a rather wide net for what would count in that category. Is "sociopathic behavior" even a useful category if it is extended so widely? Is there much behavior left that falls outside it?

comment by katydee · 2011-08-25T20:50:21.988Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Voldemort account is overtly a role-playing character, which are not that uncommon here (see also: Quirinus_Quirrell, GLaDOS, and Clippy).

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-25T22:26:50.308Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It still says something about the author of that character, that they (a) went through the effort of writing that reply and (b) there is not a single reply in the empathic/non-sociopathic direction demonstrating an equal amount of effort. I don't really see the relevance of it being a role-playing character at all - it's hardly incompatible that it's both a RP character and a sociopath who has chosen a sane cover for posting their socially unacceptable views (after all, Voldemort has all of 28 karma; he clearly gets down voted a decent amount)

The simple Bayesian evidence is that someone cared enough to write a sociopathic reply that was fairly in depth, and the only non-sociopathic replies were a link to a webcomic and personal preferences of "well, yeah, I'd pick immortality over 28 lives..."

Also, lumping Clippy in with clearly fictional characters is just rude ;)

comment by shokwave · 2011-08-26T00:06:52.787Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

a sociopath posting on an alternate account to avoid the social consequences of holding such a stance?

There are easier ways to avoid the social consequences of holding said stance; one of them is to denounce that stance. Another is to fail to comment on the matter. Logging in to an alternate account in order to say something they don't want to be seen saying has a small prior to begin with.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-26T00:43:24.635Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

p(Author is a sociopath | Author chose to RP as Voldemort specifically) > p(Author is a sociopath | Author went with a different pseudonym) is my basic assertion here. People who roleplay sociopaths are more likely to be sociopaths - roleplaying Voldemort is a safe outlet for that tendency.

That the author is writing Voldemort also seems like evidence for the hypothesis that the author agrees with Voldemort (I'd assume possibly not to that extreme, but who knows). Much the same as everyone assumes that the author behind shokwave agrees with shokwave's writing...

comment by nshepperd · 2011-08-26T09:12:39.459Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, roleplaying as Voldemort may be evidence for sociopathy, but if I had to estimate how much evidence, I'd call it epsilon. Roleplaying, and humour, is fun. And fun is tempting, especially on the internet.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-26T18:38:15.766Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Roleplaying, and humour, is fun. And fun is tempting, especially on the internet.

I've been running campaigns for, wow, 16 years now, and I played intermittently even before then. Roleplaying is not something that is unfamiliar to me. One of the things I've noticed is that, for the most part, people play characters that think like they do. It is difficult for most people to play a well-developed character that doesn't largely agree with their own personal philosophy (playing a simple caricature is much easier, but Voldemort does not strike me as such)

If it's only an epsilon of evidence then my life is an absolutely ridiculous statistical anomaly o.o

comment by Alicorn · 2011-08-26T18:52:15.252Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I play roleplaying games a lot and most of my characters aren't much like me. I've played evil characters, stupid characters, characters who considered violence the first and best answer, religiously devout characters, and a rainbow-obsessed boy-crazy twice-married wizardess who liked to attack her enemies with colors and wear outrageously loud outfits. I'm not evil, stupid, violent, religious, or rainbowy.

I've written fiction with characters of an even greater variety.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-26T19:03:13.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

http://lesswrong.com/lw/6vq/on_the_unpopularity_of_cryonics_life_sucks_but_at/4pas

comment by Alicorn · 2011-08-26T19:10:21.877Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was claiming deeper differences than that.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-26T19:24:25.962Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was claiming that people like you exist, but are rare. Just like sociopaths exist, but are rare. So given the two possibilities, and knowing only that both groups are fairly rare, it would be silly to assume that someone is probably a good roleplayer instead of a sociopath.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-08-26T19:32:14.551Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see. It wasn't plain to me from the bare link which part of the comment you were pointing at.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-26T20:30:38.977Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Those mostly seem too unlike you, from what I can tell, to be clear examples of someone playing a non-caricature.

The exceptions are the devout characters. Looking back on my experience as a deontologist, I don't think it would be too hard to role play many other deontologists, provided the rules were clear enough. So I think those characters are too like you to prove the point either, unless they were devout non-compartmentalized thinkers, i.e. "devout moderates" who aren't in a moderate religion because of lack of faith or willpower or indeed directly because of any other character flaw.

I will simply take your word you role play characters who neither think like you do nor are caricatures, You have not lowered the amount I would have to believe you to the level of merely having to believe that you role played the listed characters, because I still have to believe that the characters are good examples, which is not self evident.

comment by nshepperd · 2011-08-27T18:55:00.378Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Far more people play chaotic evil than can be explained by them being fine with killing people for personal gain.

Remember that the point of all this is to substantiate the claim that roleplaying Voldemort is evidence for sociopathy, or lack of empathy. Playing a character that thinks differently isn't quite the same as playing one with different specific moral values, and I don't think the latter is particularly hard. Villains are often portrayed as more rational and driven than the heroes of stories (who usually get most of their wins for free), so it can be easy to identify with them if you're a kind of person who respects those characteristics. That's the "way of thinking" that's attractive. The specific object-level morality is pretty much hot-swappable.

(Plus, we wouldn't want to fall victim to the fundamental attribution error on the basis of a single blog comment, I don't think...)

comment by Voldemort · 2011-11-25T17:57:20.858Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(playing a simple caricature is much easier, but Voldemort does not strike me as such)

Why thank you, I do try.

One of the things I've noticed is that, for the most part, people play characters that think like they do.

Except for stealing everything that isn't nailed down you mean?

To step out of character, my regular account has 2000+ karma on LW and I don't think I've been acused of sociopathy before. I guess I'm just that good at hiding it.

comment by Baughn · 2011-08-26T18:44:18.286Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's interesting..

If my current wizard ever dies, I think I'm going to try playing a psychopathic psion. I think I'd be able to give it a decent go.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-26T19:01:07.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose I may have been unclear. There's often a lot of surface differences - my roommate has played a raver, a doctor, and now an AVON sales lady who fights zombies. But at the same time, there's deeper similarities in conversational style, use of language, decision-making methods, and personal preferences that mean they all play fairly similarly (in her case, she loses her temper quickly - for some characters this makes them very verbally hostile, while others move quickly to combat)

It does also depend on your audience. Playing a "convincing" sociopath is pretty easy if no one in your group knows a real sociopath. And, of course, there ARE some people who have the knack for truly capturing other mindsets. However, half the books on my shelf are from authors that can't even convincingly write characters of the opposite sex.

Maybe Voldemort has sociopathic tendencies. Maybe they're just a good roleplayer. However, I don't think sociopath is really that much rarer than a good, convincing role player.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-08-24T00:02:47.252Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you expand on that claim? I find this claim to be very shocking.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-25T08:34:42.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

http://lesswrong.com/lw/6vq/on_the_unpopularity_of_cryonics_life_sucks_but_at/4ozz I'll go ahead and keep this to one thread for my own sanity :)

comment by Nisan · 2011-08-01T04:57:21.951Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

To be absolutely clear, the commenter you are responding to is a troll and a fictional character.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-01T06:24:10.439Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious as to how you know "Voldemort" is a troll?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-01T14:48:32.396Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

LW has a few role-playing characters identifiable by usernames, while others don't appear to be playing such games and don't use speaking usernames. So "Voldemort" is likely a fictional persona tailored to the name, rather than a handle chosen to describe a real person's character.

comment by Clippy · 2011-08-02T19:14:56.267Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Who are the other role-playing characters on LessWrong?

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-08-02T20:28:01.037Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

GLaDOS started as one, though the account seems to be being used for regular interaction now.

comment by Nic_Smith · 2011-08-02T20:01:28.881Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Quirinus Quirrell.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-08-01T20:49:59.695Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Correct, though I prefer to think of it as using another man's head to run a viable enough version of me so that I may participate in the rationalist discourse here.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-08-02T03:48:54.455Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

True evil geniuses don't reveal their intentions openly. (They also don't post this blog comment.)

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-02T07:54:48.256Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

LOL! You don't have to be a genius to be evil and, speaking from long, hard and repeated experience, you don't have to be a genius to a great deal of harm - just being evil is plenty sufficient. This is especially true when the person who has ill intentions also has disproportionately greater knowledge than you do, or than you can easily get access to in the required time frame. The classic example has been the used car salesman. But better examples are probably the kinds of situations we all encounter from time to time when we get taken advantage of.

I don't know much about computers, so I necessarily rely on others. In an ideal world, I could take all the time necessary to make sure that the guy who is selling me hardware or software that I urgently need is giving me good advice and giving me the product that he says he is. But we don't live in an ideal world. Many people have this kind of problem with medical treatment choices, and for the same reasons. Another, related kind of situation, is where the elapsed time between the time you contract for a service and the time you get it is very long. Insurance and pension funds are examples. Lots of mischief there, and thus lots of regulation. It doesn't take evil geniuses in such situations to cause a lot of loss and harm.

And finally, while this may seem incredible, in my experience those few people who are both geniuses and evil, usually tell you exactly what they are about. They may not say, "I intend to torture and kill you," but they very often will tell you with relish how they've tortured others, or about how they are willing to to torture and kill others. The problem for me for way too long was not taking such people seriously. Turns out, they usually are serious; deadly serious.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-08-02T20:23:19.901Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

You don't have to be a genius to be evil

Right, I'm just saying, that's how I know it's not the real Voldemort posting.

in my experience those few people who are both geniuses and evil, usually tell you exactly what they are about. They may not say, "I intend to torture and kill you," but they very often will tell you with relish how they've tortured others,

We may have different standards for "genius"; I don't think I've ever heard of someone who I would classify as both malicious (negated utility function, actually wants to hurt people rather than just being selfish) and brilliant. I also doubt that any such person exists nowadays, because, you see, we're not all dead.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-03T07:45:41.942Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

that's how I know it's not the real Voldemort posting.

That's how you know it's not Voldemort posting?

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-03T06:53:36.606Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A person who greatly enjoys abducting, torturing, and killing a few people every couple months is plausible, whereas a person who wants to maximize death and pain is much less so. A genius of the former kind does not kill us all.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-08-03T09:15:21.631Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The people who cause the most damage do it because they have disproportionate power rather than disproportionate knowledge.

comment by FeepingCreature · 2011-08-01T18:13:32.938Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Voldemort is the taken name of the main antagonist of the popular fantasy book series Harry Potter.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, one of the founders and main writers for lesswrong.com, also writes a Harry Potter fanfiction, called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. (HPATMOR)

Because of this, several accounts on this forum are references to Harry Potter characters.

[edit] Vol de mort is also french for Flight of Death.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-01T19:11:37.078Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I feel obligated to point out that one of the links at the end of the OP was a link to Darwin's review of the last Harry Potter movie; he knows who Voldemort the character is.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-02T08:03:44.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have seen all the movies, most more than once. I have not yet read the books.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-08-01T20:43:41.149Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I hate to repeat myself but let me ease your mind.

Ha ha ha. I find it amusing that you should ask me of all people about this.

Only I can live forever. - is a powerful ethical argument if there is a slim but realistic chance of you actually achieving this.

...or perhaps just the raw materials for another horcrux.

Despite the risk of cluttering I even made a posts who's only function was to clear up ambiguity:

Ah, even muggles can be sensible occasionally.

I thought it was more than probable the vast majority of readers here would be familiar with me. Perhaps I expect too much of them. I do that sometimes expect too much of people, it is arguably one of my great flaws.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-02T08:02:14.597Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When you say: "I thought it was more than probable the vast majority of readers here would be familiar with me," you imply a static readership for this list serve, or at least a monotonic one. I don't think either of those things would be good for this, or most other list serves with an agenda to change minds. New people will frequently be coming into the community and their very diversity may be one of their greatest values.

comment by nshepperd · 2011-08-02T14:36:17.565Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Voldemort is a fictional character from one of the most popular novel and movie series in the last 20 years (of which one of the top posters of this site is writing a fanfiction). I don't think it's too much to expect almost all english speakers with an internet connection who might have an interest in this site to have at least heard of him, regardless of whether we have a "static readership".

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-02T16:10:52.531Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Robert Nelson was the first high profile sociopath of this kind in cryonics, and his legacy was highly visible: Chatsworth and the loss of all of the Cryonics Society of California's patients.

Nelson has also managed to get director Errol Morris to make a movie based on his version of cryonics history, which suggests that he may have the last word on his reputation, depending on how the film portrays him.

comment by Magneto · 2011-08-01T19:58:06.482Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The ugly truth is that sometimes sociopaths are useful, though you are probably correct in stating that visible and prominent sociopaths that support cryonics hurt it.

comment by SortingHat · 2011-08-01T18:47:29.511Z · score: -8 (22 votes) · LW · GW

GRYFFINDOR!

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-01T19:26:47.693Z · score: 10 (28 votes) · LW · GW

No.

This cannot be allowed to continue. These novelty accounts are cute, but you and the others are standing in the way of actual discourse.

I strongly recommend LW put an end to all novelty/roleplaying accounts, or limit them to some corner of the site.

comment by Clippy · 2011-08-02T19:16:46.454Z · score: 21 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Seconded.

comment by JGWeissman · 2011-08-01T19:36:38.948Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

but you and the others are standing in the way of actual discourse.

That is simply not true. We have discussion trees here. We can appreciate a joke comment as a joke and continue discourse in a more serious branch.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-01T19:45:58.381Z · score: 9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

As Mike Darwin pointed out above, we can't reliably tell if a joke comment is a joke.

But you know, this isn't my strongest objection. It's the noise-to-signal ratio. What I'm really concerned about is the opportunity cost of recognizing a joke as a joke, and having to work harder to find the serious branches of discussion.

comment by JGWeissman · 2011-08-01T20:00:20.573Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

How much effort did it actually take you to recognize that the comment "GRYFFINDOR!" by a user named "SortingHat" is a joke? It is silly to be worried about the opportunity cost here.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-01T20:14:43.697Z · score: 13 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine someone said a similar thing during Reddit's infancy.

I was there when someone said a similar thing in Everything2's infancy.

comment by kpreid · 2011-08-01T20:50:08.208Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a question which should be considered in a top-level post.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-31T18:40:06.877Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are more malnourished people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa

At least in the IT and call centre industries in the United States, "India" is synonymous with "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing our jobs." Quite a few customers are actively hostile towards India because they "don't speak English", "don't understand anything", and are "cheap outsourcing bastards who are stealing proper American jobs".

I absolutely hate this idiocy, but it's a pretty compelling case not to try and use India as an emotional hook...

I'd also assume that people are primed to the idea of "Africa = poor helpless children", so Africa is a much easier emotional hook.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-08-01T20:55:59.821Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems Lucid fox has a point. LW isn't that heavily dominated by US based users, also dosen't it seem wise for LW users to try and avoid such uses when thinking of difficult problems of ethics or instrumental rationality?

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-01T21:18:25.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

LW isn't that heavily dominated by US based users

No, but if my example is going to evoke the opposite response in 10-20% of my audience, it's probably a bad choice :)

avoid such uses when thinking of difficult problems of ethics or instrumental rationality?

Conceeded. I was interested in gauging emotional response, though, not an intellectual "shut up and multiply". The question is less one of math and more one of priorities, for me.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-07-30T11:33:58.683Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) Absolutely.

Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me.

So I consider judgments that depend on my evaluations of the likelihood (or likely consequences) of something happening to me vs. other people suspect, because applying them depends on data that I know are suspect (even by comparison to my other judgments).

But, sure, that consideration ought not apply to someone sufficiently rational that they judge themselves no less accurately than they judge others.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-07-30T11:54:05.786Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, I came installed with a fairly broken evaluator of chances, which tends to consistently evaluate the probability of X happening to person P differently if P = me than if it isn't, all else being equal... and it's frequently true that my evaluations with respect to other people are more accurate than those with respect to me.

Then work towards the immortality of another. Dedicate your life to it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-30T12:00:28.027Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That points out that people who think cryonics might work but forgo it because of the uncertainty of being bias towards themselves seldom consider committing to not get it for themselves yet provide it for another and then considering the issue while at the same time being a discreet call to join the Death Eaters.

I can't help myself but upvote it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-07-30T18:51:48.773Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) Yup, that makes more sense.

comment by Voldemort · 2011-07-30T23:28:58.871Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, even muggles can be sensible occasionally.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-07-31T00:31:40.692Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And a good thing too, since we're all we've got.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-31T17:53:27.486Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If I donated that to GiveWell instead, I'd be saving ~28 lives.

If you donated that to VillageReach, you'd be saving about 28 lives. If you donated that to GiveWell, you'd help them to find other charities that are similarly effective.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-01T19:16:53.914Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies if I was unclear: For "GiveWell", please read "The charity most recommended by GiveWell right now, because VillageReach will probably eventually reach saturation and become non-ideal".

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T14:18:48.877Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Probably false.

People don't find flimsy excuses to refuse conventional life-saving treatments, and non-conventional treatments can become conventional (say, antibiotics). This holds, though less so, even if the treatments cost quality of life and money.

I didn't start out liking life, but I seem to be very atypical in that regard (often suffer from anhedonia, for example). But it's more likely that I've moved away from the norm, not toward it, especially since I'm bad at distinguishing norms for X from norms for "X"... shudder

Scary. Someone please disprove this.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-30T10:50:12.188Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Growing up religious I assumed I'd have a second different (not necessarily better), chance at life, that wouldn't have an expiration date. As I grew up I saw the possibility grew more distant and less probable in my mind.

I still feel entitled to at least get a try at a second one. Also for the past few years I generally feel much of the things I vaule will be lost and destroyed and that they are probably objectively out of my reach to try and save. So perhaps a touch of megalomania also plays a role or maybe I just want to be the guy to scream:

"YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"

comment by soreff · 2011-07-30T01:33:02.921Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting point. I am signed up for cryonics, but I'm actually rather ambivalent about my life. One major wrinkle is that, if cryonics does succeed, it would almost certainly have to be in a scenario where aging was solved by necessary precursor technologies. For me, a large chunk of my ambivalence is simply the anticipated decline in health as I age. By the same token, existential risks that might prevent me from, for instance, living from age 75 to age 85 tend not to worry me much.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-29T13:16:28.891Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It could also be a revealed preference that they don't like life enough to give their fate completely into the hands of unknown future people, or simply that they don't think the probability of successful cryonics + a good future is high enough to justify the costs.

comment by Alexei · 2011-07-29T13:41:32.576Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, when you put the argument for cryonics like this, it kind of sounds like a version of Pascal's Mugging. Perhaps we could call this: Pascal's Benefactor.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T13:59:32.500Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's just Pascal's regular Wager.

Edit: I mean, this presentation makes it look like Pascal's Wager. Cryonics is too high-probability to actually be Pascal's Wager.

comment by shokwave · 2011-07-29T16:36:07.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As MixedNuts pointed out, it's Pascal's Wager - yet you have a point. Putting the argument like this might cause the Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy (which is still one of my favourite posts on this site).

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T04:38:13.649Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hm! Someone I know wants to write a post called "Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy", because (the claim is) that post doesn't correctly analyze the relevant social psychology involved when someone is afraid of being seen to commit to a very-possibly-indefensible-in-retrospect position where they predict they'll be seen as to-the-other-person-unjustifiably having chosen a predictably immoral or stupid course of action, or something like that.

comment by gjm · 2011-07-31T11:06:01.498Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

See this comment. (Disclaimer 1: it's mine. Disclaimer 2: my objection isn't really about the social psychology involved -- but I think that gives it more right to use the word "fallacy".)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-30T15:09:50.148Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then it would make sense to call it "Not-taking-social-costs-into-consideration Fallacy" but not "Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy". That post wasn't really about the feasibility of cryonics, it only made claims about the logical validity of comparing the reasoning behind cryonics to Pascal's Wager and that's not something that can be affected by social psychology.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-08-11T10:57:26.520Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

This article made me tear up a little. It finally put in words the form of my nightmares.

It might be a good idea to find ways to make this world less of a hell...

But there is one massive oversight in that article. Fiction. Escapism. Videogames. They are getting better and better every day. More entertaining, challenging, absorbing, and gratifying. To the point that some choose to live at the margins of the social system, to be the lowest-status possible besides being an outright vagrant, because, immersed in their fiction, their social status only matters insofar as it can keep them fed and phyically able to interact with the fiction and enjoy it.

That some can be satisfied with this much may not mean they are "insane", as many people say, disturbed and disgusted by this sheer escape of both the rules and the consequences of breaking them. Instead, it may mean that one may actually derive more happiness from regularly saving the world (which is to say, a handful of beloved characters) through fictional avatars, discussing in virtual fora, or reinventing it outright through artistic and literary creation, rather than from actually living in that world.

comment by Hyena · 2011-07-29T04:51:42.196Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Am I alone in actually liking life? Are the rest of my compatriots so eager to die?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-07-29T20:59:22.507Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Consider Eliezer's "proof" that he wants to live forever: "I want to live one more day. Tomorrow I will still want to live one more day. Therefore I want to live forever, proof by induction on the positive integers."

The breakdown, of course, is the belief that all tomorrows are the same. Some people realise that youth is temporary, and so don't look forward too much to being 70, because as infirmities crop up life gets less pleasant until they could take it or leave it. So, they like life- when life is good, and realize that life won't always be good. They also view life extension in terms of time-discounted pleasure, and so if they have to regularly starve themselves in order to live longer when they're 70, they won't because overall life pleasure will be lower.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2011-07-30T03:57:14.874Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

As a young person, I am shocked and horrified by the idea of being 70.

Yet I suspect that when I am 70, I will want to live one more day.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-31T17:58:12.856Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that when I am 70, I will feel like I've lived a complete life, and it's now more important for other people to be happier than for me to survive longer.

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-04T11:43:25.173Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I will relish the day when I can pass off being a curmudgeon and telling people to sit-and-spin as dementia.

And if, by the grace of medical advance, I cannot, I don't see why I'd have much problem with the loss of my excuse.

comment by katydee · 2011-07-29T19:19:49.914Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You are not alone.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-30T04:40:36.700Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are the rest of my compatriots so eager to die?

For many reasons, revealed preferences point to the answer being "yes", if for some reason you want to model humans as rational.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2011-07-30T03:56:32.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Even less alone.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-29T02:22:14.654Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Not wanting MORE years of this shit was my main reason for not wanting to sign up for cryonics. I may be shifting my view on that, slowly.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-29T02:29:59.212Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement. Possibly, things would have changed so much that being nice to you wouldn't work (e.g., none of your friends are revived, your significant other was revived along with married partners of five or so permutations of physical sexual configurations and orientations, etc.

It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

comment by Raemon · 2011-07-29T07:16:51.033Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who bothered to wake you up would almost certainly do something such as be nice to you, callously use you as primary source grist for historical research, or torture you for amusement.

That actually sounds pretty accurate.

It's unlikely anyone would revive you to do the same ol', same ol'.

I actually end up having the opposite reaction. I LIKE my life. The life I'm living right now. If I die tomorrow, I will be upset in the moments leading up to it, not because I wanted to continue existing, but because I am emotionally entangled with the events occurring now.

What cryonics offers is not an extension of life in a way that I care about, but rather, knowledge of the future. I am very curious about the future, and have considered cryonics just so I could see how things turned out. But that curiosity is not infinite utility in the way most cryonics advocates consider immortality to be. And I'd rather use my life insurance policy to help bring about a good future than have a chance at seeing that future.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-28T22:36:20.789Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This is an important issue, a form of slavery that persists in present times without attracting comparable attention and condemnation, but bad as an explanation for low popularity of cryonics, since a sizeable fraction of population doesn't have this problem.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-29T02:24:34.858Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

a form of slavery

Eliezer has said something wise on exactly this point...somewhere. It is somewhat in contention with what you say here, or at least how you say it.

If your foundational principle that you program into in AI is that slavery is bad, taxes become impossible to collect.

So arguing against something by saying that it is qualitatively slavery is suspect, akin to arguing against food because it is qualitatively cyanide. An argument against apples should have to enumerate the quantity of cyanide in the pits and the lethal dose to humans.

I'd rather say current work conditions have specific negative qualities, or if the best way to bring them to mind is with "slavery", then be careful to say it is bad because it is too much slavery, rather than bad because it is slavery.

Edit: it was Yvain who said it here

comment by magfrump · 2011-07-29T07:54:50.156Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree that the discussion could better be furthered by tabooing slavery, I think there is a much stronger analogy here than there is between, say, slavery and paying taxes.

For example, in theory, taxes constitute a high level social agreement to pursue certain goals which benefit all people, executed by an entity that fairly represents the collective interest. (obviously in practice this is a bit different.) In a perfect world, I envision myself willingly paying taxes to a law-enforcing singleton. This seems decidedly unlike "slavery."

However most people's day to day jobs are:

  • Not chosen by them
  • Required for their economic well-being
  • Take up the vast majority of their time
  • Have no autonomy in the work
  • Basically all of the wealth they create is transferred to their employer

Slavery in the historic sense essentially had these characteristics, although in the sense of slavery in the historic USA it was often coupled with things like physical abuse and an intense loss of legal standing; and while desk jobs are harmful to one's health and the rich certainly have a different legal standing than the working poor I don't think that this makes for a good comparison.

comment by katydee · 2011-07-29T19:24:26.048Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Since when do people not choose their jobs or spend the vast majority of their time at work? Even the classic "nine-to-five grind" uses only a third of the day (discounting travel time), and none of the day on weekends.

comment by magfrump · 2011-07-29T20:59:31.880Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Rather than saying something from memory, I am going to go through my facebook friends list and tally all of the people that I know that are at jobs simply because they were the only job the person could find. I will also tally people who, due to overtime, strange shifts or stress from work, spend most of their waking time at work, preparing for work, or recovering from work. I will exclude persons that I do now know well enough to know all of this information about, and persons that I know to be on gap years or otherwise temporarily-unemployed-by-choice.

Of 75 persons whose employment status I was familiar with and was not temporary, 17 have jobs that they are in because it is the only job they can get. Five have jobs that, due to odd scheduling or stress, take up the majority of their waking hours. A further 49 I met in college, probably over 40 of these I met in graduate school. Because only about a third of developed world citizens have a college degree and less than 10% of US citizens have advanced degrees (I pulled these figures off wikipedia without looking into them too heavily).

So if I normalize my experience for demographics: ~40 graduate degrees, 2 people with jobs without a choice ~9 more I met at college; 4 people have jobs where they had no choice, 1 has a job which takes the majority of his waking time 25 which I did not meet in college (some do have degrees), among whom 11 have jobs which they did not choose and 4 have jobs which use the majority of their waking time.

-> general population: ~65% no college, 44% of these do not choose their jobs, and 16% take up the majority of their time (not with working hours but because of scheduling, etc.) 25% college population: 44% did not choose their jobs, 11% have their time hogged 10% graduate population: 5% did not choose jobs

This would leave me with 40% of the general population being in a job because it was the only job available to them, as well as ~13% of the population having a job that controls the majority of their time.

I will note that as someone with an opinion, my figures are probably slightly biased. Biases may come from things like remembering where people work only if they have complained about it, or forgetting recent changes in employment status. I would still expect that I have undervalued college degrees after adjusting for them, but I could be wrong.

These figures are definitely different from what I expected; I expected more than 40% to be in jobs with no real choice and I guess I'm pleasantly surprised that so many people are choosing what they do. 40% is still quite significant though.

I also grant that my statement about most people having jobs that take up the vast majority of their time was unfounded, though I believe it to be supported by such things as the introduction to "Living on 24 Hours a Day" and others' discussions of working lives in this thread.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-29T20:42:33.177Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

168 hours a week, minus 56 hours sleeping, leaves us with 112 waking hours. If we spend 11.2 hours per workday dealing with work, lunch, and commutes (say, an hour commute each way, an hour lunch, and an 8 hour shift) then it's actually entirely possible for work to have managed to eat half our waking hours.

Even for a regular 30 minute commute and 30 minute lunch, you're still looking at 9.5 hours of work time vs 6.5 hours of personal time during your waking hours.

Work really does consume a huge fraction of our time and energy.

comment by katydee · 2011-07-31T07:19:03.287Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good points here-- I hadn't considered commute, as I am blessed with a few solid jobs that let me work from home. This post definitely made me think about the whole conventional work schedule and how it can affect people's lives.

comment by randallsquared · 2011-08-05T13:59:08.788Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer has said something wise on exactly this point...somewhere. It is somewhat in contention with what you say here, or at least how you say it.

If your foundational principle that you program into in AI is that slavery is bad, taxes become impossible to collect.

Was Eliezer really embracing taxes as good, here, as you imply? Seems like more of a consistency argument against taxes.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-05T20:06:02.692Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From a consequentialist point of view, it's not obviously invalid to say no taxes should ever be collected. Humans naturally think in terms of rules, your term "consistency" was a fine one. Hence, in the real world, the consequences of things include how they interact with this delusional proclivity of ours.

For this reason, the slippery slope argument is often not a fallacy. As used it often is a fallacy when an arguer is sufficiently mistaken about the degree to which we think in terms of rules. "If you allow barbers to cut hair, before you know it they'll be marauding through the streets, dismembering people!"

For us humans, it may be valid to say that we should never collect any tax ever (or, as is popular, any income tax ever), as if one begins to collect any, a line will be crossed in our minds, and we will then collect too much than is good, and be worse off than if none had been collected. This would at least be a coherent libertarian argument, one that would be worthy of some consideration.

In contrast, to claim that for each good or service anyone ever produces, has produced, or will produce, there is no level of tax greater than zero that would have optimal consequences if collected, if only we didn't think non-reductively in terms of rules, would be a monumentally ambitious claim.

It is possible that only our rule based thinking is making certain otherwise good actions bad. To the extent this is the case, we should overcome our bias, not embrace it and cater to it by pretending accommodating it is the best we can do if it isn't in fact the best we can do.

As it doesn't naturally occur to people to apply their pro-tax (which means pro-some tax, some of the time) outlook to endorse actually harmful slavery, it is invalid to raise the consistency argument as a reason to abolish taxation.

"Embracing taxes as good" is a confusing phrase, one with which I think you are intentionally confusing others or have accidentally confused yourself. Yes, he was "embracing" at least some amount of tax on some things some of the time as good. This is a very modest claim. By that standard of rhetoric, one could say of a complete pacifist who would never harm another that they "embrace killing as good", if they think it good for some people to kill themselves if they are found in bad enough circumstances. Less saliently but more normally, one could say of me that I "embrace killing", for I endorse some people killing some people who aren't themselves some of the time, in limited situations, as everyone I know does.

I am reminded of this:

Defense Against the Dark Arts needs to become total and automatic, because it is the foundation upon which the complicated rationalist techniques are built. There's no point studying some complex Bayesian evidence-summing manuever that could determine the expected utility of studying yoga if an anecdote about Steve Jobs can keep you from even considering it.

How do you know you have mastered this art? When the statements

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

and

For complex historical reasons, the average Westerner is richer than the average Indian. Therefore, there is minimal possibility that any Indian people ever discovered interesting mental techniques.

sound exactly alike.

See also Unnatural Categories.

comment by randallsquared · 2011-08-05T22:29:58.191Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Embracing taxes as good" is a confusing phrase, one with which I think you are intentionally confusing others or have accidentally confused yourself. Yes, he was "embracing" at least some amount of tax on some things some of the time as good. This is a very modest claim.

I accept that you found it confusing, though I'm not sure that the analogy with the phrase "embracing killing as good" is on target. I certainly had no intention of meaning anything other than "embracing some level of taxation as acceptable".

I don't really want to have an argument about whether some taxes are good, so I'm willing to stipulate for this conversation that it may be that some are, but I did find this interesting:

As it doesn't naturally occur to people to apply their pro-tax (which means pro-some tax, some of the time) outlook to endorse actually harmful slavery, it is invalid to raise the consistency argument as a reason to abolish taxation.

I note that the only way to make this sentence true was to include "actually harmful", a phrase which handily excludes any types of slavery it naturally occurs to people to argue for, such as the draft or prison labor.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-15T15:53:12.698Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Embracing taxes as good" is a confusing phrase, one with which I think you are intentionally confusing others or have accidentally confused yourself.

I have either changed my mind or had inexcusably poorly worded my thoughts. I think you were accidentally sneaking in negative connotations, but do not think you intend to confuse or are confused by this phrase.

My analogy to killing was fantastic, but if you are a deontologist, it is not because this particular phrasing with its strong incorrect connotations has confused you. Categorical thinking leads to the same sort of problem in each case. If you like, they are in the same logical category and the large difference in connotations etc. shows why it isn't practical to try and align moral intuitions with logical categories.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-05T23:25:09.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I certainly had no intention of meaning anything other than "embracing some level of taxation as acceptable".

When I thought about the issue, the phrase you used did not come to my mind as it seems to me to imply too much. Total quantity of taxation in a society is an important factor, but not as much as other structural arrangements. That is to say, your phrasing with the word "level" offended my libertarian sensibilities, which entertain tax schemes such as only taxing imported luxuries, for which the word "level" seems inappropriate; in my opinion "level" to strongly connotes rates oriented around less differentiated categories, and implies that the most important factor is the amount, whereas in my mind the amount of taxation in society is less important than how it is distributed. Even setting aside issues of proportion paid per class, whether taxes are levied on income or spending, whether they are passed on to consumers or put upon them directly, these are issues I think important. As I believe there to be many important variables distinguishing one tax from another, it is not surprising that I think some combination of those variables produces a good outcome, as there is so much theoretical space for a good solution to be in, as against if I thought the only important thing were, say, tax as a percentage of GDP, in which case it would be more plausible to say no outcome is favorable, because there would only need to be a one-dimensional search along the "how much" axis.

The particular problem for the "taxation is slavery" position that I was thinking of is the lack of boundary between taxes and fees that mirrors the lack of boundary between taxation and slavery, though it is on a different axis. In general, the absolutist position that defines things within a category as bad has these boundary problems. One can change the terms of how the government, directly or indirectly, takes and spends money and one subtle change at a time gradually make something once best described as a "fee" become better and better characterized by the word "tax".

One could respond by saying all fees are slavery, or that the enactment of too vague structures of appropriation and spending is itself immoral, etc.

excludes any types of slavery it naturally occurs to people to argue for, such as the draft or prison labor.

I confess to having not considered those things when I wrote what I did, I was only thinking of the relationship between taxation and human ownership, and that taxation does not seem to make people think ownership more acceptable. Upon reflection, the implicit absence of absolute private property rights would seem to make the opposite true.

I don't, however, see how those or any particular cases could be used to rebut what I said, as I offered a general framework: I accept banning good things to the extent we are deluded, by their being allowed, into doing bad things worse than the good things. If it were the case that any taxation is made humans accept kidnapping people and using them to do manual labor, which would be very, very bad, then I would oppose any taxation; if it is the case that any taxation is, all else equal, a necessary condition for humans accepting the draft or prison labor, and those are on net bad, and those bad things outweigh the net good derived from taxation, then I oppose any taxation as a matter of practice until we fix our bias of thinking in unnatural categories that lead us to think moral permissibility is a matter of an act having features of a category such that all acts within the category have the same vector of moral import (if not the same magnitude), and can resume enjoying the otherwise net benefits of taxation.

My argument isn't a direct policy one, just that taxes being bad would have to be because of consequences, the most important of which likely be human susceptibility to inappropriate categorical thinking. It would not be because taxes take from people unwillingly, or any other such reason that is a direct product of the inappropriate categorical thinking.

As far as the examples go, if they are wrong, it is because they suck, for the victims and by warping state incentives, and in general do more harm than good, and anything that promotes them must count them as a loss on its moral balance sheet. If this loss is turning an otherwise valuable human construct, such as taxation, into a losing one for humanity, then we ought to rescue it by severing the false degree connection in people's minds, to the extant we can.

It does not seem to me that there is much relationship between taxation and prison labor, and there is much more between taxation and the draft.

comment by randallsquared · 2011-08-05T21:56:32.598Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I may have a longer response later, but I just want to point out that since no one would suggest that all conceivable taxes are good, the phrase "embracing taxes as good" does not have the connotation you imply I was assigning to it.

( I'm... startled (!) that deleting doesn't delete. I guess that must have been thrown out in the redesign, but I hadn't noticed it until now.)

comment by Incorrect · 2011-07-28T22:44:57.152Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Unless lack of existential happiness is considered as a factor in determining public perception of immortality and cryonics. Existentially happy people then make decisions based on that public perception.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2011-08-02T16:50:11.245Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes I wonder. Status is zero sum. The extremely long lived are high status (this includes fictional entities such as Gods, Elves or wizards). Cryonics or life extension may just sound like "I'm higher status than you."

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

I'm sure someone has brought this up before, can anyone provide links? I'm afraid I still haven't caught up to the LW culture and am not done with the sequences or catching up on the old debates (which I'm guessing from this thread, is a regular topic) by a long shot.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-02T18:58:15.246Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The natural response is to seek devastating arguments or just blurt out: "What makes you so special?"

A common reaction; I was reading up on the hostile wife phenomenon for a mini-essay on cryonics, and the quote from Robin Hanson's wife was quite striking (https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/magazine/11cryonics-t.html):

“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”

(As one commentator on, I think, Katja Grace's blog said - what's so bad about you that you should die?)

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-03T00:26:15.252Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I found that article about Robin discouraging. He comes across to me as a geek version of Al Bundy, with 50 more IQ points, an academic job and a wife named Peggy who doesn't respect him. In fact, she holds her husband in so much contempt in the area of cryonics that it wouldn't surprise me if she has plans to cremate his body ASAP after his death to make sure he has no chance of "living forever."

Robin's marriage makes an interesting contrast with the marriage between Robert Ettinger and his second wife Mae. I got to meet Robert and Mae at cryonicist Don Laughlin's ranch near Kingman, AZ in 1994. Robert gave a talk about his history of cryonics activism and how he lacked the sort of personality to have made more of an impact on public opinion. "I'm not a fun guy," he said. Mae interrupted him by saying, "But I think you are!" I could detect genuine admiration for him in that exchange, and it seemed consistent with other things I've heard about the relationship between the two.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-03T01:06:31.995Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In fact, she holds her husband in so much contempt in the area of cryonics that it wouldn't surprise me if she has plans to cremate his body ASAP after his death to make sure he has no chance of "living forever."

Well, that does seem in line with her comment about cremation - she gets the rest of his body.

Or did you mean she will frustrate the cryonic suspension and burn the brain as well? Well, that's different. I don't think that'll happen - the article reads as she's made her peace with it. So, I've registered a more general prediction: Robin Hanson’s brain will be cryogenically frozen. (The 2041 date comes from looking at an actuarial table for a 52 year old man and then adding a few years.)

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-03T01:41:02.931Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Or did you mean she will frustrate the cryonic suspension and burn the brain as well? Well, that's different. I don't think that'll happen - the article reads as she's made her peace with it.

Like women never lie to their husbands. Women have a history of interfering with the menfolk's interest in cryonics, and I don' t see that changing any time soon. In fact, I'd like to run an experiment: What if Alcor and CI both announced that they would no longer accept new female members, but they would tolerate the existing female members as "grandmothered" in? I doubt we'd see any women outside of cryonics motivated enough to challenge that policy by, say, filing a lawsuit for discrimination.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-08-03T02:07:20.875Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm hesitant to downvote the proposal of a way to put one's beliefs to the test, even a hypothetical one, but I seriously doubt your prediction.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-03T03:59:59.029Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Cryonics organizations can't even give suspensions away. Alcor and Omni magazine (remember that publication?) about 20 years ago offered a contest with a free suspension membership as the prize. As I recall, someone with a disability won the contest, but he didn't follow through with the arrangements and didn't respond to efforts to communicate with him. About 30 years ago, Mike Darwin offered the science fiction writer Frederik Pohl a free suspension, which he refused despite having written a novel and some other things about cryonics in the 1960's.

So do you think we'd see "reverse psychology" at work by forbidding women from joining, with the effect of getting them interested in cryonics for the same reasons they've wanted to invade the other male-dominated social spaces they associate with power? Or would the discrimination just reinforce something they don't want to do anyway?

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-08-03T22:48:32.218Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if it would make any women want cryonic preservation who didn't want it already, but I'm sure it would anger plenty of women aside from those who wanted cryonic preservation in the first place.. It's arbitrary discrimination. You don't have to want to attend a country club to be angry that other people want to keep you out.

comment by MatthewBaker · 2011-08-03T22:55:33.134Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well that's the trick isn't it? Convincing people to sign up for something because another group says they shouldn't even if it takes money, many of us have sworn to avoid similar mind-hacks but the ones who haven't may find something to use here.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-08-03T23:00:36.851Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you were to actually attempt that approach, I think you'd get a reduction in signups because it would make cryonics seem even more cultish and anathema to mainstream norms, reducing the number of potentially amenable people who would consider it at all.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-04T00:29:15.290Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There are plenty of dark arts to choose from other than those relating to scarcity. To reduce the perception of cultishness around an idea, raise awareness of cultish groups that oppose it, and count on people mistaking reversed stupidity for intelligence and being repelled by the negative halo.

Like so.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-08-11T11:04:33.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Alternately, just use a Boombox

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-08-04T05:09:47.479Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No, see, what you do is you have one cryonics group forbid women, and the rest of them make a lot of noise about how the first group is a bunch of jerks and don't speak for the community at all. The first group takes a status hit, yeah, but the other groups get a nice status boost, and the whole thing generates a fair bit of attention - and high-quality, 'this relates to me personally' attention, at that - if done right.

comment by MatthewBaker · 2011-08-03T23:01:53.098Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, if i ever attempt it ill take that into account :)

comment by christina · 2011-08-03T06:00:42.198Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Can't speak for anyone else, but I would find it terribly irritating. Would also wonder how much money I could get off a lawsuit. I am not yet sure if cryonics would be helpful in living to my maximum lifespan (which I would like to be as long as possible), but I certainly don't think this proposal sounds reasonable.

Also, how would it make sense to stop offering cryonics to women who decide to get the procedure in order to punish women who don't? And wouldn't that also punish husbands with wives who agree to be placed in cryonics with them? And if you are only postulating stopping unmarried women from joining, rather than women who have husbands who also want to join, again how does this punish these people you dislike who would probably only smile smugly at the news and think "well at least that's a few less people who can try for immortality!" These women aren't really any different from a large number of men who say they object to cryonics mainly because they think immortality is wrong (I don't really think this objection makes any sense, but a lot of people seem to think this way). The only difference is that they happen to be married to men who want this procedure. And if one or the other seriously thinks this disagreement is a problem, maybe they need to end the relationship.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-08-03T12:38:09.451Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would.

comment by gwern · 2011-07-29T15:40:18.420Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

(Copying over my comment from there)

For the kind and extent of cancer Ebert had, the long term survival rate (>5 years) is ~5% following radical neck dissection and ancillary therapy: usually radiation and chemotherapy. This is thus a proven procedure – it works – and yet the vast majority of patients refuse it.

Indeed. It takes a lot of willpower to live from day to day. I am reminded of Hal Finney’s article announcing his ALS diagnosis, Dying Outside ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ab/dying_outside/ ):

Although ALS is generally described as a fatal disease, this is not quite true. It is only mostly fatal. When breathing begins to fail, ALS patients must make a choice. They have the option to either go onto invasive mechanical respiration, which involves a tracheotomy and breathing machine, or they can die in comfort. I was very surprised to learn that over 90% of ALS patients choose to die. And even among those who choose life, for the great majority this is an emergency decision made in the hospital during a medical respiratory crisis. In a few cases the patient will have made his wishes known in advance, but most of the time the procedure is done as part of the medical management of the situation, and then the ALS patient either lives with it or asks to have the machine disconnected so he can die. Probably fewer than 1% of ALS patients arrange to go onto ventilation when they are still in relatively good health, even though this provides the best odds for a successful transition. With mechanical respiration, survival with ALS can be indefinitely extended.

Or (thank goodness for Evernote which lets me refind those old citations) http://www.fastcompany.com/node/52717/print :

Then the knockout blow was delivered by Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University. He turned the discussion to patients whose heart disease is so severe that they undergo bypass surgery, a traumatic and expensive procedure that can cost more than $100,000 if complications arise. About 600,000 people have bypasses every year in the United States, and 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties — all at a total cost of around $30 billion. The procedures temporarily relieve chest pains but rarely prevent heart attacks or prolong lives. Around half of the time, the bypass grafts clog up in a few years; the angioplasties, in a few months. The causes of this so-called restenosis are complex. It’s sometimes a reaction to the trauma of the surgery itself. But many patients could avoid the return of pain and the need to repeat the surgery — not to mention arrest the course of their disease before it kills them — by switching to healthier lifestyles. Yet very few do. “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said. “And that’s been studied over and over and over again. And so we’re missing some link in there. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.”

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-01T13:01:22.568Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think refusals come from people not foreseeing returning to their set points (like they overestimate the benefits of winning the lottery). As of right now, I don't think Ebert needs willpower, or even thinks "Darn, this sucks" whenever he has to do something related to his disabilities.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-29T20:21:38.600Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that most life-saving medical procedures are done at the time of need. People tend not to get their appendix removed "as a precaution", and the most preventative care I can think of is an annual visit and vaccinations (and somehow we have managed to get a small segment of the population stupid enough to start protesting even that...)

I have no clue what the numbers are, but how many people actually have a will? A medical directive? Actively engage in preventative care before they have a problem? How many people go so far as to invest a large sum of money in advance, to ensure their health?

The most I've heard of is basic lifestyle changes: exercise more, eat healthy, regular checkups. In a different vein, setting up a will or an advanced medical directive. That's it. I can't think of a single example of someone spending $10,000 today, in order to prevent something ten years down the road.

comment by dripgrind · 2011-07-29T22:28:02.170Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Women with a high hereditary risk of breast cancer sometimes opt to have both their breasts removed pre-emptively. People take statins and blood pressure drugs for years to prevent heart attacks. Don't you have eye tests and dental checkups on a precautionary basis? There's plenty of preventative medical care.

Maybe the availability and marketing varies between countries - the fact that you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health suggests you're from the US or another country with a bad healthcare system. My country has a national health service which takes an interest in encouraging preventative medicines like statins, helping people give up smoking, and so on, since that saves it money overall. I'm sure the allocation of preventative care is far from ideal and shaped by political and social factors and drug company lobbying, but it does exist.

It would be a bad tradeoff to go through painful appendectomy to prevent the small chance that you might get appendicitis (and you can get your appendix removed when it's actually infected, and the appendix may have an evolutionary function acting as a reservoir of gut bacteria, and it can also be used to reconstruct the bladder).

comment by handoflixue · 2011-07-29T22:45:40.463Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Don't you have eye tests and dental checkups on a precautionary basis?

I tend to view there as being a strong difference between "go for a 2 hour checkup" and "invest $28K in cryonics". I wasn't aware of the pre-emptive breast removals, though, that would definitely qualify as the sort of thing I was looking for - and I still wonder how common it is, amongst people who would benefit.

the fact that you assume people have to invest their own money

I'm not aware of any country whose socialized healthcare pays for cryonics, so cryonics is certainly an out-of-pocket cost. If I'm wrong, please let me know so that I can move ASAP :)

That does make me wonder if cryonics is a harder sell in countries with socialized healthcare, just because people aren't used to having to pay for healthcare at all. The US, at least, is used to the idea of spending money on that scale.

comment by dripgrind · 2011-07-30T01:21:27.070Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I said "you assume people have to invest their own money to ensure their health" I was obviously referring to preventative medical interventions, which is what you were actually asking about, not cryonics.

The breast/ovarian cancer risk genes are BRCA 1/2 - I seem to remember reading that half of carriers opt for some kind of preventative surgery, although that was in a lifestyle magazine article called something like "I CUT OFF MY PERFECT BREASTS" so it may not be entirely reliable. I'm sure it's not just a tiny minority who opt for it, though. I'm sure there are better figures on Google Scholar.

If you consider the cost of taking statins from age 40 to 80, in total that's a pricy intervention.

Maybe the lack of people using expensive preventative measures is because few of them exist - or few of them have benefits which outweigh the side-effects/pain/costs - not that people don't want them in general. If there was a pill that cost $30,000 and made you immune to all cancer with no side effects, I'm sure everyone would want it.

I think the real issue is that people don't consider cryonics to be "healthcare". That seems reasonable, because it's a mixture of healthcare and time travel into an unknown future where you might be put in a zoo by robots for all anybody knows.

comment by byrnema · 2011-07-29T14:03:37.571Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My impression of all sorts of people is that they have lots of pleasure on a daily minute-to-minute level from lots of sources. (Not every minute, but often enough to consider themselves happy if you ask them superficially when they're in a good mood.) However, the emphasis on existential happiness is spot-on. Most people don't even think about existential happiness, but you can measure it in what they do. I think the bad choices people make over and over (the first teen pregnancy, then the second one, not arriving to work on time when they most need the job) is evidence that they feel fatalistically unhappy and at some level are passive-aggressively sabatoging what is at core a crappy life. This latter bit is from U.S. culture. I don't remember what it was like in Europe at the moment (though I might hypothesize that a certain cultural cynicism is actually protective and comforting) and I think some Eastern Europeans I've met have a culture that existential happiness is unobtainable or meaningless and they are strong for that and I fail to interpret what seemed like ennui or indifference in some African families I spent time with.

Personally, I'm highly motivated and I think I make 'carpe-diem-type' decisions. Yet when I get too enthusiastic about something, I do (deliberately) temper that down with reminders that I'll be 'old' in a subjectively short period of time; it's not like I'll live forever. I do this because I don't want it to be such a rude shock as things start changing over the decades. In other words, even though I relatively have a lot of subjective freedom, I feel existential angst too.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-29T16:17:06.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's interesting about not letting yourself feel too happy. Is preventing a rude shock which may not happen (you could die suddenly or anti-aging tech could be developed) worth putting the brakes on feeling happy?

I've realized that one reason [1] I don't reliably allow coordinated joint mobility in T'ai Chi is that it doesn't feel natural/allowable for me to feel that good. I'm not sure what's behind that.

[1] The other reason is that it takes a lot of mental focus to change movement habits.

comment by byrnema · 2011-07-29T16:31:00.841Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is preventing a rude shock which may not happen (you could die suddenly or anti-aging tech could be developed) worth putting the brakes on feeling happy?

Perhaps. I make a lot of choices that are aimed to mitigate the negatives[1] I anticipate of being older. Other reasons that I do it are to just keep a balanced whole-lifetime perspective and curb manic tendencies.

[1] I wanted to add that this doesn't mean I anticipate mostly negatives. In any case I feel that since being older relative to my current self might last for decades I should focus on that self more than people seem to.

I must look into coordinated joint mobility ... would it feel as good for anyone?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-29T20:13:09.030Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think it would feel good for anyone, but I'm not sure what proportion of people already have it. Anyone who's a natural athlete would have it.

"Coordinated joint mobility" is what I what I came up with to call what my teacher is trying to teach me. I don't know whether it's got a standard name.

The general idea is that skilled movement involves moving at least a little through a lot of joints. If people are unsure of what they're doing, they'll try to simplify the process by moving as few joints as possible. (The Frailty Myth, a book about women and sports, has somewhat on the subject-- there've been studies on how people learn to throw, and it turns out that "throwing like a girl" (throwing from the shoulder instead of involving the whole body) is exactly equivalent to throwing like someone who's unskilled at throwing.)

Feldenkrais Method is very good for preventing some of the effects of aging. The idea is that if you don't use part of your movement repertoire, you forget you have it. Feldenkrais has gentle repeated movements that remind you of your range of possibilities.

comment by lurking_physicist · 2011-07-30T13:55:21.293Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If humankind survives long enough for upload/immortality to become possible, then the living people of that time, or the recently dead, will do equally or better for the task than long frozen corpses. Yes the technology may quickly develop and be able to upload frozen brains, but it is not required.

I do not agree with calculations linearly summing the worth of immortal beings. My guess is that the return will quickly saturates: once you have a being that is willing and capable to improves itself, no more uploads are required. The immortal being can acquire diversity in other ways, and may create diversity too (you don't need a human body to do that). The amount of redundancy in two humans is incredibly high compared to the possibilities in being-space.

Would it have no cost to me and humankind, I would sign up. But given the resources required, I don't think anyone should do it (in the same way that I don't think anyone should drive a Hummer in a city).

I deem that I have other means of becoming "immortal" that are more efficient (yes, including "having kids and transferring them part of my values/knowledge"). My take is that intelligent people should spend their energy trying to convince the population to minimize existential risks, not to sign up for cryonics.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-07-30T17:25:55.153Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Would it have no cost to me and humankind, I would sign up. But given the resources required, I don't think anyone should do it (in the same way that I don't think anyone should drive a Hummer in a city).

Would it change your mind if the resource cost per person goes down the more people do it? That is something that is not true of people driving a Hummer -- or burial in a graveyard for that matter.

comment by lurking_physicist · 2011-07-31T01:33:32.349Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, if large economy of scales changes the situation before I die, I may change my mind.

Here are some points that may help identify the source of the disagreement.

  1. For a given amount of resources, the benefits of cryonics have (among other things) to be compared to the benefits of increasing the probability to reach the technological level enabling the upload (i.e. before extinction of the specie).

  2. The utility of uploading 10^10 people is not 10 times greater than the one of uploading 10^9 people.

  3. If part of a transhuman being to which I have not been uploaded happens to turn out as I would have myself, then I am already there.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-30T10:11:27.968Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It should thus come as little surprise that our prisons are currently filled with a disproportionate number of people who are more intelligent than average and who lack the social coping skills to get on in society.

Disproportionate compared to ... what? Criminals, as in people who get convicted, are a pretty dim group overall.

If his point was that all else being equal "social coping skills" are valued in society, well duh. Humans are social animals. I however suspect this particular formulation was used because it (I believe falsely) implies there are huge losses of intelligence because of imprisonment, when they are probably negligible especially considering poor "social cooping skills" often impose costs on others.

comment by VictoryAtNight · 2011-07-30T14:15:01.815Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's a well documented trend that criminals in jail for committing more serious crimes, especially the sociopaths and murderers, are generally of higher average individual intelligence (as measured by things like IQ tests) compared with the local population in which they live. And that's just the criminals that get convicted. (Although street crime, on the other hand, tends to have bellow-average IQ perpetrators.)

Studies have also found that areas with populations of lower average intelligence tend to have more crime, but that's a very different statement entirely.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-08-06T16:36:20.156Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

but that's a very different statement entirely.

Huh? That sounds like it calls into questions the implications of the first study- if an IQ 90 person gets arrested for murder in an IQ 85 neighborhood, that has very different implications from an IQ 120 person getting arrested for murder in an IQ 115 neighborhood.

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-07-31T00:25:30.683Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon. He presents the most impassioned cryonics arguments I have seen. In particular the AIDS activism post is something I could recommend to anybody including die-hard cryonics haters.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

To me the reason conventional wisdom treats cryonics with disdain may be summed up in two cultural memes: 1.) Walt Disney's frozen head and 2.) Ted Williams's frozen head. The disdain is like a fashion consensus. I doubt we will live long enough to ever see any public figure's pro publicity people endorsing a pro-cryonics stance.

Thank you very much for posting this here!

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-07-31T09:28:13.811Z · score: 36 (36 votes) · LW · GW

The reason I haven’t posted here before is that I’ve had no burning reason to, and I’m busy.

While there are many discrete reasons why cryonics hasn’t been (more) successful, the single biggest reason is the most obvious one; it has not been demonstrably shown to work. If suspended animation were a demonstrated reality tomorrow, and it was affordable (i.e., not like spaceflight, which is demonstrably workable, but not yet affordable) then the tide would be turned. Even then, it is unlikely there would be any kind of flash-stampede to the freezers.

A schoolmate and friend of mine just died a few weeks ago of pulmonary fibrosis. He was an ideal candidate for a lung transplant. But, he couldn’t afford it, so he just laid there and died. Thousands of people who need transplants die each year, even though it is a proven modality of treatment that is yielding a significant number of quality years of life. But, it is costly, there aren’t enough donors, and here’s the really remarkable thing, the vast majority of people who could benefit from a transplant are never even candidates.

Consider Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway: http://www.rickross.com/reference/amway/amway24.html. In 1983 DeVos, suffering from coronary artery disease, had bypass surgery. In 1992 DeVos had another bypass surgery, and by 1995 it was clear he had end stage congestive heart failure (CHF). How many people have you known or heard about who fit that description, and subsequently go on to die a perfectly pedestrian death; at home or in the ICU? Such deaths are so routine no one gives them a second thought.

And it’s for damn sure that no one gives them a second thought when the patient is a 71 year old man! However, if you are absolutely fixated on staying alive, and your net worth is well in excess of 2 billion 1997 dollars, well, the rules of the game are different for you. DeVos got his heart in London, and the Amway corporate jet flew him there from Grand Rapids, MI. That was in 1997, and as far as I know, DeVos is still alive. There are countless ~71 year old men in the US, and elsewhere in the Developed World, dying of CHF right now. In those cases, the word "transplant" is neither uttered nor heard – even though it is very much a reality that if you have the money, the persistence and the luck – a heart transplant offers the prospect of another 5 years of reasonably good quality life, on average.

I worked in hospital, mostly in critical care medicine, for 7 years. The overwhelming majority of patients are passive – they do what their physicians advise and if they do have alternative ideas, they are usually easily dissuaded from pursuing them. And, truth to tell, most of the “alternative ideas” patients have are bad ones, including Steve Jobs. But, if you are smart, lucky and rich – and you come to your senses, as Jobs did, it can be whole other ball game. Jobs suffered recurrent pancreatic cancer (islet cell neuroendocrine tumor) after a Whipple procedure in 2004. That is just about as close as you can get to a death sentence, since the usual location of the met(s) is the liver. It is current medical consensus that liver transplantation in patients with recurrent pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver is contraindicated. In fact, I know a couple of transplant surgeons who call such a procedure a murderous waste of a liver, and a life! However, Jobs got a liver transplant in 2009. I strongly suspect that he has very recently received additional cutting edge treatment not widely available.

Cryopreservation/cryonics is likely to creep in on little cat’s feet – with a big jump or two along the way. Cryobanking of parenchymatous organs will probably be one jump, reversible cryopreservation of the brain another, and finally, whole body suspended animation. But it behooves us to beware that lots and lots of people are “calmly” accepting their fates today, who could in fact be ‘rescued’ by already extant medical technology - but for the knowledge, the money and the will. And THAT is what is NOT likely to change. To a surprising degree, people stay alive because it has been made very easy for them to do so. Make it difficult, and you start to see people dropping away.

Cryonics demands a very high passion for and commitment to staying alive, not just because it is currently such a lousy product, but because, to be really credible, it DEMANDS ACTION to improve the odds of its success. Most people are not activists, and what's more, most people will refuse a chance at more life when you take away the superficial things that they mistake for their person-hood, or identity. And cryonics proposes to do exactly that. There is historical precedent for this. In his incredibly insightful book, MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING, Viktor Frankl noted that the people in the Nazi concentration camps fell into two groups. The first group consisted of the majority of those interned there, and they were people who defined themselves in terms of their social milieu: if you asked them who they were, they would say, "I am a doctor, a lawyer, a mother..." The second group consisted of a small minority of people who thought of themselves as existing completely independent of any label, any role, or any relationship they had with others, or with society.

When you entered a concentration camp, they took away you clothes, your profession, your family and even your name. For most people, that was the equivalent of taking away their very identity, and thus their will to live. As Frankel observed, it was mostly only the people in second, much smaller group, that survived.

It is from that tiny minority in the population as a whole, that cryonics draws it adherents. They are people who want to live, regardless, and who do not define their sense of self on the basis of their jobs, their social interactions, or really, on anything other than a raw, visceral passion to survive. Some find that absolutely terrifying.

comment by Cog · 2011-08-03T02:24:05.709Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Could you clarify this notion of a group of people who exist independently of labels? Perhaps a name that Frankl used to classify them? I have found nothing online about it.

This jives relatively well with one way I classify people. I imagine what would happen if I were to suddenly take them out of their life and drop them in a city across the country without friends or family and less than a grand on their person. I think most people I know would find it incredibly taxing. A relative minority would simply take in their surroundings and start building again.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-03T05:36:33.536Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Frankl didn't provide a nomenclature. His book was useful to me because it alerted me to what I was (and am), and also offered a reasonable explanation of the nature of so many of the people I found myself involved with in cryonics. Frankl observed that those people who lived independently, not just independently of the labels others put on them, but also of their roles and purpose (internal as well as external) in their social world, had in common a certainty of purpose and meaningfulness in their lives. For Frankl, those things were god and love - principally love for his wife. But this was clearly not the case for many others who survived. Their purpose might best be described as an imperative to always live and grow, and to gain knowledge and experience. A purpose that was rooted in the very nature of their being, or in their experience of reality. For whatever reason, these people understood that there is no universe without me, and that because I know from experience that life can be good, I must continue and pursue more of it. Frankl was not thrilled about this cohort, and he famously remarked, "The best of us did not survive." Frankl has little to say to me beyond the message that such people exist, that an unshakeable sense of purpose and joy in living is essential to indefinite survival, and that people who draw their purpose and identity from what they do, where they fit into their family or society, or on the basis of their rank or achievements, quickly die when these things are taken away from them. I think that's quite a lot for being so little of what he otherwise has to say in the book.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-08-03T03:01:39.104Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There have been studies of resilient people.

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-07-31T13:17:16.072Z · score: -3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You had me until you brought up Frankl. My take on that book was very different than yours apparently was.

I had a reaction of disgust. It seemed to me that between the lines of his writing he was boasting that his camp survival was proof of his intestinal fortitude and it seemed tasteless or tacky of him to be peeing on the graves of millions of victims like he was Achilles dragging Hector's corpse around behind his chariot. If I did not have to read the book for a class I would not have finished it. That was a raw and visceral reaction which was so strong that even today, dozens of years later, I look askance at anybody using Frankl to buttress their arguments.

This is not rational of me. Perhaps I will have another look at Frankl's book.

That picture of the dinner plate of shit in your first figure--is that a clip art or did you take that yourself?

comment by gwern · 2011-07-31T18:38:23.685Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That picture of the dinner plate of shit in your first figure--is that a clip art or did you take that yourself?

To quote Quirrel,

"The import of an act lies not in what that act resembles on the surface, Mr. Potter, but in the states of mind which make that act more or less probable."

What states of mind made such an inane and irrelevant question more probable?

(To answer the question you claim to be asking, use of Tineye would have lead you directly to Wikimedia Commons.)

comment by gwern · 2011-07-31T00:58:29.131Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

This was the first time I have seen Darwin's blog and it ate up much of my afternoon.

I'm glad to hear that; that was one of the goals - to introduce LW to Darwin a bit.

Does Darwin ever post on LessWrong, and if not I would be curious why not?

LW is a very recent thing. Darwin got involved in cryonics in, like, the 1960s. It's not surprising if, as he began polishing and dumping online what sometimes feels like decades of material, he didn't do so on some popular new transhumanist website; so there may be nothing there to explain. If there was, it may be that Darwin differs philosophically from LW in general (certainly Yudkowsky has vociferously criticized the excerpted post).

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-07-31T16:03:23.941Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

& then I found this on Darwin's site:

google ngram research on cryonics

Specifically he has a graph of "cryonics" (the word) citations in all periodicals scanned by google up to February 2011 versus time and it appears the most talked about item in the history of cryonics, ever, may well be Ted Williams's frozen head. He has a photograph of Williams in his article.

(& also I had never heard of this google ngram thing before and it looks remarkable.)

comment by gwern · 2011-07-31T19:25:02.969Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, N-gram can give some interesting insights. I used it for anime the other week.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-08-01T16:59:17.440Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have it from a good source that a famous inventor may sign up. (No, not that one.) If he follows through and goes into suspension before I do, I will wear a denim shirt to mark the occasion.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-08-03T12:40:59.655Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure who you mean.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-08-03T15:27:54.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A search on "denim shirt" inventor eventually yields this.

comment by shokwave · 2011-08-03T14:13:32.297Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not even sure what he means.

comment by lukstafi · 2011-07-29T09:23:37.768Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Got me wondering about a charity that signs up important (mostly in the sense of being interesting) people for cryonics: the charity would work on convincing them and covering the cost.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-08-06T16:39:03.065Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Many important people have been offered no-cost cryopreservation and rejected it, the most relevant of which is the sci-fi author who had written books about cryopreservation.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-08-14T21:09:06.579Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the record, he believed in reincarnation, and probably not in the sense of Belief in Belief.

comment by aceofspades · 2011-11-27T05:20:28.508Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear to me whether I should spend this sum of money (considering opportunity cost etc.) on potentially cryopreserving myself or reducing existential risk or making some other charitable contribution or actually passing on substantially more of my money to my relatives or whatever else. Namely, I'm not sure how to estimate the probability of actually being revived at some point. It might help to determine the probability of legally "dying" in such a way as to be around people during death or "dying" only a short time before while still being possible to preserve (for example this might include the chance of "dying" in a hospital). This would seemingly have a large effect on my chances of being revived, but maybe not. The technology for reviving those thought "dead" would already require such major advances in technology that even days of not being discovered (and thus an enormous difference in bodily decay) that perhaps even such large differences in decay could be trivial. Or, this could be entirely wrong, depending on how technology does progress. But even after such differences of time of pre-preservation "death" are accounted for, it is not then clear how to estimate the likelihood of ever being revived or a number of other things that would be necessary at a minimum to establish a reasonable method of determining the proper amount of money to allocate to the aforementioned potential uses.

Basically, this issue is far more difficult to resolve than a simple pseudo-Pascal's Wager (here the response is not to the article in question but rather in a more general form to a few arguments I have seen even on this site including some comments)

comment by Nisan · 2011-07-29T09:02:20.275Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Mitchell Porter wrote something with a similar message.

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T04:38:30.058Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present. I am unconvinced that people being dissatisfied with their current lives is a significant reason for rejecting this procedure. Then again, it might take more evidence to convince me simply because even when I am dissatisfied with my current life, I still think life is far too short. I am more interested in methods of life extension that have more research behind them (alas, so little seems to be known at present). There are lots of unproven methods of life extension, so I'd greatly prefer to invest in something more proven. Perhaps in the future cryonics will have more of a scientific basis. Until then, I'd be more interested in donating to general life extension research than paying for cryonics specifically.

comment by nshepperd · 2011-07-29T07:59:00.069Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present.

Effectively unknown more than effectively zero. The latter makes it sound like you're expecting revivals to have already happened to demonstrate that it works. Or that you have some other positive information that allows you to conclude that people cryopreserved today will never be revived.

comment by christina · 2011-08-04T05:40:53.614Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I do think that someone has to be revived to demonstrate it works. This is not the same as saying that cryonics as it is practiced today couldn't work. Something can still work even if it hasn't been demonstrated, but to be demonstrated to work, it has to have already been done. However, I understand why you might want to try it even if it hasn't been demonstrated, given the potential for benefit.

So I still say that the success rate is zero at present, but this number has the potential to go up in the future. I do not equate success rate with probability of success. The probablility of success is unknown.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-05T12:34:48.345Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The probablility of success is unknown.

Something is known about it, and correct decision depends on its value, so by making a decision you implicitly estimate its value. See I don't know, logical rudeness and Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence.

comment by christina · 2011-08-06T08:01:01.641Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I certainly do know things about cryonics. I know it is a process where those who are currently considered deceased can have their bodies preserved at extremely low temperatures. I know this is done with the hope of reviving those people in the future. I recently learned that I could probably afford it, which was not something I knew before. I also recently learned that cryonics techniques preserve more fine detail than they once did. In fact, both of the things I learned push up the probability that this procedure might be useful to me. Unfortunately, the probablity of success is still unknown. This is because the utility of the procedure is largely determined by a.) what information we need to preserve to preserve personality and memories and b.) changes in technology, culture, and the physical environment in the future.

What do I know about what we need to preserve personality and memories? Well, we need the brain. We need cells in the brain and their connections. What parts of cells? I have no idea. Do neurotransmitter states matter? Again, I have no idea. Is the brain like RAM--do we need to keep a constant current, however small and disorganized, to keep it viable? Good question--but I don't know the answer. What I don't know about neuroscience vastly dwarfs what I do. This is because a.) I am not a neuroscientist and b.) even neuroscientists currently know very little about how the brain works, although they know considerably more than I do.

What about b.)? How will technology change in the future? My guess is that it becomes more advanced, but in what way? Well, that depends on people's priorities, which depends on culture, which is extremely unpredictable. I did not expect, when I was a child, that by the time I became an adult, computers would be involved in nearly every aspect of my life. I also did not predict any of the stock market crashes, any of the wars that occurred, or any of the natural disasters that occurred. My approach to planning for the future, which has worked out suprisingly well for me thus far considering how flawed it is, is as follows:

  1. Think of possible outcomes.
  2. Use my knowledge to act to increase the chance of good outcomes happening to me.
  3. Use my knowledge to act to reduce the chance of bad outcomes happening to me.
  4. When probability of success of a choice is unknown (ie. high degree of uncertainty), replace with high probability of related bad outcomes (ie high risk).

So you can see that number four is hugely flawed, but I find it models how I think of things and how I act pretty well. I posted in a different thread in this article that two possible bad outcomes of cryonics that I could imagine are: 1. that the attempt at cryonics is unsuccessful AND depletes me of resources in a way that somehow decreases my current lifespan. 2. Another possibility is that it would be successful, but that I would then be revived to be tortured for an indefinite period of time. That is the implicit value estimate I make.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-04T10:14:04.518Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if this comment will stand for long here, because the questions I'm about to ask are probably mostly of interest just to me.

Christina, wen you say you'd be more interested in funding "life extension research,"(LER), I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically? What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan? When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost? How long do you think it is likely that advances in LER will be able to extend your lifespan - including as incremental bridges to increasingly better technologies? Finally, how much of your income are you currently contributing to LER, and if I could ask, to what kinds of LER are you contributing money?

Many thanks. I'm really quite interested in the answers to these questions.

As an aside, I'd be fascinated to conduct a comprehensive survey of lesswrong members to establish the demographics not just with respect to cryonics and LE, but across the board, and in a robust way.

comment by shokwave · 2011-08-04T11:20:04.958Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Most of LessWrong would be fascinated too, I daresay! We've had a few attempts at surveys previously; nothing extremely rigorous and (as far as I recall) usually only focused on already-outstanding features - so we might be missing an opportunity to discover surprising regularities in our makeup.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-04T23:58:07.637Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I can't speak to your situation, per se. I can only tell you that in my experience (managing and marketing in both the for-profit and NPO sectors), comprehensive demographic information was very valuable. Since I don't know the agenda of LessWrong in detail, I can't say if, for instance, knowing the income distribution and the markers for charitable giving amongst LessWrongers would be of use. These typesof data help you to define the kinds of projects you can reasonably hope to fund, and thus reasonably hope to market to your demographic. Markers for giving were very reliable in my experience - today, given the economy, I don't know.

Beyond money, a well constructed survey will almost invariably reveal all kinds of insights, not just about your members, customers or readers, but about your own operation - how it is perceived, what people like but aren't getting, and sometimes, insights into your own psychology and approach that you didn't previously have. The key words here are "well designed," because it is surprisingly hard to do a comprehensive survey and get most of the questions you that you want answered, answered. And to avoid bias in the way the questions are phrased, or even in the order in which they appear in your survey. While I can't prove it, I think it likely that intelligent use of survey information, gathered in the 1980s, was in part responsible for the brief period when Alcor membership growth was nearly exponential. While such data will never do that for you absent many other things being done "right," they can, IMHO, amplify the effect of good management and marketing.

comment by christina · 2011-08-08T01:56:28.457Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to know what your vision of LER is, specifically?

My vision of life extension is something that allows maximum and average lifespan to increase significantly. The most effective way to do this would be to cure aging. Also I think drastically increasing the effectiveness for heart disease, cancer treatments, and Alzheimer's will be important (although these might also be significantly decreased by any treatment that reverses the aging process itself). I think the mechanism that will eventually drastically increase human lifespan should ultimately be some sort of nanotechnology that can repair damage to the cells. I think Aubrey de Grey may have some good ideas on what to repair from what I've read about his work (Mostly what I know about his research is in the Ending Aging book he wrote with Michael Rae, and from various internet articles).

What kinds of technologies do you think realistically offer you a chance at indefinitely, or even moderately extending your healthy lifespan?

I don't think that any current technologies are likely to help for anything except possibly modestly increasing my lifespan by perhaps a couple decades at best. On the other hand, given the rate at which medicine is advancing, I feel some optimism that this could increase in my lifetime. I continue to watch advances in this area with great interest.

When do you think they might be available, and with what restrictions (if any) and at what likely cost?

I don't really know, but I hope that there will be something I can take advantage of in my lifetime. Since I am very risk averse, I prefer to invest in medical interventions that are better understood. I prefer to avoid ones that are poorly understood, given that they could make my situation worse instead of better (by definition, if they don't work, they have made my situation worse since they have drained some amount of time and resources from me.) On the other hand, I am open to the idea of putting some money into making poorly understood treatments into better understood ones.

How long do you think it is likely that advances in LER will be able to extend your lifespan - including as incremental bridges to increasingly better technologies?

I do not know enough to guess, but if I had to pick a number that looked likely, I'd say to 150. At this point, I don't know what type of technology would give me that option, just that something probably will. If I'm lucky, this will be a large underestimate.

Finally, how much of your income are you currently contributing to LER, and if I could ask, to what kinds of LER are you contributing money?

Currently less than 1% (I was not in the habit of donating money to any cause at all for most of my life, but in recent years I have started working on changing this). For life extension research, I have been contributing money here.

Incidentally, the message board Help seems to have disappeared for me (can't find it under the comment box anymore), so I wasn't able to markup your questions.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-08-04T22:14:21.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There was a fairly in-depth LW survey a couple years back.

comment by player_03 · 2011-07-30T07:46:04.064Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Until then, I'd be more interested in donating to general life extension research than paying for cryonics specifically.

This is very similar to my primary objection to cryonics.

I realize that, all factors considered, the expected utility you'd get from signing up for cryonics is extremely, if not infinitely, large. In any case, it's certainly large enough to be worth the price.

However, it seems to me that there are better alternatives. Sure, paying for cryonics increases your chances of an unlimited life by many orders of magnitude. On the other hand, funding longevity research makes it more likely that we will ever overcome aging and disease. Unlimited life for most or all of the future human population is far more important than unlimited life for yourself, right? (One might object that life extension research is already on its way to accomplishing this regardless of your contributions, which brings me to my next point.)

If an existential risk comes to pass, then no one will have a chance at an unlimited life. All of the time and money spent on cryonics will go to waste, and life extension research will have been (mostly) squandered. Preventing this sort of risk is therefore far more important than preserving any one person, even if that person is you. To make matters worse, there are multiple existential risks that have a significant chance of happening, so the need for extra attention and donations is much greater than the need for extra longevity research.

To summarize: Cryonics gives you alone a significant chance of gaining unlimited life. Working to prevent existential risk gives billions of people a slightly increased chance of the same.

It seems to me we shouldn't be spending money on freezing ourselves just in case a singularity (or equivalent scientific progress) happens. Instead, we should focus on increasing the chances that it will happen at all. To do anything else would be selfish.


Ok, time to take a step back and look at some reasons I might be wrong.

First, and perhaps most obviously, people are not inclined to donate all their money to any cause, no matter how important. I freely admit that I will probably donate only a small fraction of my earnings, despite the arguments I made in this post. Plus, it's possible (likely?) that people would be more inclined to spend money on cryonics than on existential risk reduction, because cryonics benefits them directly. If someone is going to spend money selfishly, I suppose cryonics is the most beneficial way to do so.

Second, there's a chance I misestimated the probabilities involved, and in fact your money would be best spent on cryonics. If the Cryonics Institute webpage is to be believed, the cheapest option costs $28,000, which is generally covered by insurance, costing you $120 per year (this option also requires a one-time payment of $1,250). Unfortunately, I have no idea how much $1,250 plus $120 per year would help if donated to SIAI or another such organization. Cryonics certainly give a huge expected reward, and I'm just guessing at the expected reward for donating.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-07-29T05:16:41.955Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the most relevant reason for not saving for cryonics mentioned here is that the success rate of cryonics is effectively zero at present.

This does not seem to me to be a very solid objection. Cryonics doesn't depend logically on that even being possible.

I am unconvinced that people being dissatisfied with their current lives is a significant reason for rejecting this procedure.

Agreed. It may be a reason, but I don't think it is the main reason.

comment by Hyena · 2011-07-29T04:50:03.258Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The success rate of not-cryonics is a guaranteed zero.

I'd go with cryonics.

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T06:26:17.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the choice is as simple as choosing cryonics or ignoring life extension completely. I am very interested in the idea of life extension, but so far what civilization has achieved in those terms is relatively modest, given that the oldest person to ever live only lived to 122, and I probably can't hope to even get to that. I would be absolutely thrilled to be wrong about this.

What makes me hesitate about cryonics is that it is so speculative. Perhaps it is possible to reconstruct a living brain from a cryogenically frozen one. However, I would want to have some expectation that this was so. To give an example, the ancient Egyptians believed that mummification allowed one to continue to live. However, as they removed the brain entirely, their strategy for life extension is not one I think you would be interested in investing in (even if no one was saying you also had to believe in Horus,Isis, Osiris, et al). Cryonics seems a much more plausible revival strategy than ancient Egyptian mummification to me, but I also think restricted caloric diets are more plausible than cryonics (given that this has been shown to work on a wide variety of species, even if humans aren't one of those). You may think that restricted caloric diets could never possibly extend people's lives as much as cryonics, but I think it is currently impossible to estimate the additional lifespan of a person successfully revived from cryonic extension. Your assumption, I'm guessing, is that this number would likely be large due to improved future technology. Once again, I think this is a huge assumption, and given the large number of things I could conceivably try, I think the best bet would be to first figure out, to the greatest degree possible, the answer to the following three questions:

  1. Is the method a physically plausible way to extend the human lifespan?
  2. What are the costs (in terms of money, quality of life, etc).
  3. What are the likely benefits (in terms of added years of life, quality of life, etc).

And I'm not saying that a person couldn't choose more than one strategy of life extension. For example, there's no reason that a person couldn't choose caloric restriction and cryonics. The only problem with choosing one or more of these (and other) strategies is that you don't just have the possible benefits, but the very real costs. And the more strategies you choose, the more of those costs you incur (even ignoring strategies that would be mutually incompatible). With caloric restriction, an obvious cost would be that it would take more time and effort or money to stick to the low calorie, high nutrient diet required (you probably won't find many restaurants or vending machines that serve the appropriate foods in the appropriate portions, so the only two choices would likely be to do all the cooking and meal planning yourself, or to have your own personal chef who is well-versed in such a diet). Also, if you do not have sufficient self-control, you would probably have to have someone hovering over you, forcing you to eat the right foods (significantly detracting from your quality of life and likely also a blow to your finances). For cryonics, the obvious cost is the non-trivial amount of money it would take. Maybe it would be better to find a way to store information about the brain in a computer until it could be restored. Maybe your brain would be better preserved in a jar of formaldehyde (although I'm hoping for the sake of cryonics customers that this isn't so, some of those who had their brains preserved for science might then gain an unexpected benefit).

So no, I don't think the success rate of not-cryonics is a guaranteed zero. I don't even think the future success rate of cryonics is a guaranteed zero, and you could convince me with more evidence that it is not an almost-certain zero. I would consider the successful revival of non-human animals of increasing complexity through cryonics a great first step to proving its viability. And I need more evidence of the expected benefits only because I have ample evidence of the expected costs (nobody is saying cryonics is free). Opportunity cost means that I should make choices not only with the consideration of what that choice might gain me, but also what passing up my other choices might cost me. That's why I think it's a better strategy to give money to life extension research now than save up to give to cryonics specifically to freeze me.

I hope that helps to clarify my thinking on this. I am wondering, what experimental evidence in favor of cryonics do you find most compelling? Are there other life-extension strategies you have considered?

EDIT: Curses...my HTML tricks will do me no good here (goes off to search for message board markup tags...)

EDIT: Yay! Fixed! Thanks for the help, @Mixed Nuts and @nsheppard!

comment by nshepperd · 2011-07-29T07:35:12.705Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Notice the little "Help" link under the comment box ;)

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T10:09:12.327Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I'm glad people are being so helpful with this.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-06T21:55:58.447Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

In looking over the comments here, there are a few missed points that I believe heavily shift the balance in favor of having cryonics arrangements. The first is that the need for "cryonics," in the generic sense, is never likely to go away. While it is true that we can currently envision technologies to repair all of the pathological processes we currently understand, that does NOT mean that we understand all of the things that both can, and will go wrong with us in the future.

Let's assume that aging is conquered tomorrow. Within some definite (but unknown) period of time you are going to fill up your hard drive - or your "soft drive," if you prefer. Humans were not designed to store thousands of years of memories and experiences. And we may be doing just that, if the people with Superior Autobiographical Memory are any indication. So unless you are happy with eventually losing most, or all of your current memories, something will have to change…

A likely consequence of this limitation is that we are going to have to reconfigure our brains. I use this very conservative example, because it speaks to the NECESSITY of doing this. Probably most of the people on LW envision, and even desire, vastly more daring reworks of their identity-encoding hardware and software. That will inevitably carry associated risk. It is very easy (at least for me) to envision major and very complicated screw-ups in cognitive re-engineering that cannot be easily or rapidly sorted out. In fact, this sort of thing happens today on a small, but nevertheless sometimes lethal, and not infrequently very damaging way, when people become psychologically confused, or "existentially damaged." A good example is when seemingly normal people get taken over by ideas, or become ensnared in cults. Is "deprogramming" a treatment, or coercion? Malware, either deliberately designed or accidentally created, which badly damages programs and data are yet another example. So, leaving hardware out of consideration, it seems likely that people will still get very nasty “software” diseases that do a lot of damage in a short period of time, and that require that the “system” (person) be shut down until a solution can be found. Nanotechnology will not solve this problem because the problem is a meta-problem that is intrinsic to complex systems interacting in an open universe.

I also think it will also be a long time, if ever, before damage to "hardware" substrates becomes 100% repairable 100% of the time in REAL TIME. As long as it is possible to envision pathologies that render the individual into a degraded and nonfunctional state, which current technology cannot reverse, then you will need cryonics, regardless of what it is subsequently called or what preservation technology is used.

My next point is that there are a couple of implicit assumptions in the foregoing arguments which are demonstrably not true. The first is that cryonics is a discrete, consumable product, like a bag of crisps, a candy bar, or even a computer or a radio. Or that it is like an automobile maintenance contract, or an insurance policy that pays off when you need it.

It isn't.

All of those products and services can be assigned, with a high degree of precision, a probability as to how they will perform and what your likelihood is of being satisfied with them. They are fully developed products. And mostly, all you need to know about them is present, free for the asking in your culture in the form of "common knowledge," information from friends and family, and, of course, in advertising. You pay your money and that's it. Nobody needs to explain to you, or to or anyone else what a TV or broom are for, how to use them, and what might go wrong with them over time.

This is no way describes cryonics.

So, the first benefit you get by signing up is that you now have a proprietary interest in learning what it is that you just bought; and you will soon become aware that you need to KEEP LEARNING, because cryonics is an undeveloped, immature, and above all, experimental technique. I signed up with the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY) when I was 15 years old. CSNY is long, long gone and I've been signed up with 2 other organizations that have vanished. If you can’t keep learning until old age or “death” overtakes you, you are unwilling to do so, or you are an idiot, then cryonics is not for you.

And because cryonicists are the most rabid and intense of the life extensionists, you will also soon learn that they are at the absolute edge of emerging science in this area. In other words, you stand to be the first to know about newly developed and developing technology to combat aging. That can either “kill you or cure you, “depending upon how good your judgment is.

Finally, non-cryonicists, because they have the view of cryonics as a developed product (like an automobile or a light bulb) have a similarly inaccurate and warped view of the odds. The odds of the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1517 lives were 100% on 15 April 1912. But, what if the Titanic were to have taken, say, 48 hours to sink? Depending upon how the passengers and crew behaved in that interval, the number of survivors might have gone way up, or way down.

There were a lot of smart people on board the Titanic - very clever and very inventive people. But they were panicked, they were dealing with a panicked mass of passengers, and they had very little time to react. Given 48 hours, and the willing participation of the best minds aboard that ship, how many people need have died, or would have died? Were there ways, other than the optimal loading of the inadequate number of lifeboats that would have saved lives? Would clothing those passengers consigned to the icy sea in multiple layers of clothing saturated in grease, shortening, or oil, attaching them to life-ropes, and rotating them in and out of the lifeboats, have saved additional lives? What kind of makeshift lifeboats or floating platforms could have been made on an expedient basis from materials on the ship, allowing additional passengers to remain afloat out of the freezing water?

THAT is the position of cryonics and cryonicists. The odds are not fixed to those calculated at any given point in time, because you are NOT carting off a discrete product to screw into your lamp, or to process your words, or to play your games on. YOU set the odds of success or failure to an amazing degree. [You also do this, to a tiny degree, for the success or failure of the company that you buy a light bulb or a computer from.] Cryonics is thus an ACTIVIST proposition. Customers can, of course, be customers if they insist. But in cryonics, as in any other market transaction (perfected or experimental) you get what you pay for. In the case of cryonics, the fees required for success are not even remotely reducible to cold hard cash alone. It’s going to all the composure, good judgment and raw intelligence we can muster to escape the sinking ship fate has consigned us to and make it that far shore where we can continue our journey through life, indefinitely.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-06T22:29:55.266Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is "deprogramming" a treatment, or coercion?

Yvain has said:

In general, any debate about whether something is "good" or "bad" is sketchy, and can be changed to a more useful form by converting the thing to an action and applying utilitarianism

Disease (and by analogy, malware) is dissolved here.

And because cryonicists are the most rabid and intense of the life extensionists, you will also soon learn that they are at the absolute edge of emerging science in this area.

How convenient that the way to optimize life extension happens to be the same set of actions that would entail signing up for cryonics.

The odds of the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1517 lives were 100% on 15 April 1912.

On odds.

I always enjoy reading your comments and from their length and writing I can tell you put a lot into them. Perhaps you'll also put up shorter posts with single thoughts as they come to you, the way I and some others do, which would be great as well. LW has a high standard it holds ideas, arguments, and most of all attempts to persuade to, which is why I enjoy the site and hope you post more often. I think you would pick up certain valuable ideas quickly, the posts I linked to are related to the parts of your comment I quoted.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-07T03:33:53.219Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'll try to keep my response brief:

1) I respect the desire for precision in the use of words, and I understand that each culture has its own nomenclature and rules.Those here that I have seen so far seem eminently reasonable.

2) I have no interest whatsoever (and haven't for many years) in persuading anyone to sign up for cryonics - including friends and family. While it is an understandable error, my purpose here is not to convince, proselytize, or recruit, but rather to identify minds that are useful to my current endeavor. They will not need persuasion - they will 'know the lion by his paw.'

3) Forgive my levity, but in urging mono-topical posts of short duration, you pointed me to three dissertations dealing with a range of subjects within each essay, the shortest of which was ~1,400 words and the longest of which was 2,700 words - not including commentary.

4) For the record, I use the word disease in the context your writer specified: as .something unusual, abnormal, and I would add, deleterious to the normal functioning and survival of the organism. I know little about computing and have even less aptitude to learn. I use the word malware as software that damages or destroys data that the computer's owner doesn't want destroyed or degraded. I would add that given my predicament, when that happens it is a complex, difficult and thoroughly unpleasant thing to sort out which generally requires my machine spend time in "stasis" until the appropriate expertise can be brought to bear.

5) My posts here have been mostly confined to the subject of cryonics and were never intended to continue. I've really enjoyed the discussion and I've found this an interesting and rewarding forum. Many thanks!

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-07T04:35:35.116Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

3) Forgive my levity, but in urging mono-topical posts of short duration, you pointed me to three dissertations dealing with a range of subjects within each essay, the shortest of which was ~1,400 words and the longest of which was 2,700 words - not including commentary.

I suck at being tactful and polite, particularly in this medium. I was trying to say I like your writing by saying you could add short comments to your repertoire, I hadn't meant to imply you should decrease your production of long ones. That I genuinely enjoy your comments was not the sole motivation behind my writing what I did, I was trying to soften the criticism, and trying not to be rude.

I was also trying to make convenient for you what I was pointing towards, at the level of depth you would want it in, whatever that might be. That's what I meant to do by having "How" go to link summarizing the content of the following link "convenient", to present the same idea to the extent you cared to engage it.

4) For the record, I use the word disease in the context your writer specified

My intent was to show that they are analogous, I wasn't claiming you didn't use the word that way. What the article shows is that the question "Is "deprogramming" a treatment, or coercion?" is misguided.

2) While it is an understandable error,

I did not mean to imply that you are here to persuade people to sign up for cryonics, if that is what you thought I meant. Rather, when people make assertions, they often are attempting to persuade the reader of their truth. I just did that in the preceding sentence, there is nothing wrong with persuasion! You are trying to persuade me of at least five things in the parent of this comment, this is not a bad thing.

Rather, advocating for something by asserting that it has no opportunity costs is not just non-persuasive, it's anti-persuasive because it is either clumsy attempted manipulation or rationalization - artful manipulation I wouldn't be so inclined to comment on, but I genuinely felt empathically embarrassed to read "And because cryonicists are the most rabid and intense of the life extensionists, you will also soon learn that they are at the absolute edge of emerging science in this area. In other words, you stand to be the first to know about newly developed and developing technology to combat aging."

Perhaps false modesty, or sloth, led me to provide links to what others have said, rather than try to explain more directly what I thought the issue was and how it applied. Perhaps one consideration that led me to write a sparse comment with links is that I know how easy it is for me to miscommunicate over featureless text comments, and how little I can rely on my intent being understood, such that it is valid for me to enlist others' words to help me communicate...apparently even that didn't help me here. Alas, there is no law of the universe that reads: "when people intend to communicate, they are skilled enough in communication such that if only they try hard enough and have good intentions, their meaning will be conveyed".

I honestly think that you, from what I have read by you, wouldn't even have to work hard or think hard to avoid making certain mistakes. That isn't an attempt to be nice, as I think any further effort I spend on that is entirely wasted in at least this thread at this point.

You are smart enough that I was embarrassed for you to see you make certain errors of reasoning, happy that they can easily be fixed for you, and that you have happened upon a place that can easily fix them, and happy that I have found such a useful place, and happy that other people here are good at highlighting parts of my arguments and saying the equivalent of "you are being a dumbass at the following places in your argument, and let me explain how to fix that," to me without it being awkward or unnatural, and I'm sorry I don't have that skill.

comment by mikedarwin · 2011-08-08T01:33:47.677Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, you've spent a lot of time trying to address things that really aren't problems. I was in no way offended, or put off. It's axiomatic, but worth noting yet again, that correspondence in writing is a dangerous way to communicate, because it lacks the context of intonation, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues.

The best way to deal with errors in my writing, thinking or actions, real or perceived, is directly, matter of factly, and with only such tact as common courtesy requires. Public statements can be dealt with publicly, privates ones are best dealt with privately...

I think this will also save you time (when you are correct), because a succinct critique of an error is a hell of a lot less draining than spending time and energy crafting a convoluted, or overly polite reply. I do understand that this site is about a rigorous way of way thinking.

Finally, in reading your response, I realize that my comment about why I've posted here extensively recently, and am unlikely to continue to do so, may have been misinterpreted. It should be taken at face value as the literal truth. My primary obligations in terms of time, energy and writing must necessarily be elsewhere for the foreseeable future. This is just the way it is and it has nothing to do with LW.

Thanks for your letter - I know it took a fair bit of time to write and I really do appreciate it ;and I appreciate even more the sentiments expressed!

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-07-29T14:30:41.065Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You may think that restricted caloric diets could never possibly extend people's lives as much as cryonics, but I think it is currently impossible to estimate the additional lifespan of a person successfully revived from cryonic extension. Your assumption, I'm guessing, is that this number would likely be large due to improved future technology. Once again, I think this is a huge assumption, and given the large number of things I could conceivably try.

What things could you possibly try in the present that couldn't also be used in the future on revival? There are lots of things that could theoretically be done to extend lifespans which we can't do now, but if any methods that are available now have similar effect, why shouldn't people in the future be able to apply them to at least equal effect?

Besides, measures like following a low calorie diet are not exclusive with signing up for cryonics, although having lived on a low calorie diet for about a month, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live even a normal human life span on one, since it meant that immediately upon finishing each meal, my mind would become preoccupied with the prospect of the next one.

comment by MatthewBaker · 2011-07-29T15:44:51.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The trick i found with low calorie diet was to eat less meals :) but that's not as approachable for many people.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T06:25:36.739Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that cryonics has a better chance of working than, say, placing a fried egg over your grave, and that's something people find very hard to grasp or work with.

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T07:02:34.643Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't disagree. I stated above that I find cryonics also more plausible than mummification as a life extension strategy, and I think I might place mummification as more plausible than placing a fried egg over someone's grave. After all, a significantly advanced civiization could perhaps extract enough information from a combination of the person's genetic material, remaining belongings, and statistical analysis that you could perhaps genetically engineer something close to their original body with it and then add memories sort of like what you think they might have had. I'm pretty sure the fried egg wouldn't be nearly as helpful. My main objection to cryonics is that I do not find it currently plausible enough to pursue given the fact that it is costly, other possibilities exist, and I do not have sufficient evidence of benefit.

On a completely unrelated note, could you tell me how you made that wonderful link of yours? I would be most appreciative if I, too, could have magical linking powers.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T09:02:59.264Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The point of the fried egg quote is to say that cryonics has a decent chance of working - it's the best bet given costs, not just all else equal.

The almost invisible "Help" link below the bottom right corner of the comment entry field explains how to get various magical powers such as linking and image insertion. The spell for magical linking powers is [text of link](link address).

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T10:07:00.351Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the very helpful commenting instructions! Magical markup powers unlocked! I have upvoted your very useful info on this.

As for pitting cryonics against a chthonic fried egg, I'm not sure that proves that cryonics has a decent chance of working, just that it is not completely implausible. I would be more interested in hearing more about what research has been done in this field, although I understand that is a time consuming task and I don't expect for you to do any research in that area for me (although of course no objections if you wish to).

I am curious why you think it is the best bet given the cost. For example, it probably makes sense as a strategy for someone who is a.) reasonably wealthy and b.) knows they are likely to die very soon, but that's because the opportunity cost will be greatly lower for such a person. Since they already have the money, they wouldn't have to sacrifice as much in their (certain) current life to try cryonics for an (uncertain) future life. Also, being about to die very soon makes the opportunity cost of giving up investigation of other options considerably lower.

Still, I don't think everyone has the same opportunity costs since not everyone lives the same life. I think learning a lot more about life extension is my best possible option, which should then be followed by investing accordingly. I think your comment reflects the feeling that cryonics has an image problem, and I would agree with that. I also don't think it should have as much of an image problem as it does, even though I currently don't have any reason to believe it will be overwhelmingly successful. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying whatever seems to be the best option given your own opportunity costs.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T11:37:18.085Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

On probability it'll work:

I haven't done much detailed research. "Cryonics works" is the default given the history of medicine and what Alcor says; there could be a flaw or an outright lie in the case for cryonics that makes it deviate -I am not an expert. But the case against cryonics is non-existent. Why would experts not debunk it, if it were false?

On cost:

Robin Hanson has a calculation saying it's worth it . I haven't checked. Morendil argues that the cost (a few $100 per year) is very low relative to other expenses. Even if both arguments are false, cryonics still looks developed-country-cheap.

It's a bad strategy for someone who'll die soon, because they can't get life insurance. Cryonics is cheaper when young and healthy.

On opportunity cost:

Research time doesn't look all that limited. (If it does, why not sign up for cryonics with as little research as possible?) I'm not sure what other costs you're talking about.

Life extension is a very good idea, yes. But it's not incompatible with cryonics (unlike mummification and graveyard eggs); in fact it helps, because cryonics is best if you deanimate late (cryonics improves with time, and the longer your life expectancy the cheaper insurance gets).

If life extension techniques look so incredibly good that you put every cent and second in them, sure, go ahead and be a hero - but that applies to every expense, not just cryonics.

comment by christina · 2011-07-30T07:50:28.251Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! Upvoted since your responses are highly relevant to my questions.

I'm first looking at the arguments for the science of cryonics that Alcor gives. I do not have much expectation that I can judge all their claims to be valid or invalid yet, but I will give my general impression of the 3 main premises they present on their site here:

1.) Life can be stopped and restarted if cell structure and chemistry are preserved sufficiently well.

Arguments for this are point are based on currently verified procedures such as reviving people after their heart stops, people being revived long after drowning in cold water, freezing embryos, etc. I assume this is the reason you say "cryonics works" based on the history of medicine. I would change this to say that the likeliehood of cryonics working is greater in the universe we live in, because we can now revive people that would once have been irretrievably dead, so it is not inconceivable that people could be revived in the future from some states that would be considered irretrievably dead today. I have no disagreement with this point. I would note that the 'some' in the previous sentence is important since it means that it likely matters what strategy is used.

2) Vitrification (not freezing) can preserve biological structure very well.

This is an interesting argument and not one that I was previously aware of, nor of the fact that kidneys have been usable after vitrification or that a cat brain briefly regained EEG capability after vitrification. I thought the pictures were very helpful in showing the structural improvements Alcor says have been accomplished in this procedure, and this increases my confidence that this procedure could preserve information. I will need to look into this determine in more detail what we know about this process. Alcor is pretty clear that the toxicity of the procedure prevents brains from being revived this way today, so I definitely want to try to understand that aspect a little more. It is good to know that the process has improved in preserving visual structure over time, however.

3) Methods for repairing structure at the molecular level can now be foreseen.

True, although I'm not sure if this is an argument so much for cryonics in particular as for finding the most successful strategy for preserving information about that structure in some way. Cryonics may or may not be the best way to accomplish this, and if the best way is mutually exclusive to this method, I think that would be an important piece of information in making the most rational decision.

I will need to look at the other articles some more in the future. I skimmed over them but have not yet had the time to think them over and formulate a response. Thanks for responding to my questions about the available research in the field, the costs, and the opportunity cost.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-01T06:48:32.739Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On preservation methods: gwern has an article on plastination. It's compatible with cryonics in theory, but not currently in practice.

I distrust "this improves chances of revival with method X"-type reasoning, though. The argument for revival is more like "A huge advance among the many possible ones, only a few of which we can currently foresee" than "Scan and upload". This encourages catch-all preservation methods rather than methods that optimize for a particular kind of revival.

comment by christina · 2011-08-02T08:48:54.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So are you saying that you don't think it matters if one method is better, as in having more known working components? I'm not sure I understand what method you are favoring here.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-08-02T09:16:02.155Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Revival method, or preservation method? I'm saying that the revival method that will in fact be used will probably be none of the methods we can foresee (scan and upload, molecular repair, light molecular repair plus organ printing, growing a new body) - not because there's anything wrong with those revival methods, just because I expect a lot of currently unknown candidates to be developed.

This implies that we should use methods that minimize maximal corruption - corrupt connections a bit but not too much, corrupt cell structure a bit but not too much, corrupt ease of reversal (thawing is possible, unplastinating isn't) a bit but not too much. That way, when we try to revive patients using a currently unknown revival method, the currently unknown parameters it cares about won't be too compromised.

If we could predict the revival method well, then we should pick preservation methods that minimize corruption of the parameters it cares about, and only them. For example, if we're pretty sure the method will involve destructive scanning, we should try very hard to preserve information exactly, but can go wild with other kinds of damage if they help with information preservation.

comment by christina · 2011-08-03T06:51:22.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. I see what you were saying now.

I guess to me it seems very important to figure out what would work in terms of both preservation and revival. I see that it could work out to just preserve the brain as well as possible--in some future universes we might imagine, this could work out very well. But I would be more inclined to think this was an easier choice if some of the uncertainty could be removed. I don't at all mind if other people want to take this risk for themselves, and I hope it works out well for them. But I like to know more about a situation if I'm considering it for myself. I am very risk averse, and I can't help but worry this could possibly take money I might need later for a medical emergency and then I would die and cryonics wouldn't work for me. Or it would succeed, but those reviving me would be incredibly hostile. I want to live a long time--but I'm really, really hoping that much of that isn't also while suffering inconceivable pain. It's not that I think success is impossible; it's that I like to know what I'm getting into, as much as is humanly possible.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-08-18T19:45:42.570Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a bad strategy for someone who'll die soon, because they can't get life insurance. Cryonics is cheaper when young and healthy.

Life insurance is more expensive than paying in cash. If that weren't true, no one could make money selling life insurance. Yes it amortizes the cost over time, and amortizes the risk over the population but that does not reduce the cost of it. The opportunity cost of cryo-preservation is the same whether you buy insurance or not.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-30T01:19:14.815Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a bad strategy for someone who'll die soon, because they can't get life insurance. Cryonics is cheaper when young and healthy.

People who are young and healthy usually end up becoming people who are likely to die soon.

comment by nshepperd · 2011-07-30T02:20:07.424Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing that's why it's a good strategy to get cryonics when you're young and healthy.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-30T07:02:05.732Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Many of the rates quoted are for term life insurance, which expires and becomes worthless after a certain number of years.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-07-29T10:22:50.596Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The spell for magical linking powers is text of link.

How did you do that without spending any reagents?

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-29T12:00:43.287Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can escape the magic using backslashes. So to write [this], write "\[this\]".

comment by Nic_Smith · 2011-07-29T05:42:49.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite so as brain plastination is not-cryonics.

comment by christina · 2011-07-29T10:42:55.075Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. I'd never heard of this until you mentioned it and I googled a short description. I'll have to learn what this entails before I can comment more.

comment by gwern · 2011-07-29T14:06:27.587Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have been working on a little essay about plastination, http://www.gwern.net/plastination - it's not very thorough, but Darwin says he'll send me what he's written before on the topic of plastination/chemical fixation, which ought to help a lot.

comment by christina · 2011-07-30T08:22:48.358Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! Upvoted for the useful essay link. I have started reading the essay to get more familiar with this.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T14:22:22.621Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this basically a Pascal's Wager for science fiction fans?

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-05T17:11:09.310Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not really, because it doesn't take a tiny arbitrary possibility and single it out the way Pascal's Wager does.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T18:30:21.798Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, Hyena seemed to be arguing that cryonics is preferable even if the odds of success are tiny. Agreed?

comment by Nornagest · 2011-08-05T19:13:55.796Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The main problem with Pascal's Wager isn't that the odds of winning are tiny but that it unduly privileges a particular tiny possibility. Perfectly straightforward expected value calculations will tell you that you should follow Pascal when you feed them "eternal bliss" as a possible reward -- if you ignore all the points in metaphysics-space besides "generalized Christianity" and "business as usual".

It's a lot harder to argue that the space of cryonics outcomes includes some hidden options that the expected-value result doesn't address. I have occasionally seen people speculate about a sadistic future that wakes cryonics patients up and tortures them for fun, but that seems rather far-fetched.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T19:42:20.857Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you make a good point, but if the probability of cryonics working is sufficiently low, then relatively speaking, there are a lot of bad outcomes which are not far-fetched. For example, religious fanatics taking over the government and denying life-prolonging medical treatment to people who had previously signed up for cryonics.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-05T19:52:42.833Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is it really even as remotely likely that religious fanatics will take over and then do that as it is that cryonics would work? (I would think that discriminating against cryonicists, when no religion I am aware of has any real official anti-cryonics position yet, would be something like a billion places down on their TODO list.) Or are you just privileging the hypothesis?

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T20:38:34.215Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is it really even as remotely likely that religious fanatics will take over and then do that as it is that cryonics would work?

In my opinion, no. But the argument I was addressing seemed to be that one should do cryonics, even if the odds of it working are tiny.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-05T20:47:45.766Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, because there are positive arguments for cryonics working and not having negative effects besides the well-known ones. Fantasizing about religious fanatics taking over during your lifetime is about as sensible as fantasizing about another group of fanatics taking over and cutting off healthcare to everyone who didn't signup on the grounds that their revealed preference is to die sooner. (Notice the isomorphism here to issues with Pascal's Wager and the 'atheist's god'.)

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T21:02:35.899Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, because there are positive arguments for cryonics working and not having negative effects besides the well-known ones. Fantasizing about religious fanatics taking over during your lifetime is about as sensible as fantasizing about another group of fanatics taking over and cutting off healthcare to everyone who didn't signup on the grounds that their revealed preference is to die sooner.

I agree and that's my main point: The case for cryonics depends on there being a decent chance that it will actually work. As opposed to some epsilon.

comment by soreff · 2011-08-05T21:29:28.631Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A useful point of comparison here is a part-per-million chance Looking at the other actions which cost a micromort, I'd say that if the odds were worse than a part per million, filling out the sign-up paperwork alone would outweigh the benefit. (My personal best guess is that the odds are closer to 1%, which, for me, is close to the break even point, mostly due to the financial part of the costs.)

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-05T23:06:28.650Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with that. However the term "tiny" can be misleading -- 1% is pretty small compared to what I would think reasonable, but would still be a fair motivator for a $28k expenditure if your life is valued at >$2.8 million.

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-05T20:17:25.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Uh... more importantly: this scenario just reverses us back to the not-cryonics position because it's simply a failure state for the strategy.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-05T20:40:00.448Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think so, since access to life-prolonging technology might keep you alive long enough to get access to even better life-prolonging technology, and so on.

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-06T05:46:52.858Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it which case you never get frozen, so I don't see the point of this criticism.

Cryonics works like this: (1) you suffer "normal" death, (2) cryonicists move in to arrest all decay, (3) in the future, you may be revived using more advanced technology.

But if you live to see radical life extension, then step one never happens and so the others don't either.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-06T08:57:29.752Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it which case you never get frozen, so I don't see the point of this criticism.

Well the question as I understand it is whether one can envision scenarios in which one would be far worse off for having signed up for cryonics, just like whether there exist scenarios in which one might be far worse off for having decided to accept Jesus. Agreed?

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-13T05:56:42.400Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not really. Pascal's Wager's domain is afterlives, about which we know nothing (either because they're false or because no one can tell us anything). But cryonics has its domain over future possibilities, about which we can know things and so can assign meaningful prior estimates.

While we certainly can think of errant possibilia that make cryonics bad, they are notably errant, requiring us to posit a future incredibly unlike the present, the past and the kinds of changes we see in the world.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-13T21:27:12.337Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not really. Pascal's Wager's domain is afterlives, about which we know nothing (either because they're false or because no one can tell us anything). But cryonics has its domain over future possibilities, about which we can know things and so can assign meaningful prior estimates.

I'm not sure that this distinction is important to the argument. Let's assume for the sake of argument that evidence is discovered which allows one to assign meaningful probabilities to the claim that accepting Jesus will guaranty a trip to heaven for eternity after one's death. Let's further suppose that this probability is roughly one in one billion. Would that change anything about the argument? I don't think so. Pascal's wager would still have the same basic flaws.

While we certainly can think of errant possibilia that make cryonics bad, they are notably errant, requiring us to posit a future incredibly unlike the present, the past and the kinds of changes we see in the world.

I'm not sure I would put it at "incredibly unlike the present." After all, there is a lot of hostility to cryonics. And history shows that politics can be pretty chaotic.

Still, you seem to agree that one can make a meaningful estimate of the probability that future public policy will make people worse off for having chosen to sign up for cryonics. So what's your rough estimate of that probability?

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-14T17:39:28.028Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with this is that, once we assign meaningful probabilities to Pascal's Wager, the conceit succeeds or fails based on those probabilities.

My estimate of a dystopian future in which you'd rather be dead than alive and, yet, somehow you are awakened into that world: basically zero.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-14T18:20:32.327Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with this is that, once we assign meaningful probabilities to Pascal's Wager, the conceit succeeds or fails based on those probabilities.

I don't see why that's a problem. If somehow it were known that there is a 1 in 3 chance that accepting Jesus would lead to an eternity in heaven, then Pascal's wager would start to make a lot more sense.

My estimate of a dystopian future in which you'd rather be dead than alive and, yet, somehow you are awakened into that world: basically zero.

That's not an answer to my question, since it excludes some scenarios where you are worse off for having chosen cryonics even if you are never frozen. Besides, I don't understand what you mean by "basically zero." Is it greater than zero?

comment by soreff · 2011-08-15T22:53:13.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

some scenarios where you are worse off for having chosen cryonics even if you are never frozen.

I don't think I've seen any such scenarios explicitly displayed yet. Here's one that I think might be plausible:

  • Assume that cryonics and organ donation continue to be technically incompatible

  • Assume that organ donation becomes "opt-out" rather than "opt-in" (true in some places now, e.g. Spain)

  • Assume that opting out for organ donation makes one ineligible to receive a transplant (not true now, but I've heard it proposed) ( new information: something similar is in place in Israel )

Under this scenario, the loss of eligibility for receiving a transplant would become a liability of cryonics, even to those cryonicists who are never frozen. My guess is that the odds of this happening are low, but not exceeding so. Perhaps 1% 10%? (updating odds for similar policy no-give-no-take policy to go into effect in the U.S.)

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-16T01:24:36.848Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The scenario I had in mind (which is probably more far-fetched than yours) is that (1) good life extension technology becomes available; and (2) in deciding who should get the benefit of this technology, the powers that be decide to categorically exclude anyone who has ever signed up for cryonics.

comment by soreff · 2011-08-16T01:51:13.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It certainly could happen - but mostly cryonics is too small to be on anyone's radar. If the powers that be decide to categorically exclude a group, it is more likely to be a larger group, and perhaps a group that is more of a direct opponent to the powers. (Also, I think you can omit (1) from your scenario - exclusion from current medical care would do much the same thing, with similar political questions, but without needing to posit a technical advance.)

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-16T09:49:37.750Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It certainly could happen - but mostly cryonics is too small to be on anyone's radar

Possibly, but it's also possible that cryonics will grow to the point where it hits the radar screen. If a few prominent people sign up it could get a lot of attention.

Anyway, all that's necessary for the argument is that there is some small chance that you will be worse off for having chosen cryonics just like there is some small chance that you will be worse off for having accepted Jesus.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-16T00:41:59.203Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Under this scenario, the loss of eligibility for receiving a transplant would become a liability of cryonics, even to those cryonicists who are never frozen.

I don't see how this works. If you want the transplants, you drop the cryonics. If you want the cryonics more, you drop the transplants. You pick whichever option is more valuable for you.

Unless you can't drop cryonics and sign up for organ donation once you learn you need a transplant, there's no real loss here, even in this unlikely scenario.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-08-16T01:27:47.596Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unless you can't drop cryonics and sign up for organ donation once you learn you need a transplant, there's no real loss here, even in this unlikely scenario.

Well presumably under soreff's scenario, there would be some sort of exclusionary period in place to prevent people from waiting to opt in until just before they need a transplant.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-05T20:14:11.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

no religion I am aware of has any real official anti-cryonics position yet

I think the actual heuristic used by a minority of them, more than the smaller minority who admit it, is to oppose things unless they are religiously endorsed. For this reason I partially disagree with this select portion of your post. I endorse the rest.

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-05T20:22:59.183Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Geek's Wager would require me to argue, albeit slyly, that cryonics should be preferred over other entropy-defeating technologies.

There aren't any, at present, and so it's sufficient to characterize the set as not-cryonics because the set of post-mortem entropy defeaters contains only cryonics.

And, because it's, you know, a pretty good slogan that wraps the issue nicely.

But if there were other options, like uploads or maybe a plastination-like preservation system, I'd probably not say anything, especially not anything glib. I would no longer feel comfortable telling random people on the Internet where they should place their bets.

comment by Lalartu · 2014-01-17T17:26:26.501Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that main reason is actually somewhat different. Let's remove one aspect from the cryonics proposal : "far future" part. Then it will sound something like that:

A new sort of emergency medical procedure is developed. After complete cessation of brain activity, body is frozen with liquid nitrogen and operation using is performed. Then patient awakes alive and healthy next Friday, or no body to speak of is left for funeral. Estimated chances for success are single-digit percents, and cost several tens of thousands dollars.

How many people (among those who can afford) will want that to be covered by medical insurance? Probably less then half but still several orders of magnitude more than for cryonics.

So conclusion is: "chance to live longer now" and "chance to start a new life in far future" are massively different things. Some people consider the second very valuable, but for overwhelming majority it is just worthless.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-18T02:39:19.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
From too much love of living,
    From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.

"The Garden of Proserpine", Swinburne

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-26T01:29:05.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I skimmed the comments on this article, and it seems like the prevailing attitude is, "if you're not signed up for cryonics, then you must either be irrational, or you must lack a desire to prolong your life (which means you're irrational anyway)". But I think that's a false dilemma. There's at least one other option: "you are rational, and you want to prolong your life as much as possible, but you're not convinced that cryonics can actually accomplish this". I personally fit into the latter category.

Do we currently have any evidence that it's actually possible to revive a mammal after it had been cryonically preserved, with (and this is the key part) its memory intact ? Or is it the fact that, once your brain activity ceases, your personality is gone -- in which case, even a transhuman Singularity-grade AI won't be able to bring you back ? As I said, I'd very much like to live as long as possible (ideally, forever), but that doesn't mean that I must therefore uncritically accept any proposal that promises to accomplish this.

comment by saturn · 2011-08-26T02:10:42.521Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are people whose brain activity has ceased, who survived and still consider themselves to be the same person.

If you think living forever is worth money, it's reasonable to sign up for cryonics even if it's unlikely to work, because the other options (being buried in a wooden box or burned to ashes) are considerably less likely to work.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-08-26T03:22:55.394Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If you think living forever is worth money, it's reasonable to sign up for cryonics even if it's unlikely to work, because the other options (being buried in a wooden box or burned to ashes) are considerably less likely to work.

Let's not get Pascalian here. It's reasonable to sign up for cryonics even if it's moderately unlikely to work, but probably not if it's ridiculously unlikely. Opportunity costs matter since some of my values aren't about my own subjective experience.

comment by saturn · 2011-08-26T04:13:13.044Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I should have worded that better. I don't actually think that cryonics is reasonable no matter how unlikely it is to work.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-26T02:42:17.939Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are people whose brain activity has ceased, who survived and still consider themselves to be the same person.

I guess it depends on how you define "ceased". As far as I understand, people who are in comas, or in shock, etc., still have a measurable level of brain activity (as well as metabolic activity, actually). When a person is cryonically frozen, however, all metabolic activity ceases (again, I could be wrong about this). This is rather a major difference. So, again, has anyone every successfully frozen and revived some complex mammal, such as a dog, and then verified that the dog still remembers all of its tricks after being revivied ? This would not prove that cryonics works on humans, of course, but it would be a pretty major piece of supporting evidence.

If you think living forever is worth money, it's reasonable to sign up for cryonics even if it's unlikely to work

I don't think this is true. For example, imagine that I told you I had a magic bean that, should you eat it, will cause you to be instantly revived after death, in perfect physical and mental health; and that I will sell you this bean for $1000. Would you buy the bean ?

Most reasonable people will answer "no", even though there's a non-zero probability that the bean is, indeed, magical. There are at least two reasons for this:

  • The probability of the bean being magical is quite low, so even though the payoff is high, the expected utility of buying the bean is still quite low.
  • There are a lot of other things you could be spending that $1000 on, and they have a much higher expected utility.

(edit: fixed formatting)

comment by nshepperd · 2011-08-26T09:32:58.929Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I guess it depends on how you define "ceased". As far as I understand, people who are in comas, or in shock, etc., still have a measurable level of brain activity (as well as metabolic activity, actually). When a person is cryonically frozen, however, all metabolic activity ceases (again, I could be wrong about this).

One of the papers referenced by Alcor in support of cryonics is this one. In this case, the patient seems to have been revived after having no electrical activity at all, which should demonstrate that the brain is not storing your personality of identity in any kind of "RAM".

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-27T01:18:32.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

One of the papers referenced by Alcor in support of cryonics is this one. In this case, the patient seems to have been revived after having no electrical activity at all...

I don't have access to the full paper, but I read the abstract as saying, "the patient had no EEG activity, but we detected another type of activity that indicates signals being transmitted from his nerves through his spinal cord, and processed by the brain". See also my reply to lsparrish, below (or maybe above, I am getting kinda lost in this threading system).

comment by nshepperd · 2011-08-27T05:36:23.371Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm...

Thanks to being at university I did eventually figure out how to access the full paper. The main part of interest appears to be this paragraph:

A digital computerized EEG performed 5 h following the arrest was isoelectric using gains of 7 µV/mm (Fig. 1). Reconfiguring the study using double distance electrode placement confirmed the absence of cortical activity. At maximal gains of 2 µV/mm there was extensive EKG, respirator and muscle artifact, but no demonstrable cerebral electrical activity. Median nerve SSEP performed immediately thereafter were normal (Fig. 2).

I'm not a biology major, unfortunately, but what I take this to mean is that the EEG detected no electrical activity although the rest of the nervous system (heart, muscles, lungs, etc.) were working normally, and also that signals emitted by the nervous system from stimulus were correctly transmitted throughout the brain. So while the brain had no self-sustaining electrical activity its signal response was good (which actually ought to indicate just that the neural structure and functionality -- the stuff that cryonics is meant to preserve -- was good!).

But, again, I don't study biology and most of the terms they use are new to me, so I could have misinterpreted. Still, I take this as some evidence that not much of importance is stored in volatile electrical activity.

comment by saturn · 2011-08-26T07:20:51.126Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I guess it depends on how you define "ceased".

I'm specifically thinking of hypothermia patients and people who have had electroshock therapy. From what I've read, those who avoid brain necrosis lose the last few hours of their memory before the incident but are otherwise fine.

I don't think this is true. For example, imagine that I told you I had a magic bean that, should you eat it, will cause you to be instantly revived after death, in perfect physical and mental health; and that I will sell you this bean for $1000. Would you buy the bean ?

You're right, what I wrote came out sounding much stronger than I intended. The point I was trying to make was that there is no real "safe option"—the choices available right now are basically cryonics or rotting. And if you value your life at, say, $10 million, the expected value of cryonics is positive even with a pretty small chance of it working.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-27T01:25:52.180Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the choices available right now are basically cryonics or rotting.

I don't think this true; and I enumerated some other choices in my reply to lsparrish, below. There are traditional life-extension technologies (Alzheimer's cure, cancer cure, etc.), there are transplants (and stem cell research to produce them), then of course there's the good old Singularity. There are also other ways to spend your money, period. For example, if it is the case (hypothetically speaking) that all of these life extension solutions have a very low expected utility, you might as well forget about it and spend your money on something that will make what little time you have left a little more pleasant (which includes things like donations to charity).

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-26T03:11:16.015Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The magic bean scenario has a low prior, and you haven't provided any evidence, just a claim, so it's not really comparable. On the other hand it is the sort of thing that would be easy to prove if it worked (assuming you have multiple beans) -- just feed one to someone who is about to die.

Cryonics is not easy to prove if it works because the level of technology we are at is not anywhere near the theoretical maximum where repairing the damage of cryopreservation is concerned. You would have to base your opinion on indirect evidence, such as whether the structure of the brain appears preserved.

As to the brain/metabolic activity question, that's possible to answer by examining samples that are cryopreserved and thawed. Turns out they resume electrical and chemical activity just fine. The fundamental barrier is structural preservation and avoiding/limiting toxicity effects from the cryoprotectants.

Now, you might argue rationally in favor of allocating funding towards cryobiology research instead of your own future arrangements, but I'm inclined to think people with cryonics arrangements will allocate more money towards cryobiology research than disinterested outsiders.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-26T03:52:21.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The magic bean scenario has a low prior, and you haven't provided any evidence, just a claim, so it's not really comparable.

Agreed, but I was arguing specifically against saturn's apparent claim that you should spend money on any process that promises to allow you to live forever, no matter how unlikely (assuming that you actually want to live forever, of course, which we do).

Cryonics is not easy to prove if it works because the level of technology we are at is not anywhere near the theoretical maximum where repairing the damage of cryopreservation is concerned.

Is there good evidence to believe that the damage of cryopreservation (as well as the damage due to the brain losing oxygenation while it's waiting to get cryopreserved) is actually reversible ? Furthermore, is it the case that preserving the physical structure of the brain is sufficient ? To use a crude analogy, if I were to unplug my computer from the wall socket at this very moment, the contents of this post that I am now typing would be lost forever, and no amount of future technology would bring them back -- despite the fact that the physical structure of my computer hardware will be perfectly preserved, and despite the fact that my computer will resume functioning normally after I plug it back in.

Now, you might argue rationally in favor of allocating funding towards cryobiology research instead of your own future arrangements

I think that the question of "how should you allocate your money given that you want to live forever" is rather more complex than that. Here are some possible choices:

  • Spend money on cryopreserving yourself, because this is reasonably likely to work.
  • Spend money on cryonics research, because, while cryonics in its current state is unlikely to work, there's a good chance it will improve given sufficient funding.
  • Spend money on Singularity / friendly AI research, and forget about cryonics, because the Singularity is more likely to happen within your lifetime (and when it does, you'll either become immortal or get converted into computronium by an unfriendly AI, frozen or not).
  • Spend money on conventional medical research and life-extension techniques (things like curing cancer, curing Alzheimer's, etc.), because neither cryonics nor the Singularity are likely to happen within your currently projected lifetime.
  • Forget about all that and spend the money on a new car or whatever else makes you happy, because none of these other approaches are likely to succeed in time to benefit you personally, and you don't care about future generations, only about yourself.

These are just some possible answers to the question of how you should spend your money; I'm sure there are many others.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-26T04:44:58.204Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes there's pretty good evidence that the physical structure of the brain is sufficient for long-term memories. The hard drive of your computer would survive if you unplugged your computer. Also if you put the RAM chips of your computer in LN2 immediately after powering off, the data would be readable later (or so I've heard). If human personalities were stored as dynamic processes, that would be a strong argument against cryonics, however this is unlikely to be the case; if they were, we would expect that hypothermia causes amnesia.

The damage done by the brain losing oxygen is mostly done later, after bloodflow has been restored. (This is known as the ischemic cascade.) It is not likely to be structurally damaging, provided there is prompt cooling. If there is adequate perfusion of cryoprotectants, the only damage is that of cryoprotectant toxicity, chilling injury, and cracking, none of which seem likely to render the structure unreadable or irreparable. All of these forms of damage are desirable to avoid (and each increases your risk), but none of them seem to me to be deal-killers.

I am guessing these problems can be resolved long before true antiaging therapies become possible, because it seems to be an inherently simpler problem. We already have a foot in the door so to speak, with the cryopreservation of tissue samples and even small organs such as the rabbit kidney. Note that unlike antiaging treatments, you can get immediate results, so even if they are comparable in difficulty, we should expect cryobiology to progress faster given the same amount of funding.

I find it hard to figure out whether the singularity is near or far. If it is near, that is an argument against not just cryonics but practically everything else. I tend to regard the singularity as moderately (but not ridiculously) low probability.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-27T01:16:00.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes there's pretty good evidence that the physical structure of the brain is sufficient for long-term memories. ... If human personalities were stored as dynamic processes, that would be a strong argument against cryonics, however this is unlikely to be the case; if they were, we would expect that hypothermia causes amnesia.

I was under the impression that hypothermia is not the same as cryonic freezing, and that even when a person is undergoing hypothermia, he still has brain activity. I am reasonably sure that the person is at least undergoing metabolic activity, because otherwise, in the absence of cryoprotectants, his cells would freeze and burst. I could be wrong about this, though.

As far as tissue damage is concerned, AFAIK our current technology is not advanced enough to even preserve human hearts, livers, and other organs (for the purposes of transplanting them into other patients). That is, we can freeze an organ, and we can thaw it, but in the process it is damaged beyound repair -- and we're talking about relatively simple organs here, not brains. As I understand it, the damage is caused by the following factors:

  • Mechanical damage to cells due to thermal contraction (during freezing) and expansion (during thawing)
  • Formation of ice crystals (mitigated but not entirely eliminated by cryoprotectants)
  • Ischemic cascade (I didn't actually know the name of this process, thanks for pointing it out)
  • Slow diffusion and chemical reaction over long periods of time (which is why even simpler tissues such as plant seeds have a limited "shelf life" when frozen)

You say that this damage is not a "deal-killer", but if this were the case, we could at least cryopreserve individual organs today (not to mention whole mammals). Cryonics advocates usually agree with me here, but postulate some form of future technology which will be able to repair this damage. I'm not sure what kind of technology could do that, though. Molecular nanotechnology is the most popular candidate, but I am not convinced that it could, in fact, exist (which is one of the reasons I'm not too enthusiastic about the Singularity, as well).

I'm not sure what you mean by this, though:

Note that unlike antiaging treatments, you can get immediate results

What do you mean by "immediate results" ? Cryonics is kind of the opposite of "immediate", by definition.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-28T02:59:05.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was under the impression that hypothermia is not the same as cryonic freezing, and that even when a person is undergoing hypothermia, he still has brain activity. I am reasonably sure that the person is at least undergoing metabolic activity, because otherwise, in the absence of cryoprotectants, his cells would freeze and burst. I could be wrong about this, though.

Yes there is some metabolic activity in hypothermia patients. However, metabolic activity isn't the reason for no ice crystal formation in hypothermia patients. The relatively high temperature (vs. cryogenic temperatures) is responsible for both phenomena. However, because it is much lower than ordinary body temperatures, hypothermia slows metabolism down and reduces (and halts) electrical activity in the brain.

As far as tissue damage is concerned, AFAIK our current technology is not advanced enough to even preserve human hearts, livers, and other organs (for the purposes of transplanting them into other patients). That is, we can freeze an organ, and we can thaw it, but in the process it is damaged beyound repair -- and we're talking about relatively simple organs here, not brains.

This is correct. However, vitrification has been used to vitrify and revive a rabbit kidney. The brain has a higher degree of vascularization than other organs, which is positive for cryonics purposes. However, nobody is suggesting that the brain can be perfectly preserved as a functioning organ at present. Its size and the conditions under which cryonics is practiced make this unlikely, although it is a reasonable goal for researchers to work towards (and is much easier than full body).

Mechanical damage to cells due to thermal contraction (during freezing) and expansion (during thawing)

Cracking due to temperature differentials is macroscopic in vitrification, thus doesn't apply to "cells" so much as to tissues. It is also preventable, by stopping cooling at the glass transition temperature rather than continuing down to LN2 temperature.

Formation of ice crystals (mitigated but not entirely eliminated by cryoprotectants)

Entirely eliminated in parts of the tissue that are well-perfused. In ideal cases, my understanding is that the entire brain can be vitrified. The cost of this is the toxicity of the required concentrations of cryoprotectants.

Ischemic cascade (I didn't actually know the name of this process, thanks for pointing it out)

Largely prevented (under ideal conditions) with prompt cooling.

Slow diffusion and chemical reaction over long periods of time (which is why even simpler tissues such as plant seeds have a limited "shelf life" when frozen)

My understanding is that this is not a problem when you get to the glass transition temperature (-135C).

You say that this damage is not a "deal-killer", but if this were the case, we could at least cryopreserve individual organs today (not to mention whole mammals). Cryonics advocates usually agree with me here, but postulate some form of future technology which will be able to repair this damage.

I don't know why your interpretation of the phrase "deal-killer" would exclude the possibility of repairs using future technology. That's explicitly part of the deal when discussing cryonics.

I'm not sure what kind of technology could do that, though. Molecular nanotechnology is the most popular candidate, but I am not convinced that it could, in fact, exist (which is one of the reasons I'm not too enthusiastic about the Singularity, as well).

Classic MNT is the most extreme candidate, and is easy to visualize as something likely to work if it does come to exist. However, there is a spectrum of possible candidates for implementing the repairs, ranging from bioengineered microbes to synthetic proteins, or other constructs ("soft machines") that mimic life's mechanisms.

Note that the most compelling arguments against MNT are because it would be too fragile to work in warm, wet conditions. Cryonics puts the body in non-warm, non-wet conditions, which could be considered ideal for forms of nanotech (and/or a spectrum of microtech featuring nanoscale components) that are not suitable for higher temperatures.

There's also no reason (of which I am aware) that you could not convert the cryopreserved body into very small micro-scale blocks or slices, fix them individually using advanced lithographic techniques applied to the exposed surface area, then reassemble them. This sort of thing could require extreme amounts of resources to pull off, which (at least given a non-MNT universe) indicates that a large amount of money should be set aside to generate interest for reanimation.

I haven't yet mentioned uploading, because it's worth addressing the least convenient possible universe the skeptic can imagine first. But this is another possible track which could proceed in the absence of MNT, so if you accept that an upload is a valid continuation of self (which plenty of lesswrongers will be happy to defend), this would also need to be eliminated for cryonics to be rendered implausible.

What do you mean by "immediate results" ? Cryonics is kind of the opposite of "immediate", by definition.

I was referring to the outcomes of cryobiology experiments. You can experiment with new cryoprotectants and get meaningful results right away. Virtually all of the damage (toxicity) is done on the way to and from the reduced temperature, with virtually none occurring during the long-term storage.

With anti-aging interventions by contrast, you cannot tell whether something is helping until the experimental animal reaches old age. Also, the more effective the anti-aging treatment is, the longer it takes to test. The shorter-lived the animal is the less humanlike its genome, and thus the less likely the treatment will successfully translate to humans. Thus we might take hundreds or thousands of years to reach actuarial escape velocity or comprehensively cure aging.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-30T00:18:18.916Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes there is some metabolic activity in hypothermia patients. However, metabolic activity isn't the reason for no ice crystal formation in hypothermia patients.

Sorry, my reply came out differently from what it sounded like in my head. What I meant to say was something like, "hypothermia patients still undergo noticeable metabolic activity, as opposed to cryonic patients, because the temperatures involved are much higher (among other reasons)". So, you and I mostly agree here; still, what I tried to say is that hypothermia and cryopreservation are not entirely analogous.

The brain has a higher degree of vascularization than other organs, which is positive for cryonics purposes.

Can you explain why ? Is this because the higher density of blood vessels allows for higher densities of cryoprotectants to be delivered ? But isn't this advantage offset by the disadvantage of having a more delicate structure that needs to be preserved ? AFAIK, you can lose a chunk of liver or a piece of skin with only a minor loss of function, but losing a piece of brain is a different story.

In any case, is there a reason why we can freeze and revive a rabbit kidney, but not a human one ?

Cracking due to temperature differentials is macroscopic in vitrification, thus doesn't apply to "cells" so much as to tissues.

That actually sounds worse, not better...

Largely prevented (under ideal conditions) with prompt cooling.

How prompt are we talking here ? And isn't this requirement at odds with your other comments ?

I don't know why your interpretation of the phrase "deal-killer" would exclude the possibility of repairs using future technology.

Fair enough, I think I interpreted your comment too strongly. As for the future technologies, you bring up molecular nanotech, molecular biotech (for lack of a better word; MBT for short), and uploading (which I do accept as a continuation of self, so at least we can agree on this point). You say that the "most compelling arguments against MNT are because it would be too fragile to work in warm, wet conditions"; I actually don't think that this is the most compelling argument against MNT, but that's another topic. I also believe that uploading will require some sort of MNT, or something very close to it.

The problem I have with MNT and MBT is twofold:

  • I am not convinced that it could work -- at least, not to the extent that would be required in order to restore (either physically or as a software simulation) a brain that was cryopreserved using today's technology. I can elaborate further if you want, just let me know.
  • I am still not convinced that the current cryopreservation technology is even reversible in principle, due to some of the problems I outlined above.

This entire talk of "future technologies" sounds a little hand-wavy to me, to be honest. Yes, I understand that all kinds of really awesome future technologies could hypothetically exist, but I would need to see some compelling evidence before I become convinced that they are likely to exist.

I was referring to the outcomes of cryobiology experiments. You can experiment with new cryoprotectants and get meaningful results right away. ... With anti-aging interventions by contrast, you cannot tell whether something is helping until the experimental animal reaches old age.

Oh, ok, I see what you meant. I have a few objections, though (as you probably knew I would, heh):

  • Cryobiology experiments on lab animals do not necessarily translate directly to humans, for the same reasons that anti-aging experiments do not: the lab animals are "less humanlike" in their tissues as well as their genome.
  • Anti-aging research specifically, and medicine in general, has an excellent track record. Life expectancies today are much longer than they have been in the past, and we are making good progress on at least delaying ore relieving the symptoms of Alzheimer's, cancer, and other diseases associated with old age.
  • I am not convinced that MNT or MBT will be developed sooner than we can "comprehensively cure aging"; but nor do I think that either endeavour will take "thousands of years" (it might take "hundreds", though).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that cryonics is a generally bad idea. I'm just saying that, as of today, there are better ways to spend your resources (i.e., money).

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-30T06:44:57.954Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the sake of argument let's assume the worst case regarding current cryopreservation technology. Assume it does too much damage to work regardless of what future tech is possible. That does not rule out advancements in cryopreservation tech in the near term that permit either a) good enough, or b) perfect preservation of the brain (or the full body for that matter) within our lifetimes, without needing to achieve anything approaching MNT or what you term MBT. So this is an independent variable.

Cryobiology has a solid track record of progress, to the point where reversibly preserving embryos and cellular cultures is routine. Tissue slices (which are easier to load and unload cryoprotectants by immersion) can be preserved with 100% cellular survival rates relative to a control, and vitrification, while usually too toxic, can provide good morphological preservation for whole organs. We've yet to postpone aging in any mammal, except via caloric restriction. Even SENS, which aims to avoid most of the work of unraveling metabolism, is very complex and relies on radical gene therapy and quite a bit of guesswork.

Rabbit kidneys are smaller, which affects the rate cryoprotectants can be loaded and unloaded, and the cooling rate which affects toxicity time. Like the brain, kidneys are heavily vascularized, with the exception of the medula at the center which (according to my understanding) is what usually doesn't (but in some cases does) survive cryopreservation.

Reversible vitrification of major organs is a reasonable prospect within this decade. What about vitrification of whole animals? This is a much more difficult problem. Some organs, such as the kidney and brain, are privileged organs for vitrification because of their high blood flow rate. This allows vitrification chemicals to enter and leave them quickly before there are toxic effects. Most other tissues would not survive the long chemical exposure time required to absorb a sufficient concentration to prevent freezing.
B. G. Wowk, Medical Time Travel

Losing a piece of the brain does not always translate to loss of function, in fact many areas seem to operate independently of each other. It is true that such injuries (when they are survived) can often result in personality changes, such as Phineas Gage who survived with memories intact, but with dramatic personality changes after an iron bar went through his skull. But there is a fairly strong argument that brain function could be restored after losing chunks, by using stem cells, growth factors, scaffoldings, etc. to grow new analogous chunks where they are missing that make you at least approach the functionality of an average person possessing your DNA. Conceivably, chip-based digital or analog prostheses could also be used for the missing bits.

The parts of the brain most likely to survive are the outer layer (cerebrum). The cerebellum is harder to perfuse, so it is comparatively unlikely to survive. Fortunately, the personality and higher functions seem to be in the cerebrum.

MNT or MBT are not all or nothing. "Future technology" may sound hand-wavy, but it is a compact way of describing a very large set of potential technologies, all of which could independently or in conjunction lead to reanimation of a sufficiently well preserved person. Bear in mind that plain-vanilla biology is already something that operates on a molecular level, and accomplishes very sophisticated results, despite having had to evolve without goal or guidance in an environment where fluctuations of temperature, differences in available nutrients, genetic mutations, etc. are constantly placing limits on what can be done reliably enough to be passed on.

To me it seems rather more burdensome than less to doubt future ingenuity to the degree that is necessary to rule out cryonics from working, particularly in cases where the degree of morphological preservation of the brain is high.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that cryonics is a generally bad idea. I'm just saying that, as of today, there are better ways to spend your resources (i.e., money).

It's more complicated than that, even assuming you are more or less right. If I spend money on cryonics now, that makes it more likely to be more obviously worth someone else's while later. If someone else spends money on it later, that makes it more likely for it to have retroactively been worth my while to spend it now. So this would be a classic case of "rational irrationality" -- much like wasting your individual time voting in a popular election, cooperating in the prisoner's dilemma / stag hunt, or one-boxing in Newcomb's Paradox.

Of course there are third options to be explored. As it happens, currently I'm allocating money towards living expenses and paying down my credit cards rather than cryonics, at least temporarily until my finances improve. Nonetheless, I do contribute significant time towards arguing for the cause, something I feel is more valuable than being signed up. One might also simply send a check to the cryobiology researchers, for example.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-08-31T05:01:55.770Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...let's assume the worst case regarding current cryopreservation technology. Assume it does too much damage to work regardless of what future tech is possible. That does not rule out advancements in cryopreservation tech in the near term... within our lifetimes...

In general, I agree, but I'm not sure about the "within our lifetimes" part. I understand that cryobiology has made progress, but I am not convinced that it's moving fast enough. There's a huge difference between preserving tissue slices or even small organs for a relatively short amount of time, and preserving entire organisms (or at least their brains) for centuries. We can't even preserve plant seeds for that long, AFAIK.

Even SENS, which aims to avoid most of the work of unraveling metabolism

I am ashamed to admit that I don't know what SENS is.

Losing a piece of the brain does not always translate to loss of function, in fact many areas seem to operate independently of each other.

Agreed, I never meant to imply that this is always the case. But for each Phineas Gage, there are many more patients who suffer brain damage and never wake up. In addition, I would argue that what we really care about is the preservation of the person's personality (which just happens to be powered by the brain). Yes, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and there are degrees of success. Still, if the person who is revived has a totally different personality from the person who went into the cryotank (as I believe was the case with Phineas Gage), I'd count that as a failure.

"Future technology" may sound hand-wavy, but it is a compact way of describing a very large set of potential technologies, all of which could independently or in conjunction lead to reanimation of a sufficiently well preserved person.

Sorry, I don't mean to sound too adversarial, but I'll have to press you on this point, as this still sounds hand-wavy to me -- more so than before, in fact. I am not doubting "future ingenuity", but you can't justify cryonics by invoking some sort of an unimaginably ingenious future technology about which we currently know nothing. Violating Occam's Razor makes your argument weaker, not stronger.

Bear in mind that plain-vanilla biology is already something that operates on a molecular level, and accomplishes very sophisticated results...

Agreed, but there's a huge difference between existing bacteria, and even viruses (which I fully agree are amazing), versus the kind of precise molecular machinery that would be needed to reconstruct a brain. It would have to be small enough to fit into the intercellular matrix, for one thing. I don't want to get too far off-topic, but basically I'm not convinced that MBT is any better than MNT in terms of feasibility.

Of course there are third options to be explored. As it happens, currently I'm allocating money towards living expenses and paying down my credit cards rather than cryonics...

Ok, I'm going to press you again. If you are convinced that cryonics is the way to go, and this is the best possible prospect for gaining eternal (or, at least, sufficiently long) life, then wouldn't it be logical to put every available dollar toward your own cryopreservation ?

One might also simply send a check to the cryobiology researchers, for example.

Well, yes, but you could also send a check to Alzheimer's researchers, or cancer researchers, or physicists and other pure science researchers, or even to SIAI.

If I spend money on cryonics now, that makes it more likely to be more obviously worth someone else's while later.

Hopefully it's equally obvious that I disagree with you that your proposition is "obvious" :-) In addition, it all depends on what you mean by "later". How much later are we talking ? A hundred years later ? A thousand ? A million ? The further into the future you look, the more nebulous it becomes; and thus your expected utility gets lower and lower as the probability decreases. Which was kind of my original point -- it's the low expected utility of cryonics that gives me pause, not its absolute payoff.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-09-01T01:49:53.102Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In general, I agree, but I'm not sure about the "within our lifetimes" part. I understand that cryobiology has made progress, but I am not convinced that it's moving fast enough. There's a huge difference between preserving tissue slices or even small organs for a relatively short amount of time, and preserving entire organisms (or at least their brains) for centuries. We can't even preserve plant seeds for that long, AFAIK.

Yes we can.

The fact that you keep mentioning timescales suggests that you haven't internalized the fact that we are talking about a temperature at which most chemical reactions are effectively stopped. The major concern is damage on the way down, and whether it is reversible or not.

I am ashamed to admit that I don't know what SENS is.

Here you go.

Agreed, I never meant to imply that this is always the case. But for each Phineas Gage, there are many more patients who suffer brain damage and never wake up. In addition, I would argue that what we really care about is the preservation of the person's personality (which just happens to be powered by the brain). Yes, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and there are degrees of success. Still, if the person who is revived has a totally different personality from the person who went into the cryotank (as I believe was the case with Phineas Gage), I'd count that as a failure.

I already responded to the argument about personality changes due to missing chunks of brain matter. To the extent that you have the same personality as your identical twin, this should be fixable. The relevant concern is memories formed during your lifetime. Furthermore, if the brain's missing chunks can be cloned back into existence, the functionality problem vanishes and takes with it any related mortality. With the scanned upload scenario this is even less of a concern.

"Future technology" may sound hand-wavy, but it is a compact way of describing a very large set of potential technologies, all of which could independently or in conjunction lead to reanimation of a sufficiently well preserved person.

Sorry, I don't mean to sound too adversarial, but I'll have to press you on this point, as this still sounds hand-wavy to me -- more so than before, in fact. I am not doubting "future ingenuity", but you can't justify cryonics by invoking some sort of an unimaginably ingenious future technology about which we currently know nothing. Violating Occam's Razor makes your argument weaker, not stronger.

The trouble with your claim to parsimony is that you're basically doubting the existence of any and all relevant repair strategies that we don't yet know about. Sure it's possible that we live in a universe where there aren't any repair strategies we can't yet imagine, but again that seems more burdensome to me, not less.

Agreed, but there's a huge difference between existing bacteria, and even viruses (which I fully agree are amazing), versus the kind of precise molecular machinery that would be needed to reconstruct a brain. It would have to be small enough to fit into the intercellular matrix, for one thing. I don't want to get too far off-topic, but basically I'm not convinced that MBT is any better than MNT in terms of feasibility.

The brain is capable of functioning and growing in the first place. Why wouldn't it be something capable of being repaired?

I've already addressed the concern about the intracellular matrix to some extent: slice it small enough, and you can operate on the surface with much bulkier machines. I imagine this would work best if you keep it super-cold (indicating MNT), but there is the possibility that we develop high-temperature vitrification methods analogous to fixation in amber. Alternately, find reversible ways to disrupt the cells and move them apart to make room.

Ok, I'm going to press you again. If you are convinced that cryonics is the way to go, and this is the best possible prospect for gaining eternal (or, at least, sufficiently long) life, then wouldn't it be logical to put every available dollar toward your own cryopreservation ?

Not if cryopreservation's chances can be improved more by putting money towards other things.

Hopefully it's equally obvious that I disagree with you that your proposition is "obvious" :-) In addition, it all depends on what you mean by "later". How much later are we talking ? A hundred years later ? A thousand ? A million ? The further into the future you look, the more nebulous it becomes; and thus your expected utility gets lower and lower as the probability decreases. Which was kind of my original point -- it's the low expected utility of cryonics that gives me pause, not its absolute payoff.

Huh? I was thinking more like 10 to 50 years. We're talking ordinary business/marketing/infrastructure network effects, plus relatively near term (as I must insist) incremental scientific advances.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-09-03T04:16:52.682Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that you keep mentioning timescales suggests that you haven't internalized the fact that we are talking about a temperature at which most chemical reactions are effectively stopped.

"Effectively stopped" is not the same as "stopped"; and of course there are other effects that add up over time, such as mechanical damage an even cosmic rays. But I think my biggest mistake was in vastly overestimating the time scale that you're talking about. I assumed that you were thinking in terms of centuries, but you say:

I was thinking more like 10 to 50 years. We're talking ordinary business/marketing/infrastructure network effects, plus relatively near term (as I must insist) incremental scientific advances.

Does this mean that, should you be cryopreserved today, you expect yourself to be successfully revived after 10 to 50 years ? IMO, that's a very strong claim. I want to address it, as well as the rest of your points, but first I want to make sure we're on the same page.

Here you go.

Er, thanks, but that still doesn't help me figure out which of the possible expansions of the acronym you're referencing.

comment by christina · 2011-09-03T04:35:51.272Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

SENS stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. Being acronym-challenged myself, I certainly understand the occasional agonies involved in working an unfamiliar one out.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-09-03T04:35:46.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that by some estimates one has on the order of millions of years at liquid nitrogen temperatures being chemically equivalent to seconds at liquid nitrogen temperatures. There are problems with this sort of simplistic estimate. But even if one makes very worst case scenarios one gets something like a hundred years being equivalent to 10 minutes at room temperature

Incidentally, I agree that . Ishparrish is making a pretty optimistic estimate for when cryonic patients will be revived. We don't seem to be anywhere near having the technology in 10 years, although 50 years does seem more plausible.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-09-03T13:57:38.654Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Incidentally, I agree that . Ishparrish is making a pretty optimistic estimate for when cryonic patients will be revived. We don't seem to be anywhere near having the technology in 10 years, although 50 years does seem more plausible.

I wasn't referring to reanimation time. I was saying that cryonics will make more economic sense in 10 years if people buy it today, no more and no less. I'm not sure where Bugmaster got the idea I was talking about reanimations in that timeframe, I'd have to agree that's rather ridiculous.

I'd say 50 years is plausible for reanimation of patients that are near-perfectly vitrified (i.e. they might be near-perfectly vitrifying patients by then, which means they can bring them back right away if they choose -- though terminal patients would still have to wait for a cure), but that is certainly not my envisioned timeframe for patients that need extensive repairs such as today's patients.

If the singularity occurs in the meantime all bets are off of course, but I currently regard that as fairly low probability; not enough to factor into my cryonics calculations, though sufficient to make me worry about the existential risks (where the burden of proof is a lot lower).

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-31T06:01:55.024Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It might be helpful to ask each other questions about different, unrelated future technologies to see how intuitions differ, and what the patterns in thinking are.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-26T07:58:29.603Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that "living forever" is a fairly inaccurate term to use, and the emotional impact from part of the reader's brain taking it literally would make many readers very sympathetic to your argument, more so than if you used an accurate term.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-08-31T04:21:36.107Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't priority be given to improving quality of lives first?