[LINK] Cryonics - without even trying

post by Kawoomba · 2012-08-17T08:41:27.895Z · score: 5 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments

(Title is tongue-in-cheek, "preservation" would've been more appropriate but less catchy)

With [news like that](http://news.discovery.com/history/preserved-brain-bog-england-110406.html), how hard can it be when you actually do want to preserve a brain:

> A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an "exceptionally preserved" human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.

> The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it's one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world. (...) Scientists believe that submersion in liquid, anoxic environments helps to preserve human brain tissue.

Unfortunately for the poor guy / brain, we killed his survival prospects. He did go with the cheap option of just saving the head. Speculating, if he got found another few centuries from now, he might've been a patient, not "archeological remains".

On a more serious note, I'd like the perspective of someone signed up for cryonics on this:

With people signed up for cryonics nowadays - I hear it even comes with a necklace! - I wonder what role the signalling aspect (to others, more importantly to oneself, feeling safer from death) plays versus the actual permanent-death-evading.

Having been present for (mouse) brain slice experiments done immediately after extraction, being confronted with the rapidly progressing tissue decay, the most important aspect that could easily be optimised - apart from research into other methods of preservation - was the time from the extraction to the experiments. Each minute made a tremendous difference. Not a surprise: as the aphorism in neurology (stroke therapy) goes, "time is brain".

What leads me to somewhat doubt the seriousness of the actual belief in brain preservation, versus the belief in belief that's based on minimising existential angst, is that the obvious idea of "when death is approaching with an ETA of less than X, commit suicide with cryonics on immediate standby" is not an integral part of the discussion. X may be weeks, or even years, based on how serious you take cryonics.

The above incidentally contains a way of betting to indicate the strength you assign to the actual prospects of cryonics, versus the role it plays for you psychologically. Isn't betting on your beliefs encouraged in this community? (NB: the "suicide" is just included to avoid legal ramifications.)

Regardless of future technological advances, orders of magnitude less brain damage will certainly pose less of a problem than the delay caused even by a couple of hours. A couple of hours = your brain tissue is already a scorched battlefield! Both necrosis and apoptosis get started within minutes.

Measuring your actual belief in the success of cryonics (for someone signed up for cryonics), waiting for death by natural causes doesn't indicate a lot of confidence when even a few weeks of life seem to be measured more highly than a tremendous increase in the actual prospects of cryonics working.

Or do you have above mentioned plans in place for when your life expectancy is less than X months/years (for whatever reason)?

22 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-17T12:12:07.130Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Suicide leads to autopsies. And possible legal problems for the cryonics organization. And possible public backlash. It's not an integral part of the discussion because it can be quickly dismissed as untenable (http://www.alcor.org/FAQs/faq06.html#death).

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-08-17T14:52:49.358Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

With a life expectancy measured in e.g. a few months (depending on your threshold), the scenario would necessarily be along the lines of either an nonagenarian or someone with terminal cancer, dilated cardiomyopathy etcetera in the final stages.

Autopsy regulations greatly vary from country to country. It would be trivial to perform the "transition" at a location without such regulation. That particular problem is a minor one compared with all the other ones, for a determined smart person an inconvenience at best.

It is however a very convenient argument to not intervene while you have any time left to live.

Death itself is seen as a problem to be overcome, and it is tackled, but autopsy regulations aren't? If that doesn't come across as propping up a belief-in-belief, what will?

A time differential of only 10 minutes, let alone hours of some interim cooling procedures is the difference between freezing a mostly intact brain, and a (microscopically) jumbled mess of torn membranes, with the information irrecoverable for the most part (due to the destruction process / function not being injective).

Regarding the public backlash, does that outweigh greatly reducing your own chances of survival?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-17T17:55:07.592Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Autopsy regulations greatly vary from country to country. It would be trivial to perform the "transition" at a location without such regulation. That particular problem is a minor one compared with all the other ones, for a determined smart person an inconvenience at best.

I'm afraid I don't believe you. You can convince me by providing a detailed how-to guide on jumping jurisdictions, committing suicide and having yourself cryonically suspended. Besides, your argument is self-defeating. If it's so trivial then there's no need to plan ahead. If at the time of learning of my impending doom, I'm still capable of executing a plan involving international travel and coordination with the standby team then surely I'm also capable of googling for "countries with permissive suicide laws".

Death itself is seen as a problem to be overcome, and it is tackled, but autopsy regulations aren't? If that doesn't come across as propping up a belief-in-belief, what will?

Simple akrasia will always be the favored explanation if all that you've observed is that people assert to believe something yet fail to act in accordance with that belief. To get into belief-in-belief territory, there must be a perception that believing is virtuous and important. This applies to some religious beliefs (where your sins can always be forgiven but lose your faith and you are going to hell). It might also apply to political or any other beliefs strongly tied to group identity (where being outed as disagreeing with your tribe can get you in social trouble). It doesn't apply to cryonics.

Or maybe you mean that people only believe in cryonics to stave off existential terror. That's still wouldn't be belief-in-belief but merely a wrong belief held for stupid reasons (and you need to explicitly argue for the wrongness of that belief rather than psychoanalyzing people if you want to be taken seriously).

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-08-17T19:09:55.183Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm afraid I don't believe you. You can convince me by providing a detailed how-to guide on jumping jurisdictions, committing suicide and having yourself cryonically suspended.

Sure. For one, with a short life expectancy you're not being detained where you live. You can travel whereever. I assure you there are plenty of e.g. European countries that will not mandatorily do autopsies on people that died within a few months of their expected end of life. How do I know? Well, I've interned at one of those overworked, understaffed forensic pathology institutes. Just leave a letter and overdose on pain medication. Dignitas (assisted suicide organisation) patients don't undergo autopsies.

Too much of a hassle, going overseas? No worries, I got you covered. Incidentally, I got PM'ed with this paper with the remark that physician-assisted suicide cases (shouldn't be too hard for a smart person with a short life expectancy to get into) such as "Kevorkian's patients were autopsied, as is apparently normal for euthanasia."

Just from checking out that one particular paper, I wasn't surprised to come across "As mentioned previously, autopsies are not required of individuals who die from legalized PAS in Oregon". Maybe by chance I checked the one US state that's different from all others, and many EU countries? Probably not.

Regarding cryonic companies apparently not aggressively fighting that issue (which may raise public awareness, not necessarily a bad thing even if it's bad publicity at first. Better raising awareness of any kind than indifference), that in itself isn't a good sign regarding their seriousness.

(If your next argument were "But I might be too sick too travel, with only a few months left", then ... well, I'd probably disengage :)

Besides, your argument is self-defeating. If it's so trivial then there's no need to plan ahead.

What I care about with this topic is using the argument as a discriminator to distinguish how much of the belief into cryonics is carried by its actual merit versus how much is based on staving off existential angst.

People talking up the importance of - autopsy regulations (!) such that it seems like a stop sign, while taking on magnitudes harder problems in, say, FAI, indicate a belief-in-belief.

Then surely I'm also capable of googling for "countries with permissive suicide laws".

So would that be your plan? It's something that you should probably look into before your death is impending. Would you? That's all I'm asking.

This applies to some religious beliefs (where your sins can always be forgiven but lose your faith and you are going to hell). (...) It doesn't apply to cryonics.

The actual merit of the preservation approach nonwithstanding, how is cryonics not the technological equivalent of a deep-frozen stairway to heaven? The parallels in terms of eschatological topics (including skipping death, chance of skipping ahead in limbo to some kind of death-less future) are easy enough to find.

There being more convincing reasons in favor of cryonics merely makes it harder to distinguish between belief and belief-in-belief. But arguing against giving up even a few months of your life for greatly increasing your actual chances still seems to do the trick.

Or maybe you mean that people only believe in cryonics to stave off existential terror. That's still wouldn't be belief-in-belief

It seems to fit the kind of reasoning arguing for the invisible dragon pretty nicely. Even if there is a case to be made for immediate cryonics. "A few weeks less life, and supposedly my brain will much less damaged? - Well, that won't work, you know, autopsy regulations!"

Also, arguing for "a few hours until hibernation, that's close enough for eventual reactivation" is in fact like arguing for unfounded religious beliefs. It's a whole different topic than immediate preservation. I can't over-emphasise the difference of just a few hours (though I am certainly trying).

and you need to explicitly argue for the wrongness of that belief rather than psychoanalyzing people if you want to be taken seriously

No, I merely have to find a good discriminator to distinguish want-to-believe from believes-for-rational-reasons. Belief-in-belief does not imply that the belief is actually wrong.

(Excuse the tone, no adversity intended. Also, minor typographical edit)

comment by Swimmy · 2012-08-18T18:31:17.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe by chance I checked the one US state that's different from all others, and many EU countries? Probably not.

You did. Most states require autopsy for any criminal/unnatural causes of death, including suicide. Oregon (and Washington) has a death with dignity law, which makes suicide non-criminal in some cases. The standard autopsy exemption in most states comes from a doctor's signature that the cause of death was known and natural. To my knowledge there's no compendium of state autopsy laws anywhere, you have to look state by state, but on average suicide is an instant mandatory autopsy.

In some states you can block an autopsy based on religious belief. Some people have organized to make cryonics a verified religious exemption to save time on paperwork. Only a few states explicitly allow this, however. See here.

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-08-18T18:53:27.165Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, I stand corrected on that (darn Occam's Razor for being a heuristic that's subject to occasional failure).

However, I shouldn't have brought that speculative part up. It's peripheral to my point, which is that it's still doable to travel to a place without mandatory autopsies, and to give up a few e.g. weeks of your life for instant cryonification.

Consider:

After a mere around four hours after a stroke (subject to national guidelines), there's no significant treatment done anymore! Not only is the central zone of oxygen deprivation given up upon after a span of minutes to an hour, but the peripheral cells (the penumbra) is as well (after those around 4 hours).

When you die, the entirety of your brain is equivalent to the central area, the ground zero of a stroke, just in terms of oxygen deprivation.

It's a whole other ballpark. Cryonics after more than a few minutes should be called MangledBrainFreezing, it's just that different.

I can't fathom why people who supposedly whole-heartedly (whole brainedly) invested in cryonics don't find ways around such simple barriers as autopsy regulations. (Simple because even if as an alternative there's only 1 state in the US, and a couple European countries, really how many workarounds do you need? Just one.)

Not taking care of that eventuality only makes sense to me if in fact the investment for psychological reasons outweighs the actual credence one lends to cryonics. I realize that doesn't apply to all subscribers.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2012-08-19T01:16:53.296Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you had picked a state at random, Occam's Razor (or Bayes rule or whatever) would have applied. Given that someone was providing you with an example of a state without suicide autopsies, you should update significantly less on other states having that property.

comment by Eneasz · 2012-08-17T19:50:35.909Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Traveling to Europe is unrealistic, for several reasons. The difficulty of travel when one is that infirm, for one. Not all european countries are as permissive with what they allow people to do with bodies after death, I haven't looked into it much (as I don't live there), but I've heard there's been a bit of legal trouble in trying to get cryonics organizations set up in several of the euro countries. And finally, my provider (CI & SA) do not do international cases, both due to the cost and due to legal difficulty in transporting the body.

However your comment about Oregon gives me hope. :) If this is still the case when I'm nearing my expected death I will travel to Oregon and make my arrangements there. Thank you!

But arguing against giving up even a few months of your life for greatly increasing your actual chances still seems to do the trick.

I don't argue that. As I mentioned in my previous comment, I would gladly go into suspension a few months early. Even earlier than that in extreme cases.

What I care about with this topic is using the argument as a discriminator to distinguish how much of the belief into cryonics is carried by its actual merit versus how much is based on staving off existential angst.

It can be both. I'm glad it helps me stave off my existential angst, and it does so primarily because it looks to have a chance of working.

People talking up the importance of - autopsy regulations (!) such that it seems like a stop sign, while taking on magnitudes harder problems in, say, FAI, indicate a belief-in-belief.

I posted links to organizations working to make assisted suicide legal. But I do support SIAI more than these orgs because FAI is orders of magnitude more important. My personal death pales compared to human extinction.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-17T22:14:25.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. For one, with a short life expectancy you're not being detained where you live. [... stuff about suicide ...]

Okay, I think I'm convinced about that part (partly by what you wrote and partly by realizing that some problems with suicide tourism I was thinking about seem exaggerated after thinking them through).

Unfortunately, this made me realize that this point wasn't really relevant to our disagreement. I still don't think that lack of cryonics-related suicide discourse on the Internet indicates that cryonicists' don't expect cryonics to work (or even that cryonicists' aren't privately considering the possibility of assisted suicide), so it was a bit disingenuous of me to bring it up. Sorry about that.

Upon further reflection I realized that I don't really even care whether people are using cryonics purely as an existential terror management strategy. I don't consider 'look at all those people who already signed up' to be a very important (or even valid) argument for cryonics so even if some of those people turn out to be totally crazy, it won't affect my belief in the possibility of cryonics working. I think my real beef with your post was abusing the concept of belief-in-belief.

Which you're still doing, by the way.

The actual merit of the preservation approach nonwithstanding, how is cryonics not the technological equivalent of a deep-frozen stairway to heaven? The parallels in terms of eschatological topics (including skipping death, chance of skipping ahead in limbo to some kind of death-less future) are easy enough to find.

Maybe. But a very important difference that makes the belief-in-belief concept inapplicable here is that no one claims that believing in cryonics (unlike believing in gods) will by itself affect reality in any way. Believing in cryonics isn't considered important.

If someone takes genuine comfort from the fact that they're signed up, then I'd say that they really believe that cryonics will work. Maybe they started believing it only for this comfort without really thinking rationally. Maybe they believe it too strongly. Maybe they got carried away and convinced themselves that the magical cryonics fairy will take care of everything and they don't have to worry about unpleasant technical details like ischemic damage caused by delayed suspension. But it's not belief in belief if they are actually willing to spend a pile of money on it. (In case of religious activities people can also spend money because of signaling without really believing but right now spending money on cryonics mostly gets you scorn and ridicule so that hypothesis is out.)

It seems to fit the kind of reasoning arguing for the invisible dragon pretty nicely.

Ah, but people are actually paying to have their garages suffused with dragon-killing chemical agents (dracocides?) And you're saying that they don't really believe in the dragon?

(Excuse the tone, no adversity intended. Also, minor typographical edit)

No need to excuse anything, I haven't registered any adversity.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-08-22T23:35:41.588Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Autopsy regulations greatly vary from country to country."

Alcor and CI are both located in the United States, and a corresponding very high percentage of cryonic members are thus from the US (there are major transportation and logistic issues involved in cross-continent shipping of a body in sufficient condition to still make preservation viable).

Even if you go out of country to kill yourself, getting the remains shipped to Alcor will probably be very difficult, both because of the difficulty of shipping remains normally, and the suspicion invoked by the death being the result of an illegal-in-the-US suicide...

comment by Eneasz · 2012-08-17T17:23:42.270Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

the obvious idea of "when death is approaching with an ETA of less than X, commit suicide with cryonics on immediate standby" is not an integral part of the discussion.

It isn't discussed much because it's not really an option. I'm signed up for cryonics, and I dearly wish this was possible. I'm particularly worried about degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, that will kill me long before my body dies and may make preservation pointless. Unfortunately the legal ramifications of suicide + cryonics are very much not in our favor. In certain areas suicide is always followed my mandatory autopsy. Furthermore, it is feared that such actions will bring expensive and potentially fatal legal attack on the preservation organization for encouraging or facilitating suicide/euthanasia. CI and Alcor both refuse to participate in suicide + cryonics acts.

The best current course of action would be to legalize and de-stigmatize assisted suicide.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-08-17T20:50:36.833Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The level which a bog brain is preserved is extremely gross. It is extremely unlikely that sufficient information is preserved in such a brain to allow for any form of reconstruction.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-08-17T16:03:56.006Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately for the poor guy / brain, we killed his survival prospects. He did go with the cheap option of just saving the head. Speculating, if he got found another few centuries from now, he might've been a patient, not "archeological remains".

Thomas Donaldson wrote a story like that in 1990:

http://www.lifepact.com/lifeqst7.htm#travelling

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-17T14:07:46.343Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Additionnal concern/voice: As has been explained before (I believe it was on OB), there are many reasons to not want to just get frozen ASAP.

Also, I suspect this article was downvoted because it would belong more in the Open Thread rather than as a topic of its own. Your article is essentially: "Hey, look at this fun¹ piece of news and my joke about it! Also, I have a question for you (cryonics subscribers): "

¹ But not-directly-relevant to the main points of discussion of LessWrong, despite most of the userbase having discussed and/or thought about the subject at some point.

(couple of ninja edits within the first few minutes of this comment)

comment by magfrump · 2012-08-17T11:54:45.230Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm fairly certain these plans have been discussed briefly, but their tenuous legality combined with the largely very young population of the site has been, I think, the stopping point.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-08-17T15:17:31.824Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Cryonics has a number of denial issues like that. Mike Darwin addresses the neuroscience one on his Chronosphere blog with his Cryonics Intelligence Test, though I don't think you can still access the reference materials (a mass of scientific papers he sent to various participants, myself included):

http://chronopause.com/index.php/2012/05/06/take-the-cryonics-intelligence-test/

http://chronopause.com/index.php/2012/05/20/cryonics-intelligence-test-responses/

Other issues:

The persistence in invoking Drexler's "nanotechnology" as the Green Lantern's Ring solution to revival problems, when people can see after 30 years that the idea turned out sterile. It also sounds made-up now, like invoking "warp field mechanics" or something from Star Trek. This does not help to establish cryonics as a serious idea. with knowledgeable people.

The coming breakdown in institutional continuity in cryonics organizations as the members in cryonics' founding generation die and presumably go into suspension, while we seem to lack younger people ready to maintain something analogous to the "apostolic succession" in christian culture to keep the organizations functional over the coming decades and centuries. Or if you come from a Jewish background, ponder Exodus 1:8 and its consequences: "Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph." I'd like to see an effort starting soon to establish a leadership hierarchy about three layers deep, and with about a generation between each layer, so that, say, the tested and competent leaders in their 60's cultivate and vet leaders in their 40's, and together they cultivate and vet potential leaders in their 20's. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

And I don't understand the implied business model in these cryonics revival trusts. Supposedly some very wealthy cryonicists want to tie up hundreds of millions of dollars in these trusts, while relying on financially threadbare cryonics organizations to try to keep them in suspension for however long it takes to try to revive them according to the standard model of good, rejuvenated physical and cognitive health. This sounds like the Gnomes' business model from that famous South Park episode.

Further down the line, if newer, more capable cryonics organizations come online, they will tend to marginalize the ones we have now, especially that duct-tape operation founded by Robert Ettinger up in Michigan, unless the leaders in the older organizations can find the resolve and the resources to improve their services and stay competitive.

comment by randallsquared · 2012-08-17T17:32:31.826Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

people can see after 30 years that the idea [of molecular manufacturing] turned out sterile.

Did I miss the paper where it was shown not to be workable, or are you basing this only on the current lack of assemblers?

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-17T21:50:03.153Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From a technical standpoint, how hard is it to learn cryogenics? Is it the sort of thing you'd have to attend a few years of school for? Or could you it be a DIY job, if you had enough money?

comment by handoflixue · 2012-08-22T23:41:03.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alcor keeps a list of cases on their website. I've only read the ones linked to me as "horror stories", but it seemed blatantly obvious that it's a DIY job being done by people with minimal familiarity with the technical and managerial aspects involved. It's entirely possible that perspective is biased by the specific ones I read, but it's definitely not anything that (currently) requires a degree, and my perspective was that you could probably get trained up to Alcor's "state of the art" in a few weeks plus participating in a couple of actual preservations for practice.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-17T22:45:27.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Meh. I think that, even if I had signed up for cryonics, I'd be more likely to live long enough for anti-agathics to become widely available than to die, be cryonically preserved, and eventually be revived. (According to actuarial table for my gender and region, I'm 90% likely to make it to the year 2050 -- and the table also counts tobacco smokers.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-17T15:24:04.961Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

From my blog OVO on 27 January 2010: "Currently I practice passive cryonics. My scattered atoms and memories will not necessarily be considered dead by future standards, with no effort on my part necessary."

Cryonics is the theory that given enough time, technology will develop to bring to life again those who prepared for cryonics. Taking that one step further, given enough time, technology will develop to bring to life again those who do not prepared for cryonics.

comment by Eudoxia · 2012-08-17T16:42:56.744Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like something Giulio Prisco would propose. That is, a scientifically impossible to justify feel-good fantasy. Information that is lost is lost forever.