A review of cryonics/brain preservation in 2016

post by Andy_McKenzie · 2016-12-31T18:19:56.460Z · score: 21 (22 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 3 comments

Relevance to Less Wrong: Whether you think it is for better or worse, users on LW are about 50,000x more likely to be signed up for cryonics than the average person

Disclaimer: I volunteer at the Brain Preservation Foundation, but I speak for myself in this post and I'm only writing about publicly available information.

In 2016, cryonics remains a fringe operation. When it is discussed in the news or on social media, many express surprise that cryonics is a "real thing" outside of science fiction. Many others who do know about cryonics tend to label it a pseudoscience. Brain preservation (BP) through non-conventional cryonics methods such as those using aldehyde fixation is even more fringe, with most people not aware of it, and others dismissing it because it uses "toxic" chemicals. 

Here's a rundown of some events important to cryonics/BP in 2016. 

Research progress

- The Brain Preservation Foundation prize was won in February by Robert McIntyre and Greg Fahy. Their winning technique uses glutaraldehyde fixation followed by glycerol cryoprotection (in addition to a step to improve blood-brain barrier permeability and several other components) and allows for the preservation of neural structure as verified by electron microscopy across the cortex. McIntyre has since started a company called Nectome in part to improve and refine this procedure.
- Aschwin de Wolf of Advanced Neural Biosciences announced in November at the CryoSuisse conference that Advanced Neural Biosciences has developed a method that reduces dehydration in rat brain vitrification by using "brain optimized cryoprotectants." There is no peer-reviewed data or more detailed procedure available as of yet, and viability of the tissue may be a concern. 

Legal progress

- In Canada, Keegan Macintosh and Carrie Wong are challenging the anti-cryonics laws in British Columbia
- A right-to-die law passed in Colorado. Although not directly relevant to cryonics, it increases the number of locations where it might be possible to start brain preservation procedures in a more controlled manner by taking advantage of physician-assisted suicide in a terminally ill patient. This has been described as "cryothanasia" and is controversial both within the cryonics community and outside of it. 
- As far as I know, cryonics and brain preservation remain illegal in France, China, and many other areas. 

Current Cryonics Organizations 

- Alcor
- Cryonics Institute 
- KrioRus. They are planning on moving to Tver, which is a few hours west of Moscow (see Bloomberg profile). 
- Oregon Cryonics. This year, they put a hold on allowing users to sign up through their member portal, with the organization pivoting towards research until they can focus on "some critical cryonics research" to validate their methods. OC was profiled by Vice in March
- TransTime. This small cryonics company in San Leandro is still active, and was profiled in a video in Fusion earlier this year
- Osiris. This is a new, for-profit company in Florida that has so far been controversial within the cryonics community, and was recently profiled in the Miami New Times.  
- There are other organizations that only do standby and/or cryoprotectant perfusion. 

Essays about cryonics

- Tim Urban's post at Wait But Why about cryonics has wonderful diagrams explaining concepts such as why many people consider death to be a process, not an event. Like most everything Urban writes, it went viral and is still being posted on social media.  
- Corey Pein's article at The Baffler focuses primarily on critiques of Alcor and in particular Max More. 
- In April, an essay by Rachel Nuwer at BBC considered what would happen if cryonics worked. 
- Neuroscientist Clive Coen critiqued cryonics in an essay at New Humanist in November. 
- In January, PZ Myers critiqued aldehyde stabilized cryopreservation as "wishful thinking" because it is not yet possible to upload the memories/behaviors of even a simple organism based on information extracted post-fixation. 

Cryonics in the news

- In April, a profile of Elaine Walker, who is signed up with Alcor, on CNBC led to a moderately large amount of press for cryonics. 
- In August, a profile of Steve Aoki in Rolling Stone, who is also signed up with Alcor, mentions his plan to do cryonics. 
- In November, by far the biggest news story of the year about cryonics (dominating almost all of the Google trends variance) was about a 14-year-old girl who wanted cryonics and who had to go to court to prevent her father from stopping it. The court allowed her to be cryopreserved following her legal death. This case and related issues were covered extensively in the Guardian and other British news outlets, sparking debate about cryonics generally in the UK. 

3 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2017-01-01T15:23:04.903Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I feel that there is usually an unfortunate disconnect between articles that criticise cryonics and the actual best arguments in favour of cryonics.

I find it pretty depressing to read articles critical of cryonics because of this. There are a number of mistakes that they will predictably make, again and again:

  • Author hasn't heard of information theoretic life/death, therefore expects that in order to succeed, cryonics has to bring back the exact same brain cells that you died with.

  • (related) If the author does understand the concept of information and life/death, they don't realize that there's no need to preserve information that is generic to all human minds.

  • (related) If the author does understand the concept of information and life/death, they don't realize that side channel attacks/correlations are a thing; they assume that if X is lost but Y correlated very strongly with X, then you can't recover X.

  • The author goes off on a short & shoddy philosophy expedition, making dubious, contested or false claims about personal identity. For example, they claim that in any process which could make two copies of you, neither copy is 'really you', without reflecting on the fact that it seems oddly convenient that the universe arranges things like this, especially whilst also accepting that going to sleep or under anaesthesia is a process that seems perfectly capable of producing copies if we had enough scanning resolution to scan the brain in enough detail. Where exactly does your personal identity reside? Little labels on the atoms?

  • the author makes false or wildly misleading claims about the cost of Cryonics.

  • the author makes ad-hominem attacks or direct appeals to the irrationality of the reader ("it's creepy! It must be wrong!").

  • various silly non-sequiturs - "it's a cult", "people who believe in it are irrational/deluded/naive"

  • the author claims that death is a good thing because it motivates us, ignoring multiple problems such as 'why do we avoid other causes of death, such as cancer, at such great expense?'

  • the author makes very precise and confident predictions about how cryo-patients would fare in a future society, always that they will do very badly, be miserable and just commit suicide after a few months. As if a society sophisticated enough to reconstruct a human brain from a messy contemporary cryopreserved patient wouldn't know enough about human psychology to be able to predict what would make that person happy, or a society rich and advanced enough to resurrect someone wouldn't be able to afford the small amount of computing power to give them an enjoyable environment to live in.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2017-01-03T03:17:35.164Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for posting this.

I am not signed up for cryonics because I think the current preservation technology is nowhere near good enough work, but I very much appreciate having a concise summary of recent developments so that when the situation improves, I'll know it's time to reconsider.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2017-01-06T19:44:29.990Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

current preservation technology is nowhere near good

I'd be interested to hear the details about this.

I was under the impression that it's not really fully settled?