How to Think Rationally About Cryonics

by phil on Wednesday Oct 24, 2012 10:44 PM

How do you rationally approach the decision to do cryo? Assuming you decide it's technically feasible, the question then gets reduced to "Is cryo worth it?"

You can't use a saw like Pascal's Wager, where you say something to the effect of, "If I even have a small chance at immortality, couldn't I justify an unlimited amount of effort to obtain it?" Perhaps, but then why not also relocate to the cryo facility prematurely to guarantee an optimal freeze? Why not wear a helmet every day?

Instead of weighing your decision to cryo in the abstract, you could use a more practical heuristic: determine whether or not you would regret waking up in the future. This kind of thinking factors in common dissent to cryo: "I don't think I would survive the shock," or "I would feel so utterly alone." These statements seem to be connected to popular portrayls of time travel, like Encino Man, which show brutes from the past fumbling their way embarrassingly through the uncaring present. But perhaps, this rejection is simply the default response to entertaining something as alien as the cryo experience.

If you dig deeper, applying a bit of the banality principle of futurism, cryo scenarios can actually be grounded in the familiar. Using myself as an example, I could imagine that I am a 20-year-old living in Boston around the 1770s. I am a dock worker with aspirations of becoming a merchant of substance. I am offered a chance to be frozen, in exchange for working a few extra hours a month to pay for life insurance. I accept this, take out a life insurance policy, then die 10 years later at the age of 30. 230 years later, I wake up in 2006. Given this scenario, would I be glad I did cryo?

I picked 2006 because that's when I moved to Austin. I came to that city when I was 26 years old and didn't know anybody when I got there. By picking a scenario based in a world that I already know, the simulation becomes much easier.

Walking through my first years in Austin, but giving myself the mind of someone who was 30 years old in 1776, I would find myself in awe of how much less crappy my existence is. Every time I ate a Big Mac I would think about how often I was hungry in the 1770s. Every time I got sick, I'd think about how that used to be a nightmare scenario, where you didn't know if you were going to die or not.

I would probably start off with a job as a janitor, then work my way up to cashier at a convenience store after I had adjusted my diction and manners. After a year, I would probably start taking classes for a more useful skill, and then eventually I'd get a job fixing computers. I would work hard, because every dollar I would get would buy me so much wonderment. I imagine I'd be a simple man because my baseline expectations for a comfortable existence would be so low having come from so far away a time period.

Eventually I'd fancy a girl and think about starting a family, probably settling into a typical middle class existence. But I don't think I would ever shrug off my sense of magic about everything. Having babies that survive; public education; unlimited entertainment; never having to use an outhouse. These are all things I would probably never fully habituate to. Ultimately, I would think to myself, "I'm really glad I worked those few extra hours a month so I could afford cryo."

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