Friday, December 12, 2008

Cryonics scam

It's amazing how many smart people fall prey for the Cryonics scam.

Here're my reasons why cryonics is a scam.

1) The chances of successful revival are extremely slim.
The process of reviving frozen people was never tested.
That means that most likely something would almost definitely go wrong:
Either freezing process, or maintaining frozen body, or unfreezing.
Most likely failures would be in every step.
I'd say that the chances of successful revival of the dead body are well below one in one thousand.

2) The cost of maintaining frozen body for several hundred years is pretty high. The chance that frozen body would never be heated up to unacceptable temperature during these these hundred years is pretty low.
In fact such accidents have been reported already. We should assume that many more accidents like that were never reported, because it's not in the interests of Cryonics companies to report them.

3) Even if it would be possible to revive your frozen body -- what would be the motivation to unfreeze you? In 25th century it would be much more productive to clone genetically modified super-humans (or better yet -- silicon AGIs) than revive hardly functional brain of person who was frozen with terminal decease in 21st century.

What causes people to believe in Cryonics?
I guess it's the same reason that pushes people toward religion -- they're terrified by their own death.

The catch is that Cryonics makes people die even earlier than they would die otherwise.

Enjoy Penn and Teller take on Cryonics:

Cryonics competes for people's money on the same level as any other religions do. I think that eventually Cryonics will be fully transformed into religion (like it happened with Scientology).
Scientology and Cryonics might even merge with each other


Bill Mill said...

> it's not in the interests of Cryonics companies to report them.

Even worse than that! It's exactly opposite their interest. In the event of thawing, their continued survival as entities depends on hiding that event, and they're completely opaque. Barring a disgruntled employee, you'll never hear about it.

Anonymous said...

1) is silly. Of course we haven't tested it yet - if we had, we would be done. It's like refusing to get into an ambulance until it's already at the hospital. We can vitrify and thaw rabbit kidneys - that's some evidence.
We know how to freeze people and keep them frozen. It's thawing that's hard. Which is exactly why we're not expecting it to happen just yet. But saying "This will fail" is a strong claim; it's about what knowledge we will not get in the next 300 years. You may claim information is destroyed in the process of freezing (or before), but you'd need more data.
Where did you pull that number from?

Huh? Liquid nitrogen is cheap, and cryonics companies have incentives to have strong business models. They can do it.
As to whether they will - they do have incentives to be opaque. But there is little profit to be made from cryonics; most workers are involved in it out of altruism and genuine belief cryonics works. I agree people who are signed up for cryonics and their loved ones should push for more transparency.

Why do you feel so confident the future will be populated by assholes? If, today, a bunch of time-travelling cavemen asked we cure their tuberculosis, would we let them die? I think not. And I expect us to get more moral, not less - I see an historical tendancy in this direction, and we may get around to hard-wiring ethical injunctions in our brains.

Yes, people sign up for cryonics out of fear of death. People also wear seat belts because they're afraid of death. That doesn't make seat belts fail.

Dennis Gorelik said...

Anonymous, it would be nice if you leave your name.

"This will fail" is coming from my experience of dealing with complex processes. Without testing all of them fail.
Some of these processes are eventually implemented, but in the first try they fail, because there are some missing tweaks or defects in original implementation of the process.

Do you know any cases when complex process was built and successful in the first test run?

Would we revive cavemen? Yes, we would if it's possible and not too expensive. But only in the small numbers (for research and other exotic causes). Cavemen revival in large numbers is highly unlikely.

BTW, would you revive old computers?
How about reviving thousands of IBM 360?
It's possible and moderately expensive. But would you do that?

Anonymous said...

I'd rather not leave my name, sorry. If that matters: I'm not a scientist, all of my knowledge about cryonics is second-hand, and I'm not paid by anyone (though of course I can't prove that).

We are doing some testing! We can vitrify and thaw rabbit kidneys and rat hippocampus slices. That's some evidence vitrification works.
Cryonics is improving. We're vitrifying people instead of freezing them. Look at those pictures of brains. We're reducing skull cracks, we've drove the formation of ice crystals down to nearly zero, we are accelerating the vitrification process. So the last ones to get frozen should be in very good shape. When we get ready to thaw them, we will have plenty of time to test the process in the lab on animals. We will then use the knowledge to thaw people who were preserved earlier, until we can get to the first frozen people.
Maybe your claim is "there will be an important failure before we get to thawing". Thawing is the hard part. We can vitrify small organs and they'll be nearly perfectly preserved. And read Eliezer Yudkowsky's "secure erasure" argument; it's extremely unlikely freezing someone will destroy so much information we can't retrieve the original person.
Also, a reason why complex processes tend to fail at first is that we're using bottom-up approaches (using one piece of insight to figure out the general idea, then brute-forcing or at best hill-climbing the immediate neighbourhood to get what we want) rather than top-down approaches (understanding the search space well enough to pinpoint what we want). Top-down approaches are harder, though. Still, yeah, thawing will fail at first - but we don't care, we'll test it in the lab. And freezing/maintaining is not a complex process.

No, I wouldn't repair old computers that weren't running any kind of sentient process. People are ends, not just means - I value people staying alive, healthy and happy - I just value computers as a means to an end.
If you're trying to say "Future people will not see us as more than a old computer" - well, they may be superhuman, but it's clear we are still sentient and feeling and able to argue about cryonics. We are retarded and full of failings, but we're still conscious minds!
If I found out old computers were actually sentient (which they don't seem to be anymore than a toaster), yes, I would revive them.
You're talking about a future in which all the main powers have no concern for the life of others, or don't consider a clearly expressed will to live as a reason to let you live. Those are definitely not humane values.

Dennis Gorelik said...

1) Anonymous, you don't have to sign your real name, but it would be nice if you put any name, so I would be able to distinguish yourself from other anonymous commentators.

2) Yes, thawing process can be tested and improved later. What cannot be improved later is how your body was frozen today.
It's extremely likely that modern freezing process has some fatal errors (because it was never fully tested).
There is a huge difference between rabbit kidney and human brain.

3) If even bottom-up approach doesn't work (without testing), and top-down approach is even harder, then top-down approach would fail miserably too. So I don't see what kind of point you are trying to make here.

4) People rarely invest their resources just because it would help other sentient creatures.
In order to make future generations to appropriately thaw you, you will have to win their goodwill/attention over lots of other creatures: their fellow citizens, kids, clones, intelligent toys and gadgets, full-blown AGIs etc.
Your frozen body would be at the huge disadvantage:
- Not being able to act.
- Obsolete physical and mental structure.
How are you going to win the attention and resources of future generation?

5) The powers care only about desires of _active_ people. Not about dead frozen bodies.
It is that way now, and it's not going to change in the future, because only such approach allows long-term survival [of the powers].

6) You wrote: "all of my knowledge about cryonics is second-hand".
Then you wrote: "We are doing some testing".
So, which of the above statements is true?

7) Even if cryonics is run mostly by enthusiasts, it doesn't guarantee that it's not a scam.

Aaron Leiby said...

> BTW, would you revive old computers?
> How about reviving thousands of IBM 360?
> It's possible and moderately expensive. But would you do that?

Absolutely! Who doesn't still have their old Amiga stowed in a closet that they piece back together to do some nostalgic hacking every once and a while?

A brain is just encoded data. But within that sea of information lies ways of thinking that are unique to each individual. A perspective gained by a particular path through life. Certainly that's worth keeping around even on the off chance that some portion of it might be recovered later.

There's a whole industry dedicated to retrieving data off "dead" harddrives. What price do you put on your own neural imprint? We don't have the technology for digital backups like we do for our laptops, so short of preservation using these most crude methods, what alternatives do you suggest?

Instead of focusing on why cryonics will fail, I think it would be more interesting to focus on your price threshold. If it were available to you as a free service, would you still refuse it? If so, why? What specifically is lost in the event of failure compared to more traditional funeral arrangements? If you'd accept a free service, then would you be willing to pay $5? $50? $500? Where do you draw the line?

(Full disclosure: I remain a skeptic myself at this point.)

Dennis Gorelik said...


Someone else's IBM 360 is not the same as your Amega.
There will be almost no emotional attachment to the frozen body from several hundred years ago.

BTW, I don't keep my old computers with me. If I keep all my old stuff -- I wouldn't have place for new stuff.

Throwing away / forgetting obsolete stuff is an important feature of life and intelligence.

Hundreds years old frozen bodies should expect the same treatment that other obsolete stuff gets -- recycling.

About the price:
Do you mean: what price would I pay for untested promise of making my neural imprint?
Exactly the same as any untested promise deserves -- zero.

The only case when Cryonics might be useful for is in situation when I want painlessly kill myself and don't have other means to do so (for example, if euthanasia is prohibited).
The freezing procedure is painless, isn't it?

Aaron Leiby said...

> Do you mean: what price would I pay for untested promise of making my neural imprint?

Yes, as opposed to the price you might pay for a nice casket and embalming service which certainly has a far lower chance of preserving your neural imprint. If you simply have no value in preserving that information, then the question is obviously moot.

Euthanasia is still not legal anywhere in the states I know. To be cryopreserved you must first be pronounced legally dead. This gets to the heart of information-theoretic death, however. From its broader perspective, our current definitions of legal death constitute a type of euthanasia - one I think I'd personally like to avoid if possible.

Dennis Gorelik said...


1) The difference between almost zero chance [of preserving my natural imprint through Cryonics] and almost zero chance [of preserving my neural imprint through Embalming service] is still almost zero (not "much greater", as you claim).

2) I don't see much value in preserving my neural imprint after my death. Why should I?

3) So you are saying that from legal perspective Cryonics is considered death?
That means that society would most likely treat all that frozen bodies exactly the way it treats all other dead bodies -- maintain it for ~50 years (like place of burial is maintained on cemetery), and then forget about them (which means unfreeze and burn).

4) There is one important reason why euthanasia is illegal.
Q: Does the Act allow euthanasia?
A: No. Euthanasia is a different procedure for hastening death. In euthanasia, a doctor injects a patient with a lethal dosage of medication. In the Act, a physician prescribes a lethal dose of medication to a patient, but the patient - not the doctor - administers the medication. Euthanasia is illegal in every state in the US, including Oregon. The Act has been legal in Oregon since November 1997.
It's because dead people cannot lobby their interests.
Frozen bodies cannot lobby for their interests either.
That means that the desire of dead bodies to preserve their neural imprints wouldn't be respected by the society.

Anonymous said...

good day, there is a new book coming out about this cryonic scam, in regards to Alcor cryonics, from a whistleblower.

SHIVER by Larry Johnson

some posts here and elsewhere.,64749

Dennis Gorelik said...


Although I consider Cryonics a form of scientific scam, I don't think that government should regulate that industry.
Involvement of Government in this case would make things only worse.