The Problem with Cryonicists

An idea that I’ve seen repeatedly come up in apologies for cryonics is that countless people are dying when they didn’t have to. This assertion even appears in one of the latest posts by Robin Hanson on the topic. It seems to me that there’s a little problem with this sort of argument.

It’s highly emotionally-laden, and grossly inaccurate. The first facet is not so much a problem in itself, although it’s a worrisome sign, but combined with the second it becomes devastating, as the emotional appeal makes it harder to recognize what’s wrong with the point.

First, everyone who goes through cryonic preservation dies, whether the whole body is stored or merely the head. Frozen people are dead, period. The issue is not the preservation of their lives, but the possibility of their revivications.

Second, we do not know that cryonics preserves enough information to make revivication possible. For all we know, the minds that once existed within the frozen brains have been grossly damaged, or even erased completely. Even if it is theoretically possible to extract a mind from its chilly husk, we have no idea how much technological progress might be needed to accomplish that, nor precisely why a society capable of the hypothetical technical demands would bother. We do not know that revival can be achieved, no more than we know it to be impossible. But the procedure is a desperate leap into the unknown. Representing it as the salvation of countless dying human beings is wishful thinking at best, and an irresponsibly-extreme exaggeration at worst.

Cryonics doesn’t making dying unnecessary. It doesn’t even give us the reasonable expectation of potentially being ransomed from it. To speak of the ending of millions of human lives as avoidable displays a serious lack of concern for rational argument, and suggests that those who would use such arguments recognize they’re unable to produce solid support for their ideas.

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5 Responses to “The Problem with Cryonicists”

  1. If you can be revived, you aren’t “dead.” And I was very explicit about the chances being low.

  2. if you can be revived, you aren’t dead. I was very explicit about saying it was far from a sure thing.

  3. First, everyone who goes through cryonic preservation dies, whether the whole body is stored or merely the head. Frozen people are dead, period. The issue is not the preservation of their lives, but the possibility of their revivications.
    Hanson claims that this is just like going to sleep and then waking up. You are of course right that nobody has been revived yet and so they are on shaky ground.

  4. Mark Plus Says:

    How about coming up with a criticism of cryonics along the lines of: “No, you cryonicists are doing it all wrong! Try doing it this other way that I can suggest a scientifically testable way to justify.”

  5. In essence, that IS what I said. Almost.

    My complaint is not that the actions they encourage go beyond our ability to scientifically justify, but that their arguments go beyond our ability to rationally justify.

    I have no problem with letting people use their own money to have themselves frozen, if they wish. But speaking of societal programs to do the same on a large scale is madness.

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