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October 18, 2007

Comments

Wow; I'm impressed by her (in a different way than before). Of course that consequence outweighing claim depends crucially on the probability of cryonics working.

She doesn't understand the process:
"And if you're immediately cooled, you can be perfectly preserved."

She does not understand that life gives meaning to life. I am starting to wonder whether she is really as brilliant as I thought.

If this is not a hoax or she does a Leary, we will have her around for a long time. Maybe one day she will even grow up. But seriously, I think Eli is right. In a way, given that I consider cryonics likely to be worthwhile, she has demonstrated that she might be more mature than I am.

To get back to the topic of this blog, cryonics and cognitive biases is a fine subject. There is a lot of biases to go around here, on all sides.

http://www.mmdnewswire.com/mgicin-curtis-eugene-lovell-ii-to-be-frozen-for-e-hundred-yers-1300-2.html
She may have listened to her magician.

I would think that SIAI is a better investment than cryonics.

(I agree, Peter.)

no matter what else she does wrong, and what else you do right, all of it together can't outweigh the life consequences of that one little decision.

I think a person's life should be evaluated by what effect they have on civilization (or more precisely, on the universe) not by how long they live. I think that living a long time is a merely personal end, and that a properly lived life is devoted to ends that transcend the personal. Isn't that what you think, Eliezer?

Reworded. Apparently this comment was very unclear. Original in italics below.

See the comment below: My primary reason for signing up for cryonics was because I got sick of the awkwardness, in important conversations, of trying to explain why cryonics was a good idea but I wasn't signed up for cryonics.

The secondary considerations, though they did not swing the decision, are probably of much greater relevance to readers of this blog.

I have found that it's not possible to be good only in theory. I have to hold open doors for little old ladies, even if it slows me down for a few precious seconds, because otherwise I start to lose my status as an altruist. In other words, I have found that I must be impractical in some places in order to maintain my ability to be practical in other places.

Cryonics strikes a blow against Death. It is not only of selfish significance. You can do it because you believe that humanity needs to get over this business of dying all the time, and you want to do yourself what you advocate that others do.

I don't advocate that anyone sign up for cryonics in place of donating to the Singularity Institute. But it might be wiser to sign up for cryonics than to go out to a fancy dinner. It should come out of the "personal/aesthetic" account, not out of the "altruistic" account (yes, Virginia, you do have mental accounts; money is fungible to Bayesians but you are not one).

Original:

I did once think that. But I found out that it's not possible to be good only in theory. That I still have to hold open doors for old ladies, even at the cost of seconds, because if I breeze right past them, I lose more than seconds. I have to strike whatever blows against Death I can. And, I have to be able to advocate for cryonics because it's part of a general transhumanist philosophy and some senior transhumanists assume "you're not taking it seriously" unless you're signed up.

Your mileage may vary. I'd advise you to agonizingly trade off cryonics against eating out or going to movies, and not worry about trading it off against your donations to the Singularity Institute. (Yes, money is totally fungible in theory, but not in practice.)

SIAI welcomes its new Director of Sex Appeal.

On cryonics, basically I understand the wager as that for a (reasonably) small sum I can obtain a small, but finite, possibility of immortality, therefore the bet has a very high return, so I should be prepared to make the bet. But this logic to me has the same flaw as Pascal’s wager. There are many bets that appear to have similar payoff. For instance, although I am an atheist, I cannot deny there is a small, probably smaller than cryonics, chance that belief in a God is correct. Could cryonics be like religion in this way, an example of exposure bias, resulting from the fact that someone has a business model called cryonics; as a result this approach to immortality is given higher visibility (whether through traditional advertising or through motivation on behalf of the investors to raise it's profile)?

Tell me again: you advise a person to spend on their personal cryonic preservation _before_ they donate to SI?

(Cryopreservation has very low expected payoff till after the singularity, does it not?)

I perceive a fundamental tension between personal goals and goals that transcend the personal. I.e. until ~400 years ago civilization advanced mainly as a side effect of people's advancing their personal interests, but the more a person's environment diverges from the EEA, the more important it is for the person to choose to advance civilization directly, as an end in itself. I believe it is an error to regard civilization as the servant of the individual. Ultimately, it is the other way around though in the short term it is hazardous as political doctrine to regard the individual as the servant of the state, the nation or the race.

The transhumanist program of holding out to everyone immortality and the end of suffering works against progress by causing the people with the most potential to contribute to civilization to invest in personal goals.

One might ask, since billions of people already believe (false) narratives about Everlasting Life, what harm inspiring smaller numbers with (true) narratives of immortality? It harms because the small fraction of the population with most of the potential to contribute to civilization is immune to the narrative about Everlasting Life but susceptible to the narrative of the cryonicist, the life-extensionist and the transhumanist. I realize I am giving offense by asserting that the vast majority of the potential to contribute to the world is concentrated in a small fraction of the human population. I do not do so gratuitously; this analysis happens to depend on that fact.

There are still many important ways to advance civilization without being a singularitarian. Transhumanism strikes me as a bad influence on those prospective contributors (by distracting them with new personal aspirations). I grant that transhumanism will create more singularitarians than would be created were it not for transhumanism, but I doubt that the singularity benefits from those people. Most people will detract from the singularity by becoming singularitarians. The goal IMO should not be to recruit as many singularitarians as possible but rather to encourage the right people to join while trying to discourage or not attract the attention of the wrong people. Here I am giving offense by contradicting the deeply-held belief that including more stakeholders in a decision will improve the quality of the decision. Sorry for the heterodoxy! I doubt a person who needs a personal motive to contribute to the singularity will prove a positive influence on the singularity.

Anyway, that is why I am a singularitarian but not a cryonicist, life-extensionist or transhumanist.

But this logic to me has the same flaw as Pascal’s wager.

Pascal's Wager, quantifying the complexity penalty in Occam's Razor, has a payoff probability on the order of 2^-bits(Christianity). Imagine a decimal point, followed by a string of 0s the length of the Bible, followed by a 1.

Cryonics simply "looks like it ought to work". The technical probability seems better than one-half, excluding the probability that humanity itself survives.

The problem with Pascal's Wager is not the large payoff but the tiny, unsupported probability.

Cryonics would be a decent bet even if it only paid off an extra hundred years; though I admit that in this case I would probably not spend the money, because the whole endeavor would take on a different meaning.

Tell me again: you advise a person to spend on their personal cryonic preservation _before_ they donate to SI?

Now that would be hypocrisy. I worked for SIAI for four years, and on the Singularity for a total of eight years, before I signed up for cryonics.

If you like, consider it this way: It was necessary that I be able to advocate cryonics, and it was easier to simply sign up for cryonics than to explain why I myself wasn't signed up. That was the primary driver behind my actual decision - I got tired of explaining - and would suffice even in the absence of other reasons.

But the moral aesthetics of the secondary reasons are rather complicated:

I perceive a fundamental tension between personal goals and goals that transcend the personal.

If we are here to help others, than what are the others here for? Take away the individuals and there is no civilization. Individuals need selves. It's not the same as being selfish. But neither is it the same as having no center. Transform into centerless altruists, and we would have destroyed a part of what we fought to preserve.

I observe nonetheless that it is possible to sign up for cryonics, not because you wish to live at others' expense, but because you believe humanity needs to move forward and get over the Death thing, and you want to do yourself what you have advocated others do.

Similarly, if you advocate that humanity should retain their selves, you may try to rejoice in your own immortality because that is what you advocate others do.

Like I said, the moral aesthetics of the secondary considerations are complicated. It was quite a struggle to express them.

“The problem with Pascal's Wager is not the large payoff but the tiny, unsupported probability”

Why is the unsupported probability a problem? As long as there is any probability the positive nature of the wager holds. My problem with Pascal’s Wager is that there are any number of equivalent bets, so why chose Pascal’s bet over any of the others available? Better not to chose any, and spend the resources on a sure bet, i.e. utility in today’s life not a chance at a future one.

On Cryonics, while the technical nature of process is clearly more (by a huge amount) feasible than the existence of a god, it is not clear to me that the critical part can actually work, i.e. the transference of consciousness to a new body. The results of a successful cryonics experiment seem to me to be the creation of a very good copy of me. At least in this respect the god solution is better.

A better bet than cryonics seems to me to be quantum immortality (aka many worlds immortality). At least the majority of people working in the relevant field reportedly believe in the MW hypothesis so technically it is probably on par with cryonics. On this basis I should put any immortality investment into maximising the numbers of me (with continuity of conciousness), say by sensible choices on diet, avoiding risky sports etc. But no-one makes any money with this solution.

We should make it clear that most Overcoming Bias readers probably place a low probability on cryonics working, and on needing to deal with rogue AIs anytime soon. Some apparently place high probabilities on these. Me, I see them as likely enough to be worth considering, but still far less likely than not.

Holy crap. Paris Hilton actually did something smart for once.

because you believe humanity needs to move forward and get over the Death thing

In the end, this sort of rhetoric is false. Cryonics offers you more time, that's all. "Something or other must make an end of you some day... Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough", as George Bernard Shaw put it in his own immortalist essay. More time to look for genuine immortality, if you wish, but that search has no scientific argument behind it remotely comparable to the argument for reversibility of cryostasis. A chance to reach a Friendly Singularity and become more than human in presently inconceivable ways - I imagine that is also a consideration for anyone who has thought about superintelligence. But it's still not immortality.

What cryonics, especially coupled with the Singularity perspective, might allow you to "get over" are certain crude forms of resignation to being what you are and of ending as everyone else has always ended. But to call it a triumph over Death, with a capital D, as if it were the overcoming of death in all its forms, is to inflate justified revolutionary expectations into unjustified transcendental ones.

But I'm still very happy about this development, and just wrote to Paris to say so.

I'm horribly confused by this thread.

Eliezer:
That I still have to hold open doors for old ladies, even at the cost of seconds, because if I breeze right past them, I lose more than seconds. I have to strike whatever blows against Death I can.

Why? What is wrong with taking an Expected Utility view of your actions? We're all working with limited resources. If we don't choose our battles to maximum effect, we're unlikely to achieve very much.

I understand your primary reason (it's easier to argue for cryonics if you're signed up yourself), but that one only applies to people trying to argue for cryonics, and for whom the financial obligation is less of a cost than the time and persuasiveness lost in these arguments.

I don't understand the secondary reasons at all.

Transform into centerless altruists, and we would have destroyed a part of what we fought to preserve.

Agreed, but 1/(6.6 * 10**9) isn't a very large part, and that's not even considering future lives. An Expected Utility calculation still suggests that if you can exert any non-negligible effect on the probability of a Friendly Intelligence Explosion or it's timing, that effect will vastly outweigh whatever happens to yourself (according to most common non-egoistical value systems).

As shocked as I am by the Paris thing, it doesn't compare to how shocked I am by Eliezer thinking that cryonics is higher priority than SIA, or even than asteroid defense or the very best African Aid charities such as Toby Ord recommends.

I'm totally with Sebastian Hagen here.

Richard Hollerith: We haven't spoken yet, and I think that we should. E-mail me, OK?
michaelaruna at yahoo dot com

mitchellporter: Realistically speaking there are some proposals for living forever which make sense, but beyond this there's the chance that our preferences, when converted into utility functions, are satisfiable with the resources that will be at hand post singularity.

I should qualify this. I'm totally with Sebastian in theory. In practice we can't re-write ourselves as altruists, and if we were to do so we would have to ditch lots of precomputed solutions to every-day problems. We have limited willpower both to behave non-automatically and to rewrite our automatic behaviors, and we should be using it in better ways than by not tipping people in restaurants that we aren't going to return to.

CI, not Alcor? That's a little surprising.

A more optimistic take on the (very interesting) cryonics vs. SIAI debate is that, since Ms. Hilton has proven herself open to cryonics, she may be more open than most celebrities to sponsoring and advocating low-visibility, high-impact charities. Her money could do a lot of good and her fame could generate a lot more money for SIAI/Lifeboat/CRN/.... OTOH, as long as she's considered stupid, her support could be bad PR for a fringe-sounding organization that wants to be taken seriously in public policy. Anyway, she probably already gets $BIGNUM requests for charity every day.

I think most people (who aren't trying to be more like expected utility maximizers) don't trade off personal purchases against charitable contributions very much, so encouraging the average person to sign up for cryonics doesn't seem very likely to detract from their donations. It could be just as likely to increase them by giving them a personal stake in existential risk issues.

It seems a little strange from a utilitarian perspective to focus on money spent on cryonics as money that could be better given to SIAI, as opposed to money spent on selfish purchases with lower expected return (probably including all luxuries), although I do see a good moral-aesthetic reason for it.

Vassar's second post makes me see another good reason to focus on cryonics vs. other luxury goods. Even if cryonics has a higher expected return, it's so deferred, abstract, and uncertain that the willpower cost of not purchasing cryonics is very low compared to other luxuries.

BTW, the first comment on that article is depressing: "I feel sorry for society in the future!"

This isn't an attack on cryonics or Eliezer (I'm in favour of them), just venting frustration at a bias he's quite frustrated with himself that tends to pop up when very smart people predict the future. This is a biases blog after all. To be kinder/less pedantic just replace each "can't" with "won't", it's still pretty bad.

Anyone not signed up for cryonics has now lost the right to make fun of Paris Hilton, because no matter what else she does wrong, and what else you do right, all of it together can't outweigh the life consequences of that one little decision.

That implies...

  • Personally surviving to Singularity dominates my utility function. It can't be outweighed by any other possible sets of results.
  • It can't for Paris.
  • Cryonics can't fail.
  • Humanity can't fail to survive all existential risks.
  • My revival can't be prevented by anything else, unknown unknowns included.
  • Paris's can't.
  • I can't make it without cryonics.
  • Paris can't.

...can't fail to all come out as true.

That's just for one reader. For all readers, multiply the probabilities of #1, #5 and #7 for Mr Average Reader, times that probability by itself once per reader, then times that by the probabilities for the other 5 points.

I'm simplifying for brevity (for example there's at least 3 reasons you can't just multiply for the average reader) but you get the idea. Care to bet on Eliezer's Wager? :-)

I'm relatively new to all this so sorry if I did something daft.

Recovering Irrationalist:
Only a couple daft things. OK 6 at least, maybe 7. "cryonics can't fail" has to be replaced by "the chance of cryonics working is not tiny", which seems to be a reasonable evaluation. Likewise, for all subsequent uses of "can't". We *always* work with probability distributions here.
The possible daft thing is taking Eleizer too literally. He clearly didn't literally mean that we had lost our right to criticize Paris. I'm welcome to criticize anyone, and have been known to criticize lots of people who do Calorie Restriction, which seems more useful and cheaper than cryonics ignoring willpower costs, even though I no longer do CR myself.
Maybe the post should be read as "Yay Cryonics!", a sentiment that I would second.
OTOH, as I have said many times before, it seems to me that if the current chance of Friendly Singularity is extremely low and the expected chance of cryonics working is low or vice versa the expected personal selfish value of signing up for cryonics may still be less than that for donating to SIAI.

Carl: He seems like a respectable 'debunking' magician. Like Houdini, Penn and Teller, and Randi, he argues against the supernatural, so taking him seriously doesn't seem like a strong criticism of the reasoning process leading Paris to cryonics, though Alcor would seem like the obvious choice rather than the cryonics institute.

Michael: I said I wasn't attacking cryonics, but I guess I overlooked being interpreted as protecting my right to insult celebrities! I'll be more explicit.

My problem is with the words: "all of it together can't outweigh the life consequences of that one little decision". I'm not saying cryonics isn't worthwhile, and I'm not saying Eliezer's wrong to praise Paris Hilton. If you say "I don't eat people because humans are poisonous", and I argue your reasoning, that doesn't mean I called you a cannibal.

Even with probability distributions and an overwhelmingly high value placed on personal survival, there are many ways at least one non-cryonically-signed reader's decisions could beat hers. That's not an argument against cryonics, it's an argument against the conjunction fallacy.

Recovering: I'm not signed up for cryonics, though I think I may sign up eventually when the marginal benefit in singularity risk of a dollar spent saving the world is much lower. I definitely don't think that everyone should sign up, but I didn't take the claim literally. My main point was that unlike Eliezer, you did seem to be speaking literally/precisely, and
# Cryonics can't fail.
# Humanity can't fail to survive all existential risks.
# My revival can't be prevented by anything else, unknown unknowns included.
# Paris's can't.
# I can't make it without cryonics.
# Paris can't.
don't follow from his statement.

I do not think that people should prioritize cryonics over SIAI, so stop being shocked, Vassar. I think people should prioritize cryonics over eating at fancy restaurants or over having a pleasant picture in their room. If anyone still does this I don't want to hear them asking whether SIAI or cryonics has higher priority.

I wish people would try a little harder to read into my statements, though not for Straussian reasons. By saying "life consequences" I specifically meant to restrict the range to narrower than "consequences in general", i.e., personal rather than global expected utility.

Specific consequences can render Paris's cryo contract irrelevant or ineffectual, but that doesn't change the expected utilities in personal life consequences. It's pretty hard to see something with a larger life-EU than a cryo contract that can be amortized over millions of years.

Yes, Paris can be criticized! Anyone can be criticized. But it is considered hypocritical to criticize another for a flaw that you could realistically be repairing in yourself but haven't, and it is in this sense that I spoke of "losing the right".

The results of a successful cryonics experiment seem to me to be the creation of a very good copy of me.

This is a black hole that sucks up arguments. Beware.

I'll deal with this on Overcoming Bias eventually, but I haven't done many of the preliminary posts that would be required.

Meanwhile, I hope you've noticed your confusion about personal identity.

In underlying physics, there are no distinct substances moving through time: all electrons are perfectly interchangeable, the only fundamentally real things are points in configuration space rather than individual objects, and a strong argument has been made (by Julian Barbour) that these points never change amplitudes. In timeless physics the future is itself an informational copy of the past, rather than anything "moving" from the past to the future. Your spatiotemporal intuitions which tell you that objects are persistent, distinct from one another, and move through time, are simply lying to you.

Michael: I see that's true if his statement is a measure of probability distributions. I thought he meant there's no possibly future where anything I could have done would have made me better off than Paris's one decision made her better off. Looks like I've assumed a common meaning for something used on this blog as a technical term - if so, I apologize.

If I mention that Douglas Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach" is one of the Greatest Books Ever, people don't jump up and say: "Are you saying it would be better to buy that book than to donate to SIAI?"

No, it isn't. Neither does it feel to me like it would be wise to advise people to go through life bookless, or even that I should advise people to only take books out from the library. If you're going to own any book, you may as well own that one; and it is not totally unconnected to AI, so perhaps there will be trickle effects.

To me the notion of trading off cryonics against existential risk prevention has a flavor of remarkable oddity to it. It is like a city councillor proposing to spend money on a library, and someone jumping up and saying, "But what about the children starving in Abeokuto, Nigeria? Why not spend the money on Abeokuto? Why do you hate the Abeokutans so?" Why pick that particular occasion to make the protest, rather than, say, someone buying a speedboat?

Why pick that particular occasion to make the protest, rather than, say, someone buying a speedboat?

Off the top of my head, that someone is interested in cryonics is very strong Bayesian evidence that they'll be easier than average to persuade to donate to SIAI. On the other hand, this would equally justify suggesting to them to cut back on other luxuries to donate. But like Michael Vassar suggested and I elaborated on, since the benefit of cryonics is far-off and uncertain, it may take less willpower to give up than other luxuries. But surely not that much less...

(As you might guess, I'm currently trying to make this decision for myself.)

I hate to suggest it of high-caliber rationalists, but I wonder if the decision to forgo cryonics might be sometimes partly motivated by conspicuous self-sacrifice signaling, or even if the altruistic justification is sometimes partly a rationalization for forgoing cryonics in favor of other luxury goods.

that someone is interested in cryonics is very strong Bayesian evidence that they'll be easier than average to persuade to donate to SIAI.

That is it! That is what bothers me about Eliezer's advocacy of cryonics, which I will grant is no more deserving of reproach than most personal expenditures. IIUC, his livelihood depends on donations to the SIAI. Someone once quipped that it is impossible to convince a man of the corrrectness of some proposition if his livelihood depends on his not believing it. Sometimes I worry that his enthusiasm for cryonics is a sign that his dependency on donations will bias his judgement on important things, not just cryonics. It would reassure me if singularitarian leaders had secure incomes that derive from a source that does not depend on the opinions and perceptions of prospective donors. Proposed solution: Eliezer continues to solicit donations but makes it clear that he reserves the right to spend them in any way he likes, e.g., meditating in a monastery for a year or starting a family. I.e. he changes his pitch to, "I deserve your support because I have demonstrated that I am an exceptionally altruistic, hard-working and intelligent man, and am likely to continue to contribute significantly to our civilization. Also, he is blinded to the identity of the donors so as not to be preferentially influenced by any public statements the donors might make.

Nick: Personally, I forgo cryonics in favor of luxury goods all the time rather unapologetically. I don't see how this could constitute conspicuous self-sacrifice signaling. Spending on things like cryonics or SIAI is generally going to be driven by idealized semi-aspirational self-models which are not hyperbolic discounters, not heavy discounters, and extend their self-concept fairly broadly rather than confining it according to biological imperatives. For such a self-model, there's not much self to sacrifice. For the self that makes most of my small decisions there is a self to sacrifice, and that self doesn't get sacrificed in favor of some future person who supposedly is "me" just because there is a good argument backing that supposition.

It's hard to see how *not* signing up for cryonics could be "conspicuous" (except for a small minority of professional transhumanists who might face questioning about it, like Eliezer) since (1) to an excellent first approximation no one has signed up for cryonics, so the signal gives rather little information, and (2) it's only going to become public if you are close to death (or if you put out a press release about it like Paris Hilton, I guess).

To most people, abstaining from other luxury goods in favour of cryonics is going to look and feel much more like self-sacrifice than abstaining from cryonics in favour of other luxury goods. In fact, it's probably *only* among (a certain sort of) high-calibre rationalists that Nick's conjecture would have any plausibility.

Sometimes I worry that his enthusiasm for cryonics is a sign that his dependency on donations will bias his judgement on important things, not just cryonics.

I do not understand the logic of this. I have no livelihood interest in cryonics.

It would reassure me if singularitarian leaders had secure incomes that derive from a source that does not depend on the opinions and perceptions of prospective donors.

Anyone wants to buy me an annuity, go for it. It would reassure me too.

Do you have livelihood interest in donations to SIAI?

Yes, obviously.

...did I say something unclear? I'm a bit worried because I seem to be misinterpreted a lot, in this thread, and looking back, I can't see why.

Is it okay to say "I don't want to be cryonically preserved because I don't want to be brought back to life in the future after I die normally?"

The livelihood argument only goes to motivation, and Eliezer's motivation is of no interest to me. Why should it be? I don't need to trust his motivation - I only need to read and evaluate his arguments. Or am I missing something?

What you miss is that Eliezer has chosen to accept an immense responsibility (IIUC because no one else had accepted it) namely to guide the world through the transition from evolved intelligence to engineered intelligence. Consequently, Eliezer's thought habits are of high interest to me.

I'm a bit worried because I seem to be misinterpreted a lot, in this thread, and looking back, I can't see why.

In my case, maybe I need to learn when and how to interpret statements as describing expected utility or probability distributions rather than sets of actual events.

Is there a link that explains this clearly, and is it just a BayesCraft thing or is there reading material outside the Bayesphere I should be able to interpret like this?

RI, in this comment section, you can probably safely replace "utility function" with "goal" and drop the word "expected" altogether.

"Congratulations, Paris. I look forward to meeting you someday.

Posted by Eliezer Yudkowsky"

Pffff hahahaha

You neglected to mention that her motivation for signing up for cryonics was to be with her (similarly frozen) pet chihuahua. So Eliezer will have a rival for his affections.

For the love of cute kittens, I didn't mean it that way. "I look forward to meeting you someday" is what I would say of any human being who signed up for cryonics.

Eliezer clarified earlier that this blog entry is about personal utility rather than global utility. That presents me with another opportunity to represent a distinctly minority (many would say extreme) point of view, namely, that personal utility (mine or anyone else's) is completely trumped by global utility. This admittedly extreme view is what I have sincerely believed for about 15 years, and I know someone who held it for 30 years without his becoming an axe murderer or anything horrid like that. To say it in other words, I regard humans as means to nonhuman ends. Of course this is an extremely dangerous belief, which probably should not be advocated except when it is needed to avoid completely mistaken conclusions, and it is needed when thinking about simulation arguments, ultratechnologies, the eventual fate of the universe and similarly outre scenarios. If the idea took hold in ordinary legal or political deliberations, unnecessary suffering would result, so let us be discreet about to whom we advocate it.

Specifically, I wish to reply to Take away the individuals and there is no civilization which is a reply to my I believe it is an error to regard civilization as the servant of the individual. Ultimately, it is the other way around. Allow me to rephrase more precisely: Ultimately, the individual is the servant of the universe. I used civilization as a quick proxy for the universe because the primary way the individual contributes to the universe is by contributing to civilization.

The study of ultimate reality is of course called physics (and cosmology). There is an unexplored second half to physics. The first half of physics, the part we know, asks how reality can be bent towards goals humans already have. The second half of physics begins with the recognition that the goals humans currently have are vanities and asks what the deep investigation of reality can tell us about what goals humans ought to have. This "obligation physics" is the proper way to ground the civilization-individual recursion. Humanism, liberalism, progressivism and transhumanism ground the recursion in the individual, which might be the mistake made by most contemporary educated humans that could benefit the most from correction. The mistake is certainly very firmly entrenched in world culture. Perhaps the best way to see the mistake is to realize that subjective experience is irrelevant except as a proxy for the relevant things. What matters is objective reality.

Contrary to what almost every thoughtful person believes, it is possible to derive ought from is: the fact that no published author has done so correctly so far does not mean it cannot be done or that it is beyond the intellectual reach of contemporary humans. In summary my thesis is that the physical structure of reality determines the moral structure of reality.

Eliezer
“This is a black hole that sucks up arguments. Beware.
I'll deal with this on Overcoming Bias eventually, but I haven't done many of the preliminary posts that would be required.
Meanwhile, I hope you've noticed your confusion about personal identity.”

I look forward to the posts on consciousness, and yes, I don’t feel like I have a super coherent position on this. I struggle to understand how me is still me after I have died, my dead body is frozen, mashed up and then reconstituted some indefinite time in the future. Quarks are quarks but a human is an emergent property of quarks so interchangeability doesn't necessarily follow at a macro scale. (A copy of a painting is not equivalent to the original, no matter how good a copy). This is why I don’t invest in cryonics. To me there should be better continuity to qualify as transference of consciousness, but I can't be explicit on what I mean by better.

If we equate the decision to undergo cryonics with the decision to live forever, then I think calling it a small decision is problematic.
Suppose I were to say, "You will live forever. That is your nature."
It seems most people have one of two ways of dealing with this possibility--
1) create an endlessly beautiful future (heaven) or,
2) deny the possibility (death is an ultimate end).
These actions do not seem to me to be based on the notion that living forever is a small decision.

Here's my data point:

1. Like Michael Vassar, I see the rationality of cryonics, but I'm not signed up myself. In my case, I currently use altruism + inertia (laziness) + fear of looking foolish to non-transhumanists + "yuck factor" to override my fear of death and allow me to avoid signing up for now. Altruism is a constant state of Judo.

2. My initial gut emotional reaction to reading that Eliezer signed up for cryonics was irritation that Eliezer asks for donations, and then turns around and spends money on this perk that most people, including me, don't indulge in. (An analogy is the emotion that strikes you if you hear that the president of a charity drives a Ferrari that he bought out of his charity salary.)

3. I then quickly realized (even before seeing Eliezer's elaboration) that this reaction is illogical, it doesn't matter if you spend money on cryonics rather than, say, on eating out more often, or buying a house that's slightly larger than you need for bare survival. So, I discount this emotion.

4. However, it's not clear to me what % of the non-cryonics majority will reach step 3. There are many ways someone could easily rationalize the emotions of step 2 if, unlike me, they were inclined to do so in this case. (I can give examples of plausible rationalizations on request.)

5. One way to mitigate, for people who didn't reach step 3, would be to point out that, while signing up for cryonics when you're on death's door is a 5 to 6-figure investment, signing up through life insurance when you're young and healthy (which I presume is Eliezer's situation) is extremely cheap.

6. Eliezer is a product of Darwinian evolution. An extreme outlier, to be sure, with the "altruism knob" cranked up to 11, but a product of evolution nonetheless, with all the messy drives that entails. I would be more bothered if he claimed to be altruistic 100% of the time, since that would cause me to doubt his honesty.

7. (Corollary to (6)) If someone is considering donating, but is holding off because "I am not sufficiently convinced Eliezer is altruistic enough, I'm going keep my money and wait until I meet someone with a greater probability of being altruistic", please let me know (here, or at rzolf.h.d.nezlson@gmail.com, remove z's) and I will be happy to enlighten you on all the ways this reasoning is wrong.

However, it's not clear to me what % of the non-cryonics majority will reach step 3.

I'd welcome Eliezer using my donations for cryonics. Besides any extra incentive to see we're not totally screwed after some luddite maniac gets him, he's extremely good value for money.

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May 2009

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