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March 16, 2009

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Thanks Robin. This'll help.

An argument against (not strictly, but more below) signing up for cryonics that I heard recently and that I don't remember having heard before even though it is a straight-forward argument, is opportunity cost.

If signing up costs $100 per year plus another $100-$200 per year in life insurance, what else could you do with that money that will have an equivalent lowering of mortality as signing up to cryonics? Most people that argue for cryonics frame in the form of a Pascal's wager, with the probability of cryonics working as very low, but better than nothing. But an appropriate other is not nothing but something that keeps you alive till the hypothesised time of reanimation by non-cryonic means.

If the probability assigned to cryonics working is low enough, (and if you live outside of the US like I do, the chances of you making to the cryonics lab of your choice in a state other than brain puree are pretty slim to begin with), then other things could potentially lower your chances of dying even more. $300 could buy you (by which I mean me) better tyres for your (my) bike, a better helmet, or if you drive they could probably get you a bigger car, or more safety features, or they could buy you an MRI scan every couple of years to try to detect problems early, or more regular blood tests, or ECGs. None of these things might have any evidence riding for them in lowering mortality, but neither does cryonics. They have, to me, at least as good a logical reason for lowering mortality as cryonics. Cryonics might even raise your chances of dying, if by signing up you create familiar discord and social stress in your life.

As I said before, this is not strictly an argument against cryonics, but an argument that if you do sign up to cryonics, you should probably think about all the other small things you could do that would, by a reasonable logical argument, lower your chances of dying by equivalent amounts. This argument is also useless in the case that you are old enough that you consider the probability of reaching reanimation time by non-cryonic means to be non-existent.

What's a good resource for learning specifically how to sign up for cryonics? What institutions provide the service?

I'd love to talk to you for an hour about why you stopped doing research in AI. Can I sign up for cryonics in the UK? My impression was that it's a no-no here at the moment...

aside from a noble benevolence toward all of humanity (or at least the portion of humanity who can afford cryonics), what's the motivation to get others to sign up?

i can conceive of why one would sign himself up. assuming the technology will work, it's probably in your interest to do so. and i'm sure your friends and acquaintances would be important to have around. but i don't imagine you'd miss a stranger like me if i failed to get frozen. nor do i imagine your emulation will be lonely in the future.

obviously this is important to you if you're willing to provide an incentive. why? is cryonics threatened by being too small-scale right now? are there concerns about the financial viability of the cryonics companies if too few people sign up? what gives?

Alejandro, the fact that cryonics doesn't have a randomized trial to support it doesn't mean it is a "small thing", unless you estimate its chances to be very low.

Ben, see Alcor, CI.

Roko, you can buy cryonics in the UK; its just harder to transport you in a sudden emergency.

curious, this product's costs are dominated by fixed costs; the more customers, the lower individual costs get.

Ben:
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/12/you-only-live-twice.html

Has some links, There may be a better list elsewhere on OB.

@Alejandro

"opportunity cost"
An old argument. The ever-patient, ever-cheerful Rudi Hoffman can best discuss this with you in light of your own personal financial circumstances.

Recently I was having an oblique discussion of the situation with an acquaintance in a Famous Coffee Shop. This issue came up. I was polite but frank. Look, guy, I said, you drink these Whipped-Cream-Laden Highly-Candified Hot Milkshakes every day don't you, to the tune of $5 a pop and a shocking number of calories?

He allowed that he loved his WHLHCHMs and yeah, they were fattening. So I asked him, why not take your own advice? Do something now to improve your health - invest the milkshake money with Rudi, switch to plain coffee at home, and lose a pound a week for free. That way you've done something now to benefit your health, and given your own future "a shot" simultaneously.

"Pascal's wager"
See Merkle.

Curious asks why people would bother proselytizing for cryonics. One of my reasons is best explained in terms of my response to another standard objection. Many skeptics ask why anyone in the future would bother to revive them. The reason, I say, is that anyone who loves someone who is in stasis wants to find ways to further revivification. The last people frozen will have people who want to get them out, and once they're out, they'll have earlier people who they want to revive.

So once you're signed up, you have two new motivations: you want to make friends with many other cryonicists who will want to revive you, and you want other people to sign up to continue the chain. We also expect that a larger customer base will reduce the cost of operations for the cryonics companies, and increase investment in the research that will eventually make it possible to revivify us all.

"Whole neurons are visible with intact membranes and well defined structure. This is the excellent brain preservation which Alcor can now achieve in human patients."

so in the best of the best case scenario you will be a perfectly functioning, cleanly formatted hard drive. someone should tell the alcor business people (maybe robin if he's a vested interest in their well being) intact neuron membranes is not what makes your conscience tick.

i liked cowen's analogy to angels belief, but now i put that p way way higher than cryonics'.

What's the expiration date on this coupon? Can't buy 'til someone die.

First q if you want to start prepping:
How do you reconcile cryonics & a rag-top roadster? (Since you can't unscramble an egg)


Robin,

Tyler declined to talk through the probabilities of the components of the cryonics decision, which is too bad. I am curious about your analysis of agency problems and cryonics.

A cryonics customer seems to me to be the most completely vulnerable principal I can imagine: You are totally dependent for your outcomes on others, you have zero ability to monitor them, ill treatment is not discoverable until much later (probably after the death of the malefactor), you can threaten no retaliation for ill treatment, and you exist in a form which evokes little sympathy from others. But all that money is sitting there for your maintenance.

What is the regulatory regime? Are there any legal sanctions for letting the fridge get unplugged? Breach of contract, maybe, but who has standing to bring suit? You are in a lot worse position to expect honest agents protecting you than Madoff's clients were.

I would put the probability for successful maintenance of your frozen head at less than .05 for say, 50 years, less and less with every passing year. And unlike the improving marginal cost of freezing a growing population, the more heads are frozen the worse the agency problem becomes.

What do you think it is, and why? How do you decide which company is most trustworthy? Do you analyze who they hire? Who are you going to have check on your frozen head? Have you cryonicists developed a strategy for dealing with these problems?

I would put the probability for successful maintenance of your frozen head at less than .05 for say, 50 years

Well that isn't the best empirical estimate; you must be factoring in a lot of predicted social change. No one has been thawed out at least since 1982, and probably since 1979; no more than about two dozen bodies have suffered this fate.

Alcor was founded in 1972 and seems to be doing quite well.

The Patient Care Trust (PCT)is charged with preserving the funds required to keep the patients cryopreserved. The PCT is described at http://www.alcor.org/AboutAlcor/patientcaretrustfund.html

Wikipedia has articles on long term memory and long term potentiation (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_potentiation). One standard text on neuroscience is "Principles of Neural Science" by Kandel et al.

Short term memory is very likely lost during cryopreservation. Long term memory should be preserved, as it involves cellular and molecular changes that should be preserved by cryopreservation.

so in the best of the best case scenario you will be a perfectly functioning, cleanly formatted hard drive.

Not true. Short-term memory is stored as live nerve impulses, but long-term memory is chemical and structural.

@robin
Yes, i do estimate its chances of working on me in the next twenty years to be very low. I assume I'll get much better information about it in the next 20 years. What odds do you give it on working on yourself (taking into account getting there and getting out)?

@frelkins
Good to hear it is an old argument. I'll search the cryo archives. Your example about your acquaintance is not quite what I was referring to though ('opportunity cost' was probably the wrong term). Presumably he's not consuming milkshakes to try to avoid ceasing to exist, but because he enjoys the milkshakes. Giving up the milkshakes would forfeit that benefit. Comparing the value of present milkshakes to future life is tricky (I'd guess that even most cryonic members don't practice caloric restriction). What the argument referred to was a more direct substitute of life preservation vs life preservation, getting rid of a lot of value variables to possibly highlight an inconsistency in decision making in signing up to cryonics.

Ralph, Thanks for the pointer. Verrrry interesting.

I have a few thoughts about the trust. But let me first caveat that I haven't done any trusts and estates work for a long time, so if anyone reading is considering buying into this thing, have your own lawyer who does this full time look this document over. Don't rely only on my thoughts here. But here is what I would say to a client:

1. The biggest red flag is the investment of trust assets. The trust doc is right in saying that comingling of funds for different purposes is a big risk "the potential temptation to raid the fund for other purposes during tough financial times."). Sure. You want the money to keep you frozen kept far away from the other parts of Alcor to avoid risks and moral hazard.

So what do they do with the money? They invest half of it in the building that Alcor occupies? What? No no no no no no! What happens if new people stop signing up for cryonics? How is Alcor supposed to pay the rent? The old frozen heads are only funded as long as new ones sign up, unless Alcor has some other forms of income. That sounds like we are getting into Ponzi territory. A reliable trust would have the money completely disconnected from Alcor.

And there is a lot we aren't told. How much did the trust pay for the building? How do we know that price is right? What did Alcor buy the building for? What rent are the other tenants paying? How is the rent that Alcor pays set? What is the current ROI on the building investment? What has happened to the rental market since the inception of the fund?

I would tell a client not to put any money into this without knowing the answers. And the fact they don't tell you here is worrisome. You could never get away with this level of disclosure in a limited partnership or investment fund.

The other half of the money they put into Morgan Stanley. But they don't say what fund, or what manager. A look at the general MS page should scare you:

http://quicktake.morningstar.com/FundFamily/Snapshot.asp?Country=USA&Symbol=75027

Oops.

And they tell you how much money is in the trust only at one point in time - jan 31, 2008. Don't put anything into this without getting more data points. How are they on Jan 31, 2009? I would guess way way down.

If the fund is "diversified" as they say, that sounds like a big mistake. As a frozen head, you don't care about fund upside, you just really really want to avoid downside risk. They should put that money in treasuries. Maybe AAA bonds. Instead, it looks like the MS family is about 70% in equities. Wrong. Why are they taking such risk to get more upside? Well, they are allowed to skim the extra over 30% above maintenance in any year to fund cryonics research. Carried out by whom? Alcor employees? Big conflict of interest there.

2. There is a lot more info they don't tell you here that you need to know. What is the projected cost per patient per year? What do they think is happening to the price of electricity, or dewars, or nitrogen? No projections offered at all? This is not set up like a business offering. Danger, Will Robinson.

3. As a patient, the document admits, you "have no legal existence and hence could not be the beneficiary." (paragraph 8). So if the trustees or the money manager or whoever screws up, or is guilty of self-dealing (like investing the fund in the building where the officers of Alcor work) you have no legal recourse. The only entity that can sue Alcor for mismanagement is a board of trustees chosen by ... wait for it .... Alcor. Warning! Warning! Not good.

4. This isn't really legal advice, but just a personal feeling: that whole part about how it took 8 years to write this...that's weird. Making Alcor the beneficiary is not novel legal ground. And they say it is because only Alcor could understand what they are doing. But you know, "have enough money to keep these frozen heads frozen" is not conceptually hard. "Keep this thing going forever" is the most basic problem in trusts and estates. Anytime someone tells you that what they are talking about is so complicated it can't be understood, I would watch out for them. That's what the guys are Enron said.

The last thing I would say to a client would be this: Look, if it makes you happy to invest in this, makes you more relaxed and not afraid of dying, that might be a good use of money. If you are making a bet about this thing actually working, then part of that calculation is looking at the organizational structure and potential risks there. On that side, this thing looks way screwed up.

Cryonics enthusiasts use the argument that: the probability of success may be small, but if you don't get frozen, the probability of success is zero - therefore get frozen. It's a good argument - if you accept that success is, by definition, personally living for a long time.

If you are a methuselahite, by all means, get your head frozen. However, I don't see how methuselahite evangelisizm is likely to get very far. Biological theory gives good reasons for organisms to trade long lifespans in for youthful reproductive success - the "disposable soma" theory. That explains why methuselahites are rare.

Did study of "Otzi the iceman" provide any clues on how well the human body can be preserved and if it's at all possible to revive it?

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