Why I haven’t signed up for cryonics


How I’m now on the fence about whether to sign up for cryonics

I’m not cur­rently signed up for cry­on­ics. In my so­cial cir­cle, that makes me a bit of an odd­ity. I dis­agree with Eliezer Yud­kowsky; heaven for­bid.

My true re­jec­tion is that I don’t feel a visceral urge to sign up. When I query my brain on why, what I get is that I don’t feel that up­set about me per­son­ally dy­ing. It would suck, sure. It would suck a lot. But it wouldn’t suck in­finitely. I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple die. It’s sad and waste­ful and up­set­ting, but not like a civ­i­liza­tion col­laps­ing. It’s neu­tral from a point of plea­sure vs suffer­ing for the dead per­son, and nega­tive for the fam­ily, but they cope with it and find a bit of mean­ing and move on.

(I’m de­sen­si­tized. I have to be, to stay sane in a job where I watch peo­ple die on a day to day ba­sis. This is a bias; I’m just not con­vinced that it’s a bias in a nega­tive di­rec­tion.)

I think the deeper cause be­hind my re­jec­tion may be that I don’t have enough to pro­tect. In­di­vi­d­u­als may be unique, but as an in­di­vi­d­ual, I’m fairly re­place­able. All the things I’m cur­rently do­ing can and are be­ing done by other peo­ple. I’m not the sole sup­port per­son in any­one’s life, and if I were, I would be try­ing re­ally, re­ally hard to fix the situ­a­tion. Part of me is con­vinced that want­ing to per­son­ally sur­vive and think­ing that I de­serve to is self­ish and un-vir­tu­ous or some­thing. (EDIT: or that it’s non-al­tru­is­tic to value my life above the amount Givewell thinks is rea­son­able to save a life–about $5,000. My re­vealed prefer­ence is that I ob­vi­ously value my life more than this.)

How­ever, I don’t think cry­on­ics is wrong, or bad. It has ob­vi­ous up­sides, like be­ing the only chance an av­er­age cit­i­zen has right now to do some­thing that might lead to them not per­ma­nently dy­ing. I say “av­er­age cit­i­zen” be­cause peo­ple work­ing on biolog­i­cal life ex­ten­sion and im­mor­tal­ity re­search are ar­guably do­ing some­thing about not dy­ing.

When queried, my brain tells me that it’s do­ing an ex­pected-value calcu­la­tion and the ex­pected value of cry­on­ics to me is is too low to jus­tify the costs; it’s un­likely to suc­ceed and the only rea­son some peo­ple have pos­i­tive ex­pected value for it is that they’re mul­ti­ply­ing that tiny num­ber by the huge, huge num­ber that they place on the value of my life. And my num­ber doesn’t feel big enough to out­weigh those odds at that price.

Put­ting some num­bers in that

If my brain thinks this is a mat­ter of ex­pected-value calcu­la­tions, I ought to do one. With ac­tual num­bers, even if they’re made-up, and ac­tual mul­ti­pli­ca­tion.

So: my death feels bad, but not in­finitely bad. Ob­vi­ous thing to do: as­sign a mon­e­tary value. Through a va­ri­ety of helpful thought ex­per­i­ments (how much would I pay to cure a fatal ill­ness if I were the only per­son in the world with it and re­search wouldn’t help any­one but me and I could oth­er­wise donate the money to EA char­i­ties; does the awe­some­ness of 3 mil­lion de­worm­ings out­way the suck­i­ness of my death; is my death more or less sucky than the de­struc­tion of a high-end MRI ma­chine), I’ve con­verged on a sub­jec­tive value for my life of about $1 mil­lion. Like, give or take a lot.

Cry­on­ics feels un­likely to work for me. I think the ba­sic prin­ci­ple is sound, but if some­one were to tell me that cry­on­ics had been shown to work for a hu­man, I would be sur­prised. That’s not a num­ber, though, so I took the fi­nal re­sult of Steve Har­ris’ calcu­la­tions here (in­spired by the Sa­gan-Drake equa­tion). His op­ti­mistic num­ber is a 0.15 chance of suc­cess, or 1 in 7; his pes­simistic num­ber is 0.0023, or less than 1400. My brain thinks 15% is too high and 0.23% sounds rea­son­able, but I’ll use his num­bers for up­per and lower bounds.

I started out try­ing to calcu­late the ex­pected cost by some con­voluted method where I was go­ing to es­ti­mate my ex­pected chance of dy­ing each year and re­peat­edly sub­tract it from one and mul­ti­ply by the amount I’d pay each year to calcu­late how much I could ex­pect pay in to­tal. Ben­quo pointed out to me that calcu­la­tion like this are usu­ally done us­ing per­pe­tu­ities, or PV calcu­la­tions, so I made one in Ex­cel and plugged in some num­bers, ap­prox­i­mat­ing the Al­cor an­nual mem­ber­ship fee as $600. As­sum­ing my own dis­count rate is some­where be­tween 2% and 5%, I ran two calcu­la­tions with those num­bers. For 2%, the to­tal ex­pected, time-dis­counted cost would be $30,000; for a 5% dis­count rate, $12,000.

Ex­cel also lets you do calcu­la­tions on per­pe­tu­ities that aren’t per­pet­ual, so I plugged in 62 years, the time by which I’ll have a 50% chance of dy­ing ac­cord­ing to this ac­tu­ar­ial table. It didn’t change the fi­nal re­sults much; $11,417 for a 5% dis­count rate and $21,000 for the 2% dis­count rate.

That’s not in­clud­ing the life in­surance pay­out you need to pay for the ac­tual freez­ing. So, life in­surance pre­miums. Ben­quo’s plan is five years of $2200 a year and then noth­ing from then on, which ap­par­ently isn’t un­com­mon among plans for young healthy peo­ple. I could prob­a­bly get some­thing as good or bet­ter; I’m younger. So, $11,00 for to­tal life in­surance pre­miums. If I went with per­ma­nent an­nual pay­ment, I could do a per­pe­tu­ity calcu­la­tion in­stead.

In short: around $40,000 to­tal, round­ing up.

What’s my fi­nal num­ber?

There are two num­bers I can out­put. When I started this ar­ti­cle, one of them seemed like the ob­vi­ous end product, so I calcu­lated that. When I went back to finish this ar­ti­cle days later, I walked through all the calcu­la­tions again while writ­ing the ac­tual para­graphs, did what seemed ob­vi­ous, ended up with a differ­ent num­ber, and re­al­ized I’d calcu­lated a differ­ent thing. So I’m not sure which one is right, al­though I sus­pect they’re sym­met­ri­cal.

If I mul­ti­ply the value of my life by the suc­cess chance of cry­on­ics, I get a num­ber that rep­re­sents (I think) the mon­e­tary value of cry­on­ics to me, given my fac­tual be­liefs and val­ues. It would go up if the value of my life to me went up, or if the chances of cry­on­ics suc­ceed­ing went up. I can com­pare it di­rectly to the ac­tual cost of cry­on­ics.

I take $1 mil­lion and plug in ei­ther 0.15 or 0.00023, and I get $150,000 as an up­per bound and $2300 as a lower bound, to com­pare to a to­tal cost some­where in the bal­l­park of $40,000.

If I take the price of cry­on­ics and di­vide it by the chance of suc­cess (be­cause if I sign up, I’m op­ti­misti­cally pay­ing for 100 wor­lds of which I sur­vive in 15, or pes­simisti­cally pay­ing for 10,000 wor­lds in which I sur­vive in 23), I get the to­tal ex­pected cost per my life be­ing saved, which I can com­pare to the figure I place on the value of my life. It goes down if the cost of cry­on­ics goes down or the chances of suc­cess go up.

I plug in my num­bers and get a lower bound of $267,000 and an up­per bound of 17 mil­lion.

In both those cases, the op­ti­mistic suc­cess es­ti­mates make it seem worth­while and the pes­simistic suc­cess es­ti­mates don’t, and my per­sonal es­ti­mate of cry­on­ics suc­ceed­ing falls closer to pes­simism. But it’s close. It’s a lot closer than I thought it would be.

Up­dat­ing some­what in favour that I’ll end up signed up for cry­on­ics.

Fine-tun­ing and next steps

I could get bet­ter num­bers for the value of my life to me. It’s kind of squicky to think about, but that’s a bad rea­son. I could ask other peo­ple about their num­bers and com­pare what they’re ac­com­plish­ing in their lives to my own life. I could do more thought ex­per­i­ments to bet­ter ac­quaint my brain with how much value $1 mil­lion ac­tu­ally is, be­cause scope in­sen­si­tivity. I could do up­per and lower bounds.

I could in­clude the cost of or­ga­ni­za­tions cheaper than Al­cor as a lower bound; the info is all here and the calcu­la­tion wouldn’t be too nasty but I have work in 7 hours and need to get to bed.

I could do my own ver­sion of the cry­on­ics suc­cess equa­tion, plug­ging in my own es­ti­mates. (Although I sus­pect this data is less in­formed and less valuable than what’s already there).

I could ask what other peo­ple think. Thus, write this post.