Normal Cryonics

I recently attended a small gathering whose purpose was to let young people signed up for cryonics meet older people signed up for cryonics—a matter of some concern to the old guard, for obvious reasons.

The young cryonicists’ travel was subsidized. I suspect this led to a greatly different selection filter than usually prevails at conferences of what Robin Hanson would call “contrarians”. At an ordinary conference of transhumanists—or libertarians, or atheists—you get activists who want to meet their own kind, strongly enough to pay conference fees and travel expenses. This conference was just young people who took the action of signing up for cryonics, and who were willing to spend a couple of paid days in Florida meeting older cryonicists.

The gathering was 34% female, around half of whom were single, and a few kids. This may sound normal enough, unless you’ve been to a lot of contrarian-cluster conferences, in which case you just spit coffee all over your computer screen and shouted “WHAT?” I did sometimes hear “my husband persuaded me to sign up”, but no more frequently than “I pursuaded my husband to sign up”. Around 25% of the people present were from the computer world, 25% from science, and 15% were doing something in music or entertainment—with possible overlap, since I’m working from a show of hands.

I was expecting there to be some nutcases in that room, people who’d signed up for cryonics for just the same reason they subscribed to homeopathy or astrology, i.e., that it sounded cool. None of the younger cryonicists showed any sign of it. There were a couple of older cryonicists who’d gone strange, but none of the young ones that I saw. Only three hands went up that did not identify as atheist/​agnostic, and I think those also might have all been old cryonicists. (This is surprising enough to be worth explaining, considering the base rate of insanity versus sanity. Maybe if you’re into woo, there is so much more woo that is better optimized for being woo, that no one into woo would give cryonics a second glance.)

The part about actually signing up may also be key—that’s probably a ten-to-one or worse filter among people who “get” cryonics. (I put to Bill Faloon of the old guard that probably twice as many people had died while planning to sign up for cryonics eventually, than had actually been suspended; and he said “Way more than that.”) Actually signing up is an intense filter for Conscientiousness, since it’s mildly tedious (requires multiple copies of papers signed and notarized with witnesses) and there’s no peer pressure.

For whatever reason, those young cryonicists seemed really normal—except for one thing, which I’ll get to tomorrow. Except for that, then, they seemed like very ordinary people: the couples and the singles, the husbands and the wives and the kids, scientists and programmers and sound studio technicians.

It tears my heart out.

At some future point I ought to post on the notion of belief hysteresis, where you get locked into whatever belief hits you first. So it had previously occurred to me (though I didn’t write the post) to argue for cryonics via a conformity reversal test:

If you found yourself in a world where everyone was signed up for cryonics as a matter of routine—including everyone who works at your office—you wouldn’t be the first lonely dissenter to earn the incredulous stares of your coworkers by unchecking the box that kept you signed up for cryonics, in exchange for an extra $300 per year.

(Actually it would probably be a lot cheaper, more like $30/​year or a free government program, with that economy of scale; but we should ignore that for purposes of the reversal test.)

The point being that if cryonics were taken for granted, it would go on being taken for granted; it is only the state of non-cryonics that is unstable, subject to being disrupted by rational argument.

And this cryonics meetup was that world. It was the world of the ordinary scientists and programmers and sound studio technicians who had signed up for cryonics as a matter of simple common sense.

It tears my heart out.

Those young cryonicists weren’t heroes. Most of the older cryonicists were heroes, and of course there were a couple of other heroes among us young folk, like a former employee of Methuselah who’d left to try to put together a startup/​nonprofit around a bright idea he’d had for curing cancer (note: even I think this is an acceptable excuse). But most of the younger cryonicists weren’t there to fight a desperate battle against Death, they were people who’d signed up for cryonics because it was the obvious thing to do.

And it tears my heart out, because I am a hero and this was like seeing a ray of sunlight from a normal world, some alternate Everett branch of humanity where things really were normal instead of crazy all the goddamned time, a world that was everything this world could be and isn’t.

Then there were the children, some of whom had been signed up for cryonics since the day they were born.

It tears my heart out. I’m having trouble remembering to breathe as I write this. My own little brother isn’t breathing and never will again.

You know what? I’m going to come out and say it. I’ve been unsure about saying it, but after attending this event, and talking to the perfectly ordinary parents who signed their kids up for cryonics like the goddamn sane people do, I’m going to come out and say it: If you don’t sign up your kids for cryonics then you are a lousy parent.

If you aren’t choosing between textbooks and food, then you can afford to sign up your kids for cryonics. I don’t know if it’s more important than a home without lead paint, or omega-3 fish oil supplements while their brains are maturing, but it’s certainly more important than you going to the movies or eating at nice restaurants. That’s part of the bargain you signed up for when you became a parent. If you can afford kids at all, you can afford to sign up your kids for cryonics, and if you don’t, you are a lousy parent. I’m just back from an event where the normal parents signed their normal kids up for cryonics, and that is the way things are supposed to be and should be, and whatever excuses you’re using or thinking of right now, I don’t believe in them any more, you’re just a lousy parent.