The case for lifelogging as life extension

Those in the cry­on­ics com­mu­nity want to be frozen upon le­gal death, in or­der to pre­serve the in­for­ma­tion con­tent in their brain. The hope is that, given good pro­to­col, dam­age in­curred dur­ing the freez­ing pro­cess will not de­stroy enough in­for­ma­tion about you to pre­vent peo­ple in the fu­ture to re­con­struct your iden­tity.

As most who want cry­on­ics will un­der­stand, death is not an event. In­stead, it is a pro­cess with in­ter­me­di­ate steps. We con­sider a long-de­cayed corpse to be dead be­cause it no longer performs the func­tions as­so­ci­ated with a nor­mal liv­ing hu­man be­ing, not be­cause any sort of spirit or soul has left the body.

But philoso­phers have also iden­ti­fied im­por­tant dilem­mas for the view that death is a pro­cess rather than an event. If what we call death is sim­ply my body perform­ing differ­ent func­tions, then what do we make of the fact that we also change so much sim­ply due to the pas­sage of time?

I find it easy to be­lieve that I am the ‘same per­son’ as I was last night. Enough of the neu­ral path­ways are still the same. Me­mories from my child­hood are es­sen­tially still iden­ti­cal. My per­son­al­ity has not changed to any sig­nifi­cant ex­tent. My val­ues and be­liefs re­main more-or-less in­tact.

But ev­ery day brings small changes to our iden­tity. To what ex­tent would you say that you are still the ‘same per­son’ as you were when you were a child? And to what ex­tent are you still go­ing to be the ‘same per­son’ when you get old?

In ad­di­tion to the grad­ual changes that hap­pen due to ev­ery day metabolic pro­cesses, and in­ter­ac­tions with the out­side world, there is also a more sud­den change that may hap­pen to your iden­tity as you get old. By the age of 85, some­thing like 25 to 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion will get a form of de­men­tia. Alzheimer’s is a very harsh trans­for­ma­tion to our con­nec­tome.

Iron­i­cally, those who are healthiest in their youth will have the high­est chance of get­ting Alzhie­mers, as it is typ­i­cally a dis­ease of the very-old, rather than the some­what old. Fur­ther­more, most fore­cast­ers ex­pect that as med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, the rate of Alzhie­mers will go up, since it’s among the hard­est dis­eases to fix with our cur­rent paradigm of med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, and there­fore you won’t be as likely to die of the oth­ers. And Alzhie­mers is just one brand of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

If you care about pre­serv­ing your cur­rent self, and you think that death is a pro­cess rather than event, then it fol­lows that you should want to pre­serve your cur­rent self: mem­o­ries, per­son­al­ity, be­liefs, val­ues, man­ner­isms etc.

The tech­nol­ogy to store the con­tents of our brains is cur­rently ex­tremely limited and ex­pen­sive, but we have an al­ter­na­tive. We can store ex­ter­nal in­for­ma­tion about our­selves, in the form of lifel­og­ging. The type of con­tent we pre­serve can take a va­ri­ety of forms, such as text, au­dio and video.

It might seem like pre­serv­ing an au­dio of your voice will do lit­tle to re­store your iden­tity. But that might not be the case. If you are cry­op­re­served, then much of your con­nec­tome will be pre­served any­way. The pri­mary value of pre­serv­ing ex­ter­nal in­for­ma­tion is to ‘fill in the blanks’ so to speak.

For ex­am­ple, the most fa­mous symp­tom of Alzheimers is mem­ory loss. This oc­curs be­cause the hip­pocam­pus, the pri­mary com­po­nent of our brain re­spon­si­ble for stor­ing long-term mem­o­ries, shrinks rad­i­cally dur­ing the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease. If you con­sider mem­ory to be im­por­tant to your iden­tity, then pre­serv­ing ex­ter­nal in­for­ma­tion about you could help func­tion as an ar­tifi­cial mem­ory source.

What I’m try­ing to say is that if death is a pro­cess, it’s not cor­rect to say that you will ei­ther be re­vived or not in the fu­ture, like a bi­nary event. Rather, part of you will be re­vived. How much that part re­sem­bles you de­pends on how much in­for­ma­tion about you is pre­served.

There are many clever meth­ods I cur­rently see for how fu­ture civ­i­liza­tion could re­con­struct your iden­tity us­ing your cry­op­re­served brain con­tents, and ex­ter­nal mem­ory to­gether. If you can’t see how the ex­ter­nal mem­ory helps at all, then I con­sider that a fault of imag­i­na­tion.

Some will ob­ject by say­ing that lifel­og­ging is em­bar­rass­ing, as you are car­ry­ing a cam­era or au­dio record­ing de­vice wher­ever you go. In­deed, most of the rea­son why peo­ple don’t sign up for cry­on­ics in the first place is be­cause they fear that their peers will not ap­prove. Lifel­og­ging makes this dire situ­a­tion worse. But I think there are steps you can take to make the ap­peal bet­ter.

The more in­for­ma­tion you pre­serve now, the bet­ter. There’s no sharp cut­off point be­tween hav­ing too lit­tle in­for­ma­tion and hav­ing just enough. If you feel un­com­fortable walk­ing around with a cam­era (and who wouldn’t?) you don’t have to. But con­sider tak­ing small steps. Per­haps when you are in a video call with some­one, ask them if they are OK with you record­ing it and later stor­ing it as an mp3 on a hard disk. Or maybe you could write more of your per­sonal thoughts into doc­u­ments, and up­load them to Google Drive.

Lit­tle ac­tions like that could add up, or not. I claim no silver bul­let.

Part of the worst part of death is how ter­rible we are at mo­ti­vat­ing our­selves to avoid it. Among peo­ple who say they are in­ter­ested in sign­ing up for cry­on­ics, only a small frac­tion end up sign­ing the pa­per­work. And among those who do, the num­ber who get pre­served in op­ti­mal con­di­tions is far too low. It seems that out­side pres­sure from so­ciety is sim­ply too pow­er­ful.

But as in­di­cated by the Asch con­for­mity ex­per­i­ments, the best way to over­come so­cietal pres­sure is by hav­ing peers that agree with and en­courage you. If just a few peo­ple took this post se­ri­ously, this could be enough to punc­ture the equil­ibrium, and per­haps a lot of peo­ple will be in­ter­ested in record­ing their lives. Who knows?