On the unpopularity of cryonics: life sucks, but at least then you die

From Mike Darwn’s Chronopause, an es­say ti­tled “Would You Like Another Plate of This?”, dis­cussing peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to life:

The most im­por­tant, the most ob­vi­ous and the most fac­tual rea­son why cry­on­ics is not more widely ac­cepted is that it fails the “cred­i­bil­ity sniff test” in that it makes many crit­i­cal as­sump­tions which may not be cor­rect...In other words, cry­on­ics is not proven. That is a plenty valid rea­son for re­ject­ing any costly pro­ce­dure; dy­ing peo­ple do this kind of thing ev­ery day for med­i­cal pro­ce­dures which are proven, but which have a very low rate of suc­cess and (or) a very high mis­ery quo­tient. Some (few) peo­ple have sur­vived metastatic head/​neck can­cer – the film critic Roger Ebert, is an ex­am­ple (Figure 1). How­ever, the vast ma­jor­ity of pa­tients who un­dergo rad­i­cal neck surgery for can­cer die any­way. For the kind and ex­tent of can­cer Ebert had, the long term sur­vival rate (>5 years) is ~5% fol­low­ing rad­i­cal neck dis­sec­tion and an­cillary ther­apy: usu­ally ra­di­a­tion and chemother­apy. This is thus a proven pro­ce­dure – it works – and yet the vast ma­jor­ity of pa­tients re­fuse it.

Cry­on­ics is not proven, and it is aes­thet­i­cally dis­turb­ing (in­deed even dis­gust­ing) to many peo­ple. It is also costly, and not just in terms of money alone. It is costly in countless other ways, rang­ing from the po­ten­tial for mar­i­tal dis­cord, so­cial aliena­tion, ridicule, so­cial iso­la­tion, dis­rup­tion of fam­ily re­la­tion­ships (and with grief cop­ing mechanisms) dur­ing the dy­ing pro­cess, and on and on and on. And it does cost a lot of money, be­cause if you figure the lost pre­sent value of cap­i­tal for life in­surance, dues, and end of life ex­penses re­lated to cry­on­ics, then that is a very sig­nifi­cant dol­lar amount; my guess is that for a whole body pa­tient who signs up at age 35 with Al­cor, it is in the range of ~ $500,000 to $750,000 2010 dol­lars!

...Beyond this, many other fac­tors come into play, such as per­ceived in­terfer­ence or lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness with re­li­gion by cry­on­ics, lack of en­dorse­ment by au­thor­ity figures, such as physi­ci­ans and sci­en­tists, ac­tual mar­ket­ing faux pas’s, such as the Chatsworth de­ba­cle and the use the words “death” and “dead” to de­scribe cry­on­ics pa­tients. Then come fac­tors which would, if cry­on­ics were proven to work, be down in the noise, or more ac­cu­rately, nonex­is­tent, such as they way the cur­rent cry­on­ics fa­cil­ities look, the ap­pear­ance and qual­ifi­ca­tion of staff and so on.

...Over the past few days, with the pass­ing of Robert Et­tinger, cry­on­ics has re­ceived a level of planet-wide me­dia at­ten­tion it has not re­ceived in decades. One in­ter­est­ing and valuable re­sult of this is that var­i­ous news venues have so­lic­ited pub­lic com­ment about cry­on­ics, and what’s more, about im­mor­tal­ism, or rad­i­cal life ex­ten­sion. As usual, cry­on­i­cists have been deaf to the crit­i­cism, ex­pressed and im­plied in these re­marks from the “mar­ket­place. Or worse, they have been con­temp­tu­ous, with­out be­ing clever in their con­tempt and in their re­sponses.

[quotes from com­ments & peo­ple]

What do these re­marks mean? Well, they mean ex­actly what they say they mean in most cases. That may be hard to un­der­stand, es­pe­cially if you look at the de­mo­graphic data for how “happy” peo­ple are the world over. What you will find, if you do, is that peo­ple in Western Devel­oped na­tion-states are ex­traor­di­nar­ily happy. In fact, they are un­be­liev­ably happy (Figure 3).

Figure 4: Your life and fu­ture prospects can still be grim and rel­a­tively hope­less and yet your eval­u­a­tion of your satis­fac­tion with life vary dra­mat­i­cally de­pend­ing upon whether you have a full belly, or even if you’ve had a meal in the past few hours.

How is this pos­si­ble? The an­swer is that hap­piness is com­plex and ex­ists on many differ­ent lev­els. The most im­por­tant and the most difficult to mea­sure is ex­is­ten­tial hap­piness. The is­sue of their ex­is­ten­tial hap­piness is some­thing most peo­ple rarely, if ever con­front, and al­most never do so in pub­lic when asked (un­less you ask them in the right way, such as, “Would you want to live for­ever?”). The rea­son for this is that if they re­spond by say­ing “My life is a bor­ing ex­er­cise in get­ting from day-to-day with a lot of nag­ging mis­eries and frus­trat­ing in­con­ve­niences,” they would ap­pear as failures, as whingers , and as losers. Few peo­ple find that ac­cept­able!

...Figure 5: Hu­mans were not evolved to be con­fined to a fixed space day-af­ter-day and to do bor­ing and repet­i­tive work which is usu­ally per­son­ally mean­ingless, and is done on the or­ders of oth­ers who are also om­nip­re­sent to su­per­vise its ex­e­cu­tion. That is the work­ing defi­ni­tion of hell for hunter-gath­er­ers and they are uniformly both hor­rified and dis­gusted to to see “civ­i­lized” man be­have in this way.

...Then there are the other peo­ple you must nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­act with. Sev­eral of the peo­ple you work with are com­plete mon­sters, in fact, they de­spise you and they go out of their way to make your job and your hours at work more difficult. And the cus­tomers! Most are OK, but some are hor­rible – en­coun­ters with them leave you shak­ing, and some­times fear­ful for your job. Speak­ing of which, there is always some de­gree of ap­pre­hen­sion pre­sent that you might lose your job; you might screw up, the econ­omy may take a nose­dive… In any event, your sur­vival is crit­i­cally de­pen­dent upon your job. Others whom you work with are bet­ter com­pen­sated, and those that own the en­ter­prise you work for are get­ting rich from it, and that ran­kles. But, be­yond these con­cerns, this isn’t what you re­ally wanted to do with your life and your time. When you were fif­teen, you wanted to _______________, to travel, to see the world, and to meet in­ter­est­ing peo­ple and do in­ter­est­ing things. In­stead, here you are. And ev­ery day you are a lit­tle older and a lit­tle more run-down. The clock is tick­ing. When you looked in mir­ror this morn­ing, you had to face it yet again; you aren’t young any­more and you aren’t go­ing to get any younger.

...And frankly, why should you even try? You were raised with a very limited reper­toire of in­ter­ests, am­bi­tions, and ca­pa­bil­ities. It is so hard to sur­vive in this world, even in this rel­a­tive par­adise of Western Tech­nolog­i­cal Civ­i­liza­tion, that mostly what you had to learn and spend your time think­ing about were how to ac­quire the skills to com­pete and to make a liv­ing and sup­port your offspring and your dy­ing par­ents. All so that this cy­cle can be re­peated, yet again (and to what end?). You laugh at peo­ple who talk about what makes the stars shine, how long the uni­verse will last, where all the dark mat­ter is, are there mul­ti­verses, what would it be like to “see” in the full elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum, or even what it would be like to sit down and talk with Chi­nese work­ers or Egyp­tian shop keeps, and find out what they re­ally think about Is­lam, democ­racy or the USA, with­out some­one on the TV tel­ling you what they think (and get­ting wrong)?

...The fun­da­men­tal prob­lems are these, in no spe­cial or­der:

  • Most peo­ple lack au­ton­omy in their daily lives. Next to life it­self, free­dom is the most pre­cious value; and most peo­ple’s lives are func­tion­ally de­void of it. Many cry­on­i­cists fail to see this, be­cause they are self em­ployed, are in jobs that offer them com­pen­sat­ing satis­fac­tion, or that they don’t per­ceive as “work” (e.g., they are not watch­ing the clock just wait­ing for the tor­ture to be over for an­other day).

  • Most peo­ple have a very limited range of in­ter­ests and pos­si­bil­ities for grat­ifi­ca­tion. This prob­lem can­not be fixed for most by giv­ing them more money, or even more money and au­ton­omy. Do that, and they will drown them­selves in what they already have, or kill them­selves with drugs. How many cars, planes, and pairs of shoes or houses can you re­ally gain joy from?

  • The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple over 30 don’t feel well a sig­nifi­cant frac­tion of the time. They have colds, flu, os­teoarthri­tis, and most im­por­tantly, they are poorly con­di­tioned as a re­sult of jobs that en­force im­mo­bil­ity and make them seden­tary. As a re­sult, they are tired and drained from their work and home re­spon­si­bil­ities at the end of each day, and worst of all, they spend that part of the day when they feel the best and are most alert, do­ing what other peo­ple tell them to do – not what they want to do.

  • They are los­ing their own youth and health and watch­ing oth­ers suffer and die around them. How’s that for a satis­fy­ing life ex­pe­rience? Every day they turn on the news or talk to friends or fam­ily, and find that an­other fix­ture in their life is dead, or dy­ing. As John Donne said, “Any man’s death diminishes me, be­cause I am in­volved in Mankind; And there­fore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

...Thus, when it comes to hap­piness, peo­ple who are so­cially in­ept and who have trou­ble cop­ing emo­tion­ally with the ex­i­gen­cies of life are, on av­er­age, the least happy. It should thus come as lit­tle sur­prise that our pris­ons are cur­rently filled with a dis­pro­por­tionate num­ber of peo­ple who are more in­tel­li­gent than av­er­age and who lack the so­cial cop­ing skills to get on in so­ciety. They are also smart enough to know that many of the rules and or­ders given them are ar­bi­trary and have no ba­sis in rea­son be­yond main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo. As so­ciol­o­gist and ed­u­ca­tor Bill Allin has ob­served: “Peo­ple with high in­tel­li­gence, be they chil­dren or adults, still rank as so­cial out­siders in most situ­a­tions, in­clud­ing their skills to be good mates and par­ents.”[4]

The rele­vance of this to cry­on­ics should be ob­vi­ous to most cry­on­i­cists; cry­on­ics at­tracts, with mas­sive dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity, the highly in­tel­li­gent. In­deed, many of the ar­gu­ments that make cry­on­ics cred­ible, re­quire a re­mark­able de­gree of both in­tel­li­gence and schol­ar­ship. In­abil­ity to un­der­stand the en­abling ideas and tech­nolo­gies usu­ally means the in­abil­ity to un­der­stand, let alone em­brace, cry­on­ics. A dis­pro­por­tionately un­happy pop­u­la­tion of smart peo­ple trans­lates to a dis­pro­por­tionately large pop­u­la­tion of ideal mar­ket can­di­dates for cry­on­ics be­ing un­will­ing and in­deed, un­able to em­brace it.

...There is no one solu­tion or easy fix. The first step is to re­al­ize that what the mar­ket­place is tel­ling us is true: many peo­ple don’t want to live be­cause the ex­is­ten­tial ground state of their lives is a gray-state of dys­pho­ria at best, and at worst, a state of ac­tive mis­ery, re­lieved only oc­ca­sion­ally by a few quickly snatched min­utes of re­lief, or if they are lucky, joy. That state of af­fairs can only be ad­dressed by show­ing peo­ple very real and con­crete ways in which the qual­ity of their lives can be im­proved, both here and now, and in the fu­ture. Heaven isn’t wak­ing up from cry­op­reser­va­tion and hav­ing to go into work two weeks later – FOREVER. That is the very defi­ni­tion of hell for most peo­ple. And the mys­tics have been smart enough to care­fully ex­clude any men­tion of time-cards from their here­afters. The Mor­mons and the Is­lamists have even had the good mar­ket­ing sense to offer up eter­ni­ties where each man com­mands his own world, or at the least, his own harem.

Con­clu­sion, graphs, and refer­ences in ar­ti­cle. As usual, I recom­mend read­ing Chronopause.com as Dar­win has many good ar­ti­cles; to quickly link a few:

  1. ALCOR finances

  2. Master bio­marker for health & aging

  3. Tech­nolog­i­cal evitability

  4. The AIDS Un­der­ground (les­sons for tran­shu­man­ists)

  5. Harry Pot­ter and Deathism

  6. Robert Et­tinger obituary

  7. Da­m­age in the ag­ing brain

  8. Busi­ness & char­ity failure rates

  9. Fac­tors in cor­po­rate longevity

  10. “Does Per­sonal Iden­tity Sur­vive Cry­op­reser­va­tion?”

  11. Cry­on­ics PR in Google N-gram

  12. “A Visit to Al­cor”

  13. Soviet ICBM sites