RE: Who Should Live?

Billy Brown (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 08:28:20 -0600

J. R. Molloy wrote:
> I had no intention of interfering or intruding in any way.

Glad to hear it. Your previous post sounded like you'd be willing to endorse anti-cryonics legislation.

> I simply pointed
> out to Randall that it would serve transhuman extropy better to fund
> intelligence augmentation, bionic engineering, and synthetic evolution
> rather than salvaging unavoidable obsolescence.

As it currently exists, transhumanism is incapable of funding significant research of any kind (unless we've got a few closet billionaires I don't know about). To my mind, that makes any serious debate about what we should spend our money on rather pointless - when we actually have some, then it may be productive to argue about it.

> Obviously people have that liberty. Extropians also have the freedom to
> endorse alternative means to arrive at a posthuman destiny. It comes down
> to a matter of personal taste, I suppose. I envision a future in
> which people _create_ better, smarter, stronger people

So do I. So do most other cryonicists. I also hope to be one of those enhanced people - and I intend to take every possible measure to increase the odds of that happening.

> rather than dredging them up from the morgue.

Note the assumption that suspension patients are dead. This is self-contradictory.

If cryonics can never work, these people are dead. They will never be brought back, so the issue will not arise.

If they can be brought back, then they aren't dead in any meaningful sense. They are equivalent (in a moral sense) to comatose hospital patients, or people in suspended animation, or anyone else who is unconscious and unable to resume normal functioning without medical attention. We could substitute the word "hospital" for "morgue", with no change in the moral content of the statement.

> Okay, so how does that help us decide "Who Should Live?" (the
> topic of the thread that Scott started).

It was a purely hypothetical question, and it is pretty unlikely that anything like it would ever arise in the real world. Cryonic suspension is not especially expensive (unless you're already 80 when you start thinking about it), so it is pretty hard to find people who want to sign up but can't afford to. If someone knows about cryonics, and doesn't sign up, they've made their decision.

Besides, I believe the spirit of Scott's question could be captured as "If you could pick 10 people to live forever, who would they be?" Its essence is "Who do we most admire?", not "How should we spend our money?"

> By the time "we have already eliminated diseases, aging, and just about
> other imaginable medical problem" we might conceivably have the means to
> create a better human (transhuman) than any genius who ever lived. So why
> backward, when we can go forward? How to justify salvaging what we've
> already surpassed? Not only would the entire list become "old hat" it
> become garbage by the time you mention. Which restates my point.

Obviously, in a realistic scenario no one we pick is likely to have much impact on the future. That isn't the point.

> If, in contrast to this scenario, cryonics succeeds to the point where the
> question, "Who Should Live" becomes more than a parlor game, to that
> it subverts extropy, because it supports stagnation more than
> it supports progress.

Would you say the same thing about life extension technology in general?

> No, not "deathist" whatever that means, but rather extropic.

Deathism is the believe that death is a good thing. It is generally found as part of a belief in some sort of universal harmony, cycle, or order which is more important than the individual, and too sacred to be subjected to human meddling. In the vast majority of cases people with this sort of belief see any attempt to achieve physical immortality as morally repugnant, or even evil.

IMO, this kind of thinking is one of the biggest problems we face today. It may have been a necessary adaptation in the days when there was no prospect of real life extension, but that is no longer the case. Today it promotes an irrational acceptance of mortality that greatly impedes life extension research, and is thus likely to lead to hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths.

> Okay, fine. As Soupy Sales used to say, "All you insurance salesmen...
> your policies!" I understand the motives behind cryonics. I also
> that the political realities of a severely overpopulated planet will
> need to change as drastically as any technology in order for cryonicists
> survive the next punctuation in evolution.

Either I've completely missed your point, or you haven't thought this one through.

If a singularity is immanent, the whole modern concept of the overpopulated Earth is meaningless. Even primitive nanotech would enable the Earth to support hundreds of billions of people in luxury. It would also easily allow us to move our entire civilization into space, restore the Earth to a pristine state, recreate the vast majority of all extinct species, and terraform Mars and Venus to boot. Resource scarcity would not become an issue for many centuries - and this is just pre-singularity technology.

That being the case, the idea that reviving cryonicists contributes to overpopulation doesn't make much sense.

> And I understand that I may have completely
> missed the mark in this respect, and cryonics may really take
> off in the coming years, so that tens of millions of people opt for
> cryonic suspension rather than cremation or burial.

I doubt it. IMO, the general population will not embrace cryonics until a fully reversible procedure is available - at which point we aren't talking about the same thing.

> I may just shoot myself because
> I understand that I've already lived as much as I can, and
> hanging around annoys others as much as it bores me. That probably won't
> happen for another ten or fifteen years. At any rate, I'd better get busy
> and scrape up the money to freeze my shot-dead body.

If you don't want to live, then there would hardly be any point to getting yourself frozen.

But, come on, "ten or fifteen years"? Surely you can do better than that. If nothing else, don't you want to see how it all turns out?

> The meme "saving lives" entails entropy because it seeks to stop dynamic
> change and spontaneous natural order. I think that when we more clearly
> understand biology at all its levels, from the molecular to
> the societal and ecological levels, we will begin to appreciate the
> significance of our existence more fully. Extropy gives us order for free,
> and when we intrude on that order, even with the best of intentions (or
> selfish intentions) to save lives, we smash against the complex algorithms
> of life itself.

I see. So, does this also apply to life extension research? What about treatments for age-related illnesses like Alzheimer's and heart disease? Or how about cancer treatments, organ transplants, and blood transfusions? These are all ways that we "intrude" on the "complex algorithms of life itself".

> Perhaps my raving here amounts to "deathism" but death and birth eternally
> form the two sides of life. Yet, by the logic of cryonicism, we should
> freeze talented and gifted persons while still young and healthy (you
> freeze yourself while you're still young and healthy), so that cryonics
> preserve you in good shape, thereby providing a better chance for a
> successful revival -- to save your life for a future time of advanced
> medical technology, especially life extension.

Ah, no. That is a common misconception, but it has nothing to do with what cryonicists actually think.

As some of us are fond of saying, being frozen is the second worst thing that could ever happen to me. I have no interest at all in being frozen young, and I hope to avoid ever being frozen at all. I'd much rather face an unknown future on my own two feet than in a dewar.

However, I may not be that lucky. I may come down with some incurable disease, or get mangled in an auto accident, or meet some other untimely end. Or, I may be completely mistaken about how long advanced technologies will take to arrive, and I may simply run out of lifespan too soon. Either way, being frozen is a second change - instead of being dead and gone, I have a possibility of being revived. Its still a bad situation, but it isn't quite as bad as being worm food.

> You think of this as an argument against cryonics, but really it just
> for an answer to the question "Who Should Live?" I say those should live
> grab life by the throat every day and squeeze the juice out of every
> moment.

So do I. But I don't intend to go quietly when the grim reaper comes calling. I have more to do, to say, to learn and to see that could ever be accomplished in a human lifespan, and I'm not leaving until I'm done.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I