[FoRK] Extreme Life Extension: Investing in Cryonics for the Long, Long Term

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Mon Jun 21 14:28:16 PDT 2010

On Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 2:48 PM, Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> wrote:

> If anyone has a compelling rational argument against this line of thinking,
> I'd love to hear it...

It's vulnerable to some of the same arguments as the ordinary Pascal's
Wager.  By that argument, you have a very simple
two-valued probability distribution, with the expected value of one being
zero and the other non-zero.  Thus, no matter the probability of the
non-zero expected value, it's best to go for that value.

One major argument against Pascal's Wager is that there are an infinite
number of possibilities for ways to get into heaven, so that none in
particular gives any advantage.  You sort of have an analogue to that here
in the form of multiple extended life technologies--i.e., you might be
better off investing in some drug company to extend your life *before* you
die--but that's not a very strong argument.

But the next step in the argument is.  With the refutation of Pascal's
Wager, the argument is that since you cannot rationally influence your
outcome after death due to a lack of information, you should live your life
ignoring the possibility and simply maximizing your expected value where you
can.  You certainly shouldn't strive for some particular possibility,
because doing so likely costs you something on Earth for no expected gain
afterwards.  In the case of cryonics, however, you do have some information
about "life after death"--you know that the chance of resuscitation is
rather small, and that the cost is somewhat of trying is somewhat high.  The
expected value is sort of up for grabs--perhaps you'll just get a few more
years, perhaps you'll live virtually forever.

But looking at it in this binary way--the probability of resuscitation and
expected value thereof, vs the probability it doesn't work and that expected
value of zero--is again flawed.  It would be better to imagine many possible
outcomes of getting frozen.  In many, you won't be resuscitated; the
necessary tech is never developed by chance, it can't be developed at all,
your body is mishandled before the tech is developed (company goes under,
power failure, disaster, aliens, revolution, nuclear ward, legal issues...),
etc.  In some outcomes, you are revived but you have suffered such severe
memory loss that you are essentially a different person.  In some, you can't
adapt to the new world you are revived in, and die to new diseases, killed
in an accident, kill yourself, etc.  In some, you are revived and things
work out, but you are only able to garner a few extra years.  And in some,
you are virtually immortal and happy--at least until the sun dies or the
universe ends--and in some you are virtually immortal and unhappy.  And
maybe, in some, you are able to be truly immortal, living ad infinitum--but
even in this case, you have some versions where you are happy, and some
where you are not.

So, clearly the choice depends on your particular estimation of the
probabilities and expected values.  But it is definitely not a clear-cut
thing, as the analogy to Pascal's Wager proposes.  For instance, in the
truly immortal case, I would argue that it is impossible to judge the
character of such a life, and so while there exists a possibility with
infinite utility, there also exists a possibility with negative infinite
utility, which thus those cancel each other out.  The same goes for the
virtually immortal, except with Very Large Numbers instead of true
infinites.  The more likely case, where you are able to live a limited
number of years after being revived, is a little trickier--we have much more
experience with finite lives, so we could probably give some sort of
estimation (but I won't attempt one).  But in any case, even assuming these
all have positive utility, there seem to be a much larger set of
possibilities in which you don't get resuscitated, and thus which have
negative utility (since you could've spent that money on something better
before you died, or given it to your kids or someone you love).  In fact,
depending on your particular value system, this negative utility could be
very large--if you feel strongly about relieving poverty, for instance, that
money could due a fairly large amount of good if you put it in an investment
account for some amount of time then had it spent on building infrastructure
in some poverty-stricken area.  Or you could put it in an account towards
your grandkids' educations, or something.  (You might even consider the
negative impact on society if we figure out that revival isn't actually

So, while there are large classes of possibilities that cancel each other
out, there are two basic classes you have to worry about; one group, which
is low probability with a fairly high, though finite reward, and another
which has high probability, with a moderate negative utility.  Your
particular estimation of these two classes will tell you whether it is
worthwhile to go for cryonics, but there are no zeros or infinities here to
make the estimation easy, so it is clearly not a Pascal's Wager situation.
 In fact, the two classes seem to roughly balance each other, making this a
rather personal choice.  Of course, that could change if there were huge
medical advances that made it seem fairly likely that revival was possible,
or alternatively if it was shown that revival wasn't possible due to--for
instance--the cease of electrical activity in the brain.  (In fact, that
last one is what makes me fairly skeptical--it seems to me that it is quite
likely that the information in the brain relies on the active pattern of
firings, not just the structure, and thus it seems unlikely that a frozen
person would wake up with their memories in tact.  That said, I'm undecided
on cryo as a whole, but I'm not too worried about it yet since I'm young and
couldn't afford it if I died now anyways.)

Jebadiah Moore

More information about the FoRK mailing list