Cryonics and mind transferPosted on September 6, 2011 | 9 minute read
Pre-warning: this is going to be a long post and might be all over the place. It’s a collection of personal thoughts and considerations about cryonics and mind transfer.
Ever since the Cryonics talk at last year’s GenghisCon I’ve found my mind wandering back to various life extension ideas and topics. One of the things that has grabbed me the most has been mind transfer and continuity of consciousness.
I really hope that in my lifetime a way to transfer someone’s mind to a machine would be discovered. I’m not sure why I think this, because I’m not really afraid of death. I don’t mind dying as long as I’m not in pain, but imagine the amazing discoveries I’d be missing out on, the ones that would come after I’m gone. I know I might be blurring the lines of science fiction and reality a little when I say this, but I fully believe that games like Deus Ex illustrate a potential (sometimes even likely) future scenario that we could face in the real world.
Maybe it’s just that I want to have an awesome sci-fi adventure. But hey, nothing wrong with that.
Regardless, I’ve been seriously looking at cryonics - specifically neuropreservation as opposed to full body preservation.
The way I see it…there’s no reason not to do it. I’m not claiming that I 100% believe they’ll be able to revive me in the future or that the preservation process is perfect. The main reason I’m considering it is that if you go through cryopreservation, you have a chance of someday, eventually, maybe coming back in the future. If you don’t get cryopreserved, you don’t even give yourself a chance.
Continuity of consciousness
If I was someone or something else in another life I certainly don’t remember it. But if a way to bring back those who have been preserved gets discovered, they can potentially be brought back into the same lifetime and be the same person. It might not happen, but there’s a chance.
At the same time, however, the specific type of revival I’m thinking of - becoming a piece of software in a machine - is plagued by the continuity of consciousness question. If you create a software replica of yourself, is that really still you? Does it even matter, if you have all of the memories and thoughts of your original copy? What if someone duplicates you and there are now two software versions of you having different experiences and interactions - which one is really me?
A long shot
These questions are important, but not show-stopping. At the end of the day the point is - if you get cryopreserved, you have a legitimate purpose for pondering these questions because these things may affect you one day. Otherwise there’s no real reason to even ask them (unless mind transfer technology is made possible in my current lifetime).
Being reanimated after being vitrified is a long shot, I admit. But what’s more of a long shot - being brought back from a cryogenically preserved state or being brought back from a pile of bones in the ground?
If I had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars straight out to do this, I would flat out not bother. If I had that kind of money there are plenty of other things that I can use it on, things that would benefit me now instead of being thrown into a pipe dream of being brought back to life someday.
But the thing with cryonics is - the majority of the cost can be paid through life insurance. In other words, you take out a life insurance policy which pays for your cryopreservation and maintenance of your body after you are dead.
The one negative here is that unless you have a large insurance policy, this essentially takes the money that would have been left to your family upon your death. So they may be left with nothing. To be honest I think of this as a non issue. Who’s to say my family would even need that money, or if I would even have a family when I die? I don’t plan on having kids and even if I have a husband/partner, I expect he would be able to stand on his own two feet after my passing with or without my insurance policy.
The big questions
An ideal time to die?
Another worry I have about cryonics is - when do you die? Say you sign up to have your entire body preserved. Say you die at the ripe old age of 95. By this time your body is old and broken and likely so is your mind. Do you really want to be brought back one day in that same old and broken state? Many proponents of cryonics believe that if we find a way to bring people back in the first place, we would likely also have a way to cure their diseases and illnesses, but I’m not so sure. You may be able to cure an old person’s heart disease, but in the end they’ll still be old…right? I think that I’m not alone when I say that while I’m not afraid of death, I’m terrified of dying old, frail, and/or in pain. I don’t want to be brought back old and frail.
This may not be as big a problem with neuropreservation as this only concerns your brain, but I do have to consider the state of my mind at the time of death.
I hear that many people’s friends and family are shocked and angry when they learn of their loved one’s decision to undergo vitrification upon death. I can’t really comprehend this anger and lack of acceptance - someone is doing what they think might be good for them, with their own body. What is so wrong with that? Is it the life insurance money that the family won’t be getting? The idea of this person being in a lab somewhere going through a weird procedure? The fact that they won’t be able to give them a “proper” burial, or the visualization of their head being cut off and frozen? The body is dead - being outraged about its owner making a decision in terms of what to do with it is extremely selfish. In the end, you don’t own anyone but yourself.
I’m lucky because from my brief discussions with C, he seems quite accepting of the idea. If we stay together that long and I do decide to undergo neuropreservation, I think he would support me. He doesn’t necessarily have any hope that I stand a chance of ever being “brought back to life”, but understands that I would stand more of a chance this way rather than if I was buried or cremated (which would be my second choice).
Alcor seems to be my only choice
The two main cryopreservation companies I know of are Alcor and Cryonics Institute in the U.S. There is also KrioRus in Russia, but I haven’t looked into them properly as of yet. Cryonics Institute does not offer neuropreservation. Alcor does offer neuropreservation. There have been a couple of controversies around Alcor’s procedures, although nothing that seems overly scandalous (at least, overly scandalous for a company that stores human remains for future reanimation). Nevertheless, I would have preferred to have more options in my choice of cryopreservation company to go with.
No cryopreservation facility in Australia
There is no cryopreservation facility in Australia. This means that when you die, whoever finds you will need to be instructed to pack your body in ice (a pleasant experience for them, I’m sure) and you will then need to be transferred over to the facilities in the U.S. as quickly as possible.
This presents many potential problems. This adds an element of risk - making sure all arrangements are made with appropriate parties, doctors/ER/other officials who are likely not used to having to deal with cryonics patients, transfer times, etc. In addition, U.S. residents can opt into an emergency monitoring and transfer service offered by Alcor, where officials will be on-call to get you to the facilities as quickly as possible.
Being in Australia, the chances of your being transferred properly with as much tissue as possible left undamaged take a bit of a blow. From what I read there is a facility being planned in Australia and I will do more research on this. However, from what I read action has to be taken within minutes of death to ensure that tissue remains as undamaged as possible while you are transferred to facilities. How likely is it really that my body will handle hours of preparation and transfer to another country before vitrification takes place with enough of the brain left sufficiently undamaged?
Pros and cons of neuropreservation
One of the pros of neuropreservation as opposed to full body preservation is that you aren’t wasting time attempting to vitrify a massive amount of tissue and instead focusing all of your effort and time on preserving the brain only (usually with the head intact). Entire bodies are also more work in terms of storage itself.
But a big con of neuropreservation is the uncertainty of how you’d be brought back. My hope would be mind transfer, but if this option doesn’t materialize, a new body would have to be grown somehow.
In other words, it seems like neuropreservation would be inherently safer, easier storage-wise, and cheaper. However it would also make the process of coming back more complicated and uncertain.
Steps I’ve taken so far
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about cryonics online and contacted my superannuation provider (which I have a life insurance policy with) about whether their policy is suited for something like this. I’ve also contacted the Cryonics Association of Australia to see if they might be able to recommend some cryonics-friendly life insurance options in Australia.
Someone to talk to
I would love to be able to get in touch with someone in Perth or elsewhere in Australia who is involved in the cryonics community and is planning on or thinking about being vitrified when they die. I have too many questions to be able to do all this myself and would love to be able to discuss cryonics (both pros and cons) with someone who has more experience with and knowledge of life extension and the technical processes behind vitrification.
This isn’t a sure deal yet - there is a lot of research and learning to be done before I make a decision. But I’ve already been asked why I am so interested in living forever. My answer is this: I do not necessarily want eternal life. I just want to see the future.
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