About My Choice To Be Cryopreserved

By Robin Lee Powell

About This Page

This is a page in question-and-answer style about why I've chosen to be cryopreserved (that is, frozen) when I die.

Before I start, I just want to make it really, really clear that I can't convey everything that I know about these topics, nor all the thinking that I've done; I've spent several hundred hours over the last few years reading various things that all have to do with the future of the human race, and I can't summarize it in a few paragraphs. I'm trying to keep this page short, so there's not much detail. If you want to know more, please follow the various links I've scattered throughout. I especially caution against believing you understand broad futurism-related topics just because you've read this page.

I repeat: if you read this page without following the links, you are getting only an extremely shallow overview of what I believe, and why.

Please pass this page on to anyone you like. In particular, if you know of friends or family members of mine that haven't read it, please send a link to it to them.

What Are You Talking About?

I've decided that when I die, my body will be cryopreserved (in other words, frozen), with the goal of returning me to life at some later date. My choice to do this, however, has as much to do with what I expect the future to be like as it does with simple fear of death. This gets a bit complicated, which is why I wrote this page.

Why Are You Doing This?, Part 1

I Love Life

Well, the most fundamental reason that I'm choosing the best option I know for protecting my self from the results of accident and disease, for continuing my self into the future, is that I love my life, and life in general. I love living, and want to do lots more of it. What is more, I really hate death. A lot. [The top and bottom parts of that last link are the most emotionally compelling argument against death I have ever read.]

We humans have come up with all sorts of fantasies about the value of death. I say that permanent death is a horrific blight on human existence, and that we all should be fighting against it every chance we get. I don't know what happens after death, but I do know that if someone close to me dies, the person that I am right now, here, on this earth, never gets to see their smile again, and that's completely unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to you too.

Humans have made great strides against death over the last century or so (antibiotics, for example), but human cryopreservation is the most powerful blow against death our species has ever made. We now have the option of preserving everything that is really important about a person (that is, their brain/mind) until such time as we can truly defeat death in the flesh. It saddens me greatly that so few people wish to fight against death as I do.

To be more specific, I'm not actually worried about death, I'm worried about permanent death. I don't mind my consciousness stopping for a bit; I mind it not coming back. Since we seem to live in a world where people who die stay dead, this is an important issue for me.

Why Do You Think Cryonics Will Help You Avoid Death?

Well, it's definitely the case that bringing someone back from cryonic suspension is hard. We certainly can't do it yet. On the other hand, many, many people are working on nanotechnology, which should make revival pretty easy, and it doesn't look like there's anything stopping us but a lot of effort.

(c) Anders Sandberg

Furthermore, we know that reviving living beings several hours after death is possible, without noticeable brain damage, so cryonic revival certainly looks feasible. (There's a more formal version of that study, by the way).

There is, however, a far more compelling argument than all of those. If you get cryonically suspended, there is some chance you'll be revived. We don't know what that chance is, but there is some chance. If you do not get cryonically suspended, your chances of coming back from the dead are absolutely zero.

I'll take any chance I can at life; I like my life, and want it to continue.

Why Aren't You Worried About Your Soul?

If There Are Gods, They're Probably Not Stupid

If there is a soul, there is presumably some form of afterlife. I'd certainly hope that no deity would be confused by something as simple as my body being frozen. So, if I have a soul and there is some place it goes after death, I expect that I'll go there when I die.

If, somehow, the whole soul-going-somewhere thing is interrupted by cryopreservation (which would be pretty stupid, but if we're talking about a deity that designed life on earth, stupidity wouldn't surprise me in the least), it'll be pretty obvious: people will be revived and have something Obviously Wrong with them. If you can't tell the difference after the person is revived, then there's no problem from my point of view.

If you revive me and there is something horribly wrong with me, well, them's the breaks. It's a risk I'm willing to take.

What Soul?

Having said all that, I'm a physicalist, which means that I base my understanding of reality on observation, statistics, rationality , and the scientific method.

This doesn't mean I do or do not believe in the soul (although, for the record, I think the current evidence for souls is very, very slim); it means that if we do find a soul (say, because people revived from cryopreservation come back wrong), we'll also be able to find ways to interact with it, and re-attach it if necessary. As Eliezer says, "As long as it’s not actually magic, we can do it using technology. If it is actually magic, we’ll call in some sorcerers". My being a physicalist doesn't mean I necessarily don't believe in things like souls; it means I find the idea of a soul that we can't interact with, define, or affect to be laughably ridiculous.

As an aside, since I talked about deities a lot above, it's also probably worth mentioning that I'm an athiest. With regards to religions in general, well, it has been said that reality is what you bump into when you walk around with your eyes closed. If a wall can prove its existence to me so easily, why do great and powerful spiritual entities seem to have such a hard time of it? As far as any particular religion goes, well, they like to think they are above investigation, but they're not, and investigation often shows them to be quite wrong. Maybe something sentient created the universe and then stopped interacting with it, but that's irrelevant to my life; it's simpler to say I'm an athiest in the face of an irrelevant deity than to try to explain such a silly form of agnosticism.

Isn't It Expensive?

In short: No. Eliezer spends $180/year on his cryonics life insurance; he's an average late-20s male. I have some medical issues, so it costs me more; about $40/month. That's a $250, 000 USD policy; far more than the minimum required.

Why Are You Doing This?, Part 2

I Expect Great Things From The Future

This is something I could literally talk about for hours and hours; you're welcome to call me and ask me to do so. Basically, I don't want something stupid like a car accident to stop me from seeing the wonders that humanity is on the brink of creating.

Feel free to read this whole page for the details, but here are the things I expect humanity to accomplish in the next 50 years or so (that is, before 2050, and before the end of my natural lifespan), if we manage to survive:

I'm fully aware of how that sounds, but I've done a lot of reading on this sort of thing, and I've been thinking about it for a long time, and I'm certainly not the only one. The short version is: I look forward to, literally, seeing how pretty the nebula made by the dying Sun is, about 7.8 billion years from now. Cryonics is my way of helping to make sure that some stupid accident doesn't ruin that future for me.

Please understand that I'm not joking or exaggerating here, and any responses to the effect of "Oh, that Robin, he's so weird" will offend me. I'm completely serious about all the things listed above.

How Can I Help/Be Supportive?, Part 1

First of all, if we are close, you can approach the whole issue without being condescending. If what I've said here seems crazy to you, ask me about it. I assure you, I've thought all this stuff out.

Beyond that, I'd certainly love to see all the people I know getting to live into the far future with me, so you could sign up yourself. I happen to use ACS (the American Cryonics Society), but ACS, Alcor, and the Cryonics Institute are all fine choices; see the WP page on Cryonics for links.

If you are interested in the future I described above, and want to know more about it and/or help bring it about, I suggest reading the rest of this page and everything it links to. I consider myself a singularity activist, and the form that takes for me is that I donate to the Singularity Institute every month. I think that organization will be incredibly important to the future of humanity, and I invite you to do the same.

OK, You Can Stop Now

If you're just reading this to find out why I'm getting myself frozen, you're welcome to stop now. The rest of this page is about the future I see humanity headed for, and some of the philosophical details of cryopreservation. I welcome you to continue, but if you're sick of reading, now is the time to stop.

Aren't You Worried About Consciousness?

People who've thought a lot about the nature of the mind tend to get rather disturbed at the idea of being revived from cryopreservation, because there's a major discontinuity in your consciousness. That is, you die, your brain decays a bit, gets frozen, gets rebuilt, and then something is conscious. In what sense is that something you? Certainly it's not the same stream of consciousness, because your stream of consciousness stopped when you died.

First of all, I don't see much difference between this and sleep. Disconnections in our consciousness occur all the time, unless your sleep is very different from mine. Secondly, I'm a bit unusual in that I just don't much care. Something running around that is indistinguishable from me is enough to satisfy me.

It's worth noting here, by the way, that having no brain waves doesn't seem to stop us from reviving people with their personality intact. That's important, because it could have been the case that some of what makes up a human's personality is a product of the constantly-working brain, in which case that would be lost at death. This doesn't appear to be the case, however.

Do You Really Think You'll Live Forever?

Well, "forever" is a really long time. It is unlikely, for example, that the universe will last 3^^^3 years, and that's still a very small number as infinity goes. (You may find WP's page on Knuth up arrow notation easier to read for explaining 3^^^3; those are supposed to be Knuth up arrows.) My point was that I want permanent death to be optional, for me and all humans.

(c) Dineshsingh Thakur

This whole idea is part of a complex of ideas called The Singularity, of which there are a few different definitions. I am only interested in the "intelligence explosion" form of the singularity. The best thing I've ever read on the profoundity of this set of ideas is Eliezer's Staring Into The Singularity, but that's a bit of a tough read.

The rest of this page is more detail about what I'm looking forward to in the future, and what needs to happen to get us there.

What Is Possible

Human physics isn't perfect, we know this, but it's pretty good. Very good, actually. This gives us some insight into what is possible if we could just build the things we can imagine. Some of this sort of speculation is more fanciful than others.

The important, soon-to-arrive technology, though, is molecular nanotechnology (MNT), which is a fancy way of saying "being able to move individual molecules around". We don't know all the things that MNT will allow, since we can't actually do it yet, but we do know enough to have made some preliminary designs, and we're pretty certain it can be done. There's a design for an artificial red blood cell which would allow you to hold your breath for 4 hours, and it's a dead-simple design. There's a design for a very primitive MNT computer that has about a thousand times the computing power of the human brain. There's a design for a nanofactory, which is a box that could literally build anything, given a design and the right molecules.

This only scratches the surface; MNT should trivially allow things like near-perfect solar cells (there goes the energy crisis), far more efficient plants (there goes world hunger), easy cures to cancer and heart disease by simply decomposing certain molecules in the human body, and so on, and so on.

On the other hand, MNT allows the development of atrociously powerful weapons. More importantly, unlike nuclear weapons, there is a strong first-strike advantage to MNT weapons; if you can seed your opponent's country with microscopic MNT robots that will instantly kill whoever they've infected if the receive a certain radio signal, you're going to deploy that as fast as possible. That's not even a very creative idea. The grey goo problem is even worse, because that's not humans killing each other, that's wiping out all life on earth, forever.

Why Humans Are Inadequate

The simple truth is that humans can't really be trusted with power. Any power. Sure, maybe you are a nice person, but sooner or later any power you have passes to someone else, and maybe they're not nice. MNT, with its ability to destroy the entire biosphere and its first-strike advantage, needs to be kept out of the hands of humans, at least as we are now. We're not wise enough. We're petty. We hold on to ancient hatreds. It's just a bad idea all around.

AI Can Be Better

The problem is that, right now, humans are all we've got. If we want the utopia at the other end of MNT (and whatever technologies come after it), we're going to have to create our intellectual successors. There's no-one else around to do it. The good news is, people are working on this. It's become part of our culture that everyone "knows" that AI won't happen, because it didn't happen the last several times it was promised. There are, however, really good reasons why AI didn't show up back in the day, not the least of which is that we still don't have computers that can match the raw operations-per-second power of the human mind, but we will soon.

Furthermore, there are some really profound advantages that software minds will have over us. The really big one is they can improve themselves, and then use those improvements to improve themselves some more, and so on. Once that process starts, I expect we'll have things like MNT floating around in a matter of weeks, or maybe even days.

Which is great, as long as the AI doesn't accidentally destroy us or something.

Not Just AI, Friendly AI

Forget, if you will, every fictional AI you've ever heard of. The problem with them is simple: AIs will not have any of our biases. They won't, necessarily, have jealousy, or anger, or love. They might not have much that we recognize at all (see "the width of mind design space" in Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk, or the first section of LOGI). Possible minds can be very, very different from humans. The problem is not building an AI that decides we are a threat and seeks to destroy us, the problem is building an AI that misinterprets what you asked for and turns the entire solar system, humans included, into paper clips or smiley faces.

Fortunately, again, people are working on this. People are, in fact, devoting their entire lives to this. All we have to do is get to Friendly AI before someone else gets to MNT, which is why I donate to the SIAI every month.

AI Is Coming

Convincing you of that fact, though, may be a challenge. I've written a somewhat dry mini-essay on the topic, but if you really want to be convinced that I'm right about that, I strongly suggest reading Xuenay's 14 Objections and Eliezer Yudkowsky's What I Think, If Not Why (which has many links) and The Singularity Is Near. I will happily buy copies of the latter for anyone close to me; just ask.

Given that AI is coming (seriously: it is), we need to make sure it's Friendly, in the formal, mathematical sense. We don't know how to do that yet, so we'd better get to devoting resources to it.

Why Are You Doing This?, Part 3

Now that you have a bit more context as to what I see coming in the future, I just want to restate that I really do expect to live as long as I wish if I, and the rest of humanity, survive the next 50 years or so, and I expect to have an absolute blast doing it. For more insight into the sorts of things I'm looking forward too, there's a page I wrote some years ago on the topic, as well as some bits of CFAI that are relevant.

As far as cryonics go, I'm assuming that if I wake up after being frozen, I'll find myself in A Nice Place To Live. I've given above a few bits of what a nice place to live looks like to me, but I try to spend as little time thinking about it as possible, actually. There are a few reasons for this, but the primary one is that thinking about it isn't going to help it happen. Being a cog in the modern economy, and donating to the SIAI as I'm able, will help it happen. I am, however, desperately looking forward to it. Hence the cryonics.

I Hope To See You There

There's no way to make this an emotional appeal without resorting to emotional blackmail, so I'll just leave it at this:

There are many people who are important to me, and I hope to see each and every one of you in A Nice Place To Live on the other side of a beneficial singularity. Please, sign up for cryopreservation if you are able.