19. January 2011 · Comments Off on Imagine there's no sleep · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: , ,

Imagine that human culture has never experienced sleep, but suddenly must experience it to survive. Would they be apprehensive about experiencing it for the first time?

Of course!

Just picture… this total suspension of consciousness, experienced for the very first time in human history. The notion would totally blow our minds. It would be completely shocking. We might even make up stories about dying and being replaced by an identical clone being, or trying to console ourselves that at least we will have a successor on the following day to carry out our desires.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no particular reason to assume that humans who “survive” events like freezing or vitrification would be any different from humans that “survive” sleep or anesthesia. The definition of consciousness we care about is the lifelong continuity of experiences created by memories. We might not like donating 8 hours out of every 24 to a form of comatose oblivion, but we are able to tolerate it. We would die without it — and who wants to die?

Suppose we were to meet an alien culture that undergoes 8 hour periods of liquid nitrogen immersion every night instead of sleeping. We wouldn’t find it a significant barrier to relating to them as fellow sentient beings. We wouldn’t find it socially necessary to mourn their deaths every night or become reacquainted with their newly generated “progeny” every morning. We would just think their suspension habits are an interesting facet of their biological existence, much like they might regard our sleeping habits.

Some people seem to have the idea that cryonics patients can only be “dead” by definition — that the cessation of metabolic activity somehow makes survival via cryonics an absurdity. It is true that current cryonics patients are legally and clinically dead, but that is a matter that will probably change as scientific and social progress is made. In the mean time, there needs to be a clear distinction between destruction and deanimation — which unlike “death” are not social, legal, or philosophical terms but empirical events, much like sleep.

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