Marketing cryonics

Since I have been involved in the field of cryonics I have encountered two distinct views on the marketing of cryonics. One view holds that cryonics is characterized by a disproportional involvement of scientists, intellectuals, and people with computer backgrounds who are totally unequipped to sell the idea to the larger masses. The marketing of cryonics should be done by people with a “business” or “marketing” background.

The other view is that people who expect a lot from marketing of cryonics are blind to the most obvious fact about our field. Most people reject cryonics and don’t want it. No sane business would spend vast amounts of time and money on a product or service that people don’t want.

While I am personally more sympathetic to the latter perspective, I suspect that a rather obvious point is being overlooked. What seems to matter a great deal is how cryonics is conceptualized and “sold” to the general public. Let me illustrate this by contrasting two really different ways of talking about cryonics. I am purposely simplifying things here to get the point across.

1. The belief in a “soul” (or dualism) is nonsense. There is nothing in our understanding of the laws of physics that prohibits the manipulation of matter at the molecular level and extremely long lives will be possible, even for people considered “dead” today. Technology is accelerating towards the Singularity. Most likely, cryopreserved people will be resuscitated as substrate-independent minds. Cryonics is part of the broader “immortalist” and “transhumanist” movements. Not all people agree with us and we need to identify the biases that give rise to these attitudes so we can change their minds. If you are concerned about resuscitation in a different and strange world, you need to toughen up.

2. Current developments in science and medicine increasingly throw doubts on the idea of “death” as a single and uniform event. We can stabilize people at ultra-low temperatures to allow them to benefit from future medical developments. Cryonics is a logical extension of other medical procedures in which people are stabilized for further treatment. The pace of technological progress may not be linear but assuming complete scientific and technological stasis is not reasonable either. Cryonics raises a lot of concerns for many people. We have to address these concerns and calibrate our message to show that cryonics is not something threatening but something aimed at preserving lives and keeping people together.

Now, think about these different ways of conceptualizing cryonics from the perspective of marketing. It seems to me that the first perspective is not only extraordinary difficult to sell but that the most proper expectation here would be more akin to damage control. If you are frustrated about the fact that you are always discussing “something else” instead of cryonics there is a good chance that this is the result of either a lack of restraint in promoting other ideas you care about under the rubric of cryonics or that the person in question has read just too many popular accounts about cryonics that discuss the Singularity, immortality, mind uploading, or chopping off heads. As much as I hate to admit it, some of the bad PR surrounding cryonics is self-inflicted.

If anyone would ask me today if successful marketing of cryonics is possible I would answer that this really depends on whether we are trying to sell a complete worldview that most people seem to reject or whether we are trying to connect to the rest of us with a proposal to update our current views on what it means to practice critical care medicine and end-of-life care.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, June, 2013