Charisma: The Missing Link in Cryonics?

In the June issue of Cryonics magazine, I published an article called “Concepts of Identity and the Growth of Cryonics.” With the exception of my co-authored article on hostile partners in cryonics this article garnered the most feedback that I have ever received on an opinion piece about cryonics. Many people seemed to be sympathetic to the point that the lack of popularity of cryonics cannot be simply attributed to its lack of technological feasibility but I am not sure how widely my suggestion for cryonics organizations to embrace a broader concept of identity is shared. In fact, one person wrote to tell me that my perspective still ignores a rather fundamental point about the successful adoption of ideas and beliefs; the importance of charisma. He writes:

“Your list of rational responses to alleged shortcomings in cryopreservation procedures was good, but I think it misses the point. We can be rational about this, day after day, and get nowhere—because you are omitting the key factor, which I think is the ability to *close a deal*…The ability to sell entails persistence, force of personality, confidence, charm, and a kind of charisma. Most of these attributes are rare among cryonics activists…Why should charisma be necessary? Because of the “disconnect,” which I have seen so often. I run through the rational reasons for cryonics, and I answer all the questions. The person I am speaking to becomes reflective. The person often says, something like, “I guess it does make sense.” Then I say, “How about for you?” The person blinks, looking surprised, and pulls back a little. “Oh no, not for ME!”… This is the disconnect, between abstract agreement and personal commitment. I don’t think the perception of identity has much to do with it. That’s just another in the long list of issues such as religious faith, fear of the future, and concern about depriving heirs of a life insurance payout.”

I am quite persuaded by this response because it can both explain why ideas with no scientific credibility whatsoever can persuade so many people and why ideas with solid reasoning and evidence behind them have remained in obscurity. But I do think this is still only part of the puzzle. Having a very charismatic proponent of cryonics may be be sufficient for rapid growth, but is it necessary? Let’s look at my favorite example, astrology, again. I think that the rather widespread belief in astrology cannot be attributed to one charismatic person, or a number of charismatic persons. Astrology seems to offer something so important that many people demand little in terms of scientific evidence. In this case if offers assurance about personal identity and the future. Interestingly enough, cryonics presents an interesting contrast because people believe that it raises even more uncertainty about personal identity and the future. An unorthodox way to put this would be to say that the idea of astrology itself has “charisma” because it appeals to the hopes and aspirations of many people.

An obvious rejoinder to this would be to point out that the idea of immortality or overcoming death should have the biggest draw of all. That idea of eternal life that is often associated with cryonics is such an appealing prospect that even people with “negative charisma” would not be able to prevent its widespread endorsement. Well, that is not quite the situation we have found ourselves in (to put it mildly). I actually think that for many people the idea of overcoming death or (true) immortality sounds great but as in most fiction and SF movies, the idea of indefinite life has often been associated with “bad” events. A prevalent one in popular fiction is to associate the desire for immortality with the selling of one’s “soul.” In the case of cryonics many people think that the price for indefinite life is alienation and loss of family and friends.

So I remain convinced that offering a vision of cryonics that does justice to those concerns has a much higher chance of gaining in popularity but we also still need a charismatic person to close that deal. Let’s go for both!

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, August, 2015