Cryonics is not Mind Uploading

On September 15, 2015, the MIT Technology Review published an article named “The False Science of Cryonics” that revealed how much ignorance about cryonics still exists among those that should know better (scientists, medical professionals, etc.). First of all, cryonics is not a “science” but an experimental medical procedure that is informed by scientific developments in disciplines such as cryobiology and neuroscience.

Semantics aside, a major flaw in the article is that it conflates mind uploading and cryonics. While some of our members may favor the possibility of “substrate-independent minds,” in its most “conservative” incarnation resuscitation will occur through repair of the same biological brain (or whole body) that was preserved. Complicated philosophical issues about whether a copy is “you” do not come into play in this repair scenario at all. So when Alcor was asked by a reporter to comment on the article, we submitted the following response:

The article in the MIT Technology Review rests on several mistaken assumptions. First of all, cryonics does not require or imply mind uploading. While some of our individual members are interested in this topic, the default resuscitation scenario for cryonics patients involves molecular repair of the patient’s biological brain (and body). While we are encouraged by the rise of connectomics, the aim at Alcor is to cryopreserve all the fine details of the brain and even secure viability of the brain as well as we can. In fact, in our stabilization procedures we aim to keep the brain viable by contemporary medical criteria and collect data to evaluate the efficacy of our procedures.

Alcor is a charitable, non-profit, organization and we do not make a profit when we place our patients in biostasis. Also helpful to understanding the ethics and financial feasibility of cryonics for persons of ordinary means is that most people fund cryonics through an affordable, dedicated, life insurance policy, making cryonics an accessible personal choice.

We strongly disagree that without proof of human suspended animation or flawless ultrastructural preservation it is not ethical to practice cryonics. Our organization challenges the mainstream definitions of death, and we believe that perfected cryopreservation is a sufficient but not necessary condition for cryonics to succeed. As long as we have good reasons to believe that the original state of the brain can be inferred from the damaged state, making cryonics arrangements can be a rational choice to make. To our knowledge, there are no rigorous, scientific, studies that demonstrate that today’s cryonics procedures produce irreversible destruction of identity-critical information.

Information about the ultrastructural effects of the vitrification solutions we use to inhibit ice formation can be found here: http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/newtechnology.html

It is disappointing that scientists and professional writers put so little effort into understanding what cryonics entails and what the real technological challenges are. Unfortunately, there is essentially no cost to being factually wrong about cryonics. In fact, when professional cryobiologists comment on cryonics they often make claims about their own field that are factually incorrect, such as that cryonics produces intracellular freezing, or that ice-free cryopreservation of complex organs is not yet possible.

We may not be able to persuade everyone that cryonics is the prudent, conservative choice to make, but we might benefit from giving more thought to how to prevent and counter factually erroneous articles such as the one in the MIT Technology Review.

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