Comments on the book YOUNIVERSE by Robert Ettinger

Robert Ettinger‘s book Youniverse: Toward a Self-Centered Philosophy of Immortalism and Cryonics is a book containing many insights and deep thoughts, yet has such an informal writing style that many readers might not take it seriously. I know of no other work of philosophy in which the author begins a sentence with “Anyway,”. Ettinger writes that the first cryonics-related organization was founded “in 1962 or 1963, I forget which”, then says “Why don’t I look it up?” and justifies himself by reference to a Woody Allen movie. This is not the kind of writing one expects from a philosophy treatise.

Ettinger may not take himself too seriously, but he is even more dismissive of most of the world’s foremost philosophers and religious figures. The writings of Aristotle are called “ramblings”. In describing William James’s statement that James was only able to understand Hegel while under the influence of nitrous oxide, Ettinger notes how appropriate it is that nitrous oxide is also called laughing gas. Ettinger wrote that “Rousseau has been extravagantly praised, and not only by himself”, but dismisses Rousseau as unoriginal, incoherent, not profound, and frequently wrong. Ettinger describes the philosopher G.E. Moore as being “definitely confused as well as confusing, abounding in contradictions and non-sequiturs, sometimes substituting assertions for arguments.” Ettinger often seems himself guilty of the last accusation. He faults Isaac Asimov for the “absurdity” that without the “saving grace of death” the rigid views of the old would prevent further progress — but leaves a critique of Asimov’s argument “as an exercise for the reader”. Ettinger writes that “Paeans of praise have poured from the pens of platoons of panting pundits” concerning Godel’s Incompleteness theorem, which he dismisses as a linguistic trick associated with the failure of physics to correspond identically with formal (mathematical) systems. By finding the quote from Wittgenstein “I don’t know why we are here, but I am pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves”, Ettinger has massively deflated my respect for the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Ettinger describes the modern “self-styled bioethicist” as a “new type of vermin or parasite” whose major accomplishment has been to create “the illusion of looking down on people far above them.”

Ettinger wrote that “fear of God” is generally really fear of parents, neighbors, and a lifetime of conditioning. He says people too readily submit to tradition rather than use reason. To be “normal” is to have the same delusions as the neighbors. He says loyalty “is frequently a worthy habit”, but sometimes nothing more than an unjustified habit. Ettinger says faith is arrogant certainty in the absence of evidence, which ultimately “boils down to sacrificing your integrity for a bit of comfort”. To Ettinger it is obvious that non-human animals have consciousness and feelings, and that a God that disregarded the suffering of animals on the grounds that animals have no soul “would have less compassion than the average human”. Like many physicists, Ettinger seems accepting of the idea that time and the universe began with the Big Bang, but wonders where God would be before He created time and the universe. Ettinger can make no sense of an omniscient, omnipotent God creating people who need to live their lives to prove whether they deserve Heaven or Hell. Ettinger says that a benevolent God would forgive the skeptics, who should therefore have no reason to compromise their integrity and disbelief.

Ettinger’s irreverence extends to the legal system. Frequent use of appeals courts and split decisions in the Supreme Court are given as evidence that laws are unclear or that bias is pervasive. He describes juries as “ignorant, stupid and readily swayed by irrelevancies and by histrionics”. In connection with the adversarial system, Ettinger wrote “All lawyers are frightening, and specialty litigators are terrifying. Some firms are said to keep their lead litigators chained in a tower room and fed raw meat until needed.” I asked Mr. Ettinger what his beloved son (a lead litigator at a prestigious law firm) had to say about the law chapter, but I got no definitive response.

As the book title YOUNIVERSE implies, Ettinger believes that “me-first” and “feel-good” are the only possible basis for conscious motivation. He also states that a person ought to want whatever will maximize future “feel-good”, and that people do not always want what they ought to want. Ettinger believes that “figuring out what we ought to want is the primary problem of philosophy”. He says that a main aim of YOUNIVERSE is to debunk the views that values are arbitrary or externally given.

Ettinger challenges the claim of David Hume that “You can’t derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is'”, and — like Ayn Rand with her Objectivist Ethics — he does so by reference to values being rooted in biology. Ettinger disparagingly dismisses Rand’s views as narcissism, “me generation”, and “looking out for number one” without explaining how this differs from “me-first”. Rooted in biology, Rand makes survival the basis of her ethics, rather than “feel-good”. Ironically, Ettinger writes more approvingly of Nietzsche’s self-centeredness, although Ettinger faults Nietzsche’s belief in the importance of power over other people as a core value. (Ettinger notes that Nietzsche believed Russians and Jews, rather than Germans, would be the “master races” of Europe.)

I disagree with the arguments of Rand and Ettinger for deriving “ought” from biology. Biology dictates that animals value food and water, but many humans have committed suicide by refusing food and water. To assert that such people are “wrong” and did not do what they ought to have done would be attempting to externally impose values upon them. Ettinger could argue that such people were acting in such a way as to maximize their satisfaction — “me-first” and “feel-good” (he gives the examples of a woman rushing into a burning building to save her baby, or “saints” who gain personal satisfaction from ascetic service to others). But by that argument they were wanting what they ought to want. The point Ettinger seems to be making is that people should not allow others to impose their values upon them — should not be driven by guilt, social pressure, the need to conform. But if people are driven by these motives, they are nonetheless still maximizing their satisfaction. Ettinger might say that such people are acting without integrity by not being true to themselves, but why should people be blamed for valuing the opinions of others and for this being important to them? If it is “impossible to be motivated by anything other than self interest, because motivation means what is important to the self”, then the word “ought” is inappropriate. If “me-first” and “feel-good” are the only possible bases for conscious motivation, then the word “ought” is inappropriate. The only reason that people fail to want what they ought to want is because of matters of fact, not matters of value — people failing to appreciate the consequences of their actions in the context of their values.

The issue of determinism and free will is a subject about which I have thought, read, and written about considerably (see A Case for Free Will AND Determinism ), yet I found Ettinger’s chapter on this subject impressively thoughtful and informative. I mostly agree with Ettinger’s views, about which we are both very much in the minority. I won’t say much about the issues or insights I gained in the determinism chapter, but I will comment on how he applies determinism to cryonics. Ettinger notes that “determinism is very nearly equivalent to” conservation of information, which implies that any human who ever lived could be reconstructed without having been cryonically preserved — except that there may never be adequate computing power.

Although I can conceive of retaining my personal identity in the total absence of any memories that I have, I nonetheless find the idea hard to relate-to. I am even less comfortable about the idea that the essence of my personal identity is feeling. Ettinger has firmer opinions on these subjects than I do, but I sense that his emphasis on feeling as the essence of personal identity contradicts his admonishments about the use of reason against intuition, tradition, and conditioning.

Ettinger skims over the subject of ischemic damage in cryonics, and I think he is wrong to say that “cryothermic damage will in most cases be the most difficult to reverse”. Freezing damage is like broken pieces that are nonetheless intact, whereas ischemic damage is like dissolution or decomposition of structure. Nonetheless, I cannot quantify my argument in terms of “most cases”. I think Ettinger is wrong to cling to the word “immortality” as meaning “indefinitely extended life” when its literal meaning is “eternal life”. His use of the word “immortality” presents cryonics as an alternative to religion rather than an extension of medicine.

Although Ettinger acknowledges that death will mean an end to suffering, he sees a number of disadvantages, including
“…it’s hard to enjoy life when you’re dead.
…daisies are prettier when viewed from above.
…you can only vote in Chicago.
…you need extra strength deodorant.”
But mainly, “Life is better than death because it is more interesting.” (For my own views on the subject, see: Why Life Extension?)

In his lifetime of reading Ettinger has collected numerous notable quotes, and these gems are liberally sprinkled throughout YOUNIVERSE. Some of my favorites include “‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ presupposes that you love yourself” (Miguel de Unamuno), “The greatest part of our happiness depends on our disposition, not our circumstances” (Martha Washington), and Will Rogers’s WWII suggestion for getting rid of German U-boats: “Boil the Atlantic Ocean. How do we do that? Hey, I’m just an idea man, I leave the details to the engineers.”

Ettinger also has a chapter called “Misunderstandings” which deals with his insights into a wide variety of subjects. Indicative of my “anti-intellectual” bias, is the fact that my favorite is Ettinger’s observation that torque (force X lever arm length) has identical units to work (newton-meters), despite the fact that work and torque are completely different. He offers no solution or explanation, however.

A consequence of Ettinger’s informal writing style is that there is much autobiographical material throughout YOUNIVERSE. But the last formal chapter (I am not counting the Appendix) is explicitly autobiographical. He says “I have perhaps a few thousand admirers, hardly any of whom give me much thought or attention”. Ettinger speaks of his loneliness in having experienced the loss of all his friends and family of his generation, and that there is nobody left whom he wants to impress. Indicative of Ettinger’s world-weariness is his quote of a comment made by his brother that all of life is “killing time and amusing oneself while waiting to die”.

Ettinger’s final comments concern his plan to have a pre-mortem “jolly wake” with music, speakers, toasts, and other festivities prior to a suicide intended to improve the conditions of his cryonic preservation. Ettinger notes earlier in the book that “many people are more afraid of seeming cowardly than of facing danger”, which is why suicide with an audience of friends and family would boost his courage. The last line of the chapter reads “If I never wake up, my last experience will have been better than most — a very brief comfort, to be sure.”

Although there are some cryonicists who believe that Robert Ettinger would be the perfect cryonicist to win sympathy for voluntary self-euthanasia to improve cryopreservation, I am not one of them. How can you justify voluntary euthanasia in a non-terminal person when there is no way of knowing how many years of life that person could be expected to live? How can you justify voluntary euthanasia for ANYONE not suffering from a terminal disease, or expect the public to be sympathetic to voluntary self-euthanasia under these conditions? Even for terminal cryonics patients, I would not be to eager to see a public association of cryonics with self-euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Cryonicists would be accused of taking advantage of mentally-compliant sick and elderly people for monetary reasons, which would lead to even more cryonics-unfriendly legislation.

And there are practical problems, not the least of which is the danger of autopsy. Many cryonicists, myself included, cling to life tenaciously — much more tenaciously than the average person. I would find it very difficult to euthanize myself or have myself euthanized. The ideal situation is when death is nearly certain to occur within a week. But this is the condition in which standbys are typically initiated, not the condition in which standbys fail to occur. Heart attack is a common cause of death, and this is most often unexpected. Most cryonicists who receive standby are people dying of cancer, and whose slide toward death is along a more predictable path. The ability of cancer victims to euthanize themselves would make the standby process easier, but that would have no effect on reducing the number of cryonicists who deanimate without standby, despite having arranged for standby. There are no convincing arguments that simplifying self-euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide will lead to the majority of cryonics cases having greatly improved cryopreservation by significantly reducing the number of cryonicists deanimating under unfavorable conditions.

October 2010 Cryonics Symposium in Germany

On the first weekend of October, 2010 I was an invited speaker at “Applied Cryobiology – Scientific Symposium on Cryonics” held in Goslar, Germany: The meeting was the first effort by the German Society for Applied Biostasis (DGAB) to create a milieu for scientific discussion of cryonics-related issues as well as to elevate the scientific status of cryonics and bring more scientists into the field. DGAB hopes to have another such symposium in two years.

Goslar, Germany is a World Heritage Site and tourist center based on the fact that it was the beginning of German industry nearly a thousand years ago as a rich source for mining many minerals. Goslar became a free imperial city and was a favorite residence for many emperors. Goslar is also the city where the conference organizer lives.

With only about 10,000 tourists per year, and a location that is not close to a major city, Goslar can only be reached after several hours by car or train by those coming from outside of Germany. I chose to rent a car, partly because it was so much less expensive than train, and partly because of my curiosity about the Autobaun.

The German Autobahn is probably the only major highway system in the developed world that has portions without a maximum speed limit. I have no enthusiasm for speeding, but was curious to see what it is like to drive on the Autobahn. I reasoned that such a motorway would not be permitted to exist if it were littered with corpses and smashed vehicles. I found that much of the Autobahn had speed limits, there were many construction zones that restricted speed, and traffic jams were sometimes so bad that any forward motion was slow and intermittent. But there were a few times when I was traveling over 90 miles per hour in the flow of traffic, and being passed on my left by cars going so fast that I could have been standing still, relatively speaking. Nonetheless, it did not seem too dangerous.

The symposium was originally to be held mainly in German, but there were twice as many attending (about 50) as had been anticipated — and so many were from outside Germany that the organizers decided to have all sessions in English. Although many of the participants had impressive scientific backgrounds, they were overwhelmingly people with a personal interest in cryonics. The organizers struggled to get speakers with scientific credentials, but many of those who would have been otherwise interested and qualified did not want to risk their careers by participation. Peter Gouras, MD, PhD was the most credentialed scientist presenting. There was a medical examiner whose presentation concluded that cryonics can’t work in Germany, a perfusionist-turned-journalist, an embalmer who failed to attend, a nanotechnology PhD, and me. The other presentations were not about cryonics science.

I was scheduled to speak about challenges in cryonics technology, but became concerned that there was no general introduction to cryonics technology in the program. I requested that I give an introductory presentation as the first speaker, and give another presentation on technical challenges later in the program. Instead, the organizers gave me double the time for my presentation as first speaker (following the Mayor of Goslar). I believe that I did a good job combining introductory material with technical challenges in cryonics. My presentation and the question period that followed were recorded on video, which I am hoping will be put on YouTube.

Holger Zorn discussed his experience as a perfusionist who had worked in the field of hypothemia. He said that cannulation for cooling perfusion could be done in two minutes. When cooling for cardiac surgery they used diluted blood (low hematocrit). Holger discussed cases of forensic perfusion in which reperfusion was performed weeks after death on corpses to elucidate puncturing by knife or gunshot. He said he had worked with hypothermic perfusions down to 18 degrees Celsius, and had never seen a case of shivering. This conflicts with studies reporting shivering between 34 and 35.5 degrees Celsius in therapeutic hypothermia, requiring drugs for suppression:

There has been recent criticism of the use of drugs to suppress shivering in cryonics cases.

Dr. Peter Gouras, who is on the Cryonics Institute Scientific Advisory Board (and whose wife is German) has been involved in cryonics for many decades. He is an ophthalmology professor at Columbia University. He was introduced as the “father of retinal pigment epithelial transplantation.” He discussed his work studying macular degeneration in rhesus monkeys on calorie restriction, concluding that calorie restriction has less benefit for primates than for rodents. He expressed the view that enthusiasm for cryonics is genetic, and that any attempt at persuasion is fruitless. Somewhat contradicting this claim is his claim that reviving a whole mammal from cryopreservation would have a huge impact on the acceptance of cryonics.

The Nanotechnology and Cryonics presentation by Klaus Mathwig was somewhat standard nanotechnology fare for me. What I found most interesting was the question of how nanomachines would know how the correct structure would look after increasing levels of damage. It was suggested that there might be a need to scan the brain structure beforehand. So if your last scan was a month or two before your deanimation, you might be reconstructed as you were at that time. But with a good scan, what need is there for the original material? I thought the purpose of nanobots was to partly to discover the original structure.

Christoph Meissner is a medical examiner who works at the Department of Forensic Medicine at a university hospital. He had done an impressive amount of research on the subject of brain deterioration following stoppage of the heart. Many of the studies he cited were decades old because such studies would not currently be approved by ethics committees. In his experience, the corpse of a murder victim is not found in less than four hours. Under the best of circumstances he believes that a death certificate cannot be issued in Germany in less than one or two hours. He believes that it would not be possible to revive a cryonics patient who had experienced that amount of warm ischemia. During the question period he was asked why he would come to a cryonics conference if he had such a negative view of cryonics prospects. He answered that he is a scientist and that he was trying to make a reasonable assessment of cryonics. I believe that he is sincere and had no “ax to grind” about cryonics one way or the other. The fact that he was specific about probable delays in Germany being the source of his negative prognosis implied that he has not decided that cryonics is hopeless ifcryopreservation is prompt. Ironically, one of the studies he cited showed that rat brain neurons in cortical slices recover function upon reoxygenation as well after five hours post-mortem as they do after immediate post-mortem reoxygenation.

David Styles announce the beginning of Eucrio, an organization intended to give Suspended Animation, Inc -like standby/stabilization services to all the countries in the European Union, plus Norway. Cryonics patients would be vitrified in Europe with CI’s VM-1 vitrification solution, and then shipped on dry ice to Michigan or Arizona for cryostorage. Given the welter of European languages, laws, and insurance policies this is an ambitious undertaking. David has a lot of energy, intelligence, and determination, so if anyone can make this project work, he is one of the few. David spent much time discussing the equipment Eucrio has or is obtaining. Eucrio currently has seed capital for the first year of operation, and it is expected that Eucrio members paying 35 euros per month will keep the organization going even when there are no patients. Fees for service are calculated with a goal of breaking even, based on the assumption that one-third of insurance policies don’t pay (which has not been CI experience).

Sebastian Sethe is a lawyer who spoke on Ethical Problems in Cryonics. Sebastian asked many questions for which he gave no answers. When challenged on this matter, he said that ethicists are more interested in questions than answers, whereas scientists are the opposite. I sometimes think that ethicists are sadists who enjoy torturing people with questions. As a case in point, Sebastian asked whether if the CI facility caught fire, if Ben Best should be saved or the 100 cryonics patients in storage. Part of his question was entailed in Sebastian’s assertion that “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” After the lecture I tried to pin Sebastian down on his assertion, asking him why his assertion should be more true than “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is going to work.” He answered that the true opposite of his assertion is “It is unreasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” I at least got him to say that cryonics has more than a zero chance of working, although I had a hard time nailing down what he thinks the most limiting considerations are — technical, organizational, societal, financial, etc. He suggested that the cryonics organizations are financially threadbare and vulnerable.

I considered discussing the preventative measures against fire that are in place at the Cryonics Institute, but did not do so.

Torsten Nam spoke on Cryonics and Transhumanism. He described transhumanists as people who want to use technology to improve their physical and mental abilities, and to overcome their (biological) limitations. He said that 8% of transhumanists are cryonicists, which by his calculations means that a transhumanist is 200,000 times more likely to be a cryonicist than someone in the general population. He called FM-2030 the father of modern transhumanism, while acknowledging Robert Ettinger’s transhumanist classic MAN INTO SUPERMAN. Among major milestones he listed Francis Fukuyama calling transhumanism the world’s most dangerous idea and a 2007 European Union report on human enhancement. In the early days it had been common to compare transhumanism to fascism (Nietzsche’s Superman), but now the subject is entering the academic mainstream. Some transhumanists want to dissociate themselves from cryonics in order to be more acceptable.

On Sunday the Robert Ettinger Medal for outstanding merits in the field of cryonics was awarded to its first recipient: Robert Ettinger.

Medal Front

Medal Back

I accepted the medal on behalf of Mr. Ettinger, which meant that I had to make a speech. I said that Robert Ettinger is above all a man ofideas, who nonetheless also felt obliged to exert his influence in the physical world by, among other things, helping found the Cryonics Institute because he was not satisfied with what the other cryonics organizations were offering. I also said that Mr. Ettinger deserves a lot of credit for the creation of CI’s fiberglass cryostats, something he is rarely credited for.

In the Round Table discussion I provocatively asked David Styles how Eucrio would provide good stabilization service in Germany, where they would have to wait 1-2 hours after cardiac arrest to get a death certificate before proceeding with cooling and Cardio-Pulmonary Support (CPS).The situation is worse in Italy where 24 hours must pass before getting a death certificate, and in France where cooling is not permitted. France and Italy both require embalming before a body can be shipped out of the country. There was a lengthy discussion/argument wherein David defended his ability to expedite obtaining death certificates and to adapt legal requirements to cryonics purposes. In my own talk I had cited studies showing that neurons are more durable than generally believed, and can survive hours of warm ischemia. Good vitrification in Europe and shipment in dry-ice would definitely be an advantage over the alternative of spending days in water-ice during shipment.

I mentioned the importance of vital signs alarm systems for cases of sudden death where no standby is possible — and the greater availability of such systems in Europe versus the United States, notably the  Vivago Care watch. Dr. Klaus Sames became very impatient and stressed that a scientific symposium should discuss more scientific issues. Dr. Peter Gouras then began beating the drum for raising money for cryonics research — and his preference for small animal whole body experiments. I re-emphasized that Aschwin and Chana de Wolf are doing the most focused cryonics research in their experiments that have found ways to improve perfusion in cryonics patients that have suffered ischemic damage (virtually every cryonics patient). I believe that it would be a great boon to cryonics science if there was money for Aschwin and Chana to do full-time research, rather than just on weekends.

Dr. Sames again felt that this subject is not purely scientific, which led to some discussion of methods of cryonics research. Dr. Sames questioned that the results of small animal experiments are applicable to large animals (humans). Dr. Gouras argued that mouse experiments are the basis of most modern medicine. I described the whole body vitrification experiments at 21st Century Medicine, and the electrophysiology studies on vitrified hippocampal slices. I noted that my information is three years old and that the next public update on 21st Centrury Medicine research is not likely to happen until the May 2011 Suspended Animation Conference in Florida.

Dr. Gouras repeated his claim that experiments on small mammals provides more rapid feedback than organ cryopreservation. No one seemed very inspired by my contention that the greatest breakthrough for cryonics would be elimination of cryoprotectant toxicity. We only have vague theories of what cryoprotectant toxicity is — there should be focused research on this topic, understanding the mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity would be a significant step toward understanding how to eliminate it. Whole body vitrification efforts are easily distracted by perfusion problems, and trying to analyze every organ at once makes the problem hopelessly complicated. Analyzing cryoprotectant toxicity on single organs, perhaps even with biochemical tools (because it is ultimately an issue in molecular biology), has the best chance of addressing the toxicity problem, in my opinion. But “cryomouse prize” and whole body vitrification approaches win the popularity contests by a large margin over a cryoprotectant toxicity “X-prize”. I believe that given adequate funding, Aschwin and Chana de Wolf could contribute significantly to finding less toxic cryoprotectants, and I would like to be involved in the project.

At the symposium I met many people whom I had not known before, many I had known, but not met, and quite a few others that I enjoyed meeting again. I will only mention one, however: Roland Missionnier.

In the late 1960s the Cryonics Society of France was the largest cryonics organization outside of the United States. Roland was the President and Anatole Dolinoff was Vice-President. Roland showed me a list of officers and directors of the organization, pointing-out who had been fighting with whom, and the fact that virtually all were dead without having been cryopreserved. Dolinoff believed that cryonics was illegal in France because of a decree issued by the French Minister of Health in 1968. On page 13 of the October 1989 issue of CRYONICS magazine, Saul Kent said that he would investigate challenging the French law if it had an substance, but if he did so, I never heard the result of his efforts. Roland has been trying to re-start a cryonics organization in France, but he is also planning to move to Florida where he can live close to Suspended Animation, Inc. Roland said that with some money and a lawyer, almost anyone could move to the United States.

Cryonicist Charles Tandy, PhD, wants to publish the symposium proceedings through his Ria University Press.

Those of you who read Finnish can read the summary by Ville Salmensuu or you can stick the link in Google translate:|en|

Down with uploading

Over the last couple of years, cryonics pioneer Robert Ettinger has been a vocal critic of simplistic defenses of the idea of mind uploading as a survival strategy. He has worked out his reservations in detail in his latest book Youniverse: Toward a Self-Centered Philosophy of Immortalism and Cryonics. In a recent CryoNet message he reiterates some of his basic arguments:

“Identity of indiscernibles” is a  common tenet. Often attributed to Leibniz, one  version is that if two physical objects or systems cannot be distinguished from  each other by any criterion, then they  must be considered the “same” or  identical. First, this assertion actually asserts nothing except a  certain preference in use  of language. It has no consequences. It is also useless because if the question arises, are A and B distinguishable, the answer  is always yes.

It is hard to see how anyone can claim complete certainty  on the topic of mind uploading. Nevertheless, to some of its more dogmatic advocates the case for mind uploading is simply an exercise in deductive reasoning. There are major objections to such an attitude. The most obvious point is general; why should mind uploading be an exception to the rule that we can have no certain knowledge? One might object that absolute certainty is possible in logic. But in that case one would need to defend the thesis that the feasibility of mind uploading (and its associated views about identity) is a purely logical matter and exempt from empirical testing. This is not a credible position.

This does not mean that questions about identity will be easily answered when such technologies are available. For all we know, mind uploading will be technically feasible and the debates about identity continue.  There is a lot of merit to discussions about mind uploading and identity, especially for those interested in cryonics and life extension. But there is also a lot to say for being modest in making bold claims before such technologies have materialized.

Robert Ettinger on cryonics and research

One of the most common criticisms of cryonics is to argue that cryonics can only be a legitimate endeavor when there is (peer reviewed) demonstration of whole body suspended animation. Advocates of cryonics  point out that this is an unreasonable position because it sets a standard for rational decision making (certainty) that is rarely encountered, if ever, in real life. People make decisions under conditions of uncertainty all the time. Why should cryonics be held to higher standards?

Like many other arguments against cryonics, this line of criticism is addressed by Robert Ettinger in his book Man into Superman (1972):

There is one more foible of many scientists and physicians important enough for separate attention: the notion that we should spend our money on research, not on cryonic suspension. This is nonsense on its face, and on the record.

To begin with, as repeatedly emphasized, those now dying cannot wait for more research, but must be given the benefit of whatever chance current methods offer. Most of us, if we are in our right minds, have limited interest in abstract humanity or remote posterity; we are primarily concerned with those near us, and cannot forego their probable physical benefit and certain psychological benefit. But even on their own terms, those who complain that research should come first are wrong.

Cryonics does not divert money from research, but channels money into research, and it is the only likely source of such funds in large amounts. Those who speak of using the funds for research “instead” of cryonics are out of touch with reality: these are not the alternatives. This is scarcely even arguable; it is a matter of record. Cryobiology has always been ill-supported, and in recent years support seems actually to have dwindled, partly because of a cutback in NASA funds. And private efforts to raise research money have had very little success. In contrast, organizations growing directly out of the cryonics program have donated money to cryobiological research without the help of a single big name: these include the Cryonics Societies of America, the Harlan Lane Foundation, and the Bedford Foundation. The sums involved have so far been very modest, but they will grow with the Societies. Note, for example, that Professor James Bedford, not a very wealthy man, left $100,000 of his estate for research in cryobiology and related areas, because he was planning cryonic suspension for himself. Does it require much imagination to see how this research will fare when people are being frozen by the thousands or by the millions?

Robert Ettinger makes another important point. Cryonics does not compete with resources for cryobiology research. If anything, it makes more money available to engage in such research. What better incentive to fund research than your own life being at stake? It is not a coincidence that the field of vitrification of complex organs has received great support from cryonics advocates. This funding has culminated in the identification of the least toxic vitrification agent known in the peer reviewed cryobiology literature and the maintenance of long-term potentiation (LTP) in vitrified brain slices.

So the idea that money should be allocated to research instead of cryonics is nonsense indeed. People can have rational reasons for choosing cryonics before suspended animation has been perfected. And when they make cryonics arrangements they have a stronger incentive to contribute to research that will benefit the science and practice of human cryopreservation.