December 9, 2021
What is cryonics? And how does it work? What do we know right now about reversing death? And what would we have to learn to make resurrection from a cryogenically frozen state feasible? How much does cryonics cost? What incentives would future people have for reviving a cryo-frozen person? How likely is it that a cryo-frozen person will be brought back in the future? Why do people (even pro-cryonics people) "cryoprastinate" and put off considering cryonics for a later time? What sorts of risks are involved in being frozen and later revived? What philosophical and ethical issues are at stake with cryonics? Would a revived person be able to integrate into a future society? Why is there stigma around cryonics in some cultures?
Max Marty is an entrepreneur and futurist who lived and worked in the Bay Area for 10 years. He's now in Austin and has been working to build the Cryonics community, including co-hosting the Cryonics Underground podcast and running the largest Cryonics discord community: The Cryosphere. He looks forward to getting back into startups in the future, this time in biotech.
JOSH: Hello, and welcome to Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast and I'm so glad you've joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Max Marty about the science and economics of cryonics, and the philosophy behind revival.
SPENCER: Max, welcome.
MAX: Thank you, Spencer. Thanks for having me. It's an honor and a privilege to be on the show.
SPENCER: So today we're going to talk about what could be a very important topic, which is, do we have to die? And if so, when do we have to die? It's hard to think of a more important topic than that. But we're gonna talk about a pretty controversial approach to not dying, which is cryonics. So you wanted to start by telling us what is cryonics and how does it work?
MAX: For sure, cryonics is the practice of putting a person on pause by bringing their body temperature down to the point where there is no meaningful chemistry taking place within the body. With the goal of eventually rewarming and reviving them at some future date. And as we practice it today, this involves a set of companies, technologies, legal frameworks, people, etc. All of these mechanisms that have been put in place to get this to actually happen when we hope it happens, which is currently at the end of life for a person who has signed up for cryonics.
SPENCER: So the idea is that you're about to die or you've just died moments ago, and then your body is cool. Do you want to walk us through the process of how that occurs?
MAX: Absolutely. So typically, a person will have been signed up for cryonics for some amount of time with one of the major chronic service providers. There are two big ones here in the United States: Alcor and the Cryonics Institute.
SPENCER: I've also heard of some other ones, but I don't know anything about them, but Oregon Cryonics, TransTime, and Osiris are three other ones I've heard of in the US. And then in Germany, I heard a couple, Cryonics Germany, Tomorrow Biostasis. And then there's also one in Russia, I believe in one in China as well. I don't know if you know about those other ones.
MAX: That's right. There are a number of those smaller players, Yinfeng Institute in China, KrioRus in Russia, Tomorrow Biostasis, which is headed up by a really awesome person who I think is going to be revolutionizing cryonics pretty soon. But the major ones that have been around for some decades now, and are actually the ones with which the vast majority of people end up being chronically preserved, there are two of those - Alcor and the Cryonics Institute. However, like you're saying, I think in the next 5, 10, 20 years, we're gonna see a larger number of providers and a bigger degree of choice for those of us who are signed up.
SPENCER: Are you signed up with one of them?
MAX: I am, I signed up with Alcor.
SPENCER: Okay, cool. So we can get more into your own cryonics journey later, so you do want to walk us through the process how would this actually work in practice?
MAX: Yep. So take a person who is near death for whatever reason. This is the sort of easier scenario. So the person expects to die sometime in the coming weeks, maybe the coming months, and they have been signed up with let's say, for instance, Alcor, the company that I'm setting up with. So, what would happen is, Alcor is notified. Let's call this person Bob, Alcor is notified that Bob is in trouble. Bob is having certain medical conditions, Bob is nearing death. So, they try to get an idea of exactly when this person is likely to die, what are the circumstances etc, and have this person die under controlled conditions. That is to say, it's very bad if a person dies while they're climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, right? You want a person to die surrounded by the right medical equipment and the right team. So Bob is nearing death. What would have happened is Alcor sends out a team, which essentially stands by and waits while Bob deteriorates. Now, once Bob is officially legally declared to be dead, what immediately happens is the Alcor team that is around Bob will begin to lower the body temperature of Bob down to just above freezing. At the same time, there's a sort of a cocktail of medicines that are put in the body to do things like prevent the blood from coagulating and keep things moving around. Basically, even though the person has been declared dead, you want to preserve as much of organ life, and healthy organs, etc. as you possibly can, especially the brain, you want to minimize the amount of damage that is done to the brain. And there is a lot of damage that is done very quickly from lack of oxygen, and from other methods of decay. So you want to very quickly start to lower that person's body temperature while preventing those forms of damage from taking place.
SPENCER: Now my understanding is that you can do with the whole body or just the head, you want to comment on that.
MAX: You can do it with the whole body or just a head. However, typically, it's not easy to take the head off the body in the field, right? So you want to do those kinds of things in a very controlled environment, namely, at the facilities of the cryonics provider; although in theory, of course, we can envision having clinics that can do this scattered around the biggest cities in the country or whatever the case is. But currently, what you want to do is ship in most cases. There are exceptions, but in most cases, you want to ship the body to the cryonics service provider at as close to freezing as you can, but not actually freezing. That is not the freezing point of water, right, you don't want the body to have actually frozen into formed ice because of the damage that ice itself causes when it freezes in your body when water expands and freezes in your body. So you bring the person to just above freezing, and you ship their body from wherever they are to the cryonics service provider. In my case, that's Alcor, let's take this example of this person who just just died, and the team has successfully brought them down to just above freezing. They are transported to Alcor, which is in Phoenix, Arizona, Scottsdale right outside of Phoenix. And once arrived there, they start the pxrocess of bringing the body below the freezing point of water all the way down to the point at which it's immersed in liquid nitrogen, which is 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit; I think it's about 200 below zero Celsius. So the way they do this is first, when you arrive at the facility, they remove the blood or most of the blood that's in your body, and replace it with essentially what's sort of a medical-grade antifreeze. And what that does is it prevents a lot of the ice crystal formation and other sorts of damage that would occur if you did what's called a straight freeze, which is just where you'd freeze the body without removing any of that stuff without the antifreeze agent. So they bring your body temperature, then they submerge your with liquid nitrogen brings your body temperature all the way down to that minus 320 Fahrenheit. They do this slowly over the course of hours and days. In fact, because they have to do it in a very specific way that they've figured out in order to, again, minimize the sorts of damage that occur as you go below certain thresholds on your way to 320 below. And once this happens – once you're inserted into what essentially amounts to a giant thermos bottle, you wait there for as long as it takes to basically have two things or a few things occur. One is that the technology has been developed to reverse the damage that has been done to you as a result of this process, right as a result of bringing your body down to those levels as a result of the introduction of this – in fact, toxic chemical, antifreeze. So they have to find a way to reverse that damage. And of course, fix whatever killed you in the first place. So it was heart disease or some other issue, cancer, whatever the issue was that originally resulted in your death, because otherwise, what's the point? And a third thing preferably has solved a number of the other issues that are likely to kill you as a result of the age, which you were or whatever the case. So for example, if you died at the age of 92, of heart disease, well, it's very likely you're going to be dying in the next few years anyway if something else, and who wants to come back and sort of experience life as a 92-year-old. So other anti-aging processes will hopefully have been developed, and mature to the point where those can be used to improve your quality of life to make you much healthier, less susceptible to all the other sorts of diseases of aging that are likely to occur.
SPENCER: I have a question about that. There seems to be one little gap there, which is you just died technically, according to our current definition of death. What is the process of reversing that or what do we know about that?
MAX: So that depends a lot on how you define death. So in the past, death would have been defined as, for example, when a person stopped breathing, or when a person's heart stopped. We now, of course, realize that that is not what we would prefer to call death. I mean, some people still do call it death.
SPENCER: But you could restart someone's heart right?
MAX: Right, you could restart someone's heart, you could restart, you could even breathe for them artificially, so we don't think of that as death. And now we've come to define death as brain death. In other words, a situation where even if you could revive a person's heart, get a heart-lung bypass machine to be doing all those other functions for them. There's no real point because who the person is, everything that makes up who they are as a function of their brain is gone, irreparably damaged and irreparably harmed. In the future, if we had today, if we had some way to undo some degree of that damage, we would no longer consider that person to be dead either. So as that damage accumulates, whether it's damage to specific portions of the brain, damage due to lack of oxygen which causes cell death, the neurons and the cellular connections that are there in your brain start to decay, and those cells can never be brought back. As more and more of that damage occurs, we say that more and more brain damage has occurred, and it's less and less likely that the person would ever be able to be revived in any meaningful way. Imagine, for example, that certain portions of the brain that are responsible for maintaining your heart rhythm, and maintaining your breathing were fine, but all the rest of your brain was irreparably damaged, some definition of a catatonic state or etc. We often say today that even though there are portions of that person's brain that are alive, that person is gone, or that person is dead. And we sort of think there's no point in preserving what some people call a vegetable. And it's not the worst, that's not the best word to use for it. But there's no point in preserving this person that's no longer a person, if their brain has been damaged in that way, and irreparably damaged.
SPENCER: So then it seems to me like there are four things that future technology would have to build the undo or reverse for this process to work really well. You mentioned it has to reverse the damage caused by the process itself, for example, replacing your blood with antifreeze, and the freezing process. It has to be also the cause of death, let's say Bob died of heart disease, then there's the aging piece if the person died really old, you don't want them to just die really shortly after from aging. And then finally, this is the fourth one, it seems like they have to undo brain damage or brain death that occurred or restore the neurons, or restore the cells, is that right?
MAX: Yes. Now the fourth portion of the brain damage could be relatively light if that person was given a very good preservation, that is to say, their body temperature was brought down very quickly, very soon after they were declared dead, blood continues to be circulated around their body, etc, their body continued to receive the appropriate amounts of oxygen, etc. Then we can try to minimize the amount of damage that's done directly to the brain. And the only damage that will have been done to the brain will be from the spillover effects of the same damage that have been done on to other organs, again, the toxicity of the vitrification fluid, the damage done from just lack of oxygen over time, but hopefully not enough damage will have been done to the brain, and we can reverse that. Now there's another damage that may be more difficult, which is damage that has accrued over some long period of time; for example, Alzheimer's, other neurodegenerative diseases, where the brain has simply been damaged for a period of time. And whole regions of the brain have been turned, for example, in the case of Alzheimer's, into the Swiss cheese or have actually shrunk, the brain size is shrunk within the skull. Those are pretty bad, right. And if and if somebody has had enough brain damage, I would almost say, cryonics may not be worth it at that point, because there's nothing left to salvage. I mean, one can hope that in the future, there will be really good ways to undo that damage using some nanobots or some other sort of technology of that sort, but clearly, the more damage that you have accrued, especially in your brain, the less likely that those technologies will come around in time to revive you properly.
SPENCER: Got it. Now, you mentioned that you're placed into a thermos like contraption, the way that I interpret that is just like a thermos wants to keep your coffee hot without having to use any energy to keep it hot, or to keep your frozen beverage cold. It is you put the body that's extremely cold, or the head that's extremely cold into a container that leaks out very little energy. So you can go a really, really long time, keeping it cool, while having very little extra energy added to the system in order to continue being cool. Is that right?
MAX: That's right. In fact, one of the things a lot of people don't realize is the tanks do not need electricity in order to continue to provide cooling. Once you fill the tank with liquid nitrogen, what you have to do is worry about the fact that some of that liquid nitrogen is going to be boiling off at a sort of steady rate based on the size of the container, etc. And so you have to keep topping it off with liquid nitrogen. But the liquid nitrogen in there lasts for weeks, in many cases, and in months in some cases. As long as somebody is able to go in there, and top it off with liquid nitrogen at those intervals, then you're fine. Even if the power goes out or even if there's some problem with the delivery of liquid nitrogen in some of that timeframe. Like so much else in cryonics, a lot of thought has gone into how do we make the failure rate of this so low, it's not likely that there will be a failure, a catastrophic failure within decades, even centuries as you are residing in that thermos bottle and that tank. For example, in the case of liquid nitrogen, one of the ways this is done is by being located in an area with many redundant liquid nitrogen providing companies in the vicinity that can be used. And even considering the possibility of creating liquid nitrogen on-site, even though that would be more expensive because those big companies creating it get economies of scale. But having these backups, these redundancies, these fail-safes is a big part of how we can expect that this technology will function as a bridge between today and some distant future when the revival can take place. Now, of course, none of that accounts for some meteor falling out from the sky and landing on the facility. But of course, all of these scenarios have to be thought of and accounted for to the extent that is possible.
SPENCER: Now, going back to the question of keeping a body cold, my guess is that people's intuition about temperature is actually way off because we're not used to experiencing temperatures or anywhere close to as cold as we're talking about here. When you're at this low temperature, my understanding is that almost no reactions are taking place, it's almost like time is frozen. Is that right? And you elaborate on that?
MAX: That's right. So when you get to those incredibly low temperatures. There's actually a formula that eludes me at the moment. But there's a formula, which dictates how much time passes chemically for the substance at a given temperature relative to room temperature. And I believe it's something like every ten degrees is a doubling of the time. That's one thing. So you go down to levels that cold, and you get the situation where the amount of chemistry that takes place is something like within some thousands of years. It's the amount of chemistry that would have taken place within a couple of minutes of being at room temperature. So like you said, it's almost as if we have paused time. And, of course, it's not absolute zero. But it's so cold, that there are no chemical reactions, there is no movement of molecules, and particles taking place at those temperatures are hardly any. Now there is the sort of damage that does accrue that can happen over that very long period of time, which is radiation damage simply by being on the planet. My understanding is that it does actually affect you, even when you are in these conditions. However, it would take thousands and thousands of years for enough of that damage to have accumulated to the point where it becomes a problem.
SPENCER: This is because gamma rays and things like that are just bombarding the earth all the time.
MAX: Exactly, exactly. And even fairly pessimistic ideas of when cryonics technology would come back to reverse the process don't suggest that it would take 10,000 years. I think that's unlikely, it's probably going to take somewhere in the many decades or a few centuries timeframe.
SPENCER: We've talked about how there's this extra damage that accrues right after you officially die, like let's say your heart stops. At that moment, that's gonna start causing problems with your brain, your brain is gonna start to degenerate. And so that leads naturally to the question of what if you were to free someone just before their hard stop instead of just after? But then of course that gets into the issue? Then you're sort of killing the person. Do you want to just comment on that for a second?
MAX: Yeah, as you said, the questions there become not necessarily ones of technology, but ones of legality, the ethics of our modern society, how we view questions around assisted suicide, or any of those issues. I mean, if you want to take one example, imagine somebody who is dying of neurodegenerative disease, but they're not going to die anytime soon. They're just going to sort of die very, very slowly over the course of months or years. And they've signed up for cryonics. What do you do in that case? That's a really tragic situation because our society is not set up with cryonics in mind. Naturally, a person in that situation, they're in trouble. So I would hope that the law and people's thinking on this issue evolve over time, especially as cryonics becomes, as we all hope, more prevalent as an end of life care. However, as you said, it's not something that we currently practice, it's not something that we legally can currently practice. However, there is a minor exception to this, which a lot of people don't realize, and that is pets. So chronically preserving humans is of course what most of us think about but many people also like to chronically preserve their pets, and pets are some situations where you can actually euthanize an animal and that's perfectly acceptable, especially in situations where it is suffering or going through something of that nature. This means that it's actually easier to get a pet to have very, very good cryopreservation, very, very good vitrification that is the process of freezing. With this antifreeze in place, hopefully, humans will be able to catch up to the quality that many pets currently receive.
SPENCER: That's a good point. I think one framing on this I've heard that is interesting is if we knew for sure that one day, future technology would not only be available to revive the person, hope that someone would actually carry it out and the person would be revived, then you could start to think of cryonics is not this weird, creepy thing that some people view it as today, but more just like another form of Emergency Medicine, right? It's like we're gonna freeze, pause this person, and then later, they'll be fine. Do you want to elaborate on that framing of it?
MAX: Yeah, I think the emergency medicine framework is like you said, is very useful as a way to think about it, especially for a person who doesn't really like to think about it. They're not in it to think, I want to experience the far future. And I want to know the answers to the big questions, and I want to see how it all turns out, or that sort of thing. They're not so much interested in that, but they do see the problem of this person is dying, they just got into a car accident, terrible things happening, etc. We don't have the technology today to solve this. Maybe we'll have the technology 50 years from now, let's just pause them where they are, and then bring them back later, when we do have that tech to that like in that framing, that's a very good way to describe that issue as emergency medicine. I do think that it's sort of a question of marketing. So to some extent, I think that framing works with some people in some cases, and how do we think about the future? What do we want to know about life extension? What about these big, crazy ideas, that framing works for other people? So whichever framing tends to be the one that appeals more to you, I think that's the one that the individual should think about.
SPENCER: You cannot imagine building it out as a series of cases, suppose that someone's in a terrible car accident, they need some surgery, but the equipment to get that surgery is in high demand. And so they're not going to get it for three days. And they're going to die by that. And then if you could freeze them for just for three days, obviously, you'd want to do that, so that then they can get saved. And what if it was three weeks until they got the equipment? Well, what if it was three months? Well, what if it was 30 years, right? And so you view it that way? It's sort of a continuum of just waiting till the person can get the thing they need to survive?
MAX: Imagine, for example, that somebody is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's. And we all believe, certainly hope, with good reason that there will be good treatments for Alzheimer's in the next decade, two, three, four, five decades, some point. So if we say, Look, this person suffering from Alzheimer's, let's just put them on pause. And the technologies that are currently being rolled out or experimented with in this regard will be around to be able to help this person out. I think that's a very good framing, especially for the average person out there thinking about this, who is again, not really interested in the existential questions, but it's really just how do we save Bob right now who is dying or suffering from whatever the condition happens to be?
SPENCER: It's now a natural question that often comes up with this is the cost, right? It seems like this is going to be something that's potentially really expensive, or it seems like you might have questions around well, why would anyone bother to revive me? Like what's in it for them? So why don't we jump into that?
MAX: The cost of cryonics to give you a simple number of it can range anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 currently.
SPENCER: Is this just for the process of doing it?
MAX: That depends. If you do $200,000, that's for the whole body, everything all-expense paid for all-in whereas $20,000 for example, is without the expense of having the standby team and having all this stuff included in the price. So, you can, sort of, have an ala carte price or you can have an all-in price, the same company that charges 200k, which is Alcor for the whole body would also charge I believe it's 80,000 for just the head. So there are many different ways to break down this price, depending on all these factors, but in terms of what is the real cost to a person considering this.
SPENCER: Before we get into that, I just want to clarify something. What about the cost of holding your body somewhere, and even adding liquid nitrogen and so on.
MAX: So in terms of how the cost breaks down. The biggest factor in the process of cryonics tends to be a standby team and all of the medical procedures that go into prepping your body for storage. It's not actually in the storage itself. So keeping a person in the thermos bottle, and topping off their liquid nitrogen container with liquid nitrogen on a regular basis is not very expensive, especially because these companies, in Alcor’s case, have a couple of 100 of these people stored in this way, etc. So this price is the smaller component of the overall cost that goes into this.
SPENCER: But that's included when you're quoting those numbers, the cost of preserving you.
MAX: In perpetuity.
SPENCER: In perpetuity, is that because it goes into some trust or something that then it collects interest on that, and that's used to pay for your body to sit there?
MAX: Exactly. So the way these companies break it down is they have some amount that they spend to actually have the standby team ready to be able to get out to you, and that is, say Alcor’s case, the standby team ready to get out to you, and be able to do all this stuff and transport you to Alcor, and get the team there and get the blood out, and replace it and all that stuff. That's one portion. It's a large portion, but the even larger portion is the amount that goes and gets stored away by Alcor into what's called the Patient Care Trust Fund in their case. And that fund is basically to look after you and make sure that there are sufficient finances available in order to keep topping off your liquid nitrogen and to do all that stuff, but also to respond to things like what if there are legal challenges to the company to Alcor in the future? What if there are political issues that need to be addressed or dealt with? What about new technologies or research that needs to be done in the future in order to be able to revive you? Maybe Alcor can contribute to those things, right? So there are various buckets that this money overall goes into. However, the actual amount that is spent literally paying somebody to get a bucket of liquid nitrogen poured into the container is a small fraction of that overall total.
SPENCER: And so that trust, it's just invested in safe bonds or something like this?
MAX: Very safe. So in fact, they've designed the entire organization. Again, I'm referring specifically to Alcor, although I know CIO, also have things about this in similar ways. And then you start up cryonics companies are also thinking about this. But the goal here is to design an institution that is likely to last for a long time. And that means investing the money that is held away in very safe ways that still allow the money to grow but don't expose it to a lot of risks, making sure that the people that are in the organization, have an incentive to keep the organization going to keep the organization's mission in line with what we as members today hope and expect it to be, which is to keep us around and someday revive us. So all of that is carefully thought out. There are some game-theoretic elements here. How do you structure an organization to do this, but that is a big part of why they've been around now for the ones that have been around for a while, have been around for a while. And that's also something that again, the new ones are really considering and trying to model best practices after.
SPENCER: It seems reasonably straightforward for the people that founded it to keep the goals of the organization, and the incentives aligned. But how do you make sure that two or three generations later, changed hands a bunch of times, that the people there actually have an incentive to provide people?
MAX: Some organizations that have tended to last a very long time historically, have been focused around for example, family dynasties or around specific beliefs. So one can think of religious organizations or that sort of thing, those things tend to last a very long time in the case of Alcor, and in the case of cryonics, it's molding these organizations around the goal of cryonics and cryonics revival. So what that means is everybody, for example, on the board of Alcor is themselves signed up for cryonics and has family members who are signed up as well, for cryonics and in many cases have family members who are already preserved there at Alcor.
SPENCER: That's a good, incentive alignment. It's like an investor who invests a lot of their own money in their own fund, right?
MAX: Exactly, exactly. It's just like VCs that require that the partners have some amount of skin in the game. Same thing with Alcor and the same thing I would say with any chronics organization worth itself. And that's just one of the ways in which these organizations again try to align incentives properly so that they minimize the chances that there is some threat to the organization of that sort over the long term.
SPENCER: Now you mentioned this cost of something like 20,000 up to 200,000. But my understanding is that people don't actually pay that cash up front, or they rarely do.
MAX: That's right. Right. Rarely do they do that. I mean, if you're 95, and you're on death's doorstep, and you want to do this, and yes, that would, that would basically be cash up front. But for the rest of us who are younger, and have some time, we typically pay through this through life insurance. That's how I'm paying for it, for example, the vast majority of people signed up to pay for it in this manner. And if you are relatively young and relatively healthy, life insurance is very affordable. In fact, there are calculators that one can use to determine how much it would cost to get life insurance on the order of $20,000, $80,000, $200,000. And it's very, very cheap. We're talking ten, twenty, thirty bucks a month for life insurance that would cover that. Now, of course, as you get older especially with life insurance that is only available. There are certain kinds of life insurance. One is called term life insurance, for example, that covers you for a period of time, say ten years, twenty years. And the price of that life insurance won't go up over that period of time. But as you renew it in those future decades, the price will go up. If somebody today worried that right now, they're young, and they don't have a lot of income. And they want to sign up for cryonics, but it's very expensive. That is not a concern, because the likelihood of their death is low. That means the life insurance company is happy to offer them a policy that is fairly inexpensive. Again, on the order of ten, twenty, thirty bucks a month, add in some membership fees for the organizations. And we're talking somewhere around maybe 500 bucks a year, $2,000 a year, all in price to be signed up for cryonics, which is not a lot, especially considering the potential upside. Now there are policies that one can sign up for that are life insurance policies that follow you for your entire life. So they say, look, whenever you die, whether you die tomorrow, or you die, fifty years from now, you're going to be covered, those policies tend to be more expensive because of course, they will cover you one way or another. But again, those more expensive options can be something that somebody can seek once they are further along in their career or further down in life and can afford them.
SPENCER: Presumably in some sense, if you pay for this with insurance, you actually end up paying more money in total, although it just spreads it out over a much longer period of time, and it's backloaded, right, you're gonna pay much higher payments, as you get older. Is that correct?
MAX: Yes and no. So, life insurance is tax-advantaged in a few different ways. So the government has essentially incentivized us to get life insurance as a population. And therefore, there are ways in which it can make a lot of sense to get life insurance, even if you do the calculation, and you think, well, I could just be putting money into an investment account and getting XYZ return, etc. Unless you factor in the tax benefits, you may actually be not coming up with the right results in that case. However, like so much of insurance, whether it's car insurance, house insurance, or health insurance, or whatever it is, what you want to do is not necessarily that you're trying to maximize your return, it's that you are trying to deal with risk. So you want to account for unlikely but very large and potentially ruinous events. Now in the case of death, where if you're interested in cryonics, but you don't get cryo-preserved, that's certainly a very terrible, tragic thing to have happened. And so life insurance, even if you do the calculation, and you say, Well, I should have been putting this money into an investment fund for 30 years. Well, it's actually still the best way to do it, because it is the only way to be able to account for the large risks that you are running every day. When you get into a car, when you walk down the street. When you go to change a light bulb, whatever the case is, you are subjecting yourself to the possibility of dying and not ending up cryo-preserved.
SPENCER: Got it. So who does cryonics? And what really motivates them to do it?
MAX: There's a number of sort of related traits of people who tend to do cryonics. And there's a number of different motivations there. So if we look at what are the demographics of the kinds of people that do cryonics, it's sort of what you would expect. It's people who are more into sci-fi, they tend to be more educated, they're more STEM-focused. In general, they tend to be more non-religious or agnostic or atheist, or not very religious, although there are plenty of exceptions to that, and they tend to be more future-focused. So they tend to be more oriented towards thinking about the long term rather than simply the short term. But I would say there's also a number of other traits that all of us who are into this share, or almost all of us, and those are traits, like an overall optimistic view of the future of technology, of our trajectory across time as a species, as saying that the future will be better. And I'd like to see it, I'd like to be around, that I don't want to check out of the party before the party even gets started. And in many ways, there's so much of the universe of life, of each other, of everything to experience that we haven't experienced. That it would be a shame, to simply say, well, after 80 years and change, or whatever the case is, I'm going to be happy to check out, and I'm going to be happy to be done with this. I think many of us say, “No, there's a lot of very interesting stuff. And life is wonderful. And we want more of it.” And so cryonics is the potential for those of us who have those relatively positive, hopeful views of the future, hopeful expectations, to be able to have a ticket to potentially sticking around for the long term. And I would say, we also have this sense that because there's a lot of people who are also interested in life extension and longevity and such, of course, who are in cryonics, I mean, two are almost synonymous, but not quite synonymous. And that is to say that we think, yes, life extension technology is getting better. Amir Degray is and everybody else is doing a lot of good work in trying to cure aging, and etc. However, that's not a sure thing. And there's a good possibility, whether it's 10%, or 90%, but whatever it happens to be, there's a decent chance that it won't occur within our lifetimes. And that's certainly not even accounting for being hit by a bus tomorrow. And so we want to sign up for cryonics as a way to help improve our odds of being able to stick around for that interesting, distant future.
SPENCER: Now, in addition to the cost issue, which we've already discussed, I think one of the very common things people say is that they just don't believe it's likely to ever be revived. You can imagine a bunch of reasons this might happen. For example, whatever Institute you get to freeze, your body could go out of business, there could be massive shifts in society, like political shifts, or things like that, or nuclear war, or something like that, you could also just have a situation where there's weird incentive alignment, where eventually the organization just steals the money or doesn't bother reviving anyone, or it's just that humanity goes extinct before it ever has the technology to revive you, and so on. So you have all these scenarios. What do you think about the probability that one day you'll be revived?
MAX: I think what you're describing is, all of those are possible. One can sit and come up with dozens, hundreds, endless numbers of reasons as to why this wouldn't work. There are a few ways to think about it. So one is, for example, let's say that, for whatever reason, there was somebody who had been cryopreserved a while back a couple of hundred years ago, let's say, and they were a well-to-do person around 1800. And for whatever reason, we were able to bring them back. Now, would we, let's say that this person was here in the United States, etc, etc. Would scientists want to revive this person? I think the answer is absolutely, if they would, ultimately, would this person be completely out of sorts and be if they could be revived? And no, I think they would find their place one way or another, even in today's society, even though they are from a time very long ago. So there are certainly many possible reasons one could give as to why this could never happen or the technology would never arrive or if they would, they would arrive in a million years, and there's no way your body is going to last a million years, it's gonna something's gonna happen before then, or society wouldn't want to do it. But typically, it's also fairly easy to come up with a sort of rejoinder to any of those potential objections. And ultimately, I think one has to say, look, how low would the probability here have to be in order for cryonics to be a decent bet? Now, I would say, if after considering all of these scenarios and counter-arguments of those scenarios, and the scenarios on top of that, if one comes up with some sort of figure that says, look, the possibility of revival is something like one in a billion or less, absolutely, there's no reason to do cryonics. In that case, I would say it's a waste of time and money. But I would say if somebody comes up with a figure after considering all these possible objections and counter objections, that is anywhere like one in a hundred and thousand, maybe even one in ten thousand, I would say that is enough, given the incredible upside to the possibility of revival, that even a relatively low overall probability of this succeeding is still enough that it makes sense to give it a shot. In other words, if you came back, and you then would have the option to stick around for this to do not say indefinitely, let's say 10,000 years until you're bored, and you want to check out 10,000 years is a long time to be able to be around and experience a lot of exciting stuff. So even if you have only a one in 1000 chance of that coming about, I would say it's worth it.
SPENCER: Because you're imagining a world where if they can bring you back, they basically can prevent death for an extremely long time. Is that the idea?
MAX: Yeah. In fact, you can write into your contract, and a lot of everybody who signs up with cryonics has little details on their contracts that they may or may not want to share. But they can write it into the contract, don't bring me back unless and until x, y, or z have taken place. So if one of your concerns is, well, I'm going to be brought back when the process is not yet mature enough. And it's not going to be a good revival. So you could write in there, don't bring me back until you have revived at least 100 other people, and they've all gone well, you could write that. Or you could say, don't bring me back until the technology exists to let's say, you die at the age of 85. The technology exists to revitalize me to a healthy young 28. You could say that, or you could say don't bring me back unless my cousin, my mom, and my three kids that are all here or should be here with me; hopefully, that is to say, preserved. Don't bring me back unless you could also bring them back. If the concern is about not having any be around, we can know when you come back. So a lot of these things can be piecemeal, whatever the specific concerns might be, could be piecemeal addressed. Now, the worst thing that could happen is, I think you just don't end up being brought back. For whatever reason, a ball of ice fell from the sky and smashed the facility, and that was it. And I would say that would be tragic. But what's the alternative? The alternative is being eaten by the worms or burned to a crisp in an incinerator, etc. Those alternatives seem well, at least as bleak as the scenario where you never come back, even though you hoped that you would. When comparing those alternatives, I'll take the one in a hundred chance of cryonics working, or one in 1000 over the certainty of non-existence in the other cases.
SPENCER: So some people are resistant to giving probabilistic estimates in cases where there's not a repeated event. But if you're forced to give a probability, like what do you think the chances are that if you die in the next 20 years, you're cryopreserved. What do you think the chances are that you get brought back at some point?
MAX: I think if I died tomorrow, the chances would certainly be worse than if I died at the end of your scenario, which is at the end of the 20 years. And that's because I think a lot of the technologies that underlie cryonics are going to be improving significantly over the coming decades. So I'm hoping that even signing up for cryonics right now that I don't go into the deep freeze for, frankly, as long as possible so that those technologies get better and better the preservation gets better and better. But I would say that if I were to die in 20 years, the probability of me coming back, I would put at something around a third. That is to say something around maybe 33%. And coming back and when I say coming back, of course, that should probably be carefully defined for those people who are considering things like mind-uploading scenarios, or what if you're scammed and run on a simulator, there are all kinds of interesting scenarios. So, coming back should be carefully defined. What I mean by coming back is, coming back in some sort of way, of which that I am not simply running on a simulation, but I am me in some sense running on my existing biology or something that resembles my existing biology is what is, in fact, revived and brought back.
SPENCER: Got it. And are you comfortable talking about some of the things in your contract?
MAX: Yeah, absolutely.
SPENCER: So what did you decide to set as your conditions for being brought back?
MAX: So I set in my conditions for being brought back. I forget exactly how many individuals I said, but I said something like that clause, where I would like a certain number of people to have been brought back successfully before I get brought back. And I set in fact, a certain number of people who, when they died, and were cryo-preserved, that they were preserved in similar conditions to me as possible. So in any situation for anybody, basically, it's gonna be people who had worse cryopreservation than you and people who had better cryopreservation than you. And so my contract says, to bring me back in the case when a certain number of people who had similar cryopreservation to me were successfully brought back. And I believe I also have that if the technology is around to revive me to any given age to bring me back around the point where my body is approximately thirty, which seemed like, a good all-around number for that. I think those were the two major clauses that I had. But I could imagine in the future, for example, I get married, and my spouse is interested in cryonics, and we both are signed up. Maybe we would both take the pledge and say, don't bring one of us back, unless you can bring the other one back or something. And I don't know, that might be a romantic thing to add. On the other hand, I would never ask her to only come back if I were going to come back. But anyway, those are interesting things to consider. But in my case, I don't want to be brought back and have the revival go poorly, which is certainly a risk, especially if you're one of the first people brought back with your level of damage, or your kind of damage, or whatever the case is. So everybody gets to decide what's in their specific contracts. And hopefully, because of the incentive structures, and game-theoretic issues that we talked about earlier with the organizations, they will abide by whatever is in everybody's specific contracts, even if it means some people may never get to be brought back because their contracts are unlikely to ever be fulfilled.
SPENCER: What about the effort of setting up one of these agreements with one of the existing organizations? How hard is it to do? How long does it take?
MAX: Currently, the way you do it, you reach out to one of the organizations, you say I want to sign up, they connect you or you get connected otherwise, but they can also connect you with a life insurance agent. And most of the work where you have to do something, and wait and do something else, and wait some more has to do with getting life insurance, because typically, they're going to want to send for blood work, and check that to make sure you're as healthy as you claim to be, and various other things especially if you're signing up for the kinds of health insurance that are for the more expensive source of life insurance. But in any case, typically signing up for life insurance takes some time. And this process can take weeks. And then you go back to the cryonics provider and you say, I have successfully signed up for life insurance. Here's the document proving such that you sign the life insurance beneficiary over to the cryonics provider to say, on my death, the cryonics organization is going to get this amount of life insurance or if it's a larger amount of life insurance portion of my life insurance. And there might also be other details here like, what about next of kin? Or what about other people who you want to appoint as having some ability to have a say over your cryonics situation or something like that. So there's a lot of those sorts of details to work through. So it is some amount of paperwork, and some amount of back and forth, and some amount of waiting for the person to come out to draw your blood and that thing. But I would say it's worth it. For sure given the alternative. But it does lead to a lot of people to do what I like to call cryo-crastination, which is where they say, of course, cryonics is a great idea. But I'm going to get around to it later. I'm young, I'm healthy, whatever, I'm not going to die tomorrow, or it's very, very unlikely. Therefore, I'm going to do it later on when I have more of an incentive to do so. And then I would often caution against that because of course, you're leaving that to somebody in the future who's you're gonna might also kick the can down the road and ultimately, that person will be around in that future date for you may not have any more incentive than you do today. So when a person has enough of an incentive to do it enough of an interest is just go ahead and get the process started. I will say though, that there are individuals out there and companies that are now really working to streamline this process because they see the problem of cryo across the nation. And one of the factors of it is the amount of paperwork, and time and whatever that goes into doing it today with the existing companies, and the existing structures. One of these is Emil Kendziorra with Tomorrow Biostasis in Europe. And Emil has specifically worked to streamline this, such that people can get signed up and be fully signed up for cryonics with his organization within 24 hours. And he's already had people do this, which is amazing. That is unheard of, on this side of the pond as it were. And I hope that the mechanics' organizations over here are able to learn from the best practices that he's been developing and adapt them for us over here so that people can sign up more easily here. But one way or another, I suspect that in some number of years, it will get easier due to this, let's call it competitive market pressure to improve the process in that regard.
SPENCER: So I ran a poll on my Twitter account asking people if you could sign up for cracks that were somehow 100% free, and it would only involve filling out a 10-minute form, would you sign up? And I was really quite surprised by the results. 75% of people said they'd sign up under those conditions, about 14% additionally said they were on the fence or not sure. And then only 11% said, no, they wouldn't sign up. Now, you gotta take this with a grain of salt. Because I have a lot of rationalists who follow me on Twitter, have a lot of effective altruists, and so on. So use is not necessarily, not a random sampling of the American population, and especially not the world population. But I was quite surprised by that, that it suggested that a lot of the barrier might be around the cost, and around just the effort involved in signing up.
MAX: Yes. And this is exactly what Emil feels as well, that it's those headaches that people do have to go through in signing up. That causes a lot of people to cryo-crastinate. And so addressing the first problem of how aggravating and annoying it is to go through the paperwork is one thing that he's been working on. And the price as well is something that I believe as more people sign up. And as the technologies get better, that sort of thing will come down over time and will enable more and more people to get signed up. But I do think that already the price is certainly, again with life insurance included, not a very large limiting factor. So more people should get signed up. And hopefully with efforts from people like Emil and others will see many more crowd assists in the near future.
SPENCER: Now, in addition to doing that Twitter survey, I also posted on Facebook and Twitter, asking people other than the question of how likely you are to be revived and the cost of cryonics, what other reasons they have for not being willing to sign up. And I got a lot of interesting responses. So I want to do a lightning round with you where I just go through some of these responses of what people said about why they wouldn't sign up and just get your quick take on it. And so see if we can get through five or seven of these. How's that sound?
MAX: Yeah, let's do it.
SPENCER: Alright, sweet. So one thing people mentioned that is interesting is that it might interfere with organ donation. Their body could be used to save someone else today.
MAX: That's a really interesting one. Because actually, if a lot more money is put into cryonics and cryopreservation techniques, one of the spillover benefits of putting money into cryopreservation techniques is that we also put in a lot more money into just cryopreservation in general, including organ cryopreservation, it will never be the case that we're going to have 98% of people dying, getting cryopreserved, I think it's just unlikely that in such a diverse society that we'd have so many people interested specifically in cryopreservation. So there will always be a lot of people that die and don't get cryopreserved. But in the event that there has been a lot of money put into cryopreservation technology, there will be a lot of spillover benefits into general organ cryopreservation. And a lot of people who don't get cryo-preserved can then be donating those organs. And with proper cryopreservation, there will be more than enough organs to go around. However, I would still say that that's sort of a short-term problem because we are getting better and better at developing, let's say, synthetic organs. So artificial heart, for example, and other things like that, where we will be able to develop those in the coming decades, I believe the artificial heart is actually getting pretty close to being a feasible alternative. And hopefully, the problem of needing organs for people who need them for various conditions, and various reasons will be alleviated by those technologies as well in the near future.
SPENCER: So the next one people brought up is the concern about having brain damage when you wake up. Now, you mentioned you could have in your contract that a hundred people or a thousand people have to have already been revived and that certainly helps. But you could imagine more subtle forms of brain damage or maybe brain damage, it only becomes apparent after ten years or you get schizophrenia or having delusional thinking due to damage your brain. Any thoughts on that?
MAX: Yeah. So I like you said, one thing is once somebody can write, now that don't bring me back, if there's been too much brain damage, but don't bring me back, if there's been enough brain damage, and it is not reversible in a way that would make sense that would still be the person who died. So that's one thing. I would say, we're going to get very, very good technologies, eventually, with the ability to reverse a lot of this brain damage. Maybe it's a myelin, myelinated axon, which has been demyelinated, through some specific neurodegenerative condition, or whatever the case is. I certainly wouldn't want to be brought back in the scenario where I've had non-trivial brain damage, but maybe this is a little bit of an optimistic view of what things we'll be able to do in the future. Brain damage, a lot like other sorts of diseases is something that with the right kinds of technologies, we can reverse engineer. If this cell was over there doing that, and that cells over the other place doing that, then there must have been a third one in between them that was doing this other thing, and do that well enough that we can fix a lot of kinds of brain damage that will have happened to a person prior to being cryopreserved.
SPENCER: Now this next one is really very philosophical. And it's the question of will it still be you in the meaningful sense, right? And this comes up in the famous tele-transporter thought experiment, where if you were to take someone's body, and let's say, scan all the molecules, and then reconstruct a person from scratch somewhere else in the world, is that really them anymore? Or is it just a different being that sort of just like them? And so there's some concern that maybe cryopreservation is going to lead to some discontinuity of consciousness. So someone's waking up, but it's just not you in the meaningful sense.
MAX: Yep. And that is one of the most fascinating objections. And I think, actually an objection that sort of splits or divides the cryonics community. This is opening a little can of worms here, but I think it's a digression that is very valuable and going to be very interesting. Maybe half, I haven't done a proper survey of the cryonics community on this question, but it's maybe 40% or even half of the cryonics community have certain views on whether it's really you and mind uploading, and these issues of identity. And the other half have or do not have this sort of the opposite view. And they don't quite communicate all that well with each other. And they don't share the same philosophical intuitions in this situation. The way I like to frame it for people who are thinking about this is with a short story that I think really illustrates this well. And so forgive the digression on this, but again, it's fascinating. Say you are on a ski trip, okay? And you're, you're skiing, and you fall and you break your leg, okay, you broke your leg, fine, that happens. You go to the doctor, and the doctor says, goodness, you broke your leg. Well, your leg is gonna have to be in a cast for two months, after which you're going to have to be in physical therapy for like another three or four months. Overall, this is going to disrupt your life for like six months, and you say, that sucks, but whatever. What are you going to do? People break their legs, it's life. And you're about to leave the doctor's office. The doctor says, “Wait, but I got a special experimental technique here that can fix your leg in just three days. Three days and your legs are going to be totally healed.” You say, “That's amazing. What do I have to do?” “So simple. You just get in the field will take a number more scans, some very detailed, careful scans, and three days later, you're out, your leg will be healed.” You're like, “Wow, okay, that sounds great, doc. I don't get it. But whatever you say, you go, you take the scans.” Believe. Three days later, you're laying in bed, and you wake up, doctor is sitting there next to you and your bed. Oh my god, what are you doing here? Doctor says, “Well, don't worry, relax, relax, I got good news. We've totally healed your leg, pull down the sheets.” You look at your leg, and sure enough, has a cast on it. And you say, “No, wait. What are you trying to pull here, doc? You haven't fixed my leg?” And they say, “Oh, well, you just don't quite get it. Your lleg is completely fixed. You're waiting in the van right outside. And we haven't hit the switch and turned you back on yet. But don't worry, Your leg is totally healed.” You say, “Wait, what do you mean? My leg is healed now.” “But what we did is we took very careful scans of your entire body where every single molecule every single subatomic particle, every single microbe that you don't like everything, it's all there. We just made one simple change, which is that we fixed your leg as we were growing the new you.” And you say, “Oh, goodness, okay, well, that's, that's bizarre. So what are you going to do?” “And so well, we're going to take a really simple surface scan just to pick up whatever memories you generated in the past few days. And then we're going to replace the you that's laying this bed with the you that's waiting in the van.” And you say, “Wait, doc, what's going to happen to me?” “Well, look, of course, we're going to have to get rid of the old tissue. Because I mean, nobody would want to have you running around, now that's just silly.” “And you think we get rid of the old tissue? We talking about? That's me.” The doc says, “Oh, goodness, well, you're just operating under the wrong philosophical assumptions, you see, because that other person over there, it is you in every way that matters. Aren't you just the organization of the particles in your head? In your brain? And if so, isn't that you? Can you scratch your head for a woman?” You think, well, I don't have a good retort for this, right? Because maybe you don't believe in spirits and souls, and you don't believe in some sort of quantum entangled blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so you think, well, whoever's out there, they're not me, I'm here. What does that mean? So this story is essentially what Dan Dennett, for example, would refer to as intuition. It's a way to think about the situation, which causes one to look and reflect upon the philosophical issues here, in a way that they may not have for. And there's a lot of people in the cryonics community that genuinely look at a story like this and say, that is you. For all intents and purposes in any way that matters, that person in the van is you. So you should not be bothered by the idea of that person, and you're a person you're going to be disposed of, your existing bodies gonna be disposed of that person's going to be switched in, etc. You shouldn't be bothered by this. And you think well, okay, I get the argument. But I'm still uncomfortable with the notion that that's going to happen. And it's difficult for people who have one intuition versus the other to have meaningful conversations on this subject, people who believe that the person in the van is you and you should relax about it. Simply think that anybody who has counter intuitions on this is sort of barking up weird, crazy philosophical trees and vice versa. So what this means is there are people in the cryonics movement, who are perfectly happy with the notion that your brain will be preserved only well enough, that in the future, there's going to be a very careful scan done of your brain, of your wherever neuron is, wherever you subatomic particle is, and that will be recreated either in some other body or in computer or whatever. And they're perfectly happy with that. That is what cryonics means to them. There are other people who say no, which makes me uncomfortable. I want to be brought back more or less in some sort of form now, like I am now enough, maybe not fully biological, maybe I can have some cybernetic parts, but whatever that uploading thing is that makes me uncomfortable. And I don't want that. I think it's difficult for a lot of them to articulate the exact reason why they have different philosophical intuitions about these issues. But they do and that's not to say that they believe there's some sort of soul or something like that. But they do believe that there is something there that is not preserved or something important that they do care about that will be gone if they are swapped with that duplicate or if they are uploaded or if they are copied or however you want to put it.
SPENCER: I mean, this goes back to this idea of do you preserve your head which is cheaper, or do you try to preserve the head plus the entire body. Because you can imagine a world where you preserve just the head, and they try to reconstruct the body, like make a biological body, or make a mechanical body of some sort. But if you just preserve your head, and we're talking about really distant futures, you could also just say, well screw your body at all, just try to upload the person's mind into a computer to try to stimulate their mind. And as long as it's close enough, it really is them in some sense, at least, that's what some people would argue,
MAX: Right, and I would say, this roaches on some very strange philosophical issues, like, for example, in this scenario with being swamped with your body duplicate that has been grown in a clinic somewhere, should I treat that person as Spencer Greenberg? Or should I not treat that person as Spencer Greenberg? Should I be bothered if I hear that in the middle of the night last night, you were swapped with this perfect duplicate of you? Or should I sort of not be very bothered by this? I would venture to say, besides the weird issues about whether you wanted it to happen, or not, which consent, and let's put that aside for a second. Other than that, should I be bothered? I would say no, to me, that is you. And that is as you as I needed to be. But if I were you, I would be bothered by this. Again, even beyond the issues of whether you wanted it to happen, I would be philosophically bothered by the idea that tomorrow, you're going to be replaced by your perfect subatomic duplicate. And I don't think it's easy for us to sort of handwave these issues away, especially when such a large percentage of the cryonics community seems to be sure of the answer in one direction or the other, either that they should be bothered by this or that they shouldn't, but that the other half of the people, everybody else is just crazy or bizarre to think otherwise.
SPENCER: I happened to be seated at dinner next to a billionaire the other day, and we were talking about this topic. And he seemed incredibly confident that it would be him if he was brought back. And I was like, you seem way too confident in this age-old philosophical problem that's been debated for probably hundreds of years of what it means to be the same person. And it seems like one of the most challenging philosophies of mind thought experiments.
MAX: Yeah, exactly. So there's a procedure that is used. It's called aldehyde stabilized cryopreservation, which is different from the procedure, which I have described to you previously. And in this procedure was strongly worked on by a guy called Robert McIntyre. This procedure is where instead of bringing your body temperature down to liquid nitrogen, electrifying, and all that other stuff, instead, your head, your brain is perfused, with a chemical that essentially glues your brain together and fixates it in this glued state. Now, why would anybody want to do this? Well, the idea behind this is that in some future date it's not like you're going to be plugged into a new body and zapped and turned back on. It's that your brain will be scanned, very, very carefully. And your memories, your personality, the whole structure of your brain will be uploaded into some sort of simulator. And that's how you're going to come back. And they see that as cryonics, of course, that's cryonics. In fact, why would you want to do the other thing, where you store all this stuff in liquid nitrogen and all that it's more complicated, it's more expensive, there's more stuff that can go wrong in the process? Why not just stabilize your brain with this aldehyde fixation, less damage takes place in the cryopreservation, etc. And ultimately, when you get uploaded, that's you. So what are you so worried about? And again, this creates such a divide among cryonicist, because some people genuinely do have some philosophical concern that the slice and dice up and uploading, and some people genuinely don't. And these two groups have a lot of trouble talking to each other.
SPENCER: I think, an uncomfortable question – for those who believe that the upload, it's just based on the scan of their brain really is them – what if they just upload 100 copies of you? What if those copies only know about each other, right? So there's 100 of you going around, which one has you in a meaningful sense? Or if you're self-interested, right? You're totally selfish, and you have to choose. 99 of the 100 are going to be tortured. You have to choose which one's not going to be torture, right? How would you make that choice?
MAX: There are all kinds of interesting scenarios like that – making hundred copies of you. Which one's the real you? Are they all the real you? Which ones should we actually care about? Which ones do you care about? Are you happy that there are hundred copies of you or does this bother you? Does this bother all of you? Should we care about that? Maybe time passes and each one of them has now developed differently? What if it's a minute or day, a year, hundred years? Does that make a difference? What if the original is destroyed? When the copy is done versus not destroyed. Is that what makes a difference? I mean, I once heard this argument. I think it was on Reddit about this where somebody said, well, of course, the answer is the original has to be destroyed. And that's what makes all the difference, which to me sounded like some form of special pleading or something. But I think that the central problem is we did not evolve to really worry about this we evolved to when I wake up, the next day, I go to sleep, I wake up, I think that's still me, and I didn't lose a lot of sleep the night before worrying that the person who's going to wake up wasn't me. Now, of course, I can think about that philosophically. But at the end of the day, literally, I'm still gonna go to sleep. And if I don't, my body will force me to do so eventually. So the question is going to be sort of forced, the answer is going to be forced on me. But we did not evolve, have an obvious and comfortable answer to this question. When it comes to copying and mind uploading and all this stuff as to whether that's still us, we don't know whether we should care about that uploaded copy in the same way, whether we should act as though that's going to be us or not. And so I think that leads to people with different philosophical priors coming to very different conclusions, and then having no idea how to reverse engineer how anybody could have come to any different conclusion.
SPENCER: So another concern that people had with going through cracks is the question of whether when you wake, you'll have any useful role in society. Like, imagine, for example, that someone who has existed from 50,000 years ago, was awakened today? There's an interesting question like, would they be able to like, figure out how society works? Would they be able to do something productive and get a job and support themselves, and so on.
MAX: Yeah, I think there are two answers to that. And it depends on the number of people that wake up that are revived, that are similar. Let's say that there's only a handful of people 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 people who are brought back from a certain era with certain ideas, and certain ways of talking, and certain modes of being, etc. Would they find something to do? And I think in that case, we can use history as a guide in our present society. If you were to bring somebody back from a few 100 years ago, would we be able to speak with them? Yes, we'll be able to relate to them? I think so. And we're not talking about somebody working in a field where, let's say it's a relatively well-to-do educated person from a few 100 years ago, would we find what they're talking about interesting? Yes, what would they do? I mean, one thing could be, there's a lot of historians, which would certainly want to have very long conversations with them, they would write books, they would somebody would sit down and explain to them, there's this thing called a computer, etc. And there, and ultimately, I think they would start their own podcast, for sure, there would be scores of people trying to get them to run for political office, to get us back to the way things should be, whatever, something like that. So, I think there are many, because they would be such novelty interesting. There would be many, many things that they would be interested in, and people would get them to want to do, put it in the dating profile. I'm actually from 1700. Wow, I've always wanted somebody who treats me like a real gentleman, whatever the case obviously, there are all kinds of people out there, we're living in a world with billions of people, there'll be lots of people who are interested in what somebody from 1700 thinks, does, acts, is, etc. Somebody could say, what about the case where there are a million of these people? I would say in that case, there's enough of them that they can create their own community, their own society, which obviously is a part of the broader society, but at the same time allows them to relate to each other in something like the way they were related to relating to each other back in 1700. When, obviously, their morals have changed, ethics has changed, but hopefully, people who would have been willing to sign up for cryonics will be like, look, I'm expecting that some of these things will change, I'm going to have to adapt, they'll adapt to the extent to which they can. And other than that adapting, they'll either be in a community of people just like them or society. Again, if there's not too many of them, certainly do everything there's gonna be a lot of people out there interested in helping them to adapt.
SPENCER: So that scenario connects somewhat to another class of concerns. And many people who commented had different versions of this concern that stated different ways. I think I got something like 200 comments on my post about what would you be concerned about, and quite a few of them related to this idea that somehow when you wake up, you might be in a really terrible situation. And here we already talked about brain damage. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking more about things like you're put in essentially what amounts to a zoo, you're experimented on. You're enslaved in some way, or your brain is used against your will and course of way, maybe you wake up into a world of like, that's controlled by a misaligned artificial intelligence. Or maybe you're just a brain in a vat where like you're uploading the computer, but there's nothing you can do. You're just stuck there for a million years. going insane. So there's a lot, but like any general responses to these scenarios? I think people are imagining like, Hell on Earth, or like the worst that could happen to you as a human is that you could torture for, I don't know, 90 or 100 years, but as a brain in a vat, or as an upload, or maybe your slave for a million years or something like this.
MAX: So the first thing I would say is, again, looking into the history and trying to glean whatever we can from that, things have gotten better. So people who live today there's less torture, there's less violence, there's less misery, there's less poverty. And so I think, in general, if we say the future is likely to be some sort of continuation of things are gonna continue to get better, which is also the argument of people like Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, that show that today is better than yesterday, and yesterday's better than they before that, at least since the enlightenment, that things are going to continue to get better. So the idea that you're going to be brought back into a world where it's a Mad Max scenario, and everybody just wants to torture you, or whatever, for all eternity seems unlikely on those grounds. I think another thing to mention about this is that if the world has degraded to some sufficient extent, it's unlikely that such a world will have the cooperation, organization, and prosperity necessary to develop the kinds of technologies necessary to bring you back in the first place. But let's take these other scenarios of runaway malicious AI is going to run 10 million versions of you in the simulator just to torture them for a billion years, one can come up with those kinds of scenarios. But when you come up with those kinds of scenarios, you have to say, look, sure that could happen. It could also happen that tomorrow, aliens land, and capture me, and that same thing happens. So maybe for whatever reason, they don't want to take the people in the cryonics pods because it's more work. And there are enough living people walking around that don't require work. Right? And you can say, no, the scenario I described in the first scenario is much more likely. And I would you can say, no, they're all just hypothetical scenarios. Hell, it could be that right now, this existence, and certainly, there are some philosophical and religious traditions that would argue this. This existence is already torture, maybe the cases that we're already running on a simulator, and we're being tortured throughout our lives. And when we die, we're going to simply repeat the process over and over. So I think the mere idea that one can concoct a lot of these horrific eternal torture sort of scenarios, doesn't make them any more likely to happen, because you happen to put yourself in a thermos bottle, and come back in 200 years, I think these scenarios are sort of equally likely in any of these cases, or as I would say, equally unlikely. And I think that's a good enough reason to say look given the equal unlikeliness of all these horrific torture scenarios, versus the possibility of getting a chance to live millions of years, or whatever the case is, and travel the stars as we may hopefully do in the far future. I like the idea of traveling the stars.
SPENCER: Yeah. So it's interesting, because if you meet the expected value case for cryonics, and you say, if there's only a one and 100 chance of being revived, is as long as if you have enough money, where it's not too big a burden for you to spend money on it, and you're going to spend that money selfishly anyway. Let's say, you're not going to devote that money to trying to save the world or whatever unexpected value sense. You could say, well, maybe I'll get to live a really, really long time someday in the future and have a really wonderful life for 1000s of years, or 10s of thousands of years. And I think for some people, then they start thinking, but if there's a one in 5000 chance living as a brain in a vat for a million years, that actually affects the expected value of coaching a lot. And you don't need a very high probability of that happening, that hellish scenario, to be pretty concerned about that. It sounds like you're not too worried about these scenarios, you think of them as just incredibly unlikely. Certainly, quite a few people in my comment threads, brought up different variants of this that they were concerned about.
MAX: Like I said, I think they're pretty unlikely. And in any case, I think the possibility of them happening tomorrow, or you could have a good you could have a hard takeoff, and a malevolent AI tomorrow. Those possibilities already exist, or that when you die, in fact, juju on the mountain was the true deity, and you didn't believe in juju, and therefore, juju is going to torture you for all eternity. These scenarios already exist, and I don't see that cryonics makes them much more likely to come about. That's why I would say that at least for me, they don't affect my expected value calculation from the benefits of cryonics.
SPENCER: It seems like any brain upload makes them much more likely to come about because as long as you're just a biological agent, and like a biological brain living in our current technological civilization, nothing can keep you alive for more than, let's say, 110 years, right? Whereas if you're an upload in a computer, all bets are off of how long you could be kept like that.
MAX: The first thing I would say is I am the cryonicist who doesn't relate very much to the uploaded individual, or in the case of Star Trek transporter the one that ends up on the other side of the pad, or that sort of thing. So I worry somewhat, perhaps less than other people about the 17 billion copies of me that are made and run on the simulator, even though it's not that I worry about them. Not at all, but certainly less than I do the continuation of myself that I relate to a lot more philosophically. But again, these scenarios can happen. We can already be brains in vats, could be that we become brains in vats tomorrow despite our best efforts not to. And cryonics doesn't seem to me to meaningfully increase the likelihood of that scenario coming to pass in a way that gives me pause.
SPENCER: By the way, if anyone is interested in these kinds of scenarios. The other day, I read a really marvelously written sci-fi story called Lena, L-E-N-A, you can find it online. It's really creepy. So I don't recommend reading it if you're easily disturbed, and not in the mood to do that. But it's about mind uploading, it's not about cryonics. It's about mind uploading, and mind uploading gone very wrong. So anyway, let's go into the next scenario, which was, we've already addressed this a little bit, but people were concerned that they would wake up, and basically have no community, have no loved ones. And obviously, if you could convince your husband or wife or whatever, to get cracks with you, that's one thing. But suppose that you just can't like, suppose it's just gonna be when is getting cryonics? So what are your thoughts on that?
MAX: There's a couple of thoughts on that. One is that's essentially what we do already. When we are born into the world, we are born into a world where we know nobody, and we don't know the language, and we don't know the customs. And we don't know the culture. And hell, we can't even we can't even think properly for years.
SPENCER: Fair enough, but most people are born with parents.
MAX: That's true. And I do hope that most cryonicists are born, if not parents, per se, but at least with individuals, other revived cryonicists or individuals of that sort that are interested in their well being at least interested enough to help them get established and get accustomed to the world into which they are being reborn, one could say, but there are other scenarios that I think if somebody has this objection that we should give them pause; for example, if they witnessed a horrific crime, and they need to go testify, and they're going to be put into witness protection. And that witness protection program says, look, we're gonna move you to you're from whatever Detroit, we're gonna move you to the south of France, and you're going to have to learn French, and you can't ever connect with your loved ones, and you're never gonna, etc, etc. That sounds pretty terrible. But at the same time, is it so bad that one would say, well, in that case, you just asked me now I'll testify, and then I'll take the cyanide capsule, and that'll be the end of me. I would say, for most people, we would say, no, I'll take the south of France, instead of the cyanide capsule. And so, being born into a world where you don't know anybody or where you don't know the customs. You don't know, culture, you don't know the situation, That's not preferable. I certainly hope that cryonicists In the future, when people start being able to be revived, realize how difficult that's going to be, and really work to improve that. But even under hard scenarios, like the witness protection scenario or such, I would still choose to come back, and see how it's all turning out just because maybe there's some sense of adventure there that inspires me and certainly a lot of other people to say, “Yeah, I'm willing to risk, the discomfort, the dislocation, the psychological pain.” – that certainly will happen to some extent from that in order to reap the potential benefits that will allow us to reap
SPENCER: An interesting one I got from a couple of religious people that follow me is, what if there's an afterlife, and now you're not going to it?
MAX: Yeah, in that case, I would say you may still go through it. So hopefully, the big door to the afterlife doesn't close after 85, or whatever, 120 years, or whatever the deity says no, the maximum life expectancy is 120 years. If you don't get there within this time, we're gonna close the door. So if the afterlife has, as many religions who conceive of an afterlife say it's gonna be forever or eternal or whatever, then whether you're around for 100 years, 1000 years or 10 million years or a billion years, relative to eternity, who cares? You might as well stick around long enough to see how this world turns out and, and rolls out, and travels the stars for a while before you go to the clouds with the grapes and whatever the case may be, and enjoy your eternity.
SPENCER: The last concern that people brought up that one to mention is social stigma. I think people feel like there's a social stigma against getting cryonics at least in some communities. Or maybe people don't even know cryonics is but if they find out, you're signed up, they might think it's weird. So what's your reaction to that? And I'm also interested to hear, do you agree that there's a stigma? And if so, why do you think there is one?
MAX: Like you said, and in some communities, the stigma is, I would say, it's not even that there isn't a stigma, it's almost the opposite stigma. It's that you're not signed up for cryonics. So what? What is it? What's wrong with you? You don't want to stick around, but you don't think the future is going to be cool? Why aren't you signed up? I think, certainly for society at large, and the normal society, you're right, that there is something of a stigma around that. I would say, what that means is that it requires somebody to be a little bit of an outside-the-box thinker or willing to do something that's a little bit unusual with regards to their family, and they're friends and that sort of thing. And there are plenty of people in the world who have to be pioneers, right? There's plenty of us that have to stand up, and say we are going to stand, we're going to do this thing. And we're going to do it because it's right to do or we should be allowed to do it. We're going to stand on principle, and not let the way that other people in society view you or view your choices, especially when they're not hurting anybody else. Not let them dictate what we're going to do. And the more of us that stand up for things like that – and cryonics I think is certainly one example – the more that we are going to change the tide of society so that the marginal person who was about to sign up. But if only for the stigma around it or such, is more able to sign up; in other words, every individual who signs up makes it a little bit less stigmatized, I guess it's possible that the wrong individual might make it more stigmatized. But in general, every individual that signs up makes it a little bit less stigmatized. And so you're signing up, enabling the next person down the line to sign up, and not just signing up, but also talking about it, and saying, I'm signed up. But it doesn't mean that I don't care about other people, it doesn't mean that I am trying to be deviant in some other way. I just think this is a really cool idea. And I think everybody should do it. I think everybody should try to do it, and stand up for it. And I think, again, the more people that do that, the better it's going to be for really everybody who hopes to get a chance to try this technology out.
SPENCER: It's fascinating to imagine a world where this is the norm. We're just, of course, everyone's cryopreserved when they die, or that'd be crazy to let them die a permanent death. Maybe there's some chance of bringing them back. But we're obviously so far from that today. But why do you think there is a stigma when there is because I don't mean just people who don't want it for themselves? That's one thing. People who are like, Oh, weird. You're signed up for cryonics? What do you think is motivating that?
MAX: Humanity has always had to deal with the subject of death. Hundreds of 1000s of years, we've had to deal with the fact that everybody around us does eventually die. And we have developed culturally and in other ways, deep intuitions around death, and ways in which we deal with death. And so I think it's almost built-in that we treat death in a particular way – when we're born and when we understand death, and we come to understand that the process of death, we realize that a moment, basically all cases, either there's nothing we can do about it, or there's nothing we should do about it, or thinking about it is somehow wrong, or trying to do something about it is somehow wrong, or even in some cases, death makes life more meaningful, or the fact that we only live at some on average years – without that, our host sorts of horrible things would happen. And we tell ourselves these stories because we had to tell ourselves these stories because there has been no alternative really, for the entire existence of humanity. And it's only now that we're at the cusp or at the horizon where the alternative is just starting to come over to the horizon, and we can see it but we can't. We don't quite grasp it yet. We're not quite there. Cryonics is maybe a bridge to get us there. But we're not quite there. And so it's hard to upend an entire culture, life, society, psyche, family, religion, everything else around us that's been made, assuming that death is completely inevitable. And we are now trying to change that. And that is both thrilling and exciting, but also very difficult for a lot of people to wrestle with and feels in many cases wrong or unpleasant to do.
SPENCER: So final question. Suppose someone is interested in getting cryonics. What should they do? What's the first step?
MAX: Well, the first step is to reach out to one of the existing cryo organizations, and see what they have available, what they can do. Now let's have a person who is ready, and knows that they want to sign up, and all this if they're still just examining this fix. The issue is listening to podcasts like this one, is talking to people who may be signed up. There's a discord server that I run called the cryosphere where we talk a lot about all of these issues and where we talk to a lot of people who are thinking about it. I have a podcast on the entire subject of cryonics, there are numerous people who have spoken on this. So basically, do a lot of research, see what it's like, see what other people who are doing this or like, see what they think about and when somebody is ready and somebody who's comfortable to do this, find the right life insurance agent. Either Alcor, CI, or the new organizations, if you're in Europe or in Russia, we'll have numbers, and emails you can contact and get the process done. Because the longer you wait, the more likely it is that two things will happen. One is the price of getting life insurance and all this it's going to go up as you age. But two, things can happen. Anything can happen tomorrow, you could get a disease, which would make it impossible to get life insurance afterward. Or you can get hit by the bus. Everybody's worried about driving around and getting hit by. And so given the potential upside of something like cryonics, don't wait, don't think, I'll just deal with this 10 days before I die because nobody – in fact, one of the things I'm very involved in cryonics is figuring out how to deal with the problems of people who don't do enough work at the end of life in order to make sure that their cryopreservation is going to happen and going to happen well and properly. So there's a lot of pre-planning, and steps, and thought that should go into what we do when we think that we want to be cryopreserved. And so don't put that off for years. Don't think that you're just going to take care of this towards the end, because I can guarantee you, and I can tell you stories of people who have had this happen, that dealing with it at the end is almost certainly not going to happen or not going to happen well and effectively. This is something you want to do when they're fully capable, and well before you could imagine needing it.
SPENCER: Thanks, Max. Really appreciate you coming on.
MAX: Thank you very much, Spencer. Thanks for having me.
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