Kim Suozzi, Cancer, 23 - For Now?
September 13, 2015 12:50 AM   Subscribe

A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future - (SLNYT) Kim Suozzi knew she was dying, but believed that cryonic preservation had a “1 or 2 percent chance” of offering her another shot at life. And for that, it was worth trying.
posted by CrystalDave (84 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particularly interesting out of the links in the article (and which I forgot in the main post): Kim Suozzi's Alcor Case Study (PDF).
posted by CrystalDave at 12:52 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another Cold Morning
posted by Rhaomi at 1:13 AM on September 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


There's perhaps a long way to go via modeling a connectome into something resembling a normal experience of living.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:58 AM on September 13, 2015


If the $80,000 fee for neuropreservation seemed steep, they learned that about a third of it pays for medical personnel to be on call for death, while another third is placed in a trust for future revival. The investment income from the trust also pays for storage in liquid nitrogen, which is so cold that it can prevent decay in biological tissue for millenniums.

It does seem steep. A course of coffee enemas wold be cheaper, and about as effective. I, like everyone else, can empathise with the sheer horror of hearing one's life will be cut horribly short, but this seems like a way to milk money from false hope.

Also: millenniums? millenniums? Shame on you NYT.
posted by biffa at 3:59 AM on September 13, 2015 [21 favorites]


It seems like people who argue that cryonics could work are making the same error in judgment and prior probability as the effective altruism people who are spending all their charity money trying to prevent Roko's Basilisk.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:30 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, it is equally likely that in the future we'd be able to reconstruct your consciousness from a really good 3D MRI of your brain and that won't spoil if the power goes out and the fridge fails.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:34 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


biffa: Also: millenniums? millenniums? Shame on you NYT.

Until about 1930 millenniums was the much more common plural form, and it never died out. Both are still in use and perfectly cromulent.

posted by Kattullus at 4:40 AM on September 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


That is interesting. I may be wrong, but dash it anyway.

I really like that Ngram website though, I will be using that in future.
posted by biffa at 5:00 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Basic snake oil sales, but if it gives people hope in their last days, okay. You can't take the money with you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:08 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


This seems to have a lot in common with the teletransportation paradox. Whatever gets reconstructed from the corpsicle almost certainly isn't you, unless quite elaborate measures are taken to preserve the continuity of consciousness. That sort of continuity isn't terribly likely given that you've died, been decapitated, preserved in a fairly badly damaged state, then pieced back together via some sort of future neural archaeology.

However closely the reconstructed person resembles the original, it's ultimately just going to be a facsimile. It might remember being you, it might even be convinced that it is you, but you're long gone. So it might be comforting for those who remember the old you to see someone who seems an awful lot like you wandering about in the world. But make no mistake - you're long gone by that point.

Science fiction has addressed the problem in various ways. But until those fictional ways of decanting consciousnesses intact become a reality, I'm inclined to think of cryonic preservation as being no close to immortality than, say, cloning. As such it becomes a bit of a vanity project, because you're effectively saying that the world is better off for having you in some form, even though the actual you is not around.
posted by pipeski at 5:18 AM on September 13, 2015 [25 favorites]


Of course, whether any consciousness is actually a continuous state of selfhood is debatable. But that's a big rabbit hole.
posted by pipeski at 5:21 AM on September 13, 2015 [19 favorites]


Great story and all, but now I'm slightly worried about the low-level headaches I've had constantly for the past several days.
posted by Quilford at 5:21 AM on September 13, 2015


Of course, whether any consciousness is actually a continuous state of selfhood is debatable. But that's a big rabbit hole.

LET'S DO IT
posted by Quilford at 5:35 AM on September 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


However closely the reconstructed person resembles the original, it's ultimately just going to be a facsimile. It might remember being you, it might even be convinced that it is you

If it resembles you, remembers being you, and is convinced it is you, in what way is it not? And if those criteria are not enough, how do you know that you are you right this moment?
posted by lollusc at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2015 [26 favorites]


More than memories, Josh, then 24, wished for the crude procedure to salvage whatever synapses gave rise to her dry, generous humor, compelled her to greet every cat she saw with a high-pitched “helllooo,”

A brain in a jar that can do a killer Mrs Doubtfire impersonation is the best possible outcome of this whole endeavor.
posted by dr_dank at 5:51 AM on September 13, 2015 [16 favorites]


We are actually particular physical things, not sets of data.We can argue over what kind of continuity is required to preserve identity, but if you're merely simulated in a computer there's none.
posted by Segundus at 5:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Until about 1930 millenniums was the much more common plural form, and it never died out. Both are still in use and perfectly cromulent.

Irregardless, shame on you NYT.

posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:22 AM on September 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


If a clone can be made of you without your knowledge or consent. If the clone can exist without you knowing of it's existence, it's not immortality.

But how is revival different from waking up from sleep or a coma? Our mind turns off every day. Is there supposed to be a length of time that passes the mark of continuous and becomes simply a different version? This is a philosophical question with no easy answers, and I think it's a stretch to just say flat out that the revived person is a completely different human being.
posted by Beholder at 6:26 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


However closely the reconstructed person resembles the original, it's ultimately just going to be a facsimile. It might remember being you, it might even be convinced that it is you

If it resembles you, remembers being you, and is convinced it is you, in what way is it not? And if those criteria are not enough, how do you know that you are you right this moment?


Yeah, this has always seemed to me to be a relic of the old concept of the soul - that unique and utterly unchangable thing that inhabits you and then goes away when the body dies. If consciousness is just the experience of being within the constraints of certain neurological values, there's no reason to distinguish between the copy and the original.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:31 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think the opposite; it's the people who think your identity can be downloaded or uploaded or otherwise separated from your physical body who seem to me to be harking back to the immaterial soul. We are our bodies.
posted by Segundus at 6:37 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Alcor needs to fix their branding and replace these scary big stainless steel cylinders with trendy mason jars.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:40 AM on September 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


The problem to me with the "Wouldn't I be my clone after I die?" argument is a clone made in your lifetime wouldn't be you.

Clones are a case of pass by value, not pass by reference.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:42 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Teleportation also brings up a similar point. Are you really you after being disintegrated and reconstituted somewhere else?
posted by dr_dank at 6:51 AM on September 13, 2015


Well, from their own perspective the clone will certainly be be a more realistic and authentic representation of you than you are , but from your perspective they wouldn't. Or would they?

Wow, I need a beer.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, sometimes a teleporter churns out two Rikers...
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:54 AM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


We need to test these two Rikers with mirror symmetrical chairs.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


We are actually particular physical things, not sets of data.

Way to torpedo the job market for philosophers, Sherlock. I bet you can take care of that whole nature/nurture thing just as quick.

I would argue just as strongly that our sense of self and identity is nothing but information and could, if we had the technology, easily be copied, and that the copies would be "me" just as surely as I am.

After all, there are (or will be) a lot of Bringer Toms out there...
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:59 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even then, it may be necessary to identify the molecular identity of each neuron, in addition to knowing how they connect to one another.

It may be necessary? Neuroscientists probably have not yet discovered every type of neuron that exists out there, and even then, we know that a GABAergic interneuron versus a dopaminergic versus a cholinergic neuron all do very different things. What information exactly does the connectome store, if not the molecular identity of each neuron? Does it record something less specific, like the presence of electrical vs chemical synapse? How vague. ... The article wasn't very clear about this.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:03 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I know this a serious discussion but it's too early for me to think of anything but Marty Feldman: "IIIII ain't got nobody! And nobody cares for me!"

And speaking of two Rikers, wasn't there an old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits in which teleportation had supposedly been developed? In reality they were just cloning the traveler at the destination and destroying the original at the departure location. It was all fine until something went wrong with the original destruction. I don't remember how the original found out.
posted by Beti at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I"n reality they were just cloning the traveler at the destination and destroying the original at the departure location. It was all fine until something went wrong with the original destruction. I don't remember how the original found out."

That's also pretty much the plot of "The Prestige".
posted by Dumsnill at 7:15 AM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


We are our bodies.

Which is why she wanted her brain saved. Because her brain is her.
posted by Beholder at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


there's no reason to distinguish between the copy and the original.

Unless you happen to be the original (or the copy) of course...
posted by pipeski at 7:18 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


how do you know that you are you right this moment?

no one else wants the job
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 AM on September 13, 2015 [24 favorites]


I remember this episode of Fringe.
posted by Fizz at 7:25 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I came here to post Another Cold Morning and yes, Rhaomi had done it at comment 2.
posted by kandinski at 7:25 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We are not our bodies. The proof is in those people who have lost much of their body, yet remain their essential self.

We are our neural network, and particularly we are our brain's network.

There's supposedly a body transplant planned to take place in the next couple years. It will be most interesting to see what happens to a person whose brain is given a new body.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:26 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whatever gets reconstructed from the corpsicle almost certainly isn't you, unless quite elaborate measures are taken to preserve the continuity of consciousness.

Don't you experience a break in the continuity of consciousness every time you go to sleep? When people go into a coma for years and wake up, are they not still themselves?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:26 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


We are not our bodies. The proof is in those people who have lost much of their body, yet remain their essential self.

We are our neural network, and particularly we are our brain's network.


Are the neural networks and "brain's network" not part of our bodies? if you perfectly recreate a body would those things not be included in the reproduction?
posted by Dumsnill at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't you experience a break in the continuity of consciousness every time you go to sleep?

My brain is still active while I sleep, even if I don't remember it. People in comas still have even a minimal amount of brain activity as well.

Personally, I *don't* think I am the same person as I was 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago. Continuation of consciousness is a trick of the brain. But I'm also not egotistical enough to think that the world needs me so badly that we should waste resources keeping my meatbrain around long after it's stopped working.
posted by muddgirl at 7:41 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, I was tempted to edit that comment because it comes off as very, very cruel to imply that a young woman struck with cancer is egotistical for hoping for some relief from the fear of dying. It was very thoughtless of me.
posted by muddgirl at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read this and an am just horrified at the hospice releasing her two days before death for "not being comatose enough", then failing to send a nurse over for an hour after her death so the cryo team couldn't even start immediately. That girl voluntarily starved herself to meet the hospice criteria and hasten death and they bounced on her. Forget whatever opinions I might have about the viability of cryogenics, it was her last wish and she did everything she could to make it happen only to be severely hampered at the crucial moment. I don't know. Also I felt the NYT article was poorly written in a lot of ways. The PDF case study of Kim Suozzo's case was a lot clearer but left me even more horrified.
posted by annathea at 8:17 AM on September 13, 2015 [20 favorites]


My friend once asked me if I'd get my whole body frozen or just the head. I said don't be ridiculous, I'm having just my body frozen, that's the valuable part. All those folks just getting their heads frozen are gonna need a body, right? Yep, just the body, that's where the money's at.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:21 AM on September 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


There's a chapter in The Mind's I that takes a hypothetical brain-simulation experiment to an absurd conclusion.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fizz: I remember this episode of Fringe.
No kidding. I was waiting for that bit in the article where the revived Kim comes back as the head of an unstoppable shapeshifter army who receives instructions through a quantum entanglement typewriter.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:25 AM on September 13, 2015


We are our bodies
Personally, I think I'm a mind that is at present only viable in a particular biological neural net - the rest of my body is life support and I/O, and I have no particular reason to think I couldn't be transferred or copied to another computational environment at some point. But not now.

All that seems irrelevant though - if I'm terminally ill today and wake up tomorrow in a different body, not dying, and feel like I'm still me at least to a similar extent to that experienced by someone awakening groggy from a general anaesthetic after life-changing surgery, then that seems like a good result. If that turns out to be a copy that's demonstrably not me because it looks across the room and sees the original me dying then it's still going to be a better outcome, I imagine (if somewhat existentially confusing!).

The most detailed possible brain scan seems like a more likely way of achieving this with current technology. Still not very likely though.
posted by merlynkline at 8:48 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yep, just the body, that's where the money's at.
posted by sexyrobot

Err... eponysterical?
posted by merlynkline at 8:50 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


All that seems irrelevant though - if I'm terminally ill today and wake up tomorrow in a different body, not dying, and feel like I'm still me at least to a similar extent to that experienced by someone awakening groggy from a general anaesthetic after life-changing surgery, then that seems like a good result. If that turns out to be a copy that's demonstrably not me because it looks across the room and sees the original me dying then it's still going to be a better outcome, I imagine (if somewhat existentially confusing!).

The problem is that the 'I' that loses consciousness is not the 'I' that wakes up. It's a good result for the person who wakes up (who isn't you, despite what their memory tells them). The 'I' who lost consciousness is still dead - they don't get to continue life as the copy. Of course, as others have said, the continuity of self may well be an illusion. We may 'die' every time we fall asleep. Just because the person who wakes up thinks they've survived the night doesn't mean that consciousness (whatever that means) is preserved.
posted by pipeski at 8:59 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


In reality they were just cloning the traveler at the destination and destroying the original at the departure location. It was all fine until something went wrong with the original destruction.

Beti, the episode you are thinking of is Think Like a Dinosaur.
posted by thecaddy at 9:12 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally, I think I'm a mind that is at present only viable in a particular biological neural net - the rest of my body is life support and I/O, and I have no particular reason to think I couldn't be transferred or copied to another computational environment at some point. But not now.

Myself, I think it's much more complex than that; neurochemistry is so complex with so many subtle inputs and influences that it's hard to believe that a brain can exist, unchanged, in the absence of its body. Synaptic connections are only part of the story; neurotransmitters, hormones, the whole endocrine system, are ignored in the "brain as circuit diagram" model. More to the point, there are no recorded occurrences of a brain existing in the absence of a body, or even a majority of a body. It's hard to place stock in blithe claims that a brain can be transplanted or revived from cryostorage in the absence of literally any supporting data.

Cryonics is the worst kind of predatory woo; soaking the dying and their grieving families for tens of thousands of dollars.

“I can see within, say, 40 years that we would have a method to generate a digital replica of a person’s mind,” said Winfried Denk, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Germany, who has invented one of several mapping techniques.

Not to snark to hard on a Sunday morning, but I can see within, say, 40 years that digital replication is still at least a decade off.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:17 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was curious enough to go look up the LessWrong users' survey on cryonics status:

Cryonics Status
Don’t understand/never thought about it: 62, 4.1%
Don’t want to: 361, 24.0%
Considering it: 551, 36.7%
Haven’t gotten around to it: 272, 18.1%
Unavailable in my area: 126, 8.4%
Yes: 64, 4.3%


So 37% are considering it and 4% have bought it among one of the denser concentrations of partisans on the internet!
posted by bukvich at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2015


Continuity of consciousness is largely an illusion. I lose consciousness all the time -- distraction, moments of absorption, microsleeps -- and certainly every night. If someone were able to freeze me for 5 seconds and then wake me up, I'd certainly consider it to be me, just as much as if I took a nap, or had a brief seizure, or was in a coma. In the trillions of planck time intervals when nothing happens, all the time, I'm still me. If you took my brain out and I napped a few times before putting it back in my own body, I'd still consider myself me.

And just because things have changed, perhaps significantly, doesn't mean it isn't still me. If you replaced every third neuron with a little computer doing the same thing, I'd still consider myself me. If you took my brain out and put it in another body, I'd still consider myself me, but in another body -- though I would quickly become a pretty different person. Similarly, if you left the neurons and connections in place but jumbled up the hormones, or monkeyed with the neurotransmitters in a significant but non-fatal way, my day (and perhaps life) would be very different, but my memories and thoughts would probably be fairly similar -- I'd be "myself", but different, just as I am on moody days, or when severely ill, or when taking mind-altering drugs, or a few years in the past or future. (That's less an argument about how similar I would be, than about how different I often am and still consider myself myself.) There's certainly possible a big enough change that it would no longer be me, but worrying about hormones or limbs or whatnot I think severely underestimates just how different every single brain out there is -- keeping the trillions of connections in place while changing the rest still leaves a vast amount of information in place. Obviously you can change the circumstances enough that the connections would also quickly change, but absent that, or changes on the scale of major mind-altering drugs, I'd still consider myself mainly myself.

Copies are trickier, though not directly a problem for cryonics. If you copied me, both of the copies would consider themselves to be me, and that seems right. If you created a copy and then the original me, I personally start balking, even if it happens instantly, even if you randomize the moment of copy/kill. On the other hand, I'm not so confident in my reluctance that, if I knew I was to die at moment t, and you offered to create a copy at t+1, I wouldn't take it -- who knows, my philosophy may be wrong. And I think that gamble is part of cryonics -- not just a gamble on the future being able to extract/resuscitate you, but that that one's philosophical hesitations might also turn out to be mistaken. After all, what's the downside, apart from some money you can't take with you? Given the stakes (your own life), you have to be pretty damn sure it's both technically and philosophically impossible for the expected value of the cryonics gamble to be worth less than the expected value of the money.

[And no, I don't actually act on any of this. And of course, the money should probably instead be given to those who need it, but this too is not a special problem for cryonics, since almost all of us have money right now that would do much more good in the hands of someone needier. It also leaves aside the pain and suffering caused to others by your decision, as explored in the article, and in nice lit/SF detail in the recent novel "The New World," which is pretty good.]
posted by chortly at 10:12 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, say what you want about the prospects of cryo, but the world will certainly be an interesting place when/if all these Less Wrong people, Hollywood executives, village idiots, media moguls,, and internet billionaires suddenly rise from their graves en masse. May your great-great grandchildren live in interesting times.
posted by Dumsnill at 10:17 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Synaptic connections are only part of the story; neurotransmitters, hormones, the whole endocrine system, are ignored in the "brain as circuit diagram" model.

By and large, though, the other systems can be disabled or damaged, yet the person remains themself. Brain damage, not so much. The brain seems to be the core of self.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd still consider myself me, but in another body

But this phrasing, ilke in this comment ("and [I] feel like I'm still me") is playing hide the ball. "I'd" consider myself "me". "I" who? "Me" who?

If I told you that when you went to sleep tonight, I was going to copy your brain and insert it into a another body, and then shoot the original dead while it was asleep - would you take that deal? Someone who actually believes the "If I feel like me, it's me" line of reasoning has no reason not to. Yet that's functionally identical to brain uploading/mind copying/cloning or whatever.

Not to mention there's a lot of Cartesian duality that always sneaks into these discussions that I think wouldn't be accepted in any other context. Here's the deal: your mind is made of meat. It's the meat that does the thinking. If I crack you across the head with a crowbar, your meat gets damaged - and therefore your mind does. There's just no scenario where the "mind" can survive without the brain, ever. If the meat goes, you go too.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's hard to believe that a brain can exist, unchanged, in the absence of its body.
It's hard to believe that a brain (mind?) can exist unchanged at all. We change continuously as a result of experiences of every kind on every level. If one of those experiences is waking up in a different body, is that somehow special as far as the experienced self is concerned? The nearest to that we can get at the moment is life-changing surgery for whatever reason. I'm glad to say I haven't had that experience but I've not heard reports of feeling that your life literally started at that point.

If the "new" me is somehow a different entity from the "old" me according to external observers then the new me doesn't care and the old me has lost/gained nothing. Or perhaps has died as part of the process but my understanding is that dead people don't care about being dead. I know others feel differently on that point, in which case my argument has nothing to offer - sorry.

If I told you that when you went to sleep tonight, I was going to copy your brain and insert it into a another body, and then shoot the original dead while it was asleep - would you take that deal?
Sure, if I really believed you could and would succeed in doing it and that the new body would be at least as good as the old one. And if I was on the verge of death from cancer that might not be a tough call.
posted by merlynkline at 10:27 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


The internal mechanics of a neuron are dynamic, not static. Receptors are continuously up- and downregulated. Second messenger systems modulate ion channel activity and about a billion other things. Transcription factors and histone acetylation alter gene expression, etc, etc. All of these things affect how the neuron functions over the short and long-term--meaning they're one of many levels at which information (and information processing) is encoded in the brain. And none of them are going to be discernible by analyzing the gross morphology of neuronal connections, assuming you can even do so accurately. This is ridiculously complex stuff.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


A mind without a body would be a mind with flattened or diminished affect.
I can't emphasize enough the above comment re: the endocrine system. That a sudden terrible thought can trigger a hormone cascade across the body: a quickening of pulse, constriction of peripheral vasculature, some sensory signals attenuate others amplify, pancreas dumps glucose... And all these thing affect the way our brain allows our consciousness to prioritize.

Hell, think about the last time your blood sugar was so low you were "hangry" !

I'm not planting my flag one one side or the other of the "is it still you" debate here, but especually when you start taking , say , digitizing a mind, folks (esp. "futurists") like to gloss over this relationship and its been enraging me for decades.

Thank you for your time.
And for this post. I appreciated the journal article.
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 10:33 AM on September 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's just no scenario where the "mind" can survive without the brain, ever.
I think it's the last word that makes that sentence seem wrong to me.

I can find a computer running a program and see that it is whole and functional in whatever way it is. If I had no idea how it worked and tried to construct a duplicate in the same state by some sort of analysis of the state of the electronics I'd have a hard time. But knowing how it works, and having the right tools, this task is almost trivial for some people. Minds in brains are not, of course, simple software running in computers but I think the situation is at least analogous. So yes, at the moment, the mind and the meat are inextricably entwined. But that's not necessarily an absolute.

Everything else already seems relatively straightforward by comparison (e.g. simulated endocrine systems or whatever else is necessary to fill out the lived experience) - if/when we can make a working copy of the mind then everything else is easy.
posted by merlynkline at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


And if I was on the verge of death from cancer that might not be a tough call.

This response implies that under my scenario you are escaping or avoiding death in some way. I just don't see it.

I think the split on this argument must come down to some deeply held intuition or assumption because no matter how hard I try, I can't wrap my head around this point of view.

posted by mrbigmuscles at 10:45 AM on September 13, 2015


I think the split on this argument must come down to some deeply held intuition or assumption because no matter how hard I try, I can't wrap my head around this point of view.
I entirely agree. For me, I can't see the functional difference between the scenario where I go to sleep and wake up the next morning and the same scenario except where someone has replicated my mind into a clone and shot the original body while I was asleep. Obviously there is *some* difference. I just can't see that it's an important one (given that this is a trivial application of available technology).
posted by merlynkline at 10:51 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I told you that when you went to sleep tonight, I was going to copy your brain and insert it into a another body, and then shoot the original dead while it was asleep - would you take that deal? Someone who actually believes the "If I feel like me, it's me" line of reasoning has no reason not to. Yet that's functionally identical to brain uploading/mind copying/cloning or whatever.

What is the deal? If the deal is, I will be shot either way, but in one scenario I am copied, then sure, I'd take the deal. As I said, I'm less confident of continuity via copying than I am of brain pauses/freezes/sleeps, and I'm not at all confident that the two are equivalent. To argue that freezes are equivalent to copies and copies are not continuity is to put a lot of weight on the equivalence argument; given the various counter-arguments about physical continuity (which is satisfied with freezing but not copying), I'm not particularly persuaded by the copy-doesn't-work-therefore-freezing-doesn't-work argument.

But in any case, my beliefs are are probabilistic. I assign p1 to the probability I will be unfrozen, p2 to the probability that being unfrozen counts philosophically as continuity of self, p3 to the philosophical claim that freezes are equivalent to copies, and p4 to the probability that copies count as continuity of self. For any plausible sizes of p* (all of which are presumably small, but none of which are 0), no matter how you multiply these things together, when multiplied by the payoff L (the value of my life), that expectation is greater than the alternative, p5*0 (no life). So even with lots of uncertainties, both practical and philosophical, the gamble -- the deal actually on the table -- seems reasonably worth it.
posted by chortly at 11:25 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


And Leonard Nimoy had given me such hope in this classic In Search Of episode.

Is there anyone out there advocating for a change in law to allow pre-death body/brain freezing? Wouldn't that increase the odds of success?
posted by jimmymcvee at 11:49 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Please let the Singularity people all be frozen as soon as they want. The future will be so great you should jump in the vat right now, while we can preserve your special genius coding/engineer skills.
posted by benzenedream at 1:03 PM on September 13, 2015


People have mentioned copying, but I think haven't drawn out how fatal it is for continuity of consciousness.

Ordinary loss of consciousness (like sleep) is no great philosophical problem simply because no copying is possible. Person A goes to sleep, person B wakes up thinking they are A— since there are no other candidates, and it's the same body anyway, we say A = B.

In a world with copying, this doesn't work. At the least we'd need new intuitions, not to mention new laws. If A and B think they are A, who gets A's money, A's house, A's husband, A's intellectual reputation, A's outstanding warrants, A's Internet passwords, A's Steam achievements, etc.?

It's cute to say "they're all me", but I don't think this works except as a metaphor. If A and B are in the same room, how do they talk to each other? "How am I?" "Oh, I'm fine, how am I?" They both have a consciousness of being A before, but at present they are in different bodies and have no access to each other's thoughts, so they're just like the rest of us: different people.

(In such a world, maybe socially, there's a convention that mind-clones specially identity with each other and support each other. Like family, but more so. But we don't always like our family, and maybe we'd detest our mind-clones.)
posted by zompist at 1:08 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


chortly, I think you could apply the same logic to religion. If Yahweh exists and you worship him, things will go better for you. Ditto for Jupiter, Thor, Ahuramazda, and so on.

This is of course Pascal's wager. But I'd guess that few atheists are convinced by it. :)

When probabilities are so low and so speculative that they're equivalent to 0, then normal probability theory isn't a good guide to decision-making.
posted by zompist at 1:14 PM on September 13, 2015


gloss over this relationship re: endocrine &c — I think there would still be a mind without the endocrine system. It wouldn't necessarily be the same mind. But mind, nonetheless. I'm skeptical that one's sense of self can survive the jump from brain to silicon. But perhap's a core "you need", the emotional, behavioral "stuff" that even cats and dogs have, that could survive. I've no doubt the part of you that works at lizard-brain levels could be copied. There are core autonomous systems that provide a root operating system for the human layer of mind/self.

I think self arises as a result of the complexity of network systems and feedback control systems. I like to wonder whether the brain is a sensitive organ that uses complex chemical networks to interface with quantum realms. And to what end would it do that?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2015


People have mentioned copying, but I think haven't drawn out how fatal it is for continuity of consciousness.

All the things you mention are certainly practical problems of society, law, convention, possession, language and so on. This is no surprise because forked consciousness has so far been in the realms of fantasy only so there has been no pressing need outside that to construct mechanisms for dealing with it. Certainly there is fiction that addresses all these issues.

None of these things seem to be problems of continuity of consciousness though, fatal or otherwise. After copying, persons A and B both consider themselves to be person A and both have continuity of consciousness in that respect, with no problems per se. That does indeed lead to all sorts of practical issues in terms of our constructed social conventions and so on but that does not in itself invalidate the experience or render it impossible.
posted by merlynkline at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also I felt the NYT article was poorly written in a lot of ways.

How so? I found it to be well written and informative.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 1:41 PM on September 13, 2015


I liked the story, though at this point in time, the expense and hope seem misguided, a high-tech update on ancient Egyptian mummification (which also demanded a major investment of wealth and expertise).

In a Motel of the Mysteries future, the future archaeologists discover Kim's preserved brain and conclude that she was the Empress of Terra.
posted by bad grammar at 1:55 PM on September 13, 2015


Ordinary loss of consciousness (like sleep) is no great philosophical problem

It's no problem at all. Your brain does not shut off during sleep, you aren't dead, and the physical states that make up your memories and personality are still there and alive. The reason there it seems like there is continuity from one waking session to the next is because there is actual physical continuity of the brain.

After copying, persons A and B both consider themselves to be person A

What they consider themselves to be isn't what they are, though. It's a kind of question-begging, or putting the cart before the horse to say: as long as they experience themselves as A, they're both A, and therefore A has continuity with B.

After all (and sorry I keep using these violent examples), if you put A and B in a room with a knife and said "only one leaves" they'd fight, wouldn't they? Because being copied is not a solution to the problem of dying and nobody wants to die - that's the point of all this mind freezing/copying/uploading stuff. Would you fight in that situation? I am really curious.

To argue that freezes are equivalent to copies and copies are not continuity

To be clear, I am not arguing that. Only that a "mind upload" or physical duplication is not continuity.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 2:01 PM on September 13, 2015


Freezing of course isn't equivalent to copying. But turning a head preserved with current technology, with all the damage that tends to result, back into a living person is on a similar level of difficulty to turning a cooked steak back into a cow. So it seems quite possible (even likely) that restoring consciousness to a frozen brain would involve some sort of scanning/mapping and reproducing the brain in a new, viable environment. In those circumstances, it is a copy you're making, and the original person is never returned to life.
posted by pipeski at 2:15 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a kind of question-begging
That depends what you think the question is. I'm thinking about whether this hypothetical copying technique can be used to enable your consciousness to survive an otherwise fatal event. So in that case, person A would presumably die shortly after (or even because of) the copying and render the philosophical question about who is who somewhat moot. And from their point of view, what they consider themselves to be is pretty much the definition of what they are. Whether or not that guy in the asylum really is Napoleon is moot from his point of view - he is. Your observation that he is not has no useful value

Would you fight in that situation?
Heh. Well since A and B are both me then presumably they will come up with the same answer so they would be foolish to answer "yes" :). But seriously, just because A and B both experience themselves as A, that doesn't mean they don't see each other as separate individuals. As soon as the copy is made, their experiences diverge and they become separate identities with very similar pasts. So your question can be restated as "If you put A or B in a room with another person and a knife..." and in that case the answer is whatever it is but it's not predicated on their continuity of identity.
posted by merlynkline at 2:16 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's inevitable (barring calamity, of course) that technology will progress to the point where somebody is thawing out a brain and attempting to reanimate it or download it or whatever. It's a question of whether that will be in 100, 500, or 1,000 years.

In any case, my sympathies go out to the first partly-successful attempts before practitioners either perfect the process or shut down the mutant half-brain ranch entirely.
posted by univac at 2:44 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


And of course, no one knows if even a perfect simulation of a mind would retain the self-awareness of the original.

Oh right because of ghosts
posted by iamck at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We don't know if a perfect simulation of a mind would retain the self-awareness of the original in exactly the same way we don't know if other people have self-awareness or are just automatons. In both cases the assumption should be that if something appears to be perfectly self-aware we should assume they are, indeed, self-aware.
posted by Justinian at 3:15 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a chapter in The Mind's I that takes a hypothetical brain-simulation experiment to an absurd conclusion.

And absurd it was, and pretty pointless. The whole piece totally ignored that parts of the brain, you know, communicate. Half a brain that receives preprogrammed inputs would definitely know something was wrong because its attempts to communicate with the other half would go completely unanswered. It would be like being on a video call then suddenly the other party starts responding to things they assume you said, while what you actually say was utterly disregarded.
posted by ymgve at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


chortly, I think you could apply the same logic to religion. If Yahweh exists and you worship him, things will go better for you. Ditto for Jupiter, Thor, Ahuramazda, and so on.

It would be equivalent if you could promise me there was only one god, who either exists and is vengeful, or doesn't exist. If that were the case, then yes, Pascal's wager would make sense -- better to incur the slight cost of worship than risk the extreme downside. Of course, Pascal's wager breaks down when there are infinite possible gods with infinite possible motives, such that there is no way to insure yourself by worshipping any of them without being almost-certain to miss worshipping the right one in the right way. But again -- in the binary case, Pascal's wager makes lots of sense, which is why Pascal wasn't an idiot. He was just mistaken in thinking it was Christian-God or nothing. Similarly, when the options are small-chance-of-immortality*value-of-living versus large-chance-of-scheme-failing*value-of-being-dead, the wager is perfectly rational. Small-p thinking works fine when we can be fairly sure there are just two options.

Freezing of course isn't equivalent to copying. But turning a head preserved with current technology, with all the damage that tends to result, back into a living person is on a similar level of difficulty to turning a cooked steak back into a cow. So it seems quite possible (even likely) that restoring consciousness to a frozen brain would involve some sort of scanning/mapping and reproducing the brain in a new, viable environment. In those circumstances, it is a copy you're making, and the original person is never returned to life.

I agree a copy of the embalmed brain is more likely than "unfreezing," although it's quite possible that many other (equally implausible!) things in-between might exist, such as plucking out the molecules one-at-a-time and building up a new, undamaged brain, etc. But in any case, since I am not 100% sure a single copy doesn't count as me, the wager might well be worth it, even if the expected outcome is small-p-being-resuscitated-at-all*small-p-copy-is-still-me*value-of-life.
posted by chortly at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metaphysical questions about rebirth or duplication don't have to be answered, but legal questions certainly will.

A terminally ill billionaire who is having himself frozen will, quite sensibly, endow a very large trust with a bounty for whoever revives / re-embodies him, and the balance for his own use. But at some point his heirs, or the government as heir of last resort, will try to invade that trust. And if the trust is successfully invaded, but includes valuable identifiable property, he'll surely try to claim it back.

The most interesting cases are going to be dead people who have high inherent financial value. If Tom Cruise is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has himself frozen at death -- well, he's valuable when revived because he's Tom Cruise. But what if your his grandson and you've been owning and operating the perfectly-past-the-uncanny-value software simulation of Tom Cruise for 20 years? Who owns the IP now?
posted by MattD at 4:28 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like that this is right after the thread about seeds growing extinct plants after 2,000 years. I hope in 2,000 years we can resurrect people like that. I actually hope we can do it sooner, but at least by then.
posted by limeonaire at 4:43 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great story and all, but now I'm slightly worried about the low-level headaches I've had constantly for the past several days.

Those are a perfectly normal thawing phenomena and nothing to worry about as long as you're not also experiencing vivid hallucinations of the events shortly before your first death.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


We don't know if a perfect simulation of a mind would retain the self-awareness of the original in exactly the same way we don't know if other people have self-awareness or are just automatons.

I think this is where religion starts. I am areligious. But I do sometimes enjoy the thought exercises of "what if it's something more"? What if there is a reason for this level of consciousness, self, use of technology. By all appearances, being human takes animal existence a significant, distinguishable step forward. This thing we have going on in our "mind" is really something else. Does it arise out of natural law or is it created? Is the driver something physics-mathematical, or is there an unknowable other reason for self-awarde, technology-inventing life?

I tend to believe it's nature. This is an interesting universe. It is not built. We are the builders.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:44 PM on September 13, 2015


I like that this is right after the thread about seeds growing extinct plants after 2,000 years. I hope in 2,000 years we can resurrect people like that.

That would be more like being able to extract viable sperm and/or egg from a dead person and creating their offspring. I'm pretty sure that plant didn't have any continuity of consciousness.
posted by lollusc at 7:51 PM on September 13, 2015


what if plants are conscious and we just can't hear them talk, man
posted by limeonaire at 10:31 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Condemnation from a neuroscientist.

...reanimation or simulation is an abjectly false hope that is beyond the promise of technology and is certainly impossible with the frozen, dead tissue offered by the “cryonics” industry. Those who profit from this hope deserve our anger and contempt.
posted by Segundus at 12:14 PM on September 17, 2015


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