Cryonics and the Hanson Family
By Bryan Caplan
“I’m just really terribly curious,” Robin told me in January over
Skype. “Cryonics isn’t just living a little longer. It’s also living
quite a bit delayed into the future.” Peggy’s [Robin’s wife] initial response to this
ambition, rooted less in scientific skepticism than in her personal
judgments about the quest for immortality, has changed little in the
past 20-odd years. Robin, a deep thinker most at home in thought
experiments, says he believes that there is some small chance his brain
will be resurrected, that its time in cryopreservation will be merely a
brief pause in the course of his life. Peggy finds the quest an act of
Still, I would have written the piece a little differently. To me, the primary questions are “What is the probability that cryonics works?,” and “What counts as ‘working’“? If cryonics genuinely had a 5% chance of giving Robin ten extra years of healthy life, then Robin’s right, and Peggy’s just plain wrong. If, in contrast, cryonics had a 5% chance of eventually creating a mere computer simulation of Robin, but only a one-in-a-million chance of reviving the flesh-and-blood man, cryonics does indeed seem like an undue financial and emotional burden on his family.
Either way, what appears to be Peggy’s main argument against cryonics is hard to fathom:
I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?
Since we’re talking about Robin, I’m tempted to actually list his shockingly numerous wonderful traits. But his merit is beside the point. If a million innocent people were going to be executed, and you could save one utterly mundane person by pressing a button, it’s morally obvious that you ought to press it. The lucky fellow’s nothing special, but if he enjoys being alive, that’s more than enough to justify his preservation.