This post serves as both an index and introduction to my new series posts on the ethics of cryogenic suspension. Cryonic suspension, for the purposes of this series can be defined in the following manner:
Cryonic suspension: Is the process or technology through which a mature human body (or some part thereof, typically the brain or head) is frozen and stored in the hope that it will be revived at a future date.
Definitions are always imperfect — somebody will probably argue that I’ve left something out of the above — but I think this one can be accepted (as a stipulation if need be) since it is the kind of cryonic suspension mentioned therein that is of concern in this series. The series explores the ethical arguments arising from the question: should we have ourselves cryogenically suspended?
1. The Structure of the Series
This series structured in an unusual manner, at least in comparison to other series on this blog. For starters, each post in the series deals with one — and only one — argument for or against cryonic suspension. Typically, I’d cover several arguments in one post, but I decided this more fragmented approach afforded some advantages.
Primarily, it gave me an excuse to avoid writing lengthy introductions to each post reviewing key parts of the preceding discussion. Although I usually enjoy writing such introductions, they can become tiresome. In addition to this, the fragmented format allows for easy revision and expansion of the series. Again, this is unlike my previous efforts. Why so? Well, primarily because I found the academic literature on the ethics of cryogenics to be rather sparse. Indeed, I only managed to locate one academic article on this topic (as well as some internet resources):
David Shaw, “Cryoethics: Seeking Life After Death” (2009) Bioethics, 23(9): 515-521
So I’m going to base my initial draft of the series on Shaw’s article, along with my own elaborations thereof. But I’m hoping that by publishing the series here, I might be presented with some additional resources to consider and arguments to address. That way, I can expand on what I initially say and build a fairly comprehensive database of arguments for and against cryonic suspension.
My goal is to write one entry per week in this series. I’m hoping this is a reasonable and attainable goal. I haven’t always been the best at completing the series I start — indeed, regular readers may note that I’ve essentially abandoned the custom of announcing series in advance of writing them, preferring now to cobble series together from previously written material — but I feel more confident about completing this particular one because the workload on the individual posts should be relatively low.
2. Cryogenics and Disorienting Dilemmas
Why am I doing this? I think it’s worth emphasising here that I come to this issue as a non-advocate. In other words, unlike many of those writing about cryogenics on the internet (at least, unlike many of the people I have read) I’m not writing this series with the explicit aim of convincing you that you ought to have yourself cryogenically suspended. Instead, I’m writing it with the explicit aim of dispassionately analysing the arguments for and against cryogenics.
That said, I do have something of a bias when it comes to this topic. The bias is my belief in the positive role that it can play in teaching students critical thinking skills. In his book, Teaching for Critical Thinking, Stephen Brookfield says that critical thinking is a process that consists of four stages: (1) identifying the assumptions that frame our thinking and determine our actions; (2) checking out the degree to which these assumptions are accurate and valid; (3) looking at our ideas and decisions from multiple perspective; and (4) in light of all this, making informed decisions. And although we may quibble with this four-stage model, I think Brookfield’s definition captures the important elements of critical thinking. It is a skill-set which all educators should try to inculcate.
In outlining some of the techniques that teachers can use to inculcate the skills of critical thinking, Brookfield highlights (chapter 3) the potential of disorienting dilemmas. These can be defined in the following manner:
Disorienting Dilemma: Any decision-making problem (real or hypothetical) that forces you to reassess or think differently about something which you previously have taken for granted.
Such dilemmas get their name from the notion that they are so unsettling that they “diorient” you from your worldview. They are important in teaching critical thinking in that they tend to be a highly effective way in which to encourage the four-stage process outlined above. Strictly speaking, they need not always be dilemmas since that term connotes a decision-making problem in which there are two possible courses of action. They could be trilemmas, or quadrilemmas or whatever. In the case of cryogenics there is a dilemma to contend with: should you freeze yourself or not? (We'll talk about the precise nature of that dilemma in more detail in the first proper entry of the series).
It is my contention that this dilemma can be genuinely disorienting. A proper consideration of the issues that bear upon it, will force you to confront assumptions of fact and value. What’s more, it will force you to think seriously about the degree of confidence that you place in your moral and factual beliefs.
It is thus because of its potential to serve as a disorienting dilemma, and not because of some desire for eternal or prolonged life, that I am enthusiastic about analysing the case for cryogenic suspension. This might seem slightly odd to cryo-enthusiasts, but it’s how I feel about it.
3. The Index Proper
I think there’s been quite enough stage-setting in this post, it’s time to get on with the main event: the index to the series itself. As I said above, in this first draft of the series, I’m going to be using David Shaw’s article on cryoethics as my basic guide to the topic. And since Shaw’s article looks solely at the ethics of cryonics, I will avoid, for the time being at least, considering the technological feasibility of cryonics. I may consider this at some future point, but such an eventuality is unlikely for two main reasons: (i) it’s well outside my own area of expertise and (ii) as we shall see, the technological feasibility of cryonics does not need to be particularly strong for the main arguments to work.
There is one complication surrounding the term “ethics” that is worth mentioning here. In his article, Shaw draws a distinction between prudential and ethical arguments. A prudential argument being one that works from the premise that every person acts in accordance with (their perception) of their own self-interest, and a moral argument being one that works from some premise based on an objective value (e.g. “we ought to maximise human welfare”). If I were in a metaethical mood, I might challenge that distinction on various grounds, but since I’m not in that mood right now, I won’t. I will just use the phrase “the ethics of cryonics” to refer to both the moral and prudential arguments surrounding cryogenics. It might be worth bearing that in mind as you read along.
Anyway, at last, the index.
0. The Cryonics Dilemma Considered
1. You should not freeze yourself
1.1 The Loneliness Argument
1.2 The High Cost Argument
1.3 The Opportunity Cost Argument
1.4 The Unproven Technology Argument
1.5 The Non-Physicalist Argument
1.6 The “Revival is Unlikely” Argument
1.7 The “Revival Before Cure” Argument
1.8 The "Life will be Boring" Argument
1.9 The Environmental Cost Argument
1.10 The Better Causes Argument
1.11 The Organ Donation Argument
1.12 The Death-Definition Problem
1.13 The Slippery Slope Argument
2. You Should Freeze Yourself
2.1 The Future Benefit Argument
2.2 The Time Travel Argument
2.3 The Wager Argument