From Cryonics September 2013
by Max More
Far too many people are risking permanent death because they perpetually procrastinate when it comes to making arrangements for cryopreservation. These are individuals who know that cryonics is a worthwhile bet, who can manage the cost, but who just don’t get around to it. Maybe you—or someone you know—are one of these individuals?
One person I knew—someone who had long expressed his desire for a long and adventurous life—never got around to making cryonics arrangements, despite periodic urging on my part. He eventually developed a neurological disorder and became uninsurable. He died without being cryopreserved.
Another individual contacted Alcor several years ago and was sent an application form. After filling it out only partially, he pursued it no further. This was despite being in his late 80s and having plenty of resources to afford it. We heard from his relatives later when he was critically ill in hospital. In most such cases, we are unable to satisfy the criteria for last-minute cases. In this case, thanks to previous evidence of intent, funding being clearly available, and the support of the family, we were able to get him cryopreserved. However, leaving it until the last moment created a delay while we verified funding. This delay compromised the quality of his cryopreservation.
Procrastination is always a bad thing. If you put off doing something until later because you have a sound reason to do so, by definition it is not procrastination. Some psychologists have specified that for a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Procrastination can mean putting off flossing, delaying getting your car serviced, or telling yourself you can begin to build your savings sometime in the future.
Cause of Cryocrastination
Why do people put off making arrangements for their own cryopreservation? What can they—and we, as individuals and as an organization—do to spur them to cryocompletion?
Many of the standard explanations of procrastination apply just as well to cryocrastination. We tend to put off taking desirable action because we discount future benefits while focusing on the effort required in the present. As the poster from the folks at Demotivator say, “Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.” We put off doing the work, telling ourselves that we’ll do it tomorrow, not taking into account that tomorrow we will be just as tempted to put of doing the work. We’re not very good at predicting how we’ll feel in the future—what psychologists call affective forecasting. We may predict that we’ll feel more like tackling the sign-up process, and even feel good about putting off the task with the good intention of doing it later. We may imagine the process of completing the paperwork and making financial arrangements to be more tedious and time-consuming than it really is. And we may focus on the whole process, rather than breaking it down into relatively easy steps.
Other reasons for cryocrastination can be more justifiable and reasonable: The cryocrastinator may be concerned about the reaction of family and friends to the person committing to this unusual practice. The real financial costs will also deter some people. For anyone who is not particularly old and in good health, it’s easy for them to believe that they can simply save money by signing up some time in the future, but before major health problems and threats manifest. But if you don’t make arrangements now, then when? You may say you’ll do it five years from now. But when that time comes, it will be easy to tell yourself that you’re okay for another few years. And so on. Until it’s too late. You’ve become uninsurable, or caught a deadly infection, or been in a fatal accident.
Cryonics tends to attract unusually intelligent people. A downside of this is that some smart people are very clever at inventing reasons not to make cryonics arrangements. Some of these people focus excessively on highly implausible dystopian scenarios, such as being revived only to be used for spare parts or as a slave. Not all dystopian scenarios are unrealistic, however. For example, many people are hesitant to make cryonics arrangements because they fear being resuscitated all by themselves in an unfamiliar world without friends or family. Clearly, cryonics organizations can do a better job here to communicate cryonics as a means for friends and family to stay together instead of facing the inevitable separation that comes with death. It is also important for a cryonics organization to offer vehicles to take as much of what we own and care about with us.
Others who accept the workability of cryonics feel no urgency to make arrangements because of overconfidence in the rate of advance of anti-aging or uploading research. Even if such research yields dramatically life-extending results in the most optimistic time-frame, cryonics still makes sense in case you die early of accident or disease. There are some people who claim to have conducted a utilitarian analysis and decided that the money could have a greater impact spent elsewhere. Those of us who are not utilitarians will find this logic uncompelling. We may believe we have a right and a responsibility to try to save our own lives and those of our loved ones, even if the same money spent elsewhere might produce greater net utility. (And consider that it might not in practice; cryonics organizations will use your money to cryopreserve you; most organizations will use your money for a variety of purposes, the results of which may not be effective.) Even utilitarians should honestly consider whether they would actually spend their money on those things. More likely, they will spend it on expensive coffee, books, or gadgets.
The “negative” utilitarian calculation also breaks down if cryonics is not just considered as an “egoistic” means for personal survival but also as an emerging experimental medical technology aimed at saving lives and reducing suffering of all people. Cryonics is still at a stage where making individual arrangements or becoming an Associate Member (see below) can lead to greater acceptance of the procedure, in particular if those who make arrangements are famous, and/or highly intelligent, creative, or productive individuals.
If you or someone you know intends to become a member but finds the process daunting, an excellent way to start is to become an Associate Member. This is as easy and inexpensive as telling us that this is what you want to do, and authorizing a charge of $10 per month or $30 per quarter.
If you take one small additional step— signing and submitting the Declaration of Intent to be Cryopreserved—you will make it easier to become a full member in a hurry, should circumstances require it. If you’re ready to become a full member, break the process into small, clearly defined steps. Here are most of the basic steps, each of which taken separately should be easy enough to tackle. Each of them can be further broken down. For instance, you might separate reading the Cryopreservation Agreement from making decisions and from filling it out.
Even if you have a clear Next Action defined, you may not get around to tackling it without a bit of prompting. Just as Ulysses had himself bound to the mast knowing that he would be unable to resist the call of the sirens, you might ask our Membership Administrator to call you once a week to check on progress, or to ask when you will take that next step. If you are friends with another Alcor member, you might ask them to make these check-in calls. If you’re not making good progress, you should think about the reasons why people cryocrastinate, as mentioned above, and try to honestly consider which reservations may be causing your own resistance and delay. Only by being consciously aware of those factors can you resolve them.
If you are already an Alcor member, do you know someone who is in the process of signing up? Would you like to help them get it done? If so, you might start by asking them to read this article. You could make an agreement with them to check on them at regular periods to see that they are moving forward. If you know them well and you think they are having doubts about the benefits of being revived in the future, think how you might emphasize the appeal for their particular personality type.
Are they motivated to seek new experiences? Returning to life in the future will open up many stimulating new experiences. Are they a highly conscientious type? Point out how returning to life with full physical and cognitive vigor will enable them to continue creating, producing, or convincing people. Are they highly relationship-oriented? Then stress how cryonics, if successful, will allow them to reconnect with family and friends (especially if they persuade their loved ones to make the same journey), and to know and love new people.
Some of you will think all this discussion is unnecessary, because you made your arrangements quickly and without fuss. Others will benefit from the suggestions provided here.
Beyond Membership: Other Types of Cryocrastination
Even those who don’t delay making cryonics arrangements can still procrastinate in carrying out a number of other important tasks related to improving their chances of a good cryopreservation. Most of these tasks, perhaps tellingly, involve quite a bit of decision-making and paperwork. Yes, you have taken the largest step already by signing up, but you are taking a lot of unnecessary risks if you simply sit back, pay your membership dues, and never think another thing about it.
First and foremost, it is imperative for each cryonics member to solidify their arrangements with additional documents and/or video stating their intent to be cryopreserved. Talking with friends and family about your arrangements is also helpful. The point is to ensure that people are aware of your wishes so that it becomes difficult for anyone to argue otherwise when the time comes for your cryopreservation.
More formal end-of-life documents such as a will and advance directives are also extremely valuable. A will, or “last will and testament,” is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your property when you die. This enables you to make it quite clear how you wish your assets to be distributed, which is especially important if you desire to distribute some of those assets to your cryonics organization.
Even if you have no risk of a third party preventing you from being cryopreserved, you may not be in optimal condition for cryopreservation if you do not take care to minimize certain risks. Particularly in certain medical scenarios, you may wish to avoid extreme life-saving attempts or measures that may place you at high risk of prolonged or repeated ischemic insult and brain damage. Executing an advance directive, or a “living will,” allows you to document your wishes concerning medical treatments at the end of life. These are very personal decisions and may involve deliberations that can make us quite uncomfortable, but outlining your wishes here can mean the difference between cryopreserving you and cryopreserving what’s left of you.
It is difficult to know what prevents members from completing these additional measures. Perhaps some think that making arrangements is enough. But many—one author of this article included—know better and still procrastinate for many years after completing arrangements. In this kind of situation, it may be imperative that you have a like-minded friend follow up with you on a regular basis until you have taken care of business.
For more specific advice on these matters, please read “How to Protect Your Cryonics Arrangements from Third Party Interference” by Rebecca Lively on the Alcor website. And don’t forget that Alcor is always only a phone call away with lots of experience in how to best protect your arrangements.
By Aschwin de Wolf
Closely related (or a contributing factor) to cryocrastination is a phenomenon which I call “cryoshame.” Cryoshame can manifest itself in, broadly, two forms. In its stronger, forward- looking manifestation, the idea of having cryonics arrangements is so psychologically embarrassing to the person that (s)he does not follow through with making arrangements. In its weaker form, the person has made cryonics arrangements but is rather embarrassed about them and does everything to hide this from friends, family, and colleagues.
Cryoshame in its strongest form can have different sources, ranging from clearly irrational to reasonable. Some people may think that making cryonics arrangements is an admission of defeat in the fight against aging. Although this outlook is understandable it is rather incoherent because making cryonics arrangements is not a form of defeat but one of the strongest strategies to fight aging. Remember that as long as there is disease and accidents there will always be a role for cryonics or similar biostasis technologies.
Another reason why some people might feel shame about having made cryonics arrangements is that a person may believe that money spent on cryonics cannot be spent on family or a good cause. There are multiple problems with this line of reasoning. To me it is not clear at all that having cryonics arrangements constitutes a financial cost because the prospect of much longer lifespans can make a real difference on traits such as optimism and the tendency to delay instant gratification in favor of more wealth accumulation. Furthermore—and this cannot be stressed enough—cryonics is not just a strategy for individual survival, but part of a social movement to change the scientifically backward ways we think about death. Widespread adoption of cryonics as a form of critical care medicine can prevent a lot of suffering, separation, and loss of important knowledge and skills.
In its milder form, cryoshame is the tendency to remain completely silent about one’s cryonics arrangements. It is important to recognize that we should respect this choice. Having said this, many people who “hide” their cryonics arrangements may have erroneous ideas about how people will react to them. Unless you are a member of the Society for Cryobiology, the idea that having cryonics arrangements could constitute a threat to your career is mostly a product of the imagination. Yes, anonymous people on the internet can respond with great hostility, but most people are either indifferent or express sincere interest.
Some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of having cryonics arrangements because they are not non-conformist by nature. Not all cryonicists are interested in controversial ideas such as libertarianism or transgressive arts and do not move around in circles where cryonics is just another odd idea to add to the mix. I do not have a good solution to this but I think community building can be key here. If people are more likely to meet and socialize with other people with an interest in cryonics and life extension, it may be easier to talk about your own arrangements among “normal” people as well.
Cryoshame is a real phenomenon and closely related to cryocrastination. We should respect a person’s choice to be private about having cryonics arrangements but when the reasons for doing so are implausible it is important to discuss them. After all, the more (supportive) people know about your cryonics arrangements the higher the likelihood that you will be cryopreserved under favorable conditions.