(This essay was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, September 28, 2015)
A recent New York Times article chronicled 23-year-old Kim Souzzi’s decision to cryonically preserve her brain. Kim, who died recently of cancer, raised the money for her cryonic preservation by soliciting donations with this post at the subreddit “atheism” at the online site reddit. She was successful in raising the funds—I wonder if the religious would have been as generous as the theists? Here is the video that accompanied the post:
(The New York Times, with Kim’s permission, produced a great video that chronicled the last few months of her life; it can be found here.) http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000003897597/kim-suozzis-last-wishes.html
Cryonics is controversial, but for those of us who don’t believe that dying is like moving to a better neighborhood, it is a reasonable choice. We might call it the cryonics wager, which would go like this.
What happens if I preserve my whole body or my brain? The continuum of possibilities looks like this:
awake in a great reality never wake up awake in an awful reality
I might be awakened by post-human descendants as an immortal being in a heavenly world, or by beings who torture me hellishly for all eternity, or I might never wake up. How then should I proceed? Should I get a cryonics policy? I don’t know. If I don’t preserve myself cryonically, then I might die and go to heaven, hell, or experience nothingness. If I do preserve myself, as we have just seen, similar outcomes await me.
In this situation all I can do is assess the probabilities. Does having a cryonics policy, as opposed to dying and taking my chances, increase or decrease my chances of being revived in a good reality? We can’t say for sure. But if the policy increases that chance, if you desire a blissful immortality, and if you can afford a policy, then you should get one.
Personally I believe that having a cryonics policy greatly increases your chance of being revived in a better reality as opposed to just dying and taking your chances. I place more faith in my post-human descendants than in unseen supernatural beings. Still I can understand why others would choose differently, and we should respect their autonomy to die and hope for the best. In the end we just can’t say for certain what the best move is.
As for Kim Souzzi, I admire that she had the courage of her convictions. And I hope she becomes conscious again.