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Cryonics FAQ 3: Philosophy/Religion

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Archive-name: cryonics-faq/part3

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		    Frequently Asked Question List
		    Section 3: Philosophy/Religion
		Last Modified Sun Jan 29 15:11:06 1995

(You can fetch cryomsg "n" by sending mail to with the 
subject line "CRYOMSG n", where "n" is a mesage number.  There is
more about this in the answer to question 8-2.  The index
to this FAQ list is cryomsg "0018.1".  )

Copyright 1993 by Tim Freeman.  See the end of Section 1 for
restrictions on redistribution.

3-1.  Are the frozen people dead?

Using the definitions in the glossary, they are legally and
clinically dead but they may or may not have reached
information-theoretic death, depending on how memory is stored in
the brain and how much this is affected by freezing damage.  A
person who has been cremated is dead in all senses of the word.
People who have been buried and allowed to decompose are also dead.
People can only legally be frozen after they are legally dead. 

3-2.  Is cryonics suicide?

No.  People only get suspended if they are legally dead.  Suspending
them sooner can lead to charges of homicide.  (The Dora Kent case was
about a suspension performed immediately after clinical death, which
the local coroner suspected may have been done before legal death.)
Suicides, murders, fatal accidents, etc. almost always result in
autopsy from the local coroner or medical examiner.  The resulting
brain sectioning and extended room-temperature ischemia (inadequate
blood flow) may easily cause true death.

3-3.  What about overpopulation?

At present, an insignificant fraction of the population is
participating in cryonics.  Thus, by any measure, cryonics with the
popularity it has now will never contribute significantly to

Assuming an exponentially increasing population, immortality only
changes the population by a constant factor.  Thus it doesn't
change the nature of the crisis, only the details.  Also, before we
overpopulate the earth, we will have ready access to outer space,
which will, of course, give us much more room for expansion than
just our home planet.    

Also, as countries become wealthier, they tend to have fewer children.
The cause of this is unclear; perhaps it is because children are much
more likely to survive in wealthy countries, and thus the parents do
not need to try as many times to have children that survive to
adulthood. Any civilization sufficiently advanced to revive people in
cryonic suspension will be sufficiently wealthy and advanced that
people will not need or desire as many children as people do in the
third world today.

If cryonics and other paths to life extension were prevented to keep
population under control, then that would be killing one person so
another person can have children.  

CRYOMSG's 398, 582, 583, and 585 through 589 have more on this topic.

3-4.  When are two people the same person?

Cryonics and, especially, the technologies required to reanimate
people from cryonic suspension, open new questions about who we are.
People interested in cryonics often disagree about questions of
identity that arise in various conceivable circumstances.

One way to resolve this is to treat it as a matter of definition.
We can define two people to be the same if they remember the same
childhood, and if the process by which they came to remember the
same childhood also copied most of their other memories and other
skills.  Of course, there are other possible definitions.

Another approach is to use the person-as-software metaphor.
Deciding whether two people are the same is a similar problem to
deciding whether two pieces of software are the same.  The
applicability of this simplier problem to the problem of comparing
people is debatable, but the exercise is a good one especially in
light of current debates on software copyrights. 

Or one can defer to medicine.  The identity questions raised by
cryonics are identical to those faced in medicine today when
considering partial amnesia, stroke survival, brain diseases, etc.

Another alternative is to suppose there is some as-yet-explained
physiological feature which acts as the seat of consciousness.  In
this case, two people are the same person if they share this
particular piece of flesh.  Preserving this feature becomes
important, and replacing it during revival is not an option.   

Last but not least, some people believe in souls.  With this
notion, two people are the same person if they have the same soul.
Since the laws that souls obey have not been empirically
explored, this model doesn't make clear predictions about the
consequences of cryonics.

3-5.  What if they repair the freezing damage (and install a new body, in
      the case of neurosuspension), and the resulting being acts and talks
      as though it were me, but it isn't really me?

The answer to this obviously depends on which notion of
person-equality you subscribe to.  If we use the definitional
approach, then someone who behaves identically to you is you.
Dealing with the other approaches is left as an exercise for the

3-6.  What would happen if people didn't age after reaching adulthood?

Ecology: We might be better stewards of this planet if we
knew that we would have to live with the results of our actions.

Human relations: We will have to learn to treat each other
better if we are going to live in the same world together for a
very long time.

The situation I envision is that people will die of something other
than biological accidents like old age.  They will die from making
mistakes, which seems to me to be a more interesting way to die.
We'll get stories like this:

   Joe died because he didn't bother buying enough redundancy in the
   life support system of his space ship.

   Bill died because a machine was developed that could do his job
   better than him, and before he could retrain for a different job he
   ran out of money and couldn't afford his anti-aging regimen any

   Jill died because she wanted to.

   Jane died because she believed in a religion that forbids life

I prefer endings like that over having nearly everyone die of symptoms
of the same disease (that is, aging) regardless of whether they want
to continue, and regardless of how well they were living their life.

3-7.  Would it be better to be suspended now or later?

In general, one should live as long as possible and be suspended as
late as possible.  An exception to this is if one has some disease
that threatens to destroy the information in the brain, thus
decreasing the quality of the suspension.

The later one is suspended, the better the suspension will be because
of generally advancing technology.  This increases the chances that
one will come back at all, as well as increasing the chances that
one will come back in a world that one can deal with.

Of course, one never knows when an accident or disease could happen
that leaves one with the choice to be suspended now or not to be
suspended at all.  So don't postpone your cryonics arrangements if
you are going to do them. 

3-8.  Why would anyone be revived?

CRFT gives a detailed answer on pages 46 - 47.  

This has been discussed extensively on the cryonics mailing list.
To get a copy of the discussion, fetch CRYOMSG 0001 and then fetch
all messages with "Motivation" in the subject.  There are 22
messages as of July 28, 1992.  To summarize one of the motivations
for revival:

Cryonics patients will be revived in the future for the same reason
they are frozen today: a cryonics organization will be caring for
them.  The success of cryonics is not predicated upon the good will
of society in general, but rather on the good will and continuity
of cryonics organizations.  As long as a corps of dedicated
individuals continues to care for patients in suspension, those
same individuals will be able to revive patients when the
technology becomes available to do so.  Their motives will be the
same as those that drive people involved in cryonics today: the
knowledge that their own lives may someday depend on the integrity
of their cryonics organization. 

3-9.  Is there a conflict between cryonics and religious beliefs?

If revival is possible, cryonic suspension is in no greater conflict
with religion than is any other life-saving medical technology.  If a
religion does not object to resuscitating someone who has experienced
clinical death from a heart attack, it should not object to reviving
suspension patients.

On the other hand, if revival turns out to be impossible, then the
question becomes whether the suspension is consistent with whatever
instructions the religion gives for dealing with funerals.

Perhaps the most honest approach is to look at the instructions a
religion gives for dealing with a missing person who is not known to be
either dead or alive.  

Any model of how "souls" (whatever they may be) interact with freezing
must predict that people with normal behavior can be raised from
frozen embryos, since this is actually true.

3-10. Is attempting to extend life consistent with Christianity?

This answer quoted from the Q&A list in CRFT:

All religions teach that life in this world has a purpose and a value.
The Christian denominations in particular teach that improving the
condition and length of human life in this world are of great
importance.  Indeed, all of the miraculous acts of Jesus which serve as
the vindication of his divinity were aimed at improving the temporal
human condition: feeding the hungry masses, healing the sick, and raising
the dead.  In Matthew 10:8, Jesus commanded his disciples to go forth and
do as he had done.

In most versions of Christianity, someone who refused medical care for
a treatable injury or illness would not be considered either very
rational or very conscientious in their religious duties.  The point
is that life has a purpose here and now and there is nothing wrong
with acting to extend and enhance that life if it is lived morally and

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