Bryan Caplan  

Cold Spouses

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I've previously argued that the avoidance of spousal scorn is one of the main reasons why we buy insurance, and pointed out our lack of sympathy for men.  But nothing prepared me for this piece on cryonics and the family:

One unpleasant issue in cryonics is the "hostile wife" phenomenon. The authors of this article know of a number of high profile cryonicists who need to hide their cryonics activities from their wives and ex-high profile cryonicists who had to choose between cryonics and their relationship. We also know of men who would like to make cryonics arrangements but have not been able to do so because of resistance from their wives or girlfriends... As a result, these men face certain death as a consequence of their partner's hostility.

The article goes on to describe the main reasons why wives are so hostile to cryonics:

o    Fear of social ostracism: Involvement with cryonics is not commonplace in any society on the planet and any unusual, atypical or nonconformist behaviour carries with it the risk of reduction in social status, gossip, doubts about good judgment and rationality, and in the worst case, ridicule and ostracism.

o    Embarrassment and inadequacy: ...Many women are uncomfortable being singled out or made the center of attention because of nonconformist behaviour on the part of any member of their family whose behaviour they perceive they may be held accountable for...

o    Resource drain...

o    The prospect of homosocial or ideologically-driven alienation: ...The social structure in most of the world today is predominately homosocial, wherein heterosexual men engage heavily or even almost exclusively in social (not sexual) interaction with other men... After even glancing contact with cryonics, women quickly perceive that cryonics, and particularly activist cryonics, is populated almost exclusively by men and therefore represents a homosocial threat...

An even more anxiety provoking prospect is that of ideological alienation of the husband from his wife and family... Wives often express anxiety and concern that their husbands may change drastically in both beliefs and behavior as a result of involvement with cryonics and that this might result in alienation within the marriage or even divorce.

o    Religious and childrearing concerns...

o    Other women: While cryonics is mostly a male pursuit, there are women involved and active, and many of them are single...

The article hastens to admit that there is some validity in most of these concerns.  But the intensity of the opposition to cryonics seems far out of proportion to the complaints. 

What's really going on?  I'm not sure, but the sheer weirdness of cryonics probably drastically ramps up the embarassment factor cited in the piece.  You might not be thrilled if your husband becomes a model train enthusiast, but at least you don't become a freak-by-association.  "She's the wife of the toy train guy," doesn't sting like "She's the wife of the guy who wants to freeze his head."

One factor that the article doesn't mention, but probably should: Many wives hastily conclude that their husbands agree that interest in cryonics is morally suspect.  This makes it hard to work out a deal, such as "You can do it, but don't tell our relatives about it."  As I explain in an earlier controversial post:
If you think that someone is willfully shirking, you probably won't bother to bargain for better behavior. The shirker has already broken his word once; why should you believe he'll change? In contrast, if you can accept that a person is living up to his obligations as he understands them, it's a lot easier to amicably renegotiate.
P.S. In response to Robin's challenge, I'm not interested in cryonics because I think my chance of being physically revived is less than one-in-a-billion.  And that is what "immortality" means.  Creating a copy of me, no matter how accurate, just doesn't count.

HT: Kerry Howley via Robin Hanson

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (26 to date)
dearieme writes:

She probably assumes that he's planning to be unfaithful in the far future.

Andrea writes:

It seems to be awfully easy to provoke intense hostility from people who haven't really considered the matter deeply by undermining their conventional assumptions about mortality. It almost seems like a lot of people find the idea that everyone dies in the end, with no exceptions or loopholes, comforting in some strange fashion. The prospect of practical immortality throws a lot of their assumptions about life into question. I wonder if this "hostile wife phenomenon" has some of the same underlying psychology that, applied on a wider, less personal scale, drives people like Leon Kass to write horrible, frightening things like this that seem to be seriously advocating that immortality be forcibly suppressed by the state.

Creating a copy of me, no matter how accurate, just doesn't count.

Why not?

Richard writes:

dearieme is clearly right. The answer is "post reanimation jealousy." And this concept is actually mentioned in the article, if you read it. Very odd of Bryan not to mention it. It's far more compelling than all the other explanations combined.

How many atoms have to be different to be considered a copy?

Many of the atoms that make up your physical body are constantly being cycled out and replaced by new ones. "Bryan Caplan"-07 (aged 7) had different atoms from "Bryan Caplan"-17 (aged 17), and both differ from "Bryan Caplan"-37.

If copying is death, should we mourn that you are now but a shambling patchwork of the remains of Caplan's one through 36?

Ryan writes:

Well, let's just be honest here. Switching atoms is not the same thing as another structure being created. Copying is not death, but it is not life either. If Bryan were copied while he were alive, he would know that this copy wasn't him, it would be pretty obvious, so if Bryan's copy isn't him at time t, why would it become him at t+x(x being the remainder of Bryan's life)? There is no reason to suppose it would, that'd be like your identity being given to your identical twin upon your death.

The issue of atom switching does not change the fact that while these atoms are switching, Bryan's experiences seem relatively continuous, and are only replacements for the same structure. I suppose one could insert a lot of skeptical hypotheses here(Bryan is secretly replaced by a clone when he sleeps but doesn't know it, etc), but they could be dismissed as pointless bits of skepticism for practical purposes. The only point where I see the issue of identity getting more complex is if Bryan suffers catastrophic brain injury. Everything I said might be questionable, but identity is a pretty complex issue anyway.

blink writes:

Eliezer: "[S]uccessful cryonics preserves anything about you that is preserved by going to sleep at night and waking up the next morning."

You seem to disagree with Robin and Eliezer about what "counts" (physical revival), but instead of providing a reason, you point to a definition of "immortality"! You ought to explain why no future other than physical revival is valuable (regardless of whether it is called "immortality"). However, I think Eliezer argues convincingly that the distinction you are trying to draw is specious.

Zubon writes:

Christopher Rasch, I constantly mourn the shambling, patchwork remains of Bryan Caplan.

Bryan, to put this in nerd terms, wights and liches are okay buy wraiths and specters are not? When we are talking about the ghost in the machine, how much of the machine is left is not terribly important to me. But I have not yet overcome the gradualist intuition that makes me unsure whether the upload is still "me." Not that I am sure how coherent a concept "me" is on a broader scale.

Bryan, the ontology of quantum mechanics is over multiparticle configurations like "a photon here, a photon there". Since amplitude flows between configurations, we can experimentally distinguish that the basic ontology is over "a photon here, a photon there" and not "photon 1 here, photon 2 there". A single observed particle is best regarded as a factor in a multiparticle distribution, with no more individual identity than you can distinguish the two factors of 3 in the number 18. So your identity can't possibly depend on the atoms making you up.

You could reason this out from a-priori considerations by applying an anti-zombie principle, to realize that your identity should not depend on purely epiphenomenal facts like "which particle" is composing you, but we happen to live in a universe whose physics makes this unusually easy to see.

Given a truly exact "copy" of you down to the atomic level, we could, in principle if not in practice, set up a quantum interaction between the two of you such that afterward there existed no fact of the matter as to which of you was the "original". (Though this is rather easier to do with two electrons.)

There is no copy. There are two originals. And we happen to live in a universe where this fact is unusually easy to see. See the page linked to my name for a full explanation.

steven writes:

"Creating a copy of me, no matter how accurate, just doesn't count."

And you're more than 999,999,999 in a billion certain of this, too, despite that many smart people who've considered the issue disagree? Frankly, I don't think you're very well-calibrated.

Michael writes:

I am considering signing up for cryonic preservation. Bryan, I hugely respect your rationality, and would greatly appreciate it if you'd elaborate further on your opinion of cryonics. I find Yudkowsky's arguments about what identity is to be convincing and would like to know why you disagree.

Captain Awesome writes:

I think people might just be viscerally reacting to the many nightmare scenarios that become plausible conditional on cryonics being feasible. What if we develop the ability to freeze for long periods and revive before we get the ability to greatly extend lifespan with anti-aging treatments. Everybody in the world will want cryonics, but only the rich will be able to afford it. They'll be war all over the place and when the dust settles virtually all of society's resources will be devoted to the preservation of frozen corpses, at least for awhile. Not a pretty sight.

Suppose that some super genius in the next few years develops a device that works just like the Star Trek transporter. You step onto a pad somewhere, go poof, and another person who is apparently you materializes elsewhere. How it works is really, really complicated, and even trying your best you can't quite understand it.
Would you be willing to use it? How certain would you be that post-materialization you is really going to be you?

talisman writes:

Eliezer likes to point to the quantum because it makes things easier, but flatly, even without quantum stuff a close copy of the current you JUST IS YOU. It doesn't matter if it's running on silicon or squishy stuff or photons bouncing around a gas cloud.

This isn't really all that weird, it's just that there are parts of your philosophy that are out-of-date and broken. All the flashlight-shining-up-at-your-face paradoxes just go away if you think carefully about them.

If you are religious I can see how you would feel differently, but otherwise you're just making a mistake.

What if we develop the ability to freeze for long periods and revive before we get the ability to greatly extend lifespan with anti-aging treatments.

Most cryonics patients are stored as head only. So to be revived at all you'd have to recreate new bodies for them anyway.

Everybody in the world will want cryonics,

Given that cryonics has been around since the late 60's, and probably fewer than 1500 people have signed up, there is no imminent danger of excess demand.

but only the rich will be able to afford it.

Alcor's offers whole body preservation for $150 K, neuro-only for $80 K. Alcor also charges an annual membership fee of $398/year (for the first family member--additional family members are at a reduced cost). Most pay for their suspension with a term insurance policy. A $200 K, 20 year term policy for a 35 year old healthy male costs between $200 and $600 per year.

Therefore, it costs about $83.00/month, about $2.75/day for even the most expensive option.

While perhaps beyond the means of the poor, it's well within the means of the average American.

Captain Awesome writes:

Thanks for the cryonics info. I was trying to imagine what things might be like if most people suddenly felt that cryonics would probably work. I don’t imagine that at any single point in time it will be easier to extend people’s lifespans after freezing than without freezing, so for cryonics to ever be in high demand there has to be a sufficiently high expectation of the improvement of future technology. There must be a sharp contrast between what’s possible now and what you think will be possible in the future. The particular nightmare scenario that I outlined depends on such a contrast.

If people really thought that freezing themselves could let them live forever, the demand for cryonics-related resources would go through the roof. It seems implausible to me that cryonics technology could be made cheaply enough for everyone on earth to afford once a sufficient number of frozen corpses are already being maintained. At some point, it’s likely that only the very wealthy will be able to afford a new slot. However, I wouldn’t expect people to tolerate only the wealthy being able to afford eternal life, and hence I’d expect some class wars.

Also, given Alcor’s pricing, storing yourself as a head only seems like a weirdly risky bet to me. Surely the probability of reviving as a head is lower than that of reviving in your original body. If you believe enough in cryonics to pay the 80k, it seems to me you ought to go the whole hog, too, and preserve your entire body.

Rafal Smigrodzki writes:

Captain Awesome - freezing only the head allows for a much faster cooling rate which is very important to prevent ice formation. Freezing the whole body slows the process and results in additional damage to the brain. Since reversing even the optimally minimal damage to the brain (pre-mortem + post-mortem + vitrification) requires either advanced nanotechnology or destructive uploading, we can be reasonably sure that reanimation of the brain will happen only in a situation where cloning a new body is also possible. In fact, cloning of bodies appears to be much easier than restoration of the brain, since we can already clone some simpler bodies, such as frogs, but we are still very far away from brain restoration.

There are very good non-financial reasons not to do whole-body suspension.

Bryan - I won't repeat the arguments about what constitutes copies and what is self (Eli does a better job at that) but let me try an appeal to your emotions. From your writings I know you are a curious person, fascinated by the world and its mysteries. Think about the miracles, the wonders, the discoveries that the (cryonics-compatible) future would bring. Even if I had existential doubts about the me-ness of my reanimated mind, I would still want to see it all from a first-person perspective.

Join us. Let's see the future.

Philip Hunt writes:

How could anyone love someone who wants them dead?

That is to say, if one has a spouse who wants to prevent one from signing up for cryonics, then one's spouse wants one dead, and the correct response to this is a divorce.

Joen writes:

Is the frozen patient dead or alive?

Dead: Wife is a widow. She gets her inheritance, social security, insurance, etc. She can get married again.

Alive: Wife is not a widow. No inheritance, no social security, no insurance. She can file for divorce from her husband (she can claim that he refuses to have sex with her). Assets get split according to divorce ruling/prenuptial.

Greg writes:

One in a billion? Is that a true estimate or a rationalization? Since we don't know how technology will advance, how can we predict anything to one in a billion accuracy? Or is it one in a billion with a big standard deviation - say there's a 50% chance that there's actually at 10% chance?

kurt9 writes:

Its the issue of closure. It is not the possibility that cryonics may work that causes many people to hate it. It is the lack of certainty that it will work. When someone gets frozen, they exist in a sort of indeterminate state between life and death. Its difficult for most people to think of them as either alive or dead, and this indeterminate state breaks most peoples' brains. They cannot handle it. Since the person is not actively alive to be around, people think of them as dead. So, they want emotional closure so that they can move on in life. Cryonics prevents them from doing this. Thus they do not like it.

megapolisomancy writes:

The problem with these probability estimates is that they do not take into account the impressive recent progress in the science of cryobiology. We can now maintain viability in vitrified brain slices. This does not mean that all of today's cryonics patients will be resuscitated in the future but that science is moving in the right direction.

Actually, it is moving in this direction *because* of the incentives created by the existence of cryonics....

RobbL writes:

If other people, especially your spouse, think that an idea you have is loony, one rational response would be to consider the possibility that it is you who is wrong, not them.

As to figuring the odds of some future event or discovery, all I can say is good luck! Perhaps you would like to refer to past attempts...such as calculating the possibility of massive fuel failure in a nuclear reactor pre three mile island.

Or perhaps a better example is predicting the likelihood of a future of jetson like flying cars circa 1925. In retrospect, most predictions are pretty pathetic.

Note; I also have to smirk about an organization that promises to do anything in perpituity.

Jason Malloy writes:

This seems to assume that men that are interested in cryonics are representative of men, and their wives and relationships are representative of wives and relationships.

Here's a speculation: the kinds of men interested in cryonics are often noncomformist, systematizing introverts who spent much of their youth celibate due to obsessive interests that only other like-minded males care about, and their low interpersonal dominance and charisma. These traits often translate into patient skill-acquisition and financial success/social status later in life, and this is the point where they finally have qualities that some women find attractive enough to date and marry them.

This would lead to the situation you describe in two converging ways: first it would mean the relationship was predicated on the man's status and finances in a way that the marriages of, say, firemen or salesmen are not. (A gender-reversed comparison might be a trophy wife who suddenly takes an interest in pie-eating contests.)

Second, it would mean the male has sub-average ability to command the respect and submission of others. Which would, again, suggest the interpersonal dynamics of such a man's marriage would be different than those of a fireman or salesman's marriage.

Jason Malloy writes:

"These issues raise an obvious question: are women more hostile to cryonics than men?" ... There is no direct answer to this question since the requisite data have not been collected.

This is simply thinking about the question in the wrong way. As an abstract issue men will obviously be overrepresented among both those hostile and in love with the idea.

Find me an "anti-cryonics" discussion board and I guarantee you it will be filled with virtually nothing but males with irate, meticulously crafted challenges to the whole enterprise.

Women are practical, and they would be hostile to it (or have any opinion about it at all) only when it enters the context of their lives in a way perceived as threatening.

So it's not like you are going to capture it with a survey of the population or anything. e.g. "How hostile are you to cryonics?: 1 2 3 4 5" ...

Caliban Darklock writes:

I do not believe you can sanction immortality without also sanctioning suicide.

As a Karaite Jew, I hold most of the same beliefs of my fellow Hebrews, but I ruthlessly question those beliefs incessantly. And my assertion is this:

A life has greater value with greater length, but the value of that life is only realised at death.

I believe that for reasons we cannot currently understand or explain, it is absolutely critical to continued human progress that people die and are returned to the earth whence they came; to inter one's remains in anything that does not naturally and normally biodegrade into the environment is simply unacceptable. To significantly delay this biodegradability upon interment is also unacceptable. Cremation is acceptable provided the ashes are scattered in their entirety, not placed in an urn like some demented shrine.

However, to delay interment is acceptable provided eventual interment is guaranteed. We need to die. We need to be buried. We need to decompose. We need our earthly forms to assimilate into the world at large. But if our loved ones want to keep us around in a jar on the mantle for a few years, just until they can let go and dump the contents, that's okay.

So I believe that cryonics is just fine, provided there is some established way to eventually die. I would dearly love to live forever, and would currently grasp at any straw to do so. But what about when that changes? What if I simply don't want to live in the world 2000 years hence? While the concept is abhorrent to me now, I believe I will naturally feel that way when it is right and proper to feel that way. What can I do?

Freedom to elect immortality without the freedom to elect a later death is no freedom at all. It is a freedom to consign oneself to life imprisonment. Without the right to die, immortality is no blessing, but a curse - and, in my opinion, a curse on all humanity. But that's a religious opinion, so feel free to ignore that part of it.

Mark Plus writes:

This just goes to show that Tom Leykis's advice to men, especially financially successful ones who want to preserve their wealth, applies doubly so to male cryonicists: Treat women like sexual temp workers. Men who marry women, let women move in with them, pay women's expenses (student loans, credit card bills, etc.), get women pregnant and have to pay child support at the point of a gun and so forth, unnecessarily make themselves hostages to people who don't respect their values and don't have their best interests in mind.

Shannon vyff writes:

This was an interesting part of the blogosphere to read. Right off I feel the need to point out to everyone here that there are many women who are cryonicists. I'm the mother of 3 who is the initiative for cryonics in my marriage, with my husband only tacitly agreeing. Secondly I'm not sure why the fact that cryonics can be inexpensive was not brought up, but you can get preserved for 28,000 at CI. I purchased a million dollars of insurance coverage for my husband when he was 30, and it is 322.91 a month, universal investment based--non term insurance. This coverage gives extra money for our family, and for other causes he supports after his suspension. Most people who are currently stored at cryogenic temperatures are whole body, CI only accepts whole body. Alcor, has both. Third, I have a christian cryonicist friend who feels that it is up to God if it works or not, yet her husband is not interested in doing it--she's been worrying about this and trying to persuade him for years, and isn't sure what she should do.

Here is a petition I created where many people express their views about cryonics;

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