Bryan Caplan  

Cloning v. Cryonics

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Moral Failure?... Macro Doubtbook, Installment 6...
Which is more outrageous: cloning yourself and raising the clone as your son, or freezing your head in hope of achieving immortality?  Why?


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COMMENTS (22 to date)
Blackadder writes:

I would say cloning, because there is another person involved.

paul writes:

definitely cloning. its kinda creepy...

Adam Ozimek writes:

What do you think is a more outrageous, killing yourself or having an extremely late term abortion?

One is an autonomous decision that threatens only your well-being, in the other another person (or person-to-be) has their well-being at stake.

Jeff writes:

I would say cloning as well.

Most everybody wants to live longer; cryonics is just an expensive and somewhat long-shot idea for acheiving that end.

Most everybody wants to reproduce, too, but nature's already devised a pretty good way to do that! With that in mind, cloning yourself comes off as an exercise in narcissism.

Phil writes:

If you freeze your head in hopes of achieving immorality, and the way they do it is to read the frozen neurons and rebuild your pattern out of living material ... isn't that the same as cloning yourself?

rjs writes:

neither allow for evolutionary improvement in the species, but there's really nothing different from an asexual clone than an offspring by sexaul reproduction; cyrogenic preservation, on the other hand, in some kind of egocentric attempt to achieve immortality strikes me as obscene...

David C writes:

That's outrageous?

Eric Rall writes:

Cloning yourself is only outrageous if you treat the raising of the child as an exercise in narcissism, or if you abandon the child. If you treat the child as your son (or daughter, if you're female), it's just an unusual way of conceiving a child.

I don't see anything particularly outragous about cryonics, either. Sure, it's pretty unlikely that you'll ever be sucessfully revived, but there's nothing outrageous about spending your own money on a long-shot medical procedure to extend your life.

Travis writes:

Both are simply quests for personal immortality by individuals who have yet to attain enough maturity to conceive of immortality through their progeny (intellectual or blood, as one prefers).

Also see: Narcissism and Adolescence, Relationship Between.

Kevin Bob Riste writes:

I don't feel outraged at either result. I suppose the cloning result requires another person to overcome societal norm judgments whereas the other one is almost entirely a personal overcoming of societal norms. On the other hand, the risk to you in life extension is zero since you'd be dead anyway whereas the cloning entails a good deal of risk since human cloning is still in its infancy (if you will). Unless you're assuming we'll get that down and safe. Also, are we assuming the cloning doesn't require fetus culling? I don't care about that, but society clearly does. That alone could make it more outrageous since they both appear narcissistic but the risk and death are your own with life extension.

AMW writes:
Most everybody wants to reproduce, too, but nature's already devised a pretty good way to do that!

Nature has actually devised a few ways of reproducing, and cloning is one of them.

If you freeze your head in hopes of achieving immorality, and the way they do it is to read the frozen neurons and rebuild your pattern out of living material ... isn't that the same as cloning yourself?

No. Cloning produces a genetic copy. The clone doesn't take on any of the life experiences of the genetic donor. Cloning is copying ones' genes and letting them grow into a separate entity, while cryonics followed by uploading is copying one's mind. The two are pretty dissimilar, actually.

neither allow for evolutionary improvement in the species,

I don't think that's the case w/ cloning. Evolution occurs through mutation and selection. Among sexually reproducing species, the mutation must occur in a sex cell to be passed on to the offspring. But mutations can occur in somatic cells as well, and if the cell that DNA was culled from had any mutations, those would be passed on to the clone.

Apparently, though, sexual reproduction speeds up the process of spreading beneficial genes. So replacing sexual reproduction with cloning would certainly slow down human evolution.

Sam Wilson writes:

I don't really understand the question. I am outraged iff the negative externalities to a transaction stand a non-negligible chance of adversely affecting me. How in the world could either cryonics or cloning inflict anything remotely resembling substantial costs on me? Indeed, how could either practice inflict anything but negligible (given the implied moral adjustment time) cognitive costs on any even semi-rational agent? The cloning issue may present a (though with what I reckon to be a small) probability of being morally disruptive to living humans, but I have a hard time swallowing the argument that the technology will progress markedly faster than the zeitgeist. If Europe can overcome its shyness about "Frankenfoods" in less than a decade, I have to conclude that the median American can come to grips with siring one's own carbon copy, especially if the marketing campaign is fairly robust. If I can argue Walrasian equilibrium with a straight face, I can't very well ignore people's ability to adjust to mild reproductive weirdness (mild that is in comparison to, say, Octomom).

Nothing strange about cryonics though. At worst, some folks waste a bit of cash (or provide stimulus!) on a lark. Big whoop. Less to go to the IRS come the levying of the estate tax. The only arguments I've heard against cryonics are personal ones, along the lines of, "I don't want to be frozen because I doubt the decline in my current income will justify the probability-weighted expectation of my future utility". That's fine, but even the most ardent Objectivist would probably grant that this is a personal calculus, and therefore pretty darn tootin' subjective. The average lumpenprole would probably just shrug and admit that if it's your money, you can spend it how you want. It's my guess they'd object to the immediate discomfort of a pack o' clones runnin' about than to the distant mild threat of a horde of pseudo-zombies menacing their descendants.

Of course, I also tend to take Mankiw's critique of Ricardian Equivalence somewhat seriously, so there's that. It's not much of a stretch to apply the same reasoning to end-of-life... let's call it... plea bargaining.

I'm thinking Power Grid on Thursday.

bdm writes:

I find it incredibly annoying when people make sanctimonious comments claiming Robin and Bryan are narcissistic. I feel like I'm listening to some ascetic priesthood talk about how "unclean" everybody else is.

Curt writes:

I think what's creepy is the potential for extreme head games between father and cloned son - i.e. for the father to somehow think he 'knows' what's in the head of the son because they are genetically the same (and to act on that knowledge in weird psychological ways). And I guess this seems likely assuming the father is able to have children already - why is he cloning himself unless he thinks that this cloned son will be a 'special child'? - and how could the father avoid treating this son a little differently?

Dave writes:

Definitely cloning (although I think both should probably be legal).

The "immortality" promised by cloning is just much more dubious -- it's like "immortality" through children or art, more a metaphor than the real thing.

Cryonics promises immortality with continuity of consciousness (if that's a real thing), and while the point is debatable, at least there's some chance it might work.

If "outrageous" was meant to poll our moral senses, then neither strikes me as particularly outrageous. However, you may want to have a look at the Gene Wolfe novella, The Fifth Head of Cerberus (available in the new "Best of Gene Wolfe" collection).

Lo Statuz writes:

Cryonics is more outrageous. As far as I know, no one has ever been divorced for expressing a desire to be cloned.

ajb writes:

I think what's sad is that both Caplan and Hanson so lower their status in the eyes of the elite by promoting these ideas that their important economic ideas are likely to be less influential. Those impressed by their advocacy are likely to be of little help in promoting more market oriented ideas in today's social environment.

Philo writes:

'Outrageous' means *bad*, so the question is, Which is *worse*?

Neither is technically feasible right now, so the proper comparison is between freezing your head (primarily to preserve the pattern of neurons) and *preserving your DNA* (after your death) so that it can later be used in cloning. Preserving a frozen head is more costly than preserving a DNA sample, and cloning will be *much* easier to achieve--it will be achieved sooner, and will be much less expensive to implement--than cryonic reconstitution. So preserving one's DNA after one's death is less bad, because less wasteful of resources, than preserving one's frozen head.

This isn't exactly Bryan's question: he wants to talk about cloning oneself *while still alive*. But then the comparison should be with *having an emulation of oneself constructed while one is still alive*. Again, the latter would probably be more expensive, but I'd need some cost figures in order to answer the question.

Walter Sobchak writes:

Freezing is two bad bets in one.

First you are betting on the technology. We cannot freeze complex organisms and revive them right now. Will we be able to do so in the future? By the time we can, your frozen body may have spoiled due to freezer burn. Further, the future would also have to be able to reverse what killed you. It might not be possible, or worth their while.

The second bet is worse. Do you really think that people who did not know you, want to see you walk the earth again? Why? If you have no money, they will just be putting another person on welfare. Do you see where this going?

If you leave money with a trustee, it can be stolen, taxed, mis-invested, inflated away, or otherwise disappeared. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt tried to provide assets for their after lives. The tombs were looted in short order after their dynasty ended.

As for the clone, genetic identity does not equal personal identity. Nature has run this experiment in the form of monozygotic twins. They turn out to be different people. Your clone raised as your child will be similar to you, but not identical. Whether the two of you get along is up to you.

It is, as was said above, just another way of doing what has been done for millions of years by unskilled labor for no money.


Yancey Ward writes:
Both are simply quests for personal immortality by individuals who have yet to attain enough maturity to conceive of immortality through their progeny (intellectual or blood, as one prefers).

Well, no. You are confusing immortality with legacy. This is a common mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

Doc Merlin writes:

Um, why are either of these outrageous?

Oliver Beatson writes:

In terms of my own outrage, neither; is raising a human being who has the same genome as your own, any weirder than raising a human being who has a tiny amount less than 100% of your DNA? The only weirdness to the child, that I can see, would come from other people's reactions to the cloning, but I'd consider the child better off for evading the company of such people anyway. As for the frozen head thing, I fail to see the problem at all.

If you're asking for our predictions of the average person's outrage at either choice, I cannot imagine the average person (NB my experience is of here in the UK) having a particularly visceral repulsion from either, but that could be bias.

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