Is cryonicists’ selfishness distance induced?

Tyler‘s criticism of cryonics, shared by others including me at times:

Why not save someone else’s life instead?

This applies to all consumption, so is hardly a criticism of cryonics, as people pointed out. Tyler elaborated that it just applies to expressive expenditures, which Robin pointed out still didn’t pick out cryonics over the the vast assortment of expressive expenditures that people (who think cryonics is selfish) are happy with. So why does cryonics instinctively seem particularly selfish?

I suspect the psychological reason cryonics stands out as selfish is that we rarely have the opportunity to selfishly splurge on something so far in the far reaches of far mode as cryonics, and far mode is the standard place to exercise our ethics.

Cryonics is about what will happen in a *long time* when you *die*  to give you a *small chance* of waking up in a *socially distant* society in the *far future*, assuming you *widen your concept* of yourself to any *abstract pattern* like the one manifested in your biological brain and also that technology and social institutions *continue their current trends* and you don’t mind losing *peripheral features* such as your body (not to mention cryonics is *cold* and seen to be the preserve of *rich* *weirdos*).

You’re not meant to be selfish in far mode! Freeze a fair princess you are truly in love with or something.  Far mode livens our passion for moral causes and abstract values.  If Robin is right, this is because it’s safe to be ethical about things that won’t affect you yet it still sends signals to those around you about your personality. It’s a truly mean person who won’t even claim someone else a long way away should have been nice fifty years ago.  So when technology brings the potential for far things to affect us more, we mostly don’t have the built in selfishness required to zealously chase the offerings.

This theory predicts that other personal expenditures on far mode items will also seem unusually selfish. Here are some examples of psychologically distant personal expenditures to test this:

  • space tourism
  • donating to/working on life extension because you want to live forever
  • traveling in far away socially distant countries without claiming you are doing it to benefit or respect the locals somehow
  • astronomy for personal gain
  • buying naming rights to stars
  • lottery tickets
  • maintaining personal collections of historical artifacts
  • building statues of yourself to last long after you do
  • recording your life so future people can appreciate you
  • leaving money in your will to do something non-altruistic
  • voting for the party that will benefit you most
  • supporting international policies to benefit your country over others

I’m not sure how selfish these seem compared to other non-altruistic purchases. Many require a lot of money, which makes anything seem selfish I suspect. What do you think?

If this theory is correct, does it mean cryonics is unfairly slighted because of a silly quirk of psychology? No. Your desire to be ethical about far away things is not obviously less real or legitimate than your desire to be selfish about near things, assuming you act on it. If psychological distance really is morally relevant to people, it’s consistent to think cryonics too selfish and most other expenditures not. If you don’t want psychological distance to be morally relevant then you have an inconsistency to resolve, but how you should resolve it isn’t immediately obvious. I suspect however that as soon as you discard cryonics as too selfish you will get out of far mode and use that money on something just as useless to other people and worth less to yourself, but in the realm more fitting for selfishness. If so, you lose out on a better selfish deal for the sake of not having to think about altruism. That’s not altruistic, it’s worse than selfishness.

8 responses to “Is cryonicists’ selfishness distance induced?

  1. If cryonics is super-far and altruism is seen as more important in far mode, why isn’t buying cryonics for others seen as especially praiseworthy?

    Your list of ways in which cryo is far-mode seems too much of a coincidence unless cryo was somehow optimized for distance.

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    • Good question. Actually, I think it probably would be seen as praiseworthy, it’s just that cryo has never been marketed that way.

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    • Mitchell Porter

      “why isn’t buying cryonics for others seen as especially praiseworthy?”

      Because it’s not seen at all. The public image of cryonics is of individuals saving themselves.

      The psychological theory of near/far-ism seems like it’s just a big long list of items, filed under “near” or “far” by the theorists for a variety of reasons that don’t necessarily go together. I suspect that a sharper analysis would disaggregate the concepts somewhat. But anyway, I don’t believe hostility to cryonics is about hostility to “selfishness in far mode”. It’s about hostility to saving yourself from something to which everyone else is resigned. Of course, as a Celia Green acolyte from way back, I might be expected to produce such an interpretation.

      I wrote a little about it in comments here.

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  2. Pingback: Overcoming Bias : Cryonics is Very Far

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  4. “building statues of yourself to last long after you do”
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

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  5. Interesting, but I agree with Mitchell. It’s like hostility towards a kid who insists there is a Santa Claus.

    Yet, we don’t feel hostile towards people who play the lottery. Why is that?

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  6. Pingback: Why death for oneself, suffering for others? | Meteuphoric

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