Deconstructing Future Shock
There is a growing consensus in the cryonics community that for many people it is not technical feasibility but fear of an unknown future that makes them uncomfortable with the idea of cryonics. In fact, to some the future is not just “unknown” but they fear that by the time they will be resuscitated their skills and knowledge will have become obsolete, they will no longer own any assets, and worse, all their family and friends will be dead and gone.
If we want to effectively counter these fears, or at least provide some reasons for optimism, we need to dig a little deeper into this issue. First of all, we should not treat all (potential) cryonics patients as a homogenous group. Someone who was cryopreserved in the mid-20th century will face a much longer period of nonparticipation in society than a young person who has just made cryonics arrangements and who will be cryopreserved at a time which is closer to the first resuscitation attempts. It should also be mentioned that the ease of adapting to a new society is itself a function of age. If history is any indication, younger people usually adapt more easily to a changing society.
Which in turn draws attention to a much neglected point about cryonics. Cryonics patients will be resuscitated in a youthful state without the typical challenges and ailments that are associated with old age. We should expect a resuscitated patient to have at least the youthful vigor and brain plasticity of a young person, albeit with perhaps more “wisdom.”
A credible cryonics organization will not have as its only mandate just to keep the patient in cryostasis but also to successfully rejuvenate the person and re-integrate him/her into society. It is important in our communication to emphasize that reintegration does not start after the person has been resuscitated but should start as soon as the patient has been placed in long term care. The person’s assets can be managed in a trust and real estate can be maintained, or acquired, to ensure it will be up-to-date to the prevailing era’s preferences and standards. If proper thought is given to this issue, the person should at least have access to a modern home and money in the prevailing currency of the time (if “money” as we know it has something like the same significance then).
The biggest worry, however, concerns the prospect of being introduced to an era with radically different morals, conventions, and forms of human interaction. There is a good reason to believe, however, that such changes might actually be quite modest. Our morality has been shaped over millions of years of evolution and it is not realistic to assume fundamentally different forms of morality will dominate in the next century, even if humans increasingly merge with technology.
All this still assumes that the cryonics organization does not play a proactive role in the mental re-integration of cryonics patients. I think that the longer that cryonics organizations will be around, and the closer we get to a time where advanced molecular medicine is feasible, the more thought will be given to minimizing future shock for cryonics patients. The aim of cryonics organizations is not just the restoration of a patient’s physical health but also his/her mental health—and that implies minimization of stress and alienation.
And what about friends and family? Will they not be left behind? Well, I think the more assurance about the future a cryonics organization can provide for potential members, the lower the threshold for whole groups of people to make arrangements. It will be the person who does not make cryonics arrangements who makes the odd, solitary, decision. At that point, the human tendency to conform will start working in our favor.
Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, February, 2015