X-Message-Number: 32975
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 2010 20:55:47 -0700
Subject: A feature that won't appear in Cryonics magazine-1
From: Charles in Arizona <>

Preamble and Explanation

I started writing for _Cryonics_ magazine in 1992, and have continued
intermittently since then, even after I ceased to be an Alcor member.
My most recent piece, published in the magazine dated 4th Quarter
2009, speculated that "growth advocates" such as Ray Kurzweil may lack
sufficient evidence to support their predictions. I wondered whether
some of Kurzweil's exponential curves may eventually turn out to be
S-shaped, which would significantly delay the development of molecular

After the article was published, I heard that one Alcor director was
very unhappy about it. A supervisory editorial board was created,
consisting of himself and another person. The board was subsequently
expanded to four people, and when the editor notified them that he had
accepted a new article of mine a few weeks ago, the board reviewed it.

They requested changes, which I was reluctant to make. The supervisory
board then declined to approve publication of my text.

This was my first rejection from _Cryonics_ in 18 years, and came as a
surprise, because I didn't think that what I had written was
especially controversial. My article examined cryonics history, made
some general inferences about a persistent tendency toward excessive
optimism, and suggested that this has had financial consequences.

Of course a writer is not necessarily the best person to judge his own
work, but you can decide for yourself whether my description of it is
fair. The text appears below, edited slightly to clarify a couple of
points and remove references to my previous feature for _Cryonics_
magazine, which CryoNet subscribers may not have read.

Note that although the editorial board reviewed my text, they did not
offer any feedback regarding accuracy. I have done my best in this
respect, but the text has not been subjected to the kind of fact
checking that would normally occur before print publication. I welcome
any corrections from people at Alcor who have access to information
that is unavailable to me.



by Charles Platt




1: Why Optimism Matters

At the risk of stating the obvious, optimism has enabled the most
important social and technical advances throughout history. From
inventors such as Nikolai Tesla or Robert Goddard, to those most
venerable optimists who wrote the Declaration of Independence (when
realists might have said, "Forget about it, you don't have a chance"),
we owe many of our freedoms and comforts to people who refused to
accept compromise or defeat. So--of course I see the need for

However, every trait has a down side, and our goal should be to
recognize that down side, and minimize it, while benefiting from the
up side. This is especially relevant in cryonics, because cryonicists
generally tend to be a very optimistic bunch, highly motivated to
defend their outlook, since lives are at stake. In fact their
determination to achieve and defend their goal results in optimism
that I think is so intense, I'm going to call it cryoptimism, which I
might define as rampant optimism flavored with a dose of hubris and a
dash of megalomania, sustained by fear of oblivion.

I don't think this is much of an exaggeration. Just look at the list
of concepts which almost every cryonicist accepts without much

     We believe, or hope, that we will die in such a way that
     immediate stabilization will be possible, even though
     only about one case in three conforms with this model.
     We trust our relatives not to interfere with our plans,
     even though there are countless examples where relatives
     have attempted, in some cases successfully, to withhold
     news of death, prevent cryopreservation, or seize the
     funding. If regulators, legislators, judges, police,
     hospital administrators, coroners, or other people in
     positions of authority try to prevent us from getting
     what we want, we believe we should be able to stop them.

     We assume that our organization will endure for decades,
     or even centuries, while maintaining us in stasis,
     regardless of natural disasters, possible periods of
     inflation, possible system failures, legal problems,
     legislative problems, regulatory problems, floods,
     fires, weather disturbances, terrorist acts, and other

     We expect scientists (or intelligent machines) to repair
     brain damage that may have been devastating on a
     cellular level, after which we will be revived and
     rejuvenated in a world that will welcome us, even though
     the amount that we have specifically set aside for
     repair and revival is, in many instances, zero.

I am fully aware of the arguments in favor of these assumptions.
Indeed my own relatively mild condition of cryoptimism encourages me
to accept them and give cryonics a try, especially since the
alternative is certain destruction. We should be aware, however, that
most people in the world would see this list as delusional. Indeed,
this may be the real answer to the perennial question, "Why don't more
people sign up for cryonics?" They don't sign up because they're too
skeptical--which is another way of saying that they are not optimistic
enough. Like it or not, we are at the far end of the bell curve where
optimism is concerned. (I still recall that when Robert Ettinger's
_The Prospect of Immortality_ was reviewed in _Science_ magazine, the
reviewer described him as "an utterly confused optimist.")

I find death infinitely depressing, so I'm happy to hang with a crowd
of hardcore rebels against mortality. The trouble is, like any
obsessional trait, cryoptimism can create tunnel vision. It refuses to
acknowledge barriers that may defeat its goal, and thus blinds people
to risks that should be obvious.

This is especially true when we deal with a perennial topic that
interferes with our ambitions. I am referring, of course, to money.


2: Money Should Not Be a Problem

As a technical journalist, I used to visit a lot of startups in
Silicon Valley, where I learned the importance of writing a business
plan. Typically the plan would include fundamentals such as the
proposed number of employees and their qualifications, the technical
challenges to be overcome, the probable rollout date, and the likely
revenue stream from customers buying the service or product. Most
essential of all, there would be projections of burn rate and the
probable time to reach break-even. These factors would be as important
for nonprofit organizations as for for-profits.

So far as I know, not a single cryonics organization has ever been
established along these lines.

In the early days, of course, it would have been impossible to find
conventional startup capital. There was some justification, back then,
for activists to pool their meager savings, round up some donations
and volunteer labor, and simply hope for the best. Still, unjustified
and unrealistic expectations remained the model for cryonics
organizations even in the 1990s, when CryoCare Foundation and its
service providers, BioPreservation and CryoSpan, were formed.

CryoCare was launched by a handful of unpaid volunteers with around
$10,000 in donations (maybe slightly less, because I seem to recall
that a couple of the checks bounced). BioPreservation did a great job
of itemizing its expenses to justify its billing, but its services
relied on the continuing availability of just one person, and I recall
that its facility was provided gratis by a benefactor. CryoSpan did
provide a short document predicting its own profitability, but
required that the number of cases should grow at many times the
highest rate ever recorded in cryonics history. This turned out to be
as unrealistic as any noncryoptimist would expect.

It seems to me that most cryonicists have been more concerned with
saving their lives than with fiscal responsibility. In fact, as I
spent time in cryonics organizations, I noticed something which I
would describe as the "Money Should Not Be a Problem" mindset. It went
more or less like this:

     We have enough cash to run our facility and do cases.
     That's the main thing.

     We'll do a lot of outreach and hope for some publicity--
     maybe from a famous case.

     If we do enough TV shows, we'll probably hook up with
     people who have real money. They will donate it or
     invest it, to save their own lives.

     While we're waiting for this to happen, we can always
     ask for help from our existing members (who will be
     motivated to make donations, because they want to save
     their lives too).

     Money should not be a problem, because cryonics is "too
     important to fail."

In recent years Alcor has made commendable efforts to put its
operations on a more fiscally prudent basis, and was always careful
about financing the future storage of patients. Nevertheless, as of
2010, the embarrassing fact remains that every cryonics organization
that ever existed has lost money. (The Cryonics Institute may object
to this statement, since I believe it enjoys a small surplus from each
case, but CI has hidden benefits such as a large building that was
paid for with a bequest, and only two paid employees, one of whom took
a massive salary cut when he accepted the job, and has stated publicly
that "I live like a monk." He would be difficult, if not impossible,
to replace.)

Alcor still depends on donations, and based on my conversations with
former employees, I think the belief that "Money Should Not Be a
Problem" may still lurk temptingly in the background--because money
always has turned up, somehow or other, year after year.


3: The Problem of Scalability

Suppose an organization has a strict rule that revenue from doing a
case can only be spent directly on that case, with the surplus going
into a Patient Care Trust. Now suppose that everyday costs of doing
business are not entirely covered by the other source of income, which
would be membership dues. You don't have to be an accountant to see
that the organization is taking a loss per member.

I suspect that this has been Alcor's situation for a very long time.
Traditionally, the answer has been "growth," but this brings to mind
the old joke about the salesperson in a New York camera store:

     CUstomer: "Moshe, how can you make a profit, selling a
     camera for $199 that costs you $201 wholesale?"

     Moshe (waving his arms for emphasis): "Volume! Volume!"

In reality, if each new member can only be accepted at a loss, more
members will create a bigger loss, unless there are economies of
scale. A review of Alcor's running costs compared with its membership
numbers suggests that there aren't any such economies of scale--at
least, not yet. Therefore, the cryoptimist mantra that "growth is
always good" is not necessarily true.

This is no problem so long as the number of wealthy donors increases
at the same rate as (or, ideally, faster than) the number of members.
In reality, however, one source of money has outweighed all others:
Life Extension Foundation. Will LEF continue to increase its annual
support indefinitely? The idea seems implausible. Thus we run into the
unwelcome proposition that donation is not necessarily scalable, and
money may indeed be a problem, no matter how strongly we feel that it
shouldn't. I have not seen much discussion of this, perhaps because
cryoptimists generally prefer to think about goals rather than
problems, and the easiest way to get rid of a problem is by applying
one of two tactics: the Quick Fix, or Delayed Delegation.

[Continued in the next CryoNet message.]


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