X-Message-Number: 11983
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 15:16:38 -0700
From: Robin Hanson <>
Subject: Why Cryonics Isn't Popular (Maybe)

(Those of you who are convinced that social scientists couldn't
possibly know anything worthwhile, please ignore this message.)

I'm a cryonics customer and an economic theorist who has just 
spent the last two years trying to understand a wide range of
puzzling phenomena in health and health policy, including:

- Spending 14% US GDP on medicine, which has little marginal health value
- Medical spending acts like a luxury over time (as do leisure & education)
- People remarkably uninterested in private info on quality of medicine
- Yet people drive extra to big city hospital, respond to media consensus
- Married with kids buy more health care, controlling for stuff
- High status folks much healthier, controlling for medicine, behavior
- Placebo effect, where appearance of care induces health
- People remarkably unresponsive to info about health behaviors
- Large wage benefits from moderate drinking and drug use
- Kids start smoking if have few friends, regardless of number smoke
- More charities for health hits than for other big utility hits
- Paternalism is especially prevalent for health products
- Paternalism seems especially strong for those of low status
- Widespread feelings that rich shouldn't get more care than "rest of us"
- National health insure (NHI) opinions unrelated to econ/health expertize
- Europeans say have NHI for "social solidarity," but US less tempted
- Little support for international health care/insurance

The simple theory I came with to explain most of these puzzles also 
suggests an explanation for a puzzle of interest here:
- Minuscule interest in cheaply saving most lives via cryonics

A long if a bit dated description of my general theory is at 
http://hanson.berkeley.edu/showcare.pdf or .ps.  I'll summarize here.

In a social species like ours, it is very important to collect social 
allies, and to assure allies that you are likely to remain their ally. 
Activities like grooming and gossiping serve this function as well as other 
more obvious functions.  Frequent low-cost actions, however, only signal 
short-term allegiance; you might groom someone today and betray them 
tomorrow.  Infrequent high-cost actions, in contrast, signal long term 
allegiance, and are therefore of special importance.

For our ancestors, long-term allegiance signals included weddings, 
funerals, helping to build homes, war and revenge killings, and care for 
the sick and injured.  We have lost many old signals to alternative 
processes, however, and it seems difficult to create new signals. Thus 
great weight is placed on caring for the sick and injured as a signal 
of social allegiance; maybe we induce medical care not so much to make 
people healthy, but mainly just to show that we care.

Consider the analogy with a gift of chocolate, typically intended primarily 
to show one's generosity.  When you consider how much chocolate to buy, you 
don't ask "how hungry is she?"  Instead, you ask how much someone who 
didn't care as much as you would be willing to spend to make it appear that 
they cared.  And then you buy just a bit more.  Also, private signals about 
quality are mostly irrelevant.  For example, if she knows something about
the quality of the chocolate that she doesn't think you know, she won't use 
this to adjust her estimate of your generosity.

Individuals may pay for medicine mostly to convince groups of their 
loyalty, and groups may pay to convince individuals similarly.  This can 
explain many puzzles, including the low health value of medicine, and the 
lack of interest in private info about quality of medicine.  Together with 
a few simple auxiliary assumptions, it can also explain many other 
health puzzles.

This theory also suggests why people might be particularly uninterested in 
cryonics.  At present cryonics is something individuals buy for themselves, 
which if it works will transport them to an alien social world where they 
can do little to aid their current social allies.  That alien world seems
unattractive and downright scarry to most current allies, and spending all 
that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid current allies.  
Buying cryonics can then naturally be interpreted as symbolizing 
betrayal and abandonment.  And with medicine mostly being a symbolic 
purchase, people aren't in the habit of looking any deeper than that.

This suggests that cryonics is mainly going to be popular among people
who think of the distant future not as a scarry alien place, but as 
their home and social world, and especially among tight-knit groups of 
people who expect to move there together.  It suggests that perceptions 
of social fragmentation (such as when many split off from Alcor) are 
especially damaging, and that evidence of the effectiveness of cryonics 
technology is only marginally important.

I'd like to be wrong about all this, but I'm afraid that I'm not.

Robin Hanson  
RWJF Health Policy Scholar             FAX: 510-643-8614 
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884    
after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ. 

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