Cryonics and assumptions about identity

“Why Cryonics Makes Sense” obviously made sense to Tim Urban of WaitButWhy, and he makes a decent case for why it ought to make sense for the rest of us, too. Why suffer the shuffling off of the mortal coil if we can develop the technology to revivify the coil? Like all Urban posts, this one is witty, thoughtful and well-researched, but there is a strong sense that cryonics – the business of preserving people after death ahead of their future restoration to full health when the science is up to it– is simply a technical challenge rather than a starting line for some fundamental metaphysical probings on the meaning of human identity.

On a purely technical level, it certainly seems plausible that something will lurch forth out of the dry ice, just as the uploaded brains of the Martine Rothblatts and Ray Kurzweills of the world will enable downloads of something possibly reminiscent, to anyone around who might care to reminisce, of the original models. But to all of these people the question must be posed: just who precisely do they think they are, going off on all these assumptions as to who they might be when they wake up, or come off of their clouds? And this question is posed in the strictly literal and non-adversarial spirit of: “Really, folks: what precisely is it that makes you you?”

Of all the illusions and biases that shade and nuance human existence, perhaps the greatest is implicit in the declaration: “it is what it is”. Can eight billion people, squeezing their way together through time and space in a multiverse of fadings and becomings, somehow exist so independently of one another as to be each of them their own little “it”, so sure of their place in time as to inhabit their own little “is”? Might this seem from any point of cosmic objectivity to be a bit egocentric?

But surely not as egocentric as to suppose further that any one “it” that “is” might take a time out and rejoin life at some later date, by which time all those billions of its have been reshuffled beyond all recognition since that long-ago moment when our prodigal embarked upon a cryonic snooze, or was uploaded into the cybermist.

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