You Bet Your Life!

Figure 1: Roulette is how almost everyone thinks of cryonics in terms of it being a gamble. The odds are what they are, they slim and they are heavily weighted in the House’s favor. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.


“Life is a gamble, a game we all play,

But you need to save something for a rainy day.

Don’t put it all on the line for just one roll

You’ve got to have an ace in the hole.

No matter what you do, no matter where you go

You’ve got to have an ace in the hole.”  – George Strait, “Ace in the Hole


Figure 2: The only way to beat the Devil is to outsmart him and out-bluff  him – as well as have a little luck on your side.

Cryonics is often referred to as a gamble, and it is. But the real question is, “just what kind of a gamble is it, anyway?”  Most people think of gambling as ‘all of piece,’ and most don’t think much of it. That latter opinion is one held for good reasons, not the least of which are that the odds are stacked against you, and the whole business can be highly addictive, as well as financially ruinous.  But as the country crooners tell us, “life is a gamble, a game we all play.” And in this case, it’s not a game we can opt out of for something better. We may not be willing gamblers, but we are gambler nonetheless. Neither moral superiority nor the most astute negotiations will get us out the game alive; the Devil doesn’t give a damn for clever argument, or contrary principle.

Because, like it or not, are in the game, it behooves us to examine how the game is played. While there are few concessions to our possible survival, the most important of these is that not all of the games we can stake our life on are created equal. Some of the gambles we are forced to make are existential, they’re like roulette or craps; we have no control over the odds, and about all we can control is how much exposure we have (and often not even that). Getting hit by a meteorite or struck by lightning are two classic examples of existential risk. However, it’s worth noting than even in these instances, with enough time and enough knowledge, we can very likely alter the odds in our favor.

Figure 3: Not all games are created equal and not all gaming venues offer the same odds. Good judgment and skill actually allow a few people to make a very good living playing poker.

Most people who are critical of, or who feel hopeless about cryonics, make the mistake of assuming that cryonics is a fixed odds proposition, like rolling dice or dropping the ball on a spinning roulette wheel. This erroneous assumption is tied up with their mistaken perception of cryonics as a fully developed product. They think of cryonics as a discrete, consumable item, like a bag of crisps, a candy bar, or even a computer, or a radio. Or they think of lit ike an automobile maintenance contract, or an insurance policy that pays off when you need it.

It isn’t.

All of those products and services can be assigned, with a high degree of precision, a probability of how they will perform and what your likelihood is of being satisfied with them. They are fully developed products. And mostly, all you need to know about them is present, free for the asking in the culture, in the form of “common knowledge,” information from friends and family, and, of course from advertising. You pay your money and that’s it. Nobody needs to explain to you, or to anyone else, what a TV or broom or is for, how to use them, and what might go wrong with them over time.

This is no way describes cryonics.

So the first side-benefit you get by making cryonics arrangements is that you now have a proprietary interest in learning what it is that you just bought! What’s more, you will soon become aware that you need to keep learning, because cryonics is an undeveloped, immature, and above all experimental technique.  I signed up with the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY) when I was 15 years old. CSNY is long, long gone, and I’ve been signed up with 2 other organizations that have also vanished. This kind of dynamicity is likely to continue, and it may well continue even after suspended animation is perfected; longevity in corporations is likely much more of a crapshoot than the technical feasibility of cryonics itself. So, if you can’t keep learning until old age or cardiac arrest overtakes you, you are unwilling to do so, or you are an idiot, then cryonics is definitely not for you.

Because non-cryonicists have the view of cryonics as a developed product (like an automobile or a light bulb,) they have a similarly inaccurate and warped view of the odds. The odds of the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1,517 lives were 100% on 15 April 1912. But, what if the Titanic were to have taken, say, 12, 24, or 48 hours to sink? Depending upon how the passengers and crew behaved in that interval, the number of lost lives might go way up, or way down.

There were a lot of smart people on board the Titanic – very clever and very inventive people. There were also a veritable army of craftsman and skilled laborers locked up in steerage. But they were all panicked and they had very little time to react. Given a longer interval and the willing participation of the best minds and the most able hands aboard that ship, how many people need have died, or would have died? Were there ways, other than the optimal loading of the inadequate number of lifeboats that would have saved lives? Would clothing those passengers consigned to the icy sea in multiple layers of clothing saturated in grease, shortening, or oil, attaching them to life-ropes, and rotating them in and out of the lifeboats, have saved additional lives? What kind of makeshift lifeboats or floating platforms could have been made on an expedient basis from materials on the ship, thus allowing additional passengers to remain afloat and out of the freezing water?

Figure 4: The House Edge (HE), or vigorish, is the profit the casino makes by altering the odds in its favor. The HE varies from venue to venue and sometimes from time to time in the same venue. The HE is analogous to the “negatives” your cryonics organization brings to the table.

Two examples of gambling where the odds are not fixed and where skill, as well as luck, often makes the difference between success and failure are poker and blackjack. But even there, the odds can be considerably improved if the player understands the concept of the House Edge. The House Edge (HE), or vigorish, is defined as the casino profit expressed as a percentage of the player’s original bet. (In games such as Blackjack the final bet may be several times the original bet, if the player doubles or splits.) If you look at Figure 4 you can see that the HE can vary quite a lot from casino to casino. A good way to think of the HE is to think of it in terms of the likelihood of success or failure your choice in cryonics service providers is likely to have on your overall chances of cryonics working for you (and thus of your survival).

Unfortunately, the HE isn’t posted over the door of any cryonics organization and it’s up to you, as the thoughtful gambler, to figure the HE out for yourself. That won’t be easy to do and the best way to do it is to have a strong and ongoing incentive to keep working on a solution to the problem. Being signed up is the thing that is most likely to provide the requisite proprietary interest and the necessary experience and information. After all, one of the things you are paying for by being signed up is regular updates, newsletters and other information services from your cryonics organization. Those things provide extraordinarily good feedback about the vitality and the competence of the organization you’ve chosen. And they also serve to generally educate you about cryonics.

What the public, and what all too many cryonicists need to learn about cryonics is that the odds are not fixed to those that are calculated at any given point in time, because, in large measure, you are not carting off a discrete product to screw into your lamp, to process your words, or to play your video games on. You set the odds of success or failure to an amazing degree. [You also do this as an individual, to a tiny degree for the success or failure of the company that you buy a light bulb, or a computer from.] Cryonics is thus an activist proposition. Customers can, of course, be customers – if they insist.  But in cryonics, as in any other market transaction, perfected or experimental, you get what you pay for. In the case of cryonics, the fees required for success are not even remotely reducible to cold hard cash, alone.

Figure 5: How many more would have survived if there had been 12, 24, or 48 hours to prepare instead of 2, before the Titanic sank? The odds of survival in a life or death situation are a result of the complex interplay between the time available, the physical resources, the human resources, the absence of panic and lastly, chance.

It’s a regrettable analogy, but a valid one, that we are very much like passengers aboard a slowly sinking Titanic. The Titanic was a microcosm of the very best of early 20th century technology. It was comprised of a vast range of materials and it was equipped with a maintenance shop stocked with the finest tools of the era. But most importantly, it was equipped with some of the finest technological minds of the time, as well as with many able craftsmen. Even in the time allotted, the ~2 hours between the time the time it was first understood that the ship was sinking, and the time it slipped beneath the waves, had there been order, a willingness to accept the gravitas of the situation, and full use of the minds and hands on board, the loss of life would have been a fraction of what it was.

Figure 6: We are gambling for our lives; the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Do you want to win, or lose?

Lose and we die. Draw and we stay cryopreserved and waiting, Win and we get a chance at indefinitely long life and a wild and wonderful universe to live it in!

It’s going to take all the composure, good judgment and raw intelligence we can muster to beat the House at this game.

The only question now is, “Are you in, or out?”

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37 Responses to You Bet Your Life!

  1. unperson says:

    mike wrote:

    Most people who are critical of, or who feel hopeless about cryonics, make the mistake of assuming that cryonics is a fixed odds proposition, like rolling dice or dropping the ball on a spinning roulette wheel. This erroneous assumption is tied up with their mistaken perception of cryonics as a fully developed product. They think of cryonics as a discrete, consumable item, like a bag of crisps, a candy bar, or even a computer, or a radio. Or they think of lit ike an automobile maintenance contract, or an insurance policy that pays off when you need it.

    Again, here we run into this same logical fallacy that cryonicists always seem to commit–thinking that what people say about cryonics is actually indicative of the real reasons why they do not sign up for cryonics. People do not operate on logic, not outside of discrete, well defined areas such as math, programming, and …gambling.

    Cryonics is in the same realm as RELIGION. We are operating in the realm of superstition, of FEELINGS.

    What people SAY is not the same as what they FEEL. And what they FEEL is the operative force in their behavior.

    So therefore the rest of your spiel on the logic of cryonics is pretty much moot. That is, if you care anything about the 99.99 percent of americans. Which you and other cryonicists do not, from what I can tell. Cryonics has carved out a pretty little fiefdom for itself based on the .01 percent.

    I say this not as criticism of you or of cryonics. I love cryonics. I am signed up. It is the only game in town. I love you for helping bring this cryonics thing to fruition.

    But I have to say this because it is so evident to me.

    Because non-cryonicists have the view of cryonics as a developed product (like an automobile or a light bulb,) they have a similarly inaccurate and warped view of the odds. The odds of the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1,517 lives were 100% on 15 April 1912. But, what if the Titanic were to have taken, say, 12, 24, or 48 hours to sink? Depending upon how the passengers and crew behaved in that interval, the number of lost lives might go way up, or way down.

    They are not failing to sign up because of their perception of the odds. THey are failing to sign up because it is taboo to address these issues in the way cryonics is addressing them.

    ….snipping analysis aimed at .01 percent of all Americans…

    • admin says:

      You’ve said this many, many times before here (to the point of it being non-productive and wearing). And to a fair extent I agree with.
      However, quite apart from “religion,” into which you mistakenly lump all emotional, authority driven, or otherwise non-rational decision making, there are many other factors in play.

      For instance, I’ll tell you a ‘secret.’ If cryonics were where it is in the US today (with the solid biomedical expertise and credibility it had in the 1980s) in the Russian speaking countries, you’d very likely see it as a small, but respectable and unassailable part of the medical infrastructure. In other words, some physicians would recommend it to SOME of their patients. There would also, IMHO, very likely be a low-end CI version offered to the Plebeian market. You might best think of it as the divide that exists between people with real money who are “in the know” in the West, and almost everyone else. While I was editing a book chapter yesterday, or the day before, the TV was running and Ms. Oprah Winfrey was interviewing the model Christie Brinkley.

      I had no idea who Christie Brinkley is and could have cared less until the subject of her longevity as a high paying model and her age, entered into the discussion. She is 57 years old. At which point I glanced at the screen, which is next to my work area. This is what I saw:

      Ms. Winfrey then asked Ms. Brinkley how she managed to look so incredibly young and firm for her age. The answer: a vegetarian diet, good genes, and a good DERMATOLOGIST. Sure, and if you believe that…
      Since my partner is a Seventh Day Adventist, I know lots of vegetarians who are in their mid-50s, and older. And while they do, on average, look better than the rest of the population, none looks like Ms. Brinkley. And while dermatology is of some little help, it is powerless against the turkey neck, the skeletal hands, the nasolabial folds, the over-sized nose and the creased forehead. And unless she has genes that have been ENGINEERED, they are of little use in making a 57 year old woman look like she does.

      I know a fair number of good, really good, plastic surgeons reasonably well. Regrettably, not well enough to get them to work on me for free, or even at a price you could afford. Ms. Brinkley, in my not so humble opinion, has had work done, LOTS of work, and lots of very, very good work. To appreciate how good, you need to see her close up and in motion. If you do, you are easily looking a $250,000 to $500,000 (or more) worth of highly skilled surgical and non-surgical procedures. And if she’s had Botox, she’s had very little and it was done a la the European style – which avoids the “frozen face” look.

      THAT kind of work is simply unaffordable to middle class Americans – and it needs frequent tweaking. The work on her neck is brilliant – there are maybe a dozen surgeons in the US, if that, who can do that. And it is worth every penny, because she is still the model for one of the leading cosmetics companies and she still makes the cover of Vogue. AND SHE IS AN OLD LADY!

      I take this long digression, because the public has some vague awareness that this is now possible and that some people do it, but they don’t yet perceive it as socially acceptable in their cohort – and in no way could they afford it. And anything less than excellent in cosmetic surgery is mostly awful. The art of the work on Brinkley’s is that if you didn’t know her age, you’d BELIEVE she was much younger, and you would find her attractive (if she was your type).

      There are a lot of rich, indeed very rich cosmetic surgeons, and not all of them are good, let alone excellent. I should also hasten to add that there are an increasing number of non-surgical procedures which greatly improve the appearance in well done surgery AND decrease the extent of the work that needs to be done. The point is, “Mrs. Smith” in Tuscaloosa, never even hears about these options from her family doc, and even ladies (and men) with a little money to spent on cosmetic surgery ($10K to $20K) have no clue as to what is really available, and where to get it. There’s no point, because they can’t afford it. And what’s more, they don’t have the TIME required for it. And so it will go with cryonics in places where the culture is already primed for it.

      I fully understand your position – but you don’t seem to be able to grasp mine. First, I’m not even remotely interested in selling or proselytizing cryonics to ANYONE, including my friends and family. I lost all interest in that sometime in the mid-1990s, if not before. I am especially not interested in selling cryonics to the masses, for the same reason that, were I a superb “aesthetic surgeon,” I would be uninterested in running ads on TV, or having detailed media or magazine expose’s done of what I can do. It is technology that only very sophisticated customers can understand and comply with, and which almost no one can afford. What’s more, they don’t NEED it. No one else in their cohort gets it done, it won’t extend their lives, and it may well slightly shorten them.

      My interest is to provide the tools of persuasion to others that WILL work on a small subset of the population – and most importantly, to recruit a small base of people who are necessary to do what needs being done right now – and that does NOT involve mass conversions, or even the “conversions” of thousands, let alone tens of thousands of people. That would likely be counterproductive at the present, because there is no professional infrastructure, no regulation, no truly and no well designed and stable corporate structure to deal with a large influx of CUSTOMERS. That would be the equivalent of advertising for passengers to take a luxury cruise to the Bahamas, when what your fleet consists of is a couple of clapped out and leaking old yachts. All you will end up with, at best, is a mass of angry and lawyer-up people, and at worst, a maritime disaster and capital murder charges. No thanks. I’ll leave that bit of business to the dynamos of marketing cryonics to the masses. — Mike Darwin

      • unperson says:

        a handful of acolytes and a couple of rich cryonicists, then?

        Sounds like a recipe….but for what? I am interested in a cryonics that will be cheap because it has thousands of members and has economies of scale. And no lawsuits because it is religion-based.

        Cheap, so I can stop working.

        As it currently stands cryonics has no economies of scale, and we have to pay too much. And the way that you envision it, the non-rich would have to be acolytes who sacrifice their lives to work for pennies and sleep in the patient care bay.

        I am looking at it from my point of view. You are looking at it from an entirely different point of view. I think there are more people who look at it from my point of view.

        Besides, which a cryonics org with large membership has more political power.

        • admin says:

          It costs about $800 for a 7 day 6 night luxury cruise on a line like Carnival. You will eat very nice food, have mediocre (but live) entertainment, a pool, passable pizza and ice cream 24/7 and lots of much better food, if you prefer. If don’t drink or gamble this just about all it will cost you, unless you are addicted to kitsch souvenirs or overpriced T-shirts. I’ve not paid for such cruises (and wouldn’t), but I’ve been on them. The service is astonishing and you needn’t tip. The guests are boring (except for sex), but the crew are fantastic – literally from 20 -30 nations. The decor is gauche, but was hideously expensive. And ALL of this is going on AT SEA! That means massive refrigerators and freezers, massive generators, a MASSIVE galley filled with skilled food prep people and two top-notch chefs. It means HVAC, water and waste treatment, sophisticated aviation, fire suppression, life boats, and on and on and on. And even if its plebeian luxury, it is bloody well luxury and it becomes unthinkably profligate luxury when you realize it is not happening on land, but AT SEA!!!!!

          Now, consider that the MEDIAN cost of keeping prisoner in a US prison is ~ $47.00 per month and in a Federal Prison it is ~ $75.00/mo. On the face of it, turning the prison system over to Carnival or Cunard would make for much happier prisoners. But, as it turns out, that $800 is an illusion, because by all sorts of clever cost shifting and exploitation of vices and foibles, the cruise lines make their money from booze and gaming. There are economies of scale, of course, but they too are largely a function of the ability to dodge costly regulation. In no way could these enterprises operate under US or EU regulations – and they’ll frankly tell you so,

          Similarly, the idea of “economies of scale” with widespread adoption of cryonics is a MYTH. The 1990 Alcor article, “The Cost of Cryonics” and the accompanying tabular breakdown of the actual marginal costs that was used, in part, to generate the scenario above, were done by me in 1989-1990. [And you will note they have not been repeated since ;-0] If you look closely at that article you’ll also note that there is a disclaimer at the start which says, “these opinions are mine and do not represent those of Alcor…” That was there because the management was not happy with my projections, and instead backed those of Ralph Whelan If you go to page 10 of Ralph’s article you’ll see the projected growth rate for Alcor. The article also contains projections for “post-start-up” economies of scale. If you actually take the trouble to look at where Alcor is today, versus the “anticipated” numbers in that article, you’ll see that just about every assumption made was wrong. A short while ago, Brian Wowk tersely informed me during a phone call that my projections, if adjusted for inflation, constitute the actual current rate at which Alcor charges for cryopreservation services. I’m not sure if this is true, or not, because I haven’t bothered to re-run those numbers.

          What is interesting in considering the many discussion on the issue of economies of scale is that all these various cost estimates don’t take into account the social and political context in which they are supposed to operate. Cryonics is very expensive if it is practiced as a high technology endeavor aimed at minimizing the extent of damage from ischemia and from cryopreservation. And that was in the absence of skilled professionals who would be vulnerable to malpractice judgments, doing the procedures. When my estimates were done in the late 1980s, reasonably skilled, but non-professional people were available to minister to cryonics patients. Any global scale-up of cryonics would have to factor in not only professionals’ fees and associated costs (including expensive and time consuming EDUCATION & TRAINING, licensing, regulation, litigation, etc.), but also the complex infrastructure required to implement such a technology on a widespread basis.

          If you do that, for instance,by looking at the cost to provide EMS services to people in the US or the UK, you will find it is staggeringly expensive, and that far from there being economies of scale, the costs rise, dramatically and in fact rise disproportionately as you try to cover more and more people (thus, cost-shifting). If you posit making Universal Cryonics a reality at a high level of technology, then you can easily bound the cost by simply using the existing medical system as your model. How much does it cost to respond to and to and transport a patient in cardiac arrest to a hospital ED? Add to that say, ~ $5,000 for ischemia-reperfusion medications and for en-route cooling. Then, figure out how much a typical Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) costs today and add to that ~ $25,000 for cryoprotectants, associated IP licensing, and for extended use of the OR for CPA perfusion. From there, you can try to figure cool-down costs. If you like, you can just plug in existing numbers for cool-down. What you’ll find if you do this is that cryonics will cost about $170,000 to $250,000 for just the up-front part of the procedure. And that is being very, very conservative and assuming that automation can be used to pinch hit for expensive human labor.

          The only place where there is a reasonable possibility for economies of scale is in storage. Mostly, those economies of scale have already been reached by Alcor and CI for the type of storage they are using. In other words, if you want further economies of scale you have to build BIG, because the only way you get more efficient is by exploiting the reduction in heat leak that is to be had by decreasing the surface to volume ratio of your cryogenic storage system. That can most efficiently be done by building very large spherical storage vessels. Of course, practical considerations will kick in at some point and, unless you want to build gigantic storage vessels that you just pitch patients into like cord wood, you’ll need a way to access individual patients at will. This requirement greatly constrains the simplicity of the engineering it is possible to use, and thus increases the costs. Still, I would guess that you might halve existing neuro storage costs. Not so for whole body costs.

          Finally, once you have a society that takes cryonics seriously, not only are they going to start suing for bad care, they are going to want protections to be present against sudden, undetected cardiac arrest and against myriad other contingencies that could frustrate cryopreservation and that will also increase cost. Finally, they are going to want protection against existential risks to cryopreserved patients. Consider the situation today with nuclear power plants. These energy generating pieces of infrastructure are very dangerous if mishandled, sabotaged, or subjected to fire, earthquake, flooding, or any of a number of other man-made or natural calamities. As a consequence, these plants are subject to very costly uber-engineering AND REGULATION. And even with such costly precautions, they are still sadly vulnerable, as recent experience attests.

          Completely leaving aside the issue of how securely people will want to store their cryopreserved relatives, there can be little doubt about how securely they will want to store themselves once they are in a vulnerable, and indeed completely helpless state. That means a level of engineering that is at least comparable to, or better than that currently employed in nuclear power installations. And there will be pragmatic limits on economies of scale, because few sane people would buy off on the idea of 4 or 5 mega-regional storage facilities for the whole planet, or even for the whole of the US.

          The take home message is simple. Barring absolutely “Singularity-style” improvements in technology and wealth, cryonics is going to not only remain an expensive proposition; it is going to get a lot more expensive it it is widely adopted. For a mature, “universal cryonics procedure” in the framework of existing/foreseeable technology, my guess would be that the cost would be between $500,000 and $750,000 per person in the West, and perhaps half of that in the Developing World – but with a lot more risk (no hardened storage facilities, more risk of unattended death, and so on).

          If you pull cryonics out of the context of a “universal, mainstream operation,” then costs could be very different.

          In the meantime, unless YOU can produce specific hard data with REAL NUMBERS to show otherwise, don’t try to bullshit anyone here with the economies of scale argument. That hound died on the track .15 years ago. – Mike Darwin

          • unperson says:

            but under the aegis of tax-free, regulation-free religion, and with far more skilled volunteers available in each and every large city, cryonics could become something radically different, radically more successful, radically more powerful, radically more longlasting and crisis-resistant.

            Just speculation. But speculation is the mother of…something….

          • admin says:

            Speculation is mostly the mother of gossip, rumor and innuendo.It is different from hypothesis in that hypothesis is a data based possible idea of how the world works (i.e., consistent with the known facts) that MUST be followed by EXPERIMENT to have merit. Speculation is always an armchair business, like Rush says in the song: “Armchair rocket scientist…” Why no one (and it is NO ONE, takes you seriously is that you never do any experiments, you never check for feedback. I guess you don’t realize it, but I am tracking what I do here in many ways. I check the statistics on WordPress, I look at a wide variety of stats generated by Wikipedia and other websites, and I check lots of related or relevant websites & blogs. I also have a “hit list” of influential people whom I monitor to see if any of my ideas here have surfaced/spread. And of course, I look at who is writing/contacting me privately, and i score them based on a PROSPECTIVE system I set up in advance. If I don’t get the results I’ve prospectively set for myself as NECESSARY, I will 1) change my tactics and 2) try something completely different, if necessary. THAT IS SCIENCE and it WORKS.

            You just keep insisting you are right and everyone else is wrong. So does every kook and crank that’s ever walked the earth. Get some fucking results. It’s just that simple. Hell, when I was but a lad a I knew a guy named Jim Jones, in Indianapolis. Smart, charismatic, seemingly caring. Working hard to help the poor… He was an evil maniac, but at least no one can argue that he did not get results! He started out working within the Indianapolis government/charity set up, and when that chafed, he he left for California & founded The People’s Temple. But the one thing I can tell you, was that he was all about the numbers, all about what was needed to get where he wanted to go, and ALL ABOUT RESULTS. All you do is post criticisms and vaporous suggestions here. You don’t even do the most basic thing that serious people with an idea, a dream, or a hypothesis do, and that is to start a web site, a blog, or publish a newsletter, or stand on a street corner. There are no new ideas or clever or novel representations of the one idea you have. There are no details. So people just laugh at you when they are in a good mood, are irritated when they are not, and consider you a crank 100% of the time.

            There are two PROOFS that this true. The first, is that you keep posting to a place where not a single soul responds to you favorably – I come closest by using you as a foil. The second, is that you neither seek nor monitor feedback, let alone respond to it. It’s sad, it’s like a parrot that has a limited vocal repertoire. But even a parrot expects a cracker or a treat for its performance. I guess the reward for you is just to be noticed and responded to, even it is all NEGATIVE. That’s very sad. to me, but then it is your life. I guess it’s lucky you have cryonics, because one of the downsides of cryonics is that if you like, you can simply sidestep that grim but important question: when my life is over, what can I say I did that meant anything, or was anything worthwhile – not just to other people, but to MYSELF. If that moment ever comes for you, I hope that you really are incapable of seeing feedback and progress, because it will be a horrible awakening at the worst possible time – when there is nothing to be done for it.

        • Fundie says:

          I am looking at it from my point of view. You are looking at it from an entirely different point of view. I think there are more people who look at it from my point of view.

          Perhaps you should have your own blog for your point of view, then.

          I am interested in a cryonics that will be cheap because it has thousands of members and has economies of scale. And no lawsuits because it is religion-based.

          Cheap, so I can stop working.

          Well, goodness. I want a pony, myself. If you really want to achieve these goals, I think you need to go further than you are going. I haven’t seen you do much other than insist that other cryonicists should see things from your point of view, insist that your appraisal of the situation is objectively correct, and condemn those who do not take the actions you desire as being “uncaring” on the basis of the idea that they agree with your appraisal and choose not to act.

          I don’t see you as having much hope of achieving your goals, because you do not do anything to achieve your goals other than argue, and also because you come across as profoundly disrespectful of religious viewpoints. When you write from a religious point of view you sound like you are writing mocking satire, because your attitude of profound disrespect prevents you from empathizing with the point of view of your audience. But you maintain that what you are writing is something that you think religious people will accept.

          Mike Darwin is an atheist and a homosexual and he comes across as far more respectful of religious people than you are. Orders of magnitude more respectful. Even in the face of the fact that religious viewpoints motivate some people to be a danger to cryonics and thus to his own life. I frankly don’t know how he does it, but you could learn a lot from him.

          • admin says:

            “Mike Darwin is an atheist and a homosexual and he comes across as far more respectful of religious people than you are. Orders of magnitude more respectful. Even in the face of the fact that religious viewpoints motivate some people to be a danger to cryonics and thus to his own life. I frankly don’t know how he does it…”

            Once you realize what death is, if you have any empathy at all, then you realize why there is religion in the world. And once you realize what the undiluted,and unmitigated awareness of death does to a human being bereft of hope, then, if you have even a bit of common sense, you are grateful that religion has existed. A world of 6 billion crazy people is bad enough, a world of 6 billion angry, raving mad people, bereft of any prospect of rescue or succor, is terrifying. And that leaves the issue of social controls, in the forms of religious morality, out of the equation. [And please, don't lecture me about rationality and rationalist thinking; as a species we just figured out the most primitive rules of physics and biology (evolution) an eye blink ago, and the year I was born (1955) 44% of the world's population were illiterate (the number is now somewhere between 16 & 20% and rising).]

            Finally, once you understand how venal, cruel, prejudiced and otherwise (despicably) human gay people can be, then, if you have a lick of sense, you understand that mostly discriminatory behavior is an integral part of human nature, and that if you put those on the bottom on top, they’ll be just as nasty as those they replaced, in less than a heartbeat.

            The only rational responses to these realizations are compassion and a commitment to change things for the better – if we can only figure out how. — Mike Darwin

      • unperson says:

        and there is another issue here: who is right?

        There is such a thing as truth, and there is evidence, and data.
        I think these things support my viewpoint. But you do not seem interested in the truth, but instead you seem interested in building your type of cryonics org. But for whose benefit?

        • admin says:

          Where is your evidence, and most importantly, WHERE ARE YOUR DATA? Here is the item by item breakdown for a cryopreservation circa 1989: That cost has actually risen substantially, due to vitrification – about $15,000 (minimum) for whole body. Here is the accompanying article:

          Nowhere are costs for liability, malpractice, education, licensing, regulation, or technological advance figured in. Dollar adjusted storage costs have remained close, to the same for these reasons:

          1) Superinsulation technology is achingly close to the theoretical limit of efficiency achievable in insulation. In fact, it is so good that you can engineer a little 45 liter dewar to hold LN2 for a YEAR without refilling. And it isn’t that expensive, either. Once you get to the $0.20/L price for LN2 your price isn’t going to go any lower.

          2) Liquid nitrogen costs are ridiculously low and in no way reflect the cost of what it really takes to convert gaseous nitrogen in the atmosphere to a liquid at -196 deg C. The real price of LN2 (in bulk at the best negotiated price) should be ~ $0.75 to $1.00 per liter. Paradoxically, increasing demand via cryonics will RAISE the cost of LN2 dramatically, because it will absorb the “waste” LN2 produced as a result of liquefying oxygen and the noble gases, and it will require the construction of costly new infrastructure that will have to be amortized. So, be sure to figure those costs into your calculations. BTW, I believe CI/Alcor pay an averaged price of $0.25/L; that is ONE THIRD the real cost of producing a liter of milk! Unbelievable!

          3) Storage is not being pursued in a credibly sustainable way, and in the case of CI the cost is, IMHO, misleading low because they are massively underpaying for labor, and other real world costs. They have not yet entered the real world of employee hell. But they will – and they will do so as a DIRECT result of adding patients as customers. They will also soon face many of the assorted other horrors that normal businesses face and which drive up costs.

          4) Both Alcor and CI have cost shifted like mad to keep their prices where they are. If members didn’t leaver them millions to subsidize their working operations, they’d be out of business, or look a lot different than they do now. The ratio of gift/subsidy to deficit will fall off massively as “universality” is approached. If you want to see the proof of this, consider hospitals, which ran as much or more on charitable giving, especially bequests, as they did on fee paying patients until the 1950s-60s. Watch the Clift-Hepburn-Taylor movie SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER and pay attention to Violet Venable, if you doubt this. Even in highly “efficient” healthcare systems such as the UK’s or New Zealand’s, healthcare is economically devastating. This is with hidden rationing and a lot of triage. Did you know that if you smoke in the UK they won’t do bypass surgery on you – not even if you are in constant agony and dying without it? You must be (tested) smoke free for 6 months before you get scheduled and it can take 3-6 months for the surgery. And if you are obese, well, boy have I got news for you – whole menus of healthcare options disappear – only mostly you’ll never know it. I personally arranged for a porter at a hotel in Manchester to get a CABG – he couldn’t quit smoking and he was dying. It is possible to work the system a little, but you have to know it is possible and how to do it (he knew neither).

          Healthcare economies of scale? Where the hell are they? We’re at 17.6% of the US GPD now! And as a final aside, in a lot of rural communities in the US, they’ve shut down the small regional medical facilities and canned paramedic staffed ambulances. Have a major heart attack or stroke in Ash Fork, AZ, and you will wait 1-hour just to get to the hospital. You can forget about TPA or emergent coronary revascularization. You are going to be either dead, a cardiac cripple, or paralyzed. Give me a break! — Mike Darwin

          • unperson says:

            the biggest advantages of a much larger membership would be the wider range of expertise of volunteers. Suppose 1 in 500 people in America has a certain skill, call it Skill X, that is costly for cryonics. At our current membership level of about 1500 people or so, we have 3 members who have that skill. But are they available to donate that skill to their cryonics org? Consider geographic distribution, career time demands etc, and we can see that with a greatly expanded membership, we would have to pay less for Skill X.

            As for my data, the membership number in cryonics speak for themselves. Orders of magnitude, MULTIPLE orders of magnitude more people pay good money to attend church, donate their time to church etc, when the basis for immortality in religion is complete fantasy. And yet they do it.

            Cryonics is not fantasy. It is real. Real steel and liquid nitrogen. Hard science. Yet it is scoffed at by 99 percent of americans. How is THAT for data and evidence?

            Any decent sized town has multiple churches that take in more $$ every year than cryonics orgs have taken in since day one.

            How is THAT for evidence?

            FANTASY pulls in more money, more volunteer labor than cryonics does. Orders of magnitude more.


            How is that for data?

            I am not saying I am certain that my approach will bear fruit. But I am shocked and saddened that such visionaries and intellects as are found in cryonics memberships do not even DISCUSS these ideas! Just another example of how humans are not really flexible thinkers at all. Instead we are social animals who think only within a bounded set of ideas that constitute our culture and subcultures.

  2. Abelard Lindsey says:

    The odds get even – You name the game
    The odds get even – The stakes are the same
    You bet your life

    • admin says:

      “You Bet Your Life”

      Just another hunter, like a wolf in the sun
      Just another junkie on a scoring run
      Just another victim of the things he has done
      Just another day ace up…in the life of a loaded gun

      The odds get even
      You name the game
      The odds get even
      The stakes are the same
      You bet your life…

      Just another winner, pours his life down the drain
      Just another island in a hurricane
      Just another loser, like a cat in the rain
      Just another day ace up…in the path of a speeding train

      The odds get even
      You name the game
      The odds get even
      The stakes are the same
      You bet your life…

      Anarchist reactionary running dog revisionist
      Hindu muslim catholic creation / evolutionist
      Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist
      Minimal expressionist post-modern neo-symbolist

      Arm chair rocket scientist graffiti existentialist
      Deconstruction primitive performance photo realist
      Be-bop or a one drop or a hip hop lite pop metallist
      Gold adult contemporary urban country capitalist

      Just another gypsy with a plastic guitar
      Just another dancer with her eyes on the stars
      Just another dreamer who was going too far
      Just another drunk ace up…at the wheel of a stolen car

      The odds get even
      You name the game
      The odds get even
      The stakes are the same
      You bet your life…

      Anarchist reactionary running dog revisionist
      Hindu muslim catholic creation / evolutionist
      Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist
      Minimal expressionist post-modern neo-symbolist

      Arm chair rocket scientist graffiti existentialist
      Deconstruction primitive performance photo realist
      Be-bop or a one drop or a hip hop lite pop metallist
      Gold adult contemporary urban country capitalist


      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        You know it.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        It sounds like you like Rush as much as I do.

        • admin says:

          I can’t stand their music. Someone tossed a large collection of Rush CDs in the dustbin shortly before I left for London. It seemed a shame to leave them there, so I carted them home and thought I’d give them another “try.” What a horrible racket! They went back to the dustbin the next day and a 20-something homeless tweaker, who is camped on a nearby hill took them, because he thought the cover art was cool. I got introduced to Rush (I think it was 2112?) in maybe 1979. I thought their lyrics were often brilliant, but their music made my skin crawl. Still does. That’s true of probably 98+% of contemporary music. Having said that, I do like some contemporary music, and I was saddened at Amy Winehouse’s death – I liked “Rehab” a lot: I heard it for the first time on a late night drive from Flag to Ash Fork, and I laughed out loud through the whole song, which caused the dog to look at me with a jaundiced eye. She also had a fantastic voice. I would have loved to hear her sing Jop[in songs, and some of the great Blues songs from the likes of Billie Holliday’s repertoire. I wonder how many people appreciated what a brilliant vocal talent she had? — Mike Darwin

  3. Jordan Sparks says:

    Yes, this is very important. For about 20 years, I focussed mostly on the technical aspects of cryonics. It is only within the last year that I’ve shifted my view to a bigger picture of a game where the odds are under my control. The cryonics calculator was a huge factor in helping me make this shift. Such a view makes me far less interested in proselytizing or assisting the masses because that wasted effort would not increase my odds but would instead increase my liability and exposure to lawsuits. For the first time in my life, I’m becoming a proponent of the chauvinistically high tech approach.

    • admin says:

      Cha-Ching! Welcome, Jordan, you now get it. And congratulations, because this is a very hard thing to see. it is a significant part of what I have to say here. I don’t want other people to die, I don’t want “the masses to die,” and I don’t hold a contemptuous view of humanity or of people in general – and neither should anyone else. Every human being is a treasure of thoughts and feelings, sensations and experiences – a sort of ‘space probe’ in our own world that would delight, shock, amaze and disgust us, if we could step inside them and “be” who they are. And it would be a fantastically rewarding experience, regardless of who they are. So the message here isn’t about killing people, but rather about pursuing the course of action that will save the most people, starting with us.

      And, BTW, it can’t work the other way; cryonicists can’t somehow “save the masses” by sacrificing themselves. A viable, stable platform MUST exist for anyone to survive, and that platform can’t be built FOR others, it must, of functional necessity, be build BY US, FOR US, AND FOR OTHERS. You become a shipwright and build seaworthy craft on a workable scale before you build luxury liners. You must first build a craft that is safe and reliable for YOU and YOURS to ply the waters in, before you engineer for the masses. This would not be necessary if the engineering and fabrication of large seagoing vessels was routine, many enterprises were engaged in the trade, and vast bodies of proven engineering, technical and other data had been accumulated or validated. With cryonics, this not the case. We’re still where von Braun & Korolev were in 1949 – trying to perfect curtain cooling of the rocket nozzle, figuring out how to make gyrostabilization work and be reliable, and keep our rockets on course. We still need to develop the technology that will make them rliable enough that they don’t explode on the launch pad, stray horribly off course, or fail for reasons we don’t even understand.

      The technical aspects of cryonics are still enormously important, not only because they are a critical part of the system and essential to its success, but also, because they recruit and enable the kind of people who are needed to develop the other elements of a stable and durable platform for cryonics.

      The environments that now exist at Alcor & CI are anathema to the kind of minds that are necessary for this task. This isn’t just my opinion, it is a demonstrated fact. Others too have watched a number of capable, reasonable, productive and valuable people run mumbling or in silence from Alcor over the past decade. They don’t run screaming, because by the time they “get it,” they have been mired in a sisyphean task for what seems like eons. They also understand that there is no malice in it. People aren’t trying to thwart change, or block progress, they are simply components in a micro-culture that can’t recognize it, and believes that their next 5-year plan, Project X, or Mr. Y, is o will be the answer. They wait like the Jews in Canaan for the Messiah; but they will crucify him if he comes.They are blind art collectors who thrill to the ownership of great works of art, and pay high prices for what they would have, but who cannot see what it is they are buying. They make their purchases on the basis of the buzz they hear from others around them, on the advice of some cretinous fool or con artist, who would make it his mission to sell art to the blind, not for their profit, but for their enjoyment. One doesn’t flee that situation in anger or in a rage, but in sick silence of a man making his way out of plague city, or like a whipped dog, with its tail between its legs.

      The extant cryonics organizations say, “This is cryonics. Do it and everything will work out OK.” They want you to sign up, buy the “product,” and give them money to deliver it, and as an aside, to “research it,” or more incredibly, to research revival technology! What about institutional stability? What are the odds of that? Indeed, what are the odds of every element in the program? It isn’t that they don’t know, it is THAT THEY NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED THOSE ISSUES. That’s ludicrous. Even people in a desperate situation with the odds stacked very much against them, like passengers on a sinking ship, are going to walk away in disgust from people building life rafts using flotation barrels with holes in them! THAT is cryonics as religion, and even the masses are smart enough to see through that (and yes, in aggregate, the masses have an IQ of about 100 – about 10 points above that of Koko the gorilla). You can’t sell that kind of suspension of disbelief without recourse to omniscience and omnipotence. And even then, if you look at societies where indoctrination is on the wane, or largely absent, you can only sell it 15% to 30% of the time – and then only to the most credulous.

      That is not the way to proceed. The odds are HORRIBLE right now, and if that were the end of it, we might as well walk away. But the fact is that we DO have substantial control over those odds. Goddard and the elite of the German Model Rocket Society (to a great extent von Braun) made rockets, satellites and spaceflight happen. In von Braun’s case, this was achieved within his own lifetime. If those very few men had not done what they did when they did it, spaceflight would have been delayed – absolutely delayed – one generation, and quite possibly much longer. Korolev, whose heavy lift boosters are now the only way we service the space station, or put men into space, would never have been enabled to do his work in the USSR if it were not for the Nazi V-2s of the Great Patriotic War. So yes, we can change the odds in our favor, and any man who has more than a passing acquaintance with history will tell you that this is so – and that history of our species is brimming with examples where individual men or small groups of men, completely changed the course of history. It’s not even a question open to question by reasonable men.

      So now, the questions are, what do we need to do and how are we going to do it?

      • unperson says:

        no, the masses do NOT see cryonics as religion. They see it as alien, outside the culture, and if they investigate it seriously, they will be outsiders, too.

        Religion is tightly integrated into human culture. It will never go away.
        Beefsteak when I’m hungry
        Cider when I’m dry
        Greenbacks when I’m hard up
        Religion when I die…

        • Mark Plus says:

          Religion has nearly gone away in a lot of countries, Un. Most European countries, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and several other nations don’t have those white men’s Ghost Dances like your governor led in Houston yesterday:

          • unperson says:

            we have gone over this before. First, you are using the results of only one poll. Second, the changes are small. Third, those nations are not the USA. Fourth, cryonics is outlawed or nonexistent in those nations. And frankly, if the USA were as democratic as those nations are, cryonics would probably be outlawed here, too.

            Fifth, even if there are small changes, there are still jillions of religious americans. That is our natural base.

  4. Mark Plus says:


    First, you are using the results of only one poll. Second, the changes are small.

    We have a lot of data now about religiosity around the world, and I wouldn’t call the results “small” when nonbelief exceeds a fourth of the population. Refer, for example, to sociologist Phil Zuckerman’s research:

    Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns

    Fourth, cryonics is outlawed or nonexistent in those nations. And frankly, if the USA were as democratic as those nations are, cryonics would probably be outlawed here, too.

    Except for Russia, as Mike Darwin has documented from his travels. I’ve also heard rumors from more than one source, including a Chinese woman I talked to in person a couple years ago, of an effort to start a cryonics movement in China – admittedly not a democratic country, but certainly one which shows signs of building the sort of advanced, science-fictional civilization the U.S. has largely abandoned – and definitely not a religious country in the sense Westerners would understand. Chinese officials know from their country’s history that the Chinese peasantry went nuts in the 19th Century because of its exposure to christian teachings – the Taiping Rebellion – so they have an incentive to keep that nonsense under control.

    And who could have predicted that Chinese officials in 2011 would scold the U.S. Government for financial irresponsibility which threatens the world business climate? Talk about a role reversal!

  5. unperson says:

    dang, mike, you’re as touchy as an old cook. Keep your powder, bud. Relax, have a glass of wine. Life is short (so far, anyway…).

    • admin says:

      Wrong again. You don’t know my emotional state and you can’t it judge it from my post. BTW, today was a nice, relaxing day for me.BTWx2: I use the word fuck reasonably freely – a habit I picked up from living in the UK and watching the BBC (plus I like the word – very expressive). — Mike Darwin

  6. Luke Parrish says:

    Religion interacts with cryonics in tricky ways. Religious people usually perceive it as competition for heaven — see right-winger Scott Ott’s response on the recent Trifecta interview on PJTV (

    However, a movement does not need to be religiously based or cultlike to be successful on a large scale. What does help is enthusiasm, social capital, and hard work.

    • Mark Plus says:

      I don’t see how “going to heaven” solves anything. What if god’s plan for you requires that you rebel and become another satan-like figure?

      • Luke Parrish says:

        Most religious people don’t assign high probabilities to things like that. Their picture of God would exclude it.

        However, they also don’t seem to think God wants us to commit suicide, kill each other, or deny each other medical care. So there is hope for an argument there.

      • unperson says:

        You are like every cryonicist–pathologically bound into a certain mindset and set of talking points. You keep coming back to logic. I ask you again, for the 100th time–what is your evidence for humans using logic and reason in the realm of religion/afterlife?

        • Mark Plus says:

          Un, christian theology started as an exercise in logic. The church fathers had training in Greek philosophy, though Augustine had to depend on Latin translations because he couldn’t read Greek fluently. They pieced together the orthodox belief system from the hodge-podge of Jewish and early christian writings they had to work with. Then later generations gave it another logical makeover when Aristotle’s works came to their attention care of the Muslim civilization in Spain. The goofy, anti-intellectual religiosity we see in the South doesn’t represent how christianity has traditionally tried to justify itself.

  7. Mark Plus says:

    More about the emergence of “Jesus who?” societies:

    Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment

    The religion paradox: If religion makes people happy, why are so many dropping out?

  8. zarzuelazen says:

    “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
    Know when to fold ‘em
    Know when to walk away
    Know when to run
    You never count your money
    When you’re sittin’ at the table
    There’ll be time enough for countin’
    When the dealin’s done”

    “Now every gambler knows the secret to survivin’
    Is knowin’ what to throw away
    And knowin’ what to keep
    ‘Cause every hand’s a winner
    And every hand’s a loser
    And the best you can hope for
    Is to die in the sleep”

    ‘The Gambler’ – Kenny Rogers

  9. Shannon Vyff says:

    People support religion because religion gives back to the community. They can see their donations going to good works, they can help feed the homeless and host freeze nights. The vast majority of religious people care about their community and gain genuine pleasure from helping in their community, beyond that for whichever religion there are the social aspects and continued education.

    I realized in my 20′s that there were very few cryonicists and out of those I could count on one hand the amount who could actually run facilities and properly suspend people. I naively thought cryonics would grow naturally as more learned of it, as it had been common sense for me. Over time I saw that cryonics does not make any money, loses money chronically and does not train new people-unless said people devote their lives to cryonics eschewing any family or career. A high price to pay and untenable for most people. Alcor wants to know what to do to grow, CI wants to know what to do to grow–they take different approaches of course as most readers here know. I feel it is imperative for each to give back to their community in some way. It is hard for cryonicists to see that, because they are struggling to just keep things running–resources are scarce (or poorly managed).

    People are interested in cryonics, but the process of signing up is insurmountable for most. I don’t have all the answers of how to help the organizations, but I’m still learning (only in my thirties) and feel I’ll have some relevant ideas with time. It is quite amazing what I’ve learned and how my own views have changed in the past decade. Mike is right about the major problems at Alcor and CI, reading his blog is daunting–but there are specks of hope to be gleaned, suggestions for correct courses of action.

  10. Geoff says:

    This article, amongst other things, talks about the sinking of the Titanic.

    The design of the ship’s hull and other ship’s systems is undertaken by Naval Architects. Naval Architecture is one of the engineering professions. The Naval Architect is to ships as the Aeronautical Engineer is to aircraft. Other engineers are involved in the design of ships such as Mechanical, Electrical and Electonic Engineers.

    It would be helpful to include information on the role of Naval Architects and Naval Architecture in any writings on the Titanic.

    In one of the movies on the Titanic that I saw, I saw someone make Naval Architecture type comments about the Titanic’s plight/chances of survival.
    When a ship is damaged, it is best that those skilled craftsmen and labourers
    follow the instructions given by a Naval Architect inorder to increase the probability
    of the ship surviving.

    • admin says:

      Geoff, you seem to have one of the same problems that I do, namely including (or trying to) ALL of the information you have about a subject into anything you write about it! My use of the Titanic in the context of this piece was not about what caused the failure, or how it could have been avoided – though those are interesting issues about which many hundreds of pages have been written. Rather, my point was, “what do you do when the ship is sinking, from whatever cause, and you cannot repair it. How do your survive when the ship is going down?” The Titanic was destined to sink from the moment its encounter with the iceberg was over. Whether from poor metal quality or other factors, a massive seam was opened in the ship. This may have been due to the limitations of metallurgy at the time, use of lower grade steel than was desirable, low water temperature, or the interaction of these factors. Similarly, better naval architecture, principally in the form extending the height of the water tight compartments from the keel to the uppermost deck would likely have greatly delayed sinking, or prevented it altogether.

      However, it behooves us to remember and take heed that the two most immediate and easily preventable causes of the sinking were first, the absence of binoculars. The Titanic s excellent quality binoculars were sitting inside a locker in the cabin that the originally scheduled Second Officer (Blair) was assigned. Blair was replaced by Henry Wilde shortly before sailing and Wilde did not know where the binoculars were. Thus he was using naked eye observations to look for icebergs. The seeing was excellent that night, and had Blair had binoculars, he would likely have seen the iceberg earlier. However, how much good that would have done is debatable because Titanic was cruising at a mad speed, despite having been warned about icebergs in her vicinity and on her charted course. Why Captain Smith ordered such speed and that it be maintained has been the source of speculation and debate for a hundred years. It seems like that both Ismay and Smith wanted to show that the Titantic could give good speed (and thus crossing time) performance despite her size and lavish fittings. Whatever the reasons, the ship was moving at an unsafe speed and that reduced the reaction time in which to deal with icebergs. So, the PROXIMATE causes were human error. However, in most disasters involving complex technological systems, of which cryonics happens to be one, there was really NO single point failure. Rather, it took multiple failure mechanisms to cause the disaster: human error & overconfidence, failure to engineer the watertight bulkheads so that they would not be swamped and overflowed, failure to engineer the electrical system supplying the bilge pumps to deal with immersion, the use of steel plating and rivets that became embrittled in near or subfreezing temperatures, failure to have an adequate number of lifeboats abroad, failure to have a backup pair of binoculars or dedicated on-bridge storage locker for them, failure to have strict regulations (with harsh penalties) for exceeding safe speeds in berg laden waters…. Such accidents are in fact almost Black Swans in their occurrence is a result of a combination of events which is perceived to be very unlikely, or almost impossible. Most or all of those factors had to be present and present when the Titanic took a grazing blow from the iceberg, A direct hit would not have sunk the ship. It was only the grazing contact with a berg of the right mass that could have opened a seam along much of the length of the ship’s hull. The Challenger disaster is another similar example. These failures modes are no respecters of time, place or nation. As instructive or more so is the very low failure rate in the commercial aviation industry. This feat has been achieved by meticulous attention to failure mode analysis and the design of systems that are robust against both single point and Swiss cheese failures. To achieve that, aeronautical engineers have had to adopt a number of fascinating principles, including the concept that a near miss is, in fact, a catastrophic failure, not a piece of good luck.

      Engineers and thoughtful humans are fairly good at spotting single point failures. However, multi-point failure modes are more problematic and they become extremely difficult when human behaviors, motivated by factors completely outside the cool engineering of the designer’s envelope, comes into play. — Mike Darwin

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