X-Message-Number: 10393
From: Ralph Merkle <>
Subject: Metaphor considered harmful
Date: Mon, 7 Sep 1998 08:54:37 PDT

In the ongoing discussion of freezing damage there has been a tendency to
use metaphorical images.  For example: freezing injury is like a million tiny
blowtorches, it is like a knife, it is like grinding hamburger, it is like
ice on a window; viewing frozen tissue is like viewing an aerial photograph
of a city where there have been riots; etc.

While this metaphorical approach rapidly conveys the speaker's opinion, it
is difficult to use it as the basis for further informed discussion as the
metaphorical statements are, literally speaking, either false or

It might therefore be useful to describe freezing injury with statements that
are literally true, or are intended to be literally true.  Subsequent claims
that a statement was not literally true would, if correct, result in the
rejection of the original statement (and hopefully its replacement with a
more accurate statement).

Adopting this rule would result in the rejection of Rowe's "hamburger"
statement out of hand.

Further, we must remain focused on the critical issues: while there is excellent

reason to believe that existing suspension methods (even with high 

of cryoprotectant) cause "damage," we do not have good reasons to believe that 

"damage" results in loss of fundamental information relevant to long term memory
and personality.  "Damage" is meaningless unless we have some reason to believe
that it results in such extensive obliteration of relevant structures that it
will be impossible for any future technology to infer them.  Skepticism about
claims of "damage" is warranted given the frequency of ill founded claims that
are, from an information theoretic viewpoint, clearly marginal or irrelevant.

My experience with cryobiologists critical of cryonics is that they are 
ignorant of basic issues and often display behavior which can only be described
as grossly unscientific.  It is entirely appropriate to point out the errors
and weaknesses in their arguments, and it is further appropriate to argue that
members of a scientific society should behave in accordance with basic rules of
scientific inquiry.  The Society for Cryobiology has bylaws that include the

    2.04.  Denial of Membership and Discipline of Members

    Upon a two-thirds vote of the Governors in office, the Board of Governors 

    refuse membership to applicants, or suspend or expel members (including both
    individual and institutional members), whose conduct is deemed detrimental 
    the Society, including applicants or members engaged in or who promote any

    practice or application which the Board of Governors deems incompatible with
    the ethical and scientific standards of the Society or as misrepresenting 
    science of cryobiology, including any practice or application of freezing
    deceased persons in the anticipation of their reanimation.

I received a letter (and other material, including the bylaws given above) from
Jerry Leaf in June of 1989.  His letter said in part:

    Enclosed is material concerning the Society for Cryobiology and its Board

    of Governors trying to deal cryonicists out of the Society.  They have 

    in denying membership to anyone known to have an association with cryonics.
    I have

    sponsored three people for membership and all have been turned away 

    How these men can consider themselves honest scientists is beyond me.  These
    do not have integrity, only fear of legal action.

It is entirely reasonable to criticize both the society and individual members 

there is evidence that they have violated accepted scientific norms.  Indeed, it
an essential part of the process of change.

That said, different people have different views on how best to change 
positions.  There is no reason why multiple different approaches cannot be used

at the same time (the "good cop / bad cop" approach).  Vigorous criticism by 
some and

simultaneous friendly encouragement by others is likely more effective than 
approach alone.

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=10393