X-Message-Number: 11931
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 1999 01:46:56 EDT
Subject: Moravec a plus for cryonics?

I have ordered Hans Moravec's new book, ROBOT, but not received it yet; 
however, I have taken another look at his earlier book, MIND CHILDREN 
(Harvard U. Press, 1988), and I now suspect that his influence may be (or may 
have been) positive for cryonics and immortalism--even though he himself is 
not interested.

1. The book is powerfully stimulating and envisions countless future wonders. 
To be sure, many people are repelled, rather than attracted, by futures 
radically different from the present--but still my guess is that the net 
effect for immortalism will be positive.

2. Moravec's arguments against personal immortality in the flesh, explicit 
and implicit, are so vulnerable that many will part company with him.

He points out weaknesses in the "body identity" view of survival, but offers 
no convincing support for his recommended "pattern identity" view. We have 
often discussed criteria of survival on this forum, and I believe it is fair 
to say that no firm conclusion is yet justified. This being the case, any 
sensible person will take a conservative stance, and save as much as possible 
of both his information and his physical body.

Why is the "pattern identity" of  Moravec (and others) unconvincing? Because 
it dodges the issue (proof) and brazenly substitutes mere plausibility or 
even outright ukase. "Pattern identity defines the essence of a person, say 
myself, as the pattern and the process going on in my head and body " Says 
who? You? By what authority? I am entitled to define the "self circuit" as 
the part(s)/aspect(s) of the brain that permit or give rise to feeling, 
because I am merely labeling something that certainly exists. But Moravec is 
not entitled to define the essence of a person as a pattern, because the 
character of that essence is a fact of nature, to be discovered and proven, 
not decreed.

Most initial tentative recruits for the Moravec view will quickly desert him, 
I think, when they realize the full extent of his vision. That is the 
equation of potentiality with being, the position ultimately that you are 
really just an abstraction.

If pattern is everything, then claiming that a duplicate is you is just the 
tip of the iceberg. After all, as he says, a message is the same no matter 
how many times it is sent or printed or otherwise displayed. Furthermore, a 
number exists--does it not?--whether or not it is written down. A word exists 
even if it is not written or spoken, and potentially exists even if no one 
has ever thought of it. Likewise for a complex and even evolving message, 
such as you. So we are all immortal anyway, right? Moravec concedes that this 
idea is pretty strange and a hard sell, but he doesn't retreat from it. I 
think most of his readers will.

3. In a chapter called "Grandfather Clause," in a section called "Awakening 
the Past," he posits many ways of inferring information your brain contained, 
even if that brain has been destroyed. This of course assists the notion of 
potential uploading, if you absent-mindedly neglected to keep a backup of 
yourself, but it also strengthens the case for revival after 
cryopreservation, even if the brain is badly damaged. (His inference devices 
are not new--I and others have suggested them long ago--but his endorsement 
of this segment of the cryonics argument must surely help a bit.)

4. Moravec's notion of a value system is primitive, and will surely lose him 
followers when he tries to lead them into oblivion. He says in essence the 
same thing as another already dust, Isaac Asimov, who claimed that the 
important thing is the survival and development of life and intelligence in 
the abstract--not mere humans, let alone no-account, archaic, disposable you. 
I am in the process of developing a rigorous system of personal values, but 
almost anyone will probably agree, without any fine-spun logic, that it's 
hard to enjoy life when you're dead.

5. Moravec also agrees with Arthur Clarke and others, who think (or so they 
say) that long term survival is meaningless in any case, since we change over 
time and eventually perhaps even hope to outgrow any need for our current 
memories and traits. Most readers will probably not reject extended and 
improved life merely because of someone's guesses about the distant future.

As I said, it's a tremendously stimulating book. It even has an appendix 
sketching ideas for interpreting quantum theory without "Many Worlds" but 
with a different slant on hidden variables. And one chapter concludes with 

"It might be fun to resurrect all the past inhabitants of the earth this way 
and to give them an opportunity to share with us [sic] in the (ephemeral) 
immortality of transplanted minds. Resurrecting one small planet should be 
child's play long before our civilization has colonized even its first 

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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