X-Message-Number: 13281
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 12:11:02 -0500 (EST)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: Billy Brown

Extropian Billy Brown seems to have a very odd, and misleading, view of
mortality. I'm glad his statement was posted here, since it provides such
as classic illustration of everything that's wrong with cryonics, and
helps to explain why there may not be any meaningful cryonics services at
all, another decade from now.

> >I'd go a lot further than this.  First off, accidents that destroy the brain
> >are fairly rare, so even if you die young your odds of getting a
> >halfway-decent suspension are pretty good.  It is pretty hard to die in a
> >way that prevents your body from arriving at a hospital within an hour or
> >less - just don't get yourself killed while you're off camping in the middle
> >of nowhere.

What do you mean by "rare"? Old people frequently die alone (at least one,
in the past five years, was a cryonics case, not discovered until much
time had elapsed). Cases of accidental death are usually autopsied, which
usually means a delay of more than a day. If you are far from a cryonics
facility and death occurs quickly, the team may take time to reach you.
Even if you are in an ideal situation, with team members beside the bed
waiting, brain damage can occur (and probably often does) while you are
still alive--as a result of diminishing oxygen supply to the brain, as
described in detail elsewhere by Mike Darwin. Many forms of injury and
disease affect the brain (as Thomas Donaldson can tell you, and so could
Jim Glennie, if he were still alive). To say that your chances of a
"halfway decent suspension" are "pretty good" is asinine.

> > Remember, if cryonics patients are
> >ever revived at all, that means we're positing nanotech advanced enough to
> >repair any kind of physical damage.  

Totally wrong. The objective of the cryopreservation research that has
been reported here and elsewhere is to enable resuscitation without need
for cell-by-cell repairs. And the phrase "nanotech advanced enough to
repair ANY kind of physical damage" is just plain dumb. Obviously some
forms of damage will be relatively easy to repair, while others will be
difficult or impossible using any imaginable technology. The process of
reconstructing a 3-D jigsaw puzzle involving billions of fragments will be

> >original information content of a scrambled brain is isomorphic to the
> >problem of deducing the information content of an encrypted message.

Another gross oversimplification. Totally misleading. I invite you to
compare the number of permutations of characters in a linear string with
the number of positional permutations in a THREE-dimensional array,
especially bearing in mind that the 3-D array can be reconstructed in a
vast number of ways that "seem to make sense" but will not constitute the
same "message" as the original brain. In other words, there's no way to
know whether you put the pieces back where they came from, unless of
course you happen to have a convenient record of your neuron structure
right now, for reference.

> >What does this all mean in English?  Basically, that burning your brain
> >destroys information, but dropping a rock on it doesn't.  Most of the damage
> >sources that cryonicists agonize over, like freezing damage and ischemic
> >injury, are very regular in nature

Clearly, the person reading this has never actually see a single electron
micrograph depicting freezing damage, which is about as random as one
could hope to find.

> >So, your odds of getting an adequate suspension are very high no matter how
> >you end up dying.

Fine, Billy. So the bottom line is, you are a member of the Alfred
E. Neuman school of cryonics. In response to endless bulletins describing
the magnitude and complexity of damage, the risks associated with
cryopreservation procedures, the significant unknown factors, and the
destructive processes of dying, your response is, "What, me worry?"

This attitude, I believe, has been largely responsible for the gradual
decline in cryonics capabilities during the past fifteen years. Drexler's
great work, THE ENGINES OF CREATION, was once thought to be a tremendous
help to the cryonics movement (see Mike Darwin's initial, lyrical review
in CRYONICS magazine). In fact, while I do consider it one of the most
important books of the last few decades, it has been a disaster for
cryonics. Prior to this book, when someone signed up for cryonics, they
saw a desperate need to do something to improve our capabilities. Now,
most likely, they share Billy Brown's airy optimism, and do nothing of any
practical value. This explains why cryonics organizations today are led by
aging people (such as myself) who are getting too old and tired to do the
work, while we see a conspicuous lack of younger people willing to put in
the hours. Reassured by the Prophet Drexler, they prefer to sit in
comfort, swapping messages about their impending immortality, which will
of course occur shortly after the impending singularity.

Even in their sunny view of the future, though, there is (or should
be) some cause for concern. Even if you assume that a "half-way decent
suspension" can be nothing more than a bucket of liquid nitrogen, someone
has to provide the bucket, and someone has to make sure that it will be
topped off for the next few decades. In other words, no matter how sunny
your view of the world is, cryonics depends on infrastructure, and
infrastructure must be maintained. Since ALL cryonics organizations depend
on donations of money, time, and labor, it is grossly misleading to spread
the meme that the future is in some sense guaranteed, and all you have to
do is pay your insurance and membership dues. 

--Charles Platt

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