X-Message-Number: 16
From: Kevin Q. Brown
Subject: downloaders
Date: 9 Sep 1988

The July 1988 issue of The Immortalist contained an article on downloaders
by Robert Ettinger.  He aimed to show that "it is not obvious even that an
inorganic artifact could live at all, in the sense of having consciousness
and feeling".  His main argument, to my mind, was that the downloaded
information describing a person will not have the same properties as the human
body representation of the person; "if you want a compass to steer by, you need
iron (or other magnetic material) and not [a] paper [description of a magnet]".
He considered this issue important because "many downloading devotees are led
down the primrose path away from real immortalism and cryonics".  His article
drew two long replies in defense of downloading, a newspaper article about
Hans Moravec's projections for downloading, plus a few short comments in the
August 1988 issue of The Immortalist.

I also had a reply to Ettinger (that was quite different from any of the other
replies), but did not write it fast enough for inclusion in the August issue.
(Perhaps it will make the September issue.)  I have appended my response below.
Unfortunately for you, I have not also included Ettinger's original article
(since I have not obtained permission to reproduce it).  Hopefully, I have
provided sufficient context that my reply will make sense.  Any comments?

                                       - Kevin Q. Brown


    The July 1988 issue of The Immortalist included an article on
    downloaders by R.C.W. Ettinger ("The Turing Tape & Clockwork People").
    I agree that downloaders that eschew cryonics face a tremendous and
    unnecessary risk, but only because the technology for downloading does
    not exist.  Ettinger, however, expresses concern that downloading may
    not ever work.  I offer two reasons for being more optimistic:
    (1) downloaders will have an excellent fall-back position and (2) the
    difficulty in imagining how a downloaded person could be conscious may
    be due to intuitive but incorrect notions about our consciousness.

    (1) You Can Always Go Back to the Meat Machine

    Ettinger is quite confident that, with the aid of "Drexler machines",
    cryonically suspended people can someday be revived.  But these
    machines can only put atoms in the right places, and certainly position
    and type of atom can be represented quite succinctly (in electronic form)
    as information.  Thus, downloading, once it is achieved, should not
    entail any loss in information.  Now upload that information into a
    (cloned) human body.  What you get back is the functioning, conscious
    human being.  The downloader has thus not lost anything since he has
    the fall-back position of uploading back into a human body.

    (2) To Be is to Be Confused (About What You Are)

    Can other media, besides human bodies, be conscious?  The downloader
    says "Yes, if the information processing is isomorphic".  (And, of
    course, a sufficiently powerful computer can run a simulation isomorphic
    to any given physical process.)  When Ettinger dismissed this with his
    exhortation "You certainly can't claim that a paper tape (even when it
    is moving) is alive or conscious!" he has unfortunately missed the point.
    He later suggests that meat machines may have some "unique quality" or
    "potentialities" that do not exist anywhere outside the organic brain.
    Although Ettinger may find it astounding, my only complaint with the
    Turing Machine representation (besides the awkward way it does computation)
    is that Turing Machines are normally defined as stand-alone systems
    whereas a human obviously has a lot of interactions between himself and
    his environment.  The paper tape is not conscious, but the system of
    interactions with the paper tape (and environment) may well be.  The
    point is the information processing that occurs, not the implementation
    used to achieve it.  Why is this nonintuitive when one considers the
    notion of consciousness?

    We are all subject to blind spots and illusions in our perceptual
    systems and our brains very cleverly attempt to mask them.  The blind
    spot in our visual system, for example, is rarely noticed (when we are
    not intentionally looking for it) because our brains cleverly construct
    what "ought" to be there.  Our perception of consciousness may likewise
    be cleverly constructed to not reveal its true mechanism.

    Just as we believe we see continuous motion in a movie, rather than a
    sequence of still frames, we believe we are continually conscious,
    rather than, possibly, only intermittently conscious.  (That we should
    perceive our consciousness as continuous makes sense because whenever
    we are sufficiently conscious to think about our consciousness,
    we are conscious!)  We perceive ourselves as a single entity, a single
    consciousness, yet we are really composed of many consciousnesses
    (a "Society of Mind").  (Some branches of psychological therapy, such as
    Neuro-Linguistic Programming, make use of our multiple consciousnesses.)
    We normally think of consciousness as being of only one kind, the everyday
    "self-conscious" kind of consciousness, but many kinds of consciousness
    exist, some of which do not even include an awareness of a separate "self".
    (For example, when in a state of intense absorption in an activity, only

    the activity itself is in our awareness, not our "self" doing the activity.)
        Also, we have a sensation of "free will" but no good notion what it is free

    of.  (Perhaps it is free only of an awareness of the mechanisms of our 

    I thus suggest that what makes consciousness seem mysterious to us
    (rather than purely mechanical) is a fundamental deception in the way
    that we are programmed to perceive it.  And furthermore, any system
    (electronic, mechanical, organic) similarly organized will perceive
    consciousness as we do.  No "unique qualities" or extra "potentialities" 
    are required; simple deception will do.  Of course, being human and
    therefore fundamentally deceived myself, this is quite a nonintuitive
    notion, although intellectually it is a neat idea.  Therefore, do
    not expect a few words from me to suddenly catapult you from the
    consciousness-is-mysterious-and-beyond-ordinary-matter paradigm to
    the information paradigm.  Changing one's worldview reaches too
    deeply into one's personality to change that easily.  Surely you
    have explained the rational basis for cryonics to people who can
    easily follow the logic, yet still not believe it.  Changing from
    the "dead is dead" paradigm to the "deanimation is still alive"
    paradigm requires a considerable adjustment and invokes corresponding
    resistance that a mere, logical argument may be unable to resolve.
    My recommendation is to keep in mind this notion that "consciousness
    seems mysterious and non-mechanical because of programmed deception".
    Turn it over in your mind every once in a while.  Improve it.  Let
    it sink in.  Someday it will make perfect sense.

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