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From att!parc.xerox.com!merkle Fri Jun 15 19:51:23 1990
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Date: Fri, 15 Jun 90 16:41:30 PDT
From: Ralph Merkle <>
Subject: Re:  cryonics #190 - Re: Science Court (Fact Forum)

My opinion on experts is actually more conservative.  In general,
people who have devoted themselves to a subject for twenty to
thirty years ("experts") are often quite knowledgeable and can produce
quite reliable answers to questions that fall within their range
of expertise.  The problem, simply stated, is that "experts"
(and, indeed, all of use) often rely upon assumptions which
are "obvious" but which are either difficult to examine in detail
or lie well outside our area of understanding.  Once someone has
been anointed an "expert" (by social context, or whatever) there
is a strong desire to provide the "authoritative" answer.
Unfortunately, the answer which is most often technically correct
is "I don't know."  Saying this phrase is difficult, especially
in front of an eager audience who want to know "the answer."

The most recent (and amusing) example of this was the ethicist
(chosen by heaven knows what process...) selected to debate
Carlos Mondragon on television recently.   He stated quite
certainly that cryonics would not work, but was forced to confess
that he had not actually read anything about cryonics.  In short,
he did indeed have an area of expertise (medicine) and I'm
sure if you asked him appropriate questions within that area of
expertise he would answer quite competently.  When asked a question
that was in fact outside his area of expertise, but in a context
where he was expected to be "an expert," he failed to say "I don't
know" but instead invented an answer that he thought was consistent
with the facts he knew.  Such invention is harmless
if it is recognized as such, but it can cause much damage if it
is accepted uncritically.

The answer you get depends on the assumptions you make.  Ideally,
every answer we received would include an explicit list of the
assumptions upon which that answer depended.  In practice, we
seldom get even a partial list of the underlieing assumptions.
Even worse, many people ("experts" included) make implicit
assumptions which are "obvious" and hence never examined.
Unless you have some reason for believing that all the implicit
assumptions made by the person from whom you solicit "expert"
testimony are in fact correct, then the answer is unreliable.

Cryonics requires a re-examination of several quite basic assumptions,
and so it is remarkably difficult to get a straight answer.  This is
not to say that "experts" are useless and foolish, it simply means
that in any discussion with an "expert" it is essential to render
explicit the implicit assumptions they have made, and then inquire
what basis (if any) they have for these freshly exposed assumptions.
This process is often quite irritating for the "expert" for several
reasons, (ego being not insignificant).

That, at least, is my expert opinion......


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