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Date: Fri, 31 Aug 90 11:18:29 PDT
From: Ralph Merkle <>
Subject: Re:  CRYONICS #216 - Boston Cryonics Meeting

Some thoughts on how to present ideas:

People respond quite differently to ideas depending on how they
are presented and in what sequence they are presented.  Therefore,
care should be taken in the way in which ideas are presented.

As regards nanotechnology and cryonics, there are lots of people interested
in nanotechnology who either haven't heard of or aren't interested in cryonics.
Cryonics raises a host of emotional issues that bias people's judgements
and influence their thinking.  To the extent possible, it is helpful
to separate those issues and ideas which deal with purely technical
areas (nanotechnology, cryobiology, neuroscience, etc)
from those issues that raise great emotions (extension of human
life span, the correct definitions of life and death, etc).

Presenting nanotechnology as centrally about cryonics is neither
accurate nor useful.  Nanotechnology is a broad-based area which
is centrally about low cost atomically precise manufacturing.
It relates to cryonics in the same way that electronics relates
to open heart surgery.  Yes, electronics is extremely useful for
building the widgets involved in open heart surgery.  No, electronics
and open heart surgery are not fundamentally the same.

The technical success of cryonics relates to issues in several
areas, including cryobiology, neuroscience, biochemistry, medicine,
physics, etc. etc.

We must ask the following question:  if some technical issue bears
on the success of cryonics, should we start by saying "This is a
technical issue which, if true, makes freezing people a good idea"
or should we say "This is a technical issue which is interesting
for many reasons, let us discuss this technical issue in the abstract
and determine its merits, based solely on technical considerations,
before giving any consideration to possible applications."  In the
former, a new technical idea is presented in an emotionally loaded
context and in a framework which almost begs to be rejected.  In the
latter, people can become familiar with a new technical concept in

an emotionally neutral or positive framework.  The consequences of the technical
conclusion can be discussed later, after the technical idea has already
been accepted (or rejected) for rational reasons unrelated to the
emotion-laden concepts surrounding cryonics.

Nanotechnology discusses ways of arranging atoms.  As such, it is simply
the logical extension of work in physics, chemistry, biochemistry,
scanning tunnelling microscopy, etc.  This is a concept that can be
discussed, and the broad implications (e.g., lower cost, higher quality
manufactured goods of all types) considered in a relatively neutral
emotional atmosphere.

In the following title, the uninitiated listener is at once put on
guard that something called "nanotechnology" is related to cryonics.

 >                         ALCOR BOSTON 
 >                           PRESENTS

The gut response will then be to view both with great suspicion. A
somewhat better title might be:


Still, most people will be familiar with neither nanotechnology nor
cryonics, and so will react emotionally and reject both.  This suggests the
following title:


Everyone knows that medical technology is good, and future medical
technology must be even better.  Cryonics is unfamiliar, but at
least we've got some familiar words and ideas in the title.

In the actual talk, the technical issues should be presented first
in a context as divorced as feasible from any emotion-laden issues.
Thus, a brief general discussion of molecular scale devices emphasizing
the broad range of application these will have (computers, material science,
space exploration) followed by a discussion of the more-or-less conventional
medical applications (micron scale "submarines" that can clear out fat
deposits in the circulatory system, or hunt down and kill cancer cells).

Only after the technical issues have been presented in a context that
allows them to be evaluated on their own merits should potentially
emotion-laden consequences be considered.

I'm sure people will have varying opinions about the particular suggestions
made here.  The key point, however, is that WORDS MATTER.  IDEAS MATTER.
The ORDER in which ideas are presented MATTERS.  The particular MANNER
in which ideas are presented MATTERS.  Never present an emotionally
laden conclusion before the technical issues underlieing it are discussed.
Always isolate technical points from their emotional consequences.  Always
present reasons for being interested in a particular technical point
that are NOT emotionally charged, and that are acceptable to the audience
being addressed.

If people were perfectly rational thinking machines, none of these
considerations would matter.  It has been widely noticed that people
aren't perfectly rational, and so the way in which ideas are presented
greatly influences their acceptance.  Understanding how to present
ideas and concepts is therefore of critical importance, and is a subject
worth discussing and analyzing in its own right.

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