X-Message-Number: 5211
Date: 18 Nov 95 23:31:07 EST
From: "Steven B. Harris" <>
Subject: SCI.CRYONICS: Binary Survival Questions

Dear CryoNet Folks:

   Brad Templeton () writes, in his message
titled "Mind Uploading -> No revival of cryonics patients" 
that he is afraid that mind uploading might reduce the likelihood
of revival of cryonics patients.   His argument is basically that
if uploading should become viable before repair of biological
bodies and revival of cryonauts does, that the uploaded folks
might not bother to do the biological repair, finding bio-
intelligences, as a class of minds, entirely too primitive for
their interest (except for a few study-cases).  This lack of
interest may also come about because repair of biological
structures will no-doubt require much work in the relatively
boring and slow physical world, all of which will detract from
activities in the fun and fast-paced (and by definition, nearly
perfect) virtual one.  Imagine (by way of metaphor) trying to get
a modern teenager, absorbed in a Nintendo game, to shuck his 
5-minute attention span and patiently build a model of an old
sailing ship out of parts he has to find or make himself, in the
garage.  Surely we're all doomed.

    Virtual reality is indeed a foreseeable danger (look at the
nasty things TV has already done to us as a cohesive society),
and one can imagine that no sooner does a planetary civilization
escape from the dangers of unlocking nuclear energy (the mushroom
cloud end), and then the dangers of unlocking nanotechnology (the
grey goo end), that they then are faced with the most awful
challenge of all: the dangers of upload/cross-load technology,
which lures them into a mental lotus-land far more addictive than
crack-cocaine.  This would be something far more powerful than
Star Trek's holodeck-- rather something on the order of the
complete virtual fantasy world of Varley's "Overdrawn At the
Memory Bank," Vinge's "True Names," and many other stories.  As
many thinkers have suggested, perhaps the reason why the galactic
aliens with their high tech aren't here yet, is NOT that they
never evolved, or evolved and blew themselves up with bombs or
melted themselves into goo with tiny-machine wars-- but rather
simply because they are home watching "TV," and are no longer
interested in personal, or even robot-remote, exploration of
other star systems.

   Mike Darwin and others have argued with me that, just as no
antibiotic kills all bacteria, and no drug addicts all people,
that the "virtual-entertainment" plague cannot fail to miss some 
nonsusceptible types.  These resistant folks will stay in the
physical world (at least part of the time) and do the galactic
exploration and archeological/historical exploration which needs
doing, which would presumably include art and historical 
restoration (including restoring us).  

    Perhaps.  I think people will continue to explore the
physical world if they are *allowed* to, anyway.  The virtual
folk will of course never be entirely virtual (this would be
stupid-- any who try without assistance won't survive).  Rather,
they and their robots may be both physically powerful and
paranoid about people who mess around "unnecessarily" in 
physicality where all processors must reside, in somewhat the way
confirmed city dwellers are not happy about people camping in the
mountains around the city water supply reservoir.  One can only
hope that the situation will resolve amicably with physical
separation (i.e., somebody gets out of Dodge), and that when this
happens, frozen cryonauts will go with the folks who have decided
to explore the physical world further, instead of getting
destroyed in the battle, or left in the hands of impatient, bad-
tempered TV-people who aren't interested in anything physical
except as it involves new processor upkeep and repair (and surely
not old frozen brain upkeep and repair).

   Brad Templeton asks: "What if nobody important has a bio-body 
any more?  Or if they have them but switch between them and the
non-bio form when they need to?"

    My comment is: what if they do?  I'll be intensely surprised
if they don't! (and us too, when and if we get there).  In many
dangerous situations it's silly to expose your "brain" 
to destruction, and you will want your processor(s) (main and/or
back-ups) off-site.  Moreover, the body you use should be suited
to the environment, in somewhat the same way that the military
specifies that an officer's dress should be appropriate to the
occasion.  To appreciate the look and feel and experience of the
bottom of the ocean, for instance, you want to be something like
a modified sperm-whale, or a giant squid (watch out for the sperm
whales).  For exploring Jupiter (or when running for political
office, for that matter) you may want to be a gas-bag, or some
kind of strange bird.  For traveling in space you don't want to
RIDE in a spaceship, you want to BE a spaceship, then change to
exploration-bodies of various kinds when you get to where you're
going.  [When and if we are finally visited by star-traveling
aliens, all this suggests that they won't come in any single
physical form, but will instead manifest as a menagerie of
curious crawlers, jumpers, climbers, swingers, flyers, swimmers,
and so on-- and in all sizes.  We ignorant Earthlings, swatting
and spraying and shooting, will probably think we've been hit by
a whole alien plague of different critters and beasts, when in
reality it will only be differing aspects of the same alien guys,
all wondering why we're so nasty].

   As far as the matter of "bio-bodies" VERSUS "machine-bodies,"
this is a somewhat artificial (excuse me) distinction, which I
doubt will be very useful in the far future.  Bio-bodies ARE
machines of a sort, just very complicated, kluged up, and
(usually) more vulnerable ones.  As Morevic notes, machines don't
HAVE to be clattering clanking collections of caliginous junk. 
Machines (in theory) can be flexible, soft, warm, and even
pleasingly mammalian, like us.  But why be a machine made of
plastic re-enforced water-filled soap bubbles, supported on
fragile calcified rods (what we are now, alas), when you can
reside in something much stronger and tougher?   

   Nor need such a thing be too strange from even our present
eyes.  If you are a stickler for "look and feel" biology, there
is no physical reason why you should not reside in a body which
looks, feels, sounds, tastes, even smells the same as the one you
"wear" presently, yet bears as little resemblance to it as a
Tyvek mailing envelope does to a paper one.  Why not?  If the
person making love to you cannot tell the difference, why not
arrange things (if you can) so that the person trying to stick a
knife into you is in for as much embarrassment as the person who
foolishly tries to tear up a 5.25" diskette sleeve?   I suspect
that in the far future, however, the game of trying to look and
feel exactly human, even for the "physical reality connected"
types, will eventually be reduced to a short-time role-playing
sport done to re-affirm historical symbolism-- the equivalent of
Halloween parties and renaissance fairs (i.e., The Society for
Creative Anachronism featuring the human body, not as it was, but
as it should have been).  

   It seems likely to me, however, that most of the people of the
future (including restored cryonauts), will gradually move as far
in physical form as evolving tastes and susceptibility to
fashions take them.  We are, after all, already pretty weird-
looking creatures ("Speak for yourself, buddy!" I hear a heckler
from the audience put in here...)  I suggest, in any case, that
it makes little sense being slaves to the bodies we happened to
get born into.  Our present rung on the evolutionary ladder is
not likely the final will of some divine being-- much evidence
points to it being instead a long and odd collection of frozen
accidents, directed and shaped by reproduction, chance, and a
changing environment.  Specifically, we humans seem to be
basically deluxe model chimps, selected for upright savannah-
living in East Africa by a change in climate there (possibly due
to the Great Rift Valley rifting a few million years ago), and
before that, descended from a bunch of small rodent-like animals
which got a lucky break after an asteroid killed off most of the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Let's not make more of this than
there is.  If we want to improve things from here, it's up to us. 
Even some religions don't believe the idea of man participating
in his own creation is blasphemous, and for the record, I don't
either.  (This is existentialism with a vengeance).

    If I can take these thoughts to where they naturally lead, I
should note that talk of self-modification connected with
cryonics (speculation going back at least as far as Ettinger's
Man and Superman book) inevitably makes some people nervous. 
They wonder: when organic evolution eventually becomes fully the
slave of cultural evolution (i.e., mental or idea evolution),
then how long will it be before most people are not human
anymore?  This is the subtext of Mr. Templeton's letter, but it
seems to me that the question itself is a semantic/aesthetic one,
and thus, like so many of such questions involving qualitative
differences "deriving" from quantitative changes, it has no
objective answer (see the sorites paradox, which I've written
about before).  "Humanity," like "life," "individuality," and the
hybrid concept "individual survival," is a fuzzy concept without
natural borders in physical law (though it may have them in
ordinary 20th century experience).  Ettinger in his superman
discussions has very rightly shunned a "humanity circuit" to go
along with his "self circuit," but to me the one makes no more
sense than the other.  Humanity, like any species, may depart
infinitely from the original type (to use a famous historical
phrase), but it is up to us as to where we want to draw the
qualitative line to decide when and if we no longer have genus
_Homo_.  And who cares, for what's in a name?  We will need to
understand that this boundary, when we chose to draw it, exists
only in our minds.  

    To return to our topic, where is the boundary of the 
individual, in space and in time?  All intelligent cryonicists
come to this question eventually-- some sooner, some later.  If
any of us "survive" a million years, the "person" that we will
have become at the end of that time may well share fewer 
characteristics with our present selves than do our fellow humans
of this time-- people we Westerners now customarily consider
"different" individuals, and not, in any sense, us.  How do we
deal with that?  If one doesn't believe in some kind of idealis-
tic Platonism or Aristotelianism (a soul or a self-circuit) to
keep binary track of the connectedness of "identity" across time,
then it seems a bit of hypocrisy to deny some intersection of
identity in one case (ourselves vs. our future selves), and not
the other (ourselves vs. our contemporaries, including strangers,
friends, lovers, and various alter egos).

   The materialist person who believes that he "continues" in
"identity" if he is destroyed and a perfect copy made (ala matter
transporter or destructive nanotech repair), must also allow for
*partial* continuation and *partial* survival in an *imperfect*
replica (or else explain where the dividing line is, and why). 
Yet what are other people, if not something equivalent to 
imperfect copies of us (and we them)?  None of the traditional
things which separate other people from us as individuals--
location, genotype, phenotype, values, memories, biological
responses and drives, temperament, mental ability, and so on--
are theoretically immutable to the materialist.  All, in fact,
will with technology be subject to increasingly easy change at
whim, as time goes by (Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose;
translated in the Extropian Guidebook as "The more things change,
the more the memes choose.").  This is the conundrum of the
existential self-made human of the future.  Soon (does anybody
seriously doubt it?) we will change genes and appearance with
ease.  Even memories are in theory transferable directly from one
person to another.  When these things occur (making ANY 
qualitative biological differences reachable by means of strictly
quantitative technical processes and changes), where does all of
this leave us philosophically?

   Those non-Aristotelian cryonicists who reject the idea of a
soul-like self-circuit which determines identity in a binary all-
or-nothing way, and who do accept the idea that technology will
eventually blur all important biological distinctions, must even-
tually find themselves forced to come to grips with issues which
have been mulled in Eastern philosophy for thousands of years
(see that French aphorism above).  In short, there is some of me
in you, and you in me, as any Buddhist will tell you right off.  
We ought to be able to adduce this conclusion even in the absence
of technology which can turn me slowly and gradually INTO you, IF
only we accept that such technology is (even in theory) POSSIBLE. 

   I can go even further, and guess that there must even be a bit
of me in that cat stalking my tuna-fish sandwich, or later
purring at being scratched on the back in just the right way.  I
think I know partly what that cat is about.  So long as it
survives, a bit of what _I am_ also survives.  As noted above,
this means that some of what I am, will survive as long as the
human race does, or even as long as Earthly higher animals do. 
This remains true (in some sense) even if my airliner goes down
over an ocean some day, and absolutely nothing is recovered from
the crash.  In contrast, I need also to recognize that some,
perhaps most, of "me" as I exist now will surely NOT survive for
the long term, even if cryonics works as well as anyone can
realistically hope.  I learn and forget things.  I change my
mind.  I gain or lose enthusiasms.   I even get wiser (anybody
who doesn't shake his head at a few of the dumb things he did or
thought 10 years ago, isn't progressing very well as a human

    The resulting half-full/half-empty philsophical wine-glass
(i.e, that everybody survives death in part even without cryoni-
cs, and nobody survives in toto even with it) is either comfort-
ing or horrifying, depending on how you choose to view it.  For
myself, I can only report that I am a being in flux and change,
and I realistically can identify nothing of myself which is not
impacted by time and experience.  No, I do not detect a self-
circuit, especially when reading old diary entries; some of them
sound suspiciously like somebody else wrote them.  It isn't that
I don't have an adequate memory; I do.  It's just not perfect. 
It seems I die a bit each day, and am created a bit each day. 
There is nothing for me to do but either flat-out deny this idea
(a popular pursuit of many Western-tradition religious people,
and not a few cryonicists), or else accept and come to terms with
it (a more Oriental tradition).  

   No, I am not preparing to commit cryonic heresy, and next deny
that cryonics has any value.  Far from it.  It isn't that
cryonics is not worth doing, for cryonics has value as long as
both humanity and individual humans do.  It's just that it seems
to me to be philosophically unwise to view cryonics as a "win-or-
lose" proposition.  Cryonics is about saving information-- a
quantitative thing-- and our score on any such test is surely not
pass/fail (unless you are an Aristotelian), but rather some kind
of % score on many different curves and scales.  Nor will our
success necessarily even be entirely something which can be
objectively measured, since values are being assessed (We may
always have to deal, at some level, with some future equivalent
of the East German judge, who always thinks we got a 4.1 when we
think we should have gotten a 5.8).  Again, only Aristotelians
and Platonists will object to the idea that individual survival
is (and will continue to be) partly a subjective matter.

   What to tell the suffering family about the survival of the
loved one who is suspended in more or less poor, or even "good"
condition?  We can think in binary, and continue to talk about
the probability of whether or not we "saved" or "didn't save" the
self circuit (while believing that objectively we either did, or
didn't, one or the other, in reality).  Or we can adopt another
somewhat analogue view, also consistent with all we know, and
with fewer assumptions-- and simply say we surely saved 
something, but we don't know how much.  As we noted, unless one
adopts and all-or-nothing view of person-hood, *every* person
*partly* survives death, due to the fact that some of what he or
she was, continues in his or her shared culture, shared values,
shared memories, and shared genes.  Information is also saved in
many kinds of external records.  In a suspended person, the DNA
additionally provides a recipe which must contain many clues to
temperament and mental function.  A frozen brain, even a badly
damaged one, must surely contain a wealth of additional informat-
ion about the entity who was the product of it.  We can say all
of this now, and be reasonably sure of it.  And because we
believe that all these things have value, we can reasonably
continue to do our best to save as much brain structure as we can
of every person, contingent on the natural restraints of time,
distance, money, biological chaos, and dumb luck.

   How to judge cryonics?  So long as the best job of saving of
brain structure is being done that is available in the world for
the available money, there is little more anyone can say (or do,
except for further research).  Attempts to ask more than "Did you
do the best that anyone can do for the money at this time?" and
attempts to honestly answer more than "Yes, we did as about as
well as anyone willing to do it can presently do", are presently
little more than self-indulgent speculation.  We don't KNOW more
without further research, and in particular the basic question of
"did you do well ENOUGH?" is unanswerable right now (and may be
unanswerable totally objectively, forever).  Not that I have
anything against a bit of self-indulgent speculation per se, now
and then (it's very soothing); I only hope that we *recognize*
religion and mythology when we practice it, instead of fooling
ourselves and others completely with anxiolytic blarney.  If we
cannot do that, at least to some extent, we cannot hope for
significant additional mastery of ourselves and the rest of the

                                  Steve Harris

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