X-Message-Number: 5272
Date: 27 Nov 95 07:05:54 EST
From: Mike Darwin <>
Subject: Virtuosity

As is often the case, Thomas Donaldson has had wise things to say, in this 
case  about the posts from Joe Strout, John Clark, Brad Templeton and 
others, on uploading.  Many of Thomas' remarks anticipated ones I intended 
to make.  I will make some if them them anyway, but before I do, a few 
clarifying words on what I think about the feasability of uploading are in 

>From the very earliest days of cryonics there was discussion about 
transferring human consciousness to nonbiological substrates.  One of my 
favorite novels is one-half of an old ACE double*, THE MECHANICAL MONARCH 
by E.C. Tubb which was published in 1958 and sold for 35 cents.  I read it 
when I was 10 or 11.  One of its two protagonists ends up in virtual 
reality; his consciousness embodied in a machine. In those days it was 
vacuum tubes; Shockley was still to invent the transistor. ENIAC was the 
protype computer; mentioned by name in the novel, no less!

I have no prejudices or firm opinions about "required" substrates of 
consciousness.  Once upon a time, I did; and those opinions leaned towards 
the views Clark, et al. expound.  Today, I have no strong feelings against 
the idea that human consciousness and identity can be encoded in and 
operate through substrates very different from those we identify as 
"biological" today.  I would even go so far as to say that I certainly hope 
something better than brain tissue can be found to make brains out of.  I 
loathe the texture, fragility and intractability of brain tissue as much as 
I admire its incredible performance and capabilities.  I find it hard to 
believe that brains cannot be improved upon; even it is just to stiffen 
them some and make the plumbing and wiring connections more accessible and 

I state the above to distance myself from the camp of Ettinger, 
self-circuit nonsense, and meat-needers like Penrose.  I am not dogmatic 
that silicon or other substrate implementation will work, but I am not 
convinced it won't either.  It remains an open question which awaits a 
better understanding of the neurobiology of being.

So, what is my purpose here?  It is just to make some observations on 
"uploading," the state of the world, and how all this relates to cryonics.

Clark, Templeton, Moravec and many others seem to me to be making the same 
mistake the big N nanotechnology people make.  Change can occur rapidly, 
but it does not occur all at once.  Here, what Thomas has to say is very 

I would point out that, as near as I can tell, virtual reality has been 
around a long, long time.  In its most "developed" form it is experienced 
by people like Swedenborg, Ellen White, Joan of Arc, and Bernadette of 
Lourdes.  It is transiently experienced by religious zealots and 
technological geniuses alike.  Tesla says he saw, in perfect detail, 
hanging in space in front  of him, an AC motor/commutator running smoothly; 
it was just for him write it down and patent it.

Virtual reality only requires a computer.  Varied substrates for computers 
cuts both ways; they do not have to be made of silicon or germanium, or 
holographic crystals or diamond.  They can be made of jello as well; at 
least as bad a substrate as dog turds; in fact, dogs turds are sturdier 
even if they smell worse at a distance.

I believe that many, if not most people in the United States and to a 
lesser extent the entire Western World are already living to a great extent 
in virtual reality.  This has always been so.  Prior to the scientific 
revolution and the development of industrial technology people lived in 
worlds of myth and religion which shaped and warped their consciousness, 
emotional states, and perception of the world around them as completely as 
if their sense organs were being fed signals from a supercomputer, or their 
consciousness was implemented in a substrate that followed different laws 
than those we encounter today in the day-to-day "physical" universe.  
Angels, gods, myths, visions, deeply held beilefs that do not appear to be 
anchored inthe real world; these can be observed in the past as well as 

It is not necessary to re-implement yourself in silicon to see that this 
kind of thing is as real and as mundane asa trip to any monastey or 
psychiatric ward will show.  We humans are no strangers to virtual reality; 
indeed, if we are are strangers to anything it is to REALITY.

I was born and grew up straddling two worlds.  My infancy and early youth 
was spent wrapped in myth and deep religious tradition.  There was the 
"rational" world of the day-to-day, but it was subservient to and 
overshadowed by the mirror world of  myth and religion.  My early youth (6 
through 14) was spent at the dawning of the technological age of reason 
which briefly came into ascendancy in the United States. This age was 
golden and special, but it is not unique either; it had its antecedents in 
the Reniassance, in Ionian Grecce, in many similarly brief flashes in human 

Today, with television and urban culture, I see a people once again 
becoming disconnected from reality.  People eat meat but cannot emotionally 
or in some cases intellecually fathom where it comes from.  People spend 
money they do not have, but do understand why this will not work.  People 
can concentrate for no more than 30 minutes, and can suffer no great 
inconvenience to achieve and end, but do not understand why they can no 
longer build Golden Gate Bridges, or go to the moon.

These people live in virtual reality NOW.  A world of their own creation, 
and the creation of others more knowledgeable who spin these electronic 
webs for profit or for satisfactions, the practice of which, was formerly 
relagated to lightless alleys or hidden between the covers of books with 
title's like JUSTINE.

The history of virtual reality is not a very nice one from an "immortalist" 
perspective.  It's modern form is most deeply rooted in the schism between 
the "physical world" and the "spiritual world," between flesh and the soul, 
the mind and the body, between virtual reality and daily reality. As they 
say, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

The silicon men who believe that they can slip off to a world free from the 
constraints of this one are missing an important point.  It is a point made 
by Donaldson and others, and made by science fiction writers almost from 
day one.  Where exactly will these virtualmen put the substrate that holds 
their minds and supports their cyberspace world?  How will they protect it? 
 How will they deal with the complexity of an indifferent universe their 
minds remain anchored in?

Life is difficult because it requires very special conditions, specific 
conditions.  The universe is vast and complex and most of it will not be 
hospitable to anything that requires a tightly-bounded subset of 
complexities to survive.  That is why intelligent life is here; the 
universe is just to damn difficult to deal with in a dumb fashion; every 
time you diversify your phyla, some damn asteroid or volcanic eruption, or 
supernova comes along and ruins the show.  Genes don't have it any easier; 
far smaller catastrophes like droughts, climate changes, and parasites have 
wiped ot whole species.  Many approaches have been tried to overcome this, 
but only one shows any ultimate promise; the approach of anticipating and 
understanding the curve balls and calculating the right response.  That is 
the only apparent path to success, otherwise, sooner or later, old sol will 
go belly up and all the phyla that now be here on earth will be but ash, 
lost in a cosmos without mind, soul, or memory.

Virtual men are not real men.  They cause great grief with their visions, 
their alternate worlds and their fantasies. It does not matter whether 
these are called heaven, valhalla, paradise, nirvana or cyberspace.  ALL of 
these things represent a turning away from the world and a turning in.

The culture I grew up in was mixed.  Some of the old, some of the new.  But 
the thing that dominated was the thing that  began 400 years before my 
birth; the industrial revolution and with it the belief that the world 
could be understood, controlled and husbanded.  I grew up in a time when 
human civilization in this neck of the woods was reaching OUTWARD.  I grew 
up in a time of "can do."  My pursuits were building things, making models, 
taking toy robots apart, freezing turtles, and building cloud chambers.  I 
grew up in a time when men were in love with THIS world, this earth, this 
place, this universe.  They smashed atoms and they smashed rocks.  They 
built Empire State buildings, World Trade Centers and suspension bridges.  
They talked of lunar colonies, space stations, and making harbors with 
hydrogen bombs.  To be fair, they also talked of incinerating us with the 
same technology.

Today, bright young men like Clark and Templeton are turning "in."  They 
want to leave, not stay, and they speak of singularities which imply (more 
loudly than they speak), of a time of separation from the world and from 
the universe.  Of a time of "created" realities which are richer than ones 
I dreamed of finding on worlds circling distant stars when I looked up at 
the night sky as a boy.

Such worlds cannot long exist. As Thomas points out, the real world is 
richer, more complex and more surprising than any that can be made in 
cyberspace.  This is not due to any limitation on compexity in cyberspace.  
Simple starting conditions can yeild complex outcomes; we are proof of 

The problem lies not with the richness of cyberspace and escape into a 
virtual world, but with the richness and complexity of THIS world. 
Bodies/brains must be put somewhere.  WHERE?  Why "here" of course.  But 
what is "here?," how long will here stay "safe?," how long will here stay 
stable?  These questions can only be answered by interrogating the 
universe; by engaging in a dialogue with reality.  Physical law will always 
intrude if not sooner, then later.

Virtual reality is easy if you don't want immortality too.  It is as easy 
as falling to your knees and seeing the Virgin Mary, or hearing mad voices 
urge you on to visions of heaven or hell.  Virtual reality lasts just as 
long as chance, circumstance and your existing information base allow it to 

Those who seek a silicon (or germanium, or titanium) nirvana would do well 
to read Tennessee Wiliams earthy and all to human and "real" play, A 
STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and ponder the final words of the protagonist,  
Blanche Dubois, as she  is carted off to a lunatic asylum after her 
"virtual world" crumbles in the face of intruding hard reality:  "No 
matter. Whoever you are.  I have always relied on the kindness of 

Remember what your mother told you about strangers.

The problem is, strangers are rarely kind.

Mike Darwin

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=5272