X-Message-Number: 9771
From: Ettinger <>
Date: Sun, 24 May 1998 13:02:10 EDT
Subject: information degradation

It is interesting to note that both Eric Drexler (in an interview in the
current issue of CRYONICS) and Ralph Merkle (in Cryonet # 9762) have
reiterated their optimism (Drexler's more strongly stated) about the chances
of today's patients. I would like to add a bit to strengthen Dr. Merkle's

First, the obligatory reminder: Optimism (or relative optimism) about today's
patients does not detract from the importance of ongoing research. We need all
the help we can get.

Also--as Saul Kent, among others, has recently noted--we need not only
research into perfected suspended animation, but also research on better cheap
methods and even cheaper methods, e.g. a combination of chemical fixation and
cold storage. We need this for at least three reasons: (1) For the potential
of saving lives, in some cases those of people we know, who cannot afford even
$28,000. (2) To strengthen the organizations through faster growth. (3) To
reduce the possible backlash against cryonics "for the rich" when the movement
grows enough to become a factor in politics or to arouse more active

That said, I believe Dr. Merkle has understated the case for optimism about
avoiding information-theoretic death. The reason is that--if I understand him
correctly--his criterion of information-theoretic death is based solely on the
internal evidence, the contents of the brain; and furthermore it looks only at
simple, direct ways of finding information, primarily by inferring atomic or
molecular trajectories and looking at "jig-saw puzzles." But this is far from
the only arrow in our quiver.

There are many hints that, from a GLOBAL perspective, there may exist a law of
Conservation of Information, perhaps even stronger than the law of
Conservation of Mass/Energy. Many (perhaps all) particles or systems or
regions of spacetime have interacted in the past, and traces of these
interactions persist, both classically and in the form of "quantum
entanglements." It may be quite impossible to obliterate ALL evidence of a
past event or configuration. Of course, this does not speak to the practical
difficulty of inferring information in a particular case, but it does greatly
broaden the scope of our potential resources and reduce--perhaps to zero--the
chance of total information-theoretic degradation. 

As an extremely rough but easily understood example, consider the following.
The nanobots working on a cryonics patient (still frozen) have found an
ambiguous memory in the patient's brain. The memory is of a photo and an
associated name, either "Aunt Mary" or "Aunt Marie." The record shows that the
patient had both an Aunt Mary and an Aunt Marie. Now all that is necessary is
a little detective work. Perhaps family interviews, in context, compel the
conclusion that the photo in question was definitely of Aunt Mary. Information
was "gone" from the brain but was nevertheless retrieved. 

Other examples might relate to cross-referencing internal information. A
"trajectory" approach or a "jig-saw-fitting" approach might fail, undertaken
separately or singly; but taken TOGETHER the possibilities might be narrowed
down to one. Yes, feasibility implies the availability of enormous computing
resources, but we should have those eventually.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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