04 February 2011

Deep-frozen wetware

After a night reading the superb God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America's Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2010) by Jason Stevens I sought light relief, in the style of Waugh's The Loved One, by reading Alcor's quarterly magazine [PDF].

Stevens offers an incisive exploration of the reception of the Niebuhrs, Norman Brown, Flannery O'Connor and other figures, along with analysis of works such as Inherit The Wind and The Night of the Hunter. Strongly commended.

The magazine from Alcor, the business that specialises in freezing your head (attached to your body or otherwise) with the expectation that you'll eventually be 'revived' without ill-effects, is a hoot.

It features advice by Ralph Merkle on "Signing Up Your Relatives", ie persuading people that they too should get the big chill (a process that is, of course, not free). Merkle helpfully suggests that -
Well, you’ve tried all the soft sell approaches. You’ve used all the rational arguments. You’ve pointed out all the simple, easy, straightforward reasons why Pat should choose cryonics. They haven’t worked. It’s time to try something with a bit more punch: “How would you feel if I put a shotgun in my mouth and blew out my brains?”

“What?” Pat might well try to evade answering the question. The obvious counter to any attempt at evasion is to simply repeat the question (possibly in shortened form or possibly after acknowledging Pat’s attempted counter but then saying that doesn’t answer the question): “How would you feel if I put a shotgun in my mouth and blew out my brains?” It seems unlikely that Pat would feel at all good in response to your hypothetical action, so we can reasonably assume that Pat eventually provides some variant of the following answer: “Terrible!” At which point you can say: “That’s how I feel about what you’re doing. Look, it’s easy for you to say you don’t want cryonics. You won’t have to grieve over your own death – but I will. Remember when died? Remember how you felt? Well, that’s how I’m going to feel if you aren’t cryopreserved. And I’m going to keep grieving for you for the rest of my life. Is that what you want to leave me, a lifetime of grief?”

If Pat has conceded that cryonics has some chance of working you can make an even stronger argument: "Even worse, think about what happens if cryonics is successful and I’m revived and rejuvenated: the rest of my life could be thousands of years or even longer. I’m scared I’ll never stop thinking about you and wishing you were with me, going over this conversation we’re having right now again and again in my mind, and blaming myself for not being more persuasive, for not trying harder, and for eventually giving up."

The primary purpose of the opening question and the essentially forced response is to snap Pat out of the “this is my decision and nobody else has a say in it” mind set. Pat’s decision influences more people than just Pat (if Pat cares about anyone else who supports cryonics, mention them as well). It’s also appealing to an implicit notion of fairness. If there’s some important reason Pat should be buried or cremated rather than cryopreserved, now is the time for Pat to explain it – otherwise Pat is just hurting people for a whim, and most people most of the time try to avoid hurting others, even if it means they can’t do exactly what they want.

The emotional argument being made is quite simple and is based on few assumptions. Stated explicitly, it is: “Pat, if you are buried or cremated your loved ones (at least those of us who think cryonics is a good idea) will suffer and grieve for decades, if not a lot longer. If you’re cryopreserved, we won’t. Is being buried or cremated really so important to you that you are willing to put us through that kind of pain? For what reason?”

This emotional argument is valid regardless of Pat’s skepticism or doubts about cryonics – because it’s your belief in cryonics that makes it work, not Pat’s doubts.
Mike Perry, in a review of The Sociopath Next Door, warns that -
The cryonics movement is small and vulnerable. We need to be concerned about people who could do us harm and may impress us initially with their intelligence, competence, and apparent eagerness to help. One such personality type is the sociopath, a person with no conscience, the subject of the book here reviewed.
Oh dear, sociopaths threatening the "movement" founded on the belief that when the wetware gets thawed the person will still be there (ie the brain will be functioning rather than what one of my more irreverent medical friends describes as a defrosted meat-flavoured icicle).

Lest I be too cruel about "the movement" - where would we be without pasty-faced nerds in true believer mode - I'll quote an explanation from the magazine.
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is a nonprofit tax-exempt scientific and educational organization dedicated to advancing the science of cryopreservation and promoting cryonics as a rational option. Being an Alcor member means knowing that — should the worst happen — Alcor’s Emergency Response Team is ready to respond for you, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The "worst" is presumably a meeting with the grim reaper, an eventuality that from my perspective is strictly a matter of when rather than if.

The same magazine states that -
Cryonics is an attempt to preserve and protect human life, not reverse death. It is the practice of using extreme cold to attempt to preserve the life of a person who can no longer be supported by today’s medicine. Will future medicine, including mature nanotechnology, have the ability to heal at the cellular and molecular levels? Can cryonics successfully carry the cryopreserved person forward through time, for however many decades or centuries might be necessary, until the cryopreservation process can be reversed and the person restored to full health? While cryonics may sound like science fiction, there is a basis for it in real science. The complete scientific story of cryonics is seldom told in media reports, leaving cryonics widely misunderstood. We invite you to reach your own conclusions.
People who find the prospect of freezing and defrosting passe can presumably savour the writing of transhumanist Charles Tandy, founder of (and apparently sole academic at) RIA University. That no doubt very fine institution is apparently somewhat less substantial than Laszlo's recurrently-hyped-&-rebadged GlobalShift University (aka Giordano Bruno University aka Giordano Bruno GlobalShift University), albeit like the Laszlo institution does not appear to have any students.

Tandy very modestly claims to be "a pioneer in time travel and suspended animation", complete with a Laszlo-style theory about "the omniverse". His 'Entropy & Immortality' in 14(1) Journal of Futures Studies (2009) burbles that -
Work beginning in the 20th century has laid the foundation for eventual realization of the onto-resurrection imperative. Developments have already taken us to the threshold of what has been called "practical time travel" – or what, loosely speaking, we may call "time travel". Once time travel becomes feasible in the 21st century, then we can proceed to more fully implement our common task of resurrecting all persons no longer alive, rather than merely resurrecting some persons via current techniques such as CPR. The first steps (beyond CPR) occurred in the 20th century on several fronts, including steps in the direction of suspended-animation, superfast-rocketry, and seg-communities. ...

But the onto-resurrection imperative demands more than immortality for those currently alive. In extraterrestrial space we can experiment (e.g. via Einsteinian or Gödelian past-directed time travel-viewing) with immortality for all persons no longer alive. Seg-communities (Self-sufficient Extra-terrestrial Green-habitats, or O'Neill communities – e.g., see O'Neill, 2000) can assist us with our ordinary and terrestrial problems as well as assist us in completion of the onto-resurrection project. Indeed, in Al Gore's account of the global warming of our water planet, his parable of the frog is a central metaphor. Because the frog in the pot of water experiences only a gradual warming, the frog does not jump out. I add: Jumping off the water planet is now historically imperative. Indeed, it seems unwise to put all of our eggs (futures) into one basket (biosphere).

I close with these words from Jacques Choron: "Only pleasant and personal immortality provides what still appears to many as the only effective defense against ... death. But it is able to accomplish much more. It appeases the sorrow following the death of a loved one by opening up the possibility of a joyful reunion... It satisfies the sense of justice outraged by the premature deaths of people of great promise and talent, because only this kind of immortality offers the hope of fulfillment in another life. Finally, it offers an answer to the question of the ultimate meaning of life, particularly when death prompts the agonizing query [of Tolstoy], 'What is the purpose of this strife and struggle if, in the end, I shall disappear like a soap bubble?' "

Above it was shown that mental-reality and all-reality are dimensions of reality which are not altogether reducible to any strictly physical-scientific paradigm. A more believable (general-ontological) paradigm was presented. Within this framework, the issue of personal immortality was considered. It was concluded that the immortality project, as a physical-scientific common-task to resurrect all dead persons, is ethically imperative. The imperative includes as first steps the development of suspended-animation, superfast-rocketry, and seg-communities.
Shame that there's no mention of hovercars, jetpacks and proton pills!

Tandy is a Director of the Lifeboat Foundation, concerned with responses to "existential threats" (bug-eyed extraterrestrials and so forth). It has an interest in immortality by - kid you not - 'broadcasting' us into outer space, in the pious hope that artificial intelligence (AI) or benign extraterrestrials will reconstruct us using that information. Oh dear.
A personality could be uploaded or migrated to a computer as well as being broadcast to the universe so a future ET could reinstantiate them in case an existential risk occurs. Instead of an ET, if one is willing to entertain either faster-than-light travel or non-Euclidean-space travel (e.g. wormholes), it may even be possible that our far-future descendants pick up our broadcasts and reconstruct us.
One link points to CyBeRev (Personal CyberConsciousness by Terasem Movement Inc).
CyBeRev means cybernetic beingness revival. The purpose of the CyBeRev project is to prevent death by preserving sufficient digital information about a person so that recovery remains possible by foreseeable technology. Terasem Movement believes that future technology will be able to recover full functionality for CyBeRev people.

The first step toward achieving that goal, and the purpose of this website, is for participants to store digital reflections of their mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values with as great a fidelity as is possible.

Participants can store digital reflections in a variety of formats, including:
Text documents
Audio recordings
Personality tests
Participants can then choose to share some or all of their information with others through the Visit Reflections feature of the project.
If you are enthused you can read the following associated statement from "Terasem Movement Transreligion Inc", explained as -
A social movement devoted to diversity, unity and joyful immortality achieved through exponential growth of geo-ethical nanotechnology. Immortality is accomplished by creating consciousness in self-replicating machines that can be distributed throughout the cosmos. The machines use their exponentially growing knowledge and ethical nanotechnology to convert universal random mass and energy into ubiquitous intelligent mass and energy that, networked together, will be a force capable of controlling cosmic physics. Diversity, unity and joy are ensured through machine consciousness and universal adherence to the principles of Terasem. As the collective consciousness becomes increasingly omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent it will realize the age-old vision of a benevolent God. Until the time of cosmic dispersion, Terasem functions as a trans-religion by educating the public on the practicality and necessity of diversity, unity and joyful immortality.