A Time for Objectivity

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Frosty
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A Time for Objectivity

Post by Frosty » Sat Mar 23, 2019 3:00 pm

This post is a deep-dive overview and explanation of my perspectives on the current state of cryonics in which I do some literal soul-searching and use this to build a case as to why the scientific method and rational thought must be adhered to by cryonicists with much more vigilance than that required for other empirical disciplines in light of the facts that cryonics has powerful religious and emotional appeal that can easily lead us astray and we each only have one shot at getting this right. It took me quite a while (even by cryonics standards) to flesh out these ideas and finally put them all down in writing, but I feel the end result touches on many of the most significant practical and philosophic obstacles that cryonics will be forced to confront in the future and illustrates how logic and scientific inquiry applied in the here and now can enable us to foresee and hopefully overcome each of them.

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Between the recent $5 million donation to Alcor’s research fund and the ongoing developments in Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation (ASC), interesting times are on the horizon. This could be a major turning point for Alcor that allows them to establish a substantial research arm, something that has been sorely lacking from the cryonics movement in general up to this point. Perhaps Peter Thiel or someone of similar financial stature will eventually come along and give this project a real kickstart. Regardless, the question is, now that Alcor has a respectable amount of funding to further advance the science of cryopreservation, what will they choose to research and what principles will guide these decisions?

Although I admit I am currently most in favor of investigating ASC as an alternative to traditional cryopreservation, because it appears to do an excellent job of preserving the brain’s fine structure (and most importantly, the three-dimensional forms and arrangements of information-coding proteins) in a highly durable state that can be directly rewarmed and read out in high detail using nothing more sophisticated than today’s technology (albeit very slowly), I am also fully on board with any research that aims to improve the quality and consistency of Alcor's current preservation protocols in a manner that provides at least some physical evidence that useful amounts of chemical and structural information are being preserved in the brains of their patients. Interpreting or reconstructing even a miniscule region of original connectome, synapses and protein structures from the biopsy of a cryopreserved brain (as has already been accomplished using ASC) would suffice and would demonstrate that their current preservation protocols actually do prevent death from an information-theoretic point of view, which, according to Alcor, means the patient is potentially recoverable - a position I fully support. Yet somewhat perplexingly, after more than 40 years in operation, Alcor has yet to devise any direct means of evaluating whether or not their patients have actually survived the process of cryopreservation under their own information-theoretic criteria, a fact that should give all members pause.

Maintaining the viability of a patient (so they can at least theoretically be restored to life using the constituents of their original biological body as opposed to an entirely new one) is certainly desirable as a secondary goal, but I hope all members would agree that choosing to preserve a brain in a manner that renders it potentially viable but fully dead from an information-theoretic standpoint is not a workable path to revival under any philosophical framework, so before investing further time and resources doubling-down on their current methods, I would strongly advocate that Alcor set aside a portion of their research funds to rule out this possibility by producing some form of physical evidence that the brain’s connectome and chemical constituents are still readable - or at least inferable – post vitrification. Otherwise, maintaining the cellular-level viability of a shrunken mass of disarticulated and jumbled up neural tissue across many decades won’t serve any clear purpose beyond those already accomplished by traditional interment and Alcor may as well clone their patients instead of resuscitating them when the time comes, since cloning also maintains viability, cures all non-inherited ailments, and reverses aging while erasing all of a person’s memories - and will likely do so at a much more affordable price than the combined costs of vitrification, long-term storage and molecular repair. From a maintain-viability-above-all-else perspective, it seems to me that producing a clone of a legally-deceased person would be mission accomplished. But are there any among us who would actually be satisfied with this outcome? Could it be there are aspects of your personhood and individuality that are far, far more important than the continuing operation of the mindless chemical processes that drive our metabolisms and are generic and interchangeable between all members of the animal kingdom (better known as ‘biological viability’)? I cannot speak for anyone else, but when those who have known me look back and remember the character of my biological self, I’d like to think that they will have something more to say than ‘he was viable’.

If Alcor’s goal is to revive patients as they once were (and not just a blank slate that roughly resembles them and operates on the same basic biochemistry) then the viability of preserved neurons will be utterly useless without vast amounts of extra-cellular and intra-cellular information content defining the patient’s memories and personality, but that same information content in the absence of viability is still information that can in theory be used to restore or recreate a person’s mind and perhaps their entire existence in either a biological or non-biological medium, and as such will be indispensable to any meaningful attempt at revival and should be given precedence over all other considerations, including the myriad of personal philosophies regarding the age old mind-body problem that cannot be evaluated scientifically and therefore must be discarded in favor of verifiable methods and outcomes that can be, or we will be trapped in philosophical purgatory fretting over intractable obstacles of our own creation indefinitely. Saying “trust us, the information is there, it’s just that no one can clearly see it, even under a microscope” is no longer adequate now that ASC exists as a workable alternative to traditional cryopreservation that has already been demonstrated to preserve nearly all of the brain’s information content in a pristine and readable condition, and by making such statements Alcor has effectively insulated themselves from falsifiability in a manner that poses considerable risks to the revival prospects and post-revival prognoses of their future patients. At present, it requires almost equal amounts of faith to believe that the traditional cryonics methods used by Alcor adequately preserve the brain as it does to believe the revival of said brains will eventually become possible, a doubly far-fetched scenario that should be entirely unacceptable to anyone who actually cares about saving people’s lives and identities and not just their physical bodies (which, as all neuropatients have tacitly acknowledged, are entirely replaceable).

Meanwhile, when presented with these facts, most members seem fully contented to continue paying their dues, crossing their fingers and taking an entirely unnecessary blind gamble that traditional cryopreservation prevents information-theoretic death when it may in fact be causing it, or at least strongly contributing to it, due to the well-documented flattening, tearing and gross displacement of neurons and proteins that occurs as a natural consequence of Alcor’s current preservation protocols. As much as I appreciate ironic outcomes, that is a fate I believe all of us would prefer to avoid.

In any other medical context, such extreme neurological trauma to a patient would be considered catastrophic and unrecoverable brain damage, rendering the person vegetative at best if they could even theoretically be revived. But at Alcor, such thorough masking and mixing of the brain’s internal structures is fully acceptable in order to avoid acknowledging that their particular vision of the future, in which everyone is restored to life via entropy-reversing medical nanobots that presuppose the existence of superhuman artificial intelligences to guide them, yet nonetheless are used only to painstakingly restore markedly less intelligent biological humans exactly as they previously were without replacing or upgrading their brains and bodies in any wholesale fashion (which would render Alcor’s valiant efforts to maintain patient viability mostly irrelevant), may be veering into science fantasy. While the data we don’t have could eventually prove otherwise (as Alcor suggests), all the data we do have as to the condition of current patients is fully consistent with the information-theoretic death of their brains, in fact, it matches the definition perfectly, because information that may exist but is unreadable for any reason (such as an encrypted memory for which we lack the key, or a sealed letter that will immediately disintegrate if we ever choose to open it) is, in effect, already destroyed.

At first blush, these statements may read like bare cynicism, but they do not come from a desire to project doom and gloom (of which I have none), they are an honest and urgent appeal for Alcor and its members to step back from the seemingly pressing concerns of today for a moment and re-examine their gut instincts (which did not evolve to aid us in making quick and impulsive judgments about the nature of the self and the nonintuitive and rapidly advancing worlds of computer science and biotechnology) and start thinking much more critically and independently about the many humanistic premises on which current cryonics organizations were understandably founded. I hope this post will serve as a thought-provoking wake-up call for those of us who are still awake, believe that Alcor’s underlying mission is achievable and worth the immense and disciplined effort it will require, and are not afraid to question the status quo, even within a field as nontraditional and forward-thinking as cryonics.

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All cryonics services on the market today, the ethical principles of medical science, and our entire body of criminal and civil law are all based on the highly intuitive and seemingly obvious notion that people are physical in nature and that our identities are intimately intertwined with our physical brains and bodies throughout our lives. The fact that so many diverse fields agree on this single definition of personhood demonstrates the immense sway it holds over our thoughts, morals, and philosophies. To most, it seems ludicrous to even suggest that the concept of individuals as singular and continuous physical beings may not be entirely accurate. I mean, have you ever met someone who can abandon their physical body at will when they are not using it and then return to it later? In all likelihood, you would immediately claim you have not. But if you think about it more critically and carefully, you will eventually come to realize that everyone has this remarkable ability.

Whenever you pass out, fall into a deep undreaming sleep or are fully anesthetized for surgery, where do you go during this period? You are nowhere. Your consciousness has ceased to exist and therefore so have you, albeit temporarily. That is why these events are experienced as “missing time” from a subjective standpoint. The time isn’t missing, it is you who were missing. The ongoing existence of consciousness is entirely dependent on a continuous process of computation that if interrupted for even a brief moment will immediately flicker out of being. People often speculate about what it is like to be dead, but anyone who has experienced a fully unconscious state already knows very well what it is like to be dead: it is nothing, a non-experience. You cannot “be” dead or “be” unconscious, because unconsciousness is the complete lack of “be”-ing. Simply stated, you either are, or you are not, and there is no in between. Shakespeare apparently grasped this concept quite well with his ‘to be or not to be’ mantra, however, it is very difficult for most people to properly conceive of absolute breaks occurring in their own consciousness and to appreciate the full implications thereof (even though this happens to them every night at various points during their sleep cycles) and that is why they have so much difficulty grappling with and accurately understanding what death truly is: the loss of consciousness and the associated loss of being. If you are clinically dead or unconscious, then you no longer exist and the body you formerly inhabited becomes just that: a body. Not “your” body, but simply a collection of organic molecules with dormant information content stored within it that, in the case of death, will swiftly be lost to entropy if it is not properly preserved.

Most people prefer to see the world as an uninterrupted continuum of physical events, because that is what their logic and intuition tells them it is, a world that subjectively goes on and continues as they sleep or even after they die. But in actuality, our conscious existence is highly discontinuous and there are many breaks in its timeline of existence, some more apparent than others, like death. Whenever you lose consciousness for any reason and thereby cease to exist (even for an instant), the ONLY aspect of your personhood that persists and allows a new instance of you to be brought into being (or ‘revived’, if you will) at a later time is the inert data stored in your brain that describes your thought patterns and memories, and conveniently enough, like all data, this information is fully transferrable and duplicable while it is not in active use. Therefore, whenever and in whatever form this information is compiled and restored to consciousness in the future will become you, both subjectively and objectively, whether you are brought back as a biological human, a synthetic being, or a virtual entity. This will not be a new “you” or a slightly different “you”, but the very same you who is reading this post. “You” are defined by nothing more or less than immaterial information stored in a packet of proteins and lipids called a brain that due to its particular hierarchy of organization can create and maintain consciousness for extended periods, not the brain itself, which consists only of lifeless subatomic particles utterly devoid of consciousness and with no unique identities of their own. These particles are not and have never been you. You are the message they collectively contain when presently stimulated to consciousness, and as such, you are not bound to these particles any more than your favorite song is bound to your car radio. Be that as it may, it seems many of us would still prefer to envision ourselves as a folded up three-pound glob of fatty molecules bobbing around in nutrient broth inside of a skull and I am not unsympathetic to this view - although I do question its appeal.

If one wishes to obtain an indefinite lifespan in the future, being a nonphysical entity defined fully by its information content will offer some rather obvious and tantalizing advantages. As unconscious and immaterial data, your person could in principle be copied, transferred and backed up a trivial number of times and to many different locations, making it very difficult to even conceive of a plausible scenario in which your identity would be lost irretrievably, just as it would be nearly impossible to confidently root out and erase every instance of a particular cat photo that has been posted to Twitter. For your immaterial identity, cryonics offers a mechanism by which much (if not all) of the information describing you can be stored and transferred to another time and place vastly separated from your current circumstances where your cryopreserved mind could be scanned and electronically backed up to additional locations outside the confines of your original brain (a feat that should be possible long before the art of revival itself, if current trends in information technology continue apace), greatly increasing the likelihood of your identity remaining intact for the timeframes required for revival technologies to fully mature and reducing the cost of its continued storage to virtually nothing. Wherever and whenever this data is ultimately restored to consciousness, you will regain existence, even if that happens to occur within a fully artificial body many centuries hence and long after your original (and now fully unconscious) biological body has been lost to time.

Thought experiments that claim such a scenario would produce only a mere “copy” of you (as I once took for granted myself) fail to account for the fact that this new consciousness is functionally identical to your current consciousness and so will be a direct continuation of it, inasmuch as the consciousness you possess today is a direct continuation of the consciousness you possessed prior to going to bed last night (a consciousness which, strictly speaking, no longer exists). Even dedicated cryonicists and Alcor’s own employees have historically had great difficulty in fully buying into this argument because they intuitively presume that their current subjective experience persists in some form within their original biological body even after it has clinically died (an unacknowledged latent religious belief), which if true, would lead to the perfectly rational conclusion that their consciousness has in fact been split into two different individuals instead of being transferred, a situation which would be much more akin to copying. However, since we already established that death (or any other state of unconsciousness) is the complete absence of any subjective experience whatsoever and the total lack of being, in a revival scenario in which your cryopreserved biological brain has been destructively scanned, replicated and stimulated to consciousness in a new medium there is only one consciousness in existence at the moment of revival that can be tied directly and seamlessly to your current subjective self (i.e. you) and it is that which has been transferred over to your new brain. Not duplicated… but transferred.

Being an immaterial process, consciousness has no physical location nor presence in reality while it remains inactive (much like a flame that has been extinguished), and as such, any instance of consciousness that is created in the future based on the dormant information content in your current brain (whether it is brought into existence within a biological brain located on Earth tomorrow morning or a synthetic brain located on Mars many centuries from now) will be fully equal to any other, and so should be considered a transfer of the original. The only reason you find yourself awakening in the same body, location and time period each morning at present (providing you with a very strong sense of physical continuity of self that seems to mirror that of your external physical reality) is because there is an entirely new instance of consciousness produced by your brain each time you wake up that promptly receives information content which leads it to believe that it has always been you, when in fact, this consciousness is itself a newly created transient process brought into being only moments earlier that had no idea who or where it was until the brain provided it with this information (which explains the brief feeling of general disorientation and confusion one often feels upon suddenly waking from a deep sleep, and the state of “drunken” amnesia that results when this information fails to be delivered in a timely fashion). It is no exaggeration to say that your consciousness is born entirely anew each day within a different set of particles with a different organizational state, and by this metric none of us are more than a few hours old. So, allow me to be the first to say to the latest instance of you: welcome to the world. Sadly, the consciousnesses that claimed to be you yesterday didn’t make it to today, but you’re here now tapping into their memories fully convinced you are them and that’s what matters, because this closely held and fiercely guarded belief that the thoughts and memories you possess are your own is the essential prerequisite and ultimate source of personal identity.

Subjectively, you have been experiencing a process that is functionally identical to death and revival (by transfer of consciousness) on a daily basis throughout your entire life called sleeping and awakening, so clearly there is nothing too special or remarkable about these two terms, and certainly nothing to be afraid of. However, unlike waking up from a deep sleep (which entails a relatively gradual restoration of consciousness), with an optimal cryopreservation the transition of consciousness from your current body upon its clinical death to your new body upon revival would seem instantaneous to you and plausibly be no more dramatic than stepping through a doorway and coming out the other side. In fact, other than an abrupt change in your surroundings, you may not even immediately notice that anything unusual had happened. This is one of the distinct advantages of possessing a continuous subjective experience of reality that is unbroken for you and you alone.

Although this all sounds highly mystical and far too incredible for any reasonable secular scientist to believe, that is what the laws of physics dictate will occur. For if the “soul” is data (and from a scientific perspective there is nothing else it can possibly be), then it can indeed be transferred, as surely as you can send an e-mail from one computer to another. To suggest otherwise would imply that consciousness has a physical permanence in reality that is entirely independent of the brain’s activity or lack thereof (such as a life force, or spirit of some kind), for which there is not a shred of empirical evidence and almost certainly never will be. I call this particular fallacy ‘the myth of the objective self’ and it is a pervasive mass delusion of our society that is consistently reinforced by an evolutionary process that has trained all of us to firmly believe that people are born, live, and ultimately die within the same physical brain and body because of some fundamental unalterable principle of conscious existence or unaccountable spiritual factors and not simply due to the current limitations of our biology as evolution has defined them in order to promote speciation (a process that benefits from the frequent deaths of individuals to drive natural selection and life cycles that are no longer than needed to successfully pass along one’s genes and knowledge to their offspring so that they can go on to repeat the same cycle ad infinitum). As cryonicists, we are seeking to break free from our biological limits, but we remain unwittingly enslaved to them through adhering to an extremely narrow biological view of personal identity in which the subjective self is viewed as inseparable from an objective physical reality to which it does not fully belong (since, as should be self-evident, there is no such thing as an objective experience or an objective self and no point whatsoever in trying to preserve and revive such an oxymoronic thing). In reality, consciousness (and your existence) is as fleeting and immaterial as a daydream, and in a sense, that’s precisely what it is, and there is nothing at all demeaning to the self in accepting this, in fact, for those interested in radical life extension, it is a highly transformative insight and the best state of affairs one could possibly hope for. Because of its demonstrated capacity to phase in and out of existence without fundamentally altering one’s own subjective experience (a phenomenon that we contend with daily during our sleep cycle without even noticing it), it follows that consciousness must also have the theoretical capacity to be seamlessly transferred from one medium to another in a subjective instant without ever physically traversing the distance between them. This is one of the stranger superpowers of a purely subjective being, and is not some idle philosophical musing, but an objective fact. Like an image, a story, or a song, each person’s conscious awareness is an entirely subjective phenomenon defined by information that is medium-independent and as such can be freely transported and represented just as well in any suitable physical system, whether biological or artificial in nature.

Coming to the realization that a person’s consciousness could theoretically be transferred from one medium to another in this manner has radically altered my view of what science and technology will ultimately enable us to achieve as a species, as it suggests that in the future literally anything will be possible from a subjective standpoint and there will eventually be no practical limits to what we can experience or become. It also led me to recognize that our inherited biology (when viewed separately from our physical appearances and mannerisms, which can already be quite easily reproduced across a wide range of mediums and will always remain an important part of the human experience) is a rather trivial aspect of what it means to be human, and one that generally goes hand-in-hand with a great many unpleasantries that we either hide in shame or attempt to cure – such as disease, disability and aging. Biology is the story of how we were brought into being and evolved to a state of consciousness, and an astounding and humbling one at that… but it is not who we are. To be conscious, to feel, to care, to communicate, to seek purpose, to compete, to play, to form relationships, to explore, to teach, to learn, to remember, to understand, to believe, to imagine, to solve and to create is to be human - and all of these things require only information. Information is not soulless; it is the soul, and consciousness (the only truly irreducible quality of complex life) is a generalized process by which a collection of information can gain the ability to model its reality in real-time and make decisions based on this (i.e. become self-aware). Stated differently, consciousness is the means and mechanism by which one’s “soul” (in the form of information content) gains a subjective existence and thereby experiences the world.

When viewed in this light, it becomes clear that choosing to preserve the biological viability of a cryonics patient at the expense of destroying most or all of the information content in their brain would be analogous to destroying a person’s soul to save a body they will never be able to use again, for in this scenario, the irreplaceable and unique identity of the patient who once occupied the body in question has already been forcibly lost to entropy and cannot be recovered by any means even in principle, no different than if they were cremated. Someday in the not-too-distant future, such practices will be viewed in the same pitiable manner as those of the ancient Egyptians, who liquified and removed the deceased’s brain prior to mummification because they believed that it would not be needed in the spirit world, as preserving the heart and the physical shell of one’s body was considered to be far more important to continuation of the self. From a philosophical standpoint, there is very little (if any) difference between the postmortem preservation practices of the Third Dynasty and those of modern cryonics. Do we believe the ancients were on the correct path to preserving the true essence of the self? Should we continue to follow their lead?

In the tradition of Pascal’s Wager, if one were asked to place bets on the likelihood of various postmortem preservation methods permitting the future continuation of a specific individual’s consciousness (as all of us have opted to do), which of the options currently available would be considered the riskiest to forego? From a cost-benefit standpoint, if the information content of your brain is destroyed or rendered permanently unreadable during the initial cooling and preservation process, the cost to your self will be total and revival rendered impossible right out of the gate (meaning this outcome has infinite costs and no potential benefits), whereas if the viability of your biological brain is lost during preservation without causing any material damage to its underlying information content, the cost to your self will be much less than infinite and quite probably zero, and revival will remain possible within the laws of physics (meaning this outcome has a fixed cost and vast potential benefits). As applied to these facts, Pascal’s Wager would clearly dictate that the possibility of a known infinite cost (the loss of the brain’s information content and any hope of revival) is much less desirable than the possibility of an unknown but finite cost (the loss of the brain’s viability) for the chance of a nearly infinite gain (revival of the self in the future). Thus, based on Pascal’s reasoning, I posit that if our goal is to preserve and revive the self, we would be much better off choosing a method that best preserves the information content of the mind (which is a demonstrated necessity to the continued existence of one’s identity in our observable reality) then a method that best preserves biological viability (which, barring supernatural factors unknown to science, is likely not required).

Without possessing the original information content of a person’s mind, the odds of the successful revival of that particular individual are already known to be zero based on our present scientific understanding of neuroscience and the documented effects of severe brain injury on living people (who often become an entirely different person with new habits and little or no memories of prior events, to the great dismay and even denial of their families), whereas the necessity of maintaining the biological viability of a preserved patient to this end is only relevant in that it requires a vastly higher level of preservation technology to accomplish (possibly the very same level of technology that would be needed to physically repair and revive said patient, completely negating its value as a means of “medical time travel”). Cryonics is often referred to as a “first in, last out” procedure, based on the premise that the crude methods of cryopreservation practiced in the earliest years will require much more advanced technology to permit a complete revival, and so the earliest cryo-patients will have to remain in stasis until a much later date than more recent patients preserved under less damaging protocols. Based on the current state of medical knowledge as I appraise it to be (hovering just a hair above total ignorance, especially when it comes to the brain), I strongly suspect that we are all in this “first in, last out” group in that we will most likely not have the luxury of choosing to simultaneously preserve both viability AND useful amounts of recoverable information content in a human brain via cryopreservation with any near-term technology (meaning true bio-suspension is likely out of reach for all current members simply due to being born too early to take advantage of it). The inability to demonstrate reversable bio-suspension is the primary scientific criticism of current cryonics practices, and I believe it is a perfectly legitimate one. Bio-suspension is not something that should be done halfway in a manner that “sort of” preserves viability and “might” preserve information content or we risk sacrificing both information content AND viability in order to project a flawed philosophy of physical absolutism and the sanctity of biology that future doctors are unlikely to adhere to, or even relate to. Thus, for the time being, if we wish for cryonics to amount to more than a symbolic protest against the inevitability of biological death, I believe we will have to choose which of these two aspects of the human brain (viability or information content) should be given greater attention and priority during preservation, and accept that regardless of our choice, by being cryopreserved during such a nascent era of medical science we are already unavoidably committing ourselves to an extremely high level of technology for revival (a state of technology that will necessarily have to allow for brains to be scanned, analyzed and replicated and/or constructed from scratch, meaning that maintaining the biological viability of cryo-patients under current medical criteria will be of questionable import to a successful revival and may even present a considerable hinderance if it causes any unnecessary damage to the brain’s interior structure).

In short, we can speculate as much as we want – rightly or wrongly - about the capabilities of future revival technologies to repair damage and restore viability to even the most seemingly hopeless of today’s “straight freeze” cryo-patients (as this speculation will have no effect whatsoever on the ultimate fate of these individuals and may grant us some solace in the present), but we must also acknowledge that the primitive and highly damaging preservation methods currently practiced at Alcor are a known variable directly influencing the likelihood of our future revivals that we can and should mitigate to reduce the need for citing far-reaching speculation and quantum leaps of logic to make revival appear plausible, and to stop using voluntary ignorance as a shield for our preferred fantasies or as a justification to avoid objectively grading and improving current preservation practices. I am sure there are those among us who (like any religious follower) simply want to believe they will be revived and to shun all naysayers from within and without in order to preserve this fragile belief at all costs - and they are welcome to continue doing so if it helps them allay their fears - but I believe the majority of us are rational free-thinking people who actually want to BE revived, even if that runs the risk of destroying our hopes for current patients and claims of authority based on an absence of evidence. Real faith requires risk, it requires something of personal value be placed at stake to test its mettle and validity, and history has demonstrated those who are willing to put their present comfort and wellbeing at issue in order to test an outlandish idea they happen to believe in are the people on which all progress depends.

With all this in mind, if we choose to accept an elevated risk of information-theoretic death occurring to the brain during preservation when less damaging methods are already available (as we currently have elected to do by foregoing ASC in favor of traditional vitrification methods), it should be because we are gaining something of enormous value in return, but what is it that we are gaining here, exactly, other than the ability to save face and a pretense of expertise by doubling-down on the status quo? Try as you might, you will find you can’t quite put your finger on what this thing we are gaining is without invoking an objective self that exists independently of the brain’s activity and is composed of atoms lightly salted with a special variety of pixie dust that defies empirical detection but nonetheless marks these atoms as special and unique from all others in the universe.

Reading up a bit on neuroscience and finding no such magical substance permeating the brain’s anatomy (yet, strangely, no other bodily organs) reported in the literature is what caused me to finally accept that when it comes to preserving a particular person’s subjective existence, information is everything, and the absence of information is nothing. Since the concept of biological viability can itself be reduced to a mechanistic process defined by relatively small amounts of highly generic information content that is fully interchangeable between individuals and even between species, it has very little value to the objective of preventing the information-theoretic death of a specific individual, and can likely be fully inferred and recreated at a later date based on information copied from any template organism with a similar metabolism (such as any other human or even a chimpanzee). The vast network of memories and thought patterns within a patient’s mind accumulated over their lifetime that is unique to them is where the only real information-theoretic value lies and is what we should be aiming to preserve and protect above all else if we believe that people are more than their appearances belie.

Because these ideas are extremely difficult to fully comprehend and sell to the public, Alcor has instead adopted the more traditional and limited view of personhood, in that they assign special qualities to the biological brains of their patients above and beyond the information they contain and that for whatever reason, these special qualities do not apply to the rest of the physically identical atoms in the universe. I question that notion. Does an atom contain your soul? Can your “soul” be fully described using a sufficient number of atoms? Are certain atoms better suited than others for this task? Can atoms taken from a cheeseburger be used to do this? How about atoms taken from a potato or a rock? What measurable quality do these special “soul-defining” atoms have that other atoms lack? Is your identity fundamentally altered in any way by the vast numbers of atoms of this type that are replaced within your brain every day and later expelled from your body through normal metabolic and biological repair processes? How can your friends and family be sure you are still who you claim to be from one moment to the next when the privileged atoms within your brain are constantly being replaced by new ones plucked at random from the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe? And if you are not a particular set of atoms, then what are you? Though they sound esoteric, such questions are at the very core of cryonics, and if we can’t answer them immediately and definitively today (or continue to mischaracterize these as philosophical quandaries instead of matters of fact) then we have not thought about these topics long enough and are unlikely to get too far in our efforts to preserve the self for future revival.

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So other than proving their patients are, in fact, theoretically recoverable, what else can Alcor do in the here and now to improve patient outcomes in the future? Considering they are purportedly offering a medical service, as a practical first step towards revival, Alcor could choose to assemble a committee consisting of their board members and scientific advisors (since they seem to have a rather outsized number of PhDs among their ranks) and have them clearly lay out for Alcor’s customers and stakeholders a sharper description of precisely what it is the company is trying to accomplish for their patients from a medical standpoint via cryopreservation, by considering the following questions:

1) Is the goal of cryonics to preserve postmortem viability at all costs, even if it causes severe damage to the patient’s brain, up to and including the loss of all their memories and identity-critical information?

2) At what threshold of potential damage to the deceased patient’s brain (if any) should preserving information content take precedence over maintaining viability?

3) If current preservation protocols are found to be causing the loss of material amounts of identity-critical information, is allowing this damage to occur in the name of preserving viability morally acceptable if there are alternative preservation methods available that could have safeguarded this information in a highly durable (though nonviable) format?

4) What does viability mean in the context of cryonics, considering all of Alcor’s patients are nonviable by current medical standards? Barring complete physical destruction, is patient viability ever definitively lost in principle, or is this label primarily an artifact of the limited capabilities of current technology? As long as a patient is viable after being revived, will it matter at all to them or anyone else if they were biologically or medically “viable” by today’s standards beforehand?

5) Are the loss of biological viability and information-theoretic death associated in any fashion from a technical standpoint, or should these concepts be completely severed from one another?

6) What specific outcomes would constitute the successful revival of a patient, in Alcor’s view? Is biological revival of the original brain required? Does the revived brain have to remain entirely biological or can artificial components be utilized, either wholly or in part? Does the brain have to be made of the same atoms it was originally? Is restoration of all or most of the brain’s original information content required, or simply a “nice to have”?

7) What would constitute a failed revival? Is such an occurrence even possible, considering that all “revived” patients will be fully viable by definition? Is it conceivable for a patient to be restored to a living condition and yet not be fully revived in fact, due to irreversible information loss that occurred to their biological brain years earlier during the initial cooling and vitrification processes? If such an outcome would not be considered a failure, then why does Alcor explicitly state in its membership documents that simple cloning of a patient would not constitute a “revival”?

8) Based on these considerations, which currently available method of cryopreservation is most likely to lead to a successful revival, based on the provable and measurable empirical evidence we have today?

9) Under this chosen method of preservation, what will be the indispensable and irreplaceable elements of the patient that we are attempting to protect? How should we go about performing QA/QC evaluations on preserved patients to confirm these elements are still present?

10) Should we continue defining cryonics as a medical service when the concept of information-theoretic death is completely at odds with all medical criterion for death? If so, should we consider attaching some additional qualifiers to this definition (such as maintaining patient viability by today’s standards) to more closely align it with contemporary medicine? Is it problematic in any way for the description of cryonics as a medical service that current medical science considers a patient exhibiting complete brain death to nonetheless be fully living and therefore “viable” as long as their vitals can be maintained artificially?

11) Alcor has stated they want to achieve ‘reversable’ cryopreservation. What does reversable mean in this context? Does it mean restoring a cryopreserved mind to its previous consciousness and identity regardless of the methods employed to accomplish this, or is it more technical and narrow in scope, referring specifically to the reversal of the vitrification process, irrespective of whether or not the patient’s mind can be restored to its original state of consciousness thereafter?

12) If, hypothetically, Alcor’s patients can be reconstituted from raw materials in a viable state using only the information content of their cryopreserved remains, but not the remains themselves, will this mean that cryopreservation is a reversable procedure? Why or why not?

13) Extrapolating from the ethics and practices observed by current medicine, will future doctors likely be most concerned with restoring the subjective health and well-being of their patients by whatever means necessary, or restoring the objective physical state of their organs and body parts to whatever it was previously, even if there are cheaper, higher performing and longer lasting components available that could be transplanted and used in their stead?


Alcor seems to be conflicted and confused on all of these points. It appears they wish to cast the widest net possible when publicly discussing the likelihood of future revival of their patients through invoking the information-theoretic definition of death (which does not mention viability at all), but then refuse to fully commit to this definition in practice, and instead have substituted an unwritten quasi-biological definition of death that is much more strict in that it requires maintaining viability even if doing so causes large amounts of irreversible information loss to the patient’s brain (which Alcor should logically equate with “death” by their own stated reasoning, but in an impressive display of resistance to cognitive dissonance, have managed not to). This contradictory approach to preventing information-theoretic death is at best making the problem of revival exponentially more difficult and expensive than it needs to be, and at worst is making it physically impossible, all in an apparent effort to avoid the PR consequences of publicly acknowledging the very real possibility that our current conceptions of life, death, individuality, and what it means to be human (though comforting and intuitive to our psyches) are very primitive and, like most of current medical science, are themselves destined for extinction, and that is not a battlefield worth dying on. If Alcor cannot swiftly develop and start communicating a single coherent philosophy on these most basic issues, then in my view, they are ill-prepared to start making multimillion-dollar decisions on research initiatives, as they would be setting sail with no map, no compass and no destination.

Additionally, by continuing to observe “viability-first” cryopreservation protocols that are predicated on the continuing existence of medical science as it is currently conceived far into the future (as a field devoted to physically repairing biological humans and their brains exactly as they previously were without any attempt at upgrades, replacement or improvement) Alcor is making vast and sweeping assumptions about future technology and culture that run squarely against human nature as we have come to know it and as such could prove wildly and even absurdly inaccurate, much like the steam-powered visions of tomorrow of the mid-19th century appear to us today. Just as the future continuation of steam technology was taken for granted by previous generations, biology (and by extension, viability) is only viewed as sacrosanct in the present age because our science and engineering has not yet managed to pierce the veil of our ignorance on all of its functions and improve upon them, but that will change drastically in the centuries ahead, and along with this shift, medical science will be forever transformed into something that bears very little resemblance to the healthcare of today and will be motivated by wholly different goals. For example, in a world where most people possess bodies that inherently lack the capacity to develop cancer (due to genetic engineering or other artificial enhancements), why would scientists continue researching better methods to treat preexisting cases? It simply will no longer make sense to pursue these paths from an economic standpoint, and those who were cryopreserved on the presumption that these better treatment methods would eventually arrive to cure their late stage terminal conditions may have to wait a very long time indeed if they expect to be revived and restored to health using the diseased and frail biological constituents of their original brains and bodies.

……………………………………………………………………

You may be wondering why anyone would choose to scrutinize the methodology of a long-shot “medical” intervention that is undoubtedly conducted in good faith when the alternative is losing consciousness permanently and never experiencing anything – good, bad, or indifferent - ever again. I think that question just about answers itself. At stake here is nothing less than our very existences, so naturally I want to be as sure as possible that we are on the correct course, rather than wind up missing the future by mere centimeters because our heading was slightly off target. The truth is I fully support the underlying intent of Alcor’s mission and want them to succeed as much as anyone does, and that is precisely why I believe we must vigorously question, test and evaluate their current practices from every possible angle, as well as our own personal conceptions of what truly defines identity and personhood, as even these “common sense” ideas will eventually be challenged by advances in medical science, and we must proactively confront the specter of these future technologies and adopt philosophies that are consistent with them. I am certain there will be nothing “common sense” about the technologies used to revive us and continuing to believe our original brains and bodies will somehow be physically reverted to their previous condition by as yet unknown means (while somehow also resolving all existing ailments and cryo-induced damage in the process) and then abruptly reawakened (ala Futurama) as opposed to being reconstituted from raw materials in a state of full health based solely on the discernable information content of our biological brains and nervous systems is a mistake I believe we can no longer afford to make if we wish for cryonics to have a ‘viable’ future within the field of healthcare.

Due to being among the earliest (“first in, last out”) group of cryonauts, we are most definitely in this for the long haul and we need to start engaging in more long-term thinking about the plausible future of medicine and how the definition of medical science will expand and blur into other disciplines after it transitions from being a practice of merely restoring the human body to improving it, a shift that will likely occur long before future “doctors” are in any way equipped to repair a vitrified body at the molecular level. We are beggars, not choosers when it comes to dictating the circumstances and methods of our revivals and we must confront the cold reality that future technology will almost certainly not be developed to serve the needs of our voiceless vitrified selves, but the needs of those who never had to be cryopreserved in the first place (because it is rather difficult to sell products to a cryopreserved customer, even if you have a really good pitch). Since we cannot hope to control or even influence the course of cultural and technological advancements years (let alone centuries) into the future during the course of our suspensions, we must instead use logic and the facts available to us in the here and now to anticipate and adapt to them, and this may require surrendering certain comforting fantasies regarding the future that we have all entertained as a concession to the unwavering and dispassionate gods of Human Nature, Economics and Physics - an act that requires a considerable degree of humility and courage. As we have all learned through our life experiences, realizing a fantasy almost invariably requires a process of careful negotiation with the laws of reality and relinquishing something of ourselves in return (ego and pride being chiefly among these), and the dream of immortality will be no different, except that obtaining it will require cryonicists to relinquish far more of themselves after legal death than anyone ever has and lived to tell about it.

It is crucial for all of us to acknowledge that Alcor’s ultimate goal of providing patients with a rejuvenated and - by any current measure – nothing short of magical existence in the future draws obvious parallels with religion and comes with all the same psychological pitfalls we are prone to fall victim to as hopeful, forward-looking, intelligent people who have been searching high and low for any slight justification to believe in some form of afterlife, both for ourselves and for our loved ones. Recognizing this fact, we can never allow ourselves to slip into the same pattern of hand-waving and complete intellectual surrender that religious practitioners depend on when speaking of the hereafter, because cryonics…is…real, and it has a real chance of working, but unlike religion, it cannot succeed on faith and goodwill alone, although it can quite readily fail on them. While religious practitioners can always defer to numerous reassuring parables, metaphors and anecdotes whenever hard data is lacking, as a practical matter, if we wish to secure a hereafter for ourselves within the bounds of physics, we will first have to develop objectively verifiable definitions of what life is, what death is, and what the soul is so that these concepts are no longer a matter of belief and we can better define those aspects of the self that we are attempting to preserve in the present and revive in the future. With their unexpected windfall, Alcor has been given an unprecedented opportunity to prove that cryonics can evolve into something much more tangible and exciting than a religion, and I sincerely hope they have the daring and vision to see it through. The lives of many real people with real memories forsaken by current medicine are at stake in this venture, and as such it must never be approached with more hope than reason.

The bottom line is, whether by freak accident or predestination, you have somehow arisen to intelligent self-awareness for a brief instant in the history of the cosmos and this is your one shot to see the future. In the vast eons to come (so vast as to be unmeasurable by current human standards), there will never be another you, unless you preserve sufficient information about the contents of your brain postmortem to allow for your consciousness to be reproduced in some form, and while we don’t know the minimum threshold of information that will be required to do this, more will certainly be better than less. What you won’t be bringing with you into this effectively endless future post-revival (at least not for any appreciable length of time) are the atoms that compose your current physical body. Ultimately, only your mind and your memories will persevere. So instead of placing our faith in the supposed cure-all capabilities of future doctors, pundits making wild claims that rarely pan out, or Alcor itself, I propose that from now on we place it firmly in the scientific method. The fact we are cryonicists implies that we have previously found faith-based arguments for an afterlife uncompelling, so we should stop accepting the same faith-based arguments regarding the likelihood of future revival and instead focus on developing the real science necessary to ensure that we are not already nixing our chances due to inadequate preservation protocols that place unrealistic to impossible burdens on future doctors. Our choice in this matter could ultimately determine whether the future sees us as a group of determined and remarkably prescient pioneers of transhumanism or as an obscure sect of endearing yet misguided techno-cultists who remained completely hypnotized by their primordial fears and instincts and though they demonstrated great enthusiasm, regrettably failed to approach or even discuss the profound problems (both philosophical and technical) that exist in cryonics today.

……………………………………………………………………

If the history of science and pseudoscience (its ever-present companion) is any indication, the road to revival will be a difficult, steep and perilous path with many dead-end detours that will beckon to us with appealing offers of immediate hope, happiness and security, just as alchemy, faith healing, and folk medicine have in the past, and rather forebodingly, continue to do so within the ad sections of this very website. If any of us are to actually succeed in attaining immortality (as countless generations of equally motivated, hopeful and intelligent people have attempted and failed to do for millennia, even when equipped with the resources of entire nations) then it is clear we must think and act differently than ALL who have come before us by consciously passing by every one of these distractions, consistently choosing the most rugged and least attractive path, assuming nothing, and faithfully following the scientific method no matter where it leads us until the day a patient has actually been revived. This means asking questions, objectively evaluating them, and accepting the results as an opportunity for improvement, even if they happen to reveal that current preservation protocols are grossly inadequate and have been erasing large chunks of identity-critical information. That is how science moves forward when it is working at its best.

You may tell yourself and others you want to be revived in the future - you may even believe this to be true - but if you’re not willing to critically examine the state of cryonics as it exists today, confront unpleasant facts when they present themselves, humbly accept that your personal desires will have very little (if any) effect on the course of future technology and culture, and always seek proof over verbal assurances, then you don’t want it badly enough to actually bring it about. Revival won’t happen simply because we want it to, and it certainly will never happen in the precise manner we would prefer it or envision it. Applied science is about accepting these unfortunate limitations of reality and working within them to achieve grand, ridiculous, preposterous things, like spaceflight, zero-calorie sugar and instantaneous global communication. According to Christian beliefs, Jesus once said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven. While the challenge we face may be even greater than that, in metaphorical terms, cryonics is very similar. Revival is our heaven and the path that leads there will require us to walk a seemingly impossible, extremely narrow, and true course in a direction that often goes entirely contrary to our wishes and instincts, as well as the views of society at large, all the while maintaining our humility as fallible investigators and never wavering from our objective by a single inch or declaring success prematurely.

The fact that everyone reading this has signed up for cryonics (or is seriously considering doing so) suggests to me that I am in the company of rational beings who believe that human lives are a greatly undervalued and quite possibly unique commodity in the universe at large and view death as a solvable problem (which I believe it is), and if that is so, then it is time we stop fleeing from facts we would prefer not to uncover for the cheap and easy comfort of grandiose empty promises. After all, if this all works out, then we will have plenty of time to meditate on and bask in the warm serenity of the many empty promises listed on new age lifestyle and anti-aging websites in the future - and I will gladly join any cryonauts who wish to do so in a cocktail lounge on Calisto, where we can play bongos made of pure energy and sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” until we have gained a complete spiritual understanding of each and every one of them. However, that is for then. The time for thinking, pursuing objective truth, and setting our sites on the distant otherworldly light of Alcor’s namesake is now. Otherwise, I fear we may sail right passed it and off into the void, still firmly crossing our fingers and never knowing what might have been.



Frosty

RibJig
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by RibJig » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:44 pm

For several months forum machine prevented (me at least) from posting.
Looks like its fixed... :o :o :o
Briefly, hasn't Alcor expressed interest in ASC?
That they will see how its testing progresses-advances?
And that at some future point they may allow clients
to choose traditional vs. ASC?
I haven't read long OP but do we expect Alcor to
rush to ASC & abandon current method in 2019-2020???
They do offer choice of revival vs. possible brain upload if offered...?
Am guessing at an earlier time they didn't...?

johnkclark
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by johnkclark » Wed Jul 03, 2019 10:19 am

Hi Frosty

I tried to post this months ago soon after you first wrote it but the software was broken

> somewhat perplexingly, after more than 40 years in operation, Alcor has yet to devise any direct means of evaluating whether or not their patients have actually survived the process of cryopreservation under their own information-theoretic criteria, a fact that should give all members pause.
I don't think you can fault Alcor for not doing that. Information theoretical death comes from the large scale and irreversible loss of information; no cryonics procedure will be perfect but whether the inevitable distortions results in the absolute loss of information or just causes errors that can be corrected depends on the quality of future technology, and that we can only guess at. All we can say is the less distortion the smaller the problems the future must solve to bring us back. Also, although preserving the connectome is certainly necessary to prevent informational theoretical death it is unclear if that is sufficient; there is the matter of glial cells, at one time it was thought they just gave structural support and provided nutrients to neurons but now some think they may do a bit more than that,

> I would strongly advocate that Alcor set aside a portion of their research funds to rule out this possibility by producing some form of physical evidence that the brain’s connectome and chemical constituents are still readable - or at least inferable – post vitrification.

This didn't involve any sort of cryonics but you may be interested in this short movie of a mouse brain made in 2013, I think it's pretty remarkable:

See-through brains

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-NMfp13Uug

> information content in the absence of viability is still information that can in theory be used to restore or recreate a person’s mind and perhaps their entire existence in either a biological or non-biological medium, and as such will be indispensable to any meaningful attempt at revival and should be given precedence over all other considerations, including the myriad of personal philosophies regarding the age old mind-body problem that cannot be evaluated scientifically and therefore must be discarded in favor of verifiable methods and outcomes that can be, or we will be trapped in philosophical purgatory fretting over intractable obstacles of our own creation indefinitely.
Yes! I agree 100%

> Saying “trust us, the information is there, it’s just that no one can clearly see it, even under a microscope” is no longer adequate now that ASC exists as a workable alternative to traditional cryopreservation that has already been demonstrated to preserve nearly all of the brain’s information content in a pristine and readable condition, and by making such statements Alcor has effectively insulated themselves from falsifiability
Alcor admits that with ASC you get much better Electron Microscope pictures than with their method but insist the information is still there and say their way just distorted it more; well I certainly hope the information isn't destroyed and is just distorted in a way that can be repaired and maybe it is but maybe not, and even if it is still there it has been distorted more than with the ASC way and the less burden we place on future technology to fix things the better.

> While the data we don’t have could eventually prove otherwise (as Alcor suggests), all the data we do have as to the condition of current patients is fully consistent with the information-theoretic death of their brains,
There are 2 things about the data we don't know:

1) The capability limits of future technology is uncertain. But we do know that whatever the technology the less distortion the easier it will be to recover the information.

2) The total extent of information distortion (perhaps destruction) caused by any current preservation method. There is evidence, with Electron Microscopes pictures that ASC preserves information better than Alcor's way, I don't know of any evidence that Alcor's method preserves information better than ASC. So why don't we use ASC?

> it seems many of us would still prefer to envision ourselves as a folded up three-pound glob of fatty molecules bobbing around in nutrient broth inside of a skull and I am not unsympathetic to this view - although I do question its appeal.
I think the best way to envision ourselves is not as 3 pounds of fatty molecules or of any noun but as an adjective, you are the way matter behaves when it is organized in a certain way. If the information on how that certain way is preserved then from a informational theoretical viewpoint you are not dead.
> Even dedicated cryonicists and Alcor’s own employees have historically had great difficulty in fully buying into this argument because they intuitively presume that their current subjective experience persists in some form within their original biological body even after it has clinically died (an unacknowledged latent religious belief),

I've noticed that too, it's almost as if they think there is something special about the particular atoms in their body as if their name is somehow scratched on the atoms themselves.
> Being an immaterial process, consciousness has no physical location nor presence in reality while it remains inactive
That's because adjectives like fast, big, consciousness and green don't exist at a unique place or at a unique time.

> The only reason you find yourself awakening in the same body, location and time period each morning


That would be the simplest explanation, although if I were scanned and the information of how my body was organized were preserved and then vaporized in a H-bomb and the information then used to make another body with different atoms I would never know the difference,

> This is one of the distinct advantages of possessing a continuous subjective experience of reality that is unbroken for you and you alone.
If Cryonics works then from your internal point of view everything was continuous but the external world instantaneously jumped ahead into the far distant future.
> it follows that consciousness must also have the theoretical capacity to be seamlessly transferred from one medium to another in a subjective instant without ever physically traversing the distance between them. This is one of the stranger superpowers of a purely subjective being,


Subjectivity is not the only thing that has this property, 2+7 is 9 regardless of if the calculation is made with a biological brain, an antique vacuum tube computer, an abacus, or a modern iPhone.

> Information is not soulless; it is the soul,
Yes, or at least it's as close to the soul as you can get and remain within the scientific method.

> I strongly suspect that we are all in this “first in, last out” group in that we will most likely not have the luxury of choosing to simultaneously preserve both viability AND useful amounts of recoverable information content in a human brain via cryopreservation with any near-term technology (meaning true bio-suspension is likely out of reach for all current members simply due to being born too early to take advantage of it).
I suspect the same thing for the reasons you gave and also because future beings may not want us messing around in the real world, I don't know if they would tell us if they stuck us in a virtual reality but if we couldn't tell the difference then it wouldn't matter.
> The inability to demonstrate reversable bio-suspension is the primary scientific criticism of current cryonics practices, and I believe it is a perfectly legitimate one.
If we had the technology to repair a person that had been frozen to liquid nitrogen temperatures and bring him back to life then we'd have the technology to keep him from dying in the first place. Cryonics will be proven to work on the same day it is proven to be no longer needed.

> if we choose to accept an elevated risk of information-theoretic death occurring to the brain during preservation when less damaging methods are already available (as we currently have elected to do by foregoing ASC in favor of traditional vitrification methods), it should be because we are gaining something of enormous value in return, but what is it that we are gaining here,
Other than somewhat better public relations I can't think of any advantage. That is also the only advantage I can see in preserving the entire body rather than just the head.

> What specific outcomes would constitute the successful revival of a patient, in Alcor’s view?
In my view if after revival I can remember being John Clark before being frozen then the procedure was successful.

> What would constitute a failed revival?
It may be a mistake to consider survival a all or nothing question. But I don't think it's necessary for Alcor to answer all philosophical questions because even if they fail for some weird metaphysical reason there is no way Alcor's procedures or ASC or anything else will make me deader, and there is reason to think they might make me somewhat less dead. I don't want Alcor to philosophize I just want them to preserve the information in my brain as best they can.

> We are beggars, not choosers when it comes to dictating the circumstances and methods of our revivals

Yes we will be the guests of those future beings and if they bother to bring us back they will do so because they are benevolent not because we can do something for them they couldn't do without us.

John K Clark


=

Frosty
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by Frosty » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:47 pm

Hi John,

I am pleased to be disagreeing with you once again, instead of always agreeing :)

johnkclark wrote: no cryonics procedure will be perfect but whether the inevitable distortions results in the absolute loss of information or just causes errors that can be corrected depends on the quality of future technology, and that we can only guess at.

And this is precisely the type of faith-based appeal to ignorance I am suggesting that we avoid tying our collective fates to if at all possible. Of course the capabilities of future technology are a complete unknown, which is why Alcor is necessarily limited to pursuing those research goals that they can fully define and measure in the here and now, as opposed to those they cannot. At present, these objectives consist of 1) preserving as much of each patient’s identity-critical information as is possible with current technology and 2) demonstrating that this information can be successfully read out and interpreted post vitrification. Absent better evidence yet to be proffered by Alcor (or anyone else), it appears that of the preservation methods available to us today, only ASC is capable of meeting either of these objectives. Other far more ambitious and speculative avenues of research (such as developing reversible bio-suspension) can still be pursued further down the line once Alcor has shown they can achieve the much more modest aim of successfully preventing the information-theoretic death of at least one of their patients, which is the one precondition for revival that all cryonicists seem to agree on.

johnkclark wrote: Alcor admits that with ASC you get much better Electron Microscope pictures than with their method but insist the information is still there and say their way just distorted it more

Which is a claim they have made without offering any supporting evidence whatsoever, other than something to the effect of “in this one picture here, you can sort of make out a single isolated synapse, therefore, this patient’s brain structure is probably preserved in full”. In matters of life and death, such casual handwaving of obvious shortcomings is nowhere near satisfactory, and leaves natural-born skpetics such as myself scratching their heads as to why Alcor is willing to accept such a high degree of uncertainty as to the overall fidelity of their preservation methods when alternative preservation protocols with demonstrably better results (such as ASC) are freely available, and I am forced to conclude they are either a closeted religious group that actually believes people possess spirits which are bound to their physical bodies by invisible threads of hocus pocus, or that they have consciously chosen to pursue only those research paths that allow this idea to be cultivated and reaffirmed in their member’s minds (despite not being fully committed to it themselves) in order to secure enough funding in the form of dues and donations to survive as an organization for long enough for real breakthroughs to occur outside of Alcor that they can later co-opt and claim as their own without taking any risk of failure upon themselves. Perhaps this is a shrewd strategy from a business perspective, I really can’t say, I just hope we don’t all end up paying for it with the total destruction of our identities.

johnkclark wrote: well I certainly hope the information isn't destroyed and is just distorted in a way that can be repaired and maybe it is but maybe not, and even if it is still there it has been distorted more than with the ASC way and the less burden we place on future technology to fix things the better.

Hope will always be a necessary ingredient when attempting to characterize the likelihood of a given patient being revived in the future (as this depends on many unknowns that we cannot fully anticipate nor control) but it should not be a necessary ingredient when evaluating the likelihood of a patient's brain being successfully preserved in the present, as we already possess methods for objectively evaluating this (such as by obtaining a biopsy of their cryopreserved neural tissue and examining it under a microscope). The fact we are choosing not to use these methods because we do not like what they have previously shown us is another clear indication that cryonics still has quite a ways to go before it can make the transition from being a largely faith-based proposition into something resembling a science.

johnkclark wrote: I think the best way to envision ourselves is not as 3 pounds of fatty molecules or of any noun but as an adjective, you are the way matter behaves when it is organized in a certain way. If the information on how that certain way is preserved then from a informational
theoretical viewpoint you are not dead.

I agree, a noun is physically tied to a specific object at a specific location in space and time, and that is a pretty restrictive limitation to place on yourself if your goal is to achieve immortality and avoid dying at some random point after revival due to a completely arbitrary occurence, such as a car crash, the failure of one of your heart valves, or falling into quicksand.

johnkclark wrote:I think the best way to envision ourselves is not as 3 pounds of fatty molecules or of any noun but as an adjective, you are the way matter behaves when it is organized in a certain way. If the information on how that certain way is preserved then from a informational theoretical viewpoint you are not dead.

I agree 100%. I was being somewhat facetious here in order to illustrate the absurdity of the objectivists view of personhood, in which a person's identity is viewed as consisting of little more than a folded-up blob of fats and lipids (i.e. a brain) as opposed to the dynamic processes and behaviors that the brain manifests when it is presently stimulated to consciousness.

johnkclark wrote:
Frosty wrote:Even dedicated cryonicists and Alcor’s own employees have historically had great difficulty in fully buying into this argument because they intuitively presume that their current subjective experience persists in some form within their original biological body even after it has clinically died (an unacknowledged latent religious belief)
I've noticed that too, it's almost as if they think there is something special about the particular atoms in their body as if their name is somehow scratched on the atoms themselves.

Yes, the irony here is that, were it possible to do so, the act of inscribing one’s name onto a particular atom would require the addition of immaterial information to that atom (in the form of a written name), which is something that people holding this view contend cannot directly confer identity.

johnkclark wrote:
Frosty wrote: Being an immaterial process, consciousness has no physical location nor presence in reality while it remains inactive

That's because adjectives like fast, big, consciousness and green don't exist at a unique place or at a unique time.

You are, once again, preaching to the choir.

johnkclark wrote: If Cryonics works then from your internal point of view everything was continuous but the external world instantaneously jumped ahead into the far distant future.

You just neatly defined the difference between objective continuity (which cryonics cannot provide) and subjective continuity (which it can). Well done.

johnkclark wrote:
Frosty wrote: it follows that consciousness must also have the theoretical capacity to be seamlessly transferred from one medium to another in a subjective instant without ever physically traversing the distance between them. This is one of the stranger superpowers of a purely subjective being,

Subjectivity is not the only thing that has this property, 2+7 is 9 regardless of if the calculation is made with a biological brain, an antique vacuum tube computer, an abacus, or a modern iPhone.

Yes, all information is medium-independent, although the calculations and processes required to use this data and run a simulation of the thing it represents may or may not be.

johnkclark wrote: I suspect the same thing for the reasons you gave and also because future beings may not want us messing around in the real world, I don't know if they would tell us if they stuck us in a virtual reality but if we couldn't tell the difference then it wouldn't matter.

That is an interesting point. If I were a highly advanced AI with enough free time and benevolence to decide to start reanimating less intelligent beings from the distant past, I would likely be tempted to present them with a virtual recreation of the world as they knew it (i.e. a world I already know they are comfortable with and that they expect to see where people look and sound like people) as opposed to a physical reality populated by machine intelligences that would be completely alien to them which they may find quite frightening and feel completely lost within, at least until I can be fairly certain that revealing the truth of their predicament would not make them go insane.

johnkclark wrote:If we had the technology to repair a person that had been frozen to liquid nitrogen temperatures and bring him back to life then we'd have the technology to keep him from dying in the first place. Cryonics will be proven to work on the same day it is proven to be no longer needed.

Reversible bio-suspension will indeed only be proven to work when it can actually be reversed and a patient is successfully revived for the first time (which is why I advise against pursuing such an ambitious goal at this early stage of research), but technologies that seek only to preserve the brain’s fine structure with the highest fidelity possible without openly aligning itself with any particular preconceived (and probably misinformed) method of revival can be proven to work much sooner with only a modest amount of research and investment. No matter how you look at it, patient preservation comes way before patient revival in the cryonics timeline and presents a much more immediate problem for all of us. As such, we should be directing the bulk of our resources towards developing a demonstrably effective preservation protocol that prevents the information theoretic death of the brain before we lift a finger worrying about the many promises and perils of future technology.

johnkclark wrote:
Frosty wrote: if we choose to accept an elevated risk of information-theoretic death occurring to the brain during preservation when less damaging methods are already available (as we currently have elected to do by foregoing ASC in favor of traditional vitrification methods), it should be because we are gaining something of enormous value in return, but what is it that we are gaining here,
Other than somewhat better public relations I can't think of any advantage. That is also the only advantage I can see in preserving the entire body rather than just the head.

I find it strange you see no value whatsoever in preserving your peripheral nervous system, considering it is an extension of the brain and contains plenty of information content that is entirely unique to johnkclark. At the very least, having this information available as a blueprint in the future should make it far easier to connect and calibrate any replacement nervous system you are provided with (even a virtual one) with the proper input/output channels of your brain stem.

johnkclark wrote: It may be a mistake to consider survival a all or nothing question.

I don’t consider survival of one’s identity to be an all-or-nothing proposition, it is a continuum spanning from 0% (no survival) to 100% (full survival), and that is precisely why we must establish clear and firm information-based criteria for evaluating the success or failure of prospective revival procedures. If Alcor proceeds to the point of reviving patients without any objective failure conditions for revival in place, they will without a doubt find that every single one of their patients can be successfully “revived” with enough resources and technology. In some cases, this may mean preserving less than 1% of a patient’s memories and constructing an entirely new connectome for them around the tiny portion of their identity that wasn’t destroyed during their initial preservation and cool down, but “hey, look, they’re alive and breathing now! How can anyone possibly claim this patient has not been fully revived?” will be an argument Alcor can get away with because no one will be able to objectively prove otherwise. They could present a living patient to the public that resembles johnkclark, responds to the name “johnkclark”, but in reality possesses almost none of current johnkclark’s memories and yet still claim that his revival was a success, because there’s no bar for failure. Disallowing failed revivals by refusing to define them is not acceptable nor scientific and leaves far too much room for botched revivals and possible fraud.

johnkclark wrote: But I don't think it's necessary for Alcor to answer all philosophical questions because even if they fail for some weird metaphysical reason there is no way Alcor's procedures or ASC or anything else will make me deader, and there is reason to think they might make me somewhat less dead. I don't want Alcor to philosophize I just want them to preserve the information in my brain as best they can.

Agreed. Proper preservation of the brain’s information content is the only known prerequisite for revival and must be prioritized above all else unless we wish to continue wading ever deeper into the realm of speculative science fiction and fantasy.

It is a time for objectivity.



Frosty
Last edited by Frosty on Fri Jul 19, 2019 5:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.

johnkclark
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by johnkclark » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:46 am

Hi Frosty, its really nice to talk to you again now that the forum software has been fixed.

>> no cryonics procedure will be perfect but whether the inevitable distortions results in the absolute loss of information or just causes errors that can be corrected depends on the quality of future technology, and that we can only guess at.

> And this is precisely the type of faith-based appeal to ignorance I am suggesting that we avoid tying our
collective fates to if at all possible.
Faith is believing that something is true even if there is no evidence for it, and even if there is evidence against it. But in this case there is plenty of evidence that future technology will be more powerful than what we have now, if I didn't believe that I would never have become interested in Cryonics because today there is no way we can even come close to bringing somebody back from liquid nitrogen temperatures.
> Of course the capabilities of future technology are a complete unknown,


One thing is known, for any technology the less distorted the information is the easier it will be to repair.
> which is why Alcor is necessarily limited to pursuing those research goals that they can fully define and measure in the here and now, as opposed to those they cannot. At present, these objectives consist of 1) preserving as much of each patient’s identity-critical information as is possible with current technology
Yes I agree!

> 2)demonstrating that this information can be successfully read out and interpreted post vitrification.
Yes, and it seems to me the best way we currently have of determining if information has been preserved is with Electron Microscopic Pictures, and Alcor admits that aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC) causes less distortion ​in those pictures​than the preservation method they currently use. So why not switch to ASC?

> Other far more ambitious and speculative avenues of research (such as developing reversible bio-suspension) can still be pursued further down the line once Alcor has shown they can achieve the much more modest aim of successfully preventing the information-theoretic death
I don't think there is much chance of developing reversible bio-suspension for large mammals like ourselves without Drexler style Nanotechnology, and if we had that today we wouldn't need Cryonics today.

>> Alcor admits that with ASC you get much better Electron Microscope pictures than with their method but insist the information is still there and say their way just distorted it more

> In matters of life and death, such casual handwaving of obvious shortcomings is nowhere near satisfactory,
Even if what Alcor says is true (and if I didn't think there is a reasonable chance that it is I would not have signed up) the less information that is distorted the easier it will be to repair. And the easier it is to repair the smaller the burden we must place on future technology. And the smaller the burden we must place on future technology the better.

> and leaves natural-born skpetics such as myself scratching their heads as to why Alcor is willing to accept such a high degree of uncertainty as to the overall fidelity of their preservation methods when alternative preservation protocols with demonstrably better results (such as ASC) are freely available,
Well said! I've been scratching my head about that too, all the explanations I've heard for Alcor maintaining the status quo sound pretty anemic to me.

>> it's almost as if they think there is something special about the particular atoms in their body as if their name is somehow scratched on the atoms themselves.

> Yes, the irony here is that, were it possible to do so, the act of inscribing one’s name onto a particular atom would require the addition of immaterial information to that atom (in the form of a written name), which is something that people holding this view contend cannot directly confer identity.
What people who hold that view are talking about is a soul, and if I believed in that I'd forget about Cryonics, burn my science books, and buy some saffron robes. I don't believe in the soul but I do believe that information is as close as you can get to the traditional religious idea of a soul and still remain within the scientific method.
>> Other than somewhat better public relations I can't think of any advantage. That is also the only advantage I can see in preserving the entire body rather than just the head.


> I find it strange you see no value whatsoever in preserving your peripheral nervous system, considering it is an extension of the brain and contains plenty of information content that is entirely unique to johnkclark.
If my brain is preserved then my complete genome is automatically preserved too because that information is encoded in every cell in my body, but I don't much care if some information about the wear and tare that John K Clark received during his lifetime is preserved or not, such as a small scar on my right big toe or slight dent in my left kneecap. There is even some information I'd prefer not to be preserved, such as the information that causes my immune system to have certain allergies.

And it's likely if Alcor concentrates on preserving just my brain they can do a better job then if they compromise and try to do it for my entire body. Also, if something unexpected happens in the next century and Alcor must make an emergency move to a new location very quickly then my chances of successfully making the move are better if what they have to move is smaller. And of course head only is much cheaper than full body, but I think it's better too.


> I don’t consider survival of one’s identity to be an all-or-nothing proposition, it is a continuum spanning from 0% (no survival) to 100% (full survival), and that is precisely why we must establish clear and firm information-based criteria for evaluating the success or failure of prospective revival procedures.
Although far from perfect I think at the present time electron microscopic pictures are the best way we have for determining how close or far from Informational Theoretical Death somebody is, and by that criteria Alcor's current method is clearly second best.

John K Clark

Frosty
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by Frosty » Wed Jul 17, 2019 8:57 pm

johnkclark wrote:
Frosty wrote: Information is not soulless; it is the soul,
Yes, or at least it's as close to the soul as you can get and remain within the scientific method.

I would like to expand a bit on the idea that our personal identities (or “souls”) are not tied to our physical brains but to the immaterial information they contain in order to demystify what I mean by this for the benefit of other readers and to help distinguish my own views from the typical religious concept of a soul.

I do not believe in a soul as traditionally understood (i.e. as a metaphysical entity that binds one’s consciousness to their body). Most would assume this means I believe people are purely physical in nature and that any subjective inner awareness or consciousness they may possess will cease at the moment of their death, and if their body ultimately decays and disappears, their personal identity will disappear along with it, and sure enough, that is exactly what I believe. But what are the logical implications of this belief?

Although I claim that no supernatural element is required to create personal identity, this presents me with a bit of a problem. How is it that I can explain my own existence at this particular point in space and time without having some special object that anchors my subjective experiences to the physical world? What is it that provides me with the unique vantage point and physical sensation of being “me”, as opposed to someone else? I may be tempted to look down, note that I have a body and rather hastily conclude that I am a human body, and that when my body dies, I will die along with it, because lacking a soul, there is no aspect of me that can go on existing without my body. This is as far as the reasoning of most secular adults ever advances on the subject of identity, because in everyday life, a person is very rarely presented with a scenario that forces them to reconsider this position.

However, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that I have lost one of my arms due to injury and receive a replacement limb from a donor. I look down at the transplanted limb and although it does not look at all like the arm I previously possessed, I eventually come to accept it as a part of my own body, because it responds to my motor commands and is providing me with sensory input in the form of touch. Although I may not immediately recognize it, by accepting this foreign object as a part of “my” body I have also accepted that the physical body I currently possess is not part of my continuing identity, because clearly, its components can be replaced without disturbing or destroying my sense of self. So I find myself returning to the same question: barring the existence of a soul, what is it that makes me “me”?

Since my previous approach of following my intuition and rushing to conclusions didn’t work out as well as I had hoped, I expend some additional effort thinking about the problem this time around, until I realize what I am thinking with: a brain. Surely, if any part of my body could be considered the source of my identity, it is my physical brain. After all, my brain is the only part of my body that is entirely unique to me as an individual, while my arms, legs, skin, and internal organs are far less so and could probably be replaced by a skilled surgeon without obliterating my sense of self. I become so confident in this belief that I boldly start declaring to anyone who will listen that I have solved the problem of identity - people are brains - it’s as simple as that. With this new and somewhat more flexible definition of identity, I now fully believe and accept that my cryopreserved brain could be removed from my current body and transplanted to a new one and I would survive the process, but if my original brain is ever destroyed, I will be destroyed along with it, since lacking a soul, there is no aspect of me that could possibly go on existing without my brain. This is as far as the reasoning of most cryonicists ever advances on the subject of identity, because even within the realm of speculative medicine, it is rare that one encounters a situation that forces them to reconsider this position.

But then one day, now fully comfortable with the idea of my identity being tied to a specific physical brain, I happen to read an article that claims all of the atoms in our brains are regularly cycled out and replaced with new ones taken from the food we eat and the air we breathe as part of normal metabolism. I am disturbed by this claim and choose to investigate it further. Checking with other sources, I confirm it is true that virtually all of the atoms in a person’s brain are replaced multiple times during the course of their lifetime, with atoms stored in more active parts of the brain (such as neurotransmitters) being replaced much more frequently than those associated with more static structures (such as DNA and synapses), but ultimately, they are all replaced. I briefly ponder whether it is possible that I have died and been replaced with a new version of me without realizing it (due to the atoms in my brain having been systematically replaced with new ones without my knowledge) but I quickly dismiss this idea as silly, because the fact I am having such thoughts proves that regardless of what has been physically occurring to the atoms within my brain, my identity has apparently survived it. This implies that my personal identity is not tied to a specific physical brain, as the brain I possess today is composed of a completely different set of atoms than the brain I was born with, yet I still feel like myself. So, much to my embarrassment, I am forced to revisit the same question again: barring the existence of a soul, what is it that makes me “me”?

Having been made aware of the fact that all of the atoms within my brain and body are merely temporary residents that are constantly coming and going, the problem of pinning down the source of my identity becomes more challenging. It appears that my identity is somehow being repeatedly transferred from one set of atoms to another within my brain, which, some would argue is strongly suggestive of an immaterial soul, something I do not believe in. So, to avoid such accusations, I have to identity some other aspect of my existence that is unchanging enough through time to be considered continuous across all of these events. Whatever this aspect of my existence is, it must be composed of atoms (like everything else in the universe), although it cannot be tied to any particular set of atoms, or I would be forced to conclude that I have already died and been replaced several times since birth, and I refuse to give up on myself that easily.

After a long philosophical voyage that takes me to strange and discomforting mental landscapes, I eventually come to the paradoxical conclusion that my initial presumption that disavowing the existence of a soul precludes the existence of an immaterial self was wrong. Strangely and counterintuitively, I realize that although it is often treated as such, personal identity is not a noun. Given that it is clearly not anchored to any specific set of particles through time, it would seem that personal identity can only be defined as a collective property of a group of atoms, that is, an adjective. It must be the way a set of particles behaves. This is not to say that identity is entirely immaterial like a soul is said to be, but that it is subjective and medium-independent.

Now that I have been liberated from a strictly materialistic view of personal identity, I am left with a more specific and practical question that prior to this moment, I would have considered to be irrelevant: what are the factors that determine the behavior of a set of atoms? Well, as any physics textbook will tell you, at a basic level, the behavior of a collection of atoms depends on two factors: the way these particles are arranged and their current vectors of motion. Since both of these factors are infinitely variable, they can only be effectively described through the use of abstract information (such as coordinates and velocities) that, taken as a whole, can define the arrangement and motions of a collection of particles with enough detail to predict their future behavior. In this manner, the behavior of any dynamic physical system (such as a human brain) can be fully described and recorded using nothing but immaterial information. If one wishes to observe this behavior in action, they simply need to translate this data into a physical medium capable of performing computations (such as a brain or a computer) and the recorded behavior can be actively played out in front of them. If this information happens to describe the inner workings of my brain, then the result of this exercise will be a new brain that behaves and responds very much like my current brain would.

But that’s not all. Since I explicitly reject the existence of a soul, I can make a strong case that this new brain is more than a simulation of me. Since it possesses everything my previous brain possessed in terms of behavior, and like my original brain, it too lacks a soul, I can plausibly assert that this new brain is me, because there is no meaningful characteristic that can be used to distinguish its personal identity from my own. Therefore, this new brain is my brain and whatever body it is connected to will become my body. There is nothing mystical or magical about this reasoning once you wrap your head around it, it is simply how personal identity is forced to operate if the laws of physics are to remain in effect and the soul does not exist. Ironically, only by disbelieving in a soul does transferring one’s identity to a new body in this manner become theoretically possible. This is because in the absence of a singular soul to permanently bind one’s identity to a particular physical thing, the inner self becomes something that is defined entirely through subjective information that can theoretically be recorded, paused, reanimated, transferred, and even duplicated without fundamentally altering its nature.

It is for this reason that I say information is the soul. Although it may not be literally true, it certainly has very similar capabilities, and can be made to be just as enduring.



Frosty

johnkclark
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Re: A Time for Objectivity

Post by johnkclark » Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:29 am

Excellent post Frosty! I looked hard to find something to disagree with but could find nothing. By the way, I've just listened to a Science Fiction book called "We Are Legion (We Are Bob) " and I don't think I've ever read (or listened) to a work of fiction that more closely matched your philosophy and mine. It's on www.audible.com

John K Clark

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