LONGEVITY REPORT 72
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Have We Outgrown Religion's Purpose? Andrew Mulcahy
As Others See Us New Hope International Review
The Evolution of Aging Thomas Donaldson
Guide to Medical Devices Industry in China 1999 (English Ed.) Han Ying-Shan
Moravec A Plus for Cryonics? Robert Ettinger
Editorial Nothing from Chrissie this Time John de Rivaz
An Informal Report of Age Conference Highlights Ivy Greenwell
Book Review: The Meme Machine, by Dr Susan Blackmore John de Rivaz
Why I am not a Memeticist Peter Merel
Memetics Comments Chris Fedeli
Ernest Becker The Denial of Death and Alan Harrington's The Immortalist Richard Gillmann
Why Cryonics Isn't Popular Robin Hanson
Betrayal and Abandonment David Pascal
Contents are provided for information only, under the right to free speech. Opinions are the authors' own. No professional advice is intended. If you wish others to be legally responsible for your health, life or finances, then please consult a professional regulated according to the laws of your country.
Volume 12 no 72. First published July 1999. ISSN 0964-5659.
Have We Outgrown Religion's Purpose?
by Andrew Mulcahy email@example.com
The U.S. is easily the most religious of the industrialized nations - -certainly more Americans go to church than do the citizens of any other industrialized nation. And the nation is awash in spirituality; TV programs and radio programs abound to bring the messages of faith to the people; religion plays the role of a powerful broker in American politics.
Unlike Canadians, for instance, where one fifth of the people are agnostic or atheists, and the majority rarely go to church, there are a mere 13% of non believers in America and church going is common. Yet Americans kill far more people than do Canadians Indeed, the rate of firearm deaths in the United States is eight times that of any other high income country. The death rate amongst children under 15 in the U.S. due to firearms is 15 times that of 25 other industrialized countries combined.
Religion produces judgmentalism, encourages contempt and an accusatory attitude towards others- - it's heinous crime is its depiction of we humans as evil creatures by nature, requiring human sacrifice to atone for our sins. It is that kind of image that has allowed us to so apathetically accept all this genocide and slaughter as just further examples of our 'evil' nature.
Meanwhile, our neuro scientists are discovering that we humans are altruistic by nature and can only know true happiness by helping others. See Matt Ridley's book: The Origins of Virtue : one of many now dealing with this subject.
Life is but a momentary glimpse at the wonder of this astonishing Universe and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasies
Initially, religion served good purpose. Lacking the vast storehouse of knowledge we have since accumulated, ancient man's emerging intelligence had to try to explain away the mysteries of natural phenomena as best he could, How to explain lightning when they had no knowledge of electricity except in terms of some mighty, enraged, albeit invisible King?
And for many centuries this served us well. Why the floods? God is mad at us. Why are flowers so beautiful? Why does the fox change to silver in the winter? Because god so designed it. God explains everything - a nice, neat solution for all things.
And, if our religious leaders had only had the decency, the guts, to slowly concede step by step -- as we humans unearthed ever more information about this magnificent universe -- the superstitious parts that no longer made sense, that were no longer needed, religion could have become the most unifying and emotionally rewarding force for mankind.
When we gather in a church and listen to the hymns, we can feel the empathy that such a social gathering can emote. We can easily visualize that some ancient need of our species was to gather together and thus encourage mutual cooperation and help. Instead, this powerful force for unity has been turned into a justification to slaughter those who do not share our blind dogma.
For the priest's exhortation to believe without evidence justifies almost anything. I believe that almost all the most horrific crimes committed by we humans against our own kind are rooted in unsubstantiated beliefs. No one could have slaughtered six million people during the Nazi era, nor could anyone have continued to butcher women and children in Bosnia, unless they had first been incited to do so by false and lurid stories about their potential victims.
Faith, the willingness to accept claims without demanding substantiated evidence, is, in my opinion, the only thing that got out of Pandora's Box.
"Only the materialist dare gaze at the amazing explosion that is this universe, all others shade their eyes (with words) from its brilliance." agm
As Others See Us
New Hope International Review - http://www.nhi.clara.net/online.htm
NHI Review, 20 Werneth Avenue, Gee Cross, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 5NL
Longevity Report #70
This issue starts with an article by George Smith Self-esteem in which he examines the way people identify themselves by their occupations, moods and thoughts. By so doing they feel threatened when the views of their chosen occupation are questioned. Smith argues that when someone drops identification with something they gain emotional freedom from defending its qualities. Right now I am not a reviewer but a doer of reviews and I can accept his reasoning. Whether or not I agree with his resulting conclusions or not is another matter. Robert Ettinger of the Immortalist Society posts Some Reminders About Cryonics and Cryobiology seemingly aimed at those who are losing heart at the slow growth of interest in the subject. Reviews of earlier issues published by NHI Review are reprinted. Louis Epstein contributes several pages of tables compiled with the help of The Guinness Book of Records documenting people who have lived (or are still alive) over the age of 110. Jeanne Calment at 122yrs 164 days (1875-1997) holds the record. Looking ahead he writes
Simple arithmetic tells us that the 140-year olds of the year 2050, if there are any, will be people born in 1910. How many of them are left, and what shape are they in?
Just WHAT will enable the lifespans of our dreams is unclear - nanotech, pill-popping, gene therapy or whatever. But just looking at the trends, persons born in 1960 (the potential 140-year-olds of 2100) were around twice as numerous to begin with as those born in 1880 and have had far more advantages.
I've only skimmed the surface here - it is all fascinating stuff.
reviewer: Mandy Smith.
The Evolution of Aging
by Thomas Donaldson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
There is and has been for some time a good evolutionary theory to explain the existence of aging. I've actually discussed this several times, but here are a few sources:
GC Williams, Pleiotropy, natural selection, and the evolution of senescence, Evolution 11(1957) 398-411
GC Williams has published a number of more popular things lately but so far as I know he hasn't discussed aging in any popular source.
Two other researchers into evolution have looked in more detail at the basic ideas which originated with Williams:
JM Emlen, Age specificity and ecological theory, Ecology 51(4)(1970) 588-601
WD Hamilton, The moulding of senescence by natural Selection, Journal of Theoretical Biology 12(1966) 12-45.
There have been a number of experiments looking at evolutionary factors since then. The above are quite basic papers.
The fundamental idea that Williams pointed out was that evolution does not act on creatures which have already died. To explain that point more clearly, most animal populations die in nature some time before they would come close to becoming "old" in our terms. Even most human beings had a similar fate until quite recently, though people in the upper classes did live longer. This means that you become old basically because the systems needed to keep you in top shape at high ages never had any pressure to evolve to do so at high ages... you'd already died of other things (diseases, accidents, etc etc). It also has a corollary: if we maintain our current lifespans, then even without any special effort (not that this would help us!) we would eventually evolve to live long enough so that we would not naturally become old at, say, 100, but only at ages most people would have died by accident. (I'm not in favour of doing this, of course, but the frequent occurrence of old age NOW is a sign that we're under slow evolutionary pressure to live longer).
Some people have argued that aging has some positive effects and is supported by evolution. Hamilton and others have looked at the mathematics of this in detail, and basically find (as with most such things) that yes, we can make up extreme circumstances which do not fit our present situation at all but in which there really are evolutionary reasons for aging. Does that mean anything? Well, it means that with lots of imagination we can come up with situations quite unlike our own.
Naturally I want advances which apply to me, not to any putative descendants several generations from now. These ideas do not tell us to sit by and let evolution take its course. What they do provide is an answer to all those people who still think that aging and death is somehow favourable "to the species". No, it is not at all.
Finally, I will add that even some increase is helpful, because we can then hope to live longer and get further increases. At the same time, as someone who has been both concerned with this problem, and reading the science about it for decades, I strongly suspect that abolishing aging entirely will ultimately require some redesign. Not that such redesign is bad in any way ...what does evolution do, after all? But we'd want to do it by taking things in hand ourselves.
The very first point I will make is that for men at least, there is no time at which the man cannot sire a child. This means that someone who lives to 70 has a greater opportunity to produce more children than someone who only lives to 60. Moreover, even for women, before 1850 everyone was old at 40, and menopause played no special role. We see it now because women are living for longer, too.
For men at least, there is no upper lifespan beyond which they cannot produce children. If this is true for men, then the genetics involved suggests that women would carry similar genes, too. Basically, though, it is simply false that after a certain age we can do no more than help our previous progeny to survive. Not only that, but even now particularly prosperous men WILL produce children at high ages by wedding a much younger woman.
A paper by Hamilton even goes into detail about just how strong the selection will be given the kind of factors I have discussed here. Yes, it's true that at lower ages right now the selection is stronger; but it only becomes weaker as we age, it does not go away. Hamilton discusses that kind of selection as different functions depending on age of abstract animals.
It's also reasonable to ask about those who, even in Roman or Greek times, lived to what we still consider a high age. The really important thing to understand here is that such people in the mass of the population were extremely rare. We may remember them because of what they did, but in terms of reproduction (producing children) they were so rare that they did not have any genetic impact on the rest of the human race. The remarkable thing that is happening now is that such high ages have now become the norm, rather than the exception.
Not only is this a matter of theory, but some students of aging have looked at records of lifespans over time. For Christian burials this is a lot of work but the information is often right there on the tombstones. It turns out that until about 1800 (when a bulge had appeared in the general lifespan curve, which become higher and stronger into this century) a graph of lifespans did not look at all like the one we see now. Instead it looked exponential... with time, more people died at a constant exponential rate (as you can guess, that rate was much higher than at present). You might look in your nearest academic library for the Handbook of Aging (Biological section). It is a collection of papers on all the different sides of aging.
Our picture of the past, now, is badly skewed by the simple fact that we hear nothing from those who were illiterate (the large majority) but only from those who were literate and in the upper classes. These were people who lived quite exceptional lives compared to that of the rest of the human race living at that time. In terms of what people of the time understood, they knew that death would come to everyone ie. that there was such a thing as aging, but it was far from the most prominent cause of death for most people ie. the peasants and the poor, who had no voice in history.
You've also probably heard of some people such as the Pygmies who are said to believe that death is always caused by some kind of magic directed at the person who dies ie. that it is not at all the "natural" state of affairs. Since their deathrate curve was exponential, they weren't really all that foolish in their belief. They simply had never encountered aging in the way we have. There is also a strong suggestion in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which comes down to us from the very earliest urban civilizations, that the realization that death came to everyone occurred AFTER we began to live in cities and a very small minority of the population lived long enough to die of aging, not of any bacterial or viral disease or injury. Since people aren't stupid, such a realization would also spread to those who did not live in cities, too... unless they were isolated enough.
Finally, I hope you understand that I'm not just giving you my private opinion. Thinking about EVOLUTIONARY causes of aging has gone on for some time, as you can see if you read the papers I suggest. I don't claim any originality here, but I will say that these ideas don't seem to have spread as far as they should.
Guide to Medical Devices Industry in China 1999 (English Ed.)
by Han Ying-Shan <">email@example.com>
This guidebook lists more than 800 leading medical device and instrument manufacturers, importers and exporters in China, giving information on the company's name, address, tel/telex/fax numbers, email and URLs if applicable, director's name, registered capital, number of employees, business activity, product lines, annual output, etc. 1999, hardcover US$195.50.
Yearbook of Public Health in The People's Republic of China (English Ed.)
Published Compiled by the Ministry of Public Health, this yearbook contains 16 chapters, covering important documents, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and endemic diseases, maternity and child healthcare, patriotic health campaign, medical education, research on medical sciences, medical administration, drug administration, frontier health and quarantine, health inspection, health economy, international cooperation and foreign loans, public figures in health and medical field, health statistics, etc. 1998, 319pp, hardcover US$185.50, ISBN:7-117-02186-1
Above book available from: Hans Consultants Inc., 19-1-3, East Section, Xiaohongshan, Wuchang, Wuhan, Hubei 430071, China. eFax: +1 (530) 579-7132 http://China-ebusiness.webjump.com
Moravec A Plus for Cryonics?
by Robert Ettinger Cryonics Institute Immortalist Society http://www.cryonics.org
I have taken another look at Hans Moravec's book, Mind Children (Harvard U. Press, 1988), and I now suspect that his influence may be (or may have been) positive for cryonics and immortalism--even though he himself is not interested.
1. The book is powerfully stimulating and envisions countless future wonders. To be sure, many people are repelled, rather than attracted, by futures radically different from the present--but still my guess is that the net effect for immortalism will be positive.
2. Moravec's arguments against personal immortality in the flesh, explicit and implicit, are so vulnerable that many will part company with him.
He points out weaknesses in the "body identity" view of survival, but offers no convincing support for his recommended "pattern identity" view. We have often discussed criteria of survival on this forum, and I believe it is fair to say that no firm conclusion is yet justified. This being the case, any sensible person will take a conservative stance, and save as much as possible of both his information and his physical body.
Why is the "pattern identity" of Moravec (and others) unconvincing? Because it dodges the issue (proof) and brazenly substitutes mere plausibility or even outright ukase. "Pattern identity defines the essence of a person, say myself, as the pattern and the process going on in my head and body " Says who? You? By what authority? I am entitled to define the "self circuit" as the part(s)/aspect(s) of the brain that permit or give rise to feeling, because I am merely labeling something that certainly exists. But Moravec is not entitled to define the essence of a person as a pattern, because the character of that essence is a fact of nature, to be discovered and proven, not decreed.
Most initial tentative recruits for the Moravec view will quickly desert him, I think, when they realize the full extent of his vision. That is the equation of potentiality with being, the position ultimately that you are really just an abstraction.
If pattern is everything, then claiming that a duplicate is you is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, as he says, a message is the same no matter how many times it is sent or printed or otherwise displayed. Furthermore, a number exists--does it not?--whether or not it is written down. A word exists even if it is not written or spoken, and potentially exists even if no one has ever thought of it. Likewise for a complex and even evolving message, such as you. So we are all immortal anyway, right? Moravec concedes that this idea is pretty strange and a hard sell, but he doesn't retreat from it. I think most of his readers will.
3. In a chapter called "Grandfather Clause," in a section called "Awakening the Past," he posits many ways of inferring information your brain contained, even if that brain has been destroyed. This of course assists the notion of potential uploading, if you absent-mindedly neglected to keep a backup of yourself, but it also strengthens the case for revival after cryopreservation, even if the brain is badly damaged. (His inference devices are not new--I and others have suggested them long ago--but his endorsement of this segment of the cryonics argument must surely help a bit.)
4. Moravec's notion of a value system is primitive, and will surely lose him followers when he tries to lead them into oblivion. He says in essence the same thing as another already dust, Isaac Asimov, who claimed that the important thing is the survival and development of life and intelligence in the abstract--not mere humans, let alone no-account, archaic, disposable you. I am in the process of developing a rigorous system of personal values, but almost anyone will probably agree, without any fine-spun logic, that it's hard to enjoy life when you're dead.
5. Moravec also agrees with Arthur Clarke and others, who think (or so they say) that long term survival is meaningless in any case, since we change over time and eventually perhaps even hope to outgrow any need for our current memories and traits. Most readers will probably not reject extended and improved life merely because of someone's guesses about the distant future.
As I said, it's a tremendously stimulating book. It even has an appendix sketching ideas for interpreting quantum theory without "Many Worlds" but with a different slant on hidden variables. And one chapter concludes with this:
"It might be fun to resurrect all the past inhabitants of the earth this way and to give them an opportunity to share with us [sic] in the (ephemeral) immortality of transplanted minds. Resurrecting one small planet should be child's play long before our civilization has colonized even its first galaxy."
I forgot to add another way in which Moravec helps immortalism. Mind Children has a nice little discussion of Axelrod's work with the Prisoner's Dilemma (and Problem of the Commons etc), pointing out that "nice" or cooperative strategies in life are more likely to be successful, and therefore more likely to dominate, if people expect to meet each other repeatedly in the future. As many of us have so often noted, it is only the short-timers who are likely to be ruthless or short-sightedly selfish. (Mike Perry's book also has the focus on enlightened self-interest.)
Nothing from Chrissie this Time
There is nothing from Chrissie this time, as she is preparing for a romantic novelists' conference, finishing a novella which has just been accepted for publication and also a home study course on Dyslexia to be published by The Learning Institute shortly. (And, of course, there is Wimbledon, summer visitors and so on). I know that there are some readers who go to her articles and read little else. But this time I do commend you to two very readable articles Why Cryonics isn't Popular and Betrayal and Abandonment. Compare what is said here with what Chrissie wrote in her first article, Cryonics - A Mother's Initial Thoughts. It was the caring side of cryonics as opposed to the uncaring casting aside of burning and rotting that first made her take cryopreservation seriously. Once she had started to take it seriously, then she considered the real issues, and last year actually visited Alcor and the Cryonics Institute, where her support of cryonics was strengthened by what she saw and the people she met.
The real problem is not getting people to sign up for cryonics. It is to get people to bother to even consider it seriously. Normally if you are lucky you just gets the crass put downs, like "You may as well try and get a cow out of a hamburger" or "I want to be cremated because I like feeling warm." If you are unlucky they just try to change the conversations as quickly as possible to something more palatable, such as the latest murder mystery film on television. (Chrissie told me recently that the average American child, by the time he is 18, has seen 40,000 murders on television.)
Once people bother to consider cryopreservation seriously, some may still decide it is not for them, fair enough. But with serious consideration many more would take it up, of that I am convinced.
One further word to you Chrissie fans - do try some of the other articles, they are not hard, I can assure you ... such as this one:
An Informal Report of
Age Conference Highlights
by Ivy Greenwell <ORIANA333@aol.com>
The June 1999 AGE conference in Seattle was semi-fascinating in a lot of ways. The main take-home message I got was "eat less, but be sure to eat blueberries every day." Anthocyanins do wonders for the brains of rats, hopefully for ours as well. Mainly, the increase dopamine release, like so many compounds that have been found to produce life extension. I asked about a comparison with bilberry extract, and got the lukewarm reply that maybe in the future they'll try. Some wild varieties of blueberries are supposed to be "almost as good" as bilberries (the slightly darker European variety). For the present, I suggest combining blueberries (as much as you can afford, though a cup a day should do; in summer, eat them by the pint) with some bilberry extract, particularly if you have myopia, poor night vision, spider veins or varicose veins, arthritis. Blueberries, bilberries, and cranberries, however, have benefits beyond that, with neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and anti-cancer properties that parallel those of other polyphenols, for example the catechins found in tea, or the various compounds in red wine. Simply adding blueberries to your diet is likely to double your antioxidant protection.
Likewise, it was pointed out that it definitely makes sense to place emphasis on the other end of prevention - ie., let us try to produce fewer free radicals and less glycation by eating less, lower our blood sugar through carbohydrate restriction, and stress through stress reduction techniques -- rather than continue to live a destructive lifestyle and then try to alleviate the damage caused by overeating and excess stress by swallowing a few antioxidants. In other words, if the cold wind is killing us, let us close the window rather than just pile on sweaters and coats -- i.e., we need to eat less and to lower our daily stress, at least the sort of excess stress that weakens the immune system.
This really made marathon runners look like idiots racing toward earlier death. Only moderate exercise produces the kind of moderate stress that increases the body's repair ability, and also provides insulin reduction without dangerously raising cortisol levels.
I'd also like research into the benefits of "mental exercise," since longevity correlates with IQ. In other words, flabby college profs tend to live longer than star athletes. Speaking of moderate stress, that's exactly what calorie restriction appears to be, judging by the elevation of glucocorticoids in calorie restricted animals. These animals are better able to cope with stress, except for cold. Fatter animals survive the stress of being in cold temperature better, and for an obvious reason. Fortunately we humans have warm clothes and heaters (and some of us even live in California or Florida), so fattening up for winter is not necessary.
Hearing about the increased stress response in calorie-restricted animals, one participant asked, "Wouldn't it be cheaper to give them a sauna every day or every other day?" Heat shock proteins are indeed a "hot" new area of research. However, there may be longevity benefits of calorie restriction, such as blood sugar lowering, that go beyond those provided by heat shock proteins. Possibly we should combine calorie restriction, sauna (a hot bath will do the same), and blueberries.
One politically incorrect lecture was on the APO-E4 allele that seems causal in both heart disease and Alzheimer's. Wincing, the speaker announced that this allele also correlates with the tendency not to go to college, and is particularly frequent in Africa and among Australian Bushmen. More than once, he used the phrase "nasty data." APO-E3 and 2, the longevity alleles, evolved relatively recently in human evolution, maybe due to the "grandmother effect." If the grandmother lives for a long time, this may give an advantage of better care and thus survival to her daughter's offspring. Think also of previous centuries when the daughter was quite likely to die in childbirth - obviously a healthy long-lived grandmother was a godsend.
Jeanne Calment had the longevity-promoting APO-E3. Interestingly, she had very long-lived ancestors on her paternal side, and another lecture claimed that the paternal line has more influence on the daughters' longevity. Daughters born to fathers who were over 50 at the time of conception tend to have shorter life span, perhaps due to lower genetic quality of an older father's sperm.
The lecture on centenarians was also fascinating. The speaker noted the striking mental sharpness of these "mutant" elderly, and said she was planning a study of behavioural correlates of longevity, such as optimism, staying active and useful, and social connectedness. The ratio of women to men among centenarians is 3:1.
On autopsy, centenarians do show tumours and all kinds of pathology, but apparently they tend to stay free of Alzheimer's disease. One way to protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease is to use polyphenols, antiinflammatories such as ibuprofen (hopefully the new COX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex will prove safer), and estrogen replacement. A sufficient dose of estrogen can in fact totally prevent lipid peroxidation in brain cell membranes. However, it is important to take antioxidants such as polyphenols (bilberry extract or blueberries again!), lipoic acid, and NAC in order to simultaneously increase levels of glutathione. Glutathione recycles estrogens back to the antioxidant state. Thus, a woman who is at a special risk of Alzheimer's disease due to family history or simply advanced age should consider estrogen replacement on the high side, rather than settling for the minimalist doses now most commonly prescribed in the US. This higher dosage should be safe as long as she concurrently uses natural progesterone and glutathione-increasing antioxidants.
A note of caution about increasing IGF-1: calorie-restricted animals given injections of IGF-1 lost the resistance to tumours generally observed with calorie restriction.
Possibly connected with growth hormone and IGF-1 is the finding that smaller animals within the same species tend to live longer. Thus the owners of terriers get to enjoy their pets for as long as 19 years, while the owners of Great Danes have to deal with a giant carcass after only 5 or 6 years. Along the same lines, the dwarf mice show amazing longevity compared to their full-size cousins. They have less growth hormone, thyroid, and prolactin. These mice are infertile, which possibly does have a connection with their longevity. It should be pointed out that human dwarfs do not live longer, being beset with all kinds of pathology; tiny but normal individuals, however, such as those tiny Asian women who get to be centenarians, might be an example of how less growth hormone, especially before adult size is reached, is beneficial for longevity. More research is needed before we can conclude that this is indeed so. The panel on Vitamin E and C came to the conclusion that 200mg of Vitamin C and 200mg of Vitamin E should be the new RDA's, based chiefly on tissue saturation. This amount of Vitamin C can be obtained from vegetables and fruit, which also provide other wonderful phytonutrients. Vitamin E, however, has to be supplemented. This may be the first time when an official body of scientists has decided to recommend the kind of RDA that has to come from supplements rather than from the diet.
Bruce Ames pointed out that it is ironic that the people who now take supplements are the group who need them the least, since they also tend to eat a good diet. The poor, on the other hand, can neither afford five or more servings of vegetables and fruit, especially in winter, nor are they sufficiently informed about supplements. Previously, someone also presented data to the effect that lower education correlated with obesity. I think altogether there is a mountain of evidence that the brain is perhaps the critical factor in aging.
Lipoic acid was discussed as an effective mitochondrial protector, and a new neuroprotective supplement. Nothing was said about CoQ10 beyond a prediction that it will be 10 more years before supplements of this sort will be discussed in the same detail that today we can discuss Vitamin E and C.
Non-antioxidant benefits of various vitamins were mentioned, such as anti-inflammatory effect and role in gene expression, but there was no time to go into this fascinating area in the depth it deserves.
The consensus seemed to be that life span is 40-50% genetic, with the rest being environmental factors. One of the C. elegans researchers, however, commented that the environment is more critical, since even genetically identical animals die at different ages.
A take-home quotation: "Gerontology has arrived at the threshold of real breakthroughs."
The Meme Machine,
by Dr Susan Blackmore
reviewed by John de Rivaz
Cryonics enthusiasts cannot understand why the idea is not obvious to everyone, not just themselves. Robert Ettinger thought circulating a copy of a paper to a few influential people would have companies like Frigidaire taking up the concept. When this didn't work, publishing a book didn't have a beneficial effect either. Theories about whether it is too expensive, too disgusting, too intrusive, or too peculiar abound.
What follows is a review of a book that discussed memes in great detail. This book may help to explain the place of cryonics in the collective human consciousness. I hope that many cryonicists read it and comment on it in Cryonet and perhaps from the discussion some useful ideas can emerge that will strengthen the movement.
The idea of memes is not new, but The Meme Machine gives a fresh and readable perspective to the concept, and certainly adds many new ideas. It gets really interesting from chapter 7 onwards, but do not skip the early chapters. The book will give you a fresh perspective on the world you live in.
Understanding is easier if you choose the right view point. It is no more true to say that the Earth goes round the sun as visa-versa, but if you insist on putting the Earth at the centre then it is very difficult to understand and have a mental model of the solar system or indeed the rest of the universe. The theory of memes as self replicating ideas in the substrate of human minds and co-existing with self replicating genes in the substrate of human bodies makes it easier to understand many baffling phenomena of life, from seemingly irrational religious beliefs through why people are altruistic and to which pop tunes, films, and toys sales at Christmas are the most successful.
Dr Blackmore goes on to say that physical objects (eg computers) can be considered as physical objects which self replicate by using human labour motivated by memes. She fails to make the connection between this and the peculiar behaviour of shares on the stock market in companies like Intel and Microsoft. But these sorts of links will fill the minds of readers of her book who have expertise in other areas. (No financial professional predicted the long term rise and rise of these shares - most booms end in bust. Once you understand how memes affect physical objects, and couple this with an understanding of how computers design newer and bigger computers and you can see why these stocks really are different from food retailers, hospitality stocks and even car and white goods manufacturers, taking the point of view of a long term investment strategy.)
Dr Blackmore introduced a plausible theory of altruism which seemed very logical to me, but disappointing no doubt to the "sack cloth and ashes" brigade motivated by The Parable of the Widows Mite. Incidentally she did have things to say about the motivation of people like Bob "give till it hurts" Geldorff,. Mother Teresa, and Diana, Princess of Wales, that may offend some. However any sensible person will see the comments not as personal criticism or insults, but an honest attempt to explain the phenomena of certain world figures in a scientific manner.
Her discussion of the subject of scientific and artistic creativity and the cult of the inventor agrees with what I and some inventors already know about the process of invention. [AH Reeves, the inventor of PCM, said something similar a public lecture in 1962 about the equilibrium process (a sort of one dimensional neural network). Invention is like seeing paintings in a gallery - you may tell your friends that you have seen a nice painting, but you don't pat yourself on the back for painting it. I think what he meant is that the ideas that make up an invention exist outside individuals, the individual credited with "making an invention" just points them out to the rest of humanity.] But there is a world of difference between a gut reaction and a carefully worded argument with references. Dr Blackmore gives us this argument. Intellectual property rights enthusiasts and patent and copyright lawyers will have cause for thought at the ideas in this book. If shares could be bought in legal institutions, I would not regard these areas of law as one for long term investment if Dr Blackmore's work gets incorporated into the way our modern civilisation functions. Linux is a very relevant phenomenum.
However in the face of these superlatives, I did feel let down by the final two chapters when she went on to discuss the nature of self and the nature of consciousness. She tried to cram too much into a short section - these need further thought and work and certainly one or more whole books. She produced a theory of self, expressed in terms of "memeplexes", and then went on to discuss how to thwart the self and switch it off, which I must say I found a non-sequitur. (Or maybe I totally misunderstood what she is getting at.) You don't after all, discover a useful mechanism to describe the behaviour of something and then immediately try to exterminate it.
Memetics is undoubtedly a useful too to understand humanity, but just because we understand ourselves better is no sensible reason to deny ourselves existence. It should be a tool to enable people to lead more fulfilling lives and live in better harmony. The fact that it is yet another scientific finding that denies the existence of a personal god is not a reason to deny the self, by whatever means the concept of self actually works.
But these final moans aside, I would say that if you read one science fact book this year, chose this one - you will never see yourself or anyone else in quite the same way again, and if you read it late at night be prepared for some strange dreams.
To read further reviews and possibly buy The Meme Machine
Rest of World:
Link to a cryonics article by Dr Keith Henson which is more about memes than cryonics, although very relevant to that subject:
Why I am not a Memeticist
by Peter Merel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Memetics predicts nothing, reveals nothing, constructs nothing, but reduces everything - just as does any dogmatic religion. If there is any value at all in memetics, I don't know what it is. I regard it as an academic tar-baby that can never be falsified, more closely related to Lamarckism than to Darwinism.
Why such distaste? Because the notion that minds are mere replicators for expressions denies the basic process of mind - the flow, growth, and continuity of experience. We understand experiences by constructing maps for them, certainly, but nothing suggests these maps are replications of any archetype. We commonly discard and digest our maps whenever this is convenient - something a replicator can not do. We don't simply accept and copy passing expressions - we test and construct and modify and harmonize and symmetrify our ideas. Each human mind is as unique and dynamic as a garden - where memetics teaches that minds are only machine-like containers for replicating ideals.
Minds are more like ecosystems than they are like genotypes. So genetic replication is a flawed metaphor to begin with; ideas engage in cycles of growth, predation and decay, they are symbiotic, parasitic, antagonistic and interdependent in the manner of organisms, not statistically competitive in the manner of alleles. To understand mind we must map the ecology of mind, not bucket-sort its spoors and signs.
Memetics draws its sole claim to scientific validity on an analogy with the science of genetics. Genetics relies on the digital propagation of expressions; when we empirically identify a gene, we can both taxonomically compare its form with other genes and make reproducible predictions about its effect on biological intercourse. We can't do any of those things with memes.
Taxonomic classification of memes is impossible because to identify two cultural expressions as related is to make value judgements about what is and what is not significant in their relation. For example, I think Judaism and Islam are similar, but many Jews and Moslems don't; I think Taoism and Buddhism are different, but many Chinese folk don't. And I think Memetics and Astrology are much the same, but most memeticists don't. Mental taxonomies are based on the observer's value system where biological taxonomies are based on reproducible empiricism.
Even given some predefined taxonomy, the effects of memes can't be predicted because we don't know anything about the way an expression will be received by an arbitrary person. Memetics explains this by suggesting that a person may already be "infected" with other memes that inhibit their reception of a new meme. This logic is not only circular, but analogically flawed; it is the immune systems of organisms, not the genes in their genome, that defend them against infection.
Now I don't have any problem with memeticists classifying experiences as "memes" and deconstructing their world view that way. Neither do I have a problem with scientologists classifying experiences as "thetans" and deconstructing their world view this way. But neither can I find either approach constructive, especially as a scientific or dialectic method.
What's predictive in human affairs is the relationship between physical possibility and realpolitik. The history of architecture provides plentiful examples of this. The relationship between the Christian cathedral and the Moslem mosque, for example, is not explained by the interrelationship of their various dogmas, but by the relationship between watershed politics and the purely physical limitations of the building materials employed.
Power structures hoard material wealth in order to construct fetishes, the bigger the better. Medieval fetish engineers never invented steel reinforcement, so their materials had lots of compressile strength but no tensile strength. Any large fetish therefore required arches, domes, and buttresses to stand up. Arches, domes and buttresses make cathedrals and mosques look alike. There was simply no other way for medieval engineers to build big fetishes. It was not transmission of memes but physical restriction that created this convenient similarity.
In fact the discipline of architecture has recently evolved a taxonomic method that recognizes such convenient similarities without recourse to the mumbo-jumbo of memetics. This method has generalized well within the software engineering community. Originating in the work of Christopher Alexander, this is the study of "patterns".
What's a pattern? Well, it's not some genetic atom of ideation. It's a well-tried, explicit solution to a particular problem in a particular context. Patterns are not transmitted; they are reinvented. Their recorded form is not digital; there are often many different descriptions of the same pattern, all equally effective. Patterns fit together in languages or systems, not in hierarchies. The applicability and success of a particular pattern depends not on its vectors, but on its harmony with political forces, with physical constraints, and with the other patterns in its language. Patterns can't be cut and paste - they don't work by replication - because they depend explicitly on an engineering mind to map them to the contexts of specific problems.
Best of all, patterns are not invested with mysticism. They explain nothing. They predict and enable specific results. Folk desiring a science of Memetics might profitably examine Alexander's A Timeless Way Of Building and A Pattern Language, or Gamma, Helm, Vlissides & Johnson's best-seller, Design Patterns, for a constructive alternative. Folk "infected" by the "metameme" may be surprised to find that these patterns are easily shared, applied, and filiated without necessary recourse to the pseudo-scientific devices of the cult of Memetics.
by Chris Fedeli <email@example.com>
I half agree with the assessment comparing memetics to astrology etc. But in the end this question of utility should be the real measure of the theory., similar to Nietzsche, Marxism or Freudianism (perhaps even Buddhism or Christianity) in its logic. All of these world views create a set of definitions and classifications and then explain every observable phenomena by reference to those arbitrarily chosen terms. Even elementary Darwinism, sans a cultural selection component, falls largely into this category.
As the newest secular world view, Universal Darwinism (biological + cultural evolutionary theory) may have some advantages over other intellectual edifices, but they all share the quality of presenting views of the human animal that break radically with the accepted wisdom of the past several thousand years. Memetics arguably pushes this envelope the farthest, painting what is perhaps the most unsettling picture of the self and our desires so far.
All the writings on memetics I have encountered focus mainly on two aspects of the theory -
1) this 'radical weltanshauung' factor, and
2) the internal logic and mechanics of meme theory.
In his article, Peter Merel describes several valid criticisms to both of these aspects of memetics. Rather then debate these points (which are all either highly technical or matters of philosophical preference) I will challenge the first claim that Mr. Merel made in his opening gambit, namely that memetics predicts nothing.
In doing so I want to open up a third area of conversation about memetics, one which falls more on the side of technology than on that of pure science and philosophy : Is there likely to be any practical, real world application of meme theory outside of academia? This question was the subject of a recent essay I wrote, and I believe that the answer to it is yes. The science of memetics is the best candidate to eventually give us the ability to make concrete predictions about changes in social trends a few steps into the future. Such an ability would have tremendous applications in the fields of business, law and government. Peter Merel is correct to state that, right now, memetics predicts nothing. I know of no case where anyone has made any uncanny predictions about coming cultural events by application of meme theory. In a sense, Universal Darwinism can be said to "predict" certain things we already know about human culture (such as the existence of art and religion), but this same claim can plausibly be made by Marxists, Freudians, and probably even by Scientologitsts. My argument for why memetics may eventually be a useful tool for making specific future predictions is based in large part on the early successes of those who are currently in the business of predicting the future, economists and chaoticians. Using economic data and chaos mathematics, pioneers like Doyne Farmer and Norman Packard have already developed prediction machinery that is used by major Wall Street firms. In government, the CBO and the Fed make use of computer generated simulations of economic trends to inform policy decisions.
A large portion of human cultural development can be reduced to economics, and to the extent that it can, algorithms that rely on economic or game theory will continue to be useful in their capacities. But the best economists admit that their science is only a useful approximation of how humans actually behave -sort of like a Newtonian physics of the human world. Meme theory (Universal Darwinism more accurately) could be viewed as the next step in the development of wider and more accurate computer simulations of cultural change and trends.
The reason why memetics is a good candidate for such prediction machinery is that, unlike Marx or Freud, the theory of evolution by natural selection lends itself readily to mathematical representation in algorithmic language. Biologists, population geneticists and various other evolutionary theorists already make extensive use of computer simulation in developing models that flesh out the vast complexities of evolutionary mechanics.
From these current examples of evolutionary computer modelling and chaos theory economic prediction, it remains a conceptual jump to envision the possibility of computer aided evolutionary modelling of large scale cultural phenomena. My argument is a speculative one, but if speculative arguments can be taken seriously by anyone, cryonicists would be have to be among them.
For various reasons, I acknowledge that memetics may still turn out to be useless to science and
technology. Evolutionary modelling of culture may prove to be far too complex, with too many variables
to account for and no way to gather enough data to supply the necessary conditions. But in the end this
question of utility should be the real measure of the theory.
Ernest Becker The Denial of Death and Alan Harrington's The Immortalist
Richard Gillmann ">firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.nwlink.com/~rxg
I read Alan Harrington's The Immortalist - the 1969 original edition that I got from the library, not the 1977 revised edition that apparently exists. This Alan Harrington was an interesting fellow. He appears as the minor character Hingham in the middle of Jack Kerouac's famous novel On The Road. He was one of original subjects of Timothy Leary's LSD experiments at Harvard in the 1960s. He wrote novels and worked as a journalist and ad man. There is an interesting tribute to him that appeared in the Tucson Weekly after his death. The tribute is online at:
He is buried near Tucson, AZ and was not cryopreserved. I'm glad to have learned about him. I'll bet he would have been a great guy to have a drink with. What stories he must have had!
I found The Immortalist to be a combination of immortalist manifesto, journalism and psychological theory. The psychology part is what overlaps some of Ernest Becker's book The Denial of Death. Harrington's views are mostly personal, though he does cite quite a few sources (people have been writing on this topic since the ancients). I liked his "double entry bookkeeping" theory of personal honour and his ideas in general are interesting and presented in a witty fashion. But he doesn't attempt what Becker does, namely to recast all of mainstream psychology in terms of denial of death. The main parts of Becker's book, regarding Kierkegaard, Freud and Rank, are what interests me about his book, and these have no parallel in Harrington's book. (There is a little about Freud, but not much.)
The really puzzling thing about cryonics is why more people are not interested in it. We need a lot more people interested in cryonics to support research, provide emergency response teams everywhere and so on. We need to understand how people are in denial about death, so that we can better understand how to persuade them to support cryonics. That's why I think Becker's book is important. Becker does not promote or even mention cryonics as Harrington does, but his insights into death denial are much deeper. Harrington's views are kind of flip, in effect dismissing those in denial as fools. Fools they may be, but dismissing them won't help - we need to persuade them. Becker makes the point that we are all terribly vulnerable creatures. Death could strike at any time from a sudden heart attack, an auto accident, etc. Anxiety about death is something that each of us must learn to deal with from childhood when we first realize that we too are to die. But here's the tricky part: our minds don't have to solve the problem of death, they only have to solve the problem of anxiety about death. It reminds me of the joke about two hikers who are chased by a bear in the woods. One of the hikers says to the other "Stop - why are we running? We can't outrun a bear." The other replies "I don't have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you!"
Robert Ettinger, in Chapter 10 of Man Into Superman spends a few pages painting Harrington as a dilettante, summarizing him as "someone who enjoys mental games, talking about the future with no intention of participating. He shares, in the end, the common paralysis of will." This seems to have been prescient. IMHO Ettinger's books about cryonics are still the best, even after so many years. I'm planning to read Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death next, a source important to both Harrington and Becker.
While I'm writing, let me say how much I enjoyed reading Robin Hanson's article about why cryonics isn't popular. Medicine as a luxury good - yikes! Interesting stuff. I like the idea of viewing cryonics from the standpoint of economics. We may learn something new.
And also let me give another link:
This is a form online (better than the Deathclock) which when filled out will tell you how long you can expect to live.
Why Cryonics Isn't Popular
by Robin Hanson <hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU>
http://hanson.berkeley.edu/ RWJF Health Policy Scholar
FAX: 510-643-8614 140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884
after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.
(Those of you who are convinced that social scientists couldn't possibly know anything worthwhile, please ignore this article.)
I'm a cryonics customer and an economic theorist who has just spent the last two years trying to understand a wide range of puzzling phenomena in health and health policy, including:
The simple theory I came with to explain most of these puzzles also suggests an explanation for a puzzle of interest here:
A long if a bit dated description of my general theory is at http://hanson.berkeley.edu/showcare.pdf or .ps. I'll summarize here.
In a social species like ours, it is very important to collect social allies, and to assure allies that you are likely to remain their ally. Activities like grooming and gossiping serve this function as well as other more obvious functions. Frequent low-cost actions, however, only signal short-term allegiance; you might groom someone today and betray them tomorrow. Infrequent high-cost actions, in contrast, signal long term allegiance, and are therefore of special importance.
For our ancestors, long-term allegiance signals included weddings, funerals, helping to build homes, war and revenge killings, and care for the sick and injured. We have lost many old signals to alternative processes, however, and it seems difficult to create new signals. Thus great weight is placed on caring for the sick and injured as a signal of social allegiance; maybe we induce medical care not so much to make people healthy, but mainly just to show that we care.
Consider the analogy with a gift of chocolate, typically intended primarily to show one's generosity. When you consider how much chocolate to buy, you don't ask "how hungry is she?" Instead, you ask how much someone who didn't care as much as you would be willing to spend to make it appear that they cared. And then you buy just a bit more. Also, private signals about quality are mostly irrelevant. For example, if she knows something about the quality of the chocolate that she doesn't think you know, she won't use this to adjust her estimate of your generosity.
Individuals may pay for medicine mostly to convince groups of their loyalty, and groups may pay to convince individuals similarly. This can explain many puzzles, including the low health value of medicine, and the lack of interest in private info about quality of medicine. Together with a few simple auxiliary assumptions, it can also explain many other health puzzles.
This theory also suggests why people might be particularly uninterested in cryonics. At present cryonics is something individuals buy for themselves, which if it works will transport them to an alien social world where they can do little to aid their current social allies. That alien world seems unattractive and downright scary to most current allies, and spending all that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid current allies. Buying cryonics can then naturally be interpreted as symbolizing betrayal and abandonment. And with medicine mostly being a symbolic purchase, people aren't in the habit of looking any deeper than that.
This suggests that cryonics is mainly going to be popular among people who think of the distant future not as a scary alien place, but as their home and social world, and especially among tight-knit groups of people who expect to move there together. It suggests that perceptions of social fragmentation (such as when many split off from Alcor) are especially damaging, and that evidence of the effectiveness of cryonics technology is only marginally important.
I'd like to be wrong about all this, but I'm afraid that I'm not.
A Cryonet reader has privately questioned my claim that medicine has a low marginal value.
The clearest evidence we have on this is the RAND Health Insurance Experiment [Newhouse et al, "Free for All?" '93]. From 74- 82 ~2000 families were randomly assigned different levels of health insurance copayment. Those given free care spent (but did not pay for) 25-30% more. They wore more glasses and had more teeth filled. But beyond that no significant differences were observed in deaths, self-reports of health, physical functioning, 20 physiologic measures, health practices, and satisfaction.
One disputed borderline-significant difference was lower blood pressure. Assuming it was a real effect, they estimated that free care reduced mortality by 1%. That extends lifespan by 7 weeks, which is less than the "reduced activity days" free care folks suffered from dealing with the medical system. This contrasts with effects of ~3,6,14,15 years of lifespan respectively which is may be attributed to smoking, city vs. rural life, income, and exercise [Lantz et. Al. JAMA 6/3/98].
The results of this experiment are consistent with most other studies on this topic. While the medical literature is full of randomized trials indicating large benefits when best practice is applied to the patients deemed most likely to benefit, the marginal benefit of average practice on average patients seems to be very close to zero.
The vast majority of medical procedures now are not backed up by scientific evidence of their health effectiveness (much less cost-effectiveness). In fact, a great many procedures continue in the face of scientific evidence of their ineffectiveness. (Alternative medicine, of which cryonics is clearly an example, is typically criticized by established medicine for its lack of scientific support, but the rhetorical slight-of-hand is that established medicine does not live up to this standard either.)
Scientific evidence is neither necessary nor sufficient for adoption of a medical or health practice. Understanding what does determine adoption of practices is therefore central to estimating when/if cryonics will be adopted. My theory is an attempt to better explain adoption behaviour.
Betrayal and Abandonment
by David Pascal Davpascal@aol.com www.davidpascal.com
In the above article, Mr Robin Hanson made a very insightful remark and a very depressing remark. The depressing remark is familiar to us all. It turns up every month or so, and consists of wailing the question, "Why Isn't Cryonics More Popular?" Cryonics, as we all know, is full of smart folks, computer guys and the like, and when you put questions to these intelligent products of academia, a cataract of theories and opinions surge up in a mighty flow. And we all sit there hypnotized by this daunting flux of reasons why we don't succeed, won't succeed, can't succeed, are hopelessly doomed, and can do nothing more than sit on our collective butts. It's a litany that really inspires. Rather like a high school swimming instructor throwing some forlorn Junior into the river and hollering, "OK, now give me every reason imaginable why you're going to drown like a rat!" The flailing victim complies, gibbering between gulps of brine, "Well I'm not a fish and, uh, and I'm made of meat, and meat is heavier than water and people drown all the time heck, better swimmers than me drown all the time and (glub) and there's a really strong current and (cough, spit) and I think I'm getting a cramp and what if I panic? I think I am starting to panic! hell (gurgle)ppp
Requiescat in pacem. Fortunately we now know that cold water can stave off warm ischemia for as much as an hour or more, so our soggy friend may make it. Mental difficulties among the dry are not so easily remedied. We sit curled over our lengthy list of reasons, repeating the creaky formulae like an aged grandmother over a rosary, and mosey off stunned to narcoticize our dismay with another rerun of The X-Files.
Is there a solution? Sure. Just for laughs, instead of sitting down coming up with justifications for 'the failure of cryonics', to use Saul Kent's numbing mantra, sit down with a piece of paper sometimes and write down every reason that cryonics should succeed. Then stick it somewhere prominent to spur your energy level - your bathroom door, say, or the forehead of your spouse. 'Why Will Cryonics Succeed?' Just offhand I can think of several answers to a question like that.
I could go on, but frankly I'd rather see the assembled readership do it at home. It's not hard. The fact is, we're able to come up with lots of reasons why cryonics is going to succeed. Know why? Because the reasons are actually there! We're just not in the habit of thinking about them.
Alas, Mr Hanson, though otherwise seeming like an upbeat sort of guy, continues in this time-dishonoured tradition of finding more reasons for paralysis. He even seems to have come up with a new one: roughly, he thinks that there's a hefty amount of social bonding going on between us ape-descendants. As he says, "At present cryonics is something individuals buy for themselves, which if it works will transport them to an alien social world where they can do little to aid their current social allies. That alien world seems unattractive and downright scary to most current allies, and spending all that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid current allies. Buying cryonics can then naturally be interpreted as symbolizing betrayal and abandonment."
Now this is wrong. (In fact some of the above is just flat error -- 'spending all that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid current allies'. He must be with some group other than CI: membership in the Cryonic Institute comes to $120 a year, ie $10 a month, and life insurance for a suspension at CI can come to under $140, ie $10 a month plus change. 'All that money' works out to less than your monthly cable bill. You can fund a suspension and not only take your 'current allies' out for pizza, but even your former ones.)
But his central point is much more beautifully wrong -- it's wrong in a wonderfully Karl Popper sort of way, an error that's full of power and insight! Because it takes us a lot closer to a solution.
You see, Mr Hanson has put his finger on, not the reasons people haven't signed up for cryonics, but the reasons the typical cryonics approach repels.
What do we normally see cryonics organizations say to people to convince them to support cryonics? They chant, in essence, "Give us $100,000-plus and sign these fifty legal papers or you're going to DIE DIE DIE and ROT ROT ROT!!!" This suave monologue overlooks a number of facts - to recall merely one, the fact that only 0.4 % of the population (yes, that is an accurate statistic) are avowed atheists; the other 99.6% are either believe in some sort of postmortem survival or consider it at least possible (nor are they the stereotypical Oral Roberts yokel that cryonicists, suicidally, like to lampoon; in the pro-resurrection camp, Moravec and Polkinghorne and Tipler loom quite as forcefully as Rev. Ike). Do we approach these people on there own terms, and try to make a case for extending life here even if there's an afterlife? No Methodist I know of turns down CPR, nor has Tipler swan-dived off the Eiffel Tower of late. But no. Instead of presenting cryonics to them in their own terms, we present it to them in ours. We don't ask them what they want; we don't try to speak to their language or show some respect for their views; we don't try to find out what moves them. We don't listen. We base our entire appeal on the level of personal survival. And when - as Mr Hanson shows in example after example - we find the great majority of mankind engaged in spurning personal benefit in favour of the more roundabout benefits of helping others, well, we mutter 'deathoid memes" or something similarly incomprehensible and creep off to read Cryonet.
Robin Hanson's message nails that cryonics approach right on the noggin. That's exactly what we say: save yourself, and abandon everybody else. Of course, it hasn't seemed to work too well these past thirty years. So - we keep doing it. It's what we've always done, after all, and why bother trying to see if any other sorts of appeals work? Indeed why even ask what does work? Mr Hanson nails that one on the head too: people do things, spend money, make sacrifices, take risks, in order to help others. Why then don't we say to them that cryonics too - helps others? Well, because many of us are in it for ourselves, and so we tend to completely overlook the fact our motivation is not the only motivation possible. Again: we don't listen.
But this casual assumption that the appeal to ego is the only appeal, that personal survival is the only motivation -- that assumption floors me. Is there no good to come for society if cryonics were to be achieved? Is there no sympathy, no service, no compassion for others in working for cryonics?
Personally, I've risked my life on more than one occasion, and expect I shall again. I don't think the possibility of death will ever be eradicated, and I'm reconciled to my own. Nonetheless, I'm a CI member, and I would be even if I had no expectation of personal survival whatsoever. Because though I can live with the possibility of my own annihilation, it galls me, it irritates me, to see death hurt others -- to see it hurt everyone. The death of a Jonas Salk, a Feynmann, a Sakharov, a Rabin - are these 'personal' losses? Or social tragedies? A dead child, a murdered woman, a sick ward, a bombed city - these sights disgust me. I'm sick of watching people bleed. I want to see these sickening afflictions taken off, not my back, but mankind's. 'Mankind'? Yes, mankind. I know; 'working for the good of mankind' is such a saccharine phrase. Well, so what if it's saccharine? It's the truth.
So why don't we ever say it? Cryonics promises to save the lives of people - billions of people, potentially -- who would otherwise be dead. It offers to extend their lives for centuries - and so presumably to increase not just their personal maturity but their contributions to science and art and society a hundredfold. It promises a painless alternative to the misery and agony of terminal illness and chronic suffering and disease. Research in cryonics-related field helps with organ preservation, emergency room life-saving, hypothermic surgical technique. It provides the dying with hope rather than fear, and the survivors with hope rather than grief. It is potentially the greatest life-saving and life-enhancing technique ever bestowed upon a humanity crippled and limited and tortured by disease and death. And - by a happy coincidence! - it promises some of the above benefits to us as well. Well, that's great too: preserving our own skinny butts is not an unworthy endeavour. Who knows what we might make of ourselves with a few centuries?
But -- much as we love our little selves -- in moments of sobriety, how can we not look around and realize that the potential benefits of this thing called cryonics is infinitely greater for mankind than for just us. Charming though we are.
But we never say it. We never say, "Cryonics is good for others. It's good, it's right, for society, for mankind, for the world." We never say: "Cryonics is compassion." We never say: "We're fighting for others. Why don't you?" And guess what? Because we never say it - no one ever hears us say it! How very surprising. Ah, well, maybe it'll pop into their heads spontaneously one day...
The only group I have seen even begin to try to reach people in these terms - to talk to people in English rather than Unix and use the language of humanism rather than the arcane buzz words of extropy -- is the Cryonics Institute at its web site at www.cryonics.org . Is it a complete coincidence that they're the fastest growing organization in cryonics, that their membership has jumped over a sixth in the past year, while other organizations' growth rate has slowed or even (dare I say) frozen? Maybe we should take a look at what works, not what doesn't.
Mr Hanson is right on the mark. People care about others. They want to help and care for others, and others like it when they see someone thinking like that. And the surprise is that cryonics is one of the most helpful, most caring, most charitable and socially rewarding activities imaginable. But not the way we present it, or ourselves. Saving lives is not 'betrayal and abandonment'. Standing there doing nothing while people die - that's betrayal; that's abandonment.
But we have to come out and say it.
David Pascal www.cryonics.org www.davidpascal.com
Said Mr Kent on Cryonet:
I believe the primary reason people favorable to cryonics don't sign up is the prevailing scientific opinion that cryonics patients are preserved so badly that it won't be possible to restore them to life.
Actually, the prevailing scientific opinion about all presently incurable diseases is that they are all presently incurable. Curiously that does not prevent billions of dollars from flooding into study, research, and experimental cures, nor further billions from flooding into every patently absurd long-shot 'cure' from snake handling to crystal power. People sign up for implausible nonsense all the time; cryonics membership problems would seem to lie elsewhere. (I note in passing that the 'prevailing scientific opinion' Mr Kent alludes to excludes, needless to say, prevailing scientists who think cryonics patients have a damn good chance of making it indeed. I guess the PhD behind Eric Drexler's signature must stand for 'Pizza hut Delivery'.)
(Another reason from Mr Kent) The scientific evidence showing that cryonics patients are preserved badly.
Even granting that, the question is not whether they are preserved 'badly'. It is whether they are preserved incurably. If, like stunt man Eval Keneval, you jump canyons in your motorbike and have broken every single bone in your body repeatedly, you are treating your body 'badly'. But every broken bone in Mr Keneval's battered frame healed. And so he's walking - and breaking the speed limit - today.
Scientific evidence shows without question that chemotherapy patients are treated 'badly': chemotherapy means poisoning a patient's cells to the point where all the bad ones, such as cancers, die, while (hopefully) enough good ones survive to drag the pathetic victim back from the brink. Is that 'bad'? Of course. It's horrible! But maybe it'll work, so we do it anyway. Most all medical intervention 'injures' - how are you going to operate on a heart without hacking open a chest to get to it? But we engage in it nonetheless because we have reason to believe that the damage caused can eventually be repaired, and that causing that damage is better than the alternative of certain death for the patient.
The question for cryonics is not 'damage' but: do we have reasons, evidence, statements from eminent mainstream scientists and doctors and researchers, that such damage is repairable - that eventual help for cryonics patients is really possible? Sure we do. Ralph Merkle, Marvin Minsky, Robert Frietas, the numerous doctors and neurologist members of various cryonics organizations (not to mention Mr Kent's own 21st Century Medicine team) - these guys aren't The Flintstones. And they give us a guardedly optimistic thumbs up. The simple fact is, if so much as one single cell survives of a cryonics patient today, it should be possible to produce, at minimum, a perfectly healthy cloned body and brain. Is it reasonable to suppose that the vast wealth of neurological data further preserved in even the most badly preserved current patient will preserve absolutely no memory or personality whatsoever? There is no evidence that that is the case, and - frankly - even phrasing the idea seems intrinsically self-contradictory. Does preserving as much brain structure as possible destroy every bit of it, irretrievably and forever? That's like saying that taking as meticulously accurate a photograph as possible of someone destroys all possible resemblance to the sitter. It does? Even a fuzzy photo of Bill Clinton looks like Bill Clinton (alas).
(Another reason for Mr Kent) The paucity of evidence that it will someday become possible to restore the identity of today's cryonics patients.
In point of fact - as Ralph Merkle points out in his Molecular Repair Of The Brain - a document search will show that there are no scientific or medical papers - not one -- arguing that cryonic revival is flatly scientifically impossible. There's a 'paucity of evidence', all right -- on the side of the opponents of cryonics, not us. We, after all, have innumerable planaria and newts and insects and frozen embryos shaking off their liquid nitrogen and getting on with their lives, and even the redoubtable Miles The Beagle to display. OK, I grant you that that's not rock-solid revelation-upon-Mount-Sinai mathematically-irrefutable total and absolute certainty. But, hell, we don't have that kind of certainty with regard to any medical treatment whatsoever. Nailing such an implausibly high standard to cryonics is what makes the whole approach of this statement weak. In essence, Mr Kent is saying: we haven't solved it, ergo there's no hard evidence we ever will. Well, this holds true for every disease ever cured and every project ever undertaken. We had no evidence we could stop polio - till we did. We had no evidence we could land on the moon - till we did. We had no evidence we could pick up and move individual atoms, as Eric Drexler forecast - till (in 1989) we did. Saul: people don't decide to go do something until after they do it. That's silly.
The questions are,
The answer to all the above is yes.
(Another reason from Mr Kent) The lack of evidence of a scientific, well-financed effort to improve cryonics technology.
The best (and most soundly argued) scenario for the revival of patients currently in cryopreserved is that of nanotechnology. When nano works, cryo will work - or so the top scientists in nanotech say. How much money is going into nanotech research? A British parliamentary report states that some 80 billion dollars in private corporate funding alone will be pouring into nanotechnology applications by the year 2000, ie next year. Research is taking place at Yale, Princeton, MIT, Washington, at Hamburg, Switzerland, Japan, by the departments of the U.S. Army and Air Force, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the Departments of Commerce and Energy - not to mention 21st Century Medicine. Lack of evidence? Doesn't look like it to me.
Now what is Saul telling us in the above four points? He's saying that scientists don't think it'll work, that there's no evidence it'll work, and that on top of that we're pretty much broke. This is why people aren't crowding into cryostats like salmon. There's only one problem with his statement. Scientists do think it'll work, there's some evidence it'll work, and billions are pouring in.
So why is he saying it? I guess because when you hear the same arguments dinned into your ears over and over for thirty years, they're hard to shake. Mr Kent's four points are dead accurate - for 1967. Post-Nanosystems and Nanomedicine it's another story.
But then it's tough for an honoured and honourable veteran of some of cryonics' toughest years to shrug off the pounding of decades of abysmal marketing approaches to the public, and the (inevitable) abysmal marketing results.
Be it noted: I want to make it crystal clear that I am not trying to pan Saul Kent. On the contrary. With the exception of Robert Ettinger, I can think of no one in cryonics that I respect more. Because Saul Kent has found the solution to one of the biggest problems of cryonics. He just hasn't noticed it.
You see, years ago, Mr Kent founded one of the earliest cryonics societies, and - unfortunately - it didn't take off. Saul Kent could have taken the usual tack, and cursed them for a pack of backward religious morons manipulated by 'death memes'. Since most Americans don't know what a meme is, this would be a pleasant and safe way to pass the time. But instead he took a wise and responsible pause. He said to himself, "Well, people don't seem to want this cryonics stuff. Hmm. What do they want?" He went out and looked. And he found out that people like vitamins and health food and life extension stuff generally. And since that's what they wanted, he went out and gave it to them. Not surprisingly he made some profit in the process, and now is putting some of that profit into the cryonics movement and into cryonics-related research at 21CM. Here too the wisdom of Saul Kent was radiant as firelight. He didn't go to backers and say, "Gimme money to cut off your head and thaw it better 100 years later!" He said, calmly and reasonably and truly, "Research into cryobiology can produce widely desired medical benefits such as organ and cornea preservation, improved emergency resuscitation practices, and better hypothermic surgical techniques, all of which are not only worthy humanitarian goals but can -- obviously -- result in great profits for the wise investor."
And so they can - and for the cryonics movement as well, which Mr Kent (God bless him) has supported in every possible way.
But, alas, his wonderful rhetorical ear when applied to his own business goes cold stone deaf when applied to the cryonics business. There, it isn't a matter of talking about the value and plausibility and humanitarianism and profit of cryonics. It isn't a matter of talking to people in their own language and presenting cryonics to them in a way in harmony with their values and beliefs and budgets. It's a matter of chanting 'failure'. He gives people reason after shaky reason not to support it, and then is surprised and sorry to report that not enough people support it. It's no surprise to me. Cryonics isn't a failure: the marketing of cryonics is a failure. And that's no surprise to me either.
Why not? Well - I expect that if you were to go to the leadership of most all the cryonics organizations till very very recently, something like the following conversation would have taken place:
"So tell me. Who does your marketing?" I said.
"What professional marketing agency do you use?"
"We don't use any."
"Well, who does your marketing director get to handle your public relations?"
"We don't have a marketing director."
"Well then who runs your marketing staff?"
"We don't have a marketing staff."
"Well -- then how can you maximize your marketing budget?"
"We don't have a marketing budget. It all goes into research. Labs! Test tubes! Science!"
"Then how do you reach your public?"
"We don't. They reach us."
"How? Uhh "
I confess I would gladly trade one hundred of the PhD's in cryonics for ten solid MBA's, and all its research funds for a one-year deal with Ogilvy & Mather. I sometimes think that the greatest loss of life in this blood-drenched twentieth century may one day be ascribed not to Hitler or Stalin or Mao but to the fact that a bunch of guys in California circa 1970 didn't pool enough funds together to hire a good mid-level New York marketing agency.
But -- crying over spilt milk is not the note I want to end on. I want to end with a few facts, not on might-have-beens.
Question: where was cryonics a little over thirty years ago?
I'll tell you.
Solely in the head of one man: Robert Ettinger. There was no nanotechnology, no virtrification, no nanotech, no Internet, no cryostats, no cryonics providers, no patients, no members. The very word 'cryonics' didn't exist. Scenarios for revival weren't even conceived. Publicity was nonexistent. Funding was zero. The 'Prospect of Immortality' was null. The only hope any of us had lay in one single moving pen in the hand of one man, Robert Ettinger, sitting at his table late at night, putting one word carefully after the next.
Today? We've got money, members, organizations, patients, supporters, contributors, and resources. Books are out, newsletters and magazines are published, we're in the press, on radio and TV, on the Net and on the Web. Some of the most highly respected scientists in the world not only support us publicly but have joined us. For all our groaning about memberships and funds and research, memberships are up not down, funding is up not down, research is progressing not standing still, breakthroughs in vitrification and nanotech have already taken place, and predicted breakthroughs are coming closer and closer. Granted! We've haven't conquered the world - yet.
But how can anyone look at this arrow of progress and achievement and call it 'failure'? The only failure we should fear is a failure of the will to try, a failure of effort and spirit. We don't have to cry because everything hasn't fallen into our lap today.
To get to the finish line we only have to do one thing: keep going. Keep heading in the right direction. Everything I've read, seen, studied, leads me to the conclusion that cryonics is in fact theoretically and practically possible. But eventual success, in science as in public relations, isn't going to simply fall into our laps.
If we want it, we'll just have to, as Picard says, 'Make it so'.
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