[extropy-chat] Cryonics is the only option?

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Mon Apr 16 09:39:19 UTC 2007

Brett Paatsch wrote:
> Do you know of anyone that is not also a believer in cryonics that thinks
> machine-phase chemistry is (a) credible at all thermodynamically,

I wouldn't call me a cryonics disbeliever, but I definitely think machine
phase chemistry is thermodynamically credible. Whether it is efficient
enough to be useful is another matter.

> and
> (b) can construct a cell even in principle?
> Cell grow from the inside out, not the outside in. I think the fatal flaw
> in the whole nano-medicine thing is that you can't assemble the components
> of a cell -  lipids, proteins, *ions* placed to drive ion pumps, from the
> outside at any temperature no matter how cold. Cells being made of
> biological stuff only behave as cells within the engineering constraints
> of their biological stuff. ie. Temperature matters. Temperature affects
> the properties of the materials.

Given that frozen cells can be thawed with viability intact, it seems that
first building a frozen cell and then warming it would be a feasible way
of doing it. Cells are pretty robust (otherwise they wouldn't survive, and
temperature changes and thermal noise would instantly kill them), so you
only need to get close enough to the attractor state(s) that correspond to
a working cell to get it to spontaneously do the final pieces of

That you need a lot of information to place the macromolecules right and
get the right concentrations of small molecules is just messy brute force
issues. See it as a ridiculously detailed form of 3D printing, where you
want to write prepared molecules into a matrix of frozen water. To have a
realistic chance of doing it right you first need to have scanned a cell,
picking it apart molecule by molecule and recording the locations and
type. If that can be done piling them together seems to be equally hard.

Maybe it would be worthwhile doing a careful critique of nanoscale

> In cryonics the emulation of the structure one would want to resolve is
> the structure of ones own brain. Can't do that. Thermodynamics and
> the requirement to work from outside in won't allow it.

What is the thermodynamical problem you are refering to?

I can see a heat problem from lots of nanosystems working, so they have to
be cooled and/or slowed down - which may make the process very slow.
Merkle's paper suggested a three year process of scanning and rebuilding.

That a lot of entropy is being pushed around (making unordered atoms into
an ordered cell) adds a bit to the heat problem, but can still be managed
by slowing things down or dividing the workpieces so that radiating the
entropy into the environment is easy.

That molecules are dancing around isn't an enormous problem at -170, since
the cryonic brain is essentially a crystal lattice with thermal vibrations
are on the order of 0.01 nm.

> The whole cryonic idea at its best can only amount to producing a
> *likeness* of someone that is missed to a degree of detail that at best
> satisfies the person who is doing the emulating. Its there sentimentality
> and degree of discrimination which will inevitably be the determinant
> of any emulation as the to-be-emulation has no say in it.

(this might be an argument against the identity argument rather than the
exact contents in your post)

And if the emulation is good enough to subjectively satisfy the likneness?
Imagine that you suddenly wake up in the far future at the Leitl Clinic. A
doctor tells you that you were frozen in a freak accident just after
reading this email, and now you have been restored using all the handwavy
technology in this thread. Would you, assuming this procedure has worked
well enough to capture the essential ways your present self tends to
think, immediately think "Oh no! I'm just a likness of somebody else!" or
"Hey! *I'm* here!"

While I'm sure there is potential for occasional existential angst and
lots of intellectual consideration, what matters is the gut feeling of
being "oneself". And people seem to adapt to identities or create them
with frightening ease (just consider Korsakoff's syndrome, dissociative
amnestic fugues). I'm pretty sure the reconstructed person would, despite
having your values and knowledge, reject your view of identity based on
the evidence he would be experiencing.

Assuming that you really knew this (e.g. by observing happy revivals at
the Leitl Clinic). You hold that identity is not preserved by the
transition, but know that your successor will not hold this view after
being revived. He reaches this conclusion based on just the subjective
experience of existing, despite having all your information. Shouldn't
that make you sceptical of the stability and logic of your position?

Of course, bad emulations and mere simulations are another matter. There
will be plenty of those at the start. Make sure you end up in the group
getting the mature technology.

> Your task is harder than natures as you are trying to
> steer towards an outcome using materials that cannot be steered.

Hmm, why cannot they be steered? I'm constantly amazed by how pliable
cells are, and how much weird molecular design is possible. While
rambunctious, the nanoscale and microscale environments are not impossible
to harness.

A lot of this is empirical questions that can only be settled in the lab
and through engineers doing what people previously thought was impossible,
we cannot resolve it simply by argument. But we can place our bets

> A moral question comes up? What have you done objectively
> in your lives to justify that sort of committment? This isn't
> personal. What has any transhumanist or frequenter of these
> lists done to deserve the investment that would be required
> of someone in the futures part to recreate you?

Why should any human continue to exist? Why should I pay taxes for health
care for people I don't know, of which presumably at least some have never
done anything worthwhile in their lives. If survival has to be based on
merit, I guess infants are going to end up dead.

Morally speaking merit-based survival is very problematic and largely
counter to a big stream of western thought on humans having inherent value
just for being human. While we certainly tend to give extra effort for
people we love, know or think are great, most medical ethics is based on
the idea that humans are for their own sake, and that means we should try
to save as many as we can.

Then again, I think your prodding is a good one. We ought to act in such a
way that future generations will think "Hey! He was such a great guy that
we really ought to bring him back!" - regardless of whether we actually
think they will succeed.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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