matt (hbergeronx) wrote,

reposted for @ciphergoth, part 2

We will never engineer the ability to suspend indefinitely, and subsequently reanimate people.

In order to justify such a pessimistic view of the future, a genuine analysis of the challenges involved must be performed to find criteria under which it might be possible. First, though, let's do a use case analysis on indefinite preservation or "reanimation".

Ben Franklin Use Case

For purely personal reasons, let's say we wished to store and reanimate Ben Franklin. The historical reasons for such an activity seem clear: each subsequent generation will have new questions, new historical perspectives that would benefit from a first hand witness. But a human being has to have more purpose than to be chained up like an EPCOT Audio-Animatron.

At best, Ben would have about a high-school's worth of education, if that, relative to our era. Ben was a hacker, and would probably enjoy the social and intellectual environment of current hackerspaces. Therefore, he would need at least 5-10 years at full learning ability just to learn the things needed to be an effective statesman and inventor again in today's age. He would also have to unlearn some habits and customs which have aged out. 

Presumably, Ben would desire an unbroken chain of experience from his death until his resurrection, which would require filling the gap, and then having the insight to process what he learned in a way that would bring him some additional profit. More likely, however, he would just see the future for what the future happened to be at the time of his revival. He believed in a form of government that would end tyranny forever: the pain of finding out the number of times his founded State had become tyrant instead might be crippling to the optimist who wanted the national seal to read "Rebellion to tyrants is Obedience to God" in 1776. 

Ben quested after the same form of immortality that Ettinger sought- "By working hard and saving my money, I intend to become an immortal superman." Transhumanism, singulatarianism, and SENS all share the same Moore's law conceit- that exponential growth can lead to some immense future profit, but in order for those profits to be realized, they need to be cashed, and cashing that check has always been a problem. Franklin set aside a small amount of money which he expected to grow without limit for fantastic projects- he might find living in the Franklin Institute less than ideal, and less fantastical than his imagination, for his second turn. Or he might find it very cool, because it is a pretty cool museum, but I don't think he envisioned a museum. I expect that when he is reanimated he would expect his small investment to have created flying cars, moon colonies, and genetically enhanced sex robots on his borrowed dime, that he also owned by virtue of making the donation.

What future do we seek?

Most cryogenic life extension foundations are created with the intent of supporting, indefinitely, your frozen corpse. You are not Ben Franklin, so you hope that in this future time the value of the foundation would have appreciated beyond mere cryopreservation but somehow to own (free of other's patents) the rights to reanimate you. Why? Because unless your memories are of pure, historical value, and your internet drivel not so driveltastic that futuristic atomic supermen decide it's not worth it to reanimate you, you don't have an exit strategy.

Ben was "best of the best": what hope do you have in overcoming his use cases' challenges? Do you think it is worth it to me, your future reanimator, to reanimate a human 1.0 when I can clone up some greater being that has my own genetics and whatever incremental improvements have baked into our chromosomes by then? After the novelty of reanimating Ben and chatting with him for a while, what do you expect him to contribute to society beyond keeping me entertained for a few weeks? It is this future that is completely absent in most people's ideation of the result of cryonics. The benefit of reanimating archaic humans will always be far less than the benefit of creating a new one from scratch.

Few people contribute continuously over their lifespan, and there's a couple causes for this. First, you begin to slow down, age, degenerate, and that's the easy part, the part "future science" will cure. But second, your thought processes become more entrenched. If your brain is in fact well-modelled by computational neural networks, they become very good at solving a minimal set of problems and pretty much useless at solving new problems as their nets begin to lock out and specialize. How much of you would be offended by whatever mores the future holds? There's a reason Young Ben wrote his epitaph differently from Old Ben:

youngThe Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.

oldBenjamin and Deborah Franklin.

Old Ben realized just what death meant- the end. You can believe in an afterlife, but you should probably bet against it until you meet someone arisen from it. Christians, by and large, think they already have done so in Jesus, so I can't see cryopreservation as a very good strategy for christians.

People save old home movies, tapes, CD's, etc, and i don't intend with this response to minimize the entertainment and informative content of such things in the context of heavy curation. I just don't expect my curated value to exceed zero. If you wish to say we will ever have this ability, you have to come up with the how and why of universal post-scarcity economics and prove to me that your personal worth to other people is non-zero over extremely long periods of time. People want to be Cleopatra, not third whore from the left, talents notwithstanding. How is the average person that's been cryopreserved worth more than a newborn? Ettinger isn't, and if as future curator of the stack of corpses in a cryobank i were forced to unfreeze one experimentally, I'd bank on his as wastable for science.

Think about it: do you really expect that you will be immortal, or the last person to be unsuccessfully unfrozen before they perfect the technique? And in terms of an answer for you, as a singular person, doesn't the latter seem much much more likely? Great, they reanimated your corpse but you're mostly multiply disabled. Or they reanimate your brain in a body with green skin and a tail because that's what humans have evolved to- how do you like that? It might appeal to some, but to most, you would begin to question what else they didn't get right. Why are you not better than everyone else in this new world? Aren't you no more useful than a delivery boy? Why?

The main problem is, that this question can be answered statistically, which is absolutely meaningless without knowing about how many reanimations have to go wrong before they get the experiment exactly right as you envision it in your head. There are about 200 corpses in line ahead of you, Walt Disney included- how do you really feel about being test case subject #201? What contractual obligation do you think they have to you, Mr Philip J Fry? Even if the statistical answer was 200 years, would you still be enthusiastic if they expect to need about 1000 human test subjects before they expect to get it right?

A living person can consent to tradeoffs of a medical procedure. If there's a 10% chance I'll die or become a vegetable for some finite cure, i can decide whether it's worth it. But the future risks of an undeveloped procedure isn't something I can ever reasonably give consent for.

The OP argues that my repeated evocation that your lack of ability to pay for being immortal is, perhaps, unkind. It is not my intent to objectify humans, but to bend to the ultimate reality that (barring, as I say, post-scarcity from fusion power, replicator, and warp drive, which I place squarely forever in the realm of "science fiction" due to fairly reliable understanding of the physics involved) someone has to pay. You might as well argue that "perpetual motion machines" are possible because I can write science fiction in a way that makes them possible. Wishing does not make it so.

The intent on my post is not to discourage. I would like to be proven wrong! but I am trying not to cause you to give up, but begin to see the real barriers to progress, so you can begin to break the problem down into tractable problems that we can achieve in our lifetimes. Don't ask for immortality. Ask for things you can do- to better understand how the genes and RNA and proteins work to keep you alive. You cannot understand what you cannot build, so be open to creating life forms of all kinds. Most of all, accept that the people from this era are cavemen, neanderthals, to be put in museums 200 years from now. Envision the Franklin Institute of your 200 years from now, The "Anon OP Institute". what are you going to exhibit there? I've provided tons of links and references I have used to support and inform my views. Curate me a museum, and I will grant you have immortality.

In 800 years, the DNA which made you up and you might have passed to g-g-g-g-grandchildren will have passed away from every human alive, and any genetic contribution you specifically made will be almost certainly gone from humanity unless you are super special. Accept this.

Metaphysically, after death, you're on your own. I have accepted mine, and still found reason to learn. It's not what you can do for yourself, to extend your lifespan, that matters- it's that you have an open enough mind to accept your obsolescence when it comes.

updated based upon

It is reasonable to assert that criticizing cryonics based upon the fact that one has not successfully done it, is disingenuous. Therefore, let me criticize the idea that one can add a cryopreservative to create a reversibly preserved specimen. This is something which I have some experience with, in an analogous sense.

I've done a number of experiments where i use various solvents to perform extraction of substances which have a highly polar, hydrophilic nature. Subsequent to extraction, I seek to isolate these components in a dried form that allows their future use and reconstitution in an unaltered chemical state. What I have found is that if you choose a solvent which has a higher boiling point than water, such as glycerol, DMSO, butanol, or the like, it is extremely difficult to get it back out unless extracting it with a lower-boiling solvent to remove it from the aqueous solution. The problem for tissues is that most of these lower boiling substances are going to either be toxic or damaging, swelling the matrix due to changes in density and hydrophobicity.

Even more so, with techniques like sugar. Although a high concentration of sugar or other poly-alcohol antifreezes may be less inherently toxic than glycerol or ethylene glycol, the simplest members of the class, the removal of these substances is extremely difficult for many of the same reasons as butanol or other high-boiling alcohols- the energy needed to reverse the reaction, displacement of polyalcohols with water, is far greater than the energy needed to diffuse them in, and often causes very slight micro-damage which can clearly be visualized in model systems as Maillard browning. Put a pure, white amino acid in solution with a pure, white sugar, and freeze dry it in large trays, and you will see slight hints of color no matter how carefully you perform the freeze drying. The energy you add back to such a mix is nearly impossible to perform uniformly over more than a milliliter or so of volume.

You might argue, that freeze drying is nothing like reanimating vitrified samples, except that the principle is the same- you need to remove the preservative at the same time as readding liquid water. This is trivial with thin slices of tissue- either in freeze drying or reanimation, but nearly impossible with larger structures. In freeze drying, you are bursting the water out into the gas phase and replacing the hollow with voids. In vitrified tissue, you are reperfusing water in exchange for the preservative. if the process is energetically favorable going in, it is going to be unfavorable going out. On one side or the other, you need to add energy, and without the means to conduct it uniformly through the sample you will get browning- and damage. 

In this sense, cryonics is attempting to sell a perpetual motion machine- they believe that in the future, we will find a way to reperfuse downhill both ways. And if the suggestion is made that slices of the brain could be taken to perform this more evenly, I refer you to David Gerard's analogy of putting a CD through a paper shredder - if you are arguing that the fine microstructure is where the memories are stored, exactly which memories are you willing to sacrifice in return for reanimation? Do you think a computational neural network with 1% of its connections erased, or even fewer than that, still performs?

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