Re: Cryonics on ABC World News Tonight

From: Jeff Davis (
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 00:27:17 MST

Chris Russo,

We've pretty much covered this issue. Your position is clear, and so is
mine. I want to thank you for a spirited discussion. I particularly want
to let you know that I appreciate the way you've conducted yourself,
advocating your position forcefully, but with respect. Demonstrating the
maturity implied by the old saying, "People can disagree without being

So I'll make a few final comments, and close the book.

In response to my comment,

> Dr. Semmelweiss's ideas about sanitation
>were once a 'fantasy'.

you said,

"I would like to raise an objection to this tactic...
You take an idea that was eventually proven to be fact, and then use
that as an analogy to show that your idea will eventually be proven
to be fact."

An unintended (but not unwelcome--wink, wink) side benefit. Perhaps I was
using Semmelweiss as an example of how new ideas, the better and the best,
and the people who present them--like Semmelweiss in his time--are
uniformly ridiculed by 'the establishment'. Perhaps I was outraged.
Rocketry, heavier-than-air flight, the light bulb, the germ theory of
disease,...the list is endless,...perhaps comprehensive,...every new idea
is ridiculed by the forces of orthodoxy. Perhaps I was thinking that the
best defense is a good offense. If ossified orthodoxy didn't have such a
perfect record re obstructionism, then I wouldn't get to throw Semmelwiess
at them. Semmelweiss, despite great advances in alleviating human
suffering, was hounded out of his profession by the naysayers and
denigrators. On behalf of Semmelweiss, and with history as my witness, I
unflinchingly indict the strutting, overly self-important, visionless
obstructionists of the present day. J'accuse! Cryonics, despite being
incomplete and unproven, is *already* successful in the sense that it is
implementable in a fashion which will 'do no harm', and could greatly
benefit humanity TODAY. It deserves respect and a fair hearing. Shame on
you. {;-)

The following four comments are of a kind, impugning my remarks as
'religious' in nature.

"It's your religion. Substitute "Jesus" for
"cryonics", and I've heard it all before."

"You're banking on the limitless discoveries of the future, but you
can't believe in the limitless possibilities of the past?"

"What if God is just some super-technical being who has existed long enough
accomplish everything that religion has him accomplishing?"

"Why is one person's guess as to what may be possible any worse than
yours? Why is one guess "clearly unscientific", but your guess is
"scientific"? Belief in Jesus and belief that cryonics will solve
everything both take good-sized leaps of faith. When you make a big
leap of faith, you leave the realm of science and anyone's guess is
as good as anyone else's."

I would simply reply that I make a distinction between 'faith' and
'confidence'. The former is religious belief--absolute, and based on God
or superstition--the latter is conditional belief, based on scientific
rationalism. I'll give you this though: I do get a warm glow from the
discovery--utterly unexpected-- that science gives me a 'real' shot at what
the clerical hucksters have been fraudulently peddling all these years. So
I'll cop to it. Science is my religion. Though, among scientists, I am a

I feel lucky to have been raised 'outside' the other kind of religion. It
has no power for me. It's heritage is clearly superstition-based. I
consider myself an agnostic, because an outright denial of God seems
unnecessarily forceful, and also presumptuous. I'm quite comfortable with
"I don't know." Also, the conundrum of 'the uncaused cause' remains
Which brings us, finally, to the crux of the cryonics question.

Scientific materialism and rationalism have banished the mystical and
magical from the realm of biology. Science unrelenting has penetrated the
ultra-microscopic realm and laid bare the machinery of the atom of
life--the cell. 'Life', no less wondrous and beautiful for it, becomes
fine-grained chemistry and physics,...and engineering. Biological
nanomachines made us by the precise manipulation of matter at the
atomic/molecular scale--the existence proof. And man-made nanomachines
will--almost to a certainty given enough time, and cryonics gives us that
time--be able to manipulate the fine-grained details of our material
selves--our material cells--with equally-precise, but now
purposefully-deliberate, atomic/molecular precision.

So we reach the final question. To which you direct our attention with
these three comments:
"You have no clue as to what kind of damage is done to
an organism after death and in the freezing process."

"Once certain types of damage happen, all the future technology in the
world won't help."

" don't *know* that it will bring about the result
that you need - to restore people to some reasonable percentage of
their previous state. How do we know that irreversible brain damage
and memory loss don't happen within a few minutes of dying? How do
we know that the very act of taking someone's body to such low
temperatures doesn't *permanently* damage who he is?"

Structural damage will be repairable. Information damage--which is to say
information loss--is the crucial issue. Will the processes to which you
refer above make the information which encodes memory and personality
unrecoverable? I don't know. In what details of neural structure are
these 'bits' encoded in the first place? I don't know. Is there some body
of information theory which informs us of the factors affecting information
durability? I haven't found it and am not versed in it. In an electron
micrograph of frozen-and-then-thawed tissue, where you can see structural
damage, can you see information damage? Perhaps, if we knew what to look
for, but I don't. Are they the same? (I don't think so.) How then, do we
assess information damage? I don't know. Since many phenomena are
orderly, theoretically reversible, and can be mathematically modeled, are
the chemical and mechanical disruptions which the structure of
frozen-and-thawed tissue undergoes so insufficiently orderly that they
cannot be computationally back-modeled to infer the original structure?
Got me.

These questions are just too complex for me to answer. Too much that is
unknown, at least to me. But I have a suspicion that the visual impact of
structural damage may provoke an unwarranted presumption of information
loss. And I suspect that the current fears of information loss, are based
on just such unwarranted and uninformed presumption. I prefer something
more fact-based. I suspect that structure and information are not nearly
so correlated, and that information may be quite durable, and clearly
moreso when a thoughtful and deliberate effort is made to preserve it.
Consider the following illustration.

Take a delicate glass sculpture, place it in a leather sack, and flail it
repeatedly. Then pour the shards into a bucket. Structurally, the
sculpture is utterly destroyed, but because the broken surfaces of the
shards match perfectly, the information is perfectly preserved. Whereas
glass lacks internal detail--it is homogenous and structurally amorphous
internally--biological 'materials' are characterized by a fine-grained,
massively-correlated internal matrix of linear and planar components. And
a frozen body is not placed in a leather bag and shattered into
infinitesimal bits. Rather I am reminded of something Robert Bradbury
wrote. If you put a chicken into the freezer and freeze it solid, then take
it out and defrost it, it does not liquify into a puddle of goo. (Not quite
the way Robert put it, but, like the chicken, it substantially retains its
form.) All the parts are there, and bear a strong resemblance to the original.

In sum, given the accessibility of far-future technologies, the proven
preservation capabilty of LN2 storage, the orderliness, and theoretical and
computational reversibility of chemical and physical processes, (and
despite substantial uncertainty--accompanied by the obligitory
authoritarian and myopic declarations of 'Impossible!' and 'Fantasy!' and
'What if (insert bad thing here)!'--regarding the preservation of vital
memory- and personality-encoding information), and bearing in mind the
unblemished historical record of experts to grossly underestimate the
capabilities of future technology, and noting that all current science
stands in support of its feasibility (nothing in science prohibits it), I
confidently assert that the success of cryonics remains a near certainty,
and that time will bear this out. What passes for evidence to the
contrary, for those who would assert the contrary, is but the feeble mantra
of envious prejudice: "It's never been done. It can't be done. It's

I rest my case.

My suggestion to sue the medical profession was adjudged annoying, too bad,
troublesome, embarrassing, discomfiting, worrying, bothersome, bothering,
wearisome, irksome, tiresome, boring, tedious, burdensome, onerous,
oppressive, weighty, disappointing, unlucky, unfortunate, untoward,
adverse, awkward, unaccommodating, impossible, pesky, harassing, hassling,
hindering, importunate, pestering, plaguing, teasing, trying, irritating,
vexatious, aggravating, provoking, maddening, infuriating, galling,
stinging, biting, and/or mortifying.

Therefore, in the spirit of good fellowship and social harmony, that
suggestion is withdrawn.

                        Best, Jeff Davis

           "Everything's hard till you know how to do it."
                                        Ray Charles The progress of the future depends no longer on
physiological evolution
                 but on the reaction of intelligence on a material universe.
                                        JD Bernal

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