Re: MISC: Exobiology, Brain Storage Capacity, & Ralph Merkle

Anders Sandberg (
Thu, 9 Jan 1997 14:24:01 +0100 (MET)

On Wed, 8 Jan 1997, Chris Hind wrote:

> I was thinking recently (oh wow! big suprise!) and the idea came to me that
> when we take the first extraterrestrial life forms and place them on earth
> won't they scare the shit out of existing animals because they're evolution
> is so entirely different. Perhaps they'll scare the shit outta us by
> appearing horribly disfigured by our standards.

Probably they will be so strange we do not even fear them. We seem to have
built-in sensors for body parts (see Furchter, _Memory in the Crebral
Cortex_; much seem to lie in the inferotemporal region) like hands, faces
and breasts; guessing based on the prevalence of various phobias,
observation of my cat and how we react to simple graphics suggests that we
have snake, worm and "small critter"-detectors.

A true alien might not fit our detectors, and look so utterly different
that we will not immediately have a reaction. Imagine something that
looks like a glittering cloud with fractal shells - it is too weird
to mean anything to us. Of course, evolution might converge; if they
evolved on a planet it would be quite possible that they too have
articulated legs, for example. But we do not know if most aliens are from
planets... maybe most are eganesque polysaccharide carpets or vortex

> Someone on this mailinglist once told me that the human brain can
> potentially hold 5-7 petabytes of information (1 petabyte=100 terabytes).
> Why so much? How did we evolve such storage capacity? Has anyone in the
> history of the human race ever breached the limit?

I urge you to be very sceptical to all claims of this type; human memory
isn't directly convertible to bits and bytes. We remember things as
semantic nets (or something even stranger), where each node or arc
doesn't have a predefined information content (and can themselves contain
lesser semantic strucures?). No human has ever run out of memory, since
as we learn more old memories gradually fade or are integrated into new

My guess is that the size of our memory isn't due to a need for lots of
memory, it may be the result of our large brains. Much of our thinking
is really remembering/encoding, so our memory is really just an aspect of
our intelligence. (This is also along the lines of Furchter's research;
he is quite heavy but interesting reading).

What is important for uploading is of course not what is in our minds but
how large computers are enough to copy them. Then you have to estimate
the information density, even if we cannot untangle the memories.

> Another thing I'm beginning to find is that I continue to come upon Ralph
> Merkle's name constantly in all these publications. (This month's wired in
> "Evolution Revolution", Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age where there is a
> structure called "Merkle Hall", and multiple references to him in those
> USAF 2025 archives to name a few). Seems he's turning into quite a nanotech
> celebrity, glad to have him here. Where is he anyways? I haven't seen him
> around for awhile.

Apropos nanocelebrities, what is Drexler doing novadays? Working on
Nanosystems II?

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y