Re: Living Forever

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue May 01 2001 - 06:02:46 MDT

Lee Corbin wrote:
> Does an obscure type of ant in the Amazon jungle "deserve"
> to have its pattern recorded for all time? Most people today
> would say yes.

Well, at least E. O. Wilson would. But when you say "type",
you're introducing a subtle shift in the argument. I doubt
if even E. O. Wilson would claim that every individual of
some obscure species of Amazon jungle ant need be preserved.
Two conspecifics of a particular ant species just aren't
that different. So pop some randomly-chosen handful of ants into
a Dewar of liquid nitrogen, if you must, and don't worry if
you step on a few other ants in the process.

I remember seeing somebody (I'm pretty sure it was Eliezer)
comment that, as far as human personalities are concerned,
there's probably only a surprisingly small number (on the
order of a million, I think was the offered guess) of distinct
human memetic "types".

I imagine it wouldn't take a lot of data to blend up somebody
a lot like Jim F. at the personality paint store. Garden-variety
mid-20th-century style American middle-class background (in
other words, economic circumstances better than the vast
majority of contemporary human beings), only child, rather
timid and introverted (maybe genetic, maybe because he was
the somewhat premature Caesarian first child of a mother
who was almost past child-bearing age), modestly gifted
intellectually (140ish IQ). Then throw in the DC comic books,
the squirt of Arthur C. Clarke, the dollop of J. R. R. Tolkien,
_The Outer Limits_ and _Star Trek_, a little Bertrand Russell
for seasoning, and voila! OK, so maybe nobody else remembers the
particular house in Shavertown, Pennsylvania where my grandparents
lived in the 60's, or Gelbach's Diner in Reading where we used
to stop on the way to visit them. But there were a lot of
awfully similar elderly couples, houses, and diners. Which
of these differences makes a difference worth preserving, in how
much detail? (I know that's an unanswerable, purely rhetorical

So yeah, it would be one thing to be preserved as a
random example of the "type" of the human species, perhaps
in some post-holocaust alien-rescue scenario like
Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis books, or to be chosen
as a zoo-specimen by an alien E. O. Wilson
scientist/collector as in Gregory Benford's _Eater_.

But how many of us can really objectively believe that we
embody a pattern so unique and valuable that we couldn't
be replaced by one of the other six billion humans on
the planet (or some pattern synthesized from the "types"
they represent) without making a dent in the history of the
Cosmos? That's not to say it wouldn't be fun to be along
for the ride, but that's different -- it's a question of,
well, entertainment.

Jim F.

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