Re: Cryonics/Nanotech Skepticism (Was: Schindler's List)

Doug Bailey (
Thu, 13 Aug 1998 16:50:38 -0400

Robin wrote:

> Your claim and Saul's are compatible. Together they
> imply almost universal disbelief that nanotech will
> do what its proponents claim. I am fascinated this sort
> of disagreement phenomena. Why are proponents so confident
> in the face of strong skepticism, and why are skeptics
> so confident in the face of strong minority disagreement?
> How does each side explain the other side's behavior,
> and how does each side think the other side explains it?

It seems to have something to do with the implications of a technology. The more dramatic the implications of a technology are, the more heated (and irrational) skeptics can be. Cryonics (the death of death) and MNT (material engineering with far-reaching implications for society) would have dramatic consequences. Where does this fear of dramatic change come from? I'm not sure, maybe an anthropologist or psychologist can explain it.

Usually, extremely polarized disagreements among rational people arise from significant differences in their fundamental assumptions or the focus of their assumptions. I'm guessing that cryo-skepticism arises from the "alien" nature of the implications of successful cryonics. I was discussing the potentials of nanotechnology with someone recently and they could not believe that cell repair technology could reverse aging. It was not because they thought MNT was not possible, but instead because they did not think aging was reversible. Their view arose from their ignorance of the aging process. Once I described the aging process to them they realized it was a process that could, in theory, be reversed. I've found lack information to be the biggest foe to enabling people to accept many of the things we discuss on this list.

Nanotech skeptics are an interesting lot. Generally, most of the loudest skeptics are scientists. Yet, their "nano-skepticism" is very unscientific. Recently, I interviewed the superstring theorist Michio Kaku, whose recent book "Visions" was very unfair to nanotechnology. When I pressed him for the reasons why he objected to the feasibility of MNT and he actually said something along the lines of "I just don't believe you can get instructions to molecular assemblers." It was readily apparent to me that he simply did not think it was possible but had no real scientific objections to support his view. For that matter, no one, to my knowledge, has offered a significant theoretical objection to MNT. I know there are some significant issues concerning energy and heat but these are engineering problems. The case Drexler lays out for MNT in "Nanosystems" has yet to be attacked effectively. Yet nano-skeptics persist.

Generally, these type of disagreements aren't settled until undeniable proof exists and one side can't discount the new evidence or observations. Scientific history is riddled with such situations. Until someone is actually revived you'll have cryo-skeptics. Until a fully functional MA is built you'll have nano-skeptics.