Founder of Immortalist Society Dies

I guess Robert Ettinger, founder of the Immortalist Society went seriously off-message. Every so often, you get fiendishly clever guys like this chap and Ray Kurzweil, who seem to have overdosed on 1950’s science fiction. Either I am bizarrely dumb or these guys are, in the specific area of consciousness. In other areas they’re probably a lot smarter than me 😉

It’s not that I fundamentally believe that humans mightn’t be able to transcend death. However, what I do fundamentally believe is that if you’re gonna do that, then you need to avoid dying in the first place. We might be able to arrest the ageing process, or as a second best compensate for it, or replace elements on the worn out flesh with bionic bits. I don’t think it’s happening any time real soon now.

However, one thing that seems self-evident to me is that once you’d died, however, the organism that was you has lost state. The information content of your mind dissipates, the sequences of nerve firings and elemental signals that make your consciousness fades to black, since the power supply is lost and this is dynamic storage, not static storage, the electrical charges will leak away swiftly without maintenance in milliseconds, not years.

And in that process of losing state you’ve lost life. The wanton materialism of whacking your carcass into deep-frozen nitrogen is fair enough. These are clever guys, and bright enough to engineer the process so the natural process of recycling that carcass doesn’t happen, and the decay of the cells is arrested. There are two versions of this, one is the full-body freezing, and the other is “just the Head, Ma’am” where they cut off your head and freeze just that. Presumably some über-mensch in the future splices on another body from someone who couldn’t afford to avoid dying 🙂

Either way, so what, where’s the state that has been lost, where is the boot CD? Even if you had the darned thing, you need the bootstrap reloader that the original designer, if any, seems to have been remiss enough to leave out. So even if you had the data you couldn’t reload it and set it off running at that far distant future.

So Robert, I reckon it’s Game Over, no place to put in another coin in the slot and hit the replay button. All that money going into freezing your carcass might have been better spent on finding out how to avoid dying in the first place. Though I absolutely respect your right to spend your money on creating the most expensive piece of deep-frozen meat on Earth. Bet the UPS on the Cryonics Institute is something to behold!

Avoiding death is a classic preoccupation of the old, and they ain’t getting any better at it. It raises all sorts of interesting conundrums. Let’s say it were possible to avoid death. We’d better do something about stopping birth PDQ as well, otherwise we’d have to recreate death to thin out the burgeoning ranks of humans. And what sort of society would it be?

Doesn’t humanity need some young Turks who know they’re invincible to take chances, try new things out? On the other hand we might do something about pollution and other sorts of environmental degradation if we figured we’d be around to deal with the consequences. Maybe governments would have to start paying down their debts. We don’t seem to mind borrowing from our children, but making our future selves poorer may seem a worse deal.

Now I could see how humanity could get to immortality by avoiding death, but let’s just say the Cryogenics Institute were right, and state is irrelevant for human minds, as a curious exception to all other sequential state devices. Why would anybody reactivate these frozen heads? Let’s say we are some über beings in 2100. Let’s say we avoid the macro economic hazards. Sure, some inquisitive über-human might reawaken the dogs they’ve also frozen to see if it could be done. Then perhaps we may want some simple-minded proto-human pets, and break out the frozen heads. There’s just so much that could be wrong with this. And what would the head make of it all?

All this worrying about death obviously did something for Ettinger, he got to the ripe old age of 92 when his brain was last illuminated by the light of consciousness. That’s not a bad innings, even if shit did happen in the end. Good luck to him, and if he gets his head reheated I hope the stateless mind feels chipper, rather than having to learn everything new like a baby, but with a 92-year old brain. I could see that could take the edge off your life…