Comments on: Cryonics: Failure Analysis: Lecture 1: Preface and Initialization Failure, Part 1 A revolution in time. Thu, 11 Apr 2013 01:11:28 +0000 hourly 1 By: chronopause chronopause Fri, 20 Apr 2012 05:07:54 +0000 I agree completely with Thiel’s observation – it is one I’ve been pounding away at for onto 2 decades as it applies to biomedical technology. When the FDA was granted regulatory control over medical devices, it was like a total, indefinite solar eclipse. No one in the West has any idea what this did to medical device innovation. Several years ago I was in China, and I saw medical devices right out of science fiction. They were all diagnostic because that’s an easy platform to exploit and the West has capitalized the initializing technology with its demand for consumer electronics. Unfortunately, the Chinese are not yet rich enough to be doing such clever things with implantable devices on a large scale. But, if you want a tiny, cheap ultrasound unit that uses your laptop to process the image and display it, then they’ve got it. As well as a replacement for the stethoscope, which is a small device that displays the ECG, delivers high fidelity sounds with an indication of depth, and which processes and identifies many cardiac and respiratory sounds. It also does basic arrhythmia recognition.

Can you imagine if medical devices and diagnostics had been allowed to progress to where Suri and smartphones are today? Medicine is incredibly algorithm driven – you can see to what extent this is so if you’ve ever had access to Silver Platter, or other mini-AI diagnostic programs. And the more quality, objective data you have, the more mechanical the differential diagnosis becomes. The catch is, you have to be smart enough to use the technology. It fascinates me that in cryonics, for instance, there is essentially no use of telepresence, no in-field computerized data capture, and very little manual data capture. I would literally have cut off a finger to have been able to have a highly competent expert present with me on cases in the field, or even in the operating room. The level of medical knowledge present in cryonics is minute, and yet there is no use of this phenomenal technology to bring expertise to the field, or to the OR.

As to Cole, I don’t know if he would be amazed by computing or consumer electronics, but I agree wholeheartedly he would be astonished by the lack of progress of in the bread and butter world of macro-engineering. One thing I’m conning to believe is that, in addition to the choking effect regulation has, another reason why progress stalls is likely that societies and civilizations are just like individuals – they only have so much attention bandwidth. The group mind can only focus and act upon a comparatively small number of ideas or issues, and a few of these will tend to dominate at any one time. For instance, there is always some absolutely abhorrent thing that societies are preoccupied with. Once it was miscegenation, at another time it was drink, in the 1970s it was drugs and today it is pedophilia. God help you if your vice is the cause du jour. That phenomenon says something powerful about the way the uber-mind of a civilization works, because it is almost always fairly tightly constrained. That intensity of focus very likely blinds a large fraction of the individuals in a society to other endeavors and it surely sucks up and concentrates the resources, such that those who are interested in broader pursuits find it difficult to pursue them. Now, here’s the 50 million dollar question: how many ideas does the uber-mind typically deal with at any one time, and does that number scale in any way with the size of civilization?

My bet is that the number of ideas is small, and that integrating relatively isolated societies into a larger civilization COLLAPSES the number of ideas to about the same number as it is for any given group above a certain size. I wouldn’t be surprised if a civilization of 300 million can effectively hold in its attention any more ideas than can a town of 5,000 people. If that’s true, then flattening the world really does mean FLATTENING the world. One thing I notice in traveling is the increasing homogenization of cultures around the world. That’s sad and its boring and its yet another excellent reason to spread humanity out over vast and communications limiting distances. — Mike Darwin

By: Mark Plus Mark Plus Thu, 19 Apr 2012 20:47:38 +0000 Clarke to the best of my knowledge never identified himself as a “sovereign individual,” “perpetual traveler” or whatever name the libertarian four-flushers use these days to describe strategies of tax avoidance by treating nation-states like competing hotels, but he wrote about how he gamed the tax laws in Sri Lanka and saved a fortune. I have to admire him for that. ; – )

I’ve never read any of Cole’s books, which went out print long ago, and apparently no one has bothered to scan them and turn them into ebooks; but from what I’ve heard about his ideas, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them from the “paleofuture.” I think Peter Thiel has identified a proximate reason for why a lot of feasible things haven’t happened in the past 40 years: Many forms of engineering have become effectively illegal, especially involving energy supplies, transportation, aerospace and biotechnology. Computing got an exemption, at least for now, so we’ve seen rapid progress in that area, though often with meretricious results like Facebook. If Cole had gone into suspended animation in 1965 and awoke now, he would find the internet , smart phones and tablets thoroughly amazing, along with medical imaging, genomics and other technologies given a boost by faster computing; but he would have trouble understanding why the U.S. sent only a few people to the moon and then stopped 40 years ago, or why we don’t have faster air travel than we had in the 1960’s, or why we have let the postwar infrastructure he remembered as all shiny and new fall into ruins.

As for Asimov & Heinlein, do you think their writings have aged all that well? What would people born since 1990 get out of them? Think of the weirdness of science fiction’s history in the past 100 years: People who read SF before the late 1950’s thought that manned space travel might happen long after their lifetimes, except for the ones who lived to see the moon landings come and go in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Now the young people who read SF view manned space travel as something which sort of happened in their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, but not in theirs, kind of like a “Mad Man” thing. (As I recall, in one episode Pete Campbell geeked out when he got to meet some NASA scientists on a business trip for his advertising firm.) Asimov and Heinlein, along with Clarke, did the bulk of their writing on the wrong side of the failed “space age” to seem all that relevant today.

By: chronopause chronopause Thu, 19 Apr 2012 04:57:35 +0000 I wish I knew more about Rostand. I tried to meet with some of his colleagues, but I was in Paris for only two days and having a miserable time of it. If you don’t speak French and you are American and not well to do, the Parisians can (and do) behave abominably. I had no incentive to prolong my stay. Rostand is a tragedy, because his writing celebrates life and the potential for “the biological revolution” to transform it in a positive way. By all accounts, he genuinely wanted to live indefinitely. Two other remarkable intellects come to mind in this context; Dandridge Cole and Arthur C. Clarke.

Cole is virtually forgotten today and that is a tragedy in and of itself. The man was a giant – a prodigious intellect who thought about and sought ways to use to use technology on a grand scale and with adventurous abandon. Cole would have loved Thomas (Donaldson’s) ideas for building particle accelerators the size of Jupiter – or bigger. Most people know about Gerard K. O’Neill’s idea of building space habitats at L5. Cole was the father of the idea of the rotating cylinder; the interior of which would be terraformed with lakes and streams and forests… But, unlike O’Neill, Cole was the better engineer. He understood the problem of cosmic and solar background radiation and his proposal was to liquefy asteroids using focused solar energy (mirror arrays) and then blow the molten rock up like a balloon with gas. The result would be a self-shielded cylinder which could then be inhabited. I find Cole’s books as fresh and exciting today as I did when I read my first one sitting on Curtis Henderson’s front porch on Long Island ~40 years ago – though Mark Plus would probably classify them all as hopelessly Paelofuturistic rubbish :-). Cole died of a heart attack at age 44 in 1965. His relatives decided against cryopreserving him, even though that was his stated wish – he was one of the few scientists of high credibility to publicly support cryonics.

Arthur C. Clarke was considerably more than a science fiction writer – he was a first class mind. While he was lousy at technological forecasting, he did invent the communication satellite, and for that I am deeply grateful because it has made GPS navigation and DIRECTV possible – both of which have made life much, much easier and enjoyable for me. I corresponded with Clarke briefly after the Dora Kent debacle. He provided a deposition arguing against her removal from cryopreservation. Clarke rejected cryonics in a seemingly very nonchalant way. I’m not sure even to this day that I understand it. He had “retired” to Sri Lanka where he lived in abundant comfort, fully connected to the world via his own invention hovering overhead 20,000 miles out in space. He was well supplied with both close friends and the Sri Lanken lads he fancied. And therein might be the only clue, because he remarked in his last letter that opting for cryonics would mean leaving his beloved Sri Lanka, and that was something it seemed apparent he was unwilling to do. One of the many, many grievances I have against mortality is that I will almost certainly not be alive to read Clarke’s personal papers and his diaries, which are sealed until 2038. It may be that his thoughts on cryonics and the “meaning of life and death” are more fully articulated there.

By all accounts, and I do mean all, Clarke was a profoundly good and decent man who was known for his generosity and his kindnesses. This is in sharp contrast to both Heinlein and Asimov, who I have heard, first hand, some most unpleasant stories about. [Several women who knew Asimov, either professionally, or through Fandom have told me (and others) of his abusive behavior.] Clarke’s vision of 2001 is a hauntingly beautiful prophecy betrayed by craven fools who history will record (if we endure) as having turned their backs on their future and their destiny. Clarke was no Rostand, and I think his having chosen cryonics for himself would have made little difference in advancing the acceptance of cryonics. But that is irrelevant, because the loss of Clarke himself is a great tragedy in its own right. — Mike Darwin

By: cath cath Thu, 19 Apr 2012 00:07:46 +0000 Thank you, thank you for your summary of Rostand. In my mind he was the “big one” that got away, and I am much saddened by this. He could have given cryonics the biological and philosophical credentials it so badly needs, and because his father was such a respected writer as well, an entree into the arts. So many of the other celebrities, and I sort of include science fiction writers here, who were interested in cryonics were part of the entertainment industry, and perhaps cryonics has languished in this industry a bit too long. Again, thank you but I am sad.

By: chronopause chronopause Wed, 18 Apr 2012 20:15:08 +0000 Rostand’s story, if I my understanding is correct, is a very sad one. What I have been told (and this is 3rd hand) is that he was very disappointed and possibly even disgusted with the way cryonics evolved after Ettinger’s book was published in 1964. Anatole Doilinoff told me that he and Rostand “did not get on.” This would be completely understandable since Dolinoff, who was a pleasant enough and hospitable man, was also just short of barking mad. I spent several days as a “prisoner” in his chateau outside Paris. His hospitality was lovely, the food was delicious, and he shuttled me to the Louvre and Versailles. However he was controlling, often irrational, and spent well over 16 hours arguing with me about why cryonics would NOT work, all the while recording this discussion on tape. Since he spoke no English, translation was required in both directions. I was exhausted and drained when I “escaped” to the next leg of my journey. It is my belief that much of the resistance and backlash to cryonics which occurred in France was due to the crazy and irresponsible actions of men like Dolinoff and Martinot (both father and son). I have been told that Rostand became increasingly unhappy/dissatisfied with this state of affairs as the years went by. When cryonics was effectively outlawed in France in the 1970s, Rostand reportedly became bitter and fully disillusioned. Towards the end of his life he denounced cryonics publicly. Rostand died on 4 September, 1977.

Rostand is not well known in the US, however on the Continent he is regarded as an influential humanistic philosopher who sought to integrate biology into the world of the social sciences. His philosophical books alone number over a dozen, based on the count on my bookshelf. He published at least 15 major scientific books, most on embryology and parthenogenesis. Extending on the work of Jacques Loeb and Ernest Just with sea urchins, Rostand was the first to demonstrate induced parthenogenesis in a vertebrate – the toad Xenopus laevis [C R Seances Soc Biol Fil. 1951 Oct;145(19-20):1453-4.[Experimental parthenogenesis in Xenopus laevis. ROSTAND J.]. I met several of Rostand’s former graduate students when I was in Paris in the early 2000s. He was apparently revered by his students and colleagues alike, and was considered one of the leading intellectuals, scientists and humanists in France in from the 1950s on. There is even a secondary school named after Rostand in France.

These are some of my favorite Rostand quotes:

“I should have no use for a paradise in which I should be deprived of the right to prefer hell.”

“A few great minds are enough to endow humanity with monstrous power, but a few great hearts are not enough to make us worthy of using it.”

“It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honors him.”

“A body of work such as Pasteur’s is inconceivable in our time: no man would be given a chance to create a whole science. Nowadays a path is scarcely opened up when the crowd begins to pour in.”

“God, that dumping ground of our dreams.”

“I still understand a few words in life, but I no longer think they make a sentence.”

Rostand made many scientific predictions, most related to biology (he authored at least 4 books on the subject). I reproduced his most significant ones, and highlighted those that have happened. With the advent of modafanil it is now possible to overcome fatigue and, arguably, the later generations anxieolytics fulfill his prophecy about the pharmacological control of anxiety (I personally consider it a done deed – enough alprazolam and it is virtually impossible to feel anxious about anything ;-)):

* Parthenogenesis, reproduction through development of an unfertilized gamete, will someday be possible, so that we will be able to have as many exact copies of an exceptional individual as we want.

* Science will be able to reprogram gametes by changing the composition of the nucleic acids that determine heredity, thus modifying an embryo at its start.

* Animals might be “humanized.” For instance, human bone marrow could be transplanted into apes so that they would produce human blood. Human hormones could be introduced into an ape to increase its intelligence. Treatments could be performed on ape embryos to increase the number of cortical cells in the brain, and thus increase intelligence.

* It is possible that human beings will be able to create life artificially, though not in the near future. Rostand says, “By manufacturing that humble assimilating and self-reproducing particle, by causing life to be born, for the 2nd time, of something other than itself, man will have closed the great mysterious cycle. A product of life, he will have in turn become a producer of life.”

* Through chemicals, such things as fatigue, anxiety, and grief will be alleviated, and pleasurable emotion will be available on demand. Control of feelings, opinions and ideas will be possible, as will the replacement of memories.

To me, Rostand is a tragic example of a massive opportunity for the acceptance and advance of cryonics in a society having been utterly demolished by irresponsible nutters. Not to mention at the expense of Rostand’s own possible chance at continued personal survival. Along with Rostand, the well respected scientist and cryobiologist Pierre Boutron was once in public sympathy with cryonics, and Boutron has even published a book arguing for an aggressive research effort to halt aging titled Arrtons de vieillir. My understanding is that Boutron has also publicly renounced or denounced cryonics. — Mike Darwin

By: cath cath Tue, 17 Apr 2012 01:45:05 +0000 Excellent. It will take me time to digest this, but I have two questions. The biologist Jean Rostand wrote a preface to “The Prospect for Immortality” and in his essays I found Rostand humane and forward-thinking. Did he continue to support the idea of cryonics?
Also we have some parallel life history. I grew up in the house my great great grandfather built, surrounded with the personal possessions and writings of my ancestors, unusual in Sydney but not in rural areas, with nearby extended family and with a tradition of vigorous dinner table discussions on just about any topic. A friend died in a skiing accident when I was seventeen, whereupon I left the church and felt it was wrong for him to have been thawed out and cremated.
I met Thomas Donaldson and talked with him about cryonics in 1976 at the time the person giving technical help for my research project at university committed suicide because of the death of her husband. Already I was writing two major research essays on aging and regeneration of tissues (important biological problems, I thought) and so it was easy to slot in a third on cryobiology. To what extent do our early encounters with death affect our acceptance of the prevailing society views of it?