Friday, March 4, 2011

On Cryonics, and a dystopian future of obsesive compulsive mind backuping

That the meaning of "Death" will be changed by Cryonics research goes without saying. However, we don't realize that Cryonics will actually reverse the meaning of these words. And that the process will be a stressful one.

Let me explain. To start with, the standpoint of cryonics researchers is that the divide between being alive and being dead will be determined by the amount of memory retention from one particular time to another. Losing information is equated to death, and since memory lost is not an all/none process, the state of a person cannot be longer described in Boolean logic - as dead or alive. It will be a variable, fuzzy quantity.

But the most interesting ontological change may be the following: it won't be a state anymore. It will be a differential measurement in time. For if we equate death with "forgetfulness", we may say that we are alive or dead only with respect to a previous point in time (and by the way, this measurement can be taken at any two different moments in time: now and five minutes ago, now and five years ago. And give different results...)

Which bring me to the first conclusion: evolving would actually imply some form of death. Being "alive" in an absolute sense would imply on the contrary that nothing is changing - not even the world around us (which is connected in more or less subtle way to our objective/subjective experience). This perfect stillness... isn't that exactly what we think of when we think of Death today?

A Cryonics revolution will not make Death disappear: on the contrary, it will make it pervasive. Forgot something? means you died a little. And here is where stress comes into play: people will tend to make backups of their mind at any time deemed critical. So far so good. However, sooner or later, it will become a routine - an obsessive one. Let's backup just in case. There will be the morning backup, the backup just before going to bed - and the backup just before indulging in heavy drinking.

In a sense this is already happening, since we do backup all the extra-corporeal information that we feel "belongs" to our (extended) mind: picture albums, ideas on a notebook - or a blog. The fact is, we've been long obsessed with this issue - from the very moment our technology enabled us to record any personal experience deemed precious. Paintings in caves, writings... but also hard-disks filled with gigabytes of pictures. A mash-up of transcendental experiences (sometimes) as well as mundane facts (most of the time). But who are we to judge what really makes us be or not be what we are now? So, just in case - just in case - let's backup.

And so, we work toward outstripping our lives of all these little deaths. And those obsessed should realize that they are not sufficiently so: that they can do much better (or worse). Here is why: future technology may be able to reconstruct minds (it certainly will in my opinion), but the physical support of a Mind is not just the brain. It is also the World that sustain any particular everyday experiences. Which means that a better reconstruction may be achieved at a latter time, provided that we record everything in our immediate environment (and not so immediate by the way, since everything is interconnected nowadays). So, record. Everything. Images, sounds. Use all the mediums. Record the news online at that particular moment; capture the essence of Reality itself, by also all its details. Include your thoughts - include the thoughts of other people around you too. Include pictures, odors, the shape of mundane objects and their subtle reflections and shades.

The truth is, we are already working, steadily, toward the saturation of our information-bearing environment with redundant information - actually redundant and mundane information. Saturating every information-supporting hardware. This is: information as a cancer that will destroy the functioning of the world. The real sense of being alive, which may be precisely learning to forget, i.e., learning to die a little everyday. Without stress. And to reproduce/backup only a small meaningful part of the world from time to time (idiosyncratic meaningfulness of course: different patterns of forgetfulness makes for different selves.)

Other areas that Cryonic practices will revolutionize (in a good or bad sense):
- Descendants will think about ancestors in a whole new way; they are "there" in a very concrete sense". Like a bookshelf. Or a computer game cartridge.
- How to explain to a child that his father/mother is in suspended animation, not dead?
- Would she/he like to pay for his grand-grand-grand father upgrade of neuro-preservation method? If cryonics succeeds, then it will also enable "mind clonning".

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