Link o’ the day…

Ganked from sarahmichigan: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages.

He doesn’t pull any punches:

Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional “next world” is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.

The only complaint that I have with Dawkins is that he’s clearly not an extropian:

How would we be better off without religion?

We’d all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have.

As an Alcor member, I’m sincerely betting that there’s a non-religious way to have more than one shot at life…

18 thoughts on “Link o’ the day…

    • Dunno.

      There’s no question that the brain is a physical organ, and those things it does, it does in a physical way; memory, for example, is stored physically, in the form of quantifiable and observable structural changes in the brain. The goal of Alcor is to preserve the physical structure of the brain at a moment when it is still alive (Alcor can’t help a person who’s actually brain dead)[1] against a time when the things that led to legal death can be repaired or replaced.

      Is the result the same person? Depends on what you mean by “same person.” If this works, will that revived person have the same memories and cognitive processes he had before he was frozen? Almost certainly, yes; the physical structures are preserved intact[2]. Does that mean he has the same consciousness? No idea–though that same argument might be made, say, of someone who’s been in a coma or who’s been placed under general anaesthetic.

      The process by which a person’s identity can be preserved after that person’s heart has stopped beating is not well-known. What is well-known, though, is what happens if someone who’s clinically dead is not preserved–and it’s really not very interesting.

      [1] In an ideal case, Alcor responds the moment someone is declared legally dead–that is, the moment that person’s heart has stopped beating. Alcor’s medical team steps in immediately, and performs CPR, keeping the blood flowing to the brain while the brain is perfused with cryoprotectants and cooled to the point where chemical activity, and physical degredation, stops. This limits the amount of ischemic injury in the brain; it’s well-known that people’s brains can survive ischema, or cessation of blood flow, for several minutes, and Alcor tries to work within this limit.

      [2] One objection people have to cryonics is based on a misunderstanding of what’s being done as the brain is cooled. A person who’s been placed in cryonic suspension is not actually “frozen;” if he were, the odds of a successful revival would be very slim indeed, because water expands when it freezes. Freeze living tissue and the ice crystals that form will turn it to mush. If a brain were simply frozen, there would be such a widespread and catastrophic amount of damage that it’s likely there’d be no repairing it, even if you assume technology that can do this kind of repair at a molecular level; too much information is lost.

      Instead, the tissue is protected with cryoprotectants whose purpose is to prevent the formation of water ice, even at liquid nitrogen temperatures; the suspended person isn’t technically frozen, but instead goes through a glass phase transition state, where the tissues solidify without freezing and expanding. Does it work? For kidneys and other organs, yes; it’s beginning to make inroads in transplant medicine, because an organ that is protected from freezing and stored in liquid nitrogen can be preserved indefinitely and then used in a transplant–a kidney that’s cryonically suspended still works when it’s thawed. Does it work for a brain? Dunno.

      • Well, the point of my question was to defend Dawkins against an anti-extropian accusation. I mean, he may not be an extropian, but just because he says our life is “the only one we’ll get,” doesn’t mean he thinks it can’t possibly be punctuated by one or more prolonged cryonic suspensions ๐Ÿ™‚

        Thanks for the link btw. And the cryonics info.

      • Does that mean he has the same consciousness? No idea–though that same argument might be made, say, of someone who’s been in a coma or who’s been placed under general anaesthetic.

        Or even “falling asleep”.

        I sleep very lightly, falling asleep and half-waking up to a dozen times every night. A few times when I’ve been completely exhausted, drugged (alcohol, sleep aids, etc), or sleep deprived I’ve put my head down on a pillow and had the sensation of immediately waking up with no passing of intervening time. It’s made me wonder how I could prove that the body of the me who went to sleep was the same body/brain/memory combination of the me who woke up; and I don’t think that I can. All validation of the continuity of self requires outside assistance – you have to trust someone/something that is not-self in order to believe that you are the same person.

        I imagine switching my consciousness to a new body would feel exactly like that. My feelings will pretty much be: “If this new consciousness believes that it is me and can reasonably prove continuity of consciousness with an original ‘me’, then I’m ok with that.”

  1. I read this on Salon and really like it a lot. It matches a lot of my own thinking lately, but it’s not enough to just ban religion. We have to grow out of it. We need to put down the metaphysical blankie, tattered favorite corner and all and put it into the metaphysical cedar chest and move on.

    Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke seem to be of the same opinion. One of my favorite lines from “Contact” goes something like:
    “What’s more likely? An all powerful God created the universe and didn’t leave any evidence he exists or he doesn’t exist at all and we just made him up because we were scared and afraid of being all alone”

    Clarke, in “The Songs of Distant Earth” looks at religion as the one thing that prevents man from moving forward and best left to be consumed by the impending Solar Apocalypse.

    Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to dismiss a major component of human history just like that. My trip to the Great Temple @ Wat Po in Bangkok 2.5 years ago impressed upon me more than any cult suicide or jihadi bombing just what people will do in the name of a belief.

    As for Alcor, I was at a geek gathering a few weeks ago where there were some Alcor guys in attendance. We got to talking and they admit that beyond the immediate future, they’re as vulnerable as anybody to socio-political upheaval, large-scale war or resource devastation. One of the guys actually that he considers it to basically be like a reserve ‘chute that may or may not actually open, but you’ve at least got one, which is better than the rest of the poor slobs that got shoved out the plane.

    This was almost parallel to an evening @ the Foresight Institute that same week, where I got to talk to another group of cultists, the nanotech crowd.

    Between the two, I think I’d put my money on the nanotech Singularity engineers. I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us. But that’s just me.

    • I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us.
      Sure, but we can’t all be molecular engineers. Working toward fully-developed nanotechnology (either through direct research or indirect education and promotion) helps to ensure the survival and progress of us as a species. Cryonics helps to ensure the survival and progress of the individual. I think the two complement each other nicely.

      BTW, I really like the “reserve chute” analogy.

    • “I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us.”

      Well, that’s not going to help the people who die before we get there…

      The thing about Alcor is that what they’re doing is, at best, an outside shot. Dr. Merkle, one of the members of Alcor’s board, laid it out pretty simply:

      There are really only four possibilities; either you join or you don’t, and either it works or it doesn’t. If you don’t join, it doesn’t matter if it works or not; the outcome for you is the same–you die. If you do join, and it doesn’t work, same deal. The only interesting part of the game theory matrix is if you join and it works.

      Is it going to work? Who knows? All we know for sure is the outcome of not trying…and it’s not pretty. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I read this on Salon and really like it a lot. It matches a lot of my own thinking lately, but it’s not enough to just ban religion. We have to grow out of it. We need to put down the metaphysical blankie, tattered favorite corner and all and put it into the metaphysical cedar chest and move on.

    Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke seem to be of the same opinion. One of my favorite lines from “Contact” goes something like:
    “What’s more likely? An all powerful God created the universe and didn’t leave any evidence he exists or he doesn’t exist at all and we just made him up because we were scared and afraid of being all alone”

    Clarke, in “The Songs of Distant Earth” looks at religion as the one thing that prevents man from moving forward and best left to be consumed by the impending Solar Apocalypse.

    Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to dismiss a major component of human history just like that. My trip to the Great Temple @ Wat Po in Bangkok 2.5 years ago impressed upon me more than any cult suicide or jihadi bombing just what people will do in the name of a belief.

    As for Alcor, I was at a geek gathering a few weeks ago where there were some Alcor guys in attendance. We got to talking and they admit that beyond the immediate future, they’re as vulnerable as anybody to socio-political upheaval, large-scale war or resource devastation. One of the guys actually that he considers it to basically be like a reserve ‘chute that may or may not actually open, but you’ve at least got one, which is better than the rest of the poor slobs that got shoved out the plane.

    This was almost parallel to an evening @ the Foresight Institute that same week, where I got to talk to another group of cultists, the nanotech crowd.

    Between the two, I think I’d put my money on the nanotech Singularity engineers. I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us. But that’s just me.

  3. I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us.
    Sure, but we can’t all be molecular engineers. Working toward fully-developed nanotechnology (either through direct research or indirect education and promotion) helps to ensure the survival and progress of us as a species. Cryonics helps to ensure the survival and progress of the individual. I think the two complement each other nicely.

    BTW, I really like the “reserve chute” analogy.

  4. “I think we’ll get what most extropians are looking for by creating the Singularity ourselves rather than sleeping through somebody else creating it for us.”

    Well, that’s not going to help the people who die before we get there…

    The thing about Alcor is that what they’re doing is, at best, an outside shot. Dr. Merkle, one of the members of Alcor’s board, laid it out pretty simply:

    There are really only four possibilities; either you join or you don’t, and either it works or it doesn’t. If you don’t join, it doesn’t matter if it works or not; the outcome for you is the same–you die. If you do join, and it doesn’t work, same deal. The only interesting part of the game theory matrix is if you join and it works.

    Is it going to work? Who knows? All we know for sure is the outcome of not trying…and it’s not pretty. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Dunno.

    There’s no question that the brain is a physical organ, and those things it does, it does in a physical way; memory, for example, is stored physically, in the form of quantifiable and observable structural changes in the brain. The goal of Alcor is to preserve the physical structure of the brain at a moment when it is still alive (Alcor can’t help a person who’s actually brain dead)[1] against a time when the things that led to legal death can be repaired or replaced.

    Is the result the same person? Depends on what you mean by “same person.” If this works, will that revived person have the same memories and cognitive processes he had before he was frozen? Almost certainly, yes; the physical structures are preserved intact[2]. Does that mean he has the same consciousness? No idea–though that same argument might be made, say, of someone who’s been in a coma or who’s been placed under general anaesthetic.

    The process by which a person’s identity can be preserved after that person’s heart has stopped beating is not well-known. What is well-known, though, is what happens if someone who’s clinically dead is not preserved–and it’s really not very interesting.

    [1] In an ideal case, Alcor responds the moment someone is declared legally dead–that is, the moment that person’s heart has stopped beating. Alcor’s medical team steps in immediately, and performs CPR, keeping the blood flowing to the brain while the brain is perfused with cryoprotectants and cooled to the point where chemical activity, and physical degredation, stops. This limits the amount of ischemic injury in the brain; it’s well-known that people’s brains can survive ischema, or cessation of blood flow, for several minutes, and Alcor tries to work within this limit.

    [2] One objection people have to cryonics is based on a misunderstanding of what’s being done as the brain is cooled. A person who’s been placed in cryonic suspension is not actually “frozen;” if he were, the odds of a successful revival would be very slim indeed, because water expands when it freezes. Freeze living tissue and the ice crystals that form will turn it to mush. If a brain were simply frozen, there would be such a widespread and catastrophic amount of damage that it’s likely there’d be no repairing it, even if you assume technology that can do this kind of repair at a molecular level; too much information is lost.

    Instead, the tissue is protected with cryoprotectants whose purpose is to prevent the formation of water ice, even at liquid nitrogen temperatures; the suspended person isn’t technically frozen, but instead goes through a glass phase transition state, where the tissues solidify without freezing and expanding. Does it work? For kidneys and other organs, yes; it’s beginning to make inroads in transplant medicine, because an organ that is protected from freezing and stored in liquid nitrogen can be preserved indefinitely and then used in a transplant–a kidney that’s cryonically suspended still works when it’s thawed. Does it work for a brain? Dunno.

  6. Well, the point of my question was to defend Dawkins against an anti-extropian accusation. I mean, he may not be an extropian, but just because he says our life is “the only one we’ll get,” doesn’t mean he thinks it can’t possibly be punctuated by one or more prolonged cryonic suspensions ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the link btw. And the cryonics info.

  7. Does that mean he has the same consciousness? No idea–though that same argument might be made, say, of someone who’s been in a coma or who’s been placed under general anaesthetic.

    Or even “falling asleep”.

    I sleep very lightly, falling asleep and half-waking up to a dozen times every night. A few times when I’ve been completely exhausted, drugged (alcohol, sleep aids, etc), or sleep deprived I’ve put my head down on a pillow and had the sensation of immediately waking up with no passing of intervening time. It’s made me wonder how I could prove that the body of the me who went to sleep was the same body/brain/memory combination of the me who woke up; and I don’t think that I can. All validation of the continuity of self requires outside assistance – you have to trust someone/something that is not-self in order to believe that you are the same person.

    I imagine switching my consciousness to a new body would feel exactly like that. My feelings will pretty much be: “If this new consciousness believes that it is me and can reasonably prove continuity of consciousness with an original ‘me’, then I’m ok with that.”

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