X-Message-Number: 9094
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 1998 11:07:25 EST
Subject: probability & strategies

Well, I got myself into it, and I suppose I'm obliged to continue at least a
bit, since no doubt a fair number of readers will not bother getting or
reading my probability booklet, but still need to be dissuaded from accepting
the unjustified pessimism of our detractors (and some of our supporters).

John Pietrzak notes that if an estimate becomes TOO rough it has no
usefulness, regardless of validity. True, but that is not generally our
situation. The real problem, almost always in our context, is that precision
is demanded and validity given short shrift.

Before proceeding, a brief note on the topic Thomas Donaldson has addressed,
and which Mr. Pietrzak seems not to have fully understood--the question of
"faith" in science or in the future. We do not have "faith" nor unreasonable
expectations--we have hope, and we have a reasonable degree of confidence,
based on experience. That "experience" of course is not with the precise event
in question, but with reasonably similar ones. *That is what probability is
all about.*

As I have pointed out, our lives are built on probability estimates, although
these are usually implicit and unconscious. "Intuition" is frequently an
unconscious estimate of probability, and often valid (although of course also
often not). Certainly EVERYONE credits his intuition to some extent, and with
good reason.

A common-sense approach to the cryonics question, by an intelligent layman, is
in the sweep-of-history outlook. This layman says to himself, "Going to the
moon used to be thought impossible, but we got there. Surgery without pain was
once thought impossible, but we have it. Etc. etc. How can these detractors
possibly believe they are competent to predict the limits of future technology
in repair of cryopatients? Looks to me like there is an appreciable chance of
success, not just a long shot."

Such a view totally ignores details and just looks at the big picture. It is a
view that yields a very imprecise conclusion--but NOT so imprecise as to be
meaningless. Anyone who fails to understand this just does not live in the
real world.

For just one example of how "expertise" can be WORSE than useless, remember
that Vannevar Bush--not an old fuddy-duddy but a brilliant and productive
scientist--said that there would be "..no intercontinental missiles in the
foreseeable future." At just about that EXACT TIME the Russians were building
one. And George Gallup once did a study showing that, in longer range
predictions, laymen did BETTER than the "experts" in their own fields. The
reason, obviously, is that the experts only saw the trees, and the laymen saw
the forest.

Now a little bit about details. Mr. Pietrzak says something to the effect that
if information is destroyed, restoration is hopeless. There are at least two
misunderstandings here.

First, even if information is destroyed (or too much degraded) internally,
there is still the possibility of generic information and external
information. "Generic" information means that much of what we are is common to
the species or the family, and can in principle "simply" be introduced from
the outside or rebuilt in situ. 

Second, much information in the brain is not localized but redundant. Much
information in one location is RELATED to information of another kind in
another location. Inference is an extremely powerful tool. I strongly
recommend reading some of the literature on cryptography to get some inkling
of how the seemingly impossible HAS been done in recovering apparently lost or
inaccessible information. See also some of Ralph Merkle's writings, available
from Alcor.

Third, especially in reference to memory, the events recorded in the patient's
brain are related to (although of course also different from) events
accessible through written records, photos, videos, audios, and the memories
of living people. Thus it is relatively easy to envisage ultimate repair or
restoration of memories even when some of those in the brain have been damaged
or lost.

Fourth, it is by no means proven that information is EVER truly and
irretrievably lost. In fact, recent trends in interpretation of quantum theory
suggest that there are physical links between ALL objects and events. Mike
Perry has written about some aspects of this. 

If indeed there is fundamental conservation of information, this does not mean
that we need or should wait for the Omega Point or that we should stop
worrying about elimination of damage in biostasis. It is a matter of degree.
The higher the fidelity of preservation, the less burden on the future and the
better the chance of success. 

For the umpteenth time, improved methods are very important and more research
urgent. BUT it is neither necessary nor useful to concede anything to
detractors or to pessimism. The "uncertain trumpet" will not rally the troops.
Do not be buffaloed or cowed or intimidated or shaken. Making concessions will
NOT make you appear more "scientific" or "conservative"--only weaker. 

We have it right, and the detractors and pessimists have it wrong. In the end,
it is as simple as that. And your life is at stake.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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