Saturday, November 2, 2002

Interview with Frank. J. Tipler (Nov. 2002)

I copied here this old interview, published on the Transhumanity Magazine of the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity +) in November 2002 (link). See also "Review of The Physics of Christianity, by Frank Tipler" and "Soft Tiplerianism".

Frank J. Tipler is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics, Tulane University, New Orleans. He is well known for his writings on the Cosmological Antrophic Principle and the Omega Point Theory. “… So, if the observed acceleration were to continue forever, the Omega Point Theory would be refuted. But the expansion of life to engulf the universe is EXACTLY what is required to cancel the positive cosmological constant (a.k.a. the Dark Energy): as life expands outward, life willl require energy, and before the collapse of the universe provides gravitational collapse energy, the energy source will be the conversion of baryons and leptons into energy via electroweak quantum tunnelling… We are so close to beginning the colonization --- after colonization begins, our descendants would be too spread out to be completely wiped out --- that I would claim the laws of physics would make it impossible for us to become extinct before giving rise to our descendants (human downloads and/or AI’s). If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us!...”

Frank J. Tipler is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics, Tulane University, New Orleans. He is well known for his writings on the Cosmological Antrophic Principle and the Omega Point Theory. Please read the introductory note at the bottom if you are not familiar with his work.

Q) In "The Physics of Immortality" you make very specific predictions for the masses of Top Quark and Higgs Boson, and say that an experimental confirmation would be a very clear indication that the Omega Point Theory is correct. Do you see any indications from recent experiments that your predicted masses for these particles are more likely, or less likely, to be confirmed?

A) The top quark was found shortly after my book was published. The current value the experimenters give is 170 GeV. I predicted 185 ± 20 GeV. So (unless the experimenters drop the value) my prediction seems to agree with reality. My Higgs prediction of 220 ± 20 GeV is still open. The current lower bound quoted for a Standard Model Higgs is about 100 GeV ("lower bound" means that the actual value must be above the "lower bound"). I imagine that we will have to wait for the Large Hadron Colllider to go on line in 2005 before we see the Higgs. My prediction of the top and Higgs came from my deduction that the Higgs field would be only marginally stable. (I inferred marginal stability from acceleration in the collapse phase of the universe.) I then used the standard stability curve to get the particle masses. Given that the top quark is in the correct position for marginally stability, the Higgs boson pretty well has to have the marginally value also, given the shape of the stability curve. Since my book was written, the stability curves have been improved, and I think 190 ± 20 GeV would be a better estimate for the Higgs mass, using these improved stabiltiy curves.

Q): The Omega Point Theory requires a "closed" universe, where at some point the cosmic expansion is reversed by a contraction phase terminating in a gravitational collapse. What do you think of recent measurements from novae in distant galaxies indicating that cosmic expansion is accelerating?

A) I think the evidence that the universe is currently accelerating is VERY strong. Besides the direct evidence for acceleration from the supernovae which you mention, we have observations of flatness from the acoustic peaks in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). Recall my predictions 1 and 5: the first is for closure, and the 5th for near flatness, so my prediction (and inflation's) for flatness is looking good. Near flatness plus insufficient Dark Matter to close the universe means that there HAS to be Dark Energy, hence the acceleration.

I unfortunately overlooked the possibility that acceleration could occur in the expanding phase of the universe. Acceleration in the expanding phase of universal history invalidates my prediction of Hubble's constant (Second half of prediction 5) The current value of Hubble's constant is 70 km/sec-Mpc rather than the 45 km/sec-Mpc I predicted.

I SHOULD have predicted acceleration in the expanding phase, since the existence of a net number of baryons in the universe implies the Higgs field would not be in its true vacuum, where we would expect the positive cosmological constant (which is the mechanism for acceleration in the collapsing phase of universal history) would be exactly cancelled.

So, if the observed acceleration were to continue forever, the Omega Point Theory would be refuted. But the expansion of life to engulf the universe is EXACTLY what is required to cancel the positive cosmological constant (a.k.a. the Dark Energy): as life expands outward, life willl require energy, and before the collapse of the universe provides gravitational collapse energy, the energy source will be the conversion of baryons and leptons into energy via electroweak quantum tunnelling, a process I describe in Section N (relativistic spacecraft) of the Appendix for Scientists. What I did not realize when I wrote my book a decade ago is that this electroweak process would also act to cancel any positive cosmological constant today, and that the net baryon number in the universe would REQUIRE such Dark Energy today.

Q) What are the implications for the Omega Point Theory of dark matter and dark energy?

A) The Omega Point Theory suggests that the particle physics Standard Model (SM) is sufficient to explain both: the Dark Energy is just the currently uncancelled part of the positive cosmological constant, and the Dark Matter is just the Standard Model SU(2)_{left} field, coupled to the SM Higgs field. I was very worried when I wrote PHYSICS OF IMMORTALTIY that the entropy in the CMBR would make an acceleration in the collapsing phase of universal history impossible. I propose to solve this problem by claiming the temperature of the CMBR --- currently "measured" to have a temperature of 2.2726 degrees Kelvin --- is actually at absolute zero! I show in a paper I put on the lanl data base ( last November that such an apparently ridiculous claim is possible, because any quantized gauge field in a homogeneous and isotropic universe would NECESSARILY have a Planckian spectrum, even at zero temperature! What the measurements of CMBR showing that it is Planckian ---- which it most certainly is --- are really measuring is not the temperature, but the size of the universe. In my paper, I show how to convert the quoted "temperature" of 2.2726 into the size of the universe.

I describe a simple experiment to check my claims. Such an experiment would be important because it would check three things simultaneously: (1) it would show what the Dark Matter is, (2) it would show what the Dark Energy is, and (3) it would provide another test of the Omega Point Theory: it would test the idea of computers taking over the universe. My proposed experiment could in principle be done by anyone familiar with microwave techniques, using very cheap equipment. An accelerator like the billion dollar machines at Fermilab or CERN would not be required. A few thousand dollars worth of equipment would do it. Any takers?

As an added inducement, I point out in the above-mentioned paper that the effect I'm predicting has probably already been seen! An outstanding anomaly in astrophysics has been the existence of Ultra High Energy (UHE) cosmic rays: they shouldn't be able to propagate through the CMBR, yet they do. If the CMBR has the properties I claim, UHE Cosmic Rays WOULD be able to propagate through the CMBR.

Q) In "The Age of Spiritual Machines" Ray Kurzweil suggests that perhaps even a universe that left to itself would expand forever can be engineered into a collapse by future civilizations, or the other way around. This would be some amazing cosmic spacetime engineering indeed! Do you think this may be possible, and can you imagine any plausible mechanism?

A) The universe would collapse even if spatially open, if a negative cosmological constant were to exist, and could be turned on. But only if a negative cosmological constant already existed could this engineering be done. The experimental evidence is strong that the cosmological constant is POSITIVE, not negative. Furthermore, no engineering could change the spatial topology of universe. This would violate a fundamental law of quantum mechanics called unitarity.

But note that what I have suggested above to cancel the observed acceleration would in effect be a universal engineering project to force a collapse, where without the action of life, there would be no collapse.

In another paper (also available on the lanl, and in the published technical literature) I have argued that the known laws of physics REQUIRE life to engage in this engineering project.

Q) Andrei Linde has recently theorized that the universe may indeed collapse rather than expanding forever. But in Linde's theory the collapse comes a mere 10 to 20 billion years from now. How would this affect the Omega Point Theory's requirement for intelligent life to expand relatively quickly and manipulate the contraction into a Taub collapse?

A) Linde and I have different approaches to physics. I refuse to use anything other than the known laws of physics. I assume that these laws are correct, until an experiment shows that they have a limited range of applicability. Linde decides what he wants the universe to be like, and invents whatever laws are required to give him what he wants. Linde's laws are invented to eliminate anything like the Omega Point Theory, so it is likely that the Taub collapse won't work.

Notice in particular that Linde's Eternal Chaotic Inflation theory is played out in a spatially infinite universe. It is a mathematical theorem that the universe has to be spatially FINITE if it is to end in an Omega point.

Q) In the Omega Point Theory, humans colonize the universe via space probes that travel to distant planets and literally synthesize human beings on the spot rather than carrying them the whole way as full-grown, oxygen-breathing passengers. How can we be sure that each Adam and Eve (so to speak) that are placed on all of those distant worlds will cooperate in the grand effort to engineer a Taub collapse of the universe?

A) It is in their selfish interests to act locally to force the universe into a Taub collapse. If they cooperate they live, if they don't cooperate, they die. Also, I have argued, as I said above, that the laws of physics will ensure that they cooperate.

Q) In their SF novel "The Light of Other Days" Sir Arthur Clarke and Stephen Baxter imagine a near future civilization resurrecting the dead of past ages by reaching into the past, through micro wormholes, to download full snapshots of brain states and memories. Do you think that some of us might be restored to life, much before the Omega Point, by similar means?

A) No. Wormholes involve a violation of unitarity, because they involve topology change. Can't happen, unless the laws of physics are wrong. Where is the experiment showing that they are? Until I see the experiment, I will continue to believe in the known laws of physics.

Q) Have you, or Prof. Wolfhart Pannenberg [NOTE: he is a well known theologian who supports Tipler's views], managed to convince any religious leaders to accept all, most, or any significant portion of the Omega Point Theory?

A) No. I ascribe this rejection to the same reason that no religious leader has ever accepted "any significant portion" of the Transhumanist Credo. Most if not all religious leaders reject the idea that we humans are just special types of computers, and that human downloads and/or artificial intelligences are possible. Most, if not all, religious leaders reject the idea that the human mind (or soul) is just a program running on the wet computer we call the brain. Instead, they believe in an "immortal soul" which appears to be some sort of "stuff" not subject to the laws of physics.

In theology, this belief is connected with the gnostic (or Manichean) heresy, which holds that there is a "spirtual realm" superior to the material realm, which, since inferior, is uninteresting, or evil, or both. The goal in the gnostic heresy is to escape from the world of matter into the spirit world. Unfortunately, this heresy is widespread even among Christians (who should know better), and it prevents the Omega Point Theory --- or transhumanism --- from being taken seriously.

But I expect this to change in the future. I have just come back from a conference on Christianity, and when I pointed out the connection between the gnostic heresy and their rejection of transhumanism, the Christians at the conference began --- for the first time, I think --- to take transhumnsim (and hence the Omega Point) seriously.

I was also told by a German reporter that the Lutherian Bishop of Hamburg has accepted the Omega Point Theory. Is a bishop a "religious leader," or should I hold out for an archbishop or cardinal?

Q) You point out that many of the tenets of Christianity and Islam are similar, perhaps even identical in a fundamental way. Yet many bloody wars have been fought between Christians and Muslims, and now these two worlds seem headed for another major clash, perhaps much worse than the previous. Any thought that you wish to share?

A) I discussed the problem which Islam faces on pages 302-304 (the last part of the "Garden of Islam" section of Chapter 11) of THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY. There are tolerant Muslims, and always have been, but throughout Islamic history, these tolerant Muslims are almost always dominated by Muslims who hate anything other than Islam. So Islam is almost always accompanied by war against non-Muslims. But there are encouraging signs that if given a democratic government, the good Muslims will take control from the evil Muslims. Iran is a "semi-democracy" in the sense that a parliament elected by the Iranian people have real, even if not complete, power. This parliament passes progressive laws, and if the Mullahs were also elected, I would predict that Iran would be a tolerant, liberal society, even if formally a theocracy.

Q) Suppose the human race becomes extinct before colonizing the universe. Then it is up to some other race to build the Omega Point scenario. Why should these superaliens want to resurrect us, today's humans?

A) We are so close to beginning the colonization --- after colonization begins, our descendants would be too spread out to be completely wiped out --- that I would claim the laws of physics would make it impossible for us to become extinct before giving rise to our descendants (human downloads and/or AI's). If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us!

Q) You seem to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum physics. Does the MWI mean that the universe splits into separate branches when a measurement is made, or that our mind splits into separate branches when the result of a measurement is observed?

A) I definitely accept the MWI. The MWI is not an option, but as I show in my book, a necessary mathematical consequence of quantum mechanics applying at all levels: not just atoms, but also humans are quantum mechanical objects. So if the MWI is actually false, then quantum mechanics must also be false at some level of complexity. All competent mathematical physicists know this perfectly well. Roger Penrose in his THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND makes this point. It's just that Penrose explicitly rejects linear quantum mechanics at the level of the human brain. But as I have mentioned, I accept the known physical laws as being true, until an experiment shows them to be false.

It is better to think of parts of the universe as splitting. As Everett once said (roughly), if a mouse observes the universe, the mouse, not the universe, is changed. I would say, if a human mind observes the universe, the mind, not the universe, is split.

Q): After the tremendous amount of thought, research and writing that you put into your book, how do you feel about the hostile reception it received? Does the criticism bother you? Do you ignore it as much as possible? Or are you just waiting to be resurrected at the Omega Point so you can say "See, I told you so!"?

A) "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." Criticism is the driving force of science. Much of the criticism has consisted of insults, and hence not useful. But my improvements in the Omega Point Theory, describved above, are due in large part to technical criticisms. My explanation of the Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the simple experiment to test it, derive from criticisms I received from Gordon Kane, a professor of physics at the University of Michigan, after I gave a seminar at the University of Michigan a few years ago.

What I was unprepared for was the hostile "stone throwing" I received at Tulane University. I was actually formally tried for heresy (this word was not used by the panel convened to try me. Instead, I was told that I "didn't think like everyone else in the department"). I was not fired --- it's difficult to fire a tenured full professor, especially for unorthodox thinking, exactly what tenure is supposed to protect. But my salary was frozen: since my work was "worthless", it is clear to University officials that I should receive no raise. So now my pay is some $30,000 less than the Tulane full professor average, almost at the level of a starting assistant professor at Tulane, and definitely less than the assistant professor at a place like Cal Tech.

In the past I could have made up the salary shortfall by writing books. But Tulane changed the terms of my employment (the Louisiana courts have ruled that the University can do this to any faculty member), and now Tulane claims to own the copyright to any book I may write. So it looks as if I may depend on others elsewhere to develop the OPT. Fortunately, transhumanists exist, and eventually some will be trained in cosmology.

Q): If the Omega Point Theory is true, we shall be resurrected at the end of time and live in a very pleasant world. So why shouldn't we just relax and enjoy life instead of working hard to improve our life in today's world?

A) The selfish answer is that we don't know what the far future people will know about us. If they record that we slack off now, this slacker will be the only version of us emulated in the far future computers. With a slacker personality, we cannot enjoy the future to the fullest extent, to say nothing of the trouble we would be in for if we adopt an evil attitude, and THIS info make it to the far future.

The unselfish answer is that it is our duty. Buy working hard now, we can reduce the amount of suffering between now and the resurrection time. So in spite of my difficulties at Tulane, I'll keep trying to develop the OPT: if I succeed, human knowledge will be advanced --- especially if I can persuade sometone to do the simple experiment I describe!

Q) The Omega Point Theory deals with the far future. Most of our readers are more interested in the short and medium term future, and in particular in the possibility to improve the human physical and mental characteristics by applying nano/bio/info technologies. What timeline do you imagine for the gradual merging of biological and machine intelligences that many contemporary thinkers foresee? For example, when do you think we may develop working interfaces between biological brains and machines, or technologies to upload minds to machines?

A) I think we'll see AI's and/or human downloaded some time this century.

Introductory note

Some familiarity with Frank Tipler's writings, such as the books listed below, is required to enjoy this interview. The author's web site also contains some introductory material. If you cannot wait, here is our own very brief and incomplete version of "The Omega Point Theory in a nutshell": intelligent beings of a far future epoch close to the gravitational collapse of the universe (the so called Big Crunch) may develop the capability to steer the collapse along a specific mode (Taub collapse) with unlimited subjective time, energy, and computational power available to them before reaching the final singularity. Having done so, they may wish to restore to consciousness all sentient beings of the past, perhaps through a "brute force" computational emulation of the past history of the universe. So after death we may wake up in a simulated environment with many of the features assigned to the afterlife world by the major religions. We are using a weak "may", but Prof. Tipler thinks that there is plenty of evidence for the Omega Point Theory in today's universe.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Interview with Rudy Rucker

Giulio Prisco
Interview with Rudy Rucker, Transhumanity Magazine, 8/27/2002

This interview with Rudy Rucker was published in August 2002 in the late lamented Transhumanity magazine of the late lamented World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity+).

Q: You have called your literary style "transrealism". How would you define that?

A: Broadly speaking, transrealism is writing about your immediate perceptions in a fantastic way. Working day to day reality into your SFictional constructions. I sometimes call it a “magpie approach.” You snatch up the shiny --- or stinky --- things you see and work them into your nest.

Q: Is the Jena character of Spaceland a former girlfriend?

A: No. In some of my transreal SF novels I do in fact model the characters on people I know. But in Spaceland I invented the characters from whole cloth. I guess they’re inspired of any number of people I’ve casually seen around Silicon Valley. I write a lot in my local coffee shop, the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting, which is good for peoplewatching.

Q: Both the uvvy in the *Ware novels and the mophone in Spaceland work as part of a non-hierarchical, distributed P2P network without central servers. In Spaceland this network approach saves the company even after giving up the "magic" 4D phones. Could you explain the concept in more details, and are you aware of any real-world implementation?

A: Astute of you to notice this. It’s kind of a pet idea of mine. My idea is that instead of going off to some central server antenna, your cell phone signal need go only as far as the next closest cell phone, and that it can then hopscotch onwards from there. It’s a little like the way a packet makes its way across the Internet, but with the smarts pushed all the way down, so that there aren’t even any high -level routers. Each individual unit acts as a router. This would assume a goodly amount of processing power in the individual phones. Unless I’m mistaken, something like this approach was used by the now -defunct Ricochet. Around San Francisco, you can still see Ricochet repeaters mounted on many lampposts and utility poles. As I understand it, the purpose of the repeaters was to pick up the weak signals from any nearby cell phone, and amplify the signals, hoping to hit another Ricochet cell phone nearby. My son Rudy Jr. and I are in fact working on a science fiction story called “Jenna and Me” which involves Jenna Bush and those slightly sinister repeaters.

Q: In the "Spaceland Notes" posted on your website, you mention that one editor rejected Spaceland. So also established writers get rejections sometimes? What would be your advice to a beginning SF writer?

A: Selling a book or story has never become absolutely automatic for me. I’m eternally about one editor away from being unpublishable. Thank God for enlightened minds like David Hartwell of Tor, who bought my last three novels. The hard fact is that not everyone does get published. Advice to beginning SF writers? Write a lot, finish what you write, and when it’s done, keep sending it out for quite awhile. Heinlein had a famous dictum like “Leave your material on the market till it sells,” and there’s a lot to that. I never give up. If all else fails, there’s always print or web zines.

Q: I recommend reading Infinity and the Mind for an explanation of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. But for readers who can't wait, what does it say and mean in one sentence?

A: Suppose that M is a formalized set of axioms incorporating our mathematical knowledge. If (a) M is clearly defined enough so that we can easily tell which sentences A are indeed axioms of M and (b) M doesn’t embody any internal contradictions, then (c) there will be some sentences A which we can’t prove or disprove from the axioms of M and (d) we will in fact be unable to prove the (true) fact that M embodies no contradictions.

Q: In Infinity and the Mind you recall your meetings with Kurt Gödel. Did he ever say anything on the implications of the incompleteness theorem for machine intelligence?

A: I discuss this matter in some detail in Infinity and the Mind. As I understood him, Gödel said that his theorems prove that you can’t in fact specify a formal system whose power is equal to your mind. [Because, if you “know” your mind to be consistent, then when you write down a system M to represent your mind, you “know” that, being like your presumably consistent mind, M embodies no contradictions, but this fact is, by (d) above, something that M can’t prove, which then means that you therefore “know” something M can’t prove, which in turn implies that system M is weaker than you, so M isn’t equivalent to you after all.] But, added Gödel, there was no reason why we couldn’t set up an environment in which robotic minds as good as ours might evolve. This teaching was in fact one of the main and immediate inspirations for my novel Software which, as well as being an early example of cyberpunk, was a thought-experiment in the philosophy of mathematics. “Y’all ever ate any live brains?” My detailed thoughts all this can be found in the seldom-read “A Technical Note on Man-Machine Equivalence” at the end of Infinity and the Mind. It’s worth mentioning that in his posthumously published papers, Gödel seems to take a slightly different slant on what I’d thought he said. I’m in fact planning to reconsider the matter this fall, working with some philosophers at the University of Leuwen near Brussels.

Q: What do you think of the notion that that consciousness might require quantum effects?

A: My physicist friend Nick Herbert has developed a highly original theory which he describes in his essay, “Holistic Physics --- or -- - An Introduction to Quantum Tantra,” online at Nick feels that the brain has a quantum system within it, and this system is the locus of our consciousness. Quantum systems can evolve in two fashions: (I) in a series of discrete Newtonian-style wave -collapses brought on by repeated observations or (II) in a smooth many-universesstyle evolution of state according to Schrödinger’s Wave Equation. The communicable, standard conscious content is all of type I, and this is the kind of thing we try and mimic with our neural nets that hopefully can be trained or evolved to display emergent intelligence. But Nick points out that type II is closer to how much of our inner mental experience feels. That is, upon introspection, one’s consciousness feels smooth and analog, like the evolution of wave upon a drumhead or a lake, let us say. Nick says that it will require a “new physics” (or perhaps it would be better to say “new psychology”) to specify the details of the correspondence between mental phenomena and quantum states. As a confirmed hylozoist (believer in the thesis that objects are alive), Nick also proposes that the type II consciousness can be found in every physical system, insofar as every system in fact has its own wave state. He also proposes that one should be able to couple one’s own state to the state of another person (or even to the state of another object), and thus attain a unique relationship that he terms “rapprochement.” A caveat here is that the link between the two systems should not be of a kind that can leave memory traces, otherwise the link is functioning as an observation that collapses the quantum states of the systems, reducing the consciousness to type I. He speaks of a non-collapsing connection as an “oblivious link.” If you don’t remember anything about your rapprochement with someone or something, can it be said to have affected you at all? Oh yes. Your wave state will indeed have changed from the interaction, and when you later go and “observe” your mental state (e.g. by asking yourself questions about what you believe), you will obtain a different probability spectrum of outputs than you would have before the rapprochement. I love this idea, and it may well find its way into one or more of my works.

Q: As the co-author of the popular Cellular Automata (CA) software simulator Cell Lab: what do you think of Wolfram's recent book A New Kind of Science? Do you agree the bottom layer of reality might be something like a CA?

 A: The notion of “a world made of simple computations” has been around for awhile. It could be that misses something essential that Nick expresses in his notion of type II consciousness. Being conscious and alive in the real world certainly doesn’t feel like being an emergent will-o-the-wisp ball of marsh gas dancing upon a sea of churning neural net computations. What of the One, what of God Consciousness, what of the great Undivided Divinity within all of us? In any case, A New Kind of Science is a wonderful book, and I’m still absorbing its teachings. The newer idea in the book that I find truly fascinating is Wolfram’s Principle of Computational Equivalence, which seems to posit, loosely speaking, that a leaf shaking in the wind has all the same richness of inner experience as you or me. I’m going to spending a lot of time this fall trying to really understand this new idea.

Q: Please give us a comment on the recent case involving the freezing of the corpse of baseball player Ted Williams. What do you think of cryonics in general?

A: Well, I’ve been friends with the cryonicist Charles Platt for about twenty years so I’ve grown a little jaded about this. So I’ll go ahead and give you a somewhat obnoxious answer along the lines of what I might say to Charles. I’d much rather rot in the ground. What’s the big problem with dying anyway? I mean, what’s so frigging special about my one particular mind? I don’t want to be God, I want to be a human with my spark of God Consciousness. Think of a field of daisies: they bloom, they wither, and in the spring they grow again. Who wants to see the same stupid daisy year after year, especially with a bunch of crappy iron -lung-type equipment bolted to it? In my unhumble opinion, you can never really reach any serenity till you fully accept the fundamental fact of your mortality. It’s the great Koan that life hands you: Hi, here you are, isn’t this great, you’re going to die. Deal with it. This said, can cryonics work? I think dry nanotechnology is probably a dead-end. As I argue in Saucer Wisdom, wet nanotechnology, a.k.a. biotech, is where it’s going to be at. In other words, if you want a new body five hundred years from now, the way to get one will be to have someone grow one from a clone based on a copy of your DNA, not by trying to retrofit your kilos of frozen meat. The hard part, of course, is replicating your mind --- and remember that you have somatic knowledge in your body as well as just in your brain. I have a feeling that copying a mind from one host to the next will require a totally new breakthrough, perhaps along the lines of Quantum Tantra. One final jab at cryonics. We already have too many people, so why would any future society every put any significant energy into bringing back the dead? How much energy will the citizens of Year 3000 care to put into producing a brand new Ted Wiilliams? You can rant all you like about contracts and trust funds you set up, but God know it’s a simple thing for crooks to screw a dead person out of his or her supposedly inviolate trust fund. Enron took down California for billions last spring, even with a seemingly living chief of state.

Q: How do you explain the popularity of Luddite and antiprogress views? Perhaps the pro-progress camp does not make its point well enough?

A: Unfortunately our nation, nay, our world, is run by evil morons. ‘Twas ever thus, if that’s any consolation. I’ve recently taken to reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson in the morning instead of the paper. Why let the politicians’ antics ruin each and every day? I do what I can to change things by thinking my own thoughts and writing my books.

Q: How about distributing your books on the net for free? What if the bad guys scan/OCR them and distribute them on a P2P system? How can you stop them?

A: You can in fact buy one of my books, The Secret of Life, as an electronic book at At present, however, I don't think the Net is a very good medium for books, books should really be inexpensive lightweight paperbacks you can bang around. Electronic distribution is more of a fall-back strategy for putting out a book that isn't deemed profitable enough to print. You hardly make any money publishing an electronic book. There's a halfway strategy of print on demand (POD), whereby a distributor can quickly make up a paper copy of each book as it's ordered. Although I can imagine having some of my out-of-print books avaialable this way, I'm not doing it a present. It just doesn't seem worth the trouble. My impression is that people don't buy many POD books. I think you do a lot better if your book is sitting on the shelf in a bookstore and customers can just impulsively pick it up. My current strategy for making my books available is just to try and convince publishers to put out standard reprint editions. Four Walls Eight Windows has been very good about getting some of my books back into print; my Silicon Valley classic The Hacker and the Ants will be out from them this fall. Would I ever be willing to make, say, printable Acrobat files out of my books and post them for free download? Well, you know, I've been writing for twenty-five years, and I still have this dream of someday being able to quit my day job. Why would I start giving my books away for free? Aside from the financial considerations, giving away my work would effectively say that my work is junk, without value, not worth a cent. Regarding your other questions, it's hard to believe anyone would go to the trouble of posting pirated editions of my books on the Net. Why? I'm not Microsoft or Metallica, not a monopoly, and not vastly overpaid. I'd like to think that anyone who's that interested in my work would be able to understand that I need to get some money for my writing to be able to continue writing more. Not that it's at all a realistic possibility, if I were to learn of someone systematically pirating copies of my work in a big way, I would certainly want to do something about it. Legal sanctions would be the obvious route, and if that failed, I like to fantasize that some of my cryp, phreak, and hacker-type fans might do a frontier justice number on the pirate's electronic life.

Friday, March 22, 2002

Interview with Robert Ettinger (March 2002)

I copied here this old interview, published on the Transhumanity Magazine of the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity +) in March 2002 (link).

Giulio Prisco, March 22, 2002

We offer you this interview with Robert Ettinger, the visionary thinker and writer who, with his two seminal works "The Prospect of Immortality" and "Man into Superman", contributed to building strong foundations for modern transhumanist thinking. Bob is also the pragmatic businessman who founded the Cryonics Institute and kept it afloat in difficult times. The Cryonics Institute is today one of the two major cryonics service providers. In this interview we discuss Bob's views on the status of cryonics today, mind uploading, and the problem of identity. Please see the web site of the Cryonics Institute ( for more information.

Q - "By working hard and saving my money, I intend to become an immortal superman". This first line from the preface to "Man into Superman" is frequently quoted as a great opening line, but is it to be taken seriously? Do you really think that we, here and now, have the option to become immortal supermen?

A - It was a bad line--and a bad book--from the standpoint of selling cryonics. Most people think radical change is either impossible or frightening. Even "immortality" sounds too grandiose, although I use it merely in the sense of eliminating "natural" death. But it is true that, if we live long enough, radical change is almost certain.

Q - Now many have heard of cryonics, but it was not so when you wrote "The Prospect of Immortality" in 1962. Did you develop your ideas entirely by yourself, or did you use the work of earlier scientists and writers? What were your sources?

A - I believe I was the first to put it all together in an organized way, but of course there were many precursors. In particular, suspended animation is an old theme, at least in fiction. Reversal of aging had rarely been taken seriously. The relativity of death, and sub-micro repair capabilities, were also ideas seldom encountered.

Q - Your wife is cryonically suspended, and you have declared your intention to also be "frozen". Do you believe you will see her again? When?

A - Actually, both my wives are among our patients now. I think we have a good chance of revival within 50-200 years. And to the inevitable question of what happens if all three of us are revived, I usually remind people of the old saying--the rich have their problems and the poor have their problems, but the rich have a better class of problems. If we are all revived, I will consider that a very high class problem.

Q - Since you founded the Cryonics Institute, it has grown into one of the two main cryonics service providers, the other being Alcor. In one sentence, how would you differentiate your service offering from Alcor's?

A - That's a complicated question, and I'll just refer the readers to our web site, where we discuss it in detail ( This is a rapidly changing arena. CI is the only cryonics organization with a full time professional cryobiologist (Dr. Yuri Pichugin) as director of research.

Q - The Cryonics Institute charges 28.000 US dollars for full suspension to life members. What are the hidden costs? Is there a catch?

A - No hidden costs. About $20,000 of the suspension fee is invested to produce income for long term maintenance. (We also have other sources of revenue.) At revival time, that $20,000 will be freed up for revival and rehabilitation, and we expect our general resources to increase over time as well.

Q - Why don't you offer a cheaper head only option?

A - We think the "neuro" option is a negative for public relations, and in many cases for prospective members' intra-family relations.

Q - Your operating model is having on call teams and funeral houses able to ensure the short response times required. Have you thought of alternatives, for example a hospital for terminally ill patients with on site cryonic suspension facilities and personnel?

A - The closest we can come to that at present is to have the patient die under hospice care, which works very well.

Q - What happens to suspended patients if the Cryonics Institute has to cease its activities due to financial problems?

A - We are probably the soundest financially of all the organizations. In unforeseen emergencies or contingencies we will just do the best we can for the patients. I cannot envision any realistic scenario that would shut us down, short of nuclear war or a plague.

Q - It has been said that funding cryonic suspension with an insurance policy can be a problem for Europeans. Do you think this is true? Does the Cryonics Institute accept funding by non US insurance companies? Can Europeans choose any insurance company, or must it be a company that has specific agreements with the Cryonics Institute?

A - No problem that we have encountered so far, and no agreement between CI and the insurance company needed. (Alcor for a while refused to accept foreign insurance, but has reversed course on that.)

Q - Anther worry for Europeans is the time between death and the arrival of a qualified cryonic team. In Europe you rely on the services of a funeral house in London. Can you confirm that they can fly anywhere in Europe with a few hours notice?

A - Albin's can usually get anywhere in Europe within a few hours, if previous arrangements have been made. Local funeral directors can also be lined up. There is also a British volunteer group that can help in some cases.

Q - I believe European branches of a cryonics service provider, physically located in the country and familiar with the local medical and legal systems, could do much to facilitate solving these and other problems. Does the Cryonics Institute have any plans to establish European branches?

A - Volume will not support a storage facility in Europe any time soon. Initial preparation facilities do exist as previously mentioned, and will be improved from time to time.

Q - Do you think "The First Immortal" by J. Halperin gives a realistic account of how things may be? Do you recommend reading the book to those who are considering cryonics? What other fiction would you recommend?

A - His treatment of the (then) present was well researched. His conjectures about the future were reasonable but of course still conjectures. There have been countless books and stories involving cryonics, a few of them centered on cryonics. One of the most recent is PALMER LAKE, a murder mystery by Thomas C. McCollum III (Shoji Books, Charlottesville VA).

Q - In "Man into Superman" (1972) you were already thinking of the concept that is now described as "mind uploading". Referring to suggestions made by Arthur Clarke, you wrote "human personalities will be copied and stored electronically, perhaps in several locations, conferring essential immortality and near invulnerability", but then expressed your lack of enthousiasm for this concept: "... assuming that identity is preserved when this is far from clear". Did you do any further thinking in the last 30 years? What is "identity"?

A - The problem of identity, or criteria of survival, has not been solved. I doubt that a computer could live (have subjective experiences), but the discussion is a long one. Yes, I have written a good deal on that in recent years.

Q - Even with no evidence, I am willing to bet that identity (whatever that is) is preserved by "running" a brain scan sufficiently complete. I also think that while the technology to "run" the brain scan may not be available for some decades, the technology to acquire it may be available much sooner, perhaps in one decade. So can brain mapping develop into a viable alternative to cryonics?

A - See above. It's possible, but in my opinion unlikely, even in principle.

Q - Will the Cryonics Institute offer brain mapping/storage services when the technology becomes available, perhaps as an add on to cryonics services?

A - That's not something we worry about now.

Q - Your life work has been dedicated to ensuring the survival of the self after death, using technologies available today. Did you stop to think that perhaps the survival of the self is already ensured, either by some unknown natural mechanism or by the purposeful intervention of a future "Omega Point" civilization able to exploit vastly superior technologies to reach into the past and "rescue" stranded minds?

A - I have discussed many of these possibilities in various venues, and in my book in progress, YOUNIVERSE. Some scientists believe that "you" are already immortal, with many versions of you alive right now, and in the past and future, in various forms or in various "universes." But these ideas remain speculative, while cryonics is by comparison down-to-earth practical.

Q - I hear you are writing a new book. What can you tell us about it?

A - It is primarily a book of philosophy in the classic sense, which has never heretofore been realized--viz., to provide personal guidance based on rigorous science.

After the interview Bob Ettinger sent the short note below to clarify his views on the problem of identity:

In preface, if you were vaporized in an explosion, but then somehow rebuilt with high fidelity, would "you" survive? There is no agreement--plenty of opinions, but no proof one way or the other. Maybe the question itself has little meaning. It's just too soon to be sure. Involved are questions about the nature of time and other hard problems.

But today's topic is whether "you" could survive as a computer simulation or emulation, and the case for this is much weaker--so weak that I think the answer is almost surely negative. In a nutshell, the negative case can be made in either of the following two summaries:

1. The map is not the territory.

2. A description of a thing (or an event) is not the same as the thing or event itself, and not "just as good" except for limited applications.

A map may be just a piece of paper with some marks on it. The marks can be interpreted to provide information about the corresponding territory. In some cases, the map is better than the territory--e.g. if you are traveling by car, a map is more useful than an aerial view of the terrain, since the aerial view has no street labels etc. But no matter how detailed the map is, or how often it is updated, it is not the same as the territory; you can't walk or live in it. (Yes, extremists may claim that a "map person" or description of a person could "live" in a map, but that is just an empty assertion.)

A computer simulation or emulation of a person is very much like this. All the digital computer does is generate successive sets of numbers, which can be interpreted as descriptions of a person and his activities and even feelings. But no matter how detailed and faithful, it is still just a description. A Mickey Mouse cartoon shows "feelings" on a character's face, but the character as well as the feeling is counterfeit.

Now the extreme position of the "uploaders" or "isomorphists" is that correspondence (isomorphism) is everything--nothing matters except relationships between symbols. A pool of water simulated in a computer won't get you wet, but it will seem wet to a simulated person, they say. But this is only a conjecture or postulate, not proof of anything.

There are many other problems with the isomorphist position, of which I'll mention just one before stopping. That is the nature of qualia or feelings or subjective experiences. The essence of life as we know it is in feeling, the capability of subjective experience.

Its anatomy/physiology are not yet known; it is in some subset or aspect of the brain and its activities. But it clearly must bind (span) space and time; a quale cannot exist at a geometrical point or an instant in time. Possibly it is something like a modulated standing wave of some sort. But until we know what it is, it is premature to assume that it can be duplicated outside of organic matter, let alone as an abstraction in a computer.

We can speculate until the cows come home, and one speculation is that we are right now just simulations in some super-being's computer. (There are ways to check on that, however.) But common sense dictates we use what is likeliest and easiest, and that means to try to save yourselves through cryonics, not vague hopes of uploading.