Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Links and a prelude to Cryogenics Post


Larry Moran at Sandwalk has a good take on scientific realism and philosophy. Also see his previous take on what kind of knowledge that philosophy dwells in. The answer (mine but also Moran's) is that we should see and define science broadly, and see good philosophy as being an arm to asking appropriate questions within such a realm. And that philosophy that spends endless time talking about god, or the possibility of god directing evolution, or of all of the logical moves of schmess (very similar to chess), really is not important. Similar to the NFL symposium on "What constitutes pass interference?". At least it is not important as regards arriving at our best understanding of the world in general, as opposed to more mundane things like figuring out how to play schmess well or delineating pass interference.

In the Guardian, Robotic Hands. See the video and the birth of Darth Vader. Posthumanism is upon us.

Two videos on consciousness. A new one at the Economist, features just enough Dan Dennett to counterbalance the Chalmers' position.

And a better, older video by Nicholas Humphrey.


"The False Science of Cryonics" by Michael Hendricks is just a bad article all around. The comments underneath make most of the points I make below. The article had an ax to grind, but I've been meaning to write on this. 
My following post on cryonics will be more substantive and mostly a different track than the worries below. I more shrug at the idea of cryonics, and mostly that is because we have to deflate what consciousness is and the intrinsic value of any given consciousness. With that said, it is a bit of shrug, since also, there is nothing wrong with trying to make our conscious selves last as long as we can. But I will get into that later. Here are some of the bizarre excerpts from the MIT article. 
Synapses are the physical contacts between neurons where a special form of chemoelectric signaling—neurotransmission—occurs, and they come in many varieties. They are complex molecular machines made of thousands of proteins and specialized lipid structures. It is the precise molecular composition of synapses and the membranes they are embedded in that confers their properties. The presence or absence of a synapse, which is all that current connectomics methods tell us, suggests that a possible functional relationship between two neurons exists, but little or nothing about the nature of this relationship—precisely what you need to know to simulate it.
That is a nice summary of what we know now and what it looks like we will be able to achieve in the near future. But the dream of waking up one day hinges on the in-principle whether science could figure out that relationship between neurons (and the bigger picture). I am not sure he gives us good reason to think why in-principle we could not be able to do such in the future. Trying to speak of the in-principle as viewed from our standing on the ground today is the bizarre move, but we will get to that.
That means that any suggestion that you can come back to life is simply snake oil. Transhumanists have responses to these issues. In my experience, they consist of alternating demands that we trust our intuition about nonexistent technology (uploading could work) but deny our intuition about consciousness (it would not be me).
Many transhumanists do not hold that intuition. And they do not care so much about the “same as me” idea. And instead take a more deflationary and appropriate stance towards me-ness. (Again see the comments below the article)
No one who has experienced the disbelief of losing a loved one can help but sympathize with someone who pays $80,000 to freeze their brain. But reanimation or simulation is an abjectly false hope that is beyond the promise of technology and is certainly impossible with the frozen, dead tissue offered by the “cryonics” industry. Those who profit from this hope deserve our anger and contempt.
This article hinges on “promise of technology” to be a useful intuition. This argument is that our best present beliefs about what we will discover point to the idea that recovering information from these frozen neurons will be futile. But this is of course idiotic. Because those kind of conjectures can be very empty. Especially if we are talking about brain science 1500 years in the future, to go rather long. No, you may not wake up in a decade. And at first blush it is troubling that I will not wake up tomorrow. But the intuition usually holds, that as long as I wake up, I will be happy. That is what I want.
His worry may be germane if you have some wildly false hope that cancer will be fully cured in three days, because you know we have lots of people working on it and it seems eminently solvable. Then in such a case you have a poor belief in the “promise of technology.” But it seems a really stupid thing to say that humans will not have reached an exoplanet in 1,000,000 years in the future because current technology does not seem promising towards such. Anyways, it is a baffling argument. He might as well be Nostradamus. 

The main point here is that if you care about waking up one day in the future, just as you care about waking up in the morning, which we do not begrudge people wanting, then the only way that will be possible is through freezing. Even if it happens that the cryonics of today did not adequately preserve those connections or allow future scientists to reconfigure them, it is still the only chance. And it is becoming at least a little more plausible every year, both with knowledge acquisition and also with preservation techniques.
To go pragmatic, it may greatly help those scientists of the future if they had a good overview of who you are as a person. Say, especially, the language you spoke. We also cross over into the dangerous (or burdensome) identity talk. Since chocolate and vanilla are so ubiquitous a thought and desire structure, it may be relatively easily to “see” in your neuronal structures that you, your self, enjoy vanilla over chocolate and create that in you. Also, at this present moment you may have an inkling, a hint of a preference for oregano versus thyme, but it is a rather narrow memory and desire without as many representations. If scientists of the future fail to see “that connection,” they may just plug one in. Or if they don't give you a preference for oregano or thyme (even though one did exist) in your brain, if forced to choose a preference, you may conflate a desire preference from whatever limited knowledge they happened to encode about thyme and oregano in you.
The interesting thing (or not so much) may be that most of us would not practically care if such a trivial detail is not perfectly lined up. If somebody (or simply your brain/body) were to erase that desire preference while you slept, it may be rather uninteresting to you, something that you would shrug at. And you would not see it as a destruction of your self. And the far more important thing to you may be just that ~you~ wake up in the morning or in the future and have generally the same thoughts as before, even if a few things are slightly off.
Another point, on recreating “you” in silicon, is that if scientists had a good diary or video of “who you are,” I would think scientists would be greatly aided in putting you back together again. They would not need to recreate the exact wiring, but merely the general preferences and desires. And your body would tick on. If you go far enough in that direction many of us may get upset and say, hey, "that is not me”. Though, many of us also shrug at the thought that we could have selves that care slightly more for punk rock than classical jazz, and still see the basics of our selves in some more durable and lasting characteristics, instead of rather trivial or happenstance preferences. 
As one commenter put it, this article was both bad philosophy and bad science.

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