Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Corpsicle's A Corpse, Of Course, Of Course

It will come as no surprise to Amorous Mudyites that a high-profile (in a big fish, small pond kinda sorta way) transhumanoid trio is casting their Pascalian wager on faithly techno-immortality rather than in the more conventionally faithly forms of judeochrislamic resurrection. The Daily Mail's snark on the subject is nonetheless a welcome note in the news today, oh boy.
They were a shattered world’s last hope -- three great minds from the past who might be able to avert a catastrophe that threatened to extinguish mankind... It’s difficult to say whether this sort of Hollywood sci-fi scenario ever occurred to three Oxford University dons when they signed up to be frozen after death. [Believe me, it did -- d] It was revealed yesterday that the trio -- Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, and his fellow lead researchers, Anders Sandberg and Stuart Armstrong -- have agreed to pay a U.S. company anything up to £50,000 to have their remains frozen at death. The hope is a future society will have the technology to restore them to life. Armstrong has arranged for his entire body to be frozen by the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute. His wife is expecting their first baby and he is so enthused by the idea that he wants to sign the child up, too. His two colleagues have opted for the less glamorous but cheaper and supposedly more reliable option of having just their heads frozen when they are declared dead, by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation outside Phoenix, Arizona. Their heads will be perfused with a cocktail of antifreeze chemicals and preserved in liquid nitrogen at -196c... Previous acolytes of cryonics have often been dismissed as head-in-the-clouds cranks, sci-fi buffs who have watched too much TV or victims of vanity. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton have both waxed lyrical about being frozen. Simon Cowell is believed to be among several dozen Britons who have joined a cryonics programme, although several hundred have reportedly shown interest... But Prof Bostrom and his colleagues are young, highly educated specialists who have devoted their careers to humanity. If they are signing up for cryonics, one might think, perhaps we should all pay attention.
Uh, no. If the article seems to suggest that this brave new generation of deluded cryonauts are distinguishable from sci-fi buffs of the past they need only make momentary recourse to the Google to be disabused of this fancy -- not to mention the fact that at least some members of this transhumanoid brigade have been cryonically enthused for at least a quarter century by now: The new generation is the old generation, which is par for the futurological course. Further, the suggestion that these futurologists are not vain because they have "devoted their careers to humanity" (what, more than Britney Spears has done?) is likewise hard to square with their efforts to divert public attention and effort away from global financial and environmental and arms regulation into concerns over sooper-intelligent robot apocalypses, nano-magickal insta-Edens, the need to consume and "geo-engineer" our way past climate change, and how all the mean liberals keep getting in the way of the nice eugenicists. You know, for kids!

To those who would wag their finger at such hate speech directed to a religious minority in a land that guarantees freedom of belief, you may be sure that I do not begrudge these futurologists the human, all too human, consolations of their faithly dreams -- after all, they are not so very different from the private perfections and crutches I cherish myself as an atheistical aesthete when all is said and done. But you will forgive me when I insist on the difference between articles of faith and scientifically warranted beliefs, a difference the maintenance of which is indispensable to the flourishing of both faith and science, as any theologian worth his salt will be the first to tell you. Fandoms are fine, I'm a queergeek myself, but consumer marketing isn't political activism, wish-fulfillment fantasizing is not science, pseudo-science is not a sign of seriousness, and con-artists are not humanitarians even when they are high on their own supply.


Mark Plus said...

Some mainstream neuroscientists don't share your obscurantist views. The ones associated with the Brain Preservation Foundation argue that advances in brain preservation could turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state, and they've started to raise money for an incentive prize:

Michael Shermer, critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this Foundation's advisers, which suggests that he considers its goals scientifically respectable:

Dale Carrico said...

Some mainstream neuroscientists don't share your obscurantist views. The ones associated with the Brain Preservation Foundation

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Click on the "Advisors" link to your "mainstream" "neuroscience" outfit and discover all the usual transhumanoid singularitarian Robot Cultic nutcases, with actual scientist slots conspicuously left "TBA." Hi-larious!

Robin said...

At first I laughed, then got very sad, at the fellow who wants to sign his child up for this. Does this guy have any idea how many usable organs are needed by actual, living people?

Dale Carrico said...

I advocate that policy in which we assume as the default that people are willing to donate their useful organs post-mortem and that they should indicate the reverse should they feel that way -- polls of attitudes on the question suggest this actually should be the default, quite apart from the fact that this simple change would enormously increase the availability of organs urgently needed and undermine a number of ills, not just the obvious illnesses in question but criminal harvesting, black markets in organs, and so on as well. I believe this is the default in a number of EU countries and that the impact has been positive. It is a small and incidental benefit, but relevant in the context of this discussion, that this default would provide an occasion for narcissistic techno-transcendentalists indulging in pseudo-scientific wish-fulfillment fantasizing to contemplate their anti-social assumptions in a critical way at least long enough to sign the form announcing their hostility to the world and their peers and their preference for non-existing post-human beings in a non-existing The Future built entirely of their irrational fears and fantasies.

joe said...

To shamelessly steal and twist the words of the great Groucho Marx.

I wouldn't want to be part of any future that thought Paris Hilton and Simon Cowell were worthy of being ressurrected.

I'll stay comfortably dead thanks.

Dale Carrico said...

You're in luck, whether anybody is worthy of resurrection or not, nobody will be. We must make the best of the present we are beset with.