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Allan Randall - original

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#1 Bruce Klein

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Posted 17 December 2003 - 02:03 AM

Hi Bruce,

Sorry I did not respond right away... I've been a bit behind in email lately. Thanks for your kind words about my posting.

I'd be quite pleased to submit an essay for the immortalist book. I checked out your web site and it mentions that the submission deadline is Jan 15th. That will be a bit difficult to meet, with the holidays in between, and I have another book chapter due before then. However, I have a fair bit of writing already done on this topic--even aside from the posting you refer to--so I would not be starting from scratch. Hopefully I can get something to you by the 15th... I will certainly try to do so, as the book sounds like a wonderful project.

I must congratulate you, incidentally, on the Immortality Institute, which is doing much good work in a world where rational voices are desperately needed.





Thanks for your encouraging words! Together we can do
more than the sum of our parts.

The Jan 15 date is likely to be pushed forward to Feb 15, as other
writers have expressed the same desire for more time. Any
previous work you'd like to submit may be welcomed as well.

Let me know if I can do anything for you.

Bruce Klein

#2 Bruce Klein

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 04:05 PM


Just thought I'd let you know how the essay is going, and ask you a couple of questions.

Right now I have the bulk of two different but related essays written. I could submit one or the other, or both, and/or a third essay combining the two into a single essay:

(1) An essay which will defend the philosophical coherence of the idea of immortality, but not in any way address the chances that it might be physically possible. Essentially, an extension of my reply to Hart's essay.

(2) An essay on the philosophical implications for immortality of rational scientific and philosophical assumptions (such as strong AI, quantum mechanics, many worlds, and so on). This would go against the work of people like Perry (Forever For All) and Tipler (The Physics of Immortality), while retaining some of the same philosophical flavour and approach (very pro-immortality, but rejecting the wilder claims, and on their own terms).

(3) A combined essay on the philosophy of immortality, including both of the above. The two could actually be integrated quite readily, since my ideas in both areas are related and form an integrated philosophy of immortality. The problem, of course, is that this essay would be longer.

I'm quite happy to provide you with all three and let you decide which, if any, you would like to use. But I thought I would solicit your response first, in case you have a clear preference up front. My main question is whether you are most partial to receiving (1) and (2), so you can accept or reject each independently of the other, or whether you'd prefer (3), and receive a single longer submission.

Also, are there any specific word count preferences for any of these options, beyond the general maximum you have set in your guidelines?

Allan Randall

#3 Bruce Klein

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 04:14 PM

Thanks Allan,

I appreciate the update.

Concerning word count, general preference is now toward less as thus
far the total sum of quality submissions has been good.

Personally, I have a preference for #2. Which brings to mind Marc Geddes'
essay here: http://imminst.org/f...&f=67&t=1500&s=

However, please feel free to submit all three, as the editing team will have
more to dig into. They shall reply with further ideas and revision suggestions
after submission.


#4 Bruce Klein

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:42 PM


I'm REALLY sorry I am mailing the essay to you a day late. I hope you can still consider it. I've been up all night trying to get it cut down in size... I am always writing way too much! It is currently still kind of large, although still within your official guidelines. I can keep working on editing it down, if you think that would be wise. Otherwise, I will wait and see.

Thanks for the opportunity... its been fun and even if you cannot use my essay, I've achieved some new things with it, and so it has been very productive.

Let me know if I've broken any style guidelines, or committed any other serious crimes I can fix up.

Best of luck with all the editing!


PS: I've done option 2 from our earlier correspondence

#5 Bruce Klein

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:44 PM

Quantum Miracles and Immortality

Allan F. Randall
York University, Dept. of Philosophy

Allan Randall received his B.Sc. in Mathematics and Computer Science from St. Francis Xavier University in 1986, and his M.A. in Computing Science from the University of Alberta in 1990, specializing in Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He worked for NTT Systems Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for seven years, mostly doing contract A.I. work for the Department of National Defence. He has since taught Information Technologies at a technical college, pursued contract technical writing, and since 1998 has been teaching Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics at the Abelard School, a Toronto high school for gifted students. He is currently doing graduate work in Philosophy at York University, specializing in the philosophy of mathematics and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. His online version of Parmenides’ On Nature is currently used in many university courses and has been widely acclaimed as a rare, easy-to-read, sympathetic translation. He is currently turning it into a book. He lives in Toronto with his wife Vee Ledson, two dogs and a cat. He is a transhumanist and life extensionist, a member of the Extropy Institute, the World Transhumanist Association and the Immortality Institute. He is in the process of signing up with Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

1 Introduction
Are miracles possible?
Do we have a soul?
Can we live forever?
It is widely believed that such old-fashioned questions have been rendered absurd by the materialism of modern empirical science, but some seemingly 'magical' properties of quantum mechanics has brought them back into serious discussion in some circles. I will examine the possibility of generating miracles (or at least near-miracles) using well-established principles of quantum mechanics. In particular, I will consider the possibility that quantum theory provides for, perhaps even mandates, the most desirable 'miracle' of all: immortality.
Reliably generating a 'major miracle'—one that appears to violate the laws of classical physics—will turn out to be almost certainly impossible. On the other hand, 'minor miracles' that do not violate physics, but merely beat the odds—such as guaranteeing a win in the lottery—can be generated with some reliability. Unfortunately, the win is risky and comes at a great cost, one you are not likely willing to pay.
But most intriguing of all, quantum mechanics seems to allow for a whole new class of proofs for the immortality of the soul. I will examine the rational basis of arguments for 'quantum immortality', particularly those of Perry [14] and Tipler [20]. I will conclude that, while intriguing, there are problems with such proofs and they must currently be considered inconclusive.
In spite of this ambiguous result, we will find that minor quantum miracles (of the lottery-winning kind) have a more positive and conclusive impact on our prospects for achieving immortality, but through natural means such as advanced medical technology. Once such technology is achieved, aging and disease will be but a memory, and minor miracles are all that will be required to save us from the occasional accidental death. And if you die too soon, you can have yourself cryopreserved at low temperature immediately after your legal death. If you are very lucky, you will be thawed out and revived at some time in the future when the requisite technology to grant you immortality has been developed. As we will see, quantum mechanical effects can radically improve your chances of being successfully revived from cryopreservation.
2 Assumptions
Every argument has some set of assumptions, and mine are no different in this respect. While many can be justified in terms of more general rationalist principles, I do not have the room to do that fully here, so feel free to treat them as independent assumptions if you wish. See my other writings for a more complete defense. [16-19]
2.1 Assumption #1: Scientific Rationalism
I will assume, until given evidence to the contrary, that the natural world is a result of rationally understandable processes—I will only admit entities not amenable to rational analysis if rational analysis fails to provide an explanation for the empirically observed phenomena, and even then I will keep looking for a rational explanation for whatever remains unexplained. I will accept that the scientific method is the means by which natural phenomena are to be investigated, and will always accept the current logically simplest theory until such time as empirical observation mandates modification of the theory. The 'simplest' theory will be defined as the one with the fewest rationally unjustified assumptions.
Scientific rationalism means accepting, at least as a working hypothesis, that our most highly corroborated scientific theories are literally true of the world. While this may sound like a no-brainer, many scientists (particularly extreme empiricists and positivists) are too timid to do this when said theories violate their common-sense view of the world. In what comes, we will take the best that science offers us, and we will take it seriously, come what may.
2.2 Assumption #2: The Strong Artificial Intelligence Postulate (Strong AI)
The 'Strong Artificial Intelligence Postulate' (Strong AI) is the claim that consciousness is a result of purely mechanistic, rationally comprehensible processes, and nothing else. More specifically, it assumes that such processes are exactly those that can be simulated on a computer with an inexhaustible memory and unlimited time.
If we define the 'soul' as a person’s essence—that which makes them who they are—we can say that Strong AI rejects the Platonic-Augustinian view of the soul as a mystical entity that defies rational analysis. Rather, Strong AI adopts the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of the soul, as the 'form' of a conscious being. The form of a thing is, in modern terms, the information required to completely describe (or simulate) the thing. This was the most widely accepted view of the soul in the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the Middle Ages. The Christian doctrine of resurrection of the body is based on it: God resurrects you because he is omniscient and knows your form.
I will assume a rationalist version of the Strong AI Postulate, and so will further state that computational processes are in fact the only fully rationally comprehensible concepts, and thus 'rationally comprehensible' literally means 'can be simulated on a computer with inexhaustible memory and unlimited time'. This is a common rationalist assumption, closely relate to the Church-Turing Thesis [2, 21], although I will not attempt to further justify it here (but see, for instance, [4, 5]). !!!
1.1 Assumption #3: The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics DELETE
2.3 Assumption #3: The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
Quantum mechanics is (along with General Relativity) our current best theory as to how the world works. If our understanding of the universe is to progress, we must take our best theories seriously. I will therefore adopt a completely literal interpretation of quantum mechanics, and assume that the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics literally describes objective reality. This means applying the laws of quantum mechanics at the level of the entire Universe—for if the theory is true, it applies to the Universe, and to everything in it, as much as it applies to subatomic particles.
A quantum system or object is described in quantum mechanics as a 'superposition' of many simultaneous possibilities. Thus, the universe as a whole, if it taken to be a quantum mechanical object itself, is necessarily a plethora of many different 'worlds' or possible world histories. This is the 'Many Worlds Interpretation' (MWI) due to Everett, Wheeler and de Witt. [7] Whenever an observation is made, where more than one possible outcome is listed in the superposition, all outcomes actually happen, each in a different world or universe.
Consider the classic Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment: a cat is placed in a box that is completely isolated from the environment. A small sample of radioactive material, with a 50% chance of emitting radioactive decay within the next minute is placed inside the box. Included is a detection device set to act for exactly one minute, which if triggered by radioactive decay will break a vial of poisonous gas, and kill the cat. If the sample does not decay, the cat lives. Quantum mechanics demands in this experiment that the cat be in a superposition of both dead and alive. When you open the box and look inside, since you are also just a quantum system, the whole cat+box+you system evolves along two simultaneous histories, in superposition, one with your looking in on a live cat, and one with your looking in on a dead cat. In other words, you have 'split' into two versions of yourself. You are in a sense in two separate 'worlds', one where the cat dies and one where it did not.
I will accept the MWI without further justification, but for further arguments, see [6, 8, 15-18].
2.4 Assumption #4: Strong Anthropic Principle
Once one has accepted the MWI, the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP) follows naturally. The particular version of SAP that is based on MWI is the 'Many-Worlds Anthropic Principle' (MWAP). It is well known that there are many facts of nature—events in the early evolution of the Universe, such as numerous physical constants and so on—that seem 'custom-designed' for a universe in which life evolves. Change the mass or charge of the electron, for instance, and life cannot evolve. Change the nature of the early expansion of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and you do not get the galaxies and stellar systems required for life. In short, the Universe seems somehow 'made for us'. The idea that the Universe must be such that life, a priori, had to evolve is called the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). The MWAP goes further and explains this suitability to life in terms of many worlds: we are in a world suited to life because all worlds exists, and some were bound to evolve life. We could certainly not, after all, have found ourselves in any other kind of world.
2.5 Assumption #5: The Synthetic Unity of Consciousness
A traditional cornerstone of Kant’s transcendental idealism [9], the Synthetic Unity of Consciousness (SUOC) [9, 153-171] has been re-invigorated by the popularity of the Strong AI and MWAP, from which it might even be considered a natural consequence. (Kant used the term 'apperception' rather than 'consciousness', but the meaning is the same.) Kant was interested in explaining the unity of an individual’s consciousness—the fact that its constituent mental states cohere into a unitary whole, without disintegrating into chaos. By calling such unity 'synthetic', Kant essentially meant that it was dependent on perception—it is a matter of perspective rather than an objective fact. I credit Kant with the concept because he was the first to give it a rigorous formulation, but others before him had related notions of consciousness or personal identity, such as Lock [12, II.27], and as far back as Parmenides [13].
If my soul is nothing but information, as Strong AI declares, then there is no reason why two different instances of this information would not equally well be me. Or three such instances. Or a million. If my soul is computational, like a program on a CD, then it can be copied like a program on a CD. And a copy running on a different computer is still the same program.
Let us say that a copy of my soul (i.e. the information required to reconstruct my mind) is recorded on a CD, and I am killed. I wake up a hundred million years in the future when the CD has been excavated by alien archaeologists, who have used it to build a robot replica of me. The replica has mental states that seem (to the replica) to immediately follow from the final mental states of my original life. It remembers being me. It has my personality, my quirks, my memories and predilections. For all intents and purposes, it is me. And given our acceptance of Strong AI—meaning that consciousness is defined solely in terms of information—we can in fact identify the robot absolutely with me.
If all that consititutes my personal identity as a conscious being is the information essential to this consciousness, then this consciousness has no need of spatial or temporal continuity in order to cohere. But, then, there is no reason to suppose that the various mental states and perceptions that make up my consciousness need be near each other in space and time. In fact, they might be in separate rooms… or countries… or centuries… or universes.
Going further, since the information is all that really constitutes who I am, why even make material instantiation of my information a requirement for consciousness? Could not the realm of mathematical and logical possibility—call it 'information space'—be reality enough? Why even posit a separate 'material' space? What need do we have any more of matter, except as a projection of our minds?
At this point, we have arrived at Kant’s transcendental idealism: physical objects and the spacetime they inhabit are dependent on our minds for their existence, rather than the other way around. While this anti-materialism sounds odd and mystical to the modern ear, it is actually a direct consequence of the scientific rationalism outlined by Strong AI and MWAP. It does not mean that physical reality is ultimately mental in nature. But it does mean that physical objects, as physical object, are reflections of our consciousness… their unity as physical things is our unity as a conscious thing. They are ultimately (metaphysically) computational, but they are physically mental in nature. Kant would say they are 'empirically real' and 'transcendentally ideal'. [9, 44] Although many advocates of Strong AI and rationalism still call themselves 'materialists', in general it would be more accurate to say that they are 'mechanistics' or 'computationalists'.
The quantum proofs of immortality that I will examine later on all depend on some version or other of SUOC, even if they do not necessarily associate the principle with Kant. Tipler argues for such a principle [20, 210], and Perry uses something very much like it [14, 158-189], although he seems at times to hold out for an ultimately materialist substratum underneath (although one could arguably say the same thing about Kant).
2.6 Algorithmic Probability
Given our computational metaphysical assumptions, the basis for any probability calculations on the quantum wavefunction must be in terms of computation. For that reason, I will assume that the probability of an experience contained in the wavefunction ultimately corresponds to Kolmogorov or algorithmic complexity [1], which is the number of bits in the shortest possible program that can simulate the experience. The Kolmogorov complexity is also identified with the 'information content', I, of a system:
P(e) = smallest program that simulates e.
I (e) = |P(e)| = size in bits of P(e).
The shortest program that simulates my conscious experience constitutes my world. We cannot say a priori whether such a program will also simulate rivers and trees and planets and galaxies, along with my mind… but if our assumption of Strong AI and SUOC is valid, then we know that it does by simple empirical observation. These objects around me do not seem to be transient thoughts or figments of my imagination, but seem to have stability and law-like behavior over time. Thus, we assume that the complexity of the universe around us is the least that it needs to be, in order to produce us.
The correspondence with statistical mechanics and thermodynamics associates the logarithm of the information content, I, with the probability of the program, P:
I(e) = -log2 p(P(e))
p(P(e)) = 2-I(e)
The second equation is just a rearrangement of the first. For those unfamiliar with logarithms, since 23 = 2  2  2 = 8, we say that log28 = 3. This means that if the shortest possible form of a program is 3 bits long, its probability in the space of all programs is 2-3 = 1/23 = 1/8 = 12.5%. A program with an information content of 4 bits would have a probability of 1/16 = 6.25%. The more bits it takes to encode a program, then, the less probable it is—the less likely we would be to pick it at random from the set of all possible programs.
Although the wavefunction is 'subjective' in the sense of the SUOC (it is defined in terms of a conscious experience), it is 'objective' in the sense that its probabilities are defined in terms of the space of all possible programs. This provides an objective (yet nonmaterial) basis for wavefunction probabilities that is consistent with transcendental idealism, without forcing us to imagine that the nature of objective reality is fundamentally mental. Reality is not mental or spiritual, but it is not material either. It is computational.
3 Quantum Miracles
Any (consistent) experience you can dream up exists in your wavefunction. For instance, there is a slice of the wavefunction where all the gas particles in the room you are now in suddenly rushes into a corner of the room, suffocating you. This violates the classical laws of thermodynamics, but it happens in such a tiny percentage of universes, that the chances of our observing it are virtually nil. There is a universe where random molecules in the room congeal into a flying pig. There is another universe where they congeal into a virtual reality (VR) machine that makes you think you see a flying pig. And there is yet another one where the molecules in your brain organize themselves so as to make you hallucinate a flying pig. However, any one version of you will only experience one of the worlds, so these 'miracles' are mind-bogglingly improbable, even though they truly are there in the wavefunction.
So the question arises: can I not do something to change the probabilities so that the more desirable alternatives are more probable? I will call such feats 'miracle-working', since we are trying to violate our usual notions of what is physically possible. I will define 'miracle' as any apparent violation of the classical laws of physics (meaning the laws of physics as understand before the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925). I will distinguish between several types:
Micro miracles: miracles that are on too small or restricted a scale to have any productive impact on our everyday lives.
Macro miracles: miracles that have the potential to impact our everyday lives in a productive way. Of these, I distinguish between two further subtypes:
Major miracles: macro miracles that appear to violate the classical laws of physics.
Minor miracles: macro miracles that do not appear in themselves to violate the classical laws of physics, but which radically shift the probabilities of events in a way not allowed for classically.
Micro miracles are realized all the time in physics labs. Electrons, for instance, are observed to be in a superposition of states (the superposition is not directly observed, but implied by repeated experiments). Hence, electrons can do weird things like 'quantum jump', changing their position without passing through the space in between. Since the existence of micro miracles is uncontroversial, I will not consider that the term 'miracle', unqualified, really applies to them. Strictly speaking, a true 'miracle' must be a 'macro miracle'. Our main purpose here is to determine whether micro miracles can somehow be scaled up or turned into true miracles.
Modern magical practices, such as witchcraft in modern Wicca and prayer in Christianity, usually (but not always) are focused on minor miracles, whereas in medieval times, ceremonial magic was more apt to attempt major miracles. [10] For example, if I had a magic spell that could guarantee me someone’s love, or a win in the next state lottery, these would be minor miracles. Even though it violates no laws of classical physics if I win the lottery, classical physics nonetheless does not allow me to skew the odds in my favour in the way my magic spell does. A levitation spell or invisibility cloak, on the other hand, would be a major miracle, since actual established laws of classical physics would need to be violated (unless the effects are realized through technology rather than magic, of course).
A 'quantum miracle' is a miracle, whether major or minor, that is achieved by somehow dramatically increasing the probability of a miraculous event that would have otherwise been in the wavefunction, but at a much lower probability.
4 Minor Miracles
Let us say you are playing a lottery with a 1 in 10 million chance of winning the jackpot. The universe where you win clearly exists in the universal wavefunction. In fact, I would guess that up to a point in time fairly close to the draw, all possible lottery numbers are about equally probable. Lottery numbers are usually chosen by a machine that mixes up a lot of small balls with numbers written on them—a process that physicists call 'chaotic', meaning that a very small quantum uncertainty very quickly makes a difference at the macroscopic level (as with Schrödinger’s Cat), so that all the different possible lottery numbers are about equally probable right up to some time fairly close to the actual draw.
Thus after the draw, you exist in 10 million worlds, in only one of which you are the big winner. To generate a minor miracle, you want to increase the probability of winning from 1/10,000,000 to something reasonably close to 100%. There is at least one way to do this, but first allow me to insert the following disclaimer:
The following technique for winning the lottery, or performing other minor miracles, is strongly recommended AGAINST. It is a philosophical thought experiment only, related for the purposes of stimulating intellectual discussion. It would be extremely unwise to actually try it out and I take no responsibility for anyone unbalanced enough to do so.
So having said that, here is the technique: simply kill yourself if you do not win the lottery! The best way to do this would be to have a machine automatically monitor the lottery results. You then go to bed before the draw, and have the machine quietly perform the execution while you sleep. Since you are never conscious or aware in the universes where you lose, they are automatically no longer part of your physical wavefunction. You can only awake in a universe where you have won.
There are several really good reasons not to go out and do this! First of all, do you really have enough faith in Many Worlds to bet your life on it? I certainly do not. Secondly, even if you could somehow be 100% certain of the theory’s truth, you had still better be very sure you do your probability calculations properly. For if you mess up, the result will not be millions of dollars, but a failed suicide attempt that may leave you crippled for life. And, of course, to perform such a quantum suicide would be extremely cruel to all your loved ones.
5 Major Miracles
We saw that there is a way you can make minor miracles happen, even though your success will be unverifiable to anyone but you. Now we will try to apply the same technique to create major miracles. The point is: there is no absolute dividing line between major and minor miracles. Let us say I wish to invoke a tiny magical green elf to appear before me in a puff of smoke. This possibility necessarily exists somewhere in the wavefunction, just as did the lottery win. The only difference is that the probability is even lower, but this is a difference in degree, not in kind. Thus, I ought to be able to apply the quantum suicide trick, killing myself in any universe where a tiny green magical elf does not appear before me in a puff of smoke. This time, I will use a human accomplice to detect the presence of the magic elf while I sleep, since that procedure will probably involve physical examination, interviewing, testing of the elf’s magical competence, and so on.
Unfortunately, there are numerous difficulties with this scheme, which we will now examine.
5.1 Reliability of Detection
Unfortunately, while my accomplice might be perfectly able to recognize a tiny magical green elf if such a being were to appear, this does not at all imply that if my friend believes there is a magical elf in the room, that there is one there, and that it will continue to be there, acting lawfully and stably like a magic green elf in the future when I wake up (whatever the laws governing magical green elves are!).
For instance, my friend might be hallucinating an elf, in which case, when I wake up I will see nothing unusual at all (other than an apparently schizophrenic friend). Or, perhaps a second friend who heard about the vile experiment is trying to save my life by faking the appearance of a magic elf, complete with dry ice, magic tricks and special effects. Both of these possibilities, and probably many more, are almost certainly far more probable than a real, probabilistically stable, tiny magical green elf appearing in a puff of smoke. This was not an insurmountable problem with the lottery experiment, since in that case it was possible (although perhaps still very difficult) to detect a winning lottery number accurately enough that the probability of incorrect detection was sufficiently lower than the probability of having a winning number.
5.2 Reliability of Suicide Method
Essentially the same problem we had with the detection method reappears in the suicide method itself. For instance, if a gun is used, what is the probability of its jamming and not firing? In the case of a human accomplice, what is the chance that they will chicken out? Even something as unlikely as the bullet vaporizing before it hits you is still probably much more likely that the magical elf you are trying to create. You would be better off trying to breed a kennel of dogs to evolve into magic elve!
6 Failure Conditions
We can lump the detection and suicide reliability problems together, into the more general problem of reliably detecting the absence of the ideal we seek, and then successfully performing the suicide. Assume that p(ideal) is the probability of the ideal actually happening, and p(~ideal) is the probability of the ideal not happening. Let us say that, in the absence of the ideal, the probability of successfully detecting the absence and committing suicide is p(suicide) and the probability of failing to do so is p(~suicide).
p(suicide) + p(~suicide) = 100%
p(ideal) + p(~ideal) = 100%
From this, we can state the condition for failure of miracle generation (where '>>' here means 'sufficiently greater than'):
p(~ideal) >> p(suicide)
p(~suicide) >> p(ideal)
These two forms are logically equivalent. The condition states that the miracle will fail if the probability of failing to detect the absence of the ideal and commit suicide is sufficiently greater than the probability of the ideal happening.
The lottery miracle certainly seems doable by these standards, although with odds like 1/10,000,000, it would be tricky business indeed. The green elf, on the other hand, is certainly unachievable.
7 Immortality
7.1 Least Miracle Required for Salvation
So minor miracles are possible, but only at a cost few would be willing to pay. More dramatic miracles, that actually seem to accomplish the impossible, are probably just that: impossible. But what about the miracle some would consider the most desirable of all: immortality? One might think this is surely a major miracle, and not achievable in practice. But this is not so obvious. Immortality is a very special kind of miracle, with surprising properties. What happens if I try the lottery trick here? That would mean that I kill myself in all worlds where I do not survive. But this is already done for me, by definition! No consideration need be given here to methods of suicide and their probabilities of failure, since mere survival is all we care about. As long as I do survive in even a tiny, tiny percentage of worlds, then immortality is automatically mine. This means that I am already immortal, no further argument required. Let’s celebrate! … Or so goes the argument.
This is the basic structure of the immortality proofs I mentioned earlier, put forth by people like Perry [14] and Tipler [20]. [10, 14, 20] To apply a probabilistic analysis to these arguments amounts to employing a 'least miracle required for salvation' (LMRS) rule: if a miracle is required to save us from death, then the most probable such universe is the one with the least miraculous method of salvation.
Unlike the other cases of major miracles, these proofs are not so easy to dismiss. On the other hand, I do not think they are so clear-cut as some of their advocates seem to believe, as we will soon see.
7.2 Accidental Death
A case of accidental death, such as my getting run down by a passing bus, is fairly straightforward. There will be at least a small number of worlds in which I survive, given a point of view shortly before the accident. In any universe where luck goes against me, and a fatal accident becomes fated to happen, my doomed state will not last for very long. Given the chaotic nature of the world, the outcome will be fated only shortly before death occurs (as in the lottery draw). Thus, so long as I can live with the fact that I may in some universes exist for brief moments of time with the knowledge that I will die, minor miracles do give me a kind of immunity from death by accident. But as with the lottery, this is not an effect that is directly verifiable.
7.3 Aging
Of course, for those who seek immortality, what really matters is whether we can survive the aging process, since that is the inevitable death that seems to await us all. Imagine I am 98 years old and on my death bed. It seems on the face of it unlikely that continued survival, in spite of my advanced age, would be logically impossible. Surely, we might argue, in some tiny percentage of possible worlds, events will conspire to keep me alive at least a little bit longer in my advanced age. Unfortunately, if this kind of major miracle is what is in store for us, we had best be afraid, as it will lead to a state of eternally increasing decrepitude, in which I spend the rest of eternity (or at least until the universe winds down) undergoing a series of ever-more-miraculous 'least miracles required for salvation', just barely keeping me alive. This sounds less like my ideal of immortality, and more like Hell. Okay, this is not what I had it mind. Help!
Tipler and Perry get around this problem by suggesting that the most likely way for me to survive is not the minimum miracle required to keep me decrepit, but rather a miracle that causes me to 'quantum jump', like an electron, to a spatially and temporally disconnected high-tech resurrection, either in the far future or a completely different universe! These future beings (or perhaps aliens) will simply build a robotic replica sufficiently like me that Strong AI and SUOC force us to conclude that it is me. How do the high-tech beings achieve this feat, in spite of the fact that I have been long dead (or in the case of the alien universe, never lived at all). Perry suggests that they simply build the best replica they can, and fill in the rest with a lucky guess. Tipler suggest some (slightly) more plausible scenarios, but also ends up suggesting that we might have to resort to the fact that we will be accidentally created, given the MWI. Immortality by brute force guesswork!
Is this indeed more likely than eternal decrepitude? I cannot say. It seems to me that the calculation required to answer this question is simply beyond us. However, we do have the tools of algorithmic probability at hand. The program that simulates just my brain without including any information about the rest of the universe, I will call B. The program that simulates the entire universe, including my brain, I will call U. Kant’s SUOC demands that the number of bits required to encode B is much larger than the number required to encode U:
I(U) << I(B)
p(U) >> p(B)
This must be so, or the synthetic unity of my consciousness would not be enough to create the unity and structure I observe in the universe around me. The information content of the universe, therefore, must be drastically less than that of our brain on its own. This may seem counter-intuitive, but recall that the entire universe is evolving out of a Big-Bang that appears to have started as an infinitely small point, or singularity. So the incredible complexity of the universe is evolving out of an originally much simpler state.
Let’s return to the 98 year old me on his death bed. The universe in which I die has a very short program (i.e. is highly probable). But the universe in which I am miraculously saved has a very long program, perhaps not even having the same history as the real universe (it might even be a simulation running in a computer inside an even larger universe).
So all we have to do to refute both the eternal decrepitude and the brute force resurrection theories is to show that there exists some other kind of universe that also continues my consciousness, but whose shortest program size is on the same order of magnitude as the information storage capacity of my brain. Such a universe would be much more probable (have a shorter program) than the above miraculous universes, and hence be much more probable (but not more probable than the 'real' universe, so it would still be a miraculous world).
We can do this by constructing a program that simulates my brain without any effort at including any spacetime environment at all, but which replaces the environment with a virtual reality (VR) of negligible size, that feeds me essentially random input. This is essentially what is happening when I dream anyway—the brain stem floods the brain with random noise [3], and the brain free-associates a dreamworld in response. But a dreamworld has little stability and is not especially law-like in its behavior. Also, there would be little reason for this replica brain to have the ability to store long-term memories, since these would likely not be necessary to simply continue my stream of consciousness (remember, this is the least required miracle, and there is no alien intelligence in this world to make sure my brain is constructed in a reasonable way).
Let us call this universe/program R, for 'random'. The guesswork universe and/or the eternal decrepitude universe we will call C, for 'contrived'. R is much less probable than U, essentially equal in probability to B, and much more probable than C:
I(U) << I(B) R) << I©
p(U) >> p(B) p® >> p©
So yes, the MWI does guarantee that a future resurrection world exists, tailored just for me, out there somewhere in the universal wavefunction. But this does not in and of itself guarantee me the immortality that I seek, since I am much more likely to quantum jump into a dream-like state than into such a futuristic paradise. Even if I imagine being that lucky chap who does quantum jump into a futuristic robotic replica, this still places that version of me in a universe with vastly lower probability than the random VR, practically guaranteeing an immediate quantum jump back into the random VR again. And I think it is not too presumptuous to suggest that living in such a random, incoherent world of transience would be less like living and more like a state of eternal sleep. In other words, the future me who lies on his death bed, with no immortality medicine to save him, is as good as dead.
7.4 Cryonics
So quantum major miracles have turned out to be illusory as a means to immortality. This is not so surprising, since they require massive violations of classical thermodynamics. Are we destined to die then? Not necessarily. Exciting new advances in anti-aging and related biotechnologies have been and are currently being developed, including dietary supplements, genetic manipulation, therapeutic cloning, stem cell research and nanotechnology. There is a real possibility some sort of immortality (at least to the extent that the physical universe allows) will be at hand soon.
But will we live to see it? Remarkably, a good argument can be made that the required technology already exists. The science of cryobiology has had the capability, since around the turn of the millennium, to cool a human patient's brain to a temperature below around -125ºC, in such a way as to 'vitrify' the brain. [11] This means that the brain does not 'freeze' in the conventional sense, which would create massive damage from ice crystal formation, making nonmiraculous revival quite possibly out of reach. When a brain is vitrified, however, the tissue forms a 'glass', which means that if you make cryopreservation arrangements before you die, all your 'soul-critical' neurological information will be saved for future retrieval when the technology is available. Some may argue that the technology for reviving cryopreserved patients will never come about, but given the pace of technological achievements over the past 500 years, I find this position hard to credit. If worse comes to worse, and the preserved brain is organically unviable, it should still be possible to read off the neurological information and transfer the essence of the person into a robotic replica. Unless we reject Strong AI, there is no reason to suppose we could not one day accomplish this, especially if we allow for the development of nanotechnology, and the manipulation of matter at the atomic scale.
Perhaps you are concerned that a brain vitrified in the 21st century will surely meet some unlucky demise before we reach the required future technology. The cryonics company might go out of business and you will thaw out. There could be a nuclear holocaust. Or an earthquake. Or cryonics might be legislated against, and shut down. Or any number of other obstacles might arise to prevent your revival.
Fortunately, here is another area where minor miracles come to the rescue. From your personal perspective, the wavefunction of the entire rest of the burgeoning universe goes into superposition while you are vitrified. This must be the case, since you cannot make an observation while cryopreserved. That means, so long as there is some historical line where the requisite technology is developed, and where people decide to bring you back, then you will come back. What may have seemed like a long-shot bet is now a sure thing. As with the lottery, the effect is verifiable only to you, that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
It should also be noted that the assumption of the Kantian SUOC, which is perhaps our most controversial assumption, is not required for the minor cryonics miracle. There is no quantum jumping into new bodies or worlds here, and no major miracles. So long as one allows that quantum mechanics is literally true (mandating the MWI) and that revival from cryonics is at least possible by some level of technology, however advanced, then the argument holds. .
It should be noted that even with perfect vitrification, there would be many technical difficulties in actually reviving someone. Their body would need to be regrown, possibly cloned. The brain would need to be thawed in such a way as to prevent freezing, and the toxicity of the cryoprotectants would have to be dealt with.
8 Conclusion
In summary, I see no reason to make any bold claims as to the mortality or immortality of the soul based on quantum physics. My own tendency is not to expect major miraculous events to save me from death. I expect that some humans actually have died and will die. But we should be able to reach a point in the relatively near future when technology can nearly eradicate death. And quantum mechanics does give us reason to have less fear of accidental death, including accidental loss of our vitrified brains if we are cryopreserved. So it is likely that those vitrified now, or at least in the very near future, will be—from their own point of view at least—essentially immortal.


[1] Chaitin, Gregory J., 1987: Algorithmic Information Theory, Cambridge U. Press
[2] Church, Alonzo, 1936, in: American Journal of Mathematics (58), "An unsolvable problem of elementary number theory", pg. 345-
[3] Crick, F.H.C. and G. Mitchison, 1983, in: Nature (304), "The function of dream sleep", pg. 111-
[4] Dennett, Daniel C., 1991: Consciousness Explained, Little, Brown and Company
[5] Dennett, Daniel C., 1995: Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Simon and Schuster
[6] Deutsch, David, 1997: The Fabric of Reality, Penguin Press
[7] Everett, Hugh, III, 1957, in: Reviews of Modern Physics (29), "'Relative state' formulation of quantum mechanics", pg. 454-
[8] Herbert, Nick, 1985: Quantum Reality, Anchor Press/Doubleday
[9] Kant, Immanuel, 1781, 1998: Critique of Pure Reason, Bedford/St. Martin's
[10] Kieckhefer, Richard, 1998: Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century, Pennsylvania State University Press
[11] Lemler, Jerry B., 2001: Alcor Life Extension Foundation: An Introduction, Alcor
[12] Locke, John, 1689, 1975: An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Clarendon Press
[13] Parmenides, c. 475 BC, 1996: On Nature, http://www.elea.org/
[14] Perry, R. Michael, 2000: Forever For All, Universal Publishers
[15] Price, Michael Clive, 1995: Many Worlds Theory FAQ, http://kuoi.asui.uidaho.edu/~kamikaze/
[16] Randall, Allan F., 1996: Quantum Superposition, Necessity and the Identity of Indiscernibles, http://www.elea.org/
[17] Randall, Allan F., 1997: Modality in Computational Metaphysics, http://www.elea.org/Modality/
[18] Randall, Allan F., 1997: Quantum Phenomenology, http://www.elea.org/Phenomenology/
[19] Randall, Allan F., 1998: In Defence of Transcendental Idealism, http://www.elea.org/
[20] Tipler, Frank J., 1995: The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, Macmillan
[21] Turing, Alan, 1936, in: Proc. of the London Mathematical Society (2) (42-43), "On computable numbers with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem", pg. 230-65, 544-

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#6 Bruce Klein

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Posted 02 March 2004 - 06:34 AM


Here is a cleaner version of the essay.


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