Virion Reading List, possible addition

Jeffrey Soreff (soreff@VNET.IBM.COM)
Fri, 8 Sep 1995 15:58:19 -0400

I'm not sure if this would exactly fit into your list, since I don't know if
it is "published", strictly speaking. Perhaps a pointer to some archive site?

Best wishes,
-Jeffrey Soreff

stadard disclaimer: I do not speak for my employer

Article: 1276 of sci.cryonics

A Theoretical Understanding
H. Keith Henson
Arel Lucas

The March '89 Cryonics carried Dave Kekich's article "A
Practical Memorial." It was about Oz, Dave's friend who did not
make it into suspension when he needed it--despite many qualities
you would think predisposed him to consider cryonics. Not the
least of these predispositions was having a close friend long
active in cryonics. In the article, Dave focused on his sense of
failure as a cryonics salesman in his effort to understand why Oz
did not make suspension arrangements. The article has prompted
us to spend some time in front of our word processors on another
way to view the problem of "selling cryonics"-- in terms of the
genetic origin of humans and the memetic origin of culture. In
this discussion, there are deep connections to evolution, which
itself is well rooted in our understanding of the physical world
around us. Because of the need for background, we will wander a
long way from the immediate problem of getting people to make
cryonic suspension arrangements, but by the time we get back, you
might have a deeper appreciation of the difficulties of "selling"
the cryonics concept.

Most readers of Cryonics understand that we arrived at our
current physical structure (which includes everything--genes,
jawbones and brains) through the process of evolution, that is
through random variation and very non-random survival. About 4.5
million years ago our branch of the primate tree split from our
nearest relatives the chimpanzees when the climate changed, and
the shrinking forest left them "high and dry." (All this is
current best guess, but there is a large collection of evidence.)
An entire suite of physical and behavioral changes seems to have
happened together.

Chimpanzees today have behaviors, such as sharing meat, that
our common ancestors are likely to have had. This tendency seems
to have been elaborated by our male ancestors into a steady
provisioning of the females and young by bringing food to them
from the encroaching, but highly productive, protein-rich plains.
(As opposed to the chimps' way of life where the females provide
virtually all food for the young and the males guard the
territory.) Incidentally, compared to forest, grasslands provide
a *lot* of meat per square mile.

It is likely our common ancestor could walk upright for a
short distance since chimps can do it. Walking upright for ever
further distances had an advantage because the males who could
free their hands for carrying food in this changed situation were
more successful in the number of children who carried their genes
in the next generation. Of course this took place in social
groups, so there was continual selection for: genes that made
cooperative behavior more likely; genes to exploit others
cooperation; and genes to resist being suckered. Computer
evolution simulations (see Selfish Gene) of such situations lead
to stable mixes of reproductive strategies similar to what are
actually observed in human populations.

As genes became more common which (through the process of
embryogenesis) constructed males more and more likely to work
(mostly in groups) to feed *their* mates and children, other
traits became advantageous. Sequestered estrous (as opposed to
the flamboyant chimpanzee event), continual sexual receptivity,
and a tendency toward monogamy (and jealousy) all tend to
genetically reward provisioning males. All of this culminated in
the several- million-year old institution of the human family.&

The net effect of all these changes was to about double the
reproductive rate of proto-humans compared to the chimpanzees.
Our ancestors needed the high reproductive rate because the
plains were *Dangerous* places (no trees to climb). A lot of
them seem to have been eaten by leopards and the other large
predators of the time.

Some 2.5 million years ago we find the first evidence of
worked stone. While even chimpanzees pass cultural knowledge,
such as how to catch termites, from generation to generation,
worked stone is the first surviving evidence that our ancestors
started passing down the generations complex, non-genetic,
behavior- influencing information. This information can be said
to program high level "agents" in the mind which are invoked to
do or make things. About the same time, the brain size of our
forebears started to increase substantially over the
chimpanzee's. Tool making and larger brains probably influenced
each other in a positive feedback cycle.

Those able to learn the more complex tasks from those around
them must have had a significant survival advantage, in spite of
the increased maternal and infant mortality from getting those
larger brains delivered.

As the *information* of how to chip rock and other such
discoveries was passed on to larger numbers of the very people
whose survival it enhanced, a new evolving entity, the "meme" or
replicating information pattern became increasing significant.

(footnote ref--first defined in The Selfish Gene by Richard
Dawkins 1976)

Genes are totally dependent on cells; complex memes are no
less dependent on large human brains. Memes run the gamut from
essential symbionts to dangerous parasites. They evolve, and, in
particular, they have *co-evolved* with the human line. In the
aggregate, they constitute culture. The memetic information
passed down from generation to generation exceeded our genetic
data some time ago.

As human brains enlarged they improved in the ability to
anticipate changes, making plans to hunt, to move with the
seasons, and, later, to plant seeds for a future harvest. These
and similar "smart" behaviors have obvious survival advantages,
but they may have disadvantages as well. Alas, it seems that it
is quite possible to be too smart for "the good of one's genes."
A contemporary example is the statistical fact that highly
intelligent people have significantly fewer children than the
norm. For very different reasons, people of *subnormal*
intelligence also have lower-than-average reproductive success.

Many traits of populations that have a bell curve
distribution are trimmed by some form of selection on both ends.
If they were not, natural selection on individuals on one end of
the curve would cause the population norm to drift until a new
norm was reached where individuals far out from the norm in
either direction suffered reduced reproductive success in about
the same amounts.

Being able to anticipate the future may not have been an
unmixed blessing for early humans. Besides worrying about what
to eat in the morning, and how to get through the night without
being eaten, our ancestors could worry about existential angst,
and ponder questions of the "Where Was I Before I Was Me?" and
"What Happens After I Die?" kind. It may sound silly, but such
questions, prompted by frequent deaths among those around you may
have been a barrier for hundreds of thousands of years to the
emergence of smarter people with enhanced ability to anticipate
and plan for the future. It is not good for your genes to be
dwelling on such questions while something large, furry, and not
in the least concerned about angst, sneaks up and nips off your

(footnote --at least if it does it before you have lots of
kids, and have helped raise lots of grandkids. The recognition
of this fact is reflected in the Chinese tradition that those who
would attempt to understand the I Ching--a contemplative task
bound to invoke troubling questions--are traditionally warned off
doing so until they have completed the parental phase of life,
and secured the future of their grandchildren.)

We know that eventually smarter people did emerge, and came
to dominate the world. This started about 200,000 years ago,
roughly the same time that DNA studies indicate that one woman
was the common ancestor of us all. Like chipped rock and larger
brains emerging together, it is possible that some meme mutated
out of more primitive ones, or arose from observations to form a
"religious belief" that provided "answers" to such questions and
had the effect of compensating for genes that otherwise would
made us too smart for our own (genetic) good. Beliefs that could
fit this description are known to go back to the very beginning
of written history, and archaeological digs produce physical
evidence (flower grave offerings) of such beliefs back at least
70,000 years. (The actual timing is not important to this
argument, but objects believe to be "religious" in nature became
common by about 35,000 years ago.)

"Religious" memes compensating for
too-smart-for-their-own-good brains is rank speculation, but
Marvin Minsky argues that more complex brains are inherently less
stable. It is true that our more remote relatives (such as cows)
seem to have fewer mental problems, perhaps just because they
have less "mental." His thought****

**** (footnote--- personal communication through Eric

is that certain "agents" built with patterns from outside
could enhance the stability of a complex mind. He discussed a
variety of mental "agents" in Society of Mind, reviewed in
Cryonics some time ago. One class, censors, would be especially
useful if kept someone's mind from spiraling down into a blue
funk over unanswerable questions. Ideas that when a family
member died he had gone to "the happy hunting grounds," and that
you would see him again might make a big difference in the
survival of grief- stricken relatives. Jane Goodall's report of
a case where a chimpanzee seems to have died of grief gives this
model some credibility. (The chimp was believed to have had an
abnormally strong attachment to his mother.)

This is very speculative, but "religious" memes could have
"functions" such as reducing the effects of grief or answering
philosophical questions about which it was (genetically)
unprofitable to ponder. These memes would be favored in a causal
loop if they improve the survival of people carrying genes which
tend to destablize a person's mental state, but otherwise improve
their survival.

Such genes might (for example) contribute to intelligence,
sensitivity, and forming strong emotional attachments. After a
few millennia, religious memes and conditionally advantageous
genes would become quite dependent on each other. In an
environment saturated with religious memes, there would be little
pressure for minds to evolve that could get by without
stabilizing memes.

In turn, the religious memes that originated long ago have
had plenty of time to split into varieties, compete for hosts,
and themselves evolve in response to a changing environment. (An
occasional variation may kill its hosts, a la Jim Jones.) A lay
observer looking for similarities over such a period might not
recognize much common ritual. (Joseph Campbell devoted his life
to discovering common threads in ritual.) Both modern and
ancient religions seem to "fit" into similar places in the mind,
and have the similar functions of providing "answers" to the
unanswerable, and comfort to the grief stricken.

The environment in those minds (mostly the result of other
memes) has greatly changed as people accumulated more
observations about the world around them and got better at
manipulating it. There are known changes in the history of
religion, such as the tendency for monotheistic religions (in the
western cultural tradition) to replace polytheistic ones, and the
well known tendency for religions (and similar belief patterns)
to mutate into new and competing varieties. We can see some
(the written part) of the accumulated variation. For example,
the religion of the Old Testament is recognizably the ancestor of
the more recent New Testament.

Because humans learn from other adults as well as parents,
religious beliefs that are "better suited" to infect human minds
could spread, even (if it survived translation) across language
boundaries. (Islam simply imposed Arabic on its converts.) In
Europe during early historical times, we can see the displacement
of older religions with Christianity. Within Christianity we
can see in recent historical times competing varieties mutate
from earlier versions (a classic example would be the Mormons)
and within the US in the last decades we have seen the arrival of
both new "religions" such as Scientology, and the repeated
importation of eastern religions. (Almost all new and
transplanted religions fail--we only see the ones which grow
large enough to notice.)

Because human minds usually hold only one religion at a
time, religious memes are in "competition" for a limited number
of human minds. This sets up the conditions for a powerful
"evolutionary struggle" between religious memes. You should
expect the memes which survive this process to resist being
displaced, and to induce their hosts to propagate them.

How (at long last!) does this relate to the difficulty of
selling cryonics? We submit that the long term mental changes
that happen to people who make cryonics arrangements have a lot
in common with religious conversions. Logically, cryonics should
be considered a low tech way to reach high tech medicine, no more
exciting than iron lungs, or pacemakers. Alcor, of course, is
*not* a religion; it doesn't aspire even to be a cult. However,
the mental "agents" the cryonics idea constructs in people's
minds have the same "deflect or modify thoughts about death"
effect as some of the mental agents most religious memes build.
The cryonics memes seem to "fit" into the "mental space" in
people that is often occupied by a religion. As a result people
class it as one, or something closely related. Unfortunately,
this is a hotly contested spot in the mind! Memes of this class
usually include a submeme, "this is the only true belief, listen
to no others." #

#(Footnote. Douglas Hoffstadter and one of us (Arel)
prefers to look at a meme as complex as a religion as "a scheme
of memes," that is, evolutionary bound cooperating groups of
memes similar to the way mutually advantageous genes are
sometimes grouped on cronosomes. Dawkins discussed the mutual
propagation of the God/Hellfire memes in the Selfish Gene.)

Religious memes (including such beliefs as reincarnation)
build lasting, often lifelong, agents in human minds. This part
of human minds where these agents are located seems to be
particularly resistant to change, perhaps because the "function"
of these memes is not much related to the way "this world"
operates. That is, one belief in this category is about as good
for you (and your genes) as the next. If this is the case,
switching holds little advantage, and the process of modifying
anything close to this area may be dangerous to mental stability.
Cryonics (if it works) is very much of an exception to the rule.

On the other hand, the stability of religious beliefs may
have little to do with human survival. It simply may be a
characteristic of the surviving (and therefore observable)
religious memes.

The difficulty of changing from one religion to another, or
adding cryonics to your meme set may be compounded by "censor
agents" (as Minsky calls them) that keep deflecting your thoughts
away from thinking about anything to do with death. As much as
anything censor agents may lie at the root of the remarkable
degree of procrastination, that you often see in the cryonics
signup process. (The complexity of the paperwork does not help

We wish we could use the memetic model to make specific
suggestions which would allow us all to go out and sign up the
world, or even to save our parents. We can't. The best we can
do is suggest that since most of the mental environment in which
the cryonic meme may take root is determined by other memes,
getting the word out about related subjects may be critically
important to the "selling" of cryonics. A person who knows about
nanotechnology/cell repair machines is much more likely to be
infectable by the cryonics meme. So are the people who hold the
computer viewpoint of minds and brains.

Another possibility is that our friends or relatives may
eventually become more responsive. They are likely to be among
that majority, "not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet
the last to lay the old aside." Frequent exposure to an idea
lessens the outrageousness of it. Cryonics is, after all,
becoming more respectable. Being dismissed by "most scientists"
as the newspaper stories state is properly interpreted as being
accepted by "some scientists." On the other hand, part of the
fear factor about cryonics is the possibility that it would
*work*, and you would be revived all alone in a future without
friends. This may be a large part of the problem of signing up
our parents. Though we may respect them, the world has changed so
much over a single generation that it is hard to have much in
common with them. (And for that matter, it is hard to have much
in common with your children either!) Perhaps we should get our
oldest signed up members (the ones I have met are *really* nice
people) to travel about and talk to our parents.

The memetic model gives some insight into the difficulty the
idea of cryonics faces in a world of competing memes, but the
picture is far from bleak. While cryonics has grown slowly, the
growth rate has increased in the last few years. It would not
surprise us for the cryonics "movement" to experience spectacular
growth*** over the next decade or two, especially if noticeable
progress is made on our *real* goal, life extension which will
eliminate the need for cryonic suspension entirely.

* We doubt many realize it at the time. When we made
arrangements with Alcor it was just the logical thing to do,
given our understanding of nanotechnology. It was only with the
threats to Alcor, and its patients, over the Dora Kent affair
that made us realize how important cryonics had become to us.

** As an aside, there actually seems to be a very small
chunk of brain tissue that might be called a "religious
stabilizing module." In rare cases where this area was destroyed,
the victims could change what seemed to be deeply held religious
beliefs several times a week!**can you find the source for

& An alternate scenario could be constructed, a sex-for-meat
swap, starting with females who were somewhat receptive even when
not in estrous. Same result.