Cancer has claimed a terrible toll in my life. Three in my immediate family and counting, the countdown very fast for one of them. And now it seems to have turned its unwelcome gaze to my intellectual treasures. I hate this disease, I despise it so much it's hard to express.
I'd say it's my hatred of cancer that drives me to want to achieve riches, via a startup, so I can pour money into its vanquishing. It was hatred that made me agree to be a member of "the 300", as useless as that has turned out to be. And it's the knowledge and memory of those lifeless bodies on hospital sheets, cold before their time, that forces me onwards, reminds me that that capricious finger of death could swivel my way at any time.
Banks, you are a titan. You inspired me, you inspired others. You'll never be forgotten, and god willing maybe you'll inspire a few to take revenge on your blind, callous killer.
Part of the reason for the lack of good jobs is that there is actually not much money put into cancer research, relative to Valley-type companies. Google's declared 2012 R&D budget was $6.7 billion. The National Cancer Institute's entire budget in 2012, which is parceled out among all eligible institutions in the country, was $5.1 billion. It's no surprise that, as a direct result, it's easier to find good jobs in the Valley than in cancer research: Google alone can offer more funding to aspiring researchers than the entire national cancer strategy can.
But I wholeheartedly agree that rather than trying to be a billg and earn money to fund philanthropy, the world needs more researchers.
That's not even true if you look only at rich countries - cardiovascular diseases cause more deaths.
The amount of effort, let alone money, spent on cancer research is already obscene compared to what is spent on other serious problems.
cancer.org states that 15% of deaths worldwide are due to cancer, with 50% being spread amongst other non-communicable diseases.
"In 2010, 65% of all deaths worldwide were due to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and cancer. 15% of all deaths worldwide, nearly 8 million people, were due to cancer alone. The number of deaths worldwide from cancer dwarfs the number of global deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS, as is projected to exceed 13 million by 2030."
The first sentence and the next two aren't at all related. It's possible that the amount of money we're collectively spending right now is all that can be used effectively, and more money will yield at best highly diminishing returns.
As much as I'd like to do my share in X, if I can't make a living of it, I won't dedicate my whole life to it. Some will, but many won't.
I'm not convinced that what this world needs is research into keeping sick people alive longer. We have lots of people as it is.
When I was a kid childhood leukemia was a death sentence. These days survival rates are in the 80% and up range.
The goal isn't non-dead sick people. It's well people.
Attacking that problem doesn't mean that you can't attack the problem of too many people too. Hopefully in a more productive way than having a horrible, lingering, painful disease solve it for us.
Given that the average costs of bringing up any single individual are nowadays probably at an all-time high, it makes sense to invest something into keeping those people from dying prematurely.
Also, this is less about keeping sick people alive longer, but about making them unsick, or even prevent them from becoming sick in the first place (prevention, timely diagnosis, study of the immune system behavior and reactions related to the cancer onset).
EDIT - I had a little time to think about your statement a little. Your statements are basically just ridiculous venom. In any other venue, it would be met with the vitriol it really deserves but I just find this to be essentially inhuman.
There are a zillion talented young programmers who have figured out that the VC-istan game is rigged (I like to believe that I helped with that) and who would readily work on machine learning for cancer research at a market salary.
 Zillion probably means "tens of thousands", but that's a lot. A good programmer costs $125k to hire and is worth $1-2M to the economy. Thousands of programmers = major muscle. Tap that piece of A! (A meaning "awesomeness potential".)
$100-150k, machine learning, saving lives? Shit, you'll be turning people away.
If it's government-funded it doesn't have to be in a high-COL area where 100-150k, while respectable, isn't raise-a-family money. But you could do this out in a place like Minneapolis where people can raise a family on that and (bear with me, here) therefore actually find programmers with more than 10 years (!) of technical experience who want to stay on real work (!!) instead of becoming useless executives (like VC-istan's VeePees of BizDevolution) because they can actually raise kids on what they make (!!!).
It's about the people. But the nature of the real world is that it takes money to hire people. So, indirectly, it is about the money. We should spend less money on pointless, illegal wars and more on the disease that's actually (if we don't fucking do something) going to kill a large portion of the people reading this.
Even if you have the more elaborate title of "biochemist", salaries are around $45k, not the $125k you are expecting to earn.
Starting salaries are around $35k. If you are working for a non-profit foundation (ie: cancer research), expect to earn $25k.
You should make more working on scientific research that helps everyone than you'd make ($100-150k for typical programmers) writing yet another ad exchange.
It's not true that you "can't get good people" with low salaries. The sciences are full of great people making low salaries. You just can't get very many of them. We need good people in the sciences and a much larger number, which means that society needs to start paying scientists what they're actually worth.
Programmer/analysts do make more, but not nearly as much as they would in VC-istan. The median starting salary for a programmer/analyst at my institution is 50K. Senior programmer/analysts can make as much as a median 116K, but I almost never see people employed at that level despite their capability. More importantly, at least in life science research at a public institution, there's really no guarantee that you'll be kept on past the duration of the grant you're funded from, unless your PI is famous and your lab's rich. Even so, the recent cascade of NIH and NSF cuts are putting pressure on all labs.
Along those lines -- the job insecurity's the worst for junior staff, so I don't really see any good reason for recent grads to continue in public research. Most of my former grad school classmates are now in private pharma or biotech. I'm personally looking to move from life science to the SF tech scene as soon as I graduate this year.
Why? What about supply and demand? Do you mean salaries shouldn't be determined by supply and demand, or demand "should" be higher?
If demand for these skills should be higher, but isn't, that is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Your or anyone else, if correct, could make a killing using these skills at low prices (salaries). The more people who do that, the more the prices of their skills rise.
Supply and demand do not determine value. Supply and demand do determine price. The equating of price and value is a lazy attempt to find an objective interpersonal measure of value by saying "what is" is equivalent to "what should be," since determining "what is" is typically easier than forming a consensus on "what should be."
Market forces are better than previous systems at allocating resources, but they aren't infallible.
As someone has pointed out, theres a difference between price and value.
Time-behavior + value-creation vs. value-capture.
Market demand for science R&D is pretty much nil. Basic research requires some kind of altruistic/passive funding (government, universities).
Market demand for the technologies that come out of basic research, decades later, is nearly infinite.
No one is going to pay, on the market, $150,000 per year for a biologist to analyze some weird protein. But when that work results in a cure for several common cancers, 20 years later, I'd say it's paid itself off by several orders of magnitude.
If you're a manager or executive-level hire, you're probably never going to get the investor contact you were promised and, if you do, you probably won't be allowed to say much, so the networking you were promised won't happen.
If you're an engineer, you're probably not going to get the "leadership" (executive) position you were promised. It'll be given to some external asshat when the company goes in to "scaling"/social-climbing mode and starts hiring "real X's" (i.e. not the fools who worked for 90 hours per week and 50% of market salaries, judged not to be good enough for prime time).
Only a tiny percentage of VC-funded startups have a real engineering culture (pre-apocalyptic Google) where you can do well as an engineer without becoming a manager. If that's what you want, your odds are better (not great, but better) at a place like Google.
Most VC-funded startups grow too fast to keep a decent culture, and the executive positions often get handed out by VC to their underachieving friends who couldn't make it on their own.
That's what I mean by "rigged".
Not sure why the OP says it turned out to be useless (haven't followed much the Methuselah Foundation lately)
First Terry Pratchett and now Iain Banks. Satoshi Kon, taken by pancreatic cancer. Who's left? Why are all my favourite artists dying from this horrible family of diseases?
Fuck cancer, and damn our perverse incentives. All you hackers and entrepreneurs, please make all the money you can and do something to advance the combined well-being of the world and people like yourself. All that saved-up money can hardly do anything when a serious cancer strikes hard and we find out too late. Please do something to support the research that could save so many of your family and friends.
All the pleasures of the world cannot cancel out the loss and desolation of an early death. Our time is short; let's not let it be cut shorter.
I wish medical research were set up in a way to support hobbyists and part time involvement. There are lots of people in the high-profit, low-value-to-society parts of biotech and medicine (day jobs as pharma reps, sometimes MDs, people running clinical trials for yet another evergreening of an old drug, or a super-viagra, or whatever), who have skills, and have their personal financial situation set up, who could probably be effective part-time contributors to basic research. In software, that'd be a guy working in some enterprise somewhere developing a new programming language or library on the side. I don't think there really is anything like that for biotech, yet.
None of that would have been possible without the 300, and more importantly without people like you and I believing in the goal.
On cancer: there are new ideas and promising signs if you know where to look. I'm not a fan of WILT, but I haven't see anyone mount a good claim that it won't work as advertised, which is to say no cancer, ever:
An effective cancer treatment is all about finding a commonality to cut through the enormous variation in cancer biochemistry, so I watch for signs of that with some interest. The latest possible cancer commonality is CD47, for example:
There's also the suggestion that maybe we could extract the global cellular mechanism that makes naked mole rats cancer-free, or the different global cellular mechanism that makes blind mole rats cancer-free, and safely introduce one of them into human biology. That's much more speculative, not least for the concern that what works for 20-30 years in a mole rat might not be good for 100 in a human - there are plenty of examples of things working well in rodents but not being all that applicable to people.
But even without this, I think that targeted cell destruction therapies (via nanoparticles, or trained immune cells, or viruses, etc) will evolve into a robust cancer cure for near all cancers caught early enough within the next couple of decades:
I just want to highlight two things, firstly his support for the NHS, which despite every newspaper and politician gunning for it still usually manages to deliver top quality care.
Secondly, can we leave off the cryogenic stuff ? The guy is dying, and pretending it will just be a pause is insulting all round. This was a touching and accepting note written by a skilled hand - and he is not blathering on about the next life. Please leave it be
Was that the episode you were referring to?
Which is meaningless; an anecdotal impression is not data.
> Secondly, can we leave off the cryogenic stuff ? The guy is dying, and pretending it will just be a pause is insulting all round.
Some people think that cryogenics is a better chance of resurrection than burying a body in dirt. The case isn't settled, but it's not a stupid or crazy belief. Even if the chance is only 0.1%, it's worth talking about. The chance of my house burning down is only 0.1% or so, and I still buy fire insurance.
(And, no, I'm not a big believer in cryogenics; I merely want to argue that discussion about it is reasonable.)
And some people think burying a body in dirt is the best chance of resurrection. These beliefs do not seem, at this point in time, differentially stupid or crazy.
It is quite all right to hold such beliefs, but bringing them up every time someone dies as if-only-they-had is rather insensitive.
How did you reach that point of view?
I've read most of his books (all of his SF books). The Culture is an amazing universe, but the rest of his works are also outstanding.
(edit: never mind, sibling thread has it covered: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5485695 )
If you're just a normal science fiction fan, start with Use of Weapons. It's complex and sci-fi-ish enough, but not as hardcore as Excession. The plot is amazing. To me it is one of the most memorable books of science fiction that I've read. It really made me question some basic beliefs about ... well, you'll see.
If you're a normal person, who wants a slightly softer intro into the Culture universe, or someone who's not particularly into science fiction, Player of Games is a great starting point because it is less about the tech and more about the ideas and the people, but nevertheless a great book.
Ultimately, the only one I wouldn't start with is Consider Phlebas, which is good, but imho nowhere near as good as the rest. To me, Consider Phlebas was about the same level as, say, the Reality Dysfunction by PFH - great space opera, fast paced, gripping, but not exceptional in any way. Every subsequent book (with very few exceptions) is not just great, but also unique and different from all the other science fiction books out there.
A loved one loves Banks, so I've tried really hard to get it, and I've failed. I recently read Excession and got zero value out of it. Also recently read Feersum Endjin; it was alright, but suffered from the same flaws as other Banks. I did enjoy The Algebraist, though I read it a while ago so it's a bit foggy. I also read, once upon a time, Consider Phlebas and Player of Games, and remember being utterly utterly disappointed in both, but I can't remember anything more than that.
Huh. Same here. I've only read CP and I honestly could not tell why everyone is so excited about Banks.
Okay then, I'll add a few more titles to my wish list. Thanks!
I still haven't been able to make myself finish Matter yet.
The title is awfully well chosen, too. The full title would probably be: "Matter? It doesn't"
EDIT: I should specify that Contact is working on present-day Earth in that story, from what I recall.
Though, obviously, as a literary device you are right.
Excession was quite a flourish, and deliciously fun.
That book is really hard on the emotions. I have a feeling it may have been a bit of an experiment for Iain as it reads a bit differently from the rest (I think I've read every book he has out currently, including "Raw Spirit"... Brilliant book)
Oh, and the top comment in the sibling thread you linked to is a very good recommendation.
If you haven't read his stuff, pick it up.
Note: The dark anti-hero in "Kaleidoscope Century" is probably the reason he hasn't won many major awards. You can't write such a character and not piss off the various sci-fi author and fandom cliches.
The Directive 51 universe is really dark, but has a ton of great ideas and great writing.
I'd suggest PoG as a starting point to explain what the Culture's about, which I think it does better than CP because the main character in that is not of the Culture. YMMV though.
I've bought them three myself and will read them in this order.
The Player of Games
Use of Weapons
Use of Weapons is great, but the writing is poorer than the other two.
Heh. Interesting. I'd say exactly the opposite myself. Not that I dislike the other two - PoG is one of my faves of his SF work - but to me UoW is a vastly better work of literature, both in structure and character development. Less full of SFnal goodies than some of his later work, but all the better for that in some ways.
Read this webpage to get an introduction to the Culture. It's great, and it helps you get through some of the "rougher" edges in the earlier books.
I'm not suggesting your opinions are wrong, of course, but I had a much different impression. Obviously Player of Games is well regarded by many people, so I'm curious to know what I missed.
--- SPOILERS BELOW ---
My general impression was that the Empire of Azad was that its conception lacked imagination. The peculiarities of the species (the three sexes, the society built around a board game, etc) could have made for a very interesting culture, but those instead the peculiarities were mostly left untouched and the culture was recognizable as human in every way. The greatest offense, in my opinion, is that the most interesting part of the book (the game Azad) was left almost entirely undescribed. An alien species should be different. Vastly different. These were humans painted green on Star Trek.
That is one thing you could do with an alien species. Banks has done that elsewhere quite a bit. It could be that his imagination failed him here. Or he could have made a conscious choice, seeking a specific effect.
I think it was the latter. For me, part of the point of literature is to explore what it means to be human. One of the things that comes up over and over in Banks's work is encounters between developed and primitive cultures. He uses the contrasts to examine where we've come from, who we are, and where we might go.
Player of Games in particular to me spends a lot of time looking at the desire to win, and also the desire to play for high stakes. The Culture's post-scarcity society makes bets meaningless. How does somebody with a gambler's nature fare in that context? And how does somebody raised in that context change when they become immersed in a society built around gamesmanship and gambling? The Azadians are an exaggeration of particular aspects of humanity because he's trying to explore those aspects. If they were more alien, you would identify with them less, which I think would weaken the impact.
If you're reading Banks for things like detailed descriptions of fictional games, you should probably look elsewhere. He's definitely the kind of guy who likes building elaborate sets and then showing them to you. But they are there to support the drama that is performed in front of them.
Banks has other weird and interesting species appearing in the periphery. But the books are ultimately not about weird aliens.
This saves many nasty wars.
Left a bit of an impression on me....
The BBC have a news article on this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22015175
Let's stop trying to make people click on cheery-colored buttons and do something about this fucking disease instead.
We are killing ourselves and it starts with the stuff our mothers eat, is made worse by what we eat, and is topped of by the environment we live in.
It's more prevalent in some societies because we live longer and we don't any longer die of preventable infections.
Our air is cleaner than it's been for a long time. Decent nutrition has never been cheaper or more widely available. Life expectancy has never been longer.
We are not killing ourselves. OK so some are by overeating and doing no exercise, but in general you're talking nonsense.
People in older baby boomer cohorts are doing better than younger generations.
"Decent nutrition has never been cheaper or more widely available."
Sugar/fat has also never been cheaper or more widely available.
This doesn't change the fact we're living longer, healthier lives than ever before.
I'm sure there's a lot more that we could be doing, I'm sure that there are things we do that we should stop doing for our own health BUT none of this supports the notion that cancer is a disease of western privilege and we're doing everything wrong. We're doing more right than we've ever done.
In Japan, their cancer rate per 100,000 is 1/4 lower than in the US, but that isn't close to the claimed exclusivity. 220 per 100k in Japan versus 300 per 100k in the US.
In S.Korea, it's 260 per 100k, for a mere 13% variance.
How come the Chinese live seven years less than the supposedly cancerous and diseased French in the west? Shouldn't the eastern lifestyle make the Chinese live a lot longer?
Your claim about exclusivity isn't supported by the data. Affluence doesn't correlate to cancer, in fact it's the exact opposite: on average rich people live a lot longer, live healthier, and get cancer less frequently than poor people. In the west, cancer has a high correlation to both obesity and poverty.
Instead, what I should have said is, cancer rates are significantly higher in "western" countries and certain kinds of cancers have seen dramatic increases, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer, as countries have "westernized". As countries westernize, rates of these cancers increase.
(The irony is that smoking is more on the rise in Asia/etc. than elsewhere, so at some point smoking and related illness will be a non-Western thing, too.)
Makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time, like so much of his work.
That last past is almost a six word story, but sadly reality instead of fiction.
Also, if you're a fan of the Culture universe and want a smile, have a gander at a list of Culture ship names @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_in_the_Cultu...
"Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The"
"Hand Me The Gun And Ask Me Again"
"Subtle Shift In Emphasis"
It gets the author out of the hard task of building something that fits together well, and out of having to dream up something that works and that they would genuinely like to live in. Thinking up terrible things and things that fall apart can be much easier than thinking up what would make us lastingly happy. It also lets the listeners/readers/viewers of the story not think about their world in relation to some better world. That can be depressing; looking into a warm, comfy restaurant can just highlight how cold, poor, and hungry you are. Comparing our lives to those poor schmucks in some "utopia" with an terrible dark side isn't so bad; it doesn't impugn us for not having made something truly good to live in a reality.
But I'm so glad that Banks didn't go that route. Sci-fi needs to be able to get out of that rut. And it isn't that he doesn't know dark topics or how to write them; he can wrench a reader's guts along with the best of 'em. Yet he did the harder thing of looking for a consistent, shining-happy civilization to dream of living in. Gene Roddenberry got no small fame for a popular but rather more shoddy try at that many decades back. Banks did it with top notch sci-fi and writing skill. And I'd love to live in his utopia too.
But the books themselves, not the Culture, also include plenty of gut wrenching. Not as some easy dark side to the Culture itself. But at the edges of it, where the friction happens from its interaction with less nice places to live.
And I've just purchased Player of Games, maybe not based on your personal recommendation, but certainly on the collective recommendation since this news broke. Kind of a sad way to get introduced to an author, but OTOH I think it would be somewhat nice that even my impending death would lead to new readers of my work.
I do feel like I'm the last geek/techy/nerd/HN/SlashDot reader on the planet to have heard of him, though.
He mentions his sore back. That's important! Most lower back pain is nothing serious, but rarely it's a sign of significant illness. He also mentions that he initially thought the pain was related to his work on a book. That's relevant for an industry where people tend to spend many hour sitting at a desk typing code. We talk about better ergonomics -nicer chairs, standing desks- but sometimes the wider health is missed.
Compare these two adverts -
"Not Alone", MacMillan Cancer Support (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLpS97XA5VA)
"Cancer, We're Coming For You", Race for Life (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWJEmMDQXoA)
Yes, fuck cancer.
"Fuck Cancer" is all well and good... but MacMillan's work isn't about finding a cure, it's about easing suffering. They provide support and care to patients and their families, "Not Alone" sums them up pretty perfectly.
Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written on 10 Aug 1994.
I'm not sure what meaning you can draw from that unless you know of a sexual indiscretion that Iain committed at a wedding. :-)
Amazing author. I want to live in the Culture. And I want to read new books by him forever, this is not allowed.
I remember thinking at the time, the wasp factory was a book i'd not forget, yet i can only vaguely recall the plot and some events! Espedair Street on the other hand i can recall pretty much everything. It's funny what you remember.
Then I read his first Culture novel... I never looked back! They are my favorite sci-fi series ever and I have read a TON of sci-fi and fantasy in my life now (mostly sci-fi when younger).
The first commercial microprocessor was released in the same year:
Solutions? Ideas? The list in my mind is starting to get painfully long:
Randy Pausch (47), Steve Jobs (56), Ian M Banks ...
From stuff his family has said, and from what his biographer said about his interviews with Jobs, the primary driver for the delay was an almost phobic fear of surgery rather than "alternative medicine will cure me". This is surprisingly common from conversations I've had with some cancer treatment folk. I knew a family member who unfortunately had similar feelings :-/
The kind of cancer Jobs had was a rare and slow growing pancreatic cancer. Normally if you get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer you are in surgery later that bleeding day if at all possible. For pNET tumors longer delays of weeks or even months aren't unknown (not recommended either mind - but not insanely stupid).
(as a separate point - I love how all the reporting around Job's cancer was that it was a "rare cancer" presented in the the "ohhh rare and scary sense"... if you have to get pancreatic cancer a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor like Jobs's is the one you want to get).
The alternative medicine didn't make it worse in of itself.
The delay in surgery may have made it worse - but it's not certain. The five year survival rate for that cancer, when treated by surgery, is still only 61% at stage 1 (see http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/PancreaticCancer/DetailedGuide/...). Steve lasted nearly nine years.
Was the 9 month delay in surgery a sensible thing? Almost certainly not. But the real story was a long way from the "Killed by alternative medicine" line that hit the press. Even if Jobs had had surgery the day he was diagnosed, it would most likely have ended the same way.
That just doesn't seem like he "more than likely" would have survived to me, but looks more like a coin flip. And that was with the "good" pancreatic cancer.
We're mining ores with tiny percentages of what we want in them nowadays and at increasing energy cost.
We had a bounty of natural resources that we could have focused to get off this planet and become an interplanetary species. I suspect we will never get there as we've squandered these resources and overpopulated the planet beyond carrying capacity.
If you're waiting for a miracle solution, or believe alternatives will solve everything I recommend you study the principles of energy return on energy investment.
It makes me sad but I think we will never colonize other planets.
(I agree interplanetary would do a lot better with plausible tech of the next 50-100 years, but there's no reason not to get started today. Thank you, Elon Musk!)
Shipping reproductive material (either as information, or embryos, or frozen eggs/sperm) would also be fairly realistic.
The main reasons I can see for colonizing other planets are political (Earth is dominated by a certain kind of nation state, I'd happily live in a remote part of Earth if it would get me out from under that, as long as the right 5k people went with me...), or the spiritual/moral/whatever drive to do it because it can be done.
Unfortunately, until public policy on diet (which is set by the people responsible for selling more corn and sugar) changes, it's not going to get better.
Right now, there is no peer reviewed literature that definitively proves the sugar/cancer link. At best, there might be correlation.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get any funding for anything that might imply sugar is bad. The US, under pressure from the sugar lobby, threatened to pull $400M in WHO funding if they published a report saying "Too much sugar has bad side effect, you should limit consumption to 10% of your calories". The report was never published. This is made worse by 30 years of dogma, the fact that the FDA won't regulate substances that cause chronic diseases, and the conflict of interest the USDA has with coming up with what we "should" eat when their charter is to sell more crops.
I'm also not saying that if you don't eat sugar, you won't get cancer. Statistics apply to populations, not individuals. All I'm saying is there is probably a link between sugar and cancer, and, given sugar provides no positive nutritional value, cutting it out is probably a smart thing to do.
My heart goes out to Mr. Banks and his family and friends, just as much as my heart goes out to every cancer victim. As a society, we can do better.
This is awful news. I've not been a big fan of his later SF works. But Feersum Endjinn and Espedair St are tremendous and who knows, maybe the later works will grown on me. I hope he lives to see his latest book on the shelves.
(Edit: Not that I'm claiming he's not a Titan)
The first Banks book I read was in a palliative care room while my mom was dying of cancer.
Note that this site seems to have last been updated in the mid 90's, so later novels are not included.
I can only guess the costs for the tests are too expensive. Still couldn't insurance cover the tests?
The short answer is that the tests don't exist. Cancer is still a hard problem that's a mess of environment and genetic factors. The tests that do exist (e.g. the PSA test for prostrate cancer) often have limited utility.
If you want to fix that help do basic research, or fund basic research. It's not a conspiracy. It's just a really, really hard problem.
The problem with MRIs is that there are so many false positives, but maybe regular scanning would help reduce that noise?
It is thought that most people fight cancer 5-6 times in their life before anything is ever detected.
Ian (M) Banks is amazing and will be sorely missed.
I can't believe there won't be any more Culture novels.
I just wish he'll live the most playful last months of his life with his soon-to-be wife. We cannot wish for anything less.
I think he enjoys broad popularity just about everywhere in SF fan circles.
If you go into an American book store, you may find a couple of Banks books in the SF section, if it's a large and intelligent store. In my brief experience trying this, if you do the same in a British book store, you'll generally find his entire bibliography, SF and non.
Ditto in my bookcase, and I'm in NL, not the UK...
This is a lamentable loss indeed. It really grieves me that my shelf of Culture novels will likely never grow again.
Fuck this fucking disease. It really makes me angry. The lives cut short, all those possibilities lost. We need to fix this bug and soon.
I feel selfish for being sad that his last book is an Iain Banks book vs. Iain M. Banks (culture). :(
Also, I would research if anything ever happened with this:
My two favorites of his I think will always be Use of Weapons and Look to Windward. Coincidentally, I just started re-reading Excession last night.
"For example, I don't much enjoy reading Iain M. Banks, simply because his world-view and mine don't coincide much; but I’ve learned an enormous amount from his masterful use of structure and language." -- KJ Parker (http://www.orbitbooks.net/interview/k-j-parker/)
But Iain Banks criticizing and then praising his own work under a pseudonym is something he would think was very funny.
In keeping with his macabre sense of humour I hope he has a suitable Culture Ship names for the coffin. Dwindling Gravitas (VFP)?
Definitely very sad news.
In fact go give all of his books a try (hey - we're allowed to read non-SF here too aren't we ;-)
"Two days ago I decided to kill myself. I would walk and hitch and sail away from this dark city to the bright spaces of the wet west coast, and there throw myself into the tall, glittering seas beyond Iona (with its cargo of mouldering kings) to let the gulls and seals and tides have their way with my remains, and in my dying moments look forward to an encounter with Staffa’s six-sided columns and Fingal’s cave; or I might head south to Corryvrecken, to be spun inside the whirlpool and listen with my waterlogged deaf ears to its mile-wide voice ringing over the wave-race; or be borne north, to where the white sands sing and coral hides, pink-fingered and hard-soft, beneath the ocean swell, and the rampart cliffs climb thousand-foot above the seething acres of milky foam, rainbow-buttressed.
Last night I changed my mind and decided to stay alive. Everything that follows is . . . just to try and explain."
He is a good literary writer, and I think that is what makes him such a good sci-fi writer. I had never read any sci-fi like it when I first read him. There are still very few good writers in sci-fi.
Man grow out of this world, created awesome books, then he changed to something else. World as it is, is because he is.
Why are you in favor of poverty and global warming, and against asteroid mining and starships? There's so much more you can do while you're alive than you can do while you're dead; and attempting to extend your time alive does not preclude enjoying it.
We hate cancer because it takes from us those who wish to give so much without consideration. An indiscriminate killer that wastes our treasures away before our eyes, leaving us with only memories, partially realized dreams and the rage of "why now, when there was so much more good to be done?!"
Sure, you may not want people to live forever, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the above comment; indeed, what you've said might be viewed as somewhat callous when considering the context that someone has revealed that they have terminal cancer.
He knows it's terminal (it's spread all over the place), and if he chooses to live the rest of his life on his own terms and not enduring the significant side effects of chemo, then it's his choice and good luck to him.
My grandmother refused chemo (cancer in bowel, liver, lymph nodes) and I think she made the right choice.
There are few things that prolong life, most of them prolong the suffering and increase the emotional drain on the loved ones.
I wish him to make the most of what he has left.
Cancer sucks worse if you put everything in your life off.
Cancer treatments is still ridiculously primitive, unfortunately, largely boiling down to doing lots of damage while trying to keep the patient alive longer than the cancer.
1. Modern supportive care means that chemotherapy does not involve constant vomiting, pain and torment. Some patients work and look after their family in between having chemotherapy. For example, in a large study on the efficacy of chemotherapy in biliary tract cancers including gallbladder cancer the rates of severe vomiting were only 5% (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0908721). And when it does happen, it doesn't go on for 'months'.
2. If you shrink the cancer people feel better ie treatment can improve quality of life, that's why we do it.
3. Some cancers are indolent. This means that people can live for a long time with them, whether they have treatment or not. See Stephen Jay Gould's essay for example (http://www.cancerguide.org/median_not_msg.html)
4. Participating in clinical trials is a standard part of cancer management. You don't have to be famous to receive experimental therapies if you want them.
Having said all that, chemotherapy IS primitive and doesn't work as well as it should, and hopefully we won't still be using the same stuff we are now in 50 years. But it can help people, and trying it is not crazy or hopeless, and an extra couple of months might mean a lot to a particular individual.
Best case: your cancer is contained to a single organ and susceptible to antibody therapy. Practically no side effects, and you'll most likely be healed.
Worst case: your cancer has spread to multiple organs, requires the use of cytotoxics and your body reacts badly to those. You're better off setting yourself on fire - at least then you'll have to endure at most a few days of excrutiating pain before you die. No, that is not an exaggeration.
Source: my girlfriend who works as a nurse in a cancer ward specializing in chemotherapy.
Most importantly: make that decision yourself while you can! Don't leave it to the doctors (who only learn ways to keep patients alive at all costs, not ways to decide whether it's better to let them die) or your relatives (who'll tell the doctors to do everything humanly possible to assuage their feelings of helplessness and guilt).
That plainly isn't true. Why come to HN to make hyperbolic generalisations about cancer therapy? There are many people with advanced widespread disease who choose to have treatment. Are you suggesting that they are all foolish or coerced by doctors? Really? Would you be happy to come down to my cancer hospital and tell the 33 year old woman with 2 young children that she is better off "setting herself on fire" than having chemotherapy?
Your last statement also is incorrect. I spend just as much time talking about stopping therapy and options that don't involve chemotherapy as I do about giving chemotherapy.
Source: I'm training to be an oncologist.
That was not a generalization; I explicitly labelled it as "worst case", but what actually happened to one of my girlfriend's patients is that as a reaction to the cytotoxics, his entire skin started to dissolve. This may have been an extremely rare special case, but it did happen, and the doctors in charge didn't stop the therapy even then. The patient died after suffering effectively as a burn victim for 2 weeks.
It's great to hear that you are willing (and presumably trained) to consider non-therapy as an option as much as whatever the newest miracle cure is, but that's definitely no the case for all oncologists everywhere.
Having seen a bad reaction to chemo up close, I can confirm that it is pretty awful, and that I'd certainly have to think before choosing between a bad chemo reaction and setting myself on fire.
Sorry for your loss.
Going through chemo isn't free of suffering. And in cases like Iain's it's often a question of having a "normal" 6 months of life or a miserable 8 months via chemotherapy.
My dad died in 1990 when I was 10 from cancer. He fought until the end. I spent 2 years from the time I was 8 till March 1990 watching this man do what he could to survive. I've sworn that if I ever develop cancer, I too will do whatever I can to survive. The point is that if there's a remote chance of me beating it, I can deal with temporary suffering for long-term survival.
The second reason is more that Ian Banks is one of my favorite authors. My imagination has been shaped by the worlds and stories he's created ever since I was a boy. I was introduced to his Consider Phlebas while my dad was sick and have read nearly all of his work since then. For me, this is all closely tied together emotionally.
Either way, I can respect his choices. They won't be my choices, but I can understand why.
(Or might be plastinated  in the alternate history thread in which people actually got up and started to do something about death in the late 1930s , when the chemical industry started to be up to the task of building a mass plastination concern).
If you've made no preparations but still have $200,000 or so sitting around, then the certainty of oblivion is still your choice, even at the last minute. (Most people who are cryopreserved fund it through life insurance taken out decades earlier). No judgement on that choice is offered, as the right to vanish is a good right, just judgement on the fact that while other options do exist, they might be far more available for everyone and better thought of were the world just a little bit different.
As an ex-biologist, I can assure you that horrible cellular damage is being committed to these "preserved" people. I used to flash-freeze all sorts of cells, ranging from bacteria (e. coli) to animal (IMCD3 and MDCK kidney) to human (Human Embryonic Kidney, Primary cortical and hippocampal neurons).
These protocols are pretty simple. Pellet and re-suspend a small vial of cells to dilute out the media, replace with a special preservation media then dunk the entire 5mL vial in a big pot of liquid nitrogen for a few minutes. Then it goes into the deep freezer (-80C).
Sadly, even though this is a tiny aliquot that is frozen almost instantly, cell death on thawing and resuspension is immense. Like, it's a good day if 50% of the cells live. It usually doesn't matter, since these cell lines are immortalized and they just start growing again, but it illustrates the point. Despite the most ideal circumstances, cells hate to be frozen.
Now, imagine you are trying to flash freeze an entire body. They do this by perfusing preservation media through your blood, relying on your body's circulatory system to get the media in all the right places. This takes time. Perfusing a small mouse with formaldehyde takes at least 5-10 minutes. A human body? Practically ages I would guess.
All the while, cells are dieing left and right because they are no longer getting a steady supply of oxygen (and instead a bath of relatively cytotoxic preservation media). When the body is finally perfused fully and dunked into liquid nitrogen...flash freezing isn't immediate. The outer layers freeze much faster than the inner layers.
Ok, so just freeze the brain? Same problem as before, just on a slightly smaller scale.
Ignoring all the cell death that has been happening for the last hour, how about thawing? Well, let's pretend its a "good day" and 50% of your cells live. That might be ok for your skin, liver, or spleen - they are going to be unhappy but still alive. But 50% of your neurons dieing? Hmm. Also take into account that neurons don't regenerate. You just killed half your brain. Even super optimistic numbers, 70%-80% survival rate, still leave a lot of your brain as goo.
This is all just biology. I'm not even touching the morals and ethics of companies that are under no obligation to actually do what you paid them to do (since you are dead).
Or for a simpler starting point, the FAQs for scientists at Alcor:
You might also look at ongoing results from the Brain Preservation Technology Prize:
Evidence-Based Cryonics has a lot of as-unbiased-as-you're-going-to-get stuff on the perfusion and ischemia issues associated with vitrification of tissue, as well as explorations of other commonly voiced objections. Just wade through the archives:
Also, since we seem to be arguing from authority here, you might look at this, noting that a number of the signatories are quite well known biologists:
Like I said, the current state of "businses cryonics" is basically astrology and wishful thinking. I also don't doubt that in ten, twenty, fifty years, scientists will have figured out how to do it (much better).
But right now? I'm saying nope.
(Addendum: most of those publications listed at 21cm are about thin slices, which isn't exactly relevant. The even better ones are oocytes, which are practically tanks of the cellular world. Drosophila oocytes are so large you can see them with your naked eye and can withstand enormous punishment before dieing. Using them as case studies of vitrification is not really being honest.
This brings me back to my original point: the science is solid...at an academic level. Once you move past 50 micron tissue slices, it all goes to hell.)
As for the problem of outer layers freezing faster than inner layers, I think this is mostly addressed by filling the brain with anti-freeze first.
Now, I'm rather skeptical of the whole process myself, but the crynoics guys understand biology 101.
If someone could freeze at least a small insect brain after it "learned something", unfreeze it and prove that it retained what it learned, I might have at least a grain of faith in this. Even getting an insect ganglia out on a feeder plate with electrodes, training it to respond in a way to a certain sequence of input electrical impulses and proving that after thawing and reanimation it still preserves that memory would light a spark of faith, but we don't even have this!
Understanding "biology 101" means understanding that biology is about experiments, everyth is empirical (and will be for quite some time I guess), nothing can be said that "it works" in biology or medicine until you experimentally prove it does. Maybe in a few centuries we'll have cool equations describing life and have something like "theoretical biology" that will be like theoretical physics is to physics (no, what we call "theoretical biology" nowadays is not that!). Show me some equations (derived from experiments, of course, and that can predict other experiments of course) describing the amount of information relevant to a human's personality that can be recovered from a frozen brain! If you can't, prove it experimentally. If you can't... bad luck! With the kinds of probabilities involved in biology, "good things" (like being lucky to be able to revive a frozen human brain) don't happen by chance!
"Nature"/"The universe"/"God" is NOT on our side on this path, so there's no room for optimistic thinking, we can only rely on cold (literally) hard science and math!
Cryopreservation advocates do not claim that the process is proven to be work, they claim that the chance may be small, but it's non-zero.
>"Nature"/"The universe"/"God" is NOT on our side on this path, so there's no room for optimistic thinking, we can only rely on cold (literally) hard science and math!
I don't even know where you're going with this discourse. If you're a utilitarian rationalist you can estimate the chance of success for cryopreservation and revival. It's quite easy to show that if the probability is non-zero, then it's beneficial to make such a bet, as the possible positive utility can be huge if the cryopreservation is succesful.
If you think that probability estimates are "not science" and therefore "irrational", you don't know what you're talking about. If you think that current scientific evidence shows that the chance of revival is zero, then you're clearly wrong (and that would contradict your own claims, as zero chance would mean there's no need to make any new experiments).
They implicitly claim that not only is the chance non-zero, but that it's large enough to be worth the opportunity cost of actually freezing people. I agree that a non-zero chance seems obvious, but this claim definitely does not, and needs a lot more substantiation than there actually is.
It is true that chances can't just be "non-zero" and be rational, nor simply based on faith, because that's basically Pascal's Wager. However I think my 1-10% gut feeling is something that I could probably be talked out of if it were really arbitrarily low like people keep assuming.
Assuming that probability range, I think selling to ordinary people is pretty defensible at $50k-$500k rates, because we already spend around $5M to avoid accidental deaths via regulatory tradeoffs. If it is lower (0.1% say) and yet still not arbitrarily low, we would then need to restrict to either very rich or very desperate people (where the ratio of marginal utility of life to marginal utility of a dollar differs significantly from the norm). Arbitrarily low chances literally on level with egyptian mummification or worshipping a random god is definitely not something that should be sold to anyone (except as a novelty maybe).
Note also that cryonics storage cost is influenced by economies of scale, so mass-produced cryonics is likely to be a lot less expensive per person than the cost you see on the market today. If you could seriously measure a non-arbitrary 0.01% it wouldn't necessarily be impossible to justify even on the mass market and even to relatively death-complacent people -- it would just have to be very cheap for them. Granted, gut feelings are hard to calibrate well to reality at such extremes (hence lottery tickets) so I'm not going to seriously argue that, I'm just saying this to give you a feel for why I think there's a need for fairly strong counterargument before you can reasonably take the position that cryonics is just innately bad/fraudulent business.
I also anticipate various positive externalities from the cryonics business, such as sooner (eventual) development of suspended animation of the damage-free variety, which has potential to save a lot of lives and spare a lot of suffering. These too should be accounted for as part of a robust criticism.
You can look it this way: life after rewarming can last for hundreds of years, easily a thousand as medical technology will have advanced at that point. People are currently willing to pay $100k in medical bills to extend their life by about one year with 50% chance, which means that the cost is $200k per year.
Cryopreservation also costs about $100k (slightly more in real life I guess, I'm rounding numbers for simplicity).
If cryopreservation has a 1% of success to extend life by 1000 years for $100k, then they will "buy" 1 year for $10k. Of course, you can change the numbers (in any direction), e.g. 100 years of life would come out to $100k per year, still cheaper than what most people are willing to pay today to live slightly longer. The 1% success rate is rather pessimistic, too.
If you take quality of life into consideration, the argument starts to favour cryonics quite heavily (we can assume that life is a lot better in the future thanks to advancement of technology).
Where do you get that? From what little I understand, 1% seems highly optimistic, given how destructive the freezing process is at the moment.
I'm just emphasizing that this technology is not a realistic solution to anything, just as a lottery ticket is not a solution for one's financial problems. I may choose to buy a lottery ticket myself, same as I may choose to have my head frozen, but I'm not going to consider this as a real solution to any problem - just like a lottery ticket, it may have more "entertainment" value than real value (though the "entertainment" value may be enough for me to buy it).
My only point is that we should always see the difference between "lottery tickets" and real solutions, and always see the former as what they are: hope growing "entertainment" forms... I know, most people don't like this way of looking at things and label it "dark and gloomy", but it's how I see it :)
As we're using analogies: we know that machine-flight is possible. But how many people broke their legs after gluing feathers to wings strapped to their arms and jumping off a barn, flapping wildly, before Kitty Hawk flew?
I am all for keeping a bit of hope alive, but a non-zero chance argument on its own is not enough. What is the probability exactly, can it be proven.
The "non-zero" argument can be fixed simply by comparing relative likelihoods, or noting that while one can't ever rationally believe with 0% probability, you can use epsilon as a substitute for "it's more than 0 but I can't measure how much because it's so small". Personally I think there's enough evidence to put religious ideas of afterlife far below the probability of a single sha256 hash resulting in a new block in the bitcoin blockchain: http://blockexplorer.com/q/probability
Actually, you can get away with assigning anything you want. That's hidden in the assumption that the criteria he lists are more-or-less independent.
> You might have a different list of criteria or different probabilities, but the point is to lay them down and give a reason why you think it's unlikely enough not to pay the small sum of money.
You've got the burden of proof backward. The cryonics advocates are the ones trying to argue that cryonics will work with sufficiently high probability to make investing in it worthwhile. The grandparent cited 5% as if that figure had even one significant digit -- which it doesn't, by Hanson's own calculation.
> It also lets others argue with you over your estimates, because they might have information you don't, now or in future years.
It also lets others argue even if they don't have new information, which just wastes everyone's time. The same phenomena also occurs with the Drake equation.
Part of this isn't really biology (as we know it) though, so I'm not sure that biologists who criticize are seeing the whole picture. Look at it like a cryptographer: Is putting a brain in liquid nitrogen a secure erasure method against all future attacks from a determined opponent with lots of resources? Would you trust your financial data to such a method of data erasure?
> "Nature"/"The universe"/"God" is NOT on our side on this path, so there's no room for optimistic thinking, we can only rely on cold (literally) hard science and math!
I like this sentiment, I wish more cryonics people took it to heart, but at the same time I don't believe that "The Force" is actually against us. There is some reasonable burden of proof on the assertion that the data is is utterly gone and out of reach of all realistic future technology.
Actually, they mostly understand Psychology 101, which is that people are willing to pay unlimited amounts of money for the promise of life after death. SEE ALSO: turning lead into gold.
> Alcor has no company owners to profit from cryonics, salaries are modest, and the Board of Directors serves without pay.
Why not cut out the middle-man? Just do a full brain scan and store the digital data until the nano-bots arrive? Then just recreate brains within stock bodies or some virtual/machine environment?
Clinging to the freezing and thawing, when you're forced to concede they won't actually work and then having to invent far superior technologies, but only applying them as a band-aid over the broken technology, looks an awful lot more like someone with a belief grasping for intellectual cover, rather than someone with an intellectual understanding positing solutions.
Because we don't currently have the technology to either scan or store a 3-d scan of your brain in the same resolution you can get by physically perfusing it with antifreeze and dropping it into a bucket of liquid nitrogen.
Even the lesser amount of damage may be too much. Cryonics is a bet that it is not.
What we know about the rest of the world is that this does not work, it will cause extensive damage even if it could work, so it would not necessarily re-generate the same person even if it did work  and that humans are notoriously awful at projecting technological advances 50 years out, to say nothing of our track record of projections even further.
Extrapolation of current technology, from any particular point in our history, points us in wildly incorrect directions. See: the history of people proclaiming us on the verge of vanquishing death. "too cheap to meter" energy. Nuclear cars. Flying cars. Lab-grown meat. Off-world colonies in the far-off year 2000. Choose an AI prediction. Choose a cloning prediction.
The notion that some technology has worked in the past, so a particular technology has some chance of working, is as flawed as "it appeared that my last prayer was answered, so my next one has a chance". Both require selective reporting from the available data to even entertain.
 There are no shortage of case studies of people who've sustained comparatively minor brain trauma and been reduced to mere shadows of themselves, if not manifested new and almost entirely different personalities.
You might as well argue that nano-bots will be able to reanimate a body that has decomposed, and save money on all the freezing equipment. Perhaps that will be the case if given enough time, but we seem to be a long way away from that technology.
The business model seems to be "give us money now, and the technology that could make this work will probably be invented soon enough. Probably".
No, you might not as well argue that. If you think you can, then please argue how you can retrive information from a completely decomposed brain. On the other hand, it's pretty reasonable to assume that a cryopreserved brain preserves a lot of the information in the brain.
No! That's not at all reasonable. We understand very little about brains. We understand even less about deep-frozen brains.
Sounds like that "cargo cult" variety of science.
Both of these things are impossible, at the current level of tech.
One or both of them might become possible through the use of sufficiently advanced technology.
> On the other hand, it's pretty reasonable to assume that a cryopreserved brain preserves a lot of the information in the brain.
See, I don't think it's reasonable to assume this.
I believe that both of these things are equally possible - that is, not very possible at all.
I believe it's incorrect to claim that the probability that a cryopreserved brain has some information about the brain structure is equal the the probability that a fully decomposed brain has after decades of decomposing (which is the scenario I have in mind).
I just don't understand how someone could make such a proposition. If we dig up a decomposed brain, it's just pretty much completely destroyed (e.g. fully decomposed) if we look at it with a microscope. I'm assuming that we're not talking about rare niche cases of fossilization etc.
To have an idea of how much information vitrification preserves, you should know that a kidney can be frozen and thawed, and replanted to a live animal.
We can also look at neural tissue after vitrification, like here: http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/braincryopreservation1.htm...
After you've looked at this probably new evidence presented to you, do you still seriously claim that it's exactly equally as possible to retrive information from a cryopreserved brain as it is from a decomposed brain?
I don't believe you actually think that. I think that you've made the mistake to take two extremely unequal yet different and small probabilities to mean exactly the same.
If you assume that the probability that cryopreservation is 0.1%, then you should think that the probability to retrieve information from a decomposed brain to be lower than 0.001%. They're both really small, but they're not unequal.
Do you think that the probability is exactly the same? I rate such beliefs as not only wrong, but ignorant of empirical evidence.
You are taking me literally, when you shouldn't - I was being flippant. Of course it is unlikely we will ever make the technology that can take the dust that, decades ago, used to make up a human brain, and somehow retrieve information from it.
The point I am making is that you said:
I flippantly argued that if your argument is "it's reasonable to assume science will solve the problem for us", you could apply that to essentially anything.
It used to be reasonable to assume that the world is flat, or that the world was the center of the universe.
I do not think we will somehow invent a machine that turns dust in to a working brain.
I do think that "it's reasonable to assume" is faulty logic when talking about something that is beyond the current reach of science, and should be questioned at every possible opportunity.
Now, you might say "but Mike, I provided links that back up my assumption" - and if that's the case, you are no longer "reasonably assuming" that this is true, but basing your belief of the scientific literature that outlines how such a thing is done. :)
Well, I don't believe that anything is reasonable, that applies merely to reasonable things.
>I do think that "it's reasonable to assume" is faulty logic when talking about something that is beyond the current reach of science, and should be questioned at every possible opportunity.
Just because it's beyond the reach of technology, doesn't mean it's faulty to talk about it. It's clear that it will be possible in principle to travel to other planets, cure aging etc., but we don't have the technology for that yet.
And what's a brain antifreeze? Even biocompatible antifreeze proteins found in arctic oceans have a thermal threshold of 269K, which is no where near cryogenic temperature.
Vitrification avoids ice. Nanobots could e.g. remove toxic compounds from extracellular areas and replace them with nontoxic solutions, and deliver yet-to-be-invented drugs that would activate upon thawing.
> Even biocompatible antifreeze proteins found in arctic oceans have a thermal threshold of 269K, which is no where near cryogenic temperature.
The stuff invented by 21st Century Medicine and used to successfully cryopreserve a rabbit kidney is a combination of the ordinary kind of penetrating antifreeze that depresses the freezing point (glycerol, EG, DMSO, and the like) with polymers that inhibit ice nucleation (functionally similar to antifreeze proteins). It has been known for a while that you can vitrify slowly by using high concentrations of the former kind of solute (depress the freezing temperature to below the glass transition temperature and the cooling rate no longer matters) but the latter lets you get away with somewhat more water in the mix, is my understanding.
There's a tradeoff when you cool things, where if you get cold enough it slows toxicity. They don't perfuse with the stuff until the brain is already cooled to near 0 degrees C, and it is ramped in concentration over time to prevent osmotic shock.
They're not making any money off this, Alcor is a non-profit and the wages of the personnel involved are fairly low.
Not going to happen.
“We know that secondary memory does not depend on continued activity of the nervous system, because the brain can be totally inactivated by cooling, by general anesthesia, by hypoxia, by ischemia, or by any method, and yet secondary memories that have been previously stored are still retained when the brain becomes active once again. Therefore, secondary memory must result from some actual alterations of the synapses, either physical or chemical.” — Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur C. Guyton (W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1986), page 658.
“Procedural and declarative memories differ dramatically. They use a different logic (unconscious vs. conscious recall) and they are stored in different areas of the brain. Nevertheless, these two disparate memory processes share several molecular steps and an overall molecular logic. Both are created in at least two stages: one that does not require the synthesis of new proteins and one that does. In both, short-term memory involves covalent modification of preexisting proteins and changes in the strength of preexisting synaptic connections, whereas long-term memory requires the synthesis of new proteins and the growth of new connections. Moreover, both forms of memory use PKA, mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), CREB-1, and CREB-2 signaling pathways to convert short-term to long-term memory. Finally, both forms appear to use morphological changes at synapses to stabilize long-term memory.” — “Synapses and Memory Storage” by Mayford M, Siegelbaum SA, and Kandel ER. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, April 10, 2012, page 10.
If you take a HD and write over half the bits with zeroes, you will not be recovering much useful information from that with digital forensics.
No, that's not very rational. Cryopreservation may have low chances of success, but it's like a billion billion billion times better than just dying (which has zero chance of success). Nobody is claiming that cryopreservation is very probable, but it's a lot better than nothing.
>Now, imagine you are trying to flash freeze an entire body.
I don't think your critique is very relevant, when almost all cryopreservation is only done to the brain, not the whole body.
>Ignoring all the cell death that has been happening for the last hour, how about thawing?
Thawing is not relevant to be discussed at this point, because the bodies will not be thawed using current technology. If the cryopreserved brain has enough information to be reconstructed, it will be done at some point using advanced nanotechnology. Nobody will be thawing brains using 21st century technology.
> I'm not even touching the morals and ethics of companies that are under no obligation to actually do what you paid them to do (since you are dead).
Yes, there are risks. Nobody is claiming that cryopreservation has a very high chance of success. It's a lot better than nothing, though. By the way, thse cryocompanies or organizations tend to be owned and supervised by relatives of the cryopreserved people. These managers also want to get cryopreserved themselves, and want to reconstruct their own relatives. In addition, there's great scientific value of bringing 100 year old people back alive.
By the way, scientists don't refer to the cryopreversation as freezing, they call it vitrification.
That's basically Pascal Bet (if there's God you get infinite payoff, if there's no God you get finite negative payoff (wasted time caused by being believer), so to maximize payoff you should believe in God). The problem is - there are very many possible gods, many of them incompatibile with each other. You should consider the bet with ALL gods as possible options, not just some god versus no god.
Same with the cryogenic. You should consider the possibility that freezing you with our poor technology can make you unrecoverable, while some other technology could allow you to be saved eventually.
Also I'm sorry for Mr Banks, I love his books about Culture.
Yes, and that's rational. If there's another preservation technology that's better than cryopreservation, we should adopt that. There's nothing irrational about that. You just need to first invent such technology, and then provide evidence that it's better than current vitrification tech.
This has happened in the past. A few decades ago the preservation method was changed from freezing to vitrification, after vitrification was shown to be better.
Ok, I'll give you that there is a non-zero chance. Other's have touched upon that in this thread, and I would contend that giving 200k to some family/friend is more useful than throwing it away, but it's your money. If you are happy with a negligible-but-non-zero chance, go for it.
>I don't think your critique is very relevant, when almost all cryopreservation is only done to the brain, not the whole body.
There is exactly zero evidence that a brain/mind is functional without it's body. And there is currently no computer simulation or interface capable of simulating a human body and its various sensory input, so this is a moot point.
>Thawing is not relevant to be discussed at this point, because the bodies will not be thawed using current technology. If the cryopreserved brain has enough information to be reconstructed, it will be done at some point using advanced nanotechnology. Nobody will be thawing brains using 21st century technology.
Bit of a cop-out, no? Is the flying spaghetti monster going to thaw you? At this point your theories are no better than saying a big bearded guy in the sky is going to resurrect you. Except he'll do it for free.
>By the way, scientists don't refer to the cryopreversation as freezing, they call it vitrification.
I guess I wasn't a classically trained biologist working in neuroscience labs for 6 years then, sorry. Also, it was before my cup of coffee in the morning.
Appropriate terminology or no, my points were and are still valid.
My understanding is that head transplants actually have been done in mammals with retention of consciousness.
So no, I wouldn't say "exactly zero evidence".
> Ok, I'll give you that there is a non-zero chance. Other's have touched upon that in this thread, and I would contend that giving 200k to some family/friend is more useful than throwing it away, but it's your money. If you are happy with a negligible-but-non-zero chance, go for it.
I basically agree that there's a minimal standard of evidence for cryonics working that is required for it to be worth more to an individual than giving the $200k to family and friends. However, it is not clear whether cryonics-as-it-exists exceeds that mark or not. I would think it does. Estimate $5M per life, and chances in the 1-10% range are reasonable for the cost.
>> Nobody will be thawing brains using 21st century technology.
> Bit of a cop-out, no?
Not really. There are things we can justifiably think are possible but too technically difficult to accomplish in the very near term. Comprehensively curing cancer for example. It's going to happen, but it will take a while. Likewise, machine-phase nanotech that can operate at very low temperatures to perform subtle manipulations on vitreous biological materials which improve its ability to support itself during rewarming.
The thing is, when you rewarm cells in the lab after freezing them, they incur damage during rewarming. For example, if the vitrification point is below the freezing point, that means ice will try to form if it has a chance to during rewarming. In situations where extracellular ice exists, it will melt during rewarming and thus cause osmotic shock to the dehydrated cell.
In the concentrated solute version of vitrification like we see in cryonics, the concern is more that the concentrated solutes will interact with proteins when they get warm enough to do so. That can denature them and trigger autolysis. So prior to rewarming, picture a machine-phase manipulation that digs in and gently pulls out chunks of toxic cryoprotectant, and replaces them with something more benign for the thawing process. It could also add drugs that haven't been invented yet, e.g. a comprehensive autolysis blocker, or improved ice blocker that lets you replace some of the vitrificant with water and still take your time rewarming.
That's not getting into nano-repair, which is complex enough that I would concede it could be implausible (though I don't exactly think it needs to be ruled out at this point).
I don't know about that. I have this pet theory that our minds exist in a 5-dimensional non-euclidean space for which our brains serve as mere substrates, much as a CPU is merely a substrate for the running of a software program. I'm not saying you should adopt this theory (especially considering that I don't feel like explaining it and have only tenuous evidence, so it's basically a deeply-felt hunch), but nor do I accept your contention that it's freezing or nothing with no other alternative. For that matter I'm not convinced oblivion is so awful either, but that's more of a philosophical argument.
'I am the Iain (M) Banks,' the ship said, through the drone.
'That's a weird name. How did you end up calling yourself that?'
The remote drone dipped one front corner slightly, its equivalent of a shrug. 'It's a long story . . .'
IMHO this is the cryo equivalent of an ethnic slur. Cryophobia, if you will. It meets the "you can't change this thing about yourself so we outsiders are going to make fun of you for it, nyah nyah" pattern while being devoid of useful information content. Cryonics proponents do not readily concede the point that patients are technically dead, based on the evidence available.
The legal status (which is a fully independent use of the term "dead" and can be readily conceded with absolutely zero consequence to the technical argument) is something else, but if you are implying that cryonics companies would therefore be within their legal rights to dump their patients, that could just as easily be seen as a problem with the law (i.e. it fails to adequately protect cryonics patients). So it's not clear to me why you would think this is an innate ethical shortcoming of the choice to practice cryonics in the first place.
> companies that are under no obligation to actually do what you paid them to do
It certainly would contradict the purpose, and likely the bylaws, of a cryonics organization to fail to keep patients safe, for at least the period of time that is realistic given the limits of initial funding and uncontrollable factors world economic stability. (100 years is definitely more reasonable than a million.) Assuming the funds set aside experience real growth above the rate of inflation, the risk could actually decline over time because the financial safety net would be larger.
One possible approach if you think the time is going to be long before the needed technology is available, would be to allocate funding towards measures designed to stabilize the economy, avoid war, and/or prevent natural disasters. The other approach would be to try and create disaster-proof cryobunkers (but there's physical limits, as always).
Everything is temporal, we're merely surfing the entropy gradient for a while.
There is a lot of possible change that does not involve death. I used to buy your argument, but upon reflection I've decided that it does not automatically follow from simple considerations. We need to be a lot smarter to know the answer for sure. Just as negative temperatures are possible, death-free eternities may also be possible.
Lifespan increase is certainly a stronger possibility than immortality, and is therefore a stronger motive to pursue cryonics. So why is so much space wasted talking about it every time someone suggests cryonics? The thousand year or so extension we could reasonably expect with a good aging cure and decent public safety is pretty significant regardless of eternal considerations.
The deathism of this thread, on a site read by technically-oriented people, where problably many agree with the computational theory of mind really makes me lose hope in the human kind.
It's not thinking that cryonics is not worth it. That's a reasonable position. I'm undecided myself. It's that response, that fighting death is somehow unethical or naive. That Death is Good, Part of the Cosmos, Don't You Dare, whatever.
Man, talk about Stockholm syndrome. Well, fuck it:
>>> DEATH IS BAD. <<<<
Yes it is. We die because we don't know how to avoid it, not because is good, natural, right or proper. Our bodies are machines that we don't know how to repair. That's all. We may invent lies to make ourselves feel better and maybe that's a natural strategy to cope with the HORROR that is death, but we are still fooling ourselves, and most likely keeping the problem from being solved.
Immortality is not something our society can simply add to its current socio-economic make-up. Some fundamental changes would have to be made in order for the situation to be at all morally satisfactory and not utterly revolting and depressing. And no doubt any attempted change would take at least 50 years for the wild oscillations to even out.
There are some things that happened to my physical body that I cannot now, nor never will remember. Is that bad? There are memories I have that my physical body never really experienced. Is it bad that that person never existed? If I forget those, will that be bad?
Suffering is bad. Death is the ultimate destiny of all which was once alive. It is tempting for a brain state looking ahead to its demise to say that one or ten or one hundred years is too few, and if we had one thousand, or one million, or one million million, that would be enough. But I know no reason that should be true.
I look forward and see a descendant of humanity surviving to witness, in itself, the heat death of the universe. As every resource has been expended to maintain its consciousness, while the last holes fill in with entropy, it remembers everything that has ever happened, and it is looking forward with its dying thoughts to an infinity times an infinity as many lifetimes of nothingness which will follow, and I do not want it to weep that it will cease to be. I want it to stride boldly into oblivion, knowing that it has done its best, and with some glimmer of hope and pride for what, in some yet unconceived corner of possibility space, might be.
And I want that peace for every consciousness and form of consciousness, however transient, that experiences itself from now until then, be they animal, vegetable, or mineral.
Of course we should fight aging, with every resource we can muster, because aging is suffering. But we should not hate death, because that too is suffering.
To bring it back around... Iain M. Banks will die, very soon. Many people here are extremely distraught about this, and I am one of them. He has a choice to make, whether to make some attempt to extend his life at some expense to his remaining quality of life. It sounds as if he will choose not to. Many will, in grief, hate him for that choice. They are grieving, and it is natural, but that idea abstracted is selfish and it is evil. Iain Banks will die, and he will be fine. It is we who grieve who deserve peace, and I and others feel that peace is contained in this truth:
Death is okay.
It is not great. We do not love it. We can and will work to destroy it. But we will not succeed, and that is -- that must be -- okay.
To put it bluntly, any machine becomes harder to repair over time, and some machines become so out of date as to become worthless except as curiosities anyway. People are no different. What would we ever do with 100 million nineteenth century people? The 23rd century should have as little use for us.
Galaxies die and so do we.
"Firmly restating his atheism, Banks spoke of his belief that death is an important 'part of the totality of life', to be treated realistically, not feared."
Please be strong and live every minute to the fullest.
But I do have one constructive comment perhaps someone can get to this author.
>The bottom line, now, I'm afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I'm expected to live for 'several months' and it’s extremely unlikely I'll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.
>As a result, I've withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I've asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry - but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we'll be married and on a short honeymoon.
As great as it will feel - I think this is a disgusting thing to do to a woman and this author should reconsider.
[EDIT: Let me rephrase this to: I think they both should reconsider. I think this is something that Adele will regret, regardless of whether she knows this now, for the reasons I cite below. I say this with some experience.]
What are the two possibilities? That this short marriage and honeymoon will be sad and awkard - or that it will be blissful and happy?
Both of those are terrible, horrible for her to live with for the rest of her life. [Edit: again, something she might not realize now.]
Giving someone a few months of happiness before widowing them is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Even the middle possibility (if the short marriage and honeymoon is neither blissful nor very sad and awkward, but just is) would then simply give someone Widow status.
I think this author should call this particular plan off.
There are a lot of great ways to enjoy life and do the most you can. Please make the best of them all.
Also it is quite possible that Adele would pretty much consider herself a widow for a good while whether or not she married Iain.
I mean, really. I don't think this is a thing being "done to her". I don't know anything about her, but if she's <em>anything</em> like the kinds of women Iain writes about, she's perfectly capable of making her own decisions, and is quite aware of what she's gotten herself into. And is, as you urge in your second sentence, trying to be strong and live life to the fullest.
If you have some actual relevant experience that you would like someone to be aware of, go ahead and share it. Share your own thoughts and feelings about your personal experience as well.
And then STFU. Let them draw their own conclusions. People dying of cancer / watching their loved ones die of cancer really, really, really don't need your moralizing about their choices. They have a giant heap of shit to deal with, and they don't need you flinging a couple of turds on top.