Frozen dead guys

Is cryonics an ambulance into the future or the latest twist on our ancient fantasy of rebirth?

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Human feet frozen in a block of ice. Photo by Jan Stromme/Getty,

Human feet frozen in a block of ice. Photo by Jan Stromme/Getty,

Stephen Cave is a philosopher and journalist. His latest book is Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilisation.

Boulder, Colorado, 1989: the young Norwegian’s phone rang. On the line was his mother in Oslo, where it was already evening; dark with a November chill. She needed to tell him that his beloved grandfather had gone to take a short nap. But he had not woken up: he had had another heart attack in his sleep. He was dead.

The grandfather, Bredo Morstøl, had been a vital, vigorous man, a nature-lover who skied and painted well into old age. He had taken his grandson, Trygve Bauge, with him as soon as the boy was old enough, spending the summers fishing and hiking in the mountains, staying in the high-country cabin that Morstøl had built with his own hands. Not even an earlier heart attack had stopped this active, outdoor life. From his grandfather, Bauge had learnt independence and resilience. Neither man was inclined to give in to ill fortune. Now Morstøl himself could no longer fight back against the assaults of fate, but his grandson could.

The young man persuaded his distraught mother that burial or cremation would be premature, acts of resignation. Bauge had not given up hope of saving his grandfather, even though he was many thousands of miles away. As a child he had read about the idea of suspended animation in a popular science book he had found in his grandfather’s library. Ever since, he had been fascinated by the idea that the terminally ill or even the newly dead could be preserved at super-low temperatures. Then they could simply wait until the day came when technology was advanced enough to repair a failed heart, or even reverse the ravages of ageing itself. What was death, anyway? So Bauge gave his mother detailed instructions to deep-freeze grandpa Morstøl. Then they just had to get him to America.

The procedure for preserving whole human bodies by freezing is known as cryonics. Many believe it is an idea whose time has come. Their logic is simple. There are many diseases that cannot be cured by contemporary medicine, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, so we cannot currently hope to delay death indefinitely. Yet scientific progress is rapid and even appears to be accelerating, to the extent that we might reasonably hope such diseases will find cures in the future. To have a shot at immortality, all we must do is reach that future.

Like most visionaries, his ambition inhabits a middle space between the prophetic and the pathological

For those who simply cannot stay alive long enough, freezing (more formally, ‘cryopreservation’) is a well-established way of delaying degeneration and keeping bodies fresh. Doing this to recently deceased humans — cryonics — is therefore an ambulance into the future, a way of transporting the terminally ill to a time and place where they might be healed. To those who are unconvinced that disease, old age and the damage done by freezing will ever be entirely curable, cryonicists such as Bauge say this: the odds of you rising again from the freezer might not be high, but they are surely better than the odds of you rising again from a small urn full of ashes.

The logic of cryonics is therefore a little like Pascal’s Wager. The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal argued that we don’t know whether God exists but, if He does, a pious life can earn you infinite reward in heaven in return for a relatively small investment in this world. Similarly, cryonicists admit that we can’t know for sure that medical science will become as all-powerful as they hope, but a relatively small financial investment in cryonics will at least buy you a shot at immortality, whereas spending your spare money on a nicer car or a bigger house promises only certain death.

Bauge did not know for sure that he could save his grandfather, but he thought he had a chance. In 1989 the only cryonics facilities were in the US. So he arranged for his grandfather to be flown across the Atlantic, in a steel casket packed with dry ice. Here he was transferred to one of the early cryonics companies, Trans Time in the San Francisco Bay Area, and immersed in liquid nitrogen at -196°C (-320°F), a temperature at which the natural processes of decay and putrefaction come to a halt. Bauge considered this a mere stopover; he had grander plans for rescuing his grandpa.

The young Norwegian’s dream was to found his own cryonics facility, one that could survive whatever perils the future might hold. No one could say how long it would be before the technology would be invented that could repair and reanimate his grandpa, so Bauge had to ensure he was safe until the time came. Having explored many options, he settled for Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, mostly because their inland location would permit a generous 30-minute warning if a nuclear attack was launched from submarines off either of America’s coastlines — he had no idea that the Cold War was coming to an end just as he was finalising his plans. He bought a plot of land above the little town of Nederland, a few miles southwest of — and 3,000ft above — the city of Boulder, with spectacular views and a climate not unlike his native Norway. There he started building.

Bauge was then and remains, at the age of 55, a visionary. Like most visionaries, his ambition inhabits a middle space between the prophetic and the pathological. On the one hand, his dream of a day when we will conquer death is rooted in the very real medical and scientific progress of previous centuries; on the other hand, his single-handed struggle with the Reaper feels like an inability to accept brute reality.

Exactly the same dichotomy permeates the cryonics movement. Its advocates argue using data and logic, yet their practices are broadly perceived as cultish and macabre. Cryonicists consider the rest of us to be deluded, walking blindly towards death, whereas the rest of us see them as fantasists, a little disturbed and a little disturbing, clinging to the corpses of their loved ones like Catholic peasants to a saint’s severed finger. One group or the other must have it badly wrong. The question is, which?

Bauge rigorously followed the logic of death-defiance. The main building he constructed was fireproof, bulletproof and designed to survive earthquakes and mudslides. Nothing would shift it from its outcrop on the windy mountainside. The structure was even designed to withstand nuclear attack (until Bauge decided to put in windows). Form was entirely sacrificed to function, creating a dull grey concrete block with peculiar angles, like something made by a clumsy toddler. In September 1993, Bauge deemed his facility, if not finished, at least habitable, and he and his mother moved in.

But he hadn’t yet built the cutting-edge cryonic storage chambers, so grandpa required temporary digs. These were the early days of cryonics and arrangements were makeshift. The young man quickly threw up a shed behind the main house, where Morstøl’s steel casket could be entombed in dry ice. The following year he even took on a new client, the recently deceased Al Campbell from Chicago, who joined grandpa Morstøl in the ice box. It seemed that both the idea and the practice of cryonics were making progress.

His ageing mother was now alone in the bunker, without mains electricity or running water, halfway up a snowy mountain with the corpses of her father and a stranger in her shed

In fact, the idea of cryopreserving humans has been around for a few centuries. Mary Shelley wrote a short story about it called ‘Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman’ in 1826. Yet the technology required to attempt it has only been available for a few decades. It was only when Bauge was growing up, in the post-war boom years of the 1950s and ’60s when the future seemed so exciting and so imminent, that cryonics was able to establish itself as a philosophy and as a movement.

Its prophet was the American physicist Robert Ettinger. His book The Prospect of Immortality (1964) spelt out how ‘you and I, right now, have a chance to avoid permanent death’. In 1976 he went on to found the non-profit Cryonics Institute in Michigan, whose first frozen client was Ettinger’s own mother. The institute now safeguards 112 preserved human ‘patients’ accompanied by 91 pets. More than 500 paid-up members have reserved their spots in the deep-freeze, while the institute has also been joined by numerous similar organisations in the US and beyond.

Alas, soon after Bauge took on his second cryonic client, his plans for a facility of his own experienced a serious setback: he was deported. Although he had been in the US for 14 years, he had neither a visa nor a Green Card. Indeed, he rejected the very idea of either document on principle, believing them violations of the basic right to freedom of movement. The US immigration service was unmoved by his appeal to ideology, and put him on a plane back to Oslo. His ageing mother was now alone in the bunker, without mains electricity or running water, halfway up a snowy mountain with the corpses of her father and a stranger in her shed. When the Nederland newspaper Mountain-Ear reported on Bauge’s deportation, his unhappy mother lamented that she didn’t know what would now happen to the bodies.

The bodies! Suddenly the local reporter’s story had become a lot more interesting. Police and other town officials were soon examining the suspicious bunker with its cadavers in the cooler for evidence of ill deeds. Even after it was established that Bauge and family were not mass murderers, voices of disgust and outrage dominated the town council. Realising there were currently no legal grounds on which to stop makeshift cryonics centres, the town board passed a law prohibiting the storage of dead bodies on private property. Al Campbell’s family reclaimed his corpse, leaving Grandpa Morstøl alone in his icy tomb under threat of eviction.

Cryonics facilities in other states in the US had been through similar wrangles: Ettinger’s Cryonics Institute is legally designated as a cemetery. This is perhaps unsurprising, as the patients within are decidedly dead by all current legal standards. They have to be, as the processes of cryopreservation would kill anyone as surely as a bullet to the heart. Deep-freezing a human body stops all circulation and brain activity and causes substantial tissue damage. The technology does not currently exist to revive such a body or repair such damage. Cryopreservation can therefore only be done to the legally dead, or it would be murder.

For its advocates, this shows how completely society fails to understand what cryonics is trying to do. Central to the movement is the belief that many of those we bury are not really dead at all. Cryonicists point out that the technological advances of recent decades have forced us to redefine death. Once, death happened when the heart stopped beating, but then we learnt how to restart a heart. It is therefore now mostly defined as brain death. But we might also learn to restart a brain. In fact, this possibility is built into the definition: brain death is understood to be the irreversible end of brain activity. Of course, the question of what is or is not reversible is at least in part a function of our technology. What is permanent today might one day be curable.

One leading cryonics advocate, Aschwin de Wolf, puts it to me like this: ‘If the original state of the brain can be inferred and restored, cryonics patients are not dead … Their identities are still with us in an information-theoretical sense.’ Someone whose brain has stopped working will ordinarily be buried or burned, or they will have their organs harvested. But de Wolf, who edits Cryonics magazine and conducts research on neural cryobiology, believes that a person cannot be considered utterly gone so long as his brain has not yet turned to mush. If his neural networks are still intact, even if no longer active, then there is a sense in which he is still with us. We are therefore burying those who, in his view, are not yet dead.

If advocates such as Bauge and de Wolf could succeed in shifting the definition of death to apply only when the information stored in the brain is physically destroyed, the status of cryonics would change instantly. Instead of an eccentric form of burial, it would be a treatment. Those whose brains were still whole but no longer working would not be considered corpses, but would remain patients — and the only available means to stabilise their condition would be the deep freeze and a long wait for a future cure.

Indeed, if we accept the so-called ‘information-theoretic’ definition of death, then cryonics becomes a moral imperative. The hearts and minds of millions of people every year cease to function due to age and disease, yet for a few hours the structure of their brains remains largely intact. At that point, further degeneration could be halted by cryopreservation, opening up at least the possibility of future rehabilitation. Ettinger, the founder of cryonics, believed it was only a matter of time before the courts made freezing compulsory. Half a century on we still permit millions every year to rot, condemning them to eternal destruction.

But not Bredo Morstøl. His daughter, alone after Bauge's deportation, was not about to concede defeat to local bureaucrats. She roused town residents to support her in opposing this illiberal intervention in her family affairs, winning considerable support in a region known for its sympathy for the radical individualist. The council conceded a ‘grandfather clause’: although the keeping of corpses was generally forbidden, bodies stored on private property prior to the ordinance were allowed to remain. Grandpa Morstøl was, in legal parlance, grandfathered in.

‘The will to live is the very essence of life,’ Bauge told me on the phone from his new home in Oslo. ‘If this is thwarted, we cannot be happy, we cannot be anything.’ The precondition for all ethics, for all action of any kind, is first and foremost that we stay alive. ‘This is the highest goal for any individual,’ he said. Bauge believes we are morally obliged to take responsibility for our own flourishing and to continue to flourish for as long as possible.

He has a clear hierarchy of possibilities for how this continuation might be achieved. Toward the bottom of the list is having children, which preserves a mere 50 per cent of one’s genetic material. Of course, one could have lots of children, so that more of one’s DNA was passed on, but in any given child it would be diluted and shuffled so that none of them would preserve a person’s distinct genetic individuality.

Photo by Morten Holm / Scanpix Trygve Bauge: ‘A day spent ice bathing and in the sauna is a day when you do not age’. Photo by Morten Holm / Scanpix

That could, however, be achieved by cloning, which is next on Bauge’s list as it would preserve 100 per cent of a person’s genes. This is the fallback option planned for his grandfather. In contrast to the Cryonics Institute, Bauge admits that his deep-frozen patient might just be dead. ‘Though it’s not black and white,’ he added; ‘to be clearly dead you have to be warm and dead — if someone is frozen, we can’t say for sure if they’re irrecoverably gone’. Still, he concedes that the freezing of his grandfather was ‘a bit of an experiment’, and not conducted in ideal conditions. The degree of deterioration and the amount of damage incurred by preservation make a full re-animation of the once virile outdoorsman ambitious to say the least. But keeping him on ice will at least preserve his genetic material so that it can be cloned, once again to manifest in manly form.

Bauge envisages a world in which we are engineered from birth to be freezable, so that if the worst should happen, we can immediately be supercooled to maximise our chances of successful repair

Yet Bauge concedes that this is still not real survival: cloning will not preserve someone’s memories; their personality as shaped not just by genes but also experience; their unique consciousness. This is what death claims when it eats away your brain. Unless, of course, you can be properly cryopreserved.

Bauge believes this will soon be possible. He sets his hopes not only on improving the freezing techniques, but also on improving us humans. Some creatures, such as tardigrades (also known as water bears), tiny water-dwelling creatures of extraordinary hardiness, can already survive being frozen. We must learn their genetic secrets and re-engineer our own DNA so we can perform the same trick. Bauge envisages a world in which we are engineered from birth to be freezable, so that if the worst should happen — being hit by a bus, for example — we can immediately be supercooled to maximise our chances of successful repair.

But top of Bauge’s list as the best option of all is simply to stay alive. One might think that those who have a backup plan (he himself is signed up with the Cryonics Institute founded by Ettinger) would be less worried about a piano falling on their heads than those of us without a Plan B. But in fact the reverse is the case: those signing up for cryopreservation services are also trying very hard to ensure they never need them.

De Wolf told me that ‘like most people with cryonics arrangements’ he has ‘a strong interest in life extension and rejuvenation research’. So he tries to eat healthily, exercise and avoid stress. Bauge follows a similar regime with a diet involving a large amount of bean sprouts (‘They are young organisms,’ he explained, ‘and therefore have vitamins and hormones that an ageing body cannot produce.’) And he stays fit through a hobby entirely in keeping with his interest in cryonics: ice bathing. ‘I intend to be frozen and so I’m preparing for it!’ he joked. He claims to have set the world record for ice bathing in open water (as opposed to in a tub of ice, which he argues is much easier) by staying in for one hour and four minutes, and he is proud of having founded a number of ice-bathing clubs around the world. ‘A day spent ice bathing and in the sauna,’ he said, ‘is a day when you do not age’.

Bauge’s plans to stay alive are not limited to diet and exercise: they extend to major engineering projects of which his Colorado bunker is only a modest prototype. He is currently designing medical parks with research, rejuvenation and cryonics facilities that would be protected against the existential threats that loom over our species, though he has yet to find backers. He points out that Norway has many miles of road tunnels under high mountains. If his parks were built in one of these, they would be impervious to pandemics, pollution, nuclear war and even meteor strikes. It is in such time capsules that far-sighted survivors such as Bauge could sleep out Armageddon and one day awaken to a new dawn.

This mix of apocalyptic and utopian thinking characterises the extreme life-extension movement in all its manifestations — and also betrays its true roots. Cryonics is a kind of eschatology, a vision of the End Time, in which earth-shattering events will precede the transcendence of mortality for the chosen few. This is a myth with a millennia-long history.

First will come an End Time of great tribulation and final battles, but this is only a prelude to the creation of paradise on earth

Central to such views is the belief that we are living in a time uniquely important in world history; a time when great forces clash with the potential for both utter destruction and a new beginning. Faith in cryonics does not depend on a coming apocalypse, but its advocates tend to be deeply concerned about one. For Bauge, who grew up during the Cold War, nuclear Armageddon remains the catastrophe of choice. For younger cryonicists, it might be climate change or a new epidemic, or — for the true digital native — the technological singularity, the moment when we create an artificial super-intelligence that might or might not be benign.

The promise of cryonics is that those who succeed in surviving or averting this catastrophe will find themselves transformed. In their new world, science will have solved the problem of death. The frozen bodies will all be thawed, their diseases cured. Ettinger described the reanimated man thus:
After awakening, he may already be again young and virile, having been rejuvenated while unconscious … In any case, he will have the physique of a Charles Atlas if he wants it, and his weary and faded wife, if she chooses, may rival Miss Universe. Much more important, they will be gradually improved in mentality and personality … the future will reveal a wonderful world indeed, a vista to excite the mind and thrill the heart.

Those familiar with the Christian New Testament will recognise this vision immediately. First will come an End Time of great tribulation and final battles, but this is only a prelude to the creation of paradise on earth. This paradise will be enjoyed by the faithful dead, reanimated and restored. St Paul described the resurrected body thus: ‘It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power … For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.’ (1 Corinthians 15)

The common vision is one of transcendence and transformation, the common themes those of fear and hope. This vision reflects our deep desire to leave behind the parlous state of mortality, in which some fatal incident might occur any day and one day surely will. We do not cope well with such existential uncertainty, and so we are more than willing to accept stories of how, very soon, everything will be settled and the problem of death will be solved once and for all.

Is it therefore mad for Trygve Bauge to believe his grandpa might live again? Or for Aschwin de Wolf to expect that Robert Ettinger and his mother will one day rise from their icy tombs? If it is, then it is a kind of madness to which most humans in history have succumbed. It is no madder than the belief that one Jesus of Nazareth spent three days dead only to be raised and once again walk among his followers. Nor is it madder than those who for thousands of years worshipped Osiris in the belief he could reawaken the fallen, or those who underwent the rites of the mystery cults that promised an exit pass for the underworld.

But it is not much less mad either. Cryonics wears a cloak of science and reason, but at its heart is faith. Consider for a moment its assumptions: that technological progress will continue unabated or even accelerate; that all diseases are curable and ageing itself reversible; that the people of the distant future would choose to reawaken all these frozen corpses; that the world could then sustain a population boosted by these reanimated ancestors. These views are themselves not hypotheses from within science, but part of the ideology that supports it: the belief in progress, the transcendence of nature and the possibility of utopia. This is a belief that the Enlightenment project of science owes to apocalyptic religion.

When cryonicists and other techno-utopians argue that their claims are entirely within the Enlightenment tradition, they are therefore correct. These claims really are only extensions of the pervasive belief that we can use science and reason to become masters of our destiny. After all, science and reason really have brought with them progress: in the developed world, we do live longer and more comfortably than most of our forebears.

This is what explains the paradox of cryonics, the strange way that it appears at the same time so rational and so outlandish. Its adherents can argue very reasonably because their premises of technological progress and increasing prosperity are those on which our whole society is based. Yet when we extrapolate from these premises as the cryonicists do, they are revealed for what they are: articles of faith — expressions of hope, not logic. The answer to the question of whether cryonics is reasonable or fantastical is therefore: both.

Meanwhile, grandpa Morstøl still waits in his steel tomb, though not entirely alone. Bauge’s mother long ago returned to Oslo, leaving the monthly job of topping up the dry ice to a contractor, now known locally as ‘the Iceman’. And in 2001 the town of Nederland fully embraced its unique part in the history of cryonics, launching an annual festival: the Frozen Dead Guy Days. It continues to flourish, now in its eleventh year; a kind of Halloween Mardi Gras in which Grandpa Morstøl-lookalike competitions vie for attention with cryonics workshops and a hearse parade.

But the biggest draw is the sightseeing trip to Bauge’s bunker and his — now somewhat revamped — cryopreservation shed, where Morstøl awaits his resurrection. The people of Nederland seem to revel in the contradiction frozen in their midst. They mock cryonics while marking it, and honour Bauge and his grandpa both as heroes and as fools. They make a carnival of mortality, celebrating the paradox that our belief that we can thwart death is both entirely reasonable and entirely ridiculous.

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  • Billie Chan

    Keeping alive is the only way to sustain personal identity. I can't embrace the idea that my efforts, my achievement, and everything that is representative of me will one day end decidedly. The fact that at this moment most people are not committing suicide already attests to the rationale of cryonics. Certainly I will try to reserve a spot on the ambulance to heaven, before someone devised a way to revive the preserved and the millions crowd in. FYI, supporters of the cryonics tend to delay their operation because there might be better ways to reach the immortality, such as cyborg or mind uploading.

  • Luke Parrish

    It's worth noting that Bredo Morstøl was not preserved with much fidelity compared to that achievable under more ideal circumstances. Ice formation is very harmful for biological tissues, so cryonics providers use a technique from cryobiology known as vitrification to avoid it. In this process much of the water is removed and replaced with penetrating cryoprotectants such as glycerol, which form a glass (amorphous, non-crystalline solid) as they cool.

    Sadly, many cryonics patients do not receive perfusion immediately after death because of legal reasons or because cryonics providers are not informed on time. This is a horrible injustice from the cryonics perspective, as the patients have a much lower chance of survival without vitrification. They become like grandpa Morstøl, much more of an experiment with low chance of success.

    It would be even more ideal if perfusion were performed as a part of end-of-life care when the patient is terminal rather than after they are pronounced dead. This would have been considered ethically sticky in Ettinger's day, but in Washington or Oregon we already have legalized the practice of lethal medication for terminal patients -- and cryonics is philosophically much more conservative than that, since it aims to preserve life and do no harm. It should be very clear from a mainstream perspective that this is morally okay, if not obligatory, by now.

    I disagree with the author's contention that visions of enlightenment and progress are not much less mad than apocalyptic prophecies. Such prophecies lacked the empirical evidence that is foundational to our current set of beliefs. The reason many cryonicists are concerned about disasters is that they have a significant nonzero rate of occurrence from one year to the next, and cryonics patients will be stuck in their condition for many years. Even a very small source of risk can build up exponentially if given enough time. We need not fixate on particular events to be mindful of long term risk probabilities.

  • advancedatheist

    This article shows some confusions about the cryonics idea. Cryonicist want to use advances in medicine, biotechnology and applied neuroscience to turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state. It does have a basis in science, and plenty of nonwealthy people can afford their own cryopreservations through the use of life insurance as the funding mechanism. I’ve had my own arrangements with the Alcor Foundation since 1990, which I guess puts me into the company of hectomillionaires or billionaires like Don Laughlin, Ed Thorp and Robert Miller despite my nonwealthy status.

    And some of today’s mainstream neuroscientists have started to see that the cryonicists have advocated an interesting and testable idea all along. Refer to the website of the Brain Preservation Foundation, who has as one its advisers the well-known skeptic of pseudoscience Michael Shermer:

    “Does cryonics as practiced today adequately preserve the synaptic connectivity of an entire human brain?”

    This is also a well-defined scientific question that can be answered today. This question is of great importance, particularly to terminally ill patients wishing to preserve their memories or identities today, for which cryonic preservation of unknown efficacy is presently their only alternative.

    We at the Brain Preservation Foundation are dedicated to seeing that these questions are answered in a definitive scientific manner as soon as possible. To do so we have introduced the Brain Preservation Technology Prize – a prize that challenges connectomics researchers and cryonics practitioners alike to demonstrate their best whole brain preservation techniques on an animal whose brain is then sectioned at 1mm intervals and subjected to an independent comprehensive electron microscopic sampling survey looking for damage that would destroy synaptic connectivity.The Prize is designed to uncover the truth about the quality of today’s preservation techniques and to spur research into better techniques.

    In other words, we have ways of making progress in improving brain preservation in the here and now with the goal of trying to leave personal identity intact, or at least inferable, without having to invoke speculative future technologies. The right breakthrough could become a game-changer for the survivability of people placed into cryonic suspension.

    I also include some background information about cryonics for those unfamiliar with its assumptions and arguments:

    1. A general but outdated presentation of the idea, mainly of historical interest now:

    The Prospect of Immortality (1964), by Robert Ettinger:

    2. “Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification” (a peer-reviewed scientific paper):

    Microscopic examination showed severe damage in frozen–thawed slices, but generally good to excellent ultrastructural and histological preservation after vitrification. Our results provide the first demonstration that both the viability and the structure of mature organized, complex neural networks can be well preserved by vitrification. These results may assist neuropsychiatric drug evaluation and development and the transplantation of integrated brain regions to correct brain disease or injury.

    2. Mike Darwin’s Chronosphere blog:

    Mike goes back nearly to the beginnings of cryonics in the late 1960’s, and his blog offers a metaphorical gold mine of information, including references to a lot of scientific papers, about the field and its current but probably surmountable problems. Unfortunately he hasn’t posted on his blog lately.

    3. The X PRIZE Foundation has a concept under consideration for a Cryopreservation X PRIZE:

    This competition offers two benefits to humanity. First, the ability to increase the number and availability of transplantable organs for patients with organ failure; and second, the ability to move forward the science of human cryopreservation which offers the ability to preserve patients with incurable diseases until a time when medical science has sufficiently progressed to be able to treat the disease.

    4. MIT neuroscientist Sebastian Seung defends cryonic suspension as a feasible
    scientific-medical experiment in his book Connectome, and he spoke at Alcor’s conference in Scottsdale, AZ, on October 20, 2012:


    Sebastian Seung, Ph.D.

    Day One of the conference ended with Sebastian Seung’s “Connectomics and Cryonics,” followed by a discussion of his talk. Seung began by explaining that connectomics is the application of techniques such as 3D imaging to build high-resolution maps of neural connections. The resulting map is known as the connectome. While working in the field at MIT, Seung met Alcor member and Harvard neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth. When talking with Hayworth one day, Seung realized the implications of connectomics for cryonics and included some of his thoughts on the subject in his book Connectome, which elicited varied reactions.

    Starting with the hypothesis that “you are your connectome” (reminiscent of “The Astonishing Hypothesis” of Francis Crick), Seung presented evidence from neuroscience that chemopreservation successfully preserves brain structure as evidenced by reconstructions using serial electron micrographs (EM). He then asked whether memories can be “read” from such connectomes and discussed what kinds of structural information might be important to answering such questions. Ultimately, he concluded that connectivity, including the shapes of neurons and locations of synapses, is what must be preserved in order to construct the identity contained within.

    But Seung wonders how well cryonics preserves brain structure compared to chemical preservation methods.

    To that end, Seung and Hayworth announced the Technology Prize to be awarded by the Brain Preservation Foundation to the first individual or team to demonstrate a technique capable of preserving a human brain for long-term storage with high fidelity. The current contenders for the first stage of the prize have employed both chemo- and cryopreservation methods, but the required imaging and analyses of these samples has not yet been completed. Seung’s presentation was followed by a relatively long discussion with the audience, which quickly turned into a
    debate about the merits of chemopreservation and cryopreservation. Topics
    discussed included the long-term stability of chemopreserved brains and whether
    the Technology Prize is neutral between both approaches.

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    Spending your money and time for this kind of nonsense experiment why not use it to save those youngsters who are dying without health care all poor countries.Is it possible immortality ? If whole mankind will immortal what is meaning to evolution?More than 7 billion people are great burden to earth you want increase 100 billion people on earth.Western wealthy people are become arrogant with wealth and behaving illogical way. They are true enemy of humanity

    • Luke Parrish

      Evolution as we know it is nasty, brutish business. Poor children dying from lack of health care is exactly the sort of thing that it involves. The ideal world involves stopping this sort of thing entirely. It you feel moved to allocate your own time and resources to preventing children from dying of preventable causes, you are free to do so. But don't preach to those who are trying to stop a much more prolific cause of death. Many more people die of old age every day than die of preventable causes, and each death is about equally horrible. Right now, cryonics is the only technology with a hope of saving these people.

      • rameshraghuvanshi

        My objection is keeping dead body in hope in future that may alive with the help of.cryonics technology This is nonsense and fully horrible against natural law. If with the help of cryonics technology if you can save people suffering from incurable disease that is welcome.but must not try to alive dead body with help of that technology

        • Luke Parrish

          You are phrasing that in a way that seemingly assumes the conclusion -- you say one must not keep a dead body in hopes that it is alive, but if you hope it is alive you are arguably hoping that it is not dead. On the other hand one could argue that if it is truly possible to bring a given body back to life, it follows that it was never truly dead, hence not prohibited by your criteria.

          Our language is confusing in this regard. We may speak of clinical and legal death, but in many cases a patient who was formerly declared dead or who met some given criteria for death (stopped heart or flat brainwave) recovers. Does that imply that death itself is defined as reversible, or does it simply falsify the premise that the patient was dead? Well, we could choose to say that this means death is reversible in principle, but we would have to create a special category of death for this purpose in order to avoid implying that, for example, a person who has been cremated or stored at room temperature for several days is still recoverable in principle.

          Nobody is arguing that the skeletal remains of a person who has been permitted to extensively decay at room temperature should be preserved indefinitely, for example. Rather it is an argument that a person who barely meets the current clinical and legal definitions of death (in other words, having no heartbeat or brainwave) should be preserved because they do not meet a definition that future science and medicine will agree upon as dead.

          The intention of cryonicists is that it is a medical treatment for an extremely sick and frail patient, rather than an arrangement for a dead person. The only sense in which it is an arrangement for a dead person is as a temporary legal (and possibly social) matter. Like the case of CPR or other emergency medicine, the patient is not known to be either dead or living as a matter of certainty, but the hope that they are alive is what motivates treatment.

          • rameshraghuvanshi

            Western psyche based on fear on the contrary Indian psyche based on hope.I am Indian and we Indian welcome dead if it arrive natural way.western psyche afraid to death terribly that is why they constantly struggling to avoid the death on any condition.These differences arises for our different attitude to judge life.and that is very deeply rooted in our psyche We never came settlement on this debate.I agree with you if intention of cryonicists is that it is medical treatment for an extremely sick and frail patient,rather than an arrangement for a dead person but my objection is only use this technology for dead body.

          • Luke Parrish

            I don't think fear/hope is the correct dichotomy to look at this topic with, as eastern individuals experience fear and western individuals experience hope.

            It seems fairer to say that western minds are more prone to skepticism and aggression whereas eastern minds are more prone to spirituality and passivity. This could be caused by the relative prevalence of business activity in the west and meditation in the east. In my judgement, neither approach is right or wrong in an absolute sense, but either of them has specific weaknesses and strengths to be accounted for.

            I am American, and many Americans welcome natural death as the proper ending of life, just as many Indians do. This is deeply buried in our western romantic literature, and not lightly to be challenged from a western perspective. Additionally, some Indians are cryonicists as well, desiring to live forever. It is much more complex than the division between our cultures, it is a division within our cultures as well.

            Notice that hope and fear also play a role in embracing or rejecting progress, not only matters of self preservation or acceptance of one's fate.

      • MaryB435

        Such a poor counterfeit of hope. Those who believe in Christ have genuine hope. Think of the generous, truly balanced, and selfless life of Mother Teresa, contrasted with the myopic, distorted, unbalanced lives of those who would spend their lives alternately in underground bunkers, and swimming in ice.

        We fear death so much, and accept so many absurd fantasies because we reject the genuine hope offered by Jesus.

        • Luke Parrish

          The claim that Mother Teresa, a currently dead person, is actually alive and rejoicing in heaven, is no better substantiated than the claim that bread and wine turns into Christ's flesh and blood, or that the earth was created in seven days. All the good deeds in the world cannot change the fact that the religious point of view she represents is completely out of touch with reality.

          I know plenty of good, happy people who are Christians or otherwise religious. But being good and happy does not make them correct. Many of the ideas taught by Christianity (and other religions) as unquestionable facts about the universe, including the afterlife, are actually ridiculous nonsense that inhibits progress and runs contrary to common sense.

          Prayer and delusion is a poor substitute for scientific research and medical procedures.

          • MaryB435

            If you think that religion is being compared to medical treatment, that is missing the point. Authentic hope is in the Truth, not in freezing our mortal bodies.

            It is easier to have an open mind if we let go of our hostility to Jesus Christ.

          • Luke Parrish

            No, authentic hope consists of taking actual medical action to prevent actual death. Your kind of hope is completely fake and fraudulent, unless there's some actual entity out there who answers prayers with actual miracles. Please either defend heaven's actual existence with hard evidence or stop deriding those who try to continue their existence by earthly means.

          • MaryB435

            The evidence is there, and is readily available to anyone who is not actively avoiding or running away from, belief in God. It has been said that for those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who refuse to believe, no proof is sufficient.

            You may be missing the point again. I'm not deriding anyone. It just makes sense to steer clear of fantasies that promise a non-existent "fountain of youth". There is always someone trying to fatten his wallet by taking advantage of someone's fears. A new scam every day. When was the last time someone gave away "free" freezing as a charity? And talk about grasping at straws--there's NEVER been a case where that actually worked! You look young; that may give you a false sense of security. We never know how long we have left. Use the time you have to seek the Truth, not run from it.

            Ample evidence exists in the lives of those who live for Christ. One example: There was a man of amazing intelligence. He was fluent in nearly twenty languages. World leaders admired him; the Communists feared him. On May 13, the anniversary of the miracle at Fatima, an assassin shot him, missing vital organs by less than an inch. He credited Christ's mother Mary, with helping to save his life. (You can get more details about this easily on the internet.) This man had the ability and talent to do just about anything he wanted, but running a corporation wasn't God's plan for Pope John Paul II.

            It is worthwhile looking into the evidence, if you're not afraid of what you'll find. Oftentimes people really don't want to seek the Truth, because they know that they would then have an obligation to obey God.

            It is ironic. Most of the major universities, health-care institutions, medical schools and charities are built and operated by Christians, and yet there are those who ignore all that and claim that Faith and Reason are opposed. Not at all. It's also ironic that your name is Luke. Evangelist, (Remember: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?), well-educated Greek, physician, follower of Jesus Christ, and patron saint of doctors. THAT Luke. I will ask your patron saint to pray for you, that you will honestly and courageously seek the Truth. I will pray for you, too.

            You can find a lot of interesting information at Catholic Answers.

          • Luke Parrish

            It's perhaps not so ironic, as my name was specifically chosen as a Bible name, as were those of all of my siblings. The reason religion persists so strongly over time is that it causes people to have more children. My parents are Christians even still, and I was quite devoted to this belief system as a child. I believed strongly in miracles, was baptized by water, and experienced being filled with the Holy Spirit. But the evidence against miraculous events and experiences being real, as opposed to psychological and social events, slowly built up to a point I could no longer ignore. That is how I became a skeptic -- not hostility or a desire to flee from God. I realized that our brains are literally wired to make us more religious, for reasons of reproductive fitness, and that a sound epistemology must account for this if we want to make an accurate map of how the universe actually is.

            It is true that the catholic church is affiliated with hospitals, and responsible for founding many of them. I would posit that the association helps both institutions (financially and organizationally) for several reasons. Since hospitals are focused on physical and not mental healing, they are in less of a position to exist spiritual needs such as existential angst. We have psychologists for that sort of thing now, but it is debatable whether they do much more good than confession to a priest. Drugs for treating depression are more successful, but we are still working on them, and the ones we know about often have side effects. The church also relies on creating spiritual feelings in its members, which naturally lead to compassionate impulses. Hospital work (especially volunteer work) provides an outlet for this that is not fraudulent, and thus tends to boost the church's reputation instead of harming it. So it is not hard to see that there is room for a successful partnership between these institutions.

            None of this changes the fact that hospitals work by natural methods (mostly by enabling the body's existing natural mechanisms for self-healing) and that the church makes a number of fake and fraudulent miraculous claims that contradict what is known by medical science. It also does not change the fact that the church's gentle reassurance about there being a life after death is, to put it bluntly, a total lie.

            In contrast to the church's fake method of extending your existence beyond the grave, cryonics is very expensive in terms of materials and equipment. It is not unlike other surgery in this regard. Nonetheless, some individuals have been able to have free or reduced-cost suspensions due to other members of the movement being willing to pick up the costs. Personally, I find the story of Kim Suozzi to be very inspirational.

            People looking to fatten their wallets do not last long in cryonics, because it is not profitable at the small scale it is currently practiced on. It is a major time and money sink which makes people incredibly suspicious and often hostile. There are fortunately a few patrons who have made money elsewhere and invest a part of it in cryonics research or choose to donate to their cryonics organization. If only more millionaires and billionaires were "afraid of death" in the way people think they are, we could have serious research funding for the problems of cryonics.

            In a larger scale context, cryonics would be significantly less expensive. The cost of developing a nanotech cure for unavoidable cryogenic damage at a later date would be spread out over every patient rather than bunched up in a few, so less long term savings would be necessary to set aside for each patient. Long term storage costs related to volume would also drop significantly because larger cryogenic facilities benefit from a better surface area to volume ratio. If every catholic became a cryonicist tomorrow, it would become incredibly cheap, and/or a much better quality would be achieved due to the volume of surgical personnel and equipment that this would mobilize.

          • MaryB435

            I would like to know what you meant by the phrase: .."experienced being filled with the Holy Spirit." And I promise to look up Kim Suozzi if you agree to look up Catholic Answers. Click on the tab for "non-Catholics" to find topics of interest. You can check out the others, too, if you'd like, but the tab marked "non-Catholics" would probably have more items that would interest you.
            I find the life of St. Damien of Molokai very inspiring. Heroic virtue. By the way, Mother Teresa never made any money taking care of all those people. She did it out of love, love of Jesus. I will pray for you. You will truly be happier if you stop running from Christ's love. Remember: Technology changes; human nature never does.

  • cheers

    A well-done article overall!

    1. The article states that the brain is always harmed when frozen. This is only the case if the person is frozen using water. The cryo-enthusiasts use a different substance, which doesn't harm the brain.

    2. Is extrapolation based on a sort of faith? Tough one. Synthetic biology is making amazing strides right now - check out Rob Carlson's books on the topic - and it's pretty reasonable to think maximum lifespan could be extended at some point (obviously we've already increased the median lifespan).

    3. So you don't need to believe in Technological Utopia (I've never seen anyone refer to some sort of Armageddon - where does the author get this from?) to think that in the next hundred years, we might be able to make some fundamental changes to human identity. Including mortality.

  • Khannea

    It;s somewhat comparable to buying a lottery ticket. If you have the money to spare - it's a decent enough bet.

  • Luke Parrish

    When people like Stephen claim that cryonics extrapolations are basically faith, they poison the well and indulge in intellectual dishonesty. Cryonics is either right or wrong, and it has nothing to do with faith. It is an extrapolation no more religiously tinted than the decision not to buy a lottery ticket. How are we to have a conversation when the opposite side constantly labels us as everything we stand against?

    • MaryB435

      On the internet, look up "strange notions".

      • Luke Parrish

        Looks like an interesting site. I have left a comment there, and may participate more if I get the time. I can see they have not yet published anything about cryonics, which is a bit shocking given its extreme moral importance.

        • MaryB435

          I'll look up your comment. You assume that cryonics has "extreme moral importance". If it were something that were actually possible, that might be something to consider. Please look up what Thomas Aquinas said about the argument that one has a right to do something that is not possible in reality.

          I did look into the case of Kim Suozzi. While it is important to have compassion for those who grieve, that does not mean that everything they say or do is the best thing. Yes, I feel sorry for her. Her death from a brain tumor is tragic. The best response is to pray for her and her family. I understand the frustration of wanting to be able to do more, but we must all learn to accept the fact that we do not have ultimate control over everything. That's not defeatism; that's reality. Living in a fantasy world only prevents us from doing the good that we can. The older we get, the more we realize that we are not God.

          Thank you for letting me know about Kim Suozzi. I will pray for her and her family. I ask you to pray for her, too. What could it hurt? It may help, and certainly wasting time running around in circles imagining "the potential success" of cryonics is of no benefit to anyone.

          Perhaps if you are interested, you could mention your interest in cryonics to the people who run the "strange notions" website. I hear that they do discuss all sorts of things. I will pray for you, too. By the way, what do you think about the life of St. Damien of Molokai?

  • orkan

    Prefabrik ev

    Hi. We start new instalation

  • kurt9

    The first part of the title says it all. Cryonics is an ambulance ride into the future. It is a form of medical time travel, to get one to a time when currently incurable conditions (such as aging) are trivially cured in the future. Cryonics is nothing less and nothing more.

    "Opposition" to it is senseless.

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