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In this link, it is suggested to use high-pressure cryonics to freeze living cells, tissues or small organism as opposed to various and potentially toxic anti-freeze agent. The core idea is that over a certain pressure, ice is anamorphic and will not form ice crystals. Thus, organic manner will not be destroyed by said crystals.
Detailed information about the proposal can be found at this link:
I have considering self-financing the experiment. Could anyone chip in with some advice? Do you see any red flags, design tips, etc.?
One premise of the full proposal is that the freezing process should avoid the formation water crystals which prevent structural damage of membranes and proteins and keep the integrity of the life organism being frozen under high-pressure cryonics.
I have not seen a discussion on the thawing process which I always thought was a problem for example when thawing cells for in vitro cell culture.
For the design I would try small with for example mammalian cells like HeLa. Maybe full organisms like worms or flies for "tissues" and "full organisms".
How Cryonics Works
The year is 1967. A British secret agent has been "frozen," awaiting the day when his arch nemesis will return from his own deep freeze to once again threaten the world. That day finally arrives in 1997. The agent is revived after 30 years on ice, and he saves the world from imminent destruction.
You'll probably recognize this scenario from the hit movie, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997). Cryonics also shows up in films like "Vanilla Sky" (2001), "Sleeper" (1973) and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). But is it pure Hollywood fiction, or can people really be frozen and then thawed to live on years later?
The science behind the idea does exist. It's called cryogenics -- the study of what happens to materials at really low temperatures. Cryonics -- the technique used to store human bodies at extremely low temperatures with the hope of one day reviving them -- is being performed today, but the technology is still in its infancy.
In this article, we'll look at the practice of cryonics, learn how it's done and find out whether humans really can be brought back from the deep freeze.
High pressure cryonics - Biology
Cryogenics is a branch of physics that deals with the production and effects of very low temperatures.
Here are demonstrations of some of those effects.
I will add more as time and my liquid nitrogen supply permit.
This page has gotten very large so if you came to this site to see a particular demonstration this list may help you find it quickly.
The demos are all on this page so just scroll down and don't bother with the list if you want to see lots of them.
If you are going to try any of the demos please read the precautions in the red text.
Please be very careful if you try any of these demonstrations.
Liquid nitrogen is dangerously cold.
Direct contact with the liquid or gas that is boiling off or with materials/containers cooled by it can cause severe frostbitevery quickly.
It expands more than 700 times when it goes from a liquid to a room temperature gas.
If confined it can produce pressures that can burst nearly any container. Pressures of over 40,000 pounds per square inch are possible.
A pop bottle or a thermos with the lid on is an invitation for disaster
Sealed containers are bombsif there is no way for pressure to be released.
Some materials become very brittle and are easily broken when cold.
This includes some steel, other metals, and many plastics.
Don't use untested materials.
As it boils nitrogen gas is released.
It is not poisonous but it will dilute the oxygen content of air thereby reducing it.
If the oxygen level gets too low you will lose consciousness and at still lower concentrations you will die .
Make sure of adequate ventilation during your experiments.
It is possible to make liquid oxygen by condensation of oxygen from the air, even accidentally. This can result in a fire or explosion hazard if the liquid or the high concentration of oxygen gas that results when it evaporates contacts combustible materials. This includes materials that you wouldn't ordinarily think of as flammable. Eliminate all sources of ignition including flames, sparks, and ground apparatus to avoid static discharges.
Gloves (even ones designed for cryogenic work) will not provide protection from immersion in liquid nitrogen. If the glove is wetted with the liquid it will soak in and freeze your hand inside the glove.
You must be careful. These warnings cover most but not all possible ways that you might get into trouble when using liquid nitrogen. Do your own safety research, take adequate precautions, and please be careful.
The temperature of liquid nitrogen which is boiling at normal atmospheric pressure is:
77 o Kelvin
-196 o Celsius
-320 o Fahrenheit
139 o Rankine
-157 o Reaumur
These are just different ways of representing the same temperature. Just like we can measure the same distance in inches, centimeters, miles or other units depending on just what we are doing.
To give you some sense of how cold it is, it is about as much below room temperature as a pizza oven is above it.
Many things change their physical, chemical and electrical properties when cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen. The pictures below show some of these effects.
One of the simplest experiments to try is to just spill a few cc's of liquid nitrogen on a hard smooth floor. You will see that each droplet forms a bead and moves quickly around on the floor as if it were frictionless. Close examination of one of the droplets will show that it isn't touching the floor at all. Instead it is sitting on a thin film of gas that is coming from the bead. This is called the Leidenfrost effect, named for a German experimenter who investigated it using water and a hot metal plate in the mid 1700s. The film of gas that is formed is an effective insulator so the evaporation rate is considerably slower than you might expect. The droplets also have the tendency to pick up dust from the surface and as they evaporate the dust is concentrated often forming a tiny ball when the nitrogen has completely evaporated. These pictures show some liquid nitrogen when it was initially poured on a surface and later when dust and possibly frost has collected on it.
This video shows the effect in a pan. You can see that this is much different from water or other liquid since there is almost no friction and very low viscosity.
Superconductivity can be demonstrated with a disk of yttrium barium copper oxide (Y Ba2 Cu3 O 7 ) ceramic and a neodymium-iron-boron (or other strong) magnet. What you see in the pictures below are the ceramic disk with a small powerful magnet sitting on it. As the disk is cooled by the liquid nitrogen the Meissner effect forces the magnet's field out of the disk which causes the magnet to rise supported by its magnetic field. The magnet is quite stable (if you poke at it it will bob around and return to its starting position). If you do manage to knock it off it can be picked up and set back in place by using non magnetic tweezers.
In this video the tip of the plastic tweezers can then pass between the superconducting disk and a cubic magnet. When the magnet is tapped with the tweezers it spins on its magnetic axis.
If you use a pin to poke two holes in a Ping-Pong ball tangential to the surface you can use it to make a Hero's engine. Drop it into a container of liquid nitrogen and hold it under the surface for a few seconds. As the air in the ball cools the pressure in the ball drops and atmospheric pressure forces some liquid nitrogen into the ball. Take the ball out and put it on the floor and as the nitrogen boils and is discharged the ball will spin rapidly. You don't need much liquid in the ball for it to spin so don't try to fill it up. There is the possibility that if the ball is too full the pressure could build up to the point that the ball would burst so don't stand too close when you try this. I have done this experiment many times and haven't had one burst yet but I can't be sure that all Ping-Pong balls can take the pressure.
You can demonstrate how the properties of some materials are changed when they are cooled to cryogenic temperatures.
Here an uninflated long skinny balloon like those used to make animals and such was dipped into liquid nitrogen and then stretched. The kink will break before it straightens. That is not what some might expect for thin and normally flexible rubber.
Metals can also become brittle when they are cooled in liquid nitrogen. The first two, copper and aluminum, flex easily but the tin strip breaks with almost no force. If you are wondering, the metal is very cold but because it isn't very thick and I didn't hold on for more than more than a couple of seconds so I didn't have any ill effects.
Here is a still photo of strips of brass (on left), copper (next to it) and tin (last two) The brass and copper remain flexible as in the video above the tin became so brittle that it was easily broken when it was cooled and bent. If you want to repeat this make sure that you have actual sheet of tin metal not tin plated steel that is often sold as tin sheet.
When you tap a sheet of lead you shouldn't expect to hear music but when it is cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen you can easily hear that the normal temperature dull click takes on a more musical ping.
A spring made from solder doesn't work all that well. When stretched it deforms rather than returning to its original length. The bottom half of this spring was dipped into liquid nitrogen and behaves like you would expect a spring to until it warms up. The top part wasn't cooled and deforms easily and does not come back to it's original shape. This demonstration is more effective if you can find some old lead/tin solder rather than the newer lead free type.
Ten cc's or so of liquid nitrogen were put into this bottle then the balloon was put over the top. As the nitrogen boils the gas fills the balloon with the expected result. The difference in volume between the liquid and gas is brought home vividly. It expands about 730 times as it warms to room temperature. The pop can be loud enough to make ears ring if you use a high quality balloon so warn your audience to cover their ears.
Cool temperatures cause chemical reactions to slow down. The chemiluminescent glow of a light stick is quickly extinguished by cooling it. The light returns when the reaction resumes as it warms up. If you cool only half of the light stick this is what happens. You can demonstrate this with dry ice or even ice water to a lesser degree. (pun intended)
A simple, dramatic, and messy way to show the change of volume that liquid nitrogen undergoes as it changes to a gas is to dump a small amount of it into a soap and water solution. The nitrogen boils and generates a lot of bubbles rather quickly. It helps if the soap solution is warm and you use only a few cc's of liquid nitrogen. This both makes the change in volume more dramatic and is less likely to result in frozen liquid and bubbles. You can add more later to see just what frozen bubbles are like.
The old frozen flower trick. Take a flower and dip it in the liquid nitrogen. It looks much the same except for the frost and fog. I usually point out that the flower won't wilt or decay no matter how long it is kept in the liquid nitrogen. In fact it could be studied many years later and would be just as it was immediately after it was frozen. Many types of biological specimens are stored this way to preserve them. However, we have to avoid mechanical damage. To illustrate this I rapidly crush the bloom and let the fragments fall on a hard surface. Usually someone will say that they sound like broken glass. You can crush the flower with your bare hand if you release it very quickly and use a flower that doesn't have a lot of places that the liquid could be trapped. Chrysanthemums are a particularly bad choice.
Here is a video of a liquid nitrogen explosion.
Remember I said " A pop bottle with the lid on is an invitation for disaster. Sealed containers are bombs if there is no way for pressure to be released. "
For this experiment I put a 100 cc's or so of liquid nitrogen into a two liter plastic pop bottle. Put the lid on and quickly dropped it into a 5 pound coffee can with about 2 inches of water in it. Covered the whole works with a 5 gallon plastic bucket and got back about 120 feet.
You see the result.
Calculations based on measurements we made give a peak height for the bucket of 88 feet.
A ball of modeling clay will freeze and when dropped or struck will shatter nicely. There are a lot of different kinds of clay available and some probably will be harder to break than others. If you discover one that is particularly durable let me know about it.
During a demonstration of the properties of liquid nitrogen I was challenged to a duel. The canons were loaded with a gallon of hot water and Styrofoam packing peanuts. At the count of three the combatants dumped liquid nitrogen into their canons. It boiled rapidly and you see the results.
Here is a way to produce a few drops of liquid oxygen. Put liquid nitrogen in an aluminum can. The outside of the can will quickly cool to just above the temperature of the nitrogen. Frost will quickly form and then it will appear to be wet. The frost is created from water vapor from the air. The liquid that is wetting it is oxygen that is condensing out of the air. This happens because the temperature at which oxygen changes from a gas to a liquid is about 13 degrees Celsius above that of nitrogen. The oxygen can be seen dripping from the can just as on a humid day you can see drops of water condense and drip from a can you take from the refrigerator. Be sure to observe the special precautions for liquid oxygen in the red text at the top of the page.
You can see it is attracted to the magnet.
The resistance of most conductors goes down as the temperatures falls. Here is a flashlight bulb connected to a battery through a coil of wire. At room temperature the resistance of the coil is high and the bulb barely glows. When the coil is cooled the bulb gets much brighter.
The resistance of the wire reduces the voltage to the light. When the coil is cooled with liquid nitrogen the coil's resistance goes down and the light gets brighter. The increase is most easily seen on the cloth behind the lamp.
In another electricity/light experiment I removed the glass from a 12 volt light bulb and immersed it in liquid nitrogen and powered it up. If I did this in air it would immediately burn out but the nitrogen prevents oxygen from getting to it so it continues to work. It may be surprising that the filament is able to become incandescent even though it is being cooled by the liquid nitrogen but the Leidenfrost effect shown at the top of the page provides enough thermal insulation for it to work. This picture shows the bare filament with a wire cage around it to keep it from being broken if I happen to bump it into the liquid nitrogen container.
The video shows the light being switched on and off while under the liquid nitrogen. Each time it was switched on the video camera compensated by reducing the exposure so the rest of the image gets dark. When the power is switched off the camera again compensates and the background of the image gets brighter again.
Break a penny? US pennies minted after 1983 have a zinc core clad with a very thin coat of copper. Prior to that time they were solid copper. The zinc becomes brittle when cooled in liquid nitrogen and can be broken by tapping it with a hammer. At room temperature they remain intact as do the solid copper ones at either temperature.
An inflated balloon pushed into a container of liquid nitrogen will slowly collapse as the air inside it contracts and condenses. The part of the balloon that is cooled becomes quite stiff and crinkles like a plastic bag. When it has nearly completely deflated you can take it out and show the liquid air by swirling it in the bottom of the balloon. If you haven't cracked the balloon by bending it when it was frozen and there is a reasonably large part of the balloon that isn't so hard that it won't stretch, it will reinflate to it's original size demonstrating that all of the air is still in there.
Put a marshmallow on a stick and freeze it. Marshmallows are good insulators so they take a couple of minutes to freeze. Take it out and rap it on a hard surface and it will shatter. I recommend that you don't do this where it will be hard to clean up because those shards of marshmallow will quickly warm up and they are incredibly sticky. (The first time I did this it was in my kitchen and my wife hasn't forgotten it yet.)
A light emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor that converts electrical energy to light. The color of the light depends on the size of the "step" between the valence and conduction bands in the material from which it is made. When an LED is cooled the band gap and therefore the color of light it produces is changed. The change in the band gap also changes the voltage drop across the diode which, depending on the circuit providing the current, may change the current through it. If the current changes, the intensity of the light as well as the color will change. The two pictures below show the same LED, first at room temperature then after it was cooled in liquid nitrogen.
This picture shows the effect on several different colors of LEDs. The set on the right has been cooled and the colors are all shifted to slightly shorter wavelengths.
The same current is flowing through the corresponding LEDs in each set and, as you can see, the cooled ones are much brighter.
Freeze a banana. It can be used as a hammer to drive a nail. Take care to only hold on to the part that hasn't been immersed in the liquid nitrogen. Bananas that are less than fully ripe are not as likely to break.
When one does break you have a new way to examine the structure of a banana. Compare it to a sliced one. Let it warm up and check it again. The results are interesting and you don't need to use liquid nitrogen to check what happens. You can just put a banana in a home freezer and leave it there for at least 24 hours to be sure that it is completely frozen. Take it out and check what happens as it warms up. Be sure to wait long enough (at least 1 day) for it to completely change.
Freeze a rubber ball. The solid high bouncing rubber balls still bounce on hard surfaces but they sound like marbles or pool balls. Hollow handball type balls are easily broken but if you decide to do that be aware that the fragments can fly quite a distance and could hurt if they hit someone.
Make a candle from vegetable oil or any liquid hydrocarbon. When frozen most will look a lot like paraffin. Alternately dip a wick into the liquid and into the nitrogen. When you get a reasonable size candle you can put it in a holder and light it. Of course as it burns and warms from the air it will entirely liquefy and you will have an oil lamp with a long wick that may fall in any direction. Please be aware of the potential fire hazard and take appropriate precautions. The white candle was made using vegetable oil and the greenish one was made from gasoline (use extreme care).
A lump of solid butane was made by cooling a container of butane with liquid nitrogen. The lump was put on a piece of cardboard and ignited. Because the evaporation of the butane cools the cardboard the cardboard doesn't catch fire. The only change is some soot deposited on it.
Wizard ice cream. Use any good homemade ice cream recipe. Put it in a metal bowl and add about an equal volume of liquid nitrogen while stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. You won't be able to see what is going on in the bowl because of the vapor cloud that is produced. The record time for going from liquid to finished product is 12 seconds for a half gallon of ice cream. Be sure that you don't use too much liquid nitrogen. If you do the ice cream will be rock hard and if you manage to serve some there will be a real chance of frostbite of the tongue.
You can make tiny ice cream balls by dripping the mix directly into a container of liquid nitrogen. It doesn't make much very fast but it is an interesting product similar to Dippin' Dots.
A water balloon dropped into liquid nitrogen will freeze into a shell of ice with liquid water inside. The balloon may split because it becomes brittle and the water expands as it turns to ice. The picture shows a hole chipped in the ice shell to see if the center was still liquid. It was.
A two liter plastic pop bottle that has been cut off near the top of the wide part also makes a good container for liquid nitrogen. It can be seen to be boiling looking through the side of the container. The cloud that forms and cascades from the bottle is like formation of clouds when warm moist air is cooled by rising to higher altitudes where it is cooler. Fog is also formed when the ground is cooled by radiation of heat into space and it cools the air and the moisture condenses out. If you tap on the bottle the frost that has formed on it will fall off and feels just like snow so you have a few elements of a meteorology demonstration. It is a good idea to use a sheet of styrofoam to insulate the surface where you set the container to keep it from cracking because of the cold.
And if you have a little liquid nitrogen left when you have had fun with the other experiments you can extend the meteorology demonstration by tossing the contents of a container into the air. Moisture in the air condenses and forms a cloud of water droplets. The process continues when the nitrogen hits the ground about 15 ft below.
Here I take a 2 liter pop bottle containing about 100 cc's of liquid nitrogen, put a cap on it, and drop it into a barrel that has a couple of inches of water in it. If you recall my comments about putting a lid on a container of liquid nitrogen you know what happens next. The pressure builds up until the pop bottle explodes. Notice the barrel jump from the force. It was a lot louder than it seems in the video, in fact even though we warned the audience to cover their ears some folks in the front row said that it was the loudest noise that they had heard indoors.
E-mail Nancy and Alan
Many of these demonstrations have been performed as one part of our science shows.
These are presented by unpaid volunteers for groups that have ranged from preschoolers to senior citizens.
Some groups can afford to pay for the materials we use but we also do some of our Science Fun programs for free.
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High pressure cryonics - Biology
German cryonics suspension of Sept. 25 th 2019
This suspension has been the first practical cooperation of the Ulm Cryonics Project UKP with Cryonics Germany in an emergency mode.
The 85 year old Swiss patient deanimated during Sept. 23. 2019 in hospital at 02.00-06.30 a.m.
CryoSuisse was contacted and in return contacted C. Germany at 21.45
C. Germany called the Swiss embalmer giving advise, as well as the hospital at 22.80 o'clock (reaching nobody in hospital)
They involved Mr. Streidt (embalmer in Ulm town, member of the Ulm Cryonics Project UKP) and CryoSuisse asked the relatives for help to get the A uthority for Moving A Corpse to USA.
The body has been released at around 15.30 o'clock to the embalmer Daniel Streidt and brought to Bayreuth after clearing regulations (esp. Authority of Moving..). He started with the patient to Bayreuth for the funeral home Himml, where Mr. Voeth a very skilled embalmer was ready to manage the case. Benni Hampel - himself embalmer - and Klaus Sames (The Ulm Cryonics Project) helped adapt the procedure to the conditions of cryonics.
At 23.30 Daniel arrived with the patient at the funeral home in Bayreuth.
The patient had been covered with 65 kg of water ice.
We wanted to perfuse the patient with VM1 even after long ischemia.
Since time was rare and the equipment (for an extra-corporal circulation) of the UKP was still packaged, we decided to apply simple open perfusion using embalmers methods. The left carotid artery was prepared by Mr Voeth and cannulated and the right v. jugularis was cut for an open outflow using spreading tweezers to maintain it open (thus, the flow crosses sides).
At 1a.m. Mr. Voeth started preparation of blood vessels.
We used VM1 provided and precooled by Benni Hampl
We started with 7L of 30% VM1 diluted 1:1 with Ringer's solution, flow directed to the head. The cannula was then turned to the body perfusing it with the same solution.
This was followed starting at 2.30 a. m. by 30% VM1 again perfusing the head and body.
There was a well visible inflow of fluid to the head as well as to the body, but sparse outflow and increasing body volume .
At 2.45 perfusion with 75% VM1 was induced to perfuse the head only with 8 L of the solution.
The preservation ended at 3,30 a.m.
Transportation on dry ice to CI was performed by the embalmers.Perfusion training of the Ulm Team (embalmer, perfusionist, anatomist, intensive care parmedic)
Picture: Open thorax, arterial cannula and venous cannula crossing below the arterial one.
Anatomist marks position of ribs
Demonstration of instrumente
Klaus H. Sames (ed.)
192 pages, Paperback. € 34,90
This volume presents the proceedings at the first scientific cryonics symposium in Germany with additional contributions by expert authors. The topics discussed encompass the scientific basis of cryonics, latest progresses in cryoconservation as well as problems and obstacles and biological foundations. Why do we age? Are there means to extend the life span? Can cryonic preservation be realistic? What are the ethical implications? Which influences does the movement of transhumanism have on cryonics?
Different conceptions of cryopreservation are discussed, technical challenges and logistics of transportation on ice are addressed as well as proper education in applied cryonics. The example of the return of a frozen kidney to life is presented as well as the roots of cryonics in the 'ice age' of heart surgery and perspectives for cryobiology in emergency medicine after severe lesions.
Volume 1 of the book series Applied Human Cryobiology, edited by Prof. Dr. Klaus H. Sames.
Prof. Dr. Klaus H. Sames was born in Kassel, Germany, in 1939. He worked as a physician and anatomist for four decades in research on the extension of the human life span. He was the first university teacher in experimental biological gerontology in Germany. Sames works as a scientific advisor for Cryonics Institute and is an honorary member of the German Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics as well as honorary chairman of the German Society of Applied Biostasis. He has assisted in several suspension cases in Europe cooperating with Cryonics Institute.
Klaus H. Sames • Robert Ettinger • Gregory M. Fahy • Brian Wowk • Roberto Pagotan • Alice Chang • John Phan • Bruce Thomson • Laura Phan • Aschwin de Wolf • Chana de Wolf • Ben Best • Peter Gouras • Sebastian C. Sethe • Thorsten Nahm • Jan Welke • Holger Zorn • Rolf A. Sommer
Is it spleeny to fight for a long, an extended life?
Our cells and tissues do not spend their time with so stupid a question. They fight for life up to total loss of resources without respecting who is the enemy.
Especially the brain coordinates the defense of organs in the organism, if danger is coming to the fore.
Following a stop of supply of oxygen and nutrients the center itself is endangered e.g. by heart arrest.
The oxygen reserves are exhausted almost instantly.
Then as a first action brain cells start to use alternative sources of energy like sugars and the already produced energy phosphates.
However after 2 min. of oxygen starvation these are exhausted too.
A number of cells (maybe around 10 %) dye a rapid way by so called necrosis.
The cells of the brain do not give up in this case.
They start mechanisms to maintain function
Extensive stimulation between cells follows but cannot lead to normal excitation
Another line of defense are inflammatory reactions, which however remain unsatisfactory or even damage producing since there is no normal inflammation
Then the brain starts to exclude all cells damaged to an extent forming a danger for other cells. However, this involves almost all cells living at this time. Without energy cells fall in a type of dormant state.
The last legion, spartan fighters
It has been speculated that harsh conditions like hypoxia, acidosis, lack of nutrients and other postmortem shortages may stimulate stem cells or select them, enriching these more robust and efficient cells compared to those in living tissues.
Definite retreat of the last soldiers
Forming such stem cells may represent an effort to repair tissues in spite of general damage. In vain, the cells in the following become deeply dormant (as shown in muscle). Should there come a chance, they will stand up still ready to act following many hours and even days of heart arrest (Mansilla E, Mártire K,Roque G et al (2013) Salvage of cadaver stem cells (CSCs) as a routine procedure: history or future for regenerativ medicine. J Transplant Technol Res 3:118. doi.org/10.4172/2161-0991.1000118 ).
Our body is a system defending its life by all means. We should act in favor of such defense, because we are the living body, nothing else.
This is our last legion fighting for our total existence and I am grateful to have found out about those living defense entities fighting for me even during dying.
Klaus H. Sames*, Peter Gouras** Paolo Brenner***, Ramon Risco****, Roman Bauer*****
*(apl.)Prof. MD, anatomy, gerontology, The Ulm Project
** Prof. MD ophthalmology, Columbia Univ. New York
*** Prof. MD heart surgeon LMU Munich, Hospital Großhadern, heart surgery
**** Prof. Ph D National Accelerators Center, CNA-CSIC, C/ Descubrimientos s/n Seville
***** PhD EPSRC Research Fellow School of Computing Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Using cryopreservation biological objects at temperatures lower than -130°C are brought to cryostasis to be stored for almost any period foreseeable in a vital state.
Should reanimation out of cryostasis too be possible, this would mean that we would be able to „switch off“ life for long periods and switch it on again as you like. The method presents itself for save protection of living organisms during adverse conditions or damage. Thereby it possesses the capability to revolutionize biological research, organ transplantation, and - by further development - astronautics and medical emergency systems.
One would have at hand a universal protection and rescue method. Cryopreservation therefore represents one of the most exciting developments in medicine and technology at all.
In nature cooling to icy temperatures and reanimation during thawing are preconditions for the survival of many species. Besides plants heterothermic animals – invertebrates as well as vertebrates – hibernate this way. In most cases moderate subzero temperatures are reached by their bodies.
Some round worms (small nematodes, size up to 1mm) insects, leaches, water bears (tardigrades of a size up to 1mm) can be cooled to cryogenic temperatures without any precautions and reanimated by simple rewarming.
Cooling of mammalian tissues down to cryogenic temperatures as a rule needs cryoprotectants, to avoid damage by crystal formation of the water.
Vitrification (glass forming) - favored by rapid cooling and the use of cryoprotectants of high initial viscosity - already to date allows exclusion of detrimental crystal formation and maintenance of vitality.
For human beings body size is the main obstacle to the essential rapid temperature change. Electromagnetic waves and magnetic heating of iron nano-particles, diffusing into the tissue, as well as new cryoprotectants are in test as methods of rapid homogeneous rewarming.
By accelerated warming the main obstacles of application of cryopreservation to man could be overcome.
Up to now parts of organs and total organs of mammals could be cooled to temperatures between -20 and -70°C and reanimated. But only very small organs have been cooled down to -130°C or lower.
In a series of experiments rats and hamsters lived out cooling at -5°C for 60 min - with body temperatures below the freezing point - without damage. Isolated rat hearts can be preserved alive by cooling to temperatures down to -45°C.
By cryoconservation of human organs the lack of transplant organs could be remedied. In addition humanized xenotransplants could make the situation of transplantation comfortable.
We name cryopreservation cryonics if it is oriented to human preservation
Also following failure of organs and even announcement of „death“ cryopreservation would make sense, provided that chances of regeneration and reanimation are wider developed.
(Full German text now on Klaus H. Sames German page)
The cryopreservation and reanimation of total organs comes more and more into sight and the same process with total organisms (cryonization) could also become practicable as soon as a number of different organs can be cooled and revived using the same method for all of them. Big organisms like the human one cannot be cryonized by the current methods, which need rapid cooling. In spite of this, dying of the cells following generalized organ failure can be interrupted and the organism can be stored over millions of years - without changes - by cooling.. There are still other problems: toxicity of cryoprotective solutions, tensions during rapid cooling leading to cracking, formation of crystals during rewarming, to mention the most serious ones. The repair of damage related to disease and aging must be left to the future development of medicine. However, there are also solutions of such problems in sight. Today there exists no alternative to cryonics concerning a substantial life span extension.
Cryonics finds however no wide public acceptance as yet. We can only speculate about the causes of this behaviour. The media describe cryonics frequently as a pseudo religious movement believing in a practically impossible way of raising human beings from the death. A #movement like this may come into collision with the traditional strategies of coping with death. It is widely neglected that in contrast to such strategies, cryonics - remaining sceptical against the own methods - tries to control death in the material world by medical emergency procedures and that realization of this conception makes steady progress
„ … .. ,do you want to live forever?“ … from cryonics to eternal life?
Presentation on the Innsbruck Forum of Intensive Medicine and Care (IFIMP) 2010
Cryonics intends to store the human body up to a time when medicine will be able to revert the changes caused by aging, disease and the process of dying.
For cryonics the success cannot be guaranteed. However, it is the only plan able to extend the life span of people living today. You choose it as your only chance since you can lose nothing, not because you believe in its success. In agreements it is even legally essential that the patient states to know that, there is neither warranty of future reanimation, nor of financing in a distant future. The contract partner only promises to intend these goals by all means.
Since reanimation is still impossible, cryonics in living human beings sorts itself out.
Cryonics has to wait for natural death and therewith the consequences of aging as well as the causes of death and dying. Death has to be waited for and thus in most cases the consequences of aging, the causes of death and of dying.
Coroner's inquest and/or pronouncement of death are also to be waited for. In Germany distinct signs of death are to be stated by one or two physicians, which lasts 20 min. at minimum.
Would other means of life span extension not be more advantageous with respect to this situation?
Aging and diseases are processes of high complexity. The generations living today will barely live to see how they will be overcome by medical means.
In spite of this we must state that life, on a low level of development in single cells and small cellular complexes has overcome aging (but not death).
The germ line of living species, uninterrupted up to now, has to be mentioned in this context. Such systems show aging as a consequence of damage or by opportunistic causes e.g. reduction of populations during shortages of supply. Mechanisms protecting living entities against irreversible changes are well known. They are represented by replication of molecules, degradation and de novo synthesis of molecules, repair of molecules which cannot be exchanged as well as optimal protection against environment by cell membranes. Processes of life in the first line serve those mechanisms.
During cell divisions a total restoration takes place. Without cell division aging is inescapable for living entities.
Over the main period of the existence of life (around 2 billion years) however, aging has been no inescapable process.
Inevitable aging and the inevitable death of each of the individuals obviously are at first produced by development of complicated organs in higher developed multi-cellular living entities.
Properly speaking this is a paradox since organs of complex structure and high performance provide improved protection.
However, primary causes of mortality can be derived just from observation of structure and function of organs. Many of them are even well known.
E.g. the kidneys show age related loss of glomeruli. These are of complex structure formed in a complicated process involving 3 different tissue species during development. They are irreplaceable in the adult human organism which is mortal as a consequence of this mere fact.
Also a widened and elongated aorta obviously cannot be rearranged or replaced by repair cells, since the three dimensional macro structure cannot be analyzed. Aging proceeds in the vessel, another contribution to human mortality.
The lung is unable to transport all inhaled particles to the outside. Deposed in the lymph nodes and lymph vessels they cause increasing harm for the lung, another cause of mortality.
Following lesions and diseases, organ tissue in most cases is replaced by fibrotic tissue, increasing with increasing age, which contributes to our mortality.
Catabolism of large macromolecules like collagen fibers can be throttled by inhibition of proteases (in favor of tissue stability). Thus, they are not sufficiently renewed and show increasing changes with increasing time.
Damage caused by normally high blood pressure in arteries apparently cannot be repaired ad integrum. Therefore, arteries show more pronounced time related changes compared to venous vessels. Also changes of collagen are different in the right and left parts of the human heart.
The main problem, however, is caused by fixation of the body size as well as encapsulation of organs in higher developed organisms. Thus the body is unable to grow indefinitely. Cell division activity decreases following completion of development of the organism. It has been estimated that, 90% of our cells are mitotically inactive, many of them definitely. Their replacement is only possible if they are forced into apoptosis, while other cells become activated to ingest their remains and at last a stem cell has to be activated for the replacement.
Even postmitotic cells are subject to high oxygen turnover and high load of free radicals.
Cells can be situated in high distance to the blood vessels and thereby die earlier. Replacement seems to lag behind, since with increasing age we find an elevated number of dead cells in such locations.
The controlling mechanisms of our organism regulate parameters without respect to single cells. Regulations on the total body-level, may be deleterious for single cells.
There exist functional as well as genetic causes for inhibition of mitoses, e.g. to maintain transparency of the cornea. Here mitoses are depressed by growth factors and their antagonists.
The steady movement of heart muscle cells or the complex synaptic network of neurons may also be obstacles for mitoses.
Replacement by stem cells is impossible if the matrix functions as a barrier of cellular migration, as is found in cartilage and bone. Here only total degradation and de novo synthesis of tissue can lead to regeneration. However, only special tissues like bone mark and bone are able to perform such procedures. In others, loss of tissue may lead to regeneration or metaplasia, however by far not in all of them.
Result is the hypothesis stating that, in each organ there may be specific causes of its mortality, leading to slow proceeding changes allowing then secondary influences like free radicals, body temperature, radiation, metabolic errors or frequent minimal infections an attack. Connected with defense mechanisms and counter regulations these lead to the well known changes of aging (“organ differentiation hypothesis”, Sames 2000, 2001, 2004 Sames et al. 2005).
This situation is unfavorable for influences on aging, or even rejuvenation, as far as the generations living today are concerned. Solutions are possible only over a long period of time. Regeneration of all parts of the body, their specific structure and their function is unimaginable at the current state of development.
However there exists no general obstacle for live span extension and rejuvenation as well. Effective techniques may be repair procedures based on gene therapy, stem cell manipulations and nanotechnology in the first line.
Therefore, to profit from life span extension rendered possible by future development, an organism should remain unchanged over this long time period.
Here cryonics presents itself as sole chance of an extensively increased, vital life span for people living today.
Cryonics proponents therefore as a rule are convinced that, there is nothing to lose, especially, since loss of material goods becomes irrelevant with dying. Thus, people let preserve their remains nonetheless if damage is already visible. Regenerative medicine and nanotechnology in an advanced form could be able to perform an extensive organ repair. This will also need a lot of time, since all technologies are still in their infancy.
The function principle is well-known from hypothermia. Depression of metabolism by cooling reduces the requirements of the cell, whereby it becomes less dependent on blood flow. So called deep hypothermia allows for cooling to 18°C and a suspension of circulation for around 1 hour. The latest method of hypothermia (suspended animation) with oxygen deprivation and concurrent cooling in animal experiments allows stopping heart beat for 6 hours at 10°C far below the limit of lethal under cooling. It is now ready for clinical use and is planned to be introduced soon (Behringer et al. 2003 Morrisonet al. 2008 Rothet al. 2005).
Medicine goes via cryonics, so to speak, or moves into direction of freezing temperature, since cooling below the latter would logically extend the intervention period for physicians. The equation of Arrhenius: k = A exp (?ea/RT) formulates a connection between the velocity of chemical reactions and temperature, where ea is the activation energy, R - the gas constant and A - a factor of frequency for molecular collisions.
It results that, a chemical process needing seconds or minutes at 37°C, would last millions of years in liquid nitrogen (-196°C). In addition the solidification of fluids will prevent molecular movements (Mazur 1984 Karlsson, Toner 1996).
This fact presents the real basis of cryonics.
At the freezing point the greatest danger is lurking that cryonics is confronted with. Namely the crystallization of water can lead to mechanical, chemical and osmotic damage of cells.
The first breakthrough had been reached once by application of cryoprotectants. These shift the freezing point to lower temperatures and reduce formation of ice crystals without excluding it totally.
The last and most progressive method is represented by so called vitrification. Passing by crystal formation using rapid cooling, fluids or solutions can reach a glassy consistency. With decreasing temperature solutions become increasingly more viscous. The so-called glass transition temperature, where a quasi solid consistency is reached, is -130°C. Glass formation does not change the aggregate state. Glass shows the same molecular structure as water. And it flows as seen in very old church windows. A high starting viscosity can be reached by high concentrations of cryoprotectants in solution and favors vitrification. Most notably, a glass is free of crystals. The vitrification procedure has been the first to keep tissues in a normal state during thawing after cooling to -130°C, as shown by electron optic pictures. Furthermore tissues remained alive. Ovaries of different small animals – yet total organs – are able to produce normal descendents following vitrification (Hasegawa et al. 2006). The most voluminous organ to be vitrified successfully has been a rabbit kidney. Following re-warming this kidney enabled normal living for a rabbit without a second kidney (Fahy et al. 2009). Brain slices of rats also showed signs of life consisting in a normal distribution of intracellular and extracellular potassium and sodium following vitrification and re-warming. This does not mean organ preservation, however demonstrates the possibility to maintain viability of neurons by cryopreservation (Pichugin et al. 2006).
A number of organs could be cooled without vitrification, in part of the experiments the temperatures were above -130°C. In the experiments different temperatures and different methods were used. Only part of them has been reproduced and the organs showed some damage by formation of ice. However all organs listed in the following have outlived the cooling. Porcine uteri showed several contractions following re-warming from -130°C (Dittrich et al. 2006). Canine gut was cooled down to the temperature of liquid nitrogen. It was heavily damaged, however, proved capable of self-repairing with the exception of the severely damaged blood vessels, which however, were perfusable (Hamilton et al. 1973). The spleen and ureter of dogs also outlived cooling to cryogenic temperatures and transplantation (Barner et al. 1963 Barner, Scheck 1966). Canine lungs remained alive during cooling to subzero temperatures too (Okinawa et al. 1973). The liver re-gained partial function after being cooled down to –60°C (Zimmermann et al. 1971). Feline brains survived cooling to -20°C for long times (Suda et al. 1966).
Even if the experiments have not been reproduced, the number of different organs able to outlive subzero temperatures speaks for the practicability of organ cryopreservation.
At this point one may ask what's still missing for deep cooling and revival of a total animal. A presupposition may be a method tolerated by all organs, a method with a wide spectrum of applicability. Starting from the organ cryopreservation which provides the best chance of survival today, we may also start into the animal experiment immediately, analyzing, what organs behave crucial and what are the causes of such behavior.
Since cryopreservation has been found in natural life, it is to be expected that such conditions exist.
E.g. plants were able to vitrify at – 30 to - 40°C (Hirsh 1987). Heterothermous vertebrates (Costanzo et al. 1995 Storey and Storey 1993) and invertebrates (Storey and Storey 1992, 1996) have available multiple mechanisms of freezing tolerance including production of cryoprotectants and their body fluids are able to solidify in part or in total at subzero temperatures. The grub of the beetle Cucujus Clavipes Puniceus undergoes transforming to a glassy state at -58°C and is able to avoid ice formation down to –150°C. For the imago this temperature lies at -100°C (Sformo et al. 2010). Research into the mechanisms of this performance is ongoing.
One may focus on the fact that, an intact organism is more robust compared to its constituting parts and can cope with high damaging influences more successfully. In other words, one is not to start into cryobiology from the end of lowest complexity, as practiced still by most cryobiologists using preferentially cell cultures or very small tissue samples, which can be cryopreserved routinely already today, but represent labile artifacts. Therefore one may assume cryopreservation of total human organisms represents an aim desirable for all cryobiologists even for those questioning its feasibility. However, rapid production of results is another thing.
Should the method work in a small animal, the further proceeding of the project is foreseeable. The solution of the problems of larger organs must follow e.g. by more rapid cooling or improvement of the mixture of cryoprotective solu tions . One application will be organ banking for transplantation. In the following, large mammals and even man come into sight.
Problems of feasibility during vitrification and re-warming
The main problem is – as mentioned above – the need to wait for natural death.
The high concentrations of cryoprotectants needed for vitrification are toxic. The former method protecting cultures by glycerol demonstrates this fact, since glycerol is found in cells and is not toxic in physiological concentrations. Cooling reduces toxicity (Fahy et al. 1990, 2004 Wowk et al. 2000). The high viscosity represents an effect essential for vitrification but inhibiting perfusion. Dissolution or combining different cryoprotectants are useful to reduce toxicity. Below glass transition temperature cooling via circulation becomes impossible, only external cooling will work here. In internal parts cooling lags behind, especially in voluminous objects. Formation of crystals, anxiously avoided while cooling down, may take place during re-warming, especially if the cooling rate has allowed for formation of single crystals, while cooling down. At higher temperatures toxicity increases again. Rapid warming up may provide protection against the last mentioned dangers. Optimum rates of re-warming, however, have still not been reached up to now. Since the cryoprotective solutions remain fluent below 0°C it should be possible to dissolute and remove them before the total organism is re-warmed higher than favorably. In general the warming rates needed are reached only in small organs yet and here this is reached by external re-warming (Fahy et al. 2009).
Provided animal experiments are running successfully even in transplantation organs and large animals and become adapted to human application, methods could be also used to preserve healthy persons cryonically. These would be less impaired by aging and disease. Death would not have to be waited for. We hope health load by cryonisation (cryonic suspension) one day will not exceed that of a narcosis or cardioplegia. Therewith the emergency method would be practicable.
After 5-9 min of ischemia at room temperature the brain cannot be re-animated.
So, does it make sense at all to preserve a human body two hours following “death” (in Germany physicians inquest may need this time)?
Since we are still unable to define memory as well as consciousness and what has to be preserved to maintain individuality, since we furthermore do not know the facilities of reconstruction becoming available by future development, it makes sense to be generous with postmortem time.
There exists no evidence that, all nerve cells are dead following 5-9 minutes after oxygen deprivation.
Failure of brain reanimation does not depend on cell death exclusively. Re-perfusion is well known to damage cells more pronouncedly as compared to ischemia itself. An increased vascular resistance plays an important role, forming a stumbling block to reanimation. Endothelial cells become more severely damaged than nerve cells themselves this way. Swelling of endothelium by transformation of oxynitrite into peroxinitrite during re-perfusion as well as leukocyte adhesion narrow the lumen on the other hand, resistance vessels are widened. Pharmaca engendered vasoconstriction (epinephrine), raised blood pressure, heparin, insulin and antacids application led to reanimation even beyond the 9 min. limit of reanimation (Brown, Boruteite 2002 Hossmann 1988 Safar et al. 1976 Ratych et al. 1987 Schaffner et al. 1999 Wu et al. 1998).
Taken together this means that, failure of reanimation at a longer time following death is not exclusively dependent on death of brain cells, it also is a consequence of changes, which can be influenced.
It has been revealed that brain cells show basic criteria of life even hours after organ failure.
Following occlusion of the arteria cerebralis media in rats, substantial amounts of dead neurons (15% of the population) are not found before 5-6 hours in the ischemic area, only single cells have been TUNEL positive apoptotic ones. It is hard to judge if the occlusion of the artery by an introduced filament as practiced in this procedure is total and also to what extent there is diffusion from the penumbra. Even 72-96 hours following occlusion single intact neurons have been found in the necrotic cortex area (Garcia et al. 1995 Rupalla et al. 1998).
Out of brain slices taken 2.6 hours post mortem (p.m.) on an average, neurons have been isolated. More than 82% of the isolated cells were living. However, only the fraction richest in neurons has been evaluated and there was a lot of debris suspicious to contain disintegrated cellular material (Konishi et al. 2002).
In cortical brain slices taken 2-8 hours p.m. (average 4.2 hours) including periods at room temperature (1-2 Hours during transport) neurons could be kept alive in cultures. 30-50% of cells (without separation of different cell types) were alive, 20-30% damaged but not dead. Dead cells seemingly remain with minor changes in their location, which fact could be favorable for tissue reconstruction (Verwer et al. 2002). In cultures the cells lived for weeks and could be used for experiments.
Only a small part of cells die by necrosis, the overwhelming number seems to enter apoptosis, meaning that they are definitely dead after hours (Radovsky et al. 1995).
In human brain infarction apoptosis has been shown to start (increase of caspase-3 at the first two days following infarction), but not to be totally completed. The morphology of the dead cells is rather similar to necrosis and DNA splitting developed late (Love et al. 2000).
In other organs and cell types a retarded start of apoptosis or incomplete apoptosis has been discovered following different forms of ischemia. In excised human kidneys during 85 min. of ischemia at 37°C the substances Bax and Caspase-9, which act in mitochondria in favor of apoptosis increased. Proteins with inhibiting action like Bcl2 or cFLIP showed a decrease. However the way to the most destructive Caspase-3 was not activated (even not via the so-called death receptor). Apoptosis remained incomplete (Wolfs et al. 2005).
In photo receptors of the rat, light mediated apoptoses have been found following 90 min. of ischemia, whereby DNA breaks following the morphological changes. In the neighboring pigmented epithelium of the eye aponeuroses were seen many hours later (Hafezi et al. 1997).
Thus, in ischemia apoptosis takes place in different ways and its procedure may remain incomplete. These findings are still very sparse, especially as far as quantification is concerned. In case they become corroborated one may hope that, reconstruction is possible in principal.
There are already means to influence apoptosis, but targeted reconstitution of apoptotic cells is only visible in first rates. E.g. Caspase-3-inhibitor Z-DEVD-FMK favors survival of neurons in the ischemic rat hippocampus.
Another chance to favor survival of neurons in human cortical brain tissues dissected after up to 9.5 hours p.m. (including 1-2 hours of warm ischemia during transport) has been co-cultivation with embryonic stem cells of rats. The patients concerned have been aged up to 94 years. The number of dead cells was 17 per 26/cmm, some more than 3/cmm have been vital, the others showed damage. From the co-cultivated cells 6 of 16 neurons have been vital.
The substantial capacity of restitution of brain function even following abundant cell losses let us hope for a possible reconstruction of the brain. Thereby redundant contents of memory – but in each case so called plasticity of brain cells play a role (Chen et al. 1998 Dancause et al. 2005 Carmichael 2006 Nudo 2007 Wu et al. 2008).
Cells completing apoptosis are phagocytosed. However, the postmortem appearance of the brain cells is not altogether like completing apoptosis and being phagocytosed.
For people dying today perfect cooling centered on the brain is important, on the other hand development of conditions for a successful revitalization may leave centuries of time.
Cryonics can be counted into the context of developing methods in emergency medicine.
Scientifically I would name it holistic cryobiology. This means that life on all levels of organization (including the human organism) is no taboo for it and it uses and further develops all methods suited so far (including intravascular cooling, other perfusion methods, and intra-vital preparation of human patients etc.)
The procedure as practiced today
The protection of cells at the time of organ failure or as near in time to it as possible is important in particular. This is performed on two ways. 1. by medicals, especially anticoagulants and anti oxidation substances or membrane stabilizing as well as neuro-protective ones. 2. Early cooling is most effective, be it external as a rule by water ice, which has to be at hand in time, where the water is run by a pump over the body to produce convection. A more effective one cools via the blood circuit with already cooled solution. Often no working power may be at the location of the patient in time. Then the patient is transported to an institute, where one is able to perform perfusion.
In every case blood is exchanged against a cell protecting fluid, to avoid coagulation, emit metabolites and control the perfusate composition. Perfusion is performed using an open or closed extra corporal circulation, where a solution of about 75% of a cryoprotective mixture should be reached (e.g. ethylene glycol, DMSO and salt solution). Perfusion of head and brain is preferred. That means going retrograde in the first line via neck arteries or aortic arch or using other vessels (e.g. retrograde via femoral arteries). At around 4°C the solution becomes too viscous for further perfusion.
As soon as a high concentration of cryoprotectants is reached in the solution leaking out, external cooling to subzero grades can be started. At first dry ice is used.
After the dry ice temperature is reached, the patient is brought into a cooling chamber to cool him slowly down to the temperature of liquid nitrogen. Near to the glass transition temperature, where tissue becomes solid, a rise of the temperature by 1°C and a long interruption is allowed for equilibration of temperatures. This is followed by very slow cooling down to liquid nitrogen temperature, which lasts around 1 week. Thereby cracks should be avoided, even if this is not completely possible yet. Enclosed into a plastic bag the patient is then stored in liquid nitrogen (s. Best 2008).
Cryonics intends the feasibility to “switch life on or off” for any period as you like, no more, no less.
In case of successful preservation of large organs, an “assortment” of transplant organs could be kept in organ banks as stock and could be transported without damage and pressure of time.
One step further, fully developed cryonics would allow the physician to maintain a patient in the status quo to search for new means, if being unable to keep him alive. Care of deleterious lesions, which could be treated only with enormous amounts of time in special medical units, unavoidable long transportation, as well as waiting for an organ transplant or even the development of a new medication, would be available. It’s not our topic here, how to operate in deep subzero temperature stage. Already today the question arises if someone should bury e.g. his child, de-animated following cancer, facing the existing alternative to keep it unchanged – even if not undamaged – whereby it could miss a future option, especially since a child has no problems with age-related damage.
Mediated by cryonics we might have a global preservation- and emergency method for accident victims, astronauts, secure transportation of endangered patients or even transportation through zones with extreme conditions (fire, water, lack of oxygen) e.g. in a cooled mechanical stable protection capsule. Careful animal transportation would also be an option. Animals could be kept in a viable state cooled to cryogenic temperatures in banks.
Cryonics can be described as a plan for a stepwise project development for a global preservation and emergency method via animal experiments and preservation of transplant organs up to application to the total human organism. Nothing is speaking against a chance, to successfully complete this currently proceeding development.
Medicine should see no objections, to approve the aims of cryonics and to support the actual projects so far. This would already make sense in the current project of vitrifying and reanimation of a small mammal. Cryonics has not enough proponents and lacks resources for research. At the moment however, accepting of the project plans weights out the finding of resources.
Already today in its immature form, the application of cooling to cryogenic temperatures to de-animated people must be seen as an emergency measure, which is explicably debatable. It follows the will of the patient and is the only, currently still small chance of survival, certainly slowly increasing.
Large organisms like the human one, cannot be reanimated following cryopreservation by currently available methods, which inter al. need rapid cooling. Therefore the procedure can only be applied postmortem. Furthermore, there are still other problems e.g.: toxicity of cryoprotective solutions, cracks by tension during rapid cooling and formation of crystals during reheating. However, brain cells die more slowly after general organ failure as is commonly suggested. It is possible to interrupt the cell-death procedure by means of cooling, whereby the organism may be preserved over millions of years without changes. As of now, there is not any alternative method of life span extension available yet. The cryopreservation of organs makes some progress, and the same process with total organisms could also become practicable as soon as it is possible to cool different organs using the same method for all of them. A very potent emergency method thus, may be developed step by step, which also would allow to preserve healthy human beings by cooling. The repair of damage due to disease and aging must be left to the future development of medicine. Eternal life however, is no realistic idea.
My thanks go to Jan Welke for expert and skillfull proof reading. I also want to thank the colleagues of the department of intensive medicine of the university hospital Innsbruck.
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Wu L, Sluiter AA, Guo H-f, Balesar RA, Swaab DF, Zhou J-N, Verwer RWH: Neural stem cells improve neuronal survival in cultured postmortem brain tissue from aged and Alzheimer patients. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, 12 (2008) 1611–21
Zimmermann G, Tennyson C, Drapanas T: Studies of Preservation of Liver and Pancreas by Freezing Techniques. Transplantation Proceedings 1 (1971) 657–9
Why Cryonics Makes Sense
You’re on an airplane when you hear a loud sound and things start violently shaking. A minute later, the captain comes on the speaker and says:
There’s been an explosion in the engine, and the plane is going to crash in 15 minutes. There’s no chance of survival. There is a potential way out—the plane happens to be transferring a shipment of parachutes, and anyone who would like to use one to escape the plane may do so. But I must warn you—the parachutes are experimental and completely untested, with no guarantee to work. We also have no idea what the terrain will be like down below. Please line up in the aisle if you’d like a parachute, and the flight attendants will give you one, show you how to use it and usher you to the emergency exit where you can jump. Those who choose not to take that option, please remain in your seat—this will be over soon, and you will feel no pain.
When Robert Ettinger was a kid in the 1930s, he read a lot of science fiction, and he assumed that with the world advancing the way it was, scientists would surely have a cure for aging at some point during his lifetime. He would live to see a world where sickness was a thing of the past and death was something people chose to do voluntarily, at a time of their choosing.11 ← New to WBW? Open these.
But thirty years later, aging and involuntary death were still very much a thing, and Ettinger, by then a physics professor, realized that science might not solve these problems in time for him to reap the benefits. So he started thinking about how to hack the system.
If, rather than being buried or cremated after his death, he could instead be frozen in some way—then whenever the scientists did eventually get around to conquering mortality, they’d probably also have the tools and know-how to resuscitate him, and he could have the last laugh after all.
In 1962, he wrote about this concept in a book called The Prospects of Immortality, and the cryonics movement was born.
The first person to give cryonics a try was James Bedford, a psychology professor who died of cancer in 1967 at the age of 73 and is doing his thing in a vat of liquid nitrogen in Arizona as you read this. Others slowly began to follow, and today, there are over 300 people hanging out in vats of liquid nitrogen.
Now let’s pause for a second. A year ago, I knew almost nothing about cryonics, and my impressions of it were something like this sentence:
Cryonics, or cryogenics, is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
Then I started learning about it. It’s your fault—cryonics is one of the potential-future-post-topics people email me about most, and it’s something at least five readers have brought up in conversation when I’ve met them in person. And as I began to read about cryonics, I soon learned that a lot of the words in my italicized assumption sentence weren’t correct.
So let’s work our way through the sentence as we go over exactly what cryonics is and how it works. We’ll start with this part:
Cryonics, or cryogenics, is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
It turns out that this is like saying, “Wingsuit flying, or meteorology, is the sport of flying through the air using a wingsuit.” Meteorology is the study of what happens in the atmosphere, which includes how wind works, and wingsuit flying is a process that harnesses the wind—and you’d be an odd person if you thought they were the same thing.
Likewise, cryogenics is a branch of physics that studies the production and effects of very low temperatures, while cryonics is the practice of using very low temperatures to try to preserve a human being. Not the same thing.
Next, we have a string of three misleading words to talk about:
Cryonics is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
We’ll address these three words by going through how cryonics works, starting at the beginning.
So you decide you want to be a cryonicist. Here are the steps:
Step 1) Pick a company
There are four major companies that provide cryonics services—Alcor in Arizona, Cryonics Institute (CI) in Michigan, American Cryonics Society (ACS) in California, and KrioRus in Russia. KrioRus is the newest option and quickly up-and-coming, but the two big boys are Alcor and CI (ACS doesn’t have their own storage facilities—they store with CI).
From my perusing, it seems like Alcor is the slightly-more-legit and fancier of the two, while CI (which was started by Robert Ettinger, the guy who launched the movement) is more affordable and gives off more of a mom-and-pop vibe. Both are nonprofit, and each has about 150 people in storage. Alcor has a little over 1,000 “members” (i.e. people who will one day be in storage), and CI has around half that number.
Step 2) Become a member
To become a cryonicist, you need to fill out some paperwork, sign some stuff and get it notarized, and pay for three things: an annual membership fee, a transport fee to get your body to the facility after you die, and a treatment/storage/revival fee.
Alcor’s annual membership fee is about $700, and their transport fee is bundled together with the treatment/storage/revival fee—together they cost $200,000. Alcor gives you the option of ditching your body and just freezing your brain (this is called “neuropreservation”), which brings the price down to $80,000.
CI’s annual membership fee is $120 (or a one-time fee of $1,250 for a lifetime membership) and the treatment, etc. costs $35,000 ($28,000 for lifetime members). This is so much cheaper than Alcor for two main reasons:
First, it doesn’t include the transport. If you live near the facility, you can save a lot of money. If not, you’ll need to go through their partner for a transport contract, which costs $95,000 ($88,000 for lifetime members).
Second, Alcor uses more than half of their large fee to fund what they call their Patient Care Trust. Back in the 70s, there were more cryonics companies, and some of them went bankrupt, which meant their frozen people stopped being frozen, which was a not ideal outcome. Alcor’s trust is a backup fund to make sure their “patients” won’t be affected by something like a company financial crisis.
Step 3) Get a life insurance policy in the name of your new cryonics company
Sounds shady, right? But it also makes sense. Both Alcor and CI are small companies on a pretty tight budget and neither can afford to offer a payment plan to be hopefully paid out by your estate or your relatives. On the patient end, unless you’re rich, cryonics fees are huge, and a life insurance policy guaranteed to pay your full cryonics fee forces you to save for this fee throughout your life. For young people, even sizable life insurance policies are pretty cheap—with CI, you could be totally covered for as little as $300/year ($120 annual membership, $180 life insurance policy to cover the main fee). Even for Alcor’s more expensive package, costs shouldn’t exceed $100/month.
Those fees aren’t nothing, but the whole life insurance thing, at least when it comes to younger people, pretty effectively ejects “rich” from our black and red sentence. If it costs the same as cable or a cigarette habit, you don’t need to be rich to pay for it.
Step 4) Put on your bracelet and go on living your life
Cryonics members are given a bracelet and a necklace, etched with instructions and contact info, and encouraged to wear one at all times, so if you suddenly die, whoever finds you will know to notify the company.
Okay here’s where things get tricky. We think of the divide between life and death as a distinct boundary, and we believe that at any given point, a person is either definitively alive or definitively dead. But let’s examine that assumption for a second:
Let’s first talk about what it means when a person is “doomed” from a health standpoint. We can all agree that what constitutes someone being doomed depends on where, and when, they are. A three-year-old with advanced pneumonia in 1740 would probably have been doomed, while the same child with the same condition today might be fully treatable. The same story could be said of the fate of someone who falls badly ill in a remote village in Malawi compared with their fate if they were in London instead. “Doomed” depends on a number of factors.
That the same thing can be said of “dead” is at first pretty unintuitive. But Alcor’s CEO Max More puts it this way: “Fifty years ago if you were walking along the street and someone keeled over in front of you and stopped breathing you would have checked them out and said they were dead and disposed of them. Today we don’t do that, instead we do CPR and all kinds of things. People we thought were dead 50 years ago we now know were not.
Today, dead means the heart has been stopped for 4-6 minutes, because that’s how long the brain can go without oxygen before brain death occurs. But Alcor, in its site’s Science FAQ, explains that “the brain ‘dies’ after several minutes without oxygen not because it is immediately destroyed, but because of a cascade of processes that commit it to destruction in the hours that follow restoration of warm blood circulation. Restoring circulation with cool blood instead of warm blood, reopening blocked vessels with high pressure, avoiding excessive oxygenation, and blocking cell death with drugs can prevent this destruction. The site goes on to explain that “with new experimental treatments, more than 10 minutes of warm cardiac arrest can now be survived without brain injury. Future technologies for molecular repair may extend the frontiers of resuscitation beyond 60 minutes or more, making today’s beliefs about when death occurs obsolete.”
In other words, what we think of as “dead” actually means “doomed, under the current circumstances.” Someone fifty years ago who suffered from cardiac arrest wasn’t dead, they were doomed to die because the medical technology at the time couldn’t save them. Today, that person wouldn’t be considered dead yet because they wouldn’t be doomed yet. Instead, someone today “dies” 4-6 minutes after cardiac arrest, because that happens to be how long someone can currently go before modern technology can no longer help them.
Cryonicists view death not as a singular event, but as a process—one that starts when the heart stops beating and ends later at a point called “the information-theoretic criterion for death”—let’s call it “info death”—when the brain has become so damaged that no amount of present or future technology could restore it to its original state or have any way to retrieve its information.
Here’s an interesting way to think about it: Imagine a patient arriving in an ambulance to Hospital A, a typical modern hospital. The patient’s heart stopped 15 minutes before the EMTs arrived and he is immediately pronounced dead at the hospital. What if, though, the doctors at Hospital A learned that Hospital B across the street had developed a radical new technology that could revive a patient anytime within 60 minutes after cardiac arrest with no long-term damage? What would the people at Hospital A do?
Of course, they would rush the patient across the street to Hospital B to save him. If Hospital B did save the patient, then by definition the patient wouldn’t actually have been dead in Hospital A, just pronounced dead because Hospital A viewed him as entirely and without exception doomed.
What cryonicists suggest is that in many cases where today a patient is pronounced dead, they’re not dead but rather doomed, and that there is a Hospital B that can save the day—but instead of being in a different place, it’s in a different time. It’s in the future.
That’s why cryonicists adamantly assert that cryonics does not deal with dead people—it deals with living people who simply need to be transferred to a future hospital to be saved. They believe that in many cases, today’s corpse is tomorrow’s patient (which is why they call their frozen clients “patients” instead of “corpses” or “remains”), and they view their work as essentially “extended emergency medicine.
But it’s emergency medicine with an important caveat. Today’s technology has no way to revive a cryonically-suspended patient, so it isn’t considered a medical procedure by the law but rather a weird kind of coffin—i.e. if you cryopreserve someone who hasn’t yet been pronounced dead, it’s seen by the law as homicide. Even if the patient is terminally ill beyond any hope and adamantly doesn’t want to deteriorate further before being cryopreserved, it’s not an option—at least not under current laws (laws that some are trying to change). This puts cryonicists in a tough bind—and it’s exactly where that differing definition of death comes in handy.
The law does not see death as a process. For a long time, legal death in the US was considered to occur when a person’s heartbeat and breathing stopped. As modern medical procedures like CPR and defibrillators started to allow those patients to be resuscitated, the law had to change the definition of legal death to include “irreversible cessation of all functions of the brain. The old “heartbeat and breathing” definition of legal death is now called “clinical death,” a middle ground point where there’s an obligation to attempt resuscitation in most cases but where a patient can also have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in place (common with terminally ill patients).2 In DNR cases, a doctor or nurse will pronounce a clinically dead patient to be legally dead—even though a resuscitation effort could still revive them.
This is a critical fact for cryonics. Cryonics technicians have to wait until legal death to begin their work on a patient, but with the help of a patient’s DNR order, they can start the process right after the heart stops, well before any brain damage sets in.
So this is the window for cryonics:
Which brings us back to our list, where we can now clarify what we really mean with Step 5:
Step 5) Legally Die
You legally dying is a key step along the way here, so don’t mess it up. You can do it the good way, the bad way, or the really bad way.
The good way: Something predictable where you’re in a cliché deathbed situation, like cancer. This allows you to get yourself on a plane to either Scottsdale (Alcor) or Michigan (CI) and into one of the specifically designated hospice care facilities that the cryonics company regularly works with. This is important because cryonics is highly controversial within the mainstream medical community and often not well-regarded or well-understood. As a result, some hospitals and hospice care facilities are “cryonics friendly” and others are not (those that aren’t have been known to make it difficult for cryonics staff to do what they need to do or deny them the same privileges organ transplant specialists get in a hospital). Once you’re in hospice care, the cryonics company can put staff on standby around the clock, so that the second you legally die, they can be there to start the treatment.
The bad way: Something sudden and unexpected, like a heart attack, where at best, someone is there and can contact the cryonics company as you’re rushed to the hospital so they can meet you there, or worse, where you’re dead for a few hours or even longer before anyone finds you. In these circumstances, the cryonics company will do the best they can. Your brain will be in worse shape than ideal when you go into cryopreservation, but again, who knows what future technology will be able to accomplish, and as long as you’re still somewhere in the “cryonics window” and still in the process of dying, not yet having reached info death, there remains hope.
The really bad way: A violent accident or something where your brain ends up badly damaged. In the worst of these cases, there’s not much cryonics can do to help—like the Alcor member who died in the September 11th attacks.6 Another bad ending would be dying in a foul-play situation that would lead the police to want to do an autopsy (Alcor suggests its members file a no-autopsy-for-religious-reasons form with the government). A woman who has signed up for cryonics did a Reddit AMA, and when one of the questions was about how signing up had changed her life, she answered, “The biggest change I’ve noticed is that I’m more careful. I drive slower and more cautiously/attentively, I pay more attention to what’s going on around me.” Because she doesn’t want to die the really bad way.
Step 6) Cool off ASAP and get transferred to the cryonics facility
After you’re declared legally dead, the cryonics team will, ideally, immediately get going. The first thing they do is two-fold—they put you in an ice water bath to bring down your temperature and slow your metabolism (so any damage taking place as a result of cardiac arrest takes longer to happen), and they start getting your heart and lungs working again so that the body remains in stable condition. They do this by administering CPS (like CPR but with an S for support instead of an R for resuscitation, because they’re not trying to resuscitate you) using a mechanical heart-lung resuscitator called a thumper:7
Then they inject you with a number of different medicines to make sure you don’t get blood clots or start rotting.
Once that’s under control, they can do a more involved procedure that surgically accesses the major blood vessels in your thigh and hooks them up to this guy:8
That’s a heart-lung machine that takes care of circulation and oxygenation so they can stop the much cruder CPS. In addition to circulating your blood, the machine draws heat out of your body, cooling it to just above the freezing temperature of water, and replaces some of your blood with an organ preservation solution that supports life at super low temperatures (this is similar to how transplant surgeons keep organs alive when they have to transport them long distances).
If you have to be flown to the cryonics facility, they pack you in ice and put you on board what they hope is not your last ever flight.
Step 7) Get vitrified
Most people who know what cryonics is think it means getting frozen. It doesn’t. It means getting vitrified.
Glass is weird. It’s not a typical solid because as it cools from its liquid phase, it never crystallizes into an orderly structure. But, as I learned when a bunch of commenters yelled at me after I published this post, it’s not actually a liquid either, since it doesn’t flow. So, it’s neither a typical solid nor a liquid—it’s an “amorphous solid,” sometimes compared to a giant molecule. For our purposes, the key is that like a liquid, glass doesn’t crystallize—rather, as it cools the molecules just move slower and slower until they stop.
If you froze a human, all the liquid water in their body would eventually hit its freezing point and crystallize into a solid. That wouldn’t be good—first, water ice takes up about 9% more volume than water liquid, so it would expand and badly damage tissue, and second, the sharp ice crystals would slice through cell membranes and other tissue around it.
So to avoid that catastrophic liquid-to-solid state change, cryonics technicians do something cool—they perform surgery through the chest and hook the major arteries up to tubes which pump all the blood out of the body, replacing it with a “cryoprotectant solution,” otherwise known as medical grade anti-freeze. This does two important things: it replaces 60% of the water in the body’s cells, and it lowers the freezing point of what liquid is left. The result, when done perfectly, is that no freezing happens in the body. Instead, as they chill your body down and down over the next three hours, it hits -124ºC, a key point called the “glass transition temperature” when the body’s liquid stays amorphous but rises so high in viscosity that no molecule can budge. You’re officially an amorphous solid, like glass—i.e. you’re vitrified.
With no molecule movement, all chemical activity in your body comes to a halt. Biological time is stopped. You’re on pause.
Since I’m sure you’re feeling skeptical, it’s helpful to note that vitrifying biological parts is nothing new. We’ve been successfully vitrifying and then rewarming human embryos, sperm, skin, bone, and other body parts for a while now. More recently, scientists vitrified a rabbit kidney:9
Then they rewarmed it and put it back in the rabbit. And it still worked.
And just in February of 2016, there was a cryonics breakthrough when for the first time, scientists vitrified a rabbit’s brain and showed that once rewarmed, it was in near-perfect condition, “with the cell membranes, synapses, and intracellular structures intact … [It was] the first time a cryopreservation was provably able to protect everything associated with learning and memory.
Once you’re vitrified, you need to keep being chilled, little by little, until after about two weeks, you’re down to -196ºC. Why? Because that’s the point at which nitrogen becomes a liquid, and you’re about to take a long-term liquid nitrogen bath.
Step 8) Go into storage
Or as Alcor euphemistically calls it, “long-term care.” The new vitrified you now goes into what is essentially a large upright thermos that’s about 10 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide.11
You meet your new neighbors—three other vitrified people, each in their respective quadrant of the thermos, along with five people traveling super lean, with no body, whose heads are stacked in the middle column.12
Or, if you’re in a heads-only thermos, you’ll be one of 45 brains sharing the space (the brain is what’s being stored, but they keep the brains in their heads because it’s riskier to remove a brain than to just keep it in there and use the head as a carrying case).
Oh, and you’re upside-down. This is because liquid nitrogen boils off gradually from the top of the container. Normally, it’s no problem—the staff tops it off about once a week. But if, in some worst-case scenario, a container was forced to be left for a long time, the head would be the last thing to be affected—upside-down patients means it would take six months before the nitrogen boiled off so far that the head would be exposed.
And when it comes to blackouts, cryonics patients are totally safe—there’s no electricity involved in their storage.
And this is where you’ll hang out. Maybe for 10 years. Maybe for 150 years. Maybe for 1,200 years. But the time doesn’t matter to you. You’re on pause.
Now’s a good time for us to take a step back and look at the big picture. If Point A is “I’ve decided I want to sign up for cryonics,” and Point B is “Oh cool it’s the year 2482 and here I am doing stuff,” there are four major Ifs that need to all go the right way to take you from A to B:
1) If I legally die in a not really bad way and everything goes as planned with getting me into the thermos
2) If future humanity ever reaches a point where it has the technology to revive me to full health
3) If the cryonics company can manage to store me safely and uninterrupted until that point
4) If when that point comes, the outside world actually does take action to revive me
—then I’ll be there in 2482 doing stuff.
The eight steps you’ve taken so far that start with choosing a cryonics company and end with you in the thermos only accomplish the first If, with all the other Ifs still standing in between you and the next step in your cryonics journey—revival.
To understand how we can reach that step, we need to understand the deal with all four Ifs.
We’ll start by talking about Ifs 1-3, which need to be discussed together, because they’re interdependent and they work together. To illustrate why, let’s lay them out in the same visual:
The three segments of this line relate to Ifs 1, 2, and 3. But the visual is a little misleading at first, because even though all three segments lie on the same line, they’re all representing different concepts:
- The blue segment (If 1) represents the quality of your initial preservation .
- The yellow segment (If 2) represents the capabilities of medical technology as time moves forward .
- The green segment (If 3) represents the amount of time still needed to bridge the gap between the blue and yellow segments before they can finally connect to each other.
The idea is that the better you were preserved, the farther out to the right the blue segment extends, and as technology gets better and better, the yellow segment extends itself farther and farther left toward the blue segment. The green segment gets smaller and smaller as this happens, until eventually the green segment is no more and the blue and yellow segments connect—i.e. medical technology has reached the point where it can revive you.
A lot of the key details about cryonics are centered here, so let’s talk about each of these segments in more depth:
The blue segment—the quality of your preservation (which relates to If 1)
The length of the blue segment corresponds to the quality of preservation. Or, put most simply, the fewer roadblocks there are between your vitrified state in the thermos and a fully restored and healthy you, the longer the blue segment is—because if everything that happens leading up to you being put in the thermos goes as well as possible, it goes a longer way towards getting you to Point B and means the yellow segment has to do less work on its end to be able to revive you.
The major factor that determines the length of the blue segment is how closely the atomic structure of your vitrified brain resembles the original atomic structure of your brain when it was living and healthy.
Let’s note that I said “brain,” not “body,” because what we mostly care about here is the brain. Cryonicists, like many of us, believe that who you are comes down to your brain. If, in the future, your identical current brain lived on top of a synthetic body and your exact memories and personality were fully intact, cryonicists would be satisfied that you “survived.” That’s why some don’t even bother vitrifying their body.
The second thing to note is that scientists believe that short-term memory is contained in brain activity—in the electricity going through your brain—while your long-term memory, your personality, your knowledge, and everything else that makes you “you” is contained in the brain’s structure—i.e. the particular arrangement of atoms that make up your brain.13
Any electrical activity in your brain before legal death will be lost during vitrification, so you’d be revived without the short-term memory of the end of your pre-vitrified life. But what vitrification can preserve is the structure of your brain, which conveniently, is all we care about.
This concept gives us a clearer understanding of the way cryonicists view death. To cryonicists, perfect health means the exact arrangement of atoms in your healthy brain being intact, and the process of dying means the deterioration of that arrangement due to phenomena like aging, injury, disease, and, eventually, effects caused by heart stoppage. Death, to them, means the point at which the original structure of your brain has become so disorganized that even the fanciest future science lab would have no way of figuring out what the original arrangement looked like—that’s the definition of info death.
The concept of info death makes sense when we compare the brain to a computer’s hard drive. Eliezer Yudkowsky explains how difficult it actually is to bring a computer hard drive to info death:14
If you want to securely erase a hard drive, it’s not as easy as writing it over with zeroes. Sure, an “erased” hard drive like this won’t boot up your computer if you just plug it in again. But if the drive falls into the hands of a specialist with a scanning tunneling microscope, they can tell the difference between “this was a 0, overwritten by a 0” and “this was a 1, overwritten by a 0”.
There are programs advertised to “securely erase” hard drives using many overwrites of 0s, 1s, and random data. But if you want to keep the secret on your hard drive secure against all possible future technologies that might ever be developed, then cover it with thermite and set it on fire. It’s the only way to be sure.
He applies the same logic to the human brain to suggest that cryonics patients should one day be revivable:
Pumping someone full of cryoprotectant and gradually lowering their temperature until they can be stored in liquid nitrogen is not a secure way to erase a person.
In other words, it’s reasonable to assume that the fanciest future neuroscientists will become so good at reading a damaged vitrified brain for clues as to its original structure that a typical combo of aging, disease, heart stoppage, and vitrification likely won’t be able to “stump” them. And to cryonicists, if future scientists can examine your vitrified brain and figure out what it’s supposed to look like, you’re not dead—by definition.
The length of the blue segment—preservation quality—is affected by three things:
1) How much damage happened before you legally died. How old were you when you died? How much had your brain deteriorated by that point? Did you suffer from a dementia-causing disease like Alzheimer’s and how much permanent damage did that disease do?3 Did the thing that killed you damage your brain (like brain cancer, or a head injury) or was your brain unharmed?
2) How much damage happened between when you legally died and when the cryonics team started working on you. In the ideal situation, your heart stops and before any changes happen in your brain, you’re stabilized and put on ice. Often, this isn’t how things go, and every unattended minute that passes after legal death has a big impact on the brain and shortens the length of the blue segment. But cryonicists believe that true info death doesn’t happen for many hours, or even days, after legal death occurs, and that there’s often hope in cryopreserving even people who lay “dead” for a while before being found.
3) How much damage happened during the vitrifying process. Vitrification itself—at least the way it is currently done—causes its own damage to the brain. Cryonics research focuses mostly on mitigating this factor, and it’s dramatically improved since the earliest days in the 1970s—the series of images at the bottom of this page shows the progress that has been made.
The yellow segment—the state of medical technological advancement as time moves forward (which relates to If 2)
As medical technology becomes more and more advanced, the yellow segment grows—but while the blue segment extends to the right as it grows, the yellow segment extends to the left. The key point happens when technology eventually gets so good that the yellow segment meets the blue segment and you become officially revivable.
Will If 2 happen? Will technology ever reach the point when it can revive you?
Assuming If 1 gets a check mark, cryonicists believe If 2 is likely to one day get a check mark too. Because there are only two ways to totally fail If 2:
1) For some reason, humans permanently stop working on medical technology advancements before you hit the If 2 key point.
2) Humans go extinct before hitting the If 2 key point.
Barring those two situations, If 2 should eventually cooperate. The theory is that with enough future technology, you’ll one day be revivable.
When will If 2 happen? How long until I’m revived?
This part depends on how substantial the technological challenge of cryonic revival turns out to be and how quickly technology ends up moving forward—but it also depends upon how well If 1 went. As we just discussed, the better If 1 goes, the sooner If 2 happens.
How will If 2 happen? What kind of future technology might be able to revive vitrified people?
Well, it depends on what we mean by revival. Cryonicists seem to have a Plan A and a Plan B.
Plan A: Restore the vitrified patient as a healthy human
Under Plan A, revival consists of restoring the structure of the vitrified brain to its original state—i.e. putting all the atoms where they belong. To do that, you need two things:
1) The info about where the atoms are supposed to go
2) A way to put the atoms where they’re supposed to go
The first thing is taken care of if today’s vitrifying procedures do their job, assuming future neuroscientists become really good at deciphering a brain’s original state from the information they can gather by examining the vitrified brain.
The second thing requires molecular nanotechnology. For a quick nanotech overview, I’ll steal part of a blue box from the AI post:
Nanotechnology Blue Box
Nanotechnology is our word for technology that deals with the manipulation of matter that’s between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or a millionth of a millimeter, and this 1-100 range encompasses viruses (100 nm across), DNA (10 nm wide), and things as small as large molecules like hemoglobin (5 nm) and medium molecules like glucose (1 nm). If/when we conquer nanotechnology, the next step will be the ability to manipulate individual atoms, which are only one order of magnitude smaller (
To understand the challenge of humans trying to manipulate matter in that range, let’s take the same thing on a larger scale. The International Space Station is 268 mi (431 km) above the Earth. If humans were giants so large their heads reached up to the ISS, they’d be about 250,000 times bigger than they are now. If you make the 1nm – 100nm nanotech range 250,000 times bigger, you get .25mm – 2.5cm. So nanotechnology is the equivalent of a human giant as tall as the ISS figuring out how to carefully build intricate objects using materials between the size of a grain of sand and an eyeball. To reach the next level—manipulating individual atoms—the giant would have to carefully position objects that are 1/40th of a millimeter—so small normal-size humans would need a microscope to see them.5
Nanotech was first discussed by Richard Feynman in a 1959 talk, when he explained: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It would be, in principle, possible … for a physicist to synthesize any chemical substance that the chemist writes down…. How? Put the atoms down where the chemist says, and so you make the substance.” It’s as simple as that. If you can figure out how to move individual molecules or atoms around, you can make literally anything. Nanotechnology so advanced that it allows us to engineer at an atomic level is called molecular nanotechnology (MNT).
Humans haven’t yet conquered MNT, and scientists debate how long it’ll take humanity to get there. But when we do, we might look back on today’s technology as terribly primitive, like the picture scientist Ralph Merkle paints: “Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. It’s like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can’t really snap them together the way you’d like.”
MNT will be a game-changer in an unimaginable number of arenas, one of which is in medicine. A brain synapse is just a particular configuration of atoms, so if we have the tools to move atoms around and put them where we want, then we can perfectly “repair” a damaged synapse. Cryonicists believe MNT is the key to the future revival and restoration of cryonics patients.
The first thought some people have when they think about revival is that the person would be revived as the old and dying person they were before being vitrified. But that’s not the plan. When we get to the point when we have technology so incredible that we can move atoms around well enough to revive someone, we should also have the technology to repair and rejuvenate them. For someone who was dying of cancer before going into the thermos, not only will their successful revival mean that cancer has likely been conquered long ago, but probably aging too.
Along the same lines, by that point we should also be able to either rejuvenate the patient’s vitrified body or simply make a new, perfectly-working body. Alcor’s Medical Response Director, Aaron Drake, explains: “We know we can regenerate a small organ, and grow a new heart. We know we can 3-dimensionally print cells and hearts. So at some point we would need to regenerate her entire body, or at least her organs, and put it all together. Then we’d need to transplant that brain into a new body.
Plan B: Upload the person’s brain info into a virtual world
Plan B shares Plan A’s first requirement—the info about where the atoms are supposed to go—but not its need for physical assembly. Instead, Plan B relies on a hypothetical future technology called “whole brain emulation,” where an entire brain structure can be uploaded to a computer with such perfect accuracy that everything about the person is intact and alive in a virtual world.
This is an option if physical revival is too difficult, or if it’s so far in the future that the physical world has actually gone out of style entirely. If humans can somehow pull off whole brain emulation, you could be revived to wake up in a magical virtual world, fully conscious and no longer confined to the limits and vulnerabilities of biology and the physical world. Please.
While both Plan A and B require immense technological hurdles, cryonicists stress that both options are theoretically possible.
The green segment—the amount of time you need to stay safely in storage before technology is able to revive you (which relates to If 3)
The green segment’s job is simple: hold everything together until the yellow segment connects to the blue segment.
So what could mess up If 3? What could sabotage a vitrified person’s ability to remain bathed in liquid nitrogen as long as necessary?
The cryonics company screws up. A human-error-caused catastrophe—e.g. a rupture in a thermos tank lets in heat, and all the liquid nitrogen evaporates before the staff realizes what happened.
The cryonics company goes bankrupt and doesn’t have the means, the will, or the organization to create a plan that will save the patients. I mentioned that this happened a few times with some of the earlier companies. The major companies today claim to have secure backup plans in place in case of the worst case scenario, and this security blanket is the main purpose of Alcor’s sizable trust.
A natural disaster. An earthquake, tornado, or something else smashes the building holding the thermoses to oblivion. Neither major US cryonics company is in a location highly prone to natural disasters—Alcor actually located itself in Scottsdale, AZ because it is the place in the US least at risk of natural disasters. Even if a natural disaster were to strike, the patients might be fine—the thermoses are strong, they’re power-outage-proof with no electricity involved, and even if a thermos is ruptured, there’s the upside-down thing where patients’ heads will be the last body part affected.
A terrorist attack on a cryonics facility. There are a lot of people in the world—especially in the world of religion—who hate the concept of cryonics.
War. All bets are off in war.
The law prevents the cryonics company from doing its job. This one almost happened recently. In 2004, Arizona legislators tried to pass a bill that would have put Alcor under the regulation of the State Funeral Board. This, if passed, would have likely ended up shutting Alcor down. It turned into a nasty debate, centered largely around religious issues, with the religious voice disapproving of Alcor’s line of work—but ultimately, Alcor prevailed. That said, in order to do business legally, Alcor has to accept bodies in the guise of “anatomical donations for research purposes,” a practice protected by the constitutional right to donate one’s body for research into cryopreservation. The law-related variable seems pretty stable currently, but if someone has a long green segment and requires 800 years of storage before their revival becomes possible, who the hell knows what will happen—what is currently Scottsdale, AZ might not even be part of the US by that point.
The cryonics company comes under ownership with different values and they decide to give up on the patients. Or, more maliciously, a cryonics-hater makes a too-good-to-refuse offer to the owners of a cryonics company with the intention of shutting it down. All major cryonics companies claim that they’re run and always will be run by passionate cryonicists and this is not a possibility—but again, who knows.
The longer the green segment is and the longer it needs to hold out, the higher the chance of failing If 3. If patients can be revived 40 years from now, there’s a lot less that can go wrong than if revival doesn’t become possible for 2,500 years.
But the companies are doing their best to plan for the long run. On the question of how long until revival becomes possible, Alcor says, “Some think it will take centuries before patients can be revived, while others think the accelerating pace of technological change might so rapidly transform our world that decades would suffice. Alcor is planning for however long it might take.”16
As time moves forward and both vitrification and revival technology improve, both the blue and yellow segments will tend to move inward, invading the green segment from both sides. The big picture might be best illustrated like this:
This is how the blue, green and yellow segments work in flow with each other. Cryonics companies often say cryonics will be a “last in, first out” thing, and this graph shows exactly why—
The more time that passes before you need to be vitrified, the fancier the vitrification technology you’ll be treated with and the further along revival technology will be—and this smaller technology gap will mean a sooner revival date. And with less time to have to rely on a cryonics company to care for you, the less risk you’ll be taking.
It’s important to understand that the blue line on the graph applies to the average cryonics patient—someone who suffers from Alzheimers late in life will go into vitrification in worse shape than a typical person of their time, so their particular challenge will be greater than the blue line height that corresponds with the year of their death.
Of course, the simple, straight lines on the graph are portraying the general concept. The actual lines won’t be straight or predictable. One promising way this might be the case is that the accelerating rate of technological advancement6 might mean that the blue and yellow lines could improve at a faster rate over time and look like this:
So that’s how the first three Ifs work. And that’s all great—but none of it matters if If 4 doesn’t pan out. Without If 4—i.e. “Will people actually revive me when the time comes?”—you’re still just a helpless, vitrified body, and if the external world doesn’t keep their side of the bargain once you become revivable, you’re out of luck—and you’ll never know it happened.
You’ll be a little like a farm animal. You might have rights in theory, but with no ability to defend your own rights, you’ll rely on other people to fight for those rights on your behalf.
As I’ve dug into this topic and talked to people about it, I’ve noticed that this concern seems to jump immediately to people’s minds as a reason cryonics is unlikely to work out.
They ask: “There will be enough problems on Earth to deal with—do you really think people are going to care about bringing dead people back to life?”
Cryonicists have answers to this question.
First, they point out that patients won’t be floating in tanks in a world that has forgotten them. Rather, as a patient, you’d likely have A) descendants or friends who will be highly aware of you and eager to see you reanimated, B) the larger cryonicist community, who will be as passionately interested in your fair treatment as PETA activists are in the fair treatment of animals, and C) the contractual obligation of your future care-takers—similar to how today you might be operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t know you, but who diligently cares for you anyway out of professional obligation.
Second, they argue that once the revival of cryonics patients becomes a reality, the public’s conception of what a cryonics patient is and what she deserves will dramatically shift:17
Long before it ever becomes possible to contemplate revival of today’s patients, reversible suspended animation will be perfected as a mainstream medical technology. From that point forward, the whole tradition of caring for people who cannot immediately be fixed will be strongly reinforced in culture and law. By the time it becomes possible to revive patients preserved with the oldest and crudest technologies, revival from states of suspended animation will be something that has been done thousands, if not millions, of times before. The moral and cultural imperative for revival when possible will be as basic and strong as the obligation to render first aid and emergency medical care today.
If a cryonics patient might seem to have the rights of a farm animal today, cryonicists expect that to become an outdated and primitive-seeming viewpoint down the road. They believe cryonics patients will be looked upon more like today’s coma patients.
That sounds great, but of course, we have no idea how the future will play out or what the standing will be for the field of cryonics and its suspended patients. It does seem plausible, at least, that cryonics patients will end up with more and more rights in the future, not fewer and fewer. If that’s what happens, If 4 shouldn’t be much of a problem.
And if all four Ifs go your way, you’ll finally be able to move onto the next step—the one that will really blow your mind when it happens.
Step 9) Be revived
This will be quite the experience.
First, whether it happens 30 years or 2,000 years after you were last conscious, it’ll feel the same to you—probably a bit like a short nap. When you sleep, you feel the passage of time—when you wake up after an eight-hour night’s sleep, it doesn’t feel like you just went to bed a second ago, it feels like it’s been eight hours. But being on pause in your liquid nitrogen thermos is different. You won’t experience the passage of time, so it’ll feel like you were just awake in your previous life (the only reason it won’t feel totally instantaneous is that you’ll have lost your short term memories). You’ll probably be super disoriented, and someone will have to explain to you that A) you’re in the future, and B) the cryonics worked, and you’re no longer a person about to die—you’re healthy and rejuvenated and all set to start living again.
As a very not-heaven-believing person, I’ve always thought about how pleasantly shocked I would be if I died and then woke up in some delightful afterlife. I’d look around, slowly realize what was happening, and then I’d be like, “Wait…NO FUCKING WAY.” Then I’d promptly plant myself at the gates and watch other atheists come in for the fun of seeing them go through the same shock.
I imagine being revived from cryonics will be kind of like that. Maybe a few notches less shocking, since you presumably did the cryonics thing because you thought there was a chance it would work—but still a pretty big no fucking way moment.
After the initial shock, you’ll have to figure out what kind of world you’ve woken up into. Some possibilities:
It could suck.You could wake up in a far future world that’s a lot worse than the one you previously lived in and a world in which you know zero people. Even worse, you could wake up in some really scary situation—who knows what kind of creepy shit might be going on in the future.
It could be blah. You could wake up in a world that’s kind of meh. Like it’s not as future-y and cool as you thought it would be and you’re not immortal, just somewhat restored and still vulnerable, and you have to get a job and you don’t really have applicable skills for the times. Just kind of whatevs.
It could be incredibly rad. Probably the most likely outcome, you could wake up and it could be very, very rad. The future-y stuff might be cool and fun beyond your comprehension. You might have previously been 84 and aching everywhere and forgetful, and suddenly you have the body of a perfectly fit 20-year-old, or maybe something even better, like a super-charged synthetic body that doesn’t feel pain or exhaustion and can’t get sick. Your old, forgetful brain could be repaired and full of vitality you haven’t experienced in 50 years. And best, you might be surrounded by friends and family who were also cryopreserved and are unbelievably excited to see you. It could be rad.
It could be even crazier if you wake up in a virtual world after having had your vitrified brain data uploaded to a computer. You wouldn’t feel like you were in a computer—you’d feel every bit as real as you did when you were a human, except now everything is amazing and magical and you can spend almost all your time fulfilling my lifelong dream of sliding down rainbows like this care bear.18
Your friends and family could be there with you, also virtually uploaded but still fully themselves with all of their old memories—all of you now eternal and indestructible, with no need for the physical world or its resources.
Who knows what kind of world you’d wake up in. But a couple things lead me to believe it would be a pretty good situation:
- A really terrible future world probably isn’t the type of world that would be concerned with protecting and reviving cryonics patients. In a world like that, you’d probably just never wake up.
- Likewise, a future that can revive vitrified people is by definition pretty technologically amazing, so it’s hard to imagine waking up in a world that hasn’t solved all kinds of problems our current world suffers from.
- The future tends to be better than the past. Humans have the tendency to predict dystopian futures, but at least so far, it’s been the other way around. Say what you want about the ills of today’s world, but it’s better to be a human today than it was 200 or 1,000 or 10,000 years ago.
But because we have no idea what revival will be like, we have this next step:
Step 10) Decide if you’re into it and want to stay
Barring some hilariously bad scenario where you’re revived into a world of eternal virtual torture with no ability to end it—which really makes no sense—cryonics is a risk-free venture. It has an undo button—just kill yourself and it’s as if it never happened. If you’re not into it, your journey ends here. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
Step 11) Enjoy shit
We’ve kind of reached the end of me guiding you. You’re now just living again like you were before—hopefully in a much better situation—and what you do at this point is really your business. Just go do your thing and enjoy being in the future.
Step 12) Die for real this time
At some point, you’ll be over it. No one ever will ever ever want to live forever, a fact I realized at the end of my Graham’s Number post. When the time comes, I assume the fancy future will have some painless way to bow out—something that will cause total info death, where your data is truly unrecoverable. At that point, you’ll have lived the complete life you want to live, not a life cut short by the limitations of the medical technology of the time you happen to be born in. That’s really the way things should be.
Now that we all know a lot more about cryonics, let’s bring back our sentence. This is where we were, and we were looking closely at the three words in the red:
Cryonics is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
We can get rid of “rich,” because at least for younger people, cryonics can be paid for with a not-that-expensive life insurance plan.
We can get rid of “dead,” because cryonics doesn’t deal with dead people, it deals with people currently doomed to die given the technology they have current access to. For the same reason, we can also change the wording of “bring them back to life.”
And we can get rid of “freezing,” because cryonics doesn’t freeze people—it vitrifies them into an amorphous solid state.
While we’re here, let’s get rid of “morbid.” Is a vitrified human head floating in liquid nitrogen morbid? Yes. Is it more morbid than being eaten by worms and microbes underground or being burned to ashes? Definitely not. So not a fair word to use.
So that leaves us with a sentence more like this:
Cryonics is the process of pausing people in critical condition who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to save them, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
And then there’s the elephant in the room—this part of the sentence: …and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.
I put that in there because when you’re examining something that involves A) a fringe community, B) the possible concept of immortality, and C) members paying large sums of money for services that they’re told might pan out 1,000 years from now—you have no choice but to put up your “Is this a Scientology-y thing?” antenna.
One way to let that antenna do its work is to read a bunch of stuff written by smart, credible people who think the whole thing is utter BS. If anything will disenchant you to the excitement of something as out there as cryonics, it’s experts telling you why it should be ignored.
So I did that. And as I read, I weighed what I read against the rebuttal from cryonicists, which I’d often find on Alcor’s highly comprehensive FAQ page. Other resources for the cryonicist viewpoint are the thorough FAQ of the Cryonics Institute’s ex-president, Ben Best, Alcor’s Science FAQ and Alcor’s Myths page.
The people who are super not into cryonics fall into a few general buckets:
Skeptic Type 1: The scientist with a valid argument about why cryonics might not be possible
The mainstream medical community is generally not on board with cryonics. No health insurance company will cover it, no government will subsidize it, no doctors will refer to it as a medical procedure.
Some skeptics make what seem to be valid points. Biochemist Ken Storey says, “We have many different organs and we know from research into preserving transplant organs that even if it were possible to successfully cryopreserve them, each would need to be cooled at a different rate and with a different mixture and concentration of cryoprotectants. Even if you only wanted to preserve the brain, it has dozens of different areas, which would need to be cryopreserved using different protocols.” Storey also points out just how tall an order it would be to “repair” someone damaged by vitrification, explaining that “a human cell has around 50,000 proteins and hundreds of millions of fat molecules that make up the membranes. Cryopreservation disrupts all of them.” (Alcor calls this statement patently false.7)
Others point to the towering challenge of either repairing a human brain or scanning one in order to upload it. Brazilian scientist Miguel Nicolelis emphasizes that the task of scanning a human brain would require, with today’s technology, “a million electron microscopes running in parallel for ten years.” Michael Hendricks, who studies the brains of roundworms, believes the challenge of reviving the qualities that make someone who they are is far too complex to achieve, explaining that “while it might be theoretically possible to preserve these features in dead tissue, that certainly is not happening now. The technology to do so, let alone the ability to read this information back out of such a specimen, does not yet exist even in principle.”
Cryonicist response: Totes
Cryonicists don’t really disagree with these people (Storey’s quote notwithstanding). They readily admit that the challenges of reviving someone from cryopreservation are insurmountable using today’s technology. They simply point out that A) there’s no scientific evidence that cryonics can’t work, B) we shouldn’t underestimate what future technology will be able to do (imagine how mind-blowing CRISPR would be to someone in the year 1700 and think about what the equivalent would be for us), and C) there have been some promising developments—like the recent well-preserved vitrified rabbit brain news—that suggest there’s reason for optimism.
I’m yet to hear a cryonicist say, “Cryonics will work.” They just don’t feel that this is a case where a lack of proof amounts to a lack of credibility. Alcor’s Science FAQ addresses this: “The burden of proof lies with those who make a claim that is inconsistent with existing well-established scientific theory. Cryonics is not inconsistent with well-established scientific theory … At no point does cryonics require that existing physical law be altered in any way.”
Cryonicists also don’t waste an opportunity to point out these quotes:
“There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth’s gravity.” — Dr. Forest Ray Moulton, University of Chicago astronomer, 1932.
“All this writing about space travel is utter bilge.” — Sir Richard Woolley, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1956
“To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon…. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.” — Dr. Lee De Forest, famous engineer, 1957
Skeptic Type 2: The scientist who argues that cryonics won’t work even though they know less about cryonics than you do right now having read this post
This is a surprisingly large category of cryonics skeptics. It’s amazing, for example, how many people from the mainstream medical world argue that cryonics can’t work because when water freezes, it causes irreparable damage to human tissue.
Cryonicist response: Agreed—that’s why we don’t freeze people. Please read about what cryonics is before saying more words out of your mouth.
Among the cryonics skeptics who literally don’t get what modern cryonics consists of is celebrity physicist Michio Kaku, someone I normally like, but who in this clip is taken to town by Alcor’s CEO for having no idea what he’s talking about.
Part of the reason most scientists don’t get cryonics has to do with its cross-disciplinary nature. Alcor explains:
Most experts in any single field will say that they know of no evidence that cryonics can work. That’s because cryonics is an interdisciplinary field based on three facts from diverse unrelated sciences. Without all these facts, cryonics seems ridiculous. Unfortunately that makes the number of experts qualified to comment on cryonics very small. For example, very few scientists even know what vitrification is. Fewer still know that vitrification can preserve cell structure of whole organs or whole brains. Even though this use of vitrification has been published, it is so uncommon outside of cryonics that only a handful of cryobiologists know it is possible.
Skeptic Type 3: The cryogenicist who doesn’t want the other cool kids to think he’s friends with cryonics, the weird outsider.
There’s an amusing little one-way rivalry going on between cryogenicists (who, remember, deal with the science of the effects of cold temperatures in general) and cryonicists. Cryogenicists tend to view cryonics like an astronomer would view astrology—or at least, that’s what they say publicly out of caution. They seem to sometimes admit that there could be sound science behind cryonics, but they also know that cryonics lacks credibility with the wider science community and they don’t want to get roped into that reputation problem by association (they also have very little sense of humor about people confusing the words cryogenics and cryonics).
Cryonicist response: Whatevs.
Skeptic Type 4: The person who believes that even if you can revive a vitrified person, it won’t really be them.
This relates to a philosophical quandary I explored in the post What Makes You You? Are “you” your body? Your brain? The data in your brain? Something less tangible like a soul? This all becomes highly relevant when we’re thinking about cryonics. It’s hard to read about cryonic revival, and especially the prospect of “waking up” in a virtual world you’ve been uploaded into, without asking, “But wait…will that still be me?”
This is a common objection to cryonics, but few people will argue with conviction that they know the answer to this question one way or the other.
Cryonicist response: Yeah, we’re not sure about that either. Fingers crossed though.
Most cryonicists have a hunch that you can survive cryopreservation intact (cryonicist Eliezer Yudkowsky argues that “successful cryonics preserves anything about you that is preserved by going to sleep at night and waking up the next morning”) but they also admit that this is yet another variable they’re not sure about. You might even want to consider this a fifth “If” to add onto our list: If what seems to be a revived me is actually me…
Skeptic Type 5: The person who, regardless of whether cryonics can work or not, thinks it’s a bad thing
There are lots of these people. A handful of examples:
Argument: Cryonics is icky.
Typical cryonicist response: Yup, but less icky than decaying underground.
Argument: Cryonics is creepy and unnatural.
Typical cryonicist response: People said the same thing about the first organ transplants.
Argument: Cryonics is trying to play God and cheat death.
Typical cryonicist response: Is resuscitating someone whose heart has stopped playing God and cheating death? How about chemotherapy?
Argument: Cryonics is a scam.
Typical cryonicist response: The major cryonics companies are all nonprofits, the employees are paid modestly and the board members running the company (who are all signed up for cryonics themselves) aren’t paid at all. So who exactly is benefiting from this scam?
Argument: “If you have enough money [for cryonics], then you have enough money to help somebody in need today.” — Bioethicist Kenneth Goodman19
Actual cryonicist response: “If you have enough money for health insurance (which costs a lot more than cryonics), then you have enough money to help somebody else in need today. In fact, if you have enough money for any discretionary expenditure (travel, sports, movies, beer), then you have enough money to help somebody in need today. Of all the ways people choose to spend substantial sums of money over a lifetime, singling out the health care choice of cryonics as selfish is completely arbitrary.
Argument: “Money invested to preserve human life in the deep freeze is money wasted, the sums involved being large enough to fulfill a punitive function as a self-imposed fine for gullibility and vanity.” — Biologist Jean Medawar21
Actual cryonicist response: “Nobody would ever imagine calling the first recipients of bone marrow transplants or artificial hearts “gullible and vain”. And what of dying children who are cryopreserved? Cryonics is an experiment, and people who choose this experiment are worthy of the same respect as other participants in high risk medical endeavors.
Argument: Cryonics will cause an overpopulation disaster.
Actual cryonicist response: This is a common one I’ve heard in my discussions. Here’s what Alcor says: “What about antibiotics, vaccinations, statin drugs and the population pressures they bring? It’s silly to single out something as small and speculative as cryonics as a population issue. Life spans will continue increasing in developed parts of the world, cryonics or not, as they have done for the past century. Historically, as societies become more wealthy and long-lived, population takes care of itself. Couples have fewer children at later ages. This is happening in the world right now. The worst population problems are where people are poor and life spans short, not long.
Argument: But Ted Williams.
Let me explain. There are a handful of famous people signed up for cryonics, like Ray Kurzweil, nanotech pioneer Eric Drexler, and celebrities like Larry King, Britney Spears, Simon Cowell, and Paris Hilton.24 But there are very few big names among the 300 or so who are already vitrified. One that is is baseball legend Ted Williams.
Williams is the first thing that comes to mind when a lot of people think about cryonics, an unfortunate fact that cryonicists wish would go away, because his story is mired in scandal (two of Williams’ children said cryonics is what he wanted while the other claimed he wanted to be cremated and the son was just cryopreserving him so he could later profit off of his DNA samples). The ugly story ended up, fairly or unfairly, as a stain on the cryonics industry in many people’s heads, partially because in the midst of it, Sports Illustrated published an article about the scandal with quotes from an ex-Alcor employee accusing Alcor of mismanaging the Williams vitrification, among other things.
Typical cryonicist response: Unfairly. It’s a stain unfairly. The accusations weren’t based in reality, and the employee recently admitted in court that what he said may not have been true.
Argument: Life is long enough. People aren’t supposed to live longer than we do now. Just enjoy what you’ve got.
Typical cryonicist response: Thank you for your opinion. I disagree.
So how does my Scientology antenna feel after reading about 50 skeptic opinions?
Well, the skeptics definitely helped me appreciate the magnitude of the challenge at hand with cryonics. Science has a long way to go before cryonics can truly function as a pause button instead of a stop button—and we may never get there.
But it left me feeling every bit as confident that cryonics is a worthy pursuit and possibly a total game-changer. The fact that cryonic revival seems plausible, coupled with the fact that through most of history, the people of the time couldn’t have even imagined the magic that future technology would make real, makes me feel like the safer bet is on cryonics eventually working. If something important isn’t impossible, the future will probably figure out a way to make it happen, with enough time.
There’s also the “why the fuck not?” argument cryonicists make that’s very hard for skeptics to thwart.
Pro-cryonics scientist Ralph Merkle says it well:25
The correct scientific answer to the question “Does cryonics work?” is: “The clinical trials are in progress. Come back in a century and we’ll give you an answer based on the outcome.” The relevant question for those of us who don’t expect to live that long is: “Would I rather be in the control group, or the experimental group?” We are forced by circumstances to answer that question without the benefit of knowing the results of the clinical trials.
The only way to shoot down a response that says, “We don’t know but we might as well try” is to say, “There is definitely no point in trying because it’s impossible.” And very few credible scientists would claim to have that conviction about things as mysterious as the workings of the brain and the possibilities of the far future.
The other thing that struck me as I learned about cryonics is that cryonicists aren’t usually “salesy” at all when they talk about cryonics. The impression I got from my research is that cryonicists tend to be well-educated, rational, realistic, and humble about what they know and don’t know. They readily admit the problems and shortcomings of the field8 and they’re careful to use measured, responsible language so as not to distort the nuances of the truth.9 And despite a general lack of support from the mainstream medical community, plenty of reputable scientists have become fervent cryonicists.
So, for now, cryonics has satisfied my Scientology antenna.
Which shortens our sentence to this:
Cryonics is the process of pausing people in critical condition who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to save them.
The final wording in the sentence that I’d like to challenge is:
Cryonics is the process of pausing people in critical condition who can’t accept the concept of death , in the hopes that people from the future will be able to save them.
This is the part of the sentence that carries a twinge of eye-rolling contempt—something people often feel when they hear about someone with a desire to conquer mortality. Aside from the aversion we have to the prospect of a human body floating in a freezing tank, many of us feel a distaste towards the motivation behind cryonics. It seems greedy to want more than your one standard life.
I’m not one to typically feel contempt at something like this, but early in my research, even I found myself doing a little head shake when I read about billionaire Peter Thiel signing up for cryonics a while back.
But this post has forced me to take a big step back—back to where I can see death not as a moment but as a process, back to where I can see the human lifespan as a product of our times, not our biology, and back to where I see the concept of human health spread out along the spans of time and where I can imagine how future humans will see our current times of helplessness in the face of biological deterioration.
From way out here, it hits you that we’re living in a phase—a sad little window that an intelligent species inevitably passes through, when they’re advanced enough to understand their own mortality, but still too primitive to save themselves from it. We grapple with this by treating death like a tyrannical overlord we wouldn’t dare try to challenge, not even in our own private thoughts. We’ve been universally defeated and dominated by this overlord for as long as we’ve existed, and all we know how to do is bow down to it in full resignation of its power over us.10
Future humans who have one day overthrown the overlord will look at the phase we’re in and our resulting psychological condition with such clarity—they’ll be sad for us the way we’re sad for brainwashed members of an ancient cult who commit mass suicide because the master has instructed it.
Our will isn’t broken when it comes to resisting the overlord—that’s why we see it as honorable to fight cancer till the final minute, heroic to risk your own life for a good cause and make it out alive, and a terrible mistake to resign to the overlord prematurely and commit suicide.
But when it comes to defeating the overlord, our will has been squashed by a history that tells us that the overlord is indestructible.
And this explains the divide between how cryonicists feel about cryonics and how the rest of us view it. The divide is for two reasons:
1) Cryonicists view death as a process and consider many people who are declared dead today to still be alive—and they view cryonics as an attempted transfer of a living patient to a future hospital that can save his life. In other words, they view cryonics merely as an attempt to resist the overlord , no different than the way we view someone being transferred to a hospital in a different location which has better treatment options for their condition. Most of us, by contrast, view death as a singular moment, so we see cryonics as an attempt to bring a dead person back to life—i.e. we see cryonics as an attempt to defeat the overlord . When cryonicists see us cheer on a billionaire who fights cancer and shake our heads at one who signs up for cryonics, when they see us praying for someone in a coma and rolling our eyes at someone being vitrified—they see us being highly irrational.
2) Cryonicists view death not as an all-powerful overlord but as a puzzle to be solved. They see humans as an arrangement of atoms and see no reason that arrangement should have to inevitably deteriorate if our scientists can just get better at working with atoms. So for them, trying to defeat death altogether is an obvious, rational mission to undertake. But most of us view death as a fundamental fact of the universe—a mysterious and terrifying shadow that hovers over all living things and that only a naive fool would try to escape from—so instead of cheering on the people trying to solve the puzzle of death, we scoff at them and laugh at them, as if they’re too immature to come to peace with the inevitable.
Looking at this through a zoomed out lens was a big Whoa Moment epiphany for me. Suddenly, I saw the cryonicists’ of the world in the same light as those rare ancient people trying to understand how earthquakes work so they could be best prepared for the next one, and I realized that when I shook my head at Peter Thiel, I was being like one of the hordes of ancient people who worshipped the gods that had punished us with that earthquake and who wanted to burn those rare scientists at the stake for their blasphemous thinking.
I started this post thinking I’d simply write a “mini post” about this little community of cryonicists and what they were trying to do and ended it staring at another example of today’s self-proclaimed science-minded rationalists being tomorrow’s idol-worshippers.
I also saw my conception of end-of-life morality flip itself on its head. At the beginning of my research, my question was, “Is cryonics an okay thing to do?” By the end, the question was , “Is it okay to not sign up a dying child for cryonics, or will future people view that the way we see a parent refusing to allow life-saving medical treatment to their child for religious reasons?”
Cryonics has quickly come to seem not only like a good thing to try, but like the right thing to do.
That’s certainly how Alcor sees it. They say:
The moral argument for cryonics is that it’s wrong to discontinue care of an unconscious person when they can still be rescued. This is why people who fall unconscious are taken to hospital by ambulance, why they will be maintained for weeks in intensive care if necessary, and why they will still be cared for even if they don’t fully awaken after that. It is a moral imperative to care for unconscious people as long as there remains reasonable hope for recovery.
And once you’re looking through that lens, everything we consider normal starts to look crazy.
When Kim Suozzi found out she was dying of cancer at age 23, she signed up to be cryopreserved. She viewed it like trying a new experimental drug that might have a chance to save her when nothing else could—a no-brainer. But her father fiercely resisted the decision,11 Reddit users scorned her for it, and the story was unusual enough to warrant a feature article in the New York Times.
It’s as if Kim was part of a group of the world’s cancer-stricken 23-year-olds as they all walked toward a cliff to fall into the jaws of the overlord, and Kim saw a rope hanging from a higher cliff across the chasm and decided to jump for it because maybe, just maybe, it could pull her to safety. And the Times found that to be so bizarre, and so out there, that they wrote a piece on it. Huh?
From far away, it looks a lot like we’re all on a plane that’s going down, with our only shot at survival being to take a chance with an experimental parachute—and we’re all just staying in our seats.
I’ve decided to take a parachute and jump. I have an appointment set up for early April with a life insurance agent and Alcor member to get set up with a plan. I can boil the decision down to three reasons:
1) I love life. Readers have picked up on my mild obsession with death, which might have something to do with the 55 times I’ve talked about it on this blog. But when they bring it up with me, they refer to it as my fear of death. Which isn’t quite how I feel. It’s more that I really like life. I like doing things and thinking things and I like my family and friends and want to keep hanging out with them if I can. I also really want to see what happens. I want to be there when we figure out the Fermi Paradox and when we discover what dark matter is and when we terraform Mars and when AI takes all our jobs and then extincts all of us. I want to see what the 23rd century is like and see how cool the phones are by then. Being alive is a lot more interesting than being dead. And since I have all of eternity to be dead, it seems logical to stay not dead for at least a while when I have the chance.
2) This chart.
3) Hope. I’ve always been jealous of religious people, because on their deathbed, instead of thinking, “Shit,” they’re thinking, “Okay here’s the big moment—am I about to blink and wake up in heaven??” Much more fun. And much more exciting. Whether cryonics pans out or not, as I age, at least a little part of me can now be thinking, “I wonder what’s gonna happen when I die?” Atheists aren’t supposed to get to think that. Humans don’t need a huge amount of hope to feel hopeful—they just need something to cling onto. Just enough to be able to have the “So you’re sayin there’s a chance!” feeling.
Some of you will resonate with my decision—others will think it makes me silly, gullible, or selfish.
Either way, you should think about this and the fact that you currently have a plan, whether you realize it or not. Likely, that plan is to resign to death. To walk off the cliff instead of jumping for the lifeline. To stay planted in your seat as the plane goes down.
That’s not necessarily the wrong decision, depending on who you are, what you believe, and what you value. But if that’s your plan, it should be because you like that plan more than the alternative—not because you haven’t thought about it and are just doing what everyone else is doing. This is a matter of your one existence, and you have to take the fate of that existence into your own, independent-thinking hands.
And if you decide that you probably would rather grab a parachute than stay in your seat, try not to fall victim to a common trap:
That’s a real term used in the cryonics world to describe the phenomenon of people—especially young people—saying, “Yeah duh I’m obviously doing cryonics when I die” and then not actually going through the actions to sign up and start paying money. It’s natural—what could possibly be easier to procrastinate on? That item on your list—”sign up for cryonics”—tends to never find itself at the top of the to-do list. But no matter what age you are, unexpected things can happen, and if you never got around to signing up when they do, you’re out of luck. If you take a big step back, procrastinating on this is really shortsighted. Just do what I did—book appointments so you’ll actually do it.
I hope you’ll do it the same way I’d hope you’d take a shot with an experimental drug if you were sick and it were the one chance you had. Because it’s worth a try. Because it just might work. Because why the fuck not. And because Dylan Thomas said it best:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
If you want to learn more—the Alcor FAQ and Ben Best’s FAQ are great ways to start. Both the Alcor and Cryonics Institute websites are full of information, and if you want to go a whole level deeper, dig into Alcor’s library (where you can also find cryopreservation case reports) or this collection of cryonics-related journal articles. Many more sources are listed below.
If you want to help or get involved—you can donate to Alcor or CI or volunteer to help at Alcor. Alcor lists some specific types of people they need help from at the bottom of this page.
If you’re into Wait But Why, sign up for the Wait But Why email list and we’ll send you the new posts right when they come out. It’s a very unannoying list, don’t worry.
If you’d like to support Wait But Why, here’s our Patreon.
If you liked this post, you’ll want to read these:
What Makes You You? – A post that uses mind-bending thought experiments to dig into the weirdest, hardest cryonics question
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence – Something that might be way better at helping us conquer mortality than cryonics (or the opposite and it’ll extinct us)
How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars – Like cryonics except instead of trying to extend a person’s life, it’s trying to extend the species’ life
Or, for something less heavy, this makes me feel not that scared about cryonics causing overpopulation.
Alcor’s website is a great resource, especially their main FAQ, their science FAQ, and their library. They also have a substantial YouTube page. I got the idea for the plane going down / experimental parachutes metaphor from the video testimonial of Alcor member Andrew Popper – thanks Andrew.
The other thing from this post that was inspired from outside work is the concept of death as an overlord, which is loosely based on the storyline of Nick Bostrom’s The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, where the role of death is played by a dragon. If you liked that part of the post, definitely read the fable.
The Cryonics Institute also has a lot of good information, especially the FAQ of Ben Best, their ex-president.
I feel bad having focused only on Alcor and CI in this post and ignoring the smaller but spirited KrioRus outside of Moscow. Here’s a good article from FT Magazine (by Courtney Weaver) that focuses on them.
Here’s a collection of cryonics-related journal articles. Here’s another.
Scientist and cryonicist Ralph Merkle nicely articulates a bunch of the stuff I talked about on his website. A lot of people compare the “why the fuck not?” argument for cryonics with Pascal’s Wager. Merkle doesn’t think it’s a great comparison – here’s why.
This is a pretty riveting This American Life episode about cryonics. It focuses on the early days of the movement in the s and s, honing in on a notorious cryonics disaster. And here’s a Stuff You Should Know about cryonics.
A letter by 60 scientists arguing that cryonics should be taken seriously in the science world.
Eliezer Yudkowsky finds a way of popping his head into like a third of the posts I write as I research. He has a bunch of interesting stuff to say about cryonics. Here’s one thing. Here’s another.
Two great recent articles about cryonics: One from Motherboard (by Brian Merchant) about a dying two-year-old girl whose parents made her the world’s youngest cryonics patient. And one from the NY Times (by Amy Harmon) that I referenced at the end of the post about a 23-year-old who signed up with Alcor before she died of a brain tumor.
An interesting Reddit AMA with a cryonics member.
An article from Newsweek (by Anthony Cuthbertson) about the Feb 2016 rabbit-brain-vitrifying breakthrough.
I only read excerpts of this, but here’s Robert Ettinger’s famous book that launched the cryonics movement in the early s.
An interesting New York Magazine article (by Kerry Howley) that explores the phenomenon of family conflict over cryonics.
An Atlantic article (by Rose Eveleth) about the cryonics process. Alcor has a good page on the procedure too. So does CI.
Meet Michael Hendricks, a smart scientist who thinks cryonics is horse shit. Here’s another skeptic. And another. Alcor refutes skeptics with this page and this page, and it admits problems with cryonics here.
So here’s the deal with notes. The blue circles are the fun/interesting ones you should read. They’re for extra info or thoughts that I didn’t want to put in the main text because either it’s just tangential thoughts on something or because I want to say something a notch too weird to just be there in the normal text. ↩
An interesting stat I came across is that research shows that only about 5% of patients who require CPR outside the hospital and 15% who require it while in the hospital end up surviving. Which means that in practice, a DNR is unlikely to change most people’s fate very much.↩
Scientist and cryonics enthusiast Ralph Merkle discusses the range of harm a disease like Alzheimer’s can cause on a person’s cryonics outlook: “Mild dementia caused by damage to neuronal mechanisms responsible for retrieval of the memory trace that left the memory trace itself relatively undamaged could be fully reversible by application of appropriate advanced technology. Severe dementia that destroyed the memory trace itself could not be reversed by any future technology. We cannot, at the present time, distinguish reliably between these two possibilities in most cases.”↩
The next step would be much harder—manipulation of the subatomic particles in an atom’s nucleus, like protons and neutrons. Those are much smaller—a proton’s diameter is about 1.7 femtometers across, and a femtometer is a millionth of a nanometer.↩
Technology that could manipulate individual protons is like a way bigger giant, whose height stretches from the sun to Saturn, working with 1mm grains of sand on Earth. For that giant, the Earth would be 1/50th of a millimeter—something he’d have to use a microscope to see—and he’d have to move individual grains of sand on the Earth with fine precision. Shows you just how small a proton is.↩
Check out the opening section of my AI post for a longer discussion about this concept.↩
Alcor’s full statement about Storey’s claim: “Every single claim in this remarkable statement is false. As the illustration above shows, structural preservation of brain tissue in the presence of high concentrations of cryoprotectant is excellent. Furthermore, much of what is now known about Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases was learned by histochemical analysis of brains from neurological research banks that were frozen without any cryoprotectant at all. These brain banks would not exist if biomolecules could not be preserved by freezing, even hours after clinical death. It is no wonder that cryonics faces an uphill battle for scientific credibility when such grossly mistaken information is presented by respected cryobiologists on a national stage.”↩
Like Alcor admitting on their website that “the lack of a clear outcome remains one of the biggest weaknesses in cryonics, since it encourages complacency and prevents accountability.”↩
This quote, from Alcor’s FAQ, is the kind of thing I’m talking about: “It cannot be reliably known with present scientific knowledge how a given degree of preservation would translate to a given degree of memory retention after extensive repair, but sophisticated future recovery techniques using advanced technology might allow for memory recovery even after damage that today might make many think there was little room for hope.”↩
This death-as-overlord analogy is loosely based on the storyline of Nick Bostrom’s awesome little story The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, where the role of death is played by a dragon.↩
In my research, I came across a lot of stories that involved family conflict surrounding cryonics. Often, one member of a couple (most often the husband) planned to sign up for it, and the spouse hated the idea, sometimes feeling abandoned. Seems pretty selfish to me, but I also get why it could be hurtful if you weren’t signing up and your spouse still wanted to.
Sometimes these disagreements get so nasty that the cryonicist has to grant someone outside the family with power of attorney since they don’t trust that their family members will adhere to their wishes. In the case of Kim Suozzi, she gave power of attorney to her boyfriend, because her father was adamantly against the cryonics plan.↩
Gray squares are boring objects and when you click on a gray square, you’ll end up bored. These are for sources and citations only.↩
BBC: Cryopreservation: ‘I Freeze People to Cheat Death”↩
The Biostasis conference series, hosted by the European Biostasis Foundation (EBF), a Basel-based non-profit foundation, is focused on biostasis, cryobiology and cryopreservation.
The conference brings the leading scientists, providers, startups and foundations together. Usually the conference is hosted in Zurich, Switzerland but in 2020 we will host it online.. It will cover relevant topics from A to Z, from basic and applied research to marketing, ethics, service providers, and new approaches.
Among others, speakers will be: Grey Fahy, Aschwin de Wolf, Robert McIntyre, Max More, Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, Adam Higgins, … and many more
Due to a larger contribution, 250 tickets to Biostasis2020 are available for free.
How cryonics works: Process of freezing bodies explained
The controversial procedure costs tens of thousands of pounds and involves keeping dead bodies in extremely low temperatures.
Friday 18 November 2016 13:42, UK
Cryonics involves using extremely low temperatures to preserve bodies in the hope that scientists will one day be able to revive them.
After a High Court ruling involving a 14-year-old girl who was granted the right to undergo the controversial procedure, we look at how it works - and what the critics say.
:: What is the difference between cryonics and cryogenics?
Cryogenics is a branch of science that looks at preserving materials through very low temperatures. The word comes from the Greek "kryos" meaning "frost" and "genic" meaning "to produce".
Cryonics refers to the technique used after a person's death to store the body at a very low temperature in the hope that they can be revived when a cure is found for their illness.
In reality, in layman's terms, the understanding of the words has been blurred so that we usually refer to people being cryogenically - rather than cryonically - frozen as a means of preservation after death.
:: What is the process?
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When a person is declared legally dead, the first thing the response team has to do is ensure that the person's blood is kept pumping around the body.
Speed is of the essence. The response team will be at the hospital so that, at the point of death, it can move in immediately.
After that, the body is packed in ice and injected with various chemicals to reduce the risk of blood clotting and damage to the brain.
The body is then cooled to just above water's freezing point and the blood is removed.
The body's blood vessels are injected with a "cryoprotectant" solution to try to stop ice crystal formation in the organs and tissues and the corpse is cooled to -130C.
:: What happens to the body?
Once the team is satisfied with its work, the body is placed in a container which is lowered into a tank of liquid nitrogen, kept at -196C.
The body is then transferred to the storage facility - in the case of the British girl, in Michigan in the US.
:: How much does it cost?
It is expensive. The process for the teenage girl in this case cost 㿑,000 but it can go up to more than 𧴜,000.
:: Where did the idea come from?
The concept was developed in the early 20th century. The first person on whom the process was performed after his legal death was Dr James Bedford, who died of cancer on 12 January 1967. His body has been moved several times and is now at Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona.
The day of Dr Bedford's death and cryopreservation is marked within the community as Bedford Day.
:: What are the criticisms?
This is a highly contentious area. Alcor's co-founder Linda Chamberlain says the company is providing a realistic service that gives hope.
Others are dismissive. Many scientists and doctors argue that it is unlikely that revival in such a way can be achieved because organs such as the heart and kidneys cannot be successfully frozen and thawed. They suggest cells will be damaged during freezing and cannot be returned to living tissue.
Ethics experts say it poses greater problems as a whole for society, as it would appear to be a way of delaying the acceptance of the death of a loved one.
How Cryonics Works
Cryonics is the practice of preserving human bodies in extremely cold temperatures with the hope of reviving them sometime in the future. The idea is that, if someone has "died" from a disease that is incurable today, he or she can be "frozen" and then revived in the future when a cure has been discovered. A person preserved this way is said to be in cryonic suspension.
To understand the technology behind cryonics, think about the news stories you've heard of people who have fallen into an icy lake and have been submerged for up to an hour in the frigid water before being rescued. The ones who survived did so because the icy water put their body into a sort of suspended animation, slowing down their metabolism and brain function to the point where they needed almost no oxygen.
Cryonics is a bit different from being resuscitated after falling into an icy lake, though. First of all, it's illegal to perform cryonic suspension on someone who is still alive. People who undergo this procedure must first be pronounced legally dead -- that is, their heart must have stopped beating. But if they're dead, how can they ever be revived? According to scientists who perform cryonics, "legally dead" is not the same as "totally dead." Total death, they say, is the point at which all brain function ceases. Legal death occurs when the heart has stopped beating, but some cellular brain function remains. Cryonics preserves the little cell function that remains so that, theoretically, the person can be resuscitated in the future.
How Cryonics is Being Turned into a Pseudoscientific Religious Cult
In 2016 a lengthy and very insightful article about the direction that cryonics and life extension are going was published in The Ringer https://www.theringer.com/2016/9/15/16038284/searching-for-deaths-cure-834a02124ef5 This article went virtually unnoticed in the cryonics community, perhaps because it was labeled as just another uninformed journalist's attack on cryonics and life extension. However, this is not the case and in the three years since that article was published the picture of cryonics as being hijacked by pseudo-scientific religious kooks has become clearer and the urgency of doing something about has become greater. The article is primarily about RAADfest and the people who sponsor it, the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, which is, in turn, a creature of the bizarre Scottsdale, AZ "immortality cult", People Unlimited.
To a considerable extent, Alcor's Max More and Natasha Vita More are key figures at RAADfest and for months before RAADfest anyone signed up on the Humanity+ transhumanist email list gets weekly "X% discount" emails from Natasha and cryonicist Jose Cordiero, enticing them to attend the "revival". RAADfest's, People Unlimited believes that they are already immortal and that anyone can become immortal by more or less willing themselves to have a "cellular awakening". The founder of the Group, a lounge singer named Charles Paul Brown, apparently didn't believe quite enough since he died of complications from diabetes some years ago. The basis of the cult's beliefs are in a book he wrote which you can get for $1.75 from Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Together-Forever-Invitation-Physically-Immortal/dp/1875281037
This Larry King Interview with the cult's current two principals, James Strole and BernaDeane, will give you just the barest hint of how crazy and pseudo-scientific these people are:
Max More was by all reports smitten with People Unlimited and has repeatedly told those around him that Strole and BernaDeane are "good people" who care about their members and have attained something that Alcor never had - making a close-knit family. Several people in and out of Alcor have tried to reason with Max, telling him that what he was promoting was a pseudo-scientific cult and that it was the polar opposite of what Alcor and cryonics represent. Brian Wowk tried to persuade the Alcor Board that Max not be allowed to participate in the "Coalition" or to speak at RAADfest because of the pseudoscience that it tainted Alcor with, but he was unsuccessful. So, Max and Natasha have stayed on with the "Coalition" for three years now, while also spamming their respective organizations (Alcor membership the first year and H+ membership ever since) to attend RAADfest. RAADfest thus provides a stage on which to give their presentations to an audience primed to stomp, clap, and whistle for anyone telling them what they want to hear, which is that immortality is here, now and you can buy it, or alternatively, take inspiration from People Unlimited's saint Bernadine, who is already going to live forever and all she had to do was chant while looking into a mirror.
I do realize that many people in cryonics will think I'm making this up, or that I have engaged in wild hyperbole, but this isn't the case and there is plenty of evidence that is just a few clicks away on the Internet that will validate what I'm saying.
Just take a look at what's on these links:
Bill Faloon of the Life Extension Foundation and his "Church of Perpetual Life" (CPL), actively support People Unlimited and consider them a model for how both cryonics and life extension should be promoted going forward. It is no accident that Faloon has created his own church and that he is aggressively recruiting everyone he can in cryonics to lend it credibility by delivering sermons there. In fact, I can be reasonably sure that Neal Van Dee Ree of the Church of Perpetual Life, which he heads. and the Church itself are well received and well-considered by most of those cryonicists who know about them, probably because most cryonicists have no idea what they are really about, or what their endgame is, which is converting cryonics into a religious (not quasi-religious) undertaking as a means of growing it rapidly. If you doubt the relationship between People Unlimited and CPL just take a look at this interview with BernaDeane and Strole with Van Der Ree sitting beside them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvXktrQQ-5M
or this one of Bill Faloon promoting them at CPL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E62fC5fH1cA
If all of this weren't bad enough, Max and Natasha have recently bought into another rip-off-cult-con, The Finder's Course, which Natasha has been promoting to H+ members:
From: natasha natashavita-more. com [email protected]
Sent: Monday, 2 September 2019, 20:17:38 GMT-4
Subject: [H+M] Peace and Well-Being
Many of our friends are practicing something that is integrated into daily life. This is one way. Do it the way it works best for you. Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=23&v=Xnw-PdAsmuQ
After you've watched their promotional video, which Natasha links above, I suggest you read this brilliant deconstruction of the Finder's Course that was posted to Reddit not too long ago:
The Finders Course is wallet-emptying scam that is "a get-enlightened-quick scheme, that uses an appearance of science as a marketing tool, sells dubious forms of new-age spirituality (i.e. law of attraction, synchronicities), and adopt psychological conditioning in many forms to 1) attract customers 2) sell them an expensive product 3) convince them they reached some sort of spiritual awakening." [quote from the Reddit Review above.] It silences most who would be critical of it by having them sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) which forbids them to talk about the course! Every generation or so there is a new money-sucking, "get-enlightened-quick" scheme that uses the veneer of science to sell itself. I've seen Scientology, Transcendental Meditation (TM) (paid them
$250 in the mid-1970s), EST and Lifespring flare up and die down for the past half-century. The Finder's course is just another such flash in the pan. To be clear, I'm not saying that there will be any shortage of people who claim, and even feel genuinely better, for having spent their money in this way, but that was (and is) true of TM, Lifespring, etc. For me, the most rewarding thing about the money I paid for TM was understanding how these "movements" operate and how the people in various levels of the organization function, both psychologically and pragmatically. I got off cheap.
So, this is what it has come to, cryonics is being systematically hijacked by a bunch of pseudo-scientific nutters backed by Bill Faloon, who is the principal source of big money in cryonics to date. For those who hold Bill in high esteem (apart from his money), I think this anecdote is very much apropos. In the late 1970's I was invited to Florida to see if I wanted to relocate there and become a part of the Cryonics Society of South Florida's effort to achieve high-quality cryonics services. The day that I arrived I was told to be sure to catch Bill's interview about cryonics on a local South Florida radio station. When I listened in, I found that Bill was telling the listeners that dogs had been revived from cryogenic freezing and that human organs for transplant were routinely being frozen and stored! When I confronted Bill with this, he nonchalantly said that "If you didn't tell people such things, they would never take cryonics seriously." For years Saul Kent kept Bill out of and away from cryonics, however, as Jappie Hoekstra has just noted on New Cryonet, Saul is ill and old and has had a steadily diminishing capability to do this since circa 2000. The zebra hasn't changed his stripes, he's just been let out of the pen.
This study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), grant number K12HD055892. We also thank NICHD-funded University of Colorado Population Center (Award Number R24HD066613) for development, administrative, and computing support. The analysis uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the NICHD, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD or the National Institutes.