Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cryonics - Death & The Deep Freeze

A cryogenically frozen man
(note: not an accurate representation of someone cryonically frozen)
(photo by Epsos.de)

CRYONICS

Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Contraction of CRYOGENICS.]

The practice or technique of deep-freezing the bodies of those who have died of an incurable disease,
in the hope that some cure for it will be discovered in the future.

Also:
cryonic adj. M20
cryonically adv. M20
cryonicist noun M20

For those with more ego than sense (as well as ice-bucketloads of cash), cryonics offers the chance to cheat death. For a mere $100,000 or so, you can be pumped full of cryoprotective chemicals and frozen immediately after death. Then, when those clever science boffins have figured out a cure for whatever it was that killed you, you can be gently thawed out, cured of whatever it was that ailed you, and returned to the realm of the warm and living. Brilliant, right? Oh, except for one small flaw - it's all a complete load of twaddle.

The obvious flaw in this otherwise brilliant plan is that people die from curable diseases now, but cryonics doesn't offer them a second chance. To cite one of my favourite examples, consider an advocate of breatharianism, who believes that humans can survive on just the nutrients supplied through breathing (with a bit of sunshine and meditation thrown in). Unsurprisingly, people have starved themselves to death practising this waffle, even though the cure for starvation has been known since ... well ... forever. But would cryonics save a breatharian that had starved himself to death? Not on your nelly.

"Oh," cries the cryonicist, "but this is an as yet undeveloped technology. While it may seem to be the realm of science fiction now, who knows what advances will have been made in 100, 500 or even 1000 years? Perhaps then we really will have the technology to bring the cryonically interred back to life."

If you really believe that, if it really gives you some comfort in the cold face of death, then fair enough. But do you really believe that? Is it really likely that, 500 years from now, anyone is going to give two hoots about thawing you out and bringing you back to life? I mean, if you're Shakespeare or da Vinci or Scarlett Johansson, sure, perhaps someone will. But maybe it's more likely that in 500 years time no one is going to give a flying banana about some contract you signed at the turn of the millennium with a company that probably no longer exists and has neglected to pay their electricity bills for the past three centuries. And, personally, I can't help but think there's some enormous ego issues here - thinking that the universe of the future is definitely going to need me there. And saying to your family: "Look, I know this $100,000 would be really useful to you when I'm gone, but these clever-looking guys in white coats reckon they can freeze my head and bring me back to life in the future. And, y'know, if you can scrape together some cash when I'm gone, maybe you can get it done too. And I'll see you on the other side. Or not. Either way is fine."

For more information, visit Crionics.ie. I'll let you decide if you're happy to leave your eternal future in the hands of these professionals.

Put off by the high costs, some have resorted to DIY cryonics with mixed results.

Have you arranged to be crionically frozen?

Would you like to be crionically frozen?

Do please leave your coldest comments in the ice-box below.

8 comments:

  1. Some neuroscientists and cryobiologists think that cryonics deserves a second look as a way to try to turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state by approaching the problem as a challenge in applied neuroscience. They have set up the Brain Preservation Foundation (with an easily findable website) to raise money for incentive prizes to encourage scientists to push hard on the frontier of current and reachable brain preservation techniques. Two prominent figures in the skeptic community – Michael Shermer and Susan Blackmore – have associated with the Brain Preservation Foundation as advisers, so they apparently consider its goals scientifically defensible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mark. Thanks for commenting and welcome to Lexicolatry : o )

      You've posted a serious comment, so I shall respond seriously (I know my post was a little mocking of cryonics generally).

      My problem with cryonics is that it is selling people on a completely untested and unproven hypothesis. While it might be better to have that slim shot in the dark than nothing, I believe the money spent on the research in these technologies would be better spent on life quality improvement technologies rather than life extension or (in the case of cryonics) some psuedo-scientific grab at immortality. While people now are living longer than their parents or grandparents, those additional 10 or 20 years can be expected to be endured through significant disability and illness.

      Improving the quality of the life we have now is a much better use of resources, and one that can benefit everyone, not just those that can afford it.

      Delete
  2. Oh! Throwing compliments away, are we?

    Sci-fi is nice but must cost lots of money and I have to agree on what you said to Mark Plus. Instead of investing on the unknown and uncertain AND dead, let's put those resources into the good use of the living.

    Besides, close-minded as it sounds and seems I don't know a single personality I would like to "freeze". Even considering successful results in the practice... And the ones with money for it give me shudders in a hot August day.

    DaVinci or Shakespeare? I'm not even sure they would be allowed to develop their art the same way today, much less in 200 years, and don't get me started on Scarlett (really? if you're recommending her better do it fast, because from now on it will all go south ;) ahahah) - or if it would even be fair on them.

    Imagine a Sci-fi future with humans quasi-robots receiving brains (before Mark's comment I didn't realize it could contemplate the cryogenic of parts... I had this childish image of whole body in a vat) such passionate and creative beings? That only, would put me off the idea... to have one quoting "To be or not to be..." and being arrested because 17th century is not meant to be spoken in public ;)... to think that scientists supporting the idea might think "well, people can't really be dead (makes sense!)... we need to start the process a tiny bit before organ failure..."

    Last night I thought "what if one of those companies that store the bodies, or parts, decides to fill bankrupcy? how will they say a 98 year's old North West that she has to pick Mum Kim and Dad Kanye because they can no longer hold them in storage?" dats, I always over think things ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was only teasing when I called you close-minded, Teresa! But you know that, right? : o )

      From what I've read, there are difference packages of cryonic service you can buy, from storing your entire body, to just your head or even just your brain.

      And you're right about the bankruptcy issue - if a company doesn't hold up its end of the deal, how are you going to take any action against them? You're dead, for flips sake.

      Delete
  3. Only last year a rabbit brain was finally bought back in perfect condition, a completely intact connecticome, with no neuronal damage, with even the dendrils intact. They won the award for the Preservation of a Small Mammalian Brain, the next award now ongoing will go to the research lab that can bring back a large mammalian brain undamaged. The best path to cryo today appears to be both genetic (synthetic and transgenics) and chemical (chemostasis). Scientists can now both perfectly vitrify and chemically halt metabolism by locking proteins in place with an aldahyde cryoprotectant. The science now proven in the lab, now the debate is which path to take, and should all research paths be taken into consideration. I believe they should. I have my own scientific bias of course, but the fact that we can now preserve the information stored in the brain before cell death, although is not yet bringing someone back from a cryo-chemostasis (hybrid technique), we have their memories and personality saved, their entire cranial repository. Even if they cannot be brought back as the original person, they will be identical, and their knowledge properly preserved can eventually be quantified. But, it's even possible to bring back certain animals (like certain frogs, fish and lizards), and in nature many flora and fauna genetically produce AFP's (anti-freeze proteins) that enables these creatures to be frozen in a type of hibernation, and then to awaken when thawed out and simply hop back out of their tunnel into the daylight. Through genetics, AFP's could also benefit organ storage in transit and long-term, let alone the possibilities for cryostasis of mammals. In closing, although this page article was posted in 2014, and hence in the scientific community much has changed since then, I did in fact quite enjoy your comments and article as a whole. It's a common misconception that cryostasis cannot be affordable by most people, as life insurance is obtainable by anyone on a meager income (even a pensioner), and will easily pay for cryostasis as well as contribute to further biomedical gerontological research. The big cryostasis companies cannot go bankrupt as they are foundations that are massively funded generationally with precautions set in place for emergencies, as well as the fact no electricity is required or used in cryostasis. Knowledge and science is the holy grail, and some of us whom support all levels of life extension research think beyond just preserving our own individual identity alone, but all our loved ones and great minds of all whom seek it, their knowledge and personalities we strive to continue to preserve, remember and add unto our own. Whatever path we take, science/knowledge is the holy grail we must always pursue and use to grow. Those whom do not want it, do not deserve it, their repository will perish and they will be cast aside, their memories fade to nothing ("we are the sum of our memories), whilst in one form or another, we will live on and multiply, replacing all those whom chose death over life. In other words, whom becomes and is the future? Only those with the will to survive and strive whatever the cost.

    "Those whom wish to live, let them fight. Those who do not want to fight, do not deserve to live." ~Adolf Hitler

    ReplyDelete