There's another media explosion over cryonics, this time having to do with a woman named Mary Robbins. She signed numerous documents indicating she wanted to be cryopreserved at Alcor, then, her family claimed that she changed her mind in her final days. A Colorado court recently ruled in favor of Alcor because no documentation to back up the family's argument was ever produced, as required by Colorado law. Here is the Associated Press coverage. This ruling sets a good precedent. It sometimes seems as if hostile family members are willing to throw away the law to ensure that their relative rots in the ground in lieu of being cryopreserved. Almost as if their soul would be trapped if they were suspended.
It's disappointing how many family members freak out when they find out that their mother/father/relatives are signed up for cryonics and going into cryosuspension. Even if I thought cryonics was complete bunkum, I would at least have the decency to respect the wishes of my relative.
Even if I thought revival from a preserved state were impossible, I would still be sympathetic to cryonics because it is based on the principle of preserving rather than destroying a very valuable object -- the human brain. This leaves open the possibility of future analysis, imaging, and inferences about the person whose brain it was. If my ancestor's brains were preserved, there would come a day where it could be possible to analyze them non-invasively and maybe learn something about their neurology. For instance, you might have heard about how blind people acquire a better sense of hearing and vision than everyone else. In the not-too-distant future, it could become possible to scan a brain and determine if someone was blind by the structure of their visual cortex. More and more details would follow as neuroscience progressed, until eventually everything would become determined. The brain, just like everything else in the world, is thoroughly non-mystical.
Preservation is our only window into the past. Imagine the knowledge destroyed when the Library of Alexandria was incinerated. Similar knowledge is destroyed whenever worms and bacteria dissolve a brain, we just don't have all the tools to look at it yet. Surprisingly, many people are still not clear on the acknowledged fact that all our memories, personality, feelings, and inclinations are encoded in the structure and chemistry of our brains. They believe in a separate metaphysical "mind" somehow independent of the brain. But the mind is simply the structure and function of the brain. Even if revival proved impossible in the long term, the preservation of individual brains today could provide a unique window into the past for future generations to analyze, providing a strong argument for its value.
The human brain is the most remarkable known object in the entire universe. Why throw it out like a bit of moldy hamburger? For a very modest cost, the seats of our consciousness can be preserved after our metabolic death. In fact, the technology already exists to destructively scan brains piece-by-piece -- ever heard of ATLUM? This serial sectioning method allows for such precise nanoscale scanning that individual synapses and vesicles are visible using a scanning electron microscope. You can read more about the technology at the brain emulation roadmap. Within a few decades or maybe even less, it will be possible to create a computer file that consists of a nanoscale scan of an entire human brain. It's only a matter of time before scientists learn how to interpret the patterns of such scans as frozen thoughts, memories, personality, and other complex mental features. It may take a while, but hey -- if you're frozen at liquid nitrogen temperature, your neural molecules ain't going anywhere fast.
Mike Darwin, a cryonics figure who led Alcor 1983 to 1988 and acted as Research Director until 1992, apparently kept an eight-year log (1978 to 1986) of incidents where hostile girlfriends or wives "prevented, reduced or reversed the involvement of their male partner in cryonics". In a blog post on Depressed Metabolism, Is That What Love is? The Hostile Wife Phenomenon in Cryonics, Darwin and cryonics experts Chana de Wolf and Aschwin de Wolf summarize the phenomenon and the history behind it. They point out that the hostility reaches back to the very dawn of the idea in 1968.
Hostility to cryonics is not always all harmless or in fun: it can lead to divorce or even contribute to accidental death via carbon monoxide poisoning. (See the blog post for details.)
Why are women more traditionally hostile than men to cryonics? I don't think the answer is rocket science: it's just that men are more familiar with, skilled in, and comfortable with technology than women. For better or for worse, that's the average case. This is changing, but still, the average man is more comfortable with technology than the average woman. The flip-side of this, in my eyes, is that women are more likely to express a reasonable degree of skepticism about the ability of new technologies to improve our lives whereas men are more likely to be naively enthusiastic. (Engadget, anyone?)
Thankfully, in my own case, my girlfriend supports cryonics and is signed up for cryonics with me, so I was able to avoid all the nastiness described in the article.
While we're on the topic of cryonics, I am reminded of a letter I wrote to Alcor a while back:
I'm a cryonicist and life extension advocate. To help promote the idea of
cryonics, I think it would be a good idea to have available on the Internet
micrograph images of frozen and unfrozen brain tissue, to show the
difference. Do you have any available, or know where I could get some?
Dr. Brian Wowk kindly responded:
Hi Michael. There are lots of cryopreserved brain micrographs
on the Alcor website. Some of them are after rewarming, and others
were obtained actually in the cryopreserved state by a technique
From the quotes page, here is an image of vitrified hippocampus:
(Click for larger.) The page says, "This is "your brain on cryonics": Transmission electron micrograph of tissue rewarmed from -130 °C after in-situ vitrification of a whole mammalian brain. This is essentially normal looking brain tissue (hippocampal region). Not only is there no "intracellular goo," no "hamburger," and no "pulverization and destruction," there is no ice damage whatsoever!"
So, in Dale's post on cryonics, when he talks about the brain being "hamburgerized" -- he is making no sense. Vitrified brains don't get "hamburgerized". Dale probably knows about vitrification, so he is just forwarding propaganda because he is politically and morally uncomfortable with cryonics. That is because cryonics symbolizes the affirmation of the individual and potential avoidance of death in a way that can be offensive to hyper-socialistic, here-and-now-and-nothing-else politics. Well, too bad.
Apparently Michael Jackson was interested in cryonics, but never signed up.
This is sort of sad, because the structure of the brain holds one's personality and a lifetime of memories. Even if you don't believe in the potential of future revival, preserving the structure of the brain would still be incredibly interesting, because future analysis could allow us to read memories and other cognitive features. Already, neuroscientists can read basic thoughts via brain scanning.
See Ben Best's page on the subject. If I randomly drop dead, it would be nice to get shoved in the freezer, post haste.
As Eliezer Yudkowsky once said, "it still looks to me like it would be better to just chop off the head and drop it into a bucket of liquid nitrogen as fast as possible." (I'm actually going for full body because it barely costs more.)
For more cryonics enjoyment, see this page of "Who Are We?"
While talking to my insurance agent (basically: cryonics agent) Rudi Hoffman, he mentioned something I hadn't heard of before -- intermediate temperature storage. Instead of lowering the temperature of the patient to -196 C, the idea is to lower the temperature only to -140 C or thereabouts. This temperature is low enough to freeze everything solid but warm enough that it avoids microfracturing throughout the tissue. The idea would be that it would destroy less neural information.
I hear that Alcor has been working on this approach for a while. The reason that Rudi mentioned it to me is that intermediate temperature storage, which is not yet available, may cost a bit more than conventional storage when it eventually does become available. Full body currently costs $150K. (See "The Case for Full-Body Suspension" by Michael B. O'Neal.) Intermediate temperature storage, which may be available in a few years, would require electricity and a little more maintenance to keep it going. To cover all the bases, I applied for a $250K life insurance policy, which at my age is only $26/month.
It seems difficult to find info on intermediate temperature storage on the Internet. Depressed Metabolism, the only blog I'm aware of that focuses on technical issues in cryonics, only has a couple posts on it. It looks like Cryonics Institute President Ben Best has done some research on it and wrote up his thoughts in a page "Molecular Mobility at Low Temperature" which tentatively cautions against intermediate temperature storage, mentioning the need for further research:
For Intermediate Storage Temperature (âˆ’135ÂºC , ~138K) the typical distance a water molecule will have been displaced over the course of a century is about 40 nanometers, whereas for âˆ’165ÂºC (~108K) the displacement is about one nanometer and at liquid nitrogen temperature (âˆ’196ÂºC ,~77K) the distance is about one-and-a-half picometers. All of these values would seem acceptable in a cryonics patient if the typical linear distance traveled by the water molecule were the same as the total distance. But the actual total linear distance (path length) traveled by the water molecule due to Brownian motion will be vastly greater than the typical displacement from the point of origin. Doing the same calculation for a water molecule at room temperature (25ÂºC , about 298K) using the viscosity of ethylene glycol (0.0161 PaÂ·s) gives a typical distance of about 1.4 meters. A water molecule at room temperature would travel a vastly greater path-length than 1.4 meters over the course of a century.
Also worrisome is the possiblility of ions within the glass that are far more mobile than the molecules constituting the glass. An ionic species (probably protons) in trimethylammonium dihydrogen phosphate glass is nine orders of magnitude more mobile than the glass molecules â€” and sodium ions in sodium disilicate glass are twelve orders of magnitude more mobile than the glass molecules. Water molecules can be quite mobile when in polydextrose glass, and carbon dioxide is mobile in polyvinyl alcohol (same reference).
But, molecular mobility is not lethal for northern wood frogs that can spend weeks to months in a semi-frozen state. The most damaging effects of molecular mobility at temperatures below Tg should be either from water molecules forming crystals or from mobile free radicals. Concerning the latter, cryobiologist Peter Mazur was quoted at the beginning of this piece as saying: "...there is no confirmed case of cell death ascribed to storage at âˆ’196ÂºC for some 2-15 years and none even when cells are exposed to levels of ionizing radiation some 100 times background for up to 5 yr."
More experiments exposing tissues to ionizing radiation could be helpful in assessing the safety for cryonics patients of various subâˆ’Tg temperatures above liquid nitrogen temperature. Experiments should also be done to determine the possibility of ice formation at cryogenic temperatures over long periods. More information is needed before it can be stated with certainty that damage due to molecular mobility at Intermediate Storage Temperature would not be worse than the effects of cracking damage.
It will be interesting to follow developments in that area. I would also be concerned about the reliability of suspension under crisis conditions, for instance a nuclear war. Obviously it might be easier to just pour in liquid nitrogen than use electricity in those circumstances.
So easy... just sign up for a quote at Rudi Hoffman's website. Rudi takes care of more than 90% of the life insurance for cryonics market. For most people, monthly payments for cryonics-dedicated life insurance policies are very cheap. "Less than the cost of an ice cream cone a day", as someone recently put it in an article on cryonics in the Daily Mail.
Update: Rudi is authorized for selling life insurance in the USA only, but you can get similar low prices around the world.
I also realized that there is an amusing double meaning on the home page: "You will enjoy a sense of clarity and accomplishment as we comfortably help you crystallize and move towards your goals and dreams." (Emphasis added.) Comfortably help us crystallize, huh? :)
The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid legendary on the Internet for its dense celebrity reporting, has finally taken on the coolest topic of all -- cryonics. Like many articles about freezing yourself solid to be revived in the future, this one is negative, and the question is not what exactly they will say (I've heard all the criticisms a hundred times), but whether there will be any funny/juicy quotes along the lines of Smalley's "You and people around you have scared our children" (directed towards Eric Drexler) or from that time Aubrey went on some talk show and the hosts were worried about Christmas being ruined by life extension. The Daily Mail has frequently proven itself to be one of the most giggle-worthy tabloids on the Internet in the last decade, so I hope they don't let us down.
The first thing I notice with this article is a good thing -- they point out that cryonics costs no more than a slice of pizza per day! The title of the article is, "Please freeze me! How scores of middle-class British couples are hoping to buy immortality for just Â£10 a week". The intro sentence then says, "It sounds like the loopiest science fiction, but - like Simon Cowell - scores of middle-class couples are paying Â£10 a week for their bodies to be frozen when they die. So can you really buy immortality for the price of a pizza?"
No Daily Mail article about an edgy international phenomenon would be complete without a dig at the Americans, and we predictably find that here:
"The Americans, unsurprisingly, have been doing it for years, setting up the first 'storage facility' for frozen corpses in the Seventies. Over here, the notion has taken a bit longer to catch on, but while no British firm offers the technology to store bodies, a growing number of Britons have made arrangements to be flown to the U.S. when they die to await the next leg of their eternal journey."
Interestingly, even Russia has founded a cryonics company before the UK.
Then, they review the concept a little more:
Quite what they are signing up for still makes for mind-boggling reading. The process involves cooling, and then maintaining, a dead body in liquid nitrogen in the hope future scientific procedures will be able to revive the corpse and restore it to youth and good health.
It all sounds a bit terrifying, not to mention slightly gruesome - although not to Adele. As a full-time science-fiction writer, she has long dabbled in the boundaries of human possibility, and believes it to be no more sinister than any other life-saving medical procedure.
What I am slightly surprised about is -- are there really people out there who haven't heard of cryonics at all yet? I mean, there's Austin Powers, the rumor of Disney getting his head frozen, the Ted Williams saga being covered by all the major networks... maybe it's just the shock of this article writer finding it for the first time, and cryonics isn't as well known in England as it is in the United States?
Next is something quite heart-warming -- the story of Mark Walker, a friend of mine, convincing his fiance to get signed up:
At least Karen Marshall knows her fiancÃ¨ is in her corner on the issue. Mark Walker, 47, is a cryonics old-hand, having signed up with the Cryonics Institute in Michigan nine years ago.
Today, he is one of the founders of Cryonics UK, a British support group for those interested in the process, which also offers facilities to be temporarily 'suspended' over here pending transfer across the Atlantic.
He has certainly persuaded his 38-year-old fiancÃ¨e, who is in the final stages of sorting out her own cryonics contract. She probably didn't stand a chance, given they even spent their first date discussing it.
'Mark and I had worked together for a computer company in Leicester for a few months before we started seeing each other romantically. During our first date we chatted about everything from work to the weather,' she recalls.
'Then talk turned to hobbies, and as I wittered on about my love of football and motorsports I noticed Mark was starting to look a little bit edgy. I must admit I started to get nervous and was imagining all sorts. I honestly thought he was about to tell me he liked dressing in women's clothing. Instead, he told me about his interest in cryonics.'
Some might have preferred cross-dressing to a desire to be suspended in liquid nitrogen, but Karen wasn't put off.
'It actually wasn't half as scary as the other possibilities I had been imagining,' she says. 'And after that, I didn't really think about it again - we continued dating and then, about six months into our relationship, Mark asked if I wanted to go along to one of the quarterly Cryonics UK meetings in Brighton.
'I agreed, although I had no idea what to expect and was fully prepared to be a bit bored for the day.'
Instead, she found a number of 'normal' like-minded people - and the more she discussed things with them the more she was won over.
Some cryonics fans are more "normal" than others -- but I'm happy that the people she found were sufficiently normal as to inspire her to sign up! Whether or not people who are involved in cryonics are normal, there's a major difference between letting your neurological patterns getting eaten by worms or preserving them in ice.
Next in the article is a cute photo of two young Brits who want to be frozen, and how they think about what to tell their children. Then, there's a pic of another couple, the woman being a sci-fi writer who wants to be frozen and says "cryogenics [is] no more sinister than any other life-saving medical procedure".
I'm at the end of the article, and there has been no weird negative quotes aside from a few at the beginning -- the main thing I take away from it is that cute couples in the UK are signing up to be frozen at Alcor or the Cryonics Institute. Definitely a market in the UK for cryonics if someone wants to start a company!
From the Miami Herald:
Cryonics movement leader `deanimates'
The Plantation psychologist was a funny guy who was serious about life after death.
Dr. Steven P. Rievman, a Plantation psychologist, believed in a better world to come and figured his best shot at being part of it was putting himself on ice.
So after he ''deanimated'' on May 12 at North Broward Medical Center -- as cryonics proponents call dying -- technicians pumped anti-clotting drugs into his body, cold-packed it and shipped it to Arizona.
Rievman, 64, who co-founded the Cryonics Society of South Florida in the 1960s, now resides in a deep-freeze capsule at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, awaiting the day when medical science can ''re-animate'' him and cure his ills: lupus and Type I diabetes, which afflicted him starting at age 17.
He had undergone cardiac surgery twice in nine weeks and died of a heart attack, friends said. A life insurance policy is paying the $150,000 perpetual-care tab at Alcor.
Cryonics ''fascinated him from the first time he heard of the concept,'' said Deborah Rievman, his wife of 30 years. He was born Jewish, but ``cryonics was his religion.''
Austin Tupler, who owns a Davie-based trucking company, met Rievman in the 1960s when both were involved in a fledgling cryonics group.
''Over a period of time we formed the society and established our own little clinic equipped to freeze a person,'' in a Davie warehouse, Tupler said. ``We bought a lot of equipment but we never used it. We didn't have enough members and they were not dying fast enough.''
The group merged with Alcor in the 1980s. Among its frozen clients: the head of baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams.
In my opinion, you're not "dead" until the neural patterns that correspond to your knowledge and personality are irreversibly rearranged. In cryonics, these structures are frozen in time, and the scientific knowledge of the indefinite future can be brought to bear on revitalizing them. (Unless we destroy ourselves through nuclear war or some other global catastrophe, an issue that life extensionists need to start paying more attention to immediately.)
Sad, but not nearly as sad as becoming worm food, like Arthur C. Clarke or Timothy Leary. I'd say "rest in piece", but they aren't resting, they're annihilated, never to come back.
Old transhumanists never die... they just get frozen in Scottsdale, Arizona. ;)
There, our friends like Tanya make sure that everyone gets their regular dose of liquid nitrogen. It's a slow way to live, but hey, at least those microorganisms aren't all up in your brain consuming all the knowledge you built up throughout your life.
Early last August, the 138th cryonics patient in history underwent cryogenic suspension, thanks to the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute. The patient was pronounced dead at 6AM on August 12, 2005. By that evening the patient had arrived in Michigan and was intravenously administered a vitrification solution which would allow the patient to be cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen without fear of damage to the neurons. After 105 hours of cooling at the Cryonics Institute facility, the patient was transferred to a cryostat where she will remain indefinitely, along with 68 others who have been preserved the same way.
Our memories, personality, likes, dislikes, loves, and dreams are all encoded in the neural network of our brain. When our heart stops beating, the flow of oxygen to the brain is cut off, and neurological deterioration begins to occur. The information that constitutes who we are begins to be lost. But complete loss is not certain. If the body is quickly transferred to a cryonics facility and cooled to very low temperatures, the connections between the brain's neurons stay pretty much the same. In some cases, the difference between the two cannot even be detected with a microscope.
In the future, it should become possible to do light repair on a cryosuspended body, heat it back up to room temperature, and reboot the metabolism and vital organs by restoring the chemical and thermodynamic environment of the body to that as it was before death. This will require advanced technology capable of extreme precision and care - most likely medical nanotechnology. But it will be done. And if a civilization has the desire and means to revive cryonics patients, it's overwhelmingly likely that it would be a fascinating place to live - for a very long time.
This leads to the conclusion that we have an obligation to consider the possibility of making cryonics arrangements for ourselves and loved ones. An action as simple as freezing the body after death could lead to a very long-lasting and fulfilling life, a life that extends beyond what would have otherwise been our ultimate end. Cryonics arrangements are very affordable - the Cryonics Institute offers contracts for a low annual fee of $120 and possession of a life insurance contract which names the Cryonics Institute as a beneficiary (also about $100/year). Something you should consider!