Articles

Cold reality versus the wishful thinking of cryonics

We all seek immortality in some way. Death has been one of the prime terrors haunting us since humans first started realizing that every living thing dies and death is permanent. After all, no one wants to face the end of everything that one has been, is, and will be. Indeed, a key feature of many religions is a belief that death is not the end, that there is an afterlife where we will all live forever. In some religions, in the afterlife evil is punished and good rewarded. Even if, as seems most likely, death is simply the end, and the time after death is just like the time before we were born (or, more properly, before our first memories), something that seems relatively benign just thinking about it, emotionally we still don’t want it. Being human, I get it, particularly now that I’m on the wrong side of 50 and, unless I’m far more long-lived than my genes are likely to permit, have considerably less life to look forward to than the lifetime I’ve already lived. I also realize that the number of people who are remembered long after they are gone by anyone outside of their family and friends is exceedingly small—and even that memory fades rapidly among family members. As the succeeding generation dies off, direct memory of the generation that spawned it disappears. I get it. Fifty years from now, it’s likely that all that will remain of my existence will be some scientific papers and a faint memory held by my nieces and nephews and maybe, if I’m lucky, a few of my youngest readers.

I don’t, however, get cryonics.

Detroit, like many large cities, has a free weekly “alternative” newspaper, The Metro Times. This week’s issue features this cover:

MetroCryonic

Yes, it’s a cover story about cryonics. I had no idea that there was actually a budding cryonics industry around the Detroit area. Given the unfortunate decay of my hometown during my lifetime and the brutal winter we endured last year in southeast Michigan, the jokes write themselves. I’ll resist the temptation, however, other than that brief acknowledgment. I’m more interested in the article itself, “MI Cryonics Inst. freezes dead for ‘reanimation’: Souls on ice“. If there’s a movement that resembles religion in having faith in something that doesn’t have evidence to support it, the cryonics movement is it. The article opens by describing a facility in Clinton Township, a suburb north of Detroit, where the body count tops 100, not counting critters, and “nestled inside Wal-Mart sleeping bags, the bodies stand upside-down within 10-foot-high tanks resembling immense white thermos bottles”:

This is the Cryonics Institute, and the people in those tanks — “cryostats,” they’re called — after being declared dead, have had their bodies frozen in perpetuity in the belief that future science may be able to thaw them, cure their ills, and, just maybe, return them to youthful vigor. They’ve made a bet: that in a time yet to come, they’ll rise again, with “death” only a temporary and reversible embarrassment easily remedied by medical know-how.

It’s an expensive bet that is likely never to be won. What struck me most reading this article is the power of wishful thinking, which has led an industry to spring up catering to our most primal fears and desires: Fear of death and desire for immortality. Admittedly, it’s a relatively small number of people. The article itself estimates that worldwide the number of people being frozen after death is “in the low double digits” every year. Out of the billions of people on this planet and the more than 50 million a year who die worldwide, we’re looking at an infinitesimally small fraction of the population.

Be that as it may, there’s no doubt that the technology to freeze living mammals (which is what humans are) has improved greatly and continues to improve. Unfortunately, there remains that problem of revivifying the frozen meat that is sitting in all that liquid nitrogen. Basically, when a person dies, something killed him. It could be disease. It could be trauma. It could just be some unlucky transient malfunction of an organ, such as a sudden arrhythmia that might have been survivable if treated in time or that a person might have had periodically, asymptomatically, for years but that until a single fatal incident resolved on its own. It could just be old age, the “running down” of the body. Even if it were actually possible to revive a frozen body, whatever killed the person would still be there.

Believers handwave that problem away:

“We’re not trying to bring people back to life. We don’t believe they’re really dead; if dead’s final, then they weren’t dead,” says Dennis Kowalski, president of the Cryonics Institute, which claims to have 1,100 living members worldwide. Members pay yearly dues of $120, or $1,250 for a lifetime membership, then about $28,000 when actually frozen. (In comparison, the average adult funeral in the United States costs about $8,000.) For many, life insurance benefits cover the preservation costs.

And:

But death is a gray line, Kowalski says, and it’s always moving. What might have been terminal 150, 15, even five years ago is treatable today. Something as simple as CPR has saved countless lives; cardiac defibrillation — the “shock paddles” used to jump-start a stopped heart — has revived patients previously considered dead. What’s “dead” mean to medicine, other than a challenge? From that perspective, he says, a storehouse of frozen bodies is no more macabre than a heart transplant, a now-common medical procedure once considered grotesque.

It all reminds me of this classic cartoon:

then-a-miracle-occurs

The problem, of course, is that advocates of cryonics never seem to be explicit in step two.

You can see this from the utter nonsense of the example of defibrillation. CPR and cardiac defibrillation can save lives because a fibrillating heart is still alive. Indeed, the cardiac muscle cells are still contracting and have electrical activity; they’re just doing so in a disjointed way that doesn’t produce meaningful contractions of the muscle mass that can produce any pumping power. If you’ve ever actually seen a heart that’s fibrillating, you’ll notice that it’s lamely twitching. Boiled down to its essence, the idea of the electrical shock is to “reset” all the cells to allow the intrinsic electrical pacemakers of the heart to take over and get them contracting in unison again. A heart that’s just lying there is in asystole, which is a state that defibrillation can almost never reverse, so much so that cardioversion isn’t even recommended anymore in the ACLS algorithm for aystole.

That’s why the ability of these interventions to save life rapidly declines with time after cardiac arrest. Within minutes, the heart muscle cells, deprived of oxygen-rich blood, start really dying. Once they do, no amount of CPR or defibrillation will get them working again. Basically, as soon as the heart stops, heart muscle cells start dying, and the more of them that die, the less the chance of getting the heart started again. Before defibrillation, patients only appeared “dead” because death at the time was defined as no pulse, no breathing, and no heartbeat, and the technology to get the heart going again before irreversible damage to the heart muscle occurred didn’t exist. Even so, occasionally people would “wake up” in response to a sharp blow to the chest.

The problem of the dead heart, however, is minor compared to the problem of the dead brain. The brain is highly metabolically active and is thus exquisitely sensitive to interruptions in blood flow. As soon as the blood flow stops from a cardiac arrest, the brain starts losing cells, and it only takes a few minutes before severe and permanent brain damage occurs that rapidly progresses to brain death; i.e., the death of the neurons controlling the “higher’ functions. Sadly, many are the times that patients in cardiac arrest have been resuscitated, only have severe anoxic brain injury (injury due to lack of oxygen) or be brain dead. Granting the fantastical assumptions behind the cryonics movement, specifically that dead people can be frozen and then successfully revived, what about the brain? Everything that defines your consciousness and personality comes from the function of your brain.

Look at it this way. Memory is stored in the neural network somehow through poorly understood protein changes. Freezing usually involves the formation of crystals, which could easily disrupt those changes. If the brain could be frozen without those crystals, theoretically the information might still be there (assuming, of course, that the body was frozen before the brain turned to mush from hypoxic injury). However there remains the question of recovering that information, which inevitably results in cryonics advocates, in essence, appealing to magic in the form of super future technology, most often nanobots. That’s not even counting fixing the physical damage to the brain from hypoxia that occurs after the cessation of blood flow and the freezing process itself, given the number of connections between the many billions of neurons in a single human brain.

Once that’s gone (or irreparably damaged), you’re gone. I like the way they put it in Rational Wiki: “Once you’ve fixed the body cells and the brain paths, you have a recovered corpse. Your next task is to resurrect the dead.” Just count the number of beliefs that are nothing more than wishful thinking in this paragraph:

Right now, though, cryonics is more like an in-progress medical trial. Advances in stem-cell research, nanotechnology, and therapeutic cloning give Kowalski and other cryonicists hope, but he admits there are no guarantees. Today’s frozen people are already dead, or “deanimated,” as some prefer; tomorrow’s helpful scientists will not only have to successfully thaw their “patients,” but return them to life. (And reunite them with their pets, though some are frozen out of generosity, their owners simply hoping to give their beloved animals more life.) That’s assuming, fingers crossed, that they’ve been frozen in a recoverable way, without too much tissue damage, and that they’ve been carefully maintained. Once thawed, they’ll have to be treated for being “dead,” by whatever methods would make that possible. And who wants to wake up alone in the future in a body already ravaged by time? Better to hope that a new, youthful body is waiting for you.

And if wishes were fishes…oh, never mind.

But think about it. First of all, such technological breakthroughs, even in the unlikely event that they were possible, are likely many decades, or even hundreds of years, in the future. If you were frozen and then revived, everyone you know, everything you knew in your life, would be gone. In its place would be a society where you would have no idea how to function and might not even be able to speak the language, given how language evolves over that span of time. Imagine, for instance, being transported back to Shakespeare’s time (in England, of course) and trying to communicate. You wouldn’t know anything that would allow you to make your way in the world. You’d be a curiosity to be studied at best, a burden on society at worst, all of which ignores the question of whether some future society and scientists would even want to revivify a bunch of decades- or centuries-old bodies. They might want to do a few to prove it could be done, but after that each succeeding body would just be another burden. Sooner or later, the scientific interest would wane, as would the desire to devote resources to it.

But what about the science? Cryonicists often point to the widespread freezing of embryos for in vitro fertilization (IVF), and it’s true. That works very well, and the viability rate after thawing is quite high. Of course, for IVF, we’re talking about structures that are usually only eight cells. As a biomedical researcher, I know that it’s quite possible to freeze human cells for cell culture indefinitely and revive them with only relatively small percentages of cells dying. There’s a huge difference between freezing suspensions consisting of single cells or embryos consisting of a cluster of a few cells and freezing a large mammal like a human being. It’s often pointed out that there are cases in which humans have survived severe hypothermia and been revived after warming. Such cases are relatively uncommon (most still die), and I can’t help but note that in no cases that I’ve been able to find has a “human popsicle” (i.e., a human frozen solid) ever survived and been revived.

Let’s just put it this way. Even though some small animals, particularly cold blooded animals like frogs, can survive partial freezing and some insects can survive freezing, that doesn’t mean cryonics is feasible. Indeed, lacking examples of a single decent-sized mammal being successfully frozen and revivified, I have a hard time seeing the promise of cryonics being the least bit feasible. After all, if we can’t even freeze a living animal in liquid nitrogen and revive it, what makes one think we can freeze a dead human and revive him or her? Let’s just put it this way, the plausibility of cryonics doesn’t quite reach homeopathy-level, mainly because it doesn’t require violating well-accepted laws of physics, but that’s the only reason it isn’t homeopathy-level. When Michael Shermer is quoted in the article saying “It is not impossible for cryonics to succeed; it is just exceptionally unlikely,” from a scientific standpoint he is being exceptionally optimistic.

Perhaps what’s the worst about this is that people spend incredible amounts of money, which could be used to make their lives now better or be passed on to their heirs, chasing immortality. Cryonics is not, as its advocates say, an “ongoing medical trial”. Rather, those who choose to freeze themselves are more akin to the ancient Pharaohs, who spent enormous resources constructing elaborate tombs, so that they will one day rise from the grave and live again. Instead, they are found thousands of years later and end up in museums around the world.

Posted in: Basic Science, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (156) ↓

156 thoughts on “Cold reality versus the wishful thinking of cryonics

  1. Lagaya1 says:

    If your life insurance will pay for the cryonics bill, would you have to pay it all back if revived?

    Also, a person who is not well enough to live, and is revived after being frozen , then thawed, doesn’t sound like a very good candidate for renewed vigor to me. Doesn’t freezing damage a lot of cells just by the water expansion alone? I know it turns my carrots into wimpy examples of their former selves…

    1. simba says:

      Now I want to flash-freeze carrots to stop large crystals forming to see if that would help with the ‘wimpy carrot’ problem. Hey, if it works for people…

      1. n brownlee says:

        Blanch slices or sticks briefly, cool immediately with a cold water plunge, lay them out on a towel and dry thoroughly. Spread on a cookie sheet and freeze quickly, then bag them in a freezer bag. You can take out as much as needed for cooking and reseal the bag. Works for all kinds of vegetables.

        I’m afraid there’s no way to freeze them AND keep them crisp. I used to sow a few carrot seeds every month or so during the growing season (in the shade- this is Texas) so I’d be able to pull little fresh ones when I wanted, almost all year long. Honestly, root vegetable keep well through the winter if just stored loose in a paper bag and kept cold but not allowed to freeze- garage, cellar, etc.

        1. Andrey Pavlov says:

          I’m afraid there’s no way to freeze them AND keep them crisp

          Perhaps flash freezing them with liquid nitrogen would work. I know that for many fruits if you freeze them they get nice and mushy. But if you flash freeze they stay relatively whole and intact after defrosting. That is because in slow freezing the ice crystals grow larger and pierce the cell wall. Flash freezing doesn’t allow time for that to happen.

          Of course it is a little impractical to have LN2 hanging around the house but a nice 10L dewar is a planned purchase of mine in the next couple of months :-D

          I’ll try freezing various food stuffs and see how it turns out :-D

          1. DevoutCatalyst says:

            Do you own an anti-griddle ? Also, am curious, what else are you planning to do with your dewar ?

            1. Andrey Pavlov says:

              An anti-griddle? I actually had to look that up. It would be fun to have, but much more costly than the dewar I am planning on buying. Plus, you don’t get to enjoy the real reason I want to buy the dewar – to play around with liquid nitrogen :-D

              Once you have a dewar (and I found a decent one for around $340) getting the LN2 is actually pretty darned cheap and easy. I can get it locally for around $3-4 per liter.

              Really it is just an excuse to have fun with LN2, but I also plan on doing some culinary things with it. My fiance and I also do a fair bit of science outreach stuff and we would try and incorporate LN2 demonstrations into it. Lastly, a friend of ours has been competing (and winning!) in some cooking contests and part of his angle is that he is a NASA scientist with a PhD and wants to incorporate more science and tech into his cooking as well.

              But really, just an excuse to have fun with LN2. :-D

              1. Windriven says:

                When my kids were in grade school I always did an LN2 day that culminated with the kids eating grapes,flash frozen in LN2. Always a hit. Be sure to do the frozen rose bit.

              2. brewandferment says:

                making ice cream with it is also a big thriller

              3. Andrey Pavlov says:

                Yes, I intend to do both. The NASA scientist/BBQ pit master (he does whole hog and has his own made-from-scraps smoker and burn barrel to make his own charcoal fresh for 10 hours of cooking and then his family secret sauce recipe) wants to do LN2 ice cream. And I fully support that.

              4. Bruce A. Hamilton says:

                Andrey, since you brought up the topic of high-tech cuisine, I have to ask, do you have Mhyrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine”? At $468 on Amazon (list $625) and 2438 pages, that might be the most expensive book ever published (other than limited editions). I see they also have some sort of cut-down version “Modernist Cuisine at Home” for “only” $105 (456 pages).

              5. Andrey Pavlov says:

                do you have Mhyrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine”?

                No, I’ve never even heard of that one actually. And I tend to avoid actual books as much as possible: my medium of preference is electrons.

      2. n brownlee says:

        Ps- Do not use this method on people.

        1. Lagaya1 says:

          Haha!

  2. crf says:

    Isn’t is feasible to consider cloning a human from cells extracted from a cryogenically frozen body? Perhaps some people who do whole body cryonics consider this a bonus built-in backup plan (it won’t be “them”, but it could be their exact genetic selves living on).

    1. augustus says:

      Maybe. But sounds totally irrational to me anyways.
      Personally, I could care less if a clone of me lived on after my death. How would that benefit me? It would be more similar to children/grandchildren, but he can never be me, as he would not be me.
      Anyways, nobody would bother cloning them, especially since they probably have not given consent.

      Same for being remembered, who cares if I’m remember if I’m freakin’ dead. Of course it may give comfort before one dies but I believe it’s irrational.

      1. n brownlee says:

        Yes. Like Woody Allen, I don’t want to achieve immortality through my progeny, or in people’s memory. I want to achieve immortality by not dying.

      2. David Gorski says:

        Most people do care about being remembered after they’re dead, at least for a generation, anyway, but preferably even more. It’s a very human trait.

        1. augustus says:

          Doubtless the utility to oneself after one’s death is zero.
          This human trait (which appears to exist in a lot of people, I don’t personally feel it much) needs to have an origin, cultural or biological/genetically.
          My top 2 conjectures would be
          *stemming from the genetic urge to leave a trace in the world, which comes along with the urge to reproduce
          *as a way to alleviate one’s fear of death by framing it as one is not completely and finally gone as one is ‘remembered’

        2. Windriven says:

          Gotta go with Augustus here. At its best the memory is a caricature. Live well, do good, don’t eff over anyone who doesn’t deserve it, die happy. Who gives a sh!t beyond that?

          1. mouse says:

            Geez – you people are merciless. ;)

            I don’t get it Windriven – If you live well, do good and don’t eff off anyone who doesn’t deserve it, you will probably be remembered fondly.

            I know I will remember you fondly…that is if I live longer than you. So, why not enjoy thinking that you will be remembered fondly? Isn’t that one of the rewards of living well?

            I guess if you don’t enjoy it, if you enjoy not enjoying it because it’s more rational…be my guest.

            I think that may be to complicated for a simple person like me.

            1. Windriven says:

              (blush)

              I guess my point is that the memories that people hold are inevitably truncated and ultimately untrue. Those closest to you hold the most accurate memories but as time and relationships gain distance those memories become less and less real approximations of the deceased.

              I consider myself to be a serious amateur historian of the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt. I have read many books by him and about him. But I have no illusion that I understand this extraordinarily complex man in any deep way.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Have you read The Imperial Cruise? I did, and my thought upon closing it was “Wow, Roosevelt was a ass-faced racist dandy.” Doubtless I am oversimplifying. But I doubt anybody gets to be President or Supreme Leader without having a strong extreme streak in them of some sort.

              2. Windriven says:

                I’ve not, though I’ll put it on my list. Asia was never a profound interest for Roosevelt’s though it certainly was for Taft, who was dragged kicking and screaming out of the governor generalship of the Philippines to become Roosevelt’s VP. I’ll be interested to read the case that this was TRs hand at work (and his hand was always at work on something) and that judgments and agreements made then led to the war in the Pacific four decades later.

                As it happens I’m reading Margaret MacMillan’s, “The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914″. I’ll try to wedge “Imperial Cruise” in right after and compare notes while the two takes are fresh in my mind.

                And just to finish these thoughts up, several historians have suggested that Roosevelt was perhaps the only man on earth who, had he been in an appropriate role at the time, could have forestalled WWI. Roosevelt enjoyed fine relationships with most of the power players in that sad slide into chaos. Wilson, not so much.

                As with most people, Roosevelt was a complex figure, often prone to quick decisions when they resonated with his prejudices. He was also first and foremost a tireless self-promoter, willing to throw anyone (Taft included) under the bus to get his way.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                According to my reading of the book Asia was a priority – but perhaps that is merely due to my lack of broader knowledge about him. The rest of your comments about him are well-matched by the book – manipulative, pushy, and quite willing to sacrifice others for his own aggrandizement.

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Gotta go with Augustus here. At its best the memory is a caricature. Live well, do good, don’t eff over anyone who doesn’t deserve it, die happy. Who gives a sh!t beyond that?

            The sad thing is, the better you live your life, the more miserable people are when you die.

            Also the only real way that you can feel good about after you die is by living in a way that makes people miss you even more.

            The more you dwell on it, the more absurd dying becomes. But at least it doesn’t bother you once you are dead, because…you’re dead.

            1. Windriven says:

              “the better you live your life, the more miserable people are when you die.”

              They get over it. I was very close to a paternal aunt. I keep her driver’s license and wrist watch on my bedside table. Her death was wrenching. I miss her still. But I’m no longer miserable.

            2. mouse says:

              Going all Camus on us WLU?

              “The sad thing is, the better you live your life, the more miserable people are when you die.”

              I find that thought oddly comforting, it means even the inevitable screw ups have the bright side of saving your loved ones grief. Hmmm, maybe a false comfort.

              1. Windriven says:

                Life disappoints, then you die. So be sure to build a life you want to live.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Eventually the Earth is swallowed up by the sun and all of our endeavors are truly for naught, as even the nominally permanent ones like the Pyramids are roasted out of existence by 5,000 degrees worth of fusing hydrogen. Fortunately we’ll all have been dead for billions of years by that point, so there’s still comfort to be had.

        3. Ron Murphy says:

          Some people want to be remembered after they are dead, but that’s a wish they have while they are actually alive. Since when they are dead they’ll be dead, it doesn’t actually matter if their wish comes true or not.

          A dying relative wishes to have their ashes scattered from the peak of Everest? OK, promise. Then, tip them in the trash and merely fondly remember their dying wish and pretend it happened with as much conviction as they fooled themselves it would.

          1. mouse says:

            Ha – they didn’t tell you that they left a message with the head sherpa on Everest that gave directions to a safe deposit box in the U.S. that contained a number for a Swiss bank account, did they?

            1. Windriven says:

              ! :-)

          2. mouse says:

            Seriously – I suspect it’s seldom that easy. If you are the only one who knows about the dying person’s wish you might be able to do that with no repercussions. But dying wishes tend to be communicated broadly.

            When my mother was in hospice she made it know to my dad and us kids that she wanted to be cremated rather than buried. She actually hated the thought of being buried.

            When my grandmother found out – she burst into tears, was very upset. It was bad enough that her daughter was dying before her, but the thought that she wouldn’t be buried in the family plot was even worse. To comfort my grandmother my mother said she would like to be cremated, but we should spread her ashes on the family plot.

            Okay solution. Only my dad decided he wanted to keep my mother’s ashes. He just didn’t feel he could part with them. This was sadly accepted by my grandmother and my mom’s siblings with our (the kids) proposed solution that my mother’s plan take place after my father’s death.

            Many years later my grandmother passes away. Then my father passed away, more years later. We now have his ashes and my mother’s ashes. My uncle occasionally calls and very nicely asks if we have any plans to spread my mom’s ashes on the family plot, because he’s thinking about grandmom and mom’s wishes.

            And all these people are so sweet and kind and trusting* (well, except my dad, who was a pain in the butt) that you really just feel awful about not following the plan.

            Which is the point, death and loss and grief all tend to be rather social experiences, you can’t necessarily do what you want without cause a living person emotional turmoil or pain.

            Me – I’d kinda like to be buried. NOT next to my MIL and I want a headstone like this. http://www.stonestructures.org/assets/images/Gravestone-Boston4.jpg

            Actually, I just want the headstone. I may not wait until I die or put my body under it.

            If the only place to be buried is next to my MIL – then please cremate me and do something with the ashes immediately (not the trash bin – please, that completely lacks poetic appeal) No procrastinating. Or put me on a boat set it on fire and send it out onto a nice Michigan lake. I enjoy thinking about that.

            Please, do not freeze me. I live in Michigan, I’ve been frozen enough. You clearly can’t be trusted – I will designate someone to check on you.

            Also I like fireworks. Something with fireworks would be nice. But quiet ones, I don’t want to frighten the dogs.

            :)

  3. Frederick says:

    One of the problem is those people are dead, it is just a way to keep their corpse for a long period of time. If we ever develop a method of suspended animation that work, it will need to be used on living people, not corpses.

    You still kind of bursted my nice bubble, I never really believed in Cryogenics, but still. I wish i could see a future world! and if it is depressing… Put me back in!

    I think that for now, medical research should focus in keeping us alive until 150 years old! I want to years the years 2112! just for the sake of it!
    lol

  4. Alia says:

    A friend of mine has been conducting research on cryonics and other ways of preserving human body for prolonged periods of time – but the main goal of his research is rather space exploration and things like that. So far – not much success. There are quite a lot of animals that you can freeze or dry and then they revive – but with humans it’s really complicated. They are trying with things like removing blood and substituting it with liquids that do not form crystals – still, it’s a long way to go.

  5. Tim Allman says:

    Even if revival were plausible and the technique became available some decades (centuries?) from now, I think that the frozen corpse’s greatest threat would be the integrity of those tending the corpse. The company could go bankrupt, leaving no resources to keep up the refrigeration or the owners could just take the money and run. After some period of time, there would be no one left to care what happened.

    1. simba says:

      Freezer malfunction at the cryo lab… now there’s a bad day at the office.

    2. CHotel says:

      “And the Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2132 goes to Ziploc Medical, for their breakthrough in the prevention and treatment of freezerburn in humans”

  6. Beerce says:

    People are trying to make zombies? Don’t do it… Zombies are no joke, they’ll %&#@ us all up!

  7. synaptic says:

    1) What is your evidence that memory is based on protein changes? I thought it was unknown what level memory is stored in. I thought that it might be stored in some cases, especially for long-term memory, in the structure of dendrites.

    2) Why do you not mention perfusion of cryopreservant as a way to minimize freezing damage? Vitrification introduces its own problems, but at least in the ideal case, it addresses many of the problems you’ve discussed.

    3) On to the question of hypoxia and resulting brain cell injury and death, this is a large issue, and you’re right that this introduces a lot of injury. Just want to point out that I agree with you here, but I am confused by your treatment of other aspects of cryonics and want clarifications.

    I hope you will respond.

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      I’ll take a stab:

      1) What is your evidence that memory is based on protein changes?

      Well we know that proteins do play a role. And that they can potentiate and obliterate memory.

      I thought it was unknown what level memory is stored in. I thought that it might be stored in some cases, especially for long-term memory, in the structure of dendrites.

      It’s not fully understood, no. And indeed the structure of dendrites is also undoubtedly a part of it. But the communications between them that create and maintain them are protein based. That is what neurotransmitters are (or rather amino acids and short polypeptides, but some polypeptides as well). And even if the cryogenic process doesn’t disrupt a large number of the dendritic connections, the fact that the brain will be anoxic for timeframes on the hour scale (maybe 1 hour if it is very efficiently done, but realistically 2-3 hours seems like a much more reasonable estimate) which means much of the dendritic structure (and the proteins involved) will have be destroyed. So it simply isn’t feasible to think complex neuro cytoarchitecture and neurophysiology can be preserved to any high level of fidelity without extremely well tuned, planned, and executed at a level that simply doesn’t exist now. And even then there are still serious barriers.

      2) Why do you not mention perfusion of cryopreservant as a way to minimize freezing damage? Vitrification introduces its own problems, but at least in the ideal case, it addresses many of the problems you’ve discussed.

      Well, for the same reason as above. Cells begin to die – irreversibly by any conceivable means – within minutes from a lack of oxygen. Being very ill right before death literally means you are farther along by the time you actually die. Putting in some sort of cryopreservant (which is rather general – is there some specific one that is commonly used and has data to support its use?) will help with crystal damage from ice formation, but it won’t do anything to reverse the death of the huge number of cells already gone nor would it slow down the death of the ones still hanging around. So doing that would only worsen the prognosis before even entering the cryo tank.

      And, of course, the brain is pretty much the most energy intensive organ in the body so it will be much worse off than anywhere else. It really is just not a practically viable approach.

      Only if we took people and cryopreserved them long(ish) before their death (or maybe had hospital beds that were right on top of cryo tanks to immediately dunk the moment of asystole or something like that) would there be any hope of this being successful. And that is just the start. There are many more hurdles to get past and of course the unknown unknowns.

      1. Luke Parrish says:

        “Cells begin to die – irreversibly by any conceivable means – within minutes from a lack of oxygen.”

        If that’s the case, why do people sometimes come back after up to an hour of ischemia? You are misrepresenting the current state of knowledge here. It’s the insult that takes minutes, not the damage.

        Also, cryonics involves prompt cooling, immediately after pronouncement. Circumstances vary. There are now three states in the US where patients are allowed to choose their time of death. A patient who dies of self-inflicted hunger (which is legal pretty much anywhere) generally experiences cardiac arrest from electrolyte imbalances. After that, promptly cooling for the first few degrees apparently is what matters the most (in terms of avoiding no-reflow phenomenon, endothelial cell death). We go a lot colder than that before the cryoprotectants are added. (Preventing no-reflow is prerequisite for vitrification — you can’t add cryoprotectants if there is too much perfusion impairment.)

        1. MadisonMD says:

          Cells begin to die – irreversibly by any conceivable means – within minutes from a lack of oxygen.

          If that’s the case, why do people sometimes come back after up to an hour of ischemia?

          (1) Citation or example is needed where it was close to 1 hour? (No CPR)
          (2) Do you think you can live after some of your cells begin to die? i.e. these facts are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
          (3) See this cite which states “Global cerebral ischemia entails diminution in cerebral blood flow over the entire brain, encountered clinically as sequelae during extracorporeal circulation following cardiac arrest (CA) from ventricular fibrillation or asystole that lasts 5 to 10 minutes. Global ischemia from CA results in a predictable pattern of histologic injury in which specific neuronal populations are affected (selective ischemic necrosis).”

          A patient who dies of self-inflicted hunger…

          Call me a simpleton, but this seems like a bad choice if you want to live.

        2. Andrey Pavlov says:

          If that’s the case, why do people sometimes come back after up to an hour of ischemia? You are misrepresenting the current state of knowledge here. It’s the insult that takes minutes, not the damage.

          No, I am not. You are instead focusing on very rare circumstances which, once again, do not parallel what you are trying to actually argue.

          Those who “sometimes come back after an hour of ischemia” are not only pretty darned rare, but they are also only ever in situations where they died because of or in extremely cold circumstances. Like falling under the ice of a frozen lake. And even then it is only is previously healthy individuals. When you die before being frozen you will not be healthy to start with and you will not already be cold at the time of death. It only takes a few minutes of anoxia to the brain under anything approaching normal metabolic load to have irreversible brain damage. And that is simply a well established fact.

          Even in cases of return of spontaneous cardiac function (ROSC) the evidence on hypothermia is not entirely clear. And we do, in fact, have protocols for doing that rather rapidly. And we find that cooling seems to help some after ROSC, but the effects aren’t dramatic. There is still a huge amount of anoxic brain damage… and that is when the person is in the hospital at the time of arrest, received prompt CPR, and was cooled with a protocol in place.

          You are digging deep to pull the most rare of the optimistic possibilities to form your assessment of the likelihood of success. Which is why your claim that the likelihood of success of cryonics being in the 1/100 or 1/20 range is utterly laughable. We don’t have that kind of success with immediate resuscitation and cooling of individuals right now. Certainly not without noticeable and permanent brain damage.

          And, you continually demonstrate that you know just enough about the medicine and biology to sound smart, but that your knowledge is very limited. Which is fine, except that you are representing that knowledge as being demonstrative of the plausibility of cryonics. And you are failing to to take into account a number of variables, conflating scenarios that have nothing to do with each other as evidence to support the idea of cryonics, and outright getting important facts wrong; the damage does happen on the scale of minutes, not just the insult.

          1. Luke Parrish says:

            Couple of clarifications: I was not intentionally changing the topic to people who have been cooled before their heart stopped (I believe the optimistic window is higher there), however I stand corrected with regards to people being revived after 60 minutes of warm ischemia.

            I am not a doctor, and my knowledge certainly is limited. Nonetheless, I was certainly not trying to advance the claim that any degree of warm ischemia is optimal. Cooling the patient prior to loss of bloodflow would make more sense.

            Also, my optimistic estimate of 1-5% is taking into account the possibility of improvements in the near future, including obvious things such as cooling prior to ischemia. It may be considerably less for current patients, although I do not have the kind of confidence to label it worse than rolling a million-sided die.

            1. Andrey Pavlov says:

              I was not intentionally changing the topic to people who have been cooled before their heart stopped (I believe the optimistic window is higher there), however I stand corrected with regards to people being revived after 60 minutes of warm ischemia.

              Kudos for your recognition and admission.

              Cooling the patient prior to loss of bloodflow would make more sense

              Agreed. But that still doesn’t resolve the problem of cryonics.

              Also, my optimistic estimate of 1-5% is taking into account the possibility of improvements in the near future, including obvious things such as cooling prior to ischemia. It may be considerably less for current patients, although I do not have the kind of confidence to label it worse than rolling a million-sided die.

              Well, if you wish to posit that in some time before you die we will have surmounted the task of being able to freeze a brain with minimal damage and information loss and then that will increase your odds of successful reanimation in some distant future… OK. I can accept that as an argument. We can quibble about what the odds really are because there is no way of knowing. Nobody has any clue what – if any – relevant breakthrough(s) will occur.

              Which is why none of us here are trying to say we shouldn’t research cryonics. What we are saying is that it currently does not make sense to freeze yourself in the hopes of meaningful reanimation. And the problem is that people are doing exactly that… based on arguments and ideas like the one you are positing. Maybe if that near-future breakthrough happens you can reasonably amend your probability of success to be in the 1-5% range. But you cannot say that now. And as it stands right now 1 in a million is pretty optimistic. And you are indeed making arguments about the right now and saying that it makes sense to be frozen prior to necessary breakthroughs being achieved. And you are also trying to assert that future technology not only can but is likely to overcome current technological limitations. And for me – and the other physicians here – that seems very dubious.

              We simply aren’t there yet. And, quite frankly, I think cryonics will never truly come to fruition. It seems to me to make much more sense that we will simply digitally encode our brains. Because the things that need to be surmounted in order for cryonics to work are the same things that will also ultimately enable us to download our brains into a computer. And that seems much easier to manage than cryonics.

              Of course, that is all speculation on my part and I won’t try and pretend to assign a probability to it happening. Which is why I also won’t invest my own time and money into dubious current applications which hinge on a technology that doesn’t exist yet.

            2. Andrey Pavlov says:

              Luke, another thing to think of in terms of your probabilities and thoughts about risk involving cryonics.

              You’ve basically said that if you had a 1 in a million chance of being revived and living another lifetime that it would be worth it to to spend the money, time, and effort to be cryogenically frozen.

              Well, what about giving up some of your life now for the chance at more of it in the future? You have at least tacitly admitted that waiting until you really can no longer live right now and then being frozen will decrease your odds of successful reanimation in the future relative to being younger and healthier at the time of freezing. I would agree with you wholeheartedly there.

              So if you really think that the odds are somewhere in the 1% range, would you be willing to try and maximize those by being frozen some couple of years before you are truly ill and dying? If you make it to 75 and are reasonably healthy and lets say the actuarial tables predict an additional 5 years of life for you, would you be willing to give up those 5 years to have an even better chance at a whole extra lifetime in the future?

              I mean, if you posit a 1% chance and lets say that doing it earlier and healthier triples that chance to 3%, and then that gives you an extra 75 years of life… the odds on that mean you should go for it. And if you want to further posit that future medical tech will allow people to live longer and longer (which is not at all an unreasonable assumption) then who is to say you wouldn’t get an extra 150 or 200 years of life?

              You see the same reasoning you are using to justify cryonics currently can be made into any just-so story to be able to justify freezing yourself right now. I could imagine a future where they can download your brain, give you a cyborg body that can fly through space, and go planet hopping for a thousand years. I’d be willing to give up a damned lot for the chance to do that!

              But anyways, how about it? Would you be willing to give up a couple years of life right now for your possible future life after cryonics? If not, what does that say about what you really think the odds of success are?

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          People who come back after an hour of ischemia generally fell into very cold waters, and are usually pretty young. Their bodies are cooled rapidly, but not frozen, allowing metabolic rates of individual cells to slow without incurring cellular damage from ice crystals, and their hearts are still pumping, which means the blood is still circulating oxygen and nutrients and removing wastes, at a much, much slower rate. And it’s only an hour or so.

          Cryogenics hypothesizes revival after years, if not centuries. You would have to stop metabolism, as even a slow rate would result in an accumulation of errors (i.e. aging) over the course of centuries, in someone who is already probably old. Not to mention all those enzymes trying to work at temperatures they are not optimized for.

  8. Robert Walter says:

    I see cryogenics as a low risk, high reward gamble. If a person is financially comfortable, than the costs, when coupled with life insurance, are fairly small. Other than the money (which, like a lottery ticket, the idea of winning may be reward enough), there’s nothing to loose here. The cryogenic process certainly is not going to make you more dead.

    As long as people are realistic with their expectations, I see no harm in this industry. Additionally, interest in cryogenics encourages research into the field which may lead to more promising techniques.

    And to say a person would be useless and a burden on society is ridiculous. People learn; people adapt. People using cryogenics are most likely educated, intelligent people who will still have as much to contribute to future society as anyone else. And we also don’t want to restrict life prolonging technology just based on someone’s “usefulness” anyway.

    There are too many unknowns in the future to say whether the cryogenic industry is a farce or not. As long as there aren’t unsubstantiated claims or outright fraud, where is the harm?

    1. David Gorski says:

      Except that the entire cryonics industry is built on unsubstantiated claims…

      1. Out2MaiM says:

        There is more of a chance of me waking up due to cryonics then there is a chance to me ever waking up because of anything religious or spiritual.

        It is a step in the right direction, and you honestly don’t know what is going to happen in the coming years, it’s too soon to judge something like this and any possible merits it could have on the future.

        Even if there is a 0.01 percent chance, it is worth it. Because without it your chances of waking up are 0.

        1. Harriet Hall says:

          “Even if there is a 0.01 percent chance, it is worth it.”

          I estimate the chance as less than 0.0000001. Where would you draw the line?
          Without buying a lottery ticket, your chances of winning are 0. If you buy a ticket, your chances are still so small that they are indistinguishable from 0. Lotteries are a tax on the innumerate and a self-indulgence for those who enjoy fantasy. I don’t buy lottery tickets, and I don’t buy cryonics.

        2. mouse says:

          Out2MaiM “Even if there is a 0.01 percent chance, it is worth it. Because without it your chances of waking up are 0.”

          If there is some distant chance of waking up, then there is also some chance of a partially functional revival that is worse than death.

          I’ve never wanted to be immortal. When I’m gone, take my useful parts, give them to someone who needs them, then follow my instructions upthread.

        3. Sawyer says:

          This little Pascal’s Wager you’ve presented is only working out because you’ve placed an infinite benefit on the waking up scenario. Some of us quite enjoy life right now, but foresee marginal utility kicking in if people could live to 400 years old. The risk benefit analysis looks a lot different when you take that into account.

          I would much rather a few thousand dollars go to a charity when I die (which I can make sure happens with about 99.9% certainty) than blowing it on a 0.01% chance of some extra old man year.

          1. Austin Parish says:

            Assign p the probability that all of the things needed for cryonics to “work” actually occur successfully (and this is, potentially, a lot of things – everything from the arc of technology development, cryonics supporters being right about the physical structure of consciousness and memory, sufficiently small information loss, future societies assign utility to the work needed to revive you, etc. etc.). This p may indeed be vastly small; but even in my most negative of estimates, the conjunctive probability is still > 0.000000001.

            The utility we assign to the outcome of “everything working” with cryonics is definitely person-dependent. I’d assign so much utility to the prospect of cryonics working that even a miniscule probability like that would make investing in cryonics worthwhile.

            When people criticize cryonics, they are either 1) telling me the probability p is much lower than I think it is or 2) telling me that the utility I’ve assigned to it working is much greater than what I should assign. For #1, where are your numbers? Let’s actually see your estimates. Show me what you think, numerically, and why.

            For #2, that’s more of a personal decision. I know a number of people who wouldn’t spend any amount of money if I offered them 10 more healthy years (or at least, they say they wouldn’t). To me, they seem crazy, but we probably have very different worldviews. And fully-working-cryonics is much more than 10 healthy years.

            Cryonics is like everything: if (your estimate of p * the utility you assign to cryonics worker) is greater than the cost in expectation of being cryopreserved, then get cryopreserved. If not, don’t.

            1. MadisonMD says:

              I suppose you don’t need the $ when you are dead (though your family may?)

              However there is time and opportunity cost. The time and effort you spend on setting up cryonics for the unlikely opportunity could alternatively be spent dancing through a field of flowers and picking strawberries for a few hours in the life you do have with 100% probability. The opportunity to live longer is more likely to be met by exercising, re-evaluating your diet and making it mostly plant-based, quitting smoking, cutting down on alcohol, getting your teeth fixed, getting immunized, having your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checked (if indicated), having breast/colon cancer screening (if indicated) and evaluating your retirement plan. These provide a much higher probability of giving you more years of happy life than cryonics would.

              So sure, Austin, make your own choices but if you haven’t yet, consider the costs beyond $.

              1. Austin Parish says:

                Hi Madison. You’re right! I already do all of those things, and a number of others. And they do, absolutely, provide a higher probability of extending my healthspan by a small amount of time than cryonics does.

                They also hit hard limits quickly. The longest any human has ever lived has been 122 years; the U.S. male life expectancy is roughly 77 years. I’d like to live in health longer than both of those numbers for a wide variety of reasons. Although doing the things you’ve suggested will increase the probability that I make it to 77 far more than cryonics, the balance shifts the further out we get. If I want to live past 200, cryonics has a much, much better chance of helping me do that (at present) than any of your suggestions – even if its probability is extremely tiny.

                The argument about the time needed to set up cryonics is ridiculous, though. My life has been filled with strawberry fields and a host of other beatific, joyous experiences. It’s also contained the roughly 15 hours it took to learn about cryonics, set up a cryonics membership, etc. True, I could have been picking strawberries instead. But that argument could be applied to anything I do, including 1) work, 2) go to school, 3) sleep in, etc. Just because I could have been out in nature for X hours does not mean that the other thing I did for X hours was a bad idea, unless X is large – and in this case, it is not.

              2. MadisonMD says:

                I’d rather spend those extra 15 hours away from work now. I could pick strawberries with family and friends whom I already love and who will be dead in 200 years. The alternative is spending 15 hours away from that beautiful scene, someday in the future, with a very very very small probability, I’ll wake up at 200, and if lucky enough to avoid frostbite, I’ll live like this? It may be ridiculous to you, but it seems sensible and plain to me.

                BTW, I actually already have plans to be “alive” in 200 years in much nicer fashion in that my DNA will comprise part of my great great great grandchildren with an entirely new existence.

              3. Andrey Pavlov says:

                @Austin Parish:

                The thing you are neglecting to realize is that the p of “everything working out fine” is not necessarily some small-but-greater-than-zero number. There is also a very distinct chance that the number is actually zero – and that no amount of future advances will possibly change that.

                And as it stands right now, based on the science we do know, the chance of “everything working right” is not only infinitesimally small but actually more likely to be zero. Because while you are factoring in potential future advances and unknown unknowns that could be game changers, you are ignoring the fact that the process starts now. And we do not have the technological sophistication to ensure your brain is adequately frozen without massive information loss.

                Think about it – we can’t even map the brain to that level of precision. In the time it takes someone to take a brain out of a freshly dead animal, slice it up, and look at it, the connections are already largely destroyed. And freezing it only takes even longer and adds more damage.

                Basically what the science is telling us is that there is a very high likelihood that no matter what future advances happen, you will never be revived because the process of freezing you right now is simply not adequate. And there is nothing that can be done right now to circumvent this.

                So no, I can’t give you a number to say that your p is significantly lower than you think it is. But I can say that you are certainly not adequately noting that there is as close to a 100% chance as one can imagine that no matter what else in the future goes your way, you’ll never be able to be revived. Now tack on that on top of basically getting lucky enough to overcome technological hurdles we currently have no means of overcoming that you also need everything else in the future to go right as well and I think your p being > 0.000000001 is very optimistic.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I’m actually going to take Austin’s side a bit here – provided no public funds are used, the only real cost to cryonics is opportunity cost; that money, space and resources could have gone to something else. If it’s your money, it’s basically your decision. Sure, it’s a borderline-zero chance that it’ll work (I’m going to say “actually zero” given the limits of our current knowledge and technology, and the likelihood of such a company going tits-up between now and the technology existing to not only revive but heal human popsickles) and I wouldn’t bother, but if you want to harmlessly waste your money there are certainly no laws against that. Even the most ardent skeptic here would probably take the stance that CAM should be regulated and restricted, not prohibited, and I can see cryonics having a similar aspect.

              5. Andrey Pavlov says:

                I’m actually going to take Austin’s side a bit here – provided no public funds are used, the only real cost to cryonics is opportunity cost; that money, space and resources could have gone to something else. If it’s your money, it’s basically your decision.

                Oh I agree fully. I in no way wish for a ban on cryonics. I’d just rather people be adequately informed and not have ridiculous ideas like they have a 1 in 20 chance of being successfully reanimated.

                Beyond that, a fool and his money are soon parted, as they say.

            2. Windriven says:

              @Austin Parish

              Your mission is complete. You’ve spread your genes around – or you haven’t. You’ve raised your kids. You’ve made your mark – or you haven’t. Time to bugger off.

              While doing the above you’ve consumed perhaps 60 tons of food and dumped roughly 1600 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When your reservation is over it’s time to leave. Time to make room for others.

              1. Austin Parish says:

                Hi Windriven,
                I disagree with your view on the meaning of my life and my place in nature. But your view is a very common one, and I’ve found that it’s usually very challenging to make my worldview seem sensible to people with your worldview (there are a lot of conflicting, oftentimes hidden assumptions that go into forming these different views, and they’re quite a headache to try to span). The most I can say is that I have a wide variety of reasons that I want to live longer (indeed, as long as possible), and that I hope you can believe that while alive, I am working toward increasing human happiness and reducing environmental destruction as much as possible.

                (Then again, I would have used up 1600 metric tons of CO2 less and 60 tons of food less if I simply had never existed – maybe it would be for me to have never been?)

              2. Windriven says:

                “(Then again, I would have used up 1600 metric tons of CO2 less and 60 tons of food less if I simply had never existed – maybe it would be for me to have never been?)”

                Nah. That isn’t my argument at all. The genetic mixing that leads to each of us is a necessity for keeping the species in good form. On the other hand, space and resources are limited. Approximately 50 million people die worldwide each year. Imagine the chaos if essentially none of those people died. Population growth would be a significant problem.

                All that said, I’d be interested to learn why you want to live for some extended period and why you think that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                (Then again, I would have used up 1600 metric tons of CO2 less and 60 tons of food less if I simply had never existed – maybe it would be for me to have never been?)

                Is that a good book? It’s on my to-read list.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      If a person is financially comfortable, than the costs, when coupled with life insurance, are fairly small.

      The implications being though, that it will mostly be the wealthy (and probably the very wealthy) who undertake this. Which is more of a bug than a feature, the wealthy are in large part wealthy because they’re dicks.

  9. Gaylon Arnold says:

    If our personality resides mostly in our brain, it would be most productive to pursue digital immortality than the messy blood and guts version. Finding a way to transfer the content of the brain to some form of digital clone seems to me to have a much higher probability of success than cryogenics. Still extremely remote, but more likely in the end. The ethical questions, the question of whether that is really you can come later.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The digital personality uploaded isn’t you though. It make talk like you, it may react like you, it may think like you, it may think it is you, but it’s not you. From your perspective, you’re watching an immortal digital clone go on to have a nice, comfortable digital life, while meat-you goes on to die irrespective. The idea that the Technological Singularity will offer us technological immortality is false unless we figure out a way to preserve our actual physical brain.

      Sure, from the digital clone’s perspective they have a continuous, uninterrupted experience and memory of life and they get to live on forever. But again, you just get to watch and eventually die as normal.

      Though from a resources perspective, it’s probably less damage to the planet than a child.

      1. Andrey Pavlov says:

        I dunno WLU.

        From my perspective if (and granted it is indeed a big if, but not impossible in principle) we can truly recreate the connections and state of a brain and create a system by which those connections can change and grow in a manner consistent with normal brain changes and adaptations, I don’t see how that is really any different than actually being you.

        Now if you did this while still alive there may be two “you’s” at the same time, which would then become different “people” over time. But I think the difficulty here is because such technology has never existed and so we haven’t had to think through the language and ramifications of such things.

        But I think that simply saying by fiat that unless it is a meat and bones version of you it isn’t “really you” doesn’t make sense. Because now you must define what “really you” means and if it simply that you are meat and bones, then I would say that is simply an insufficient definition (it is now, but in that hypothetical future it would not be a useful definition to work with)

        1. Windriven says:

          “[If] we can truly recreate the connections and state of a brain”

          You might be able to recreate the connections but in what frame of reference could non-meat you place the caress of a nipple or the smell of frying bacon? And thinking even beyond that, what we imagine as consciousness seems to be an illusion assembled from competing stimuli and processes. So in the final analysis isn’t this effort at immortality just placing earth at the center of the solar system all over again? Presuming some special place for the magnificent creature we believe ourselves to be?

          At the risk of pissing off Nietzsche, when we look into the universe, the universe looks back … and it thinks, “meh.”

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            I have zero doubt that Singularity You could “smell” bacon and “touch” nipples – it’s just sense input, and if you create an appropriate mimic of a human brain I think it’s possible. My issue is that Meat You doesn’t get to smell Singularity You’s bacon. Your experiences begin to diverge, and eventually you are different people. In fact, since the creation of SY, you’ve always been different people.

            The only way we could have true immortality for the people we are now is through immortality of the actual brain. Otherwise you’re always talking about immortal clones and mortal originals.

            1. Windriven says:

              But William, there is so much more to it than just the purely sensory. With the brush of a nipple comes that little bump of testosterone and a swelling of hydraulic tissues. There are all sorts glandular things going on. And yes, all those things could probably be simulated for SY, but consciousness is already sort of an illusion. Would that make SY’s reality and illusion of an illusion?

              And yes, you and I are in perfect agreement that MY and SY are different entities from the instant SY pops into being.

        2. simba says:

          It might be really ‘you’ but that wouldn’t matter to your subjective experience, the original you would still die. There’s this perception that if people can upload their brains they will experience ‘going to sleep’ and then ‘wake up’ again. That’s true for the digital you, but not for the ‘you’ who is typing this now.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Bam, Simba gets it.

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          I don’t see how that is really any different than actually being you.

          Unless you have a quantum entangled brain (click on Harem, slightly NSFW), the “You” that is cloned (“Meat You”) is quite different from the “Clone You”. Yes, Clone You will think, 100%, that it is Meat You. You will laugh at the same jokes. Clone You will forever perceive themselves as the same as Meat You, as having a continuous, uninterrupted existence and set of memories if done properly. But the person cloned, Meat You, does not experience that immortality. Meat You will age and die, while watching (if it were me, resentfully) whilie “Clone You” wanders about and has adventures.

          For everyone around you – Meat You and Clone You are indistinguishable. Even Clone You would agree. But Meat You would never experience Clone You’s immortality.

          There’s actually a similar problem with the transporters on Star Trek – Ship You is actually disintegrated. Planet You thinks it is Ship You, but it’s really just a copy. Ship You is gone forever. Again, for everyone but Ship You, there is no difference. But Ship You has been dumped into the same void you sprang from before your birth. That’s why Stargates are a much superior form of transport, from the perspective of Ship You.

          It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around, because nobody has ever experienced it. But think of it this way – after you are “downloaded” to the singularity, unless your original body is simultaneously destroyed, you get to one day have a conversation from your hospital bed with your singularity self about what it’s like to slowly die while an immortal double keeps living. For everyone except Meat You, it’s as if you have actually become immortal (well, one version of you anyway). But for Meat You, it’s very much not the case. Meat You still gets old and dies, while everyone around them who isn’t also getting old and dying post-upload talks about how great it is to live forever.

          1. brewandferment says:

            this is a Dr. Who episode

  10. Brian Hartman says:

    An entire article on freezing people and not a single mention of Futurama?!

    For shame…

    1. mouse says:

      Really? I thought it was in there. I must have just subconsciously inserted it.

      1. Brian Hartman says:

        Nope. The only reference to Futurama on the page is my own. :)

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          I kept thinking about Futurama episodes but Youtube never had the right clip. There was a Simpsons reference too (“up to 15 stab wounds!”) but here also Youtube let me down.

    2. Windriven says:

      I made a comment about Turanga Leela but that is downstream.

  11. Bruce A. Hamilton says:

    The interesting question is, since various tissue cultures and small creatures *can* be successfully frozen and re-animated, what are the next incremental research goals? E.g. it seems reasonable that human limbs and various internal organs could be successfully frozen and re-animated for transplant.

    1. Bruce A. Hamilton says:

      But it seems likely that in vitro cloning of individual organs is likely to outpace any advances in cryonics, for transplant purposes.

  12. Duan S. da Fonseca says:

    I do not contend that cryonics is a form of wishful thinking, however, it is absurd compare its methodologies with that of pharaohs or the like, if we were talking about this subject a few years ago, i would agree that freezingyourself would be absolutely irrelevant, but with current methods of cryopreservation using cryoprotectants, iwould argue that reviving someone is just a matter of time, and yes, that is huge problem, but everything in life is a matter of time, even for healthy people.

    This text is absurd in various way, i will only touch four beyond what i already have said.

    The price for it is not high, most people spend much more than that in their lives in junk food and cars, even if it was 100k it would not be absurd.

    The idea of walking up in the future with the possibility of a changed world and all loved ones dead is indistinguishable from what some people face in wars, learning another culture and losing loved ones is not an argument against cryonics, but for cowardice.

    It is talked about the reasoning about reviving someone, even if it was possible, that the people with the technologie would have no reason to do so, in the future people will certainly have ethical codes, the simple fact that these people wanted to be reanimated in the first place should be enough.

    Step 2 is not clear? It shouldnt be, i reaaaaaaaally don’t understand this rejection of the idea that the future, assuming it is more technologically advanced, with is a very reasonable assumption, will be far more advanced than we are the point of greater to total control of the human body, it is not a leap of faith, it is a logical extension of what has been happening for centuries, they will know more, they will understand more, they will control more,accept that, as long we are able to hold things together, they will patch it.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The price for it is not high, most people spend much more than that in their lives in junk food and cars, even if it was 100k it would not be absurd.

      Great, feel free to spend your money on it. I would rather endow a research chair. Presumably a small one.

      The idea of walking up in the future with the possibility of a changed world and all loved ones dead is indistinguishable from what some people face in wars, learning another culture and losing loved ones is not an argument against cryonics, but for cowardice.

      You don’t think that waking up in a world where people don’t speak the same language, don’t get your jokes, and take for granted ideas that are totally foreign to you, where you have no friends or people you can converse with who share a common paradigm would be jarring? Talk to most recent immigrants with no friends, family or cultural organizations to participate in, see how fun their lives are. Now extend that to presumably several more decades. Have you ever tried to read Shakespeare, or Chaucer? Did you find it alien, did you feel clumsy and stupid as you tried to slog through it? Imagine that, your entire waking life. If you really think that having no friends or family being a terrible thing is cowardice rather than a realistic assessment of life in the future, I think you’re being optimistic.

      It seems that cryonics promoters think the world will be like Futurama, where everyone speaks the same dialect of English and gets your jokes. It won’t be. Cracked has some relevant points to be made.

      It is talked about the reasoning about reviving someone, even if it was possible, that the people with the technologie would have no reason to do so, in the future people will certainly have ethical codes, the simple fact that these people wanted to be reanimated in the first place should be enough.

      …assuming the people in the future have the same ethics as us. Assuming they don’t see “present” people as under-evolved, beetle-browed ignorant thugs. Assuming the company isn’t bought and dismantled in a corporate acquisition. Assuming the current court system and nation-states still exist to enforce the contracts from decades in the past. Once you get past the technical hurdles, you still have the more mundane realities of corporate greed to deal with.

      Step 2 is not clear? It shouldnt be, i reaaaaaaaally don’t understand this rejection of the idea that the future, assuming it is more technologically advanced, with is a very reasonable assumption, will be far more advanced than we are the point of greater to total control of the human body, it is not a leap of faith, it is a logical extension of what has been happening for centuries, they will know more, they will understand more, they will control more,accept that, as long we are able to hold things together, they will patch it.

      It’s not so much that technology won’t advance – it’s that technology isn’t magic and cryonics proponents underestimate the technical and biological obstacles of freezing a human. 40 years ago we though we’d have won the war on cancer, it’s only now that we’re just starting to understand how complicated the genetic and protein-based technical problems of “curing cancer”. Your optimism for technological process is great and all, but there’s no guarantee that these problems can be overcome merely because you want them to be overcome. Your argument is akin to a homeopath proponent waving their hands and saying “merely because you don’t understand how it could work doesn’t mean it can’t work!”

      Geez, even ignoring problems of ice crystals and anoxia, what happens when you simply stop molecular pathways through freezing? I’m not talking about slowing the vibration of molecules because of a drop in temperature, I’m talking about a metabolic pathway, a physical pathway, simply losing momentum and coming to a standstill. Will it resume motion in the same direction? Will it drift purposeless through the cytosol? May I point out – if you take a moving car, physically stop it, cool it to 10K then re-warm it, the car doesn’t miraculously start moving again. Even if the cells don’t die of puncture, they could still be reduced to purposeless mush upon thawing merely because the molecules don’t “know” where to go next.

      1. Duan S. da Fonseca says:

        Ironically to your second point, i did not get your initial joke, if it is that what it is.

        Concerning you second point, i agree with most what you have said, i did not say it would be an easy life,just that it would preferable to death, and eventually you would adapt.

        All truth in your third point.

        Your comparison is flawed, we know precisely that homeopathy does not work and it is impossible to work.
        To my knowledge there already was the use of rabbit kidney after cryopreservation, with mostly moots your last point.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Concerning you second point, i agree with most what you have said, i did not say it would be an easy life,just that it would preferable to death, and eventually you would adapt.

          Your time while cryopreserved would be indistinguishable from death, and as such would include absolutely no suffering, no pain, no loneliness, nothing whatsoever. It’s nothing to fear, and it’s certainly not like you’re dead, sitting around thinking how much it sucks being dead.

          To my knowledge there already was the use of rabbit kidney after cryopreservation, with mostly moots your last point.

          Have they cryopreserved a brain yet? A large human brain?

          I’ll split the difference on the homeopathy point – cryopreservation is still absurdly far from being a proven thing and I don’t think it ever will be, but it is more likely than homeopathy. But you’re still handwaving the idea that it is achievable if we just believe hard enough. There’s no certainty in that.

          1. Duan S. da Fonseca says:

            First point:

            Umm, Ok, and? I agree with you, though don’t see your point.

            Second point:

            I suppose you mean if they have used a brain after cryopreservation? No, so far i know, they have not.
            You are right, there is not certainty to it, almost everyone, and certainly the serious people involved in cryonics already stated that, it is not a sure thing on several levels, the simple idea that you are going to die in a way to be able to be properly cryopreserved by itself presents shaky chances, the thing is, everything in life is a matter of chance, cryonics is just a particularly slim one.
            There is no handwaving, go to Alcor F.A.Q. section, you will see a pattern of development, in time it is getting more and more precise and slowly eliminating problems, the vitrification one was huge.

            Tell me, how do you define technology? I define it as the capacity for an intelligence through work bend the materials around it to it’s own use. Do you thing i am wrong? If not, what are we, humans, but biological nanotech?
            In my view, as long as we do our best to maintain the information that defines who we are, when nanotech is mastered and applied to our biological system, we will have full control to do whatever we want to ourselves.

            Of course, concerning our perspective, at any point, civilization may collapse or many other small things can go wrong, but if we had that in mind, we would not do anything, we can only play the odds, even if they are slim, if they are the only ones and the sacrifice is not huge, i will take it.

            1. Jopari says:

              Now, it’s undeniable that they have made advancements in preservation, but they have not yet been able to preserve completely intact and undamaged the human body.

              Next, we believe that for cryogenics, it’s not the freezing rather the revival that doesn’t make sense. Nanobots have huge problems to counter, and the blood and time constraint is nearly impossible to counter. Sure, maybe one day they’ll be able to work so fast that people will be able to come back, if I said that one day Flash would come to be, would it be possible? Yes. Likely, heck no. Don’t forget that people in the future likely won’t bother.

              Humans? Biological NANOtech? That’s a laughable interpretation. Next, technology is partly the items created that allow us to do things better, or do things that are novel. Nobody’s saying that cryogenics will never work, just that at this point, all evidence points to the technology as being incapable of achieving endgoals, so there is no reason why you should use it. Pushing it aside by saying that in the future technology will have advanced enough to compensate for these problems is dodging, as much as saying that one day technology will allow us to change reality to our liking. It’s possible, but will it happen? So unlikely the chance is effectivel zero. As in 0.000000000000…………..1

              Lastly, all that money could be better spent helping others, since the hurdles and probability of you being revived is so low.

              1. Jopari says:

                Last paragraph

                “hurdles are high, and probability of you reviving is low

              2. Duan S. da Fonseca says:

                Your “speed problem” is based on a false premise, that we need to be extremely fast, we already have methods right now on mainstream medicine with reduces the speed of deterioration of a living body in cirurgies, we don’t need to be fast if the problem becomes slower.

                Why is my interpretation laughable? I did not even mention nanobots, you are confusing nanobots with nano structures in general, with includes biologicals ones, no proper bots necessarily involved.

                I am not trying to offend you, but you lack vision, in this case, specifically to cryonics(and you should use this word instead of cryogenics, otherwise the cryogenics crowd will FREAK OUT), if we were to apply the principles that you are applying from this to other problems, no diseace would ever be researched about.

                That percentage of your is completely arbitrary.

                And by all means, be as altruistic as you would like, but don’t come to my face and tell me of a misguided sense of sacrifice that you are particularly moral helping others, you are simple choosing to ignore a problem that affects you.

              3. Jopari says:

                You called humans biological NANOtech dear, not me. Read your own post again if unclear. Humans are highly complex multicellular organisms that aren’t in any way NANO.

                I’ll use cryogenics, or you can point out how this is a blatant misunderstanding, till then, cryogenics.

                I do not lack vision, I simply do not latch onto an unrealisable one.

                “If we were to apply the principles that you are applying from this to other problems, no diseace would ever be researched about.”

                No, it would mean that reasonable research would never be carried out. What you are aiming for is high reward and low probability, while medicine would rather choose something that is not as rewarding but far more likely. To put into perspective, it’s like a scientist who says that one day he will create a god machine that can churn out matter, instead of doing other research that would be more probable but less beneficial. Why do I disagree? Simply because if you are going to research something, there must be a plausible mechanism, the ability to perform said mechanism NOW or in near future (this year) and if the original process turns out to be beyond current abilities, drop ot and do something else that would likely be more probable. Then, science progresses and eventually those baby steps you took will aid you to make the last baby step to your goal.

                It is actually you who chooses to ignore a problem that affects you. Namely the ability to make cryopreservation work in a meaningful manner. I’ve made my peace with Death, simply because as of right now, there is no way to escape it.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                And by all means, be as altruistic as you would like, but don’t come to my face and tell me of a misguided sense of sacrifice that you are particularly moral helping others, you are simple choosing to ignore a problem that affects you.

                Meanwhile you are choosing to put faith into something that’s far less likely than death. Recognizing the inevitability of one’s own mortality is the very opposite of ignoring a problem; one could argue that placing faith in cryonics is.

            2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              First point: Umm, Ok, and? I agree with you, though don’t see your point.

              Basically that you can’t have a preference when you are dead.

              There is no handwaving, go to Alcor F.A.Q. section, you will see a pattern of development, in time it is getting more and more precise and slowly eliminating problems, the vitrification one was huge.

              Sure, but it’s only one in a series of problems. Eliminate vitrification and you’ve still got myriad other issues. Also, I don’t think I’ll trust the website of the company that’s trying to sell me cryonics to get a neutral assessment of the potential of cryonics.

              Tell me, how do you define technology? I define it as the capacity for an intelligence through work bend the materials around it to it’s own use. Do you thing i am wrong? If not, what are we, humans, but biological nanotech?

              Yes, and by redefining the world Mu as “rocket ship”, Sitchin proved that the Summerians were aliens. Redefining things is a great way to make an argument, but not necessarily a coherent one.

              No, humans are not bionanotech. Our processes are essentially blind and uncontrolled by any conscious entity. Nanotech as concieved of by sci-fi writers and scientists is human-controlled, directive and not blind. I kinda think it’ll basically never work.

              In my view, as long as we do our best to maintain the information that defines who we are, when nanotech is mastered and applied to our biological system, we will have full control to do whatever we want to ourselves.

              Saying “nanotech” as if it was a solution is basically like saying “magic”, making this still a handwave and making cryonics still absurdly improbable (not to mention you still have to fix the “whatever killed you” part of your death). Right now we have absolutely no mechanism by which a nanobot could even function, let alone be sophisticated enough to crawl into your brain and know which neurons to fix (and how).

              Also, when nanotech is mastered, will we have full control of ourselves, or will nanobots?

              Of course, concerning our perspective, at any point, civilization may collapse or many other small things can go wrong, but if we had that in mind, we would not do anything, we can only play the odds, even if they are slim, if they are the only ones and the sacrifice is not huge, i will take it.

              Meh, I can’t really argue with that – I just think you are fooling yourself by claiming the odds to be “slim” when they’re really “none”.

    2. Windriven says:

      ” in the future people will certainly have ethical codes,”

      Assume that in 2850 cryogenically suspended humans can be revived but there is typically profound brain damage. What then? What are the ethics of leaving them suspended or reviving them? What if the brain damage isn’t profound but still significant?

      1. Duan S. da Fonseca says:

        I assume it would depend on the kind of damage, if is something that could be reversed or not and if the damage would affect the actual individual, instead of only his motor functions for example.

        Anyway, i suppose that is for them and their perspectives to decide when come to it, assuming it ever happens, mistakes will certainly be made.

  13. Katie Marshall says:

    So, I’m a cryobiologist. I’ve worked on freeze tolerant insects, molluscs, and one frog paper (http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/iii.full for plain English version). Survival of freezing is really really complicated–in the past couple of decades we’ve found that the massive upregulation of cryoprotectant (low molecular weight sugars and polyols) that cryonics companies use is not nearly the whole story. Instead, an entire coordinated system is needed including membrane transporters, heat shock proteins, free amino acids, antifreeze proteins, ice nucleating agents, and more.

    But if anyone has any questions about the real science behind cyrobiology, I’m happy to try and answer them. And you know if all this money being spent on cryonics was actually spent on the actual science of cryobiology, we’d know a lot more about the whole topic than we do now.

    1. Luke Parrish says:

      In my view, the wood frog is really a better counterexample than example of vitrification. :-)

      After all, it actually tolerates ice formation. And it does so in a temperature range not much below zero C. In cryonics, the concept is a very alien one compared to freeze-tolerant organisms — we are not only lowering to an extremely low temperature, but using high enough concentrations of solutes that it is impossible for ice to form. (Well, M22 is something of an exception, as it uses ice blockers to achieve a certain degree of “supercooling” — however the concentration is still quite high compared to normal biology.)

      Note that vitrification with full viability is done routinely for small tissue samples, for example corneas or embryos. The high concentration would be too toxic if the tissues were not lowered very quickly to a temperature at which interactions are impossible. The solution must then be removed quickly upon rewarming. Cryonics (for now) gives up on this goal, accepting the non-viability of the tissue as a result of exposure to the high concentrations. However, additional research could perhaps turn up less toxic mixtures or ways to shield the enzymes. I am particularly intrigued by the way in which Trehalose cushions things. It is present in organisms like tardigrades which survive (by vitrification) LN2 temperatures. Unfortunately, we do not have a mechanism by which to get Trehalose into human cells.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        This rather illustrates the problem with cryonics, in particular the “but frogs do it” argument. People aren’t frogs. We aren’t the right size, we don’t have the right metabolism, our cells lack the tools to produce intracellular proteins to prevent damage by ice crystals, and lack the transporters to get any circulating molecules into the cells. And once in there, how much would they muck up metabolism? How quickly could they be broken down (or built-up)? How do you get them into a massive number of cells while still cooling the body, and would they be active at those temperatures?

        You can’t really reason from a <1 pound frog that has spent millions of years evolving to freeze, to a 70 kg human who hasn't. It makes about as much sense as the Jurassic Park handwave of "we filled in the DNA with frogs and oops that means they can self-fertilize". Good (meh, mediocre) TV, bad science.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Hi Katie,

      Science-based medicine does accept guest posts (see here) and is actively trying to add content (particularly for weekends, but you could submit it at any time of course). The devilish details sound fascinating, as would be a comprehensive takedown of the cryonics proponents’ claims. As Dr. Richey’s post from last Saturday indicates – you don’t even have to discuss in detail why scam and pseudoscience claims are wrong, a popular-level overview of the topic is also welcome.

      Guest post! Guest post!

  14. daedalus2u says:

    The problem of “immortality” via cryonics, or via uploading, or via vat-grown brains, or by any mechanism is the same as the problem of identity of consciousness. We know that people change over time. We know that the only reason that a particular brain can remember a particular experience is because the physical structure of that brain changed so that the post-experience brain has different neuroanatomy that now instantiates the memory of that experience. We know that there isn’t any supernatural memory storage medium. It is in the brain. As the brain changes, so does the entity that the changing brain instantiates.

    We know that if we could look at the details of individual identity, that year-by-year, month-by-month, day-by-day and even second-by-second, the entity at t=0 is not “the same” entity at t=0+1.

    Usually the changes over time are small enough that people don’t notice the differences.

    Even when people experience extreme neurological changes, for the most part they still self-identify as “themselves”. For example people who experience severe brain trauma, still self-identify as “themselves”, as “the same” entity that they were before the trauma. If a sensory system identifies two things as “the same” when we know they are not “the same”, we know that the sensory system is having a fault; there is a false-positive of identity detection.

    If we consider how an entity can be detected, and identified, all known sensory systems use pattern recognition, and require a pattern, which is compared to the object trying to be identified. Humans have Hyperactive Agency Detection. Humans are predisposed to find “agency”, even when there is no agent present. This is explained by the need to detect predators over evolutionary time. A false-negative non-detection of a predator is much more costly than a false-positive detection of a predator that isn’t there.

    To detect self-agency, that agency-detector needs to be turned on itself. What is the pattern that the agency detector uses? Over evolutionary time, the cheapest, lowest overhead pattern to use would be the self. The self-agency detector would always return “I am me”, whenever interrogated, no matter how much the self has changed between interrogations.

    The question isn’t on how large is the chance that “you” will be revived, it is what is the chance that the entity revived isn’t “you” to a sufficient level of detail so as to be acceptable to your present self. No matter the fidelity of the “copy”. It will think and proclaim that it is “you”. The self-agency detector that does that would be pretty trivial to implement; just return an “I am me” response.

    What would you spend now to revive someone in the future that is only somewhat “like” you? Suppose as much like you as your brother? Or as much like you as your neighbor? Or as much like you as a stranger you have never met? Or like someone you currently despise? What if the revived “you” was anti-vax?

  15. Darren Reynolds says:

    All the article content is true. And I still want to be cryonically suspended. The author seems to miss the point entirely.

    If, after my “death”, my body is cremated and the ashes scattered, the chances of coming back from that are vanishingly small. Who knows what future technologies will be capable of, but that one seems pretty unlikely even to the most die-hard cryonics fan.

    If, after my “death”, my body is cryonically suspended (“frozen” is just the wrong term here, scientifically speaking, and I’m not going to use it), the chances of coming back from that are still extremely small. It will, as the author puts it, take a number of what appear today to be miracles. But then, smartphones are pretty miraculous to someone living 1,000 years ago.

    The difference here is the difference between “vanishingly” and “extremely” small. Both are a whole lot less likely than “coming back” after a mild heart attack, but one is orders of magnitude more likely than the other. That improvement in prospects is what a cryonics customer is paying for.

    Then there is the argument about how long it will be before the revival technology is available. This, as the author correctly points out, involves not only reperfusion, warming, and repairing the damage caused in the suspension process, but also curing the original illness, which may involve extensive reconstruction of a severely damaged brain. But the thing is, if you are “dead”, it doesn’t really matter. 50 years? 1,000 years? 20,000 years? They are all the same to someone not experiencing time.

    The arguments that such a future life would not be worth living are, frankly, depressing to see written. That the author takes such a dim view of life as to think that nothing good could come from being reborn into the future, despite himself having been born in the past. I can’t even begin to argue with that but recommend Prozac and therapy.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      If, after my “death”, my body is cremated and the ashes scattered, the chances of coming back from that are vanishingly small.

      Post-cremation, the chance is zero. Consciousness is held in place through an extremely precise positioning of atoms in relation to each other. Cremation irreversibly destroys that positioning. You can’t bring something back from ash. Unless you include time travel, there’s no technology that will ever be able to revive a coffee can full of carbon. You can’t even compare the likelihood of cryonic suspension to cremation; while cryonics has an absurdly low likelihood of success, there is absolutely zero chance of cremation ever being reversible.

      As for the rest of your comment, it’s still basically an assertion of “Nuh-uh, the future will be magic”. Sure, we might be able to make it work. Right now, the chance is basically zero. The chance that it might work in the future is what is being argued about, and both sides have nothing but assertions and preferences on their sides.

      As for whether or not life would be worth living in the future; unless you have peers, friends and family frozen, chances are it would not be. The things that make humans most happy are relationships with other humans. Even the most miraculous future tech would still eventually pale (and is it common and cheap enough for you to afford?) as there is only so many times you can dive into the sun before it becomes routine. Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt The Night talks about what it takes to be a vampire and survive while the world changes around you and the people you know die. It is lonely and isolated, and requires a special kind of mind (sociopathic would probably be an accurate description). Eventually, humans need to share their experiences with other humans who give a crap. People who think the future would be a utopia merely because they get to live in it rather miss the human aspect of things.

      1. Windriven says:

        Nicely said.

      2. Darren Reynolds says:

        “Post-cremation, the chance is zero”

        Current cosmological models do not preclude the possibility that space is infinite, in which case not only is it possible, it is inevitable, and, indeed, has already happened. “Zero” is a very small number and concordantly you make a very strong claim, much stronger than the claim that it is merely unlikely.

        Yes, I am arguing in essence that the future will be magic and you are right that both sides make nothing but assertions. I do not understand why having accepted that, it is not then obvious to people that even current shockingly poor cryonics is a potentially effective approach to self-preservation, p>0, and that participation in it increases p for that individual. p=10^-12 is much more likely than p=10^-24, and some people will think that worth paying for.

        With regards to the desirability of resurrection, please at least allow us to make our own judgement and try not to force your preference for death onto others. To be fair, you do not do that in your reply, but legislators could interpret the arguments in this discussion as arguments for protecting would-be cryonics customers from themselves, thus ironically ensuring their untimely demise. I recall being born into a world where I knew no-one and it worked out OK last time. I think you’re being unnecessarily pessimistic.

        If you want to argue against cryonics, the best argument available today is that our best understanding of cosmology and the physics of consciousness suggest that it is ultimately unnecessary and pointless, because all possible people will have all possible lives at some point in spacetime, and they are all you. Or you could point out that most people are not rational and are emotionally best-served by spending the money on hedonic tone now, not a chance of it in 250 years. That last point happens to be the reason I’m not a cryonics customer. At least I recognise my own stupidity.

        1. Darren Reynolds says:

          Oh, I forgot to mention on the desirability question that if cryonics does work, but life in the future turns out to be horrible, people can always change their minds. The option of changing your mind is rather less likely to be available for non-customers.

        2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Current cosmological models do not preclude the possibility that space is infinite, in which case not only is it possible, it is inevitable, and, indeed, has already happened. “Zero” is a very small number and concordantly you make a very strong claim, much stronger than the claim that it is merely unlikely.

          Yeah, I’m sure somewhere in the universe there is an exact duplicate of the earth, identical in every way, except you magically return from your burned ashes. While models do not preclude the possibility of infinite space and returning from creation, the reality is you are not so special that the universe will decide to grant you a second life once burned. A conscious body returning from cremation is so unlikely that it really is zero.

          There is a similar reply to your comment about the likelihood of cryonics. No, the possibility is not absolutely zero. But it is so unlikely given current technology, that it is effectively zero. And the marketing of these companies, the statements of proponents on the internet, make it sound like an inevitability, which is not 100% lying – but it is effectively lying.

          With regards to the desirability of resurrection, please at least allow us to make our own judgement and try not to force your preference for death onto others.

          Do I hold a gun to anyone’s head and force them to say cryonics is stupid and resurrection impossible? No – I merely point out how unlikely it is, and how statements to the contrary are (for lack of a better word) dumb as far as I can see. If you want to live in a yes-man imaginary techno-utopia, post comments somewhere else – here they will be torn to shreds.

          To be fair, you do not do that in your reply, but legislators could interpret the arguments in this discussion as arguments for protecting would-be cryonics customers from themselves, thus ironically ensuring their untimely demise.

          Two points:
          1) If legislators are relying on the comments of this blog to determine whether or not people can spend money on cryonics, they’re not doing their jobs (as great as it would be for society if they were).

          2) Those cryonics customers are already dead, thanks very much. You can pretend otherwise, handwave, invoke technomagic all you want – but we’re all going to die and current cryonics technology will not change that.

          I recall being born into a world where I knew no-one and it worked out OK last time. I think you’re being unnecessarily pessimistic.

          No, I’m being realistic. There are a massive number of general and specific objections to the idea that you can freeze a human to the point where all metabolic processes cease, then bring them back without damage while preserving a continuous consciousness. If you don’t want to read about these realistic assessments, don’t. I’m not forcing you to. But I’m also not going to let you go unchallenged if I see you saying something dumb.

          Comparing cryonics to child birth and growth is completely wrong; there was an evolutionary process that built in sexual reproduction, neurological growth from a blastocyst and social processes to ensure socialization of young humans. There is no evolutionary process to support humansicles.

          If you want to argue against cryonics, the best argument available today is that our best understanding of cosmology and the physics of consciousness suggest that it is ultimately unnecessary and pointless, because all possible people will have all possible lives at some point in spacetime, and they are all you.

          Oh bullshit. What you’re saying here is that the universe is infinite and therefore there must be a world where I get to experience everything. Well, no – the universe is not infinite, the number of habitable worlds are not infinite, and even if there are “infinite mes” living somewhere out there – I do not get to experience their lives. Much like the argument for the Technological Singularity or reconstructing a brain by mapping its neurons, this assumes that because something is similar or even identical to me, it is me. That’s wrong – even if they lived an indistinguishable life from you right up until your own death, their experiences are still separate. This is a pathetic argument that places narcissism over reality. You get to live once, then you die, and the universe doesn’t recreate you merely because you can’t conceive of a world where you don’t exist.

          Or you could point out that most people are not rational and are emotionally best-served by spending the money on hedonic tone now, not a chance of it in 250 years. That last point happens to be the reason I’m not a cryonics customer. At least I recognise my own stupidity.Great, but what you don’t recognize is how flawed the arguments are for cryonics right now, for the companies that sell cryonic services. Real researchers looking into it, who aren’t trying to sell it to you, are pessimistic. If you don’t want to spend your money on it – great, don’t. If you don’t want to read about the objections to cryonics, great! Don’t read any of the negative comments and continue to believe in your technomagic.

  16. Luke Parrish says:

    Dr. Gorski, with all due respect to your education and expertise, your reading of this situation seems to be completely wrong. I can only assume that a cursory reading of Rational Wiki’s deliberate snark is about the extent of the amount of thought you have put into this. I notice that, for example, you leap to the conclusion that memory preservation is necessarily impaired by ice formation — something that five minutes of reading on e.g. Alcor’s website should have cleared up.

    To begin with, it should be hard to miss that cryonics is *openly* speculative. It could not be more clear to those who actually practice this that is might not work given current constraints. This is the polar opposite to religion, and establishes us as an unfriendly competitor in a certain sense. As you may have noticed, religions have this thing where they throw Pascal’s Wager at atheists, but almost nobody actually employs it seriously for themselves. After all, their conception of God is someone who wants your unwavering belief, not your ambivalent suspension of disbelief.

    Nor is it meaningfully analogous to Pascal’s Wager. Advocates do not generally base their choice of action on arbitrarily low probability estimates, as snarky critics are prone to suggest. If we were to ignore probability in such a manner, we might as well accord equal attention to inexpensive fixation of brains in Formalin, or say creating a Dyson Sphere computer-telescope array for the analysis of interstellar dust particles.

    The practice of cryonics is, rather, based on the best evidence we have available as to how to minimize damage for stable long-term storage. For example, we know that a rabbit kidney preserved by vitrification can be reanimated and directly restored to function. No “nanorepairs” are needed for that kind of restoration, because the damage that would normally be caused by ice formation is prevented. The damage normally caused by high concentrations of CPAs is also prevented, in such a case, by cooling the kidney quickly enough that it does not have enough time to interact significantly with the enzymes needed for cellular function. There are delays in realistically cooling a human brain, but the extent of the damage is CPA toxicity, dehydration (due to the BBB being relatively impermeable to CPAs), and “chilling injury”, not ice formation. Moreover, such obstacles present valid scientific research targets with potential benefits for other fields if we were to aggressively pursue them.

    At present, we aren’t directly concerned with the question of preserving cellular function, just memory storage. Cellular viability is thus mostly considered as a proxy for structural integrity, in the current incarnation of cryonics. The reason for this is that cells are fundamentally replaceable (which, as you know, the body does routinely). Provided the memory (or some sufficiently complete imprint thereof) can be kept stable for hundreds (or perhaps just dozens) of years, the patient’s prognosis should improve along with the technology level, up to the fundamental limits thereof.

    Moreover, eliminating the “cause of death” from the preserved body directly is not really a relevant concern, since (given currently unavoidable damage levels) the information would have to be transferred to a healthy new supporting medium (“body”). Some cryonicists prefer to think of this in terms of “repair” of their original body, but this is one point where I can agree that wishful thinking is somewhat evident. Transfer to a digital or biomimetic medium could easily represent a shorter and more viable technological path. But apart from setting some money aside to make sure each prospect is pursued to its fundamental limits, it really is not the business of individuals living today to know the exact details of how the given problem might be solved — it might turn out to be something very counterintuitive, after all.

    As to the time delay after death and before vitrification, you should understand that cryonics, in the stages before CPAs are introduced, borrows substantially from existing principles of hypothermic medicine. Much of the damage from ischemia appears to be the result of metabolic processes that occur after bloodflow and warm temperatures are restored. So in cryonics, the body is cooled to a few degrees above zero C as soon as possible after deanimation. Typically this takes several hours since human bodies are large. A more optimal protocol could be performed in jurisdictions where patients are allowed to choose the circumstances of dying, since ischemia prior to cooling could be avoided. For example, the patient could take a lethal dose of metabolism-slowing medicine, and climb into a circulating ice bath prior to deanimation, ensuring that cooling occurs promptly.

    A surgical team may also be on hand to perfuse with cold saline, or even (in light of more recent advances) a saline ice slurry (which can remove more heat more quickly). Control over the circumstances of deanimation matters a lot to the outcome. However, cooling promptly for the first few degrees seems to be the most relevant aspect in terms of avoiding the no-reflow phenomenon. (See page 4: http://www.advancedneuralbio.com/pubs/Human%20Cryopreservation%20Research%20at%20Advanced%20Neural%20Biosciences.pdf) Thus there is open discussion about whether portable ice baths distributed throughout the country for volunteers to use are more practical at this stage, or whether we should be trying to have surgical teams on hand to perfuse with cold saline. Perfusion impairment is the most significant obstacle to vitrification, and only a certain percentage of cryonics patients currently avoid this. The lack of cooperation (let alone active participation) from the medical establishment has been one reason for this. Unperfused patients can only be straight-frozen, and although cryonics organizations do store them, it is not nearly as likely that they will recover.

    Is there an aspect of wishful thinking? I suppose there probably is, at least for many individuals. The Detroit based company known as Cryonics Institute puts less money aside and is less closely associated with the science of cryobiology relative to Alcor, and neither is anything approaching what I suppose the theoretical ideal cryonics organization would be. However, the idea that cryonics in general is, necessarily, wishful thinking is a much greater claim, and one that I find particularly odious given how difficult it is for cryonics patients (the innocent victims of disease and death, who have no other option) to secure anything approaching an optimal preservation to begin with. We do need criticism, and the occasional splash of cold water, but we don’t need this kind of generalized opposition.

    1. David Gorski says:

      You can find my assertion that cryonics is wishful thinking as “odious” as you life. Unfortunately, reality is far more with me than it is with you.

      Do you really think I wouldn’t think it cool if cryonics really worked? After all, as I pointed out in my post, I’m on the wrong side of 50 and acutely feeling my own impending mortality, realizing that I probably don’t have more than 30-35 years or so left, if that.

      1. Luke Parrish says:

        “Unfortunately, reality is far more with me than it is with you.”

        Your article overstates the degree of unavoidable damage and you know it. Hypothermia slows damage, and ice formation is avoidable by simple chemistry (colligative properties 101 — freezing point depression). We can even cheat on that with supercooling, aided by ice-blockers.

        “Do you really think I wouldn’t think it cool if cryonics really worked? After all, as I pointed out in my post, I’m on the wrong side of 50 and acutely feeling my own impending mortality, realizing that I probably don’t have more than 30-35 years or so left, if that.”

        As noted — it’s not just your own life, it’s 50 million per year! You’d think we would be seriously trying to exhaust the pool of possibilities with that kind of incentive.

        1. Windriven says:

          “As noted — it’s not just your own life, it’s 50 million per year! You’d think we would be seriously trying to exhaust the pool of possibilities with that kind of incentive.”

          I’ll ask again, how is it a good idea to add 50 million people each year to the world population? How do you propose to feed them, water them, provide health care services, and so forth?

          1. n brownlee says:

            I understand, I think, the motivations of those who are eager to take a chance that cryonic preservation might lead to a physical resurrection, even as I consider their science and technology to be worse than wobbly. But- I have never understood why they believe that anyone in the far future might want to resurrect them- much less, resurrect the thousands (or more) who may similarly pay for preservation. What do you think you have to offer the future? What are your talents, your abilities, your accomplishments, your wisdom, that the people of the future cannot do without you? What the hell do they want with YOU?

            1. simba says:

              That’s what I’m wondering too.

              And what will people consider to be the ethics of the situation, assuming (a) your body somehow survives perfectly, the company doesn’t go bankrupt, the freezer never breaks and (b) they can actually revive you somehow. They’re under no obligation to do it. Will they pick out the people they want to keep? Will they just dump all the bodies?

              I mean, you’re dead. You have no rights and no control over what happens to you. Legally, ethically, they don’t need to use their expensive tech on you, they can keep it to revive their own future people who are more important to the individuals and to society, their own rich people who can pay them now.

              That and when they’re in the process of figuring out how to revive people, they will need to work on animals first. But someday someone’s going to need to unfreeze the first human (again asssuming that it’s possible). And being the first of such a complicated process means there’s a huge likelihood that will go wrong.

              Will they have to experiment on dozens of the frozen bodies to see how to bring people back, destroying them in the process? Some of them will be mistakes, maybe people get brought back but with the process not perfected there are going to be some things that go horribly wrong. One of those people could be you.

            2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Yeah, it would basically be like bringing back 50,000,000 tourists every year. And anyone who lives in a tourist-heavy city knows how awful that is. Imagine, even worse, if they’re a tourist with insufficient money, no skills, can’t speak the language, has no prospects to contribute economically or socially (one person frozen each year, or even just a download of the internet, would probably be sufficient to make any human experiences historically redundant), and chances are has totally different morals from you (chances are if progress is unidirectional, people won’t eat meat from animals, it will be seen as barbaric; imagine 50,000,000 sex tourists brought back every year; it’s possible that consuming formerly-living animals would be just as ethically distasteful in the future because of Vat Meat!!)

              So imagine 50,000,000 Mehran Nasseri’s, but spread out over the world, and with a much greater sense of entitlement.

              Yeah, the future will be awesome.

          2. Luke Parrish says:

            I consider this a side topic, less interesting than the feasibility of cryonics. However, the argument that we should allow people to die in order to not have to feed or clothe them, if taken to an extreme, would rule out life extending medicine entirely in favor of a purely palliative role, and perhaps encourage suicide.

            But there are two problems. First, you seem to be assuming that humanity will remain earthbound for the foreseeable future. This does not seem remotely likely to me. The solar system has plenty of matter and raw energy to provide for the comfort and well being of trillions of sentient creatures — a few billion would not matter very much to the overall economic equation. (Many orders of magnitude more could be permitted, if we posit that uploading is viable.)

            Secondly, there is the assumption that reproduction will always remain as popular and widely permitted as it is now. Currently, we have relatively low reproduction rates in wealthy countries, but I am not so sure that will hold in the face of evolutionary pressure.

            Humans have historically had selective pressure to desire sex, but now we have contraceptives, so we might become more prone to desiring children as a goal in its own right. Thus, as in many science fiction dystopias, the human population might be subjected to involuntary fertility reduction measures.

            But this isn’t a consequence of life extension — it is a consequence of people reproducing. In a fair world, a person who has elected to remain childless should not suffer death as the result of someone else choosing to reproduce. Thus, fair-minded governments might decide to give a choice (among those who remain on earth, using its resources) between extending their lives and reproducing.

            1. Windriven says:

              @Luke

              ” if taken to an extreme, would rule out life extending medicine entirely in favor of a purely palliative role, and perhaps encourage suicide.”

              Yeah, well, I can mount a reasonable argument that at some point you have an obligation to die. The short version is that health care is a limited resource with relatively inelastic demand. When semi-comatose grandma gets a fem-pop bypass, that represents a misuse, a squandering of resources.

              “First, you seem to be assuming that humanity will remain earthbound for the foreseeable future. ”

              Not at all. Remaining earthbound is demonstrably a losing proposition. But I don’t believe that cryogenics is the escape pod. Ever closer integration of man and machine is the future. Whether or not that will ever result in superannuation, I can only speculate. But that speculation would include wholesale replacement of organ systems with man-made equivalents in a matter of a few generations.

              Historically, this has all been about genes. We’re the containers, the genes are the contents. It may be that memes will supplant genes as the dominant vector for transmitting ‘humanity’ into the future. Maybe not. Either way, superannuated humans would be incidental rather than necessary.

              Don’t get too tied up in the majesty of being you. You aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

            2. Windriven says:

              “I consider this a side topic, less interesting than the feasibility of cryonics.”

              How very interesting. I find this ever more interesting than the nuts and bolts of cryogenics or, for that matter, cyborgs. Individuals matter tremendously in the immediate term but only ideas matter in the great sweep of time.

            3. simba says:

              The bottom line is that for any society, past or future, there are always going to be limited health resources.

              If you have limited resources and you can either reanimate one corpse of a stranger, or provide care to a larger number of your own children (organ transplants, insulin/future diabetes cures, that sort of thing) the morally right thing to do is going to be to fix your own people in the situation where you can do more for less money. It’s the cost-effective thing to do if you want to save lives, and it’s a harsh reality that that is what we must consider when saving lives.

              If you have limited resources and they have to be spent on reanimating people, I would imagine it is both more cost-effective, more profitable, and better PR to reanimate those people in the future who have set aside money for the purpose and can be prepared efficiently soon before or after death.

              About the only use I can see to people in the future of reanimating those cryogenically frozen is (a) as a PR stunt, (b) in the face of total population collapse to try and reduce genetic loss/serve as useful workers etc, and really would the resources be there at that stage to reanimate us (c) as experiments to improve the reanimation process, or (d) to selectively reanimate those organs which are difficult to produce or obtain in the future. The person’s dead, they have kindly preserved their bodies for us with some damage, the delicate brain is probably going to be harder to fix than, say, the heart. It makes a lot more sense.

            4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Luke, you appear to be a fiction-inspired techno-utopian. May I present Project Rho, a pessimistic glass half-full of ice water. Surviving in space is hard. Getting to space is hard. Living in space is hard. Space is unlikely to be a solution.

    2. Andrey Pavlov says:

      We do need criticism, and the occasional splash of cold water, but we don’t need this kind of generalized opposition.

      Who is “opposing” you? We are just pointing out a number of fatal flaws (and honestly I don’t think Dr. Gorski even touched on all of them) and how you and your ilk just handwave them away as if magic will happen between now and some unknown future to suddenly make all these insurmountable problems no longer a problem. It doesn’t matter what future technology is like, the process of getting your brain from alive to cryonic future will irreversibly destroy a very large portion of it.

      1. David Gorski says:

        Who is “opposing” you? We are just pointing out a number of fatal flaws (and honestly I don’t think Dr. Gorski even touched on all of them)

        True that. I could have made this one as long as my Ebola post the other day, but I refrained. :-)

        1. Andrey Pavlov says:

          True that. I could have made this one as long as my Ebola post the other day, but I refrained.

          I dug up an old post by PZ Myers that is relevant to this. Goes over why we don’t even have the technology to successfully take a brain, slice it up, and map the connections. If we can manage to do that, in a manner that doesn’t even care about preserving the physical brain afterwards, there really is essentially no hope in doing it in a manner that is dependent on that physical brain being functional afterwards.

          I do think it may prove to be something we overcome in the future through some clever thinking and new tech, but as of right now, these cryonics people are basically just thinking that future tech will be equivalent to magic and be able to take a destroyed brain that never had its physical state mapped and then somehow (magically) restore all those billions and trillions of connections.

      2. Luke Parrish says:

        Who is “opposing” you?

        You really have no idea, do you? Work in cryonics for a bit and you will find out.

        As I pointed out, some of these things he points to aren’t even real (like the assumption of ice formation), certainly not the whole story. Hypothermia slows damage, and we actually have data showing that the first few degrees are the most critical.

        “how you and your ilk just handwave them away”

        Nanotech isn’t a handwave, it is an example — a compelling one in my book, as far as it goes — of what will be possible in the future. We don’t actually have to know the specifics in order for cryonics-as-ambulance-to-the-future to be a valid argument. One could just as easily substitute “uploading”, protein engineering, advanced polymers, biomimicry, or whatever else seems the more promising field. But it could also be some kind of counterintuitive synthesis of many fields.

        Personally, I think it may turn out to be something along the lines of nanoscale 3d printing, with nanodevices (or microdevices with nanocomponents) that remain fixed to a flat substrate. The brain would then be sliced to millimeter or sub-millimeter thickness while remaining cold and vitreous (perhaps even brought down to near liquid helium temperature), and the surface-mounted devices would perform scans, repairs, replacements, and the like on the exposed tissue. I think this approach would allow a degree of precision and damage avoidance not realistically possible at higher temperatures.

        as if magic will happen between now and some unknown future to suddenly make all these insurmountable problems no longer a problem

        So you think we should ignore all future possibility and focus only on the present. How zen. *yawn*

        Back to reality, it’s pretty darned certain that some problems currently “insurmountable” won’t be so “insurmountable” forever. You know this. We all know this. That is why we allocate billions of dollars to research every year, after all. It isn’t to satisfy idle curiosity.

        Whether the damage of cryonics falls into that category or not is open to reasonable discussion, but misrepresenting the degree of unavoidable damage and displaying ignorance of known strategies (such as hypothermia and vitrification) isn’t helping your case.

        1. Windriven says:

          “We don’t actually have to know the specifics in order for cryonics-as-ambulance-to-the-future to be a valid argument.”

          You’re wasting your time. Cyborgotopia will render cryogenics a mildly interesting sideshow. Have a look around you. We are already the Borg, socially speaking. We just don’t quite have all the neat technosh!t in place yet.

        2. Andrey Pavlov says:

          Wow, you really are utterly missing the entire point, aren’t you?

          some of these things he points to aren’t even real (like the assumption of ice formation),

          Really? Ice formation in cryogenic temperatures isn’t real?

          Nanotech isn’t a handwave, it is an example — a compelling one in my book, as far as it goes — of what will be possible in the future

          Once again, really? A technology that doesn’t exist today, that you (nor anyone) has any idea how or if it will work, or even if it will ever even remotely be applicable in this context is a “compelling example” of what is possible in the future?

          Sorry Luke, but that is handwaving. See handwaving is when someone says, “Hey, this thing here is a problem” and you respond by saying “I have no idea how or even if, but I am sure that [xxx] will simply fix that problem with no issues at some point in the future.” To quote Seinfeld, you yadda yadda’d over the best part. Going from “nanotechnology is a word but not an actual viable field” to “it will totally fix this really difficult and currently insurmountable problem with ease” without anything in between is handwaving.

          We don’t actually have to know the specifics in order for cryonics-as-ambulance-to-the-future to be a valid argument

          Well, not exactly. But in your case, yes you do. If you want to just talk about the remote possibility of cryonics at some point in the future, sure. No specifics are necessary. But if you want to try and say that freezing yourself now and spending the time, energy, money, and effort to make it happen is something even remotely worthwhile, then yes you do need some semblance of specifics to have it be a valid argument. Otherwise you are doing nothing more than handwaving away legitimate criticisms. You can’t say the problems we here are putting forth aren’t problems just because you personally assert that nanotechnology yadda yadda problem solved!

          The brain would then be sliced to millimeter or sub-millimeter thickness while remaining cold and vitreous (perhaps even brought down to near liquid helium temperature), and the surface-mounted devices would perform scans, repairs, replacements, and the like on the exposed tissue. I think this approach would allow a degree of precision and damage avoidance not realistically possible at higher temperatures.

          And that right there is the perfect example of why you don’t know what you are talking about. And evidence you didn’t even try to read the link I provided above.

          There will be *huge* issues with your idea of slicing the brain and reading the neurocytoarchitecture, which you would have gotten from the link I provided.

          But let’s just assume for a moment that what you describe is somehow anything more than pure science fiction and can actually happen. What, precisely, would you base the repair of neural connections on? Those neural connections are what make you you. And we have no means of reading them at the time you die. So in your magical nanotech future these nanobots are going to repair the damage… how exactly? They have no means to know which connections should be there. Besides the fact that there will be hundreds of billions if not trillions of repairs that need to be made.

          And you close it by making assertions that require a depth of understanding of cryogenics and nanotechnology that nobody has, let alone you.

          So you think we should ignore all future possibility and focus only on the present. How zen. *yawn*

          LOL. No. I am saying that the present has ramifications for the future. If we do not currently have the means to get the information and do the things necessary for future outcomes to happen, then it doesn’t matter what happens in the future. You can’t take a cassette tape, erase it with magnets, and then say some magical future nanobots are going to be able to restore the original binary code on it without a reference source. And you can’t take a human brain, with no reference source, damage it, and then have magical nanobots somehow magically rebuild it!

          Back to reality, it’s pretty darned certain that some problems currently “insurmountable” won’t be so “insurmountable” forever. You know this. We all know this

          Yes. But we also know that even though we can now clone animals, we cannot ever clone dinosaurs. Not exactly as they were, anyways. Because the half-life of DNA is simply not long enough in order for that to happen. Now we have digital technology that will allow us to sequence an entire genome and then store it digitally so that we can recreate it a billion years from now. But that doesn’t help us with the dinosaurs.

          So perhaps one day we will invent a technology that will allow us to fully digitally map the human brain and/or cryogenically preserve it perfectly. But that won’t help the people freezing themselves now.

          You are just basically saying that magic technology will overcome boundaries that are in principle insurmountable and conflating that with being currently technologically insurmountable.

          So yes, you are absolutely right that these problems will not be insurmountable forever. But they will be forever insurmountable for you.

          Whether the damage of cryonics falls into that category or not is open to reasonable discussion, but misrepresenting the degree of unavoidable damage and displaying ignorance of known strategies (such as hypothermia and vitrification) isn’t helping your case.

          Well completely butchering medicine and biology and handwaving with magical nanobots certainly doesn’t help you. And BTW I myself as well as Dr. Gorski and others here are physicians. I think we are in a much better place of expertise to expound on the degree of unavoidable damage than you are, which you have also clearly shown.

          1. brewandferment says:

            it seems almost on a par with saying that some day people will travel to another galaxy…but forget that even if the aging issues could be overcome with some sort of suspended animation, the actual time involved even at the speed of light is immense. And since there are presently no man-made objects even remotely close to being able to travel at that speed let alone carry humans, suspended animation or otherwise, saying that oh someday we’ll figure it out so let’s launch this decade. Would half-life of DNA even be long enough with suspended animation??

          2. MadisonMD says:

            Even if you *could* read my neural connections, upload it into a computer/robot and hit ‘run,’ I don’t see how I could derive any satisfaction from that. I think these cryodudes just get off now on imagining immortality and/or living in science fiction in some distant far away place.

            I have a more elegant solution for future life (cryo optional, nanobots not needed). Some day, we might be able to take some of your DNA, make it haploid, mix it with the haploid genome of another human, make an embryo (optional freeze here), then implant that into a uterus (real preferred over artificial), wait/feed host, get a new brain with all the accoutrements. Re-training the brain will be required, but I expect in some cases this method might get you as many as 70+ additional years of life and, in principle, can be repeated indefinitely.

            Not sure whether this will be possible in the future, but maybe.

            1. MadisonMD says:

              Amazing what you can find in the internet. Turns out we already have that technology for perpetual life.

            2. mouse says:

              It’ll never catch on, too creepy.

            3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Even here, you still aren’t getting to live an extra 70 years. Something that looks, possibly even thinks a lot like you could live, but the you that made the decision to clone yourself will be dead.

              And as you mention below – this is a lot closer to having a kid than immortality.

              And for everyone who think you can achieve immortality without having an immortal physical brain, the child analogy is apt. Your kid shares half your DNA. Does that mean they are exactly 50% like you? Or are you totally different? Having a clone, a technoduplicate, a reassembled copy via Trek-style transporter or cryogenic nanobots, is far closer to having a child than a second you. Their experiences will differ. Their perspectives will differ. They will not be you, and you will never experience their life as an extension of your own beyond what you could experience with a child.

          3. Luke Parrish says:

            Ice formation in cryogenic temperatures isn’t real?

            Not in the context of vitrification. By definition, something that is vitreous does not contain ice crystals. And this can be done by high concentrations of solutes, by supercooling quickly until the glass transition temperature is reached, or by a combination of both effects. Hence Fahy’s rabbit kidney.

            You are just basically saying that magic technology will overcome boundaries that are in principle insurmountable and conflating that with being currently technologically insurmountable.

            Argh, no, allow me to clarify: I don’t think technology is magic, nor will it ever overcome problems that are insurmountable in principle. I think that the tradeoffs of cryonics are likely to fall in the realm of things that are only insurmountable by current standards, not insurmountable in principle. Or, failing that, we should be able to come up with an improved form of cryonics that meets this criteria.

            I am saying that the present has ramifications for the future. If we do not currently have the means to get the information and do the things necessary for future outcomes to happen, then it doesn’t matter what happens in the future.

            Agreed. Good point. At least, if I read you right, I think you understand the idea of information-theoretic criteria for death.

            It isn’t quite the same as being able to read all the information in the here and now, though — something might (in principle) be scrambled badly yet decodable, or the surviving imprint could be unreadable without additional advances in scanning tech.

            And evidence you didn’t even try to read the link I provided above.

            Well, I have read PZ’s “Robot Pony” rant in the past, although it has been a while. He brings up some good questions. If I recall it correctly, he describes vitrification exclusively in terms of supercooling-based vitrification. His example as to why one would do this is neuroscience research using e.g. zebrafish.

            The thing is, a cryonics reanimation strategy would not be attempting to establish new principles of neuroscience, it would be looking for differentiating information specific to the individual, based on detailed models of neural biology that it has already established by that time from independent observations of lots of organisms. So the constraints aren’t quite the same.

            Supercooling-based vitrification, which involves little or no added solutes, is more attractive for basic research — there is better visibility for fine detail and you get to avoid accounting for any additional chemical interactions (toxicity) that might complicate the result.

            But the requirement of ultra-rapid cooling isn’t physically compatible with cryonics, due to the size of the brain. So in cryonics, it has to be done by increasing the concentration of solutes to achieve freezing point depression. There’s no getting around it. (You can use some degree of supercooling, in conjunction with ice-blocking polymers, to avoid having quite as high of concentrations, but there are limits to that.)

            these nanobots are going to repair the damage… how exactly?

            They can only repair some kinds of damage, the upper limit being that for which we have some kind of (sufficient) information imprint but lack the original structure. If this is the kind of thing that has to be done, I would guess that a digital emulation model probably makes more sense, when all is said and done, than an attempt to poke and prod the original neurons back to health.

            On the other hand, some things we might call “damage” in this context are relatively crude, and fixing them is considerably less magical-seeming. For example, removal of cryoprotectants that would trigger toxic interactions during rewarming (replacing them with something more biologically harmless) would be, I think, at the low-difficulty end of the scale. We might also expect to reverse some aspects of ischemic cascade, protein denaturation, and so forth, say, by placing counter-agents that become active when rewarmed. The more different kinds of damage, the more complicated it gets — but hey, we already knew biology is complicated.

            Obviously it would require a lot of empirical testing to get such a repair strategy right, and there isn’t much I can say about it that isn’t extremely speculative — apart from the fact that we would want to avoid the necessity for repairs if possible.

            BTW I myself as well as Dr. Gorski and others here are physicians.

            I will try to be less of a smart alec in consideration of that. But please do try to get vitrification right.

            1. Jopari says:

              The nanomachine theory is great, but can you provide a link or an explanation to how it would need to be built, power source, specifications, how it would be able to heal us? The amount of hurdles required to be passed is impressive. Besides that, add already existing problems and we see that though it works great in theory, it’s not gonna happen, or, simply to appease you, not likely to happen to you.

              That’s like saying global warming can be solved by inventing an extremely powerful coolant or air conditioner. Yet it doesn’t work nor is it viable.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Yeah, “nanobots” would have to be on a scale far smaller than even the stupidest insect, but somehow strong enough to withstand thermodynamic battering and contain enough data such that it knows how to fix a neuron so your personality and memories remain intact.

                Nanobots seem to create more problems than they solve.

                Oh, and they can’t be concentrated enough to introduce Angora Rabbit’s osmolarity problems.

            2. Angora Rabbit says:

              “So in cryonics, it has to be done by increasing the concentration of solutes to achieve freezing point depression.”

              That makes a great deal of sense, Luke, and I appreciate your patient responses. In response to above, I wonder how this gets around the osmolarity problem that the elevated solute concentration would create? Barriers, both within cells and between cells, are passionate about maintain osmolarity and expend huge energy costs to maintain this, or, putting it another way, to counter entropy.

              My core problem with cryonics is, as a biochemist, it is hard for me to believe that any technobot would be superior to a protein designed to do the same thing. On the intracellular scales required, proteins are really the ticket, plus they’re evolved to do much of what they would be asked to do in cryonics, anyway. And you can replicate them for free. Plus they can come in made-to-order packages like viruses or even lipoparticles.

              To me, much of cryonics has been of the mentality “let’s build biochemistry with machines” without having the attendant grasp of chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology to understand how the target product actually works. This is why, at its core, cryonics is little more than handwaving in my book.

            3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              So in cryonics, it has to be done by increasing the concentration of solutes to achieve freezing point depression.

              You also have to get them out afterwards. How do you plan to do this? Centrifuge? Assuming you get enough of these solutes into the body to prevent crystals from forming upon freezing, then cool the body down – unless these magical solutes also completely fail to interfere with cellular function (and really – find me anything that you can put into the body that didn’t evolve there in sufficient concentrations that it completely blocks the formation of all ice crystals but doesn’t otherwise interfere with cellular function, and I will be very, very surprised).

              Plus, unless you actually freeze to a solid the tissues, that means some metabolism is still occurring, which means chemical interactions are occurring, at temperatures that the enzymes to control and repair intracellular materials and pathways are not optimized to perform at. You’re talking about filling trillions of cells in dozens of organs made up of hundreds of tissues with high concentrations of a thermodynamically potent substance, cooling the body to the point of either a solid, or a slurry that doesn’t metabolise properly, then somehow getting that substance out again and heating the body back to normal temperature without causing catastrophic damage. Oh, and the most important place to do this, the brain, is among the most delicate and complex structures in the universe.

              And again, someone here who actually works in the field says cryonics is currently kinda bunk. I’ll take her word.

          4. MadisonMD says:

            I have just discovered a way, using existing technology, to preserve information from my brain such that it can be decoded and understood far far into the future. Behold.

            1. Windriven says:

              ! :-)

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Katie above does work in cryonics, and she’s rather pessimistic about the whole thing.

          Nanotech isn’t a handwave, it is an example — a compelling one in my book, as far as it goes — of what will be possible in the future.

          Nanomechs are their own huge problem; they shudder apart under the heat of their own activity, what are you going to do when you add the heat of a human body as well? What if those mechs generate enough heat on their own to thaw the body?

          One could just as easily substitute “uploading”, protein engineering, advanced polymers, biomimicry, or whatever else seems the more promising field. But it could also be some kind of counterintuitive synthesis of many fields.

          Or it could just as easily, far more easily in fact, never, ever happen. You’re basically hoping really, really hard, that it will work at some point in the future. Which really is indistinguishable from religion. And just like I think religious idiots are free to waste their time and money on the futile pursuit of eternity so long as they don’t hurt anyone, ditto for you. But just like with religious idiots, I’m going to mock, belittle and break down your arguments as I see fit. Everyone needs a hobby.

          The brain would then be sliced to millimeter or sub-millimeter thickness while remaining cold and vitreous (perhaps even brought down to near liquid helium temperature), and the surface-mounted devices would perform scans, repairs, replacements, and the like on the exposed tissue. I think this approach would allow a degree of precision and damage avoidance not realistically possible at higher temperatures.

          In which case, congratulations, you’ve just been murdered. A copy is not you. The copy may be happy to be alive, but the original you is dead unless you can reassemble the popsicle brain. In which case, why make a copy? All you’re doing with this approach is ensuring the people of the future have access to something that is very close to the original you. It does the original you no benefit unless you are so self-aggrandizing as to think that the world benefits from your mere presence.

          So you think we should ignore all future possibility and focus only on the present.

          Sure, but you’re focusing on taking money and resources from the present in hopes that the future will be magical. You may find it depressing to think about, but chances are any bodies we freeze with today’s technology will be utterly useless in the future, because all the neat stuff you talk about as possible solutions are still speculative, but would have to be used now in order to mesh with the future.

          That is why we allocate billions of dollars to research every year, after all. It isn’t to satisfy idle curiosity.

          Sure, but cryonics as sold to the public is not for idle curiosity, it’s for the company to make money now. If cryonics really gave a crap about people rather than money, they would be researching the topic with all their might, not stocking freezers.

          All of your arguments till come down to desperate hope that “in the future”, technomagic will allow for resurrection. And I use that word deliberately because I want to allude to religious faith. Because that’s what you’re basing your beliefs on, religious faith that technology will solve all of your problems just like Jesus.

  17. Max says:

    The argument in this article seems very much to be… “Well, gosh! We don’t know that it’ll work! Why try? Let’s just let whatever does remain rot and go away for SURE!”

    We don’t know everything. No one is saying we do. No one is saying that we have a sure path, but I will tell you what… letting the meat decompose is a way less likely way to get back to health.

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Take your chances with some religion’s afterlife or just accept oblivion.

    For me, if my process runs into unrecoverable errors prior to having a decent back up system, I’m going on ice because as of the moment of writing this, it seems like the most likely way to make it to better technology.

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      The argument in this article seems very much to be… “Well, gosh! We don’t know that it’ll work! Why try? Let’s just let whatever does remain rot and go away for SURE!”

      No Max. The argument is, “Well, gosh! These cryonics people really don’t understand how cellular biology works, how brain cytoarchitecture works, and the limitations of our current technology and understanding. They also keep making these silly comparisons to kidneys being frozen for short period of time and frogs being able to be revived after being frozen and think that this applies to them as whole persons including their brains.”

      letting the meat decompose is a way less likely way to get back to health.

      That’s the thing. Based on what we know the odds are overwhelmingly that jumping into a cryonics tank and letting meat decompose have exactly the same likelihood of getting you back to health.

      1. David Gorski says:

        They also keep making these silly comparisons to kidneys being frozen for short period of time and frogs being able to be revived after being frozen and think that this applies to them as whole persons including their brains.”

        Actually, kidneys and other organs for transplant aren’t actually completely frozen, either; so the analogy is especially bad. They are kept very cold on ice in Wisconsin solution and only good 16-72 hours, depending on the organ

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781089

        1. Andrey Pavlov says:

          Actually, kidneys and other organs for transplant aren’t actually completely frozen, either; so the analogy is especially bad.

          And even if it weren’t a bad analogy it is still an utterly different beast to freeze and revive a functional kidney vs a brain.

          As one of the Parrish’s commented, they seem to think that the likelihood of success is 0.0000001 and that is fine by them, but fail to realize that given what we do know the likelihood of success is overwhelmingly more likely to simply be zero.

          1. Luke Parrish says:

            I myself would not be interested in cryonics if I intuitively thought the chance was 0.000001. Too easy to mix things up at that level. (I suppose a better way to put it is, I am suspicious of most things that seem like they are one in a million. I’d wager $1 to win $10 million on the outcome of a 1 million sided die, but an uncertain scientific situation is not really comparable to that.) I would say 1 in 100 to 1 in 20 is more reasonable for a wager like cryonics.

            The fact that people are saying it is less than 1 in a million seems to represent ignorance and/or imagination failure. Some advocates of cryonics are crazy enough to claim they’d do it for one in a billion or whatever, but that isn’t the best argument in my view.

            1. simba says:

              But the only argument you’re putting forward for a higher number is that it seems right to you.

              I can run the exact same ‘intuition’ program, look at the arguments for cryogenics, realise that most of them seem like they would only work if you died while the technology was there and already successful rather than before it was available, there is no earthly reason why people in the future would want to unfreeze and reanimate us (which in the best case scenario is likely to be expensive) rather than people dying in their time, ignore the very real risks of leaving your dead body with people and just assuming they will mind it absolutely correctly for many decades at least and then pay up to have you reanimated…

              And to me that looks like one in a million, and I’m one of the people who’s more optimistic about it. It seems like the people on here with education in biology or the human body seem less optimistic about it. Why do you think it’s a higher number?

              You assume that it’s 1-5% because maybe, somehow, possibly the tech will start to be there before you’re dead. That is no more than wishful thinking. That tech doesn’t apply to the odds now, and you have no way of knowing how long it would take to develop.

              1. Andrey Pavlov says:

                Very well said, Simba.

        2. Luke Parrish says:

          Most of the talk about cryopreservation of kidneys is a reference to a rabbit kidney vitrified (yes, vitrified) by Wowk and Fahy in 2005. http://www.21cmpublications.com/PubFiles/11/12FahyORG5-3%5B1%5D.pdf

          I certainly agree that the Wisonsin result (and heck, a rather large portion of cryobiology) is not at all comparable to what goes on in cryonics, at least not in a straightforward way. (I am constantly having to explain the difference to less-informed cryonics advocates.)

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The argument in this article seems very much to be… “Well, gosh! We don’t know that it’ll work! Why try? Let’s just let whatever does remain rot and go away for SURE!”

      Are you sure it’s not “well gosh, spending money on this given today’s technology is a waste of resources”?

  18. Angora Rabbit says:

    I’ve resisted posting, but since the thread is still alive, cryonic-like…

    Years ago I went mano-a-mano with Ralph Merkle about this. It really is utter rot and David’sreference to my favorite Sid Harris cartoon is spot-on. This really is like a religion, and when the believers run into a hitch, they wave their hands and invoke magical nanobots and the like. As if a bot could do it better than a protein. I spent my first cryonic panel at a WorldCon (Chicon 91, IIRC) moaning that there was zero grasp of biochemistry. Maybe it is starting to change (I gave up spending brain function on them), but there was zero grasp of protein function, biochemistry, cellular activity, let alone energetics and what it takes to make cells happy and avoid cell death.

    I appreciate Katie Marshall’s input on this topic – thank you! If we could really rebuild a body and brain, I would prefer we spend it on existing individuals who have neurobehavioral problems and would benefit from those advances, and not the healthy self-absorbed with too much money on their hands. Which is why my money is on stem-cells, not cryonics.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      I must say though – the issues raised by the topic are fascinating, spanning from microbiology to speculative technology to ethics to economics to philosophy.

      Definitely more fun than calling stan, steve and mary stupid.

  19. Windriven says:

    @The Parrish brothers (lame homophone, guys)

    This seems like an awful lot of trouble for nothing. I’m pretty sure Turanga Leela isn’t going to bone either one of you.

  20. technohumanist says:

    I guess the knowledge that it happens in nature already doesn’t help understand that maybe we *can* do this? All of the science that people claim says we can’t aren’t very clear on what science is – incomplete and always seeking revision based on new data.
    They’re like the goofs that claim everything has been invented or that the science is “settled” on any subject. Science means asking more questions and sometimes questioning what you think you already know – because even what we think we know turns out to be wrong sometimes.

    http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/21/how-the-alaska-wood-frog-survives-being-frozen/

    1. Luke Parrish says:

      Wood frogs and other freeze-tolerant organisms don’t vitrify, and have to be kept at a temperature near the melting point of ice. Tardigrades are a better reference example for vitrification, even though they are a simpler life form.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        even though they are a simpler life form.

        Yeah…which is why you can’t extend their example to humans…

    2. Jopari says:

      The science is ever expanding, but you cannot preserve your body now in a way that would make it viable a century or two later. No one is saying that science is fixed, rather that based on currently existing information, it won’t work.

      Then let’s not forget the other challenges that the person will face, finances, culture shock, brain being wounded by the cryo process.

      Sure, maybe someday we will be able to shape reality to our will like the Soulrider chronicles, but it just isn’t likely to happen.

  21. except me. I do not like to be immortal in any way. I just like to be free from all the odds. If my family loves me then I will be immortal.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Three points:

      1) I call spam. Subtle, but spam.

      2) Eventually your family will die too, and eventually the earth is swallowed by the sun. Nothing is immortal.

      3) Holy fuck those pants you are trying to spam are ugly. Wow.

Comments are closed.