Sunday, March 21, 2010
Have you ever heard of cryonics?
This morning, I read an article in The New Yorker on cryonics. I have heard of it before, but I had never read about it in this much length before. I can't believe that it's really a serious study, practice, and belief that people follow and go along with. But in the meantime, let's discuss what it is.
In plain English, cryonics is when humans literally freeze their bodies after death in the hopes that technology will increase so much that their bodies will be resurrected by newer medicine in future years.
Cryonics was first proposed in 1962. The founder of this movement is Robert Ettinger, the focus of this article. This paragraph will provide some background on Ettinger and cryonics in general from "The Iceman" by Jill Lepore:
"Ettinger is a founder of the cryonics movement. When he dies, the blood will be drained from his body, antifreeze will be pumped into his arteries, and holes will be drilled into his skull, after which he will be stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen at minus three hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit. He expects to be defrosted, somewhere between fifty and two hundred years from now, by scientists who will make him young and strong and tireless. Ettinger has already frozen his mother and his two wives, along with ninety-two other people who await resurrection inside giant freezers in a building five minutes away from his house, in Clinton Township, Michigan."
Ettinger, born in 1918, was inspired by many pop culture texts that made cryonics seem like a plausible idea. The birth of the sci-fi genre, Edgar Allen Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," Jack London's "A Thousand Deaths," Gernsback's "The Corpse That Lived" and "The Ice Man," Dr. Strangelove, and Woody Allen's Sleeper. These texts give him faith in cryonics.
All a person needs is fifteen hundred dollars for the downpayment on preservation, and twenty eight thousand dollars to keep the body for all of that time until the body can be resurrected. Some can use their life insurance or life savings. Unfortunately, they wouldn't leave anything behind for others. They put their money towards their futures, after they're dead.
Ettinger has been on talk shows and published manifestos. A lot of the public has laughed at him for this crazy theory, and I'm presenting it to see what others think about it.
To me, I have a problem with the soul. Where does the soul go, and can it return back to a dead body? How does one restore LIFE into a dead being? That sounds more like a god complex to me. I'm sure that technology is going to increase a lot in the near future--I just don't know HOW far.
I haven't delved into the deeper science involved in cryonics, but even just examining the overall theory makes me hesitant to believe it. Giving new life into a frozen body does sound sci-fi. It does seem like a cheesy movie more than reality. Crazy things do happen every day though (especially connecting with science), things never deemed possible. I just don't think people can be brought back to life--especially two hundred years later. I'm not saying it's IMPOSSIBLE--it just doesn't seem probable to me.
Here are their beliefs or PRO-Cryonics theories:
"A central premise of cryonics is that memory, personality, and identity are stored in durable cell structures and patterns within the brain that do not require continuous brain activity to survive. This premise is generally accepted in medicine; it is known that under certain conditions the brain can stop functioning and still later recover with retention of long-term memory. Additional scientific premises of cryonics are that (1) brain structures encoding memory persist for some period of time after clinical death, (2) brain structures encoding memory can survive cryopreservation, and (3) future technologies that could restore encoded memories to functional expression in a healed person are theoretically possible.
Cryonics is controversial because the technologies of premise (3) are so advanced that premises (1) and (2) are considered irrelevant by most scientists. Whether biological traces of memory or personhood might persist after clinical death is of no interest to medicine once resuscitation becomes impossible by present technology. Similarly, outside of cryonics there is no interest in the question of whether memory encoding might survive cryopreservation because the question is regarded as meaningless until cryopreservation can be reversed. At present only cells, tissues, and some small organs can be reversibly cryopreserved. Medical science is primarily concerned with what is demonstrably achievable, not what is theoretically possible. There are therefore no established scientific specialties or journals directly concerned with the scientific questions posed by cryonics.
Cryonics advocates claim that it is possible to preserve the fine cell structures of the brain in which memory and identity reside with present technology. They say that demonstrably reversible preservation is not necessary to achieve the present-day goal of cryonics, which is preservation of brain information that encodes memory and personal identity. They believe that current cryonics procedures can preserve the anatomical basis of mind, and that this may be sufficient to prevent information-theoretic death until future repairs might be possible.
A moral premise of cryonics is that cryopreserving people when there is no other hope is the right thing to do, sometimes even under poor conditions that make the scientific premises of cryonics highly uncertain. Some cryonicists believe as a matter of principle that anyone who would ordinarily be regarded as dead should instead be made a "permanent patient" subject to whatever future advances might bring. Unlike the scientific premises of cryonics, such moral beliefs are not testable or falsifiable."
So what do you think of Cryonics?