cryonics
A lot has changed in the field of freezing dead people since Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic The Shining.

OFFICIAL DEFINITION

These words from the Cryonics Institute:

Cryonics is a technique intended to hopefully save lives and greatly extend lifespan. It involves cooling legally-dead people to liquid nitrogen temperature where physical decay essentially stops, in the hope that future scientific procedures will someday revive them and restore them to youth and good health.

And an image not from the Cryonics Institute:

Mr Freeze

RAZER DEFINITION

Had the Ancient Greeks been familiar with freezing techniques of the present, then Icarus might well have flown into the fridge. Then again, even if the myth about Ic and his dad had been told at low temperature, there’s just no telling some.

It is most often transhumanists and/or those with faith in the technological singularity who keep the hope for a cryonic death alive. On the face of it, such advocates mean very well and many of their foundational beliefs, such as that about the duty of science to serve humankind, are perfectly serviceable. But we are all largely agreed that medical research is a marvellous idea.

We are not all agreed that “biological enhancement” or technological improvement to the human form should be available to some and not to others. If cryonics or other forms of life extension are to be available to some, they must be available to all.

WHY IT MATTERS

If we believe our rights over our mortal remains matter, then regulation over the sector matters. Those of us who donate our bodies “to science” likely don’t expect to be sold to some bloke in Oregon so that he can practise freezing things.

And it would matter in the case of the future event of successful defrosting. Not to be too Malthusian about it, but betting that some future generation is going to be so strapped for people that it needs to start defrosting some of us old ones is not the best idea. (That said, even if reanimation never becomes possible, the real tragedy of cryonics is the missed opportunity to do this to a certain shitcicle that never was.)

WHO CARES?

Judging by the “Meet Our Dead Team” lists of the various cryonics services: computer science types tend to care. Not too many MDs in those lists, but an awful lot of IT graduates. We might suppose here that there is a general cultural tendency toward sci-fi in computer labs. That, and an interest in the work of Ray Kurzweil.

Also among the people who care for the sector are those with a tragic mix of terminal illness and youthful — and sometimes not-so-youthful — optimism.

RELEVANT FACTS

THE LAST WORD

Now that a cryonic coffin is available to those outside the billionaire class, human hubris will continue to fund a sector whose corpse-clients are not in a good position to complain. And it seems some of them would complain if they could. Some former employees are pretty damning about the state of the industry in which they once ardently believed — US baseball hall-of-famer Ted Williams seems not to have been preserved in the way that he might have preferred.

Cryonics is clearly a sector that demands regulation and scrutiny. In fact, it’s the sort of life-and-death service best entirely managed by the state. Then again, it’s just the sort of thing few of us would wish to fund.

READING

Ettinger, R C W (1962). The Prospect of Immortality (PDF).

Pein, C (2016). Everybody Freeze! The Baffler, March.

de Wolf, C (2014). Cryopreservation of Kim Suozzi (PDF). Cryonics, 35:3, 15–21.

Gorski, D (2014). Cold Reality versus the Wishful Thinking of CryonicsScience-Based Medicine, 2 August.

Hendricks, M (2015). The False Science of CryonicsMIT Technology Review, 15 September.

Bhatia, N & Savulescu, J (2016). Cryonics: Hype, Hope, or Hell? The Conversation, 23 November.

Best, B (2016). A History of Cryonics. ResearchGate, March.

Johnson, L (2009). Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death. New York: Vanguard Press.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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