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Adam I. Gerard
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Cryonics

Cryonics is the applied science of freezing biological entities for preservation.

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Alien Crossfire is one of my favorite games of all time. Two ideas resonated with me (and continue to do so):

  1. The Longevity Vaccine
  2. Clinical Immortality

If cryonics were perfected, would it amount to The Longevity Vaccine and Clinical Immortality?

How close are we to achieving those? What challenges lie ahead in attempting to do so? What impact will these inventions have on human society?

History

Several fringe companies began promoting the idea of preserving and freezing human bodies back in the 1970's apparently. Most of these went defunct so that, as far as I know, only a couple still remain. Now, Alcor is probably the most senior self-described human cryonics company.

The general history of cryonics in the United States is described below:

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/innovation/preserving-bodies-deep-freeze-50-years-later-n707856

Most cryonics companies have failed - one actually suffered power loss and lost all its frozen bodies!

So, quite rightly, people have been suspicious of cryonics and the promise of clinical immortality!

I don't trust any of the current cryonics companies despite my belief that the overall technology has matured enough to be useful.

Freezing and Dethawing

There are at least four components to cryonics to make it work in practical fashion:

  1. The ability to perfectly remove or prepare a specific organ or body (preferably the entire body).
  2. The ability to perfectly freeze and preserve that removed organ or body.
  3. The ability to perfectly dethaw or unfreeze that removed organ or body.
  4. The ability to perfectly restore the full biological functionality, activity, and operation of that dethawed or unfrozen organ or body.

Note: I strongly oppose the idea of brain removals (in fact, there's a long history of fearing so-called Brain-In-Vat (BIV) scenarios in American philosophy).

Interestingly, the first two components (out of the four above) have been achieved. The third, has been demonstrated in limited circumstances and recent trials (see below).

Concerns

This kind of technology isn't a fancy new device or clever toy. It deals with one of the most (if not the most) fundamental concerns we face as living things. Period. Mortality, death, health, medicine, inheritance, families, etc. - the building-blocks of religions, societies, dynasties, political systems, etc. are all intertwined with the concept of cryonics.

As such, we should exercise a high level of caution in assessing claims and companies involving or involved with cryonics.

Some of the early (and recent) cryonics firms have been outright fraudulent:

  1. https://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/alcor-employee-makes-harsh-allegations-cryonics-foundation/story?id=8764331
  2. https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/03/13/144721/a-startup-is-pitching-a-mind-uploading-service-that-is-100-percent-fatal/

Do not fall for "mind-uploading" claims - I think it's metaphysically impossible to "upload" yourself.

Others claim that the science is false, dubious, or (in most cases) not mature enough:

  1. https://www.technologyreview.com/2015/09/15/109906/the-false-science-of-cryonics/
  2. https://now.northropgrumman.com/will-cryonics-work-science-speculation-and-the-cold-shoulder/

Despite that, many people understand the promise of cryonics if and when it becomes a mature science (and commercially safe, viable):

  1. https://gizmodo.com/will-cryogenically-frozen-people-ever-be-revived-1829905516
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/patricklin/2019/07/08/cryonics-medicine-or-the-modern-mummy/#3f232bbc1f2c
  3. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160424-if-cryonics-suddenly-worked-wed-need-to-face-the-fallout

Personally, I told my parents to put cryonic preservation into their advanced medical directives and will. They laughed, but I'm serious, I want to have them around in 50-100 years.

Promise

I've been occasionally following some of these developments and was surprised to find, under closer inspection, that several major breakthroughs have been achieved in the last 3 years (and some earlier than that).

First, several scientifically-valid techniques have been successfully performed. For example, Dr. Boris Rubinsky (famous for organ replacement), University of California Berkeley, was successfully able to:

  1. Remove a living rat's liver.
  2. Freeze the liver.
  3. Thaw the liver.
  4. Replace the liver of another rat with the dethawed liver.
  5. Keep the rat alive with the liver functioning.

Read: 2004

Similar breakthroughs have been achieved elsewhere:

  1. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20260-zoologger-cryo-frog-survives-deep-freeze/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/01/heart-tissue-cryogenics-breakthrough-gives-hope-for-transplant-patients
  3. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2077140-mammal-brain-frozen-and-thawed-out-perfectly-for-first-time/
  4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5270257/Cryogenics-corpses-brought-10-years.html

These breakthroughs have never been tested on a live human. So, the verdict's still out about that.

Despite the early problems with cryonics, things have substantially improved in terms of the development of verifiable medical and scientific procedures, experiments, and techniques.

Cloning and Human Organ Replacement

Major breakthroughs have also been achieved in the adjacent fields of human-cloning and organ replacement:

  1. https://jasn.asnjournals.org/content/15/5/1113
  2. https://surgery.ucsf.edu/news--events/ucsf-news/71188/Tammy-Chang-and-Boris-Rubinsky-Develop-Novel-Surgical-Technique-for-Restoring-Failing-Organs
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/15/health/time-cloning-stem-cells/index.html
  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10774097/Breakthrough-in-human-cloning-offers-new-transplant-hope.html

Even if dethawing, unfreezing, or the restoration of full biological functioning weren't achieved, perhaps the use of organ replacement through human-cloning would help to provide some workaround.

Suppose that my heart suffered limited deterioration during the dethawing process. Could I have a STEM cell made from a cell culture (of say a cell from my hair or skin) and then used to make a new heart (copy)?

Would that mitigate the damage I suffered from being "reawakened"?

Opinion

Given that freezing and preservation seem to be perfected, is it wise to opt for cryonic preservation rather than death, cremation, or burial?

Even if the last component (of the four described above) is not possible now, doesn't the presence of perfect preservation outweigh concerns about the lack of the other components?

I've personally added cryonic preservation as a criteria of my advanced medical directive and will.

Should we recommend cryonic preservation for cases of terminal illness (so that someone could be reawakened in the future when a cure were available)? What about COVID-19?

Should cryonic preservation be used to replace current capital crime convictions and punishments?

  1. Isn't it more ethical to condemn someone to mere (temporary or permanent) freezing with the possibility of being unfrozen rather than just executing them without the possible of restoration of life?
  2. If someone is shown innocent, they can be unfrozen and released with full biological functioning at the biological age that they were frozen. Currently, people never get the years back that they aged during an overturned-conviction.

Consequences

Imagine a society in which cryonic preservation were widespread in use. What would that be like?

  1. Would most people opt to sleep several decades or more in order to allow their bank accounts to accrue compound interest?
  2. Would most people voluntarily put themselves into timed sleep cycles to awaken in some future, better, time?
  3. What about inheritance? I've traditionally been a strong supporter of eliminating financial inheritance altogether (and debated this heavily when younger).

I personally have disdain for the concept of inheritance and would rather use resources to keep all my family together.

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