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Cryonics in the UK
November 9, 2009 12:44 PM   Subscribe

"I don't mean to be rude, but I try everything out on Sylvia, and if she can do it, anybody can." Fortunately, Sylvia is in the kitchen making another cup of tea. In sleepy Sussex is a group of dedicated cryonicists who believe they hold the secret to eternal life. Simon Hattenstone joins them for a demonstration – but first they need to make sure the hosepipe isn't too leaky.
posted by veedubya (50 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I simply have never been able to understand the desire to live forever.
Props for the chillywilly tag, btw
posted by Thorzdad at 12:58 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The approach has to be widespread, aggressive. We have to be as rich and as big as Scientology. We must have that level of commitment." He stops. "Maybe that's not the best example."

Hmmm, maybe.
posted by brain_drain at 1:01 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


LOLLN2
posted by HumanComplex at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: Look at it this way. Can you see yourself--at any age--going to bed happy and healthy, and hoping that you die before morning? Looking at a thousand or ten thousand years of life from right here may be overwhelming; but on day n of your life, assuming all has gone well, I think you'd probably want to live at least to day n+1.
posted by khafra at 1:09 PM on November 9, 2009 [20 favorites]


Alan says he once carried out a suspension, but he doesn't look back at it with pride – it didn't go as smoothly as it might have.

I'd like to hear more about this, actually. Putting aside the question of the ethics of cryonics, I entirely agree with the cryonics "guru" in that piece. It's completely irresponsible to sell people cryonic preservation that will be performed by laymen with no training and improper equipment.
posted by muddgirl at 1:09 PM on November 9, 2009


Thorzdad: Look at it this way. Can you see yourself--at any age--going to bed happy and healthy, and hoping that you die before morning? Looking at a thousand or ten thousand years of life from right here may be overwhelming; but on day n of your life, assuming all has gone well, I think you'd probably want to live at least to day n+1.

This is basically it. Humans are almost hard-wired to always want more. More money, more time, more life. People can have luxury cars, beautiful spouses, great friends, spacious houses, and they'll still want more. So yeah, unless life is just that bad, most people will want more life, another day with their friends, their family, or even just to meet brand new people in the future and see what else comes.
posted by explosion at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have frozen myself to I may live to see the wonders of the future. Thaw
me out when robot wives are cheap and effective. PS - please alter my pants
as fashion dictates.
posted by ninjew at 1:17 PM on November 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


I want more life, fucker.
posted by Babblesort at 1:17 PM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


This reminds me a bit of Robert Anton Wilson's obsession with defeating death through drugs/science. He even suggests that the natural process of spiritual transmigration from life to life - as a means of spiritual progress - could be replaced by pills that "simulate" death and rebirth experiences.

This is very silly to me. We already have death and rebirth cycles and they seem to work pretty well. I say die, move on, and progress.

I wonder how many starving kids you could save with $150k. Certainly that is a better and less selfish use of your money than freezing your body and handing it over to the future of a humanity that is rapidly destroying itself with greed.
posted by cbecker333 at 1:22 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: It's completely irresponsible to sell people cryonic preservation that will be performed by laymen with no training and improper equipment.

This American Life did an episode on just that a few years back. Would be funny if it weren't so sad.
posted by nangua at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: There's a This American Life episode about the misadventures of a cyronics enthusiast.
posted by ghharr at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The impression I get is of a group of nice, well-intentioned people who are, essentially, pottering about in the garden shed of cryonics. This is fine, all well and good, and if it keeps you off the streets at night, no problem at all -- until the time comes that you actually try and use your "skills" and discover that, hmm, that mad American was right, you haven't spent any time thinking about what can go wrong.
posted by nonspecialist at 1:34 PM on November 9, 2009


This is very silly to me. We already have death and rebirth cycles and they seem to work pretty well. I say die, move on, and progress.

I wonder how many starving kids you could save with $150k.


It seems silly to me too, but only because I don't think there's a very good chance that any of these people will actually be brought back to life. If spending $150k on something like this could actually prolong someone's life significantly, I couldn't blame anyone for doing so any more than I could blame someone with cancer spending large amounts of money on treatment.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:34 PM on November 9, 2009


They will be frozen in a giant flask of liquid nitrogen at almost -200C, which will preserve their brains and organs in as fresh a state as possible until technology has advanced to the stage where they can be revived.

Fuck, if you're going to just imagine things out of thin air like that, why even bother? Let's just wait till society has advanced enough to revive dead bodies from a strand of DNA.

Oh, there wouldn't be as much money in that as in storing hopelessly dead frozen heads? Well, isn't that an interesting indicator of what you're after.
posted by splice at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I felt especially sad for the singer who wanted her whole body frozen because she didn't think a new body would have nice vocal cords... At the point that we've defeated aging, and in fact reversed the process of aging entirely so that a decrepit, frozen body can be restored to some sort of ideal, couldn't we grow better vocal cords? This rationalization reveals the sort of fantasy that many cryonics enthusiasts are selling.
posted by muddgirl at 1:41 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see the future, assuming it wasn't a Grim Meathook Future of some sort. For that matter, even if it was, they could stick me back in the freezer, assuming all sorts of things (that cryo worked in the first place; that multiple freezings wouldn't cause permanent damage; that roving rape/cannibalism gangs didn't know about the facility; etc.).

Unfortunately, cryogenics seems to be predicated on the notion that the Humpty Dumpty problem is likely to be solvable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2009


Splice, there's some physical lawsthat prevent reclamation of arbitrarily decomposed humans. However, research indicates that the damage causing brain death occurs upon resumption of oxygen and bloodflow.

It's likely that some catastrophic or slow, but inevitable end will come to human civilization before it reaches the ability to heal or recover a body and brain stored in reasonably good condition; but as a Pascal's wager having yourself vitrified at -200C is certainly better than any other option presently available.
posted by khafra at 1:44 PM on November 9, 2009


Also, the Dad's Army that the title of the Guardian article refers to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2009


The real promise of cryonics is in the subscription-based fees the companies can charge. A recurring amount of money, paid indefinitely, with a slim to none chance that the subject will ever have to be revived?

I don't know about the science, but I love the business model!
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


We already have death and rebirth cycles

Well, you're half right.
posted by anazgnos at 1:56 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Up until a few minutes ago, I thought this video was real, but apparently not.
posted by a non e mouse at 2:04 PM on November 9, 2009


Part of what's interesting about cryonics is that it exposes just how difficult it can be to accept the finality of death. Once you strip out spirituality and afterlife and reincarnation--which you can assume most, if not all, of these folks have--you've either got to admit that after death comes nothing, or try to do something about it. The presumably-futile scramble to keep your consciousness from just vanishing is a little bit heartbreaking (maybe also a little bit arrogrant).
posted by uncleozzy at 2:14 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, you're half right.

Hey, you believe in one brand of life-after-death, and he believes in another. Or another.
posted by muddgirl at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2009


Perpetually postponing death by natural causes seems to make death by horrible painful causes an inevitability. At some point be between now and 2300, there's gonna be a slip off the subway platform or run-in with a new prion mutation.
posted by bendybendy at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is just to say

I have eaten
the heads
that were in
the freezer
etc.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:33 PM on November 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


This is all depends on the society of 500 years in the future caring enough to thaw you out.
If we're all in clans battling it out in homemade battlewagons for Earth's dwindling resources, having some weird old dude to look after on top of all of that might not be too appealing.
posted by Flashman at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


if you're going to just imagine things out of thin air like that, why even bother? Let's just wait till society has advanced enough to revive dead bodies from a strand of DNA.

This post and the thread make me think yet again about Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, which I finished listening to about a month ago. In the world he postulates, people are stored digitally. Some of the most interesting characters are the "Meths," short for Methuselahs, who continue their lives for 100s of years via the technology. It doesn't seem a desirable outcome, no matter how much a person loves life. Seems more like you'd feel like Bilbo, like you'd been scraped too thin over too much bread.
posted by bearwife at 2:57 PM on November 9, 2009


Thorzdad: "I simply have never been able to understand the desire to live forever."

To quote Terry Pratchett in Guards, Guards:
"Do you want to live forever?"
"Dunno. Ask me again in five hundred years."
explosion: "Humans are almost hard-wired to always want more. More money, more time, more life. People can have luxury cars, beautiful spouses, great friends, spacious houses, and they'll still want more. So yeah, unless life is just that bad, most people will want more life, another day with their friends, their family, or even just to meet brand new people in the future and see what else comes."

That's also a field of ideas that has been gone over and over again by scifi authors; probably some of the best descriptions of a much, much longer lifespan and everything that comes with it (long-term view of plans, familiarity with repeating history, problems with the brain not being designed to store unlimited amounts of memory) are found in Robert A. Heinlein's work, especially the Lazarus Long books.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:09 PM on November 9, 2009


Perpetually postponing death by natural causes seems to make death by horrible painful causes an inevitability.

I'd be among the first to sign up for the anti-aging treatments, but I think this aspect of defeating death really is pretty troublesome. I mean, sure, I'll ride my bike in traffic or go rock climbing or drive on the highway and accept some level of deadly risk, because, hey, I'll die sooner or later anyway. But if I don't have to die? I suspect I'd spend a few hundred years in a padded room dedicated to keeping sharp objects at least 100 feet away at all times. Ending a doomed life in a stupid accident is one thing, but losing out on eternity because you forgot to look both ways at the train tracks...man.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 3:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always thought "2BR02B" from Kurt Vonnegut's collection of short stories Bagombo Snuff Box pretty well sums up my feelings on the matter. Of course, along with "eternal life" futurists and transhumanists tend to also believe in an eventual end to scarcity and poverty, making overpopulation an inconvenience rather than an iniquity.
posted by muddgirl at 3:30 PM on November 9, 2009


This is all depends on the society of 500 years in the future caring enough to thaw you out.

My presumption would be that, more than caring about you personally, science would care about the implications to its associated research, utilizing you as a test subject.

Of course, by that logic, these forerunners are probably screwed anyway, as they're going to be the first on the thawing block, once science homes in on the capacity for human revival. And as with any other scientific progress, there will likely be a lot of trial and error in the early phases of the research, which means these folks are more likely to fall under the 'error' umbrella, and will have spent all that time in cryo-stasis, only to end up permanently dead anyway.

As for me, I'm merely hoping to live long enough to see applicable advancements that allow for the rejuvenation of old, tired cells and tissue. I'm guessing that we're going to perfect the ability to rebuild/revitalize living tissue well before we gain the ability to bring dead tissue back to life.
posted by Brak at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The real promise of cryonics is in the subscription-based fees the companies can charge. A recurring amount of money, paid indefinitely, with a slim to none chance that the subject will ever have to be revived?

I don't know about the science, but I love the business model!


The only reputable cryonics organization I know of is a nonprofit organization, and many of its staff-persons have family members in suspension. There are a lot better ways to scam people out of their money.

Fuck, if you're going to just imagine things out of thin air like that, why even bother? Let's just wait till society has advanced enough to revive dead bodies from a strand of DNA.

Tissue does not decay at -200°. That's not some crackpot idea. It's a fact.

Memories and individual personality are not stored in DNA. To suggest otherwise is just imagining things out of thin air.

-
posted by General Tonic at 4:02 PM on November 9, 2009


I'm fairly sure that if nanonic grey goo consumes/transmutes everything, destroying all life and the planet itself, it won't have been cooked up by some cackling North Korean or a faceless American corporation. It'll be the result of a retired British telephone engineer cooking something up in his shed.

Sorry about that, world.
posted by WPW at 4:43 PM on November 9, 2009


There are a lot better ways to scam people out of their money.

yeah, but not everyone can get into Harvard Business School.

Tissue does not decay at -200°.

But how many cell walls survive the trip to -200°? Do you think that a whole 3lb brain mass freezes before any water crystallizes? And, even if so, do you think that a memory is independent of its electrical impulse or can you freeze that too?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:55 PM on November 9, 2009


"The presumably-futile scramble to keep your consciousness from just vanishing is a little bit heartbreaking (maybe also a little bit arrogrant)."

So... it's the comforting hope of an afterlife -- like most religions -- only for athiests?!
posted by markkraft at 5:00 PM on November 9, 2009


Hey, kuujjuarapik, I'm not here to sell you on cryonics. You're free to have your body turned into soil or ash or fish food or whatever you like. I'm having my brain saved just in case, that's all.

But how many cell walls survive the trip to -200°? Do you think that a whole 3lb brain mass freezes before any water crystallizes?

Alcor uses what they call a bioprotectant antifreeze to simultaneously lower the temperature and replace much of the water in the body as the temperature approaches -200°.

And, even if so, do you think that a memory is independent of its electrical impulse or can you freeze that too?

I don' t know.

-
posted by General Tonic at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2009


Fair enough. Personally I'm not a believer. But I wish you the best of luck. I hope that you will enjoy the future, without too much impact on your enjoyment of the present.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:34 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


uncleozzy: ... just how difficult it can be to accept the finality of death. Once you strip out spirituality and afterlife and reincarnation--which you can assume most, if not all, of these folks have--you've either got to admit that after death comes nothing, or try to do something about it.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:40 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I'd be more concerned with are the philosophical issues. Sure, I can believe it's within the power of science to take the information in my preserved brain and reconstruct it either digitally or biologically. I can even accept that it would from all external appearances be the same person I was at death. But what I'd really want is continuity of consciousness. That's where the fear of death comes from, doesn't it?

If my brain is physically revived centuries later, is it still me inside of it, or just some other entity with my personality and memories? Does it make a difference if it's the same brain cells (restored by nanotech perhaps), versus a new biological brain, versus some digital simulation? And if we can copy a brain then we can make multiple copies, and my consciousness can't be in both of them. Perhaps the answer is that there is no mental self that persists from moment to moment, even while I'm alive. But it sure feels like there is, and if that self isn't part of what gets restored with cryonics, then what's the point, really?
posted by serathen at 5:59 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


But it sure feels like there is....

Yeah, and I have little doubt that it will feel like it upon resurrection, too.

Don't worry, all the same unanswerable philosophical "problems" will still be here. Philosophers can safely fail to answer them for centuries without affecting my enjoyment of life one little bit.

-
posted by General Tonic at 6:10 PM on November 9, 2009


FWIW -- and coincidentally -- I just yesterday read this book, which doesn't exactly paint Alcor as "reputable".

It also left me with the impression that cryonics is very polarized -- its detractors see it as nothing but flimflam, its supporters believe it totally and passionately -- which makes it hard to form any objective view as both sides are too busy yelling at each other.

Alcor uses what they call a bioprotectant antifreeze to simultaneously lower the temperature and replace much of the water in the body as the temperature approaches -200°.

The book raised doubts as to whether this successfully crosses the blood-brain barrier and noted that the brain always develops multiple cracks during the freezing process. The normal response to this seems to be that "future technology will take care of it."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:40 PM on November 9, 2009


I fall asleep, I die.
I wake up I live.
I never understand the middle part.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:50 PM on November 9, 2009


If I die, I'm just dead. I haven't lost anything, because there isn't any me anymore to lose things. You want to experience loss, try being unfrozen a thousand years from now, with the world completely devoid of anything recognizable, language completely different, and everyone you ever met not just gone but wholly erased, like they never even lived. I hope for their sake this is hopeless, because if it's not, these folks are signing up for the Superbowl of loss.
posted by rusty at 7:43 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!
posted by SPrintF at 8:09 PM on November 9, 2009


I absolutely want to have my brain frozen, just in case they find a way to upload me into A) an omniscient supercomputer or B) a nine-foot tall clone with laser eyes. Do I want to live forever? Of freaking course I do. Mostly because I think (hope) that some really cool stuff is going to happen eventually and I want to see it, dammit. I'm not a true believer, and it's a total scam at this point, but someday it might not be so I'm hedging my bets.

I always thought being cryogenically frozen was a pretty cool post-life plan, till my sister told me that she plans on being entombed in a giant pyramid along with the rapidly cooling corpses of everyone she's ever known, which will then be put on a viking longboat and lit on fire and sent over a waterfall while a full symphony orchestra plays Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Bitch stole my thunder.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:23 PM on November 9, 2009


"Any time you are accused of grand theft, homicide and other untruths, it is damaging to you both personally and professionally."
posted by mhjb at 8:42 PM on November 9, 2009


"A few minutes later a man enters the room. He bears a disarming resemblance to the infamous prisoner Charles Bronson – shaved head, beard, sweat pouring off him, muscular, starey eyes. It can only be Darwin."

"Death Wish" meets "Helter Skelter" on the frozen tundra. You go, Guardian fact-checkers!
posted by turducken at 9:44 PM on November 9, 2009


I think he means the other Charles Bronson.
posted by minifigs at 2:00 AM on November 10, 2009


"If my brain is physically revived centuries later, is it still me inside of it, or just some other entity with my personality and memories? Does it make a difference if it's the same brain cells (restored by nanotech perhaps), versus a new biological brain, versus some digital simulation?"

Given how much our cells die, change, and grow while we are living, maybe the question you should ask yourself is whether you really are you in the first place. You are a working, functional system, albeit one which is in constant flux. In a very real sense, you already are "some other entity with your personality and memories". You most certainly aren't the same person you used to be.

If you lost consciousness, with the vast majority of your brain presumably in fine condition... only to be brought back years later in a repaired or restored form, you would still be a working system, with your memories, personality, etc.

You would almost certainly still feel that you were you, just like stroke victims still feel that they are themselves, or those who have mechanical implants for hearing or sight rapidly start to adjust and view the device as practically a part of themselves.

Does it make a difference between biological vs. digital? The best answer that I can give you is that it makes a difference what your brain is already used to and has learned to deal with. Just because you put a functional, albeit cryo'ed, brain into a new, working system doesn't mean that the brain is used to controlling that system. As can be seen with babies, it takes a long time to learn how to optimally control something as complex as the body, even when your brain is essentially in a state of supercharged learning, with the rapid creation of new neural connections to learn how to better control yourself.

Perhaps more advanced people could tackle the immensely difficult aspect of making sure all the wiring perfectly matches up, so to speak, so as to minimize the transitions... but unless you are going into a healthy cloned version of yourself at the same age your body died at, you shouldn't expect there to be no transition / learning curve. Our body adapts and changes as we age, to the point that we cannot guarantee that our brains, as we are today, can optimally control ourselves as we used to be when we were a teenager, for example.

As for whether a perfect copy of you -- digital or otherwise -- would be you... as in your current consciousness... the answer would be no, as far as your current brain is concerned. You would not control it, feel it, etc. and if your brain died, *you* would not be, period.

But would it be "you"? Yes, as far as it and practically everyone else was concerned.
posted by markkraft at 5:42 AM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know about the science, but I love the business model! -- posted by infinitefloatingbrains

Eponyndorsement?
posted by rokusan at 6:47 AM on November 10, 2009


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