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Jun 17 2012

Cryogenics

One donor requested that I make a blog post about cryogenics!

*opens up the Wikipedia article for cryogenics*

“Cryogenics is the study of the production of very low temperature (below −150 °C, −238 °F or 123 K) and the behavior of materials at those temperatures.”

Welp, that was fun, on to the next post!

…In case you can’t tell, I know absolutely nothing about cryogenics. Well, that’s not true. I just learned that it’s the study of the production of very low temperature and the behavior of materials at those temperatures. So I know one thing about cryogenics!

Now, if this person intended for me to talk about the use of cryogenics to preserve people in order to wake them up much farther into the future…I don’t know anything about that either.

Well, I guess I know a little. I know that with our current technology we can freeze people after they’re dead, but we don’t have the power to revive them. The whole hope is that in the future we’ll have it all figured out, and at that point all the frozen dead cryonics people will be resurrected.

Would I do it? Probably not. I know a frequently think about how I wish I could see what the future is like in hundreds or thousands of years…but practically speaking, would I? What if I get revived in a terrible world that I don’t want to live in? How fulfilling would life be knowing all of my friends and family are long dead? What if something goes wrong in the cryonics process (since we basically have no idea what we’re doing right now) and I wake up disabled, or mentally retarded, or with a totally different personality, or who knows what?

Honestly, life is made all the more sweet knowing its the only one I have. I’m not sure if I want to cheat that process.

This is post 40 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Pseudoniempje

    This made me think of the xkcd about cryogenics http://xkcd.com/989/

  2. 2
    Courtenay

    Only nine more to go! but I’m off to sleep, so I’ll read them in the morning!
    Thanks for all you do, Jen.

  3. 3
    didgen

    Since I can’t even recognize some of the things in the back of my freezers, I have little faith in cryogenics. Who would wish to come back in that sort of shape?

  4. 4
    Pieter-Jan van der Veld

    Cheat? Cheating who? Nature? Since when is nature a Supreme Being.

    Sorry Jen, this sounds that something or someone has a plan for you and maybe you can somehow escape it, (a short of “take this cup away from me”) but you decided not to, even if you had the change (“your will, not mine”).

    Do not take me wrong, I understand what you try to say but the way you put it into words is unlucky.

    P.S. Just to atone for the negative note of this comment let me tell you that you are one of my Champions of Reason.

  5. 5
    Charles R

    Hi Jen,

    Would you pay a little extra each month if it meant that when you had a heart attack you greatly improve the odds you will survive? I’m pretty sure you have health insurance.

    Cryonics is like that.

  6. 6
    advancedatheist

    We cryonicists prefer to use the term cryonics instead of cryogenics.

    >Would I do it? Probably not.

    I would. In act I’ve had arrangements with the Alcor Foundation since 1990.

    >I know a frequently think about how I wish I could see what the future is like in hundreds or thousands of years…but practically speaking, would I? What if I get revived in a terrible world that I don’t want to live in? How fulfilling would life be knowing all of my friends and family are long dead?

    First of all, plenty of people who have signed up for cryonics often have spouses, wives or friends with similar arrangements. I can count off at least a dozen people like that whom I consider friends, for example. Even if you get revived and meet people from before you didn’t particularly like, for example an ex-girlfriend I could name, at least you would know them.

    Secondly, for cryonics to work the organization maintaining you would have to preserve institutional and mission continuity, so your resuscitators would already know a lot about you and they would have assumed responsibility for doing right by you.

    Third, while I don’t want to make people in Future World sound too goody-goody, we have to consider the likelihood that they would have enhanced empathy and would display an excellent intuition about what you would need to reintegrate into a future society.

    And suppose you do find Future World unappealing, but you have the ability to live a really long time in good physical and cognitive shape. How long would you really have this problem before the world or you can change or adjust sufficiently so that you find your new life enjoyable? “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” View it as a challenge and opportunity for personal growth.

    >What if something goes wrong in the cryonics process (since we basically have no idea what we’re doing right now) and I wake up disabled, or mentally retarded, or with a totally different personality, or who knows what?

    And how does that differ from the kinds of medical errors we see now?

  7. 7
    efnord

    http://www.comixology.com/Transmetropolitan-8/digital-comic/5422 is worth reading if you’re thinking about the subject…

  8. 8
    Nicol

    I heard from a science show years ago that cryogenics (or cryonics) isn’t advanced enough to preserve flesh very well – the ice crystals that form destroy cell walls and such, so freezing a body actually means that you are less likely to be revived … unless being revived means you are melted into a pile of mush.

    So I wouldn’t do it either, because I’m mushy enough.

  9. 9
    Charles R

    Both Alcor and CI use vitrification to minimize damage. These days, no one does a straight freeze.

  10. 10
    Charles R

    Link was broken:
    http://www.alcor.org/cryomyths.html#myth2

  11. 11
    Svlad Cjelli

    “Mortality is awesome”? Screw that!
    The problem is that we don’t actually have the extra-life machines in question.

  12. 12
    DJMankiwitz

    I don’t think current cryogenics does much more than incredible damage to anything it touches, at least as far as I’m aware, so I’m skipping out on that for now.

    BUT, if something like it or any sort of life extension existed? Yes, I would try to go for it.

    I see too many big name atheists acting like the suggestion of extended life somehow undermines atheism’s position on the value of life. This seems like a potential issue in the future if medicine ever reaches the right point. I don’t agree for a moment that it undermines a thing.

    I should get this out of the way. I believe that life is valuable even if it’s depressingly short. I played Final Fantasy 6. I don’t need life to be eternal to be worth something at all. Net results aren’t what matters, but individual moments. Ditching my faith in the afterlife has actually made my current life matter MORE.

    HOWEVER, that’s not because I know it’ll all end. The fact that I’ll one day die is not a major motivation for me to live life, in spite of how much it should or could be (I actually wish I was more motivated to succeed). I tend to live life on an unspoken subconscious assumption that I’ll never die, even though that’s laughably ridiculous and I’ve actually had a few near death encounters before. I tend to be content to just sit around unless I manage to rouse myself up and do something like type this with an effort of will after knowing I WANT to do such a thing for a long time but still noticing I’m not doing it (this may require some sort of medical intervention as this doesn’t seem to be the case for a lot of people I know). /runonsentence Instead, I tend towards doing the things that are compelling to me, like reading about science or working on computers or playing my vidya games. I don’t see how being immortal would make me any less likely to do those things than I already am. People tend to avoid boredom in general and prefer to act rather than not act, and immortality shouldn’t change that basic psychology any more than technology to prevent all STDs and make pregnancy a consciously controlled biological activity would suddenly make everyone want to do nothing but have sex. (Incidentally, that technology exists in the form of a condom and “the pill” (the former being entirely without side effects), but let’s not get caught up on that.) All in all arguments that eternal life, even for some, somehow “invalidates” the lives of the mortal seems downright silly in a similar way to complaining that gay marriage would somehow invalidate straight marriage. I believe that moments are more important than net results, but at the same time would prefer to have as many moments as possible.

    To that end, I’ll admit that I would prefer not to die right now. This is why murder is wrong. It’s not JUST the pain caused to loved ones (and certainly not because the murdered person after death would have a problem with it, being dead and all). If that was the sole reason, it would be acceptable to kill someone who’s completely alone in the world such as a homeless person on the street. At rock bottom, the problem is snuffing out someone’s future. An individual has dreams and aspirations, and so much potential for future experiences, both good and bad, and killing them destroys all chance of those forever. I don’t think I’d be the person lying on the forest floor after a heart attack content that death is just part of the cycle while watching some dead bug being recycled by other bugs back into the ecosystem. I’d be thinking about all the things I’m leaving behind and would probably fight to the bitter end, and that’s the way I WANT to go, with a passion for living. Most atheists at least admit they don’t want to die TOMORROW, and that’s enough reason for me to think that until they WOULD be happy with that, life extension doesn’t seem wrong.

    So there are many other arguments. A common one is that eternal life would eventually get insufferably boring. Here I won’t argue whether this is the case (it seems like it very well should be though), but rather that this should not matter. I’m not suggesting some sort of twisted magical version of immortality where you can NEVER die, just a technological solution. There’s no reason that there wouldn’t be an “opt out” button when someone’s had enough living for a lifetime. The solution isn’t to say “no one should ever have this option because I personally would consider living forever horrifying” but rather “suicide for those who find life intolerable should be an acceptable and even honored decision to be made in the light of day, not shuttered away in shame”. Incidentally, this is also my position in the real world of limited life spans (with a number of caveats and careful treatment that I won’t go into here).

    There’s a unique complaint that says death cleans out old ideas very well, and that immortality would lead to old harmful ideas being around as long as the old codgers hung in there. On the surface, I think there’s some truth to this. Heck, I’ve occasionally said to some of the more overt racists simply that soon their ideas will die out completely. However, now I see that such a way of thinking is little different than a death threat given by someone too cowardly to admit it to themselves. It’s fine to say that it “cleans out old ideas” when it’s just a fact of life that people will eventually die. No one’s to blame. However, in this hypothetical world where people can be immortal, it’s no longer just an idle fact. Now it’s a conscious decision to kill people (even if just by withholding medical aid) just because you want their ideas to die. That is not an acceptable reason to prevent development of life extension.

    A rather childish one claims that the desire to live forever is “just selfish”. Well color me selfish then. Never mind that I would never attempt to extend my life at the expense of shaving years off someone else’s life or even at the expense of the happiness of someone else. (I’m certainly against harvesting clone organs for example, at least if a brain necessarily needs to develop to make those clones.) I’d rather die than allow numerous relatives to come to harm and have done some rather stupid things to that end mainly because I wasn’t thinking at the time. But I guess I’m selfish because in good times, all things being equal, I’d like to live much longer than I’m slated for.

    Another common complaint is the absolute best one in my opinion. This is the argument regarding overpopulation. Imagine a future where immortal people never die, having children who themselves never die. No planet could sustain that even at the “ideal” ratio of 2 children per couple. Even 1 child per couple would still “tend towards overcrowding” over time. This would kill off all the immortals due to simple resources being deprived so such a world would be a nightmare. This seems like an inevitable consequence of immortality. This is where I suggest a rather massive restriction, a legal requirement enforced by some sort of surgical alteration, for anyone wishing to become immortal. It should be obvious at this point what I mean. If someone wants life extension, they need to give up their ability to have children. Different times such as colonizing a new land (or world) can call for scaling this restriction back, but in a situation similar to current overpopulation it would need to be an absolute mandate. I admit that this would be very hard for some people to swallow, but harsh reality would dictate this solution. All the same, for those willing to make that sacrifice I say outlawing life extension would be overly cruel. Some don’t want children to begin with, and they’ll be making no real sacrifice at all. Options like “being made mortal” in exchange for the ability to have children COULD exist, but wow would there be challenges there. Would someone who had children never be allowed to go back to immortality, sentenced to death so to speak? That sounds horrific too, but the alternative would allow people to just have children perhaps too regularly. It would certainly require a LOT of cultural thinking and consideration, but I don’t think it should be blocked outright because it’s just too complicated. The value of lives is big enough that I think the presence of such technology would obligate us to work out the details instead of banning it.

    Lastly, I thought I’d bring up one more thing for all the psychological issues with life extension (such as the aforementioned boredom). Since we’re already hypothesizing some sort of super science to extend life, why not also hypothesize psychological treatments and certain brain alterations to render people capable of dealing with those very issues? That’s not beyond the realm of possibility, at least not more so than life extension itself, so it seems that such concerns shouldn’t be a problem.

    At any rate, in general extending my life isn’t on the forefront of my mind. I don’t think the technology of doing it by any means shows any promise at all of being possible by the time I expect to die. Much like the existence of the afterlife, I assume that I won’t have immortality and live my life under that assumption. (Unlike an afterlife, life extension seems a lot more plausible at least.) THAT SAID, writing it off as somehow “cheating” the way nature should work or as “cheapening” life or being “selfish” seems, frankly, irrational and defensive.

  13. 13
    DJMankiwitz

    I forgot one other complaint. Some suggest Game Theory would obligate one to live an immortal life in an unsatisfying way. The premise is that as the length of one’s life gets longer and longer, risks that for a person of only 80 years or so would be minimal get magnified over time to eventually become inevitabilities. The math is solid on this argument. Driving to work every day, done even in a safe manner, is a minimal risk measured over today’s life time, but measured over millenium it becomes inevitable that an accident will occur ending that life.

    To this I say that it’s true but doesn’t really change anything. I value QUALITY of life over quantity. As a result, if the only choice to get to places I wish to go is one that will inevitably lead to a crash at some point down the line, that’s acceptable. I may try to minimize the risk, but never to the extent that basic quality of life suffers terribly for it. After all, if over a period of 5000 years the chances of one of my plain train or automobile rides ending tragically rises to near certainty, that’s still centuries more high quality years than I would have had otherwise.

    A close cousin to this argument is that that risk CAN’T EVER be worth taking because instead of merely losing a few decade’s worth of life, I’m now loosing potentially infinite years of it, so any risk “becomes unacceptable”. I don’t accept this reasoning for two reasons. Firstly, as I said I don’t accept that a few decades of life is somehow worthless in the face of eternity. Again, it’s the moments that matter, not the net result, extended life is just about more potential for those moments. Any amount of life is worthwhile. Secondly, as I noted above, if living those near infinite years means reducing my quality of life to nearly nothing as I can’t take any chances to explore all that potential I’m GETTING that extended life for, then no, I’m not wasting much of anything by taking those risks. I’d simply rather life a shorter life of quality than a longer life of pointless existing. That said, a much longer life should still be ALLOWED if someone wishes to get it.

    All in all, this suggests a future where someone feels they have a right to tell another how to live their life or that the length of life someone picks is “stupid” after some arbitrary number of years.

    Oh, I should make this other point. Any fears of old ideas sticking around go in reverse. At some point, ideas like civil liberties might only exist in the minds of the old, and someone’s got to be their keeper. In the reverse, any fears of waking up in a “nightmare future” seems equally silly. It’s true that we can’t say how the world will end up. A new dark age could very well happen at any point, but a new enlightenment could also happen. Fears of “waking up” in that future apply equally well for someone at 10 years wondering if it’s worth it to continue living for the next 70. The chance of making the world better or at least witnessing a better future seems a superior attitude to have than giving up in the face of uncertainty and just concluding there’s no point in living onward because the world might just get a lot worse.

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