Many Are Cold But Few Are Frozen

I'm a humble, lovable (like Underdog), underpaid Research Assistant in a cell biology lab. One of my routine job duties is to freeze vials containing tens of millions of human cells and send them into the future. I also unfreeze cells from decades past, revive and grow them. I have personally revived cells from 1987; but the record must be somewhere in the early 1960s, when our crude freeze protocol was developed. Cells frozen in 10% DMSO/90% calf serum should be revivable for centuries. Other labs freeze embryos and larger structures with better protocols.

So it baffles me that I still run into 'educated' people who tell me earnestly that 'it's impossible to freeze living things; the ice crystals destroy the cell membranes.' (Another common myth is 'the cells die when reheated.') Even outside the lab, several species of frogs, salamanders, and turtles freeze 60% of the water inside their cells every winter. In other words, they're frogsicles and turtlecubes. While this is not true -150' C cryonics, these animals don't have heart-lung machines or radio-frequency heaters to help them revive. At some point, half their cells are frozen and half aren't, which sounds stressful . . . but they survive and revive every spring.

Cryonics is easy for cells, routine for embryos, and probably doable for whole human organs and bodies with the right perfusants, heart-lung machines, and reheating physics (long-wave RF heaters? Fluctuating magnetic fields?). Unfortunately no one has had the guts to find out. (Apparently real billionaires are more timid than 'Montgomery Burns.')

Cryonics is an orphan idea. In spite of media attention from Ettinger's book Man Into Superman in the 1960s to Fox's Futurama, no one has ever invested serious money in cryonics. Even a slight improvement in cryonic protocols would allow for freezing kidneys, livers, etc., greatly reducing the shortage of transplant organs. None of the drug companies has seen a clear route to FDA approval for anything so innovative and controversial, though. They prefer instead to invest their billions in rearranging the methyl groups on old drugs to make 'new' patentable tranquilizers for housewives, Ritalin substitutes, etc.

Present cryonics organizations Alcor and Cryonics Institute are made up of very smart, well-intentioned, but underfunded hobbyists, just like the early personal-computer clubs. They use variations of our time-tested cell biology freezing protocols to attempt to save the minds of those whose hearts or other important organs recently stopped working. Future science may be able to repair and revive those frozen today, or it may not; we don't know enough about how the brain stores memory to know for sure. Personally, I think most of the Alcorpsicles will be revived, but with more difficulty than those frozen later with better technology.

Of course if you have cancer now, you don't have the option of waiting for better technology. Those who are frozen today will certainly be no worse off medically than those who rot, and at the very least their DNA can be cloned and used to make quaint pets for the cyborg children of the future. (Hey, c'mon guys, think of the children.) And it only costs $80,000 for a neurosuspension, fundable with term insurance. What does $80K of term cost a 30-year-old? $50 a year? It's trivial, worth it for the novelty value alone.

Cryonics and Freedom

So, what does this all mean for freedom? A lot. Cryonics (and the rest of biotechnology) can be used to make individuals live longer than political parties, governments, and empires. People who have outlived three governments won't take the fourth so seriously.

The Unfrozen could also contribute some political perspective even to the young of future generations. Wouldn't it be great to have Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allan et. al. here to see our current government? Ben Franklin said that he would have had himself preserved to see the future of the Republic; unfortunately the wine-cask technology that he suggested was not up to the task. If it had been, think what an asset Ethan Allan would be to the Free State Project!

In the shorter term, Cryonics can solve several government-created problems. As mentioned, the transplant-organ shortage (caused largely by government restrictions on paying donors) would be drastically reduced if organs could be stored for decades.

The political fight over 'assisted suicide' would be eased if freezing yourself to escape terminal illness were an option. People with cryonics contracts also form a lobby against government control of the human body. Cryonicists want to be able to freeze themselves when they get a brain tumor, not wait until it has destroyed their mind.

Cryonics also solves many problems for those wishing to travel . . . REALLY travel. One way to tell that NASA has no serious plans for space exploration (or even to rebuild its 1960s nuclear engines) is that it has no research institute working on cryonics for astronauts.

Believers in index investing can freeze themselves at age 30 and wait for their IRAs to compound. Better read this first, though; and remember that the investors in Latvian stocks in 1940 are not billionaires now.

The final argument for Cryonics is: Some people want to do it. That should be good enough for those who really believe in freedom.

Have problems with living too long? Drop dead. I don't mean to sound flippant, but the nature of entropy being what it is, staying alive is always harder than disintegrating. We already have enough military and fast-food technology on this planet to cover the needs of all the suicidal folk of the Galaxy for the next millennium. There will never be any problem of excess lifespan in this universe, unless the laws of physics change.

As for those who think there is some sort of theological problem with cryonics: Your gods are way too small, if a matter of a century or two of human life more or less frightens them. The early Christians actually preserved their dead bodies very carefully in the Catacombs against what they believed to be imminent Resurrection; they would have used cryonics in the Catacombs if they could.

So: get some perspective, an Alcor or CI contract, and work hard to make a freer world until the big chill comes. If things aren't better in 2105, you can complain to me then. Remember: many are cold, but few are frozen. Frozen is cooler.

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Bill Walker's picture
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Bill Walker lives in Plainfield NH.