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« Favorable Cryonics Coverage | Main | More Commemoration »

More Cryonics

TechCentralStation has two more sympathetic pieces from (unsurprisingly) folks at Cato and Reason (Ron Bailey).

And Kevin McGehee has some thoughts on the implications for souls. To the degree that I believe in souls (not very much), I agree with him. If souls exist, God determines when they leave the body--not doctors or lawyers, and if a body is frozen with the prospect of being reanimated later, I suspect that God's smart enough to know that, and leave it in place until the situation changes in some way. If not, He doesn't really live up to His reputation for being omniscient.

I received another comment questioning our right to "impose ourselves on the future." The quick response is that you impose yourself on the future with every day that you decide to continue to live, instead of tossing yourself off a bridge. The distinction between cryonics, and other means of preserving and extending life, including simply continuing to breathe, is an artificial and arbitrary one.

Along those lines, unlike Jay Manifold, Kevin Holtsberry (who's having a problem with Trackback) sees a fundamental conflict between cryonics and Christianity.

If cryongenics [sic] was just a way to help people live longer more productive lives, fine. But it is not, it is perserving your body in hopes that someday they can bring you back to life.

In what way does this differ from keeping someone in a coma on life support? Does Mr. Holtsberry propose that we pull the plug on them?

This is quite clearly an unwillingness to accept death. The reference to Lazarus gets us nowhere because that was Christ - God incarnate - using a miracle to teach those around him. Using this to imply that we should go around trying to raise people from the dead is a stretch and one that assumes we should play God. At least Jesus raised Lazarus within a relatively short period of time. Cyrogenics [sic] is not going to raise someone any time soon.

We have a problem of terminology here. Cryonicists don't propose to "raise people from the dead." Simply put, they don't accept that they are dead--just that they are badly broken, and beyond the help of current medical technology to restore them to full function.

Many people who die are allowed to do so, by not taking heroic measures at the end. In the process of cryopreservation, a well-performed procedure in fact involves restarting the heart, so that the necessary preserving fluids can be circulated properly throughout the body. So in what sense is someone in this state "dead"?

Once you get past the notion that death is an objectively-verifiable state (it's not) then the whole notion of "raising the dead" disappears, and it's simply another medical procedure designed to, at least ultimately, cure the patient of what ails him. The fact that the functional deterioration, and even absence, is great is mitigated by the fact that future medical technology may be even greater.

At base, cyrongenics [sic] is not life affirming but rather worships life on earth as the end all be all. Those who have faith in a better life beyond this earthly one will not choose to escape thier finite nature and cheat death via technology. Christ death and resurection has already cheated death. Those that accept that gift need not freeze themselves in hope of an earthly solution.

Well, as I said above, if we accept that the unearthly solution is to be preferred, why wait? Why not just end it all now?

How is a cryonic suspension different than prescribing an anti-biotic, or performing a heart transplant, or putting someone with severe brain damage on life support? Which medical technologies does Kevin consider "cheating death," and which ones will he therefore abjure if the circumstances arise? Will he avoid taking anti-malarial pills before a trip to the tropics, so he doesn't appear to be thwarting God's possible will that he die a feverish death? If he's injured in a car accident, and is conscious, will he beg the doctor, amid the hemmorhaging, not to stitch him up, because it reeks of hubris, and he's content, even eager to reach the hereafter?

If God objects to any of these things, including cryonic suspension, I presume that he will make his objections known in some divine manner. So far though, medical science continues to advance.

I should point out (and should have pointed out earlier) that almost all of these philosophical issues have been treated extensively in a book by Dr. Mike Perry, titled Forever For All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality. He is associated with Alcor. His book assumes the materialist premise, but I suspect he treats souls at least on a theoretical basis, as Kevin did at the post referenced above (since there's really no other way to treat them).

[Update, a few minutes later]

I see there's also a post over at Samizdata (which has finally gotten off of blogspot) on the subject.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 15, 2002 02:11 PM
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Someone should tell anti-cyronicists to "chill out".

Posted by James at July 15, 2002 07:02 PM

My favorite part of the TechCentralStation piece:

Would you rather be in the experimental group or the control group? :)

Posted by Ken Barnes at July 15, 2002 08:27 PM

Yes, he got that quote from Ralph Merkle, I've no doubt. Ralph also has a game-theory briefing chart that he loves to show.

It's a two-by two matrix. Columns are: you are cryonically suspended, or you're not. Rows are: it works or it doesn't. If you don't believe in any sort of (desirable) afterlife, three out of the four cells in the matrix have grim consequences.

It's kind of like the lottery--if you don't play, you can't win.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 15, 2002 08:37 PM

My position re god and souls and cryonics is this: if god (if there is one) is okay with cryonics, then he will leave souls in the frozen bodies. If he is not, he will not, and we will find that out sooner or later. Of course, you understand that this position of mine is solely based on what I think a (possible) Creator God to be like based on the definition of omnipotence, and based also on that god actually _being_ omnipotent. It is not based on one smidgen of fact or scientific reasoning. In other words, it is wishful thinking. ;)

Posted by Andrea Harris at July 15, 2002 09:34 PM

Anyone who has not already, grab a copy of "World Out of Time" by Larry Niven and read it. Some interesting ideas about what future generations might think of corpsicles. And a good read anyway.

Andrea, I suppose you've read Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice," in which the afterlife is a bureaucracy, and the God/Satan thing is just a corporate dispute? If some celestial bureaucracy is in charge of my soul, I'll take my chances and just not die, thanks very much.

Posted by Stephen Skubinna at July 16, 2002 02:23 PM

Actually, if you're referring to Niven's theory that people will use cryosuspendees as organ banks, that makes no sense at all.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 16, 2002 03:38 PM

Rand, as I remember "World Out Of Time" (been more than a few years), residents of the future resent the corpsicles deferring their medical problems to them. So when they think they might need one of them, they pop his memory into a new body (because they can't thaw the old one without damage) and give him the chance to work for them. They make it plain that they consider themselves under no obligation to the suspendees.

The guy refuses, they wipe the memory and find another, uh, "frozen asset." In any event, the person doesn't even get the full range of civil rights until he discharges the obligation.

What I found interesting was that those in the future had an entirely different concept of their responsibilites towards their "charges" than those accepting cryonic storage expected.

Posted by Stephen Skubinna at July 17, 2002 08:31 PM

The current cryonics organizations attempt to ensure that enough money is set aside to at least maintain the body in stasis. The costs of resurrection are not accounted for, being unknown, but the assumption is that at some point in the future, it will become affordable, even with the money in the bank from the original suspension contract. If that never becomes the case, of course, all bets are off.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 17, 2002 09:30 PM

There was a Star Trek:TNG episode involving three cryonically suspended people thawed and cured (isn't it great to have all these real world examples to argue from?). The problem was, the economy had evolved to some point where the billionaire's investments were worthless and he had no assets. Another person was a housewife who hadn't known she would be frozen, so it was a huge shock to pass out in the kitchen and come to aboard a starship four centuries later.

Another piece of sloppiness by Roddenberry - I would have liked to know what happened, and what the 25th century economy looked like. How do you build starships? A bunch of guys on a spare weekend just get together and slap one together as an alternative to beer and softball? If there's no money, why work? What do you do with all the spare time you have? Anyway, it was an amusing concept - these folks were brought back because Data and Dr. Crusher were simply cusious. Apparently the cryonics organization no longer even existed.

It was really just another excuse for Roddenberry to have another "Gee, can you believe how stupid we all were in the late 20th century?" episode.

Posted by Stephen Skubinna at July 17, 2002 10:48 PM

Yes, that was the episode in which Picard could look down his nose at the primitive twentieth-century capitalist, and glory in his age's enlightened socialism. The writers never seemed to need to explain all the economic contradictions, any more than they felt any need to keep the show consistent with physics. Roddenberry was pretty soft in the head, in many ways.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 18, 2002 12:30 PM



Posted by WILLIAM GUNN at July 19, 2002 12:42 PM

If the physics ain't real, why should the economics be?

Posted by Anton Sherwood at July 19, 2002 06:58 PM

Good analysis on the subject of the afterlife--the idea that God just won't know what to do with someone who's been frozen seems pretty silly.

See, for example, . "The rare survivor of prolonged submersion typically has been in freezing- temperature water (

But there's a problem with the "two-by-two matrix" approach. It's a variation on Pascal's wager, which had a similar problem. In the "it doesn't work" row, it's necessary to consider the total cost to society, which is fairly high. (I'm extremely suspicious of utilitarian 'cost-to-society' arguments, but in this scenario the suspendee is dead and any concerns about his rights become irrelevant.) The would-be suspendee might have to choose between

(a) being frozen, with the remote possibility of being revived at some point, and

(b) putting the money in (say) a college fund for his grandchildren and donating his body to medical research or transplantation.

That's a much tougher choice than "something vs. nothing". It is, of course, his own choice to make. But there are many worthwhile uses for $120,000 and an intact human body.

Posted by Mark at July 19, 2002 07:34 PM

It has to be judged on the basis of how "remote" one views the possibility, and the relative value of one's own future existence against his grandchildren's having a college education (and that's assuming that he didn't already put away money for that as well...)

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 19, 2002 08:46 PM

I should add that in the view of a cryonicist, the suspendee is most certainly *not* dead, and her rights do, in fact, matter. She made a choice as to how to have her body cared for umtil it can be repaired and functional again, and put aside the resources to do so, and "society" has no right to take away her chance at life.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 20, 2002 08:49 AM

Mark said:

"(b) putting the money in (say) a college fund for his grandchildren and donating his body to
medical research or transplantation.

That's a much tougher choice than "something vs. nothing". It is, of course, his own choice to
make. But there are many worthwhile uses for $120,000 and an intact human body."

This is false on many levels. Firstly most cryonicists would gladly have their heads only suspended and donate the rest of their body for organ donation or what-have-you if the public would pull their collective heads from their arses and take some time to really learn the true science that drives us in cryonics. That admittedly takes some time and effort because it is so diverse and so much information. To understand the science, th economics and the most likely outcome for future political structures one could begin at these few sites and read profusely. (pay particular attention here)

Secondly, the first point above regarding the uses for an intact body will soon be made moot with stem cell therapies, therapeutic cloning, tissue engineering and gene manipulation (to for instance turn on again the dormant genes we have in common with amphibians that allow regrowth of lost limbs). Why have an inferior donated organ from someone not your genetic double and have to take immune system suppression drugs? Besides having only a legal definition of what constitutes death, cryonicists feel the "patient" is not yet truly and fully dead. Again development of the above therapies may depend on society dramatically wising up.

Thirdly, Mark's premise that a few thousand dollars spent on suspending someone is better spent on the living is also, forgive me, shortsighted. What is the value of that suspendee's knowledge remaining in the world? Beyond measure I would say. Would not in-person instruction on life and how to live it better come from a parent or grandparent than a simple lifeless gift of some easy cash? Cryonics is most often paid for with life insurance (contact info email cryonics funding life insurance specialist). Since when is there a law saying life insurance proceeds must go to often undeserving relations? In fact studies show that money left to the children of the wealthy more often ruins their lives, leaving them hapless and lazy--ask Warren Buffet and Bill Gates what they intend to do with their billions. This is not to say that all cryonicists are wealthy, mostly not so including especially me (see my website and this internet radio interview

As to leaving money for college it's my opinion that working one's way through college makes one appreciate it more and maybe even party a little less and take studies more seriously. Human nature proves an easy path leads to boredom, apathy and non appreciation.


Posted by James Swayze at July 20, 2002 03:07 PM

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