Cryonics is the idea that you can preserve people shortly before, at, or shortly after death, and then wake them up with as yet unknown future technology.
I always thought that cryonics was a kind of whack job money-making scheme, like homeopathy, astrology, mediums etc. Certainly a lot of money can be gained from vulnerable (dying, grieving) people who will grasp onto any hope, however slim. The thing with cryonics is that it doesn’t rely on magic, like the other things I’ve mentioned. It relies on future technology. Which, to the level that we understand it, is indistinguishable from magic, but the difference is it can exist.
The last time I checked up on this, we could freeze bodies, but ice crystals formed, making the revival impossible. Then, we started putting antifreeze in, which stopped the ice crystals forming, but was poisonous so the revived body would immediately deteriorate. At that point, I kinda stopped listening to the arguments, because it seemed pretty stupid. Now, a quite comprehensive paper has been brought to my attention, which *also* says that we can’t do full-body preservation but that there is a size limit such that organs might be individually preserved. The example for this is that a rabbit kidney was cryonically preserved, then brought back to a working state, re-installed in the rabbit, and it lived for 48 days on that one kidney before being euthanised for histological analysis. This is news to me. So, small organs can sometimes be preserved (I’m not sure how many rabbits *didn’t* make it, nor how long the vitrified kidney was stored that way).
My other major problem was knowing brain death means that the mind dies too. If the mind is gone, I see absolutely no point in preserving body parts except of course for transplant into a (different) living person at a later date. Now, true brain-death *does* mean the mind dies, but the cryonics claim is that you can get to the patient quickly after brain-death (I would suggest before brain death would make more sense but legal issues about assisted suicide currently prevent this) and the brain structures can be preserved. It has been known for brains to cease function (or appear to) in hypothermia and then “restart” - meaning the mind perhaps doesn’t need to be continually running for a survivable state.
It seems to me a very large leap from the current ability to preserve rabbit kidneys and the fact that a brain might survive for a little while without the “software” (terrible analogy, sorry) running, to “we can preserve whole human bodies *now* for the later revival by future humans with better technology”. There are so many assumptions:
- There are going to be future humans
- They will have improved on our technology to the point where this is possible
- The way we have preserved people, *in our time* will be good enough for them to revive us, in an appreciably better way than e.g. mummification.
- The *known problems* with what we do to preserve people now will not be problems in the future
And that’s just problems with the technology. I am quite happy to state that should the human race survive long enough to do so, we will develop some sort of “save my mind” technology. What I don’t agree with is that we can do a damn thing about it *yet*. I would probably not agree to be cryonically preserved unless I have seen evidence of someone being revived from cryonic preservation. If this means I miss the window, so be it. I will *certainly* not be paying for it!
Slightly woolier (moral) issues:
- Population control - we don’t have room for the living, never mind the “life-challenged”
- The massive assumption that the future people would bother to revive people from the distant past just because they wanted that to happen when they were last conscious.
- That humans will still be sufficiently “human” as we know it, to communicate with
- The idea that you might still have a place in society, even if the future people were happy to bring you back
- It’s very easy to abuse people’s trust and/or money in order to promise them an afterlife that can’t yet happen, and I think this is appalling.
- It’s another way of creating a rich/poor divide.
- Potential loss of organ donors
There’s one argument I hear rattle around my head when I think about this, and it’s this: “Any chance, however slim, to save a human life is morally justified”. No, it’s not. It’s a reality that resources are finite. Any resources going into preserving yourself after death could have been invested in giving thousands of other people better lives. There’s a sense of “If you’ve got the cash to do it, why not?” - Spend your money to plant that shade tree under which you’ll never sit, you selfish idiot.
http://www.brainpreservation.org/ are one group researching the answers, and who knows - it could be a short amount of time before we can do it. What I am certain of is that as yet we don’t even know if it works, and that’s not good enough for me to participate. I await any results with interest. I am fully in favour of research into the technologies in the area, I am of course not against research with no immediate return — look at what I study — but the extortion of money for the service is morally bankrupt and the technology has a way to go before it looks reliable (a vast understatement). As the Society for Cryobiology puts it:
The act of freezing a dead body and storing it indefinitely on the chance that some future generation may restore it to life is an act of faith, not science.
RationalWiki - which I read *after* writing this to avoid totally coming from the “it’s bollocks” side from the start, has more.