Why Vitrify the Body?

If you are one of the hundreds of millions unfortunate enough to face death by aging prior to the advent of medical technologies capable of rejuvation - of reversing aging by repairing age-related cellular damage - there is still one option remaining to give you a chance at renewed life in the future. This option is cryopreservation: paying a service provider such as Alcor to vitrify your body immediately following clinical death for indefinite low-temperature storage.

Cryonics is the only option for life extension open to many older and seriously ill people: those who cannot wait for the promised therapies of the next few decades. It is the science of placing humans and animals into a low-temperature, biologically unchanging state immediately after clinical death, with the expectation that advances in medical technology may eventually enable full restoration to life and health. A small industry of cryonics providers exists to freeze or vitrify your body on death, in the hopes that future scientists (most likely using nanotechnology and nanomedicine) will be able to revive and repair you.

The practice of cryonics is an ongoing medical experiment with an unknown chance of success. Responsible cryonicists understand that cryonic suspension is an educated gamble. The chances are certainly better than zero, however, and as one wag noted, "the control group in this experiment isn't doing so well." By this, he was referring to the vast number of people who are cremated, buried or otherwise interred. The chances of any plausible future science restoring them is zero. Cryonic suspension is, after all, only the second worst thing that can happen to you.

You are your brain. More precisely, you are a particular arrangement of molecules and fine structures in your brain - structures that are undamaged at small scales by appropriately managed vitrification or freezing. Hurdles remain, however, both in terms of preventing comparatively large-scale fractures, and suitable preparations to reduce cell damage after clinical death but prior to processing for cryopreservation in all cases (including accident). The hurdle of restoring a cryopreserved, fracture-bearing individual to health and life is left to the scientists of the future: it's a challenge, but certainly not one made impossible by the laws of physics. Indeed, we can envisage the classes and capabilities of technology needed quite clearly today, if not the details.

In principle we need only repair the frozen brain, for the brain is the most critical and important structure in the body. Faithfully repairing the liver (or any other secondary tissue) molecule by molecule (or perhaps atom by atom) appears to offer no benefit over simpler techniques -- such as replacement. The calculations and discussions that follow are therefore based on the size and composition of the brain. It should be clear that if repair of the brain is feasible, then the methods employed could (if we wished) be extended in the obvious way to the rest of the body.

The brain, like all the familiar matter in the world around us, is made of atoms. It is the spatial arrangement of these atoms that distinguishes an arm from a leg, the head from the heart, and sickness from health. This view of the brain is the framework for our problem, and it is within this framework that we must work. Our problem, broadly stated, is that the atoms in a frozen brain are in the wrong places. We must put them back where they belong (with perhaps some minor additions and removals, as well as just rearrangements) if we expect to restore the natural functions of this most wonderful organ.

Here's a question: if this level of advanced nanotechnology is required to repair your brain, isn't it fair to assume that building a new body to house your brain is a given at that level of progress? After all, we're not all that far away from being able to cultivate entire replacement organs from stem cells today. If you must undergo cryopreservation, because you were born too soon for the future of rejuvenation medicine, why bring your body along?

The cost of cryopreservation for your head alone is half that of the whole body. Think for a moment: if the objective is to survive to see a future capable of reviving you some number of decades from now, what is more likely to help? Resources - your money - given to preserving your body below the neck, or those same resources dedicated to supporting, growing and otherwise firming up the organization, science and technology base that will be maintaining your storage all those years?

It seems the rational choice to me to preserve your head - your brain - and give the difference to cryonics research and organizational support. Better to make the future revivers expend a little more effort than to fail to do your part to help your cryonics provider (a) carry through to that era and (b) expand their capacity to offer service to more people.

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