Cryonics, as you no doubt know by now, is the low-temperature storage of the recently deceased. The fine structure of the brain can be very well preserved - well enough that all the data that forms your self remains intact. Future medical technologies, such as applications of molecular nanotechnology, will eventually prove capable of repairing cryopreserved individuals and restoring them to life. A number of people have been cryopreserved and stored over the past few decades, and a modest community of cryobiology researchers, workers, advocates, and funding sources continues this work:
Death is not a topic that people like to think about, and that is just as true of healthy life extension advocates as anyone else. We have to recognise, however, that the future of healthy life extension (regenerative medicine, stem cell therapies, understanding the biochemical processes of aging, and nanomedicine, to name a few fields) will not arrive soon enough to benefit everyone. Many people are too old, or suffer from other conditions that will kill them before cures can be developed. This is an unpleasant reality that we must face.
Do we just write these people off and forge ahead regardless? Of course not. Instead, we turn to the science and business of cryonics, a serious effort to solve this problem that has been underway since the early 1970s.
My attention was recently directed to a series of presentations by Mike Darwin, which are in part an analysis of the failure of the cryonics community of past decades to blossom into a large industry, and in part a personal recollection of that history. If you want to understand more about the history of the cryonics movement, and how it came to be where it is today, you should certainly read this:
These are the URLs for the completed portions of the lectures entitled: Cryonics: An Historical Failure Analysis. Four parts are completed, two have been fully edited and proofed. The second series of lectures on how to redress the problems discussed in the first lectures will be a limited distribution.
Please note that Part III is still in draft form and I am currently in discussion with the editor about a number of issues. It is possible, and even likely, that there will be significant modifications in the near future.
Before I begin the formal, structured part of this presentation, a few words are in order to put it into context. We live in an age where passion and strong emotion have been largely removed from daily discourse and are now considered acceptable only in the realm of fiction; in movies and video games. Characters there are free to speak in extremes and to speak passionately; not so those of us who inhabit the real world. I will be breaking that taboo today because what I am going to talk about is a life or death issue for you, for me, and for the 7 billion or so other human beings on this planet. My life matters to me a great deal, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
The failure of cryonics to join the ranks of other medical technologies in generating a growth market and worldwide provision of services is a communal failure for all of humanity. Over the decades since cryonics was first seriously proposed and low temperature storage of human tissue became technically viable, perhaps two billion people have died, every one of them an individual of worth, perspective, and unique experience. Every death is a tragedy, and yet deaths occur by the tens of thousands every day, an endless river of horror, pain, and suffering - and in the end, the destruction of oblivion.
This state of nature did not need to continue; cryonics could have spread and succeeded, or plastination in its stead, and many of those lost lives could have been saved. Their bodies and brains, the fine structure and data of memories left intact, would even now be stored, awaiting future technology that could return them to life once more.
Those lost lives are upon our hands and the hands of our parents and grandparents. Saving them was the path not taken.