Why Has Cryonics So Far Failed to Become a Large and Growing Industry?

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.

Part I
Part II
Part III

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.


While I personally see myself using cryonics, I don't believe it will take off until someone is successfully frozen and reanimated. That will be a tipping point.

Posted by: libfree at December 20th, 2010 8:15 PM

@ libfree:

That kind of misses the point of cryonics. People should go into suspension as needed now, precisely because _we don't know_ if the trauma medicine at some point in the future can revive them. People who "die" according to current criteria deserve a second opinion from a more advanced state of the medical art through medical time travel.

Posted by: Mark Plus at December 20th, 2010 8:49 PM

Because probable revival depends upon understanding MNT and no one bothers to understand MNT anymore?

Posted by: Michael Anissimov at December 21st, 2010 1:27 AM

It is amazing to me when I bring up the idea of Cryonics the negative response I get. My parents are getting old (my father will be 70 next year), so I've started broaching the subject with them. Even though my father is a scientist by training he refuses to even consider the idea of looking into Cryonics! It should be a pretty simple decision - you have 100% chance of never existing again if you die and are buried/cremated. You have an unknown percentage chance if you chose to spend circa $100k (which you can't bring with you to the afterlife, I'm told:) ) on Cryonics. Hm.. seems like spending something of no future value (money) on something with near infinite value (the potential of existing again if you can be revived) would be a no-brainer. Well it hasn't been my personal experience with my friends and family and clearly it isn't with the general public, considering how little interest there is in the field of Cryonics. Aubrey deGrey is right when he says the vast majority of people are in a "pro-aging" trance (I would add "pro-death" trance as well.

Posted by: Dan C at December 21st, 2010 6:22 AM

@Mark Plus

I understand your point completely and I'm a person that seriously looks at cryonics even though I'm still young and healthy. But I think most people are terrified by the unknown and rather than think logically about it, they bury their heads in the sand. If a person is successfully suspended and reanimated, you will see major interest. Until that point you might as well argue with a wall for all the good it will do you.

Posted by: libfree at December 21st, 2010 8:18 AM

The problem with molecular nanotechnology is that it would need to violate physics and chemistry. (Michael Anissimov has previously advocated DRM to control nanotechnology, thus also violating mathematics.) I realise it's not very forward-thinking of me to point this out, but it may actually be a relevant point.

Posted by: David Gerard at December 21st, 2010 11:20 PM
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