People Before Buildings

The Timeship is, frankly, an odd project. It is situated somewhere at the edge of the cryonics community, and has been floating in that nebulous space that lies between conception and work underway for nearly a decade. If I had to put money on it I'd wager it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. That said, I noticed an unlikely flicker of life in the form of a short article and a craigslist job posting for a someone with architectural skills from earlier this month:

All work will be done at the Timeship project site near San Antonio, Texas. Housing will be provided initially on site in a studio environment. Candidates will be working directly with New York architect Stephen Valentine, Prof. John Lobell, or Prof. Brent Porter (both from Pratt Institute). ... Candidates must have an exceptional sense of art of design, architecture & science. Technical skills include: highly detailed physical model making (museum quality for use in possible television documentary and museum-gallery exhibit), 3D computer modeling and AutoCAD. ... Research and investigations for the requirements of the 650-acre site for future development for Timeship at the Stasis Foundation Biotechnological Research Park.

The Stasis Foundation Biotechnology Research Park (Stasis Research Park) will be a world-class biotech facility located in Comfort, (near San Antonio), Texas. There are two parts to the primary mission to the Stasis Research Park: biotech research and the cryostorage of biological materials. The design and development of cooling systems and devices for the cryopreservation and cryostorage of human organs for transplantation purposes , materials to support fertility; tissue for regenerative medicine; DNA, including the DNA of near extinct species; whole mammalian organisms including humans after legal death for whom all medical procedures have failed.

I've talked in the past of measuring progress in a field by the number of buildings erected and conferences held. This only works as a metric if you assume rational economic motivations for building, however. Building is ruinously expensive - so you only do it when you have run out of places to put your research community, or your development groups. You only build new facilities when you are so very successful at pulling in funding and attracting workers that you cannot avoid the expense of building or buying real estate.

Thus people and their work come first and foremost, while buildings are a secondary concern. This is especially true in fields that require few specialized structures. Much of modern research can just as well be carried out in office parks and garages as anywhere else, and the field of cryonics is no exception to this rule.

The thing that strikes me most about the Timeship, and why I think it's going to remain largely a vision, is that it puts the building before the people. Cryonics is a noble field of human endeavor that has yet to find the means of growth; it remains a small industry, close to its non-profit roots. This is of course terrible, and says bad things about human nature - that a practical methodology exists to prevent people from suffering irreversible death, and we do next to nothing with it. The cryonics community is not one suffering from a lack of space to work in.

You can't follow the siren song of "build it and they will come." That is the most false of all modern sayings, and especially so given a lack of growth. Construct a building in the absence of a research and development community that is bursting forth from their existing and inadequate work spaces, and you will have constructed an empty building. A monument, in other words, and not in the good sense.

So to me, someone who measures progress in technology and service above other ends, the Timeship looks like a backwards-facing project: it is the building in advance of what that building is intended to house. When eyeing at cryonics, better to look to initiatives like 21st Century Medicine, or the ongoing work to make Alcor a better service provider, or the Brain Preservation Prize. They better reflect the cause: people doing meaningful things in office parks, building improvements one step at a time.


I have the impression that the Stasis Foundation acts as a way for some wealthy cryonicists to shelter their assets from taxation.

Otherwise the project makes no sense, especially given how the existing cryonics organizations exist in such precarious financial condition.

Posted by: Mark Plus at November 19th, 2012 9:40 PM

I think Mark is correct. I've heard through the rumor mill they have recently been getting flak from the IRS for this reason. The IRS is telling them to either start building the facility or the tax exempt status will be revoked. However, I've not heard the IRS imposing any deadline for them to start construction.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at November 20th, 2012 2:24 PM

This strikes me as a bit like those who don't invest in cryopreservation because the technology is "unproven" (or similar excuses). As you likely realize, we don't really have the luxury of choosing when we can jump in -- we have to accept the cryo tech that is available when we actually need it.

What I'm saying is that your concerns strike me as short-term considerations, whereas the project (and cryopreservation itself) requires significantly long-term thinking.

Buildings are expensive, yes, but they aren't going to ever get any cheaper, and this type of facility is what is needed if you're of the opinion that revival may not be available for a century or more.

My two chief concerns about preservation and revival are the financial viability of the organization and the physical security of the storage site. If those two factors are properly addressed, I am confident the rest will fall into place eventually, and that my remains will be around to be available for treatment when they do.

Posted by: JM at November 1st, 2013 9:52 AM

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