21st Century Medicine Mentioned in Scientific American

The popular scientific press here looks at the work of 21st Century Medicine on cryopreservation. Specifically, the topic is the present efforts to provide conclusive proof that low-temperature vitrification of tissue, the process employed at Alcor and other cryonics providers, maintains the fine structures of the brain considered to encode the data of the mind, such as memory. For the many who will die prior to the advent of rejuvenation biotechnologies, this is the only shot at a longer life in the future, and it is to our shame as a society that so few choose this option over oblivion and the grave.

It is interesting to note that many of the people in this field, and their supporters, see the end goal as scanning and transcription of the data encoded in a stored brain into an emulated mind running in software. This is as opposed to restoration and repair of the original tissue via advanced forms of molecular nanotechnology and tissue engineering. The assumption of an emulated copy is very much in evidence in this article. I think this to be a profoundly mistaken strategic goal, as a copy of you is not you.

The soul is the pattern of information that represents you - your thoughts, memories and personality - your self. There is no scientific evidence that something like soul stuff exists beyond the brain's own hardwiring, so I was curious to visit the laboratories of 21st Century Medicine in Fontana, Calif., to see for myself an attempt to preserve a brain's connectome - the comprehensive diagram of all neural synaptic connections. This medical research company specializes in the cryopreservation of human organs and tissues using cryoprotectants (antifreeze). In 2009, for example, the facility's chief research scientist Gregory M. Fahy published a paper documenting how his team successfully transplanted a rewarmed rabbit kidney after it had been cryoprotected and frozen to −135 degrees Celsius through the process of vitrification, "in which the liquids in a living system are converted into the glassy state at low temperatures."

I witnessed the infusion of a rabbit brain through its carotid arteries with a fixative agent called glutaraldehyde, which binds proteins together into a solid gel. The brain was then removed and saturated in ethylene glycol, a cryoprotective agent eliminating ice formation and allowing safe storage at −130 degrees C as a glasslike, inert solid. At that temperature, chemical reactions are so attenuated that it could be stored for millennia. Think of a book in epoxy resin hardened into a solid block of plastic. "You're never going to open the book again, but if you can prove that the epoxy doesn't dissolve the ink the book is written with, you can demonstrate that all the words in the book must still be there ... and you might be able to carefully slice it apart, scan in all the pages, and print/bind a new book with the same words." The rabbit brain circuitry he examined through a 3-D scanning electron microscope "looks well preserved, undamaged, and it is easy to trace the synaptic connections between the neurons."

Link: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-our-minds-live-forever/


If instead of copying the mind on a silicon substrate they built, molecule by molecule and atom by atom, an exact copy of your brain, would that be you? It would have to be - unless self-awareness is linked to consciousness (hence once you are switched off by death that's it) or we postulate the existence of something metaphysical that renders the original different from the copy: a 'soul'. If we exclude the latter, a copy of you IS you. Perhaps it would be confirmation of the multiverse theory.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 1st, 2016 8:59 AM

This issue has been debated in a previous blog post but I forgot which one.

Basically, there would indeed be a copy of "you", however this copy would be just this - a copy. It would have its own separate existence which would not be link to yours, as there would be no continuity linking the original entity (you) to the copied entity (your clone).

Posted by: Nico at February 1st, 2016 1:29 PM

I, for one, don't want to be copied and discarded. Whatever the solution of the phylosophical question of the self is, it's true that a rewarmed myself is myself, so I want to take the safe route.

Posted by: Antonio at February 1st, 2016 1:44 PM

But what is "continuity"? There isn't any continuity if someone lays dead for 50 years before being revived either. So according to your argument, a revived person would also not be the same person they were before dying. On the other hand, if you accept that this type of continuity does not matter, if the substrate is atomically identical to your own brain, how is that NOT you?

The jury on whether a copy of you is or isn't you is still out and I haven't heard a single argument that proves anything either way. I think we have a hard time getting our head round the fact that there may be infinite parallel universes, which is, however, a well respected interpretation of quantum mechanics (the many-worlds interpretation). Duplicating one's consciousness could very well be our door to it.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 1st, 2016 1:54 PM

I would much rather live in my own warm body too, but if I could also back up my mind as a safety measure I would certainly go for it. I fancy dying of old age just as much as I fancy dying in a plane crash.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 1st, 2016 1:57 PM

When you awaken you only have your internal memories and external evironmental clues as to who you are. When you lose consciousness then you have no assurance that you will re-awaken. Life consists of daily periods of existence followed by non-existence, patched together by memory and re-enforcement by external stimuli.

Most brain function occurs at an unconscious level. The conscious feeling of identity is largely an illusion created by a specific brain function. I believe that same function allows us to use tools as an extension of our hands and causes us to see our families and tribes as extensions of our selves. Scientists have convinced people that a robotic arm was their own arm by providing tactile and visual feedback clues. There are mental diseases in which the patient doesn’t recognize his own arm as being part of his body...so much so that a patient cut off his own arm.

Each day the brain rewires itself. With age, mental function declines and memory worsens. During a stroke or Alzheimers Disease significant neural tissue is lost. So the brain substrate is in constant change. If small changes in neural structure made a big difference then we’d be different people every day.

For these reasons my opinion is that if you die and were awakened in a brain with very similar structure and your external clues matched your new memories of who you were then to all intents and purposes you would have reawakened as if from a coma after a major stroke. I.e., your close associates and you yourself would see you as the same person. Likewise if you were duplicated then two bodies could rightfully claim to be you.

Transfer of your neural pattern to a non-biological substrate is more of a leap. Presently we do not understand consciousness sufficiently to know what patterns and what structures in our brain reflect consciousness. (Researchers such as Kristof Koch are making progress in this area.) Insuring that a person’s internal experience of consciousness would remain consistent if the neural pattern was executed on a non-biological substrate might be difficult.

Perhaps we will learn more as damaged parts of brains are replaced by cybernetic implants and mental function is augmented through brain machine interfaces. My gut feeling is that the human internal experience could be recaptured on a non-biological substrate. It would also be possible (but more difficult) to create a zombie who acted and responded as you would but had no internal awareness. Likewise you could build intelligent machines with and without consciousness depending on the degree of interconnectedness, recursion, and complexity. (An avalanche could be extremely complex but lacks the recursive states needed for consciousness.)

The question for me is why do it? Once I’m dead for a few decades there is no “me” to care whether I awaken. Nor would I have any assurance that the future that awaits the new “me” would be a good one. I’d awaken with memories, skills, and body totally unsuited for the new society. If I were modified enough to be happy and successful in that future then I’d be changed enough that I don’t view it as being the same person. The reason I had been awakened would likely be for some other entity’s benefit. Imagine a scientist resurrecting a frozen neanderthal.

It might also cause problems for loved ones. If a man’s wife dies and is frozen should he remarry if he believes she might return some day.

Posted by: Fly at February 1st, 2016 1:58 PM

I don't see cryonics and rewarming to be much different from the people that die in the snow or in a cold sea and is reanimated 1 or 2 hours later. That's why I think rewarming is the safest bet. Mind uploading is very different, IMO.

Posted by: Antonio at February 1st, 2016 3:14 PM


I think consciousness is the culmination of many factors, mostly through altered neuron memory formation, learning, neuronal memory access and neuronal plasticity.
Events, traumas, experiences, (self) realizations, external stimulus shape your mind and thoughts in a certain way, through plasticizing brain tissues and neuronal Longterm potentiation. This yields a signature phenotype that is precise to you; all of these factors add-up to make you - You, and nobody else. We also can't remove the epigenetic aspect. If we extrapolate this to identical twins, we realize that biology is mostly in command of the inner soul. Identical twins can reach a level of similarity that is frightening and where we can't tell who is who; just like clones. But these Identical twins even if for all purpose seem perfect facsimile clones of one another, are not clones to 100%, because they are in the 98% to 99.9% clone, there is a fractional percentage difference berween them at birth. And as their life goes epigenetic alters that even more through different life experiences, external stimuli and environment exposure. Still, myself I am a twin brother of my twin sister and I have identical twin nieces, we all share this clone effect on consciousness because we are genetically extremely closer than non-twins. Especially, for my identical twin adolescent nieces, whom are 95 or so % identical and that I have observed since birth. Their thinking and consciousness is clearly up there too and matches their morphological physical identicalness.
They think the same things and feel the same things. Yet, with time, I and them - themselves began to be self-aware/self-conscious of their own identicalness with their twin's. This led them, just like me and my twin sis, to Want to differentiate from your twin, because you do not want to be a mere clone/copy/facsimile/emulation; you want people to differentiate you from your twin.
But never so much that you feel like a stranger to your twin, when in fact you are twins and extremely similar. This self-awareness/self-conciousness effect is the culmination of self-realization about your identicality, that you have someone who looks like your clone so you will have to differentiate yourself in order for people to sense your dinstinct identity and distinguish you from your identical twin. You are You, and your Twin is Him/Her, you are Not the same clone, but a unique dinstinct, identifiable, differentiable, distinguishable, seperate person from your twin.

One twin will live differente experiences and environment/stimuli which will alter his mind, perception, memory, cognition, thus, consciousness. Uncontrolled/Autonomated Unconsciousness and subconsciousness are far closer in identical twins because of initial brain biology identicality in mother womb.A study demonstrated 'conciousness' on the biological cellular level by demonstrating that every time you take a fast decision, it is trillion memories recollection and analysis that happens in your brain in a split-second before making that decision; millions of neurons are queried and fire electrical impulses in unison through your massive neuronal network, this brings about an 'answer' or immediate split-second decision that you 'think' 'you decided'. Same goes for Reflexes who trigger your motoneurons in a fractional second through the CNS impulses reaching muscles, creating muscle electrical contraction/dilation reflex hyperspastic/spasm-like movement.

If we extrapolate this to cryopreservation, it emulates the twins/clone parallel that is happening in reality. If you were cloned, epigenetically, for all purpose you would have a true clone of yourself, including what constitutes the self/soul/self-consciousness/consciouness/unconsciousness/sub-consciousness. It would an exact repeating of the identical twins parallel, only even more so.

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 1st, 2016 6:28 PM

Ps: It is also said that consciousness is what seperates from self-unconscious animal instinct that is driven by basic needs (food need, reproduction need, territory possession demarcation, evacuate body residues (urinate, defecate)).

Animals that go above that share the what we call consciousness. These self-unconscious animal instinct driven animals would have a soul too, to make them 'alive and animated'. But lack higher self-consciousness that is reserved to certain animals. For example, there was a study that was done with a large dolphin in a water tank where the dolphin looked itself in a mirror. The dolphin was sedated and while sedated the scientists painted a large red dot on dolphin's forehead (right inbetween his two eyes, right 'in the bull's eye') . When the dolphin woke up, it swam around and looked itself in the mirror, but realized something was off, upon closing in, that it had a red dot smack dab in the bull's eye on his forehead.

That was a clear proof of consciousness brought by higher brain complexity (dolphins are very witty and fast learners) which allowed to say that the dolphin is self-aware/self-concious like humans; because it has a mental photographic image - of itself - in its head; just like humans and apes who have mental representation of itself. Other animals with no such consciousness do not make the 'connection' (they do not ''get it'' that's themselves they are looking at in the mirror reflecting their own image) when in front of a mirror and especially with a self-aware/self-concious 'dot' on the forehead, it's almost as if you could paint a big L, for ''Loser'', on their forehead and they would never notice a thing while facing a mirror. Their unconscious animal instinct would just say to them : '' ???? What's that big animal in front of me... Have to be careful... Maybe an enemy... This thing follows my every frickkin move perfectly ????? What gives ???? It looks an Awful lot like one of my brothers or sisters ???? Ahhh...whatever, just some random animal that is related to me, moving on... Got some meat to go hunt for ''

lol... see... us humans have the capacity of self mental image, self-awareness, self-doubt, self- introspection, self-questioning. These instinct driven animals never ask themselves questions, they just 'do', they don't question it/what they do/their doing/the consequences of what they do/their doing/no real (self)doubt/not strong understanding of morality, justice (right/wrong) )emotionality and ethicality of things.

Perhaps the most incredible display of what soul is, is the elephant that paints an elephant, the elephant Knows self-awarenessly/self-conciously that it is painting - Itself on the canvas, because it has a mental image of what an elephant is and, especially, what - Itself - is.

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 1st, 2016 8:24 PM

Suda - The Painting Elephant
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foahTqz7On4

Pps: some argued its preconditioned by repetition/copying painting from memory of previous canvas assisted creation with the help of the caretaker, rather than non-assisted 'random' actual artistic self-creation with no aid, that's a possibility.

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 1st, 2016 8:38 PM

The prospects of living as an emulated mind looks pretty bleak IMO.

Robin Hanson has a new book on the subject, I have not found any other author that is able to dive as Deep into the subject. He's posting at overcomingbias.com

Posted by: arren at February 2nd, 2016 4:18 AM

Considering how closely attached MMO players can become with their characters, I wouldn't be surprised if many people will decide to live their lives almost exclusively in simulated-realities. This could help make the idea of living without a body more acceptable in modern culture.

Posted by: Eric at February 3rd, 2016 11:29 AM

@Fly-: "The question for me is why do it? Once I’m dead for a few decades there is no “me” to care whether I awaken."
What's the difference here between a few decades and a few hours? People generally care whether or not they will wake up from sleep.

"Nor would I have any assurance that the future that awaits the new “me” would be a good one. I’d awaken with memories, skills, and body totally unsuited for the new society."
This is an argument that no babies should ever be born. They completely lack memories and skills relevant to the culture into which they are born. They don't have any assurances about the future.

"Imagine a scientist resurrecting a frozen neanderthal."
I think you're being overly cynical. Do you really think that if a frozen Neanderthal were resurrected from a block of ice (never mind that there are no such frozen Neanderthals) in 2016 that nobody would care about his welfare?

"It might also cause problems for loved ones. If a man’s wife dies and is frozen should he remarry if he believes she might return some day."
These kinds of sociological puzzlers seem very small compared to the value of life. I mean, the most rudimentary solution would be to allow a man to have two wives in this circumstance. That's hardly disastrous. Lots of cultures have allowed such things.

Posted by: José at February 3rd, 2016 12:14 PM

"Nor would I have any assurance that the future that awaits the new “me” would be a good one. I’d awaken with memories, skills, and body totally unsuited for the new society."

I don't want to answer for Fly and I don't agree with the rest of his objections, but I believe he has a point here. I also don't think that babies are a good comparison since babies spend years, if not decades, in a secure social structure that feeds, clothes, shelters, and educates them before they are released into the world and required to fend for themselves.

Perhaps a better comparison would be the resettlement schools ("Hanawon") that North Korean refugees must attend before trying to integrate into South Korean society.

So while it's doable, if cryonics takes off we will have to start thinking about how to deal with a large number of "awakenings". If a Neanderthal were to be thawed and brought back to life we would all pamper, spoil, and mollycoddle him like crazy. But hundreds of thousands of not-so-exotic humans? We'd probably treat them like were are treating Syrian refugees today... not a position anyone would want to be in.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 3rd, 2016 2:31 PM

Hey there,

It wouldn't be totally farfetched or stretching it to say that soon we won't even need to find a frozen Neanderthal, thaw it and then hope we can reawaken it/revive it/rejuvenate it, depending if he was alive when frozen or was already dead, and became a frozen cadaver. Not that it would make any difference since freezing equals death, wether alive or dead at starting freezing point, other than slightly reduced body damage from being frozen (still) 'alive'. Natural freezing, unlike cryogenisation using a vitrifiant (liver glycerol) that stops crystal formation, creates ice crystals formation which rupture and destroy organs' flesh tissues. Neanderthals, like homo sapiens and unlike hibernators (i.e., frogs' liver produce vitrifiant in blood allowing them to become frozen iceblock for entire winter and not sustain tissue damage by ice crystals; and then thaw out when spring comes and its warmer temperatures melt the frozen frog buried under thick (now spring temperature melted) snow layers). Neanderthals, like us, do not produce vitrifiant, thus any hundreds of thousands of years as a frozen ice block would have destroyed a large percentage of tissues; rendering the Neanderthal, unlike the frog who awakens 'alive' after thawing, Dead Upon Thawing or we should put that as DUT, not DOA.

It won't be needed anymore, to find a Neanderthal cadaver...It will be done in vitro and in vivo in lab.

Simply, the future is about bringing extinct species using genetics (think à la Jurassic Park), indeed soon Jurassic 'Park, 'World, Parking Lot, Backyard Zoo, Jumanji, or however you want to call it is coming.
For example, scientist George Church is about to bring back Mammoths from extinction : by using ancient mammoth DNA and combining it with a live elephant. It will be transplanted into a mother Asian or African elephant, just like surogate mothering, and she will give birth to a baby Mammoth.

Idem, for Neanderthal, a human homo sapiens willing mother today would have this fertilization process and would give birth to a Neanderthal baby.

Same with for crocodiles/alligators/komodo dragon lizard mothers giving birth to a raptor or t-rex dinosaur.

All is needed is the sexual gene material (mother mitochondrial DNA from extinct cadaver) and then, its about mixing that with modern embryo, and paternal spermatozoids (wether from ancient or new Y-chromosome of male father specie), so hybrid/hybridisation of the past is the future...

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 3rd, 2016 5:12 PM

@Barbara: Most of them will be reanimated by their friends and relatives. Cryonics is a Last In First Out stack. The later you are frozen, the easier you can be unfrozen, and thus the sooner you can be unfrozen. Thus, children will unfreeze thir parents, uncles, etc. Also, the future society can wait how much they want, there is no urgent need to unfreeze people if you can't educate/support them ATM.

Posted by: Antonio at February 4th, 2016 7:17 AM

@Antonio: I am not saying it's not doable and in some cases (but by no means all) close relatives will shelter etc the cryonics patients. But if you have a million people waking up with no skills whatsoever to make a living, then solid structures to deal with this issue are required.

I think that just assuming that things will take care of themselves is dangerous because as we have seen countless times in the past with rapid social change, even if an equilibrium is eventually reached there is a lot of pain and destruction in the meanwhile.

Also, this "things will be just fine" attitude of the cryonics community has its role in scaring people off the enterprise because it leaves huge uncertainty and feels lackadaisical. I think that starting to think about how we will actually deal with the awakenings, at least in theory, could go a long way to legitimating and normalizing cryonics. We need plans and scenarios people can believe and look forward too.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 4th, 2016 7:43 AM

In fact, I would like to make the point that the biggest obstacle for the acceptance of cryonics by the masses is not so much that its science is "unproven", rather that it does not deal with social uncertainty in any credible depth. 

While it is certainly useful to publicize the scientific discoveries that are rendering thawing more likely by the day, what the average layman doesn’t believe is not that the science won’t work, but that he can’t be happy in a future in which all he has left are an inability to support himself and distant relatives who consider him a burden (not everyone has children, is loved by his children, or will be thawed within a couple of decades from freezing). This fear is what the cryonics community should start tackling in earnest, because until it does people will be too scared to take the plunge even if science says that the technique works.

So, even if you and I may be delighted to awaken in a shiny new word light-years away from our current social environment because we see everything as a fantastic adventure, most people are scared to death of such a possibility and would choose death – like some choose suicide today – instead of having to deal with the unbearable anxiety that such a prospect creates.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 4th, 2016 8:46 AM


I think in the near future, most work will be done by robots and work for people will be optional, IMO. Similar to Star Trek, people will do what they WANT to do, such as arts or exploring the stars. So, I think this (needing to be trained) will not be a critical issue for people awaking from their frozen state.

And, stuff or things will cost nearly nothing once we have better control of molecules and 3-D printing has fully matured.

Posted by: Robert Church at February 4th, 2016 1:58 PM

To be honest I think that pushing this type of scenarios is exactly what prevents cryonics from taking off. People can't wrap their head around it because at the present stage - just have a look at what the world looks like - what you are proposing is beyond implausible.

If we want cryonics to be an option for at least a portion of the masses, then we need to come up with realistic ideas for how we will deal with the awakenings in the 2040s, 2060s, 2080s etc. Stark Trek scenarios are nowhere on the horizon, whereas reviving cryonics patients (just look up Freitas) is.

Or if you are thinking about longer timeframes: how are you going to convince your average accountant that when he wakes up in 200 years (which he will probably reject as too disconnected from the existence he knows) the world will be operated by robots and all he will need to do is sit around and... do what exactly? Not everyone will be sauntering about the galaxy like captain Kirk.

The truth is that cryonics has almost zero support not because the science is shaky, but because these futuristic scenarios with no grounding at a societal level make the whole enterprise sound like a child's dream.

I understand that this is fine for futurists but it's not how the vast majority of people think. And until THEY are given something they can visualize as possible and desirable, cryonics will remain a quirky burial practice for well-heeled eccentrics.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 4th, 2016 2:43 PM

In other words, I think that the sales pitch for cryonics should not be:

"When you wake up you will be exploring the universe and robots will bring home the bacon on your behalf"


"When you wake up you may be able to reunite with your children and grandchildren. Or if that doesn't work out, you will spend a few months (years?) in a dedicated, luxury (why not) re-acculturation center that will prepare you for the exciting new world into which you have awakened. We envisage these centers to be financed partially by the state and partially by the funds that the suspended patient preventively put into a trust (for example), and there will be provisions to protect the freedom of the revived person including, if he so wishes, his freedom to choose to become permanently departed".

It is beyond clear that sci-fi approaches are unable to garner cryonics any more support than it already has (anyone who looks forward to space exploration is already on board), so I think it is time to start thinking critically about what will happen to people if they start waking up in droves in a few decades.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 4th, 2016 3:12 PM

I wouldn't worry about acculturation. A reanimated cryo patient will surely be given a fresh set of neurons to learn things with. Anyone who's getting frozen is expecting to get hit with a surprising future, anyway.

Posted by: Slicer at February 5th, 2016 11:35 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.