Today I'll point out the availability of Alcor's book Preserving Minds, Saving Lives, a collection of some of the better writing on cryonics set down over the years. Much like research into rejuvenation therapies after the SENS model of repair of molecular damage, it is sadly the case that cryonics receives neither the attention nor the funding it merits given the plausible scope of benefits that might be realized. This is slowly changing in both cases, but much faster for rejuvenation research after the SENS model. Bootstrapping cryonics from its present state of a small non-profit industry and tiny scientific community into a much larger, capable, and more mainstream concern is proving to be a slow process indeed, but I think it will have its own tipping point in the years ahead.
Cryonics is, in short, the low-temperature preservation of at least the brain as soon as possible following clinical death. With the use of cryoprotectants, a glass-like state of vitrification is achieved in which ice formation is minimal to non-existent, cell damage is minimal, and the fine structure of the brain is preserved. It is a reasonable assumption that, if performed well, this also preserves the data of the mind, which present evidence strongly suggests is encoded somewhere in the dendrites and synaptic structures linking neurons. Lower animals have shown signs of retaining memory following vitrification and revival, and initial proof of concept experiments have demonstrated that internal organs can be vitrified and restored for transplantation, though currently the best restoration methodologies are fragile and failure-prone, still many years from clinical use. Still, it is through the organ transplant industry that cryonics will likely reach its tipping point: there is growing interest in the use of vitrification to store donated organs, or the seed tissues that grow into organs. When reversible vitrification of donor organs is possible, then preservation of the brain, the mind, and the self is a logical next step. For so long as the mind remains intact, the possibility remains for future restoration in a time of more capable medical technology. Death is not absolute or irreversible until that structure is gone.
This is why cryonics is important. It, like rejuvenation research, is all about saving lives, stemming the flood of death that passes us by every day. We live in a madhouse world in which more than 150,000 lives end daily, each one an invisible tragedy, while billions more march to an oblivion that might be avoided. Most are unaware of the alternative offered by cryonics, and of those who have heard of cryonics or given it some thought, most reject it out of hand. As a species, and judging by our actions, we are not as much in love with life as might be thought given our conversations and literature.
Cryonics is an experimental medical procedure that uses ultra-low temperatures to put critically ill people into a state of metabolic arrest to give them access to medical advances of the future. Since its inception in the early 1960s, the practice of cryonics has moved from a theoretical concept to an evidence-based practice that uses emergency medical procedures and modern vitrification technologies to eliminate ice formation.
Preserving Minds, Saving Lives offers an ambitious collection of articles about cryonics and the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. From its humble beginnings in 1972, and its first human cryonics patient in 1976, Alcor has grown to a professional organization with more than 1,000 members, more than 140 human patients, and more than 50 pets, all awaiting a chance to be restored to good health and continue their lives.
This 570-page book presents some of the best cryonics writings from Cryonics magazine from 1972 to 2012. There are clear expositions of the rationale behind cryonics, its scientific validation, and the evolution of Alcor procedures. Also covered are repair and resuscitation scenarios, philosophical issues associated with cryonics, and debates within the cryonics community itself.
So perhaps you're fairly new to Alcor and cryonics. You're pretty sure this technology might be worth investigating; maybe you've even gotten signed up. But there's a lot you don't know. When your friends and relatives ask you those awkward questions about WHY you're doing this and what makes you think it will work, you haven't figured out solid answers yet. Especially if you live in an area without many other people involved in cryonics, you may really need solid ideas. You may even wish you have a book you could hand some of them, something that might make all of these ideas clear.
We have that book - Preserving Minds, Saving Lives: The Best Cryonics Writings from the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. We have been working on those answers for more than 35 years, often in the pages of our magazine, Cryonics. This book takes many of those great answers and puts them together in one volume for you. Why do we preserve patients in liquid nitrogen? How might that change in the future? What is the difference between freezing and vitrification? Why is vitrification better? How did this odd idea get started in the first place? What has Alcor gone through to get to this point? What mistakes were made along the way and how do we know cryonicists have learned from those mistakes? Why the heck isn't cryonics wildly popular? It's all here, along with many other discussions, by the best writers Alcor has had to offer for more than three decades. There are a handful of technical articles, because we want to make sure that the bases for this technology are readily available for future researchers. But most of the articles are accessible to anyone.