I had the pleasure of attending the Biostasis 2021 event held in Zurich Switzerland late October, 2021. Tomorrow Biostasis is a new European organization which, coupled with the European Biostasis Foundation, is building a cryonics storage facility in Switzerland and offering affordable plans for younger cryonicists. This is very exciting for us here in Europe! Biostasis is their annual event and I must say it was very well organized and enjoyable.
Looking back on the cryonics symposium in Dresden in 2014 and hearing people speak of a potential facility in Europe, I am happy to say that it is actually happening! I love the fact that this field is always evolving and bringing in new interest and research to help bring it into the mainstream (even though we still have a ways to go). Though I haven’t yet been able to create much change here in France because I have had 2 children since 2015, I think that Tomorrow Biostasis will help bring cryonics to a new audience in Europe and help fuel research and development through new membership funding.
Emil Kenzidorra is the CEO of Tomorrow Biostasis along with Fernando Azevedo Pinheiro and they are motivated to make cryonics available to a wider public. During his presentation, Emil detailed his plans for the future of Tomorrow with a goal to eventually bring down the cost of cryopreservation through membership, a first reponse app as well as long term research and development at the new facility. They have also built an ambulance for standby and transport. Tomorrow Biostasis has a team in Berlin working on many different aspects which include member communication, contracts and medical standby. The European Biostasis Foundation (EBF) encompasses the storage facility as well as research and development. Overall very promising and exciting developments happening in such a short time (and during a pandemic)!
The presentations during the weekend were well varied and I enjoyed the fact that there were many international speakers and participants. This gave me the opportunity to meet many new faces in the community, as well as revisit some friends from past events. Ben Best is one of the first cryonicists I met over 10 years ago and though he wasn’t speaking at this event, he was of course there asking questions and taking photos.
Some of the highlights during the presentations on Friday were: learning from Peter Tsolakides that there is a cryonics storage facility almost ready to open in Australia next year, Aaron Drake showing an in depth look at the advanced technology and progress in China, and Dr. Ramon Risco’s encouraging research on the potential of ultrasound to minimize ice damage during fast rewarming of tissue. I was also interested to hear Jordi Sandalinas’ talk about the Europan Cryonics Law Institute with a goal of creating legal standards across Europe. Depite the huge scope of this type of project, this is something that could greatly help the legal position here in France.
After lunch, Jacob Hoekstra gave a great presentation on how to improve the public image and practicality of biostasis as well as the current capabilities of the Biostasis Sciences Foundation, which is based in Amsterdam. Jacob spoke about using the word biostasis instead of cryonics which can give the practice a more mainstream acceptance by including general medical benefits such as organ donation and research. He also suggested the importance of including more medical professionals as well as providing emotional support for patient’s families. His organization has designed and built a dry ice shipping box as well as an amazing ambulance. Seriously, this ambulance is incredible; it has full standby capabilities and incorporates state-of-the-art medical equipment. Jacob is happy to share technology and plan standby training events in his offices in Amsterdam (yes please!). He has been a great resource for me to help organize things here in France, and is willing to come to other European countries in his ambulance when needed.
Michael Benjamin shared the preliminary results from Alcor’s Meta-data analysis project which was quite interesting. Max More then spoke about Alcor’s current projects and goals. It is always enjoyable hearing Max speak, and there are many great things happening at Alcor including the upcoming celebration of its 50 year anniversary! They currently have some interesting upcoming research projects and Max emphasized the importance of having case reports to analyze the success of a cryopreservation. He then summarized the media coverage of which he has been a part, and said that overall the outcome has been very positive.
The first day closed with a panel discussion with Max Marty and Daniel Walters who created a cryonics platform on Discord as well as a podcast. They spoke about the importance of creating a sense of community among cryonicists and trying to convince ‘cryocrastinators’ to sign up.
After enjoying some social time in the scenic heart of Zurich, we were ready for another day full of interesting presentations. Dr. Roman Bauer spoke of computational approaches using simulations of cryonics. José Luis Cordeliero gave a summary of the situation in Spain and said that he has helped recently pass a euthanasia law. He also mentioned that cryonics is the ‘Plan B’ in case longevity technology is not achieved in our lifetime. With his infectious ‘joie de vivre’ and positivity, José also said that now is the best time to be alive and that we will achieve immortality in 20 years, a very optimistic outlook. I was happy to receive a copy of his book ‘The Death of Death’ in French, thank you José! He is still looking for an English publisher.
David Wood gave an engaging presentation via Zoom about anticipating problems and finding ways to make cryonics research and practice more successful. He spoke about research breakthroughs, productive partnerships and a philosophy breakthrough with some convincing arguments. He also mentioned the restructuring of agriculture, a topic which I think will be rather important in the future.
Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães spoke about some medical advances in geroscience and how they could help advance cryonics. Rafael Hostettler, the creator of Robodies (humanoid robotic avatars) spoke about long term wealth management while in cryostasis, and what can be considered valuable over long time periods. Eric Vogt, of ICE, spoke about the importance of standby procedures to insure the best possible cryopreservation. Using field cryoprotection takes away the urgency for transport, and this would improve the outcome of many cases. Robert McIntyre shared his research on brain preservation and stated that aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation is the best possible option we currently have. He suggested that death with dignity could help alleviate pre-mortem brain damage.
Aschwin finished the day with a presentation about improving case outcomes. He suggested using S-MIX (standardized measure of ischemic exposure), CT scans, and having a quality control person to debrief after each case. We are far from having ideal preservation outcomes but the use of these tools, as well as having good cryonics first response, will change this for the better. The 3 C’s of cryonics first response; 1. Circulation, 2. Cooling, 3. Citrate (anti-coagulant). Aschwin said that if we can increase the use of field cryoprection this will eliminate transport damage, akin to what Eric Vogt had mentioned earlier.
I was lucky enough to get a ride in Jacob’s ambulance a few times; not only well equipped but also comfortable! We had the opportunity to tour the new EBF facility, still in construction, which will store future Tomorrow Biostasis patients. It is well located and designed, with a research lab and event space on the main floor and the storage area on the first floor, partially underground. It is projected to be operational at the begining of 2022.
I really enjoyed Biostasis 2021. The organization was excellent, with a well-planned schedule allowing ample break time to discuss and mingle with the other attendees. I feel some of the greatest value of attending such events is the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals. I always enjoy learning some of the latest research developments from some of the top researchers in cryonics today.
I have rekindled the French organization and will eventually formalize a local standby team in my area of southern France. I know this will be possible with the partnership and support of other European groups like Tomorrow and BSF. I am also creating a to-do list for French cryonicists and have been compiling my research involving French law and the history of cryonics in France.
I also think that creating some art/music/dance about cryonics and longevity would be interesting to reach a broader public. Even though I have my hands full as a mother, school director, dance teacher, and body artist, I am happy to be a part of the public outreach for cryonics, and if anyone is interested in becoming involved in the Société Cryonics de France or collaborating in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me at: .
The First International Cryonics First Response Meeting will be held on October 16, 2021, in Gothenburg, Sweden. The objective of this meeting is to introduce attendees to the basics of cryonics first response. The goal of cryonics first response is to perform a set of basic cryonics stabilization procedures to reduce damage to a cryonics patient after circulatory arrest. Like first response in mainstream medicine, these procedures do not involve advanced medical skills and can be taught to interested volunteers. Understanding the theoretical and practical aspects of first response is important for responding effectively to cryonics members in a critical condition who live in areas where there is no professional cryonics infrastructure. Cryonics first response procedures are also important when local volunteers can get access to a patient before a professional standby, stabilization and transport (SST) organization can arrive at the patient’s location. In this course we introduce the theoretical basis of cryonics response, discuss the effectiveness of different kinds of stabilization procedures, discuss patient transport and shipping options, and allow participants to review and practice with equipment and supplies necessary to effectively conduct basic stabilization procedures. On Saturday evening, there will be a social dinner for all participants.
When? Saturday, October 16, 2021, from 10.00 to 19.00. Where? Södra Allégatan 4, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Participants are encouraged to register with the Swedish Cryonics Association by sending an e-mail to Fabian Norlin, . We recommend staying at the Hotel Poseidon (www.hotelposeidon.com) which is located nearby. Those who prefer a budget alternative may consider staying at “Goteborgs Mini-Hotel Hostel” at Tredje Långgatan 31.
If you stay also for Sunday, October 17, you are welcome to join us for a tour of the city.
Before making your travel arrangements, please make sure that you can procure all the necessary travel and health documents for your trip. If you are not traveling on a direct flight, please also consult and follow any applicable regulations of the transit country.
We are looking forward to welcoming you to Gothenburg!
In this 2020 Ask My Anything Video, Elon Musk is asked about cryonics. In a nutshell, Elon answers that if the brain is frozen quickly after death, then it would be possible to extract enough information to revive the person. While the brain is a stunning organ, it is still a material entity and its original state could be inferred from the damaged state, according to Musk.
He also appears to refer to rat studies in which learned behavior (such as navigating a maze) can be inferred from the brain after freezing. It is not completely clear which studies Musk is referring to here.
Pichugin and Fahy have demonstrated recovery of potassium/sodium ratio’s after vitrification of hippocampal rat brain slices. This work has been further extended at 21st Century Medicine, who, in 2007, reported maintenance of long-term potentiation (LTP) in vitrified rabbit brain slices. The most impressive demonstration of preservation of whole-brain viability was reportedly achieved by Isamu Suda in 1996 and 1974 who recovered organized electrical activity (i.e., EEG) in cat brains after freezing with low glycerol concentrations and prolonged refrigerator storage. To this date, this research has not been duplicated but whole-brain recovery research is currently conducted by research companies such as Advanced Neural Biosciences and 21st Century Medicine.
Although recovery of whole-brain viability after cryopreservation (vitrification) would further bolster the science and practice of cryonics, this achievement is not necessary for cryonics to succeed. If the fine structure of the brain is adequately preserved, or at least in a state from which the original state can be inferred through deep learning (i.e., reconstructive connectomics), revival of the original individual should be possible in principle.
If you were an avid puzzler or a member of Facebook in 2014, then you may recall the trending release of Clemens Habicht’s “1,000 colors” jigsaw puzzle. An ode to CMYK printing, it showcases the spectrum of four inks used in this industry standard: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). The puzzle allots one piece for every tone in the color gamut, encouraging a more intuitive approach to assembly than most. While “1,000 colors” is arguably quite bold and synergistic in concept and presentation, it also exudes a level of nuance and singularity, calculation, and detail. It is the perfect introduction to New York-based cryonics advocate and prominent cryonics leader, Aschwin de Wolf.
Though Aschwin’s involvement in the field dates back to the early 2000s, he is perhaps best known for his position as CEO of Advanced Neural Biosciences (ANB), which he co-founded in Portland, Oregon despite initial skepticism about its location. In 2019 he turned heads once more as he led the charge to launch a second ANB office focused on theoretical research in one of the original hot spots of cryonics: New York City. Aschwin was also the co-founder of the nonprofit Institute for Evidence-Based Cryonics, and is editor of the quarterly Cryonics magazine published by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. He founded and regularly contributes to the online platform Biostasis, and frequently serves as cryonics consultant and advisor for domestic and global initiatives.
As ambitious as he is, work-life balance is an important value in Aschwin’s life and perhaps a vestige of his European roots. He actively cultivates many niche interests ranging from independent niche perfumes to Japanese avant-garde music. Aschwin maintains a blog focused on natural wines and lambic, organizes fermentation meetups, and keeps a vigilant eye for the next best wild game burger. He also pursues unique personal challenges like a week-long water fast or a 100,000 steps-in-a-day Fitbit challenge (equivalent to 50 miles). As you will come to find, the relationship between time and an insatiable curiosity strongly motivates his commitment to cryonics, the future, and life at large.
Aschwin warms his hands around a cup of Genmaicha to combat the damp cold of a wintry day. Staring at his brown rice green tea, he admits, “One thing that I hear a lot is, ‘You know so much about so many things. Where do you find the time?’” As a self-identified introvert, Aschwin enjoys stretches of solitude, and suspects that this is not unrelated. He adds, “That period on my own, of recovery, is also a period where I can read a lot, learn a lot.”
His home has no shortage of supporting evidence. At the de Wolf residence, you can expect the sights and sounds of a life spent diving deep into art, film, music, and wine. You are immediately greeted by the authentic tones of vinyl. Maybe you recognize the soft mezzo-soprano of the late “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer, or perhaps you hear a rare compilation of sound recordings from non-operational trains. Indeed, Aschwin’s collection of 600-plus records, some of which are stacked in repurposed wine crates—a subtle hint at another de Wolf passion—provide quite a number of musical possibilities for the newcomer.
Aschwin’s fascination with atonal and experimental music is partly rooted in a childhood spent largely at his grandmother’s home. Her neighborhood was simple and small, which allowed its other seemingly mundane characteristics to acquire greater value and a comforting familiarity. Aschwin recalls, “Just hearing manufacturing sounds, trucks or white noise…A lot of that sound is not something that I endure. It’s literally very pleasant for me.”
Just as his musical taste reflects a contemporary leaning, so too does the design of his home. Reminiscent of a gallery, Aschwin’s clean white walls are adorned with a spectrum of framed art throughout. An album poster from New York underground rapper, Roc Marciano, hangs next to that of Los Angeles-based chillwave singer-songwriter, Nite Jewel. Faye Dunaway’s hauntingly shadowed face from an original 1970’s movie poster for the Eyes of Laura Mars stares down a series of photographs from childhood. They are close-ups of textures and shapes from his grandmother’s attic and some of the earliest evidence of his attraction to abstract art. Then there is the poster for the small but mighty Belgian lambic brewer, Cantillon. Did I mention that Aschwin wrote an internationally-respected blog about lambics and wild ales for a decade?
An audiophile and art lover, Aschwin is also quite the film buff. In an exercise to define his movie taste more sharply, he reduced his movie display to reveal only his favorite twenty-five films. From Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964) to The French Connection (1971) to Dawn of the Dead (1978), his all-time favorite movie, Aschwin’s collection reflects a continuing enthusiasm for many of the themes that drew him to film as a teenager: horror, post-apocalyptic science fiction, and slasher and zombie movies from the late 70s and early 80s. He observes, “This interest persists today but I have come to recognize that I was less interested in the blood and gore than in cinematography, atmosphere, and survivalist elements in those films.”
While Aschwin’s movie collection is small but epic, so too is his library. Well, “library” might be a strong word, but the two industrial chic glass and steel bookcases that hold his carefully curated library make for quite an eye-catching marriage. Titles like W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, J.G. Ballard’s Crash, Reggie Oliver’s The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini, Damian Murphy’s The Imperishable Sacraments, and DeLio’s The Music of Morton Feldman peek out from behind glass panes. Fiction and nonfiction are separated, and some books are part of print runs that were capped at a couple hundred copies. They may bear any one of a number of artisan touches: high quality paper, elegant bindings, or uniquely colored ink. “I don’t feel like I collect expensive books or even necessarily rare books,” says Aschwin. He continues, “If something’s beautiful and appealing and you see it made with great care and passion, then it’s worth owning.”
Though Aschwin’s paperback collection has certainly diminished since childhood, the caliber and themes of his literary preferences have not in large part. But then again, this is largely because these preferences were never particularly juvenile to begin with. “I kind of skipped this ‘young adult’ period [growing up],” he explains. He continues, “When I was able to read, I started reading things like Edgar Allen Poe, and the great novelists.” Indeed, the Hardy Boys and any other literary teen posse catalogued with the abbreviation “YA” had no place in Aschwin’s childhood.
His name may have thrown you for a loop— “Ashvin” is a popular Hindu name—but Aschwin was born and raised in the land of the wooden shoes. His favorite color happens to be orange, the most historically and culturally relevant color in the Netherlands, but he is quick to credit coincidence in this matter.
Aschwin grew up in the city of Leiden in the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. It is the birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the oldest university in the country. The Leiden Observatory has also been a significant center for astronomical study since the 1800s. It is just a stone’s throw from the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden, the oldest botanical garden in the country. The city’s continued reverence for both the arts and sciences makes it a rather fitting backdrop for someone like Aschwin.
An “active child,” Aschwin notes with a smirk, he kept an unofficial residence at his grandparents’ home growing up. He preferred the wear and tear of their more aged residential and light-industrial neighborhood. Even more so, he enjoyed spending time with his grandmother, Eva, who was quick to knit him (black) sweaters or bake him Dutch pancakes. Though she has since passed, Aschwin still thinks of her as his greatest life example. He describes her as “one of the most supporting, selfless, and tolerant persons I have ever met. She was good-natured, generous, and never pushed or demanded anything. This is something many people strive for but to her it was second nature.”
Aschwin’s closest friendships were nurtured inside and outside of class, and in particular, through his favorite sport: basketball. He played on teams until university and sponsors season tickets to the Leiden basketball team for his parents every year. Aschwin has also been a loyal season ticket holder for the Portland Trail Blazers since 2012. In addition to playing basketball, he was also a keen (video) gamer, utilizing the legendary 8-bit Commodore 64 home computer and a cassette player on a “healthy” diet of hamburgers and coke. While kombucha has replaced coke, and gourmet burgers are only consumed sporadically, he still has a strong interest in atmospheric adventure games like Myst or Gabriel Knight.
Though Leiden is known for its university, Aschwin chose to attend the University of Amsterdam. At the time, the Dutch university system was almost exclusively based on test scores, rather than attendance, participation, or homework. These were favorable conditions for a self-motivated and intelligent introvert like Aschwin. It freed up quite a bit of time for him to hone other curiosities: he volunteered at a local experimental music store, cultivated an interest in designer clothing, and in general, became well-acquainted with the city and its many characters. He even lived in a small apartment in the Red-Light District for some time.
Aschwin specialized in Public Administration within the political science department. It was an interesting time to pursue social science, he explains, as the fall of the Berlin wall was still relatively recent, and some professors were still recovering from their 1960’s Marxism. His ever-increasing interest in economics heavily influenced his eventual master’s thesis, which critically reviewed orthodox theories of market failure. It was dense and theoretical, and his assessors had to pull a professor from the school of economics to ensure its fair evaluation.
As Aschwin closed in on graduation, he discovered that his passions and preferences were a mismatch in the working world. He explains, “I was interested in politics, but I did not want to become a politician or public official. I was interested in philosophy and economics, but I disliked academic culture.” The professional unknown, combined with a growing dissatisfaction with Amsterdam and Dutch culture, led him to join his then-partner in an overseas move to the U.S. Though he had intended to leave his studies incomplete—he was one class short of his Master’s degree—he quickly reversed his decision in deference to his parents. He flew back to the Netherlands a few times to complete his remaining exams and receive his degree.
After settling down in Arlington, Virginia, Aschwin also spent a couple months in Geneva, Switzerland where he experienced a life-changing medical scare. The cause turned out to be something trivial, but the episode spurred deeper thought on death and aging. After putting finger to keyboard, he ran across cryonics, something he had only ever observed in passing on libertarian websites. Aschwin recalls, “…I found the technical literature quite persuasive, as far as I could understand it, and the associated topics appealed to my growing interest in the natural sciences and disillusion with the social sciences.” Shortly after returning to the U.S., he signed up as a member with Alcor at its Fifth Annual Conference on Extreme Life Extension. It was November of 2002.
From that point onward, Aschwin studied cryobiology and the biomedical sciences in great earnest. His enthusiasm garnered the attention of Charles Platt at the Florida-based cryopreservation research company, Suspended Animation (SA). SA offered him a part-time position and he swiftly moved to West Palm Beach. Over time, he earned full-time employment there, covering a variety of needs ranging from bookkeeping to technical writing to management.
In 2007, Aschwin moved to Phoenix for a year where he began to consult and expand his cryonics writing. He soon discovered that the heat strayed too far from his overcast preferences…But a little city named Portland, Oregon had just the right weather, not to mention many of the elements he missed most from Europe: bike-friendly streets, and great public transit, craft beer, and a music scene that birthed personal favorites such as Grouper, Glass Candy, and The Chromatics. In 2008, he moved to the Rose City, with plans to co-found a new cryonics research company with Chana Phaedra.
Advanced Neural Biosciences
Though cryonics has a strong foundation on the West Coast, the greatest concentration of infrastructure and membership therein has traditionally come from major metropolitan areas in California. The decision to take a chance in Portland raised some eyebrows, but persistence combined with some modest donations paved the way for success. Aschwin and Chana received a generous monetary donation from Cryonics Institute member Alan Mole, a research equipment donation from the Cryonics Institute (later followed by Alcor), and free lab space from Oregon Cryonics owner, Jordan Sparks. In 2008, they incorporated their research company, Advanced Neural Biosciences, Inc (ANB).
ANB’s earliest experiments studied the effects of ischemia on cryopreservation outcome. Though he and Chana both derived a great sense of fulfillment from their work, the first couple of years were tough and demanding. Aschwin recalls how “…we were doing research with little or no compensation on the weekends in addition to our other jobs and contract writing.” For him, that included his work as editor of Cryonics Magazine. After five years however, the winds shifted. They finally received enough support from Alcor and the Life Extension Foundation to sustain their own dedicated research space in Portland. With that upgrade, their experiments became more advanced. They focused on optimizing cryoprotectants for the brain and even reversible whole body biopreservation.
In 2015 he collaborated with former Alcor President Stephen Bridge on a comprehensive introduction to cryonics and Alcor by compiling the best articles from Cryonics magazine in a handsome book titled “Preserving Minds, Savings Lives”
In ANB’s eleventh year, Aschwin took another leap of faith, moving to New York City to launch a second ANB branch focused on theoretical and computationally-driven research. The initial reaction of industry friends and colleagues was not unlike the response to his Portland move from years before. Why not the Bay area? Why not LA?
While most viewed an established infrastructure, a vibrant tech community, and a powerful base of cryonicists as attractions, Aschwin was far more intrigued by the challenge of expanding ANB in a place with great untapped potential. Unbeknownst to many, New York was once home to some of the earliest cryonicists many decades ago, and while the state may not have any established cryonics research or storage companies, it is still home to the fifth highest population of Alcor members in the country. “Hopefully, we can do a kind of 360 and make the most exciting things happen here again,” says Aschwin.
After his official move in early 2019, Aschwin set to work on a number of ANB research projects, starting with the Alcor meta-analysis project with local Alcor member, Michael Benjamin. As Alcor members are aware, the nonprofit creates a publicly available report for every patient case that it handles. The meta-analysis project seeks to consolidate the details of existing and future data into one comprehensive and searchable database. A simple click could then reveal how many cases are unattended deaths, how many cases are straight freezes, how many patients are autopsy cases, and so on and so forth. If trends and correlations between circumstance and outcome could be more easily identified, then they could be used to optimize the methodology of cryopreservation for cases yet to come.
Though the meta-analysis project is still underway, another collaborative project that recently reached completion is the first comprehensive human cryopreservation procedures manual. Co-authored by Aschwin and Charles Platt, this 700-page manual provides the technical background on cryonics procedures necessary to starting a cryonics organization from scratch. In Aschwin’s words, “As a general rule, when people have a technical question about cryonics, it is addressed in that book one way or another.” In a field that lacks a standard textbook, he and other cryonicists view this manual as an important record of institutional knowledge.
In terms of other publications, Aschwin has also been working on the hospital-based Medical Biostasis Protocol. A mostly theoretical document, given that cryonics is not yet considered an elective medical procedure, it describes how a cryopreservation should be done in the best of all circumstances (in a hospital setting). According to Aschwin, many cryonics critics cite ischemic delay or injury as evidence of the failure of cryonics; however, he adds, they often fail to acknowledge that such outcomes are reflective of a medical landscape that neither accepts cryonics nor allows for optimal conditions in which to perform a cryopreservation. Aschwin believes that the Medical Biostasis Protocol will provide a strong counter argument for naysayers, a performance baseline for any cryonics storage company, and perhaps even a useful text in legal proceedings.
In addition to building case report database and standardizing cryonics through the creation of manuals and protocols, ANB-NYC is also focused on journal publications. Their most immediate goal is to publish a trilogy of papers making the case for cryonics, with each paper addressing specific concerns about the field: what happens to the fine structure of the brain after death, what happens on an ultrastructural level you freeze the brain, and what happens to it when you cryoprotect (vitrify) the brain. The first paper, which was already published in the June 2020 edition of Rejuvenation Research, dispels the common belief that the brain rapidly decomposes after someone is pronounced dead. In fact, it demonstrates that it can take many days—if not weeks at low temperatures—before the brain shows significant degradation. The findings were informed by a deep learning algorithm that scanned through various images of the brain post-mortem to distinguish between different instances of ischemia. It is a tool that Aschwin hopes to incorporate in the second paper of the trilogy as well.
It almost goes without saying that Aschwin’s deep knowledge and prowess for technical writing is widely recognized in the field. Unsurprisingly, his cryonics output is not just confined to these “nerdy” topics. He also writes more popular expositions of various aspects of cryonics. One major concern in his writings is the inability of many critics to engage with the specifics of cryonics. In his view, skeptics throw around words like “death” and “damage” in a blasé fashion without specifying how cryopreservation technologies affect the fine structure of the brain. He writes, “If a critic of cryonics claims that cryonics is not technically feasible, insist upon a detailed exposition why the forms of damage associated with today’s technologies cannot be repaired by future medical technologies in principle.”
Developing Infrastructure in NYC
Outside of ANB, Aschwin is also focused on building an infrastructure to make his city a cryonics destination. An important resource in advancing towards these goals is a formal group of NYC-based Alcor members. He first became acquainted with the group as an out-of-town speaker, but soon became a co-leader after his 2019 move.
The NYC Alcor group has many objectives, first of which is the most basic and historic: socializing. Aschwin explains, “People with outlier ideas like we have – it’s nice to meet in person and feel comfortable talking about the things you care about instead of meeting with cynical skepticism, hostility, or sensationalist questions.” Beyond coordinating meetings, Aschwin has also worked with the group to set up some first response capabilities. Together they created a mutual assistance network through WhatsApp wherein members—after notifying Alcor—can post in the event of a health emergency. Any escalations can reap the benefits of anticipation and a faster response time.
While this has certainly been progress, Aschwin has his sights set on something even greater. “I don’t want to leave it at that,” he says. “I think we have the aim of being something a lot more ambitious—to basically do all the procedures in New York itself.” To that end, he has worked with the group to acquire Alcor’s previous first response vehicle and set up both a cryonics first response training and a training course for medical professionals interested in cryonics. The group even organized a sold out cryonics conference in Manhattan in the fall of 2019.
Though the pandemic landscape has limited the group to virtual meetings for the last year, Aschwin anticipates an enthusiastic return to social and training events once conditions allow.
In 2022, Aschwin will have two decades of personal and professional commitment to cryonics to his name. In a fringe field that is often subject to harsh mainstream critique, many may ask: how do you stay the course? How do you maintain your resolve? While cryonicists will generally agree on the obvious—the drive to extend life for yourself and your loved ones—Aschwin’s motivations reveal many layers of consideration that reflect a touching humanism and reinforce an abounding curiosity.
In his view, one of the most powerful promises of cryonics is that of second chances. For individuals who suffer from chronic health conditions, severe trauma, or bad luck, or for those who simply regret poor life choices, cryonics is an opportunity to live a more meaningful life. He explains, “It’s like, ‘I want to have a second shot at this, because for 60 years it’s been so many setbacks.’ Or ‘I’m not proud of the person I was. I need more time to do it.’”
Aschwin is also fascinated by the impact of cryonics on the dimensions of experience. The longer a lifespan, the more one can broaden and deepen experiences or interests. “I think there’s almost no limit to how extensive or deep something can be,” says Aschwin. He continues, “Even if you go really deep into something for a long stretch, then you can do something else that is very deep, and something else, and you can go back again to revisit. Just like you replay music.” One dream that Aschwin would fulfill given an extended lifespan is the recreation of the Monroeville shopping mall that formed the main set for his favorite movie, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). A project like this would be dismissed within the framework of a typical lifespan, Aschwin explains, “But longevity—real radical life extension—would allow for such projects.”
Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of his commitment to the field, is the prospect of witnessing the first revivals of cryopreserved patients. For him, that experience would be “almost equivalent to magic, but not, of course, in a fake unscientific way.” Indeed, the successful resuscitation of patients would symbolize the apex of his career, and the fruition of many years of dedication.
The Way Forward
Cryonics has come a long way since Aschwin joined the field, but there are still many hurdles to overcome. In his view, the future of cryonics rests even more on internal forces than it does on the more popularly acknowledged external forces. His highest priority right now is streamlining organizational and operational standards. According to Aschwin, cryonics is a relatively small field that attracts a disproportionately high number of visionary leaders. Each shift in leadership brings new ideas and priorities into play, often sacrificing the procedural scrutiny that is characteristic of the medical field. He explains, “I think a lot of people are really not aware that cryonics is prone to this yoyo effect. But when the meta-analysis [project] makes that clear, then people will say, ‘Look now, we have these benchmarks, let us see how we’ve done this year.’” Aschwin hopes that the case database and analyses will ultimately help cryonics enjoy slow but steady progress and growth.
His focus on technical and professional standardization does not exclude consideration of other key areas for the growth of cryonics: namely, membership. For Aschwin, the key to expanding the community does not lie in simply using the talking points that worked for the pioneers of the field. He suggests a strategy that focuses on reaching non-members using pro-cryonics arguments that address their concerns within their own values system. One of Aschwin’s examples include the classic environmentalist concern about the harmful effects of population growth and life extension on the planet. He recommends a response that the knowledge of your existence deep in the future would more than likely encourage rather than discourage more sustainable practices. Aschwin says, “Most people pay lip service to future generations, but when you are part of it yourself, that makes a difference…It’s like the difference in caring for a rental versus something that you own.” Another anti-longevity argument that Aschwin frequently fields is that life is too hard to desire an extension of it. For individuals with these concerns, he focuses on identifying the lack of time as an important culprit, and conversely, the promise of more time as a way to greater ease, healing, and enjoyment of life.
In this vein of thinking, Aschwin draws attention to an article entitled “Beyond Skull and Skin: Concepts of Identity and the Growth of Cryonics.” In this piece, he attributes some of the unfavorable attitudes towards cryonics to the tendency of many cryonics advocates to promote a rather reductionist concept of personal identity and to ignore what most people say matters to them when they think about survival. He says, “If cryonics has any prospect to appeal to more people, we must present an image of cryonics that emphasizes family, relationships, asset preservation, reintegration, and not just bombard people with technical expositions about brain preservation.”
In addition to respecting and addressing the concerns and sympathies of non-members, Aschwin also recommends approaching those who are already somewhat open to cryonics: the low-hanging fruit. Cryonics is a bold socio-cultural stance that simply may not hold appeal for everyone. Resultantly, he concludes that the most promising areas for recruitment are where people are analytical and generally optimistic. “That is where I think we can do a very good job,” he says.
Ever living up to the ideal of the “Renaissance Man”, Aschwin has a lot of other non-cryonics related projects in the works. On his fermentation blog he aims to dive deeper into the discussion of wine in philosophy and literature. He is working on an art book about an Italian genre movie. He launched an art collaboration with minimalist artist Avantika Bawa named “Essential Salts” (readers skilled in the art will notice the Lovecraftian reference). Aschwin also aims to publish more about meta-ethics and social philosophy (he penned an extensive review of contemporary antinatalism a few years ago), and finally, to get his dream of starting a small niche publishing company off the ground. Given the scope and depth of these interests, it is no surprise that he will benefit from the additional time that the success of cryonics will confer.
Aschwin resides in New York City, though he frequently travels internationally for cryonics-related events and initiatives. His personal eclectic website is megapolisomancy.org. He also writes on natural wines and spontaneous fermentation on amforen.com. Most of Aschwin’s cryonics output and initiatives can be found at biostasis.com. He can be contacted through his LinkedIn page.
Funeral Director assistance in cryonics can come roughly in three forms:
1. Ad-hoc utilization of cooperating funeral directors to assist in procedural, logistical, and regulatory aspects of a cryonics case. Often these funeral homes are identified after contacting several of them in the course of managing a cryonics case.
2. Repeated cooperation with a known funeral director. In such cases, a cooperating and dependable funeral director was identified prior or during a case and this relationship is continued in future cases.
3. The cryonics organization has a close relationship with a funeral director. In the most favorable situation, the funeral director is strongly supportive of cryonics or even has cryonics arrangements himself. The funeral director (or his staff) attends cryonics meetings and training and actively collaborates to optimize his role in a cryonics case.
Funeral director cooperation of the first kind cannot always be avoided but basically reflects poor planning of the cryonics organization or regional group. Or perhaps one might say that it reflects a lack of interest of the cryonics organization to encourage local groups or individuals to establish enduring and productive relationships with local funeral directors. In cases of ad-hoc or sporadic contact, a funeral director cannot be expected to correctly comply with any kind of cryonics logistical or shipping procedures unfamiliar to him. This is not a fault of the funeral director; it is simply unrealistic for a new funeral home to properly educate themselves about cryonics procedures and shipping instructions. Such circumstances call for detailed documentation, good communication, and having (local) people onsite to ensure compliance with cryonics organization directions.
If a funeral director is well known to the cryonics organization, such requirements can be somewhat relaxed but having people onsite and providing photographic evidence of proper compliance and local verification remains a must.
If a cryonics organization has a strong, enduring, relationship with a funeral director (or the funeral director is a cryonicist himself) the kind of scrutiny that would be proper would be similar to the kind of scrutiny that would be recommended for cooperating with existing SST (Standby, Stabilization and Transport) organizations.
Three issues that need considerable attention in cooperating with funeral directors are (1) transport from the hospital (or hospice) to the funeral home (2) surgical assistance (3) shipping of the patient. There is such a vast difference between comprehensive cryonics stabilization procedures (rapid cooling, cardiopulmonary support, and medications administration) that basic patient pick-up and transport would only be an option in case the cryonics organization (or its contractors) cannot arrive in time and local assistance is not available. The only exception to this rule is where a funeral home is an active, well-staffed, component of existing SST operations (a rarity). A similar argument applies to surgical assistance. If no appropriate medical staff can be deployed in time, a funeral director can be asked to assist in establishing vascular access under the supervision of the cryonics organization and on-site team members. This would usually entail neck vessel or femoral surgery to assist in washout or field cryoprotection.
One of the most important and sensitive topics is the assistance of a funeral director in cooling and shipping. These tasks often seem so intuitively simple that there is a tendency to trust funeral directors to comply with the cryonics organization’s directions. Unfortunately, cryonics organizations have learned the hard way that verbal directions or even detailed written instructions are not sufficient to ensure compliance. As much as there are overlapping areas of interest of funeral directors and cryonics organizations, funeral directors are usually not in the business of applying rapid (emergency) procedures. One issue of particular concern is a misunderstanding of ice packing instructions (too little, too late, water ice vs dry ice) and long-distance shipping requirements (insulation, leaking prevention, replenishing the ice used during the cooling process prior to shipping). Local assistance, oversight, and photographic documentation prior to authorization shipment are essential to avoid disastrous outcomes (warming or thawing of the patient).
The observations above may make it seem that the productive relationship between funeral directors and cryonics organizations is more akin to getting out of each other’s way than the magnificent cooperation envisioned in the Klockgether article. Given the low popularity of cryonics it is not likely that any funeral home can expect to substantially grow its operations and profits in dealing with cryonics organizations. Carefully nurturing enduring (local) cooperation between cryonics organizations and cryonics providers remains important, however, and avoiding last-minute, ad-hoc utilization of funeral directors should be a last resort. In smaller countries having an actively interested and proactive funeral director can be key for delivering cryonics services in particular.
There is a school of thought within the life extension movement that favors prioritizing the promotion of cryonics over anti-aging efforts. There are a number of arguments for this. A technical argument has been put forward in Thomas Donaldson’s seminal article “Why Cryonics Will Probably Help You More Than Anti-aging.”
The most rigorous test to determine whether an anti-aging therapy works entails giving it to a group of people and determining whether these people live longer (without any detrimental side-effects). The timescales entailed do not permit rapid progress in a field. Aiming for outright rejuvenation might be a better strategy because it allows for more short-term objective metrics to be used. Some of these metrics are common sense (athletic performance, skin appearance, cognitive tests etc.), others are more controversial (biochemical “biomarkers” of aging).
Wherever one comes down in this debate, it cannot be denied that cryobiological research can be pursued in a more precise, time-efficient manner. For example, if you want to determine whether a vitrification solution resists freezing when it is cooled to cryogenic temperatures, you need no more than a day to perform the experiment and document the results. This vitrification solution can then be introduced to an organ to determine whether the organ can be vitrified and recovered without ice formation.
This is not just conjecture. Since the mid-20th century a small number of dedicated cryobiologists have solved the problem of designing cryoprotectants that do not freeze at realistic cooling- and warming rates. Major progress has been made in mitigating toxicity and chilling injury of those cryoprotectants as well. It is important to keep this in mind when cryonics advocates are taken to task for not making as much progress as the people in the anti-aging field.
Another advantage of the field of cryobiology is that most of its findings are observed in all popular mammalian animal models. Phenomena such as cryoprotectant toxicity and cryoprotectant-induced brain shrinking are observed in both small- and large animal models. In aging research, however, the important role of evolution and genetics makes translating results from small animal models to humans a lot trickier. After all, an evolutionary perspective on aging needs to explain different lifespans in different animals and species (and even within). An intervention that prolongs the life in a small animal may only have minor health benefits in humans (like caloric restriction).
On a conceptual level the major figures in the life extension advocacy field cannot even agree on what aging is (put Aubrey de Grey, Michael Rose, and Joshua Mitteldorf in one room and see the sparks fly!) and the field is not immune to succumbing to one fad after another (while believing that this time it is for real). Part of this problem is related to the lack of objective, short-term measures to determine the effectiveness of an anti-aging treatment in humans. If it would be possible to asses the effectiveness of an anti-aging therapy in a quick and unambiguous manner, one theory of aging might be more easily favored over another.
Recent developments in the field of biomarkers of aging and “aging clocks” have given hope to those who believe that it now will be easier and time-efficient to determine the effectiveness of an anti-aging intervention. As of writing, there are several different biomarkers of aging and there is no consensus if these measures capture all the important aspects of aging. In fact, whether one clock is favored over another is itself reflective of one’s perspective on what aging is, which brings us back to the fundamental disagreements over aging that continue to divide biogerontologists. One thing that these biomarkers of aging will not be able to tell is whether an intervention is effective and safe in the long run. Or whether the maximum human life span would be altered by a specific intervention.
It cannot be emphasized enough that, as of writing, there is not one single anti-aging biotechnology that has been demonstrated to produce extension of the maximum human lifespan, let alone unambiguous evidence of rejuvenation. This should have a sobering effect on dispassionate observers of the field but it is no exaggeration to claim that many movers and shakers in the field are are not dispassionate and actually prone to embracing the next big thing, which often generates (predictable) cycles of great enthusiasm and disillusion.
The current big thing in the anti-aging field is the identification and validation of senolytics. Since the clearing of senescent cells is one of the pillars of the SENS program, the success of this approach will have important consequences for the “aging as damage accumulation” school of aging. Billions are flowing into this field in the anticipation of successful biomedical applications. So far, the results in small animal models look modestly encouraging and human trials have shown mixed results. The failure of a major phase II study for knee osteoarthritis is not encouraging and no doubt supporters will claim that systemic administration of senolytics is the way to go. Or that this is the wrong kind of senolytic. Or that the dosage and administration frequency is not right. Or that senolytics are necessary but not sufficient to produce meaningful anti-aging results etc. Not to speak of the possibility that senescent cells can also play a positive role (like the much dreaded “free radicals” of older anti-aging efforts).
At some point it would behoove the life extension community to seek a better balance between the funding of anti-aging therapies and the funding of (applied) cryonics research. Many wealthy people prefer to fund anti-aging research because it captures their hope that they do not have to die at all. Anti-aging therapies also offer a more attractive investment potential, which is often mistaken as the field being further advanced than biopreservation technologies. And let us not ignore the obvious point that that for many very old people the rejuvenation approach will not come in time.
Given enough time, all people will suffer a fatal accident, major trauma, or a type of (infectious) disease for which there is no treatment available (yet). For this reason alone, a comprehensive life extension plan should include arrangements for biopreservation to survive long-term.
What if senolytics fail? I suspect this will produce a major disillusion of the growing anti-aging biotechnology field and the SENS program in particular. A prudent approach would be to work from the premise that many of these therapies won’t work, or only have modest effects, and also invest in an evidence-based cryonics infrastructure so that, in principle, all people can access rejuvenation technologies regardless of health condition or age. One of the attractive features of medical timetravel is that it can transport today’s people to a time when rejuvenation biotechnologies are fact, not hope.
[In part 2 of this series, we will delve deeper into the field of biogerontology, its complexities, and how to prevent wasteful research spending….]
The Biostasis conference series, hosted by the European Biostasis Foundation (EBF), a Basel-based non-profit foundation, is focused on biostasis, cryobiology and cryopreservation.
The conference brings the leading scientists, providers, startups and foundations together. Usually the conference is hosted in Zurich, Switzerland but in 2020 we will host it online.. It will cover relevant topics from A to Z, from basic and applied research to marketing, ethics, service providers, and new approaches.
Among others, speakers will be: Grey Fahy, Aschwin de Wolf, Robert McIntyre, Max More, Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, Adam Higgins, … and many more
Due to a larger contribution, 250 tickets to Biostasis2020 are available for free.
It is evident that controlling your time of death can greatly improve the conditions and outcomes of a cryonics procedure. The biggest advantage is that it categorically eliminates the possibility of an unattended death which can produce extensive periods of ischemia, the risk of a destructive autopsy, culminating in a “straight freeze” (cryopreservation without cryoprotection). At the very least, it mostly eliminates the prolonged adverse dying phase often associated with terminally ill patients.
These reasons, and a commitment to self-determination, cause many cryonics advocates to support the “right to die” and (state) legislation to make this option legally available to terminally ill persons. A small subset of cryonics advocates, however, have felt uncomfortable with the support for a sociopolitical movement aimed at securing the “right to die” because they understand that the majority of people seeking this right suffer from medical conditions that can be treated by more advanced medical procedures in the future and would be better served by a life-saving procedure such as cryopreservation instead.
Not withstanding these finer ethical points, utilizing medical aid in dying to secure a more timely and well-managed cryopreservation is a sensible pragmatic choice for terminally ill people with cryonics arrangements. But it should be emphasized that in such scenarios the aim is not to terminate life but to induce metabolic arrest for more advanced medical treatment in the future. This stands in stark contrast to the reasons why most people currently take advantage of such laws. As an evidence-based life-saving procedure, cryonics would benefit from distinct legal protections that provide people the option to choose cryonics as an elective medical procedure.
We need a different ethical and legal framework to prevent that cryonics continues to be practiced as a chaotic form of emergency medicine. Philosophers Francesca Minerva & Anders Sandberg have made the case for “cryothanasia” (a term coined in 2015 by Ole Martin Moen) and argue that, as a procedure aimed at saving lives, many of the objections to euthanasia would not apply to cryothanasia.
There is a tendency among some cryonics advocates to overestimate the beneficial effects of controlling the timing of their cryopreservation. Unless choosing the time of your death is followed by rapid standby, stabilization, and field cryoprotection, minimizing distance and transport time to the cryonics facility might still provide a better outcome for most cryonics members.
Cryonics organizations and their members should exercise restraint in political advocacy for right to die laws and focus on creating a favorable legal climate to practice cryonics as an experimental medical procedure instead. There are many people fighting for the right to die, but there are not many people fighting for the right to life extension, which would entail the right to be cryopreserved through professionally-managed hospital-based procedure.
I have tried to live a healthy and safe life in hope that rejuvenation would become available soon. But I made cryonics arrangements in case it did not.
I feared dying in my sleep or in an automobile accident. But I have gotten an aggressive form of cancer that has spread throughout my body, including to my brain, and it cannot be stopped. My lungs are also cancerous, which means that I am now on a ventilator to keep me breathing and alive.
I have made the decision to terminate my current life before the cancer destroys too much of my brain. I will give a hand signal to have the ventilator removed.
I am in a hospice where a standby team has been assembled. The stabilization equipment is in place, and the team is ready to quickly respond as soon as I give the hand signal. A physician will be on hand to rapidly pronounce death. My power of attorney for health care is here in case I lack the power to give the hand signal.
My friends and relatives are here too. They come and say goodbye with hugs and kisses. Letting go of life is not easy. Some of my friends and family are begging me to cling to life for as long as I can. But if I do so, I will slowly disappear as the cancer destroys my brain. Possibly a miracle cure will be discovered within a few months, but that is very unlikely.
If I give the hand signal to remove the ventilator, will it be like holding a gun to my head and pulling the trigger?
How much time would it be before revival? 25 years? 50 years? 100 years? Longer? Never?
What could happen in that time?
Destruction of my liquid nitrogen container by a terrorist?
A nuclear war?
An asteroid hitting the planet?
A worldwide pandemic that destroys cryonics?
Mismanagement, lawsuits, or bitter infighting that destroys cryonics organizations?
Government action due to political pressure that destroys cryonics organizations?
Failure of cryonics technology to revive?
Several more months of life might be the last opportunity to enjoy friends, family, and all the things I love about life. I hate being in this position. My life does not go before my eyes, there is only fear and doubt. I do not want to die. I do not want my life to end.
The actual procedure does not involve freezing (or subzero preservation) and the use of induced hypothermia for medical treatment is much older than these stories indicate. A noted scientist in the field of low temperature medicine comments:
The purpose is to buy time to surgically fix people who’ve “bled to death” (bled out to cardiac arrest), reperfuse them with warm blood, and then restart their heart. Without cooling and repair of the cause of the fatal bleed before attempting the restart the heart, it’s usually impossible to resuscitate people who show up in emergency rooms in cardiac arrest from blood loss.
Cooling and reviving people from long periods of stopped blood circulation (“suspended animation”) is not new in medicine. Some surgical patients are intentionally placed in circulatory arrest for periods as long as one hour at temperatures as cold as +18 degC for certain surgeries in a procedure called Deep Hypothermic Circulatory Arrest (DHCA). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_hypothermic_circulatory_arrest
coldest body temperature ever used in medicine dates back to 1955 when
Suad Niazi at the University of Minnesota cooled a woman to only +9 degC
in cadiac arrest for 45 minutes in an attempt to treat her cancer. She
successfully recovered (but was not cured of cancer). Niazi even did
it without cardiopulmonary bypass or blood substitutes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1450560/pdf/annsurg01232-0140.pdf
In the early days of DHCA, surgeons such as Christian Baarnard also used temperatures as low as +10 degC. The claim that accidental hypothermia victim Anna Bagenholm set a low temperature survival record by recovering from a temperature of +14 degC is inaccurate, although perhaps perpetuated because her case was so dramatic and uncontrolled compared to planned medical procedures. At the time of writing, the lowest body temperature survived by a human in the medical literature appears to be Niazi’s 1955 cancer patient at +9 degC.
If the EPR human clinical trials are as successful as preclinical work suggests they could be, it’s possible that patients might be revived after longer periods of stopped blood circulation than previously demonstrated, perhaps as long as two hours.”