Comments on the book YOUNIVERSE by Robert Ettinger

Robert Ettinger‘s book Youniverse: Toward a Self-Centered Philosophy of Immortalism and Cryonics is a book containing many insights and deep thoughts, yet has such an informal writing style that many readers might not take it seriously. I know of no other work of philosophy in which the author begins a sentence with “Anyway,”. Ettinger writes that the first cryonics-related organization was founded “in 1962 or 1963, I forget which”, then says “Why don’t I look it up?” and justifies himself by reference to a Woody Allen movie. This is not the kind of writing one expects from a philosophy treatise.

Ettinger may not take himself too seriously, but he is even more dismissive of most of the world’s foremost philosophers and religious figures. The writings of Aristotle are called “ramblings”. In describing William James’s statement that James was only able to understand Hegel while under the influence of nitrous oxide, Ettinger notes how appropriate it is that nitrous oxide is also called laughing gas. Ettinger wrote that “Rousseau has been extravagantly praised, and not only by himself”, but dismisses Rousseau as unoriginal, incoherent, not profound, and frequently wrong. Ettinger describes the philosopher G.E. Moore as being “definitely confused as well as confusing, abounding in contradictions and non-sequiturs, sometimes substituting assertions for arguments.” Ettinger often seems himself guilty of the last accusation. He faults Isaac Asimov for the “absurdity” that without the “saving grace of death” the rigid views of the old would prevent further progress — but leaves a critique of Asimov’s argument “as an exercise for the reader”. Ettinger writes that “Paeans of praise have poured from the pens of platoons of panting pundits” concerning Godel’s Incompleteness theorem, which he dismisses as a linguistic trick associated with the failure of physics to correspond identically with formal (mathematical) systems. By finding the quote from Wittgenstein “I don’t know why we are here, but I am pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves”, Ettinger has massively deflated my respect for the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Ettinger describes the modern “self-styled bioethicist” as a “new type of vermin or parasite” whose major accomplishment has been to create “the illusion of looking down on people far above them.”

Ettinger wrote that “fear of God” is generally really fear of parents, neighbors, and a lifetime of conditioning. He says people too readily submit to tradition rather than use reason. To be “normal” is to have the same delusions as the neighbors. He says loyalty “is frequently a worthy habit”, but sometimes nothing more than an unjustified habit. Ettinger says faith is arrogant certainty in the absence of evidence, which ultimately “boils down to sacrificing your integrity for a bit of comfort”. To Ettinger it is obvious that non-human animals have consciousness and feelings, and that a God that disregarded the suffering of animals on the grounds that animals have no soul “would have less compassion than the average human”. Like many physicists, Ettinger seems accepting of the idea that time and the universe began with the Big Bang, but wonders where God would be before He created time and the universe. Ettinger can make no sense of an omniscient, omnipotent God creating people who need to live their lives to prove whether they deserve Heaven or Hell. Ettinger says that a benevolent God would forgive the skeptics, who should therefore have no reason to compromise their integrity and disbelief.

Ettinger’s irreverence extends to the legal system. Frequent use of appeals courts and split decisions in the Supreme Court are given as evidence that laws are unclear or that bias is pervasive. He describes juries as “ignorant, stupid and readily swayed by irrelevancies and by histrionics”. In connection with the adversarial system, Ettinger wrote “All lawyers are frightening, and specialty litigators are terrifying. Some firms are said to keep their lead litigators chained in a tower room and fed raw meat until needed.” I asked Mr. Ettinger what his beloved son (a lead litigator at a prestigious law firm) had to say about the law chapter, but I got no definitive response.

As the book title YOUNIVERSE implies, Ettinger believes that “me-first” and “feel-good” are the only possible basis for conscious motivation. He also states that a person ought to want whatever will maximize future “feel-good”, and that people do not always want what they ought to want. Ettinger believes that “figuring out what we ought to want is the primary problem of philosophy”. He says that a main aim of YOUNIVERSE is to debunk the views that values are arbitrary or externally given.

Ettinger challenges the claim of David Hume that “You can’t derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is'”, and — like Ayn Rand with her Objectivist Ethics — he does so by reference to values being rooted in biology. Ettinger disparagingly dismisses Rand’s views as narcissism, “me generation”, and “looking out for number one” without explaining how this differs from “me-first”. Rooted in biology, Rand makes survival the basis of her ethics, rather than “feel-good”. Ironically, Ettinger writes more approvingly of Nietzsche’s self-centeredness, although Ettinger faults Nietzsche’s belief in the importance of power over other people as a core value. (Ettinger notes that Nietzsche believed Russians and Jews, rather than Germans, would be the “master races” of Europe.)

I disagree with the arguments of Rand and Ettinger for deriving “ought” from biology. Biology dictates that animals value food and water, but many humans have committed suicide by refusing food and water. To assert that such people are “wrong” and did not do what they ought to have done would be attempting to externally impose values upon them. Ettinger could argue that such people were acting in such a way as to maximize their satisfaction — “me-first” and “feel-good” (he gives the examples of a woman rushing into a burning building to save her baby, or “saints” who gain personal satisfaction from ascetic service to others). But by that argument they were wanting what they ought to want. The point Ettinger seems to be making is that people should not allow others to impose their values upon them — should not be driven by guilt, social pressure, the need to conform. But if people are driven by these motives, they are nonetheless still maximizing their satisfaction. Ettinger might say that such people are acting without integrity by not being true to themselves, but why should people be blamed for valuing the opinions of others and for this being important to them? If it is “impossible to be motivated by anything other than self interest, because motivation means what is important to the self”, then the word “ought” is inappropriate. If “me-first” and “feel-good” are the only possible bases for conscious motivation, then the word “ought” is inappropriate. The only reason that people fail to want what they ought to want is because of matters of fact, not matters of value — people failing to appreciate the consequences of their actions in the context of their values.

The issue of determinism and free will is a subject about which I have thought, read, and written about considerably (see A Case for Free Will AND Determinism ), yet I found Ettinger’s chapter on this subject impressively thoughtful and informative. I mostly agree with Ettinger’s views, about which we are both very much in the minority. I won’t say much about the issues or insights I gained in the determinism chapter, but I will comment on how he applies determinism to cryonics. Ettinger notes that “determinism is very nearly equivalent to” conservation of information, which implies that any human who ever lived could be reconstructed without having been cryonically preserved — except that there may never be adequate computing power.

Although I can conceive of retaining my personal identity in the total absence of any memories that I have, I nonetheless find the idea hard to relate-to. I am even less comfortable about the idea that the essence of my personal identity is feeling. Ettinger has firmer opinions on these subjects than I do, but I sense that his emphasis on feeling as the essence of personal identity contradicts his admonishments about the use of reason against intuition, tradition, and conditioning.

Ettinger skims over the subject of ischemic damage in cryonics, and I think he is wrong to say that “cryothermic damage will in most cases be the most difficult to reverse”. Freezing damage is like broken pieces that are nonetheless intact, whereas ischemic damage is like dissolution or decomposition of structure. Nonetheless, I cannot quantify my argument in terms of “most cases”. I think Ettinger is wrong to cling to the word “immortality” as meaning “indefinitely extended life” when its literal meaning is “eternal life”. His use of the word “immortality” presents cryonics as an alternative to religion rather than an extension of medicine.

Although Ettinger acknowledges that death will mean an end to suffering, he sees a number of disadvantages, including
“…it’s hard to enjoy life when you’re dead.
…daisies are prettier when viewed from above.
…you can only vote in Chicago.
…you need extra strength deodorant.”
But mainly, “Life is better than death because it is more interesting.” (For my own views on the subject, see: Why Life Extension?)

In his lifetime of reading Ettinger has collected numerous notable quotes, and these gems are liberally sprinkled throughout YOUNIVERSE. Some of my favorites include “‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ presupposes that you love yourself” (Miguel de Unamuno), “The greatest part of our happiness depends on our disposition, not our circumstances” (Martha Washington), and Will Rogers’s WWII suggestion for getting rid of German U-boats: “Boil the Atlantic Ocean. How do we do that? Hey, I’m just an idea man, I leave the details to the engineers.”

Ettinger also has a chapter called “Misunderstandings” which deals with his insights into a wide variety of subjects. Indicative of my “anti-intellectual” bias, is the fact that my favorite is Ettinger’s observation that torque (force X lever arm length) has identical units to work (newton-meters), despite the fact that work and torque are completely different. He offers no solution or explanation, however.

A consequence of Ettinger’s informal writing style is that there is much autobiographical material throughout YOUNIVERSE. But the last formal chapter (I am not counting the Appendix) is explicitly autobiographical. He says “I have perhaps a few thousand admirers, hardly any of whom give me much thought or attention”. Ettinger speaks of his loneliness in having experienced the loss of all his friends and family of his generation, and that there is nobody left whom he wants to impress. Indicative of Ettinger’s world-weariness is his quote of a comment made by his brother that all of life is “killing time and amusing oneself while waiting to die”.

Ettinger’s final comments concern his plan to have a pre-mortem “jolly wake” with music, speakers, toasts, and other festivities prior to a suicide intended to improve the conditions of his cryonic preservation. Ettinger notes earlier in the book that “many people are more afraid of seeming cowardly than of facing danger”, which is why suicide with an audience of friends and family would boost his courage. The last line of the chapter reads “If I never wake up, my last experience will have been better than most — a very brief comfort, to be sure.”

Although there are some cryonicists who believe that Robert Ettinger would be the perfect cryonicist to win sympathy for voluntary self-euthanasia to improve cryopreservation, I am not one of them. How can you justify voluntary euthanasia in a non-terminal person when there is no way of knowing how many years of life that person could be expected to live? How can you justify voluntary euthanasia for ANYONE not suffering from a terminal disease, or expect the public to be sympathetic to voluntary self-euthanasia under these conditions? Even for terminal cryonics patients, I would not be to eager to see a public association of cryonics with self-euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Cryonicists would be accused of taking advantage of mentally-compliant sick and elderly people for monetary reasons, which would lead to even more cryonics-unfriendly legislation.

And there are practical problems, not the least of which is the danger of autopsy. Many cryonicists, myself included, cling to life tenaciously — much more tenaciously than the average person. I would find it very difficult to euthanize myself or have myself euthanized. The ideal situation is when death is nearly certain to occur within a week. But this is the condition in which standbys are typically initiated, not the condition in which standbys fail to occur. Heart attack is a common cause of death, and this is most often unexpected. Most cryonicists who receive standby are people dying of cancer, and whose slide toward death is along a more predictable path. The ability of cancer victims to euthanize themselves would make the standby process easier, but that would have no effect on reducing the number of cryonicists who deanimate without standby, despite having arranged for standby. There are no convincing arguments that simplifying self-euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide will lead to the majority of cryonics cases having greatly improved cryopreservation by significantly reducing the number of cryonicists deanimating under unfavorable conditions.

October 2010 Cryonics Symposium in Germany

On the first weekend of October, 2010 I was an invited speaker at “Applied Cryobiology – Scientific Symposium on Cryonics” held in Goslar, Germany: The meeting was the first effort by the German Society for Applied Biostasis (DGAB) to create a milieu for scientific discussion of cryonics-related issues as well as to elevate the scientific status of cryonics and bring more scientists into the field. DGAB hopes to have another such symposium in two years.

Goslar, Germany is a World Heritage Site and tourist center based on the fact that it was the beginning of German industry nearly a thousand years ago as a rich source for mining many minerals. Goslar became a free imperial city and was a favorite residence for many emperors. Goslar is also the city where the conference organizer lives.

With only about 10,000 tourists per year, and a location that is not close to a major city, Goslar can only be reached after several hours by car or train by those coming from outside of Germany. I chose to rent a car, partly because it was so much less expensive than train, and partly because of my curiosity about the Autobaun.

The German Autobahn is probably the only major highway system in the developed world that has portions without a maximum speed limit. I have no enthusiasm for speeding, but was curious to see what it is like to drive on the Autobahn. I reasoned that such a motorway would not be permitted to exist if it were littered with corpses and smashed vehicles. I found that much of the Autobahn had speed limits, there were many construction zones that restricted speed, and traffic jams were sometimes so bad that any forward motion was slow and intermittent. But there were a few times when I was traveling over 90 miles per hour in the flow of traffic, and being passed on my left by cars going so fast that I could have been standing still, relatively speaking. Nonetheless, it did not seem too dangerous.

The symposium was originally to be held mainly in German, but there were twice as many attending (about 50) as had been anticipated — and so many were from outside Germany that the organizers decided to have all sessions in English. Although many of the participants had impressive scientific backgrounds, they were overwhelmingly people with a personal interest in cryonics. The organizers struggled to get speakers with scientific credentials, but many of those who would have been otherwise interested and qualified did not want to risk their careers by participation. Peter Gouras, MD, PhD was the most credentialed scientist presenting. There was a medical examiner whose presentation concluded that cryonics can’t work in Germany, a perfusionist-turned-journalist, an embalmer who failed to attend, a nanotechnology PhD, and me. The other presentations were not about cryonics science.

I was scheduled to speak about challenges in cryonics technology, but became concerned that there was no general introduction to cryonics technology in the program. I requested that I give an introductory presentation as the first speaker, and give another presentation on technical challenges later in the program. Instead, the organizers gave me double the time for my presentation as first speaker (following the Mayor of Goslar). I believe that I did a good job combining introductory material with technical challenges in cryonics. My presentation and the question period that followed were recorded on video, which I am hoping will be put on YouTube.

Holger Zorn discussed his experience as a perfusionist who had worked in the field of hypothemia. He said that cannulation for cooling perfusion could be done in two minutes. When cooling for cardiac surgery they used diluted blood (low hematocrit). Holger discussed cases of forensic perfusion in which reperfusion was performed weeks after death on corpses to elucidate puncturing by knife or gunshot. He said he had worked with hypothermic perfusions down to 18 degrees Celsius, and had never seen a case of shivering. This conflicts with studies reporting shivering between 34 and 35.5 degrees Celsius in therapeutic hypothermia, requiring drugs for suppression:

There has been recent criticism of the use of drugs to suppress shivering in cryonics cases.

Dr. Peter Gouras, who is on the Cryonics Institute Scientific Advisory Board (and whose wife is German) has been involved in cryonics for many decades. He is an ophthalmology professor at Columbia University. He was introduced as the “father of retinal pigment epithelial transplantation.” He discussed his work studying macular degeneration in rhesus monkeys on calorie restriction, concluding that calorie restriction has less benefit for primates than for rodents. He expressed the view that enthusiasm for cryonics is genetic, and that any attempt at persuasion is fruitless. Somewhat contradicting this claim is his claim that reviving a whole mammal from cryopreservation would have a huge impact on the acceptance of cryonics.

The Nanotechnology and Cryonics presentation by Klaus Mathwig was somewhat standard nanotechnology fare for me. What I found most interesting was the question of how nanomachines would know how the correct structure would look after increasing levels of damage. It was suggested that there might be a need to scan the brain structure beforehand. So if your last scan was a month or two before your deanimation, you might be reconstructed as you were at that time. But with a good scan, what need is there for the original material? I thought the purpose of nanobots was to partly to discover the original structure.

Christoph Meissner is a medical examiner who works at the Department of Forensic Medicine at a university hospital. He had done an impressive amount of research on the subject of brain deterioration following stoppage of the heart. Many of the studies he cited were decades old because such studies would not currently be approved by ethics committees. In his experience, the corpse of a murder victim is not found in less than four hours. Under the best of circumstances he believes that a death certificate cannot be issued in Germany in less than one or two hours. He believes that it would not be possible to revive a cryonics patient who had experienced that amount of warm ischemia. During the question period he was asked why he would come to a cryonics conference if he had such a negative view of cryonics prospects. He answered that he is a scientist and that he was trying to make a reasonable assessment of cryonics. I believe that he is sincere and had no “ax to grind” about cryonics one way or the other. The fact that he was specific about probable delays in Germany being the source of his negative prognosis implied that he has not decided that cryonics is hopeless ifcryopreservation is prompt. Ironically, one of the studies he cited showed that rat brain neurons in cortical slices recover function upon reoxygenation as well after five hours post-mortem as they do after immediate post-mortem reoxygenation.

David Styles announce the beginning of Eucrio, an organization intended to give Suspended Animation, Inc -like standby/stabilization services to all the countries in the European Union, plus Norway. Cryonics patients would be vitrified in Europe with CI’s VM-1 vitrification solution, and then shipped on dry ice to Michigan or Arizona for cryostorage. Given the welter of European languages, laws, and insurance policies this is an ambitious undertaking. David has a lot of energy, intelligence, and determination, so if anyone can make this project work, he is one of the few. David spent much time discussing the equipment Eucrio has or is obtaining. Eucrio currently has seed capital for the first year of operation, and it is expected that Eucrio members paying 35 euros per month will keep the organization going even when there are no patients. Fees for service are calculated with a goal of breaking even, based on the assumption that one-third of insurance policies don’t pay (which has not been CI experience).

Sebastian Sethe is a lawyer who spoke on Ethical Problems in Cryonics. Sebastian asked many questions for which he gave no answers. When challenged on this matter, he said that ethicists are more interested in questions than answers, whereas scientists are the opposite. I sometimes think that ethicists are sadists who enjoy torturing people with questions. As a case in point, Sebastian asked whether if the CI facility caught fire, if Ben Best should be saved or the 100 cryonics patients in storage. Part of his question was entailed in Sebastian’s assertion that “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” After the lecture I tried to pin Sebastian down on his assertion, asking him why his assertion should be more true than “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is going to work.” He answered that the true opposite of his assertion is “It is unreasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” I at least got him to say that cryonics has more than a zero chance of working, although I had a hard time nailing down what he thinks the most limiting considerations are — technical, organizational, societal, financial, etc. He suggested that the cryonics organizations are financially threadbare and vulnerable.

I considered discussing the preventative measures against fire that are in place at the Cryonics Institute, but did not do so.

Torsten Nam spoke on Cryonics and Transhumanism. He described transhumanists as people who want to use technology to improve their physical and mental abilities, and to overcome their (biological) limitations. He said that 8% of transhumanists are cryonicists, which by his calculations means that a transhumanist is 200,000 times more likely to be a cryonicist than someone in the general population. He called FM-2030 the father of modern transhumanism, while acknowledging Robert Ettinger’s transhumanist classic MAN INTO SUPERMAN. Among major milestones he listed Francis Fukuyama calling transhumanism the world’s most dangerous idea and a 2007 European Union report on human enhancement. In the early days it had been common to compare transhumanism to fascism (Nietzsche’s Superman), but now the subject is entering the academic mainstream. Some transhumanists want to dissociate themselves from cryonics in order to be more acceptable.

On Sunday the Robert Ettinger Medal for outstanding merits in the field of cryonics was awarded to its first recipient: Robert Ettinger.

Medal Front

Medal Back

I accepted the medal on behalf of Mr. Ettinger, which meant that I had to make a speech. I said that Robert Ettinger is above all a man ofideas, who nonetheless also felt obliged to exert his influence in the physical world by, among other things, helping found the Cryonics Institute because he was not satisfied with what the other cryonics organizations were offering. I also said that Mr. Ettinger deserves a lot of credit for the creation of CI’s fiberglass cryostats, something he is rarely credited for.

In the Round Table discussion I provocatively asked David Styles how Eucrio would provide good stabilization service in Germany, where they would have to wait 1-2 hours after cardiac arrest to get a death certificate before proceeding with cooling and Cardio-Pulmonary Support (CPS).The situation is worse in Italy where 24 hours must pass before getting a death certificate, and in France where cooling is not permitted. France and Italy both require embalming before a body can be shipped out of the country. There was a lengthy discussion/argument wherein David defended his ability to expedite obtaining death certificates and to adapt legal requirements to cryonics purposes. In my own talk I had cited studies showing that neurons are more durable than generally believed, and can survive hours of warm ischemia. Good vitrification in Europe and shipment in dry-ice would definitely be an advantage over the alternative of spending days in water-ice during shipment.

I mentioned the importance of vital signs alarm systems for cases of sudden death where no standby is possible — and the greater availability of such systems in Europe versus the United States, notably the  Vivago Care watch. Dr. Klaus Sames became very impatient and stressed that a scientific symposium should discuss more scientific issues. Dr. Peter Gouras then began beating the drum for raising money for cryonics research — and his preference for small animal whole body experiments. I re-emphasized that Aschwin and Chana de Wolf are doing the most focused cryonics research in their experiments that have found ways to improve perfusion in cryonics patients that have suffered ischemic damage (virtually every cryonics patient). I believe that it would be a great boon to cryonics science if there was money for Aschwin and Chana to do full-time research, rather than just on weekends.

Dr. Sames again felt that this subject is not purely scientific, which led to some discussion of methods of cryonics research. Dr. Sames questioned that the results of small animal experiments are applicable to large animals (humans). Dr. Gouras argued that mouse experiments are the basis of most modern medicine. I described the whole body vitrification experiments at 21st Century Medicine, and the electrophysiology studies on vitrified hippocampal slices. I noted that my information is three years old and that the next public update on 21st Centrury Medicine research is not likely to happen until the May 2011 Suspended Animation Conference in Florida.

Dr. Gouras repeated his claim that experiments on small mammals provides more rapid feedback than organ cryopreservation. No one seemed very inspired by my contention that the greatest breakthrough for cryonics would be elimination of cryoprotectant toxicity. We only have vague theories of what cryoprotectant toxicity is — there should be focused research on this topic, understanding the mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity would be a significant step toward understanding how to eliminate it. Whole body vitrification efforts are easily distracted by perfusion problems, and trying to analyze every organ at once makes the problem hopelessly complicated. Analyzing cryoprotectant toxicity on single organs, perhaps even with biochemical tools (because it is ultimately an issue in molecular biology), has the best chance of addressing the toxicity problem, in my opinion. But “cryomouse prize” and whole body vitrification approaches win the popularity contests by a large margin over a cryoprotectant toxicity “X-prize”. I believe that given adequate funding, Aschwin and Chana de Wolf could contribute significantly to finding less toxic cryoprotectants, and I would like to be involved in the project.

At the symposium I met many people whom I had not known before, many I had known, but not met, and quite a few others that I enjoyed meeting again. I will only mention one, however: Roland Missionnier.

In the late 1960s the Cryonics Society of France was the largest cryonics organization outside of the United States. Roland was the President and Anatole Dolinoff was Vice-President. Roland showed me a list of officers and directors of the organization, pointing-out who had been fighting with whom, and the fact that virtually all were dead without having been cryopreserved. Dolinoff believed that cryonics was illegal in France because of a decree issued by the French Minister of Health in 1968. On page 13 of the October 1989 issue of CRYONICS magazine, Saul Kent said that he would investigate challenging the French law if it had an substance, but if he did so, I never heard the result of his efforts. Roland has been trying to re-start a cryonics organization in France, but he is also planning to move to Florida where he can live close to Suspended Animation, Inc. Roland said that with some money and a lawyer, almost anyone could move to the United States.

Cryonicist Charles Tandy, PhD, wants to publish the symposium proceedings through his Ria University Press.

Those of you who read Finnish can read the summary by Ville Salmensuu or you can stick the link in Google translate:|en|

Free will versus determinism as it relates to cryonics

Excerpt from “Ben Best – A Case for Free Will AND Determinism”

Determinism implies materialism — implies that consciousness is material. Cryonics is based on the premise that the preservation of the fine structure of the brain at low temperature will preserve the self — ie, that the self is entirely determined-by and contained-in the physical brain. Determinism would imply that preservation of the material basis of mind/self is theoretically possible. (For an exploration of how the self is encoded in the brain, see my series The Anatomical Basis of Mind. Development of the anatomical argument to explain the functioning of mind is best summarized in Chapter 8, Neurophysiology and Mental Function.)

Defenders of “free will” who say that the self has a spiritual basis independent of the brain often reject cryonics as being unnecessary. There are a few “spiritually” oriented people (like the Fyodorovians) who think that “resurrection of the body” is essential due to an intimate connection between the body and the “soul”, but these are in the minority. The majority of cryonicists do not accept spiritual beliefs, but there are notable exceptions, namely people who regard cryonics as a form of medicine. If cryonics can extend life, it is no more an affront to spiritual belief than other life-extending practices such as exercise and the avoidance of tobacco.

What about anti-determinist materialists who believe in “free will”? Those, like Roger Penrose, who claim that the mind is ultimately rooted in quantum uncertainty might not accept the possibility of biostasis, but Penrose has made no explicit statement about this subject. Penrose writes of the non-computability of mind, but acknowledges that non-predictability does not equate with “free will”.

Predictability is really at the heart of what is required for cryonics. If the mechanical operation of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses result in the phenomena known as the mind, the Self and the Will, then preservation & restoration of this machinery by cryonicists & nanotechnologists is possible in principle. But this also means that human beings are machines whose future actions are, in principle, entirely predictable. The positive side of this is that understanding the machinery in sufficient detail could provide the basis for reconstructing those aspects of the mind (parts of the brain) that were destroyed beyond recognition or repair. The negative side is that many people find it “dehumanizing” to believe that we are nothing but machines.

The proposition that the self/mind has a complete material basis in the mind has practical implications for cryonics, but also raised baffling questions. If it is possible to use a cryopreserved brain as a template for atom-by-atom reconstruction of a new brain, the identity of the person whose brain was cryopreserved would presumably be restored. But if such reconstruction could be done once, there is no reason why it could not be done hundreds of times. Would each reconstruction have the same personal identity (the same self) as the original? (For more detail on this question, see my essay The Duplicates Paradox).

Cryonics Oregon june meeting report

About 35 people attended the Cryonics Oregon-sponsored debate on the subject of SENS. Chana Phaedra was mistress of ceremonies. A show of hands indicated that the great majority of those attending were signed-up cryonicists. There was a sizeable contingent of CI Members who drove down from Seattle for the event. One was Eron Hennessey who bid $100 for an autographed Nanomedicine book by Robert Freitas that was auctioned for the benefit of James Swayze (who also attended the event). The money will be kept by Cryonics Oregon to help pay for equipment  for James. Jordan Sparks has offered to build a portable  ice bath that is large enough for James.

About five people came to the event who were non-cryonicists attending the American Aging Association conference, three of whom I brought in a taxi. A biogerontologist cryobiologist who wishes not to be named also attended.

Dr. de Grey began the debate with his standard presentation explaining the SENS program. After I presented my critique, the cryobiologist took the stage and gave his critique of SENS. Aubrey started by answering the cryobiologist, although he commented on a couple of my points. He and the cryobiologist were soon in an active exchange which went on for a while. It became evident to me the Aubrey was not going to get  around to answering my critique in the remaining 15 minutes of the 2-hour booking for the room. I interrupted Aubrey and the cryobiologist suggesting that questions should  be taken from the floor. Aschwin de Wolf added his critique to the debate, and he was followed by others.

There was not much time for socializing, but there was enough for most of us to have a few brief and rewarding conversations with people we had not seen for a while as well as others we were meeting for the first time.  A few Alcor and CI brochures were taken. One man with a CI brochure expressed interest in having cryonics  arrangements with both CI and Alcor. I told him that CI allows those with dual arrangements to have CI as a backup service provider. Alcor allows dual arrangements, but always insists that Alcor be the primary service provider, and that Alcor can never be the backup.

Fourth Asset Preservation Group meeting

On the weekend of April 23-25 I attended a meeting of the cryonics Asset Preservation Group held at the estate of Ken Weiss near Gloucester, Massachusetts

I will try to give a few brief summaries without going into detail about every presentation.

Lori Rhodes, who is Terasem’s Legal Researcher, is working to create legally recognized category of autopsy specific for cryonics projects. I am admittedly somewhat cynical about the prospects of getting the rights of a tiny and ill respected minority such as cryonicists recognized by the legal system, but perhaps I am wrong. Marvin Minsky, who attended this meeting with his wife, has influential friends in high places who might be of help.

Lori mentioned that because of better diagnosis and imaging tools, the autopsy rate has been dropping.

Mike Perry distributed his paper “Options for Brain-Threatening Disorders” and discussed its contents. He mentioned Terasem’s CyBeRev project for storing “mindfiles” from which it is hoped that individuals could be reconstructed. The Society for Universal Immortalism — of which Mike is President — has a similar project, but UI will also store resin-embedded genomic samples at room temperature.

Mike discussed Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking (VSED) as an option from cryonics patients with a brain-threatening disease. He discussed the book A HASTENED DEATH BY SELF-DENIAL OF FOOD AND DRINK by Boudewijn Cabot

In June 1990 Linda Chamberlain’s mother was able to use VSED for cryonics purposes with sympathetic assistance in a hospital because lung cancer had metastasized to the brain and she was legally “terminal”. This might not be so easy for an Alzheimer’s Disease patient who still had enough wits to know what to do, but was not far advanced enough to be classified as terminal. Mike mentioned Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, and citizenship in the country is not required. Dignitas is a Swiss organization with medical staff that will even provide assisted suicide for persons with incurable mental illness. Mike hopes for Dignitas or a similar organization to assist with cryonics cases.

Steve Valentine discussed the Timeship project. I have heard him speak of this many times before, but this time I took a special note of his earthquake risk map. I noticed that Alcor and CI are in the second-safest seismic risk category. It may not mean anything, but Alcor is close to the highest seismic risk areas and CI is close to the lowest risk areas.

Bruce Waugh addressed the issue of how to invest for the next hundred years. He gave 2006 inflation-adjusted 205-year return on
$1 invested in 1801 as:

Stocks: $755,163
Bonds: $1,083
Treasuries: $301
Gold: $2
Cash: 6 cents

Bruce said that the historic risk premium on equities is 5%. From the return on treasuries he gave, I calculate a risk-free premium of 1.42%.

For the last ten years he gave the following returns:

Managed futures: 87%
Bonds: 68%
Real Estate: 55%
Bank interest: 34%
Commodities: 33%
World stocks: -6%
US stocks: -12%

Bruce is an independent futures systems trader whose trading falls into the managed futures category.

For the next hundred years nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence could have significant impact, especially on equity and commodity values. Bruce suggested making investments into companies that will improve the chances of revival, such as those doing research into nanotechnology and cryobiology.

Political, financial, and social changes are very hard to predict. Bruce would allocate about a third of a 100 year portfolio into the broad stock market, with a switch to cash during downturns (defined as when the S&P 500 falls below its 200 day average). He would put portions of the rest into managed futures, art, commodities and real estate with nothing into bonds or treasuries.
(Bruce Waugh giving his presentation.)

Peggy Hoyt is a Florida lawyer who is working with Rudi Hoffman to write a book about legal and financial issues of concern to cryonicists. She distributed a paper concerning cryonics advanced directives, although she has the unfortunate habit of using the word “cryogenic” for “cryonic”, which is one of my pet peeves. Which reminds me that she has her own law firm and has a special interest in writing trusts that provide for pets.

Of special interest to me was Peggy’s comment that no-contest (in terrorem) clauses in wills are completely unenforceable in Florida. Cryonicists often speak of writing provisions in their wills to disinherit any relative who interferes or tries to interfere with their cryonics arrangements, but apparently this is not possible in Florida. According to Wikipedia, however, such clauses are fully enforceable in California.

I cannot find any website that gives state-by-state information on which states allow such clauses and which ones do not, so a local attorney is advised for someone planning to include such provisions in a will.

Peggy showed me a recent book she has written entitled THANK EVERYBODY FOR EVERYTHING.

Looking at Amazon, it appears that she has written many books, mostly with co-authors.

John Dedon and Ralph Merkle spoke about the wealth preservation trust that they are developing for Alcor Members — the Alcor Model Trust. It is still under review whether the Alcor Model Trust is compatible with Alcor’s 501(c)3 status, although they don’t expect a problem.

Alcor will be given the responsibility for identifying the reanimated cryonicist as being the ultimate beneficiary of a trust. In exchange for a modest payment to Alcor ($500 to $1,000), Alcor will review the individual trust and will appoint Trust Advisors. The Trust Advisors, in turn, will appoint trustees. The Trust Advisors will be empowered to change trustees, if necessary.

Alcor would be the immediate beneficiary of the Alcor Model Trust, which might be 1% of the principle annually, or perhaps a share of the income. Distributions to Alcor from trusts will provide Alcor with financial incentives to be particularly diligent, and will also give Alcor legal standing to go to court if a trust is being mishandled. Of course, persons cryopreserved at Alcor would want to contribute to Alcor’s strength (ability to survive). Furthermore, research money donated to Alcor might hasten the day when the patient is revived. Insofar as Alcor is a charitable 501(c)3 organization, distributions to Alcor are tax deductable.

The Alcor Model Trust would be a revocable trust used in conjunction with a will. This trust is for cryonics revival only, and does not include the kind of tax planning that would be required for those having many millions of dollars in assets. The amount of future estate tax exemptions in the United States is currently highly uncertain. John Dedon advised those having a large taxable estate to get a life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust. The proceeds of a life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust can be outside of the taxable estate.

Ralph Merkle described the trust that he and his wife Carol are developing. Ralph says they are “guinea pigs” for the Alcor Model Trust. Trusts are legal instruments that separate the benefits of property (equitable title) from control of property (legal title), which means that the beneficiary cannot be the trustee, but the settlor can be the trustee. For a revocable trust, the settlor is trustee until the death of the settlor after which time a successor trustee becomes the trustee. Because of their long history of investing with Vanguard they have gotten Vanguard to agree to be successor trustee for their assets. The assets can only be stocks (including private stocks), not real estate or business assets. The trust is in Delaware, Vanguard is in Pennsylvania, and neither state has a rule against perpetuities. It may be that only the situs of the Trust matters, but Ralph feels better that neither state has a rule against perpetuities.

Overwhelmingly, in my opinion, the best presentation at this meeting of the Asset Preservation Group was the one on “Personal Revival Trusts” by Igor Levenberg. I have been working with the thorny problems associated with cryonics reanimation trusts for years and I have never seen such careful and persuasive legal analyses. And I have seem a fair bit of work by some very highly paid trust lawyers.

Igor Levenberg is not himself a cryonicist. He is a law student scheduled to get his J.D. in June 2010. He read THE FIRST IMMORTAL, became interested in the idea of cryonics revival trusts, and would like to work on such trusts as part of his legal practice. The presentation he made at the meeting was a summary of his paper that is being published in the Spring 2010 issue of the journal ST. JOHN’S LAW REVIEW. What follows is my summary of the ideas in Igor’s paper.

A central problem for cryonicists wanting revival trusts is that Cryopreserved Persons (CPs) are legally dead and are not ascertainable beneficiaries under trust law. My solution to this problem has been to have cryonics organizations (rather than the legal system) recognize the reanimated CP as the beneficiary. But finding the right cryonics organization to do this is not always easy.

The courts have recognized cryopreserved embryos as being “intermediate beings”. Igor raised the possibility of persuading courts to recognize CPs as also being “intermediate beings”, but he concedes that courts are unlikely to do this. Even if they did, an “intermediate being” cannot be a beneficiary without a court-appointed guardian.

Another option would be to have CPs treated in the same legal category as unborn, unconceived children. A potential parent could create trusts for his or her children, but if he or she never has children, the trusts become invalid. Such trusts are based on a contingency: the event of the settlor having children. A contingent beneficiary cannot be the sole beneficiary of a trust based on contingency. For example, the settlor could name his or her brother as the other beneficiary. The court would appoint a guardian of the unborn children to protect the interests of the contingent beneficiaries should the brother try to challenge the trust. If the settlor dies childless, the brother could challenge the trust on the grounds that the contingency is impossible.

Analogous to the unborn children, a cryonicist could create a trust that names his or her reanimated self as the contingent beneficiary. A cryonics service organization could be named as the other beneficiary, and another cryonics organization such as the Venturists could act as guardian. Igor told me later that if the trust document requested a specific guardian, a court would likely honor the request. An advantage over treating the CP as a contingent beneficiary rather than an “intermediate being” is that anyone challenging the trust would have to prove that the contingency is impossible — whereas the “intermediate being” trust is dependent upon proving that reanimation is possible. Proving that reanimation of a CP is impossible could be very difficult if expert witnesses could be called who attested to the possibility.

Both the “intermediate being” and the contingent beneficiary approach rely on establishing the CP as an ascertainable beneficiary. But trusts can be created that do not have this requirement. “Trusts for purposes” and trusts based on “conditions subsequent” do not require the CP as an ascertainable beneficiary.

A trust with a “condition subsequent” is a trust that has a beneficiary, but which specifies terms under which the trust is terminated. Those terms could provide for the interests of the reanimated CP. For example, a trust could be established which pays income to a cryonics organization as the beneficiary, and has the “condition subsequent” that the trust terminates and pays the principle to the CP settlor when and if the CP is revived. Such a trust would have to be in a state that has no rule against perpetuities.

“Trusts for purposes” include both charitable and non-charitable trusts. Such trusts have no beneficiary to enforce them. A non-charitable trust for the care of a pet relies on the trustee, and is therefore technically not a trust. Non-charitable trusts are subject to the rule against perpetuities even in states where the rule against perpetuities has been repealed. An exception to this, however, is a non-charitable trust for the care of graves, which are exempt from the law against perpetuities. Insofar as the Cryonics Institute is a licensed cemetery in the state of Michigan, a CI patient could conceivably establish a non-charitable trust to provide for liquid nitrogen, cryostat maintenance, and share of facility upkeep costs with the “condition subsequent” that upon reanimation of the CP the trust would terminate and the trust funds would be dispersed to the revived CP. A trust of this nature could not be for millions of dollars insofar as it is unreasonable to think that maintenance would be so expensive. Nonetheless, accounting for inflation and for maintenance for hundreds of years (or in perpetuity) could allow for a sizable trust.

Charitable trusts are enforced by the Attorney General of the state in which they are established (rather than by a beneficiary), and are never subject to the rule against perpetuities, even in states that do not otherwise allow for perpetuities. For example, a charitable trust could be established which uses income from the trust to finance cryonics research (or cancer research) to which is added the “condition subsequent” that the trust will terminate and the principle go to the revived CP when and if the CP is revived. Although such “piggybacking” of a non-charitable purpose onto a charitable trust is generally not allowed, Igor believes it would survive judicial scrutiny because a challenge could not be brought to court until the condition subsequent arose. The world would be a very different place when that happened.

I gave a demonstration of Nick Pavlica’s RescuTel bed alarm system. I badly wanted the demonstration to go perfectly, but it did not. I needed to connect to a telephone jack, but the connection in the meeting room was being used for those attending by teleconference. There was another jack in Ken’s office, but my 100 foot extension cord would not reach. By the time I got a female-female adapter to have a line that was long enough, I did not have time for adequate testing. At least the EMFIT bed pad worked well — setting off the alarm on the pad’s console when I removed myself to stimulate the stopping of my heart.

After the meeting there was a boat cruise off the Gloucester coast that gave participants a chance to see whales and other sea life. I missed the boat cruise because I had to catch a plane to an astrobiology conference in Texas where I was making a presentation:

Teens & twenties cryonicist event 2010


This past weekend (Friday, January 8, 2010 to Sunday, January 10, 2010) I attended a meeting for cryonicists in their teens & twenties near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event was funded by Bill Faloon and the Life Extension Foundation. Cairn Idun, creator & coordinator of the Asset Preservation Group, created & coordinated this event as well. Although the Asset Preservation Group was created to devise means of protecting the assets of cryonicists during cryostasis, the group has expanded its concerns to many related issues, including nurturing future generations of cryonics activists to replace the current generation of aging cryonics activists.

The qualification for receiving a scholarship to attend the Teens & Twenties event was applying and being validated as having funding & contracts in place for cryopreservation with any cryonics organization, and being in the 12-30 age range. There were cryonicists from CI, Alcor, ACS, and KrioRus (the latter represented by Danila Medvedev). Some cryonicists were from Canada, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Altogether there were 33 cryonicists receiving scholarships, two spouses of those cryonicists who paid their own way plus 13 speakers and Members of the Asset Preservation Group (which includes me) —  for a total of 48 people attending at various times. Among the young cryonicists I believe there were only three teenagers: the two young sons of Bill Faloon, and 19-year-old CI/ACS Member Shannon Blevins,Jr.

By way of introduction, Bill Faloon described his experience of being a 19-year-old cryonicist attending the South Florida cryonics group in the 1970s. Wealthy cryonicists had sponsored him to attend a cryonics training and a life extension meeting in California. He believed that that sponsorship had paid big dividends for cryonics & life extension that he hoped would be comparable to the results of the LEF investment in this teens & twenties group for young cryonicists.

Everyone was then to give brief (under one minute) self-introductions. I won’t give many details, but there was a common theme of growing up with ideas & aspirations that were greatly different from those of friend & relatives. One young man is reputedly the only cryonicist in the state of Alabama. One young woman signed-up at the age of 16 and convinced her father to do so as well. She expressed a sentiment that many resonated with: “even individualists need a sense of community & belonging”. Before the meeting I had been concerned that many of those who had been signed-up for cryonics as young children by their parents would probably not be serious cryonicists. I was impressed by the extent of commitment to cryonics I saw among many of those who had been signed-up virtually from birth.

Although it is stereotypic that cryonicists are single, male computer nerds, 34% of these young cryonicists were female, and quite a few of them were involved with the entertainment industry. During the longer self-introductions Cairn noted five interest areas. The topics were: social networking, promoting cryonics through entertainment, cryonics-related science research, defending & promoting cryonics on the internet, and legal issues associated with cryonics. Cairn had the attendees separate into the five interest areas for discussion, and then we heard presentations from representatives of each group.

The next “getting to know you” exercise involved the participants classifying themselves by personality type as represented by the four colors green, blue, gold, and red:

Green — Conceptual, Curious, Wise, Versatile (intellectual, head rules heart)

Blue — Warm, Communicative, Compassionate, Feeling (seeks harmonious relationships)

Gold — Responsible, Dependable, Helpful, Sensible (dutiful, family-oriented, organization-oriented)

Red — Adventuresome, Skillful, Competitive, Spontaneous (seeks variety and physical involvement)

The participants were given colored sheets that described each personality color in detail as a means of assessing how much of each color composed their personality. Participants were to put various numbers of each color of dots on their name badges corresponding to how much each color is represented in their personality.

I later searched the internet for the basis of this classification system. I found some close matches, but nothing seemed exact:

Because most individuals are a mixture of all colors, we formed groups with others matching our dominant personality color. The largest group by far were the greens, followed by reds. There were only three blues and four golds. I felt that I had so much of all the colors that it was hard for me to choose. I finally decided that I had slightly more green and slightly less gold than the other colors. I joined the green group. Eliezer Yudkowsky regarded himself as so green that he covered his name badge with green dots. Cairn commented that greens generally predominate among cryonicists, and that she was glad to see so many of the other colors because all personality types are required for good teamwork.

On Saturday a presentation by futurist John Lobell was followed by more detailed self-introductions. I tried to tell the story of my life in five minutes. After the detailed self-introductions Catherine Baldwin gave a presentation about Suspended Animation,Inc. and Bill Faloon discussed future projects that young cryonicists should consider to further the advancement of cryonics. Bill was very concerned that there had been no dynamic spokesperson to defend Alcor against the Larry Johnson media blitz in October. Steve Valentine gave a presentation on the Timeship Project, a very expensive storage & research facility planned to store thousands of cryonics patients and transplantable organs at intermediate cryogenic temperatures (about minus 140 degrees Celsius). Although I have thought that the money lavished on this project could be better-spent in other ways, Bill Faloon is enthusiastic that Timeship will convince the world of the seriousness of human cryopreservation in a way that industrial park warehouses cannot.

Sunday morning there was a tour of Suspended Animation, Inc. followed by lunch at the SA facility. The tours were conducted in groups of ten, while the others socialized and watched digitized 40-year-old films (“Ice Men Cometh”) of Curtis Henderson & Saul Kent demonstrating human cryopreservation procedures & equipment during the early pioneering years of cryonics. After lunch there was a final “getting to know you” exercise where most of the participants moved from chair to chair having brief one-to-one conversations with most of the other participants. There were quite a number of people I had not had the chance to speak with earlier, and I found this exercise to be very helpful.

The rest of the afternoon was intended to be available for informal socializing at SA, but with people catching flights and the general restlessness it quickly became fragmented.

Overall I am very enthusiastic with how the weekend went. I made many valuable connections, as did most (if not all) of the others, I believe. It also lifted my spirits, which I also believe was a common experience. Bill Faloon wants to make this an annual event.

In the week after the Teens & Twenties event, I created a Facebook group “Young cryonicists”, and sent invitations to all of the attendee.

Early in the weekend I had asked Cairn to see who among the group did not want to be photographed. To my surprise, only one person did not. I took care not to include her in any of the pictures I took of the event. The following are a few of my photos:

Dinner at the Teens & Twenties event

Line-up for Steve Valentine to autograph Timeship posters

Danila Medvedev wears video/audio glasses that record his life
[Danila calls this Plan C for reconstruction of his personality if Plan A (life extension) and Plan B (cryonics) fail] (The glasses can record 10-12 hours of video with sound before the tape needs replacing. The batteries must be recharged at least every 5 hours.)

Participants watch pioneering cryonics films while others get tours of the Suspended Animation, Inc. facility

Young cryonicists Facebook page

A photo of some Teens & Twenties with Bill Faloon posted on Facebook by Bonnie Magee

A Facebook video of the Curtis Henderson “Ice Men Cometh” films

The 2009 SENS Conference

Once a year I try to attend at least one biogerontology conference. Although I attend biogerontology conferences out of personal interest, and at my own expense, they are the most fruitful grounds for promoting cryonics I have found, and this is especially true of SENS conferences.

I have missed none of the four SENS conferences that have been held at Cambridge University. “SENS” is Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.”

SENS conferences attract scientists who are eager for science to achieve rejuvenation, and who have a strong belief that science has the capacity to do so. Not surprisingly, such people are often receptive to the idea that future science may be capable of reanimating humans who have been well cryopreserved.

Recently I have heard regret expressed about the aging of the cryonics community and the absence of a next generation of cryonics activists to replace the current ones. My experiences at the 2009 SENS conference dispelled much of my concern about this.

I took about a hundred CI brochures, but these were quickly taken by the 290 SENS conference attendees. I was continually approached by young scientists and researchers who were eager to meet me and who said they would make cryonics arrangements when they got out of graduate school and could afford to do so. Insofar as many of the attendees were Europeans, I was often asked whether the shipping delays to the United States would make cryonics not worth doing, and whether there were any plans by the Cryonics Institute to create a storage facility in Europe. (I was told about a group wanting to establish a storage facility in Switzerland, but I did not get any details. Apparently it is not a project with serious hope of success in the near future.)

I was astounded when a British student approached me and said that he would be devoting all of his graduate school work to the problem of cryoprotectant toxicity. He had already gotten Dr. Fahy to send him a copy of “Cryoprotectant toxicity neutralization,” a new paper to be published in an upcoming issue of CRYOBIOLOGY. The student is in the process of collecting other cryobiology publications that address the subject. I directed him to a relevant webpage in the cryonics section of my website.

A number of people from KrioRus were at the conference, notably Igor Artyuhov, who is their technical guru. The group also does life extension research. Igor showed me their poster showing extended lifespan of mice administered heat-shock protein through nose-drops. I was interviewed by a journalist who writes for the Russian edition of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

I had met Nick Mayer, a Terasem employee, at the previous SENS conference, and Nick introduced himself to me again at this meeting. Nick manages “cyberbiological systems”, specifically a website that is being used like an on-line personal diary. As Nick described it to me, the website would be useful to store personal information that could be used to help in the reconstruction of someone who has been reanimated from cryopreservation. But when I looked at his website, it appears to be a project for reconstructing people from their diaries alone — without any saved biological material.

To my surprise, one of the presenters, Dr. Gunther Kletetschka, had a poster and an oral presentation dealing with eliminating the cracking problem in cryonics.

Cracking of vitrified tissue at cryogenic temperatures is a consequence of the fact that external cooling causes superficial tissue to contract more than deep tissue (thermal conductivity is low). Dr. Kletetschka’s approach is based on the idea that if a cryonics patient were perfused with a solution containing gadolinium (nanoparticles would be best), an entire vitrified brain could be cooled uniformly by the magnetocaloric effect.

From a practical point of view, his sample size was apparently very small, and he did his testing on ice rather than vitrified tissue. I had many other criticisms of his approach, which I attempted to discuss with him in a constructive, supportive manner. He was interested in what I had to say, and was very receptive. Insofar as he is so enthusiastic about doing cryonics-related research, and insofar as he lives in Maryland (not so far from Michigan) I suggested that he attend the CI Annual General Meeting on Sunday, September 27. He expressed an interest in doing so.

A European student told me that his mother is a stroke victim, but that he has not been able to induce her to consider cryonics. Having experienced the debilitating effects of stroke she is worried that faulty reanimation procedures would bring her back into an even more debilitated condition. I suggested asking her to assess the probability of that happening and how bad the downside would matter if the probability is small. I think that in the context of all of the other repairs that would be essential to cryonics working that it is unlikely that all such defects would not be fixed.

A middle-aged European woman wanted to speak with me about how to convince her husband that cryonics is a good idea. The couple are both religious, but she thinks “heaven can wait” because she enjoys life here on earth and she would like to share earthly life for a very long time with her husband. I gave her many arguments against the claim that cryonics is against religion, including the one concerning refusing a lifesaving medical treatment being equivalent to suicide (a sin).

I was reminded of the Depressed Metabolism posting about the “hostile wife phenomenon” in cryonics:  It occurs to me that when a male spouse is interested in cryonics, but his wife is not, that he can go ahead and make the arrangements. A financially dependent woman (as this woman is), less often has that option. I have also often seen cases of women interested in cryonics, but who dropped the interest when it became clear that their spouse would not join them in cryostasis. They would rather not live if they cannot be with their husbands. It reminds me of studies of working couples that show that a wife is much more likely to quit her job to follow her husband in a career change that involves moving — whereas the opposite happens much less frequently.

I won’t say much about the SENS conference itself, but I had lots of meetings and discussions that taught me a lot about biogerontology issues. I was particularly interested in discussing my recent article “Nuclear DNA Damage as a Direct Cause of Aging” which had been published in Rejuvenation Research, because it is a direct challenge to one of the tenets of SENS (that nuclear DNA damage only matters for cancer).

Not only was I able to have two private sessions in which I discussed the matter with Aubrey de Grey, but I was able to eat breakfast several times with Vera Gorbunova and her husband Andrei Seluanov, two DNA repair experts who were attending the conference. Vera and Andrei have written the only other review (other than my own) supporting the thesis that nuclear DNA repair capability declines with age.

I had cited that review in my own review. Vera had sat across from me at my first breakfast by chance. She had read my review and told me that she agreed with it. Most of the times that I went for a meal I was very pleased by at least one person randomly sitting near me, and had an interesting and productive discussion with them on a matter of interest. I discussed my cryonics alarm system problems with a woman who is getting a PhD in biomedical engineering.

I was very surprised and pleased to meet Kristen Fortney at the conference. Kristen is a University of Toronto student who attended some of our cryonics meetings in Toronto. She was a physics student and was planning to do graduate work in quantum physics. At the conference she told me she had changed to a PhD program focused on computational work with the human genome, focused on anti-aging strategies. She wrote a blog of the conference as it progressed on the Ouroboros academic blog for aging research.

Jehovah’s witnesses and cryonics

When I was in New Zealand in 1999, CI Member Cam Christie told me that one of his co-workers was against cryonics because she was a Jehovah’s  Witness and her church had a position against cryonics. I recently found an article about cryonics on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website:

The piece contains the statement:

“…the use of nanotechnology and cryonics is still more  science fiction than reality. Science has contributed to,  and may still contribute to, a longer and healthier life  for some, but it will never give anybody eternal life.  Why not? Simply put, it is because the root cause of aging  and death lies beyond the realm of human science.”

To my knowledge, this is the strongest statement, and possibly the only statement, from an organized religion against cryonics. As far as I know cryonics has been “off the radar screen” and has not merited comment by any other organized religion.

The so-called conflict between religion and cryonics disappears when cryonicists stop claiming that cryonics can give immortality or eternal life. In the quote above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge that science can contribute to “a longer and healthier life.” The more that cryonicists can convincingly stress that this is  the goal of cryonics, the fewer enemies we may face who have the power of frustrating our goals. Aside from the fact that many cryonicists, including me, do not believe that cryonics can give immortality or eternal life.  Cryonics cannot prevent a nuclear holocaust, a supernova, a meteor destroying the earth, and many other events which are inevitable in the face of eternity.