Gerald Feinberg on physics and life extension
Gerald Feinberg, a Columbia university physicist who, among other things, hypothesized the existence of the muon neutrino, had a strong interest in the future of science and life extension. In 1966 he published the article “Physics and Life Prolongation” in Physics Today in which he reviews cryobiology research with the aim of realizing medical time travel. Unlike most of his scientific colleagues, Feinberg recognized that it might be possible for people dying today to benefit from future advances in science in the absence of perfected techniques:
For the living it is necessary to await successful completion of freezing research before attempting to freeze them. For the newly dead this consideration is irrelevant since the dead have nothing to lose by being frozen, even by imperfect methods…
He doubts, however, whether “the primitive freezing techniques now available” would be good enough to permit successful resuscitation in the future. Although his article ends in endorsing cryonics as a procedure, Feinberg did not make cryopreservation arrangements himself, despite his familiarity with molecular nanotechnology and his association with the Foresight Institute.
In the June 1992 issue of Cryonics magazine, Mike Perry writes:
Only a few days ago, as I write this, Gerald Feinberg, aged 58, died of cancer. He was not frozen. It appears that he didn’t lack the means to make the arrangements, nor the time. Somehow, he was just not interested enough. Friends or acquaintances I’ve talked to could give little in the way of definite reasons for the lack of interest, but I get the impression that, when all was said and done, the interest he did show was mainly academic after all. Another factor may have been hostility from colleagues and family members. Apparently he was well criticized for the Physics Today article on the prolongation of life, though not for something really scientifically daring, like the tachyon theory.
Human cryopreservation procedures have changed considerably since 1992 and cryonics researcher Mike Darwin has composed an ambitious article to answer the question whether current cryopreservation techniques can preserve identity. One of the most important observations in this article is that we do not need to wait until the future to get a better understanding of how good our current procedures are in this regard.
As long as we keep in mind that the absence of ultrastructural evidence for the preservation of identity-critical information does not necessarily mean the absence of this information as such (after all, future imaging and data gathering technologies may be more powerful than today’s) it is very important for cryonics advocates to recognize that preliminary work to infer the original structure of the brain from (3D) images of ischemic and cryopreserved tissue can start right now. Even in the absence of physical technologies to restore those structures to their native state, demonstrating that we can infer the original state, and visually reconstruct it, can be another argument in favor of human cryopreservation.
Further reading: Gerald Feinberg – Physics and Life Prolongation