Saul Kent’s Last Journey
It’s hard to imagine the world of cryonics without Saul Kent. Saul was there in most of my cryonics involvement over the years, ranging from his role as Suspended Animation’s CEO to being on the Editorial Board of Alcor’s Cryonics Magazine. He was there when I was first hired in cryonics in 2004, started my own company in 2008, and he was still there in the background when I was tasked with creating Biostasis Technologies to accelerate progress in the field.
Much has been said about Saul’s contributions to the field of mainstream organ cryopreservation and recruiting scientific and medical talent to the field of cryonics already. I will confine myself to a few observations that pertain to areas where Saul and I interacted.
Aside from his signature hawaiian-style atire, I remember Saul for his seamless ability to alter between strategic level decision making and addressing (seemingly) trivial minutiae. Saul was not the kind of person who would just field a few questions from management, but was actually involved in day-to-day correspondence as well. I also remember his patience when it came to making big decisions. Saul was meticulous and “slow” when we were impatient to pursue revolutionary changes, a trait that I only later came to appreciate.
As a former magazine Editor and writer himself, Saul was one of the strongest advocates of retaining a high-quality paper publication for Alcor. In fact, when Alcor decided to switch the magazine from a paper publication to an electronic publication, he started calling random Alcor members to understand how it had affected readership. When he learned that many members appreciated an actual paper publication in the mail, he had Life Extension Foundation financially support the printing and distribution of Cryonics magazine for several years, for which I was very grateful.
Towards the end of his life, though, Saul mostly retreated towards the role of “decision maker of last resort” instead of the determined operator he was known for most of his life.
Saul’s visit to our small cryobiology start-up lab in Salem, Oregon might have been one of his last pro-active trips he made to support a new research company in the field. In June 2009 I told him how our “cryobiology under ischemic conditions” research distinguished us from other cryonics-associated research programs and he wrote me: “I think research under realistic conditions is very important and I am glad to see that you are doing it… A typical argument is that the cryonics organizations should be doing this type of research, but the problem is that they are not doing any research at all and have little prospect of doing any in the foreseeable future.”
It was two years later in July 2011 that Saul flew on his own to Portland airport and rented a car to visit our lab. Chana and I prepared for Saul’s visit with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. We knew that Saul was enthusiastic about our research to understand the effects of ischemia on brain cryoprotection, and also supported our ambitious plans to do whole-brain viability recovery after cryopreservation. On the other hand, our lab literally consisted of one small room with basic equipment and supplies at a dental office. At that point, we were not drawing any salary and putting in long hours in the weekends and evenings (and sometimes even overnight).
This meeting resulted in Saul’s decision to solicit a research proposal from us to fund our operations, provide some compensation for us, and (eventually) relocate the lab to Portland (Saul admitted that Salem was a rather long and impractical commute after doing his own drive). Since 2012 Saul and his business partner Bill Faloon have been reliable financial supporters of Advanced Neural Biosciences.
Saul’s achievements forced the cryonics community to face some difficult topics. How do we attract and nurture talent in cryonics but avoid the capture of our organizations by non-cryonicists? What are the consequences of employing our best scientists in independent labs and (thus) limit their participation in daily cryonics operations? How much time and money do we spend on technical projects before we pull the plug?
It’s easy to ponder such questions without recognizing that it was Saul’s commercial success and unwavering determination that made such questions possible at all.
I’d like to imagine Saul’s visit to our small lab in Salem, Oregon as Saul’s “last journey.” But the real last journey for Saul has started now as we maintain him as a patient and build the capabilities for his revival and rejuvenation.