On the Immortality Institute cryonics forum, Alcor Board member and researcher Brian Wowk has posted some insightful comments on the difference between suspended animation and cryonics. Although impressive technical advances in cryonics to date, such as vitrification, have failed to translate into increased membership growth for cryonics organizations, many cryonics observers believe that demonstration of reversible vitrification of a small mammal will be a turning point in cryonics.
But as Brian points out, the key idea of cryonics is that patients should continue to be cared for, even if contemporary technologies cannot reverse cryopreservation. As has been reiterated on this blog before, even when suspended animation is perfected, there still will be a need for cryonics to care for patients that cannot be treated by contemporary medical technologies. Dismissing cryonics until there is proof of successful suspended animation ignores the fundamental, and humane, premise of cryonics to use low temperature biostasis so that critically ill people may benefit from medical technologies that have not yet arrived.
Suspended animation is not cryonics. The paradigm shift of cryonics is something different. It is a paradigm shift that could happen before suspended animation is perfected, or perhaps not even after suspended animation is perfected. The key idea of cryonics– the paradigm shift of cryonics –is the idea that patients should continue to be cared for even if they are beyond recovery by contemporary means. It’s the idea that almost everything that medicine calls “death” in a particular era is destined to become a treatable pathology in a later era. That is an idea that transcends suspended animation, and that is so far from normal social mores that it may never be accepted by the mainstream whether there is suspended animation or not. It is a paradigm shift that requires overturning the idea of closure, which is a deeply uncomfortable proposition for most people regardless of demonstrated technology.
When people say that they hope they never need cryonics, I’m not sure in what sense they mean this. Do they mean that in the same sense that we all hope we never have to go to a hospital, even though the probability of eventually being hospitalized for some reason converges to near certainty? Or do they actually believe that they may never need cryonics? Such a belief is equivalent to the belief that one will never suffer a medical crisis that is untreatable by available medicine. I suppose an alternative possibility is the belief that one’s first and last major medical crisis will be vaporization. That doesn’t seem very likely. We live in a time when for the foreseeable future, Singularity or not, virtually everybody is going to need some form of cryonics at some time.
Brian Wowk quotes cryonics advocate Thomas Donaldson:
If you’re involved in cryonics, you’ve got to make your peace with the unknown, because it will always be there. You’ve simply got to make your peace with it.