Curing aging does not make cryonics redundant

Most life extensionists and transhumanists do not buy into many of the myths about cryonics. But one perspective that is sometimes voiced by futurists is that cryonics is a rational backup plan until aging is cured. This position has some serious shortcomings and potentially lethal implications.

Human cryopreservation is the practice of placing terminally ill patients who have exhausted contemporary medical treatments into long term cryogenic care, allowing them to benefit from future medical treatments. Although aging-associated diseases are an important cause of death, they are not the only cause of death. Even when biological aging becomes optional, a person will still be vulnerable to accidents and violence.

The mindset that cryonics will become redundant as soon as aging is conquered is especially dangerous when it leads (young) people to forgo or postpone making cryonics arrangements because they expect to benefit from  rejuvenation technologies and dietary supplementation during their lifetime. This may not only reflect wishful thinking regarding the rate of progress in overcoming aging, but it will also leave them vulnerable to other causes of death.

As long as humans (or post-humans) are vulnerable to injury that cannot be treated with contemporary medical technologies, human cryopreservation will remain important as a form of critical care. In other words, as long as there can be situations that warrant metabolic arrest to avoid information-theoretic death, there is a need for cryonics or similar technologies to induce metabolic arrest, like molecular warm biostasis.

There are a lot of people who believe in the technical feasibility of cryonics and intend to make cryonics arrangements….when necessary. As cryonics observers know, this is an extremely risky attitude because when people need cryonics the most, they often are unable to communicate their wishes, may meet resistance from relatives who benefit from their not making cryonics arrangements, or lack financial resources because life insurance is no longer an option to fund cryonics.

The best time to make cryonics arrangements is when it seems least likely that you need them soon. This is also evidenced by the fact that young healthy people can get excellent rates on life insurance.

Radical life extension and information-theoretic death

Immortality as a zero probability of information-theoretic death may not be possible or realistic. A more practical (and less controversial) objective of radical life extension would be to minimize the chance of information-theoretic death. In analogy with Aubrey de Grey’s objective to cure human aging by engineering negligible senescence (SENS), the objective of radical life extension should be to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death. Although curing aging will be necessary, it will be far from sufficient to achieve greatly extended lifespans. Even if aging can be completely abolished by advanced molecular technologies, humans will still be vulnerable to major accidents and homicide. Of course, such events may not necessarily produce acute information-theoretic death, but it can be argued that when humanity becomes more robust and advanced, the nature of accidents (space travel) and murder (“information-theoretic murder”) may become more destructive as well. This raises the question of whether our ability to eliminate “traditional” risk factors can outpace the number and nature of new risks.

Perhaps the most logical proposal to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death is to duplicate a person. If enough duplicates are made, the chance that all of them will die can be made very small. But this raises the issue of whether such duplicates are the same individual. Some people would argue that this strategy does not produce atomistic non-serial immortality. It is also not clear how the question of whether a copy of an individual is the same individual can ever be resolved by empirical observation or logical deduction.

Perhaps the most realistic proposal to reduce the probability of information-theoretic death would be to separate the neurological basis of the person from its body in such a fashion that the risk of complete destruction of the person would become negligible. One such proposal is briefly discussed by Robert Ettinger in his book “Man into Superman.” In Chapter 4 on “Cyborgs, Saucer Men, and Extended Bodies,” Ettinger notes that “the brain need not necessarily be mobile; in fact, it might be better protected and served if fixed at home base. The sensors and effectors–eyes, hands, etc.–could be far away, and even widely scattered, with communication by appropriate signals (not necessarily radio).” Because such an “extended body” would not rely on controversial technologies such as duplication and mind-uploading, the traditional concept of identity can be reconciled with reduced vulnerability. Clearly, this idea could benefit from detailed elaboration and specific proposals.

The prospect of such extended bodies raises an important question about resuscitation of cryonics patients. When should they be revived? Naturally, a necessary condition is the ability to reverse any damaged incurred during the cryopreservation process itself and being able to cure the patient’s terminal disease. Most people who have made cryonics arrangements will add that the general ability to rejuvenate a person should be a necessary condition as well. Because all these conditions require availability of similar technologies, it is doubtful that the choice between these scenarios has practical relevance. A more stringent condition, however, would be a request to only attempt resuscitation if the chance of information-theoretic death is smaller after resuscitation than in long term low temperature care. This option raises an uncomfortable question — are patients in low temperature care safer from information-theoretic death than a person alive today? Answering this questions involves a lot of complicated issues such as the technical feasibility of cryonics, the nature of long term care of cryonics patients, and, ultimately, how one weighs the certainty of being alive today against the probability of a (vastly) longer lifespan in the future.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon, skin aging and psoriasis

The practice of balneotherapy, also known as water treatment or spa therapy, has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, especially amongst those with skin diseases such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Salts, minerals, and bacteria particular to certain geothermal springs in various locations throughout the world have long been touted as having beneficial effects on skin, including significant reductions in lesions associated with psoriasis.

Of particular interest is the Blue Lagoon on the peninsula of Reykjanes in Iceland. A heating plant was built on the penninsula in 1976 to take advantage of naturally occurring geothermal activity. The Blue Lagoon was formed when hot water was discharged into an adjacent lava field. The lagoon water has an average temperature of 37°C, a pH of around 7.5, and a salt content of 2.5%. One of the plant workers with psoriasis began bathing in this new lagoon and his condition was greatly improved; this led to an instant and quickly growing interest in the healing potential of the Lagoon amongst sufferers of many types of skin diseases.

The Lagoon’s unique chemical and bacterial composition is found nowhere else in the world. The chemical composition of the Lagoon is (in mg/kg of Lagoon fluid): SiO2 137, Na 9280, K 1560, Ca 1450, Mg 1.41, CO2 16.5, SO4 38.6, H2S 0.0, Cl 18500, and F 0.14. The Lagoon waters also contain coccoid and filamentous blue-green algae not found under similar conditions anywhere else.

Early studies of the Blue Lagoon’s effect on both diseased and healthy skin has proven that bathing in the lagoon, and particularly applying the Lagoon’s white silica mud to the body, results in a significant reduction — oftentimes complete elimination — of even the most severe symptoms of psoriasis. Recent research published by Grether-Beck, et al. shows that these beneficial effects are not limited to diseased skin, and in fact the lagoon waters and mud have an anti-aging effect on healthy, normal skin.

While these initial studies demonstrated a beneficial effect of the Blue Lagoon on the skin, it remains to be discovered exactly what properties of the fluid and mud confer this benefit. In their recent paper, Grether-Beck, et al. prepared silica mud and microalgae extracts from Blue Lagoon mud and water samples to study their effects on in vitro epidermal keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts (i.e., skin cells) as well as in vivo effects after topical treatment in healthy volunteers.

Since skin conditions like psoriasis and atopic dermatitis are characterized by reduced skin barrier function, and keratinocyte differentiation is a key component in determining the quality of the skin barrier, it is interesting to note that silica mud extracts stimulated expression of keratinocyte differentiation markers, as did both algae types, albeit to a lesser extent.

Extracts from silica mud and Blue Lagoon coccoid and filamentous algae also significantly inhibited ultraviolet (UV) radiation-induced metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) expression, which was associated with a concomitant inhibition of UV-induced interleuken-1 (IL-1) and IL-6 expression. Additionally, Blue Lagoon coccoid and filamentous algae extracts significantly upregulated expression of Collagen 1A1 (COL1A1) and COL1A2 in dermal fibroblasts — two genes which are critically involved in collagen synthesis.

Upregulation of keratinocyte differentiation markers was associated with a significant reduction in transepidermal water loss of treated skin areas in vivo; COL1A1 and COL1A2 expression also increased in treated skin after 4 weeks of treatment.

While such research is exciting, further investigation of the effects of the combination of Lagoon chemicals and bioactive molecules is necessary for a complete understanding of the therapeutic potential of the Blue Lagoon. Additionally, some data about the longevity of its beneficial effects on skin is warranted as well.

Medical tourism to the Blue Lagoon is growing. In 1994 Blue Lagoon opened an outpatient psoriasis clinic (renovated in 2005) with two dermatologists and three nurses on staff. Treatment consists of twice-daily dips in the Lagoon, during which silica mud is applied to psoriatic lesions, and UVB treatment in a phototherapy cabinet. Blue Lagoon skin care products can be purchased in Iceland, Nordic capitals, and online.

Aging: The ultimate disease

Cryonics Reports was the publication of the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY). In April 1968 a call to arms to conquer aging was published. This editorial stressed that the problems of aging will not be solved until we decide that we want to conquer aging and extend our lives.

Heart disease and cancer are not isolated phenomena, but merely manifestations of the general progressive degeneration of our bodies. We call this progression aging because it affects our entire organism and is time dependent. It is the ultimate disease.

Read the complete editorial.