The possibility of living indefinitely, or even living “again” via re-animation from cryogenic freezing is just one method that is being used by transhumanists and many others. What is Cryonics you ask? I hope to explain this to you in the following text below.
Cryonics is best described as the preservation of humans and animals at low-temperatures, essentially “freezing” the body with the notion of potentially reviving that organism when the proper technology becomes available. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. It is not currently feasible to resuscitate anyone from the state of cryopreservation at this time with the technologies currently available.
2. The study and comprehension of the processes involved in cryopreservation are still being researched and studied, thus many people in the emerging fields of science do not confirm cryopreservation as a viable means for future re-animation. (But this encourages for more research and study into this important field!)
3. Specifically, in the United States (and probably most countries as well), cryonics cannot be legally completed until after an individual has been declared legally “dead”.
With this in mind, lets continue delving into what is involved in the process of cryogenics.
A main central aspect of cryonics is that things such as identity, personality, and particularly long-term memory are stored and potentially preserved in durable cell structures and patterns within areas of the brain, areas that do not require neural activity to be ongoing. There are multiple obstacles in facing long term preservation, but even with these present, cryonics is currently our best-known method of having the opportunity to potentially living indefinitely with the power of future medical technologies.
Long term cryopreservation can occur when an object is cooled to 77.15 Kelvin,(or -196 F) which if you did not know, is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen. There is much debate as to how much damage ice at this temperature can do to tissues and other cells. Cryopreservation organizations have tackled this particular problem with that they call “cryoprotectants”, which are designed to help minimize damage. These chemical solutions can be placed inside blood vessels to help maintain their structural integrity over the long term. The idea with these cryoprotectant solutions is to help with the process of cooling and solidifying bodily tissue without the formation of ice crystals, and this is known as “vitrification”. These cryoprotectants were first developed in the early 1990’s and are still being used today by one of the leading Cryonic organizations, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
During the procedures conducted right after death, a type of injury that is particularly unavoidable at the current time, but does not stop the preservation of bodily tissue long term, is ischemic. Ischemic injury occurs when tissues get inadequate blood circulation which then deprives those tissues of vital vitamins and nutrients. This is why cryonic organizations have what they call a “standby procedure”, where the medical teams wait until the patient is declared legally dead and then begin the attempted process of vitrification immediately thereafter.
The possibility of revival is one of the main reasons why any individual would consider putting themselves through the process of cryopreservation. With the ever increasing research and practical applications of fields such as medical nanotechnology, biotechnology, bioengineering, nanomedicine, and brain-computer interfaces (mind-uploading) expanding, there is no reason for more people not to consider this is an option for themselves and potentially other family members. If the rate of technology keeps increasing as it has for several decades now, hopefully the actual need for cryogenics will not be in high demand.
As of 2012, there have been approximately 250 people who have undergone cryopreservation procedures. I will be starting the process of getting myself set up with an organization so I can prepare myself for post death with cryonics in 2014. If more people seek out this opportunity, and increase demand for the medical procedures then the price of the process will drop. Why can’t you be the next person?
Part 2 of this article will discuss: Neuropreservation, Financial & Legal Issues, Storage, Some Philosophical Considerations and Where the Field of Cryonics is going in the next ten years! See you all soon!