Cryonics Intro


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A Simple Proposition

As mankind prepares to launch itself into a new millenium, the only thing that seems certain about our future is that there will be change. For many years now, our society and culture have been undergoing unprecedented transformation, thanks in part to the effects of improving technology. For some, the accelerating pace of change seems disconcerting, maybe even frightening. Such people see more upheaval and chaos than renaissance and revolution. But for many of us, there is an altogether different feeling, a feeling that there has never been a more exciting time to be alive.

In the field of medicine in particular, there is cause for great optimism. We have never had greater power for restoring, maintaining and extending health, and yet the big payoff is clearly still ahead of us. Each year that passes marks a new record for medical research funding, and the impetus to greatly increase that funding is gaining strength daily.

Many scientists now believe that, given enough time and money, most or all of today's major illnesses and causes of death might one day be cured through increasingly precise, molecular-based technology. Perhaps more startlingly, it even seems possible that the aging process itself (which is beginning to look less mysterious and more like other diseases) might also be cured through medical means, maybe even during the 21st century. In time, human beings might live such long, healthy lives that they begin to view the current average lifespan of nearly 80 years much as we view the less than 25 year lifespan of prehistoric humans (i.e., short -- far too short).

But what does that mean to you, right now? For most of this century (and all that came before it), the answer to that question would simply be, "Not much." While the trend of medical advance had been clear for some time, possible cures to be developed in the indefinite future still could not have healed anyone. In 1963, however, a Michigan physics professor named Robert Ettinger made a simple proposition which would seem to dramatically increase the current relevance of future medicine.

In his book, The Prospect of Immortality, Dr. Ettinger posited that the only thing separating today's patients from tomorrow's medicine was time, and that we merely needed to be clever enough to somehow bridge that gap. Naturally, he had already thought of a way we might do that. His method turned out to be surprisingly simple, and relatively inexpensive:

Freeze them.

Specifically, he proposed that patients who have suffered clinical death might have their body temperature lowered to cryogenic ranges (generally lower than -100C), using a medium such as liquid nitrogen (LN2 -- a non-volatile, inexpensive byproduct of various industrial processes which maintains a boiling temperature of -196C). At such temperatures, molecular motion stops, chemical reactions cease, and metabolic activity grinds to a halt. That means that a human or animal at that temperature could potentially be kept in an unchanging state (a form of stasis) for as long as necessary. Whether that amounted to a few years or even a few centuries, there would be no biological difference.

As you might already know, and as Ettinger was fully aware, there was at least one major problem with this method of so-called suspended animation: freezing causes damage. Although it is far less damaging than any known kind of chemically induced "stasis" such as embalming, even a healthy person cannot survive a descent to LN2 temperatures and back. However, and this was the true genius of Ettinger's "simple" proposition, the context of advancing medicine and future possibility make even the damage from freezing seem less important.

In particular, he asked, why wouldn't medicine eventually be able to repair freezing damage as well? Would that be any harder than repairing whatever caused them to do die in the first place, and/or the aging process itself? Maybe. Maybe not. In either case, a patient maintained at cryogenic temperatures would have time to wait. And that meant that the freezing process did not necessarily have to be currently reversible in order to work.

In the intervening years since first publication of The Prospect of Immortality, many things have happened. In 1967, the first man (Dr. James Bedford) was frozen. Around that time, the word cryonics (and related phrases such as "cryonic suspension") was coined to describe the experimental freezing of humans and animals. Not much later, a small handful of cryonics companies such as TRANS TIME were formed and began offering services. While the absolute numbers of cryonics patients (70+) and activists (1000+) still remain rather small today, general awareness of the endeavor has skyrocketed in the last decade. Cryonicists continue to receive increasing publicity in all forms of news media, and references to cryonics in popular culture, however technically flawed, are becoming all but pervasive. (See: Austin Powers, Demolition Man, Forever Young, etc.)

More importantly, three general fields of scientific inquiry which bear special relevance to cryonics (cryobiology, neurophysiology, and nanotechnology) have all advanced dramatically since the idea first circulated, such that Dr. Ettinger's thesis now seems stronger than ever. As our knowledge of and control over living systems continues to advance, we can expect to see increasing acceptance and adoption of the cryonics process by the mainstream medical community. More patients will see their cures just over the horizon, and more will seek to avail themselves of the only technology currently available to buy them the time they need.

Even more dramatically, as research into the perfection of cryonics itself moves toward a fully reversible procedure, we expect to see the first human frozen and then revived. When that happens, regardless of how long from now, man will have indeed reached a critical juncture in his evolution. Aging, illness, and death, three of mankind's primary sources of pain and sorrow, may be all but eradicated. What we will do when that happens and how it will change us remain to be seen. Certainly, the more prepared and expectant we are, the better we can expect things to go.

TRANS TIME was founded to help prepare for that transition. We will continue doing our best to save the lives of those with the foresight to take advantage of the future of medicine today. If you feel, as we do, that life is good, but still (exceedingly) short, you may wish to join us. If so, be sure to read about the necessary Legal and Financial Arrangements for TRANS TIME Donors before you leave the site.

In the pages that follow, we offer a focused overview of cryonics. You will find the basic scientific reasoning supporting the practice, as well as links to further information. We will tell you in advance that you will probably finish this Introduction with more questions than you had when you started. Cryonics simply touches on too many areas of human knowledge for it to be otherwise. However, do not let your heightened appetite for information deter you. There are thriving discussion groups to turn to, and many related websites.

Feel free to contact us with any comments or questions you may have when you're finished here. You can email TRANS TIME President Jon Segall at , or contact him at the TRANS TIME facility at:

Jon Segall
3021 Teagarden St.
San Leandro, CA 94577
Phone: (510) 346-8846
Fax: (510) 346-8847

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