A 2006 Merkle Video Introduction to Cryonics
A 2010 Merkle Video Introduction to Cryonics
Max More Introduces Cryonics
Alcor Video Tour: "Beyond fascinating" "Insanely cool"
Cryonics in the news
Cryonics in the blogosphere, particularly including discussions at Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong.
Links to further information
An open letter by scientists supporting cryonics
Read the Alcor Membership page and follow the instructions. Most members use life insurance to pay for their cryopreservation. Rudi Hoffman has written most of the life insurance policies in the cryonics community.
If you're interested, but not quite ready to sign up, become an Associate Member.
A common misconception is that cryonics freezes the dead. As the definition of "death" is "a permanent cessation of all vital functions" the future ability to revive a patient preserved with today's technology implies the patient wasn't dead. Cryonics is actually based on the more plausible idea that present medical practice has erred in declaring a patient "dead." A second opinion from a future physician one with access to a fundamentally better medical technology based on a mature nanotechnology lets us avoid the unpleasant risk that we might bury someone alive.
A 5-minute TED-Ed video explains the modern concept of life and death.
The major reason that cryonics is not more favorably viewed in the medical community is relatively easy to explain. Medicine relies on clinical trials. Put more simply, if someone proposes a technique for saving lives, the response is "Try it and see if it works." Methods that have not been verified by clinical trials are called "experimental," while methods that have been tried and failed are rejected.
In keeping with this tradition, we would like to conduct clinical trials of the effectiveness of cryopreservation to determine whether it does (or does not) work. The appropriate trials can be easily described. Cryonics proposes to cryopreserve people with today's technology in the expectation that medical technology of (say) the year 2115 will be able to cure them. Thus, the appropriate clinical trials would be to:
While this problem is not entirely unique to cryonics (the plight of a dying patient who wishes to know whether or not to take a new experimental treatment is well known), cryonics poses it in a qualitatively more severe fashion: we must wait longer to determine the outcome and we have no preliminary results to provide a clue about what that outcome might be. If a new treatment is being tested we normally have the results of animal trials and perhaps some preliminary results from human patients. Further, we expect to get reliable results within a small number of years. In the case of cryonics, we are quite literally awaiting the development of an entirely new medical technology. Preliminary results, even on experimental animals, are simply not available; and the final results won't be available for several decades.
Thus, while we can begin the clinical trials required to evaluate cryonics today, clinical trials cannot provide a timely answer about the effectiveness of cryonics. It is not possible (utilizing the paradigm of clinical trials) to draw conclusions today about whether physicians tomorrow will (or will not) be able to revive someone who was cryopreserved using today's technology.
The correct scientific answer to the question "Does cryonics work?" is: "The clinical trials are in progress. Come back in a century and we'll give you a reliable answer." The relevant question for those of us who don't expect to live that long is: "Would I rather be in the control group, or the experimental group?" We are forced by circumstances to answer that question without the benefit of knowing the results of the clinical trials.
When we think about this question, it is important to understand that future medical technology will be no mere incremental or evolutionary advance over today's medicine. Think of Hippocrates, the prehistoric Greek physician, watching a modern heart transplant. Advances in medical technology in future decades and centuries will be even more remarkable than the advances we have already seen in centuries past. At some point in the future almost any infirmity that could in principle be treated is likely to be treatable in practice as well. In principle, the coming ability to arrange and rearrange molecular and cellular structure in almost any way consistent with physical law will let us repair or replace almost any tissue in the human body. Whether it's a new liver, a more vital heart, a restored circulatory system, removing some cancerous cells, or some other treatment -- at some point, nanomedicine should let us revitalize the entire human body and even revive someone who was cryopreserved today.
|It works||It doesn't work|
|Sign up||Live||Die, lose life insurance|
How might we evaluate cryonics? Broadly speaking, there are two available courses of action: (1) sign up or (2) do nothing. And there are two possible outcomes: (1) it works or (2) it doesn't. This leads to the payoff matrix to the right. In using such a payoff matrix to evaluate the possible outcomes, we must decide what value the different outcomes have. What value do we place on a long and healthy life?
What does cryonics cost and what (presumably negative) value do we place on being dead? And finally, in the absence of direct experimental results in one direction or the other, what estimate do we make of the chances that it will work? This analysis has sometimes been compared with Pascal's Wager, although the two are very different.
When evaluating the possible outcomes, it's important to understand that if you sign up and it works, that "Live" does not mean a long, wretched and miserable life. Many people fear they will wake up, but still suffer from the infirmities and morbidities that the elderly suffer from today. This is implausible for two very good reasons. First, the kinds of medical technologies that are required to restore today's cryonics patients will be able to restore and maintain good health for an indefinite period. The infirmities of old age will go the way of smallpox, black death, consumption, and the other scourges that once plagued humanity. Second, as long as we are unable to restore cryopreserved patients to satisfactory good physical and mental health, we'll keep them cryopreserved until we develop better medical technologies. To put these two points another way, when that future day arrives when we have a medical technology that can revive a patient who was dying of cancer today, and was cryopreserved with today's technology, that same medical technology should be able to cure their senile dementia and restore their musculature; they'll walk out into a future world healthy in mind and body. In the unlikely case it can't, we'll keep our patients in liquid nitrogen until we develop a medical technology that can.
It's also important to understand that technology is moving rapidly, and accelerating. When you wake up, your children and your younger friends and acquaintances are likely to be alive and well, along with most of your awakened friends from the cryonics community. While several decades might have passed, your social network within the cryonics community will still be there and likely many of the younger members of the rest of your social network.
While different people will answer these questions in different ways, this provides a useful framework in which to consider the problem.
At some point in the future we will have direct experimental proof that today's cryopreserved patients either can or cannot be revived by future medical technology. Unfortunately, most of us must decide today if we wish to pursue this option. If we wish to gain some insight today about the chance that cryonics will or will not work we must consider several factors, including most prominently (a) the kinds of damage that are likely to occur during cryopreservation and (b) the kinds of damage that future medical technologies might reasonably be able to repair. Those interested in pursuing this subject should read this web page which discusses the chances of success and The Molecular Repair of the Brain.
Recent coverage of cryonics is available from Google news.
There has been much discussion of cryonics in the blogosphere, notably including discussions at Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong. Ciphergoth has sought articles critical of cryonics.
The Dr. Oz Show, March 10, 2015, "Why Larry King Wants to Freeze His Body" "I think when you die, that's it. And I don't want it to be it. I want to be around. So I figure the only chance I have is to be frozen. And then, if they cure whatever I died of, I come back."
The List, March 12, 2015, "Live Forever by Freezing Your Body" "First and foremost I look forward to the future, I think it's going to be a great place. I want to live as long as possible." "Many pay for their cryonic treatment by naming the company itself, Alcor, as their life insurance beneficiary."
The Journal of Medical Ethics, February 25, 2015, "The case for cryonics" " insofar as the alternatives to cryonics are burial or cremation, and thus certain, irreversible death, even small chances for success can be sufficient to make opting for cryonics a rational choice."
The Onion, October 15, 2014, "Facebook Offers To Freeze Female Employees’ Newborn Children" "“We recognize the many challenges women face starting a family and balancing a career, which is why our company will provide extensive support to female employees who want to preserve their infant in a frozen state of suspended animation until they’re ready for child-rearing,” said Facebook spokesperson Mary Copperman, ..."
The Atlantic, August 26, 2014, "For $200,000, This Lab Will Swap Your Body's Blood for Antifreeze" "Cryopreservation is a darling of the futurist community. The general premise is simple: Medicine is continually getting better. Those who die today could be cured tomorrow. Cryonics is a way to bridge the gap between today’s medicine and tomorrow’s."
The Huffington Post, June 23, 2014, "Should Cryonics, Cryothanasia, and Transhumanism Be Part of the Euthanasia Debate?" "Approximately 40 million people around the world have some form of dementia, according to a World Health Organization report. About 70 percent of those suffer from Alzheimer's. With average lifespans increasing due to rapidly improving longevity science, what are people with these maladies to do? Do those with severe cases want to be kept alive for years or even decades in a debilitated mental state just because modern medicine can do it?" "In the 21st Century--the age of transhumanism and brilliant scientific achievement--the question should be asked: Are there other ways to approach this sensitive issue?" "Recently, some transhumanists have advocated for cryothanasia, where a patient undergoes physician or self-administered euthanasia with the intent of being cryonically suspended during the death process or immediately afterward. This creates the optimum environment since all persons involved are on hand and ready to do their part so that an ideal freeze can occur."
Alcor, December 19, 2013, "Dr. Michio Kaku and Cryonics: Why Michio Kaku's Critique of Cryonics is Bogus" "You'd expect that a man of that learning, and knowledge, and experience ... would have done his research and get things right. Unfortunately, just about every single point in that video was incorrect."
BBC, October 31, 2013, "Will we ever bring the dead back to life?" "The woods’ cool temperature, it turned out, had prevented the woman’s cells from breaking down as quickly as they would have in a warmer environment, allowing her to lay dead in the forest for around four hours, plus survive an additional six hours between the time the passerby called the ambulance and the time her heart began beating again. Three weeks later, she left the hospital, and today she is happily married and recently delivered a baby."
The Guardian, September 20, 2013, "Cryonics: the people hoping to give death a cold shoulder" "Scores of Brits have also signed up for what the movement has dubbed "a second chance at life""
Singularity Weblog, September 12, 2013, "My Video Tour of Alcor and Interview with CEO Max More" "During our visit CEO Dr. More walked us through the Alcor facilities as well as the process starting after clinical death is proclaimed, through the cooling of the body and its vitrification, and ending in long term storage."
Science Omega, July 1, 2013, "Exploring cryonics: Could science offer new life after death?" "Medical advances have made it possible – given favourable circumstances – for physicians to bring patients, who are clinically dead, back to life." ... " cryonics has been viewed as somewhat of a fringe science since its inception. However, advances within fields such as regenerative medicine and nanomedicine have caused some experts to acknowledge the field’s growing potential. Last month, for example, three academics from the University of Oxford revealed that, once dead, they will be cryogenically preserved until it becomes possible to bring them back to life."
The Independent, June 9, 2013: "Academics at Oxford University pay to be cryogenically preserved and brought back to life in the future"
"Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at the Future of Humanity Institute [FHI] and his co researcher Anders Sandberg have agreed to pay an American company to detach and deep freeze their heads in the advent of their deaths.
Colleague Stuart Armstrong is instead opting to have his whole body frozen. Preserving the full body is technically more difficult to achieve and can cost up to £130,000.
Bostrom, Armstrong, Sandberg are lead researchers at the FHI, a part of the prestigious Oxford Martin School where academics complete research into problems affecting the globe, such as a climate change."
"“It costs me £25 a month in premiums to cover the cost of getting cryo-preserved, and that seems a good bet,” he [Armstrong] said. “It’s a lot cheaper than joining a gym, which is most people’s way of trying to prolong life.”"
BuzzFeed, June 6, 2013, "The Immortality Business" "The richest vein of professed cryonicists is, not surprisingly, in the world of technology." Alcor’s "public-facing members include prolific inventor and Singularity cleric Ray Kurzweil; nanotechnology pioneer Ralph Merkle; and Marvin Minsky, co-founder of MIT’s artificial intelligence laboratory."
The Observer, April 6th, 2013: "Sam Parnia – the man who could bring you back from the dead" '"The longest I know of is a Japanese girl I mention in the book," Parnia says. "She had been dead for more than three hours. ... Afterwards, she returned to life perfectly fine and has, I have been told, recently had a baby."' "One of the stranger things you realise in reading Parnia's book is the idea that we might be in thrall to historical perceptions of life and death and that these ultimate constants have lately become vaguer than most of us would allow."
Discovery Channel, April 16th, 2013: "Maria Entraigues Discovery Channel interview" In Spanish. "Alcor is the place where I will take a little nap so that I can wake up in the future..."
Cryonics, January 2013: "Alcor-40 Conference Review" "From the science of cryopreservation to the implications of neural network research on cryonics to strategies for preserving your assets as well as yourself, no stone was left unturned and no question unasked."
Phoenix New Times, September 17th, 2012: "Best Second Chance - 2012: ALCOR Life Extension Foundation" "ALCOR ... specializes in cryonics, the science of preserving bodies at sub-zero temperatures for eventual reanimation, possibly centuries from now."
CNBC, September 20th, 2012: "William Maris: Google Ventures Managing Partner" "What's the most exciting areas right now?" ... "There are two areas. One, I'm interested in macro trends that are 5 or 10 years out, things like radical life extension, cryogenics, nanotechnology, and then there are trends that are occuring sooner." ... "So go back to cryogenics, how realistic is that idea at this point?"... " we're looking for entrepreneurs that have a healthy disregard for the impossible. If I start from a place by saying that's not realistic, or not possible, we won't make any investments. So I think it's very realistic." ... "I want to know if this is a reality that we could see sometime in my lifetime?" "It's a reality now, there are companies that specialize in cryogenics."Metro, August 24th, 2012: "The Cryonic Man: How Alcor Life Extension preserves your dead body" Alcor chief executive Max More says: " hospital staff are usually fascinated and want to help in any way they can."
OraTVnetwork, July 17th, 2012: "Seth MacFarlane & Larry King on Cryonics" (41 seconds) Larry King: "How about we get frozen together?" Seth MacFarlane: "Let's do it!"
PBS Newshour, July 10th, 2012: "As Humans and Computers Merge ... Immortality?" Ray Kurzweil, co-founder, Singularity University: "People say, oh, I don't want to live past 100. And I say, OK, I would like to hear you say that when you're 100."
Newsmax Health, December 7th, 2011: "Larry King's Vow to Freeze His Dead Body Is Not Crazy, Experts Say" "the 78-year-old King stated, “I wanna be frozen, on the hope that they’ll find whatever I died of and they’ll bring me back.”"
SENS5 Conference, September 3rd, 2011: "Cryonic Life Extension" "Cryonics enables the transport of critically ill people through time in an unchanging state to a time when more advanced medical and repair technologies are available" said Max More, President and CEO of Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
Science Channel's Through the Wormhole (Season 2), July 15th 2011: "Cryogenic Preservation" "Cryogenic freezing is a process that could successfully preserve a human body over an extended period of time."
Time, February 10th 2011: "2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal" "Old age is an illness like any other, and what do you do with illnesses? You cure them."
Rolling Stone, December 2010: "Life on the Rocks: can you bring people back from the dead?" (slow site) "Isn't it a leap of faith to believe in something that hasn't happened yet? 'The comparison's more like talking to someone 150 years ago and saying, "In a little while, humans are going to have flying machines."'"
Lightspeed, October 2010: "Considering Cryonics" Author and Physics Professor Gregory Benford looks at cryonics, and says "...it’s a rational gamble, especially when you consider that cryonicists buy life insurance policies which pay their organization upon their death..."
Singularity Summit 2010, August 15th, 2010: "Modifying the Boundary between Life and Death" Lance Becker, MD, Director, Center for Resuscitation Science, Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania: "Our initial results are very encouraging. We have taken 6 dead people ... plugged those patients into cardiopulmonary bypass and we have a 50% survival rate out of those 6 patients". On cryonics: "I look forward to seeing that field [cryonics] be synergistic with some of what we're doing."
New York Times, July 5th, 2010: "Until Cryonics Do Us Part" Cryonics can produce hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.
Colorado Court Order, March 1, 2010: "IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF: MARY ROBBINS" "The Court finds that the evidence clearly shows Mary's decision in 2006 for Alcor to preserve her last remains by cryonic suspension was an informed and resolute one." "Alcor shall have custody of Mary's last remains..."
Organogenesis, Vol 5 Issue 3, 2009: "Physical and biological aspects of renal vitrification" "We report here the detailed case history of a rabbit kidney that survived vitrification and subsequent transplantation"
The Institution of Engineering and Technology, November 5, 2008: "A Science Without a Deadline" "“If sceptics don’t want to pursue this area, that’s fine, but I ask them not to interfere with my own efforts to save the lives of myself and the people I love”"
BBC News,October 20, 2008: "Doctors get death diagnosis tips" "...there is enough ambiguity in diagnosing death that doctors need guidance" "...like low body temperature when it is inappropriate to confirm death." (audio)
Cryonics, 4th Quarter 2008: "A Cryopreservation Revival Scenario using MNT" Molecular nanotechnology is the most compelling approach ever put forward for comprehensive repair of cryopreservation injury with maximum retention of original biological information.
Newsweek, July 23, 2007: "Back From the Dead" "The other is to scan the entire three-dimensional molecular array of the brain into a computer which could hypothetically reconstitute the mind, either as a physical entity or a disembodied intelligence in cyberspace."
Newsweek, May 7, 2007: "To Treat the Dead" ""After one hour," he says, "we couldn't see evidence the cells had died. We thought we'd done something wrong." In fact, cells cut off from their blood supply died only hours later."
Channel 5 (UK), 2006 : "Cryonics Freeze Me" (A.K.A. "Death in the Deep Freeze") "Almost every major advance has met with its critics, who have said that it's impossible, unworkable, uneconomical; and then, of course, when it's demonstrated, they announce that it's obvious and they knew it all along." (If you have a link to the video, please email it to me).
The Wall Street Journal, January 21st 2006: "A Cold Calculus Leads Cryonauts To Put Assets on Ice" "At least a dozen wealthy American and foreign businessmen are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches hundreds, or even thousands, of years into the future."
This Is London, May 25th 2004: "Sperm 'can be kept for thousands of years'" "...sperm could survive 5,000 or 6,000 years stored in liquid nitrogen."
The Arizona State Legislature is not regulating cryonics.
Reasononline, February 25th 2004: "Regulating the Biggest Chill" "Arizona's state legislature is about to consider one of the silliest pieces of "consumer protection" legislation ever devised."
Guardian Unlimited, January 23rd 2004, "House of the temporarily dead" "Officially, the building is "the world's first comprehensive facility devoted to life extension research and cryopreservation", a six-acre structure that will house research laboratories, animal and plant DNA, and up to 10,000 temporarily dead people."
Science News, December 21st 2002: "Cold Comfort: A futuristic play of cryogenic proportions" an amusing story in which Ted Williams, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman awake in 2102 and find they are wards of the Martha Stewart Living Foundation. Says Ted: "...the Red Sox should have won a World Series by now."
The Fifth Alcor Conference on Extreme Life Extension resulted in several articles:
Wired News, November 18th 2002: "Ray Kurzweil's Plan: Never Die" "Ray Kurzweil, celebrated author, inventor and geek hero, plans to live forever."
Wired News, November 20th 2002: A Few Ways to Win Mortality War "Discussions among leading researchers in nanotechnology, cloning and artificial intelligence focused on much more than cryonics, the process of freezing the body in liquid nitrogen after death to be later reanimated. Cryonics is basically a backup plan if technology doesn't obliterate mortality first."
Wired News, November 20th 2002: Who Wants to Live Forever? "Gregory Benford, of the University of California at Irvine, believes the public should know that 'cryonicists aren't crazy, they're just really great, sexy optimists.'"
KurzweilAI.net, November 22nd 2002: The Alcor Conference on Extreme Life Extension "Bringing together longevity experts, biotechnology pioneers, and futurists, the conference explored how the emerging technologies of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and cryonics will enable humans to halt and ultimately reverse aging and disease and live indefinitely."
Coverage of cryonics related to the Ted Williams case was voluminous. Wikipedia describes the events succinctly. Here are links to a few contemporaneous articles:
Sports Illustrated, August 2nd 2003: "Splendid Splinter chilling in Scottsdale"
Sports Illustrated, June 30th 2003: "Chillin' with the Splinter"
The New York Times, September 26th 2002: "Fight Over Williams May End"
CNN Sports Illustrated, August 13th 2002: "Williams' eldest daughter asks judge to keep jurisdiction"
USA Today, July 28th 2002: "Vitrification could keep tissue safe during the big chill"
The New York Times, July 16th 2002: "They've Seen the Future and Intend to Live It"
The New York Times, July 9th 2002: "Even for the Last .400 Hitter, Cryonics Is the Longest Shot"
(Note that the Boston Globe links and others that have gone dead have been deleted).
Christopher Hitchens quote, February 15, 2011: "If someone is reported dead on Tuesday, and you see them on Friday, the overwhelming, the obvious conclusion is that the initial report was mistaken."
Howard Lovy's blog August 27th 2003: "Unfrozen Cave Men"
Reason Online, August 2002: "Forever Young: The new scientific search for immortality"
New Scientist, September 2nd 2002: "New Scientist offers prize to die for." "When the winner of the New Scientist promotion is pronounced legally dead, he or she will be ... suspended in liquid nitrogen at –196°, in a state known as cryonic preservation[sic]."
KRON 4 News, Nightbeat, May 3rd 2001: "Frozen for Life" “…[medical] advances are giving new credibility to cryonics.”
Wired News, July 20th 2001: "Cryonics Over Dead Geeks' Bodies"
Scientific American, September 2001: "Nano nonsense and cryonics"
Search PubMed for published articles on cryonics.
Those interested in joining the experimental group can contact:
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation
7895 E. Acoma Dr. Suite 110
Scottsdale AZ 85260-6916
phone: 480-905-1906 or (toll free) 877-462-5267
No action is needed to join the control group.
The Alcor FAQ is excellent.
The Wikipedia article on cryonics is excellent.
Chapter 9 of Engines of Creation discusses biostasis and cryonics.
This YouTube video is an easy introduction to some of the technical issues in cryonics.
The 4th Quarter 2008 issue of Cryonics magazine (the MNT articles are available as a PDF) discusses the application of MNT (Molecular NanoTechnology) to cryonics.
The arrest of biological time as a bridge to engineered negligible senescence provides a brief overview of the core technical assumptions of cryonics.
The molecular repair of the brain discusses the technical issues surrounding the feasibility of cryonics.
Nanomedicine by Robert A. Freitas provides a technical overview of expected medical applications of nanotechnology.
Ralph Merkle explains why cryonics will work at the 6th Alcor Conference.
How to Cryopreserve Everyone: if millions of people were cryopreserved annually, the combined up-front plus long-term costs could drop to ~$3000 each.
Signing Up Your Relatives: after you've signed up, you'll want your friends and loved ones to join you. This is an overview of the practical and emotional issues involved.
LessWrong has an excellent overview page of its discussions on cryonics.
A 2007 article in the Southwestern University Law Review reviews the legal basis for cryonics and proposes changes to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA).
(Best for geeks) Cryonics, cryptography, and maximum likelihood estimation discusses the surprisingly close relationship between cryptanalysis of World War II rotor machines and the problem of inferring neuronal wiring given partial information.
Here is a list of selected journal articles on cryonics.
KurzweilAI.net discusses cryonics and related concepts. It provides an excellent overview of the multiple cascading technological changes that will transform our lives in the coming decades.
Matt Ridley is also optimistic about the future.
Large scale analysis of neural structures reviews the issues involved in high resolution imaging of the human brain. While not directly applicable to cryonics, it provides useful background about the neuronal structures that we wish to preserve.
The Prospect of Immortality (1965) by Robert C. W. Ettinger, is now available on the web. This book started the cryonics movement.
Jim Halperin's 1998 novel, The First Immortal, is a well researched and entertaining introduction to the subject.
The society for the recovery of persons apparently dead by Steven B. Harris. An essay on people's remarkable ability to ignore new ideas for decades and even centuries, and its relevance to cryonics.
The DMOZ open directory project has many links related to cryonics.
Timeship will pursue research in life extension, cryonics, vitrification (cryopreservation without ice) and related areas.
The growing movement for increasing autonomy and control by the terminally ill patient will likely improve the conditions under which cryopreservation can be performed. The Oregon Death With Dignity Act is one manifestation of this movement. A New England Journal of Medicine article in 2003 described Nurses' experiences with patients who refused food and fluids to hasten death.
Those interested in the Society for Cryobiology are referred to Mike Darwin's article. While published in 1991, it still provides the best summary of their motives and tactics.
Anyone interested in a long and healthy life will also be concerned about the regulatory environment and its impact on health care.
This page is part of Ralph C. Merkle's web site. hits since 02.09.26: