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Is Cryonics a “Man Thing”?

Posted by Curt on Monday, 12 July 2010

I was originally going to write this post about something else, but I saw this article written by Amanda Marcotte, who founded and writes at Pandagon, and it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read in awhile.  I had to respond.

Through the way she characterizes cryonics, I have to wonder if Amanda’s ever passed middle school science:

“According to Howley, male cryonics enthusiasts outnumber female ones 3 to 1. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. Men have the option, especially in our society, to be way more out of touch with their biological realities than women do, and this can make it that much easier to create elaborate fantasies about how the constraints of biology, including decay and death, don’t apply to you. … You’d think [a cryonics advocate would] learn a little more through osmosis about how death and decay are a process and have nothing to do with the cryonic image of death as being not so different than simply putting your computer on ‘hibernate.’”

For one, no cryonics advocate who knows what they’re talking about would ever compare being cryogenically frozen to putting your computer on hibernate.  Furthermore, her idea about decay not applying to those cryogenically frozen has absolutely nothing to do with any notion of immortality or egotism; it has a sound scientific backing, the same one which, if you understand properly, makes it completely different from putting your computer on hibernate.

You need to understand absolute zero.  Its definition is very simple: absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature that can ever be achieved.  It is 0 Kelvin (for comparison, room temperature, 68 degrees F or 20 degrees C, is about 293 Kelvin).  You cannot get any temperature lower than 0 Kelvin – it’s called absolute zero for a reason.

You also need to understand what heat does to atoms.  The higher the temperature, the faster atoms will move.  This includes everything from silver, water, to the trillions of cells our bodies are composed of are created from.  Atoms, which one should learn in any middle school science class, compose basically everything in the universe (at least as far as we know).  Thus the lower the temperature, the slower the atoms will move.  Once it hits absolute zero, there is no more movement; everything stops.  Nothing can move.  It is a true freeze.

Humans can never artificially produce absolute zero.  When heat exists anywhere, it’s impossible to reach it because the interaction with heat will always make it something like 0.001 Kelvin.  But just reaching close to absolute zero is enough for cryonics.  The idea behind cryonics is to freeze a person to near absolute zero for the purpose of unfreezing them in the future, restoring their body intact.  Think about it – the movement of atoms occurs so unbelievably slowly at such temperatures that one can preserve a human intact for many thousands of years at least.  If movement occurs this slowly, then logically there is no decay, or at least very little decay.  This isn’t even to mention that the bacteria and other organisms involved in making a corpse decay would be frozen as well, thus their activity wouldn’t occur.  Amanda’s bringing up osmosis is complete bunk in this case, as everything would be frozen (not moving) completely and, if unfrozen (or fixed quickly enough when unfrozen) correctly, would resume back to normal.  This differentiates it from a hibernating computer because, surprise surprise, the computer is still at room temperature and still had those organisms and other factors gnawing away at it.

This is where I have to question Amanda’s comprehension of this subject because she doesn’t seem to understand any of these.  This is best represented here:

“1) It’s so close to impossible that it could ever work to revive completely dead brain tissue that’s hundreds of years old that it’s not worth even entertaining the idea”

For one, nothing is “dead”.  When it is frozen to near absolute zero, it is simply frozen.  For all intents and purposes, they would be alive even if, to us, they would be dead.  Think of the differences between liquid water and frozen water – do its chemical properties change?  Does its atomic structure change?  Not at all; only its physical properties change.

This analogy isn’t wholly comparable to a regular human and a cryogenically frozen human, but it’s enough to serve the purpose of my argument as I’ve framed it here.  The cryogenically human is still alive, even if to bring them out of a cryogenically frozen state would kill them due to our current lack of technology (their bodies, I should say, are fitted with anti-freeze to keep it intact, which obviously can’t be done when unfreezing them – the idea is that human technology by that time would reach a point where it will be able to reprocess frostbitten tissue if done quickly enough).

Secondly, Amanda is assuming that all cryogenically frozen brain tissue must decay like any regular dead tissue must, which is bullshit because, as I’ve stated, at such low temperatures such things would occur so slowly that they’d be negligible.  Her argument here is not scientifically sound and is indicative of a complete lack of understanding of the science behind cryonics and its potential beyond preserving whole bodies, but the preservation of certain organs which may be required in medical emergencies.

And I should note that all of which I have been saying is the very simple explanation of cryonics – it gets much more complicated if you get into the nitty gritty, as any academic articles on it would show you.  But this is enough to understand its basic function and why it is feasible.

“2) It’s stupid to think that the business you’re forking cash over to will still be around in hundreds of years after the enthusiasm for cryonics dies off, as it will”

This is actually a valid criticism I think.  To give a business a lump sum payment to be cryogenically preserved for an unknown number of years, potentially many hundreds of years, does seem like an awful business decision on their part.  Keeping anything at such low temperatures for a prolonged period of time is quite expensive.

Of course, it may work out.  Such cryogenically preserved bodies can be transferred over to other companies over time.  It seems somewhat likely that the government may be a forceful presence here because, if they went by any true scientific definition of being alive or not, those cryogenically frozen bodies are alive and require being in that frozen state for some time longer to remain alive.  But it’s a bet I wouldn’t want to make – but hey, if one is going to die and they have the choice between possibly living or surely dying, it may be a worthwhile endeavor to take the chance.

“3) Belief that you personally deserve to have immortality denied the rest of the human race is insufferably narcissistic.”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous criticism out of all of them and one which Amanda frames her whole article on.  Who says anything about “deserving” to live?  Amanda likely got this sentiment from the New York Times article she quotes which inspired her to write this one:

“’You have to understand,’ says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. ‘I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?’”

Taking this red herring back to the fish market where it belongs.

What both of these authors fail to understand is that there is nothing good or bad about any of this.  The question of “good” or “bad”, or whether one “deserves” it or not, is a complete red herring.  It’s irrelevant.  Becoming cryogenically frozen and living to the future is not about whether one deserves it or not, but rather, is about whether one can do it or not.  Morality is not a factor in this at all, nor should it be.

I’d even go as far as to claim that death is neither good nor bad, but is neutral.  It simply is, and while it hurts for those they left behind as they miss them and while we are instinctually programmed to fear death, death in and of itself is hardly “bad”.  And I say this after having dealt with the death of those who I was very close to, my mother included.

Amanda so eloquently associates this “narcissism” she brings up through a red herring with cryonics advocates, which she implicitly associates with men, that it turns her whole argument into a strawman.  How many cryonics advocates ever claimed that the world could not survive without them?  Would she claim that I’m narcissistic simply because I did not kill myself when the guy I knew from high school that braved a very rare cancer was eventually killed by it?  After all, he was a great guy and he amazed me with how together he was when coming to grips with his own coming death – where exactly do I “deserve” to live when compared to that?  He knew what it meant to live, I and so many others who are not threatened by death in the short term often take it for granted.

Of course, maybe that’s a strawman as well, as for me to live on would require inaction on my part (at least as far as changing my daily routine is concerned), whereas for me to live via being cryogenically preserved, it would require some action on my part.  But I don’t think it’s much of one – after all, it at least illustrates that death is hardly determined by who deserves to live or die (if you believe anybody ever deserves to die that is).  And that’s my overriding point.  Death simply is, it’s a fact of life; without death, there is no life, and vise versa.  There’s nothing good or bad about it in and of itself.  Bringing it up whether somebody deserves to be cryogenically preserved or not is, by and large, a red herring – at least it is in this context.

That Amanda associates all these strawmen (narcissism, stupidity / ignorance, etc.) with men isn’t too surprising I suppose.  After all, it fits her preferred narrative, and this all is an excellent example of how she’ll engage in logical fallacies to make it fall in line with it, giving her a warped worldview.  It’s a good example of why balance is needed to achieve anything resembling gender equality and any notion of justice.  I’m sure cryonics advocates have certain characteristics the rest of the general population do not share, and those characteristics do probably correlate with the ones more common among men than women given the larger numbers of men as cryonics advocates; however, I’d take a step back and not associate every negative characteristic with men implicitly.  I’d probably try to refrain from making any normative judgment at all.  After all, if I wanted to be provocative, I could associate Amanda’s ignorance of the subject with a female predisposition against learning math and sciences, but I won’t; her ignorance is her’s alone.  I know a number of women who would cringe at what Amanda said in that article because they actually know a thing or two about basic science.  Individuals, or subgroups, do not define a larger group.

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One Response to “Is Cryonics a “Man Thing”?”

  1. Thanks in support of sharing such a good idea, article is nice,
    thats why i have read it entirely

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