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Dean Pomerleau

Cryonics Anyone?

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All,

 

There is a great article in today's New York Times on the current state in cryonics and brain preservation, woven in with the story of a young woman dying of brain cancer with the intention of getting herself preserved at Alcor. It takes a hard look at the current limits and potential future advances in this area, including a pretty detailed side-bar on the four hurdles that will have to be overcome to recover the consciousness of a vitrified brain. It has a good overview of recent advances towards winning of the Brain Preservation Prize that we've talked about in this thread.

 

Its an informative and poignant article that strikes very close to home for me.

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Dean, yes, that was a surprisingly good article. It balances hope, sympathy, and skepticism in a way I'd never seen in the many articles I've read on the topic.

 

But the focus was a bit too heavy on digital recreation, instead of biological revival. I think the latter will be much easier in the short-run (esp. with whole-body freezing, obviously). As noted earlier, whole-body cooling experiments in animals (even those as large as dogs and pigs) have shown that cooling to the point where the heart stops (but not all the way to the point where the body is frozen), and reviving several HOURS later, appears not to damage the brain in most cases (the exceptions can surely be largely eliminated with a bit more research). This means that if the right antifreeze could be developed, and perfused throughout the body and more importantly the brain -- a relatively easy step -- and the problem of the brain cracking can be solved, whole-body cryonics might work far sooner than any attempt to digitally recreate a person from a connectome scan. Then one would have decades or even centuries to wait for a cure for what killed (or was about to kill) one, instead of hours that we can have with cooling but not freezing.

 

- Brian

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Brian,

 

I agree with you that the option of revival rather than relying solely on the possibility of digital reconstruction would be preferable. At the very least preserving our bodies in a (potentially) viable state through non-destructive methods (i.e. cooling/freezing and not vitrification, which turns brain tissue into something like plastic) would provide more options for future recovery. If you can be "thawed" and repaired, great. If not, digital reconstruction from your cooled/frozen corpse should still be an option, as long as the cooling/freezing process preserves sufficient details.

 

But it is the last point (information preservation via cooling/freezing) that I'm skeptical about, particularly over the long-term. 

 

Personally, upon my death I'd rather be vitrified in enough detail to be confident that enough information has been preserved to make future (digital) reconstruction possible (even if it might not be possible for hundreds of years), than be cooled/frozen via a method (like Alcor uses today, or even an improved version) that I suspect doesn't preserve sufficient detail and/or won't stand the test of time. And I'm not confidence that a process of structure-preserving, reversible cooling/freezing that is stable for decades or centuries will be possible within our lifetimes (if ever). But I'd be happy to be proven wrong. As you said earlier in this thread, seeing a mammal cooled/frozen for > 1 year and revived without ill effect would go a long way towards convincing me I'm mistaken.

 

Both avenues of research should be pursued.

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Cryonics has been getting a lot of press lately. In the interest of being even-handed, here is a rather sobering and pessimistic response to the NYT story yesterday in the MIT Technology Review by a neuroscientist discussing just how far he thinks we are away from viable brain preservation and reconstruction. He also touches on the philosophical question of whether such a reconstruction would still be 'you'. A relatively short and interesting read:

 

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/541311/the-false-science-of-cryonics/

 

The author works on the neuroscience of C. Elegans worms, and one of his main points is that if we can't even understand and accurately simulate the nervous system of a creature with only 300 neurons, we're light years away from doing so for mammals, and especially people. But as pointed out in one of the comments (and discussed earlier in this thread), the very model system he works on has been frozen and revived, and the worms' memories have been verified to have been preserved. So at least in some models of cryonics, it isn't necessary to understand the brain to preserve and revive it.

 

The comments below the article are as interesting as the article, including one from Ken Hayworth (from the Brain Preservation Foundation) in which he says:

 

I personally agree, no one should pay $80,000 to freeze their brain without solid, open, scientifically rigorous evidence that at the very least the connectome is preserved. I would go further and say that regulated medical doctors are the only ones that should be allowed to perform such a procedure.

But I do not agree that research in this area is doomed to failure. Instead the scientific and medical communities should embrace such research following up on the promising brain preservation results I mentioned above. Scientists should work to perfect ever better methods of brain preservation in animal models, and medical researchers should take these protocols and develop them into robust surgical procedures suitable for human patients. Regulators should enforce the highest quality standards for such procedures to be performed by licensed professionals in hospitals. And laws should be changed to allow terminal patients like Kim to take advantage of them prior to cardiac arrest (avoiding weeks of self-starvation and dehydration).

--Dean
Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Thanks for the tip, Dean.

 

I still think that the most likely, shortest path to success is via the already successful cooling experiments. Just figure out how to cool further! Understanding the brain in sufficient detail for reconstruction, on the other hand, really does seem a long, long way away.

 

- Brian

 

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I agree with Brian; and totally agree with the MIT article.

 

I recall, at one CR Society meeting, a member of the CR Society (who I personally like -- I've been in his house in LA -- he, like I, likes white tea :)) gave a talk, encouraging people to cryonics (the speaker was in the business).

 

I didn't object, but was personally outraged that encouraging people to freeze their bodies (which is a premature death) was allowed, at a meeting of the CR Society.

 

As Brian notes,

 

... shortest path to success is via the already successful cooling experiments ...

 

(Although I really think that the best that we can do is to extend our lifespan and healthspan via CRON (and aerobic exercise, yoga, mindfullness and insight meditation and/or other forms of meditation).

 

  -- Saul

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There is a new OpEd piece in the New York Times this weekend by a Columbia neuroscientist on the viability of mind uploading, titled Will You Ever Be Able to Upload Your Brain?

 

The author is reasonably optimistic long-term, but not anytime soon. Here are some quotes from the article I found interesting. Saul you'll appreciate the last paragraph!

 

I don’t in principle see any reason that what I’ve described could not someday, in the very far future, be achieved (though it’s an active field of philosophical debate). But to accomplish this, these future scientists would need to know details of staggering complexity about the brain’s structure, details quite likely far beyond what any method today could preserve in a dead brain.

 

<snip discussions of some of the challenges we've talked about in this thread>

 

Neuroscience is progressing rapidly, but the distance to go in understanding brain function is enormous. It will almost certainly be a very long time before we can hope to preserve a brain in sufficient detail and for sufficient time that some civilization much farther in the future, perhaps thousands or even millions of years from now, might have the technological capacity to “upload” and recreate that individual’s mind.

 

I certainly have my own fears of annihilation. But I also know that I had no existence for the 13.8 billion years that the universe existed before my birth, and I expect the same will be true after my death. The universe is not about me or any other individual; we come and we go as part of a much larger process. More and more I am content with this awareness. We all find our own solutions to the problem death poses. For the foreseeable future, bringing your mind back to life will not be one of them.

 

--Dean

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:)xyz

 

His final thoughts resemble those expressed by the ageing king Solomon, in Ecclesiastes.  I strongly recommend reading it; you'll enjoy it.

 

  -- Saul

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Mind uploading is fun to speculate about, but I insist that if we focused on developing a good anti-freeze - a not-so-difficult goal - we'd have workable cryonics soon. Again - pigs and a (more than one?) dog with hearts stopped for hours, and they are normal afterwards: This is amazing!! And of course the woman in Norway whose heart stopped for many hours and recovered fine.

 

We just need to be able to extend that few-degree (C°) heart-stopped condition by cooling the body much more, which, basically, only requires the right anti-freeze. (Cooling and then warming at the right pace, and other problems, can be solved easily.)

 

Zeta

Edited by Zeta

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Zeta,

 

It would be great if we can get long-term suspended animation to work via cooling the body without freezing it. I'm just dubious that we'll be able to extend the time from minutes/hours to days/weeks/years effectively and without doing irreparable harm.

 

Time will tell!

 

Dean

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Here is a really thought-provoking discussion on one of my favorite podcasts, Review the Future, on whether or not you should sign up for cryonics:

 

http://reviewthefuture.com/?p=602

 

It goes through all of the basics, including what is cryonics and how likely is it to work.

 

But where it really gets interesting is when they discuss some of the possibilities surrounding your revival.

 

Under what conditions will you be revived and what will your status in society be? What is the future likely to be like if/when you are revived, and are there nightmare scenarios associated with your revival that might make the upside potential of waking up in a utopian future not worth the risks?

 

Overall it made me think harder about the potential outcomes in ways I hadn't before. I highly recommend listening to it for anyone who is "cryo-curious" - intrigued by the idea of cryonics but still harbors some reservations, or if you are so enthusiastic as to not see any potential downsides, besides it being a potential waste of money.

 

--Dean

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In the original post on this thread, I suggested cryopreservation as a potential 'lifeboat' to the future while Aubrey and Michael work to defeat aging.

 

Today I discovered that Aubrey agrees. Here is his Quora answer to the question "What can someone do right now to live forever?":

 

https://www.quora.com/Immortality/What-can-someone-do-right-now-to-live-forever

 

In his answer, Aubrey says:

 

"There is nothing available today that can get someone to what I've termed 'longevity escape velocity', and there almost certainly won't be for at least another 20 years. I do very much advocate signing up to be cryopreserved, because that really is a lifeline - and an increasingly strong one, as research progresses in solving the key challenges inherent in minimising the damage done to tissues by the cryopreservation process. But mainly what I advocate is ... [usual Aubrey synopsis of SENS research project]."

 

Given the respect I and many others have for Aubrey, that is a pretty strong endorsement!

 

--Dean

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In the original post on this thread, I suggested cryopreservation as a potential 'lifeboat' to the future while Aubrey and Michael work to defeat aging.

 
... Note: fortunately, lots of other people are working to defeat aging. :) I view the SENS approach as the most promising (because it's sufficiently comprehensive), resources aside. But that "aside" is a big one. Un-asiding the aside, Calico might be the most promising effort. But I hope more people give to SENS!
 
In any event, thanks for the link. I hadn't heard Aubrey's views on cryonics before.
 
And his claim here -

 

[Cryonics] really is a lifeline - and an increasingly strong one, as research progresses in solving the key challenges inherent in minimising the damage done to tissues by the cryopreservation process.

 

- is exactly what I've been saying. Just get us from safely cooled to safely frozen, and we're done!

 

Zeta

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  Just get us from safely cooled to safely frozen, and we're done!

 

That may not be a very easy step, given how cold we'll have to go to stop decay. Check out this Quora response from Aubrey about what we can learn from animals about life extension:

 

https://www.quora.com/Gerontology/What-do-we-know-about-organisms-that-outlive-human-beings-by-a-very-long-shot-What-key-points-can-humans-take-away-and-potentially-make-them-applicable-to-battling-human-aging

 

He says:

 

Don't get too excited about the frozen frogs - they only go a little below 0oC. They do it by replacing a lot of their water with sugar. Certain lower species can do this better and go down to as low as -30 as I recall, but for useful cryopreservation in anticipation of revival when better medicine exists we need much lower temperatures than that: plenty of chemistry, in particular decay of tissue, still happens at -30.

 

--Dean

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I don't think we can learn much from frogs. (I referenced the pig and dog studies earlier.)

 

I'm talking about an entirely different process from the sort-of "natural" one Aubrey is talking about. I mean the one already being applied successfully to complicated cells (human eggs) and even organs.

 

Short summary of a view I share:

Cryonics Is No Fantasy, Should We Be Taking It Seriously?

 

If I had a fortune, and had only 10 or so years to live (and/or had loved ones with (an expected) 10 or so years to live), I'd invest in research into cryopreservation. That would be the wisest choice for a bridge to the far future for those whose fuse is likely to run out in the mid '20s or so -- better than SENS, better than CR. And, in the meantime, it would help many ill people in need of organ transplants, improve surgery outcomes, etc.

 

Zeta

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Here is a really thought-provoking, award-winnig short film (16min) simply called "New". It is about an elderly couple who are brought back after cryogenic preservation through reconstructing memories from preserved copies of their brain and clones of their bodies from DNA, although the methodology isn't important.

 

It addresses in a haunting way the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that present themselves after waking up in a world that is incredible, but utterly foreign, hundreds of years in the future, and what it might take to cope and adjust.

 

I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the idea of cryonics. There are several aspects of it I'd like to talk to folks about, but I'll wait a couple days to bring them up until others have had a chance to watch it, to avoid spoiling the film for you.

 

http://vimeo.com/144333900

 

Let us know what you think.

 

--Dean

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Thanks, Dean. Very interesting. Completely unrealistic in many ways (humans won't likely exist in any recognizable form so far into the future), but it captures the sense of loss and alienation anyone waking up in a distant future would feel.

 

Zeta

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Zeta,

 

I'm glad you enjoyed it. 

 

Completely unrealistic in many ways (humans won't likely exist in any recognizable form so far into the future)

Agree totally. Heck, I think it quite likely that the human form will be modified dramatically, perhaps to the point of unrecognizability by the end of this century, to say nothing of hundreds of years in the future. But if this were to be the case, it would only make even greater the challenges of reintegration into society (or whatever remains of it) faced by the people in the film who've been 'reawakened'. 

 

 

It captures the sense of loss and alienation anyone waking up in a distant future would feel.

 

[Spoiler Alert - Don't read further if you are planning to watch the film, as I talk about the final scene.]

 

Yes - I was particularly struck by the final scene, where the (former) couple unexpectedly bump into each other in a bar overlooking the rings of Saturn. They stumble to explain to each other what each is doing there, and the man says, in reference to Saturn and its rings which are now a popular tourist attraction, "[it's] something you gotta see before you die. I can't stop looking at it. You were right."  The "You were right" refers to an earlier point in the film when the woman had suggested to the man that they go on a trip to Saturn to help him get out of the funk he was experiencing trying to integrate into the strange new society in which they find themselves.

 

Saying "[it's] something you gotta see before you die." is obviously ironic, given that they've both already died once, and the lives they are leading now are in some sense a 'second act'. But contrary to what they were perhaps expecting when they signed up for cryonics, its no easier (and perhaps quite a bit harder) to find meaning and purpose in a second life than it was in the first.

 

At the very end, we see the man, alone, sipping his glowing "bell pepper lumi" beverage and staring out at Saturn's rings, and we wonder, as he seems to be, what is the point of it all.

 

It reminds me of Saul's rather pessimistic perspective expressed on another thread, which he summarized with the Shakespeare quote:

 

"[Life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

 

 --Dean

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Cryonics revival update:

 

Scientists have now successfully revived several creatures kept frozen at -4F for over 30 years. While they were just a 1mm long tardigrades, odd looking little guys that only a mother could love (see below), also known as water bears or moss piglets, there revival from deep freeze is another step on the road to cryonics. See this popular press article for details.

 

--Dean

 

569b52621a00002d00ab0b6d.jpeg

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^^^ Well, I beg to differ because I love Mr. Tardigrades, and I'm not his mother. And I'm happy to see that that moss piglet has finally been unfrozen by the evil scientismists who froze him in the first place.

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Wow - that's incredible. 12 hours in a snowbank with a body temperature of 68F, and getting revived without even any brain damage. My favorite quote from article is from the guy's doctor:

 

My clinical thought [was] very simple: You have to be warm to be dead.

Does that mean if I stay cold I'll never die?! That would be a big endorsement for cold exposure :)xyz

 

--Dean

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"...Rhee told the New Scientist. “Every day at work I declare people dead. They have no signs of life, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I sign a piece of paper knowing in my heart that they are not actually dead. I could, right then and there, suspend them. But I have to put them in a body bag. It’s frustrating to know there’s a solution.”

 

A few years ago I was on a Greyhound bus, and we got stuck in a South Dakota blizzard. Roads closed, and we were forced to stay three-days and nights in a small town bowling alley. We slept in the bowling lanes. It was fun. Since these were Greyhound passengers, some had a little too much fun. One guy tripped himself up on something, then disappeared in the snow. Paramedics found him much later, and pronounced him dead. Now, we are beginning to learn, he may not have been dead at all. Just frozen.

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