In this article, I’m sharing with you my reading notes.
This is the sixth article about the book. The other articles about it can be read here.
Cryonie – The resuscitation cycle
In the previous article of my reading notes, I examined the iconic phase of cryopreservation during which the temperature around the patient is lowered to freeze or vitrify him.
We learned about the side effects resulting from these two imperfect methods, such as the creation of fractures or the disruption of cells by the injection of antifreezes supposed to prevent the formation of ice crystals.
In this article, we will explore the cryonics resuscitation cycle. This is the most speculative one, because it is based on future technologies not yet available.
The cycle of resuscitation is therefore the cycle where the patient is brought back to the conscious life after decades, even centuries of being maintained in biostasis by cryopreservation. The goal for the patient is to return to the most integrated state of consciousness possible in possession of his memories and personality; the constituents of his identity … so that he wakes up with souvenirs of his old life while having the capacity to appreciate the new horizons offered by the future world.
Precision is necessary about the immaterial notion of the soul. For cryonicists, the human being is a closed circuit. There is no immaterial soul, no dependence on a fanciful beyond: what we designate by the soul cannot be dissociated from the purely material neuronal substratum of the brain.
If this material can be preserved and revived, then the person will recover his identity. If this material is damaged beyond the recoverable, then the person identity will be “broken” once and for all.
Some of you are refractory to this all-material consideration and prefer to imagine the perpetuation of the soul beyond death. The cryonicist paradigm can hardly reconcile this more romantic conception, because his confessed goal is to escape death! If there was a life after death, what is the point of trying to avoid it? Conversely, if you are convinced, there is nothing … would not it be better to try escaping nothingness by all means?
We touch on the realm of metaphysics and personal beliefs, each to question his or her vision of things. The next article of this serie will tackle cryonics and religion in more depth.
We are … information
Once again, cryonics challenges the contemporary definition of death, considered as a future reversible state.
Ralph C. Merkle Ph.D. in the chapter “Cryogenics, Cryptography and Maximum Likelihood Estimation” raises the problem by establishing a dichotomy between functional death and information death.
If in the future someone dies (clinically) as a result of a bodily injury or malfunction, the technologies will probably be advanced enough to “restart” the machine. When she wakes up, the person will be herself. On the other hand, if a person dies as a result of an external or internal event that alters his brain structures; the brain information will be destroyed forever and the person will never be the same again. In other words, the only “real” death of the future will be the demolition of brain information that structures an identity.
This concept is fascinating.
Merkle draws a parallel with computers. As long as the information stored on the computer’s drive is preserved, it will still be possible to restore the computing environment by changing the broken parts, even if they were shattered with a hammer! On the other hand, if you plunge this computer and its disk into acid, the information of the system will be dissolved forever and the computer “dead” for good! The notion of life and identity is therefore correlated with the “information” stored in your brain, and the irreversible death of the future would be that of information!
A question arises: Is identity made of memory only? Our knowledge of brains and identity is still far from having revealed all its secrets. We will have much better knowledge of this issue when the technologies are mature enough to allow patient resuscitation.
It is all about nanotechnology
Let’s acknowledge it … the hopes of cryonics in terms of repairing tissue damage are almost exclusively based on nanotechnology.
Nano, from the Greek, is the scale of the billionth meter, in other words, the scale of atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology is a nanoscale technology. Today, we can find nanoscale materials and particles, and it is possible to manipulate the atoms individually through a tunneling microscope… But we are still at the prehistoric epoch of nanotechnology.
Cryonics relies on the advent of molecular nanotechnology, otherwise said the creation and control of devices, robots, at the molecular level. These devices will have the ability to manipulate matter atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and it is at this scale of precision that the cryonics intends to ensure the tissues repair. At this scale, nothing will escape the repairers, and any cell can be restored at its optimal functional state.
The computational power needed to map the entire organism is considerable, and cryonics is also banking on the phenomenal computer advances expected in the coming decades.
The feasibility of molecular nanotechnology, its ethical implications are much debated; we will have the opportunity to return to this topic in other articles.
The premise of molecular nanotechnology is that if nature is capable of doing it, so can we. Indeed, life abounds in molecular factories, examples are everywhere: take a tree … its growth is the product of molecular factories using the molecules (atoms) from the soil rearranged to form the woods and leaves. If we could observe the growth of a tree at the atomic level, we would witness atoms from water and earth reorganized to form cells and other organic tissues according to a specific genetic pattern.
In the article on the cryonics preservation cycle, I mentioned the two main damages caused by the preservation cycle, such as the fractures of bodies subjected to the extreme cooling process. If a cryopreserved patient was brought back to room temperature, his body would be cracked in many places and fall apart … not very glamorous and hopeless given the current technological standards.
Let’s see how nanotechnology could overcome this “modest” problem…
The process would involve inserting a very thin layer of nanomaterial that would fit with each side of the fracture to prevent further spacing as the body temperature is increased. Having reached a higher degree of temperature in the resuscitation cycle, it would be possible to bring the two faces of the crack closer with nanoscopic “strings”. Nanoscopic devices would then be responsible for “welding” the two faces at the atomic level, and then disaggregate the nanomaterial layer used previously to stabilize the fracture.
This is the speculative description of a future process; the manipulation of matter at the indivisible unit scale, the atom, would allow an absolute precision of repair.
The cellular damage to be repaired can be a consequence of the natural decomposition following the clinical death, the injection of the antifreeze, or the diseased state that precipitated the death of the patient (Alzheimer, cancer…).
The nanoscopic devices will have the task of evaluating the condition of each cell in order to apply the appropriate repair.
This may seem totally unrealistic in the light of contemporary technological means … again it must be kept in mind that these solutions rely on technological means available in dozens, even hundreds of years.
To give you a vision of the planned repairs, here are some examples:
To restore the body and brain to an optimum state, it is necessary to purge them of antifreezes used to reduce the formation of deleterious ice crystals.
True molecular excavators are envisaged, whose task would be to expurgate by capillary systems all the antifreeze molecules while leaving in place cell debris for later reimplementation.
Recomposing the cells
Antifreezes may have damaged the cells by the pressure with which they are infused. This mechanical pressure causes disruption of the cellular material and the scattering of debris. Nanoscopic devices will have the task of reinserting these debris within the cells. As such proteins and lipids will be reinserted into cell’s membrane and cytoplasm.
An external control center would supervise operations in real time and adapt the tasks of nanoscopic devices according to the progressive increase of body temperature.
Archeology and neuronal cryptography
The repair of brain cells poses an additional challenge compared to the cells of other body organs, because the arrangement of brain cells constitutes information. Our memory for example is the product of the arrangement and interconnection of our neurons. If this structure were to be profoundly altered, this information would be lost forever, and all the nanotechnology in the world could do nothing about it.
This is a fundamental difference with the other tissues composing our body, whose role of cells is more functional than information carrier. If the bone of a limb is broken by a fracture during the cryopreservation cycle, it is enough to restore the integrity of the bone cells and reduce the fracture to have the patient recover the use of his limb without any alteration to his identity. It will not be the same if a part of the neural structure supporting memory is altered beyond the recoverable: memories, experiences will be evaporated for good.
What if, during the resuscitation cycle, repair nanorobots encounter damaged information areas of the brain? If these damaged areas are sufficiently circumscribed not to compromise the whole identity of the individual, neural archeology can be considered! Another fascinating theoretical concept … neuronal archeology consists of deducing from existing structural indices, the missing structure of the vanished memory, in order to reconstitute it!
Heuristic algorithms, coming from the field of cryptography, are envisaged to recreate in the most probable way the missing neural architecture, among the infinity of possible neurons combinations.
In the end the awakened patient would recover the memory of its intact structure, supplemented by an as faithful as possible reconstruction of the damaged parts! Such an individual may not have recovered a perfectly unaltered memory, but enough to ensure continuity between his pre and post cryogenization identity!
The patient purged from antifreezes, repaired, cured, brought back to an age of optimal physical conditions would then be restored to physiological body temperature.
The “only” remaining task would be to initiate patient consciousness for a health radiant awakening.
Simple to relate, much more difficult to achieve.
It is adventurous to write about future technologies that are beyond reach in the present time, hence the speculative nature of this phase of the cryonics cycle. However, the speculations are not without foundation, and are based on current physiological knowledge and the emergence of new radical technologies. I urge you to read the chapter “Resuscitation of Cryonics Patients” from the book “Preserving Minds, Saving Lives” for more details on this exciting cycle.