The book I’m currently reading is “Preserving Minds, Saving Lives” edited by “Alcor Life Extension Foundation“:
In this article, I’m sharing with you my reading notes.
This is the third article about the book. The other articles about it can be read here.
The History of cryonics
The book takes the opportunity of the chapter on the history of cryonics to remind us of a recurring pattern affecting the emergence of scientific and technological discoveries: resistance to the acceptance of novelty.
Here are some examples (not necessarily from the book):
- The Earth revolves around the Sun – 1600s
We find traces of this heliocentric vision of the universe in times as remote as ancient Greece, but it is really only during the Renaissance period that the system finally prevails, with the pioneering work of Copernicus then Galileo. The two scientists had to face the fierce resistance of the church who condemned the “heretic” works of Galileo.
- Pasteurization and spread of diseases by germs – 1850s
Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, had to fight against the proponents of a spontaneous generation who maintained that microscopic organisms spontaneously appeared in contact with the air without the need for a pre-existing life. Under such a conception, one does not need to take the necessary hygiene measures that would have prevented the spread of pathogens. We can imagine the devastation suffered by patients because surgeons did not bother to disinfect hands and operating instruments between interventions!–
- Continental Drift
The drift of the continents, which is their progressive movement relative to each other, was named as such by Alfred Wegener in 1912. He was not the first to have proposed this theory, but it was his research that ultimately led to the definitive approbation of the concept. This acceptance took many years because of the strong opposition encountered by the theory. One of the problems raised by the objectors was the lack of plausible force at the origin of the movement of the continents.
- Bacteria causing gastric ulcers and cancers – 2005
This example is particularly interesting because it is contemporary. It is the modern example of a false theory against which a doctor had to fight to win the truth, which saved many lives.Barry J. Marshall is an Australian microbiologist. In the early 80s, he hypothesized that stomach cancers are due to a particular bacterium: Helicobacter pylori, and not due to “stress” as it was customary to think then.
Small digression: I would be curious to know the number of pathologies currently attributed to “stress” for lack of better knowledge, which will have their real cause exposed in the future….
His hypothesis is mocked by the medical community who do not think that such a bacterium can survive in the acidity of the stomach. His early research is not peer-reviewed, and he is forbidden to experiment with humans.
He then decides to do an experiment on the only human he can ethically recruit: himself. He ingests a solution contaminated with Helicobacter pylori, and in just a few days, he develops all the symptoms of severe stomach ulcerations. He carries out all the necessary examinations to monitor the infection and ends up being totally cured … with simple antibiotics.
How many lives would have been saved if Dr. Marshall’s research had been taken seriously earlier? In 2005 Marshall and his colleagues were honored with the Nobel Prize for Medicine “for the discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastric problems and stomach ulcers.”
Circumspection of new scientific and medical theories is not a bad thing. Skepticism prevents anyone from claiming absurdities. But often, the resistance is wasting precious time especially when it is more cultural than scientific.
With regard to cryogenics, the resistance is twofold.
- Scientific and technological resistance, by lack of evidence: Cryonics considers that most dead bodies will be eligible for resuscitation when the technology is sufficiently developed to allow it. But it cannot prove its postulate: if it is possible to preserve the body through vitrification, it is impossible to demonstrate the feasibility of resuscitation. The scientific community tends to reject anything that cannot be verified by experimentation, its view on cryonics is far from being exalted.
- Cultural Resistance: For a variety of cultural reasons, some of which have been cited in the second article of my reading notes on the book, humanity is not ready to accept the prospect of a radical life extension. This perspective is today precisely at the obligatory point of passage for the most innovative ideas as beneficial as they are: the point of rejection and distrust.
It is in this second cultural aspect that Future Is Great is positioned. We want to change the prevailing negative vision of the future so people will accept the idea that a radical extension of life can be 1) Desirable 2) Possible. The sparked enthusiasm would have the virtuous effect of accelerating research in this direction.
Dates and historical characters of cryonics
- 1766, John Hunter, renowned surgeon and physiologist.
It was during the Age of Enlightenment that this scientist hypothesized the use of freezing to prolong life indefinitely. He imagined that it could be possible to freeze a human for 1000 years and revive him periodically every 100 years to inform him of what happened during his last icy sleep. He went so far as to conduct experiments on fish but was discouraged by the inconclusive results. He was the first to set the stage for the freeze/preservation/resuscitation cycle.
- 1931, Neil R. Jones, author of the fiction “The Jameson Satellite“.
While reading the summary written by R. Michael R. Perry, Ph.D. about the fiction “The Jameson satellite” I immediately wanted to rush to Amazon and order the book. The story tells of the adventures of Professor Jameson who managed to have his dead body sent into space so that it could be preserved for eternity. Jameson never intended to come back to life, but millions of years passed, and some aliens’ civilization will find his remains in orbit and revive him. Jameson will have a new metal body and discover that the human race has been extinct for a long time. He must face an existential crisis having lost all his bearings. An eternal life cut off from his roots seems insurmountable, and he hesitates between killing himself or leaving the old world to embark on a new life with his new alien companions. He will eventually choose to kill himself before being convinced in extremis by the benevolent words of the aliens, to finally choose life.
This touching story is an excellent metaphor for a problem that the Cryonists are intellectually confronted with: will it be possible to restart a life from scratch, in a new future world so different from the old? Author Neil R. Jones illustrates the dilemma and chooses optimism. The hero makes a step forward and decides to fully embrace the new world.A palliative to the post-resuscitation depression could be a collective cryopreservation. Back to life in 300 years with my family? I take it right away! Wouldn’t the loss of an elder by age and illness be much less painful with the hope that the separation is temporary rather than permanent? Wouldn’t it be more comforting to stand before a cryogenic tank rather than a coffin containing the rotting corpse of a loved one forever decomposed?
- 1962: Private Publication of “Immortality: Physically, Scientifically, Now“ book by Evan Cooper.
- 1964: Life extension foundation founded by Evan Cooper
Evan Cooper was the first to attempt to organize the cryonics movement (this term was not yet used). He failed to sustain his movement, but his role was decisive in the course of events.
- 1964: Robert Ettinger influenced by his reading of the book, “The Jameson satellite” publishes the commercial version of his book “The prospect of immortality.“ It is common to regard this influential book as the starting point of the cryonics movement and Ettinger as the father of cryonics. It is necessary, however, to emphasize the importance of its precursors and contemporaries. Ettinger founded the “Cryonics Institute” in 1976, and died at the age of 92. He is currently in a state of cryopreservation maintained by the institute he founded. Imagine the historical importance of such a man, if the cryonics were to succeed and he was one of the first patients brought back to life!