What is cryonics?
Library > What is cryonics?
Cryonics is an attempt to preserve and protect human life, not reverse death. It is the practice of using extreme cold to attempt
to preserve the life of a person who can no longer be supported by today’s medicine. Will future medicine, including mature
nanotechnology, have the ability to heal at the cellular and molecular levels? Can cryonics successfully carry the cryopreserved
person forward through time, for however many decades or centuries might be necessary, until the cryopreservation process can
be reversed and the person restored to full health? While cryonics may sound like science fiction, there is a basis for it in real
science. The complete scientific story of cryonics is seldom told in media reports, leaving cryonics widely misunderstood. We
invite you to reach your own conclusions.
Life can be stopped and restarted if its basic structure is preserved
Human embryos are routinely kept for years at temperatures that completely stop the chemistry of life. Adult humans have survived by cooling to temperatures that prevent the heart, brain and all other organs from functioning for an hour. These and many other biology lessons teach us that life is a particular structure of matter. Life can be stopped and restarted if the cellular structure and chemistry are well enough preserved.
Now we can foresee methods to repair the structure at the molecular level
The emerging science of nanotechnology will eventually lead to devices capable of extensive repair and regeneration of tissues, including the repair of individual cells of one molecule at a time. This future nanomedicine could, in theory, recover any preserved person in which the basic brain structures that encode memory and personality remain infeasible, which often happens long after spontaneous function has been lost.
Vitrification (not freezing) can preserve the biological structure very well
Adding high concentrations of chemicals called cryoprotectants to the cells allows the tissue to cool to very low temperatures with little or no ice formation. The state of no ice formation at temperatures below -120 ° C is called vitrification. Now it is possible to physically vitrify organs as large as the human brain, achieving excellent structural preservation without freezing.
If the survival of the structure means the survival of the person;
If the cold can preserve the essential structure with sufficient fidelity;
If the predictable technology can repair the injuries of the preservation process;
Then cryonics should work, even if it can not be proven to work today. That is the scientific justification of cryonics. It is a justification that is strengthened with each new advance in preservation technology.
Death occurs when the chemistry of life becomes so disorganized that normal operation can not be restored. (Death is not when life goes out, people can and have survived being “turned off.”) The amount of chemical disorder that can be survived depends on medical technology. One hundred years ago, cardiac arrest was irreversible. People were called dead when their heart stopped beating. Nowadays it is believed that death occurs 4 to 6 minutes after the heart stops beating because after several minutes it is difficult to resuscitate the brain. However, with the new experimental treatments, more than 10 minutes of warm cardiac arrest without brain injury can now be survived.
Ultimately, actual death occurs when the cellular structure and chemistry become so disorganized that no technology could restore the original state. This is called the theoretical criterion of information for death. Any other definition of death is arbitrary and subject to continuous review as the technology changes. That is certainly the case for death pronounced on the basis of the absence of “vital signs” today, which is not real death at all.
The goal of cryonics is to prevent death by preserving the cellular structure and chemistry enough for recovery (including memory and personality recovery) to be possible thanks to predictable technology. If indeed cryonic patients are recoverable in the future, then, clearly, they were never really dead in the first place. Doctors today will simply be wrong when death occurs, as they have been so many times in the past. The argument that cryonics can not work because cryonics patients are dead is a circular argument.
More than a hundred people have been cryopreserved since the first case in 1967. More than a thousand people have made legal and financial arrangements for cryonics with one of several organizations. iCryonic is the largest organization, and it distinguishes between cryonic organizations for its advanced technology and its defense of a medical approach to cryonics.
ICryonic procedures ideally begin at times of cardiac arrest. Blood circulation and breathing are artificially restored, and a series of medications are administered to protect the brain from lack of oxygen. Rapid cooling also begins, which protects the brain even more.
The goal is to keep the brain alive according to current criteria for as long as possible in the procedure. It is not always possible to respond so quickly and aggressively, but that is the ideal of Alcor, and has been achieved in many cases.
In 2001, Alcor adapted the published advances in the field of organ preservation to achieve what we believe is the free preservation of ice (vitrification) of the human brain. This is a method to stabilize the physical basis of the human mind for practically unlimited periods of time. The procedure consists of partially replacing the water in the cells with a mixture of chemicals that prevent the formation of ice. The kidneys have been fully recovered after exposure to the same chemicals in published studies.
Alcor’s future goals include expanding cryopreservation without ice (vitrification) beyond the brain to include the entire human body, and reducing the biochemical alterations of the process to approach demonstrable reversibility. Based on the remarkable progress made in the research of conventional organ banks, we believe that the demonstrably reversible human brain preservation is a medical goal that could be achieved in the natural life of most people living today.
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