06. August 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , ,

This is the first in a series of interviews with individuals in the life extension and cryonics movement. We start off with an interview with Ben Best, president of the Cryonics Institute.

What is your philosophy toward life?

I think that “sense of life” or emotional involvement  in life is the most crucial determinant of orientation toward life per se. I can rationalize and try to  understand my sense of life — and probably exert  influence — but to assert that I have “control” of  it would be saying too much. Existentially, although I sometimes feel “thrown” helplessly into the world,  for the most part I have a conviction that I must accept responsibility for my conditions and exert  effort & intelligence to improve — and that effort  & intelligence can produce results.

I have an immense appreciation of my life and  experiences whether those experiences are positive or negative. I certainly don’t enjoy negative or  painful experiences at the time I am experiencing them (and do not seek them out), but I am glad to have  them in my history. My greatest regrets in life are not so much things that I have done or that have  happened to me, but things that I have not done. The great evils of life are aging and death. If  these two evils could be remedied there would be  time enough to use all that has been learned from  the negative experiences and to create positive experiences that fulfill the promises of life  which I have experienced in tantalizing tastes.  (This is not to say that I have not already  experienced life in a wide variety of ways.)

But regrets aside, I love all that I have  gotten from life, and I simply want more, more,  more… And I am sad that there aren’t more  people who feel the same way. I have written on  these themes on my website:

http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/whylife.html

Are you still a practitioner of caloric restriction?

I practice calorie restriction only to the  extent of eating fewer calories than I would  eat were I not so conscious of benefits of  restricting calories. I was once far more  aggressive in restricting my calories than I currently am. My CRAN (Caloric Restriction with  Adequate Nutrition) practices have been described on my website:

http://www.benbest.com/calories/cran98.html

Do you believe that taking supplements can extend life?

Yes, I think there is no question that supplements  can “square the curve” and extend average lifespan. A major breakthrough occurred in the mid-1990s when  the AMA published a study showing that selenium supplements caused a 50% reduction in cancer  incidence [JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION;  Clark,LC; 276(24):1957-1963 (1996)]. Formerly the  medical establishment insisted that dietary supplements  are of no benefit. My website contains considerable  evidence of supplements reducing the incidence of  various disease conditions:

http://www.benbest.com/nutrceut/nutrceut.html

More controversial is the claim that supplements  can extend maximum lifespan. Unfortunately, too many people believe that lack of convincing evidence  that supplements can extend maximum lifespan is equivalent to evidence that supplements do not  extend lifespan in any way. “Squaring the curve” and preventing disease may be a means to live long  enough (and healthy enough) to benefit from rejuvenation technologies — whether or not  supplements can extend maximum lifespan.

How did you get involved in cryonics?

I was very interested in my health from an  early age — and not because I had serious health problems (I haven’t). I also had an early aversion  to death, and later, as a teenager, enjoyed science fiction stories that described  immortality and endless youth. I found  the PROSPECT OF IMMORTALITY in a health  food store and I also read Alan Harrington’s  THE IMMORTALIST. I argued in favor of the idea  of cryonics years before I became seriously  involved. After getting my computing science degree  and beginning work as a programmer in Toronto  in 1987 I seriously studied life extension and less seriously got involved in cryonics  (became a Director of the Cryonics Society of Canada). My emphasis was more on life  extension, because I did not give cryonics a very good chance of working. Since that time  I have become much more optimistic about the chances of cryonics working. And hopefully I am improving  the chances of cryonics working.

Do you think humans can achieve immortality?

Sadly, no. Forever is forever, and something will  eventually kill every human. I have written about this subject in detail on my website:

http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/immortal.html

What do you consider the most important reasons why  not many people sign up for cryonics?

They don’t enjoy life enough or they discount the reality/proximity of death or they believe that cryonics is in opposition to religion. The third reason is probably  the most important for the most people, but I believe that  it is important to mention the first two reasons as an  explanation for the attitudes of people who do not  use religion as an argument against cryonics.

Do you agree that cryonics should be presented as a form  of long term critical care medicine?

This is a far more reasonable approach than  opposing cryonics to religion, especially because cryonics can only hope to extend life, not guarantee  immortality. I more often describe cryonics as “experimental medicine” to emphasize that it is  unproven and not guaranteed to work.

Have you talked to children about cryonics?

Not much. I did have a recent experience in  which I spoke to about a hundred middle school  students about cryonics in five classes (groups of  20) for about an hour per class. The students were mostly silent, asking very few relevant questions,  so I can’t say much about what it is like to discuss cryonics with children. I was later told  that the next day the children came to class with many relevant questions.

What are your other interests besides cryonics and life extension?

My website shows a range of my interests:

http://www.benbest.com/

which include travel, history, philosophy, economics,  computing, business, and science in general. I have interests, like massage and humanistic psychology, which  I have not discussed on my website. I have some good  friendships, and I am interested in my friends. I am actually  interested in almost everything to some extent and my love  of learning, thinking and understanding has much to do with  my love of life.

I have made a hobby of learning about every element in the periodic table. I have cards with information about each element, and I study these cards while I work-out on my stairmaster, which is my main form of exercise. (I have tried running, but injured myself too often. Stairmaster allows study while getting low-impact aerobic exercise.) A large portion of my Wikipedia edits (aside from cryonics and life extension) are clarifications of information about elements and compounds — questions that occurred to me while studying on my stairmaster.

I have also recently become more interested in planetary science and space travel. Formerly, a desire to see the world of the future did not play much of a role in my craving for extended youth, but increasingly I add a disappointment for not being able to see and participate in all of the exciting things that will happen.

The only sport that interests me very much is women’s tennis. Some of my best friends are women. I am fascinated by women  and hope that I will someday have a lasting and fulfilling  relationship with one. However, I am too much of  a workaholic devoted to cryonics and life extension to  spend much effort on that project.

What kind of jobs did you work before being elected President of CI?

I had many odd jobs before working as a taxi-driver  and teamster (including semi-trailer driver). I also worked as a computer operator, tutor/teaching assistant  and as a pharmacist. Then I became a computer programmer  for a bank and taught computer programming languages  (APL and Java) at night school in Toronto.

What made you decide to run for president of CI?

I decided that the time had come for me to devote my  life to cryonics. I felt that I could make a unique and profound contribution to the workability of cryonics.  Although work as a computer programmer paid well, the  product of my labor was not personally meaningful to  me (which is not the same as satisfaction with doing a good job). It is extremely satisfying to me to be  able to do the work I do as CI President. I cannot think of any other work I would rather be doing. And  I have no desire to not be working as long as I can  do this work.

How did you meet Saul Kent, and to what extent does Mr. Kent  currently influence your actions and behaviors?

I met Saul Kent at the October 1989 Cryonics Conference held near Detroit Michigan:

http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/dsp.cgi?msg=109

Although Saul has been very influential in other cryonics  organizations, this was not the case with the Cryonics  Institute. I am not often in communication with Saul, but I respect what he has done for cryonics and on a few  occasions I have deferred to his wishes on matters  that were not of great significance. I am not conscious  that he influences my actions and behaviors aside  from my appreciation of his financing of cryonics-related  research. Saul is certainly influential in terms of his  authority at Suspended Animation, Inc., with whom many  CI Members (including me) have contracts for  standby/stabilization. But for the most part I have not  dealt with him directly.

What do you consider your biggest failures and achievements at CI?

I failed to get the IRS to grant 501(c)13 status to the  Cryonics Institute. I failed to get a patent for CI-VM-1. I failed to change CI policy to allow acceptance of  neuro patients. I have failed to restore the ability of CI to perfuse in the CI facility.

I succeeded in going through all of the CI Member files  and creating a computer database that provides a means of  quantifying and quickly accessing Member information (and in  the process eliminating bad records of lost and deceased members).  I have greatly improved the content (not the appearance)  of the Cryonics Institute website. I have made significant  revisions to the paperwork and I created contracts for Standby/Transport services for CI Members with  Suspended Animation. I have created computer control for patient cooling. I have placed all of the financial  bookkeeping on CI’s computer, relieving the CI Treasurer of most of the chores of gathering data  for financial statements and payment of taxes. I have written case reports for all new CI patients. I have caused prepayments  to be treated as liabilities rather than income. I have  changed the fiscal year to be the calendar year.  I continue to make improvements in CI perfusion  equipment and procedures. Among other things…

CI encourages member involvement through elections and  mailing-lists. Do you think CI benefits from this?

I co-created the CI Members’ forum with John de Rivaz  and I am pleased with the channel of communication that it has promoted. The forum has put CI Members in touch  with CI Members, Directors, Officers and Staff. I am  usually a very active participant in the CI Members’ forum.

I have actively encouraged CI Members to be candidates  in the Board of Director elections. I think that voting  and running for office increases Member participation  in the Cryonics Institute — which I believe is a  good thing.

What kind of improvements would you like to implement  at CI in the coming years?

I want to improve the efficiency of patient cooling and add the capability to cool two patients simultaneously.  I want to be able to create financial statements more  quickly and easily. I want to improve perfusion methods  and equipment, with a particular eye toward reducing edema.  I want to improve the safety associated with operations in  the patient care area. I want to restore the ability of CI  to perfuse at the CI facility. I want better documentation  for what is done at CI. I need to address the challenges of growth, including adding physical capacity and  additional staff. For CI (and in the cryonics community in general), I would like to see more fruitful attention  and effort devoted to wireless vital signs alarm systems.  Too many cryonicists living alone have suffered massive  ischemia, autolysis and decomposition due to the absence  of such systems. Cryonicists who have a cardiac arrest  while sleeping next to a spouse would also benefit.

What is a typical day like at CI?

Most days involve a reasonable amount of answering  the phone and e-mail. Readings are taken of liquid nitrogen levels in the cryostats daily, which I only  do when Andy is away. Filling of some cryostats is done twice weekly by Andy — only once weekly are all of the  cryostats re-filled. Andy does the member paperwork and  building maintenance. I do the bookkeeping/tax payments  and website updates. A large part of the time I am researching and writing. When we get a patient, the  patient becomes the center of attention.

You have investigated the issue of molecular mobility at low  temperatures. Has this made you more or less skeptical about  intermediate temperature storage for cryonics patients?

I am more skeptical about the value of intermediate  temperature storage, but I am skeptical of my skepticism  because my results are so inconclusive.

At the recent CI training, Alcor’s Readiness Coordinator Regina Pancake attended and led a successful case simulation. Do you think it would be a positive development if there was more mutual assistance and cross-training between staff and members of cryonics organizations?

The co-operation between CI and Alcor in the last few years has been reasonably good. A CryoSummit was held between Alcor, ACS and Alcor in August 2002. After some wrangling I was permitted to attend an Alcor training in October 2003. In the summer  of 2007 Tanya and I co-led a training in Alberta. Dr. Pichugin  gave some training to your wife Chana when she was an Alcor  employee in December 2007. In May 2008 Alcor sent Regina  to attend the CI Cryonics Rescue Training. I would like to witness/participate in an Alcor case, but the  opportunities for doing this seem limited.

The thorniest issue related to co-operation between CI and Alcor has to do with local response in areas where there is a mix of Alcor and CI Members, such as in Toronto and the UK. The UK has set a good example (with Alcor approval) of allowing both CI Members and Alcor Members to participate in the trainings. But where proprietary information is involved such as the Critical Care Research meds, even signing a non-disclosure agreement would not be an option for CI Members insofar as they are the people the non-disclosure agreements are designed to “protect” against. Worse, if a CI Member becomes terminal and the local group decides to do volunteer standby and stabilization, how much Alcor equipment can be used? Alcor invests a great deal of money in that equipment, and proprietary sentiments are completely appropriate. In practice, this has not been a problem thus far, but if both cryonics organizations continue to grow, situations of this nature are bound to arise and I hope that reasonable solutions can be found.

How do you feel about competition in cryonics?

I believe that arrogance and complacency are poison  for cryonics organizations, and competition is of value in shaking complacency (sometimes). I definitely think  that it would be a bad idea for cryonics to have all the eggs in one organizational basket. I opposed the  idea of a merger between Alcor and CI when the issue was raised at the CryoSummit in 2002. There is already  too much vulnerability to lawsuits and legal/political  threats. More organizations in more locations  (including more countries) would reduce this vulnerability.

Some people say that CI should offer its own standby and  stabilization services. Do you agree with this?

CI does not have the resources to provide standby  and stabilization in the Detroit area, much less anywhere else. There is very little demand for these services by  CI Members — and very little willingness to pay more than  the minimum. CI Members interested in contracting for  standby and stabilization do so with Suspended Animation.

I have attempted to provide both local and remote CI  Members with support in volunteer standby and stabilization.  The May 2008 training was given as part of this support,  although only six CI Members attended. I have obtained and  discussed equipment that local groups could use, but very few CI Members showed any interest. I will continue to  support volunteer effort by CI Members, but my expectations  are not high.

What are the prospects of CI Members coming to the CI area  to retire, create mutual support communities and start  cryonics hospices?

A few CI Members have shown an interest in creating  a mutual support community near CI, but for the most part CI Members would rather remain near home and family  when they become terminal. In a couple of cases, CI Members  with serious health problems have recently moved to be  near CI. This creates the potential for faster  response, but in both cases the Members are living  alone and may not benefit without alarm systems.

Dr. Yuri Pichugin resigned his post at CI several months ago.  Are there any plans to hire a new researcher or to continue  research at CI in some way?

There are no plans for a new researcher. Concerning  R & D, I think the most immediate need is for greater Development, rather than Research — except to the  extent that my own studying & experimentation with equipment & procedures is considered research.

In the recent past you have stated that there should be the  equivalent of a “Manhattan Project” for cryoprotectant toxicity. Can you elaborate on this? How do you think cryonics can realize this goal?

I have elaborated on this in the March/April 2008  issue of LONG LIFE magazine. Eliminating or greatly reducing  cryoprotectant toxicity would be the greatest possible step  toward suspended animation through cryopreservation with  vitrification. If suspended animation through cryopreservation  became a reality there would be immediate acceptance and  adoption by conventional medicine. Patient stabilization  would be perfected by researchers all over the world and  adopted in hospitals and other medical facilities.

I think that too much research effort in cryonics is devoted  to whole body vitrification, which is a side issue.  Cryoprotectant toxicity needs to be the focus of attention,  and studied with experiments directed toward understanding  the molecular mechanisms on a theoretical level — not simply  trial and error. Whole body vitrification could very well be  achieved more quickly if cryoprotectant toxicity was the  focus of study.

CI is regulated as a cemetery, you are not allowed to cryoprotect patients in your own facility, and neuropreservation seems to be controversial in Michigan. Is it not time to relocate CI to another state?

It would be far too costly and risky to attempt to move to another state.

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