Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and the science of cryonics

This past weekend Motel X, the Lisbon (Portugal) International Horror festival, had its third anniversary. It is one of the smaller international horror festivals around, but this year they managed to have both Stuart Gordon, director of several Lovecraft adaptions, and John Landis, director of the horror classic An American Werewolf in London, as special guests to provide introductions to their movies and give guest lectures.

Stuart Gordon is perhaps best known for his adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, also subject of  an earlier Depressed Metabolism post called H.P. Lovecraft and the science of resuscitation. Although it is one of his earliest movies, the festival did show Re-animator as part of a limited retrospective on Gordon’s work.

Re-animator is about Herbert West’s search to restore life to the dead. When Gordon introduced his movie, he mentioned that the movie is based on a true story, referring to actual research that is being carried out to resuscitate the dead. To a person familiar with cryonics, or even mainstream medical procedures such as hypothermic circulatory arrest, this is not such a strange concept but, surprisingly, the audience started laughing. Even when Gordon insisted on the subject, the audience continued with laughter.

This does show that even people that watch horror and science fiction movies, and the often forward-looking concepts portrayed in them, have a hard time imagining that these ideas are legitimate areas of scientific investigation and that resuscitation of “dead” people  may become reality in the future. This response highlights the struggle cryonicists face to make cryonics more accepted in society.

Two peer-reviewed articles relevant to cryonics:

Yuri Pichugin, Gregory M. Fahy, Robert Morin:  Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification (PDF)

Benjamin P. Best: Scientific Justification for Cryonics Procedures (PDF)

See also Alcor’s Frequently Asked Questions for Scientists.

Cloning of frozen mice and cryonics

Japanese scientists have managed to clone a mouse that had been frozen without any cryoprotection for 16 years at minus 20 degrees Celsius. The researchers used the researchers used brain cell nuclei, and planted it into an egg of another living mouse, leading to the birth of the cloned mouse.

Although the objective of cryonics is not to be resuscitated as a genetic copy of oneself but to resume life as the same individual, this is encouraging news because it  reinforces the idea that cold can be used to preserve life and identity relevant information. If such feats are possible without any cryoprotection, the prospects for vitrification to preserve the identity of a person are strengthened.

These new cloning techniques also hold promise for preservation of endangered species and, as some speculate and hope, may even allow the possibility of resurrecting extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth.

What is unfortunate is that these type of discoveries draw attention to the negative sentiments and  ignorance many people have when it comes to cryonics. In one article critics were quoted as ‘saying how undesirable this type of research is’, that ‘it brings the world closer to the day when people try to clone long- dead relatives stored in cryopreservation clinics’ and ‘that it could even lead to a macabre new industry – in which people leave behind ‘relics’ of their bodies in freezers in the hope that they could one day be cloned’.

Although such arguments do not directly apply to contemporary cryonics, which involves the resuscitation of the same person and requires consent of the patient, such reactions are further evidence that most of the resistance against the idea of human cryopreservation may not be technical but psychological in nature.

We can only hope that when the resuscitation of cryonics patients becomes a reality we all live in a much more open-minded and tolerant society.

Link: DNA / Tissue freezing at the Cryonics Institute

Arthur C. Clarke’s The Last Theorem

As mentioned in a previous contribution, Arthur C. Clark was no stranger to cryonics. The famous science fiction author once stated in a letter in support of cryonics, “Although no one can quantify the probability of cryonics working, I estimate it is at least 90% — and certainly nobody can say it is zero.”  And although he did not choose cryonics himself, he has left a large legacy through his novels and it is exciting to read that together with Frederick Pohl (author of the cryonics novel ‘The Age of the Pussyfoot’) he collaborated on a last novel titled ‘The Last Theorem’.