04. October 2013 · Comments Off on Marketing cryonics · Categories: Cryonics

Since I have been involved in the field of cryonics I have encountered two distinct views on the marketing of cryonics. One view holds that cryonics is characterized by a disproportional involvement of scientists, intellectuals, and people with computer backgrounds who are totally unequipped to sell the idea to the larger masses. The marketing of cryonics should be done by people with a “business” or “marketing” background.

The other view is that people who expect a lot from marketing of cryonics are blind to the most obvious fact about our field. Most people reject cryonics and don’t want it. No sane business would spend vast amounts of time and money on a product or service that people don’t want.

While I am personally more sympathetic to the latter perspective, I suspect that a rather obvious point is being overlooked. What seems to matter a great deal is how cryonics is conceptualized and “sold” to the general public. Let me illustrate this by contrasting two really different ways of talking about cryonics. I am purposely simplifying things here to get the point across.

1. The belief in a “soul” (or dualism) is nonsense. There is nothing in our understanding of the laws of physics that prohibits the manipulation of matter at the molecular level and extremely long lives will be possible, even for people considered “dead” today. Technology is accelerating towards the Singularity. Most likely, cryopreserved people will be resuscitated as substrate-independent minds. Cryonics is part of the broader “immortalist” and “transhumanist” movements. Not all people agree with us and we need to identify the biases that give rise to these attitudes so we can change their minds. If you are concerned about resuscitation in a different and strange world, you need to toughen up.

2. Current developments in science and medicine increasingly throw doubts on the idea of “death” as a single and uniform event. We can stabilize people at ultra-low temperatures to allow them to benefit from future medical developments. Cryonics is a logical extension of other medical procedures in which people are stabilized for further treatment. The pace of technological progress may not be linear but assuming complete scientific and technological stasis is not reasonable either. Cryonics raises a lot of concerns for many people. We have to address these concerns and calibrate our message to show that cryonics is not something threatening but something aimed at preserving lives and keeping people together.

Now, think about these different ways of conceptualizing cryonics from the perspective of marketing. It seems to me that the first perspective is not only extraordinary difficult to sell but that the most proper expectation here would be more akin to damage control. If you are frustrated about the fact that you are always discussing “something else” instead of cryonics there is a good chance that this is the result of either a lack of restraint in promoting other ideas you care about under the rubric of cryonics or that the person in question has read just too many popular accounts about cryonics that discuss the Singularity, immortality, mind uploading, or chopping off heads. As much as I hate to admit it, some of the bad PR surrounding cryonics is self-inflicted.

If anyone would ask me today if successful marketing of cryonics is possible I would answer that this really depends on whether we are trying to sell a complete worldview that most people seem to reject or whether we are trying to connect to the rest of us with a proposal to update our current views on what it means to practice critical care medicine and end-of-life care.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, June, 2013

04. October 2013 · Comments Off on Resuscitation Research Can Start Now! · Categories: Cryonics, Neuroscience

A major obstacle to strengthening the case for cryonics is the perception that meaningful research aimed at resuscitation of cryonics patients cannot be done today. Attempts to be more specific than evoking the need for a technology that can manipulate matter at the molecular level are considered to be vague and unproductive. Clearly, such a stance is an open invitation for skeptics to claim that cryonics advocates have not much more to offer than hope and optimism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is there a lot of relevant empirical research that can be conducted today, a focused investigation into the technical and logistical challenges of resuscitation can also define cryonics research priorities and refine the stabilization and cryopreservation procedures that we use today.

The first thing that needs to be recognized is that if we want to say something specific about the nature and limits of repair we need to be able to characterize the damage in detail. There has been a lot of general discussion of damage but there have been few writers that have systematically characterized the forms of damage that can occur prior to and/or during cryopreservation and then linked those forms of damage to contemporary or envisioned repair strategies. A notable exception is the 1991 article “‘Realistic’ Scenario for Nanotechnological Repair of the Frozen Human Brain” where the individual forms of mechanical and biochemical damage (ice formation, protein denaturation, osmotic damage etc.) are catalogued and repair strategies are discussed in biological terms.

Describing the various forms of damage at such a detailed level provides a meaningful context within which to discuss the technical feasibility of cryonics in rather specific terms, too. If someone would claim that cryonics is hopeless because of the “toxicity” of the vitrification agents we can ask for more specifics about what kind of biochemical damage is being alleged and why such alterations irreversibly erase identity-critical information.

Even when it is admitted that theoretical and empirical investigations into damage associated with (crude) cryonics technologies is possible it surely would be preposterous, wouldn’t it, to claim that repair of the damage itself can be done today. Well, not quite. Granted, we do not have the biological or mechanical cell repair technologies that would be required for repair of the brain at the molecular level but we can simulate a specific kind of damage (ice formation, ischemia) and create three dimensional neural wiring maps that can be compared to controls. Often this is not even necessary because we understand the universal language of biology and, for example, if we observe a ruptured cell membrane wall we know how it is supposed to look.

From here it is a short step to what I would call “reconstructive connectomics,” a sub-discipline of the field of connectomics that studies pathological changes of neural connections in the brain with the aim of in silico repair. Computational limitations currently constrain the scale and complexity at which we can do these reconstructions but it is not necessary to do reconstructive connectomics in a human-sized brain to obtain a much greater understanding of the mechanisms of damage, the type of repair required, and the empirical content of concepts like information-theoretic death.

It is important to point out here that the idea that resuscitation research can start today does not require taking sides in debates about the relative merits and limitations of biological versus mechanical cell repair technologies. The primary objective here is to show that meaningful resuscitation research can be done today and that the absence of such research only provides our critics easy targets.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, May, 2013

03. October 2013 · Comments Off on Reversible cryonics · Categories: Cryonics

In a previous column called “Iatrogenesis and Cryonics” I observed that cryonics is uniquely vulnerable to iatrogenic injury because the objectives of individual cryonics procedures (such as stabilization) are not clearly defined and due to the lack of obvious feedback that a low temperature stabilization procedure entails. This does not mean that cryonics advocates have not thought about how to look at the overall quality of a cryonics case. On the most general level we can evaluate a cryonics case by looking at the degree to which the cryonics stabilization procedure itself adds additional injury to the patient. This is important because critics of cryonics are usually more skeptical about the effects of stabilizing the patient at cryogenic temperatures than about the idea that a person who is considered terminally ill today may not be considered terminally ill in the future. The idea that the cryonics procedure itself does not add additional injury to the patient also ties in with the idea that one of the most important mandates of medicine is to do no harm.

What can a credible cryonics organization do to move its procedures in the direction of reversibility? At the most general level it can reflect this by formally recognizing the goal of developing human cryopreservation technologies that are injury-free. In terms of a research objective, this means that it should aim for human suspended animation. The idea of reversible human cryopreservation is straightforward and easy to communicate. In fact, most laypeople who first hear about cryonics intuitively grasp this point. It also provides a useful benchmark to assess the degree of technological progress at a cryonics organization and evaluate the performance of a cryonics organization in cryopreserving humans.

But how can the concept of reversibility be applied to a cryonics organization that has not yet perfected reversible human cryopreservation? In this case one can still ask how far we can push the goal of reversibility. This raises another challenge. How can we know to what point our procedures are still reversible if we do not actually reverse them? For starters, we can look at the limits of conventional medicine (hypothermic circulatory arrest) and ensure that our procedures conform to the physiological requirements of these procedures. Another (complementary) approach is to define reversibility as maintaining viability of the brain and collect data that will provide us with an answer regarding how well we have achieved this objective.

As I write this, our understanding is that, under ideal circumstances, we can keep the brain viable up to at least the early stages of cryoprotective perfusion (which is conducted around 0° Celsius). It would be desirable to have a better empirical understanding of this, and one approach would be to take a very small, microliter brain sample of a patient (an established harmless medical procedure) and subject it to a variety of viability assays (such as the K+/Na+ ratio). A fruitful research objective would be to achieve loading and unloading of a vitrifiable concentration of cryoprotectant in the brain and recover organized electrical activity (EEG) in a
suitable animal model and then modify this protocol for human cases. If we achieve this, viability of the brain may be retained during the descent to cryogenic temperatures.

Currently the “descent to cryogenic temperatures” is not a completely innocuous step because thermal stress-induced fracturing can still produce mechanical damage. To eliminate this form of damage and transform the challenge of reversible human cryopreservation into a biochemical problem, intermediate temperature storage appears to be a requirement.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, March, 2013

29. April 2013 · Comments Off on Resuscitation and Reintegration of Cryonics Patients Symposium · Categories: Cryonics, Science, Society

On Sunday May 12, 2013, the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics will organize a symposium about the resuscitation and reintegration of cryonics patients in Portland, Oregon. To our knowledge, this is the first public meeting exclusively concerned with the repair, resuscitation, and reintegration of cryonics patients.

The symposium is being held at The Cleaners at Ace Hotel (The Cleaners at Ace Hotel 403 SW 10TH AVE, 97205) in downtown Portland, Oregon from 10:00 am to 07:00 pm.

Admission is free. Registration for the event is possible at the event Facebook page.

On Saturday evening, the day prior to the symposium, Aubrey de Grey and Max More will be speaking about rejuvenation biotechnologies and cryonics at the Paragon Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Oregon.

Admission for this event is free and registration for this event is possible on the event Facebook page, too.

The current line-up of speakers is as follows (the exact schedule will be announced soon):
BEN BEST – EFFECTS OF TEMPERATURE ON PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION OF CRYONICS PATIENTS

Macromolecular temperature is a quantification of atomic-level molecular motion. The ability to maintain and reconstruct cryonics patients could be critically dependent on low temperature atomic/molecular motion and on the ability to operate nanomachines at cryogenic temperatures. Possible problems and solutions will be discussed.

Bio: Ben Best was President of the Cryonics Society of Canada for about a decade, after which he was President of the Cryonics Institute for nearly a decade. He is currently Director of Research Oversight for the Life Extension Foundation. The cryonics section of his website is one of the best sources of information about the science behind cryonics available on the internet ( www.benbest.com/cryonics/cryonics.html )

CHANA DE WOLF – RECONSTRUCTIVE CONNECTOMICS

Complete preservation of the “connectome” should be sufficient for meaningful resuscitation attempts of cryonics patients but it may not be necessary. As long as the original connectome can be inferred from what is preserved, damage associated with cerebral ischemia or suboptimal cryonics technologies do not necessarily exclude future resuscitation. In this presentation I will present a general framework for reconstructive connectomics and explore theoretical and experimental research directions for reconstructing damaged and altered connectomes.

Bio: Chana de Wolf lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as a business manager and biomedical researcher. She holds a B.S. in Experimental Psychology (2001), an M.S. in Cognition and Neuroscience (2003), and has extensive management and laboratory experience. She has several years of experience working as a research assistant in a variety of laboratory environments, and has taught college-level courses in neuroscience lab methods and biology. She is a Director and researcher for Advanced Neural Biosciences. Chana joined as a member of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 2007 where she also worked as a Research Associate at Alcor to help build a sustainable, multi-faceted cryonics research program

RANDAL KOENE – BRAIN EMULATION AND NEUROPROSTHETICS: A SYSTEM OF FUNCTIONS TO BE SUSTAINED

Being, now or following revival from cryopreservation, ultimately depends on one’s ability to experience and to do so in the manner that is characteristic of one’s individual mind. Recently, it has become possible to address this problem in a concrete and systematic manner, largely due to rapid advances in computational neuroscience and data acquisition, both structurally (the popular field of “connectomics”) and functionally (brain activity mapping). The process of personal experience – like any process – involves some mechanisms operating at a given time under the influence of an environment state, a state that can include sensory input and functional “memory” established as a result of prior conditions. An emulation or prosthesis is then the attempt to replace a system of processing with an equivalent set of mechanisms that carry out the same processing within established success criteria. The engineering approach to understanding a system sufficiently that it can be emulated or replaced by prostheses is known as system identification. I will describe how system identification may be feasibly carried out for an individual human brain, and how constraints and requirements can be learned through projects with iterative improvements. I will present the projects that are underway to develop neuroscience tools with which successful system identification may be accomplished.

Bio: Dr. Randal A. Koene is CEO and Founder of the not-for-profit science foundation Carboncopies.org as well as the neural interfaces company NeuraLink Co. Dr. Koene is Science Director of the 2045 Initiative and a scientific board member in several neurotechnology companies and organizations.

MAX MORE – MAXIMIZING REVIVAL PROBABILITY: PRESERVATION, RECORDING, INTERPOLATION, AND RECONSTRUCTION

The proper ultimate goal of cryonics is reversible suspended animation. While we should continually strive for that goal, we do not know if or when it will be fully achieved. Until then, we must grapple with the probability that cryopreservation will in itself not fully preserve personal identity critical information. A revived individual may be missing pieces of his or her life, or some of the existing pieces may be fuzzier than they were before clinical death. It may be feasible to fill in the gaps and to sharpen the focus by feeding into the repair and revival process biographical information with a high degree of resolution. That information may also serve to validate the accuracy of a reconstructed connectome. Up to the present, cryonics organizations have offered minimal storage of personal-identity relevant information. In this talk, I will consider ways in which members of cryonics organizations could use the emerging tools and technologies associated with the “Quantified Self” concept to capture and record detailed biographical information, and how cryonics organizations could assist with this and convey the resulting data to a future capable of repairing and resuscitating cryonics patients.

Bio: Max More is the President & Chief Executive Officer of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. More has a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from St. Anne’s College, Oxford University (1984-87). He was awarded a Dean’s Fellowship in Philosophy in 1987 by the University of Southern California. He studied and taught philosophy at USC with an emphasis on philosophy of mind, ethics, and personal identity, completing his Ph.D. in 1995, with a dissertation that examined issues including the nature of death, and what it is about each individual that continues despite great change over time.

KEEGAN MACINTOSH – REINTEGRATION OF CRYONICS PATIENTS: LEGAL AND LOGISTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Given the host of complicated problems to be solved before resuscitation of cryonics patients is possible, it is easy to leave planning for their reintegration for another day. However, this assumes that there is nothing particularly important that can be done about reintegration prior to patient cryopreservation, which might be impossible, or at least far more difficult afterward. It also underestimates the impact that fear of dis-integration has on individuals’ decisions on whether to sign up for cryonics, which might be alleviated if we had more concrete plans for reintegration, with presently actionable components. In this talk, Keegan Macintosh will survey several aspects of cryonics patient reintegration, both legal and logistical, that can be tangibly worked on today.

Bio: Keegan Macintosh received his J.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2012, and is Executive Director of the Lifespan Society of British Columbia, a non-profit organization established to educate the public on life extension strategies and protect access to potentially life-saving technologies. Keegan is a board member of the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics, as well as the Cryonics Society of Canada.

ASCHWIN DE WOLF – CRYONICS WITHOUT REPAIR

Cryonics aims to stabilize critically ill patients at low temperatures in anticipation of future medical treatment. While the concept of cell repair is often associated with the practice of cryonics, it is not an intrinsic element of the procedure. Advanced cryonics technologies will permit reversible cryopreservation of the patient. If human suspended animation would be achieved cryonics would solely involve future treatment of the patient’s disease and its underlying pathologies. In this talk I will discuss why reversible cryopreservation is important and which technical obstacles need to be overcome to make it a reality.

Bio: Aschwin is a Director and researcher for Advanced Neural Biosciences, the editor of Cryonics magazine, serves as a consultant for a number of cryonics organizations, and has published technical articles on various cryonics topics.

25. April 2013 · Comments Off on Protecting cryonics patients · Categories: Arts & Living, Cryonics, Society

Anyone who has ever reflected on the fragility of human life and the seemingly inevitable rise and fall of complex societies cannot fail to be concerned about the fate of patients in cryopreservation. Cryonics organizations have learned from the early days and abandoned the practice of accepting patients without complete prepayment – a practice that almost invariably guarantees a tragic loss of life when family members or the cryonics organization can no longer afford to care for them. Alcor has given a lot of thought to the financial and legal requirements of keeping patients in cryopreservation but it is understandable that people question the prospect of cryonics patients making it to the time where a suitable treatment of their disease will be available.

This challenge is further exacerbated by the fact that cryonics patients do not have the legal standing that ordinary human beings (or patients) enjoy. If the media revealed blatant incompetence in a local hospital, it would be inconceivable that the existing patients would be abandoned and left to die. In cryonics there is a far greater risk of abandoning both the organization and the patients, despite the safeguards that some cryonics organizations have made to separate the organization from the maintenance of patients. In fact, the most rabid opponents of cryonics have little patience for the idea that abandoning cryonics patients could one day be considered one of the most tragic events in the history of medicine.

The first step to protect cryonics patients is to strengthen your cryonics organization and the legal and logistical structures that have been erected to keep them in cryopreservation. But almost just as important is to give people who have not made cryonics arrangements themselves reasons to protect them. In the case of surviving family members that is usually not a challenge but time may eventually pass the direct descendants of those people by as well. One important practice that can be strengthened is to give these people a face. Cryopreserved persons are not just a homogenous group of anonymous people (unless they chose to be so!) but are our friends, family members, and patients who would like their story to be told.

Fortunately, in the age of the internet this has become a lot easier. Social networking websites like Facebook retain the profiles of deceased and cryopreserved persons unless the family requests removal. Cryonics organizations themselves can offer opportunities for members, friends, and family members to maintain their presence online. Last but not least, there are a lot more people who support cryonics and protection of cryonics patients than people who have made actual cryonics arrangements and these people can be involved and organized as well. As evidenced on a daily basis, you do not have to benefit yourself to support a cause. Cryonics is not just an individual seeking an experimental procedure but part of a broader social movement that hopes to update the way we think about death. In fact, Alcor now offers Associate Membership for those who want to support our mission but do not desire to make arrangement themselves, or not yet.

It is easier to dispose of people who are nameless, who have been removed from the social fabric of life, and who are only perceived as anonymous vehicles of an “erroneous” idea. We cannot decide that resuscitation will work but we can decide to keep their memories alive and personalities present to help them reach that opportunity.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, April, 2013

22. March 2013 · Comments Off on Iatrogenesis and Cryonics · Categories: Cryonics, Health

Wikipedia tells us that iatrogenesis is “an inadvertent adverse effect or complication resulting from medical treatment or advice…” The key word in this definition is “inadvertent.” For example, a doctor who exposes a patient to a bacterial infection by accidentally donning non-surgical gloves is an example of iatrogenesis. A doctor who deliberately administers a lethal dose of an anesthetic is not. One source of iatrogenesis is adverse effects.

A defining characteristic of contemporary human cryopreservation is that it is not possible to stabilize patients at very low temperatures without producing additional damage. Forms of injury in cryonics include ice formation, cryoprotectant toxicity, and fracturing. The relevance of the concept of iatrogenic diseases to cryonics was first recognized by Thomas Donaldson in his article “Neural Archeology” (Cryonics, February 1987). What sets cryonics apart is that cost-benefit analysis favors cryopreservation in a sense not encountered in ordinary medicine. Cryonics is the last hope to save the life of the patient and the alternative course of action is irreversible death.

One could say that the adverse effects of cryonics are a form iatrogenic injury, but since the major adverse effects of cryonics are known and recognized, cryonics cannot be brought under the rubric of iatrogenesis. But just as medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies allocate resources to developing drugs with fewer or less serious adverse effects, Alcor aims to improve procedures to eliminate these forms of injury. Examples include vitrification agents to eliminate ice formation, intermediate temperature storage to eliminate (or reduce) fracturing, rapid cooling devices to decrease ischemic injury, etc. The ultimate goal is to create a low temperature stabilization procedure that does not induce any additional injury. Such an achievement would constitute true human suspended animation. We would not be able to treat the disease of the patient yet, but could induce biostasis and reverse it without any adverse effects.

There is narrower application of the idea of iatrogenic injury to specific elements of cryonics procedures. For example, if a multiperson team is present at the bedside with a portable ice bath, ice, and a functioning chest compression device, but later analysis of the temperature data reveals negligible cooling, negligence or error may be involved. This is a rather dramatic example and most examples of non-intrinsic iatrogenic injury in cryonics have a subtler character. Cryonics is particularly vulnerable to iatrogenic injury because of the lack of clear objectives for the individual procedures and the lack of
consistent and comprehensive monitoring.

A rather disappointing excuse for permitting additional injury is the view that since cryonics patients will require advanced repair technologies in the future anyway it is not of great importance to minimize adverse effects of the cryonics procedures themselves. Such an attitude encourages recklessness, makes a mockery of the idea of human cryopreservation as medicine, and is not the kind of cryonics that is going to win over scientists, medical professionals, and the educated public. We do not know at which point injury translates into irreversible identity destruction, but we do know that the closer our procedures conform to reversible human suspended animation the less likely it is that we are wandering into that territory.

Cryonics cannot be disqualified merely because it introduces adverse effects. We know it does and we have no choice but to accept this. But an aggressive pursuit of human suspended animation will eliminate these adverse effects step-by-step so a future doctor will no longer need to worry about the effects of the cryonics procedure itself.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, February, 2013

14. January 2013 · Comments Off on Broward County South Florida Cryonics Meeting · Categories: Cryonics

I moved to Florida a number of months ago, but I am only now starting a cryonics group in the Broward County, Florida area. As a first event I have booked a table at the Peking Tokyo Buffet restaurant on 1219 South Federal Hwy, Deerfield Beach, Florida for dinner in the early evening (7 P.M. to 9 P.M.) on Thursday, January 24th. All those interested in cryonics in Broward county and adjoining areas are invited to attend.

This will be the first meeting of this group so the main goal will be to meet other cryonicists or cryonics-interested people in the South Florida area. All-you-can-eat buffet with a wide selection of foods for only $10.95, but no purchase or meal is required for those who simply want to socialize and discuss cryonics while others eat. Drop-in any time between 7 P.M. and 9 P.M., but closer to 7 P.M. would be preferred. Use exit 41 from I95, drive East along SW (becomes SE at Dixie) 10th Street, and turn right on Federal Highway (US Route 1) to reach the Peking Tokyo Buffet in Deerfield Beach. Anyone interested in cryonics is welcome to attend.

I have been phoning cryonicists in the area and quite a few seem certain to attend. I have also started groups on Facebook and Meetup for this purpose, which I invite others to join, but don’t get the wrong impression that the buffet event on Thursday, January 24th is going to be as poorly attended as the Facebook or Meetup groups might make you imagine.

Here is the Facebook group and event:

http://www.facebook.com/groups/cryonics.boward/

http://www.facebook.com/events/522418457791831/

Here is the Meetup group and event:

http://www.meetup.com/Cryonics-Meetup-of-Broward-County-Florida/

http://www.meetup.com/Cryonics-Meetup-of-Broward-County-Florida/events/98480242/

For those wondering about my move to South Florida, here is some background information.

14. January 2013 · Comments Off on In praise of cold · Categories: Cryonics, Neuroscience, Science

Some observers believe that cryonics advocates are reluctant to subject their theories to experimental scrutiny because this could damage their (uncritical) belief in future resuscitation. Similarly, one might think that cryonicists would react with a mix of hostility and dismissal to alternative strategies for personal survival. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is exactly because our personal survival is at stake that forces us to be wary of dogmatism.

For this reason, I have always been interested in chemical fixation as a (low cost) alternative for cryonics. In fact, years before all the talk about the “connectome” and “plastination” I spent considerable time exchanging messages with Michael Perry at Alcor about the technical and practical feasibility of chemical brain preservation. But no matter how open minded I tried to be about this approach, I kept running into the same challenges over and over again.

The challenge that has concerned me the most is whether a delayed start of chemical brain fixation will produce incomplete distribution of the chemical fixative in the brain because of ischemia-induced perfusion impairment. Thinking about the technical problem of “no-reflow” is not the first thing on the mind of someone who first hears about the idea of using chemical fixatives to preserve the brain. In my case, this concern was not just “theoretical.” In my lab I have spent many years looking at the effects of cerebral ischemia on cryopreservation and chemical fixation. Last year we decided to broaden our investigations to delayed chemical fixation and we have not been pleased at what we have observed so far. After 1.5 years of room temperature storage the delayed aldehyde fixed brains are falling apart and continue to decompose. In small animals one might imagine that such perfusion impairment could be overcome by immersing the brains in the fixative instead but human brains are simply too large. By the time that the fixative would have reached the core of the brain, extensive autolysis will have occurred.

Another complex problem is to identify a fixation and polymerization protocol that fixes all identity-critical parts of the brain. If aldehydes do not completely fix the lipids in the brain, should we add strong oxidizing heavy metals to stabilize lipids? This is possible in theory but, as a general rule, these chemicals are either very expensive or dangerous to use (or both). Even if we are able to identify a chemical fixation protocol for the brain that can do the job, how can we know that such brains are stable for very long periods of time? Should we follow fixation by embedding with a polymer to inhibit residual biochemical activity? To my knowledge, there is no known embedding protocol that is scalable to human brains due to the extreme viscosity of these plastics.

Recently these issues took a more personal nature for me when I had to think really hard about a reasonable but affordable longterm preservation protocol for a companion animal. I spent many days reading the electron microscopy and fixation literature to come up with a protocol that was better than aldehyde fixation and low temperature storage. Adding calcium to the fixative? What about phenol? Post-fixation perfusion of a viscous cryoprotectant to allow storage at subzero temperatures? That is when I really started appreciating the “magic” of cold temperatures.

Absent a vitrification agent, cryogenic temperatures can cause extensive damage to cells. But one thing we know: whatever the nature of this damage, as soon the brain is below the glass transition temperature of -130°C, all water is either frozen or a vitrified rigid solid. We do not have to worry about any damage getting worse over time, or whether some biomolecules have not been fixed. Cold may be “crude” in its effects but it is exactly because no biochemical process can escape inhibition at very low temperatures that makes it such a powerful personal survival technology.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, January, 2013

14. December 2012 · Comments Off on A pathography of aging · Categories: Arts & Living, Health

In her book Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins proposes that the modern pathography is replacing the accounts of religious conversion that were popular in earlier eras. What is a pathography? One definition that I found is “the study of the life of an individual or the history of a community with regard to the influence of a particular disease or psychological disorder.” Reconstructing Illness is an extensive study of this genre, how individuals deal with a diagnosis of a serious illness, and its broader role for medical caregivers and society.

One thing that I was wondering about while reading this is whether there are any pathographies of aging. There is no shortage of pathographies about cancer, HIV/AIDS, dementia (etc.) but I was curious if anyone had ever considered writing about the individual experience of the aging process and its inevitable outcome, death. Hawkins’s book has a very useful list of pathographies organized by disease. Perusing this list provides one with a good understanding of which kind of pathographies are popular but I failed to find even one title that explicitly concerns aging. Similarly, a search on “pathography of aging” on the internet did not produce any results. Sure, there are many books about facing death (or dealing with the death of a loved one) or the challenges and opportunities associated with growing older. But I am not aware of any account that treats the aging process in a format that is remotely similar to the descriptions of disease we meet in the pathography, let alone one where the aging process is described as a battle to be undertaken.

This should not be surprising. For most of us, disease is an abnormal condition that is defined relative to the normal aging process. Although a lot of disease is closely associated with aging, most people hesitate to call the aging process itself a disease because it would render the conventional use of the word disease problematic. There are diseases that are characterized by rapid aging in children, such as progeria, but we do call such conditions a disease because the pace at which these children grow older is not normal. In fact, pathographies of accelerated aging diseases might be the closest thing that approaches a pathography of aging.

Regardless of one’s perspective on the causes or mechanisms of aging, if we look at aging at the molecular level we will find a progressive accumulation of damage as we grow older. Whatever we mean by “aging gracefully,” this accumulation of damage stops for no one and ultimately results in death. Because aging is normal, and no one is being diagnosed with aging, there is not a clear, identifiable, moment in life that triggers the experience and events that are documented in the typical pathography. In fact, the universal nature of human aging and our propensity to react more strongly to unexpected events strongly biases humans to respond to specific diseases and not the aging process itself. What we seem to care about is abnormal deterioration and death, not the deterioration and death that is universal and foreseeable.

Not all people react in such a passive manner to aging. Not anymore. To some of us the relatively slow pace of physiological deterioration is a source of anxiety and the fact that it is a universal phenomenon does not provide solace, especially when medical technologies to halt or reverse aging can be envisioned and pursued. What sets humans apart from other animals is that we can recognize a universal condition and not be satisfied with it. Aging is an undeniable source of suffering and loss of dignity, sets the stage for separation and death, and favors short-term thinking over long-term responsibilities. It will only be a matter of time before the first pathographies of those who succumbed to the process while consciously fighting it will reach us.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine 2012-6

17. October 2012 · Comments Off on Preserving and inferring · Categories: Cryonics, Science

A common complaint against cryonics is that existing cryopreservation technologies may not be good enough to preserve the ultrastructure of the human brain. Advocates of cryonics often object that such views do not reflect actual inspection of the evidence of cryopreserved brains but instead reflect misconceptions about “freezing” and ice formation rupturing cells. But the more fundamental misconception rests on the view that for cryonics to work flawless preservation of the brain is absolutely essential.

This view is not only mistaken but holds cryonics to higher standards than those applied in conventional medicine. In medicine it is routine for patients to present themselves with conditions in which an organ or tissue has been changed from its normal condition (or appearance) as a result of disease or trauma. Restoring normal structure or function is the essence of most medical treatments.

One might object that in the case of cryonics we are concerned with the brain, which distinguishes itself from other organs that encodes highly individual information. If a portion of the brain is erased we cannot consult another brain or medical textbook to infer its original state. We can admit that this is a valid observation but it is not necessarily a fatal argument against cryonics, provided the damage has not reached the point of complete destruction or indecipherability.

There is a difference between damage and obliteration. If we look at electron micrographs of brain tissue produced at various points in time after circulatory arrest (“death”) we will observe progressive alterations of synapses, cell membranes, organelles etc. We describe such changes with a mental (or actual) map of how they normally look like in mind. At this level the fact that the brain is a highly individual organ is no longer relevant because we know the universal biochemical language in which this identity is written. At this point the real question becomes at which point is it not even possible to infer the original condition of the brain. As far as we understand this today, this may be a question of many hours, if not days.

This robustness of identity-critical information in the brain may seem to contradict the routine observation in emergency medicine that there is a much narrower time limit for successful resuscitation from cardiac arrest. The crucial difference here is that we are no longer talking about the ability to infer identity-critical information but restore physiological function. But function is a lot more vulnerable to metabolic and biochemical changes than the wiring of the brain. In fact, if function were a necessary requirement to infer information a lot of existing forensic and archeological science would be impossible.

In approaching cryonics it is important to recognize the distinction between preserving and inferring. In this way we can better assess the prospects for resuscitating patients who were cryopreserved under nonideal conditions and/or with older technologies.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine 2012-5.