21. June 2011 · Comments Off on Teens & Twenties 2011 Gathering · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: , , , , , ,

On the evening of Thursday, May 19 and on Friday, May 20, I attended the 2011 (2nd annual) Teens & Twenties young cryonicists gathering which preceded the Suspended Animation, Inc. conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Teens & Twenties gathering (for young cryonicists having human cryopreservation contracts in place with some cryonics organization) is an offshoot of the cryonics Asset Preservation Group. Like the Asset Preservation Group, this event was created-by and is run-by Cairn Idun. Bill Faloon funds Teens & Twenties through a Life Extension Foundation education grant. Members of the Asset Preservation Group, such as myself, are permitted to attend despite being more than 30 years old. Of the 52 people who attended, ten were Asset Preservation Group members, and 42 were young cryonicists.

When asked who did not want to be photographed, only one person in the group raised his hand. I will refrain from mentioning any of the young cryonicists by name. Writing about this very people-oriented event without mentioning individual young cryonicists is like writing about lemonade without mentioning lemon. Some of the personalities were particularly colorful and memorable. But I know that many of the individuals do not want the publicity, and in my experience people get very emotional about what is said and not said about them. Even with explicit permission I am concerned that many of the young cryonicists might not fully appreciate the kinds of problems writing about them in connection with cryonics might cause for their future careers.

This year the demographics of the young cryonicists more closely matched what is typical of cryonicists. Last year about one third of those attending were female, and there was a high representation of people from the entertainment industry. This year, the attendees were overwhelmingly male, with most of the females being companions of males (which is not to say they were not cryonicists). Many members of this group were impressively highly educated, mostly in computer technologies, and secondarily in biotechnologies.

EXCELLENT MEALS WERE INCLUDED IN THE SCHOLARSHIPS

There were six Russians: five from KrioRus, and one from CryoFreedom. KrioRus is located near Moscow, whereas CryoFreedom is further south in Russia, closer to Ukraine. Dr. Yuri Pichugin (formerly the Cryonics Institute’s cryobiologist, is associated with CryoFreedom. CryoFreedom advertises neuropreservation for $7,500. Although it currently has no human patients, two pets are in liquid nitrogen. (I also learned that there is a man named Eugen Shumilov who is working to start a new cryonics company in St. Petersburg, Russia, but there was no representation of Shumilov’s organization at this event.

There are two overlapping goals of the Teens & Twenties event. One is the opportunity for members of the Asset Presevation Group to meet the young cryonicists. The other is the opportunity for the widely dispersed young cryonicists to become acquainted with each other, and to build lasting networks (community building). Cairn Idun has designed a number of “getting to Know You” exercises to facilitate the networking.

There are two self-introductions: the first lasting one minute, and the second lasting two minutes. I was the most anal-retentive of any of the participants in these exercises. I wrote-out my self-introductions, and practiced reading them to myself until I was sure I was within a few seconds of the one and two minute allocations. The one-minute self-introductions were on Thursday evening, and the two-minute self-introductions were Friday morning.

The Thursday evening self-introductions were followed by the exercise wherein participants classified themselves by “color”: (Green:Conceptual, Curious, Wise, Versatile), (Red:Adventuresome, Skillful, Competitive,Spontaneous), (Gold:Responsible, Dependable, Helpful, Sensible), and (Blue:Warm, Communicative, Compassionate, Feeling), as described in my write-up of last year’s Teens & Twenties event.

Once again, Greens were most numerous, followed by Reds. Cairn directed the participants to gather into groups by color. No directions were given for these meetings, so it was to foster socialization between “like-colored” individuals.

Last year a number of people had little to say in their second self-introductions, imagining that they had said all that could be said about themselves in their first self-introduction. I concerned myself quite a bit about how to prevent this from happening again. I made a number of suggestions in the Young Cryonicists Facebook Group, as did others. Cairn had participants list wants and “not-wants” of various kinds before the second self-introductions as a means of facilitating self-awareness. I tried to make my second self-introduction very personal in the hope that it would inspire others. There weren’t too many who were at a loss for words in the second self-introductions this year. Many of the participants passed-out business cards or other self-descriptive materials in conjunction with their second self-introduction.

There was a breakout session in which those with special interests had an opportunity to discuss their interests or how they might work together on those interests. The interest areas were entertainment, research, computer sciences, communication networking, and psychology/philosophy of self.

INTEREST GROUPS

Bill Faloon encouraged the participants to share thoughts about types of research that could lead to reanimation — with the thought that many of the young cryonicists would be in charge of large revival trust funds with income that can be used for research on reanimation technologies. I won’t attempt to summarize the thoughts of others, but I can say a few things about what I said.

Some people don’t want cryonics because they are afraid that they will not be restored in their original condition. The mother of one cryonicist is a stroke victim, and she has had a frightening first-hand experience of losing mental & movement capacity. Hollywood plays into this vision by depicting reanimated beings as zombies who are criminally insane.

Few people want to be the first of those reanimated — they would prefer that many others be reanimated first to ensure that the process works perfectly. I suggested that the first people reanimated might be brought back by next-of-kin who are overly eager to see their loved-ones as soon as possible. The idea of reviving pets first would not be popular with many pet owners. Reanimation technologies might be perfected on non-pet animals, although even today there is increasing sentiment against animal research. Animal rights activists seek legislation to protect animals from “unnecessary research”, which would likely include anything cryonics-related. Austria banned research on apes in 2006, and the number of countries with similar legislation continues to grow [SCIENCE; 332:28-31 (April 2011)]. Even if reanimation research was conducted on apes, the extrapolation of restoring ape consciousness/identity to restoring of human consciousness/identity is non-trivial.

I worry that as more wealthy cryonicists are cryopreserved, their only concern will be for reanimation research. Many of them will not appreciate that improved cryopreservation methods will advance cryonics and thereby enhance their chances of reanimation.

The next “getting to know you” exercise was what Cairn calls “speed dating”. Each participant is to spend two minutes with every other participant having a one-to-one conversation. For myself, it gave me an opportunity to talk to many people I would not have spoken with otherwise, and to have personal conversations with many individuals that I cannot imagine happening in any other way. Spontaneous socializing more often results in people talking only to those they already know. This exercise is a good ice-breaker, but it does involve some effort. It can be a strain to be starting conversations again-and-again, and again-and-again having to break them off once they become interesting — but the result was well worth the effort for me. Having a personal connection with individuals enables me to interact with them more productively, and this must also be true of the others. I rate speed-dating as the most valuable of all of the exercises, along with self-introductions.

Participants filled out a sheet indicating their interest level in cryonics — including such things as whether they planned to have a cryonics-related career, do volunteer work for a cryonics organization, or simply be a consumer.

GATHERING FOR THE GROUP PHOTO

he final event was the group photo, after which was a dinner and then reception for the Suspended Animation conference. The photographer who made the group photo was employed to make photographs only intended sor private use of Suspended Animation, Inc., but we did not learn this until later (even the photographer did not know).

All the young cryonicists had the fees, hotel expenses, and meals associated with the Suspended Animation conference paid-for. The opportunity for some of the young cryonicists who have an interest in science to directly interact with current cryonics researchers could eventually lead to large scientific dividends for cryonics research in the future.

There were reportedly many exaggerated rumors about what happened in the evening hot-tub sessions in the 2010 Teens & Twenties gathering. I brought my bathing suit this year, but did not spend a great deal of time in the hot tub. The conversation was a bit more playful than it was in other contexts, and there was more of a party-spirit in the hot tub — which some of the participants relished. I would guess that about half of the Teens & Twenties participants spent at least some time in the hot tub.

Despite all of the intensive social interaction and “getting to know you” exercises, I would have a hard time making a connection between names, faces, and biographies of at least a third of the young cryonicists. I don’t believe that I am unique in that regard. The “speed-dating” exercise was particularly helpful in strengthening and deepening the name/face/biography connections. Memories of the individuals and their personalities are likely to be more easily refreshed in the future thanks to the meetings and exercises of this gathering.

YOUNG CRYONICISTS VISIT WITH SAUL KENT
16. October 2009 · Comments Off on Death is Gruesome…Cryonics Only Makes it Less So! · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

William Faloon is a Licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer (Florida license number: F042784)

Human beings are largely unaware about the gruesome nature of “death”

Humans also shy away from the mutilation that occurs during hospital surgery.

Hollywood films portray cryonics in a glamorous high-tech manner that makes it appear that one’s body can easily be placed into a capsule and frozen for future revival.

Reality is that cryopreservation involves complex surgery whereby tubes are inserted into major arteries and veins in order to deliver special anti-freeze solutions into the brain. The purpose is to reduce or eliminate freezing damage and other types of damage to brain cells. The process involves introducing stabilizing drugs and a special solution in the field and a major procedure in an operating room.

There’s nothing pretty about human cryopreservation, but as you’ll read, the alternatives are truly ghastly—and every alternative involves the head eventually separating from the body.

We deceive ourselves

When I worked as a licensed embalmer, I was quite talented at taking horrific human remains and making them look good temporarily. In order to do this, a tremendous amount of mutilation was done to each corpse.

First step is to wire or sew their mouths shut. Incisions are made in the neck, groin and other areas to access arteries to insert tubes that were used to force formaldehyde in. Veins are accessed (raised) to push blood out.

While formaldehyde delivered through blood vessels preserves tissues of the body, it does little to keep cavities (such as the stomach, bowels, lungs and cranium) from putrefying. To keep the body from decomposing before burial, we used a device that resembles a thick hollow sword to repeatedly penetrate the body cavities to vacuum out as much of the liquid contents as possible. We would then reverse the process by pouring formaldehyde directly into the thoracic and abdominal cavities and sometimes the brain. Sometimes the same sword (trocar) used to evacuate the bowels was shoved up the nose through the sinuses to suck out cerebral-spinal fluid in the cranium.

When I learned how to do this in mortuary school, I thought how undignified the entire process is. Without embalming, however, the outcome is even worse.

Decomposition

It’s frightening how quickly a living, breathing, thinking person can be transformed into a rotting, stinking corpse. A few days at room temperature and the stench can become so bad that it can never be removed from the house, car or clothing.

When picking up a decomposed body, it was not unusual for its arms to literally be ripped off when trying to move the remains into a rubber pouch. Skin slips right off the body after a few days making the removal of a “decomposed subject” a challenge.

A decomposed corpse is often severely bloated with intestinal and “tissue” gas, discolored beyond recognition, and carries the most horrific of odors. The challenge is to dump enough preservative powders and liquids into the rubber-pouch encased corpse and then place the pouched corpse into a sealed casket and hope that no foul aroma leaks out.

Those who don’t like the thought of being “embalmed” sometimes mandate in their will that no embalming is to take place. They are thus condemned to grisly decomposition in the ground or tomb.

Cremation is no escape

The process of preparing corpses to look like living individuals laying in a coffin is less common than in the 1960s, when virtually every corpse was embalmed for a “viewing”.

More people nowadays opt for direct cremation, where the body is refrigerated temporarily and then placed into a furnace. The flames ignite the body fat which can sometimes be seen exiting the corpse in little rivers. In order to incinerate the brain midway through the cremation process, a small door is opened into the furnace where a steel poker is rammed into the skull to “pop out” the brain tissues.

After all the soft tissues have been burned away, the skeletal remains are taken out and ground into smaller pieces which become the “cremains” or ashes.

During the cremation process, needless to say, the head becomes separated from the body as the flames burn through the spinal cord and other connective tissues.

Considering this was a functioning human being only a day or two before, there certainly is no dignity with this process. As with embalming and decomposing, cremation is quite “gruesome”.

Autopsy—the ultimate mutilation

The meticulous dissection of a corpse known as an “autopsy” is the most intentional and egregious form of mutilation that one can imagine.

Your odds of having this horrific process done to you are higher than you may think, as most counties autopsy anyone who dies under suspicious circumstances.

As you read this, just imagine someone taking a scalpel and carving a huge “Y” stretching from the top of both your shoulders and then meeting at the bottom of your breastbone. The incision continues to the bottom half of the “Y” down to your pubic area. A steel saw is then used to cut open your breastbone, your ribs are separated. Every one of your organs are cut out and sliced in many different pieces for “examination”.

The next step is to make an incision using a scalpel across the back of your head. Another saw is then taken to cut open your skull so that your brain can be removed, sliced and “examined”.

My first reaction to an autopsy was that is was so grotesque that it should be banned. From a practical standpoint, however, autopsies allow doctors to learn from their mistakes by seeing what actually was going on while their patient was dying, though this practice has declined dramatically over the past 40 years.

Autopsies nowadays are mostly performed by county Medical Examiners to determine the cause of death when there is no attending physician, or where a death occurs under suspicious circumstances.

Autopsies provide a lot of good data that benefits the living, but at the cost of horrendous mutilation to what was once a human being.

As an embalmer, putting together the pieces of an “autopsied case” took about four times longer than a regular case.

What happens after burial?

As I said earlier, I was darn good at taking corpses that were severely disfigured by degenerative disease and temporarily making them look good for a few days in the funeral home.

My work experience includes disinterring bodies that had been embalmed and buried years in the past. These cases arose when a family member wanted the buried body moved to a new city or cremated.

In rare cases, a corpse that had been in the ground for ten years or more was still “viewable” with a little cosmetic help. When this occurred, I would call the family and say, “if you want to see Dad again, he is in pretty good shape”.

In most cases, however, the remains here horrifically deteriorated. One case I will never forget reminded me of the original Frankenstein movies. The cemetery people opened the grave and I was supposed to meet the removal service company at 4:00 PM during the time of the year when the sun set early. The removal company was late and the cemetery people insisted that I get the body out of the ground before closing.

The top of the concrete burial vault was removed, exposing a deteriorating coffin. I went down into the grave, straddling myself by putting one foot on each side of the burial vault top for leverage. I ripped open the top of the coffin and saw one of the scariest looking corpses ever. The tissue literally had deteriorated in a way that resembled a thin layer of hot wax covering the skull. It truly looked frightening even to me.

My paid help was running late so I had to pull this deteriorated cadaver out of the ground by myself. I grabbed one arm and one leg, hoping to pull it out of the rotting coffin. The arm ripped off and the body fell back in. I tried other angles, but body parts kept separating from the torso. As body parts piled up around the grave, the removal service finally arrived and we lifted the entire body out of the buried coffin. Staring at this disfigured corpse in the eye, with body parts coming off left and right, as darkness was setting in was downright eerie.

Sometimes when doing a disinterment, there is virtually no body. One time we opened a fairly well preserved coffin to see only perfectly clean dentures, eye glasses and musty clothing. The reason for this was that flies had gotten into the corpse’s nostrils before burial and laid eggs. When the maggots hatched, they ate the entire body and possibly the bones. There were piles of dead maggots in the coffin, indicating they thrived quite well until they consumed their food supply, i.e. the corpse.

Needless to say, the head of virtually every buried remains will at some point separate from the body. Once the soft tissues disappear through deterioration, the bones simply fall apart.

So when you look at well kept cemeteries with meticulously cut fresh grass, remember the customers interred below are not doing so well.

Surgical procedures

Cable TV has science channels that show real operations occurring in the hospital setting.

Doctors narrate how challenging it is to do these surgeries without killing the patient. I view these programs with amazement from the standpoint that patients undergoing invasive surgery often look like they may be on death’s door, but then a week later they are shown playing basketball with their grandchild.

One procedure I recall was a patient being operated on to remove the parathyroid glands in the neck. A disease called primary hyperparathyroidism causes the excess secretion of parathyroid hormone that damages the body. The cure is meticulous surgery to identify and remove all of the parathyroid glands. If one is missed, the patient may have to undergo another grueling surgery. One woman had the bottom of her neck cut and the neck skin pulled over her face for what appeared to be hours of meticulous dissection of her neck tissues to remove all the parathyroid glands. To me, the women looked virtually dead, but she made a rapid recovery as seen on TV.

Cryo-preservation—Less gruesome and not abusive

One may remember movies of a perfectly sculpted Sylvester Stallone (and other actors) elegantly traveling through time in a frozen state and being revived in perfect condition.

Real world human cryo-preservation involves a complex surgical procedure followed by a long term of suspension in a stainless steel storage unit at a temperature where virtually no molecular motion exists.  Nothing alluring about it, and when viewed out of context, may appear “gruesome”.

Most people are in denial about what will happen to their bodies when they die. They over react when they hear of someone’s head being surgically and chemically treated to protect brain cell injury during cryo-preservation. Overlooked is that any other form of disposition results in far more ghastly results for the victim of death.

Words like “gruesome” and “ghastly” are being used to describe the cryo-preservation of baseball legend Ted Williams. As stated in the beginning of this essay, what happens to a human body after death is undeniably horrific. Cryonics is merely less gruesome than anything else that is done to a corpse.

I hope this essay helps put cryo-preservation in perspective with more mutilating and appalling forms of disposition that deceased humans are exposed to every day. It should serve to educate the media that ALCOR patients are not being mutilated or “abused” by the complex protocols that are used to provide them with the best scientific opportunity of future revival, whatever the probability may be.