Teaching children about cryonics

How do you teach a child about something that is so far “unproven”?  How do you bring up the subject of cryonics and how it may allow someone to be reanimated in the future?

I am a cryonicist, I’ve been a signed member for years, I’m also a mother, social activist, environmentalist and author.  I teach religious education at my church, and I volunteer in my children’s schools.  My book “21st Century Kids”, set in the year 2008, is about two children who ‘die’ now but are cryonically preserved and then reanimated 200 years in the future.  The book deals with how they view the society then, and how that society views them.  The book is of course science fiction, but it is based on things that scientists see as possible now.  When I talk to an eager classroom of 9-& 10-year-olds at a school about my book, I read passages out of it that are exciting and imaginative like the nano-tech and simulated artificial reality parts, but I also make sure the subject of cryonics comes up.  I’ve talked with dozens of classrooms, and hundreds of children at my own church about cryonics.  I know how hard it can be, death is a reality—it is a fear for children, or it is a sadness when someone they loved died—they may think that person is in heaven, and they will see them again–when cryonics comes up, the children become animated sharing stories, and what they think.

I love children for their open-mindedness.   Of all the children I’ve talked to, many have said cryonics sounded neat or cool—I even had a few say they were going to tell their parents they wanted to sign up for cryonics.  I’ve amazingly heard back from several parents over the past few years, asking me for information.  I give them cryonics magazines, and talk with them about life insurance and how easy it is to set up—the importance of being signed if something unexpected happens so you don’t have to be a ‘last minute case’ and I go over the basics of just what cryonics is with them.  This blog piece would turn into a book if I listed all the things I say and children ask—but I’ll go over a few of my ‘sound bytes’.

I tell children that some people choose cryonics because they’ve seen studies that showed cat brains have been preserved at colder than ice temperatures for several years and had normal looking electrical activity when re-warmed and given new blood, but we can not yet re-animate the whole body and all of the organs.  I say that there are scientists right now looking at how to better preserve organs for humans in hospitals, like when a person in a hospital in Texas needs a new kidney, and a person in California who has a kidney that would match, dies—how to get that kidney to the person in Texas fast enough, through ultra cold transport and planes.  I say cryonicists also like that some children have been born and grown into healthy adults after having been preserved cryonically as embryos. This makes them think that the procedure might work on a whole human someday.   I tell children that I, and my own children (usually the kids I’m talking to know one of my three kids) are signed up for cryonics, and when we die–like if a car accident happened tomorrow—we will be preserved, and most importantly our brains will be preserved in case scientists in the future figure out how to get it running again.  I say that even if they don’t, scientists from now are very interested in the mummified Egyptian bodies from over 3 thousand years ago—and have even been able to better understand some diseases now by looking at the diseases the mummified bodies had, and how those diseases have evolved since then.  I say that my body will be donated to science, and that if my brain is not made to have full awareness after several hundred years then I hope that some things can be learned by the future society about the preserved bodies from now.  Kids want to know how long I think it would take to work, I say I think over 500 years—and say that it would be likely to work if society, technology and medicine keep advancing as they have over the last 500 years.

It is hard to predict when talking with a group of children, where the talk will go—I ask them questions, like if they know something their great grandparents didn’t have a hundred years ago, we end up talking history and then talking about what could be.  Children sometimes bring up very sad stories about someone dying, and I say yes even with cryonics when someone is dead—they are gone from now, to us and their family is sad, they don’t know if they will ever see them again.  I’ve had the heart wrenching experience of an 11 year old talking about how his dad died of cancer, and I’ve had a few children in the 5-7 range who share about a grandparent who died and how much they miss them.  I empathize with their loss.  I say to children that  I believe their loved one is in a better place, that many cryonicists too want to go to a better place they believe in, like heaven—and they think they some day will, but if cryonics works they’ll have more time here on Earth to do good deeds—to try to help with some of humanities problems, before they go on.  It is hard to talk about death, but children will share deeply as they have their own fears about death and that gives me solace, the section about cryonics is deep, is profound but we always move on.

Children like the idea of cryonics, but they also like to talk about “future weapons” they see on T.V., and each group I talk to always brings up space travel.  Cryonics is a short part of our conversation, and wherever our conversation goes I try to keep it exciting and to stimulate their imaginations.   Having a group of children to speak with about futurist issues at a school or a church and covering cryonics is a lot of fun, and I always try to stay sensitive to what other parents might say when their children tell them what they ‘learned that day’.  People wonder if I talk differently with my own children, and the answer is not really.  Sure we make more jokes about “if cryonics works then….”Or if doing something dangerous joking “make sure I’m preserved if…” but in the end, I say the same things to them that I would to a group of children that are not my own.  Cryonics is not proven, it is just a chance, it would be fun if it worked and some of the research into it can help people now and I’m proud to be a cryonicist.  I tell my children that I’m happy that they are too. I also tell my children that I hope that after they are adults and choose partners in life to start their own familes with, that their families will also be cryonicists.

In the end, I’d encourage other cryonicists to share their views with children they know—they could even present “21st Century Kids” to a group of children, or simply give it as a gift, or read it to kids they know.  Teaching kids about cryonics is simply sharing what could be, it is not giving false hope—but hope that is based on science and studies that show it could work someday. Even though I share about cryonics with many adults, I have the most fun teaching children about it, and I hope you too get to engage in fascinating conversations about the future and how it could be, with a wide-eyed eager child who is in awe with life.

Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.

Living with children while practicing calorie restriction

“The only thing that retards aging is calorie restriction. As genetic studies go forward, we’ll find out why.” Roy Walford

Our society in America currently as of 2008 has more overweight people than average-weight people.  ‘Healthy weight’ Americans consist of only around 40% of the population, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the ‘CDC’.  The amount of children considered overweight has grown alarmingly in the past decade, to the point now where 1 out of every 3 children in the US is considered overweight the Academy of Pediatrics and Adolescent Health said in 2006.  One Gallup Poll survey from 2003 showed that out of 215 million US adults 20% felt they had been discriminated against in their workplace for their weight.  This figure was only slightly less than the 25% percent of smokers that felt discriminated against in their workplace for their smoking and due to anti-smoking laws being passed in society.  Interestingly only 25% of the US population at the time of the poll were smokers, and 43% were considered overweight—demonstrating that smokers are generally scorned by the American public more than overweight people.  Today in ’08, smokers are still treated with more open hostility than are overweight people.  A smoker in a public place is harming other people’s lungs with their smoke, an overweight person is only harming himself or herself and this is generally seen, as it should be, as free will.

I agree that overweight people have the right to be overweight, if they are happy with it—but what about the children?  Many doctors pressure parents to help their children lose weight, for the sake of the child’s health and since overweight children have a much higher chance of being overweight adults. Excessive weight has been shown in countless studies to cause many health problems from diabetes, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, gout, cancer, heart disease and stroke to name just a few.  I myself spent 6 years being 185, to 245 pounds on my five foot ten inch frame, very overweight.  Six months after the last of my three pregnancies, when I was 26 years old—I was two hundred and five pounds and sick of being so big, my eyesight was worse than when I was in my teens, my left knee constantly sore, I was tired and felt unattractive so I started to look at diets.  I’d signed up for cryonics when I was 21 years old and in a high risk pregnancy so I’d read some of the life extension sites and had seen calorie restriction mentioned as the only known thing to extend life, as compared to hormones, supplements and exercise.  At 25, I was looking at all the fad diets, and remembered what I had read about calorie restriction—I ordered the book ‘Beyond the 120 Year Diet’ by Roy Walford.  I was intrigued when it came, my 205 pound self read through the book three times, ear marking and highlighting certain passages—looking up more information on-line. I then got the software so I could track my calories and most importantly what vitamins and minerals I was taking in each day so I would not be malnourished.  Over six months I kept a food diary, used the software to plan my meals and I lost 85 pounds.  At 120, I felt like a new person—to my friends and family I looked like a new person, my knee pain went away, I had more energy and I even passed my drivers license test without my glasses—my eyesight had improved to near 20/20.  I experienced first hand the health benefits of losing weight, and most importantly I did this while my children were young.  If I had raised them, eating the way I had been while I was overweight—they too may have had problems.  Instead, I showed how to work to accomplish a goal and as I learned about nutrition, they learned about nutrition as well.

It would be unethical for a child to be on calorie restriction, as it would stunt their growth. My children would eat mega-muffins (like ‘lab chow’ for humans) for snacks (with chocolate chips so they’d eat them yet still get the protein, vitamin and minerals of a complete meal) but my children have never been calorie restricted.  I taught them that being hungry is ok, and actually good for you but they know about what different vitamins do, and how our bodies use them—they know how to evaluate the nutritional qualities of a meal. We have meal times together at our dining table, and along with our normal conversations of the day, we will comment on the nutritional qualities of the food—in this way over time they are learning.

I feel that I set an example to them of how they could be if they want when they grow up.  Each of my three children right now at ages 11, 9 and 6 have different views on food, one of them eats more healthy than the other two currently.  I do not chastise children for their food choices, or praise one in front of the others, I will just say what I would and would not eat.  We do not have hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes and preservatives, fried foods, or highly processed foods in our home.  We do have healthy deserts for the children such as ‘Healthy Choice’ brand ice cream bars, carrot cake (for the vitamin A), raw walnuts and dark chocolate – mom just does not eat dessert, dad will however and the children do as well.  I can practice CR easily while living with my family, and not impose it upon them—as a parent I hope that as they grow they will always make healthy choices.  I don’t know if any of them will choose CR, but I’m happy that I modeled losing weight and then healthy eating over the years.

One does not have to be practicing calorie restriction to teach children about nutrition.  All children need to be taught about proper caloric intake, the importance of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.  They should know what vitamins and minerals do in the body, there are sites on-line such as Nutrition Mission, Monster Nutrition or the USDA My Pyramid Blast Off Game that can help you teach them.  There are great nutrition books for kids like The Edible Pyramid, The Race Against Junk Food, or Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You’.  Those books are all for the early elementary aged child, and are good to read with a picture book of the inside of a human body. Reading a book to your child enables you to engage them in conversation and find out what they think, you can fill in gaps in their knowledge.  The best thing you can do though for your children, is simply to practice healthy eating and to talk about it from time to time.

Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.

Teaching futurism to children and teens

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Plato (BC 427-BC 347) Greek philosopher.

Of course, children are the future. Some children are planned, their parents very much wanted them. Their parents wanted to see what their loved one would look like combined with their own genes, they wanted to create their own offspring: love, care for them and guide them—be proud as they grow.  Some children are accidents, their parents weren’t ready or something went wrong in their lives and they must let others care for their children.  In any case, that child ends up being raised—sometimes by loving grandparents, aunts or uncles, sometimes friends that can adopt them, sometimes a loving adoptive couple or sometimes a successive string of foster care and modern orphanages.  Humans, with the longest period of infancy and growth into maturity of any species, create babies that must be cared for for years and even guided throughout life in some ways after they become adults.

For the most part the education systems of the industrialized nations are functional in that they cover the basics: reading, writing, science, and arithmetic.  There is systematic guidance in the form of counselors in schools once a child becomes an adolescent and help is given for the child to develop into their adult career.

Guardians want the best for their children, for them to be happy and successful as they become adults, for them to give back to society through their contributions.  Guardians love their children very much, but at some point as that baby grows—the child first adores their guardian then the child looks to its peers, and its society’s ‘popular culture’ as to how they should style their life.  Guardians/parents/loved ones do what they can to show what they think the right way in life is, and in the end the child internalizes bits and pieces from all they have read, studied, learned and observed—and they decide what kind of life they want to lead, what kind of person they want to be.

Sometimes they choose the religion, social status or business of the loved ones who raised them.  Sometimes they build radically different lives, as they become themselves.  No matter what, they become the future.

What is a futurist to do to inspire the next generation?  An adult who believes that someday humans will end aging, that nano-technology and free energy will alleviate some of humanities inequality and suffering wants to share these things with children to inspire them—how can they do that?  An adult who is a transhumanist, an extropian, a cryonicist, someone who spends their time thinking about the extreme far future, and how to help humans get there wants children to grow up to care about the same things. These futurists feel passionately that their children, or children they know—should feel the same excitement about the future.  Just as if you strongly believe in the truth of a religion, or the excellence of a business, or the love of a country or place—you share what you know.

Children thrive on the truth.  When you tell a child what to believe, and give negative consequences for not believing what you say ‘using force’—that child internalizes that you are not nice, don’t care about them—and are ‘mean’.  When you share what you believe with a child, that engenders trust on their part and lets them open up and share what they in turn believe. When you share what you believe, and your own excitement with what you think could happen in the future—it opens the child’s imagination, it stimulates their own hopes and lets them express their fears. Children want to be listened to, each wants to feel that they are important–that they have genius, that they are special. The adult that educates them, in the classroom or the home, must remember that each child has genius and that the way to acknowledge that so the child feels it—is to encourage them in their interests.

A futurist can share sci-fi books such as Stephen Hawking’s new book for children “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”, or a transhumanist adventure based on what is seen as possible by scientists now –like my book “21st Century Kids”, but they still must encourage the child’s own loves, even if they are radically different.  The important thing is to give them the ideas, read to them about the vast amount of time we know of in history and in the future.  What will happen in a million years? What happened a million years ago?  What do you think would happen to you if cryonics worked?  What could you do with a robotic body?  Do you think aging should be ended?  You can guide them, debate with them, and share your own views—but realize that they will be developing their own, and all of us humans have differences.

There is no age that is too young to engage in a conversation about the future—to have Earth history time-line posters on the wall, to have charts showing the size of the universe, to broaden a child’s outlook—make them realize they might have a chance to see the far future.  It is one more balanced way of educating them, along with the language they are being raised in, the history of their culture, basics in math and science—to give them the out-look of the extreme far future.  When that baby has passed through the wonder of childhood, and is a teen struggling with coming to terms with being themselves and an adult, you can still engage them in conversations about things you read in the news from the transhumanists, life extensionists, artificial intelligence sites—it is a wonderful way to transcend the popular culture that teens live in, the culture of now-–of fame and beauty.  Engaging in conversation with them, listening to their responses, their views, makes them feel like they have genius.  Talking about the future, and what experts now see as possible, helps the developing teen to keep in mind something bigger than their current problems. Talking about the future, inspires young children, stimulates their imagination—and then as they grow and become young adults, they’ll still have that foundation within to call on as they must make important and sometimes painful life decisions.

If you are raising children or you know young children, share with them what you think about the future and ask them their views, find their genius and they’ll always have that with them in their life.

Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.

Shannon Vyff on teaching children about the future, caloric restriction, and cryonics

Over the next three days Shannon Vyff will be guest blogging for Depressed Metabolism. Shannon Vyff is a practicing caloric restrictionist, Alcor member, and Methuselah Foundation supporter. Shannon also volunteers for her local Unitarian Universalist Church and La Leche League group.  She lives with her three children Avianna, Avryn, and Avalyse, and husband Michael (all Alcor members) in Austin, Texas.

She is the author of the book 21st Century Kids, which is “an adventure into the future of two children who are re-animated 200 years from today.” She is also author of the essay ‘Confessions of a Proselytizing Immortalist’ in The Scientific Conquest of Death, a publication by the Immortality Institute.

Shannon will be blogging on “Teaching Futurism to Children and Teens,” “Living With Children While Practicing Calorie Restriction,” and ” Teaching Children About Cryonics.”