What do you think of when you hear the name Walt Disney?
Creative genius? Childhood hero? Forever immortalised through choosing to have his corpse frozen, in the hope of one day being resurrected to re-enter the human race?
Perhaps the latter isn’t the first thing that springs to mind, but a widespread rumour is that Walt Disney’s body has been preserved in a block of ice. Why, you ask? Many believe that in the future we will develop the technology to resurrect humans from the dead, and hence it is wise to preserve the bodies of such great men, just in case this technology does actually come into being.
While this is just a rumour in the case of Walt Disney, many famous people have actually preserved their bodies using cryonics, and believe it or not, there are currently four major companies that provide cryonics services—Alcor in Arizona, Cryonics Institute (CI) in Michigan, American Cryonics Society (ACS) in California, and KrioRus in Russia. The question is: will corporate-corpse freezing become the new cremation? And let’s get real, why would you want to do it anyway?!
What is Cryonics?
Cryonics is the low-temperature preservation of people who have been declared legally dead, with the hope that restoration to full health may be possible in the far future.
The field of cryonics was first discovered by the physicist Robert Ettinger. He believed that eventually, scientists would find a cure for aging and sickness, and humans would only die when they had enough of the world and chose to. When he realised, however, that this wasn’t going to happen in his lifetime, he decided to wait a little longer and focus on preserving bodies instead. He wrote about this concept in a book called The Prospects of Immortality, and hence ushered in the era of cryonics.
Resurrecting people from the dead? Preserving bodies by freezing them? We know what you’re thinking right now – this concept sounds like some pure and unadulterated trash and to be honest, straight out of a horror movie. What’s even more scary is that the growing band of cryonicists seem almost to belong to some kind of voodoo cult. Do hear us out though – some of the logic behind it is pretty interesting (if you can stomach it…).
Never say die: the philosophical argument
What exactly is the concept of death, in scientific terms? Is there a distinct boundary between life and death?
50 years ago, if somebody had a heart attack they were certain to die, because medical technology hadn’t advanced enough to save them. Today, however, if someone’s heart stops, we don’t say they are dead, because modern medical procedures like CPR and defibrillators allow such patients to be resuscitated.
Hence it is perhaps better to say that 50 years ago, a person whose heart stopped wasn’t dead, but “certain to die, under the medical circumstances of that time”. Similarly, cryonicists believe that somebody we consider legally dead today, is actually “certain to die, under the current medical circumstances”, which may change in the future. (And the way modern medicine is progressing, they are certain that these circumstances will change in the future).
This is the reason why cryonicists adamantly assert that cryonics does not deal with dead people, and call their frozen clients “patients” instead of “corpses”.
Source: Randomoverload.com (feat. The Sixth Sense and a little fullapple editing)
So how does it work – Cryogenics
What do we know about Cryonics so far? That it involves freezing bodies to preserve them. That’s the common perception anyway, except that was slightly untrue- technically speaking, freezing a body isn’t possible. If you simply froze a human, all the water in their body (roughly 60% of the body make up), would freeze and crystallize into ice. Now ice takes up almost 9% more volume than water, and hence would expand and seriously damage the surrounding tissue. When a pipe bursts during winter it’s a serious problem, if that bursting pipe is one of your main blood vessels, it’s a catastrophic problem.
Instead, cryonics works by vitrifying bodies.
Vitrification, besides being a large and complicated sounding word, is a clever process that allows bodies to be preserved at low temperatures. In order to understand vitrification, let’s talk first about glass. Glass is strange. It is neither a solid nor a liquid. It is an amorphous solid – a state somewhere between those two states of matter.
To make glass, the material is first liquidised and then rapidly cooled down. Upon solidification however, it doesn’t form an ordered crystal structure like when water crystallises into ice. Instead, the molecules just move slower and slower until they stop – forming an amorphous, completely disordered solid – a glass. This is vitrification.
Source: Wait by why
In order to preserve bodies, cryonicists connect the major arteries up to tubes and pump all the blood out of the body. They then replace the blood with a “cryoprotectant solution,” AKA medical grade anti-freeze. This lowers the freezing point of the liquid in the body. The body is then cooled down slowly over the new few hours, until it eventually reaches -130 ºC. This is a key point called the glass transition temperature of the body tissue. As the body cools down, the body liquids stay amorphous but rise so high in viscosity that no molecule can budge. The body has now become officially an amorphous solid, like glass.
Vitrifying biological parts is nothing new or groundbreaking. Scientists have successfully vitrified and then rewarmed human embryos, sperm, skin, bone, and other body parts for ages now.
Very recently, (February 2016), scientists were also able to vitrify a rabbit’s brain and in a remarkable breakthrough for cryonicists everywhere, showed that once rewarmed, the brain was in near-perfect condition, “with the cell membranes, synapses, and intracellular structures intact … [It was] the first time a cryopreservation was probably able to protect everything associated with learning and memory.”
Vitrifying a rabbit’s brain
Cryogenics is an entire branch of physics that deals with the production and effects of preservation using very low temperatures. Other examples of when low temperatures are needed are superconductivity and quantum computing. While vitrification is the major step, you can see the entire procedure summed up below:
Most of the mainstream medical community rejects the idea of cryonics completely. A large number of scientists also believe that it sounds completely ridiculous. Some believe that different organs in the body should be stored at different temperatures to be preserved properly, and of course there’s always the religious argument that we shouldn’t try and “play God”. Nevertheless, cryonicists believe that:
1) There is no scientific evidence that cryonics cannot work, it’s a theory still unprovable.
2) The rate we’ve progressed in the last 200 years shows that future technology will be something we can’t imagine now (think how mind-blowing CPR would be to someone in the year 1800).
3) And finally, there have been some promising developments—like the above mentioned well-preserved vitrified rabbit brain.
You’d be surprised at how quickly the trend of cryonics is growing every day. A large number of people are paying cryonic companies to preserve their bodies after they die in the hope of some future groundbreaking medical discovery. One of the major companies, Alcor also gives you the option of ditching your body and just freezing your brain (this is called “neuropreservation”). Some cryonicists believe that in the future you could wake up in a virtual world after having had your vitrified brain data uploaded to a computer.
Dawn of the zombie apocalypse? We think not, but hey, if we get another few classic cartoons like The Lion King out of it, then who’s complaining anyway…