Could cryonics actually work? Would it be good or bad for the world? Find out here.
Cryonics, aka human cryopreservation, has the potential to change our understanding and relationship with life and death. If revival works, it will be a breakthrough in the medical and scientific fields. However, as with every groundbreaking innovation, there are skeptics who argue that cryonics will not work. In spite of this, there is no actual scientific reason proving that human cryopreservation won’t work. What is it that pessimists' have to say about this? Let’s have a look at and analyze their main arguments.
The majority of arguments against cryonics can be categorized as scientific (as well as semi-scientific). These refer mostly to the limitations of human cryopreservation presently.
Often, we hear people claim that cryonics will never work because science might not advance enough to ever permit revival.
It is difficult to predict when medical technology will advance to the point that revival is possible. Even Tomorrow Bio cannot predict when such technology will come to be. Despite that, time is not an issue in our industry. For patients who undergo this procedure, the vitrification process allows them to be stored in a long-term storage facility indefinitely. Quality cryopreservation of a human being requires several steps, so the solution needed to revert it will necessarily be complex. If cryonicists want to ensure that revival is not only possible but efficient then it will require time to develop the necessary technology and procedures to achieve this.
The concept of revival might seem simple in theory, just as say flying to the moon. However, the actual work, technology, and procedures necessary to realize this is complicated. This shouldn’t deter anyone interested in cryonics.
In the last century, medical technology has made leaps and bounds, increasing human life expectancy. In the last century, life-saving medications such as insulin and antibiotics were discovered. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was only developed in the 1960s but has since gone on to revolutionize the medical sector. These innovations had gone on to treat conditions that were once considered untreatable. There is no reason to believe that in the future, medical technology will not be able to achieve what today is considered “impossible”.
Let’s say for argument's sake that in the future revival works, but what if the cryopreservation method is not the right method? Now, this is a more valid point to consider. Let’s take a look at the current state of this medical procedure.
Fundamentally, the main goal is to preserve as much as possible of the patient. The method of vitrification is the result of decades of research and development within the cryonics field. Back in the 1960s and 70s, vitrification wasn’t the standard procedure. In fact, it wasn’t even considered at the time until cryobiologist Gregory Fahy proposed the method in 1984. Only in 2000, when FM-2030 became the first person to be successfully vitrified, this procedure became the standard used by providers today.
Today, it is critical that the standby team (SST) starts the procedure as quickly as possible after the patient is declared legally dead. The faster they act, the sooner they can pause cellular degradation and the higher quality preservation. It is expected there may be some damage that occurs during the procedure, however, we believe that future medical technology will have the capacity to repair any complications. We don’t know what this technology may look like, though there are theories. What we do know is that high-quality cryopreservation means that a patient will likely spend less time in biostasis.
As time moves forward, advancements in medical technologies and procedures could reshape how cryopreservation is carried out. However, until then, our current procedures are “best practice.”
What makes us who we are? Are we the sum of all the little electrical impulses between neurons? Is it our memories and life experiences that define us? Or perhaps we are made up of something intangible, a soul, or something similar?
The science behind cryonics is based on the idea that what makes someone who they are is stored in their brain. If a brain is cryopreserved intact, then it’s possible that one’s memories are stored, which means that a patient could be revived as the person they were before their legal death. This is based on the scientific concept of information-theoretic death. The idea is that revival is possible if the brain is intact. However, if it’s severely damaged (ranging from physical trauma to missing or cremated even), revival is considered impossible with current and future technologies.
Imagine for the sake of example a smartphone. You can drop it in water and it won’t turn on. Your photos, apps, and digital information are no longer accessible, but the hard drive is still intact. You may not be able to fix it yourself, but the information is there and can be recovered. Now, if that same phone were to be thrown into a fire and damaged beyond repair, nothing could be salvaged. The information on your phone would be lost, and it would be impossible to retrieve it even with expert help. The same analogy can be applied to the brain.
Cryonicists cannot define when information-theoretical death occurs, but understand that timing is key to preventing its onset. This is why it is important for standby teams to reach a patient as close to legal death as possible to minimize the chance of information-theoretical death. When a person dies, their brain is still intact. However, the longer they remain in this state, the longer cells are deprived of oxygen and eventually begin to die. With the aid of cryopreservation, we attempt to preserve and store the real you so that when you are eventually revived, you will be the same person.
These arguments against cryonics tend to focus on the financial costs and the implications for society. Is it worth investing money and resources in such a science? Let’s take a look.
This argument usually has two claims:
Assumption 1. Cryopreservation is an advanced medical procedure. For companies like Tomorrow Bio, our current price covers two main aspects: Standby, Stabilization & Transportation (SST), and long-term storage. This includes continuous training and reading the standby team for field cryopreservation (FCP) under any circumstances, as well as ensuring efficient transportation to patients. The procedure and subsequent transport of a patient can be carried out in our specialized ambulance, or in the case of long-distance travel, other modes of transportation including aerial. Consequently, it’s expensive.
At Tomorrow Bio, all costs associated with whole-body cryopreservation service is a total of €200,000. Other providers have similar or lower prices depending on the type of service.
We hope that, with the growth of our community, cryonics will finally reach an economy of scale and become more affordable per capita. Until this is the case, Tomorrow Bio’s solution to funding this service is through term or whole-life insurance policies. This way, people are able to finance their cryopreservation, meaning that this medical procedure isn’t available only to the rich.
Assumption 2. Since revival will require necessary advanced technology, money, time, and resources need to be invested in biostasis research and development. Some would argue that money and resources should be invested in other scientific fields. From a short-term perspective, there is some validity to this point. However, from a long-term perspective, cryonics may in fact save more lives. Even if revival doesn’t work, the scientific discoveries and breakthroughs we could make along the way could benefit other scientific fields such as organ transplantation, and potentially even space travel.
Cryonics companies have been attempting to debunk this myth for decades. Despite our efforts, people still believe that you need electricity for long-term storage. If this were true, the environmental costs would indeed be high. However, this isn’t the case.
Cryopreserved patients are stored in cryogenic storage dewars containing liquid nitrogen which don’t need to run on electricity. To produce liquid nitrogen, however, requires some electricity but it’s still less than the amount needed for mechanical cooling. So, at the current state, liquid nitrogen, produced through renewable energy sources, is the best and cleanest way to store cryopreserved patients. Furthermore, we do Coffsets for everything. Cryonics emphasizes long-term thinking, so sustainability is an important aspect, especially for people who want to live an extended life.
In addition to this, there is a concern about the impact of this science on overpopulation. As we covered thoroughly in this article, studies show that overpopulation will very likely decrease and eventually stop in the future as the number of births decreases compared to the number of deaths per year. In some parts of the world, we are already experiencing a population decline.
We expect that technology will play a role in solving today’s environmental and societal issues. It can help humanity find increasingly better ways to use clean resources, and meet the needs of the population through technological improvements. Therefore, the future should be able to accommodate people revived from biostasis.
Some people wonder: “Why would future societies ever want to revive cryopreserved patients?” A counter-argument to this could be: “Why wouldn’t they?”
There are two options here:
Option 1: the future will be a better place than today.
This option is likely since, from a long-term perspective, humanity has always progressed and improved itself. In this better future where resources will be abundant and technology will improve human life, why would a wealthy society decide against revival? After all, a cryopreserved patient is a window into the past. Scholars and scientists who study humanity, both in the present and past, would be fascinated to learn about life decades or possibly even centuries ago from eyewitnesses. Furthermore, a futuristic society might see a moral obligation to revive people who wanted to be revived, especially anyone working in cryonics.
But what if the future isn’t like this? This leads us to our second possibility.
Option 2: the future is a dystopian nightmare. Even if this chance of waking up in an Orwellian society or post-apocalyptic landscape is slim, it’s still a possibility. In this case, there is an actual chance that a futuristic society deprived of resources and wealth, won’t be able to revive cryopreserved patients. We can’t predict what will happen in this situation. It’s likely that if societies in the future are dystopian, cryopreserved patients will remain in biostasis for much longer. This doesn’t mean revival isn’t possible, but it could take even longer to achieve. Though in all honesty, would you want to wake up in a dystopian future?
Finally, there are ethical arguments. Ethics is highly complex, shaped by cultural, religious, and personal beliefs. Something that is considered unethical today may be completely normal in tomorrow’s world, just as something considered ethical in the past may not be the case now. So, how do we deal with arguments that are relative to the time and society we live in?
Death is a natural process of life. According to some, it’s what gives life meaning. Without death, we wouldn’t appreciate life.
We can break this argument down into three different parts.
Would people who love life stop loving it if they could live longer?
Some people don’t want to be cryopreserved because they are scared of the future. It will be different from the world of today, that much is clear. However, we don’t know specifically what this will entail. What will the world look like? Will we even speak the same languages we do now? What technologies could we see by the time of revival?
To put this in perspective, imagine if someone who lived 100 years ago in the 1920s, woke up in today's world. They’d need time to adapt and reintegrate into society. Society now is faster, more diverse, and technologically advanced beyond what anyone in the 1920s could have predicted. It’d be like trying to teach your great, great, great grandparent how to use a smartphone. They’d be confused and need time to adjust and adapt. It may be a challenge, but not impossible.
Cryopreserved people won’t be left alone immediately after revival. It is likely that anyone revived from biostasis will need help to reintegrate into this new society. Human cryopreservation providers will need to play an active role in facilitating this process. Another aspect to consider is that most cryopreserved patients will have families in the future who will be excited about the opportunity to revive their ancestors and help them adjust to their surroundings.
Is it truly selfish to want to live a longer life? This is a common argument against cryonics. Sure, if by living longer we would take someone else’s living space, then that would be an ethical issue. As it stands, reviving patients will likely not take anything away from other people’s lives.
At the Biostasis2021 Conference, we listened to a talk by David Wood about future scenarios of biostasis. In it, Wood covered this specific topic: cryonics as a selfish choice and the need for a philosophical breakthrough.
The reason why it’s difficult to openly talk about biostasis is that many people look at it as something egotistical and negative. However, wanting to live longer is not egotistical. We all want to have more time to experience more things: travel, do new hobbies, be with loved ones, and more. If we didn’t, societies wouldn’t invest time and resources into ways to prolong our lives through medicine and technology. Life expectancy is projected to increase by the end of the century. Coupled with potential advancements in medical technology and longevity research, it’s possible that humanity could live for much longer than we do now. Cryonics companies can help facilitate this development.
For these reasons, Tomorrow Bio and other providers are doing our best to make biostasis possible for everyone. Our society as a whole should be able to benefit from it, not only a select few. That is the mission of Tomorrow Bio, to make this service accessible to everyone.
There are more arguments against cryonics, usually based on a lack of research or misconceptions of the science behind it. Others are concerned about the implications revival may have on society.
Whatever the argument is, we should consider a few points. First of all, there is no proven biological evidence that revival will not work. Secondly, no matter the outcome, investment and research in this field has the potential to develop society. Finally, society is constantly changing. The way we perceive life now is different compared to our perception in the past, and it will be different in the future. Our understanding of what is ‘ethical’ or ‘natural’ will be subject to change as well. If societies wish to advance, so too must our understanding of life and death.
What are some arguments against cryonics you’ve come across? Let us know on our Discord server. If you have any questions about biostasis, feel free to schedule a call with us or check out Tomorrow Insight for more information, and see you tomorrow!