Most people interested in cryonics have been confronted with the question of “immortality”. While the goal of human cryopreservation is to save people’s lives, it’s likely that some kind of immortality will be common practice in society after revival. At Tomorrow Bio, the fastest-growing biotech company offering human cryopreservation, we are interested in all things longevity - and how can one talk about life extension without considering the option of living forever?
The quest for immortality is a tale as old as the earliest civilizations. In 1852, Assyriologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered in Nineveh, Iraq, 12 tablets depicting the first written poem ever found. It’s called Epic of Gilgamesh and it was written between 2100 and 1200 BC. In the poem, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, becomes aware of his own mortality and starts an unsuccessful quest to overcome death after seeing his dearest friend die.
Many years later, we still haven’t succeeded. However, according to some scientists and futurists, this is about to change.
Before diving deep into how we may soon become “timeless”, it’s helpful to understand why humanity is so interested in immortality. Why for so many centuries have we sought to extend our lifespan?
The most immediate answer might be that many people are afraid of dying. This “fear of death” has a simple explanation: we are afraid of something we don’t know. Nobody has ever come back from death to tell us what we will have to face. The fear of the unknown might also be enhanced by the possibility that death will very likely annihilate our individuality.
Talking to our cryopreservation members, however, we realized that there are other reasons why people want to live longer: a love for life, a desire to experience more time, or interest in what the future holds may move people to try to extend their lifespan. We are at the dawn of a digital revolution that will dramatically change the world we live in. Many of us wish to see what society will be like in 100 or even 1000 years!
Clearly, we are mortal because we die. Our heart stops beating and all our cells, deprived of oxygen, slowly decay. It can be due to an accident or an untreatable disease (including old age). Whatever the cause, no human being has ever managed to live longer than 122 years.
According to a recent study, the human body has an “absolute limit” that is between 120 and 150 years. Around this age, our system would no longer have the ability to recover from stresses like illness and injury, resulting in imminent death. Nevertheless, this study is not trying to prove that immortality is impossible. In fact, according to the researchers, we could extend human life by increasing the body's ability to resist and prevent diseases.
Immortality is the ability to live forever. It could be achieved in different ways. For example, by creating a body that doesn’t age and is resistant to diseases. Or by replacing the weakest body parts with technological components. We could also create a digital copy of our brains. Humanity could transcend the physical limitations of their physical bodies… If this vision becomes a reality someday, it will be up to each individual to assess whether this is a fair price for immortality.
Let’s have a look at these possibilities in more detail, with their respective pros and cons.
Biological immortality happens when an organism is not affected by cellular senescence. Its cells don’t age: they can therefore divide infinitely, keeping the organism’s system healthy and alive.
In nature, there are some animals that can live significantly longer than human beings. One example is the so-called “immortal jellyfish”. This jellyfish could potentially live forever. Its cells do age but, at the same time, they can rejuvenate themselves when needed.
Is biological immortality possible for human beings? Human bodies are extremely complex. Our stem cells have to specialize to be able to achieve all the different tasks needed to make our bodies work. When specializing, they lose their ability to divide indefinitely. They can still divide for a limited number of times, and then they die. To achieve human biological immortality, we would need to find a way to reverse this aging mechanism built inside our cells.
Additionally, even if we manage to control aging, we could still be killed by external causes. For example accidents, catastrophic changes in the environment, and diseases could still be deadly.
If we want to make sure that external causes will have a hard time killing us, cybernetic immortality could be an option. The human body is built by a series of systems: muscular system, respiratory system, digestive system, nervous system etc. These systems interact with each other, creating a sophisticated organization. The idea behind cybernetic immortality is that our “organization” can survive a partial, or even a complete change of the material from which it is built.
Practical applications of electronic devices blended with human bodies may still be in their early days. Yet their potential is impressive. An example of this is Neil Harbisson, a Spanish-British-Irish artist, considered the world’s first cyborg. A software implanted in his brain, connected to an antenna hovering above his head, allows him to “hear” visible and invisible wavelengths of light. Born color blind, he is now capable of experiencing colors beyond normal human perception.
Another way to achieve cybernetic immortality is through mind uploading. This is the (so far hypothetical) process of transferring the mental structure and consciousness of a person to an external computer. This mind could then connect to a robotic avatar and control its body. Once the old avatar is damaged or updated, the consciousness could be easily disconnected, then reuploaded to a newer, better one, achieving a sort of immortality.
How far are we from being able to upload someone’s brain?
Human brains are extremely complex and our knowledge has not advanced enough yet to be able to recreate them digitally. Yet, some researchers have been able to upload the brain of a smaller organism: a worm. The project OpenWorm could be our path to immortality. After mapping the worm’s complete nervous system, the team of scientists simulated it digitally into a software that they attached to a Lego robot. The robot started moving and responding to its environment just like a worm would, without any human intervention.
While the results of this project are absolutely astonishing, we should keep in mind that the worm’s nervous system is formed by only 302 cells. Human brains have about 86 billions of neurons, connected through trillions of synapses.
Once we are able to upload our brain to the cloud, we would probably have the option to live in a virtual world. A sort of real life and bodiless Matrix - or Metaverse. If you had the chance to live forever in your favorite video game, would you take it?
According to Dr. Ian Pearson, a UK renowned futurologist, the answer is soon. As he claimed in an interview to the Sun, around 2045 we will manage to develop the first technologies that enable us to upload our brains and connect them to machines. Around roughly 2050, wealthier countries will be the first to achieve immortality, spending millions on these new technologies. But it won’t take long before most people will be able to afford this digital immortality. Following Dr. Pearson’s prediction, before the end of the century humans won’t die anymore.
How come we're now so close to achieving immortality? As Dr. Person explains:
"There are quite a lot of people interested in living forever. There always has been, but the difference now is tech is improving so quickly, lots of people believe they can actually do it."
Dr. Ian Pearson is not the only one claiming that immortality is at hand. Several futurist and transhumanist experts are positive that we will soon manage to overcome death. When? Once we reach technological singularity, a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible.
Ray Kurzweil, noted American inventor and futurist, envisions the achievement of immortality in his book The Singularity Is Near - When Humans Transcend Biology (2005). He wrote,
“As they gain traction in the 2030s, nanobots in the bloodstream will destroy pathogens, remove debris, rid our bodies of clots, clogs and tumors, correct DNA errors and actually reverse the aging process. I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy.”
As the rate of progress of medical technology accelerates, the years will pile up for decades, centuries, and beyond. This will allow us to achieve immortality and out-run our own death, one year at a time. Technology has indeed advanced exponentially in the last few decades. Artificial intelligence, 3D bioprinting, and gene editing are revolutionizing the healthcare systems. Perhaps some sort of immortality is really just around the corner.
The human cryopreservation procedure uses very low temperatures (-196°C) to preserve a patient's body at the beginning of the cell degradation process. All biological activities are paused, giving the patient the possibility of being revived in the future, when future medical technology is able to cure them.
By means of this advanced medical procedure, the specialized SST medical team that takes care of your cryopreservation is able to temporarily postpone your permanent death. If someone decided to undergo this procedure every time they are about to die, they’d reach a sort of “interrupted immortality”. Additionally, there are high chances that the future society that revives you will have found a way to cure all diseases or upload a mind. Therefore, there is a chance that people who chose cryopreservation could achieve a sort of immortality.
However, cryonics’ main purpose is to save lives, enabling people who are doomed today to be cured by technologies developed in the future. At Tomorrow Bio, we offer all-inclusive human cryopreservation plans together with focusing on developing the field of biostasis as an innovative life-saving technology. Immortality might be an incredible side effect but it is certainly not our primary concern.
We are living at a time where technological advancements could possibly help us achieve immortality. If Dr. Ian Pearson is right, our generation will soon become immortal.
Imagine a world without the inevitability of death. Everyone will be able to decide how long to live. With cryonics, we want to make this possibility available for everybody. Whoever wants to live longer should have a chance to do so.
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