SMOKE: A Frozen Future
Originally published: 12 March 2003
The concept of freezing people and bringing them back to life many years later was immortalised in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, reaching a vast audience through the film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Subsequently the art of cryonic preservation has become a multi-million dollar business, as people freeze themselves in the hope of one day doctors finding a cure for their disease and bringing them back to life.
One such person was Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian born in western Norway in 1900. He died in 1989 in Norway, and his daughter Aud and grandson Trygve - who had moved to the US in 1980 "to be safe from nuclear war" - had him cryonically frozen at an institute in California.
There he remained until 1993, when Aud and Trygve got a job in Nederland - a small town in Colorado - to build a house.
Off they went, taking Grandpa with them as well as another frozen dead guy called Al Campbell, and decided to stay in Nederland. They kept the frozen corpses in a shed out back and lived peacefully for six months.
But authorities decided Trygve's welcome in the US had run out and in 1994 had him sent back to Norway. Aud remained behind to watch over the dead guys, but was eventually given an eviction notice for not paying her electricity.
She took her case to the town hall, explaining that she had two dead guys to look after and where was she going to put them? Needless to say this sent the world into a flurry, and the world press descended upon the quiet town, taking photos of dead guys left, right and centre.
Despite the hype the town Brains couldn't find anything which said Aud couldn't keep them.
So the frozen dead guys stayed and now they have an annual festival in honour of them, in which they have coffin races and Frozen Dead Guy lookalike competitions. Pretty cool.
But this all got me thinking about cryonics (the human-freezing version of cryogenics), and while I've formed opinions on cryonic preservation in the past I've never really seriously considered it.
I am a firm believer in science and in the potential it hasn't even dreamed of yet. The premise behind cryonics is simple: you contract some incurable disease, you die, you're frozen at -320°F, in 1,000 years they find a cure for that disease, cure you, and warm you back up. Good as new. Brilliant. Tits. Now.
You don't have to catch some disease, however - you can simply sign an order that once you die you are frozen as soon as is humanly possible and hope that at some stage in the future they work out how to remove whatever gene it was that killed you.
Of course - it raises all sorts of issues regarding the soul and the argument (religious or spiritual) for life after death. Since I do not believe in life after death (dust for me, I'm afraid, or hell - depending on which side you're sitting on), I should be fine.
For my argument here to work, though, you will need to suspend your views on the afterlife and all its permutations in regard to cryonics, just for the sake of argument, because I'm working on the premise here that it is possible to resurrect a human in this way, despite it never having been proven or done before.
Plenty of folks like Grandpa have had themselves preserved cryonically - I did some scouting around the web for companies offering their services in freezing people, and let me tell you that it is Big Business.
Which makes sense - nobody wants to die; everybody wants to be eternal. Folks offer the service; other folks pay. Lots and lots.
And the freezing part of it works - folks who have been suspended for years are reportedly in good...uh...condition, meaning that while they're technically dead they are in good physical shape to be revived.
Having seen how rapidly the field of medical science has developed in the last century it would be fair to assume that no matter what diseases we have today, at some stage in the future a cure is sure to be found for them. It may take a century, it may take 5000 years, but a cure will be found.
Then you would have to assume that you could be removed from cryonic suspension, operated on with the cure for your disease, and then revived by heating your body to its normal temperature, and stimulating your heart with some form of electrical shock.
With the human genome having been mapped I can't believe that in future they won't be able to manipulate the genes of a dead guy to make him well, or even a far better specimen than he originally was.
By this same reasoning it would be safe to assume that they could do things like manipulate the gene which causes ageing, and reverse it, making the patient get younger each day.
Why not? Hereditary flaws could be removed from your gene makeup, meaning you could never suffer from the afflictions they could bring, and your life could pretty much be extended indefinitely, until such time as you get hit by a bus, or stabbed and eaten by a madman.
Even then - they could probably just patch up the wounds, sew your head back together, reverse the gene which determines that your brain shuts down and fire you back up, stronger than before.
Of course - with cryonics you have to have blind faith that at some stage in the future all this will be possible, and that there's no God, either of which scenario means you're screwed.
But as pro-cryonics advocates will argue: so what if it never materialises? You'll be dead, so you won't know too much about it.
Which is a fair enough point - what have you got to lose?
The major factor you'd have to consider would be how you would deal with society if you were cured in 200 years from now - the world would be a very different place and you wouldn't know a soul.
Would you be prepared to live like that? What if the cure is only found 500,000 years from now? By then the Earth will surely have undergone another Age (eg. Ice Age, Bronze Age, etc), and it's sufficient time for humans to have evolved into another form completely, to cope with the very different conditions they would experience if the planet is still going then.
You would, in effect, be an alien in a world you know nothing about.
Personally - freeze my ass. I would love to wake up in hundreds or thousands of years and experience life from a completely different perspective - even if I didn't last long I would still have had a glimpse into the future and that alone would be worth the sleep. We all would love to see the future - here's your chance.
So that's what I'm going to do - freeze myself. I've always wrestled with the problem of burial or cremation - I don't like burial because of the worms in the eye sockets thingy, and I don't like cremation because it's so final.
Cryonics would seem the perfect solution and if it doesn't work neither the worms nor the fires can get to me. The devil might, but at least not the worms.
And maybe one day I'll be paraded around a town just like Grandpa, which would be kinda cool. Yep, I've decided:
I wanna be a Frozen Dead Guy.
All Smoked Out,