Some people turn to their religion to understand what happens to us after death.
Some people rely on science.
Some people probably don’t give it much thought at all.
Regardless of your beliefs, if someone offered you a chance (however small) of immortality, would you take it?
For a hefty fee (up to $200,000), this is seemingly what cryonics facilities in the US and Russia are trying to sell.
Cryonics is the science of using ultra-cold temperatures to preserve your body after death so that you can be brought back to life in the future when science and medicine is able to do so.
This might sound like the stuff of sci-fi movies (and it is).
Despite this, more than 350 humans are cryopreserved (and at least 2000 more are currently signed up to be frozen when they die).
How does it work?
Step 1: As soon as your heart stops beating, your body is packed on ice and injected with an anticoagulant to preserve you during transportation. It’s critical this happens immediately given it only takes a few minutes before severe and permanent brain damage occurs.
Step 2: All blood and water is drained from your body and replaced with an anti-freeze solution.
Step 3: For the piece de resistance, you’re hung upside down in a vat of liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius.
According to most scientists, the process is unlikely to work.
The major concern (and there are many) is that when water inside your body (in particular your brain) freezes, ice crystals form, shattering cell membranes and causing irreparable damage.
Even if you defeated the odds and avoided permanent brain damage, the hope (and that’s all it is…hope) is that people will be kind enough generations into the future to spend time and money raising you from your nitrogen-soaked slumber (rather than pop you into a museum like the Egyptian mummies before you).
So… would I try it?
Without humans willing to take enormous risks in the name of science man would never have walked on the moon and organ donation would be but a pipe dream.
I get this.
But surely the biggest question is not will it be possible.
What I can’t understand is why people would want to come back.
This is not Back to the Future.
After you are defrosted (and provided your cryonics facility doesn’t go bankrupt in the several hundred years you’re possibly there for), you will re-enter an unrecognisable world as a cognitive vegetable (or, at best, a homeless, family-less, friendless, job-less former ice-mummy experiment with no real memory of who you are or where you came from).
You probably won’t look too great either.
More broadly, reanimating generations of frozen people would place a significant burden on resources and health care (and this is hardly going to cultivate the utopian futurist ideal that transhumanists champion).
So what then motivates a person to want to ‘live forever’?
Is it dedication to science?
Or perhaps this is just a noble claim masquerading a decision grounded in rationalised selfishness.
You know your reanimation won’t be of any utility to the world, but the quest for self-interested preservation triumphs.
Is it fear of death?
Having seen my brother lose his battle with a terminal illness earlier this year, I appreciate this. If you’re told that you are going to die young, the yearning for ‘more time’ or ‘another chance’ would be loud.
Despite it all, I’m a firm believer that when your time is up, your time is up.
Surely a force mightier than us is determining our chronology.
And really, morality isn’t all that bad.
Knowing your days are numbered is only going to encourage you to make more of each one. Appreciate life.