X-Message-Number: 6360
From:  (Thomas Donaldson)
Subject: Re: Periastron
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 11:23:27 -0700 (PDT)


Thanks for your enquiry. Here goes:

PERIASTRON is a newsletter which tries to describe scientific developments of
interest to cryonicists. It comes out every other month, and subscriptions of
arbitrary length are available for $3.00 US an issue ie. if you want 4 issues,
send $12, if you want 60 (there is actually one person who did this, and 
then moved without leaving a forwarding address!) send $180 US. Part of the
subscription contract, in all cases, is that if PERIASTRON ceases to publish
for ANY reason, you will receive a refund of your unused subscription money.
Interest rates here are low and you are unlikely to receive much in interest
payment for such a refund.

Almost always each issue is 12 pages in length, and begins with a short
editorial discussing what cryonics societies might do to increase and aid
research into means for better preservation and revival. If you aren't 
acquainted with the cryonics societies, the editorial may not mean much to you.
Generally I've suggested one step or other which might speed up our research.

We have all chosen to be cryonically suspended because we think it gives us
far better chance of revival than any other choice, but that chance at best
remains quite unknown. Still, the less damage we do in preserving someone,
the more likely they might someday be revived. Research is thus VERY important.
At the same time, there are less than 1000 committed cryonicists in the entire
world, and most of them are normal people making a living at tasks that don't
involve lots of cryobiology. The ability of such a small community (even if
it is growing at a high rate!) to support research remains small.

For some time, the only research in CRYOBIOLOGY relevant to cryonics has
(at least in the US) occurred in a nonpublic way. I have no magic access to
that, and therefore cannot report it. One cryobiologist, however, has been
working to perfect an important technique, vitrification, which should 
allow far less damaging storage (the idea is to make the solution containing
your brain turn into a glass rather than crystalline ice; it is the ice
crystals that cause damage). He is working officially on kidneys, but is
actually a cryonicist himself. One hopeful development is the current 
ability of all the cryonics societies to use Russian or Ukrainian researchers,
in some case those who wish to migrate to the US. (The situation of cryobiology
in the US is politically complex and I won't discuss it further here).

HOWEVER a lot more is also of interest. Research goes on constantly on the
problem of repairing damaged brains and nerve tissue. This has been making
slow progress. It's also quite fundamental, in the sense that many people
end up with brains damaged first not by freezing but by the loss of blood
flow etc which attends their deanimation. Neuroscientists no longer believe
that such injuries are irreparable --- this is a major change in attitude 
from the 1960's. Actually doing repair has turned out much harder, though.
PERIASTRON reports on this work and its progress.

Again, we want our memories preserved through our suspension. To find out if
this happens or not we must first understand formation and preservation of
memory in our brain. The last 10 years have seen considerable advances in
this area, so much that in a very broad way I think we can now say that we
understand how memories (including long term memories) are formed. Our 
understanding of why they PERSIST needs more work, and there are still lots
of details to work out. This work suggests that connectivity of neurons
is a major issue for us: both how it happens and what signs there might
be nearby (or elsewhere) of previous connections. (Neurons aren't fixed:
their connectivity can change). PERIASTRON reports on scientific work on 
these issues.

Furthermore, however we are restored (some cryonicists, for instance, suggest
that we might simply be read off into a hyperadvanced computer which then
may or may not put us back into a biological brain) we want to remain 
CONSCIOUS. Neuroscientists have begun studying just this issue: the brain
regions and activities which might underlie consciousness. Naturally 
I report on this work, too.

Then there is nanotechnology. Since some people have tried to define it 
differently, I will say that to me nanotechnology is any technology which
allows us to manipulate events on a nanoscale. This includes not just the
kind pushed by Drexler and his friends (ENGINES OF CREATION, NANOSYSTEMS),
but biochemistry, materials science, and large areas of chemistry itself.
Even means to ASSIST our brains to repair themselves would count as one
kind of nanotechnology, but we can go much further than that. I have
also reported on developments in this area, with an emphasis on actual 
experiments and devices rather than theory. (Many years ago, in the early
1970's, one cryonicist suggested that we might use modified viruses for
repair. Looking only at biotechnology, we will go much farther than that,
to produce first modified cellular creatures, and ultimately whole animals
or plants "living" but designed to serve us just as our machines serve us
now. For instance, repair might happen inside an entirely artificial ---
but biological --- womb, big enough to hold the patient).

I hope this gives a fair summary of what PERIASTRON is about. 

			Best and long long life,

				Thomas Donaldson

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