X-Message-Number: 9454
From: Ralph Merkle <>
Subject: Does cryonics work?
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 13:33:17 PDT

There has been much discussion recently about whether cryonics works.

It might be worth reiterating a rather basic observation.  The appropriate
clinical trials to determine if cryonics will or will not work can be
described as follows:

1)  Select N subjects
2)  Freeze them
3)  Wait (say) 100 years
4)  See if the medical technology of 2100 can indeed revive them

As many of us will be forced to decide whether or not to pursue cryonics
before the results of this experiment are available, there is rather
naturally an interest in finding some alternative methodology of deciding
whether cryonics is likely to work.  The general approach is to consider
(a) the kinds of damage induced by cryonic suspensions and
(b) the kinds of future technology that might be available for repair.

Unfortunately, both of these subjects are complex and provide a wealth
of opportunities for divergent opinions (my own opinions on this subject
are available on the web at http://www.merkle.com/cryo/techFeas.html and
http://www.merkle.com/cryo/cryptoCryo.html).  As a consequence, we can
reasonably expect that opinions within the cryonics community about what
course of action to follow will vary.

As I see no likelihood of a near term resolution of these issues it might
be worthwhile to consider ways in which we can cooperate on common goals
while minimizing the conflicts that arise when our objectives and
strategies differ.

Perhaps the most significant common objective is simple: most people in the
world think cryonics is a bad idea and that it won't work.  We want to shift
those opinions so that we can increase the total number of people and
resources available to deal with substantive issues.

There are various ways of doing this.  Jim Halperin's recent novel, The
First Immortal (www.firstimmortal.com) can introduce people to the subject
in a way that no technical work can even approach.  It can portray the
technology, the emotional concerns that are raised by that technology,
how those concerns might be worked out, and in general can provide the
basis for a more integrated understanding of the many disparate factors
that influence our future.  In this, it is very similar to scenario planning
(http://www.gbn.org/scenPlan.html), a fundamental tool for thinking
strategically about the future.

From a technical point of view, people will tend not to support cryonics
unless they think that the kinds of damage that are likely during a
cryonic suspenion can be reversed by future medical technology.  This
provides a motivation for better understanding the kinds of damage being
done during suspensions and developing methods for minimizing that damage;
and for understanding the kinds of future medical technologies that are likely
to be developed.

The limiting cases are (a) a suspension technology that causes almost no
damage at all and (b) a future medical technology able to repair almost
any damage.

I think pursuing both approaches will be useful.  Different people will
have different opinions about which approach to pursue, but I rather suspect
that if we are to persuade the world that cryonics is a good idea we require
both.  Perfect suspension by itself does not address the concern that people

are suspended only when they are mortally ill.  Unless future medical technology
is *much* better than today, perfect suspensions will only prolong the agony.
On the other hadn, perfect repair by itself does not address the concern that
perhaps the damage is so great that *no* future technology can repair it.

21st Century Medicine is seeking to largely eliminate damage by developing
vitrification.  I applaud this effort, and encourage anyone interested in
this approach to support their efforts.

We also need to better understand the kinds of future medical technology
that are likely to be developed.  I would strongly encourage anyone interested
in this approach to see http://www.foresight.org/Nanomedicine/ (and note

that, until May 31, there is a $10,000 challenge grant for supporting this work.
Your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a maximum of $10,000).

But technical issues are only one part of the overall picture.  Another major

factor is growth in the number and activity level of people involved in 
It's interesting to view the historical growth of Alcor from 1976 to 1993 (see
http://www.merkle.com/images/AlcorGrowth.jpg).  For many years, the growth rate
was almost 30%.  Had that growth rate continued, Alcor would today have over
1300 members.  If we could sustain a 30% growth rate for the next 20 years,

Alcor would have over 80,000 members.  This, obviously, would provide 
resources for addressing all the concerns facing us.  Compound growth produces
remarkable results.

While the reason for compound growth in cryonics is not entirely clear,
personal contact must surely play a significant role.  If every person who
becomes involved in cryonics eventually involves a few friends or relatives,
then we'll see exponential growth.  If we talk openly about our interest and
involvement in cryonics some of our friends and relatives will be interested,
and some of those are likely to become involved. If you know a person for years
and the subject comes up occasionally, there's time to introduce them to the
main ideas and time for their own thinking on the subject to evolve.

We are developing more resources for communicating the ideas to people -- 
novels that paint a vivid and coherent picture of how people could be part of a

bright future, through technical work that shows that damage can be minimized 

that future medical technology will be able to reverse remarkable levels of 
through personal contact, and through countless other approaches.

The world is large and we are few.  There is more that brings us together than
divides us.

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