The Death of Death in Cryonics

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jordansparks
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The Death of Death in Cryonics

Post by jordansparks »

Brian Wowk wrote a well-known article in 1988 called The Death of Death in Cryonics.
http://alcor.org/Library/html/deathofdeath.html
It's been 30 years, and I have gradually come to disagree with the conclusions. Cryonics is, by all accepted definitions of death, the freezing of dead people. We are claiming that we might be able to retrieve some memories from these dead people; this might be considered a "revival" of sorts. The paper claims that we should be worried about perception, and that revival is easily confused with supernatural resurrection. I disagree, and I see those as antiquated concerns of an older generation. After 30 years of sci-fi and pop culture dealing with these issues, I guarantee that the vast majority of people are not confusing our attempt to "revive" dead people with any sort of supernatural resurrection. As an example, the old Star Wars movies treated the force as mystical. The new Star Wars movies invoke microscopic midi-chlorians as the scientific basis of the force. And that was 20 years ago. Our culture has moved on. Scientific explanations are more easily accepted now than mystical explanations. So let's just stick to the science, and we'll be fine. We don't need to worry about any negative connotations of death.
jordansparks
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Re: The Death of Death in Cryonics

Post by jordansparks »

In fact, I'm not sure the paper ever got it right, even in the context of society 30 years ago. A large portion of the paper is devoted to the strategy of changing the definition of the word "death". But I think it's self-evident that introducing our own jargon would be futile. Not only would others disregard our new-claimed definition, but they would categorize us as a cult. It also causes a lot of confusion. If you claim a cryonics patient is not dead, the natural interpretation is that you are claiming you have used suspended animation. This will obviously result in a reasonable and justified scathing response that cryonics is a fraud. The strategy of redefining death is naive and unworkable, and it always has been.
Aaron_Agassi
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Re: The Death of Death in Cryonics

Post by Aaron_Agassi »

If death is defined by irreversibility, then the frontier of death is continually redefined. Is not then the concept of information theoretic death, salient in the endeavor of cryonics?
Mati_Roy
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Re: The Death of Death in Cryonics

Post by Mati_Roy »

I usually pretty strongly agree with your terminology (ex.: http://www.oregoncryo.com/terminology.html), but here I'm leaning more with Brian Wowk -- You can see his take in a more recent piece, in Cryonics 2022 Issue #3 Third Quarter (https://www.alcor.org/cryonics-magazine-2022/)
jordansparks
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Re: The Death of Death in Cryonics

Post by jordansparks »

I disagree with a number of ideas in that recent article. First of all, in non-ideal cases you're not necessarily forced to accept ice crystals. In fact, you can always avoid a straight freeze. The protocol is to submerge in glutaraldehyde and ramp up the cryoprotectant over weeks/months. We do this all the time. It's completely unacceptable to allow ice formation. EVER. I'm not saying these are good cases. They're terrible and our efforts are most likely completely futile. But ice formation should never be one of the causes of information loss except in cases where the next of kin froze the body for some reason.

At another point in the article, he states that it is desirable to begin chest compressions to reestablish oxygenated blood circulation to the brain to stop the progression of ischemic injury and accelerate cooling of the brain, while incurring the cost of some reperfusion injury. I disagree. I think the reperfusion injury is entirely unnecessary. Instead, formalin should be used to stop the progression of ischemic injury. No meds, no ice bath, no CPR -- just formalin. The temperature of the formalin probably doesn't even matter too much, but cold probably has the advantage of slowing the injury in nearby unperfusable areas. Also, the idea of doing CPS for 30-40 minutes before surgery is terrible. The surgery can be done in a minute or two, not 20, so it should be done immediately.

Elective premortem procedures were discussed in the article. I also think a lot about elective procedures to improve ideal cases beyond what's possible today. But my ideas do not include a heart lung machine. The main thing I would want to do would be to open up the chest while under anesthesia. That would provide better and immediate access to all four of the arteries that we need instead of just the two that are available with the current fast surgery. But I wouldn't waste time hooking up a heart lung machine or anything. I don't see the point. In my scenario, they actually would be dead at a specific moment in time, which would be when we start pumping in the formalin. A sudden death would be fantastic.

But back to the main point of his article: that the word death should not be used because it means irreversible loss of life. That's utter rubbish. He lists a number of "deaths" in a big blue box that are reversible. It's very common for someone to say they had a heart attack and were dead for 3 minutes, or whatever, before revival. All lay people are well aware that death is reversible sometimes. They can be dead AND it's reversible. Those are not mutually exclusive. Yes, words do matter, and we should use the standard definition of words. To claim that a cryonics patient is not dead is wrong. But it's ok to simply use more words. For example, I can say that they're not really completely dead as long as there is some structure of the original neurons. It's more words, but that's ok. Admit they're dead, but then start explaining the nuances.

So Brian can keep shouting to the wind that the whole world should follow his preferred definitions. I'm going to use normal expected terminology and freely agree that they are dead, but I'm also going to explain the complexities. Other than that, the article was fantastic. It was long and detailed, and it covered many issues surrounding death that are important in cryonics. Great article overall. I loved the sections on professionalism and informed consent.
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