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Many are cold, but few are frozen

So, it's the beginning of 2008, and you're whining and complaining. Giant evil bureaucracies control the world, Global Cooling (triggered by smoke clouds from the forest fires started by Reddy the Fire Squirrel) threatens to bring on the Final Ice Age, and the two-headed dragon of Terrorism/Anti-terrorism is breathing its dual poisonous breath on civilization. What to do? Get some perspective. Chill out; really chill out. Sign up for a cryonics contract. Things will look better in 2103.

First of all, on the perspective thing: bad as it is, this is still the peak of history, the pinnacle of individual freedom. Would you rather live under the Pharaoh, dragging rocks for the Department of Pyramid Power under the desert sun? How about under smilin' Caligula or any of his lead-permeated Imperial peers? Was individual achievement easier as a medieval serf? Fancy eating your boots as you disintegrate from scurvy on a three- year ocean cruise with Diego Garcia? Was there a lot of independent thought and tolerance in the average person's life as the Tai Ping meme raged through 1850s China, killing 20 million people?

Now of course we have the scourge of TV to cloud our memory of history, but perhaps you still remember the 20th Century? The century of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and a few hundred other mass murderers? Not to mention, do you remember how hard it was to get a bone-marrow transplant in 1970? Do you remember how slow the Internet was in 1980? In case you weren't born then, let me tell you whippersnappers: there was a time when you couldn't look up any fact known to man from any computer anywhere in the world (hard to believe, I know).

Out-of-control government is certainly still a problem, but one reason government is so annoying is that there are so many more cool technologies for them to prohibit. In the 20th century, it didn't really matter if cloning was banned… now it does.

So be realistic: your life may suck right now, but your ancestors' problems were more painful than yours. And there is the distinct possibility that human life may get a lot more interesting, and free, in the near future.

This may seem to be a bold claim. If we simply extrapolate current trends linearly, we see that at the end of the 21st Century our grandchildren will pay 100% of their income in Social Security taxes, Homeland Security will employ half the US population to read the e-mail of the other half, and the rest of the world's population will consist entirely of CIA-funded terrorists and puppet dictators. This doesn't sound like an improvement in the human condition.

Fortunately, real life is too chaotic to predict via linear extrapolation. If Nero had tried to predict history with linear extrapolation, his picture of 2003 would have included: Imperial legions from the only world superpower carrying eagle emblems, marching into wars against minor nations in the Middle East, in order to build up the political careers of the powerful and unscrupulous. He would have predicted the Middle Easterners forming terrorist groups to retaliate in protest against the Imperial images and unveiled women defiling the Holy Lands. Nero could never have foreseen the modern world, with our ocean farms, Mars terraforming, and asteroid cities.

OK, so linear extrapolation works perfectly… as long as people are short-lived idiots. But in spite of government's efforts to slow its progress, biology is finally getting somewhere. Unlike nuclear power and space vehicles, biology can be done in small, cheap, clandestine labs and clinics. Every advance in biology will give a selective advantage to those who adopt it. Slowly but surely, driven by self-interest alone, humans will change from short-lived idiots to longer-lived smarter idiots, and so on. When the average IQ is 200 and the average lifespan is indefinite (not "eternal", just indefinite), perhaps it will be harder to control the mass of people with the same old memes. If everyone expects to live for a couple of centuries and has the ability to understand simple math, then there may finally be some support for policies that will actually work in the long run. The human race may finally grow up and disown its governmental evil step-parent. Politicians may have to stop promising to increase prosperity by cutting off trade or inflating the money supply, because there won't be enough stupid voters to believe their campaign commercials.

Most people (even most chip-company executives) failed to anticipate the computer revolution, even after the microprocessors were in mass production. And most people today are failing to anticipate the biological revolution, even though the gene-engineering technologies are in mass production and engineered organisms are coming into common use. The biological revolution will be much more important. The computer revolution gave every human being number-crunching ability beyond any idiot savant. But the biological revolution will give every human being the ability to think like a Newton or an Einstein (but without the aging problems that turned both men to writing religious and political nonsense in later life).

Then again, the people who have kids at 13 and go on the dole may outnumber and outvote everyone else, and form a reservoir of political stupidity that makes the Roman mob look like a million Archimedes. But the point is, you won't get to find out unless you get to a time when we have better biological technology. And the only potential way to do that is through cryonics.

I have to say "potential". Although human cells have been routinely frozen in 10% DMSO + 90% calf serum, stored at -150 degrees C for decades, and then revived, since the 1960s, no one has ever bothered to invest the million or ten that it would take to perfect the freezing and revival of whole organisms, or even whole organs. Present cryonics organizations (Alcor and ) are made up of smart, well-intentioned, but underfunded hobbyists, just like the early personal-computer clubs. Future science may be able to repair and revive those frozen today, or they may not. Personally, I suspect that some or all of the Alcorpsicles will be revived, but far after those frozen later with better technology. Of course if you have cancer now, you don't have the option of waiting for better technology. Those who are frozen today will certainly be no worse off than those who rot, and at the very least their DNA can be cloned and used to make quaint pets for the cyborg children of the future. (Hey, c'mon guys, think of the children.)

How hard is it to freeze whole organisms? Well, several species of frogs, salamanders, and turtles freeze up to 60% of the water inside their cells every winter. In other words, they're frozen. While this is not true -150-degree C thousand-year cryonics, these animals don't have heart-lung machines or radio-frequency heaters to help them revive. At some point, half their cells are frozen and half aren't, which sounds stressful… but they survive.

Humans, of course, have heart-lung machines, antifreeze chemicals, and radio-frequency heaters for uniform warming. I will give odds that within ten years of a serious private- company effort to research methods of cryopreservation, some combination of perfusant chemicals, pro-ice-nucleation proteins, high-pressure noble gases, or some other relatively cheap technique will exist for preventing the formation of harmful ice crystals in cells. In retrospect I'm sure the technique will seem laughably simple; like the hot-air balloon (1700s) or the compound bow (1960s AD, Xena episodes to the contrary), people will wonder how their ancestors could have failed to invent cryonics much earlier. Good cryonics techniques will exist by 2020 at the latest. The only reason that it could take that long is that the little Wozniaks who should be doing cryonics experiments in their garages are locked in public schools watching Drug Prohibition videos. But they'll get out eventually.

Why is cryonics relevant to freedom? Because it increases the incentive to create a free society. Fighting the expansion of government is risky and requires effort; it cuts down on the hours available for watching TV. If you're only expecting to live another twenty years in ever-declining health, maybe it's not worth it. Maybe it's better to just sit back on the couch and flip the channels. On TV, it's always 1965 and people never get healthier when they get older. However, real life is not TV, and it is not still 1965. Lab animals routinely have their lifespans increased by genetic engineering (e.g. by overexpressing superoxide dismutase in C. elegans… feeding them the drug EUK-134 works too). If you get off the couch, do the right things healthwise, and obtain the favor of the goddess of Medical Fortune, you may live for centuries. Now, do you want to spend 500 years watching the same decrepit B-52s bomb the same decrepit Middle Eastern villages on ever-more-advanced TV screens, or do you want to do something better with your time?

Cryonics (and the rest of biotechnology) can be used to make individuals live longer than political parties, governments, and empires. This is also relevant to freedom. People who have outlived three governments won't take the fourth so seriously.

Have problems with living too long? Drop dead. I don't mean to sound flippant, but the nature of entropy being what it is, staying alive is always harder than disintegrating. We already have enough military and fast-food death-spreading technology on this planet to cover the needs of all the suicidal folk of the Galaxy for the next millennium. There will never be any problem of excess lifespan in this universe, unless the laws of physics change.

Of course many governments have laws against suicide, even for terminally ill, pain-wracked victims. That is a terrible problem… one that cryonics could ameliorate if politicians would allow it. Cryonics could also offer a way out of untreatable pain for those who are infected with religious memes against suicide. As with many technologies, cryonics solves more ethical dilemmas than it creates.

Most people can afford a hundred dollars per year for a term-life policy to fund their suspension. (Alcor only charges $50,000 for a neurosuspension; a $50,000 term-life policy is pretty cheap for most people). So: get some perspective, chill out, and work hard to make a freer world until the big chill comes. If things aren't better in 2103, you can complain to me then.

Remember: many are cold, but few are frozen.
Frozen is cooler.

Any questions??