Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, I think, “When I end, all this will just keep going on” It’s a hard pill to swallow—and one that some people try to avoid through technology. Many billionaires and other rich and famous people have been eager to pay vast sums of money to a company like Alcott to cryonically “preserve” them. In some cases, they froze their entire body. For others, more affordably, it was just their heads to preserve their brains (“neuro-preservation.”).
For some people, cryonics is their “Hail Mary.” When the legendary Larry King repeatedly said that he wanted to be frozen so he could conceivably come back someday, Dr. Oz went on his talk show to talk him down. His family picked up the argument, and Larry gave up his quest for immortality—at least that kind.
Among the living persons contracted to be cryo-preserved: billionaire Peter Thiel, a co-founder of Pay Pal and first outside investor in Facebook. Peter is now 54. Likewise, Seth Mac Farlane, screenwriter, producer, actor, animator, and creator of the TV series Family Guy and many other popular series, hopes to be reanimated. He is now 48. They are just two of many others from all walks of life—as I said, famous and unknown.
“Snake oil,” said McGill University neuroscientist Michael Henricks about any suggestion that cryonics could bring a dead person back to life. Science backs him up since revivals would necessitate reaping damage from lack of oxygen, toxicity from the cryo-protectant used, repairing other thermal stress factors—and reversing the cause of death such as heart disease or cancer. These kinds of revival technology do not yet exist. Undeterred, those who sign up for cryopreservation maintain that some presently nonexistent nanotechnology could treat those fatal diseases and help bring the deceased back to life. Some also believe in mind uploading—that storing or recovering information content will be possible in the not too distant future.
Today, about 250 bodies have been cryo-preserved in the country, and 1500 people have made future arrangements for themselves. There are only four facilities to retain bodies or just their brains (i.e., neuro-preservation): three in the U.S. and one in Russia.
I think it would be great to be frozen immediately after death and reanimated when technology catches up to mortality. Even better if I could also freeze and unfreeze your assets—proactively willed to ourselves and substantially increased over time. There I would be, starting a whole new life, with all my memories intact. In other words, my brain but in a brand-new, younger, healthier body.
It’s an enticing proposition. But one that comes with some serious questions. Would you like to live forever? Would I?
I have mixed feelings. Curiosity is what keeps me alive. I want to know what will happen next in this sorry world of ours: next month, next year—next century. I would love to see where technology, science, and medicine continue to take us. Will cancer and heart disease be eradicated? Will our cell phones become implants? Will cash disappear? Will we end poverty and homelessness, and prejudice? Will there still be wars? Will anyone still get married?
So, on the one hand, I would like to live forever—ideally in my present apartment on the Upper West Side, and with no money worries or other concerns except staying healthy, continuing to write, and observing what the human race is up to in 25, 50, 100 years ahead. But as a thinking person, I also know that there would be no room for all the births if there were no death. Where would babies fit in?
Would we have to create a system like that in one of my favorite science-fiction movies, Soylent Green? In a world where no one died naturally, and food, housing, and other resources are desperately scarce save for everyone but the privileged ruling class, seniors of a certain age are given an opportunity for a marvelous final meal and a comfortable death as they painlessly fade away while watching an uplifting film on earth as it used to be, backed by spectacular classical music.
Will the average life span expand? The average life span today is 84 for men and 86 for women. Does this mean that at 81, I have just three more years to live? Not at all: half of us will die before our life expectancy, and half will die after. Nearly 25% of that longer-living group live to age 90, and 10% live past 95. With advanced science and medical treatment, increasing numbers of people live to one hundred and beyond. As time passes, this could soon become the norm. What’s even more exciting is that many of these centenarians are in good shape mentally, even if they have some physical frailties. Some are in assisted living or nursing homes, but many can remain in their own homes for the remainder of their long lives in an increasing trend.
Bottom line: we are living longer. The median age is slowly creeping up. In any case, average longevity is only on an actuarial table. Like the weathermen and women: they are right and wrong 50% of the time. You and I have as good a chance as anyone else to live past our octogenarian and nonagenarian years into our centenarian years. Let’s make that our goal. The first place to start: keep reading my blog.
There are times when I want to live forever. Then there are days when I appreciate that life is a story and, like everything else, has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
What do you think?