X-Message-Number: 1780
Date: 20 Feb 93 18:50:48 EST
From: Paul Wakfer <>
Subject: CRYONICS: Regarding Research

From: Mike Darwin
To: Hal Finney
Re: Research
Date: 19 February, 1992

     I found your speculations on cryonics research very interesting 
reading and would like to add a comment or two (or three or four or five) 
of my own.  I have observed no overt resistance to doing cryonics research 
in anyone in the cryonics community with the exception of Keith Henson.  
Nevertheless, you have raised a very important issue because while there 
is little or no overt resistance, there is a great deal of covert or 
subliminal resistance.  I can best illustrate this by using the following 
example: most people believe that feeding hungry children is a good idea, 
but very few make a significant voluntary financial contribution to this 
end.  Furthermore, such people would become quite upset if you proposed 
taking away their movie and dining-out budget to achieve this end.

     By contrast, people who genuinely wish to feed hungry children will 
find all sorts of clever ways to do so.  Similar examples can be made of 
people who, against terrible odds, put themselves through school, get out 
of the ghetto, etc., vs. those who do not.  The operational factor here is 
MOTIVATION and DESIRE.  Now, the problem with cryonics is that the instant 
you believe it could work sufficiently that you make a major commitment to 
pursuing it, say by signing up, then EMOTIONALLY you more or less BELIEVE 
it WILL work.  Human beings can tolerate gray states intellectually only a 
little, and they tolerate them emotionally not at all.  As a consequence 
most cryonicists believe that current technology is SUFFICIENT.  Some will 
have very elaborate reasons for believing this.  With all due respect, 
Ralph Merkle is probably the best example around.  He has constructed a 
world-view for himself wherein he has what he perceives to be very good 
arguments in favor of cryonics working *based on what we now know.*  Of 
course, the problem here is not with what we now know, but with what *we 
do not now know.*  

     I like Ralph a great deal, but I disagree with him fundamentally 
about odds.  Ralph is rather like the fellow who comes up with an airtight 
engineering argument which he can defend PERFECTLY based on what is known.  
Then he tries to build the system and finds out about what is not known.  
I use this example (see Ralph's posting in response to my paper on 
cryopreservation of the cat) because it so perfectly illustrates what I am 
talking about.  Ralph says that he does not wish to discourage ongoing 
research into brain cryopreservation, but he goes on to point out that its 
benefits will be primarily in PR and politics rather than to the ultimate 
workability or failure of cryonics because after all, we can be 90% (or 
better) confident that today's techniques are sufficient.

     So, once someone buys into cryonics they are, by definition, making 
an emotional (and intellectual) commitment about its workability.  This 
necessarily tempers incentive to improve things.  And yes, certainly for 
those with relatives, friends and lovers in suspension the impetus is even 
more to "believe."  The problem is that this "belief" may not be 
justified.  The proper light in which to view cryonics, is that it is a 
desperate experiment which has an unknown probability of success.  THAT is 
not a good thing.  THAT is something that should motivate more research.

     Now, let us return to the practical matter of how things really 
operate.  Cryonics groups exist and they have funded very little research.  
A large part of the reason why this is so is because they have been very 
poor.  But I would argue that poverty is only a partial excuse.  For, like 
the young person who works and slaves to get through school (vs. the one 
who complains that "they were too poor, never had the chance...) the 
desire has not been there.  Of course it is more complicated than that, 
but this IS a major factor.

     I do not know a way around this other than to do some research which 
better documents what is happening when people are frozen using today's 
techniques. By this approach we will either ALL be reassured or we will 
be frightened, or motivated, or whatever, to solve these problems.  Of 
course, there are always arguments like those from Merkle which will 
soothe any doubts people may have.

     I believe that the human brain is an incredibly complex mechanism and 
that there are many twists and turns which might be taken in disrupting it 
which could cause it to be lost beyond recall.  I am not concerned so much 
with what we do know about cryopreservation but with what we do not know 
about human identity, memory, and so on.

     Finally, to deal with several other issues you raised: I doubt if 
neuro is a factor.  Neuro is being pursued BECAUSE cryopreservation 
techniques are so crude.  Also, there are great strides being made in 
spinal cord repair and it is quite possible that within a decade or two at 
most it may be possible to transplant brains or heads.  While this hardly 
solves all the problems associated with neuro, it does point out that at 
least in principle an advanced nanotechnology need not be a prerequisite 
to revival.

     While I think it unlikely that noninjurious cryopreservation 
techniques will soon be developed for the whole body, I do think it likely 
that they could be developed for the brain.  Furthermore I think it likely 
that they might be developed for most of the body, perhaps to the point 
that 80% of the organs survived.  I think it likely that any technique 
that will work for the brain will also work for skin, bone, skeletal and 
cardiac muscle, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen.  The gut would probably 
experience some ice formation, but then maybe not.  And in any event the 
gut is very resistant to ice injury say, compared to the kidney.  In 
short, while you may lose some organs (perhaps the eyes) most might make 
it and those that don't might be transplantable.  In any event, even a 
reversible technique of brain cryopreservation will change everything.  
For one thing it will probably allow for elective, premortem suspension 
and that will vastly improve the salvage rate.

     The brutal fact is that most people who get suspended get suspended 
under very poor conditions often after long delays.  Such patients are 
subjected to massive ultrastructural destruction (note I did not say 
injury, I said destruction) as a result of degranulation of leukocytes, 
autolysis from release of enzymes, and free radical activity.  I have a 
lovely little series of pictures of leukocytes being let loose on 
ischemically injured coronary microvasculature.  Within minutes there are 
gaping holes where the hypochlorite and hypobromide (and associated free 
radicals) have digested away endothelium cells.  Some years ago when I 
first started doing laboratory evaluations on suspension patients I 
noticed that they often had VERY LOW white counts and that if the patient 
had been ischemic for a long while (i.e., 1+ hours) they had NO 
leukocytes. NONE.  I remember thinking that was peculiar at the time and 
wondering where they all went.  A short while later I found out.  

     Recent work on reperfusion injury has confirmed that stunned 
myocardium is the result of leukocyte plugging of up to 30% of myocardial 
capillaries.  Similar numbers are being trotted out for brain capillaries.   
It is important to understand that these cells not only stick and plug, 
they degranulate and release a host of noxious compounds which DIRECTLY 
DESTROY TISSUE.  Of course, most leukocytes aren't circulating.  They are 
harmlessly resting in lung capillaries or in the tissues on patrol.  With 
passage of enough ischemic time this far larger pool of leukocytes 
undergoes a respiratory burst and dumps their damaging contents.  Steve 
Harris and I estimate the total volume of hypochlorus acid, etc. for a 
typical 65 kg man at about 10 grams!  And of course, this is only one 
mechanism of injury.  There are a variety of free radical pathways such as 
the xanthine oxidase, lipoxygenase, and OH pathways.  These 'first step'  
sources of injury release a cascade of damaging reactions and enzymes 
which directly tear up tissue structure.

     Perhaps as many as 50% of suspension patients are being creamed with 
this kind of injury because cryopreservation cannot be started before 
legal death and because it is not an accepted part of medicine.  When 
people think about their OWN suspensions they think about the best 
possible case.  But the reality is that for many, maybe even for most, it 
will NOT be the best possible case.  Reversible cryopreservation will go a 
long way towards solving that problem.

     There is no doubt that the animus you sense towards research is due 
to the chilling effect (no pun intended) cryonics has on DESIRE for this 
work.  The needs of cryonics (as opposed to cryonics research) for more 
members, more publicity, better facilities to administer CURRENT 
techniques with, better laws, etc., simply shunts money away from 
research.  In short, remember always the definition of cryonics and thus 
the function of cryonics societies: freezing people with the best 
CURRENTLY available techniques in the hopes that they can be repaired and 
restored to health tomorrow.  That doesn't say anything about perfecting 
suspended animation now, does it?

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