1968 AD > Cryonics > Reboot

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

-      Philippians 2:12-13

Left: Mike Darwin at the Cryonics Society of New York in1971 (Inset: in Russia July, 2008).

Future Shock Now

By the time you are 50, if not before, you will inevitably encounter a shocking realization: some of the people who are your colleagues, friends and even family, will have no idea what you are talking about when you mention an event or an object that is as fundamental to your experience as a shopping excursion, making a telephone call, eating ice cream, or using a pencil. For the first time it becomes clear to you that many of the most important and formative experiences in your life are rapidly passing out of living memory for most of those with whom you now inhabit the world. When this happens, it is at once shocking and painful, because it forces the twin realizations upon you that you are no longer young, and that you have begun to outlive your time.

If you are a cryonicist this experience unavoidably raises the spectre of how much more shocking, painful and disorienting the really extreme temporal displacement of being revived from decades, or even centuries in cryopreservation will be.

Age Distribution of the Population in the United States as of 2000

Roughly half of the people alive in the US today are 30 or younger, were born in 1978 or later, and are thus 25 years younger than me. They have no experience of a world without tiny, hand-held electronic calculators (most do not know what a slide-rule is), mobile phones, or readily available and affordable photocopying. The impact of these technological developments has been at once profound and subtle. As one small example; I began my intellectual life searching for scientific papers using walls of bound volumes known as the Index Medicus.

A small part of the Index Medicus, now in the museum of the Weill Cornell Medical Library.

I obtained information from papers that I read in the library not by photocopying them, or parts of them, but by making copious notes on 3”x5” cards and in a bound composition book. Onionskin tracing paper was used to copy graphs or charts deemed critical. Being forced to obtain information from publications in this way fostered careful reading and subsequent abstraction of important ideas in a concise and efficient way; it was a much poorer world then, and even 3”x5” cards were a significant expense.

Typical Mid-20th Century Slide Rule: The slide rule was a simple analog computer; essentially a mechanical look-up table. It was a useful tool for finding roots and logarithms and allowed for multiplication and division, but, unfortunately for me, did not permit addition or subtraction.

Typing dozens of pages of right justified text using a mechanical typewriter (and carbon paper to make copies) is probably unimaginable to this cohort of the population, yet these are experiences that were not only routine, it was not even imagined that they would ever end. Futurists in 1968 envisioned human interplanetary space travel and intelligent computers for the year 2001; not personal computers, the Internet, or tiny electronic devices that easily fit in your pocket, let you talk to anyone almost anywhere in the world for a pittance, watch television (all 200+ channels; there were 4 channels when I left home at the age of 18), and read your (electronic) mail, pay bills… It was inconceivable that the same device would also allow you to get restaurant recommendations, place your dinner order and then guide you, turn by turn, (on foot or driving) to your destination in a calm, mechanical voice.[1] It was even more inconceivable that these feats would be achieved in part, using a plethora of satellites in geosynchronous orbit that also tell you where you are, anywhere on the planet’s surface, with accuracy to within a meter or so.

While these changes have had profound cultural impact, arguably they do not have as much human impact. Imagine a world where the birth control pill has not been invented, a twice divorced and remarried woman could justifiably be expected to suffer social ostracism, and a woman being beaten by her husband, within limits, was a distasteful, but in practice, not actionable event. That was the world I was born into and it is a world I remember well. To those Americans under 30, the words Khrushchev, Vietnam, hippie, Saturn-5 and Nixon, will forever be abstractions, if they mean anything at all. If reanimation for those cryopreserved now becomes possible, they will be facing a shift in technology and values that is hard to comprehend.

Adjusting To Revival from Cryopreservation

In pondering this problem many years ago, I conceived of the idea of having patients virtually live through the interval between the time they were cryopreserved and the time they were revived in order to catch up, or adjust. This would be an accelerated process where a week, a day or even an hour of real time would equate to a year of subjective time “lost” in storage. Clearly, this would take place as a simulation, and beyond the purpose of defusing shock, it could also serve to educate and rehabilitate. The patient would wake up one day in his life at a point before his cardiac arrest deemed appropriate, get out of bed, and continue, as usual, with the normal routine of his life. The trajectory of his experience would alter gradually, probably in ways not now imaginable; in order to ultimately equip him with the insights, knowledge and skills needed to survive in a world transformed by time and technology.

Most of you reading this will have had the thought, be it a fantasy or a nightmare, that you might be living in a simulation, or that otherwise the reality you are experiencing is being manipulated in some way. I should imagine that if you are sane, this idea is just a remote gedanken experiment – the kind of thing that is very far removed from logical, let alone emotional reality.

Time Warp

One night a few weeks ago, while I was visiting Russia, I was walking along the street in Moscow with a small group of Russian cryonicists and we were passionately discussing the mechanics of cryonics. My visit to Russia had been intense; non-stop work and conversation from 0900 to 2200 or 2300 most days. We had walked past a large black statue of Comrade Lenin, with his arm outstretched, and now we were passing a McDonald’s. Ahead, the red and white logo of a KFC, with

“the Colonel” on it, lit up the sidewalk. I had been on a very similar street 40 years before, in Soviet times, also at night, but with a Soviet Intourist[2] minder and no glaring capitalist kitsch.

A McDonald’s Restaurant in Moscow

Now, consider these facts: I am 53 years old. I am in Moscow with two Russians who were not even born when l was last in Russia. Cryonics is in a ghastly state and is something from which I am effectively exiled. And, again, try to understand: I am walking by a McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow, Russia. The young men I was with could not understand the cognitive dissonance that the words “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow, Russia” evoked in me. They were all in their 20s, or early 30s.

But, more interesting still, as I walked along the street it dawned on me that I am in cryonics again. Only, it is not 2008, it is 1968. No, it is not the 1968 that happened six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis in the US. It is an alternate1968.

Russia is, in many ways, much like the US was circa 1962-1968. While it is not the US then, nor is it any place but what it is: Russia in 2008 CE, there is nevertheless, the powerful sense that I am back in time; literally back in time. In part, this feeling is due to my growing awareness of countless little things that had vanished from my everyday experience without my noticing them having gone. I see old people limping along the streets with canes, and I gradually realize that this once utterly commonplace sight is largely gone in “my” world because now, if you are old and suffer from degenerative joint disease, you either have a hip replacement, a knee replacement, ride around on an electric scooter, or you are bedbound or dead.

I smell body odor in the air while waiting in line at the market near where I am staying, and sometimes I smell it on the Metro. Not bad, not offensive, just something that was commonplace in my childhood and that has also vanished in an era of advertiser-mandated ‘deodorant’ use. I realize, too, that here in Russia some people still have distinctive odors; the odor of pipe tobacco and menthol, camphor and horehound, or the smell of smoke from standing around open fires. Some old women smell of lilacs or something sweet like vanilla, as they once did in my daily experience ‘long’ ago.

To me, this Russia is a pastiche of the years in the US between 1955 and 1968: people are dressed more plainly than in the West today, and it is clear that clothing and shoes are still at a premium here. I remember from my boyhood how expensive shoes were, and how it was a minor ritual to buy a new pair.

Things are dirtier there, much, much dirtier than they are now in the US and Europe. I then remembered how much infrastructure was covered in grime the US in my youth, and I’ve noticed that white people (not brown people, but white people) pick up the trash and wash the floors in public spaces with a bucket and a brush just as in the US in my childhood years.

And I’ve noticed that there are no black people, absolutely no black people to be seen. In fact, in my 2 weeks in Moscow and Russia, I did not see a single person of color, with the exception of the occasional Mongol, or affluent Chinese tourists. This, in 2 weeks of extensive, daily travel in Russia – travel on the Metro, on the rail system – in the city and in the suburbs – not a single observed black person and barely a hint of people with skin darker than a light skinned Hispanic, or a well tanned Midwestern farmer in summer.

Paint was a very expensive thing when I was growing up and money was tight. Things didn’t get painted as much in that era and that is how it is in Russia today, especially in the countryside. I sometimes see drunken men in shabby clothes at a train station or on a residential block; and it comes back to me how common this was in the US in my youth. There is also the relative absence of regulation. There are no zoning and planning commissions, no suffocating mire of regulatory restrictions on the purchase of chemicals, or experimentation with animals. The Russian attitude towards vivisection and invasive experiments on dogs, cats or other mammals is even more indifferent than was the case in the US 40 years ago. In any choice between the welfare of people and the welfare of other animals, people come first. There is no mortuary or cemetery regulation in Russia, no OSHA, no Pharmacy Board and no Bureau of Medical Quality Assurance. In an eye blink one the most regulated countries in the world became one of the least regulated. And while this is rapidly changing as abuse begets government intervention, the situation today is mostly one where graft determines the outcome of almost any regulatory issue.

I realize how vastly wealthier in chattels we in the West have become since that 13-year interval in the middle of the last century. People owned far, far fewer things during that period in history (and before) in the US. Clear mental pictures of my Aunts’ and Uncles’ apartments in New York City, and of their friends’ apartments there have been flooding my mind. They were sparse spaces even when crowded with many peoples’ things. It wasn’t just that people owned fewer things; there were fewer things to own. Yes, computers are everywhere in Moscow, and mobile phones, but in that world between 1955 and 1968 there were no food processors, no televisions in kitchens and bedrooms, no curling irons, fondue pots, or walls covered with well proportioned and nicely matted and framed art. Walls had bad art; small pictures that interrupted the expanse of blank plaster, like a postage stamp on an unaddressed envelope; out of proportion and out of place. All of these things I had forgotten, and yet, here I was and it was all just as it once was in my experience 40 years ago.

And then there is cryonics. It is only 15 years since the Soviet Union collapsed. Before that time (and even now) Russia was cut off from the rest of world in many ways. It is still very, very difficult to get information in Russia on scientific matters unless you can read English; and even then it can be problematic. In short, the whole history of cryonics, all the media coverage, all the seepage of the idea into the cultural water supply that has happened over the past forty years effectively never happened in Russia! Robert F. Nelson never picked up a tabloid newspaper and decided to become involved in cryonics. Chatsworth has not happened. None of the past 40-years of my life experience exists in this place where I am.

The cryonicists I am with, and with whom I am talking, are behaving in the same way and talking about the same things, and doing so in exactly the same manner as happened over 40 years ago in the US. I realize it has been decades since I have had such conversations about cryonics with anyone. Most of the topics we are so earnestly discussing are now consigned to the past, because they are long ago decided issues. What expedient legal mechanisms should be used to gain and maintain custody of patients? Should cryopreservation funding be configured as an insurance program administered and profited from by the cryonics organization itself, or should conventional insurers be used? Should there even be members, or should there be clients or customers instead? What kind of place is suitable to store cryopatients; a cemetery, a dedicated building, a leased industrial building? These are all issues long ago debated and put to rest in cryonics – in the West, at least.

Where the Present is My Past

Here, my present is my past, because exactly the same problems have begun to occur in exactly the same way with exactly the same results. In every detail it is the same, exactly the same. The relatives of most of the patients were unhappy at the condition of the KrioRus facility and have moved their loved ones to private care that each is managing personally. I can hear, actually hear Pauline Mandel and Nick BeBlasio carping about the Cryo-Span facility on Long Island, and complaining that patients shouldn’t be stored that way – only they are speaking Russian! I cannot understand a single word they are saying, yet I understand every word of it, with perfect clarity.

Fred Horn, Curtis Henderson and Saul Kent circa1969-1972

I meet people who speak little or no English, but they are people I knew well: Curtis Henderson (at 40), Saul Kent (in his late 20s), Paul Segall (in his early 20s) and Fred Horn (in his late 40s). They are all there; not a single person is missing from that time in my life. Yes, they speak Russian not English, and no, they do not look the same; and yet they feel exactly the same; the facial expressions, the ‘unique’ combination of personality traits each person had, their world view, their approach to problem solving (or lack of approach), it is all the same – functionally identical. I meet John Bull as he was 40 years ago, and Marce Johnson and Lucille Doty and Herman Earl and Bob Krueger as they were then in the early days of cryonics. They occupy the same stations in life, live the same lifestyles, and appear to think the same thoughts. I try, but I cannot find a single person from the early days of cryonics who is not there; including the now nameless and mostly forgotten hangers-on, lunatics, fools, and – not be omitted from my inventory – the occasional man or woman who only now, with many years of life experience, I recognize as distilled, sociopathic evil.

It is 1968 in cryonics here. Bedford and the first wave of patients that followed him have just been frozen; they have different names, genders and stories, but it is as it was then. The same events are playing out; the same frustrations and the same mistakes are happening again, along with the same faltering steps at progress. I have reached the point where I know what certain people will say before I ever meet them, and I realize that I more often than not I know the course of events exactly as they unfolded, even though I have not yet been given the narrative. The story is the same, and that is terrifying. But, strangely, it is something else as well, because, you see, it is still 1968 in cryonics in Russia – and I can see the future. I can see it with a clarity that no one has been granted since Cassandra – and Cassandra was a myth.

A Different Culture and a Different World

I fear I know what is to come, more or less. Yes, yes, it is mostly playing out as it did then; the idea of cryonics has entered the culture and important people in intellectual and academic life have taken note and become interested. It is also true that there is the supernova of media; just as there was when cryonics first began; the endless cycle of chat shows (very much in the style of the late 1960s in the US), the newspaper and magazine articles…

Left: Danila Medvedev, President of KrioRus

Cryonics is new, completely new all over again, but with differences, big differences, possibly critical differences. The guests and audiences on the chat shows do yet not mock KrioRus President Danila Medvedev, or the others who advocate cryonics; they listen with some interest. Isaac Asimov exists here, but his name is Yuri Nikitin, and he is signed up for cryonics and a vocal advocate for cryonics, not a relentless public adversary. He is a man undertaking life extension interventions on his 90+ year-old mother and himself. He is one of Russia’s most popular science fiction and fantasy authors.

But it is also important to remember that Russia is not, and never was the US, or Europe for that matter. Ninety-one years previously an alternate history played out there; its people were stripped of the fog of religion, and their culture was remodelled in ways never experienced in the West. But, deeper than that, much deeper, is something that I’ve known for a long time, but that has been submerged beneath the turbulent surface of my consciousness: Russia was never the West.

Konstantin Tsilkovsky Vladimir Mayakovsky Nikolai F. Fyodorov

Russia produced Fyodorov, Tsilkovsky and Mayakovsky — men who were immortalists and Transhumanists at the start of the 20th Century, not at its close. And it was Russia that produced Bryukhonenko, Demikhov, and Negovskii: the men who invented extracorporeal circulation, transplantation and resuscitation medicine, and who first demonstrated that consciousness and identity reside in the brain. It was in Russia, not in the US or Europe, that one of the country’s leading heart surgeons,  Nikolai Amosov, wrote Note’s From the Future; a novel about cryonics, a novel in the tradition of Mayakovsky – a tradition that had been forged 60 years previously.

Nikolai Amosoff, 1913-2002

Russia is a country where 40% of the population are atheists and less than 15% identify themselves as Orthodox Christian. Russia is an Anglo version of Japan and China; all whites, no minorities, and they are keeping it that way by intention, and doing so with stunning effectiveness. Russia is also a country where 14% of the adult population states, with no qualifications, that they want to live forever, and where 40% state that they “want to live as long as possible in good health.”

No, it is not the US in 1968 and it is not cryonics in the US in 1968 and, perhaps most significantly, the worst mistakes made in the history of cryonics in the US have not been made in Russia, not yet. Perhaps they need not be made at all?

A Moment of Clarity or a Moment of Madness

So, there I was, walking by a McDonald’s in the country that, when I was 7-years-old, seared into me forever black and white memories of Kennedy, President Kennedy, standing before huge enlargements of photographs and pointing out oblong shapes in the Cuban soil that looked like insect egg casings – at once fascinating and disturbing. I sat in front of the television with my parents watching as the President  pointed out those strange shapes while telling me, in tense and measured words, that the world was on the brink of war, indeed on the brink of nuclear annihilation. What does a 7-year old-boy understand of global thermonuclear war? What can he understand? Nothing, really, nothing more or less than the inescapable reality that his parents are afraid, deeply, viscerally afraid, and that that is something completely new to his experience; something he has never seen before, and never wants to see again.

Vladimir Demihkov (1950); inset conscious juvenile dog (head and upper body) engrafted on adult (supporting dog), circa 1942.

I am in Moscow, in the hub, the core, the gravitational black hole of what once was Soviet Communism and the heart of an empire that could make the West tremble and spend, and tremble and spend. I am in Moscow, in Russia, and I am thinking all these things that I have written about here, and more besides, and it comes to me that this cannot, this absolutely cannot be real and that someone is toying with me. Somehow, somewhere, sometime ago, my heart stopped, I was formally pronounced dead and then, all the right things were done. I was lucky. I had been incredibly lucky.

But when had it happened? Had I sickened with AIDS in late 1980s, like most of the other gay men that I knew? Had Jerry Leaf sawed through my sternum and cut off my head? And if so, who had placed the Thumper on me? Who had given me the meds and poured the ice around me in the PIB?

Mike Darwin at the Museum of the  History of Cardiovascular Surgery, Scientific Center of Cardiovascular Surgery of the Russian  Academy of Medical  Science with S.S. Bryukhonenko’s “autojector,” the first successful extracorporeal support device, 2008. Inset:  Bryukhonenko with the autojector, 1933.

Or had it been a heart attack? Was it me and not Jerry who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest late that July night in 1991? I certainly had the family history for it; it would not be surprising. Was it cancer, or some twisted, unusual thing, like an abscessed tooth that flashes over into sepsis, unconsciousness and death – or in my case – an interruption in life, a reboot?

If that was so, then surely it must have been then that it had happened, at that time in my life when things were going well, when I was happy and productive. That would make sense! It must have happened before the nightmare began, before Dora Kent. Yes, that had to be it! Everything from sometime before that December, that terrible December in 1987, was not real. It was a punishment, a penance, or maybe some kind of test, or necessary learning experience to teach me things I had not learned before, and that I must know before I was turned loose in the world again?

There was simply no other explanation for the utterly alien nature of this “future” I now inhabited. That was the only answer that made sense, and it was the answer that, for a few moments in time, I instinctively knew was the right one, and believed.

I turned to my companions and tried to explain what had just happened inside my head. I tried to explain while still under the ether of the experience; still groggy with the fading emotional certainty that I had been ‘suspended,’ for the word cryopreserved was still in the future, yet to be applied to cryonics by Brian Wowk. I tried to explain, and I failed utterly, probably as I have failed again here, and will always fail in attempting to communicate what I experienced that night in Moscow.

Second Sight

As the Aeroflot Airbus A319 gained altitude leaving Moscow behind, I looked out the cabin window, wistful and wondering. How will cryonics turn out this time, in this place? Cryonics is just beginning to take root in the land receding below me, and in almost every respect it is still 1968 for cryonics in Russia. As I turn toward the steward making his way down the aisle, I catch the ghostly, reflected glimpse of myself in the cabin window. Moscow is behind me now, and while it may be 1968 for cryonics there, it is not 1968 for me, and it has not been so for 40 years. I am old and growing rapidly older. All the second sight that 40 years of life spent in the service of cryonics has given me cannot restore the youth required to start life anew. I turn and contemplate that visage in the window, more clearly visible now as the sun edges closer to the horizon, and the Perspex becomes reflective.

Second sight, the dictionary tells me, is a noun defined as “the power of discerning what is not visible to the physical eye, or of foreseeing future events, especially such as are of a disastrous kind; the capacity of a seer; prophetic vision.” This gift allows me to look, effortlessly, past the skin and bone of my face, deep into my brain, and deeper still to peruse the layers of tangled cells woven into a fabric that is briefly, rhythmically distorted by each pulse of blood racing through it. The fabric has begun to look thin and is frankly threadbare in spots. It is a shadow of the dense and pulsing tangle it once was in my youth. It is pared down – well compensated considering the number of neurons lost, and the even greater diminution of the connections between them. It is a folded and refolded blanket of cells racing towards dotage, and already two-thirds of the way to its destination. There is horror in this vision and in the realization it invokes in me, and I am, once again, walking along that street in Moscow with a group of young Russian cryonicists.

As Aschwin deWolf so elegantly wrote[3], “We often wonder why not more people choose cryonics to improve the odds of being part of the future. Could it be that important reasons for not doing so involve scenarios of the future that are too unpleasant to discuss in decent company?” He goes on to quote, appropriately enough, Fydor Dostoevsky:

“Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away.”

Maybe that blinding flash of insight was the reality after all. I reflect on Dostoevsky’s remarks and search my soul. There is, I suppose, always a silver lining. If this is a life of penance, perhaps to be followed by some meting out of justice, then I have many years ahead of me before I descend either into dotage or redemption. I smile inwardly as I think that sins such as mine might even take an eternity to atone for.

But no, this not the case: the world is as it seems, and I am headed home.

Milton’s words that repose framed in wood and glass next to the front door of my home in Northern Arizona (sometimes baking in the desert heat and sometimes freezing in its cold) march slowly through my mind:

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Archangel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?–this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovereign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor–one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and co-partners of our loss,
Lie thus astonished on th’ oblivious pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy mansion, or once more
With rallied arms to try what may be yet
Regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell?”

God, I reflect, was kinder to Lucifer than to us. Consigned to Hell, He was at least allowed to live. And he was not subjected to the horror of disease, old age and death.

The aircraft is now over the vast expanse of the North Sea. Hell, I reflect, is only an ocean away, and I will be there soon enough. Yes, God was infinitely kinder to Lucifer, for even in his Lake of Fire, the Fallen Angel could reflect with some satisfaction that, “To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell; Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell; in Russia these ideas are only for the ignorant, the foolish, the feeble minded, and the crafty users of men who prey on thir inborn fear of senseless suffering, death and oblivion.

We are solidly in the stratosphere now and headed West towards the setting sun. I think of myself standing in the dusty streets of Luxor in southern Egypt. I look out across the Nile in my mind’s eye. The Ancient Egyptians had divided the city into two parts along the banks of the Nile. The East, the province of the rising sun and day, was the land of the living, while the Western shore of the Nile was the land of the dead. I am headed due west now, but where am I headed, towards life, or death? The steward has just brought me tea and has asked if there is anything else I want? “Yes,” I reply, “immortality and happiness.” “You are a Christian?” he asks, warily. “No, no, I respond,” smiling, “just a tired old man afraid of the coming dark.” He withdraws with a guarded look, no doubt thinking to himself, “Another crazy American.”

The image above was originally created to appear in Life Magazine in January, 1967 to accompany a feature article documenting the cryopreservation of the first man, Dr. James H. Bedford. However, due to the tragic deaths of the three Apollo astronauts Chaffe, Grissom and White, the presses were stopped after less than a million copies had been printed. A second first week of February issue of Life was printed and substituted. Copies of the original 3 February issue that had been printed were distributed to subscribers who lived mostly in Southern or rural areas of the US.  As a consequence, the image above did not achieve widespread media distribution until 1968. It continues to be a staple image used by media around the world to illustrate stories about cryonics even though the technology pictured has not been used since 1968. The photograph was taken by the renowned Life photographer Henry Groskinsky.

Notes from the Future

I pick up one of the Russian language magazines the steward has left as reading material for the remainder of the flight. As I leaf through its pages of incomprehensible Cyrillic, my eye is caught by what is, to me, an iconic image. It is a photograph that saturated print stories about cryonics in 1968. The article that accompanies it begins: “Крионика – это практика замораживания обречённых на смерть пациентов до ультранизких (криогенных) температур и их дальнейшего сохранения в жидком азоте.”

When the steward returns for my empty cup I ask him what that sentence means. He looks intently at the page and clearly reads on beyond that first line.

“It’s about preserving dying people in the extreme cold until they can cure them,” he says.

“Does it say dying people or dead people,” I ask him?” “Dying people,” he responds, “why would anyone want to do that to dead people? If your heart stops you are not always dead, no?” he responds. I thank him and look out the window. For onto 40 years now, I have been going back and forth and walking up and down over that earth, now spread out below me, in order to make exactly that point. Possibly, just possibly, there is some hope after all.

- Mike Darwin, August, 2008, London, England

[1] I was at least was prepared for the idea of such a device by reading SF author Fred Pohl’s prescient book The Age of the Pussyfoot (1965) about a cryopatient , Charles Forrester, who  is revived from cryopreservation in the year 2527, having been killed in a fire 500 years earlier.  Pohl envisioned that everyone would have a ‘Joymaker’ a person communications device that had all of these functions: Access to basic computing power for money management and similar activities; Access to libraries at any time, in any place; Education of children, each of whom had a special Joymaker; Health and medical care- the Joymaker continuously monitored vital signs, physiological and psychological status. and the central computer could order it to dispense medication, or it could solicit emergency medical assistance; Message store and forward functions, which we now call voice mail; Ordering food and drink, whether at home or in public; All payment was done using the central computer; Ordering other goods for delivery; Public Address system – any group of people could hear a public announcement on their Joymakers; Locating people; the central computer could track the position of any Joymaker, and by extension, its owner. This information could be made available (at the owner’s discretion); Jobs not requiring physical presence such as product evaluation and psychological reactions of the ‘employee’ to advertising, entertainment or news. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_the_Pussyfoot)

[2] Intourist was the official state travel agency of the Soviet Union, in fact it was the only travel agency and the only way to visit the Soviet union as a tourist.  It was founded in 1929 by Joseph Stalin and was staffed by NKVD (which became the KGB) officials. Intourist was responsible for managing the great majority of foreigners’ access to, and travel within, the Soviet Union. Intourist was, at one time, the largest tourism organization in the world incorporating or co-opting banks, hotels, and bureaux de changes. Vistors to the Soviet Union were assigned an Intourist minder who stayed with them throughout their visit and supervised all interactions of the tourist with the local population.

[3] http://www.depressedmetabolism.com/sophistry-and-illusion-can-economic-man-resurrect-ethics/

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4 Responses to 1968 AD > Cryonics > Reboot

  1. Mark Plus says:

    You haven’t lost your literary gift, Mike. I recognize the same mind which wrote “Transitions” back in 1984, which I have found moving. I’ve copied out your lines from the earlier composition and posted them in a couple of places:

    “Despite the worry it is good to be alive.

    “It is good to be alive.

    “It is even worth waiting for.”

    I’ve never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels (I plan to remedy that soon; I have several on the Barnes & Noble wish list for my Nook), but I recall reading that towards the end of his life Vonnegut said that if you live long enough, you get to know “the future” of many of the people you knew earlier in life. I guess you, especially, now know “the future” of the American cryonics movement in the late 1960′s, and I can understand your disappointment with it. Perhaps cryonics tried to take root in the wrong society, and at the wrong time, In Russia we see the failure of the effort to create a secularized utopia; only the utopia part failed, not the secularization part. The survivors, after picking up the pieces and reassessing their potentials, just might have the right correlation of forces at their disposal to make cryonics succeed.

    • unperson says:

      you wrote “In Russia we see the failure of the effort to create a secularized utopia; only the utopia part failed, not the secularization part. ”

      Or was soviet empire simply something promised the people, i.e., socialism, but the upper class, those in power, stole everything for themselves and made it work for themselves. Those with the gold made the rules there, too, same as everywhere else. Just no private property. The state did not belong to the people there, but to the party elite. It was socialism with quotes around it. Same thing in ‘communist’ china.

      Long story short–just because those in power say “This is X,” that don’t mean it is X.

      The American elite prattle on about how democratic america is. Same deal. Very little democracy can happen in a large divided nation.

    • admin says:

      Kurt Vonnegut was a native of Indianapolis, IN, just like moi. There must be something in the drinking water there (Jim Jones was from Indy, too :-(). I hadn’t heard that quote from Vonnegut before, but it is both profound and true. When I was very young (in my early teens) I read some of Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle was the first. I didn’t get him at all. I thought the idea of Ice 9 was cool, but I couldn’t understand what he was really saying.

      If you want a good start, before jumping headlong into his very unusual sensibility, read Welcome to the Monkey House, which is a collection of very accessible short stories.

      The “Russian version” of Vonnegut, though not written by a Russian, is Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Yossarian has a lot to say about the human condition, and about the position of sane people who just want to go on living in a world full of crazy people, who don’t. I’ve always thought that Catch-22 would be the Catcher in the Rye equivalent for disaffected immortalist youth. Except there aren’t any – immortalist youths, disaffected or otherwise. — Mike Darwin

  2. You could get a simple addition version of the slide rule
    Anyone good at mental arithmetic could easily add up faster, which is why I was given one for free!
    and the multifunctional version of the pocket calculator was about the size of a hand grenade
    The latter very very expensive. Inflation adjusted, they cost far more than a tablet computer. As I recall the money cost was about the same.
    Another relevant point to future shock is the fact that in the 1950s/60s it was easy to make electronic goods like radios and tape recorders. I even knew someone who made a tape recorder deck completely from scratch from sheets of mild steel. Although today you can assemble desktop computers to your own design quite easily, you are only plugging parts. Making a laptop or tablet would be impossible. You can make electronic products from board computers like the Raspberry Pi, but it is a very different process to making a tape deck from sheet steel.

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