CHRONOSPHERE » Culturomics A revolution in time. Fri, 03 Aug 2012 22:34:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 i Birth of a NeoInsurgent Cryonicst Mon, 12 Mar 2012 03:44:48 +0000 chronopause Continue reading ]]> By CryoX

Illustrations by Mike Darwin

This is a work of fiction  {or is it?}

We Froze the First Fly.

Great title.

I could have written it.

I should have written it.

I’m an insect endocrinologist.

This futon in the lab lounge is so hard and lumpy I’d’ rather crash on the floor. But it’s nearly as sticky-gray as the table cum journal holder, cum lamp stand at the end of it. I am waiting on some gel tracks to finish. I wearily sit up, grab the ratted copy of PNASty on the coffee-juice soaked table next to the fridge. It comes away from the faux wood-grain surface with a stickysssssss.  The journal opens, on cue to,  ”Conversion of the chill susceptible fruit fly larva (Drosophila melanogaster) to a freeze-tolerant organism.”

Did I mention I’m also a cryonicist?

My middle name is Drosophila.



Feelings of worthlessness.

Should I call GOD (Grand Old (Mike) Darwin) when I get home? That’s a conversation I can’t have here, or at Starbucks across the street.

GOD knows everything, well, almost everything.

Yeah, I should call him.

He hates it when I call him that, so I guess I should call him Darwin here, or maybe just “him”, when it’s grammatically correct.

I started phoning him after I got turned onto the history of the interaction between scientists and cryonics by something Chris Hayworth wrote.

Then I was pulled into his blog.

This place (where I work) is close to one of the Great Libraries. Periodicals. Films. There’s maybe two places  you can go to find out about the history of cryonics and science as it happened: Mike Darwin, and the Library of Congress.  When I started, I didn’t know to start with Mike Darwin. I’d have saved a lot of time. But I think it would’ve warped my perspective .

Digging through the stacks of magazines and newspapers from the 1960s and the 1970s, ordering up 35 mm film, kinescopes, and videotapes that were the size of hard drives from 1980′s, was like opening old tombs. That stuff smells. It feels ancient. Dead. Gone.

Darwin is alive. Electric. Now. He ruins the past by making it present.

The gels are done.

I’m done.



The bugdust can wait till tomorrow.

I get Darwin on the Droid and start pouring out my woes about the missed opportunity with frozen flies. He is only mildly moved. “It’s good work,” he says, “not so much because it’s great science, but because it shows people straining to do something, to try, to be clever. I know this will sound impossibly, prickishly arrogant, but this is work that could have been done, and should have been done by a kid in high school, or middle school as a Science Fair project 10, or even 15 years ago. No, no, not the DSC (differential scanning calorimetry), and all the sophisticated science, but the basic work of trying to successfully introduce cryoprotectants into flies, or other larger organisms, and then freeze them successfully. Planaria would be a great model for that!”

“Really?” I replied with some skepticism.

The image of a Justin Bieber, working studiously at my bench,  just didn’t crystallize in my mind?

“Hell yes!”

“In the 1970s, students, children,  were freezing mammals – reproducing Smith’s work – and Greg Fahy and I had both done experiments with invertebrates (and me with vertebrates) before the Science Fair banned such work. In fact, you can introduce 6% DMSO into gold fish. I never tried to see how much additional ice that lets them tolerate. Now, because all such biological “hacking ” is banned, no kid is going to try things like introducing combinations of molecules like perhaps a  membrane protecting sugar such as trehalose,  a protective amino acid such as proline,  and a small amount of a colligative agent, such as glycerol, DMSO or ethylene glycol into a common pest, like the California garden snail. Can’t be done. They’d send the poor bastard off  for a psych referral and counseling.  “Tsk, tsk, you maladjusted, mean little bugger,” they’d say.  ”Why, the next thing you know, you’ll be pulling the wings off song birds and sniffing your mates’ jockstraps in the locker room.”

“I had to admit, he had a point. ”

“So you’re saying I shouldn’t feel so bad that I didn’t do this  experiment 10 years ago?”

“No, I’m saying that as far as your likelihood of  brilliant scientific contributions to cryobiology goes, you’re fucked.  In my opinion, that window probably closed when you were a graduate student, and it certainly closed after you were a post doc. Any mark you make scientifically now in cryobiology/cryonics will be along the lines of what Donaldson did, and Donaldson was a fucking genius.”

“And I’m guessing you think I’m not?” I replied.

“Who do people always put words in my mouth, and then get royally pissed off at me? I’m glad you’re recording these calls, and I hope you not only save them, but that you actually listen to them some day. Because when you do, you’re going find that, to your considerable surprise,  after 20 or 30 years of telling people that “Mike Darwin called you a fucking moron,” in fact, what I really said  was nothing at all. Literally, nothing at all. Please, try and remember that.

People have this remarkable tendency to substitute their own dire adjectives at junctures like this when they are forced to confront the hard reality that they are not geniuses, or millionaires, or movies stars, or any other of those nearly impossible ideals and that, at least during  this life cycle, they are not going to be.  That is one of the most important reasons why we are tangled up in cryonics in the first place! Because, if you stop and think about it even a little, not even George Clooney, or Bill Gates, or Barac Obama, or anybody gets it all. They only get a teeny tiny bit of it: and then they die. Whitney Houston. Fantastic, angelic voice. Beautiful woman. Rich, rich rich! Miserable life. Dead. Great stuff, huh? ” Cryonics isn’t just about any of those things, it’s about all of those things, minus death, and infinitely more,  and that’s what makes its transcendent.  That’s why the prefix trans keeps popping up spontaneously in cryonics (and everywhere else in human culture).”

“So what do you think I should do?” I ask.

“If you mean what specifically, the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ And that’s because you are not a PFC and I’m not a general. You’re not a grunt with an IQ of 90, under the authority of a nation-state, that I can order about at my pleasure. If I try to do that, you’ll turn on me like a cornered rat. In fact, odds are, you’ll do that no matter how I choose to interact with you. It’s just that the odds are a lot better that it will happen later, rather than sooner.

So I can’t give you orders. I can’t even really give you specific suggestions, because as soon as I do, you’ll start returning with all kinds of ‘well but’s', because again, it will rapidly degenerate into my planning your life. That won’t work.”

“So what does work?”

“The nature of an insurgency is that, in its early stages, it is self organizing.  Still, it must reach a critical mass. How it does that is still a mystery to me. I think it is part chance, part timing, part the presence of the right individual – the nucleating individual.”

“Do you think you’re that nucleator?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think.  At any one time there are a thousand, ten thousand, maybe a million guys who think they are the nucleators. I was in the UK at the baths and all the action had stopped. All the men had gathered around the telly  to watch this ghastly, absolutely ghastly woman with Asperger’s from Scotland sing.[i] There was no sex to be had anywhere; these men had paid good money to get laid and they’re watching this ghastly woman on TV! She sang. Objectively, her voice was good. Not great, not fantastic. Definitely the kind of voice that can make a meager living for you at the low end of the industry if you have a good personality and a great manager; clearly neither of which she had. Good singing voices are common. Great singing voices, truly great singing voices, are not. Now this, on the telly, commanding the attention of gay men in a city where you can hear the most magnificent voices in the world at St. Martin’s in the Field for fucking free (if you can read)!

As it turned out, she became a sensation, went onto fame in the U.S., sold millions of albums! It was mad, absolutely mad! And I assure you, it had nothing to do with her raw talent. She was one of millions and millions of would-be nucleating agents trying for that peculiar niche, and she was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Did she think she was going to be a multimillionaire hit recording star? It doesn’t really matter, because she is. It’s very much like the lottery if you are poor , disenfranchised, have no other options and desperately want to get hold of millions. Well it’s really your only chance, and if you don’t play, you can’t win.

I’d also hasten to add that you’d best be careful what you wish for and be damn sure you have the tools and the talent to handle it if you get it, because most people who  win the lottery are destroyed by it. And the results of winning for most insurgents and insurgencies are disastrous for them.”

“But back to me? Where do I fit in?”

“You say you’ve become ‘obsessed’ with the war between the cryobiologists and us. What have you learned?”

“That you single-handedly squashed those Cacks . Reading that history, the history that you wrote of the battle royale between the cryobiologists and the cryonicists,  between them and us, I mean, that was the catalyst. When I began looking at the source material, it didn’t compute. ”

“Why not?”

“They caved too quickly. It was all over as if they’d been hit in the taint with a sledge hammer. That didn’t make sense. Cacks don’t wage a 20 year war, invest their reputations and take the time to go on TV and talk to journalists, and then just stop. Not. Doesn’t happen.”


“So I wanted to know what did happen. I know that you threatened to sue them. They’re herd animals.  But some of them are mavericks. And some of them are stupid, too. ”

“Like Dr. Arthur Rowe, who, in fact, is still alive, and recently, like a frozen Woolly Mammoth in some bad B-movie, has come back to life, eons later, and is making TV appearances again, trashing cryonics.”

“Yeah, like  Arthur Rowe.”

“There are colleagues of mine here who won’t talk to any journalist, but if someone from Wired or Scientific American comes sniffing around, they can’t help themselves. Greed and ego, ego and greed.”


“So, I wanted to know what happened and that’s when I started digging. I guess that’s when I began to understand your message on Chronosphere and to understand what the word insurgency meant. I think it’s Chris Hayworth who mentions that you threatened to sue the Society for Cryobiology.

When your name comes up in cryonics, everybody thinks they know you, and everyone has a story to tell about you. In a small group of people who’ve been involved for a while, I’m usually the only one that hasn’t got anything to say. Listening to that kind of talk is funny. I sit and think about the letters written to those scientists’ bosses. And to the bosses of those scientists’ bosses. About the phone calls, probably hundreds of phone calls made to university chancellors, blood bank officials, trustee members, university board members, grant committee remembers. About all the letters, hundreds and hundreds of letters on different letter heads, on no letter heads; letters written and mailed to the same types of people complaining about the unscientific, unethical, overreaching and improper behavior of their scientist employees.  Courteous letters and not so courteous letters.

And I have to wonder what kinds of letters some of those scientists, or their families, the ones who didn’t stop their unscientific and irrational attacks on cryonics, might have received?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”

“You know, a few of the secretaries and support staff who worked for some of the most outspoken scientific critics of cryonics are still around. They offer an interesting peek into that time. You ground those people down. In fact, you sacred the crap out of them.”

“I had help.”

“I’m sure you did. But it was you. It was your idea. It was your leadership. It was your insurgency, as you would put it.”


“Melody Maxim?”

“What about her?”

“She was not merely annoying, she was becoming dangerously destructive. Not because of the true things she was saying. Had she spoke the truth – no matter how malignantly or viciously, no matter with what calls for regulation and policing, I would have remained silent. But she began to lie, to defame good men who were cryopreserved and who could not defend themselves; to threaten the lives of innocent people, and to try to destroy cryonics on the basis of fraud and force. Interestingly, the response of the cryonics organizations (and their members) twenty years after the cryobiologists’ attacks on cryonics organizations that were now orders of magnitude bigger in size and with assets larger still, was to revert to type. It was exactly the same as it had been before 1980. They simply argued with these creeps in their own forums, were picked off one by one, took it, watched the opposition grow dangerously and did nothing. And in the bargain, they fought with each other!

I was stunned. Frankly, I was more stunned than I am today, having just been informed that both my parents have  been dead for four months and that I was deliberately not informed about it. It shook me to core.  I realized, as I read over that traffic, that cryonics was in no way going to work. It wasn’t an opinion, or a guess, or a hunch, it was a simple fact. It was like turning on the TV on 9/11 and seeing those people falling from one of the Twin Towers. There could be absolutely no question in your mind that whilst those people were alive, they were absolutely certain to be dead within a (short) and quantifiable period of time.

You have to realize that I was not following any of that traffic in real-time. I was busy doing all kinds of other things. In fact, during that immediate time interval, I was in London,  soaking up art, music, food, culture and having more sex than any one person should ever have. It was only because of the persistence of this fellow with the handle of Finance Director (FD), who kept intruding into my life to tell me how I was being slandered by this Melody Maxim person, that I even began to read that pap.

And then it took awhile , a long while, to deal with the shock of that “cryonics 9/11.” At least credit me with a lot more sense than George W. Bush. My measured response was to write the “Failure Analysis Lectures” which have been, I must say, a spectacular failure.

But I also began Chronosphere, and I began efforts to squelch the attacks on cryonics. I believe those were successful. Of course, Alcor was also suing Larry Johnson, and I think that that was enormously useful in that it sent the clear message that lies, even if mixed with the truth, will be very costly. They can and will cost you your home, your job, your reputation.

Unfortunately, it is in the nature of the U.S. tort system, and of insurgencies, that they  have an inherent dark side. It’s in the nature of any force, of any weapon or technology that there is the capability for harm equal to or greater than that which is present for good. Insurgencies are more like projectile weapons, than, say,  bladed weapons, such as knives or swords. As such, they are more suited for warfare and they are mostly of use for killing and mayhem. This is also the difference between the National Guard and the Army, and between the Police and the Army, and it is why you never use the Army in place of the Police. Never. The problem with the Johnson victory is that while most of the book is lies, there is still a meta-truth to it. The “victory”, which was also a shallow one, is thus further diluted, because it was not a completely just one.

There is so little second guessing the fight against the Nazi/Axis ~70 years later because:

the Nazis were  kooks,

they behaved with abominable aggressiveness,

their European allies were kooks,

they behaved with disgusting barbarity,

they left the concentration camps to be filmed and photographed,

they were utterly and completely defeated and humiliated,

it was all beautifully documented.

What you witnessed in the ultimate response to Maxim was the rekindling of a mini-insurgency. I gave no orders. Before I came on the scene, Alcor was already prosecuting Johnson, albeit neglecting their flanks with Maxim and Arnold. However, that was not enough then and it is not enough now.

It’s not just about “enemies.” It ‘s about not making progress, about not doing science. It’s about not being excited, planning, thinking, innovating and being obsessed with, and in love with cryonics. The failure to defend ourselves; that’s a symptom of all those other things being absent. Only  the sick, the weak, the distracted or the demented fail to defend themselves.”

[i] Susan Boyle

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Casual Conversation: A Remembrance of Things Past Tue, 05 Jul 2011 03:21:02 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]>

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

- Marcel Proust

By Mike Darwin

A Digital Ark

A couple of years ago I did a “document dump” of scanned/digitized cryonics historical materials to the CryoEuro Wiki, which is  hosted and maintained by Eugen Leitl ( I’ve been scanning the cryonics historical material in my possession for about 4 years now.  It is slow going and the results are often less than gratifying. I have 3 flatbed scanners at my disposal – two of which have been made ancient by the so far relentless march of Moore’s law. Still, they allow me the luxury of improving my efficiency a bit; while one scanner is arduously capturing a page and writing it to the hard drive, I can proceed to scan another page on another scanner.

I labor under such constraints because apparently (with the exception of Dr. Mike Perry) no one else gives a damn whether these resources survive or perish. Cynical words, I know, but also words that are true.

Why should anyone care? The past is the past and the science and technology of cryonics have moved on. The social, economic and political milieu that cryonics struggles in today is also greatly changed; perhaps so much so it might be argued, that the past is of relevance only as a curiosity, or as resource for future academics and historians of cryonics to use in writing learned dissertations and advancing peculiar theories about why things happened as they did, or turned out in the way they will? From my compromised vantage point (as a player in these events) it is hard for me to tell. My gut feeling is that the near complete absence of interest in this material, and in the historical epoch it chronicles, is a sign that something is wrong in cryonics. Or, maybe more accurately and promisingly, that something is simply missing at the moment.

Figure 1: The build up and collapse of sand piles exhibit the property of surface fractals – also called cellular automata. The spikes (green) in the graph at the right of the illustration above show the ups and down of the sand pile’s height over time. The inset (blue) graph shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average during January of 2009. The similarity in the pattern of activity between the DJIA and the behavior of sand piles is almost certainly not a coincidence.

I think that most who seriously study the history of cryonics will conclude that there appear to be cycles of activism and interest. There is nothing remarkable in this: the same is true in almost any area of human undertaking, and of human history in general: peace-war, peace-war, boom-bust, boom-bust… Dribble grains of sand onto a sand pile and you’ll see a similar (if not identical) phenomenon. In fact, it seems to be a fundamental property of living systems. Physicists Per Bak, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld noted that as grains of sand are randomly added to a sand pile and it experiences build ups and collapses, this behavior exhibits the property of surface fractals – also called cellular automata, with the “avalances” obeying the Eden Growth Model (Figure 1). This is the same rule that underlies the growth of bacterial colonies on an agar plate. In short, there is nothing mysterious about it. The overall pattern of build up and collapse over time looks much like like the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the period of a month or so (see blue insert graph in Figure 1). So goes sand piles, so goes cryonics and so goes the world.

Sand Piles & Soothsayers?

The Bak–Tang–Wiesenfeld sand pile model is lovely to know about, but it won’t help you pick a high performing stock, or even tell you what the market will do – beyond the fact that it will most likely exhibit behavior similar to that seen Figure 1 – except every great (and equally unpredictable) once in awhile, when it will behave very, very differently (so-called Black Swan events).  Again, this is nice to know, but it is of little practical utility to the day trader, or the casual investor. And therein lies the rub – because we cryonicists are ostensibly in it for the long haul. And that’s where the history of cryonics becomes potentially very useful.

Figure 2: Alcor membership from 1972 to 2010. What can be learned from a careful analysis of these data? Is there a discernible reason(s) why growth in membership became nearly exponential, briefly, during the early 1980s?

Figure 3: The Alcor patient population from 1975 to 2010.

At the most basic level, it allows us to see what the pattern of activity has historically been like in cryonics. That does not necessarily mean that it will continue in the same way. However, there is now nearly 50 years of cryonics history. That’s a substantial baseline, and if you chart the progress of cryonics over that time by almost any measure, and you look at the primary historical record, you’ll immediately notice that in no way has cryonics behaved as it was predicted to do by the first generation of cryonicists (or for that matter, by any subsequent generation). There was no widespread “revolutionary” adoption of the idea, and if Alcor membership and patient statistics are examined, it is immediately apparent that growth was not only not logarithmic, it has been (mostly) linear (Figures 2 & 3). The Google N-gram for the frequency with which the word cryonics appears in published books (English language) similarly shows a lack of logarithmic growth (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Google N-gram for the frequency with which the word “cryonics” appears in books published in the English language from 1964 to 2010.  Does the shape of this curve reliably correlate with historical events in cryonics?

Beyond these basic observations, if we want to understand if there are any reasons for “bad” or “good” intervals on these, or other indices of how cryonics has performed over time, we will necessarily have to have recourse to history. Did anything happen of historical note to jump start Alcor’s growth in the 1980s? If so, what was it, and can anything be learned from examining the historical record in detail that might prove useful in assisting the growth of Alcor, and more generally the growth of cryonics, today? Do the pauses in growth and the occasional downturns that are in evidence to varying degrees in all of these charts mean anything? If so, are there lessons for us? What strategies were suggested (and tried) in the past, and did they work? Are the same kinds of errors being made now that were made a decade ago, or even 40 years ago? What kind of people, with what kinds of skills were responsible for growth spurts or paradigm shifts within cryonics? Indeed, what were the paradigm shifts, and did they matter?

Figure 5: The rates at which novel consumer technologies were adopted in the United States.

More generally, can we look to the ‘adoption curves’ of other technologies and draw any useful conclusions for cryonics? If nothing else, a quick glance at Figure 5 shows the profound delaying effect that the economic havoc of the 1929 stock market crash followed by the Great Depression and World War II had on some, but not all technologies. Are there implications for cryonics in such metrics both now, and in the future?

I don’t know the answers to these questions with certainty. But I do know, from experience, that carefully studying what worked and what didn’t, and paying close attention to membership and patient growth curves (not just in Alcor, but in cryonics as a whole) was essential to the success that Alcor enjoyed from ~ 1981 to ~ 1990. These data were critical in shaping the decisions that I and others made during that interval.[1] As George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Leaving aside the practical utility of the historical record of cryonics, I believe it is both fascinating and rewarding to peruse. It is also part of our duty as cryonicists to be aware of our history and to hold gratitude for, and give credit to those who worked to create it. Imagine waking up one day to find that all but the barest memory of your past had vanished? You know your name, where you work, perhaps where you were born, most of the things you need to get through the day; but nothing of where you came from, or what your experiences were 5 years ago, let alone 10, 15 or 20 years previously. Aside from the fact that much in your life and your experience would be puzzling and frustrating, there would also be the reality that you would have a suffered a terrible loss. The tapestry of our lives – the events, experiences and memories we hold as individuals, constitute the anchoring core of our being. Without them, we become shallow and lost. The same is true of institutional, scientific and academic disciplines. It is possible to participate in these disciplines without knowledge of their history; but only as a yeoman or a technician – as cog in the wheel.

The Corpus

The idea was to organize the material now residing on CryoEuro in such a way that it would be easily accessible. Materials would be grouped by type, by time and by the organizations that produced them.They were to have had brief, objective introductions explaining what they are and how they relate to others items in the archive. Alas, several years have passed, and this seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. While I doubt there are many (if any) others currently active in cryonics who will find this material of either great interest or great use, I can’t know that for sure, and what’s more, this effort is an investment in the future of cryonics. It may lie fallow for some time, but the fact that the data are there is important, and its wider dissemination should not be delayed further.

Since the materials are not currently cataloged or organized in any way, I thought it would be a good idea to at least provide the barest overview of the documents that are there, along with URLs that will allow the curious to sample them.

There is a good deal of the literature of the first cryonics organizations, as well as significant media coverage from the period. Science fiction writer Fred Pohl’s 1964 Playboy magazine is there:

as well as the Paris Match article (if you read French) detailing Dr. James Bedford’s cryopreservation:

The Paris Match article is almost a direct translation of the famous LIFE magazine article which was scuttled when astronauts Grissom, Chaffee and White were incinerated in an oxygen fire in Apollo 1.

There is low-end tabloid-style coverage of cryonics from 1968, such as the True men’s magazine article about Steven Mandel’s cryopreservation:

Critical commentary from influential thinks of the time, such as Isaac Asimov is also present:

as are later, more cynical articles, such as the 1978 Playboy piece, “Frozen Guys”:

There are also articles from the late 1980s documenting the Dora Kent incident, though the record as represented here is far from complete:

Most of the first (still extant) newsletters of the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY) are present starting in 1966 and going forward until Immortality, the successor magazine to the original Cryonics Reports ceased publication :

Promotional material from the early days of cryonics, such as the full color Cryo-Span brochure have been carefully scanned and restored:

The full proceedings of the First Annual National Cryonics Conference which was held in 1968 is also available:

Isamu Suda’s Nature article documenting his claim that cat brains can recover EEG activity after days of frozen storage at -20oC was used by CSNY (and all succeeding cryonics organizations) as a promotional tool, and a copy of that article, as distributed by CSNY is present:

I believe that all of the issues of the Chamberlain’s extraordinary effort, Manrise Technical Review, are presented and accounted for. A sampling is here:

With the exception of the last 2 issues, all of Life Extension, later to become Long Life magazine has been scanned. Yes, that’s right; there was both a Life Extension, and a Long Life magazine long before the current efforts by the Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute:

A few issues of the  complete Cryonics (1980s) magazine (with illustrations) have been scanned.

Since I was informed that Alcor will shortly be scanning and uploading these issues of Cryonics to their website library, I have not proceeded further with this arduous task. [Because I am using a flatbed scanner which will not accommodate 8.5” x 14” images, each issue of Cryonics that I scan must be completely disassembled – aligning the pages is also an onerous task.]

The original, professionally published (color cover) of Cryonics: Reaching for Tomorrow is present, as well as this prototypical 1989 version:

There are also a fair number of scientific journal articles relating to cryobiology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, cerebral resuscitation, cerebral ischemia and liquid ventilation, which are likely to be of interest only to researchers working in these areas. One classic paper which deserves mention is the original work of Ames, et al., documenting the no-reflow in the brain after cardiac arrest[2]:

Considerations Past, Present & Future

There is a staggering amount of material still in need of scanning – literally thousands of pages. I’ve tried to digitize the documents that seemed most historically relevant; but that is my subjective judgment and it is no doubt deeply flawed.

There will be accidentally omitted pages and other errors in these documents. These are mostly raw, unedited scans. There was no one to proof my work when I first undertook it, and that is still the case today. I apologize for errors or omissions but also want to be note that I did the best job I could, given my personal and technical limitations.

In many instances, documents which still remain to be scanned, exist as the only copy. This is a dangerous situation: several years ago the plastic sprinkler pipe in our home froze while we were away, inundating the whole house with countless gallons of water. Some of the archival material (fortunately a very small fraction) were damaged, and some (a few items) were completely destroyed.  The bulk of the archive was saved because it was stored in closets that were largely inaccessible to the 3-day long downpour from the ceiling. Since then, the materials have been repacked in covered plastic bins. Whilst this makes ready access very difficult and time consuming, it was a necessary tradeoff.

Dr. Mike Perry is similarly slowly laboring to digitize the cache of material he has accumulated. Sadly, a significant fraction of the CSNY archive was sent off to Underground Vaults and Storage in Kansas, and I’ve long since given up hope of seeing it again anytime soon (the cost of retrieval is ~$2,000). Mike has digitized all of Ev Cooper’s Life Extension Society newsletters Freeze-Wait-Reanimate as well as the all of the Cryonics Society of Michigan (now the Immortalist Society/Cryonics Institute) newsletters The Outlook and The Immortalist. Hopefully these will be available on-line soon, as well.

I will add to this archive as I can and I would encourage others to do so as well. If you have media articles, literature, correspondence, photos or items you think might be of historical import to cryonics, please contact either Eugen Leitl ( or me.



[1] I was President of Alcor from 1982 to 1988 and a critical force in management until shortly before my departure in 1992.

[2] After ~ 6 minutes of cardiac arrest it becomes difficult bordering on impossible to restore blood flow to the brain under normal clinical conditions. Even now, over 30 years later, the mechanisms which underlie the no-reflow phenomenon are not fully understood.

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Future Babble: A Review and Commentary Thu, 30 Jun 2011 05:37:07 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]>  

  • McClelland & Stewart (October 12, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0771035195

Book Review and Commentary by Mike Darwin

The success of cryonics, both in absolute and relative terms, arguably depends upon the accuracy and precision with which we (cryonicists) can predict the future. Our ability as seers is important in the absolute sense, because failure to accurately anticipate the requisite social, economic and scientific developments necessary for the success of cryonics would mean that we are wasting our time, energy and money – and perhaps should  concentrate those assets on other strategies for survival (or more simply, stop tilting at windmills and enjoy our life in the here and now). Our predictive ability is also important to cryonics’ success relatively, since failure to accurately foresee the short- to intermediate-term future of cryonics is very likely to erode our credibility with both the general public and the professional and scientific communities and result in failure to anticipate lethal problems that might otherwise have been avoided.

If you doubt that this is so, there is a simple on-line “game” that you can “play” that was developed by cryonicist and computer programmer Brook Norton.  It is called The Cryonics Calculator: Derivation of Cryonics Probabilities, and it allows you to enter the risk of various possible failure modes for your hypothetical (or real) cryonics organization and then see what happens to the probability you that you will remain cryopreserved long enough to be revived: results might be described as the reverse of compound interest: small risks for any short period of time become lethal risks over long periods of time. In plugging scenarios into the The Cryonics Calculator, I was also reminded of the liability of complex systems with hundreds or thousands of critical components to failure, even if the per component reliability is 99%. Spacecraft, as any Shuttle engineer will tell you, are a good example of this phenomenon.

So, how do we do in predicting the future? That question isn’t hard to answer in the case of most cryonicists, because there is a fairly large base of written material available to peruse in making an assessment. The answer is that we do horribly. Really horribly.

Of course, cryonicists are by no means the only people interested in predicting the future. To some extent, everybody wants to know what tomorrow holds. Economists, politicians, investors, corporations, in fact just about every human institution and enterprise, has a strong incentive to accurately predict what lies ahead.  Indeed, many people make their livings doing just that; stock market analysts, commodities advisers, government intelligence analysts, and even the neighborhood fortune teller are all  paid to peer into the future and tell us what lies in store. In answer to the question of how well these more conventional (and vastly more respected) seers perform, Canadian journalist Dan Gardner wrote the book Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Gardner’s conclusion, informed heavily by the research of Philip Tetlock, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania,  is that the experts, be they economists, petroleum experts, futurists, or political pundits are about as accurate in forecasting the future as as a group of “dart-throwing monkeys.”

In fact, on average, you’d be better off making decisions about what is to come based on a simple coin toss, or deciding that “things will stay about the same.” The first question that comes to mind is, “why are the experts (and indeed humans in general) so bad at predicting the future?” Gardner explores the answers to this question in clear, easy to understand terms in text that is as concise as it is fast paced. At the most basic level, predicting the future suffers from the problems of complexity and chaos that are inherent in the real world. Want to know when “peak oil” production will occur? How hard that can be to figure out? There is clearly a finite amount of oil on the planet, it would seem we know how much is left, and it is certainly easy enough to plug in various numbers for the rate at which oil is being consumed. What’s so difficult about that?

As it turns out, even such a seemingly simple problem is enormously complex. Knowing where and how much untapped oil exists is more difficult than it seems. Technological advances cannot only make formerly unreachable oil accessible, it can also make long abandoned oil fields formerly considered “exhausted” highly productive.  And, as prices rise, previously economically nonviable sources of oil, such as oil sands, become cost effective to recover. While there is no question that oil will eventually run out, there is a huge difference between that happening in the 1980s, versus it not having happened 20 years later. Accuracy isn’t enough; precision is critically important as well.

If complexity weren’t a bad enough problem, to it can be added the problem of chaos, as in chaos theory. Modern chaos theory originated with the work of mathematician and meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz, who noticed that even infinitesimal changes to the numbers used in maths models of weather prediction resulted in radically altered outcomes.  It was Lorenz who discredited linear statistical models in meteorology and who famously asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” The answer is, yes, it can, and thus was born the term “the butterfly effect.”  Chaos powerfully limits both accuracy and precision in predicting the behavior of complex systems, of which the everyday world is certainly one.

A central point that Gardner considers is Tetlock’s study (and resulting book) Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (2005) which describes his 20-year long prospective study in which 284 experts in many fields, from university professors to journalists, and with many ideological orientations, from ultra-left Marxists to libertarian free-marketeers, were asked to make 28,000 predictions about the future. Tetlock found their performance dismal: they were only slightly more accurate than chance. His study was complex, but his conclusion was brutally simple: the experts were not only worse than run of the mill statistical models, they could barely eke out a tie with the proverbial dart-throwing chimps. And there was no difference in ideological bias; capitalists and Marxists performed equally poorly.

None of this should be too surprising. Lots of other authors have explored this phenomena in detail, most notably Tetlock himself  (i.e., Expert Political Judgement), and Nassim Taleb, in his superb book Fooled by Randomness (and the later in The Black Swan). The useful things about Gardener’s book are that it presents these ideas in a highly readable and accessible format, and that it explores the underlying psychology and biology of why we humans are such “seer-suckers.” We just can’t help coming back for more – usually from the same “discredited” experts who misled us only a few years, months or even weeks before.

Implications for Cryonics

Recently, in preparation for another piece of writing, I hauled out my copy of science fiction author Robert Heinlein’s 1980 book, Expanded Universe. Included in the book are his essays “1950 Where To?” and “The Third Millennium Opens.” The former are his predictions about the year 2000 made in 1950, and the latter are his predictions about the year 2001, made from the vantage point of 1980. In reading these, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that Heinlein was terrible, in fact ridiculously terrible at predicting the future.  “Where to?” is 7 pages long, whereas his attempt to justify and waffle on the failed predictions he makes there runs to (a pathetic) 29 pages!  Heinlein was neither stupid nor ignorant; he had access to some of the best  scientific, technical and military minds of his day (as did future forecasters Herman Kahn and Robert Prehoda) and yet he failed utterly to see what lay even 20  years ahead of him, as did virtually all of the other technological seers before him.

What does this mean for cryonics? At first glance the news would seem to be all bad. It is pretty clear that we can’t predict the future, even the very near term future (5-10 years), either in terms of technological advances or man-made or natural catastrophes.  The future remains as it has always been; not just to be seen “through a glass darkly,” but not to be seen at all. However, there is some more hopeful news summarized in Gardner’s book (and present in considerably greater detail in Tetlock’s superb book Expert Political Judgment), which I believe has real and useful application to cryonics. Not all seers in Tetlock’s study were equally bad. Some were truly  terrible, and those were invariably the experts who informed their decision making on the basis of an ideological agenda. It did not matter if the experts were Marxists or Capitalists; to the extent their decision making was ideologically based, it was invariably less accurate. The best decision makers relied on multiple sources of data, entered the problem solving process with minimal biases, and had little or no ego investment in their conclusions. In other words, they were willing to revise their thinking, admit errors and reevaluate their conclusions as necessary. That’s a fairly uncommon trait in humans, even amongst scientists.

The Directors, Officers and in particular the Chief Executive Officers of cryonics organizations are the ones on whom the proximate responsibility rests for shepherding the organization’s members and patients into the future.  In the past, no attention has been given to how these people should be selected. In large measure this has been because the pool of candidates has been vanishingly small, and all too often almost anyone willing to serve had to be accepted, for lack of any alternative. Hopefully, the future will offer more choice, and if and when it does, it would behoove us to carefully examine the background and the corpus of writing of those whom we choose to lead us. We should look for the accuracy and precision of their past decision making, as well for the extent to which they are “calibrated” in their decision making. If a person says (on average) that he is  ~80% confident his predictions will come true, and in fact, ~80% of them do prove correct, then he is 100% calibrated. This is important, because knowing how much confidence to place in your judgment is often crucial. Overconfidence can be a killer, as can endless waffling and the inability to act.

Beyond the leader as seer there are, of course, many duties and qualities required. These are beyond the scope of consideration here. However, it seems a good place to start that we not empower people to decide our futures who are demonstrably terrible at predicting it. Not just ‘flip of the coin bad,’ but truly terribly bad. Such people, it turns out, are fairly easy to spot by examining the corpus of their past work and decision making. This is quite different than looking at a “markers,” such as economic success. A used car salesman, a stock broker, or a huckster of commemorative coins may be tremendously financially successful. The question that should be asked in such cases is, “At whose expense?”



A few months ago, I was scanning (digitizing) some back issues of Cryonics magazine from 1988, and I happened to notice I had written (with assistance from Steve Harris, M.D.) an article predicting the future of medicine 20 years hence, entitled The Future of Medicine, Cryonics, January, 1988 pp. 31-40: and in Cryonics, February 1988, pp 10-20: I had forgotten I’d even written the article! You can read it and see how well (or poorly) I did.

That article led me to more comprehensively review my writings over the years. The results were interesting. For those of you who write, publicly or privately, I can promise you that rereading your writings in the decades to come will be a fascinating undertaking. Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Well, maybe, but I think that just perhaps, the unexamined life may be a lot more fun.



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How Not to Get Ahead in Cryonics: Using Google Ngram Technology to Expose Flawed Decision Making in Cryonics Fri, 11 Mar 2011 05:01:51 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]> By Mike Darwin The High Price of Mortality

The slate of human experience is wiped clean approximately every two generations (~ 50 years). This so far inescapable fact has had disastrous consequences for both cultures and civilizations. While it is possible to mitigate some of this loss by the expedient of the written word, and more recently through the use of other information storage and retrieval technologies, the fact remains that the bulk of the experiential information accumulated each generation is lost with the death of that generation.

Experience is difficult to encode in the written word, or in other symbolic systems, such as mathematics, in large measure because these mechanisms do not allow for recording the full bandwidth of the available and necessary information. The juxtaposition of emotion, facts and narrative; and their integration within the minds of the individuals who have acquired them, cannot yet be captured on any recording medium. Arguably, the most important commodity that is being lost with the extinction of each generation is wisdom, which may be described as “making the best use of available knowledge.” The loss of wisdom, as well as the loss of the vast body of knowledge accumulated in the billions of individual human minds, and which is not written down or recorded, is one of the most powerful arguments in favor of practical immortality, and an end to human dying.

Institutional Memory

Aside from the written and the recorded (spoken) words of those who precede us, perhaps the most valuable defense against the loss of wisdom with the passing of  generations is institutional memory. Institutional memory is an amalgamation of facts, ideas, experiences, values, know-how,  and ideology distributed amongst a discrete group of people. Because individuals die, institutional memory requires the continuing transmission of this amalgam of knowledge, values and experiences amongst members of the group that embraces it. Another way of describing institutional memory is that it is the equivalent of oral culture, the dominant way humans passed information from generation to generation in preliterate times, using tools such as folktales, aphorisms, ballads, and songs. The continuity of character, behavior and values that cultures, societies, nations, corporations and religions frequently exhibit over long periods of time, is made possible, in large measure, by the mechanism of institutional memory.

Cryonics, the cryopreservation of terminally ill people for the purpose of medical time travel, is still a nascent undertaking 44 years after the first man was cryopreserved in 1967.[1]  In the two generations that have passed since the first patient was cryopreserved, a substantial reservoir of experience has been accumulated. During the first 20 years of cryonics, the learning curve was quite steep, and a broad range of dangerous errors and paths to failure were identified.

The Rules of Engagement

Figure 1: Cryonics Society of New York President Curtis Henderson

Many of the lessons learned during this initialization period concerned the conditions under which patients should be accepted by cryonics organizations for initial treatment (cryoprotection and solidification) and long term care (indefinite storage in liquid nitrogen).  The first of these lessons was learned by Curtis Henderson, President of the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY), and is known as the “no third-party funding rule,” which prohibits the practice of accepting patients funded by a third party, such as a spouse, child, or sibling of the patient who was to be relied upon to make yearly, or other periodic payments, in lieu of providing the funds required for establishing a trust account, or other financial vehicle to provide for the indefinite cryogenic care of the patient in a lump sum.[2] This practice almost invariably resulted in the failure of the interested third party to continue making payments for long-term care, usually in a relatively short period of time. As a consequence, the cryonics organization responsible for the patient found itself in the position of either having to continue the patient’s indefinite care at their own expense, or to conventionally dispose of the patient’s “remains,” with the attendant moral, emotional, and sometimes legal complications.[3]

On the heels of the “no third-party funding rule” other, related lessons were learned, such as ensuring informed consent was  present, never accepting at-need cases without guaranteed funding,[1]and not accepting at-need cases where the authority of the interested party to make the decision for cryopreservation on behalf of the patient was in doubt, or likely to be contested. An additional, and critically important lesson learned during these difficult early years of cryonics, was that the security of those patients already cryopreserved, as well as that of the cryonics organization’s existing members, trumps the interest of the patient at-need and his next-of-kin, or other interested parties.  In those instances where there is a clear risk to existing members or patients from accepting an at-need case, that case must be declined.

Loss of Institutional Memory

These “rules” or “codes of conduct,” were incorporated into the institutional memory of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation (Alcor) by the participation of people who were mentored by Curtis Henderson, and by CSNY Secretary Saul Kent, as well as by the direct and indirect participation of these men in the culture of the organization, and as respected advisors.  With the cryopreservation of Jerry Leaf in 1991, and the subsequent schism of Alcor in 1992,[4] much of Alcor’s institutional memory was lost. Alcor’s management at that point consisted almost exclusively of people who had had no firsthand experience of the costly and traumatic failures that resulted from accepting at-need cases, absent proper vetting and careful assurance of adequate funding and informed consent.

In mid-January of 1993 Alcor accepted a severely depressed man as a member, who had presented to the organization asking for assistance in committing suicide via dehydration, so that he could be cryopreserved. This gentleman was not terminally ill, but rather sought to use cryopreservation as a “desperation method” of reaching effective treatment for his longstanding psychiatric problems.

On 01 February, less than a month after he became a member, he was cryopreserved by Alcor after discharging a .38 caliber handgun into his head.[5] Since he had purchased the bulk of the life insurance funding for his cryopreservation shortly before he ended his life, he was underfunded, and Alcor received only a fraction of the required minimum funding. On 11 April, 1993 Alcor cryopreserved a member who had signed up with end-stage AIDS. Alcor failed to properly validate this member’s life insurance funding, and in this case there was no financial compensation to the organization This despite the patient having been placed into cryopreservation after a costly and technically demanding standby, with continuous ECMO transport during the drive from the Bay Area, where the patient arrested, to Alcor’s cryoprotective perfusion and storage facilities in Southern California.[6]

In the intervening decade Alcor experienced marked internal conflict, with 4 Presidents, acting Presidents, or interim management teams succeeding each other, often under acrimonious circumstances. There was also increasingly heavy turn-over of staff with each round of management changes. In 1993 Jerry Lemler, M.D., a psychiatrist who had recently joined Alcor as a member, was selected as President and Chief Executive Officer by the Alcor Board of Directors. Dr. Lemler had not had prior extensive contact with cryonics. Within a short while of assuming the Presidency of Alcor, Lemler had hired onto the Alcor staff his wife, his daughter, and his son-in law.

Figure 2: Dr. Jerry Lemler, M.D., President and CEO of Alcor during the Ted Williams cryopreservation.

Several additional staff members with no prior experience in cryonics, and who were also recent Alcor members, were also brought on board during this period.

The Lure of the Magic Bullet

Within two years of the publication of The Prospect of Immortality[7] it was already apparent to the activists running the newly formed cryonics organizations that the idea of cryonics was not going to follow the trajectory of rapid acceptance anticipated for it in Ettinger’s book. Since widespread public acceptance was not forthcoming, the response to this state of affairs, by a broad cross-section of the few people genuinely interested in the idea at that time, was to look for a single, powerful event; a “magic bullet” of sorts, that would slay public distaste for, and resistance to the idea of cryonics, and usher in the era of acceptance.

The first iteration of the “magic bullet solution” was that when the first man was cryopreserved, that would “break the ice,” so to speak, by bringing the idea to the attention of the public, and making it seem something that someone had done, and that was, therefore, doable. When Dr. Bedford was cryopreserved in 1967, and the much anticipated on-rush of cryonics members and patients failed to materialize, the next iteration of the magic bullet solution was to posit that cryopreserving a celebrity – preferably a beloved and iconic one – would be the key to opening the flood gates of public acceptance for cryonics.

Figure 3: The shiny brass ring of credibility and celebrity?

Late in 2000, John Henry Williams, the son of baseball icon Ted Williams, approached Alcor about making cryopreservation arrangements for his father. At that time, Ted Williams had been through multiple and very serious health crises, and was suffering from congestive heart failure and end stage renal disease, the latter of which was being managed by thrice weekly in-home hemodialysis treatments. The prognosis for an 81 year old man with these medical conditions is bleak, and survival is typically in the range of months, to a year or two at most. Nevertheless, John Henry failed to complete the required Alcor paperwork, and to provide the necessary funding for his father’s cryopreservation.

During the period of time that elapsed from his initial contact with Alcor, John Henry remained in touch with the organization, and made at least two trips to Alcor’s facilities. John Henry was also thoroughly acquainted with Alcor’s required policies and procedures for securing cryopreservation arrangements for his father.[2] Despite many admonitions to do so, John Henry failed to make arrangements for his father, and on 05 July, 2002 Ted Williams experienced cardiovascular collapse, and shortly thereafter went into cardiac arrest.[8] Ted Williams was a patient on the operating table in Alcor’s facilities in Scottsdale, when it was determined by the author that there was no Alcor paperwork, and no transfer of funds to Alcor to provide for either the immediate, or the long term care of the patient.

In the run-up to Ted Williams’ cryopreservation, it was apparent that the management of Alcor, including its Board of Directors, considered the public relations “bonanza” that would result from the cryopreservation of a celebrity of his magnitude, with the added advantage of Williams being a “beloved icon,” and a genuine American war hero, as paramount. In a world of marginalized people pursuing and an even more marginalized idea, cryopreserving Ted Williams was seen as the equivalent of grabbing the brass ring of public credibility and celebrity for cryonics.

Figure 4: John Henry (L) and Ted Williams (R).

In fact, the chartered jet air ambulance flight which transported Williams from Northwest Florida, to Scottsdale, Arizona had been charged to the American Express card of Alcor President Jerry Lemler. In the days that followed, it became clear that John Henry was refusing to pay for his father’s cryopreservation, as well as the ~ $10K air ambulance charge. In addition, Bobby Jo Ferrell, Williams’ daughter by a marriage previous to the one that had produced John Henry, and his sister Claudia,  was unhappy, and seemed intent upon contesting her father’s  cryopreservation with the objective being to have him cremated.

Over the following months, Ted Williams’ cryopreservation became an international news story,[9] and the unfolding and acrimonious legal battles that accompanied it[10-14] became the subject of countless articles and editorial cartoons. Serious issues of consent, let alone informed consent, were raised in the media. A consequence of this, and of the very public legal maneuvering that ensued, was that what can only be described as a firestorm of unfavorable publicity engulfed both the Williams family, and Alcor. On 18, August 2003 Sports Illustrated magazine published a sensational story titled “Questions and Allegations About the Alcor Life Extension Foundation Extend Beyond the Williams case,” containing gruesome allegations about the conduct of Ted Williams’ cryopreservation, as well as the subsequent cryogenic care he received at Alcor.[15] The source of these allegations, a disgruntled former Alcor employee named Larry Johnson, subsequently published an equally sensational and gruesome book, Frozen, alleging all manner of misconduct on Alcor’s part, not just in its handling of  Ted Williams, but also with respect to a number of other of its patients.[16]

Culturomics and Google Ngrams

Three months ago, Michel, et al., published the paper founding the new discipline of culturomics in Science, entitled, “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.”[1] The authors selected 5,195,769 digitized books (~4% of all books ever published) from Google’s cache of 15 million, based upon the quality of the scans, and their ability to obtain the necessary relevant metadata, such as the year and place of publication. This is a staggering amount of data, and even using large numbers of humans to perform searches, the sheer quantity makes it impossible. As the authors point out, if a single individual “were to try to read only English-language entries (in the corpus of the books they used) from the year 2000 alone, at the reasonable pace of 200 words/min, without interruptions for food or sleep, it would take 80 years.”

They then subjected this data to a wide range of analyses and were able to demonstrate the effect of disparate social, political and cultural events on the frequency of both regional and international word usage in books within the Google corpus. Their data also showed, among many other things, dramatic changes over time in the speed with which the culture adopts and discards celebrity, as well as a many fold increase in the speed with new technologies are being accepted into the culture. Google (the company) actively encourages its users to experiment with Ngram technology using words/ideas that are of interest to them. This is exactly what the author did, initially with the word “cryonics” as the sole search term in the Google English language corpus. [Note: the data presented here are based only on Ngrams of the Google English language corpus.] The results are shown in Figure 5, below.

The High Price of Institutional Amnesia

Figure 5: Ngram of the word “cryonics” from 1964 to 2005.The areas of the plot with red lines adjacent to them are the immediately evident major discontinuities that initially provoked the author’s curiosity.

In the course of trying to understand the Google Ngram plot for cryonics, I was struck by two features that seemed in want of explanation; a drop, followed by plateau in its usage in the period from ~ 1980 to ~ 1990, and a sharp decline in the frequency of its usage starting at around 2003 and continuing through to 2005, and perhaps beyond. These are two obvious discontinuities that commanded attention, and demanded explanation, even with a cursory inspection of the data. My subsequent course of action was to generate a subjective/objective time line of what I considered to be important historical events in cryonics (see Table 1, above). The importance of some of these events would be difficult to contest, such as the publication of Ettinger’s The Prospect of Immortality in 1964, Dr. James H. Bedford’s cryopreservation in 1967, the Chatsworth debacle in 1979 wherein the loss of the 9 Cryonics Society of California (CSC) patients at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California became a highly visible public scandal in 1979, the Dora Kent incident in 1987, and the cryopreservation of Ted Williams in 2002. These events, for good or ill, attracted enormous media attention, and also resulted in books that either mentioned these issues, or used them as background themes, or plot mechanisms in stories and novels.

Figure 6: Scaling Ngram measured cultural penetration.  The plot of communism vs. capitalism vs. Christianity  (A) shows the relative degree of cultural importance of these three idea-systems in the culture, from the period of 1964 to ~2005. By comparison to major ideologies and religions, celebrity resulting from film acting (Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day and Paul Newman) or writing/performing popular music (Michael Jackson) barely register in the cultural realm of books (B).

In looking at the Ngram in Figure 5, it is important to understand that the absolute numbers are relatively small, being between 0.00000000 and 0.000004000% of the ~ 4 billion or so digitized words in the currently accessible Google English language corpus. For comparison, I’ve prepared two other plots, one of communism and Christianity (use of the “proper” case is essential to obtaining meaningful data, in this case capitalizing “Christianity”). The other is of four celebrities, all of whom had career arcs over roughly the same historical period; Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Paul Newman, and Michael Jackson.  These Ngrams provide some scale, and show the relative “power” in terms of frequency of word usage, that each subject has had in the culture. Obviously, when dealing with individual names, a number of complicating or confounding factors can cause problems.

There are a number of people named Adam Smith, who have made their way into books, either as real historical individuals, or as fictional characters, only one of whom is the influential 18th century political economist and social philosopher. There are undoubtedly also other “Paul Newmans” and “Doris Days” who appear in books, and to the extent they do so, they may be considered confounders of precision.  However, in most instances, the subject being evaluated is sufficiently unique, and the magnitude of the signal generated in the data is sufficiently large, that it is possible to have a good degree of confidence in the relative value of their data signatures in the Ngrams generated using their names, in the context of the time period.

Figure 7: The frequency of the occurrence of the word cryonics in all books published from the period 1965 through 2005, as determined by a Google Ngram search. (A) Publication of The Prospect of Immortality in 1964, (B) Cryonics Reports Begins publication and the various Cryonics Societies are formed, (C) Cryopreservation of the first man, James H. Bedford, (D) Publication of We Froze The First Man, and a spate of media-visible cryopreservations, (E) First Annual National Cryonics Conference held in 1968 attracts widespread media attention, (F) In 1973, Trans Time, Inc., (TT) and its partner non-profit, the Bay Area Cryonics Society (BACS) become active in the San Francisco Bay Area and attract national media attention, while Alcor and its for profit Manrise Corporation, become active in Southern California, developing much of the perfusion platform used by TT, (G) Trans Time peaks in media & marketing activity, having launched the bulk of its marketing efforts by this time, (H) The Chatsworth Scandal becomes public, resulting in strongly negative international media coverage, (I) Alcor becomes reactivated, begins publication of Cryonics magazine and there is the public debut of “scientific-medical” cryonics, with images released to the media showing cryonics as a medical procedure; photos of cryonics patients are no longer used for promotional purposes, (J) The Cryonics Institute begins to be more media-visible with articles and images appearing in the national media. Emphasis on CI’s lower price begins to become a source of comparison with Alcor, (K) the Dora Kent incident occurs with a resulting firestorm of international media coverage, followed by the Thomas Donaldson lawsuit against the Attorney General of the State of California, (L), Alcor shifts the paradigm of communicating cryonics to the public by redefining death and providing extensive, and technically detailed information packages to media, and to those members of the public who inquire; Cryonics Reaching for Tomorrow is published, and used as the core promotional tool by Alcor, (M) Jerry Leafs experiences sudden cardiac arrest from a heart attack in 1991, and is cryopreserved, (N) Schism of Alcor, and subsequent creation of CryoCare and CryoSpan as competing cryonics organizations in 1992, (O) Demise of CryoCare and CryoSpan in 1999-2000 (effective end of scientific cryonics), (P) Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams is cryopreserved by Alcor in 2002, (Q) Ben Best becomes President of the Cryonics Institute, (R) A story in Sports Illustrated alleges Williams was mistreated at Alcor, the story become international in scope, and the ongoing litigation amongst the family over issue of Williams’ cryopreservation is further highlighted .

When I applied the list of significant historical events I had generated for cryonics to an Ngram plot for the word cryonics, I obtained the results shown in Figure 7, above. The two large negative discontinuities in the use of the word cryonics coincided with two widely and negatively publicized events: the Chatsworth debacle, and the cryopreservation of Ted Williams; H and P in Figure 7. The baseball career of Ted Williams ended on 28 September, 1960, and yet his Ngram plot shows steadily increasing fame over the ensuing 4 decades, with a plateau period from ~ 1991 to ~ 1993. In order to understand this, I obtained and read two of Williams’ biographies, and this lead me to do a search of multiple media databases, in order to track his public (media) visibility.

I quickly discovered that the “primary” sources for most of the media attention surrounding Williams were articles originating in The Boston Globe, and the New York Times. The New York Times proved the most comprehensive and the most duplicated database (for instance, Los Angeles Times articles about Williams during this period are usually the same ones that appeared in the New York Times, although sometimes with different headlines). I created a compilation of all the feature articles that appeared about Ted Williams in the New York Times for the period 1981 through 2010 (excluded from this listing were many statistical articles which appeared in the Times) from the New York Times online archives (key words: “Ted Williams,”) and the data set for this is present as Appendix A, at the end of this article. I also prepared a compendium of all English language published books by, or primarily about Williams, based on a search of the Library of Congress index. Finally, I similarly prepared a plot of articles that featured the Alcor Life Extension Foundation as their primary subject, using both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times archives as the database (keywords: Alcor Life Extension Foundation) for the same time period, and the data set for this is present at the end of this article as Appendix B.

Figure 8: Correlation of major media articles () and books by about Ted Williams (A-H). The books relating to Williams were: A Williams, Ted, and John Underwood. Ted Williams’ Fishing the Big Three: Tarpon, Bonefish, Atlantic Salmon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982. ISBN 0-671-24400-0. B Baldasarro, Lawrence (ed.). The Ted Williams Reader. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. ISBN 0-671-73536-5. C Linn, Ed. Hitter: The Life And Turmoils of Ted Williams. Harcourt Brace and Company, 1993 then as a Harvest paperback 1994. ISBN 0-15-600091-1. D Williams, Ted, and Jim Prime. Ted Williams’ Hit List: The Best of the Best Ranks the Best of the Rest. Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1996. ISBN 1-57028-078-9. E Williams, Ted, and David Pietrusza. Ted Williams: My Life in Pictures (also published as Teddy Ballgame). Kingston, N.Y.: Total/Sports Illustrated, 2002. ISBN 1-930844-07-7. F Cramer, Richard Ben. “What Do You Think Of Ted Williams Now? – A Remembrance“. Simon & Schuster, 2002. ISBN 0-7432-4648-9. G Halberstam, David. The Teammates. New York: Hyperion, 2003. ISBN 1-4013-0057-X. H Montville, Leigh. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero. New York: Doubleday, 2004. ISBN 0-385-50748-8. I Updike, John. Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu: John Updike on Ted Williams. New York: Library of America, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59853-071-1. Articles about the Alcor Life Extension Foundation  that appeared in the LA Times( = LAT), and the NY Times ( = NYT) are plotted on the Alcor Ngram data set. Where there was a tight cluster of articles there is a number adjacent to the points, in matching color). Key events are A = Dora Kent, B = Thomas Donaldson Lawsuit, C = schism of Alcor, D = Cryopreservation of Ted Williams and E = Sports Illustrated article is published.[15]

All three of these datasets were applied to the Ngram plots of Ted Williams, and of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, as shown in Figure 8, above. From 1990, until his cryopreservation in 2002, Williams was the subject of many media articles and a significant number of books, both of which reflect his growing celebrity for his phenomenal performance as a baseball player, and to a lesser extent, his colorful personal life and his charitable activities. These facts go a long way towards the impressive and fairly consistent increase in his fame over the course of his life after the end of his career as a player. I do not have sufficient knowledge of either Williams, or of the sport of baseball, to be able to attach any significance (if indeed, there is any) to the discontinuity in his curve of rising fame, which appears during the interval of ~ 1990 to ~1993-4. Ted Williams’ fame peaks at around the time of his cryopreservation in 2002, and declines steadily thereafter.

The Ngram plot for Alcor maps that of Williams to a surprising, and to me wholly unexpected degree. It may even be argued that the rise in fame, or cultural penetration for both subjects (Alcor and Williams), reflects not only media exposure, but an increased appreciation by the culture with the passage of time, for the worth or value of the accomplishments of both subjects. However, it is wise to remember that it is quite possible to acknowledge accomplishment without embracing it; and such acknowledgment may be negative, as well as positive. To understand this, it is only necessary to do Ngram plots for “Adolf Hiltler,” and “John Edgar Hoover” (J. Edgar Hoover). The data in Figure 8 would seem to show that the Dora Kent incident in 1987, the schism of Alcor in 1992, and the cryopreservation of Ted Williams in 2002, all had a significant negative impact on the cryonics Ngram data signal. The Dora Kent incident is represented on the polot by the cluster of articles 5 articles about Alcor that appeared in the LA Times in 1988 (Dora Kent A and the resulting press 5●●●●) and the cryopreservation of Ted Williams, and its aftermath, in 2002-5 (D-E).

Figure 9: Ngram plot of “Ted Williams” and “cryonics” (B).”The strong correlation of the downturn in the frequency of the word cryonics appearing in books associated with an increase in the frequency of the appearance of Ted Williams’ name is apparent in the Ngram above. The plot for cryonics is also displayed separately (A) to better show the magnitude of the effect, since it is not possible to manipulate multiple sets of Google Ngram data within the Google Ngram program. There is a similarly strong correlation between the cryopreservation of Ted Williams and the downturn in the appearance of the word cryonics in books published subsequent to the negative publicity that resulted from the Williams case, as can be seen in Figure 9, above.

Finally, I prepared an Ngram plot of the words “Cryonics Institute” (CI) over the same time period. I was unprepared for what I saw, principally that while the Ted Williams cryopreservation had a strong negative impact on cryonics as a whole, and especially on Alcor, it had only a moderate, transient negative impact on CI. What’s more, at no time did it suppress CI’s steady gain relative to Alcor, or its absolute growth over time. It could even be argued that Alcor’s decision to cryopreserve Ted Williams under clearly hazardous conditions has improved CI’s standing in the culture, dramatically! The apparent specificity and sensitivity of these data continue to surprise me.

Figure 10: Ngram plot of the words “Cryonics Institute” (CI) over the 1980 to 2008 time period.


In cryonics, it is extraordinarily rare to obtain reliable feedback of any kind, except that which comes in the terminal phase of a cryonics organization’s life cycle, when it ceases to be able to provide cryogenic care for its patients. What is more, making comparisons between cryonics organizations is difficult in terms of examining variables such as net and gross income, membership statistics, and other aggregate data that are used to adjudge and compare the health of most other businesses and corporations. This is the case because of fundamental differences in price structure, approach to delivering human cryopreservation services, lack of disclosure, and the inevitable distortions that occur in all self-generated data from small enterprises.[3]

Thus, other than individual subjective assessment, and to a very limited extent, assessment based on one of a few objective markers known to precede the demise of all previous cryonics organizations, such as steadily reduced frequency of edited magazine and newsletter production, ending in failure to publish at all; followed by abandonment of patient cryogenic care (CSC, CSNY), or effective refusal to take on additional patients (Trans Time), there has been no way to gauge the performance and the health of cryonics organizations in anything approaching real time.

The data presented here suggest that the Google Ngram is possibly a sensitive and specific method for evaluating the cultural penetration of not only the idea of cryonics itself, but of the established individual cryonics organizations. Furthermore, the Ngram data seem to provide this feedback (both beneficial and adverse), with a lag time of approximately 1-2 years. It would thus seem prudent to apply this measure at frequent intervals in the future, both to validate its accuracy, and to provide feedback to direct both the intermediate and long term actions of the management of cryonics organizations. Arguably, it may also be used as tool to hold the management of cryonics organizations accountable for their decisions and actions.


1.            Larsen D: Cancer Victim’s Body Frozen for Future Revival Experiment. In: Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles; 1967.

2.            Darwin M: Interview with Curtis Henderson: Cryonics 1982(12).

3.            Perry R: Suspension Failures: Lessons from the Early Years: Cryonics 1992. 4.            Darwin M: Jerry Leaf enters cryonic suspension: Cryonics 1991, 12(9):19-25.

5.            Whelan R: Beginnings of Winter: Suicide and Cryonics The tragic case of patient A-1401: Cryonics 1993, 14(4).

6.            Jones T: The Suspension of A-1399: Cryonics 1993, 14(6).

7.            Ettinger R: The Prospect of Immortality: New York City: Doubleday; 1964.

8.            Goldstein R, Thomas,T. Jr.: Ted Williams, Red Sox Slugger And Last to Hit .400, Dies at 83: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

9.            Freezing Time; Ted Williams: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

10.          Fight for Williams’s Remains: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

11.          Friends Say Williams Wanted to Be Cremated: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

12.          Janofsky M: Even for the Last .400 Hitter, Cryonics Is the Longest Shot: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

13.          Williams’s Daughter Asks For Aid Against Freezing: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

14.          No Will Is Filed for Estate of Williams: In: New York Times. New York City; 2002.

15.          Verducci T: Tip of the iceberg? In: Sports Illusrated. 2003. 16.          Johnson L, Baldyga S: Frozen : my journey into the world of cryonics, deception, and death. [New York]: Vanguard Press; 2009.

Appendix A: Ted Williams in the New York Times

THE DOCTOR’S WORLD March 31, 1981, by Lawrence K. M.D., Science – 1267 words.

PLAYERS; THE 2 LOVES OF TED WILLIAMS August 10, 1982, by Ira Berkow, Sports – 875 words.

Sports People; Williams Honored November 11, 1988.

SPORTS OF THE TIMES; An Evening With The Kid November 12, 1988, by  Ira Berkow,

Sports BASEBALL ’91; 1941: An Unmatchable Summer April 7, 1991, by Ray Robinson,

Sports SPORTS PEOPLE: BASEBALL; Williams Recovering From Apparent Stroke December 27, 1991

Question Box, by Ray Corio, May 4, 1992 Williams Selected July 2, 1992

ON THE SIDELINES — POLITICAL MEMO; Looking to Baker to Save Bush Anew by Michael Wines, July 15, 1992

Ted Williams Offers Collectors’ Items by Richard Sandomir, May 11, 1993

ON THE SIDELINES — POLITICAL MEMO; Looking to Baker to Save Bush Anew by Michael Wines, July 15, 1992 Williams Selected July 2, 1992

Question Box by Ray Corio, May 4, 1992

SPORTS PEOPLE: BASEBALL; Williams Recovering From Apparent Stroke December 27, 1991

Sports of The Times; Hit .400? The Dinosaur Who Did It by Dave Anderson, July 13, 1993


BASEBALL; Ted Williams Suffers Stroke February 22, 1994

BACKTALK; From .400 to 75, and Still Battling by Dave Anderson, May 22, 1994

Tunnel Named For Williams AP, December 16, 1995

Ted Williams Has Advice for Belle March 26, 1997

BASEBALL: SPRING TRAINING NOTEBOOK — RED SOX; Williams Spends a Day In the Florida Sunshine March 25, 1998

Sports of The Times; On the Other Side of the River, Another Hailing of Champions by Harvey Araton, October 25, 1998

Sports of The Times; A Familiar Idol Talks About His ‘Idol in Life’, by Dave Anderson, October 29, 1998

Fans Seeking Fame, Not Infamy, for Shoeless Joe Jackson November 27, 1998

Food; Batter Up by Molly O’Neill, May 30, 1999

BASEBALL; Mets Toss Aside Piazza’s Comeback Script, by Jason Diamos, June 12, 1999

70TH ALL-STAR GAME: NOTEBOOK; Williams and Fenway: They Still Click by Jack Curry, July 14, 1999

ON BASEBALL; In Spite of Itself, the Grand Old Game Still Thrives, by Murray Chass, July 15, 1999

BASEBALL; Williams Looks Back, and Forward George Vecsey,  January 12, 2000

PLUS: BASEBALL; Ted Williams, 82, Hospitalized November 5, 2000

PLUS: BASEBALL; Williams to Receive A Pacemaker November 7, 2000

Sports of The Times; Ted Williams Still Living On His Terms by Ira Berkow, November 9, 2000

PLUS: BASEBALL; Ted Williams Leaves Hospital November 22, 2000

PLUS: BASEBALL; Williams to Have Heart SurgeryBaseball January 15, 2001

AMERICAN LEAGUE: ROUNDUP; Ted Williams Is ‘Progressing’ April 30, 2001

PLUS: BASEBALL; Ted Williams Is Back in Hospital January 25, 2002

Williams Is Out of Hospital January 29, 2002

PLUS: BASEBALL; Frail Williams Makes A Surprise Visit February 18, 2002

PLUS: BASEBALL; Frail Williams Makes A Surprise Visit February 18, 2002

Batsman Nonpareil July 6, 2002

BASEBALL: YANKEES NOTEBOOK; Jeter May Not Be Sidelined Long by Tyler Kepner, July 6, 2002

Sports of The Times; For Ted, The Eyes Had It by Dave Anderson, July 6, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams Leaves Behind An Unmatched Legacy by Murray Chase, July 6, 2002

BASEBALL; A Gift for Hitting and a Passion for Sharing It by Buster Olney, July 6, 2002

BASEBALL; Boston Tips Its Cap on the Day the Legend Dies by Fox Butterfield, July 6, 2002

Sports of The Times; For Williams, A Joy Found In the Debate by Ira Berkow, July 6, 2002

Ted Williams, Red Sox Slugger And Last to Hit .400, Dies at 83 by Richard Goldstein and Robert MCG Thomas, Jr., July 6, 2002

BASEBALL; Fight for Williams’s Remains July 7, 2002

SPORTS MEDIA; Memories of Williams Spanning the Decades by Richard Sandomir, July 7, 2002

BackTalk; It’s the Little Things That Made Williams Special by John Underwood, July 7, 2002

BASEBALL; On Day for Yankees, Praise for Old Red Sox Foe by Tyler Kepner, July 7, 2002

Stepping Up to The Plate, by Bob Herbert, July 8, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams Memorials Are Set July 8, 2002

BASEBALL: NOTEBOOK; Giambi Defeats Sosa In Home Run Derby by Jack Curry, July 9, 2002

BASEBALL; Ted Williams’s Son No Stranger to Controversy by Richard Sandomir, July 9, 2002

The Perfectionist at the Plate, David Halberstam, July 9, 2002

Even for the Last .400 Hitter, Cryonics Is the Longest Shot by Michael Janofsky, July 10, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams Returns, at Least in Spirit by Jack Curry, July 10, 2002

Freezing Time; Ted Williams July 11, 2002

BASEBALL; Friends Say Williams Wanted to Be Cremated July 11, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams’s Daughter Asks For Aid Against Freezing July 12, 2002

Sports of The Times; In Baseball Romance, Little Room for Reality by Harvey, July 14, 2002

Ideas & Trends: Just Chillin’; Putting Mortality on Ice by Henry Fountain and Anne, July 14, 2002

BASEBALL; Legends’ Images Often Change in Death by Richard Sandomir, July 15, 2002

BASEBALL; No Will Is Filed for Estate of Williams July 16, 2002

BASEBALL; Executor Says Williams’s Will Doesn’t Give His True Wishes by Richard Sandomir, July 17, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams’s Children Seek Court’s Help by Joe Callahan, July 18, 2002

Sports of The Times; Extended Family Unites in Tribute by George Vecsey, July 23, 2002

BASEBALL; Note Dated 2000 Says Williams Wanted His Remains Frozen by Richard Sandomir, July 26, 2002

BASEBALL; Daughter to Continue Fight to Have Williams Cremated by Richard Sandomir, July 27, 2002

Analysis Shows That Williams Did Sign Note by Richard Sandomir, August 9, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams Fight Goes to Court August 14, 2002

Fight Over Williams’s Frozen Body May End Soon by Richard Sandomir, September 26, 2002

Sports of The Times; Bonds Sure to See Fewer Strikes Than Williams Did in 1946 Series by George Vecsey, October 19, 2002

Daughter May Drop Fight Over Ted Williams’s Body by Richard Sandomir, December 20, 2002

BASEBALL; Williams Children Agree to Keep Their Father Frozen by Richard Sandomir, December 21, 2002

THE LIVES THEY LIVED; The Batter Who Mattered by John Updike, December 29, 2002

BASEBALL; Report Says Facility Beheaded Williams by Richard Sandomir, August 13, 2003

BASEBALL; Ted Williams Tale Gets Stranger by the Day by Richard Sandomir, August 14, 2003

No Charges Against Williams’s Kin by Richard Sandomir, August 19, 2003

John H. Williams, 35, Ted Williams’s Son by Richard Sandomir, March 10, 2004

BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Whether Sweet or Cranky, He Was Always a Slugger by Charles McGrath, May 7, 2004

SPORTS BRIEFING: COURT NEWS; Ted Williams Legal Fight Comes to an End by Richard Sandomir, June 17, 2004

What Boston Won, What Boston Lost by Nicholas Dawidoff, October 30, 2004

Suddenly We Have a Name for a Frozen Stadium Treat by Joyce Wadler, with Joe Brescia and Melena Z. Ryzik, November 18, 2004

Please Don’t Call the Customers Dead by Richard Sandomir, February 13, 2005

Why Suzuki’s Magic Number Is Really 56, Not .406 by Alan Schwarz, May 1, 2005

Who’s a Latino Baseball Legend? by Richard Sandomir, August 26, 2005

To Play Is the Thing by David, August 28, 2005

Sculptor Throws a Curve With Slugger’s Head by Richard Sandomir, September 5, 2005

Sports Briefing December 9, 2006

Baseball’s Devil May Not Be in the Details by Alan Schwarz, February 10, 2008

Essay by John Updike Defined Heroism in Ted Williams by Charles McGrath, September 26, 2010

Appendix B: Alcor Life Extension Foundation in the Los Angeles Times

  San Francisco Journal; Chilling Answer to Life After Death

January 20, 1989 – By KATHERINE BISHOP, Special to the New York Times – U.S. – 853 words

  Review/Television; On Aging, or Rather Avoidance of It

August 17, 1992 – By WALTER GOODMAN – Movies – 587 words

  SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 1994; Not Their Fault

April 17, 1994 – Magazine – 88 words

  Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous

January 12, 1997 – By DOUGLAS MARTIN – Week in Review – 810 words

  Futurist Known as FM-2030 Is Dead at 69

July 11, 2000 – By DOUGLAS MARTIN – U.S. – 862 words

  The Way We Live Now: 4-22-01: Design; Freezing Time

April 22, 2001 – By Abby Ellin – Magazine – 836 words

  BASEBALL; Fight for Williams’s Remains

July 7, 2002 – 186 words

  BASEBALL; With Cryonics, Hope Runs Ahead of Reality

July 9, 2002 – By PHILIP J. HILTS – Sports – 755 words

  BASEBALL; Ted Williams’s Son No Stranger to Controversy

July 9, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 802 words

  Even for the Last .400 Hitter, Cryonics Is the Longest Shot

July 10, 2002 – By MICHAEL JANOFSKY – Front Page – 1626 words

  BASEBALL; Friends Say Williams Wanted to Be Cremated

July 11, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 737 words

  Freezing Time; Ted Williams

July 11, 2002 – Opinion – 393 words

  Casting a Cool Eye on Cryonics

July 11, 2002 – By JESSE McKINLEY – Arts – 570 words

  BASEBALL; Williams’s Daughter Asks For Aid Against Freezing

July 12, 2002 – 451 words

  Ideas & Trends: Just Chillin’; Putting Mortality on Ice

July 14, 2002 – By HENRY FOUNTAIN and ANNE EISENBERG – Week in Review – 1096 words

  They’ve Seen the Future and Intend to Live It

July 16, 2002 – By BRUCE SCHECHTER – Technology – 1228 words

  BASEBALL; Executor Says Williams’s Will Doesn’t Give His True Wishes

July 17, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 1110 words

  BASEBALL; Note Dated 2000 Says Williams Wanted His Remains Frozen

July 26, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 1153 words

  BASEBALL; Daughter to Continue Fight to Have Williams Cremated

July 27, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 515 words

  Daughter May Drop Fight Over Ted Williams’s Body

December 20, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 410 words

  BASEBALL; Williams Children Agree to Keep Their Father Frozen

December 21, 2002 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 974 words

  BASEBALL; Report Says Facility Beheaded Williams

August 13, 2003 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Sports – 760 words

  BASEBALL; Ted Williams Tale Gets Stranger by the Day

August 14, 2003 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Technology – 1000 words

  No Charges Against Williams’s Kin

August 19, 2003 – By Richard Sandomir – Sports – 281 words

  Odd Outpost of Icy Immortality in Sunshine State

October 14, 2003 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – U.S. – 1040 words

  John H. Williams, 35, Ted Williams’s Son

March 10, 2004 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Obituaries – 314 words

  Sports Briefing

March 14, 2004 – 405 words

  SPORTS BRIEFING: COURT NEWS; Ted Williams Legal Fight Comes to an End

June 17, 2004 – By Richard Sandomir – Sports – 299 words

   INSIDE THE NEWS; Please Don’t Call the Customers Dead

February 13, 2005 – By RICHARD SANDOMIR – Health – 2066 words

[1] Guaranteed in practice means cash in hand, or equivalent – a bond, property transfer, etc.


[2] I met with John Henry during this period and repeatedly urged him to immediately complete the core Alcor paperwork and provide the minimum funding required. I shared with him my experience in caring for hemodialysis patients with medical histories similar to that of his father, and explained that an unexpected infection, or sudden cardiac arrest could occur at any time – and that his father was at extraordinarily high risk for both.

[3] Given the recent history of large enterprises such as Wall Street Investment Banking firms and major Western Banks and mortgage franchises, this statement is probably grossly unfair!

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Poisoning the Well: Measuring the Cultural Penetration of Cryonics Using Google Ngram Technology Mon, 07 Mar 2011 09:25:12 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]>

By Mike Darwin


The lighting-speed evolution of information technology has made new tools available to cryonics that would formerly have been so costly, that only the largest enterprises could have made use of them. And recently, a new technology has emerged that arguably no enterprise, with the possible exception of nation-states, could have mustered the resources to access. In December of 2010 Google, without fanfare, and with virtually no media announcements, released a search tool it calls Ngram.

For the better part of the past decade Google has been “quietly” scanning millions of books, with the objective of scanning the entire written human library by the mid-21st century. Their progress to date is rumored to be in the range of 15 million books, or ~12% of all books ever published. Beyond an acknowledgement from Google that they are using optical character recognition technology, other details of how they are achieving this feat has been a source of intense speculation, as has the rate at which their progress is increasing (as a result of improved mastery of  the “learning curve,” and continued technological advances in computing, imaging and robotics).

What can you do with ~ 15.2 million books and ~ 25 billion digitized words in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese and Hebrew? The obvious thing would be to sell the books in digital format on line. Almost all of the books that have been written are not only out of print; they are often notoriously difficult and time consuming to access. And when they are accessed, they become vulnerable to loss. But of course, copyright and other legal issues create substantial handicaps to such a direct sales approach, although Google appears to be working to successfully overcome this.

Culturomics: A New Discipline Emerges

So, book “sales” and book preservation aside, what can you do with all that data? As it turns out, you can found a brand new discipline, “culturomics,” that makes any survey mechanism or market research antiquated, for determining the durable penetration and life history of an idea, product, or person in human intellectual history. Just 3 months ago, Michel, et al., published the paper founding the new discipline of culturomics in Science, entitled, “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.”[1] The authors selected 5,195,769 digitized books (~4% of all books ever published) from Google’s cache of 15 million (and growing) based upon the quality of the scans, and their ability to obtain the necessary relevant metadata, such as the year and place of publication. This is a staggering amount of data, and even using large numbers of humans to perform searches, the sheer quantity makes it impossible. As the authors point out, if a single individual “were to try to read only English-language entries (in the corpus of the books they used) from the year 2000 alone, at the reasonable pace of 200 words/min, without interruptions for food or sleep, it would take 80 years.” To get an idea of what is possible with this technology, look at Figure 1, below, which is taken from the Michel, et al., Science article.

Figure 1: The enormous power of culturomics to track not only the penetration of ideas in a culture, but their durability and dynamics, is illustrated above. It is also possible to measure how rapidly ideas are adopted, how rapidly they are forgotten or discarded, and how they interact with each other, all as function of time, and even place.

Examples of the kinds of data than can be mined using this technology and the Google Books database are, as shown in Figure 1, above, that the names of celebrities faded twice as fast in the mid-1900s and they did in the early 1800s. Similarly, while the mean time to adoption of a novel technology required 66 years in the early 1800s, by 1880 that number had declined to 27 years. The common perception that “things are moving faster and faster” in terms of the turnover rate of cultural content is well supported by these data. Contrawise, it is also possible to evaluate the extent to which ideas can be suppressed in a culture, either directly by the actions of nation-states, or indirectly by social, cultural and political trends that operate as a result of the introduction of new ideas, the rise and fall of religious or political ideologies, or just about any other factor you can identify, and subject to measurement.

Figure 2: Effect of political, ideological and nation-state enforced suppression on “targeted” individuals, and on intellectual activity in general, during the period of Nazi domination of Germany.

Not surprisingly, one of the examples Michel, et al., chose as an example of “suppression” was the savage censorship in Nazi Germany that began with the book burnings of 1933, and ended with the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945. They tracked the names of a selected group of individuals known to be distasteful to the Nazi Party, for instance the Impressionist and Abstract painters Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, as well as the architect Water Gropius. Not unexpectedly, the data showed a huge suppression of the mention of these men and their work in German language publications for the duration of the Third Reich (Figure 2B, above). However, unexpectedly, and perhaps far more interestingly, they found that the period of Nazi domination of the culture was associated with a global depression of virtually all artistic, cultural, political and literary activity within the Third Reich (Figure 2A, above). The thick red line in 2A, above, is the frequency of the occurrence of the word “Nazi” in German language books during this period. Obviously, it was a good time for that word – so good, that perhaps there was an insufficient supply of a, z, n, and i type to allow for others works to be published during this time.

Figure 3: (at left) Impact of two nation-states and their ideologies on the frequency of mention or credits given to individuals considered ideologically dangerous. In the former Soviet Union, in Russian texts (A), (with noteworthy events indicated): Trotsky’s assassination (blue arrow), Zinoviev and Kamenev executed (red arrow), the Great Purge (red highlight), and perestroika (gray arrow). In the United States (B) during the McCarthy era and the Cold War, a group of film directors and screen writers, the “Hollywood Ten,” were blacklisted (red highlight) from U.S. movie studios. Their visibility in print declined (median: thick gray line) and none were credited on any motion picture in the US, until the 1960’s.

However, lest we become too self-satisfied at the poor performance of the Nazis, we would do well to take a look at Figure 3. The suppression of the names of Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamanev, as they fell out of favor in the former Soviet Union, and the suppression of the (visible) work product of the “Hollywood Ten,” should clearly demonstrate that this kind of activity is a commonplace across cultures. The blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten, and many other creative talents in Hollywood, occurred as a result of these writers and directors being cited for being in contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The executives of all of the principal movie studios at that time, acting under the umbrella of their trade association, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), fired these artists in the now infamous “Waldorf Statement,” issued by MPAA President Walter Johnson from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on 03 December, 1947.

Culturomics and Cryonics

Culturomics is powerful stuff, really powerful stuff, and I believe it can be of considerable use in cryonics, especially as the Google database expands into periodicals.[1] I have just begun to explore this tool, and while I am certainly no expert in this area, my preliminary forays have proven interesting to me, and I hope will be of interest to you, as well. Best of all, you can do your own analyses by going to: A few words of caution: search terms are case sensitive, should be comma separated (no spaces between commas and the next search term), and the choice of search terms can dramatically affect outcome; for instance “Jesus “vs. “Jesus Christ.”

In order to minimize injecting more bias into my analysis than that which will necessarily already be there, the first thing I did before attempting any interpretation of the Ngram data relating to cryonics, was to decide what events in the history of cryonics I thought were most important, and that were also publicly visible (i.e., documented in cryonics, or other publications). This is necessarily a subjective thing, but I felt it was important to do this before looking at the Ngram generated data. My list of significant events is in shown in Table 1, above.

Figure 4: The frequency of the occurrence of the word cryonics in all books published from the period 1965 through 2005, as determined by a Google Ngram search. (A) Publication of The Prospect of Immortality in 1964, (B) Cryonics Reports Begins publication and the various Cryonics Societies are formed, (C) Cryopreservation of the first man, James H. Bedford, (D) Publication of We Froze The First Man, and a spate of media-visible cryopreservations, (E) First Annual National Cryonics Conference held in 1968 attracts widespread media attention, (F) In 1973, Trans Time, Inc., (TT) and its partner non-profit, the Bay Area Cryonics Society (BACS) become active in the San Francisco Bay Area and attract national media attention, while Alcor and its for profit Manrise Corporation, become active in Southern California, developing much of the perfusion platform used by TT, (G) Trans Time peaks in media & marketing activity, having launched the bulk of its marketing efforts by this time, (H) The Chatsworth Scandal becomes public, resulting in strongly negative international media coverage, (I) Alcor becomes reactivated, begins publication of Cryonics magazine and there is the public debut of “scientific-medical” cryonics, with images released to the media showing cryonics as a medical procedure; photos of cryonics patients are no longer used for promotional purposes, (J) The Cryonics Institute begins to be more media-visible with articles and images appearing in the national media. Emphasis on CI’s lower price begins to become a source of comparison with Alcor, (K) the Dora Kent incident occurs with a resulting firestorm of international media coverage, followed by the Thomas Donaldson lawsuit against the Attorney General of the State of California, (L), Alcor shifts the paradigm of communicating cryonics to the public by redefining death and providing extensive, and technically detailed information packages to media, and to those members of the public who inquire; Cryonics Reaching for Tomorrow is published, and used as the core promotional tool by Alcor, (M) Jerry Leafs experiences sudden cardiac arrest from a heart attack in 1991, and is cryopreserved, (N) Schism of Alcor, and subsequent creation of CryoCare and CryoSpan as competing cryonics organizations in 1992, (O) Demise of CryoCare and CryoSpan in 1999-2000 (effective end of scientific cryonics), (P) Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams is cryopreserved by Alcor in 2002, (Q) Ben Best becomes President of the Cryonics Institute, (R) A story in Sports Illustrated alleges Williams was mistreated at Alcor, the story become international in scope, and the ongoing litigation amongst the family over issue of Williams’ cryopreservation is further highlighted .

The next step was to do the Ngram plot of the word cryonics, and then apply the dates, the results of which you see in Figure 4, above. While the impact of some of the events I chose is arguable, in a number of instances the data seem to confirm these events as having had a material effect on the penetration of word (and thus presumably the idea) of cryonics in books written from 1964 to 2005, the period for which Ngram data are available. The publication of The Prospect of Immortality in 1964, and the subsequent period of public cryonics promotional activity that continued up until 1969, are clearly visible in A-E. The next fairly unequivocal uptick in activity is associated the public debut of Trans Time, Inc., in 1973, as represented by  G in Figure 4. Trans Time aggressively marketed itself and cryonics during the interval of 1974-1960, and was the primary source of media images for cryonics from 1973, until approximately 1982.

Unfortunately, the next unequivocally significant event was H in Figure 4, which represents the loss of the 9 Cryonics Society of California (CSC) patients at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California; a fact which became public in 1979. There was a firestorm of media activity surrounding both the discovery of the decomposed remains at Chatsworth, and the subsequent civil trial, which resulted a large judgment against former CSC President Robert F. Nelson, and the mortician who assisted him, Joseph Klockgether.

While those of us involved in cryonics at the time knew this event had an enormous negative impact on cryonics, I confess I am stunned to see it so dramatically confirmed, as measured by a variable so removed from day-to-day media activity, such as the publication of books, and the words (and thus subjects) discussed in them! While we cryonicists were aware that the number of people being cryopreserved declined to almost nothing during this interval, and we were inescapably aware of the effect the Chatsworth debacle had on the opinion the public held of cryonics (because we received so much angry and ridiculing criticism), I don’t believe that any of us understood the sheer magnitude of the negative impact on cryonics it had in terms of  the culture as a whole. That is clearly apparent in the culturomic measurement during the intervals represented by H- L in Figure 4, and interestingly, in Figure 6, below.

I think it’s fair to argue that the events during the time interval of 1981 through through ~1991 (I-L), were in significant measure responsible for the post-Chatsworth recovery of cryonics’ cultural impact. There also seems to be a clear negative effect resulting from the schism of Alcor in 1992 – but subsequent events, including the dissolution of CryoCare and its brother organization CryoSpan, in 1999-2000 (M-O), seem to have had no impact.

The next unequivocally significant event would appear to be the cryopreservation of Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, in 2002 (P). After the expected lag time, there is a surge of cultural impact for cryonics, followed by a sharp downturn in 2003 (R), which is undoubtedly a function of the negative publicity concurrent with the publication of the Sports Illustrated and ESPN exposes’, which happened at this time. Presumably, the resulting loss of credibility of cryonics as a serious idea – or at least one which could be used in novels, and discussed in non-fiction (science oriented) books without evoking concerns over censure, or negative media stereotypes interfering with it being taken seriously as a plot mechanism, resulted from this period of sustained and adverse publicity (which continues to this day).

The “Splendid Splinter:” Ted Williams (right).

By the measure of culturomics, the immediate impact of the cryopreservation of Ted Williams, under circumstances which called into question the veracity and justification for the procedure, was incredibly damaging. While there are no data beyond 2005, if the downturn in activity seen in Figure 4 is sustained for even a year or two longer, then this event will rank with Chatsworth as being one of the most injurious things to happen cryonics in its 47 year long history. One wonders if the Directors and Officers of Alcor at that time, who were so seduced by Williams’ celebrity, and the perceived opportunity for favorable publicity for Alcor and cryonics, will be held accountable for abandoning the long standing and time tested procedures for accepting at-need cryonics cases? While there is truth to the old adage that “any press is good press,” these data are proof positive that really bad press, particularly when it alters the public perception of the morality of an undertaking, is nothing short of a disaster. By contrast, the Dora Kent incident, in which cryonics personnel were wrongly (but nevertheless very publicly) accused of murdering a patient, and indeed of decapitating her whist she was still alive, had essentially no adverse impact, and appears to have resulted in a favorable culturomic effect on cryonics. The difference presumably being that in the Dora Kent case, the follow-on to the negative media firestorm, was a general realization that the whole affair was consequence of incompetent blundering on the part of law enforcement. In the Williams case, the internecine battle amongst family members, and the poor quality of documentation submitted by his son and daughter to demonstrate his personal desire for cryopreservation, clearly left the public, and that subset of it that writes books, with grave concerns.

Figure 5: Ngram of the words” Cryonics Institute”(CI)  plotted against that of  “Alcor Life Extension Foundation” (Alcor). As can be seen, Alcor is apparently in very serious trouble, and in all likelihood CI has become the more commonly mentioned cryonics organization in the interval between 2008 (when they are about to intersect) and the present (2011).

The Google Ngram is unarguably a way for cryonics organizations to monitor the effectiveness of their literary (cultural) penetration, and if there was any doubt about the decaying position of Alcor, then at least in this regard, the issue is settled by the data in Figure 5, above. It would be fascinating to add to this graph a plot of the respective dollar amounts each organization has spent on public relations and related activities, as well as the respective annual across the board expenditures of both organizations. Of particular interest would be using culturomics to evaluate the effectiveness of public relations firms “image and marketing remakes” on cryonics, such as the costly efforts by WalshCom, Inc., ( to recast Alcor’s approach to marketing cryonics to the masses.

Figure 6: Two terms competing for dominance: the Ngram of cryogenics vs. cryonics from 1965 through 2005.

In Figure 6, it is possible to see how the word cryogenics, which is often conflated with cryonics, “competes” with it over time. While cryogenics is a valid and commonly used scientific term, it is often mistakenly used to denote cryonics. There is clearly a spike in activity in the word cryogenics from 1965 through 1971-72, and this may reflect its increased use during the heyday of the space program in the early to mid-1960s, compounded by the advent of cryonics. The damage done to cryonics by the Chatsworth debacle is of course, reflected in this Ngram, since the gains the word cryonics was making on the word cryogenics are reversed in the early 1980s, at precisely the time Chatsworth’s effects are seen in Figure 4. This kind of “disparate analysis,” showing the same data in juxtaposition to a similar word, cryogenics,  provides additional evidence that the negative effect of Chatsworth is real. When I entered “cryonics” and “cryogenics” as Ngram search terms, I had no idea I would see the “suppression” of  the word cryonics relative to the word cryogenics, that I observed.

Figure 7: An NGRAM plot of the words cryonics, fusion power, life extension and physical immortality. Fusion power peaked in its cultural domination between ~ 1977 and 1982, after becoming a scientific “darling” in the 1970s, in large measure as a result of the “energy crisis” secondary to the Arab oil embargo of 1973.[19]

Figure 8: An Ngram plot the same as per Figure 7, above, but with the terms “solar power”  and “vitrification” added to the mix. In this case, solar power is making a comeback, following the decline in its cultural penetration after the “energy crisis” resulting from the Arab oil embargo in 1973.[19] Vitrification, which is term that has been in wide used in metallurgy, physics and materials science, begin to experience a marked increase in use after the introduction of the idea of cryobiological vitrification in the mid-1980s.

Ngram plots also allow for comparison between diverse ideas and technologies competing for attention within the culture at any given time. In Figure 8, the terms cryonics, fusion power, life extension, vitrification and solar power are compared. Vitrification is also the term used to described the solidification of metals, water, and other materials absent crystallization in non-biological contexts, and this can be seen as a steady rate of the occurrence of its use from prior to ~ 1965 until the late 1980s. The seminal papers proposing vitrification as an approach to cryopreserving biological systems by Fahy, et al., were published in 1984-86.[20, 21] and several years later the term begins to experience increased frequency of use, a trend which continues through 2005, and likely through the present.


The continued exponential growth in computing and information handling capacity has led to the ability to manipulate cultural datasets so large that they were previously inaccessible for analysis. This will likely have profound implications for human institutions, both large and small. In the currently tiny sphere of cryonics, this technology seems to offer sufficient precision and sensitivity to allow it to be used as a retrospective tool for evaluating the effect of a range of historical events on the penetration of cryonics (the word and the idea) into the culture. It seems likely that, factoring in the observed lag times for past events until their effect is seen (~2 years), that it may be possible to use this tool prospectively, as well. An interesting and unresolved question will be the possible impact of e-books on shortening the lag time between historical events and the materialization of their consequences in the culture.


1.            Michel J, Shen, YK, Aiden, AP, Veres, A, Gray, MK. Google-Books-Team, Pickett, JP, Hoiberg, D, Clancy, D, Norvig P, Orwant, J, Pinker, S, Nowak, MA, Aiden, EL.: Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science 2011, 14(331(6014)):176-182.

2.            Ettinger R: The Prospect of Immortality: New York City: Doubleday; 1964.

3.            Kent S: Cryonics Reports 1966, 1(3):4-5.

4.            Wainwright L: The cold way to new life: LIFE 1967, 62(4):16.

5.            Stanley S, Nelson, RF.: We Froze the First Man: New York City: Dell; 1968.

6.            Perry R: Suspension Failures: Lessons from the Early Years: Cryonics 1992 updated June 2010, 13(2):5-16.

7.            CSNY: Proceedings of the First Annual National Cryonics Conference: In: First Annual National Cryonics Conference: 1968; New York City: Cryonics Society of New York; 1968.

8.            Allen W: Sleeper. In. USA: United Artists; 1973: 89 min.

9.            TransTime: Introduction to Trans Time, Inc: In. San Leandro; 2003.

10.          Kunen J, Moneysmith, M.: Reruns Will Keep Sitcom Writer Dick Clair on Ice-indefinitely:,,20120770,00.html. People Magazine 1989, 32(3).

11.          Quaife A: Cryonic Interment Patients Abandoned. The Cryonicist! 1979, October (11).

12.          Babwin D: Coroner says lethal dose of drugs killed cryonics case figure. In: The Press Enterprise, Riverside County, CA. Riverside; 1988.

13.          Wowk B, Darwin, M.: Cryonics Reaching for Tomorrow. Riverside, CA: Alcor Life Extension Foundation; 1989.

14.          Darwin M: Jerry Leaf enters cryonic suspension: Cryonics 1991, 12(9):19-25.

15.          CryoCare:

16.          Best B: A history of cryonics: In. Detroit: Ben Best; 2006.

17.          Hancock D: Ted Williams Frozen In Two Pieces, Meant To Be Frozen In Time; Head Decapitated, Cracked, DNA Missing – CBS News: In: CBS News. New York: CBS News, New York City; 2003.

18.          Johnson L, Baldyga , S. : Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death, vol. : Vanguard Press 2009.

19.          Barsky R, Kilian, L.: Oil and the Macroeconomy Since the 1970s: Journal of Economic Perspectives 2004, 18(4):115-134.

20.          Fahy G, MacFarlane, DR, Angell, CA, Meryman, HT.: Vitrification as an approach to cryopreservation. . Cryobiology 1984, 21(4):407-426.

21.          Fahy G: Vitrification: A new approach to organ cryopreservation. Prog Clin Biol Res 1986, 224:305-335.

[1] Without question, one of the most urgent priorities is to digitize newspapers and their “morgues;” the huge reservoirs of photographs, cuttings and source materials that newspaper keep on hand as resource and research material (and which have virtually proprietary or  “secret” status). The demise of the newspaper and magazine industries is leading to massive and irretrievable losses in both the original newspapers themselves, as well as in the loss of morgue material, as failing newspapers can no longer afford the overhead of storage, and send this material to the dustbin.

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