Fu­ture Shock

Bill Bain on why cryo­gen­ics is so cool

Sunday Herald - - 29.10.17 NEWS - With Bill Bain

THUMB twitch­ing to post that per­fect selfie? Will the “likes” si­lence in­ces­sant in­ter­nal voices of doubt and in­se­cu­rity? Then there’s two things you need to know be­fore you press “send” – first, true beauty re­ally does ex­ist on the in­side and sec­ondly, you’re about to com­mit fraud.

The truth is, that pho­to­graph isn’t re­ally you. It’s noth­ing like you. And I don’t just mean how your eye­bags and twin chins have been edited out of ex­is­tence like 1970s pre­sen­ters on TOTP2. That selfie is sim­ply a sight­ing of the flesh ma­chine you ride in – a tem­po­rary clump of rapidly de­cay­ing mat­ter that’s been un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ex­creted into the flux of in­fin­ity.

But the ac­tual you? You’ll never get your own cal­en­dar, put it that way. You are not pretty. But you are beau­ti­ful, in your own spe­cial way. The most com­plex thing in the known uni­verse, in fact. Yes, you’ve guessed it – the real you is that wee pul­sat­ing clot of elec­tri­fied jelly we call the brain, serv­ing a life sen­tence un­der a black dome of bone. It might not be a comforting thought, but un­der your skull lies the se­cret of what you re­ally are.

The hu­man brain it­self is pow­ered by just 20 watts of en­ergy – far less than your telly needs to show Amer­ica’s Cra­zi­est Ever Po­lice Chases. How­ever hum­bling that fact is, it still doesn’t dampen this or­gan’s ego and sense of en­ti­tle­ment. In most cases, brains wish to stay alive for­ever – keep­ing our DNAspread­ing ve­hi­cles (aka our bod­ies) road­wor­thy with joy­less no­tions like cous­cous and e-cigs. How­ever, such tyranny can only tem­po­rar­ily de­lay the lo­calised power cut that will one day turn our lights off for­ever.

But what if the brain could be switched back on? What if it was pos­si­ble to bring the dead back to life? Sci­en­tists pon­der­ing this macabre no­tion were at the fore­front of the cryo­gen­ics move­ment in the 1960s. This is the process of freez­ing the body or brain to be res­ur­rected us­ing fu­ture tech­nol­ogy – and it’s an op­tion des­tined to un­der­cut the cost of a tra­di­tional fu­neral one day, be­com­ing less ex­pen­sive ev­ery year. Your grand­kids will prob­a­bly be able to toss your head into a spe­cial freezer in Pound­land.

But at present, the price stands at around £40,000 for the brain alone – we are as­sured by cryo­gen­ics firms that the body is un­nec­es­sary. Fu­ture sci­en­tists will ap­par­ently be able to grow a new one from your DNA. Ei­ther that or they’ll in­ject the digi­tised con­tents of your frozen mind into a new ves­sel, per­haps a su­per-pow­ered robot. Or you may even be re­born in an era with­out phys­i­cal bod­ies – where ev­ery­one is an im­mor­tal con­scious­ness of pure en­ergy able to tra­verse the uni­verse. The mass dis­posal of our shoddy bi­o­log­i­cal ve­hi­cles will cer­tainly make bil­lion­aires of cre­ma­to­ria own­ers.

But for now, business in cryo­gen­ics re­mains steady if not over­bur­dened. Last month, the best known of the big four firms, the US-based Al­cor, took own­er­ship of its 138th cus­tomer – Du Hong, a Chi­nese sci­ence-fic­tion writer who died of pan­cre­atic can­cer at the age of 61. There is also one Scot­tish sign-up who hopes to live for­ever – fu­tur­ist au­thor DJ MacLen­nan. Typ­i­cal of canny Scots, he is tak­ing eter­nal life out on tick – pay­ing Al­cor £50 a month to have his head cut off and frozen after his body dies.

When he ex­pires – un­less he’s va­por­ised in an ex­plo­sion or bazooka blast – a team of vol­un­teers will fill his body with anti-freeze and plunge it into ice wa­ter. It will then be wrapped in poly­eth­yl­ene, sub­merged in al­co­hol and low­ered into ice be­fore be­ing sent to Ari­zona. There, his head will be re­moved, frozen in liq­uid ni­tro­gen and stored up­side down. This is in case there’s a power cut and he starts de­frost­ing from the brain down – bet­ter to lose your chin than your mind.

“We don’t waste or­gans any more, so why do we waste brains? You are your brain. A so­ci­ety ca­pa­ble of re­viv­ing a per­son from a cryo-pre­served state is go­ing to be ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate body,” en­thused DJ.

ONE dis­parag­ing voice, how­ever, is Michael Hen­dricks, a renowned US neu­ro­sci­en­tist who in­sists the tech­nol­ogy re­quired “does not yet ex­ist even in prin­ci­ple”. He stresses: “Those who profit from this hope de­serve our anger and con­tempt.” And there is an­other huge hur­dle for the cry­on­ics in­dus­try other than cyn­i­cism from aca­demics. Not only do they have to re­an­i­mate the dead, but they also have to re­ha­bil­i­tate the per­son to cope in an un­recog­nis­able fu­ture world. This won’t be easy for folk like Wil­liam Wal­lace. If re­vived to­day, he’d learn Scot­land was still ruled by Lon­don and, far worse, his life was in­ac­cu­rately por­trayed for cheap thrills and profit by a diminu­tive anti-Semite hail­ing from a coun­try that didn’t even ex­ist when Wal­lace died for his. No doubt he’d beg to be sent back to his fi­nal mem­ory, on that rack where he was hung, drawn and quar­tered, pray­ing for the type of free­dom only death can bring. If all cryo­gen­ics of­fers is hope, then per­haps his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like Wal­lace have al­ready shown us an­other path to­wards eter­nal life – one where earthly achieve­ments can sew our names into hu­man­ity’s grand ta­pes­try for eter­nity.

Gun­ning for the Pres­i­dent

IF Barack Obama had ac­cused Cuba of fir­ing a fu­tur­is­tic sonic gun at US diplo­mats, he would have been quickly ush­ered off the world stage with a towel round his shoul­ders, ad­min­is­tered with a calm­ing wee jag and rushed to the near­est re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre.

Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, how­ever, is a sur­re­al­is­tic fever dream so un­fath­omably bizarre that it has twisted our re­al­ity into an ex­otic new par­a­digm where noth­ing is real and real is noth­ing.

“I do be­lieve Cuba’s re­spon­si­ble. I do be­lieve that,” Trump said in a re­cent news con­fer­ence, cit­ing claims that a “sonic weapon” caused the nau­sea and sick­ness ex­pe­ri­enced by 22 Amer­i­cans in the Cuban US em­bassy. You can add your own ex­cla­ma­tion marks to the quotes, we’ve been told to cut back on ink. “It’s a very un­usual at­tack, as you know,” he con­tin­ued. “But I do be­lieve Cuba is re­spon­si­ble.”

So what “un­usual at­tack” has pro­voked the Pres­i­dent to sin­gle-hand­edly hurl a Wes­teros win­ter at the frag­ile thaw­ing of re­la­tions be­tween the US and Cuba?

Trump has of­fered no new de­tails about what type of de­vice might have caused the diplo­mats’ health is­sues, which ranged from hear­ing loss to con­cus­sion. De­spite be­liev­ing a “sonic weapon” was used, US in­ves­ti­ga­tors still can’t iden­tify ei­ther a cul­prit or a Dan Dare-style de­vice which tar­gets folks’ ears.

To gain clar­ity on this accusation, we must first take into ac­count that Trump has pre­vi­ous when it comes to the sub­ject of ears. One of the few acts he has man­aged to sign into law was, cu­ri­ously, leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing greater pub­lic ac­ces­si­bil­ity for over-the-counter hear­ing aids. Clearly a press­ing is­sue for the US.

There was also his vic­tory over fel­low pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Marco Ru­bio, where he aimed for the low­est hang­ing fruit and be­lit­tled his op­po­nent over the size of his ears.

And we must not for­get his dis­dain for Utah’s fa­mous Bears Ears mon­u­ment, the sa­cred Amer­i­can In­dian her­itage site his ad­min­is­tra­tion is hop­ing to shrink so there’s more land to drill for oil and gas.

What­ever hap­pened in Cuba is clearly be­ing ex­ploited for po­lit­i­cal lever­age, due to the sim­ple fact that sonic guns which can tar­get spe­cific ar­eas of the hu­man body have not yet been in­vented. Not even by the aliens at Area 51. How­ever, there are in­deed nu­mer­ous cases of nat­u­ral sound fre­quen­cies caus­ing ad­verse re­ac­tions in the hu­man body.

In 1998, a pa­per for the So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search called The Ghost In The Ma­chine de­scribed how the mys­tery of a “haunted” lab­o­ra­tory was solved. Sci­en­tists had de­scribed see­ing grey shapes that dis­ap­peared when they turned to face them, com­bined with nau­sea and dis­ori­en­ta­tion.

After a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the lab came the rev­e­la­tion – the sound of a bro­ken fan was res­onat­ing at 18.98Hz, al­most ex­actly the same cel­lu­lar fre­quency of the hu­man eye­ball. This caused the symp­toms of what is known as “vi­broa­cous­tic syn­drome”.

When the fan was re­moved, all the lab’s ghostly ap­pari­tions dis­ap­peared. Trump, how­ever, has no fans – so it looks like the world will re­main a nau­se­ated and haunted place for a wee while longer.

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