We’ve all heard of some breakthrough idea for bringing people back from death. This isn’t about some death cult, ancient ritual, or the belief of reincarnation. This is regarding a procedure that appears scientific yet is founded on humanity’s obsession to transcend time and mortality.
Cryonics is the process that attempts to preserve the life of a recently deceased person through liquid nitrogen freezing. According to the theory, this technique can preserve the body, particularly brain connections, by placing it under extremely low temperatures, not unlike what happens when we place food in the freezer to consume it a couple days later. Of course, a mechanism which would avoid the difficulties created by the passing of time, in essence skipping the limits of physics and biology, is not as simple as opening and closing a freeze chamber.
This is where science, good intentions, and the hopes of bringing forth an incredible invention, while lacking the correct tools or methods, hit a breaking point. Cryonics hopes to become an element for future neuroscience developments. The most complicated challenge, of course, lies in the reanimation of the deceased’s mind. This is a relatively new arena for neuroscientists, one that is barely grasping at a couple grains of sand among an ocean of unanswered questions and mystery.
The main hope for enthusiasts of this practice lies in the research on connectomics, the discipline charged with studying the connections made by the brain within each anatomical unit, in other words, neurons.
Through these connections, a neural map can be created in order to attempt precise simulation of an existing brain. However, it seems impossible to fully understand the brain’s functioning, as well as the information shared through synapsis. It is not unlike tracing a city map where one can see the urban layout that lacks specifics such as street names and landmarks.
It’s particularly complicated to understand the mystery of brain synapsis and the intricacies the nervous system presents in each, since the brain does not function analogously with other organs. In the words of neuroscientist and biology professor, Michael Hendricks, in his article for the MIT Technology Review:
“The features of your neurons (and other cells) and synapses that make you 'you' are not generic. The vast array of subtle chemical modifications, states of gene regulation, and subcellular distributions of molecular complexes are all part of the dynamic flux of a living brain.”
When seeing it through this perspective, it would seem ridiculous to consider cryonics as a scientific practice, since it lacks arguments to be successfully carried out in the present. The majority of the community, both in favor and against of this technique, agree in the practical impossibility of this method in the current era.
At this time, everything points to this becoming nothing more of a science fiction and fantasy work than an actual possible scenario. Yet there are plenty of corporations in the United States and Russia offering the service of cryonics to a public willing to pay large sums of money during one of the toughest times of their lives: the death of a loved one.
This is a clear exploitation of the vulnerability of people’s hope, grief, and any other feelings that can arise during loss, for the sake of monetary profit. It’s each person’s responsibility to fulfill their dreams during their life and to realize that they do not require a revolutionary method for immortality.
In the words of Carl Sagan:
“When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars.”
MIT Technology Review
Translated by María Suárez