Notable Quotes

The Good

“Although no one can quantify the probability of cryonics working, I estimate it is at least 90% — and certainly nobody can say it is zero.” — Sir Arthur C. Clarke (inventor of the communications satellite) in a letter to Alcor.

“This gamble involves the value of life, the cost of (cryonics), the odds that the technology will work (which seem excellent), and the odds that humanity will survive, develop the technology, and revive people.” — Dr. K. Eric Drexler (originator of molecular nanotechnology), from Engines of Creation, Chapter 9,”A Door to the Future“.

Cryonics is an experiment. So far the control group isn’t doing very well.” — Dr. Ralph Merkle (inventor of public key cryptography), an observation made during public talks about cryonics.

The Bad

“If you have enough money (for cryonics), then you have enough money to help somebody in need today.” — Dr. Kenneth Goodman (bioethicist), “Frozen in Time,” Miami Herald, Sept. 17, 2002.

Comment: If you have enough money for health insurance (which costs a lot more than cryonics), then you have enough money to help somebody else in need today. In fact, if you have enough money for any discretionary expenditure (travel, sports, movies, beer), then you have enough money to help somebody in need today. Of all the ways people choose to spend substantial sums of money over a lifetime, singling out the health care choice of cryonics as selfish is completely arbitrary.

“The individual who freezes himself or herself to come back in the future makes the assumption he will be a contributor to that society and that they would want him.” — Dr. John Baust (cryobiologist), “Frozen in Time,” Miami Herald, Sept. 17, 2002.

Comment: To suggest that human beings have no intrinsic value, but only have value based on whether they “contribute to society” or whether others “want” them, is ethically questionable. If someone made this suggestion regarding care of the handicapped, the elderly, or indeed any medical patient, people would be shocked.

“Money invested to preserve human life in the deep freeze is money wasted, the sums involved being large enough to fulfill a punitive function as a self-imposed fine for gullibility and vanity.” — Jean Medawar (biologist and author), quoted in University of Calgary online course on Cryobiology, Chapter 15.

Comment: Nobody would ever imagine calling the first recipients of bone marrow transplants or artificial hearts “gullible and vain”. And what of dying children who are cryopreserved? Cryonics is an experiment, and people who choose this experiment are worthy of the same respect as other participants in high risk medical endeavors.

The Ugly

“When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.” — Dr. Michael Shermer (historian and founder of Skeptic magazine), “Nano Nonsense and Cryonics,” Scientific American, Sept. 2001 (see also our critique of his article).

Comment: While Michael Shermer is usually a beacon for science and reason, his treatment of cryonics has not always been fair. In this case he preferred a sensational soundbite over substance, despite apparently knowing better. Alcor took strong exception to this soundbite (see our critique of his article), and Dr. Shermer later acknowledged in a column called Cryonics Redux that his quote may not have been appropriate.

This is “your brain on cryonics”:

vitrified hippocampus
Transmission electron micrograph of tissue rewarmed from -130°C after in-situ vitrification of a whole mammalian brain. This is essentially normal looking brain tissue (hippocampal region). Not only is there no “intracellular goo,” no “hamburger,” and no “pulverization and destruction,” there is no ice damage whatsoever!

“Believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into a cow.” — Dr. Arthur Rowe (cryobiologist), quoted in “Frozen Future“, National Review, July 9. 2002.

Comment: Molecular technology to reassemble hamburger back into a cow already exists (just feed the hamburger to another cow). More importantly, well-cryopreserved tissue is not “hamburger.” Preservation of cell structure can be excellent (see illustration above.) This widely-recycled quote is odd given Dr. Rowe’s past encouragement of cryonics activities. The history of this quote shows that scientific opinions about cryonics typically depend more on prevailing political winds than underlying science.

Dr. Rowe’s quote has been recylced so many times that we don’t know the original source. It dates back at least as far as 1986 in an Omni magazine article entitled “Souls on Ice”. Anyone who knows an earlier citation, please email the webmaster.

“What happens is, every single cell in the organism breaks. Everything is crushed, and it is not just a tiny little bit of damage, it is not damage like a hole in a dike, it’s damage like complete pulverization and destruction. Not just the destruction of cells, but also the information contained in them. The DNA is broken up, destroyed, and oxidized. There is not a single salvageable piece of anything that is molecular inside those things [Alcor patients].” — Dr. Kenneth Storey (cryobiologist), television appearance on CBS “Sunday Morning”, July 21, 2002.

Comment: Every single claim in this remarkable statement is false. As the illustration above shows, structural preservation of brain tissue in the presence of high concentrations of cryoprotectant is excellent. Furthermore, much of what is now known about Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases was learned by histochemical analysis of brains from neurological research banks that were frozen without any cryoprotectant at all. These brain banks would not exist if biomolecules could not be preserved by freezing, even hours after clinical death. It is no wonder that cryonics faces an uphill battle for scientific credibility when such grossly mistaken information is presented by respected cryobiologists on a national stage.

For more information on the political history of cryobiologists’ attitude toward cryonics, please see the article Cold War: The Conflict Between Cryonicists and Cryobiologists.

Buzz Aldrin July 1969

The Expert

“There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth’s gravity.” — Dr. Forest Ray Moulton, University of Chicago astronomer, 1932.

“All this writing about space travel is utter bilge.” — Sir Richard Woolley, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1956

“To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon…. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.” — Dr. Lee De Forest, famous engineer, 1957

First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.
Mohandas Gandhi