Hey Kids, Don’t Forget to Take My Brain Out of the Freezer

Cryogenics

"Daddy, when are you going to die?" asks my daughter Zenobia, age five.

"Yeah, how much longer do you really think you can live?" says big sister, Tallulah, age nine.

I’m only 57, and healthy, but my two larvae are obsessed with my expiration date because their grandfather passed away last summer. I am twelve years older than their mother, so the kids know I’m scheduled — in the traditional societal view — as the next family member to croak. "Hey, you brats!" I retort. "I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to boss you around forever."

They look disappointed. My absence might mean staying up past 9:30 pm and eating more ice cream for dessert. "No, really, Daddy," says worldly-wise Tallulah. "I can do math. Grandpa died when he was 81 so does that mean you have just 24 more years?" They both glare at me, expecting honesty.

"I will live to be at least 110." I reply. "But I don’t want to put a limit on it. I’m very optimistic. I’m going to live forever." My pulse accelerates as I say this. "Will you have to wear a diaper, like Grandpa?" asks Zenobia, referring to the lack of sphincter control in Parkinson’s victims. "You can’t," scoffs Tallulah. "Every animal dies. Even whales and trees." I contemplate emailing her teacher to suggest up-to-date science books by Aubrey de Grey and K. Eric Drexler. "If my body dies," I announce, "I’m going to have scientists freeze me immediately, because my brain will still be alive. I’ll stay frozen until future smart people wake me up in a world where everybody lives forever." Tallulah’s eyes brighten with curiosity; Zenobia’s dim with incomprehension.

CryogenicsI show my daughters the website of a cryonics organization in Silicon Valley. "When I die," I instruct them. "I’ll have a medal around my neck that says ‘Cool Me Off.’ On that medal there’s a phone number. Call it and somebody will tell you what to do."

"More, Daddy," urges Tallulah.

"To freeze me correctly," I continue, "they have to get my blood out real fast."

"With a knife?" asks Zenobia.

"Yeah, and maybe a vacuum cleaner," I guess. "Then they pack my body on ice, so I’m cold and fresh, like the fish at Farmer’s Market."

"To eat you?" asks Zenobia.

"No, not one bite," I assure her. "They’ll put my cold body on an airplane and fly me to ‘Michigan’ and keep me there in suspended animation."

"What’s that?" they ask.

"Hmm…." I pause, seeking childish metaphors. "I’ll be a zombie, like Snow White after she ate the poison apple. Except she was all dressed up, and I haven’t decided yet if I want my full body naked like a giant popsicle or if I just want my brain iced."

"What do you think?" asks Tallulah.

"I only have enough money for the iced brain," I admit, "unless I spend your college fund."

"You said I could go to art school!" she hisses.

"Icky," says Zenobia. Her father reduced to just a cold blob in a bowl — like tapioca — disturbs her.

"It won’t be for long," I comfort her.

"Oh," she puzzles, "like when you went to Belgium all alone to eat chocolate and drink beer?’

"Yeah, right," I huff.  "Maybe longer than that. I have to stay frozen until they can either grow a new body around my brain…"

"Really?" They giggle. "Will the new grown body look just like this one?"

"Does it have to?" I fudge. I can’t tell them that I want my next physique to be a promiscuous 22-year-old Swedish woman who can have 15 orgasms a night.

"Grow the same Daddy-body again," says Zenobia. "But not as strong. We want to beat you up in judo when you get back."

"Okay," I agree. "But, what if my brain just gets put in a robot? Is that alright? Can I be a robot?"

"Stop it!" shouts Zenobia. Robots, to her, are icky toys for mean boys.

"Yes, Daddy, be a robot!" smiles Tallulah.  "That’d be cool!" She imagines a ‘bot Daddy as the most prestigious item in her girl-gang, more awesome than American Girl dolls.

Frozen brainBriefly, I describe two scenarios. My brain could be sliced very thinly, like pastrami, with each section scanned as an information file of my memory and personality, then uploaded in metallic form into a ‘droid. Or I could keep the "old-fashioned" meat brain and have it safely encased in a robot’s skull container. "If I was robotic," I beg them, "I could live on any planet, because I won’t need to breathe. I could live on Jupiter; cheap real estate there in 70 years."

"You come straight home," orders Zenobia. "You have to make our school lunches."

"Okay," I sigh. "What about this plan? My brain is kept secure underground, but its connected to my body via radio signals. That way I can be more than one robot at a time. I can even be an animal or a bird. Get it? I feel everything in all my bodies because my brain’s alive, but…"

"No!" They stamp. "Just a Daddy! Here." An eternity doing their laundry, I surmise. This is their ambition for me, plus shopping and chauffeuring to play dates.

"Just don’t forget me, okay?," I implore. "Don’t forget to get my brain out of the freezer."

They pinky-promise, and give me a hug. Then Tallulah turns to a serious topic: herself. "Daddy, will I die?" she asks.

"No," I say. "Nobody your age will die. Science will solve all the problems like disease, death and getting old. You and Zenobia will live forever."

"Do I have to?" she asks, her voice weighed down by existence. Perhaps longevity sounds like never-ending homework.

"No, you can go to sleep for ten years or more if you want to," I assure her.

Daddy, be a robot!" smiles Tallulah. "That’d be cool!

"I’d like that," she yawns.

"Will Mommy die?" asks Zenobia.

"I don’t know," I reply. "She’s twelve years younger. It depends on when the big super-smart computer gets here." Loosely, I explain the Singularity and its debatable arrival time. "If Ray Kurzweil is right and its 2045, I’ll be 93 and Mommy will just be 81."

"She’ll still be alive!" yells Zenobia.

"Maybe Daddy, too" says Tallulah, "but probably not."

"However, " I continue, ignoring her callousness, "if the Singularity doesn’t arrive until 2065, Mommy will be 102 and I’ll be 113."

"Dead!" they chime in unison. "Dead! Dead! Dead!"

Singularity enchants tech-savvy Zenobia, who quickly grasped all the features of my iphone that she swipes to surf around youtube. But Tallulah is a hostile Luddite, soulmate of the Unabomber. "That’s stupid," she scoffs. "People can’t make robots smarter than us. And if they did, the robots would kill us."

Nanobots are easier; they remind her of fairy dust. I hint to the little sweeties that "invisible robots in our bodies" might enable us to eat whatever we want, without cavities or nutritional damage. "Candy!" They shriek, bouncing chaotically around the room. "We’ll eat candy all the time!"

I wonder, as I watch the hyperactive apes disarray my abode, will people still have children after infinite life is attained? I passed on my DNA because it lessened my anguish about potentially dying. Children are fun and adorable but they require massive patience, funding and drudgery. The solution, I realize, is what every parent fantasizes about: Two Bodies. One operates as 100% Super Parent with all the kindness and knowledge required, while #2 Body lives far, far away, unencumbered, self-absorbed, enjoying all the adult entertainment it craves.

Photo credit: americancryonics.org

39 Comments

  1. Hi

    I write texts for Oxford University Press in Australia and am doing a small piece on cyrogenics. I am looking for some images to help illustrate it (it’s for junior high school). At this point, I am asking if, in principle, we could use the images here under licence. If the answer is yes, I shall get our Oxford permissions people to liaise with you re conditions of use. Grateful for your advice, for if the answer is no, I shall keep looking.

    Maggy Saldais

  2. Your kids sound like little shits.

  3. Hmmm.. say… look me up when you are unthawed yes?

  4. Daring but very true sounding conversation! It somehow makes me more and more glad I dont have kids and dont have to face questions like this one before my breakfast tea …
    Wishing a good long life to everybody, Anke

  5. Hey, wait a minute. Who is it exactly that is going to crack your skull open and take your brain out? A student working nights? And where does one get proper training in skull cracking?

    And accidents do happen. I can see someone bumping into the remains of your head and accidentally brushing your brain on the floor …only to step on it while looking for the fallen pieces. Can it still be frozen if dropped? Does the 5 second rule apply? Or are the odds of a dropped and stepped on brain not working properly after being thawed too low?

    But in your case I can see some future brain committee deciding that a scrawny looking brain that always looks like it wants to eat as not being worth freezing.

  6. Hank – great story! Really ties in many of the life extension possibilities, regardless of whether they’ll come to pass. And knowing you and the kids, I can almost hear this as an actual discussion – so good job recording it! I’ll reference it in my book-to-come… (with appropriate credits, of course)

    Don’t know what all the rest of the fuss is about – some folks take themselves WAY too seriously…

  7. Me? “selfish screwing”? HUH?! Why the “selfish”? Are you really a judgmental, puritanical killjoy? And this self-righteous ambition of yours, this talk of being “sensitive” and filled with “the spirit of love” — ? Why did you label my wish to be a hot young orgasmic Swedish woman as “selfish”? Why can’t I be a hot young orgasmic Swedish woman filled with the “spirit of love” who is also sensitive and a nanotech engineer? You did some ghastly stereotyping on me. Maybe you think one has to be very old & ugly to have the “spirit of love”? How terribly dull. Do you hate sex? Are you a Christian or something equally stupid? Goodbye.

    • “A Christian or something equally stupid”

      Some spirit of love you have there Hank…

      • Yes, Stumpy — I do believe the adjective “stupid” is the correct word to attach to the noun “Christian” — I also regard the word “spirit” as irritating and idiotic, because it implies a belief in a soul or spirit. Maybe you can find a Bible Study site where you can make friends with stupid spiritual Christians, but I’m sure h+ is NOT the best community for your pathetic philosophy. There are people & ideas that I deeply love, and people & ideas that do not deserve respect. Stumpy, you are deeply infected with ancient, brain-eating memes, but you can, and should, think your way out of your retardation. Good luck.

  8. I’d like to scrape enough money together to go into cryogenic freeze as well, but I share the criticism of the religionist, that the author reduces life to selfish screwing.

    I don’t question that people here have a rudimentary sense of right and wrong, in terms of “who has what obligations to whom,” and “are you paying your taxes or not”, but I do wonder if there isn’t a higher discrimination that is lacking, and preparing to make itself known.

    The human soul is sensitive and knows that life is precious and more than screwing, and that you must construct higher purposes for yourself, because you’re fooling no one by pretending that screwing and delight are sufficient.

    We must look deeper, and can only find what we yearn for in the spirit of love.

    If it is love that reconstructs our bodies after death, it is a selfless love; If it is a selfish love that reconstructs us, I’m not sure we’d want to be waken up! Would you be reborn within the mind of a Cthulu?

    I detect an article behind the article — this article in the back asks, “What are we here for? Who are we here for?”, and it is here that the real tension lives.

  9. Hank has already had the last laugh. He has figured out how to speak to children so they give him undivided attention. A rare gift of true genius.

  10. Who wants to live forever on this planet?

    No Thanks. I’ll take the promises of God over ‘man made’ life.

    See ya in heaven!

  11. You might tell your daughters about the Volcano Sponge (Anoxycalyx joubini), some of which are believed to be 15,000 years old and still growing.

  12. Very funny and touching. A lovely read!

  13. In all honesty, a world inhabited by selfish, nihlist, adrenalin junkies is not one to be embraced but is one that is troubling. A world with the license of Marquis de Sade empowered and amplified by amoral technology. This writer sums it up best – give me a world or carnal pleasure and no connection with humanity – don’t be surprised if the new future pogroms unleashed would make Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler appear mundane.

    • I don’t know where you get that idea about cryonicists, especially the bit about “nihilism.” Most cryonicists I know display personal integrity, for example in friendships and in business dealings, showing that they have a strong sense of right and wrong.

  14. A wonderful and very thoughtful piece. I was reminded of my own attempts to explain cryonics to my son many years ago.

  15. Hank, you will have the last laugh.
    Once Singularity is set free and all the dead rise up to become part of the universal consciousness as a giant baby floating in the milky way in the style of Stanley Kubrick your downloaded consciousness and my downloaded consciousness will sit down for a round of martinis and reminisce about the old days when skepticism ran rampant and doubt was the operative paradigm of the luddites.

    • If you equate non-Singularitarians with Luddites, your definitions are singular, to put it very, very mildly (and forgivingly).

      • really?

        Are there people who do not fit neatly into one or the other category?

        that would really mess with my vision of the universe.

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