Cryonics and Mike Darwin continued...

john grigg (
Thu, 30 Sep 1999 15:48:56 PDT

Hello everyone,

This is the concluding post according to Mike Darwin. IT IS NOT TO BE MISSED!! Like I said in my earlier post he really lets loose here. I was amazed and do appreciate his candor. I hope research continues and that the cryonics providers will take advantage of it for our sakes but it is a two-way street I realize.


John Grigg

Message #12478
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 23:46:25 -0400
From: Mike Darwin <> Subject: Added zero, misplaced comma, and commentary

As close to fifteen people pointed out to me by phone or email (or both) there are not 10,000 hour in a year ;-). The number of hours attributed to Chris Rasch's work should have been 1K not 10K.

I have no further time for Cryonet, but will answer the last round of questions, make a comment or two and then sign off for now. The long reply to George Smith below was written quite some time ago in response to a number of individuals who privately asked me what my opinion of cryonics was.

Thomas Donaldson writes:

>In terms of the problem we're setting ourselves, we want to know that we
>can vitrify the brains of primates (ideally chimpanzees, the closest to
>us, though that starts to become morally questionable... and there are
>plenty of other primates not so bright). Without actually doing that, we
>don't KNOW that a treatment we've applied to a quite different animal
>will still work. Yes, it's very likely, but not certain. And if it DID
>turn out not to work so easily, we'd have to do extra experiments to fix
>that problem.

Actually, I set the bar far higher and share your long-standing concerns about the importance of neurochemistry and the fundamental difference between the way biological systems operate and the way mechanical or electronic ones are engineered. Neurobiology is not carbyne rods, molecular bearings, and tiny gears. It is some of these things, but is more akin to exquisite paintings on soap bubbles. Cell membranes are not cell *walls* and the physiochemistry of learning, memory, and identity are not well understood. Not understanding these things means we cannot know if we are *preserving them* with any method we use. And all the clever analogies, "impressive" number-crunching, and astounding repair scenarios are not going to change that unpleasant fact.

All I am saying is that technology currently exists to move from greatly disrupted ultrstructure and macrostructure (neuronal membranes reformed into blebs and hashed around by ice, and brains cracking into pieces). Short of demonstrated fully reversible suspended animation (even for the head in isolation) which would allow the evaluation of memory and identity, I think this is a worthwhile and cost effective advance (personal opinion).

As to validation with primate brains this is probably excessive and costly. Human brains are cheaper and easier to come by: they can be had relatively fresh (if you are patient) for the cost of cremation: about $450.00 if you do the paperwork and carcass hauling yourself. If I'm willing to be patient and am willing to go on-site and wait, I can get acess to postmortem human brains (~30 min to 1 hour post arrest) for less than the cost of a research dog.

Robert Ettinger writes:

>Darwin's last two paragraphs above (together with further comments here
>omitted) seem to constitute a reproach against CI and Alcor for failing to

>make 21CM's advances available to our members.

Oh come on Bob, what I really think is MUCH worse than that. In my personal opinion what the CI protocol does to cryopatients' brains makes rapid postmortem straight freezing seem downright attractive. FYI most of the "sophisticates" in the cryonics "community" think the same thing, but don't have the guts or the inclination to say it. I guess their attitude is caveat emptor, and who needs your (or your alcolytesP vitriol dumped on them anyway? The rest is just your usual canned B.S. so why not leave it at that? BTW, who has replaced Mae as your verbal pit bull to say the really nasty things you don't want to put your name on?

George Smith writes:

>Does the optimistic tone of the patent application quoted mean that you,
>personally and/or professionally, are now optimistic regarding cryonics or

The internal politics, personalities, and intrinsic LACK OF NORMAL CORRECTIVE FEEDBACK make me personally feel pretty hopeless about the prospects for quality cryonics anytime in the forseeable future (6 months 3 years). Imagine running a business where you got ZERO customer feedback and could not even tell how well you were doing in terms of customer satisfaction by sales figures, returns, complaints....

It turns out that in the real world that kind of feedback is utterly critical. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the lab virtually certain that something simple would work, like a drug being soluble in water, based on solid advice from highly qualified experts, _and_ Steve Harris' considerable understanding of the physical chemistry involved, only to have it fail.

When you start doing feed-back (results) oriented science, if you are a reflective individual, you realize that you are constantly compensating, revising and refining as a result of that feedback. I'm sure its same when you run a business, paint pictures or work at McDonald's. (Having worked at McDonald's I can say for certain this is the case: the leaning curve for making hamburgers the "right" way is slow and the process of learning virtually invisible. You just get subtle feedback that leads to better product.)

The trouble is that the feedbacks is so incremental, continuous, and "seamless" you hardly notice it unless you make a _big_ mistake. Neverthesless, most of the real business of learning and success with any undertaking proceeds in this plodding, incremental way. It mirrors punctuated equilibrium in biological evolution almost exactly; occassional big insights that work, then incremental and utterly transforming refinements. Most "big" changes are failures both in biological evolution and in the lab.

I've come to realize that science rests almost completely on the very solid fact that you cannot disprove a negative, and, as a consequence, you concentrate on what you can "prove" (i.e., get definitive feedback from). Cryonics, when you get right down to it, rests on the assumption that you can't PROVE it won't work. So, it just comes down to how credulous you are or how low your standards are. That's why there is so much debate about identity in the cryonics community, because at one extreme, if all you are is your genes (a clone), then cryonics is essentially proven technology NOW for most people. At the other extreme, if identity requires complex integrated preservation of nuerotransmitter locations, fine interneuronal connections, memories, personality, and many critical things we don't even know about yet, then it is far from proven, and arguably at best a _very_ long shot.

And the problem is THERE IS NO WAY TO VALIDATE IT IN ANY MEANINGFUL TIME FRAME! Thus, in any given case, practically up to the point of the person being reduced to ash, somebody, somewhere will come up with some reasonably credible scenario for how to fix cryopatients and "save their lives." That is RELIGION not science. And that's OK. Healthy even! Just call it what it is and don't fool yourself or others into believing otherwise.

The only constraint is that "you don't violate known physical law." The problem is, to know that you are obeying that constraint you have to understand what it is you want to preserve (i.e., what identity and personhood _are_). You also have to be pretty damn (sic arrogant!) confident about your understanding the finer (or even the coarser) points of known physical law. Up until the time of Michaelson and Morely, Newtonian physics reigned supreme. In fact Michaelson once said something to the efffect "that nothing remained to be done in physics excpept or filling in the missing decimal points." (Drexler actually says essentially the same thing in ENGINE'S OF CREATION.) The irony is incredible: it was, of course, the Michaelson and Morely experiments that lead to quantaum mechanics and Einsteinian relativity. Voila! Our whole understanding of "physical law" and thus what violates it or doesn't (like the Heisenberg uncertainy principle....) changed fantastically in the space of a decade. And with that change our expectations of what was possible and impossible based on "known physical law:" nuclear reactors, atom bombs, to name a few.

When I started out in cryonics there were two camps: the Ettinger Cryonics Society of Michigan (CI) and Cryonics Society of California (CSC) true-believers who believed anything was possible (Nelson being the archetype, and whom Ettinger defends to this day despite his unconscienable deceit before, durig and after the Chatsworth debacle), and the Cryonics Society of New York camp who's attitude was "This (cryonics) is the second worst thing that can happen to you. The uncertainties scare us shitless. Let's work like hell to make it better."

My work with Jerry Leaf at Alcor was a brief, golden interlude in cryonics, although I did not see it that way at the time. I was foolish enough to believe that we could generate _indirect feedback_ by doing EMs, monitoring patient responses to treatment by multiple parameters (of increasig sophistication as we learned more about what was central to mentation and survival) and thus keep on track. In other words generate our own feedback. I even kept triplicate samples of perfusate effluent from each patient so I could do retrospective studies: I'd love to go look at nitrite levels in the serum and perfusate of those patients who at the time I thought did well in terms of ischemic injury versus those that did poorly. We didn't even know what peroxynitrite was then! But we can look for its marker now, if we chose to do so. I use this by way of example o means of generating "artificial" feedback. EM's from paients are another example: one which I was howld down on as no one would allow even tiny biopsies of brain to be taken after perfusion!

I just didn't recoken with the overpowering, unquechable desire to BELIEVE, and to be reassured, and to avoid death at any cost: even up to an including denying reality. It was just too easy for people to lump every patient together and assume that everything would work out OK. It was easier still for them to envision how THEY would be cryopreserved: under ideal conditions using the very best methods within seconds of legal death.

The brutal truth that 1/3rd of the patients get autopsied or experience days of delay, 1/3rd get neuodegenerative disease or suffer direct destruction of the brain (massive head injury, stroke, aneurysym, etc.), and maybe, if you're generous with your criteria, 1/3rd get a reasonably "good ride" just doesn't map onto almost anybody's perception of reality who's bought into cryonics.

And, how could it? They've never seen people get frozen up-close and personal. They have no idea of what goes wrong and how often it does or what it means. They don't understand the ultrastructural impact of end-stage Alzheimer's disease or multi-infarct dementia: in other words that much of the brain is GONE, just scar tissue or tangled amyloid fibers before the person even gets frozen. They don't understand because they would have to be pretty damn expert to, and even then, there will be sincere, highly credentialed people like Ralph Merkle who will come 'round with some happy scenario for how you can unscramble any egg. So, ultimately, cryonics rests on the assertion that you cannot disprove a negative: that you can't prove that patient X will NOT be able to be revived. Even people who GET feedback have a hard ime learnig from it: look at HMOs and Linda's case as an example. How many people switched to other health care providers because of her graphic article in CRYONICS magazine, let alone the dozens of other articles appearing in the newspapers and mainstream media evey day about the "crisis in healthcare" and the personal consequences for real people who's tragedies are spelled out in graphic detail?

That is not science. Nor does it produce progress. Instead it empowers people who are zealots and true-believers who quite sincerely and honestly think they are doing the right thing. It's all too horrible to have watched happen again and again, and I just can't take it anymore.

I've accepted the fact that I will in all liklihood die. I am not afraid of that anymore, though obviously, it seems to have little to recommend it, except escape from suffering and uncertainty. Arguably there are BETTER ways of mitigating suffering and uncertainty, or trying to. As long as you are alive you're options are at least open.

In the final analysis the act of cryopreserving someone, regardless of how bad off they are, is not an unjustified or irrational one. It is, after all, the only commercially available option open. The same could be said of religion before cryonics. And it was, by Blaise Pascal, when he wagered he had nothing to lose by believing in God and an afterlife. But, that, alas, is not science and it is not what I want to do with my life or what I set out to do with cryonics. I set out to validate the baseline technlogy underlying cryonics when I was 13 years old and expected to have suspended animation "in the bag" for optimum terminal cases by the 1990's at LATEST.

Well, it's almost 2000 and we're still freezing people the way I did in 1973 when I froze my first person, Clara Dastal: glycerol, as much as you can get in. As the behavior of the cryonis community clearly indicates, they are not clamoring for anything better and don't really want to deal with bad news of any kind. Rather, they want to talk about uploading, dowloading, reloading, and unloading. Maybe they are right and everything WILL work out OK. I sure as hell can't prove otherwise. But I can tell you the leaders of EVERY cryonics organization have been offered access to the advances made in cryopreservation on MORE than reasonable terms and have turned a blind eye. If you doubt me, you can talk with Dr. Greg Fahy on this matter (909) 466-8633 who has been party to at least one such surreal phone call. Only some people in CryoCare in the past have consistently wanted the best, and the simple reality is they are no longer in a position to obtain it..

All I can do is say "Hey, that isn't good enough for my lover, for me, or even for my dog." I want better and I'm going to try to get it. I respect the rights of others to proceed as the choose in happy optimism. But that does NOT mean I respect their choice.

I wish you a long and happy life, hopefully one in a world where perfected suspended animation is routine, and geopolitical and economic stability are the reasonable expectation of most prudent men.

Mike Darwin

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