There’s been a lot of talk recently about cryonics—freezing your body after death to preserve it for the future in the hope that you can be ‘awoken’ many years from now and be cured of your current illnesses and live life anew. This obviously is a most attractive idea and would give you a second chance at life—an opportunity that doesn’t happen very often in one life, let alone in two of them. I apologise in advance if this subject is somewhat morbid, but I thought I’d do a bit of research in case I ever wanted to come back myself. And I don’t think I do.
For a start, cryonic space is already surprisingly popular. About 1,500 people worldwide have had this procedure and they are stored in various facilities in the USA and in Russia. Nearly 1,000 of them are American but there are also about 100 Brits, 39 Germans, 12 Dutch and 9 from France. There are a few from Norway and Sweden, but strangely there’s nobody from Iceland which you would have thought would be an obvious choice given the subject matter. All the bodies are stored in metal containers at about minus 190 degrees centigrade which is very very cold indeed. This is not the same as being frozen like Birds Eye garden peas. With cryonics, you’d be deep crystallised in liquid nitrogen. But then, since you’re already dead, you’re not exactly going to feel anything.
And we’re not just talking about people. There are over 200 animals as well. Yes, I was intrigued too, so I’ll tell you… The majority are cats and dogs but there are at least three parrots, one pet canary and a frozen hamster in California. Somebody also tried to freeze their pony but it was apparently too big to go into the metal cylinder so the poor thing had to be abandoned. Sad but true. And if you were asking (which you probably weren’t), no—there are currently no pet goldfish or stick insects on ice.
The more I uncovered, the more I became convinced that this is not for me.
For a start, you wouldn’t have any say as to what the world would be like when you wake up. We might have a twenty third century Nirvana where everybody is friendly and beautiful, but you might wake up in a neo-fascist Trump ridden state with ray gun robots on every street corner. It’d be a bit like falling asleep in the cinema and coming round to find that Terminator the movie was actually real. Scary… Frankly better to stay frozen until the world became a bit nicer. Or maybe the world would have ended in a huge apocalyptic nuclear bang… Not that you’d care as nobody would be around to wake you up so you wouldn’t know anything about it.
And then there is one obvious sobering fact. Nobody has yet been successfully resuscitated. It’s all fine in theory but we will have to wait for several hundred years to see if the idea actually works. I suppose it’s inevitable that the majority of frozen bodies are probably white, male, old and (of course) very rich. That’s because they’re the only ones who can afford the freezer fees. But maybe costs would come down over time and in which case we could all have a greater say as to who goes into the ice-box. Famous musicians, writers and artists could be stored for the greater benefit of a future society. We might have brand new albums from 100 year old rock stars—literally known as icy blasts from the past—but then we’ve already got some of those judging by current photos of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
If only this whole idea had been invented a long time ago, we could now be enjoying a new Mozart concerto or commissioning a certain Mr Shakespeare for a few more plays (‘A Winters’ Tale 2’ comes to mind given the low temperature theme. Romeo and Juliet 2 might be a more difficult sell).
Away from the arts, we could vote on which politicians might be saved for posterity—probably none of them—and which current sports stars might be resurrected in a few centuries time to once again try to save England from future world cup elimination. Given our recent performances on the football field, there won’t be many takers there either. It is certainly a macabre thought.
And then there are the social implications. What’s the etiquette when someone is frozen in time? Do you keep a spare place around the Christmas dinner table on the off chance that they might suddenly turn up? If so, how long do you keep it for? 200 years or more? Family members could of course all raise a glass to him/her and toast their happy return. On second thoughts, no. Any form of toasting is not recommended when it’s essential to keep them icy cold.
And if they did appear at the dinner table having been thawed out, what would one say to them? Somehow a mere ‘How are you?’ is woefully inadequate after a couple of centuries. Asking them if they’ve slept OK might be safer. You will probably want to ask them serious questions to do with the meaning of life and the hereafter, but don’t be disappointed if all they want to know is what happened in the last episode of Poldark. You never can tell what’ll happen when you muck about with Nature.