Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Cryonics Suspension - Debating Life Finitude, Extending Time Capital and Cancelling Death

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Cryonics Suspension - Debating Life Finitude, Extending Time Capital and Cancelling Death

Article excerpt

Who wants to live forever? (Queen)


The topic of cryonics approached from a time sociology perspective is insightful and intriguing, as it has been so far under-theorized and under-conceptualized. Cryonics promises an extension of one's time capital or lifespan, a psychological asset that is conceived as the only clear convertible capital or total time budget available that is spent from death onwards (Preda, 2013). The prevailing argument that cryonics advocates express is that death is pronounced only because medical progress is not yet so advanced as to make more types of illness curable. Hence, to maintain their chances of prolonging life, cryonic patients need to be preserved and wait until future medical technology will find the necessary cure (Shoffstall, 2010). Cryonics is deemed as advanced critical care, carried out on a multi-generational term of decades or even centuries (Moen, 2015).

Scientific advancement in neural cryobiology, embryo and tissue banking methods are provided as basis for cryo-preservation (Hoffman, 2007). The aim of cryonics procedure is to preserve the whole body, with special focus on the brain, as intact as possible, stabilized and stored for practically unlimited time spans. In terms of technical procedure, once legal death is pronounced, blood circulation is artificially restored to avoid clots, then cryonics patients are gradually cooled down and water inside cells is replaced with a cryo-protective substance (by a vitrification process similar to the production of glass) to block chemical reactions leading to decay (Alcor Foundation, 2016). The vitrification solution prevents the occurrence of tissue fractures that happen when intra-cellular water expands during freezing, which causes chemical bonds to be destroyed. Cryonics proponents equate this cryo-preservation process with stopping biological time, also coined suspended animation, and claim that cells do not need to operate constantly to remain alive (Bailey, 2014). However, critics argue that life is not suspended, but annihilated, when energy transfers with the environment cease (Barbaro, 2011).

Studying the cryonics online community means giving voice to atypical, marginal, somewhat radical sub-cultural minorities who act as evocative illustration of "little mass", transitory group or "post-modern tribe" (Rokka, 2010), a micro-social world that functions as advisor, trader of meaning or provider of intelligibility to its members.

The study intends to achieve the following objectives:

* To portray how membership to cryonics community is socially shaped and reconfigured using discursive argumentation practices

* To examine the dialectic means by which debates emerge and controversies are either solved or reignited on blogs regarding the birth of a new would-be science

* To discuss the anti-death movement inside the cryonics belief system and its social implications, in terms of vernacular understanding of cryonics

Research questions ensue:

* How do cryonics and the concept of digitalized post-self bring about a new perspective on the traceability and sustainability of individual time capital?

* How are agency and performativity imagined, questioned and re-enacted in the context of life extensionists' beliefs and transcendent time?

* What are the values, assumptions and attitudes that cryonics enthusiasts cherish, and how are these online traces transmitted and incorporated in the digital fabric of debates?

Theoretical perspectives

Representations on post-self and transcendent time

Cryonics triggers ontological debate not only on forums, but also across scientific discourse. The option for cryopreservation is associated with an attitude of fear towards death and negatively correlated with the spiritual or religious belief in the existence of an afterlife (Lohmeier et al., 2015). Conversely, opting for cryonics can be considered as rational choice for people who believe in the future of nanomedicine and technology, and who think death is the irrevocable, irreversible terminal point, because even minutest chances of recovery are rationally deemed as better than none (Moen, 2015; Farman, 2013). …

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