|Fig. 1: Crackpot.|
Some futurists and scientists reacted to Ettinger's theories as one might react to the sudden release of an enraged wolverine into a day-care center. But I must say that I am partial to those people, even crackpots, who provide what Ernst Bloch called a vor-schein, an image of the future that gives us something to strive for. Wholly apart from the fact that Ettinger's work inspired my favorite tv show [Fig. 2], I became attracted to Ettinger when I was researching a presentation which I would eventually entitle "Transhumanity: Or, Why God Never Recieved Tenure." I came across this quote from Ettinger:
|Fig. 2: Fry, Philip J., in his tube.|
He's got a point, the crackpot. Evolution's strategy for solving a problem is to throw millions of organisms against it, each one a little different, in the hopes that one will squeak through and preserve life. I don't know if it is cruel, but it is certainly incapable of predicting the future. Should humans, if they can, attempt to circumvent, or indeed improve upon, the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Of course we must, we do, we always will, struggling against the entropic current towards the future.
That's the great thing about the future, of course. As a historian, I think we tend to cultivate a sense of the past as an looming and growing thing, like an old, dark city with countless filthy alleyways, that perpetually wags a warning finger at you. The future, on the other hand, appears to be a bright, sunshiney place, full of gardens and meadows and promising an end to suffering. The future has hope in it. The fact that the endless transformation of the future into the past with all its polymorphous disappointments doesn't deter our optimism is, I think, one of the great miracles of the human mind. So, the science supporting cryogenics is (as even they will admit) pretty lousy, or perhaps one should say, optimistic. It's hard to refute directly, since it's based on potential technology rather than actual, but very few of the scientists who have signed the "Open Letter on Cryonics" are actually neuroscientists, which may be one reason why there are so many disclaimers. Honestly, though, this is like a less execrable iteration of Pascal's Wager: I mean, think about it - what have you got to lose? If humanity nukes itself back to the Stone Age, or gets wiped out by an asteroid, or fails to raise the debt ceiling, or if geriatrics never progresses to the point where it can reverse extreme cerebral ischemic injury [Fig. 3], so what? You're not going to be any more dead than you already are (turns out I'm not the first to make that analogy).
|Fig 3. Well, at least the zombies will be happy.|
What is the lesson to take from all of this? Well, as a historian I am aware that we can make use of the "wilderness of horrors" that is our past, and find an enlightened way forward, and as a fledgling social robotics student I am aware that the path to the future is hard, uncertain, and fraught with accidents, and even if we get it all right there's still no telling where we will end up. The future is every bit as likely to be decorated with horrors as it is with wonders. Meanwhile, every day the "Zen Buddhist Sayings" widget on my google homepage reminds me that the real trick is living in the present, and making the absolute most out of whatever time you have. Then, it doesn't really matter if you live 50, or 92, or 1000 years.