Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Life in the Fridge

By Michael Cook

Cryonics technologies have captured the imagination of some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley, but what about the rest of us?

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What would the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal think of cryonics — the business of freezing people until scientists can revive them? Given his scepticism and his religious fervour, not much. However, a few years ago Scottish bioethicist David Shaw thawed out Pascal’s famous wager to defend it.

Some readers might recall that Pascal’s Wager works like this. If you are a betting man, he argued, it is preferable to put your chips on the existence of God because the benefits of the afterlife are so great that they dwarf the fleeting pleasures of atheism. As theology, Shaw says, this argument has been discredited. But it does succeed for cryonics:

At worst, cryonics offers a slim chance of living for a few more years. At best, it offers a slim chance of living forever. Ultimately, the Cryonic Wager is overwhelmingly attractive for the rational humanist, even without the prospect of eternal life.

Cryogenics makes sense, Shaw argued, because “for atheists who don’t believe in an afterlife, cryonics represents the only chance of life after ‘death’”.

Alcor, an American company that freezes whole bodies and neuropatients (i.e. heads), is the best-known practitioner of cryonics. It currently has over 1000 members enrolled and about 140 patients in its freezers. As soon as a member is pronounced clinically dead, its doctors...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.