I love the series and this episode was no different, but I thought I would warn those in charge of the content that their research fell prey to their own prejudices on this one. I feel strongly that when a rational-seeming source (since this show almost invariably is) portrays legitimate life-extension technologies to the public as a scam it can be enormously damaging. If they were total flakes I wouldn't care, but they are more likely to be believed because of their otherwise careful considerations of topics.
Also, I am just dissapointed in them for not having already questioned the common opinion on this topic. The degree of mainstream-ness has never, in the past or since, kept them from careful consideration of a subjet.
As I said, this has been edited slightly since I sent it. I inserted some more links and changed some turns of phrase. They can probably find the original in their deleted (I assume) emails if they keep them.
I am writing about a show that, like all your Bullshit! shows, I really liked. (Ready for the "but"?)
This one had a segment that you will eventually have to eat crow over if you want to be consistent as well as entertaining. I have heard you (Penn) delight in being wrong on a number of occasions and I hope to help you be further delighted. Not a big price to pay, especially since the implications are great for humanity's future. I am talking about the segment on Cryonics.
First, no cryonicist wants to use it. Being cyonically suspended is the second worst thing that can happen to you.
Bullshit! is all about blowing away closely held beliefs with reason, yet someone either didn't do their homework here or you just couldn't let go of the emotional investment in the certainty of biological aging and death.
Thousands of people that have been cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures are walking around today. How didn't you hear about this? You did, they were vitrified as embryos. It's a matter of scale. (NOTE: Vitrification is not crystalline freezing, it is the formation with cryoprotectants, of a solid, glasslike state, with no damaging crystal formation.)
For the vast majority of human history, death has indeed been a certainty, and worse, one with unknown causes. We are extremely lucky to live in a time where researchers are finally approaching aging and death as a disease, rather than a set of symptoms with an inevitable treatment failure resulting in death. Proposed engineering approaches to human rejuvenation are finally coming within our grasp.
Low temperatures as a therapy iteself is entering mainstream medicine from several angles, mostly because low temperatures slow or halt damage from trauma. Low temperature treatments for heart attack and stroke are either in development or deployed to emergency medical teams already. Additionally, right now, every day, people undergo surgery with all their blood washed out, no heartbeat, and a flat EEG (brain activity). These people have operations at ~10 Centigrade and then their blood is put back in, and they start them back up just like clockwork. All they lose is approximately the last 5 minutes of memory before the procedure (just like is caused by some amnesiac general anesthetics like Versid). This is a compelling argument for the material-basis for life and educational to most people, since they don't realize the definition of death has changed so greatly in our lifetimes. You said it in your "Death, Inc." episode, "our brains are us".
As a footnote, the aforementioned miracle of low-temperature surgery is made possible by the plasma extender Hextend that is used to replace the patient's blood during the procedure. That product has rapidly captured the market due to its marked superiority to its competitors. BioTime designed this substance and protocol, a firm that donates to and is composed in part by members of Alcor, the largest Cryonics Life Extension organization. Lives of non-cryonics patients are already being saved by a cryonics spinoff technology.
You showed images from Alcor on your show, but you talked to Trans Time folks? Was this because they were sufficiently inarticulate in your footage to support your disbelief? Either your interviews with Alcor representatives were not supportive or you didn't do any. More on who those representative might be in the points to come.
You made several points about Cryonics in your show that need correcting:
(With the implication that someone is getting rich hustling these people? Or that only the very rich can afford it.)
Most people signed up for Cryonics are not rich. (Myth 8: Cryonics is an indulgence of rich people. http://www.alcor.org/cryomyths.html#myth8)
Alcor does charge what seems like a lot for suspension: $120,000 for whole-body or $50,000 for neurosuspension (head-only). However, nobody (with perhaps one or 2 exceptions) of the ~1200 person worldwide membership in cryonics organizations pays for the suspension cost directly. Almost everybody uses Term or Whole life policies as stated above. These either have a small monthly cost, or you are able to pay them off early for a lot less than the death benefit, because the insurance company makes its money mostly off investing your money (not off the premium). Additionally, there are quarterly dues, at least at Alcor, of $120 per-quarter for operations expense. I myself joined an accelerated program to pay the membership dues all at once and I never have to pay again. Since I paid off my life insurance too, I am done. I did this all for less than the price of one of the death industry's funerals. Commonly, if you can afford cable television ;-) you can afford an ambulance to a doctor 100 years in the future.
Why is the suspension cost as much as it is? (Not that either of those figures represent a large life insurance policy.) It is because Alcor makes sure that they account for 3 times the projected costs of maintenance indefinitely. They do this so that if there is a political or natural disaster the patients can be moved, out of the country if necessary. Additionally, disinformation about cryonics contributes to the small membership in reputable cryonics organizations denying the organizations the economies of scale and rapidity of innovation that would be possible with greater resources.
I think it is clear that (just as with current medicone) nobody will be revived by a group other than one that values their lives. Current society seems to value the life of a patient enough that they revive them from "death" if possible currently. If you or I flatline and are lucky enough to be in an emergency facility we have some chance of making it. This doesn't change with cryonics. The main difference is who considers suspended people to be a patient. Friends and family of the patient will be the ones that push for revival. This is why you choose an organization that has only suspension members as board members. Organizational stability is of chief importance to last the time necessary for revival technologies. You can make the decision to join an organization of any kind based on likely accountability.
This is a market-based approach. I don't choose "Bob's Cryo Hut" where I don't know Bob or how his endowment is preserved, or what is necessary to certify my contract with him.
It must be understood that cryonics patients are not being cast adrift until some future historian finds them. They are being cared for continuously by an organization such as Alcor with the express purpose of reviving them. If a patient stays suspended long enough for revival technology to be developed, it will be because they are still in the care of an organization that intends to revive them. In other words, revival will happen (if it happens) because someone cared enough about your revival to keep you in suspension. It will not really matter what the rest of future society thinks.
Important technical concept: "First in, last out". Technology for cryopreservation gets better through time. Sound reasonable? So, the first people preserved will have more damage, and the tech will need to be greater to get them out. Conter-intuitively perhaps, higher tech can be quite inexpensive. Search for 'potatoes' here Clearly, not-quite-as-high tech like the cellphone has gotten incredibly better and less expensive in just the last few years.
Do you not believe that we are made of matter? Do you not agree that technology is the progression of humankind's ability to manipulate matter and energy according to our wishes? What exactly is hard to believe about the idea that we will be able to do what we wish with even the matter composing our brains in the future (however remote)?
Whatever the case may be with your beliefs, Cyronicists want to avoid using their life insurance just as much as anyone. We are merely taking precautionary measures in case we miss the bootstrap technology cutoff for living that next healthy day. There are current, well-regardeed engineering proposals that extend currently-existing technologies to create robust human rejuvenation within our lifetimes. Higher technologies ubiquitously available in hospitals and clinics will obviate anything as radical as biosuspension within the forseeable future.
NOTE: Of course Politics seems the single likely force be able to slow this technological progress appreciably. So some Cryonicists will be uncessesarily suspended because of political delays, but 100,000 more people a day (about 30 World Trade Centers) will also die from aging-related causes during that delay as well. Joining the control group requires no action.
BTW: Current and previus suspension techniques will likely require much higher technology than techniques that could maintain our health indefinitely without dieing. "A Mad Scientist wanting untraceable slave labor" wouldn't bother with something potentially requiring technology that could easily create for him him/her cyborgs, androids, or other superhuman artificial intelligences.
This is so well refuted I am just going to point you there. Did your staff even Google for scientific literature? Lots of myths persist certainly, and pointing out that your assumptions are oversights is often helpful, so I thought I would. Additionally, the very place you had footage of, but didn't talk to anyone, has new procedures that are considerably less damaging than older techniques.
However, the main issue is not that it preserves you better than some other suspension method, merely that it is WORSE AT ERASING A BRAIN THAN BURNING OR ROTTING. Much worse.
Is it perfect? No. Cryonicists are the first to say that dying and being frozen is the second worse thing that can happen to you. I don't plan on using my suspension membership, thank you, but I am willing to defy my programming about death and make a rational decision to potentially mitigate my risk. Voluntary interactions of this kind are what take humanity forward. I think we can agree on that. This brings me to the real reason that people do this at all.
We cryonicists tend to love life. We never envision a time that we don't want to wake up tomorrow and live another day. And it seems from our experience that only people that love life take steps to see more of it. People who are merely afraid of death tend not to stay signed up for Cryonics, from the examples I have seen.
I admit to being an optimist. I think the stuff that we mere monkeys have accomplished so far are amazing. I think a lot of people like me want to see and participate in the emancipation of humanity from tyranny of all kinds, death included. It may seem like outrageous hubris to propose achieving about indefinite life, but I tend to be pro-choice on everything. (Like a lot of Cryonicists, I am quite libertarian.) You can choose to die any time you like, but the opposite choice, living as long as you want, is not available currently. I don't think taking rational steps toward that goal is unethical, and certainly not irrational.
Choosing cryonics is voluntary interaction, and nobody appears to be being hustled or coerced. There are several providers to choose from. Why did I choose Alcor? I think that Alcor is the best run and constituted.
Other skeptics (besides me) are signed up. Many are well-known and well-respected scientists: Ralph Merkle (Cryptography and Nanotechnology), Eric Drexler (Father of Molecular Nanotechnology), Marvin Minsky (Nobel-Prize winning AI researcher), Michael West (Founder of Geron and one of the worlds foremost stem-cell researchers), and Greg Fahy (one of the world's foremost CRYOBIOLOGISTS). I wish I had seen an interview with any of these people on Bullshit!
Major member-donors include Board Member Saul Kent, one of the principals in a company (lef.org) that goes to bat against organizations like the FDA who keep life-saving medicines out of the country. (There is definitely some bullshit at the FDA). The Life Extension Foundation also supplies high-quality life-extension supplements that have effectiveness based on peer-reviewed articles. If someone needs drugs from outside US jurisdiction, they can point people to trusted offshore pharmacies to get drugs that might save their lives or health.
Why would this millionaire with a lucrative business based on science bother to give so generously of his money and time to a scam? I wish you would have asked him and others mentioned here that question on the air!
Could all of these people be wronger than W. Wrongy Wrongenstein about cryonics? Sure they could! One scientist can prove it wrong, if they argue the evidence. But we didn't get to see the arguments and evidence from the cryobiologists working on cryonics-related research on your show.
The publicly-acknowledged cryonicists are an incredibly transparent and accountable group of members, scientists, and businesspeople. Alcor board members MUST be signed up themselves and most have friends or family members in suspension. Have you ever hear the saying, "In a Ham and Egg breakfast the chicken is involved, the pig is committed." These folks are committed. It is their lives and the lives of their loved-ones on the line.
As I am sure you can imagine, just as with the children of same-sex parents, prejudice of others is the primary problem facing rational discourse on this topic (indeed on all life-extension topics). There are not a few cryonicists that have signed up anonymously because of current social attitudes toward the idea. Being signed up anonymously is quite dangerous if you wish to be suspended because most of the people around you will not know your wishes. Pieces like the one in "Death, Inc." have continued this irrational prejudice.
What exactly was the point of going after these folks? If you are saying that someone is being deluded, but nobody is getting rich, then you are merely "blaming the victim". I was under the impression you had no interest in taking that approach.
Honestly, I do wish Cryonics were already popular enough that the organizations were being criticized for being "too successful". I would think the same thing about the critics of Cryonics when successful as I do of critics of Microsoft's success, not much. I believe in the profit motive with good reason, it appears to have created civilization. Massive growth in cryonics would make me and the other suspension members safer because of the financial strength of a larger organization, and the accelerated research on suspension and revival technologies.
Humans are indeed fragile and we live in an uncertain period. I think you know this better than most. The touching piece you have done with the "blood" filled balloon and the speech about how tough and fragile we are at the same time indicated you relize this. Some of us are trying to look to a future where this can change. A future where the technology of longevity can be reachable for all humanity is one worth working for. I hope you confirm my understanding of your intellectual courage, and consider this letter and its implications seriously.
At the least, please consider not piling on to the already overwhelming prejudice against reason-backed life-extension organizations and members if you ever again address a related subject.
[MWG: Penn said on his August 28th, 2006 Radio show that they might do a BS on vitamins and supplements. I already warned lef.org to be proactive and bring scientific information forward to them to counterbalance the charlatans that certainly exist in that industry.]