Myths about Cryonics Debunked

Walt Disney
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, but a rumour has long persisted that his body was cryogenically frozen and is held in storage under Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, ready for the day when science will come up with the cure for lung cancer. The origin of this urban legend, so far, is unknown.

In reality, Disney’s body was cremated soon after his death. Legal documents exist that indicate that his ashes were interred two days after his cremation in a marked vault at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. The first instance of cryonic preservation occurred a full year after his death.

Thousands of People are frozen so it must have some merit right?         No, there are fewer than 200 people in cryostats worldwide.  Because cryonics gets so much publicity there is a public perception that it is a lot more widely practiced? Alcor (the biggest company) have reported over 1000 members (2009) but vast majority of them are still alive and only around 80 are in frozen storage at this time.

Advanced Vitrification Techniques eliminates ice-crystal damage
"acoustic fracturing events." In layman's terms, those would be the audible cracking noises made by the brain and other internal organs as they shatter from the effects of the extreme cold.
"It's exactly that kind of noise when you drop an ice cube into a glass of Coke," explained Tanya Jones, Alcor's director of technical operations. "In the best-case scenario we've ever had, it was only five fracture events" - Hardly eliminated - that's 5 fractures in one organ - who knows how many over a whole body?

Cryonics is run as non-for-profit charities so they cannot be ripping people off right?
This is actually incorrect. A public company has far more oversight, than these so-called non-profits, which are rife with abuse. A non-profit board can hire their associates, friends, and even themselves as consultants.
There have been many cases, where non-profit boards have hired unqualified associates to do "PR" for example. No one even knows what happens to that money. Some of it could even be secretly kicked-back to board members in cash, and bogus "research" money for their paid staff. Money goes into random "expenses", rent, car leases, LAND PURCHASES, etc. It can be a cash-cow for those who control the board of the non-profit. Not saying that this is what is definitely going on with all non profits but is arguable that Cryonics companies would better serve their members by being transparent like a public company.

Simon Cowell and Paris Hilton are signed up
Pop impresario Simon Cowell was in the news recently, with a story that the reality show star has declared his intention to have himself cryonically preserved when he dies in order to be revived by doctors in the future. Cowell’s intentions were of course met with predictable derision as the typically bizarre behaviour of the senselessly rich and famous, and his press agent quickly moved to say that Cowell had merely been joking. Paris Hilton was also reputedly signed up for cryonics, The Register posted an article that she had said it was "cool" and intended to freeze her pets too. "Paris Hilton wants to be frozen with her beloved pets when she dies. The hotel heiress is keen to live forever and has invested a large sum of money in the world's biggest suspended animation cemetery, Cryonics Institute."  The story is incorrect, both in its characterization of the Cryonics Institute and regarding Miss Hilton. It is apparently a media hoax. Unofficial sources have informed the Cryonics Society that reports of the actress' commitment have no basis in reality.

Pascal's Wager

Cryonics enthusiasts are fond of applying a variant of Pascal's wager to cryonics [ and saying that being a Pascal's Wager variant doesn't make their argument fallacious. Ralph Merkle gives us Merkle's Matrix:

 It works 

It doesn't work

Sign up


Die, lose life insurance

Do nothing



I realize comparing cryonics to Pascal's Wager is likely to raise some hackles, but the comparison is unavoidable when advocates of cryonics so often defend the idea using Pascal's Wager-like logic: If you bet on cryonics and lose, you lose nothing, since you'd have died anyway; but if you win, you might wake up in a future where science has perfected immortality! Isn't this a potentially infinite payoff with zero risk?

But just as Pascal's argument overlooked the problem of choosing the wrong religion and ending up condemned, cryonics overlooks the possibility that the future, rather than being better, may be worse. What if the future is a 1984-style dictatorship or post-apocalyptic anarchy, or is run by malevolent super intelligences (like the vindictive supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison's classic story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream) that take pleasure in tormenting us? What if the future revives cryonically frozen human beings only to put them on trial for the crimes of our era? (I find this last possibility the most plausible of the four.) The potential payoffs of cryonics, needless to say, become far more complicated if we do not assume that we can only wake up in a world far better than the one we left.

More info on the original use for the wager is here:

Nano-Technology will be able to bring frozen people back to life
a business based on little more than hope for developments that can be imagined by science is quackery. There is little reason to believe that the promises of cryonics will ever be fulfilled. Even if a dead body is somehow preserved for a century or two and then repaired, whatever is animated by whatever process will not be the same person who died. The brain is the key to consciousness and to who a person is. There is no reason to believe that a brain preserved by whatever means and restored to whatever state by nanobots will result in a consciousness that is in any way connected to the consciousness of the person who died two centuries earlier.
Nanotechnology might rebuild a mass of dead tissue into a mass of healthy tissue, but without a complete isomorphic model of the brain it will be impossible to return a mushy brain to the exact state it was in before death occurred. (Of course, since this is an exercise in imagination, one can posit that some day we will be able to preserve the brain without any decomposition or transformation at all.) In any case, some other jolt, probably electricity, will be needed to get the heart beating and the brain working again, assuming, of course, that the mush brain has been reconstructed into a healthy brain again.

Please don't call our customers Dead!

The "goalposts" for death keep moving
There are many anecdotal references to people being declared dead by physicians and then "coming back to life", sometimes days later in their own coffin, or when embalming procedures are about to begin. From the mid-18th century onwards, there was an upsurge in the public's fear of being mistakenly buried alive, and much debate about the uncertainty of the signs of death. Various suggestions were made to test for signs of life before burial, ranging from pouring vinegar and pepper into the corpse's mouth to applying red hot pokers to the feet, or even into the rectum Writing in 1895, the physician J. C. Ouseley claimed that as many as 2,700 people were buried prematurely each year in England and Wales, although others estimated the figure to be closer to 800.

In cases of electric shock (CPR) for an hour or longer can allow stunned nerves to recover, allowing an apparently dead person to survive. People found unconscious under icy water may survive if their faces are kept continuously cold until they arrive at an emergency room. This "diving response", in which metabolic activity and oxygen requirements are minimal, is something humans share with cetaceans called the mammalian diving reflex.

In an age of organ transplantation, identifying the moment of death may now involve another life. It thereby takes on supreme legal importance. It is largely due to the need for transplant organs that death has been so precisely defined.

The official signs of death include the following:

  • no pupil reaction to light
  • no response of the eyes to caloric (warm or cold) stimulation
  • no jaw reflex (the jaw will react like the knee if hit with a reflex hammer)
  • no gag reflex (touching the back of the throat induces vomiting)
  • no response to pain
  • no breathing
  • a body temperature above 86 °F (30 °C), which eliminates the possibility of resuscitation following cold-water drowning
  • no other cause for the above, such as a head injury
  • no drugs present in the body that could cause apparent death
  • all of the above for 12 hours
  • all of the above for six hours and a flat-line electroencephalogram (brain wave study)
  • no blood circulating to the brain, as demonstrated by angiography

Current ability to resuscitate people who have "died" has produced some remarkable stories. Drowning in cold water (under 50 °F/10 °C) so effectively slows metabolism that some persons have been revived after a half hour under water.

As medical technologies advance, ideas about when death occurs may have to be re-evaluated in light of the ability to restore a person to vitality after longer periods of apparent death (as happened when CPR and defibrillation showed that cessation of heartbeat is inadequate as a decisive indicator of death). The lack of electrical brain activity may not be enough to consider someone scientifically dead. Therefore, the concept of information theoretical death has been suggested as a better means of defining when true death occurs, though the concept has few practical applications outside of the field of cryonics of course!

Timothy Leary
For a number of years, Leary was reported to have been excited by the possibility of freezing his body in cryonic suspension, and Leary publicly announced in September 1988 that he had signed up with Alcor. Leary had appeared at Alcor's grand opening a year previously.   He did not believe that he would be resurrected in the future, but he believed that cryonics had important possibilities and stated the chance was "one chance in 1,000".

He called it his "duty as a futurist," and helped publicize the process and hoped it would work for his children and grandchildren if not for him; although he said he was "light-hearted" about it. Leary had relationships with two cryonic organizations, originally Alcor and then CryoCare, which delivered a cryonic tank to Leary's house in the months before his death. However, Leary changed his mind after being creeped out by the whole affair. He didn't want his family name associated with cryonic preservation advertising, he subsequently requested that his body be cremated, which it was, and distributed among his friends and family. Some of his ashes were even rocketed into space and re-entered the atmosphere as micro-meteorites - cool huh!

The film Timothy Leary's Dead (1996) contains a simulated sequence in which Leary allows his bodily functions to be suspended for the purposes of cryonic preservation, and his head is removed and placed on ice. At the end of the film is a sequence showing the creation of the artificial head used in the film.