Life Is Chill When You Believe Science Will Solve Death

Is cryonics real science, or a New Age religion? A Motherboard investigation.

May 5 2016, 6:45pm

Across America, there are a growing number of enthusiasts and researchers working to solve what they perceive to be science's ultimate problem: death. Many of them believe that by cooling the human body down to extremely frigid temperatures, it could preserved until a time when science has advanced enough to bring it back to life.

The practice is called cryonics, and researchers have been using the technique since the first patient was preserved in 1967. Since then, over a hundred patients have been frozen across the country, coldly awaiting a future where they can be reanimated.

In Frozen Faith: Cryonics and the Quest to Cheat Death, Motherboard explores whether the patients and animals already preserved ever have a chance of coming back to life. Correspondent Ben Makuch meets with the individuals who believe more than anyone else that they'll live forever via cryonics, and tries to untangle whether they've merely found a comforting new religion, or if they've actually got it right. Are those who believe in cryonics forward-thinking scientists, or just deluded individuals terrified of death?

Makuch also visits two cryonics facilities, the newly opened Oregon Cryonics, and Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, which has already preserved 146 patients. At a cryonics center, all the fluids in a patient's body are removed, and replaced instead with a cryoprotectant, a kind of antifreeze meant to keep the body's cells from freezing.

The procedure isn't cheap. At Alcor, it costs $80,000 to preserve a brain, and $200,000 to preserve a full body.

Despite the high price, a second chance at life definitely isn't certain with cryonics. Scientists still don't have an idea of how "reanimation" would actually work. Those who choose to be frozen are only making a bet on future breakthroughs, not present-day reality.

Still, advocates of the practice argue that it's not any different than donating your body to any branch of science, and they point out that cryonics is rapidly progressing. Earlier this year, researchers at MIT were able to successfully recover a cryonically frozen rabbit brain.

But even if the science of cryonics does end up checking out, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. When will those frozen today get to come back? Will it be decades? Centuries? And if life never has to end, what will that even mean mean for humanity?