Sunday, January 24, 2010

* Crying over Cryonics

Warning: Disturbing Photographs and Subject Matter

"A neuro is a severed head; the theory is that scientists in the future, like the Zoromes, will give you a new body, so why bother saving the old one if your brain is all they need? In 2002, when Red Sox baseball great Ted Williams died, his head was sawed off and frozen. It is now stored at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, in Scottsdale, Arizona." (Lepore, 27)
The Iceman
Jill Lepore
The New Yorker (American Chronicles, 24-30)
January 25, 2010

I have just been watching a distraught Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist on a Classic Arts Network excerpt from that Strauss opera of the same name, Salome.

This follows reading Jill Lepore's New Yorker article about the octagenarian promoter of cryonics, Robert C.W. Ettinger, who has frozen two of his wives and his mother, for future resuscitation.

With all due respect to the dead, let's take the Ted Williams' situation outlined in the quote above from Lepore's article.

Ted is no John the Baptist. He wasn't murdered.

But his severed head is as startling in the Lepore article as it is on a Straussian stage.

The logic of this baffles me, and it seems a direct descendant of Descarte's cogito ergo sum: My self is my mind (my thinking) not my body or the inter-relation between the two. (Christian Science takes this to the extreme, saying the body is an illusion; only Divine Mind is real.)

It is going to be a strange day indeed when Ted Williams's brain is implanted in a new body, if that body is one inch taller or shorter than Ted's original was, and the brain is telling his fine-tuned million-times-rehearsed musculature to start swinging a bat and catching and throwing balls.

Especially if the brain gets mixed up with another one and is inserted into the head of a female body.

(Don't think this isn't possible: After all, the brain of President John F. Kennedy WAS LOST : the only physical evidence which could have proved two bullet trajectory holes and therefore two separate assassins, WAS LOST either by the hospital authorities or by brother Edward Kennedy, representing the family, which is said to have had the brain in its posession for a time and may have destroyed it intentionally.)

Cogito ergo sum has led to solipsism as a way of life; What I THINK is real, even if the world is going to hell all around me (Climate Change).

Solipsism has become a kind of Buddhism without serenity. Instead of the obliteration of the Ego, solipsism is the beatification of the Ego. I am all!

And cryonics is the grotesque outgrowth of that beatification: Reviving MY personality, MY memories, MY brain, 200 years from now in another body is ALL THAT MATTERS.

Ted William's head may become the first Shrine to Solipsism.

And around us every second of our lives Nature has been rehearsing us for our final role, from the first experiences of the loss of a pet as a child, to the disappearance of loved ones as we grow older. It is a rehearsal which solipsism makes it easy for us to ignore.

Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nascent Transcendentalist at 22, had to adjust to Nature's rehearsal.

After the loss of his first wife who died of tuberculosis at age 19 after only three years of marriage, Emerson did the unthinkable: On the first anniversary of her death, he dug up the corpse to see if immortality had preserved the features of his saint-like wife or if Nature had taken its course.

We know the answer, despite the cases of mystics whose bodies have been "miraculously" preserved after death (like leather) due to a kind of petrification which results from extreme fasting, tainted water, and gradually disabled liver and kidney function.

A similar but artificial taxidermy occurs in the case of Lenin's body which costs $70,000 a year to maintain in a hermetically sealed glass sarcaphagus and requires periodic taxidermicalogical restorations. Stalin's body, once similarly preserved, has been allowed to go the fickle way of politics.

Yes, we know the answer, despite all the medieval paintings which have arms and limbs amputated in wars and their aftermath flying through the air to re-unite with their orignal bodies at the moment of the Last Trump: Resurrection of the Body.

We know.

How much easier it would be to accept our place in the Grand Design of alpha and omega, birth and death, than to defy Nature with the desperate measures of macabre science (or medieval art) or the wishful thinking of a Disney kiss on the cheek of a snow white ---or a Salome kiss on the severed head of John the Baptist.

Thornton Wilder said it best:

"Is it possible that in aging we all receive just such intimations, such 'animal' reconciliations with the fact of dying? I ---who have never had any revulsion against the thought of dying --then hoped that that was so; Not from weariness of life, not from tragic protest against life's difficulty, not from dread of the declining years, but from some deep purely natural acceptance of the given assignment of youth, maturity, age and death."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"And cryonics is the grotesque outgrowth of that beatification: Reviving MY personality, MY memories, MY brain, 200 years from now in another body is ALL THAT MATTERS."

Why is it necessarily this, as opposed to a simple desire to adhere to life where possible and not die unnecessarily? What makes this option so automatically grotesque and extreme in your mind?

Given the recent progress in tissue engineering and the fact that brain ischemia may be reversible in the early stages, I am skeptical of the cultural inertia that dictates we should burn or bury our dead. If we care about loved ones, helping them live longer wherever possible is a natural expression of that love.

I also think you misunderstand the mindset of a typical cryonicist if you think they care about themselves more than the universe surrounding themselves. In reality, the biggest driving factor tends to be curiosity, coupled with hope and optimism.