Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Immortalist" Robert Ettinger, "Father of Cryonics," falls a little short of immortality in this life

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27

I have no doubt that Robert Ettinger is now surprised to find that Hebrews 9:27 is correct. As reported in the Daily Telegraph, July 24, 2011:

Robert Ettinger, who died on July 23 aged 92, was the intellectual father of the cryonics movement, whose members have themselves frozen at death pending scientific resurrection.

Ettinger preferred to style himself an "immortalist", since he argued that whole body or head-only freezing ("neurological suspension") was only one means of achieving indefinite life. His rationale for pursuing this goal was contained in his book The Prospect Of Immortality (1964), which revealed him as an unquenchable optimist about mankind's technological future.

He drew on his experience as a physics teacher and his interest in science fiction to predict the evolution of machines which would manufacture from raw atoms all that man needed. He foresaw intergalactic settlement, and argued that science would produce medical machines which would cure all diseases.

What now seemed to be a fatal illness would be no more than a twinge by 2050. From this it followed that the dead might be "cured" by the doctors of the future.

Ettinger proposed that governments immediately initiate a mass-freezing programme. He suggested that this might have huge social benefits. To pay the premiums on their frozen families, people would need steady work and would be compelled to live responsible lives. He predicted that when immortality was achieved, crime would become extinct, since criminals would be afraid of justice pursuing them beyond the grave. Immortality would secure for man a higher, nobler nature.

The authorities remained unmoved. But his book proved popular and did inspire a number of cryonics organisations. In 1967 the first man was drained of blood and permeated with cryoprotectant (a sort of human antifreeze) and placed in a vat of liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees.

Despite Ettinger's lofty aims, there were also opportunists, who imagined that cryonics would become big business, and outright ghouls. In the 1970s one Californian cryonics society went bust without informing the relatives of its dozen "patients", who found their loved ones decomposing in wooden packing cases in a suburban crypt. The head of that particular business had found alternative work repairing television sets.

The movement is hated by orthodox scientists, who hold that resurrecting a frozen body would be like "trying to turn a hamburger back into a cow". But by the mid-1990s there were some 65 or so people in suspension and half-a-dozen organisations dedicated to the philosophy of the deep-freeze, and catering to a growing band of immortalists.

Perhaps 1,000 people have taken out insurance policies to cover the cost of storage, which ranges between $28,0000 and $150,000. There are cryonics representatives in Britain and at least one family undertaker has added cryoprotectant perfusion to its more traditional services.

The son of Russian immigrants of Jewish stock, Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on December 4 1918. The family later moved to Detroit and young Robert was educated locally and at Wayne State University where he studied Physics and Maths. Despite his Jewish roots, he grew up a determined atheist...

...He had begun brooding on the possibilities of cryonics in the 1930s, and was later inspired by The Jameson Satellite, a science-fiction short story by Neil Jones, about a man who has his corpse placed into orbit in the belief that the cold of outer space would preserve him.

Millions of years passed, and the human race died out. Then a race of advanced aliens came along with mechanical bodies; they took the man's frozen brain, and put it in a mechanical body.

"It was immediately obvious to me," recalled Ettinger, "that the author had missed the main point of his own story – namely that if there was any sense at all in expecting a frozen person to be revived someday, there was no point in waiting for aliens to do it in millions of years. We could do it ourselves in a very short time, and not just for a few eccentrics, but for everybody."

"We have to wait for the technology of revival. But we have to see to the arrangements of freezing ourselves, because most of us are going to die long before the technology of revival is there."

In 1947 Ettinger wrote a short story on the theme, fully expecting that other more influential people would pick up on his idea. When, by 1960, no mass freezing programme had been initiated, Ettinger wrote an essay on the subject, dealing mainly with "the insurance aspect", which he sent to some 200 people selected at random from Who's Who In America.

There was "virtually zero response", and he therefore wrote The Prospect of Immortality, which was first published privately. The sequel, Man Into Superman, appeared in 1968.

Ettinger retired from teaching in 1972, but to the end remained convinced that cryonics would catch on.

"Someday there will be some sort of psychological trigger that will move all these people to take the practical steps they have not yet taken. When people realise that their children and grandchildren will enjoy indefinite life," he said, "that they may well be the last generation to die."

Ettinger took particular encouragement from advances in nano-technology, the manipulation of computers at a microscopic level, which he thought would provide the machinery to successfully repair frozen corpses.

Robert Ettinger will be shipped back to Michigan to join his two wives and his mother in cold storage...

1 comment:

  1. By all accounts Ettinger was a good man. He was a physicist, a writer, and a war hero, as well as a beloved father and husband.

    Know what's kind of funny about that verse in Hebrews? At least the way you're interpreting it? It's flatly contradicted by medical science. Plenty of people die twice, if not more times. This is an everyday occurance in emergency medicine.

    Whenever your heart stops or your brain flatlines, you are "dead" by clinical criteria. And every so often a certain percentage of people who suffer this particular malady come back.

    To top it off, the existence of previously dead people who then go on to die later has plenty of biblical evidence as well. Jesus and the apostles resurrected lots of people whom the bible describes as being "dead" (although not for an extended period of time). Elisha resurrected a boy described by the bible as dead, and his bones triggered the resurrection of a dead man. For nobody to die twice, these people would need to still be living.

    That's saying nothing about the rapture prediction (no dying) or the second death (resurrection to damnation) prediction, both of which run contrary to your hypothesis that everyone dies exactly once.