Cryogenics in science fiction is a process that allows people to pass through long periods of time in what seems to be the blink of an eye. After weeks or sometimes years of being cryogenically frozen, subjects then emerge into a world unfamiliar to them and interesting. The process has been a staple in science fiction mythologies ranging from the Planet of the Apes series to Ridley Scott’s Alien series. But will it be possible in our own lifetimes? Could we one day enter a booth and then emerge centuries later completely unharmed to see the world in an advanced state of technological development?
Unfortunately for would-be time travelers, there are still many limitations to cryogenic freezing and the processes involved. As it stands, a person could be frozen today with the same technology used to freeze a bag of peas or a microwaveable dinner. Unfortunately, the process would also cause extensive damage to the cells in a person’s body. The science of cryonics is the discipline that hopes to one day make this technology feasible.
Since it was originally proposed, there have been 250 cases of humans being cryogenically frozen. If you’ve spoken with someone in the past about the process of cryogenic freezing, they may have made the comparison to frozen peas and human tissue before, suggesting that a process known as “lysing” will occur in the cells of the body, causing them to deteriorate beyond repair. Fortunately, while there are a number of limitations in cryonics technology today this concern is not among them if freezing takes place quickly enough through the use of nitrogen in its cold liquid state. Additionally, a concoction known as cryoprotectorants are used to ensure cells do not freeze solid, but remain sufficiently cold to reduce the loss of cells. Unfortunately, the same chemicals used in this process are also very toxic, meaning they will be difficult to remove from patients.
Of course the process to actually bring the cryonically preserved back to life is still in its dream stage. Those looking to do so will likely have to depend on a large array of microscopic devices distributed throughout the body to help reverse cellular degradation and the process that ultimately led to the death in the first place. While it may seem fantastic to us today, tiny robots like medical nanites may one day make it possible. In the mean time, even those in charge of cryonics facilities admit there are limitations to our technological understanding of the revival process.
The modern era of cryonics was started in 1962. Since then, scientists have been always exploring new possibilities for creating a world where immortality could become very real. While we may not recognize it yet, every advance in cryonics brings the concept of immortality inching ever closer to becoming an eventual reality. And whether it’s through rapture by a singularity oriented supercomputer, the eventual transmigration of thought into electrical conduits, or the preservation of physical bodies and brains science is pushing toward a world where humans can enjoy life for years – and maybe centuries to come.