The Big Chill: When Cryonics Divides a Marriage
Did you hear the one about the cryonics enthusiast who married the hospice worker? It sounds like the setup for a dark joke, but that's exactly what Robin Hanson and Peggy Jackson did 28 years ago. Robin, a professor of economics at George Mason University, is preparing to have his brain frozen in anticipation of eternal life in the great "futurocracy" yet to come. This is more than a little frustrating for Peggy, who spends her days coaxing patients to accept the inevitability of death.
The author of the article, Kerry Howley, reports that this relationship dynamic is so common that the cryonics subculture has even got a name for it, the "hostile wife phenomenon."
It's a bittersweet story. Robin and Peggy seem very much in love. Yet Robin is spending huge sums of money to prepare for an eternal life without her:
“Cryonics,” Robin says, “has the problem of looking like you’re buying a one-way ticket to a foreign land.” To spend a family fortune in the quest to defeat cancer is not taken, in the American context, to be an act of selfishness. But to plan to be rocketed into the future — a future your family either has no interest in seeing, or believes we’ll never see anyway — is to begin to plot a life in which your current relationships have little meaning. Those who seek immortality are plotting an act of leaving, an act, as Robin puts it, “of betrayal and abandonment.” [NYT]
Peggy insists on separate bank accounts so that she doesn't have to see Robin's yearly dues to the cryonics facility.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if cryonics were like organ donation, where you could check a box and forget about it. Unfortunately for cryonic refusniks like Peggy, the movement seems to consume a lot of the enthusiast's time and resources in the here and now.
Cryonics buffs may be asking a lot of their spouses, as well. It's a big commitment for the surviving spouse to shepherd the deceased through the freezing process. Suffice it to say that it's much, much more involved than calling the funeral home and picking out a casket. Peggy has sensibly washed her hands of the whole matter, thereby further decreasing the likelihood that Robin will live forever. I couldn't bear to say "no" if my partner asked me, but I'd also really, really resent it. Who wants to deal with the brain-removal technician when you're mourning the love of your life?
The cryo crowd insists that they're making the only rational choice, considering that the options are "certain death" or the remote possibility of eternal life. That all depends on how much it costs right now and how likely the payoff is. Even cryonics buffs will admit that the likelihood of the payoff is very small, but they insist that the price is low enough to justify the wager. "The hostile wife phenomenon" suggests that the price could be a lot higher than most cryonics enthusiasts account for in their calculations.
I imagine it would be excruciating for a non-believer to live with someone who was constantly gloating with his cronies about how great life was going to be in the imagined distant future, without you. Atheists married to evangelical Christians probably experience similar frustrations. Some people probably just shrug off the difference of opinion. I think I'd feel deeply alienated from someone who charted his future on a totally different time scale. Knowing that you're going to die that makes every day you choose to spend with someone that much more of an investment. What's it like to be with someone who thinks they've got all the time in the world?
Cryonics is a secular act of faith that's scarcely more plausible than the belief in supernatural salvation. Howley does a good job of explaining the logistical challenges of cryonics--from being able to whisk the body out of the hospital in time to perfuse it, to transporting it to Arizona, to making sure that someone keeps topping up the liquid nitrogen for thousands? (tens of thousands?) of years.
The cryonics enthusiasts are making a version of Pascal's Wager: It only costs you a little bit to believe in God, and if you believe you might go to heaven, whereas if you don't believe you're damned to hell. So, it's rational to believe. The rejoinder is that we can't be sure if that's the deal on offer. Maybe if we pick the wrong God, we'll be damned. Maybe God actually rewards skeptics and punishes believers. Who knows? By the same token, we have no idea whether cryonic reanimation means eternal bliss or eternal torment, or most likely, a lot of money wasted for nothing.
The cryonics enterprise is based on extremely dubious precepts, including the hope that reanimation technology will ever be discovered and the supposition that anyone will be interested in reviving the brains of long-dead nobodies when the time comes. I've seen enough zombie movies to wonder if communities of the future will welcome the living dead with open arms. Could guys like Robin handle being reanimated as members of a despised minority? To bad I won't be there to find out.
[Photo credit: By flickr user Ant Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.]
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Great again? Why America stopped looking forward to the future
- Income inequality is dividing Americans.
- Wages haven't risen in 30 years, while prices for housing, schools, and basic goods has.
- Canny (and uncanny) politicians have learned how to milk the politics of fear by comparing the present to the past.
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