In Pictures: Frozen in Time
Photographer Murray Ballard catalogues the world of cryonics, which involves freezing a dead person’s body in liquid nitrogen until technology has advanced enough to bring them back to life.
Photographer Murray Ballard’s Best Shot
‘This is a cryonics lab. Four whole bodies can be frozen in each vat. But just getting your head done is cheaper’
Kate Abbott, The Guardian (August 15, 2011)
One day, in the future, the people who chose to have either their heads or their whole bodies cryogenically preserved will look back at these photos as the in-between-time in their lives.
So the theory of cryopreservation and eventual reanimation suggests.
I’m still not sold on the idea that cryopreservation will work but I am fascinated by the people who opt for the procedure.
I am also curious what happens when people who died a century (or more) ago find themselves in a world which has moved on without them. That specific problem fascinates me the most.
But we are not here today to discuss the practicalities of cryopreservation. No no. We’re here to discuss photography. It just so happens that a new photography exhibition by Murray Ballard has opened in Bradford, England and it captures how the cryopreservation process appears to the non-cryogenically preserved individual.
Ballard’s images, which can be seen in the articles at the top, show how industrially heavy the cryopreservation process becomes. I was also struck by how low-tech the entire process looks in these photographs.
Robert Ettinger, the man considered to be the ‘father of modern cryogenics,’ recently died and you can read his obituary here. His body was cryopreserved after he died.
And here is a little 1990’s era cryopreservation humor….
There was an interesting article in last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine about cryonics; or more to the point, cryonocists and the people who love them. The article is fascinating for the fact that it delves not so much into the science informing cryonic preservation (as our last cryonics post did) but rather, about how differing beliefs about the practice in the context of marriage can be problematic. It’s he said/she said taken to a whole new level. Ba-da-bing!
Peggy and Robin, the couple primarily featured in the piece is especially interesting because wife Peggy (the unenamored one) is herself a hospice care worker, well-versed in end-of-life issues but vehemently opposed to husband Robin’s plans for the final disposition of his head after death. Peggy finds the quest “an act of cosmic selfishness.” Robin, an economics professor, is “a deep thinker, most at home in thought experiments” but sensitive enough to understand the potential abandonment issues. Apparently, this type of discord has a name—and could be confused for the punch line of an Andy Capp cartoon. According to the article:
Peggy’s reaction might be referred to as an instance of the “hostile-wife phenomenon,” as discussed in a 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz.“From its inception in 1964,” they write, “cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.”
Even though the article is intended as a serious look at the marital strife that can be caused by deeply held beliefs about death, life and what comes after, I couldn’t help but think about Woody Allen movies and imagined New Yorker cartoons—and my own marriage. While my husband has no plans for cryonic preservation, his vague plan involving the reanimation of his skeleton, a large glass vitrine and the gerryrigged ability to emit recorded voice clips with the push of a button, has generated much discussion and debate in our marriage. My husband is a bit of a joker, but in this he is dead serious (pun intended). All I can say is, I love you honey, but I hope I die first.
The January 25 issue of the New Yorker features an amusing article about cryopreservation of bodies, a.k.a. cryogenics or cryonics. The article doesn’t so much shed light on the science of this controversial procedure; but rather, it spotlights Robert C.W. Ettinger, one of the founders of the cryonics movement.
The ninety-one year old Ettinger gives journalist Jill Lepore a tour of his Cryonics Institute, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit. Ettinger is matter-of-fact as he dodders around the facility and explains the processes and pitfalls of cryopreservation. Ettinger’s two wives and his mother are frozen at the Institute as part of the current total of 883 members, not including the 64 pets also in cryostasis. Several pictures are here from the Immorality Institute’s forum page.
In his youth, Ettinger was a reader and writer of science fiction which informed his interest in and ultimately his career choice as a cryonicist. And indeed, he has an interesting take on what the future holds. Regarding the idea that if no one ever dies, won’t there be too many people on the planet? Ettinger posits:
The people could simply agree to share the available space in shifts and could “go into suspended animation from time to time to make room for others.” There will be no childbirth. Fetuses will be incubated in jars. Essentially, motherhood will be abolished. Then too, eugenics will help keep the birthrate down, and deformed babies could be frozen against the day that someone might actually want them.”
If you wish to learn more about Mr. Ettinger’s postulations, visit your local library or retailer and take a gander at some of his books:
It looks like Michael Jackson might get his world tour after all — or at least a perpetual stream of curious fans trotting past his moonwalking corpse. The day following the singer’s sudden death, Gunther von Hagens, the macabre but brilliant mind behind the controversial Body Worlds, announced a months-ago made agreement with the Jackson family to plastinate MJ’s body.
We can’t say we’re surprised — yet we can’t yet put a finger on what it all means, still surrounding by the thundering pulse of celebrity death tributes and tears. Is this a fitting, never-ending end for a bizarre life and (as of yet) mysterious death? An ensured, eternal spotlight for the consummate showman? A monster, as some would have him, made all the more horrific? The last and lasting exploitation of a fragile man full of ghosts? The list goes on, and oh, how the masses shall writhe with shock and delight…
This American Life does it again. “Mistakes Were Made” looks at the rise and fall of cryonics—the freezing of people at the moment of death with the hope and belief that death in the future will be merely a disease: curable if not entirely preventable. Interviewing Bob Nelson, president of the Cryonics Society of California in the ’60s, this podcast superbly captures the optimism, naivete and undeniably quirky drama of the cryonics movement.
Hard science and religion tend to dominate discourses of death; cryonics goes to show that imaginative, techno-magical thinking—that technology and the future will save us from biology—makes an equally fascinating contribution to our ideas about the natures of both life and death.