Heaven for Atheists

Valerie Barbaro

Cryogenics, I learned, is “the study of very low temperatures… and how materials behave at those temperatures,” and cryonics is the “emerging medical technology of cryopreserving humans and animals with the intention of future revival.” (So, a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square.)  I would also discover that there are people for whom this isn’t a science fiction but rather a real possibility for preserving life, perhaps even a way to achieve immortality. 

To understand how this might work, one first must realize that our bodies are not operated by an “on and off” switch, meaning that when you die, you don’t necessarily die instantaneously. This shouldn’t be so hard to accept since we’ve all heard examples of people declared legally dead before miraculous (read: defibrillator-enabled) revival. So the “switch” is more like a dimmer. It takes four to six minutes (perhaps as long as ten minutes or up to almost an hour, depending on what source you believe) for the brain to suffocate from lack of oxygen and stop functioning. Now imagine that a human could be captured in that time after the heart stops and before the brain starts to degrade and that he or she could be suspended in this state indefinitely, like hitting pause on the dying process. Let’s say that, hypothetically, the body (or at least the brain) could be revived from that state (“unpaused”) at a time of more advanced technology, a time when the person could be treated for whatever caused the body to start shutting down in the first place—cancer, for example. And if such technology existed, then (in the case where the head is the only thing preserved), the technology for regrowing the body for the brain (or at the very least, creating a bionic one) should reasonably exist as well. 

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