Ettinger's 1964 Thesis:
Indefinitely Extended And Enhanced Life (Immortality)
Is Probably Already Here Via Experimental
Long-Term Suspended Animation

by Charles Tandy, Ph.D.

This paper by Dr. Charles Tandy is reproduced by permission from pages Z-27 – Z-43 of:

The Prospect of Immortality


by Robert C. W. Ettinger



Ria University Press, PO Box 20170 at Stanford, Palo Alto, California 94309 USA

Copyright © 2005 by Charles Tandy

2005 Hardback ISBN 0-9743472-3-X











Ettinger's 1964 Thesis:
Indefinitely Extended And Enhanced Life (Immortality)
Is Probably Already Here Via Experimental
Long-Term Suspended Animation

Charles Tandy

In 1964, Robert C. W. Ettinger argued that immortality (as indefinitely extended and enhanced life) is probably already here via cryonic hibernation (experimental long-term suspended animation). This paper performs three functions. First, it introduces and summarizes Ettinger's The Prospect of Immortality (1964) for readers of the present 2005 (reprinted) edition. Secondly, it presents and paraphrases Ettinger's arguments using current 21st century terminology. The paper also contains a new bibliography on cryonics.












Ettinger's 1964 Thesis:

Indefinitely Extended And Enhanced Life (Immortality) Is Probably Already Here Via Experimental Long-Term Suspended Animation

by Charles Tandy, Ph.D.

Robert Ettinger begins the Foreword to his 1964 classic thus [p. xxi]:1 "Most of us now breathing have a good chance [prospect] of physical life after death [immortality] --a sober, scientific probability of revival and rejuvenation." Moreover, this amazing scientific-technological development "seems to have gone virtually unnoticed." The "prospect of immortality is not idle speculation" but "urgently requires action by all of us as individuals."

Ettinger defines "immortality" as "indefinitely extended life." [p. xxi] He argues that such immortality is practical for us now, not just for our descendants. Ettinger further argues that immortality in its present form -- experimental long-term suspended animation now -- "is desirable from the standpoints both of the individual and of society." [p. xxi]

Below I will use the term "cryonics" even though the term was not invented until 1965-6.2 I suppose for present purposes it is reasonable enough to associate cryonics with low temperature biostasis or experimental long-term suspended animation now -- as a possible door into a future world far advanced in the technology of life enhancement (a step beyond mere life extension technology). Ettinger refers to this future world as "the Golden Age" and optimistically believes there is a good chance he personally will experience it, first perhaps as a human repaired to youthful health, then as a super-enhanced immortal or superhuman.

Chapter One: Death's Reversibility

Ettinger's "practical guide to immortality" consists of eleven chapters. Chapter one serves as an overview of his analyses and arguments in the chapters to follow. In chapter one, Ettinger finds that we use the term "death" in a variety of ways.

Death defined to give a religious meaning will depend on one's religion. Legal death or death defined in a legal sense is related to a legal document or a determination of law. Death simply as lack of heartbeat and respiration is clinical death; but if current techniques are unable to restore clinical function, then it becomes biological death. The "irreversible degeneration" of cells may be labeled as cellular death -- yet "the question of reversibility at any stage depends on the state of medical art." [p. 3]

Cryonic hibernation at the temperature of liquid nitrogen puts the biologically dead person in a state that prevents further deterioration and permits possible access to the more advanced medical technology of the future, including the far distant future. With bad luck, the cryonaut will not be revived from biological death. With good luck, revival means living as a superhuman or super-enhanced immortal in a Golden Age. Thus the potential prize is enormous.

Chapter Two: Cooling Down

Activity of the cerebral cortex of a rat ceases at about 18°C. Cooling of rats to a body temperature far below 18°C for over one hour showed persistence of memory in the revived rats. Moreover [p. 25], each memory "seems to be stored in many separate locations in the brain, and therefore may withstand widespread damage;" and memories "consist of [a kind of] chemical coding [that] ... may be hardy and resistant to damage."

Typically many of the cells of a frozen and thawed organ or animal survive the freezing and thawing, even when function cannot be restored to the whole entity by our crude techniques of today. Use of cryoprotective blood substitutes improves matters. If some cells of an organ or animal survive freezing and thawing, perhaps many other cells of the entity almost survive the freezing and thawing or almost survive the freezing stage or do survive the freezing stage (but do not fully survive the thawing). Indeed, there is reason to believe that the thawing (i.e., thawing and post-thawing) stage causes more damage than the freezing stage, especially if cryoprotective agents are used in the controlled freezing.



Thus our task is to preserve persons soon after legal death -- leaving thawing and post-thawing treatments to the future. Future (or far distant future) technology should have substantial ability to infer the state of the original healthy cell from the state of the damaged cell in its frozen context. At room temperature [p.34]: "The period of grace before all of the body cells die is measured at least in hours, and perhaps in days."

Chapter Three: Thawing Out

Many persons clinically dead for a few minutes have been revived to life. Some persons clinically dead for many minutes have been revived to life using even our crude techniques of today. Our biomedical science and techniques related to resuscitation, transplantation, freezing, thawing, and repair will be a little better in the near future and a lot better in the far future.

Chapter Four: Today's Choices

A mere century of living in a merely human body is a beginning, but pales by comparison to the superhuman or super-enhanced immortal you can become. "You can change your mind after freezing, but not after burial." [p. 73] Via legal documents, infrastructural arrangements, and life insurance policies, make provisions now for you and your loved ones to be cryonically hibernated at legal death.


Chapter Five: Religious Issues

Death viewed as reversible and as a matter of degree may seem novel. But revival of the dead is not a new problem. The clinically dead have indeed been revived not only after a few minutes but after many minutes. Anecdotal accounts suggest a few cases where clinical death lasted over two hours before successful revival.

Religious and non-religious folks alike readily accept such scientific accounts of many minutes and anecdotal accounts of two hours of clinical death. Given the recent speed of scientific-technological advance, most folks find no religious or philosophical impossibility with many minutes becoming many years or two hours becoming two millennia. In that sense, the prospect of revival from cryonic hibernation is a scientific (not religious or philosophical) matter. Likewise, the matter of extending healthy lifespan from 50 years to 50 millennia.

Most folks, including most religious folks, sometimes use automobiles for transportation; they would not agree that if "God had intended man to go forty miles an hour, He would have provided him with wheels instead of legs." [pp. 76-77] Indeed, a wide variety of religious and non­religious philosophies agree in asserting that one has a duty or responsibility to seek improvement and betterment, both for oneself and for others. Common beliefs about the wrongfulness of suicide and murder easily extend to end-of-life-cycle cases of failure to freeze oneself (suicide) or failure to freeze others (murder). Such logic would seem to establish cryonic hibernation as the default position or ethical imperative at legal death. For the revived cryonaut, cryonic hibernation was a method of life extension -- and the merely legal death was not real and permanent death.

Cryonic hibernation allows "the present generation to share the longevity which our descendants will have in any case." [p. 87] Such longevity cannot guarantee us certain and literal immortality. But it can mean indefinitely extended and enhanced life for thousands of years -- for you and me already alive today.3

Chapter Six: Legal Issues

The rights of both animate and hibernating persons must be properly legitimized by law and custom. The obligations of both animate and hibernating persons must be properly legitimized by law and custom. "Heretofore a corpse has had in itself neither rights nor obligations; now it will have both." [p. 93] Incompetents exist in relatively small numbers today, but cryonauts "will constitute an enormous body of influence which must be duly recognized and represented." [p. 103]

Eventually, cryonic hibernation or biostasis will become the default legal position at legal death. Generally in such an end-of-life-cycle event, failure to freeze will be illegal, a case of manslaughter. And a sloppy murder will be legally differentiated from a murder allowing ordinary cryonic (biostasis) treatment of the victim.


      Debts will be "subject to simple interest only, while assets may accumulate compound interest." [p. 104] Thus you can take it with you! Although "it is true that the freezer era will be the era of the Golden Rule, the fraternal outlook will become general only gradually." [p. 104] Hence at some point society will feel obligated to freeze the poor. "For failure to pay the premiums on one's freezer insurance, the death penalty seems a trifle severe." [p. 103]

Chapter Seven: Economic Issues

As we look to the distant future (say, the 23rd century), things look good. Self-improving, self-reproducing computers should eventually lead to the technological equivalent of the magic genie lamp. Our increasing abilities to control and reorganize matter and energy should result in undreamed of real wealth and available energy. And the size of the universe provides a lot of space into which we will expand.

On the other hand, as a practical problem of today, the population explosion is all too real. And with or without cryonics, we will have longer lifespans and then immortality (indefinitely extended lifespans). The long view that comes with cryonics and immortality will help us address population problems with realistic birth control policies.

If overpopulation is still a problem in the 23rd century, then hibernation in the form of perfected suspended animation will be useful. One portion of the population could alternate with others by hibernating for a set period of time. We could honeycomb the earth and other planets to great depth. We could create new planets if desired.

But what are the relatively more expensive per capita costs of biostasis today? What are the economics of experimental long-term suspended animation right now? Consider the cost of cryonic hibernation staff, equipment, and facilities (including liquid nitrogen) over a very long period of social-economic ups and downs. Ettinger finds the cost of hibernation today to be about one order of magnitude above traditional arrangements (funeral, burial, and related expenses). This means that "life" (hibernation) insurance is generally the way to go and is easily affordable by most young adults in North America and Western Europe. Indeed, through the wonder of compound interest, it may be possible to awaken wealthy. To be sure, future governments could decide to limit the wealth of cryonauts.

The advancement of cryonics, suspended animation, longevity, and immortality should, over time, benefit some traditions and not others. The advancement of biostasis would seem to favor "permanence of the family and of institutions, a strengthened feeling of the unity of mankind, [and] an ingrained sense of our endless responsibility for each other." [p. 125] Thus ultimately cryonics and immortality should serve to help humankind avoid temptations like fanaticism and terrorism.



Chapter Eight: Personal Identity

This section, Chapter Eight, is a highly original contribution to professional philosophy. Professional philosophers subsequently duplicated his work without being aware of Ettinger's thought experiments related to biostasis and personal identity.4 Ettinger presents his philosophic work --and reports his findings straightforwardly despite their apparent incongruity with the hibernation project.

Previously Ettinger had reported his findings that death is reversible and that death is a matter of degree. Ettinger's thought experiments in this chapter suggest "that individuality is an illusion" [p. 141] and that instead "of having identity, we have degrees of identity, measured by some criteria suitable to the purpose." [p. 142] At this point Ettinger is obviously tempted to make a Humian move. (David Hume in the 18th century concluded, perhaps reluctantly, that the self is an illusion. Hume then goes on to point out that he and other philosophers will nevertheless go on acting as if they believe in the existence of selves.) But Ettinger also indicates that further philosophic work may be needed to go beyond his "tentative partial answers."

[p. 130]

Chapter Nine: Immortality's Usefulness

Immortality will be useful to the further advancement of philosophic inquiry. (Given enough time, we may even find out the meaning of life!) Cryonics and immortality should make folks more hopeful toward our world's continued existence and less prone to acts of terrorism and fanaticism. If so, then a widespread cryonics program may be needed worldwide to prevent doomsday. In such case, our posterity may need cryonics today as much as we need cryonics today.

At one point or another in history -- life insurance; the abolition of slavery; blood transfusions; wonder drugs; biomedical research; and, cryonic hibernation did not have the widespread acceptance they deserved. Only crazies advocated life insurance or the abolition of slavery -- such is what most every educated and uneducated person "knew." Fortunately times change.

"Only those embrace death who are half dead already," says Ettinger [p. 146]; indeed, "few people have the remotest conception of what the future will be like ... They fail to understand that the differences will be qualitative as well as quantitative."

The cryonaut will not necessarily be revived as soon as possible. It might not be much fun to be a mere human in a world of superhumans. When it becomes feasible not only to revive the cryonaut but also to offer a kind of super­human equality -- then it will be appropriate to awaken the sleeper.

For the cryonaut or immortal, "no disadvantage need be permanent." [p. 148] "The best advice for success in life has always been to choose your parents wisely; and now, in effect, this" is possible via biostasis. [p. 149] "But we can only choose between dangers, and not escape them. Doing nothing also constitutes a choice, and often a poor one." "When a humane, progressive, cooperative society has been achieved, the purpose of life will be learning and growth --the disclosure and then the attainment of ever more advanced intermediate goals, until either the final goal (if any) is revealed, or some catastrophe overtakes us." [p. 153]

Chapter Ten: Immortality's Ethics

An anti-doomsday, pro-immortality mentality will have to be sold to enough people to begin the cryonics programs the world so urgently needs. It is unfortunate but true that if "respiration were not a reflex, many people would have to be given a hard sell to draw a breath of air." [p. 155] This is a reason why cryonicists must be optimistic, not neutral; active, not detached; and, realistic, not naive.

Since people's lives in the freezer-centered or cryonautic-centered society will depend on the functioning and continuing of the biostasis-immortality program very-long long-term, the practical political pressure will be toward producing a world at stable peace in which everyone is wealthy (or -- healthy, wealthy, and wise?). Even severe personal accidents will not result in permanent death but in hibernation. In such a world of immortals, the Golden Rule is not optional but imperative.5


What, then, when crimes are committed? Given proper circumstances, punishment can have a deterrent effect. There would be time enough to punish the criminal for a very long time. If one engaged in criminal activity against a thousand persons, then the criminal might be punished for a thousand years.


For a certain period of history, birth control will have to become widespread. Births will come from the lab, not the womb. Marriage, with or without children, will continue to serve a worthwhile purpose. Many problems never encountered -- or encounterable -- by mere humans will have to be addressed by us, our super-enhanced future selves. The Golden Rule may be part of the answer.

Chapter Eleven: Immortality's Future

We have already shown that a cryonautic-centered society is both feasible and desirable. Indeed, it appears to be almost inevitable. But what we do and do not do today may help determine whether the cryonautic-centered society comes sooner or comes later.

It is generally agreed that -- sooner or later -- suspended animation will be perfected. The default position or customary practice in medicine at that time will be: Place terminally ill patients in cryostasis. This permits future cures to be discovered and applied to the patient.

Some day the human lifespan will be extended. Eventually the human lifespan will be radically extended. Such immortals may use perfected biostasis to time-travel through the future and allow compound interest to improve their financial situation.


Since the cryonautic-centered society is inevitable, there are certain problems related thereto that will have to be faced sooner or later. The estates and funds and investments of the cryonauts are helping both society and the cryonauts. The future not only has a moral obligation but also owes a legal debt to the cryonauts.

In the 20th century, we arrived at the Promised Land's Jordan River; "to pitch camp on the near shore for a generation would be a bootless waste. ... before long only a few eccentrics will insist on their right to rot." [p. 174] In a sense, the cryostasis program tends to serve as a worldwide panacea "not because in itself it solves all problems, but because it provides time for the solution of problems." [p. 175] Immortals value persons above killing machines and abstract ideas. Thus the cryonautic-centered or immortality-centered society provides you and me opportunity for learning, growth, and development beyond our present ability even to imagine.

Some may say we should hibernate the Albert Einsteins and forget the Joe Schmoes. But in fact Joe as revived cryonaut will be superior to today's Einsteins by far; for example, he will be able to re-engineer his own genes. Too, Joe needs to be compensated for the poor hand he was dealt in his first life-cycle.


As a practical matter for the elite, it will become an issue of sharing immortality with everyone versus experiencing an unstable world in which they will fear for their lives. Thus, early on, we need to emphasize that biostasis is for everyone. Indeed, the "benefits to all of society resulting from the long view depend on all of society sharing this view." [p. 178] The long view is directly connected to the perspective of the Golden Rule.

"Hence there must be no excessive time lag between the private, pioneer programs and public, mass programs." [p. 179] We need to demand two things: 1) Make available the alternative methods and detailed procedures for doing cryonic hibernations (including regularly updating this publicly available information); and, 2) Engage in massive "research in non-damaging freezing methods." [p. 180] The prize is not just life,

but a wider and deeper life of springtime growth ... Then, for the first time in the history of the world, it will be au revoir ["till seeing again"], but not Good-by. [p. 180]









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      1. Page numbers in brackets refer to Robert Ettinger (1964) and to the present (reprinted) volume.


2. Karl Werner invented the term "cryonics" in either 1965 or 1966. Karl Werner recently wrote (Personal Communication to Charles Tandy -- February 9, 2005): "I was introduced to the Prospect of Immortality at Pratt Institute during a lecture given by Robert. I then read the book and got together with other lecture attendees to form a group. After we formed our New York group I came up with the name Cryonics & Cryonics Society Of New York. I just changed Cryogenics to Cryonics ... 'onics' like in Bionics." [ellipsis in the original] [Added Note: Additional research seems to clearly show that the year was 1965 instead of 1966.]


3. Many different religions suggest that God is beyond (mere) time -- thus a very long time or even infinitely long time is comparable, so to speak, to a mere blink of the eye. (E.g., II Peter 3:8 says that "... with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.")


4. See, e.g., John Perry (1975) and Derek Parfit (1984).


5. Is the Golden Rule "Treat others as you would have them treat you"? What exactly does this mean? Is the Golden Rule "Love God with your all, and your neighbor as yourself"? Is the Golden Rule improved-on by Kant's Categorical Imperative? Perhaps immortals (including ourselves in the future) may interpret, reinterpret, re-reinterpret, re-re-reinterpret, etc. the Golden Rule for thousands of years to the benefit of ever-improving persons, societies, and universe(s)?





Ettinger's 1964 Thesis:
Indefinitely Extended And Enhanced Life (Immortality)
Is Probably Already Here Via Experimental
Long-Term Suspended Animation

Charles Tandy



In 1964, Robert C. W. Ettinger argued that immortality (as indefinitely extended and enhanced life) is probably already here via cryonic hibernation (experimental long-term suspended animation). This paper performs three functions. First, it introduces and summarizes Ettinger's The Prospect of Immortality (1964) for readers of the present 2005 (reprinted) edition. Secondly, it presents and paraphrases Ettinger's arguments using current 21st century terminology. The paper also contains a new bibliography on cryonics.








Cryonic-Hibernation In Light Of The Bioethical Principles Of Beauchamp And Childress


(Charles Tandy)





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