The deep freeze

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Snow is falling on to a man in the street. Wellcome Images No. V0040777

Snow is falling on to a man in the street.
       Wellcome Images No. V0040777

If your extremities feel like icicles right now, shudder at the chilly prospect faced back in 2004 by Francis Crick (who co-discovered the structure of DNA, in case you have forgotten).

Three months before he died in July 2004, Francis Crick was invited by ALCOR Life Extension Foundation to take part in a collaborative scientific experiment after his death:

‘Cryonics is the developing (although admittedly speculative) science of preserving your brain and body pattern down to the molecular level in hopes a future technology will have the means/mechanism to ‘resuscitate’ you.’

According to ALCOR’s website, ‘If a brain can be preserved well enough to retain the memory and personality within it, then restoring health to the whole person is viewed as a long-term engineering problem’. Worryingly though, Crick’s correspondent admits that ‘You and your research staff no doubt know this in greater technical detail than I’.

Other high profile candidates for the procedure apparently included Arthur C. Clarke and William Shatner. But Crick obviously shared the view of the cryobiologist Dr. Arthur Rowe that ‘Believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into a cow.’

Despite such select company in the freezer and a generous offer to waive the $120,000 fee in return for public enhancement of ALCOR’s credibility and scientific reputation, the invitation was left to languish in a file titled ‘Ignore per Dr Crick’s Instructions’.

Helen Wakely

Helen Wakely is Archives Project Manager at the Wellcome Library.

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