Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at Opednews.com and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: http://www.mach2.com/williams/. Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email DonWilliams7@charter.net.


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Don Williams comments

Fire and ice duality is embodied in futuristic Ted Williams saga
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   07/19/2002)

"Some say the world will end in fire,/ Some say in ice," wrote Robert Frost. For the family of Ted Williams, maybe baseball's greatest slugger, that particular duality--fire and ice--is the subject of more than poetic speculation. Presumably, even now Williams' mortal remains are submerged in liquid nitrogen in a cryonics tank at 320 degrees below zero in Scottsdale, AZ.

His will called for fire. Cremation. His ashes would have been spread across his favorite fishing hole--the vast depths of the Atlantic sea, according to the will.

But his son, the poetically named John Henry Williams, says his dad really intended to be frozen in a cryonics tank, and Williams' estate executor apparently agrees. He has been quoted as saying Williams changed his mind after signing the will last decade.

Survivors are divided. Did Williams prefer fire or ice? If it was his choice to be frozen, then to what end? Was it in some bid for actual immortality, and not the figurative immortality we so often read about in stories about heroes? Or was it just so his family could remain always wealthy by selling his (superior) DNA?

Cryonics firms began operating decades ago with the stated goal of bestowing actual immortality. Figuratively speaking, they attempt to throw a sly curveball past that perfect hitter, Death.

By freezing people, such companies hold out the enticing prospect that one day--after a cure for whatever killed them has been found--the frozen may be thawed out--the spark of life somehow re-ignited--to resume their lives.

But what kind of lives would they awaken to?

I remember as a teenager reading science fiction stories about people frozen into the future. Usually they were young people, cheated out of a full life by some accident or illness. Often, in such stories, they would wake up more than a century later in some hostile future-scape, in which they would be regarded as freaks--unwelcome guests in an over-crowded world--devoid of family or friends. Sometimes they would wake up on other worlds altogether, on planets in orbit around stars too distant for mere mortals to visit in a single lifetime without benefit of suspended animation.

Whatever destiny awaited them, our frozen heroes and heroines almost always woke up intact.

Scientists used to harrumph that such schemes could never work because ice is so destructive. Any human tissue exposed for long to sub-zero temperatures would be turned into sludge, as ice crystals would form throughout the person's body. Water is one of the few elements that expands when frozen, and it rips mere flesh to shreds.

But in a way the future promises to be far stranger, and perhaps more benign, than science fiction writers or their critics could devise. We live in a world now in which virtual armies of physicists and engineers--armed with tools our best prophets could not foresee--are devising ways of recreating our very hearts and bones in laboratory settings. A world in which scientists work hard to create robots and computers that can out-think, out-run, and maybe out-reproduce any humans. Others are working to thwart the aging process itself on a cellular level. Scribes predict the day will come, centuries from now, when people will be able to "download" their very consciousnesses onto computer chips and live forever in virtual reality. For better or worse, whole communities and corporations are involved in drawing blueprints for such schemes and dreams.

Who knows what might be possible in 100 years? Maybe a new, younger, even better version of Ted Williams' body will be standing by to receive a brain grown from the old slugger's noggin. Maybe a robot with a computer for brains will be there to preserve his memories, his consciousness (his soul?). Could be genetic engineers will recreate the old man out of whole cloth, or whatever the genetic equivalent might be.

Would an exact clone of Ted Williams be the same as Ted Williams himself? Would it contain his consciousness? If not, would that fact bother either the dead old Ted Williams or the new one cloned from his frozen remains?

Just maybe, time will tell.

Tick-tock.