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.
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?
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.
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
awaited them, our frozen heroes and heroines almost always woke up
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
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.