To experience the future, your best bet is to rent a VR headset and take a leap into a make-believe dimension, where you'll be able to play games and watch movies that will be pretty accurate depictions of tomorrow.

But, as Joe Sparrow found out, if you really want to experience the world beyond your expiry date, you'll need to take slightly more drastic steps...

Physical death is a concept we’re not designed to understand.

Despite this, we spend our lives trying to figure it out (hello, philosophy!), mitigate against it (hey, religion!), or find mortal witnesses to our actions (hey, marriage, fame, ego!).

These are all human foibles - but there are a group of people for whom life is simply not enough, and who find death unpalatable.

So, they’re gambling, and the payoff is great: life after death. And after reading this, you might want to join them.

Walt and Peace

Nope. I’m not going to mention him, I thought. It’s far too obvious and old and boring. It’s not even true! So I’m not going to mention him.

And yet, here we are, blithely incorporating Walt Disney’s name at the start of a piece about Cryonics – the art of freezing dead people in order for their brains or bodies to be reanimated when future science can muster up the chops.

And Walt - well, everyone knows that he’s the most famous exponent of course; chilled to somewhere near zero Kelvin in a Californian warehouse.

Except… he’s not. He’s really, really, really not.


Even the then-president of the California Cryogenics Society, said as much to the Los Angeles Times upon the animator’s death in 1966:

The truth is, Walt missed out. He never specified it in writing, and when he died the family didn't go for it. They had him cremated. I personally have seen his ashes.

But Walt was interested, and why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

The ultimate gamble

Like Walt Disney he'll be frozen
― Beastie Boys (Ft. Biz Markie) – Can't, Won't And Don't Stop/Grasshopper Unit

Even if we are to believe the paragon of truthiness that are the Beastie Boys – who mentioned Disney’s rumoured current chilly disposition in song – the likelihood of ol’ Walt being re-activated is slim.

It’s the ultimate gamble. But it’s not even the type of gamble that would make a Premiership footballer baulk: the Cryonics Institute offers their services for a one-off fee for $28,000. (Consider that Wayne Rooney allegedly blew half a million pounds in one evening)

It’s also probably worth differentiating between Cryogenics - the act of making things very, very cold indeed - which is often confused with Cryonics - the act of making people very, very cold indeed.

But how is it supposed to work? And why are some very smart people signing up for the deep-freeze?

Here’s how it works. First, you write a water-tight will explaining you want to be frozen. You deal with the family members and complete strangers who queue up to criticise you. Maybe you upload your mind to something a bit like a Brain-Dropbox so that it can be re-downloaded later; the ultimate wipe-and-reset procedure.

And then, moments after you finally croak, the mourning relatives are nudged unceremoniously out of the way, so that your cooling corpse can be slung on a slab and drained of the pesky liquids (you are 70% water; water expands when it freezes; it turns out that this is a bad thing in this instance).

You’re then frozen, sharpish, so that hopefully any lingering memories are retained in your brain, and popped into a giant Thermos flask full of liquid nitrogen and other frozen people.

And then… you wait. (Better hope that there’s not a massive earthquake under your storage facility in the next thousand years. Or a power cut. Or a war.)


So how long is that wait? Well, here’s the fun part: who knows?
We’re only just getting somewhere with preserving individual organs for more than a few hours, so it’s gonna be a while.

Cryonics is based around some unconventional scientific wisdom and a few big assumptions: that memories are held in the brain long enough after death to make preserving the grey matter worthwhile, and that science will one day be advanced enough to re-activate your body.

The ultimate status symbol

To a “maker” in the anything’s-possible, bodies-are-just-another-dumb-thing-to-be-#disrupted culture of Silicon Valley, the hard limits of human life are, at the least, an inefficient inconvenience.

But disrupting death isn’t just an inevitable streamlining of a broken supply chain - it’s messing with a system that’s worked really well for the last four billion years, thank you very much.

Cryonics is based around some unconventional scientific wisdom and a few big assumptions: that memories are held in the brain long enough after death to make preserving the grey matter worthwhile, and that science will one day be advanced enough to re-activate your body.

Maybe that’s why cryonics is a pretty uncommon procedure: right now, less than 300 people are lingering in the ultimate chill-out room, although a few thousand have signed up to be let behind the velvet rope.


And yet, others argue, it’s madness that we don’t all put our names down right away.

Argument A: it’s super cheap. No, really. I worked it out on the back of an envelope and I’m not 100% sure why I’m not saving for it already, considering the possible advantages.

If it costs $28,000 to be frozen today, then if I live to 100, and inflation is roughly 3%, it’ll cost $185,669 when I pop my clogs. If I saved a couple of dollars a day between now and then, in an account with a decent compound interest rate, I’d have enough Death Dollars for the Freezer Procedure – with plenty to spare for a decent buffet at the funeral.

Argument B: the odds are with you, and it’s the biggest prize-pot of all. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars does seem like a massive amount of money to gamble on an unproven half-idea. But if Cryogenics has even only a 1% chance of working, you have a chance. And the other option, death, is famously certain in its finality.

So given the urgency we all have, as slobbering animals, to keep on living at any cost, Cryonics does seem like a rather prudent option. And it’s a better daily investment than a Vanilla Latte.


Would monsieur care for a wafer-thin mint?


Thus, with logical feasibility out of the way, here’s an interesting ethical question: is being brought back to life after death not just incredibly greedy?

Our world is crowded with too many people as it is. Surely one more person - a special exception from hundreds of years in the past – wouldn’t make a difference to a crowded world, right? (For one answer, see the above visual representation of the outcome of just one more.)

Is it worth pausing to consider that maybe choosing not to live forever is a kinder thing to do? You didn’t choose to be here in the first place: maybe getting picky now is the ultimate solipsistic statement.

Lessons surround us: if you want an example of powerful people making difficult but technically possible gambles in order to enrich their own lives over others, look no further than Wall Street in 2008 – and try not to forget the billions whose lives were made worse as a result.

Job Losses following the Great Recession, via Vox

But wait! There’s more! What if your memories didn’t make it and you were resurrected with the brain of a dribbling newborn?

Or what if the future simply sucks: not in a doom-and-gloom, gloop-and-electrodes Matrix way, but a world where the only music available was Ed Sheeran ballads?

What if the scientists of 2934 couldn’t bring your memories back, so kindly implanted the brain pattern of the earth’s most powerful person at your time of death - and you were stuck with the mentality of Donald Trump?

Great Scott!

Cryogenics is, in a way, a type of time travel. And, just like Marty McFly, no-one’s really sure where you’ll end up. But be sure that, if it works, it’ll probably not be in a family-friendly romp about resisting your mother’s romantic advances.

And here the biggest potential irony of all awaits Cryonics-advocates. It’s a thought that’ll zap a jolt of nightsweat-inducing fear through their mortal meat-bags: the scientists of the future will be more than capable of bringing you back to life – but why would they choose bring someone as greedy as you into their utopian, selfless, thoughtful world?

For the people making these ruthlessly logical and chilly gambles, it turns out that embracing the unknown needs to be part of the fun after all.

Still hankering to be frozen forever? Until then, why not rent the latest VR tech and experience some alternate realities today?