Freezing life, escaping death? Cryonics as a meeting point of transhumanist visions
Franziska von Verschuer
(Goethe University Frankfurt/Main)
Paper short abstract:
Cryonics, the research into and practice of freezing dead bodies for future reanimation, is analysed from a Feminist STS perspective. This makes visible the dualist and hierarchical understanding of Man vs. nature and the essentially humanist - rather than trans- or posthumanist - argumentation.
Paper long abstract:
Transhumanism has gained more and more momentum over the last decades. It seeks to improve the human condition by technologically interfering in the human body and its evolution. This talk focusses on cryonics as a meeting point of a number of transhumanist visions. The research into and the practice of deep-freezing dead bodies for resuscitation in a technologically advanced future aims to "cheat" death. For "lifespanners", it holds the promise of curing their deadly diseases after all and that the degenerative process of aging can be decelerated or stopped. For "immortalists", who envision the conflation of man and technology but don't expect the necessary technological advances to be achieved within their lifetime, cryonics serves as an interim technique "transporting" them to the future.
The paper is based on an analysis of cryonicists' publications and a review of the social scientific literature. By adopting a Feminist STS perspective, it becomes possible to show that cryonics and its promises are premised on and reproduce a power relation that fundamentally structures western culture: the humanist separation of the human as a purely cultural being from "nature" as his materially determined other(s). The preservation cryonics promises proves to be directed not only at individual lives, but also at the increasingly challenged humanist conception of human life as exceptional vis-à-vis other life forms, self-contained and independent from "nature". The paper shows that although cryonics is seen as a door to a transhumanist future, it is equally guided by the past and humanist values.
Imagining and making futures