Friday, June 19, 2015

Ice Ice Baby

11:09 PM

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The Marvel Universe has always been peppered with theoretical science since time immemorial — which is probably why the terms nerd and geek were once used interchangeably, but that’s a subject of an entirely different article.

What I find most interesting is how what was once confined to science fiction is slowly turning into reality — fancy going back in time and telling your younger self that your mobile phone will soon be devoid of text buttons. What a surprise that would be! What constitutes as “possible” is still quite narrow, however — our perspective on the future is always influenced by our perception of reality. Most of the time, we can barely wrap our heads around what may be possible and what is downright scientifically wrong.

It’s natural, therefore, to think the medical technology in the latest Avengers movie was all science fiction. In the last 20 to 30 years, so much progress in science and technology has been made. This progress, significantly powered by the information age, has allowed the unreal to exist. New organs are being reproduced in the lab using 3D printers, enzymes that alter blood type have been discovered and isolated, the technology for prosthetic limbs are now reminiscent of Full Metal Alchemist (well, maybe not yet but we’re getting there). It’s an exciting time for science!

In science fiction, cryogenics is more commonly known as what happened to Captain America between the first and second movies. Theoretically, some organisms are able to go into a dormant sort of hibernating state when cooled to very low temperatures (I mean -150° C levels). Most of these cold loving organisms are of the bacterial nature — we humans are more likely to get frostbite from the extreme weather due to the inability of our bodies to continue keeping warm. The enzymes in our bodies responsible for generating heat and energy can only do so at an optimum temperature. If body temperature falls lower than 37 degrees, the enzymes are inactivated. Thus, our metabolic processes slow down or stop completely. Using the same principle, living tissues are preserved by supercooling due to the inhibition of the damage-inflicting enzymes at subzero temperatures. This branch of cryogenics is called cryopreservation. Of course, we haven’t been able to stuff a human being in a cryo tube and revive him after 20 years (or have we?!?) though it seems theoretically feasible.

Our fascination with cheating death has perhaps spurred the cryopreservation field forward. Some of the living have already decided to preserve their brains upon death by deep freezing—a process called neuropreservation — in the hope that medical advancements will resurrect them into a new body sometime in the future. It may seem like science fiction now, but medicine and technology is always improving. The future may be closer than we think.

If it’s theoretically possible, why has it yet to be done then? Here’s the rub — regardless of one’s belief system, it’s well accepted that scientists have yet to find a way to preserve the soul (or spirit, or essence, or whatever you wanna call it). It all boils down to age old questions: What makes us human? Why are we different from other mammals? Why is the consciousness so unique, so special? These questions, perhaps, are far more interesting than cryopreservation itself.

How we perceive the value of a human life changes based on the technology available, yet we remain relatively the same — as fragile as we were a thousand years ago. Despite the increase in the average life span, we still crave more like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. We want to be able to live longer and healthier lives until mortality is just a word we used to worry about. We crave unlimited health perhaps because we are so aware of how quickly we expire.

“To dust thou art, to dust returneth” directly comes to mind and is perhaps too often on our minds. I remember waking up on my 20th birthday and thinking, “God, I’m old.” Then, “What have I done with my life?” It’s this constant fear of ending before a story has even begun. Our generation has been programmed to yearn for fulfillment. We've probably even invented this whole quarter-life crises phenomenon. We wake up and wonder if we’ll ever make anything out of ourselves. We wonder if we were meant to be heroes or failures. We wonder if we’ve got enough time to do all we wish to do. We wonder if we could do more if we just had a little more years to our lifespan. We wonder if we’ll ever be able to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.

Perhaps if I am able to cryopreserve my own brain, I’ll have just enough time to figure my life out before I wake. For now, however, we all have to manage our lives the best way we can with the limited time we have.

Article by Dani
Art by Monique
Dani Pua is a storyteller and a Daughter of Eve. She is a curious creature, studying biochemistry until further notice, and considers herself a ‘citizen of the world.’ (Whatever that’s supposed to mean.) Oh, and she’s also very much fond of lemon squares. She shares some of her stories on
Monique is an almost multimedia artist, a few thousand miles away from NYC, and just an impressive coffee stash away from showing off an impressive coffee stash. Well, she's only 19, it's a work in progress.


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