Sunday, July 24, 2011

In memory of Robert Ettinger

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger (4 December 1918 – 23 July 2011)


My first reaction after hearing of Bob's death and successful cryopreservation has been: "A great man has left the party. I hope to meet him at another party soon." The very fact that we, scientists and engineers who have never believed in a supernatural afterlife, dare hoping to meet Bob again, is the best tribute to him.

I have been reading the last emails of Bob to the mailing list of the Cryonics Institute. Well into his 90s and until a few weeks ago, Bob continued to write very cogent and challenging Internet posts. He started the cryonics movement, wrote three seminal books, and is now cryopreserved, with his two wives, at the Cryonics Institute that he founded. He has lived one of the fullest and richest lives that a person can ever live. And he will live again.

I never met Bob face to face, but we started exchanging emails in 2000 or 2001. In 2002 I published this Interview with Robert Ettinger. Then Bob sent me a preview of his book Youniverse, which I reviewed in Youniverse, by Robert Ettinger (Sneak Preview), published by Betterhumans. I then became a member of the Cryonics Institute and continued to exchange private and public emails with Bob until a few weeks ago.

In one of the last discussion threads he started on the Cryonics Institute mailing list, Bob said "Not long ago someone suggested that we suspend the uploading debate and just agree to disagree... Let's start by repeating that, with unimportant exceptions, a description of a thing (material object or system) is not that thing." It is well known that Bob, the father of cryonics, was not a uploading enthusiast (see also the interview above). I disagree (see my article on Chemical brain preservation: cryonics for uploaders), but when an intellectual giant like Bob says something we should at least listen to him, and I have certainly listened to Bob's objections (without changing my mind).

However, I don't see Bob's life work as limited to promoting one specific preservation technology. He is the man who introduced us all to the revolutionary and beautiful idea that, someday soon, science and technology can eliminate death. The eventual success of any personal preservation technology, be it cryopreservation, chemical brain preservation or mind uploading, will be part of Bob's heritage.

In honor to Bob, I have changed this blog's icon to a picture of a Nano Snowman.