Rosy Carrick on stage, wearing blue and red plastic 3D glasses. She rests her head on her hands and looks into the camera

Guest Blog: Lessons in Time Travel #1

| Mon 11 Nov 2019

Before she steps into the time machine for Passionate Machine, Dr. Rosy Carrick discovers time travel from a whole new perspective.

Cryogenics, Sleep and Mel Gibson’s Broken Heart

Up until a few years ago I had always assumed cryogenic freezing was something that happened while you were still alive – that you would go into a special chamber, fall unconscious, get frozen, and then be “thawed out” at some time in the future. As with many other inaccurate facts, this was learned from some of my favourite childhood movies: in Forever Young a lovelorn Mel Gibson volunteers to be frozen after his partner goes into a coma, and in Demolition Man all the baddies get frozen as punishment for their crimes.

It wasn’t until I read Robert Ettinger’s 1964 book The Prospect of Immortality that I discovered the truth. Turns out you get to live out your whole life now, in the present. You just have to make sure your body is cryogenically frozen ASAP once you do die, so as to maintain your freshness and have as great a chance as possible of rejuvenation when the scientists of the future defrost you. On the website for the Cryonics Institute, founded by Ettinger in 1976, the process sounds clear enough:

"Cryonics is a technique intended to hopefully save lives and greatly extend lifespan. It involves cooling legally-dead people to liquid nitrogen temperature where physical decay essentially stops, in the hope that future scientific procedures will someday revive them and restore them to youth and good health. A person held in such a state is said to be a "cryopreserved patient", because we do not regard the cryopreserved person as being inevitably "dead"."

These “future scientific procedures” mean being able to cure any diseases which lead to death, repair cells damaged in the freezing process, and repair cells damaged by the ageing process. No biggie. And yet many people believe it is possible – there are thousands of people on the Cryonics Institute waiting list, and Ettinger himself has already been frozen, as has his mother and both his first and second wives (could be awkward when future day comes…)

What I love about cryogenic freezing is the idea that all those people who are currently frozen are in the active process of time travel. We are all going the long way round, living out our lives, procreating, fading, decaying, being forgotten. They, on the other hand, are waiting, suspended in time – if the day ever comes for them to be brought back to life they will have jumped over all these years, ready to start again. And sure, technically they are dead (I mean, “cryopreserved”), so it’s not exactly like jumping into one’s DeLorean and skipping over the years that way but still, it’s fascinating – all the more so perhaps because it’s actually happening in real life!

Plus, when you think about it, this process is something we ourselves undertake every night, albeit on a much smaller scale. When we close our eyes in bed at 10pm and then open them again at 7am, have we not skipped over the 9 hours in between as though they never existed, rejuvenating our physical selves with valuable sleep in the process? This is just one of the myriad ways every one of us experiences time as a slippery, elastic trickster every single day – and once you start paying attention to them you’ll never think of time travel in the same way again.

Dr. Rosy Carrick is a writer and performer. Her award-winning show Passionate Machine is at artsdepot on Thu 28 Nov.

Image credit: Sharon Kilgannon

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