Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Remember

This week Futures is delighted to welcome A. J. Lee with her story Remember — a cautionary tale about cryogenics. Here, we discover what inspired this piece — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Remember

Despite the scepticism about cryonics, people have been freezing themselves in the hope of future resuscitation since the mid-1960s. We don’t yet know enough about the human brain to revive these frozen people. And we certainly don’t know enough to create brain-accessible memory storage that mimics real memories. But it seems likely that the two could go hand-in-hand.

And, it seems to me, one of the two is more likely to be adopted quickly: the one that helps us, personally and immediately. If you could have Remembers, wouldn’t you? Of course, people are desperate to live forever — but who would want their loved ones to be the first to be thawed? Knowing how the first version of any current tech product looks alongside its later version, and knowing you’ve only got one shot at it … wouldn’t you rather wait?
In 2016, a court ruled that a 14-year-old girl, who was dying of cancer, could be cryogenically frozen. I read that piece then, and since then the ideas in it have been percolating in my (warm, unpreserved, entirely fallible) brain. The same questions that I think we all ask when we hear about cryonics (Will she ever be thawed? What will the world look like when she is? Is this even possible, or is it a scam?), but also a new-to-me thought: she was so young, young enough that unlike many of the other people who turn to cryonics on their deathbeds her peers may still be alive when she is revived. What will they be like when she returns?
These two separate lines of thought — the scientific one about all the other possibilities brought up by a more thorough understanding of the human brain, and the human one brought up when we apply those scientific concepts — brought me to Jen and Dan’s story. Just like many of us today, Dan lives in a space in between technologies — he has Remembers, but he isn’t quite sure how to use them, and he’s aware of cryonics without fully knowing what’s possible. How could he not long for a clear representation, a clear reminder, of his own half-remembered youth?

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