August 29, 2018 7:43 am
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When Philip Rhoades’ parents died within 10 days of each other in May this year there was no question what would be done with their neurological remains.

They would be frozen, stored away, and added to what he’s calling the Neural Archives Foundation.

Currently the project consists of nine scientifically preserved brains stored all over the country that Mr Rhoades likens to a “historical repository” or “time capsule”.

“When you freeze a brain it’s basically just human tissue and you can use any commercial cryogenic storage facility,” he says.

Both his parents were scientists and the plan is to keep their brains on ice until the day technology is sufficiently advanced enough that brain tissue can be reanimated, decoded and ultimately placed in an artificial body or downloaded into a computer system to allow them to continue living in virtual reality.

The brain remains such a mystery and we still have no idea how consciousness works, but Mr Rhoades, who was once a biomedical researcher, is confident the science is feasible.

“With all the effort that’s going into decoding the human connectome … there’s lots of work happening in that area so it’s fairly likely, I would expect in the next decade or so, there will be a much better understanding about how memories and all those things are stored and we’ll be able to be decode them to some extent,” he says.

The foundation has been quietly operating for eight years and has plans to increase the number of participants going forward.

“We’ve been basically keeping a low profile for a long time so people see that we’ve been around for a while and that it’s not just a fly-by-night organisation,” Mr Rhoades tells news.com.au.

He views the Neural Archives as “complimentary” to the infamous practice of cryonics — a type of life extension process based on so far unproven science, but an idea that has gained increasing momentum in recent years nonetheless.

While the Neural Archives only preserves the brain, the practice of cryonics usually involves freezing the entire body of a person immediately after the moment of death by keeping them in liquid nitrogen and pumping a cooling solution throughout their veins.

From that point on they lay dormant in an icy coma for the day science can cure their medical plight, and perhaps offer immortality.

CHANCE FOR AUSTRALIANS TO FREEZE THEIR REMAINS

Mr Rhoades is the executive officer of the Cryonics Association of Australasia (CAA), a non-profit advocacy organisation that was started in the 1980s to promote the concept of cryonics.

In the past much of their work has been about offering guidance to people wanting to sign up to have their remains cryogenically preserved which often meant putting them in contact with a facility in the United States called Alcor.

While cryonics companies have been largely confined to the US and Russia, the CAA wants to act as a self-regulatory authority for any cryonics facilities that are developed in Australia — a prospect that is on the verge of becoming a reality.

A company called Stasis Systems Australia has been buying up land in the remote NSW town of Holbrook with the intention of opening a cryonics facility and offering the post-mortem service to Australians as early as next year.

It’s a goal Mr Rhoades has been working towards for some time. After buying land in Cowra with the idea to open a “family cryonics facility” he was forced to abandon his plan largely due to prohibitive costs.

But he has been working closely with Stasis Systems Australia and is excited about the prospect of everyday Australians being offered the chance to freeze their remains in a bid to wait for a more medically advanced time, and the potential it brings with it.

THE PROSPECT OF IMMORTALITY

It’s almost impossible not to notice the overriding theme among proponents of cryonics: a love of science fiction.

It no doubt takes a certain amount of imagination and optimism to spend thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands, to freeze the remains of a family member or yourself. But the love of science fiction that seems to permeate the industry makes even more sense when you know the conceptual origin of cryonics.

The idea has its roots in a story published by Pulp Magazine in 1931 about a professor who had such an obsession with preserving his body that he shot himself into the deep freeze of space, where millions of years later he was discovered by aliens who had achieved immortality by transplanting their brains into machines.

The story captured the imagination of a young academic named Robert Ettinger who released a book about cryonics in 1962 called The Prospect of Immortality.

Popular sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov threw his support behind the book which saw the idea gain widespread popularity, ultimately spawning the cryonics movement.

It was Robert Ettinger’s self-published book that first inspired the founder and chairman of Stasis Systems Australia, Peter Tsolakides, to pursue cryonics.

Stasis Systems Australia did not respond to repeated requests by news.com.au for an interview but according to the company’s website, Mr Tsolakides “became interested in cryonics after reading Robert Ettinger’s book The Prospect of Immortality in late 60s.”

“He thought by now cryonics would be widely available, but this is sadly not the case,” the website says.

A young software engineer who works for Stasis Systems Australia, Matt Fisher, also has a story common to the cryonics industry.

Just like Mr Rhoades, he has frozen the brain of his late father who died four years ago in hopes of one day being able to bring him back to life and catch up on lost time.

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This post was written by Nadia Vella