1. A brief note on methodology. I conducted the main part of my fieldwork from 2008 to 2010, between Arizona, Florida, and Michigan, with several return trips over the years. I have visited the three most important cryonics centers in the United States: the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, and Suspended Animation, previously in Florida (which does not store cryonics patients but only acts as an intermediary, providing logistical support, deathbed care, transportation, and research), in order to carry out participant observation. I worked at one organization for over a month, mainly assisting in packing medication kits. I participated in a number of different trainings and assisted in one cryopreservation procedure. I also briefly helped with setting up a lab and conducting experiments with molecular biologists connected to a biogerontology project. I have attended several cryonics information sessions, member gatherings, and annual meetings. I have observed (taking notes, interviewing, and carrying out all the other general participant observation duties) more than fifteen gatherings and conferences on transhumanism, life extension, and artificial intelligence. In addition, I was given access to internal polls and membership data at several of the organizations. I returned to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley over the summer of 2015 for my final engagements in the field. But, it is important to note, this was and is not an ethnography of Silicon Valley.
I have conducted more than seventy interviews, some recorded digitally, others written down manually, with a wide range of actors. I interviewed my subjects in various locations: at immortalist conferences around the United States, at and around cryonics facilities, in the towns where they live and where I happened to be, in their labs, and on several occasions either by phone or online. Immortalists, and particularly cryonicists, inevitably carry out crucial interactions with non-immortalist organizations and actors. Because I was interested in how the life–death transition is managed through institutional regimes, I also tracked peripheral actors, such as funeral directors, hospice workers, lawyers, lobbyists, doctors, and insurance agents, as their offices intersected with the practices of immortalists.
A great deal of interaction and discussion took place online (including laments over and solutions for the problem of “community”). Thus, a number of key online, public forums constituted an important site of investigation. These included Cryonet, Cold Filter, and the Immortality Institute’s forums. I tracked and coded significant discussions taking place online, according to my interests, specifically marking discussions on the following: personhood, attitudes toward death, views on future life, visions of the social future, personal life-extension practices and strategies, and attitudes toward immortality.
1. Musk’s project is being conducted under the aegis of the company Neuralink, founded in 2016.
2. Greenblatt’s reaction to Musk’s announcement took the form of a December 23, 2018, editorial in the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/23/elon-musk-neuralink-chip-brain-implants-humanity.
3. Kant, in his second preface to the Critique of Pure Reason, concedes that reason has its limits and that upon reaching that boundary it is best to “remove knowledge in order to make room for faith” ( 1966, B, xxxix). He points to several areas where human knowledge falls short because it is finite: the real limits of space and time, the original cause, freedom from causality, and the existence of a necessary being. He posits that human reason, the nonempirical rational faculty, is driven to synthesize and complete knowledge; it does not abide gaps. So, quixotically, mysteriously, it tries nevertheless to find answers to unanswerable questions and as a result generates stopgap concepts (ideas) that can close the circle of inquiry. For Kant, these included such ideas as God or primary cause, free will, and the soul and its survival.
4. A number of scholars have made interesting distinctions between posthumanism and transhumanism, describing the latter as a kind of uber-Enlightenment position; e.g., Wolfe (2010); S. Fuller and Lipinska (2015).
5. There are clear problems with Taylor’s geographical delineation (North America/Europe) and how it articulates with his conceptual parameters—do the edges of “the immanent frame” look different if you take just the United States as its center? Why is the immanent frame not applicable to Nicaragua?
6. Harris Poll, December 15, 2009, https://theharrispoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Harris_Poll_2009_12_15.pdf.
7. Also see Bauman (1992, 170); and for a different take in relation to Orientalism, see Anidjar (2006).
8. I use the term “immortalist imaginary” (Marcus 1995; C. Taylor 2003) as an analytic that allows me to tack between projected, promised, or expected futures, normative notions and cultural concepts, assumptions or tensions underlying those futures, and the practices, institutions, and sites through which those futures are being actively produced in the present.
9. Also see Stoler (2017) on political concepts and Ingold (1993) on concepts in evolutionary theory.
10. Names have been changed to preserve anonymity. I have retained real names only when the person was a public figure, such as director of an organization or a conference speaker, and I spoke to them in that capacity.
11. David Segal, “This Man Is Not a Cyborg. Yet,” New York Times, June 1, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/business/dmitry-itskov-and-the-avatar-quest.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
12. Blankholm (2018) skips subjectification, preferring to think of a more collective entity, secular people.
13. Exceptions include Kohn (2013) and some new animists (G. Harvey 2005).
14. I owe this point to Murphy Halliburton. Also see Mykytyn (2010).
1. After Life
1. The Immortalist, July 2006, http://www.cryonics.org/immortalist/july06/news.htm (last accessed July 11, 2009).
2. A small flurry of self-published books in the 1990s referred to immortality in their titles: Becoming Immortal (1995) by Wesley du Charme presented an overview from the perspective of nanotechnology with techniques that would make reanimation from cryonics viable, and the future world a place of expanding intelligence and cheaper and better production; Immortality: How Science Is Extending Your Lifespan and Changing the World (1998) by Ben Bova focused mainly on medical techniques and dietary regimens that have been extending life in modern times; also in 1998, Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality presented a discussion in theoretical physics making an information-based argument about the physical resurrection of all existing things in infinite universes.
3. See the introduction for the use of this term. Related to it were associations with categories like “kooky,” “cultish,” and “far-out,” as well as the term’s appropriation by what was casually referred to as the “snake oil” vendors putting out anti-aging products with dubious claims about longevity and health.
4. Clearly, since 2008 much has changed regarding what shows up on search engines.
5. The Immortalist, November 2006, http://www.cryonics.org/immortalist/november06/news.htm (last accessed July 11, 2009).
6. I am not including histories that outline religious doctrinal developments and changes, e.g., Brandon (1967) or T. Brennan (2002).
7. More generally, the trouble with the centrality of belief in social studies of religion has been pointed out in the past (Needham 1972; Cantwell Smith  1991).
8. Hume’s arguments against immortality were about Christian notions and institutions, but as with many other secularist forays, it was universalized to cover all notions and practices around the world that looked like versions of a belief in the afterlife and the survival of the soul as seen from a secular European perspective.
9. For example, d’Holbach’s book was reprinted and retranslated extensively.
10. Leuba’s survey of scientists was duplicated in 1996 by Edward Larson and Larry Witham (Larson and Witham 1997). Sending the questionnaire to a list culled at random from the 1995 American Men and Women of Science, they found that 46 percent said they disbelieved in immortality, 15 percent said they doubted it, and 38 percent believed in personal immortality.
11. A spate of recent neurological and cognitive experiments, using brand-new technologies, have simply extended the Tylorian/Frazerian explanation of religion into cognitive theory: they have treated beliefs in the afterlife as an illusion detectable as cognitive malfunctions, such as disorientation or schizophrenia, which have elicited post facto explanations and doctrines that turned, say, a flash on the retina into a ghost because it is evolutionarily advantageous (Bering and Bjorklund 2004).
12. Hertz’s notion of death as an occasion for social regeneration was fruitfully extended by others such as Bloch (1971), Metcalf and Huntington (1991), as well as by Bloch and Parry (1982), and Bauman (1992) in a more comparative and theoretical vein.
13. As well as an interesting correspondence with Alfred Wallace included in the footnote to the published text. See Weismann (1891, 22n1).
14. “Science: Physical Immortality,” Time, November 30, 1925, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,736596,00.html.
15. Raymond Pearl to A. Siegrit, Correspondence, Raymond Pearl Papers, Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
16. Infusoria is an obsolete taxonomic category that encompassed small aquatic creatures, including algae and amoebae.
18. See correspondence reproduced in M. Darwin (1991a, 1991b).
19. This bylaw (Section 2.04, Denial of Membership and Discipline of Members) is reproduced in M. Darwin (1991a) and in Cryonics Institute director Ben Best’s online FAQ at http://www.benbest.com/cryonics/CryoFAQ.html#_IXC_; more recent bylaws, which I obtained from the society, have kept the same wording (until 2017), but the text appears in a different section.
20. “Society for Cryobiology—The Vote Is In,” Cryonics, January 1983.
21. Reproduced in M. Darwin (1991b).
22. By the 1980s some simple life-forms, such as nematode worms and tardigrades, had been shown to undergo suspension and reanimation (Triantaphyllou and McCabe 1989).
23. According to cryonicists who have attended recent meetings of the Society of Cryobiology, this hostility is waning, and to their surprise a few cryobiologists are even open to scientific discussions on the matter. But the bylaw still stands.
24. Vitrification occurs when a liquid goes directly to a solid state without forming ice crystals—i.e., it vitrifies, or becomes like glass.