Christian Long

Mark Roth: Suspended Animation

In TED Talks on April 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Reflection by JACKSON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Mark Roth:   Suspended Animation

Mark Roth’s TED talk on suspended animation is astounding and amazing, for a multitude of reasons.

First of all, he and his team of researchers have apparently isolated a chemical that, for some reason, greatly decreases the metabolic rate of mammals, known as hydrogen sulfide. The result of this decrease in metabolic rate is that the organism enters a period of unconsciousness without heartbeat, from which they can still be brought back to life. Even more amazingly, all that has to be done to resuscitate the animal is to simply remove it from the hydrogen sulfide gas and return it to room air. This state of suspended animation is not only astounding and (at least before you’ve seen the reasoning and science behind it) unbelievable, it draws several different mental images into mind.

The first image is the classic paranormal phenomenon of monks or fakirs walking across hot coals or sitting on beds of nails and emerging unharmed. Research has been done to refute these stunts, however. In the case of hot coals, ash that forms on the coals insulates the feet, and fire-walkers lift and place their feet in special ways so that exposure to the coals is kept to a minimum. Beds of nails simply have many, many separate pressure points; in other words, because there are so many nails, the weight of the performer is spread out among them, so that he’s not harmed. Fakery aside, however, one common denominator among these performers is that they all begin their performance by entering a sort of trance state, in which they are apparently invulnerable to pain. While this trance state is probably nothing more than closing one’s eyes and assuming a serene disposition, it nevertheless perseveres as an image of invulnerability due to controlled unconsciousness. Owing to Roth’s discovery, however, it may not be so unbelievable after all. One practical use of suspended animation, according to him, is to allow subjects to undergo “normally lethal blood loss,” and stay alive, after restoring the blood supply and reanimating them.

The second image is one that Roth mentioned at the beginning of his talk. “Usually,” he says, “when I mention suspended animation, people will flash me the Vulcan sign and laugh.” And he’s probably not lying. Our skepticism of suspended animation is the result of science fiction’s pervasive mental imagery. We’ve seen this in TV shows as kids, so, in an inversion of people believing everything they see on TV, it can’t be true. However, the “future” has to come about eventually, and it seems that the time is right for this particular innovation. Roth’s process has brought about fantastic possibilities, and plenty of them can be used to save lives.

I suppose an interesting side effect of this might be rendering cryogenics obsolete. If we can keep people alive through hydrogen sulfide, couldn’t we suspend them for long enough to find a cure for the shortness of life? Using this technique could prolong human life, possibly extending it beyond anything previously seen. Even though it sounds implausible, suspended animation could be the most life-extending discovery since the medical research of Florence Nightingale and her methods of intelligent patient care. Although the process sounds alien and impossible, “the future is here,” as some will say, and with discoveries like these, the future is not to be shunned.

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