Photo by Slobodan DimitrovWorst-case scenario: on the way home from Starbucks tonight, Dan McIntyre loses control of his car, which spins off the freeway and pinwheels down an embankment into a remote gully, mangling and crushing his body, which isn't found until he has been dead—exposed to the elements, infested with insects, rotting—for three or four days.
"That would be the worst thing in the world," McIntyre agrees, nodding between sips on a grande something-or-other while—no kidding—"Que Sera Sera" floats out of the coffeehouse speakers to underscore the moment. "Either that, or let's say if I fly to Hawaii and the plane catches fire and goes down. What a tragedy that would be."
Best-case scenario: Dan McIntyre finishes his beverage, drives home safely, and kicks back to watch the Discovery Channel. He goes on to live a long and healthy life and then dies in a hospital surrounded by family, friends and—most important—members of the American Cryonics Society, who immediately cut off his head and freeze it in liquid nitrogen for 300 years, after which McIntyre is thawed, reanimated and goes on to live another 80 billion years.
"Well, that's probably as good as I can hope for, anyway," acknowledges McIntyre, whose whaddaya-gonna-do shrug suggests that certain aspects of this scenario—the dying, the decapitation and the 300 years in cold storage—still don't really appeal to him. He's resigned to the prospect that it will take two or three centuries to perfect the process of reanimating frozen heads. "But the best thing would be if I didn't have to die at all."
McIntyre must be feeling extra alive and lucky tonight, otherwise he wouldn't have come out for coffee and conversation without wearing his MedicAlert bracelet or necklace. "I only wear them when I think there's any chance I'm going to go ahead and die," he confides. That's most of the time. The MedicAlert pendants instruct whoever finds McIntyre's dead body to contact the American Cryonics Society—fast. "If it takes any more than 24 hours, I think I'll really be in bad shape," he says. "Things begin rotting immediately. If my body turns into too much mush, there won't be enough left to reanimate it."
Maybe it's his fascination with this strange new science, or maybe it's the caffeine kicking in, but McIntyre has begun to talk faster—fast enough that you silently renew your vow not to see Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man. "The point is," he is saying, "we're just here and everybody thinks of it as being reality. But when you have a context to compare this to—which is between the past and the future—for me, it's a great context. I go to cryonics seminars and meetings, which you don't have anywhere near enough of, and it's just so refreshing to hear other people who think that way and want to talk about it. I was reading this futuristic magazine, and one of the themes was a guy who belongs everywhere but here. Which is kind of true about me, I think."
Eventually it becomes clear that McIntyre is getting a rush from the risk he thinks he's taking, from the sense of adventure he's injected into the simple act of sitting and talking in a shopping-center coffeehouse without a MedicAlert tag.
"Every time I do something dangerous, I'm gambling," he says. "I don't fly anywhere near as often as I used to. I don't usually drive to Vegas at night because I consider it so much more dangerous than driving during the day. When I was just an atheist, all I was really gambling with was that 35 years or so of life I had left. But now, if something goes wrong, I just lost 80 billion years of life, which is the predicted life of the universe. I just lost 80 billion years, all of which I think are going to be fantastic."
Everlasting happiness has been McIntyre's aspiration—first as a born-and-raised Catholic, now as a fervent cryonicist—for most of his 45 years. The exception was the decade he spent as an atheist. "Believe it or not, one night in 1985, I just walked out of Mass, right before communion, and that was it for me," McIntyre recalls. "I'd been reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos, which isn't about atheism, but it got me thinking for the first time in my life. And I just had a revelation—right there in church, which is I guess where lots of people have them: this is all just completely made up! This 2,000-year-old Mediterranean peasant who couldn't even write is not coming back to save us."
McIntyre liked lots of things about being an atheist. "Mostly, it was a relief," he says. "I was just so glad to be done with this responsibility of trying to earn my way into heaven. I am naturally helpful. I try to be a good and sincere person. It's just that I was no longer trying to earn these points by going to church and reading the Bible."
But when McIntyre surrendered religion's scoreboard, he also relinquished its payoff: eternal rapture. "There was," he says, "still an emptiness in my life."
Filling that hole with science was fine, as far as it went. "But everything science promised—all the interstellar travel and space colonies, life-extending medicines and transplants—was too far in the future," McIntyre says. "I was torn between being excited about all these improvements and knowing I wasn't going to last long enough to experience them. It seemed I was just going to come and go without seeing or doing anything important."
The cryonic solution presented itself to McIntyre in 1994, at the magazine rack of a Brea bookstore about three minutes before closing. "While I was looking through Omni magazine, I saw an article I didn't have time to read. But it was accompanied by an essay contest that offered a free cryonic suspension to the winner," McIntyre recalls, and a hushed, reverential gratitude has crept into his voice—as if he is recounting the details of a miracle. "I didn't care about the essay or the free thing. I was just amazed that there was an organization that was currently suspending people. I called them. I said, 'You don't have to convince me of anything. Don't even bother. I'm already sold. Where do I sign up?'"
In the six years since, McIntyre has been occupying what's left of this frustratingly short life by preparing for the comparatively endless fulfillment of what he believes comes next: physical immortality. He reads incessantly about anti-aging strategies, about cryonic preservation and about reanimation through "nanotechnology," which he describes as "the ability to move molecules around and, thus, repair and reshape living matter like a jigsaw puzzle." He has been a vice president of the American Cryonics Society as well as served on its board of governors and, because he is an attorney, its general counsel.
Mostly, however, he thinks—plans, imagines, fantasizes—about what he's going to do when his life will consist of nearly inconceivable amounts of time to kill. And the way he's got it figured, the future is mostly going to be about kicking back.
"You can be ambitious if you want to, but nanotechnology is going to make work irrelevant," says McIntyre, who was recently downsized out of a career as a law professor at Western State University in Fullerton and is now a tax lawyer for Triple Check, the tax-return service. "All I really want to do is read and watch my educational TV. At a minimum, I'm going to be able to do that.
"The challenge, I guess, will be trying to find something that interests you when you can have everything," he adds. "A lot of what keeps some people sane are their goals—getting a raise, watching their kid get a year older, getting another year vested in their retirement plan. These people will be faced with not having to automatically aspire to anything. I imagine they'll have some huge psychological problems. But not me. I don't have to do something. In the future, all the books I want to read, I can read 'em. All the shows I want to tape, I can come home and watch 'em. I can go out to the beach. I can go here and there. Do I want to get an education, do internships and take all the time it takes to become an inventor? Or do I want to sit back and just play chess all day on my chess computer and not accomplish one blessed thing for 80 billion years? The future will be all about choices."
McIntyre suspects he'll develop new interests—again, with no limits. He imagines working out with weights until he can lift 2,000 pounds. He imagines having sex on demand, and making it better than ever by fashioning a body with additional penises. He imagines meeting a clone of himself, and he is tickled by what the conversation might be like. He imagines living in space stations and vacationing on Earth, which would be preserved as a historic artifact and recreational playground. He imagines being a historical remnant himself—and perhaps a celebrity because of it. He imagines being happy.
And he admits that imagining this future has made him happier now.
"Oh, it has. First of all, it takes the pressure off. At 45, if I knew I only had about 35 more years to go, I'd be trying to leave a mark. Now I don't have to do that. More important, I've been able to drop all the insulting and negative bullshit that goes with religion. But look at me in 1994. I was an atheist. I didn't think I was going anywhere. I envied those Christians: they think they're going to heaven, and heaven is so good they can't even imagine how good it is. Now I've got something to be optimistic about because I'm a naturally optimistic person, even though I haven't done much with my life. Now I've got something to look forward to.
"I mean, the reason some people play the lottery is because they want the chance to dream about what it would be like to win it. They may never win it, but at least they've bought the chance to fantasize. Me? I can fantasize about virtually anything. Because when nanotechnology comes out, there is going to be no limit to all these things that could be created."
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Even if, like most lottery players, McIntyre never actually gets there. Because bottom line, the cryonically achieved, nanotechnological future of physical immortality shapes up as the same kind of heaven-or-hell, devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea crapshoot that has always characterized humanity's speculation about an afterlife. Maybe McIntyre's body won't be iced on time. The cryonics organization that's storing him could go bankrupt. A futuristic extremist group could destroy the facility. Or the people of the 24th century may have neither the technology, the money nor the willingness to reanimate him. And there's a chance there will be no people in the 24th century—disease or warfare or doomsday extremists may have wiped them out.
In other words, when it's McIntyre's time to die, he's still going to face a leap into the unknown.
"When I'm on my deathbed, I'll be thinking that it's probably better than a 50 percent chance I'm coming back, but I'll have to admit probably not more than a 90 percent chance," he says. "And I'll just be wondering: Do I have 80 billion more years to do the things I want to do—or is this truly it?"
McIntyre pauses, considers, allows the ramifications of that waiting-for-all-of-us question to sort themselves out. And when he finally speaks, it's softly and with a contented smile: "Yeah, there are still lots of variables. Although, when you feel like you've given yourself your best chance and done all you could, you know, you wouldn't have too much remorse or second thoughts about it."