Alcor: Origin of Our Name

The star Alcor

“ALCOR” – a test for clear vision

Alcor’s founders, Fred and Linda Chamberlain, explain the origin of Alcor’s name

From Cryonics, August 1984

In September of 1970, we were asked to come up with a name for a rescue team for the Cryonics Society of California (CSC). In view of our logical destiny (the stars), we searched through star catalogs and other books on the subject, hoping to find a star with a name that could serve as a cryonics acronym. “Alcor,” 80 Ursae Majoris, was just what we had been looking for. It not only had some acronymal “fit” for cryonics but was symbolic for its historic use as a test for eyesight and was located in a very well known constellation.

Alcor, a companion star of Mizar in the “Big Dipper’s” handle, is approximately fifth magnitude, barely within the threshold of human vision. Additionally, it is quite close to Mizar from an angular standpoint, and dimmer. Only with excellent eyesight can one tell there are two stars rather than just one. For thousands of years, people in the Middle East have used Alcor as a critical test of visual sensitivity and focus. If you could see Alcor, you had excellent vision indeed. In the early days of cryonics itself, few people could see the need for a rescue team, or even the need for cryonics itself. Symbolically, then, Alcor would be a “test” of vision as regards life extension.

As an acronym, ALCOR is a close if not perfect fit with “Allopathic Cryogenic Rescue.” We could have forced a five word string, but these three seemed sufficient. Allopathy (as opposed to Homeopathy) is a medical perspective wherein “any treatment which improves the prognosis is valid.” Cryogenic preservation is the most powerful method known in halting the rapid, entropic disorganization of living matter following clinical death. Rescue differentiates a cryonics approach from (yet to be developed) proven suspended animation. The acronymal interpretation of ALCOR is therefore “use of a cryogenic procedure, though unproven, to preserve structure and potential viability, since failing to do so allows further disorganization to occur and reduces the probability (prognosis) of reversal and reanimation at any future time.”

Some of these thoughts were presented at a CSC dinner meeting in the autumn of 1970. A number of people who have subsequently become members of the ALCOR Life Extension Foundation were present at that gathering. Over the months that followed, it became increasingly evident that the leadership of CSC did not truly desire and would not support or even tolerate a rescue team concept. Less than one year after the 1970 dinner meeting, we severed all ties with CSC and incorporated the “Rocky Mountain Cryonics Society” in the State of Washington. The articles and by-laws of this organization specifically provided for “Alcor Members,” who were to be the rescue team core of activity. Difficulties in securing non-profit status in Washington then led to reincorporation in California, this time under the name “Alcor Society for Solid State Hypothermia.” In the late seventies, to further broaden the organization’s objectives, the present name (ALCOR Life Extension Foundation) was adopted.

Despite many transitions, the symbolism of the name remains. How long will it take for more people to see that “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” is a meaningless destiny… to see that it is possible to reach for a distant tomorrow… perhaps to attain it… to see ALCOR for what it really is… a vehicle with which to attempt that fascinating voyage!