Why people want to die

Over and over again, some­ones says that liv­ing for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some fu­tur­ist tries to per­suade them that their rea­son­ing is faulty. They tell them that they think that way now, but they’ll change their minds when they’re older.

The thing is, I don’t see that hap­pen­ing. I live in a small town full of re­tirees, and those few I’ve asked about it are wait­ing for death peace­fully. When I ask them about their am­bi­tions, or things they still want to ac­com­plish, they have none.

Sup­pose that peo­ple mean what they say. Why do they want to die?

The rea­son is ob­vi­ous if you just watch them for a few years. They have noth­ing to live for. They have a great deal of free time, but noth­ing they re­ally want to do with it. They like vis­it­ing friends and rel­a­tives, but only so of­ten. The women knit. The men do yard­work. They both work in their gar­dens and watch a lot of TV. This ob­ser­va­tional sam­ple is much larger than the few peo­ple I’ve asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of in­ter­ests. You want to un­der­stand math, write sto­ries, cre­ate start-ups, op­ti­mize your lives.

But face it. You’re weird. And I mean that in a bad way, evolu­tion­ar­ily speak­ing. How many of you have kids?

Damn few. The LessWrong mind­set is mal­adap­tive. It leads to leav­ing be­hind fewer offspring. A well-adapted hu­man cares above all about sex, love, fam­ily, and friends, and isn’t dis­tracted from those things by an ADD-ish fas­ci­na­tion with type the­ory. That’s why they prob­a­bly have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most peo­ple do not have open-ended in­ter­ests the way LWers do. If they have a hobby, it’s some­thing repet­i­tive like fly-fish­ing or needle­point that doesn’t provide an end­less fron­tier for dis­cov­ery. They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grand­kids, and they’re done. If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they’ll say it was hav­ing kids. If you ask if they’d do it again, they’ll laugh and say ab­solutely not.

We could get into a long ar­gu­ment over the evolu­tion of ag­ing, and whether peo­ple would re­main ea­ger to have kids if they re­mained phys­i­cally young. Maybe some would. Some would not, though. Many young par­ents are look­ing for­ward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of in­ter­ests in life are pass­ing. You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it. The things that were fas­ci­nat­ing when you were six hold no magic for you now. Pick up a toy sol­dier and try to play with it. You can’t. Skate­board­ing seems awe­some for about five years, and then ev­ery­one ex­cept Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Hav­ing kids might be like that for some peo­ple. Thing is, it’s liter­ally the only thing hu­mans have evolved to be in­ter­ested in. Once you’re tired of that, you’re done. If some of you want to keep go­ing, that’s an ac­ci­den­tal by-product of evolu­tion. And there was no evolu­tion­ary pres­sure to ex­empt it from the com­mon wan­ing of in­ter­est with long ex­po­sure.

The way to con­vert death­ists isn’t to ar­gue with them, but to get them in­ter­ested in some­thing. Twist them the way you’re twisted.