Life is Good, More Life is Better
Let it be noted, as an aside, that this is my first post on Less Wrong and my first attempt at original, non-mandatory writing for over a year.
I’ve been reading through the original sequences over the last few months as part of an attempt to get my mind into working order. (Other parts of this attempt include participating in Intro to AI and keeping a notebook.) The realization that spurred me to attempt this: I don’t feel that living is good. The distinction which seemed terribly important to me at the time was that I didn’t feel that death was bad, which is clearly not sensible. I don’t have the resources to feel the pain of one death 155,000 times every day, which is why Torture v. Dust Specks is a nonsensical question to me and why I don’t have a cached response for how to act on the knowledge of all those deaths.
The first time I read Torture v. Dust Specks, I started really thinking about why I bother trying to be rational. What’s the point, if I still have to make nonsensical, kitschy statements like “Well, my brain thinks X but my heart feels Y,” if I would not reflexively flip the switch and may even choose not to, and if I sometimes feel that a viable solution to overpopulation is more deaths?
I solved the lattermost with extraterrestrial settlement, but it’s still, well, sketchy. My mind is clearly full of some pretty creepy thoughts, and rationality doesn’t seem to be helping. I think about having that feeling and go eeugh, but the feelings are still there. So I pose the question: what does a person do to click that death is really, really bad?
The primary arguments I’ve heard for death are:
“I look forward to the experience of shutting down and fading away,” which I hope could be easily disillusioned by gaining knowledge about how truly undignified dying is, bloody romanticists.
“There is something better after life and I’m excited for it,” which, well… let me rephrase: please do not turn this into a discussion on ways to disillusion theists because it’s really been talked about before.
“It is Against Nature/God’s Will/The Force to live forever. Nature/God/the Force is going to get humankind if we try for immortality. I like my liver!” This argument is so closely related to the previous and the next one that I don’t know quite how to respond to it, other than that I’ve seen it crop up in historical accounts of any big change. Human beings tend to be really frightened of change, especially change which isn’t believed to be supernatural in origin.
“I’ve read science fiction stories about being immortal, and in those stories immortality gets really boring, really fast. I’m not interested enough in reality to be in it forever.” I can’t see where this perspective could come from other than mind-numbing ignorance/the unimaginable nature of really big things (like the number of languages on Earth, the amount of things we still don’t know about physics or the fact that every person who is or ever will be is a new, interesting being to interact with.)
“I can’t imagine being immortal. My idea about how my life will go is that I will watch my children grow old, but I will die before they do. My mind/human minds aren’t meant to exist for longer than one generation.” This fails to account for human minds being very, very flexible. The human mind as we know it now does eventually get tired of life (or at least tired of pain,) but this is not a testament to how minds are, any more than humans becoming distressed when they don’t eat is a testament to it being natural to starve, become despondent and die.
“The world is overpopulated and if nobody dies, we will overrun and ultimately ruin the planet.” First of all: I, like Dr. Ian Malcolm, think that it is incredibly vain to believe that man can destroy the Earth. Second of all: in the future we may have anything from extraterrestrial habitation to substrates which take up space and consume material in totally different ways. But! Clearly, I am not feeling these arguments, because this argument makes sense to me. Problematic!
I think that overall, the fear most people have about signing up for cryonics/AI/living forever is that they do not understand it. This is probably true for me; it’s probably why I don’t grok that life is good, always. Moreover, it is probable that the depictions of death as not always bad with which I sympathize (e.g. ’Lord, what can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the Reaper Man?) stem from the previously held to be absolute nature of death. That is, up until the last ~30 years, people have not been having cogent, non-hypothetical thoughts about how it might be possible to not die or what that might be like. Dying has always been a Big Bad but an inescapable one, and the human race has a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome.
So: now that I know I have and what I want, how do I use the former to get the latter?