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?