I think a few concepts get mixed together.

I don't want to die now. I'd quite like to live a lot longer than 70-100 years.

But I also don't want immortality, or to be more exact, enforced immortality.

Show me a fictional universe, no matter how Utopian otherwise where people are not allowed to die even if they want to and I immediately see it as a dystopia.

I don't want to live forever but the choice of death, the possibility of choosing to die, the possibility of choosing to stop being has immense value to me.

If you ask people "would you like to live forever" I think many would quite rationally say "no" since without qualifiers it's a pretty horrific concept.

If you ask people "would you like to live for 200 years", again, without qualifiers many might imagine another hundred years of growing even more frail but being kept alive by more and more tubes.

If you ask people "would you like the choice of remaining fit, youthful and healthy for a few hundred extra years with the choice of extending that later if you want to with your loved ones being offered the same option" I believe you'd get far far more people saying "hell yes".

Offer most people in a nursing home a pill that will fix their heart, make the pain in their back go away, sharpen their minds, strengthen their bones and give them another few decades of being able to lift their grandkids for a hug and I think a lot would say "hell yes". Offer them another set of tubes they could plumb into themselves to get another few years of further degraded subjective experience on the other hand and many would quite rationally tell you to shove it.

I'm young, many people on this site are young and we've not experienced the slow degradation so we implicitly fail to frame questions taking into account that others will often view life as a slow degradation with death as a release when the degradation gets too bad, not as an enemy to be defeated.

Young people fear death, many old people are far more inclined to fear degradation, pain, suffering, loneliness. The things that death can end.

My grandmother is 90 and I don't believe she's terribly keen on living a lot longer but keep in mind the context: she's spent the last 30 years watching all her friends and all her family excepting her children die. Her children are grandparents themselves and I doubt she wants to see any of them die before her.

She's already lost her husband, her brothers and sisters and almost every friend she ever knew and has a religious belief that she'll get to see them again after death. Now is not the time to offer her immortality. If all her friends and her husband were still alive with the same options then she might view things differently.

many people on this site are young and we've not experienced the slow degradation so we implicitly fail to frame questions taking into account that others will often view life as a slow degradation with death as a release when the degradation gets too bad, not as an enemy to be defeated.

I've seen the phrase 'ripening' used, supporting this hypotheses.

Why people want to die

by PhilGoetz 1 min read24th Aug 2015175 comments


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.