There are other ways to understand their answers.

I think you're on the right track with them being different from most of us, but I don't think you've identified many relevant differences.

Suppose that people mean what they say.

I suppose they do mean it, but how do they mean it?

Difference 1 We're much more literal and direct in our communications than most people. Do the polled think they are being asked an unliteral question? Are they choosing to respond in an unliteral fashion to what is taken as a literal question?

For example, are they taking it as a question about being "afraid of death"? Are they just signaling that they aren't afraid of death?

Difference 2 We think living for a very long time is a real possibility. Most people don't think it's possible to live much longer.

That only increases the likelihood of unliteral interpretations of the question, and unliteral responses.

There's the basic sour grapes principle. There's also the putting out of your mind yearnings for things you don't believe you can have.

Difference 3 We plan on being youthful, vibrant, and healthy during those increased years. They're likely picturing living in increasingly bad health - even if you say they will be youthful, getting decrepit is probably what they're still picturing.

Difference 4 Closest to your point, I think.

We picture doing a lot more than watching Wheel of Fortune for the next 1000 years. It's unlikely they've even considered many of the possibilities we think of, and if they did, they likely would write them off as impossible.

Maybe if they were told about all the wonderful things they could be doing, and they believed that it was really possible to do those things, they'd be more enthusiastic.

Difference 5 Many people say, at least, that they believe in an afterlife . Whether they literally believe it, or are just saying it in some unliteral fashion, you can see how the literal question just doesn't have the same implications to them as it does to us, and if they're just signaling belief/approval in the afterlife, your question is unlikely to get them to stop.

In summary, yes, we are weird. We should respect that, and evaluate their answers to your questions in all the different ways they might understand your question, and the different ways they might choose to respond.

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.