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.

I think this is cultural much more than it is biological.

The concept of retirement is both mostly cultural and fairly new. People retire, often at an arbitrary pension age cutoff, not so much because they can't work anymore (at the time of retirement), as because they aren't expected to; their age cohort retires together. This is also driven by capitalism: the working classes to work to survive, and working is unpleasant and takes up all their time, but at least they can save up pensions (or the state guarantees a pension at some age) so they aren't literally worked to their deaths.

I think past societies were different. Only a few people lived for many years after becoming physically or mentally decrepit and unable to do productive work; most people declined and died unexpectedly and quickly. The rich and ruling classes grew ever richer and more powerful until their deaths; old kings, generals and businessmen didn't sit around "waiting for death peacefully", they kept doing the same things they had always done, just less vigorously. And the working and farming majority never stopped working while they could help it, since they rarely had enough savings (in money, food, or things of value), and wouldn't use them outside emergencies.

Today automation is pricing humans out of more and more markets. I believe this will eventually cause high unemployment. Suppose a guaranteed income is introduced and unemployment rises to 90%. The newly unemployed people will face the same problem today's retirees have: what to do with their free time? What to live for? If people have to face this question at age 20, they will give a different answer than at age 70 after a lifetime of tiring, boring, non-fun work.

Today automation is pricing humans out of more and more markets.

According to a recent study technology produced more jobs than it destroyed: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/17/technology-created-more-jobs-than-destroyed-140-years-data-census

-1Lumifer5yI don't know what do you consider "few" and "most", but the concept of retirement was already well-known to the Ancient Romans. That idea has a name [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Luddism].

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.