So if psychological exhaustion is something that naturally happens, selection could push it off until physical exhaustion so that you can keep contributing to the tribe as long

But why would psychological exhaustion naturally happen at a rate that's fast enough to be relevant? There's no second law of thermodynamics for algorithms; it's simpler for evolution to build a brain that never gets psychologically exhausted, so that's (to a first approximation) what would happen. It seems that evolution layered a routine for suicide on top of our brains too, but it seems that that routine doesn't check for "how old are you", it checks for "how low status are you", probably because your family may lose resources trying to help you and thereby reduce the inclusive genetic fitness of your genes etc.

The argument that you're making ( specifically only works for things that need active effort to prevent them from breaking, which tends to mean physical stuff. Psychology isn't really susceptible in the same way, because although or psychological health will be in the selection shadow at e.g. age 300, there isn't that pressure of thermodynamics to break it.

There may not be any second law of themodynamics for algorithms, but there's surely something pretty similar. If I leave my computer running indefinitely, it quickly becomes "psychologically exhausted", runs slowly, starts causing programs to crash, and so on. If I leave it on anyway, at some point it's going to commit suicide with a blue screen.

So I still don't see why it would be simpler for evolution to build a brain that never gets exhausted, or why my story isn't a reasonable one.

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.