You choose an interesting example. Tolkien (or his writings, at least) are a pure, quintessential example of glorifying death, mysteries, the 'ordained' or 'natural' feudal order, a past golden age, being wise, etc. He's responsible for a lot more than just Gandalf. I wonder if you gave that example out of snark?

To make sure everyone here's talking about the same thing, here's some background on Tolkien's views of mortality (in the context of Middle-Earth).

Tolkien elves who were killed got reincarnated, and most of them knew this. Granted, there was still separation from everyone you knew - they were reincarnated in the West and most of them could not ever return home. Still, they couldn't really die, not even if they wanted to.

Tolkien called death the "Gift of Men" - given by God - and his elves envied men for it, and wanted to "escape the world" as men did. He wrote that the fear of death and desire to escape it was purely an evil corruption and due to the original Fall of Man. Uncorrupted Men, the ideal to which all of his heroes aspire, love death and welcome it.

The Downfall of Numenor (Atlantis) happened because Sauron "corrupted" its king; the nature of this corruption was that the king stopped wanting to die of old age. Anyone who stepped on the Western Islands where the gods (Valar) and the highest elves lived, became immortal; of course, the Gods forbade men from ever going there (so as not to take away the Gift of death). The king was told by Sauron he was as good as any elf, so he sailed there.

The creator God (not one of the minor Valar gods) intervened directly, destroyed not just the king's army but sinking the whole island of Numenor, killing everyone who lived there except the rebels on a few ships who remained righteous (i.e., kept saying they wanted to die). The tsunami from sinking the island killed off several whole nations on the mainland for good measure, and changed the coastline.

There's lots more where that came from. If you cherry-pick a bit, Tolkien ranges from Norse mythology to explicitly Catholic Christan legends.

Now, I'd love to hear your thesis that those stuck-up elves would benefit from dying - for some other reason than "death is explicitly good in that setting" :-)

You're factually wrong on several minor elements. The people of Numenor had been wanting to stop dying for several generations -- the particular corruption that Sauron inflicted on the king wasn't that desire, but rather that he made him think the proper way to go about actualizing this was to worship Melkor (essentially Satan), do human sacrifice in his name, and go about conquering the world, including the land of men. Sauron also argues that immortality should not be given to all, he just convinces the King of Numenor deserves to steal it from others an... (read more)

Many of us *are* hit with a baseball once a month.

by Alexandros 1 min read22nd Dec 201031 comments


Watching the video of Eliezer's Singularity Summit 2010 talk, I thought once more about the 'baseball' argument. Here's a text version from How to Seem (and Be) Deep:

[...] given human nature, if people got hit on the head by a baseball bat every week, pretty soon they would invent reasons why getting hit on the head with a baseball bat was a good thing.

And then it dawned on me. Roughly half of human kind, women, are inflicted with a painful experience about once a month for a large period of their lives.

So, if the hypothesis was correct, we would expect to have deep-sounding memes about why this was a good thing floating around. Not one to disappoint, the internet has indeed produced at least two such lists, linked here for your reading pleasure. However, neither of these lists claim that the benefits outweigh the costs, nor do they make any deep-sounding arguments about why this is in fact a good thing overall. Whether or not they are supported by the evidence, the benefits mentioned are relatively practical. What's more, you don't hear these going around a lot (as far as I know, which, admittedly, is not very far). 

So why aren't these memes philosophised about? Perhaps the ick factor? Maybe the fact that having the other half of the population going around and having perfectly normal lives without any obvious drawbacks acts as a sanity test? 

In any case, since this is a counter-argument that may eventually get raised, and since I didn't want to suppress it in favour of a soldier fighting on our side, I thought I'd type this up and feed it to the LessWrong hivemind for better or worse.