A collection of musings on "fates worse than death", put together in one place for easy referencing.
"Rest in peace"
There is an ancient and (unfortunately) still very popular association between death and sleep / rest / peace / tranquility.
The association is so deeply engraved, it is routinely used by most people who have to speak about death. E.g. "rest in peace", "put to sleep", "he is in a better place now" etc.
The association is harmful. The association suggests that death could be a valid solution to suffering, which is deeply wrong.
It's the same wrongness as suggesting to kill a child to make the child less sad. Technically, the child will not experience sadness anymore. But infanticide is not a sane person's solution to sadness. The sane solution is to find a way to make the child less sad (without killing them!).
The sane solution to suffering is to reduce suffering. Without killing the sufferer.
For example, if a cancer patient is in great pain, the most ethical solution is to cure them from cancer, and use efficient painkillers during the process. If there is no cure, then utilize cryonics to transport them into the future where such a cure becomes available. Killing the patient because they're in pain is a sub-optimal solution (to put it mildly).
Exchanging suffering and lives
There is a popular idea that some very large amount of suffering is worse than death. I don't subscribe to it.
If I'm tortured for X billions of years, and then my mind is repaired, then this fate is still much better than permanent death. There is simply nothing worse than permanent death - because it cannot be repaired. And everything else can be repaired, including the damage from any amount of suffering.
If one must choose between a permanent loss of human life and some temporary discomfort, it doesn't make sense to prefer the permanent loss of life, regardless of the intensity of the discomfort.
A sample problem:
If you press the button, you save 1 life. But 7 billion humans will suffer from the worst possible torture for 100 billion years. After that, all the psychological damage will be repaired, bringing them back to a perfect mental health. Should you press the button?
(the answer is yes)
Imagine there is a new technology that:
- could save million lives
- could also produce an astronomical amount of suffering, if misused (S-risk)
For example, some variants of mind uploading could do that.
Should we develop such a tech? The answer is yes.
I don't see how eliminating any arbitrary large amount of suffering could be preferable to saving 1 life. Unless the suffering leads to permadeath, the sufferers can get over it. The dead - cannot.
Thus, in such calculations, I would consider 1 human permadeath equal to at least 1 human life that is experiencing the worst possible suffering until the end of the universe.
It's a good idea to reduce suffering. But the S-risk is trivially eliminated from the equitation if the tech in question is life-saving. Because, 1 (one) saved life is enough to compensate for any amount of suffering.
Thus, if you want to decide if it's ethical to develop the tech in question, the decision process should not involve any suffering-related considerations until you estimate the amount of saved lives. And after that, you minimize suffering given the tech is implemented.
Compare: if you see a drowning child, you first save her, and only after that consider how to minimize her suffering.
Suffering can be reversed. Permadeath - cannot
I predict that most (all?) ethical theories that assume that some amount of suffering is worse than death - have internal inconsistencies.
My prediction is based on the following assumption:
- permanent death is the only brain state that can't be reversed, given sufficient tech and time
The non-reversibility is the key.
For example, if your goal is to maximize happiness of every human, you can achieve more happiness if none of the humans ever die, even if some humans will have periods of intense and prolonged suffering.
You can increase happiness of the humans who suffered, but you can't increase happiness of the humans who are non-reversibly dead.
With enough tech and time, every type of suffering can be eliminated, and its effects - reversed. But permadeath is, by definition, non-reversible and non-repairable.
Bad feelings are vastly less important than saved lives.