I worry primarily about whether there are nightclubs in Heaven.

-Tom Waits

Nightclubs are a strange thing. Loud music, people crammed in amongst one another, they are usually physically uncomfortable. Spending the night in one involves a loss of sleep (and usually loss of one's senses via alcohol or similar substances). They are an experience remarkably unique to young folk.

I suspect the rationalist community aren't the biggest fans of them. But I think experiences like it are an interesting part of the human experience. There seem to be many things which are exclusively done by certain age demographics. What are the reasons?

  • Physiological? As we get older, people get less able to handle exhaustion and hangovers.
  • Cultural? Being over 35 in a nightclub is weird, and older people have more responsibilities.
  • Psychological? Something about the experience just stops resonating with older people.

As someone who's just past the "nightclub-heavy" portion of my life, it's genuinely quite spooky how quickly my preferences have changed.

Eternal Life and Eudaimonia

One of the cases I make for living forever, or at least a few billion years (to other young people, everyone I speak to over 35 seems to be onboard with it) is this: you imagine a world where everyone is old, but with immortality, everyone is young; in fact everyone is younger than the youngest people now, because they have more years left. But I'm not 100% sure about this. 

Years left and years spent are confounded in our current existence. Old people and young people differ due to a mixture of both. But what happens when both are centuries?

(This might be a moot point. With AGI we might have enormous control over our psychology, but on the other hand I suspect meddling with our psychology is one of the riskiest things we can do as a species.)

One of the differences is that old people have made more mistakes than young people. This is one of the most noticeable differences between  and . Some of these aren't worth repeating, but a great many mistakes people make in their youths are basically harmless and very entertaining (and I am no exception).

Eudaimonia is a word which comes up a lot with regards to this sort of discussion. There is a potential failure mode of humanity which slowly dissolves into boredom.

Biology and Society

I do have hope here. This is not one of my biggest worries about the future of humanity. Ageing might change our psychology because of some fact of biology. Maybe a society of biologically-25-year-olds will still be as entertaining as regular-25-year-olds without all the worst aspects of young folk.

Or maybe it's mostly cultural. We are "expected" by "society" to behave in certain ways. I suspect a coordinated humanity could - and would - change things in the face of eternal life. I know of older people who have realized "society" no longer holds sway over them. I sometimes wish people could remember this for the period between 16 and 60 as well.

Preferences and Meta-Preferences

Are these preferences the same sort of thing as ageing related belief changes? If I know I'll have different political beliefs at age 30, there's a strong argument for changing them immediately. I wouldn't want to go back to having the same preferences I did when I was 10, for example. 

So is the following the case?

  • 20-year-olds have 20-year-old preferences (nightclubs) and 20-year-old meta-preferences (wanting people, including themselves to want nightclubs).
  • 60-year-olds have 60-year-old preferences and 60-year-old meta-preferences.

Or:

  • 20-year-olds have 20-year-old preferences and a static meta-preference which points towards their current preferences.
  • 60-year-olds have 60-year-old preferences and a static meta-preference which points towards their current preferences.

I don't think so, I think lots of older people, given the option, would go back to having 20-year-old preferences. So are 20-year-old preferences "better" in some sense?

This is perhaps evidence for the "society" view of psychological ageing. But it's not very strong at all.


So what's the conclusion? Would eternal life require a rewrite of the human code? Or will we end up eternally dull? I don't know, and I think it's something worth bringing attention to. I know the future I'd want, and it's not one where the only fun is bridge and golf.

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy

-Tom Waits

But maybe  shouldn't choose the entertainment for my millionth birthday party just yet.

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For what it's worth the first times I went to a nightclub was in my forties but I have unusual preferences. 

I also think that common human culture and psyche are wired toward a transition from bootstrapping (childhood) to exploration (youth) to exploitation (middle age) and finally to closure (old age). See Aging Well for a beautiful outline of studies finding when this works well. 

That doesn't mean this couldn't change with a technological singularity. But it would probably be a painful transition.

With AGI we might have enormous control over our psychology, but on the other hand I suspect meddling with our psychology is one of the riskiest things we can do as a species.

There is no safe default option here. You can't not meddle with human psychology if you were to extend human lifespan radically. "Default" isn't even pointing to any place in the territory, never mind the right place.

But even under the vague, undefined, intuitive notion of "making us immortal without meddling with our psychology", it should be obvious that strong safeguards must be in place in order to prevent our preferences and behaviors from sliding down some irreversible slippery slope. I mean, just how likely is it that you would never encounter a streak of depression that leads to suicide over a billion years, by default?

I think it's a big mistake to model how our preferences will evolve over cosmic timescales using experience from normal life, culture and society. There are innumerable feedback loops and traps and subtle forces that are completely unnoticeable in a normal lifespan but would drive us into some really weird, terrible corners of states of being that current us wouldn't approve of upon reflection.

“The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.” - Epicurus

When people are young, typically they have multiple such vain ideals, which infinitely exceed their available resources. So they engage in many speculative activities, even ones with exceedingly low expected rates of returns, or even activities with negative rates as humans also typically lack the perceptiveness to distinguish between, in the hopes of securing themselves their objects of desire. 

When people grow old, typically their resources have grown greater, or their ideals have been reduced likewise through the course of life, or both have occurred. 

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