[Link] Death, long lives, uploading - a conworlding perspective

by Vulture1 min read27th Jan 201425 comments

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Death, long lives, uploading

Mark Rosenfelder (aka zompist, of language construction kit fame) writes about the advantages and drawbacks of mortality and its alternatives, in fiction and real life. Rosenfelder, as an author, clearly takes Fun Theory very seriously. After discussing the mental and physical decline that age usually entail, he assumes that the most difficult to surmount of these problems will be the loss of mental flexibility and tolerance of novelty. He then uses this obstacle to offer interesting fun-theoretic arguments against uploading and cryonics:

One futuristic approach to the problem: get yourself uploaded to a computer, so you can stay alive indefinitely.  I think it’d be horrible to give up food, sex, exercise, and the rest of our bodily experience, even if we posit that you can still somehow retain your visual qualia.  But I can see the attraction of wanting to find out what’s next.  Perhaps you could hibernate for fifty years at a time, then wake up and avidly consume all the pop culture that’s been created since last time.  Avoid Sturgeon’s Law and read just the best 10% of stuff, forever!

However, I suspect the plan would fall apart in under 200 years.  How much really grabs us from that long ago?  We do read stuff that old, of course, but it’s only a tiny fraction of our mental diet.  The past is a strange world that takes some effort to immerse ourselves in– when it doesn’t repel us with a mindset that’s now confusing, boring, or vile.  400 years ago is even harder to grok, and 1000 is an alien world.  And looking back, I’d maintain, is far easier than looking forward.  We’re exposed to the past as history and literature– we can read Jane Austen or Jonathan Swift or Molière far easier than they’d be able to understand us.

Imagine Jules Verne, for instance, trying to make sense of a Laundry novel.  The prose itself might not be too difficult.  The idea of monsters and government bureaucracies would be understood.  But he’d miss the allusions to Lovecraft and spy novels, and references to the Cold War and computers would require a whole education to follow.  Something like an episode of The Simpsons would probably produce complete befuddlement.

I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, just that it’d require quite a bit more work than it sounds like.  And just visiting the future in one-year reading binges, you’d never really fit into the culture– you’d be an increasingly alienated dinosaur.

And how he addressed the issue in his own far-future conworld:

In the Incatena, I posit that the problem is solved by people loosening up their brains once a century or two.  Basically, you lose a bunch of memories, fade out some of the more habitual neural pathways, recover some of the intellectual flexibility (and ignorance) of adolescence.  Maybe change your body type and/or sex while you’re at it.  You want to be you just enough to feel continuity, but not enough to become a curmudgeon.  (And becoming an AI, though it’s an option, is viewed as a form of death.)

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get yourself uploaded to a computer, so you can stay alive indefinitely. I think it’d be horrible to give up food, sex, exercise, and the rest of our bodily experience, even if we posit that you can still somehow retain your visual qualia.

I will be nice rather than mean, and explain why this is wrong.

We already have artificial deices that help the blind see. We can take the signals from an amputee's brain and use them to move an artificial limb. We understand how the ear works - there are different nerves for different frequencies. Artificial taste would be pretty trivial, but isn't as good without artificial smell, which seems the hardest of all the senses. To assume that a brain simulated on a computer in 100 years won't be able to hear, touch, taste, or smell is incredibly naive about the workings of the human body and the progress that's being made right now.

Not to mention that all of your parts that can be cut off without making you stop being you, like eyes or limbs, might already best be viewed as squishy prosthetics instead of fundamental parts of your true being. Ari Heljakka has written about this stuff, unfortunately in Finnish. I wonder if his Model Zero book has something about it.

One futuristic approach to the problem: get yourself uploaded to a computer, so you can stay alive indefinitely. I think it’d be horrible to give up food, sex, exercise, and the rest of our bodily experience, even if we posit that you can still somehow retain your visual qualia.

Weird that he assumes you could keep "visual qualia" but not the other senses/experiences.

I think it’d be horrible to give up food, sex, exercise, and the rest of our bodily experience

Then don't. Does it not count if it's virtual? Even if you're dead set on a physical body, why do you care whether the brain that's controlling it is made of meat or silicon?

Perhaps you could hibernate for fifty years at a time

Why would you do that? That's fifty years that you're not living. If you do that after each year, you'll only live a fiftieth as long. Also, there's the problem if everyone does that: https://xkcd.com/989/

Why would you do that?

I think Rosenfelder's idea is that if neuroplasticity turns out to be an insurmountable problem, you could do this to get a taste of the future while you're still mentally young enough to appreciate it.

My personal opinion is that problems like these will be solved in a very mundane and brutal way. Future people will be much closer to "fitness maximizer" concept than homo sapiens is, and ideas like humanism will be abandoned. Physical immortality does not mean living forever if leading causes of death are war, murder and capital punishment.

[-][anonymous]7y 8

That sounds horrid and we shouldn't do it.

Or better yet, we should make sure it isn't in danger of happening on its own.

[-][anonymous]7y -1

Proposals for avoiding a Social Darwinist Future that are not already being implemented by someone, possibly us?

It's not social Darwinism we have to worry about--it's regular Darwinism. Social Darwinism is an ideology, Darwinism is what happens by default if no one stops it.

[-][anonymous]7y -1

So far we've already beaten Survival Darwinism, and we're on our way to beating Reproductive Darwinism. Civilization is good at that sort of thing.

Already we have been able to keep culture and hope alive in the midst of near-genocidal wars. Excepting mistakes such as a UFAI taking seriously "survival at any cost", I think that the risk of survival's demands trashing human joy is greatly lowered since 1950 and is unlikely to return.

[-][anonymous]7y 1

Meeehhhhh. Ok, I'm going to slightly dissent and note that we're on our way to creating a second rise of fascism at the moment in much of the Western world. That is, even though our economies and societies are easily capable of keeping everyone alive, on a collective level we're currently choosing to force large numbers of people into Survival Mode, which frankly is an even greater mindkiller than blue-green politics. Get large numbers of people into Survival Mode and they start making really stupid decisions, like marching down the streets of the capital yelling "Jews out!" and demanding a strengthening of the military... in an EU member-state with barely any Jews in it.

Did I just refer to France or Greece? Both.

On the other hand, I don't think population trends really allow for militarization and total war anymore, and the rise of Asia means that someone's around to smack Europe and America when they get too stupid.

So we could be looking at some waves of terrorist violence if public policy remains terminally obstinate about forcing people into their brain's mind-killed survival mode no matter the material facts, but probably not another Great War.

I'm taking about a much worse scenario.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

To which I would note that slipping into mind-killed survivalist mode is going to be even less helpful in trying to fight a war against a UFAI that simply isn't impaired by evolutionarily-ingrained biases about free thought being a bad idea.

In that sort of future, I think the major cause of death will be a direct result of insufficient resources.

Aside from other issues (virtual senses might well be good enough), one solution might be cohorts from different eras building their own cultures-- there'd be some meme exchange, but it wouldn't be awful if a lot of what you're paying attention to is relatively close to your home culture.

As a model, look at expat communities in e.g. China, where people who are willing living in a strange environment get the relief of sitting down and relaxing with people who have a shared cultural background. If the cryonics thing works out, I wouldn't be surprised if Alcor clients became a very tight-knit social group in the far future.

It's an idea which hasn't been used in science fiction as much as I think it deserves. Offhand, the only example I can think of is "The Flowered Thundermug" by Alfred Bester.

It's within spitting distance of the Revivals in Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, although that's a much more cynical take on it.

The last line in the article is my favorite:

"Evolution, we could say, has found a simpler solution yet: reproduction. You get new people with the genetic heritage of the species, but neotenous and adaptable to the current environment."

It is ironic to me that death, as a part of the mechanism of natural selection, has brought about creatures who seek to invent methods to eliminate it.

Death, after reproduction, works as a part of a process to advance a given species' levels of fitness.

Death doesn't "work", and species don't "advance". All that shit just kinda happens.

Welcome to Human Club. We like to talk as if things have goals and that parts of things have functions. It's weird, I know.

It is ironic to me that death, as a part of the mechanism of natural selection, has brought about creatures who seek to invent methods to eliminate it.

The irony is that DNA and its associated machinery, as close as it is to a Turing Machine, did not become sentient and avoid the concept of individual death. The universe would make much more sense if we were DNA-based computers that cared about our genes because they were literally our own thoughts and memories and internal experience.

Or perhaps DNA did became sentient and decided to embark on a grand AGI project that resulted in Unfriendly multi-cellular life...