I drafted what is apparently too long an introduction to fit into a comment. Rather than try to work out how to rewrite the whole thing to fit into some unknown maximum length, I'll break it up into parts.



I've been lurking since early 2010. I'll finally take the plunge and actually engage with the community here.

I'm a Ph.D. student in math education. It's a terribly named field, it would seem; everyone seems to think at first that this means I'm training to either (a) teach math or (b) prepare future math teachers. It's actually better thought of as a subfield of psychology that focuses on mathematical cognition as well as on teaching and learning.

I grew up in a transhumanist household. My father signed us all up for cryonics when I was about five years old, I think it was. At the time I was just starting to realize that if death is inevitable for others, then that might mean that death is inevitable for me. I remember going up to my mother and father in the kitchen and asking, "Am I going to die someday?" They looked at me and said, "No, we're signing all of us up for cryonics. That means if we die, they'll just bring us back." I remember being so excited about signing the life insurance policy that I misspelled my name. On the way out of the insurance agent's office I asked "Does this mean I'm immortal now?" I literally leaped and squealed with excitement when they said yes.

In retrospect, I can recognize that as a tremendously defining point in my psychological development. Most people I've known who have signed up for cryonics know the feeling of an immense weight they didn't even know about being lifted once everything is finalized. Although I know better than to trust my memory, I do recall learning over the course of a few days before that event how to "wear" that weight before I finally asked my family about it. I took my being signed up for cryonics as blanket permission to cast that weight off by just assuming that I would live forever. I do realize now that they were oversimplifying things, but I think it still had a very powerful effect on the basic makeup of my psyche: whereas everyone else seems to have to learn how to recognize and let go of the burden of mortality, It has never been meaningfully real to me.

Unfortunately, I can see now how that gave me permission to be complacent in a lot of important areas through most of my life. If you know that you and your closest loved ones are immortal and that anyone else can become immortal if they so choose, there's no sense of urgency to do what you can to end death. Instead, the only real danger as far as I could tell was deathism, since that mental poison would permanently and needlessly have the net effect of making people commit suicide. But even then, my concern wasn't that deathism might halt immortalist efforts; my concern had always been that individuals I care about might needlessly choose to die because of this ubiquitous mental disease. That was always a sad possibility, but on a core emotional level I felt confident that mortality would be obliterated in my lifetime and that the people I most cared about - mainly my family - would be there with me one way or another. So no real problems, right?

When you think this way, it makes some rationalizations way too easy. I missed a lot of opportunities in my teens because I didn't have hardly any courage to do what others thought might be a bad idea or even much self-awareness to decide on a sense of purpose (although I don't think I knew enough to have any idea how to define a purpose without baseless recursion). So instead of saying something like:

I'm scared, and that's making me flinch, which isn't a good way to make decisions. If I went ahead anyway, what would it be like for me looking back at this decision a year later? If I follow the flinch, how would I feel about that a year later?

...I would say something more like this:

Oh, I'll just go this easier route. If I don't like where that path leads me, I can always backtrack and correct course in fifty years or so. There's always more time.

The problem was that until relatively recently, I didn't apply the metacognitive effort needed to recognize what this necessarily must do to my life as a general algorithm. It actively discourages ever reflecting carefully even on major life decisions. And that's ignoring the issue that immortality isn't guaranteed even to transhuman cryonicists.

That said, I'm immensely grateful I never "caught" the deep terror of mortality. The basic emotional sense of okayness wasn't the problem at all; the problem was that it made too many stupid things too easy for me to rationalize, and I simply hadn't been raised with the right kind of metacognition to counter that stupidity. From what I've been able to learn and observe, it seems that metacognition is much easier to teach than is a basic emotional sense that the future will be okay.

I can say, however, that if it hadn't been for Eliezer and Less Wrong, I probably would still be making the same stupid mistake.


PART 2 (part 1 here):

I had the pleasure of meeting Eliezer in January 2010 at a conference for young cryonicists. At the time I thought he was just a really sharp Enneagram type Five who had a lot of clever arguments for a materialist worldview. Well, I guess I still think that's true in a way! But at the time I didn't put much stock in materialism for a few different reasons:

  • I've had a number of experiences that most self-proclaimed skeptics insist are a priori impossible and that therefore I must be either lying or deluded. I could pinpoint some ph
... (read more)

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments


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