[Link] Eliezer, PZ, Brin, and me on Immortality

by Eneasz1 min read21st Jul 201321 comments

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The video archive of the talk is available here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm-5s__aZE0

 

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I'm only 10 minutes in, but thoroughly unimpressed so far. Typing in real time as I'm watching, so an unfiltered commentary and an incomplete summary rolled into one. I will probably miss some arguments, and do a bad job with others, but I only have time to watch it once. The "you" refers to Eneasz.

Your introduction, dragging in the cochlear implants, was much too uncharitable and religion-focused, your "I really don't understand how anyone would not fight death" not sincere -- I'm sure you know all the rationalisations, that some people just want to get on with their lives not being dominated by the thought of dying, which they personally feel powerless against. You're the host, your introduction primed the debate on religion, which is among the least interesting aspects (to me), and made Brin talk about monasteries later on. Thanks ...

PZ Myers is going on and on about cancer and stem cells on the one hand, and entropy on the other.

EY thankfully clears up the definitions (it makes no sense to talk about actual "immortality", as opposed to extended longevity), and points out the stem cell talk missed the point. So far exactly what I'd hoped he would say, getting the debate out of the "cancer and stem cells" mud. His profession of "I only want immortality for myself because I want it for everyone, and I happen to be among those" is hard to take seriously, I hope he values his own preferences slightly above some random stranger's. Stalled because his script disappeared ;-)

Brin "I deny being an atheist, because I'm too contrary." (???) He also used the word troglodyte. Randomly defends the Bible (see what you did?), saying that the hate-filled part is mostly the Book of Revelations. Goes from caloric restriction, and a supposed century-lifespan limitation to uploading. Right, because stem-cells, gene therapy et al don't offer some, um, in-between solution?

(20 minutes in)

Says the danger may be "immortal lords", plutocracies of bad governance by the few who can afford immortality, proposes such an "attractor-trap" as a solution to the Fermi paradox. "Probably sucks in most aliens." That's that, then. Immortality as a big and vexing problem, stabilizing autocracies since the rulers cling to their thrones by not dying.

You allow for some selfishness in your motives for wanting immortality -- yay!

Brin about the dangers of the Hutterites outbreeding the enlightened world. First 5 generations on a colony world should rut like rabbits (advice from his wife).

EY found his notes and is back in the discussion (yay!). "In the debate to what extent atheism should accomodate theology (...) I naturally am the guy who's more extreme than Richard Dawkins". Step aside, Dick (Richard)! Good comparison of death and smallpox: we learned to understand there's no silver lining to smallpox, and to fight it. Time to do the same with death. Evolution isn't out to be moral, we don't die because the universe thinks that's, like, meaningful. We're free to disagree with dying and and to fight it. Even if it did kill Stalin (good guy death). Good counterpoint to the "immortal dictator" argument: countries don't need to naturally die and could potentially go on "forever", yet we don't propose to redraw countries on purpose every couple decades because of fearing hegemony. Tries to delineate feasability from desirability.

(30 minutes in)

PZ Myers acknowledges that some egoism is ok, such as him seeking more health care as he grows older. Brin coughs. PZ ignores it. Alludes to the problem of the commons. Comes back to "we should appreciate how biology actually works". Lack of imagination, Sir! Those dying cells can be optimized. PZ predicts that the first society with longer living members would be quickly destroyed, since it would be too static to compete with the more dynamic systems of the blessedly fast dying.

You point out that by less people dying, you need to train less replacements. $$$$ saved!

Brin goes full personalisation fallacy: "a burden of proof lies on those who would deny that biology knew what it was doing". (EY probably wants to tell him evolution is a blind idiot god.) Says that "replacing the bad of nature" is dangerous, the system must not be perturbed. Each new generation must be tabula rasas (tabulas rasa) (sic (sic)), programming themselves. Whatever that means. Boomers should die (they are the best argument that generations need to 'go away') because "they are sanctimonious junkies full of self-righteous indignation". Wants to stress intelligence augmentation instead. Goes back to the religion of St. Paul of Tarsus. Disagrees with "there are no possible interpretations" which see the silver-lining approach to death as something positive, which noone ever claimed in this podcast.

(40 minutes in)

PZ says new individuals may be important to generate new novelty. Says there should be a sweetspot of novelty, stability, and life span. Doesn't want to maximize life span over the other parameters at any costs. (As if anyone ever did that, other than a relative majority of terminal patients in our current society.)

EY points out the focus has been overly placed on societal downsides. That those aren't insurmountable, intrinsic problems, and thus not good reasons to ultimately object to really long lifespans. Takes on that some people confuse "longer life" with "longer life as an aging and ill old person", which is why the term "health span extension" (over life span extension) may be more clarifying. Talks about upgrading the brain. Should upgrade his mic first. Points out that it's absurd to assume you'll still have your exact same old biological cells at ten thousand years. Says a higher degree of neuroplasticity could also be maintained. Doesn't see an exponential increase in technology. Random shoutout to Metamed (if I heard correctly). Implies the urgent need to shape our future because we're not guaranteed to get a positive one anyways. Bottom line is that longevity is desirable if there is some plan in place to address the societal concerns, which should be possible.

(50 minutes)

PZ points out brains are dynamic systems. In case we've missed it the first couple times. "Is it the same person when I'm uploaded." Suggests that kids are already a route to immortality, and not inferior to e.g. uploading immortality. Clearly he puts a somewhat longer timeline on the actuarial escape velocity ;-). Points out the impact would be revolutionary, and not necessarily in the positive sense. That not a lot of our memes may survive such a transition, and not really a whole lot of "us", if we include our culture.

Brin, upon hearing your 5-minute warning, starts with his shoutouts, gotta recommend some books, eh? Summarizes the debate. Reneges on his earlier point on "nature's wisdom", saying there is none, but there's still some kind of "nature's adaptation", which we should ponder with a very serious face and take very seriously, indeed.

Your closing statement, "death doesn't solve any of those aforementioned problems (of hegemony etc.) very well anyways".

PZ's closing statement says death is an intrinsic component of how we work. Immortality would end life as we know it, a "radical transformation". Doesn't want to become a butterfly.

EY's closing statement wants to get away from an "individual versus society" type of framing of the debate, instead immortality should be perceived as potentially desirable for society as a whole.

Really, it was fine except for Brin, He has written some of my favorite books but when ever I listen to him talk he seems to really like to hear himself speak but doesn't care to engage directly with the points of others-- especially for someone who claims to be contrary. He spent the whole talk focusing on idiosyncratic points. Each paragraph is an unending series of parentheticals. Painful to listen to.

much too uncharitable and [...] not sincere

This is a blind-spot for me, and honestly is the reason I tried to get some smart people together to talk. I know it's uncharitable, and I feel like I'm strawmanning my opposition, yet I just can't seem to wrap my head around how this viewpoint even exists. The panel didn't help much with that, but that was mainly my fault.

You're the host, your introduction primed the debate on religion, which is among the least interesting aspects (to me), and made Brin talk about monasteries later on. Thanks ...

I'm also uninterested in the religion aspect, but I was trying to tie it into the con's theme of atheism/religious-skepticism. It's how I pitched it to PZ in the first place, so I didn't feel I could abandon it once the show started. If I didn't think it was necessary for inclusion in the con I wouldn't have bothered.

note - this is without having watched the video:

The technical meaning of "I don't understand" is "I do not comprehend the processes by which this thing (in this case death-ism) occurs." It's an invitation to explanation, for the sake of increasing your own understanding.

However, in rhetoric, the meaning often alters to "I am so strongly opposed to this viewpoint that the very fact that anyone considers it valid dismays me. The viewpoint is in fact so ridiculous that I doubt anyone who subscribes to it can give a coherent explanation as to why." It's also an invitation to explanation, but in this case the purpose of the explanation is to force the opposing argument to articulate what you perceive is a hopelessly weak point which which will be shown to be self-evidently false via the very process of articulation.

Kawoomba thinks that using "I don't understand" by the rhetoric definition is inherently insincere, and he assumes that you are using it in the rhetoric definition as well. (For the record, I am neutral concerning whether or not using the phrase rhetorically is inherently insincere.)

yet I just can't seem to wrap my head around how this viewpoint even exists.

Were you, then, truly using the technical definition? Do you actually feel you do not understand the mental processes and lines of thought by which people decide that immortality is undesirable? If so, it's worth discussing because it's generally bad form to give a strong dismissal a viewpoint that you know you don't fully understand.

Were you, then, truly using the technical definition? Do you actually feel you do not understand the mental processes and lines of thought by which people decide that immortality is undesirable? If so, it's worth discussing because it's generally bad form to give a strong dismissal a viewpoint that you know you don't fully understand.

I was using it in both senses. I've tried doing a lot of reading and talking about the subject, and it hasn't helped. The panel was an effort to further that as well. I really am trying to get it. I almost feel like I need Yvain to write a "Deathism in a giant planet-sized nutshell" post.

Can you explain what you find unsatisfying about the usual explanations of Deathism? Usual explanations being (listed from weakest to strongest reasons to support mortality)...

1) Belief in an immortal soul or afterlife

2) Misunderstanding of the premise (thinking that immortality would mean living forever but in gradually deteriorating mental and physical health)

2) Sour grapes

3) "Death gives life meaning", presumably by instilling a sense of appreciation and urgency

4) Concerns about the demographic and sociological implications of importality

5) Fearing the psychological effects of immortality (boredom, madness, etc)

and lastly, the argument I've actually got a lot of sympathy for (notwithstanding my belief that we shouldn't let biology dictate mortality)

6) Concerns about redundancy (As in, do I actually prefer a far future which contains at least one being which shares continuity with my present self more than I prefer universes in which those resources were put to other purposes?)

Should upgrade his mic first.

Google Hangouts refused to talk to my headset, FYI - it was the first time I'd used Hangouts and they helpfully don't have anything to do with devices or inputs anywhere I could find it on short notice.

In the top-right corner of the Hangouts window is a light-grey-on-white button of a gear (along with other similarly-colored buttons). The gear indicates settings, which in this case means webcam, microphone, and speaker settings. From there you can set up your microphone better.

In my experience (though I believe other people have differing experience in this regard), once you find this button, you can get Google Hangouts to properly use any audio equipment that your computer and OS can recognize and use.

Google Hangouts refused to talk to my headset, FYI - it was the first time I'd used Hangouts and they helpfully don't have anything to do with devices or inputs anywhere I could find it on short notice.

How much notice did you have of the event?

[-][anonymous]7y 0

He was not at his best here--nothing like that Blogging Heads video where he utterly destroys Massimo Pigliucci. His hand’s were tied though, not being able to discuss non-biological methods of achieving immortality.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

In retrospect, there's many things I wish I'd done differently. Apparently it was not clear to everyone that the topic was the desirability of immortality, rather than technical feasibility. I also should have instituted time limits for everyone, and acted as more of a moderator to keep things on-topic (there were several ventures off topic). That would require me removing myself from the majority of the conversation, but that's entirely something I could and should do. I'll know better for next time I do this sort of thing. Experience - it helps. :)

[-][anonymous]7y 27

You did one thing amazingly, incredibly well: You made this thing happen. Without you there would have been no debate, nothing to criticize, nothing gained or learned. You should feel really good about that.

Yes, the discussion should have been more focused. Otherwise there is just way too much ground to cover in an hour. There was not enough back and forth over the key points. Still it was pretty interesting (given the participants, how could it not be!)

As far as the argument itself goes, I would have made the following points:

  1. If we get to the point where practical immortality is feasible, so much else will have changed about the world that it's extremely hard to predict what the impact of immortality would be. When you are predicting the future, it's very hard to get out of one's current mindset. Which is why the clothing in 1960s sci fi television looks very 60s-ish.

  2. I don't think there is a choice between immortality and unlimited reproduction. Even without immortality, unlimited reproduction is a problem. Immortality only makes it a bit worse. We don't see the reproduction problem right now because it's only in the last 50 or 100 years that it's become possible to reproduce ad libitum. Right now, less than 1% of the world's population is taking advantage of this opportunity.

  3. I agree with Yudkowsky 100% about the silver lining phenomenon. It's too much of a coincidence to think that we are pretty close to the optimal lifespan for the good of society. I would like to flat out ask Brin and PZ what the optimal lifespan is for the good of society. If they don't have a specific range which they can justify, then they are not in a position to reject immortality on that basis.

IAWYC, but I see a potential objection.

I would like to flat out ask Brin and PZ what the optimal lifespan is for the good of society. If they don't have a specific range which they can justify, then they are not in a position to reject immortality on that basis.

I am pro-immortality, but the above isn't entirely valid. It's possible not to know the optimal human lifespan, while still believing, for instance, that 500 years is too much.

[-][anonymous]7y 5

I'd settle for a 90% confidence interval. Maybe an order of magnitude?

I am pro-immortality, but the above isn't entirely valid. It's possible not to know the optimal human lifespan, while still believing, for instance, that 500 years is too much.

I think this is a good point but I think my argument still applies: Brin and PZ should provide a range, which could be rough, (perhaps an order of magnitude as jaibot suggests) and defend it. This would force them to look at the pros and cons and estimate them. Or admit that such things are extremely difficult to estimate. Arguably a serious analysis of this issue requires no less.

Honestly, I think you did great. Your remarks were on point and very down to earth. There was a lot of high-minded speculation going on, and of course these are people notoriously good at that, so it was nice to have a "random lesswronger" in the mix who could humbly point out the (to our way of thinking) obvious.

It's pretty long and slow, do you mind posting a transcript, at least the automatically generated speech-to-text one from youtube?

I thought the part right after Eliezer finds his notes was the best reply to the topic, and I particularly liked the smallpox comparison. Could have been better focused in general, as there was a lot of things that were a bit off track, but I feel it was worth watching on the whole.

Also the random flashes to Eliezer's facial expression while PZ is talking sent me into hysterics for some reason.

There was a weird ominous noise when that happened, twice!

Hangouts display the image of whoever is currently making the most noise, so the ominous noise is probably some background noise being picked up by Eliezer's mic, and is what triggered it to show his image.