[ Question ]

How should one deal with life threatening infections or air planes?

by Nacruno961 min read29th Oct 202024 comments


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I really struggle with the COVID situation. I am 24 year old man with light allergic asthma. My death risk from COVID seems to be somewhat between 0,2% and 0,01%. Probably out of fear, probably also a bit because of my lack of need for socializing I ended up hiding in my room and contacting no one. I live with my parents. And contacting no one means avoiding my parents and walking in the house with an ffp3 mask. I am fully aware that my precautions are extreme. According to my estimates 2% of the population in my town will end up having Covid and in the case of one of my parents having covid there is a 70% chance he will not infect anyone. My risk now is probably close to zero because I am not having contact with any one. But would I remain in contact with my parents my death risk would be 3 out of 250 000 or 3 out of 5 million. Somewhat as likely as a plane crash. If I am trying to live until age 1 million my behavior would be definitely rational, because in that case taking every year a plane ride would kill me at age 1 million statistically once. However I would assume the likelihood of me having the chance to live up to that age as 20%. But of course it would be a great gain for my utility function to live that long. My question would be, how the rest of you are dealing with risks. Writing this post I am fully aware that the risk of dying from stroke, cancer is much higher for me now. Probably around 20 times higher than from covid. This would be the explanation for my behavior. Of course I could also just rationalize in this way my excessive fear. I am also driving a car at the same time. But I can rationalize that because I am excessively cautious while driving.


I got many interesting comments to my question. I would also like to point out that a covid infection causes a drop of 4 iq points according to a british study. But I explicitly didn’t mention long term consequences because I didn’t wanted to just focus on Covid. I wanted to leave a door open for other risky activities and the discussion of Covid unrelated risks


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I'm assuming you still exercise and go outside and so on, and maybe arrange video calls with friendly people? Because the negative physiological effects from low amounts of exercise or social interactions can easily be a lot worse than the risks from Covid.

It sounds like you've built up a habit of mentally punishing yourself for taking "irrational" risks, and as a result, spend a lot of time worrying over risks in general, including very small but salient ones. I did the same thing when I learned about EA (I don't want to live forever, but I suddenly started to care a lot more about not dying because I do want to accomplish things in life and be rational in the pursuit of that).

I don't have great advice for how to deal with it; I just try to keep an eye on my habits and consciously get myself to change them if it ever feels like it's wandering too far into OCD territory. If you suspect that some of the motivation is also fear instead of just "rational" arguments, you can prepare for the eventuality of getting the virus to make that more palatable. (E.g., prepare food to eat while sick; check-list for what to do, when to call the doctor, etc.)

If you do end up dying, that doesn't mean you played the game poorly. Even death is an acceptable outcome as long as you did your best to reach your goals.

I'd try to "avoid daily dilemmas" by thinking once about the precautions you want to take, and then adhere to them without constantly wondering if you can do even more. And you can reassess the situation at regular intervals.

Regarding the general rationality of this sort of thing: If slightly increasing the chance of living a million years is indeed super important to you, it can make sense to take more precautions than the typical person. (Of course, maybe the mental energy would be better spent on other ways to avoid risks or get benefits.) However, I would make sure that you're doing this because it is truly what you want, not something you think is implied by rational arguments. There are many options to choose from when it comes to purposeful life goals.

I started to do sports in my room. And concerning social interaction I talk to people on dating apps and relatives on the phone. However I probably talk less than 15 minutes to someone per day. Also probably I should have mentioned before a big motivation in life for me is to live excessively long. I am new to this community what is EA standing for?

3Teerth Aloke3moEffective Altruism.
2Lukas_Gloor3moEffective altruism.
1Nacruno963moOkay at least I know what it is referring to so I don’t feel like a retard for not knowing the short form

I’m really sorry you’re living like this. You’re not the only one, and I think Covid will do long-term harm to people’s mental health and physical fitness for the few people who take extreme precautions.

I second the point that you need to consider the costs of your extreme behavior. Including the costs to your parents and to your long-term relationships with them and other family. “It’s risky” is not a reason not to do something. “The costs exceed the benefits” is a reason not to do something.

i agree, but how would you calculate tolerable death risks? Where would you draw the line? 

Of course everyone thinks they are excessively cautious drivers : https://www.smithlawco.com/blog/2017/december/do-most-drivers-really-think-they-are-above-aver/

As to how I am dealing with risks - by making decisions based on the best available information. The risk of getting covid isn’t the same for all the population. Super spreader events are responsible for a large proportion of cases, and I am avoiding any possible super-spreader scenario. I don’t know anyone who has had covid in the past 5 months, so the risk of anyone I know having covid at the time I interact with them is extremely low. Add to that the interactions I have are few and far between, outside and respecting social distancing, and the personal risk of me contracting covid is vanishingly small. I personally would rather continue to take that small risk as the benefits of social interaction overweigh the costs.

I knew this study of people thinking they are good drivers, which could mean everything, but not that they view themselves as cautious drivers. But I red your comment anyways 

If providers ask for masks or other measures then I respect that. Most of the medical services I deal with either aren't doing face to face or they are requiring additional precautions. Otherwise basically nothing. Maybe washing my hands a bit more.

I have done palliative care many times, and I have been close to death myself. I also have a long history of mental illness and not wanting to live because of that. I can say that quality of life and quantity of life aren't even remotely comparable.

I am in my mid forties and I have a bunch of comorbid conditions that would place my risk far above yours. I'm not going to shut myself away over this non-event. I'm not going to take stupid risks, and I'm not going to endanger anyone else by choice, but life must go on. 

Death is a part of life. People don't seem to understand that anymore. We haven't even had a hundred years of antibiotics and vaccination, death from infection is within living memory, and the majority of people have already forgotten how to accept mortality. Everyone needs a reality check here.

The death is part of life thing seems to me to be a wise thing to say. But I don’t agree. Death is the ultimate enemy. I would rather lose my sight permanently and for eternity than to die. But that is me. Concerning the quality over quantity thing I would say that it’s a question of circumstance. If you have a happy life. You want to increase the quantity if you have a mixed life probably you would want to increase the quality. I myself think I might be an exception in the sense that I am not being affected hugely by the decrease of socializing. I didn’t socialize much before the covid situation. 

3Stuart Anderson3moI would argue the enemy is suffering. If life can end then so can suffering. As you say, circumstances make a difference. I have mental illness. Many who cleave to life have never had the experience of life as a torture. We have a word for the idea of everlasting torture: Hell.
1Nacruno963moYou are right death is only the enemy if your life has minimal suffering and somewhat enough pleasure.
2Dagon3moAnd that insight means the Repugnant Conclusion [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mere_addition_paradox] applies to safety measures and life extension. If interventions that reduce risk ALSO reduce value, the clear desirable end-state is maximum duration of minimum worth.

Do you wear a helmet when in a car?  I do.

I will probably if you convince me

2James_Miller3moThe helmet I linked to is light and doesn't block your vision so I don't see how it could do any harm. It would do a lot of good if you were wearing it when your head collided with something.
1Nacruno963moWait what the hell are we talking about. For what do we have airbags in cars? Or is there another reason For a helmet?
2James_Miller3moIn an accident something from your car could hit you in the head even if you have an airbag. For example, the collusion could cause your head to hit a side window
3Nacruno963moOn the side window there is an airbag too in my car but you are right
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You are massively overestimating your risk.  New York illustrates a near worst case scenario where about 0.16% of population, mostly very old people died through woeful management in a dense urban environment.  That is a realistic upper bound to average risk.  But you are 24, and IFR is exponential with age - about 3-4x increase per decade so IFR at your age is closer to 0.005%, and that should be multiplied by the perhaps 10-20% change of infection in a bad outbreak.  It amounts to (at worst) a few weeks worth of your normal risk of death from all other causes.  Once you add in likely beneficial mitigation measures like keeping high Vitamin D levels (flagged as beneficial in many many studies) and potentially prophylactics like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine (nullius in verba, many studies of prophylactic or early stage use are showing around 30% reduction in CFR).  There is a reasonable case for almost everyone just ignoring the disease and getting on with their lives - the risk to all age groups is only about the same as a few months of normal risk of death (look at IFR vs actuarial risk tables) and many once clear on that will judge the utility of the freedom as higher than the minor increment in mortality.  Your life is finite, most likely to be measured in decades rather than centuries given all the existential risks humans face.  Don't waste it hiding from things that don't substantively threaten your life.

Where do you have the number 0,005 % from ?

Whatever your risk mitigation strategies may be, to me the goal of living 1000, 10,000 or 1,000,000 years is only worth it if they are fulfilling. I would rather live another 10 fulfilling years than another 100 disatisfying ones. The same may not be true for you. 

As another comment said, the effects of low exercise and social interaction may be worse than the benefit of 0% COVID risk. Expanding on that, physiological risks aside, getting consumed by your own fear and avoidance is another way of not fully living your life while you have it, and as a 24 year old, you have statistically so much left. (This table says a 24 year old male has an expected 53 years of life remaining. That is more than 2x the amount of life you've lived so far, even if it pales compared to 1,000,000).

Nonetheless, as someone with OCD, anxiety, and an omnipresent fear of death (my own and that of loved ones), I would suggest counterbalancing your safety measures with the fulfillment rule of thumb. I evaluate my own safety rituals by asking myself "is this increasing my enjoyment of life, or only lowering my fear?" The answer won't be the same every time, and might not be the same for the same activity twice. Levels of fear and paranoia vary day-to-day. But this is how I take care of my brain while also trying to squeeze as much as I can out of the 100+ years I will consider myself very lucky to have.

i don’t know if you have that much choice over living satisfied or unsatisfied. I think my life satisfaction might probably increase without my covid fear. But everyone is different.