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Hey, thanks for the reply. I appreciate it. I'm not upset if people want to downvote the rant -- rants by their nature are not carefully argued. The best spin might be 'brainstorming'. I'll edit it to label it up-front. But I don't see how the original post is poorly argued; that's what matters for visibility. The one thing I'll note is:

average life expectancy has been increasing for at least 50 years now, surely there's evidence showing how people have damaged the common good in the name of life extension

I agree and think that supports the point. The trend has already caused some damage, though we can handle it fairly gracefully. If it accelerates dramatically, then I fear we will be unable to handle it. Maybe I misunderstood you.

Maybe I'll get the energy to make a post on hubris, but not right now.


Thank you for clarifying. Sure, if you're enjoying life and there's no cost to going on living, we'll all choose that. The question is how much we'll pay to keep that chance of living a while longer.

In response, I'd say that somehow the focus is too narrowly on any one point in time. At any given moment, it's terrifying to think you'll die and you'll do a great deal to avoid it at that moment. But as we talk of pre-committing in game theory situations, you might want to pre-commit regarding death too. You might say you don't want extraordinary measures taken. (Analogy: I would choose to submit to torture rather than have a thousand others tortured in my place -- but don't give me a panic button to reverse the choice during my actual torture!)

I sometimes sense here people saying, "Well, I'm going to live a very long time and then get my brain uploaded" and I think it's a way of dismissing death -- waving it away to some indefinite future so you don't have to get that sick feeling contemplating it in the present. But it doesn't really help. The computer's going to crash at some point too. You'll get more comfort for no less reality believing Jesus is your savior.

My father was receiving hospice the last few weeks of his life in a nursing home. There was a no-hospitalization understanding, but during a crisis, the duty nurse called an ambulance for him. The hospice nurse said that if she'd been called in a timely fashion, he probably would have died that day. Instead, I got to visit him in the hospital the next day. It was odd thinking in that moment that he was alive right then and could answer my questions, while our agreed plan had been for him to be dead by then. Note, though, that he had not a shred of joy in living and died a few days later anyway. (Yet if given a button to kill himself I doubt he'd have pushed it). Looking back a couple years later, I remember the oddness of that moment, but those few days didn't really matter very much. They mattered less than some other four days of his life spent in a notably non-optimal fashion, and who of us doesn't have oodles of such days?

For fictional support, I'd mention two books. First, in the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, Ged's achievement is being so comfortable with the inevitability of death that he can perform a totally exhausting and painful feat of magic to seal a hole in the world that allows a corrosive form of immortality -- sealing it off for him as well as everyone else. And the world rights itself. The second is the Hyperion/Endymion series by Dan Simmons, where the right action is giving up the 'crucifixes' that bestow immortality. The brave girl enjoys her last few days of life even knowing she's going to volunteer to be roasted alive to make the galaxy a better place. The day is worth enjoying even if it is your last.

I say there's no real way of making sense of death. We're programmed by evolution to work hard to postpone it, which was adaptive in our environment of evolution. As a nasty side effect, we know we'll eventually lose no matter what we do. But few of us kill ourselves in despair at that realization, and we still will risk death saving our children -- both also adaptive.

I'm sure nothing I'm saying is original either, and others have said it better.


It's nothing I have enough detail on to support a separate post. I suspect my phrasing emphasized the wrong part of it (sorry). I have no reason to think our society is due for a catastrophic "dip" in the next few hundred years. I'd even give it a thousand. And after that we might well recover, but preservation of any individual life gets iffy through that period. So I'm giving us one in ten thousand of reversing aging or uploading brains before that collapse (100-1,000 years from now). The chances of developing it when civilizations rise and fall over what could be millions of years might be higher (one in four?) -- but that's of no use to today's frail elderly. Those periodic, "black swan" catastrophes themselves are cause for great concern of those who want to live a very long time.


Thank you very much. I apologize for not looking at the post after posting it (doh). Basic "QA". Was it worth writing this comment, or am I just contributing to data smog? Don't know. Anyway, the thanks are genuine.


Forewarning: this is something of a rant and not carefully argued... Hey, someone with (at least somewhat) similar views. Great to hear from you. I skimmed the other discussion, and regret I didn't see it earlier. I don't worry about an inability to die if you don't like life, and think the population issue isn't so bad by itself (I worry about the disproportionate number of old people (even if healthy) and the rarity of children. But "unknown consequences" weighs very heavily. The status quo bias isn't such a bad thing as a defense against hubris. And while I can't prove it, I think a society where people live to (even) 200 is extreme hubris, playing with fire. Individuals have an incredibly strong motivation to keep themselves alive. If it runs against the common good (which it could in any number of ways) it would be very hard to stop. I'm not sure how LWers got so terribly afraid of death -- usually atheists accept death. And, while I'm at it, I think The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant is one of the most maddening pieces of sophistry around. It could be a textbook case for "kill the enemy" emotional manipulation. I scratch my head at how a group that starts out in search of rationality ended up as starry-eyed transhumanists. But I tend to think that rationality wouldn't really resolve differences related to life extension. It's different probability estimates and different utility curves. So an unpopular view like this gets voted into invisibility, and the community keeps its unanimity. What to do? Probably go off to some other corner of the web of like-minded people, and stop trying to change minds... End of rant.


Yes, and I think we should stop paying for some current procedures that prolong decrepitude, as well as not funding new ones.


I'm sympathetic to the idea that basic, proven health care (80% of the benefit for 20% of the cost) should be free to all, and that more expensive, less effective health care should be available to people rich enough to buy it. But this is highly problematic politically. If your society supports "(top of the line) health care is a right, not a privilege", then standard models of resource allocation are problematic. Political leaders might give in to the demands, at the cost of health care spending rising to (say) 50% of GDP. We could lose our economic competitiveness in a catastrophic way.


This applies in some areas, but not others. It might apply in health care if your treatment gives people another 100 years of healthy life all in one fell swoop. But the actual history of medical research is that since the appetite for extra months of life and extra percentage points of cures is unlimited, we see costs rising rather than falling. The cost of a given medication should fall after it goes out of patent protection, for instance, but there is always (so far) some other medication or device that is (at least marginally and allegedly) better. This is the most fundamental problem with the US health care system: patients demand more health care regardless of the price -- a cost they want someone else to bear.


What I would do is close to what a certain fairly mainstream set of health care reformers would like to do. It would involve reducing much spending in the last three months of life when a terminal condition exists, it would involve taking age into account in allocating donated organs. It would involve drug companies showing that a proposed new drug is more effective (or otherwise significantly superior to) existing medications, not just that it is effective. Although this is not an idea I have seen elsewhere, I might also take an "end-to-end" approach to medical research, wanting to see a sort of "business plan" that shows enough benefit to enough patients to justify costs. Any life extension treatments would be considered using the same set of criteria. Giving frail, confused 85-year-olds another ten years of the same kind of life would not qualify as a positive outcome.


I estimate the chance of getting uploaded or having the effects of aging reversed before society collapses (at least to the point that such a person would die) is about, oh, one in ten thousand. Given that estimate and my sense of the cost, then that is an implication of what I am saying.

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