Neil Armstrong died before we could defeat death

post by kilobug · 2012-08-25T19:49:02.906Z · score: -1 (62 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 34 comments

The sad news broke tonight : Neil Armstrong, the first human to ever walk another world, died today. We lost him forever. He died before we could defeat death.

Once again the horror of death strikes. This time, in addition from wiping from us forever a hero of humanity, he wiped from us forever a memory that will never exist again. Never again will a human being be able to experience being the first to walk another world. That beautiful experience is lost forever too, along with all the memories, dreams, desires and wishes that made Neil Armstrong.

But thanks to him, humanity made a giant leap. We'll fill the stars and conquer death. The spark of intelligence and sentience will not extinguish. That's the best we can do to honour him.

Source : http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/25/us-usa-neilarmstrong-idUSBRE87O0B020120825

34 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-25T22:30:29.999Z · score: 10 (28 votes) · LW · GW

But thanks to him, humanity made a giant leap.

He was not responsible. He participated.

We'll fill the stars and conquer death. The spark of intelligence and sentience will not extinguish.

Doesn't follow, existential disaster seems likely.

That's the best we can do to honour him.

Honoring Neil Armstrong isn't anywhere near the top of the list of reasons to avoid an existential disaster. Hence it's incorrect to say that we would be doing that to honor him.

Never again will a human being be able to experience being the first to walk another world.

(Experience is a physical phenomenon that can be (re)created, although in this case it would have to involve false beliefs. That would still hold even if Armstrong never died.)

comment by gwern · 2012-08-25T23:11:39.558Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

He was not responsible. He participated.

You may give him too little credit; he seems to have been key to the successful landing:

When Armstrong noticed they were heading towards a landing area which he believed was unsafe, he took over manual control of the LM, and attempted to find an area which seemed safer, taking longer than expected, and longer than most simulations had taken.[67] For this reason, there was concern from mission control that the LM was running low on fuel.[68] Upon landing, Aldrin and Armstrong believed they had about 40 seconds worth of fuel left, including the 20 seconds worth of fuel which had to be saved in the event of an abort.[69]

Wikipedia Such unexpected last-minute split-second decision-making is precisely the contribution a pilot could make.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-25T23:36:07.441Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't know that. Still, this doesn't get us anywhere close to justifying the typical extreme focus on a single person in thinking about this huge endeavor. Even saying that he was just a bystander, something that is false and so shouldn't be claimed, seems much closer to the truth than saying that he was responsible for the event.

comment by evand · 2012-08-26T16:34:56.330Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Both were instrumental to a successful landing. Aldrin was busy dealing with things like cockpit alarms and repeated reboots of the main navigation and control computer. (Said computer was busy doing things like keeping the LM upright and not spinning.) The landing would not have been successful without last minute decision making by both crew members.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2012-08-25T23:11:56.589Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Honoring Neil Armstrong isn't anywhere near the top of the list of reasons to avoid an existential disaster. Hence it's incorrect to say that we would be doing that to honor him.

One of my strongest motivations is a feeling of personal loyalty to my heroes, though I probably wouldn't count Armstrong among them ( but I think he's a cool guy ). Surely I can at least try to live up to the example set by men like Turing, Tesla, and Boltzmann, who sacrificed so much to advance human understanding so far.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-25T23:13:31.484Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Surely I can at least try to live up to the example set by men like Turing, Tesla, and Boltzmann, who sacrificed so much to advance human understanding so far.

I expect most of them enjoyed the ride, so describing the process in terms of instrumentally justified personal sacrifice seems inaccurate.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-26T07:45:16.864Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

He was not responsible. He participated.

One person that may have actually played a non-replaceable role was Hal Laning; according to that article he wrote some particularly tricky code that turned out to be critical for the mission.

comment by timtyler · 2012-08-26T00:35:34.208Z · score: -5 (13 votes) · LW · GW

We'll fill the stars and conquer death. The spark of intelligence and sentience will not extinguish.

Doesn't follow, existential disaster seems likely.

I don't think that's a prediction of any sensible theory of evolution. It seems more like existential paranoia.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-26T07:38:31.255Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

IMO, existential paranoia makes sense in the same way it makes sense for an engineer to be paranoid about a bridge, plane, or nuclear power plant they are building: Lives are at stake and there's no "redo" button if you don't get it right the first time.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-08-26T10:54:15.043Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Wait a minute, that is a non-epistemic justification for a propositional claim. You normatively should build huge safety margins into your bridges, but it's still erroneous to falsely overestimate the risk of a bridge collapse, even if that belief motivates the engineer to work harder.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-26T21:03:19.028Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. If I had paid more attention to the discussion, I might have realized that in this case "paranoia" was strictly in reference to probability estimates and not in reference to emotions or resource allocation. Sorry everybody.

comment by timtyler · 2012-08-26T11:31:09.459Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that makes it OK to systematically paint an inaccurate picture of the risk to help drum up support for your cause.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-26T21:01:37.136Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I agree.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-08-26T01:53:42.532Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's not the prediction of a sensible theory of evolution. It has nothing whatsoever to do with evolution, and I struggle to figure out where the idea that it does comes from. The idea, correct or incorrect, is the result of the extrapolation of several, independent trends (in particular, nanotech and AI). We've managed not to kill ourselves so far, but that's partly a matter of luck. Even if the only way we could kill ourselves was with nuclear weapons, there's still a nontrivial chance that we would. Especially with India and Pakistan in on the game now. And there are new threats as well.

Edit: I don't necessarily think that existential disaster is more probable than not, but I definitely think it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. And since people are downvoting this, I'm wondering where they disagree with that.

comment by timtyler · 2012-08-26T11:38:46.244Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Evolutionary progress has an element of luck (sure we could be wiped out by a meteorite tomorrow) but negative events so far have been relatively rare.

IMO, you're reading your trend lines wrong - failing to properly account for the decrease in warfare and the rise of surveillance technology.

We are not talking about a "nontrivial chance" here. We are talking about "existential disaster seems likely". I read that as meaning the chances seem greater than 50%.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-08-26T18:28:56.226Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find it very, very hard to estimate the actual chances of any particular existential disaster. I would not put that chance below 20% this century.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-25T22:34:24.698Z · score: 9 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I don't usually ask this, but would at least one downvoter please explain the downvotes for this?

comment by iDante · 2012-08-25T22:59:24.282Z · score: 21 (29 votes) · LW · GW

It's melodramatic and vapid.

I feel like I just read a propaganda pamphlet, or maybe a transhumanist soap opera exerpt.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-08-25T23:10:03.537Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't have any content. It's just a news bulletin (which we would have all seen on TV anyway) with some emotions pinned on.

EDIT: Things rarely stay downvoted for long though. They tend to reach a minimum pretty quickly and then climb back up into the positive.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-25T23:38:11.471Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Things rarely stay downvoted for long though. They tend to reach a minimum pretty quickly and then climb back up into the positive.

Unfortunately, due to insufficient vigilance.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-25T22:48:29.051Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I strongly dislike this kind of distortion of facts when used for emphasis, even unrelated distant facts. In the context of this community, approving of such behavior seems disrespectful to Armstrong's memory. (See also this post on Overcoming Bias.)

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-08-26T10:58:06.485Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Denotationally crazy political (namely, transhumanist) rhetoric in the title and body. No substantive on-topic content.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2012-08-25T23:57:32.397Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

~150,000 other people died today, too. Okay, Armstrong was hugely more famous than any of them, probably the most famous person to die this year, but what did he do for rationality, or AI, or other LessWrong interests?(which I figure do include space travel, admittedly. Presumably he wasn't signed up for cryogenic preservation) the post doesn't say.

Yes, death is bad, and Armstrong is/was famous, possibly uniquely famous, but I don't think eulogies of famous people are on-topic.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2012-08-26T17:14:30.326Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eulogies on arbitrary people might help with motivation, and if you're doing that you might as well chose one with a minor advantage like not needing a long introduction to make the reader empathize, rather than choosing purely at random.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2012-08-26T17:35:16.707Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Eulogies on arbitrary people might help with motivation, and if you're doing that you might as well chose one with a minor advantage like not needing a long introduction to make the reader empathize, rather than choosing purely at random.

Are you suggesting that putting eulogies of famous people on LessWrong is a good idea? That sort of sounds like justifying something you've already decided.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2012-08-26T19:32:05.054Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite. I'm saying that GIVEN you want to spend a post reminding people that death is bad, talking about a single death might be more motivating then many. And that GIVEN you want to talk about the death of an arbitrary individual, you might as well chose one likely know to the reader than one that is not.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2012-08-26T20:36:28.570Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic."

If you want to remind people that death is bad, agreed, the death of individuals you know or feel like you know is worse than lots of people you never met or even saw.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-26T22:43:25.074Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have mixed feelings about this post. I upvoted it because I don't think it deserves to be that low, but will retract the upvote should it get positive.

Fact is, its point seems to be more about evoking emotions than about communicating information/insights somehow related to rationality that the intended audience might not already know, so I'm not sure it belongs on Less Wrong.

OTOH, he was the person whose death saddened me most since after the time Dennis Ritchie died, so... (OK, this also doesn't belong here.)

comment by shminux · 2012-08-26T18:19:14.225Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Why do people here find it more motivating when a famous person dies? If anything, he lived a life that mattered, it's the lives wasted or spent in anonymous suffering that should motivate a transhumanist to do something about.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-08-26T10:50:21.095Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

We'll fill the stars and conquer death. The spark of intelligence and sentience will not extinguish.

No we won't, barring new physics. Even if our civilization avoids catastrophe and invents great improvements in therapies for aging, or brain emulation, that won't let us change the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or prevent the distant galaxies from accelerating out of our reach.

There is some possibility that physics turns out to allow indefinitely long lifespans (and large populations), and that may be important in terms of expected value, but it's rather unlikely. The term life extension better reflects this than talk about the conquest of death.

comment by betterthanwell · 2012-08-26T12:37:39.300Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We'll fill the stars and conquer death. The spark of intelligence and sentience will not extinguish.

No we won't, barring new physics. Even if our civilization avoids catastrophe and invents great improvements in therapies for aging, or brain emulation, that won't let us change the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or prevent the distant galaxies from accelerating out of our reach.

But we can claim every star that now burns. Even if in the vast, long, unimaginably long future of this universe, complexity itself must someday die, we should at least do what we can in the meantime. Perhaps we can't beat physics, but we do have some headroom still!

I found this thread to be "vapid and melodramatic" at first, but I now recognize that humanity did indeed lose something highly valuable with the death of Neil Armstrong, outside and beyond the tragedy that is inherent to the death of any mind.

A spark of intelligence and sentience, a very keen observer, but also, literally the first member of our species to transcend to another world, even if it were for a very brief time. Within a decade or two, human kind will likely no longer have visitors to other worlds among us. Were I a journalist, I would write: "A small death for a man, a giant leap backwards for mankind."

Armstrong, and his fellow Apollo astronauts are to us like the astronauts in Carl Sagan's novel Contact. Ambassadors from the Blue Dot to the vast dead Cosmos. Humanity no longer has it's eyes facing outwards to the other pebbles, to the other stars that burn with unspent opportunity. With their deaths we lose the steady gaze of those who look up, since they have been there, whereas we have not. We lose their voices, and their dreams of someday returning, of someday going beyond 1969.

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

May his footprints someday be lost to the footprints of many.

Someday going beyond 1969 is a crazy ambitious idea today, but seemingly wasn't so crazy before the late seventies/mid-eighties. I'm too young to tell, but it seems this ambition went from bold to crazy somethime around end of the cold war, perhaps as the salient threat of thermonuclear doom faded.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-08-26T13:23:29.612Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But we can claim every star that now burns.

No, we can't. As I said, distant galaxies that we can see today are receding, such that no probe we send can ever reach them. Barring aliens already nearby, they will burn unclaimed.

comment by betterthanwell · 2012-08-26T16:30:44.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But we can claim every star that now burns.

No, we can't. As I said, distant galaxies that we can see today are receding, such that no probe we send can ever reach them. Barring aliens already nearby, they will burn unclaimed.

Ouch! I had originally written "every star that burns in the night sky". But that sounded cheesy and pompous even in the context of the comment above. Apparently I failed to replace it with something reasonable before hitting the button.

Perhaps only every star and planet in every galaxy within a sphere centered at earth with a radius of at least a couple of billion light years will be in reach of our technologically mature descendants.

Even as distant civilizations trillions of years hence are lost to each other, forever separated by the expansion of space, their neighbors receding over the cosmological horizon, there can still be rich life in those bubbles. If we survive this eon, life can flourish for the next hundred trillion years.

After that we may be in trouble. After that the cynics may win.

comment by bogdanb · 2012-08-26T21:05:08.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps only every star and planet in every galaxy within a sphere centered at earth with a radius of at least a couple of billion light years will be in reach of our technologically mature descendants.

That’s assuming nobody else will have a problem with us reaching them...