Why people want to die

post by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-24T20:13:37.830Z · score: 50 (61 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 175 comments

Over and over again, someones says that living for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some futurist tries to persuade them that their reasoning is faulty.  They tell them that they think that way now, but they'll change their minds when they're older.

The thing is, I don't see that happening.  I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully.  When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

Suppose that people mean what they say.  Why do they want to die?

The reason is obvious if you just watch them for a few years.  They have nothing to live for.  They have a great deal of free time, but nothing they really want to do with it.  They like visiting friends and relatives, but only so often.  The women knit.  The men do yardwork.  They both work in their gardens and watch a lot of TV.  This observational sample is much larger than the few people I've asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of interests.  You want to understand math, write stories, create start-ups, optimize your lives.

But face it.  You're weird.  And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking.  How many of you have kids?

Damn few.  The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive.  It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.  A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory.  That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.  If they have a hobby, it's something repetitive like fly-fishing or needlepoint that doesn't provide an endless frontier for discovery.  They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grandkids, and they're done.  If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they'll say it was having kids.  If you ask if they'd do it again, they'll laugh and say absolutely not.

We could get into a long argument over the evolution of aging, and whether people would remain eager to have kids if they remained physically young.  Maybe some would.  Some would not, though.  Many young parents are looking forward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of interests in life are passing.  You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it.  The things that were fascinating when you were six hold no magic for you now.  Pick up a toy soldier and try to play with it.  You can't.  Skateboarding seems awesome for about five years, and then everyone except Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Having kids might be like that for some people.  Thing is, it's literally the only thing humans have evolved to be interested in.  Once you're tired of that, you're done.  If some of you want to keep going, that's an accidental by-product of evolution.  And there was no evolutionary pressure to exempt it from the common waning of interest with long exposure.

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something.  Twist them the way you're twisted.

175 comments

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comment by shminux · 2015-08-24T20:26:51.611Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

As usual, it's mostly about framing the question. "Would you like to stay young, healthy and vigorous and live as long as you like?" is very different from "Would you like to live forever?"

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-24T20:45:22.218Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that a lot people really, genuinely don't want to live more than 80 years. Even ones who are already in their 70s. So asking "Would you like to stay young, healthy and vigorous and live as long as you like?" just gets the sincere, possibly correct answer that they'd like to live about 80 years. That may be what they really want.

comment by shminux · 2015-08-24T22:06:08.841Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Even ones who are already in their 70s

That's the wrong crowd, many of them are no longer young and vigorous, but full of stereotypes. You know, old dog, new tricks. Here is a better question to someone in their 20s or 30s:

  • Let's imagine that everyone, including your friends and family, can stay young, healthy and energetic for centuries or millennia, as long as they want.
  • Further assume that the living conditions have not measurably deteriorated compared to what they are now, due to say, global climate change, overpopulation or other environmental and political issues.
  • Do you expect to decide to die by the time you are in your 80s?
comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-25T12:42:36.806Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

People have already done this, and the answer people give is very often that, yes, they still don't want live past 80, and you've almost certainly heard people say this many times.

It's time to start entertaining the hypothesis that they're expressing their true preferences.

comment by shminux · 2015-08-25T14:38:27.253Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Link?

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-08-26T21:58:36.676Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've asked quite a few people this question, even older people. I don't have wider statistics on it (maybe you do and if so I'd be interested in seeing them) but the people I ask very rarely say they would not like to live longer if they could stay young and be with their friends and families. I have even been told yes by some very religious people in their seventies.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-08-25T07:43:16.905Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that a lot people really, genuinely don't want to live more than 80 years.

Maybe.

Hypothetical choices and actual choices don't elicit identical responses, as the responses have very different payouts.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-24T20:53:35.995Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So asking "Would you like to stay young, healthy and vigorous and live as long as you like?" just gets the sincere, correct answer that they'd like to live about 80 years.

Did you ask a representative sample? It seems you are talking about what you expect to happen.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-24T21:58:19.363Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Representative, probably. Large, no. But I have a large observational sample of old people in their 60s and 70s , and unemployed people younger than that, who just don't know what to do with all their spare time.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-08-25T00:14:02.692Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt they take the question seriously due to considering the notion so unlikely to be pointless to consider.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-25T01:54:09.648Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

unemployed people younger than that, who just don't know what to do with all their spare time

Sure, I know the type. But these "younger" people, do they express a desire to die in the near future or they still want to wait for the magic number 80?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T17:43:27.960Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could potentially be a group thing. Ask them: Would you like to stay young, healthy, vigorous and together with your loved ones?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-25T06:19:30.521Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But, it is quite likely that older people as humans in general tend to adapt to circumstances - in this case the effects of age and the social demography in implies. All factors that inhibit doing new stuff.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-25T13:11:24.739Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I think a few concepts get mixed together.

I don't want to die now. I'd quite like to live a lot longer than 70-100 years.

But I also don't want immortality, or to be more exact, enforced immortality.

Show me a fictional universe, no matter how Utopian otherwise where people are not allowed to die even if they want to and I immediately see it as a dystopia.

I don't want to live forever but the choice of death, the possibility of choosing to die, the possibility of choosing to stop being has immense value to me.

If you ask people "would you like to live forever" I think many would quite rationally say "no" since without qualifiers it's a pretty horrific concept.

If you ask people "would you like to live for 200 years", again, without qualifiers many might imagine another hundred years of growing even more frail but being kept alive by more and more tubes.

If you ask people "would you like the choice of remaining fit, youthful and healthy for a few hundred extra years with the choice of extending that later if you want to with your loved ones being offered the same option" I believe you'd get far far more people saying "hell yes".

Offer most people in a nursing home a pill that will fix their heart, make the pain in their back go away, sharpen their minds, strengthen their bones and give them another few decades of being able to lift their grandkids for a hug and I think a lot would say "hell yes". Offer them another set of tubes they could plumb into themselves to get another few years of further degraded subjective experience on the other hand and many would quite rationally tell you to shove it.

I'm young, many people on this site are young and we've not experienced the slow degradation so we implicitly fail to frame questions taking into account that others will often view life as a slow degradation with death as a release when the degradation gets too bad, not as an enemy to be defeated.

Young people fear death, many old people are far more inclined to fear degradation, pain, suffering, loneliness. The things that death can end.

My grandmother is 90 and I don't believe she's terribly keen on living a lot longer but keep in mind the context: she's spent the last 30 years watching all her friends and all her family excepting her children die. Her children are grandparents themselves and I doubt she wants to see any of them die before her.

She's already lost her husband, her brothers and sisters and almost every friend she ever knew and has a religious belief that she'll get to see them again after death. Now is not the time to offer her immortality. If all her friends and her husband were still alive with the same options then she might view things differently.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-08-25T22:50:50.195Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

many people on this site are young and we've not experienced the slow degradation so we implicitly fail to frame questions taking into account that others will often view life as a slow degradation with death as a release when the degradation gets too bad, not as an enemy to be defeated.

I've seen the phrase 'ripening' used, supporting this hypotheses.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-08-25T01:52:45.742Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.

Marvin Minsky said something similar a few years ago, to the effect that most people don't have "real goals," unlike the scientists Minsky knows who tell him that they have personal lists of problems that they would like to solve, but the problems will take longer than their current life expectancies.

Mike Darwin also mentioned this as a problem in an essay he published in Cryonics magazine back in 1984:

http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8402.txt

Darwin thinks that the arrival of practical superlongevity will shake out a whole lot of people who can't use it constructively - they'll die any way, in other words - based on an analogy to how we still haven't adapted fully to the recent wealth revolution. He references Elvis Presley as an example of maladaptation to great wealth; but since Presley died in 1977 and most of you don't remember him, you might think of, say, Michael Jackson or those buffoonish Kardashians as more recent examples of people who have wealth that they don't know how to use well.

comment by tim · 2015-08-25T04:49:54.289Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not really buying the analogy between massive wealth and superlongevity. Virtually unlimited access to super-stimulation such as fame, drugs and any other rush you could want to get your hands on doesn't seem all that comparable to an unlimited supply of everyday normal life.

The everyday reality of living forever isn't going to be shockingly more exciting than regular ol' not living forever. There will be new awesome and crazy stuff, but you'll have had lifetimes to grow used to them. People born into them will think of them like how we currently think of small handheld computers that can connect us to almost everyone we've ever known and effortlessly tap into a huge reservoir of collected human knowledge.

Seems more analogous to looking at the average level of wealth/lifespan in 1700 and wondering how our brains could ever handle the lavish living conditions and doubled life expectancy of 2015.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T10:29:03.681Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

doubled life expectancy of 2015.

Life expectancy (at age 0) has increased mainly because infant mortality and child mortality has decreased dramatically, not because people used to collectively live to 30's and now live to 70's. Most adults in our ancestral past lived to be about as old as people do in western industrialized nations today.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-25T10:59:17.737Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is true, but there was also a significantly increased risk of death in young adults from accidents and in women during childbirth; also, "nearly as old as we do now" still means a decade or so off the end.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T11:04:52.191Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, I checked from here and there's still 17 extra years for males and 21 extra years for females in 2011 compared to 1850 in "life expectancy at age 20".

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-08-26T09:06:34.754Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More specifically, all the cells in the "2011" row of the "White males" table are around 40% larger than the corresponding cells in the "1890" row.

comment by tim · 2015-08-26T03:28:58.356Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, I have harbored that misconception for a really long time. Pretty annoyed that I never thought to examine that statistic further (it just sounds so right!). Thank you.

e: regardless of the fact that there is a decade or so of actual increased lifespan between the two periods, this still solidly harpoons my analogy.

comment by Desrtopa · 2015-08-27T13:59:25.754Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, our expected healthspan (the amount of time for which a person is capable of substantial physical activity and not beset by ailments) has gone up considerably in the last few centuries. Perhaps the relatively few people who made it to old age in hunter-gatherer societies might have had similar healthspans, but they constituted a dramatically smaller fraction of the total populace. The average 35 year old today has decades longer of healthy, productive living to look forward to than the average 35 year old 300 years ago (sources available in this book) and while people occasionally remark on, say, 50 being the new 30, it doesn't seem to leave most people dazzled or mentally unequipped for their new environment.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-25T15:21:45.830Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most adults in our ancestral past lived to be about as old as people do in western industrialized nations today.

That sounds iffy to me. Sure, straight comparison of life expectancy at birth is heavily biased by child mortality. So let's take life expectancy at, say, 25. Are you saying that in "ancestral past" if you made it to 25 you were likely to make it to 70-80? I strongly doubt that, if only for medical reasons. Lack of effective medicine including antibiotics, lack of understanding of public health issues leading to epidemics, parasite load, etc. Plus violence for men and childbirth for women were major risk factors.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-25T15:33:00.748Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

According to this if you made it to 15 your average life expectancy was around 54.

http://www.unm.edu/~hkaplan/KaplanHillLancasterHurtado_2000_LHEvolution.pdf

Epidemics and parasite load may have been lower than you might think if the populations were more diffuse. Things spread better through a dense population jammed into a refugee camp than through a sparse population.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-25T15:56:19.683Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

According to this if you made it to 15 your average life expectancy was around 54.

OK, let's accept that 54 years number. A US 15-year-old male has the life expectancy of 15+62=77 years and a 15-year-old female -- 15+67=82 years (source). Take the average of 80, more or less.

So basically the life expectancy of a contemporary American 15-year-old is one and a half times larger than the life expectancy of a 15-year-old from a forager tribe. That's not "about as old". Besides, hunter-gatherers are known to be healthier than farmers.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-25T05:26:30.664Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Contrast the Kardashians with Elon Musk or Peter Thiel.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-08-26T13:30:34.474Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I don't buy any of the LessWrong-Personality-Theory stuff. People who are old and retired have accepted the inevitability of their death because doing otherwise would be very difficult emotionally. They are following ancient wisdom embodied in writings like the Serenity Prayer or the Enchiridion.

comment by zslastman · 2015-08-31T11:01:06.685Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm always puzzled by how many how many LWers seem to casually dismiss the reality of mortality with appeals to singularities, cryonics etc. I'm sure immortality is coming, but I don't see much chance of me living to see it. Seems prudent to come to terms with that.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-08-26T10:37:24.984Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something. Twist them the way you're twisted.

Any suggestions on how to do this? Any examples of succeeding at it?

comment by tanagrabeast · 2015-08-24T23:20:12.837Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

How many of these people want to die today?

Precious few I expect. Their daily rituals must still carry some intrinsic satisfaction. Perhaps they no longer hold long-term goals because they don't feel like they have enough time left to achieve them and enjoy their fruits. This does not seem unreasonable, though it may seem self-defeating from the outside.

As I've recently commented, I don't like the idea of living each day as though it might be your last, but if I were 80 years old it might make a certain kind of sense. At the very least, this late-game logic creates a sizable hurdle to getting an elderly person interested in something to the point where they become less apathetic about eventually kicking the bucket -- which is all we're really talking about here.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-27T10:25:40.500Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How many of these people want to die today?

I really hate this form of argument but it seems common on less-wrong.

"If you don't want to do something right now you obviously don't want it ever or for it to ever be an option. "

If you apply the same form to anything else it becomes more obvious that it's not logical. Don't want to move away from your parents today? well then you must never want to. Don't want to eat that cake today? well then you must never want to.

Ditto for the fake "proof by induction" I once saw posted in one of these topics where someone claimed that if you want to live today and also will want to live tomorrow and the next etc then you must want to live forever.

It also implicitly assumes that everyone shares the same ethical system. Someone might be utterly against murder but would be quite happy if someone they really really hate gets hit by a train. That doesn't mean they want to kill that person today. Many people view suicide as wrong in it's own right, something to be avoided for the simple reason that they believe taking their own life to have some form of ethical injunction against it.

comment by tanagrabeast · 2015-08-27T14:23:07.883Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My assertion is that there's a difference between wanting to die and being apathetic about having death sneak up on you, and that most old people are actually in the latter category. I'm not comfortable calling these people "deathist", preferring instead to reserve the term for those who would oppose the idea that death should be optional.

I hold that the person who merely wouldn't mind not waking up tomorrow is usually just as content to keep living for one more day, and would likely be at least as content to wake up in a younger body.

The guy living in his mom's basement who says he would like to leave is less ambivalent. He would much rather wake up in a place of his own, provided he didn't have to make the continuous effort normally needed to enable this.

If dying took as much effort as getting and holding a job, I doubt it would be so popular.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-27T15:26:51.665Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would probably say that some very old people are ready to die. I wouldn't call it "wanting to die", it's not an active desire, but I also wouldn't call it "apathetic" because it's more than just not caring.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-28T01:20:41.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The question is, how much of this sentiment among the elderly is based on it being improbable that there will be affordable replacement organs or other "anti-aging" technologies in their lifetimes?

Some of us 20-somethings are trying to decide whether to (A) go into YOLO mode or (B) sacrifice utility for the next 60 years in order to maximize expected utility for the next 1,000.

comment by dxu · 2015-08-28T00:27:33.941Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Alas, but no. The reason I don't expect my current decisions to be preserved into, say, the next year, is because I expect something crucial about my situation to change during the intervening period. For instance, take this example:

Don't want to move away from your parents today? well then you must never want to.

Sorry; that's just plain wrong. If I don't want to move away from my parents today, that's due to a number of reasons: I might be underage, still economically reliant upon them, still need to attend school, etc. On the other hand, I anticipate with high probability that at some point the above statements will no longer be true; there will come a point when I am no longer underage, no longer dependent, and ready to go to a fancy out-of-state college, say. The point is, I expect my decision to change because I expect the surrounding circumstances to change. If for some reason I was persuaded that I would forever remain an economically dependent minor, then perhaps I would want to stay with my parents forever.

Note that this is not the situation our supposed deathists find themselves in. They are not expecting some future change in their circumstances that would render death suddenly a thing that they want. They don't want to die today because they are (for example) living comfortably in a retirement home, interacting with their children and grandchildren. There is no reason to expect those conditions to change anytime soon barring death, and in particular, there is no reason to expect those conditions to change in such a manner as to make death preferable to life.

And for good reason: try to imagine a situation in which you are happily living your life one day, and suddenly want to die the next. All right, I bet that was pretty easy. Maybe you were kidnapped during the night and subjected to extremely painful torture that you were told would last for 50 years. Maybe you developed some mental disorder causing you to become rampantly suicidal. Or maybe it's just that you received a notice of foreclosure; that's been known to drive people to suicide, after all. Now let me add one more caveat. It has to be something you were expecting in advance--not necessarily that you knew it was going to happen on that day, but you knew it was going to happen someday.

Suddenly not so easy, is it? Death is one of those things for which your preferences should never change outside of some extreme circumstances that are minimally probable at best. If you don't want to die today, there will never come a day when you do want to die ("Oh, man, it's Tuesday! Wouldn't this be just a fantastic day to commit suicide!") barring the possibility of black swans. And that makes "wanting to die" a very different beast than "wanting to move out from my parents' house" indeed.

comment by Jiro · 2015-08-28T15:07:19.151Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Note that this is not the situation our supposed deathists find themselves in. They are not expecting some future change in their circumstances that would render death suddenly a thing that they want.

Yes, they are. They are expecting their health to keep deteriorating.

comment by dxu · 2015-08-31T00:48:08.041Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

At what point does deteriorating health change your answer to the question of whether you want to die today from "no" to "yes"? This isn't a continuum here; you either want to die or you don't. Do you expect a particular day on which you will wake up and suddenly decide it would preferable to die, having held the opposite preference on the previous day?

comment by Jiro · 2015-08-31T09:55:56.602Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I expect that. If that was not so, it would never be possible to have different yes/no answers to any continuous thing. You can walk X distance, you can walk an inch more, when is it too far to walk?

See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sorites-paradox/

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-08-31T12:06:27.240Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This happens the same way you change any other preference or opinion. The reasons for your preference or opinion change on a roughly continuous basis, but in the end you do change the preference or opinion on a particular day.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-28T09:59:41.786Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Note that this is not the situation our supposed deathists find themselves in. They are not expecting some future change in their circumstances that would render death suddenly a thing that they want. They don't want to die today because they are (for example) living comfortably in a retirement home, interacting with their children and grandchildren. There is no reason to expect those conditions to change anytime soon barring death, and in particular, there is no reason to expect those conditions to change in such a manner as to make death preferable to life.

You're kidding right? There are a great many scenarios which would make death preferable to life and we see them happening to people all around us regularly.

You're making the exact illogical claims that I was talking about.

Many elderly people, faced with a slow decline pre-commit to some Schelling fence or set of conditions for when they want to stop living. It may be when they can't remember their childrens names or similar. They know with absolute certainty that it is coming but may not want to die today.

Believe it or not "How about June? " genuinely is the kind of thing that people sometimes say about dying.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/magazine/the-last-day-of-her-life.html?_r=0

http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/

Even without alzheimer's given enough time I can certainly see myself picking some arbitrary time to die. I'd quite like that to be far more than 100 years after my birth but lots of people have no problem imagining wanting to die eventually even without extreme or horrible events.

comment by dxu · 2015-08-31T01:00:04.030Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Many elderly people, faced with a slow decline pre-commit to some Schelling fence or set of conditions for when they want to stop living.

I don't know about you, but I wasn't talking about those. I was talking about the same kind of people PhilGoetz was talking about:

I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully. When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

By switching the topic of discussion away from retirees and to ill people, you've effectively pulled a bait-and-switch. Let's try to stay on topic, neh?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-31T01:14:25.756Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By switching the topic of discussion away from retirees and to ill people, you've effectively pulled a bait-and-switch.

Nope, I don't think so. You said:

They are not expecting some future change in their circumstances that would render death suddenly a thing that they want.

and this is plainly false -- it's false not just for ill people. Retirees are quite aware that their health and mental abilities will continue to worsen with age.

comment by tim · 2015-08-25T05:09:30.865Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

How much of this effect is an inherent effect of evolution + aging and how much is the effect of the surrounding social and cultural norms? Do elderly people who still have a well-established, high-status place in society and actively contribute to its well being also experience the sensation of "waiting for death?"

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-27T19:07:06.148Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully. When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

I think this is cultural much more than it is biological.

The concept of retirement is both mostly cultural and fairly new. People retire, often at an arbitrary pension age cutoff, not so much because they can't work anymore (at the time of retirement), as because they aren't expected to; their age cohort retires together. This is also driven by capitalism: the working classes to work to survive, and working is unpleasant and takes up all their time, but at least they can save up pensions (or the state guarantees a pension at some age) so they aren't literally worked to their deaths.

I think past societies were different. Only a few people lived for many years after becoming physically or mentally decrepit and unable to do productive work; most people declined and died unexpectedly and quickly. The rich and ruling classes grew ever richer and more powerful until their deaths; old kings, generals and businessmen didn't sit around "waiting for death peacefully", they kept doing the same things they had always done, just less vigorously. And the working and farming majority never stopped working while they could help it, since they rarely had enough savings (in money, food, or things of value), and wouldn't use them outside emergencies.

Today automation is pricing humans out of more and more markets. I believe this will eventually cause high unemployment. Suppose a guaranteed income is introduced and unemployment rises to 90%. The newly unemployed people will face the same problem today's retirees have: what to do with their free time? What to live for? If people have to face this question at age 20, they will give a different answer than at age 70 after a lifetime of tiring, boring, non-fun work.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-08-29T19:39:38.190Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Today automation is pricing humans out of more and more markets.

According to a recent study technology produced more jobs than it destroyed: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/17/technology-created-more-jobs-than-destroyed-140-years-data-census

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-31T17:14:22.079Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here's the link. Its title is "Technology and people: The great job-creating machine" by Ian Stewart, Debapratim De and Alex Cole. This is a report that quotes and compares a few jobs-by-sector statistics from various (UK) censuses.

We don't need the census data to notice that we don't in fact have much higher unemployment (which is something I think will change in the future), and the population has also increased, so clearly new jobs were created. How much of that is attributable to "technology" is debatable and the report doesn't analyze this.

In fact it doesn't do any analysis at all; it consists entirely of a list of examples of particular job sectors that have changed in size over the years, with brief descriptions of what the authors think were the reasons. And most of the reasons they give are not technological, but social or economic. (Also, many of the examples they give are comparing today to 1992, not any earlier periods.)

In summary, I don't think this report provides any evidence that technology has recently created or will continue to create a number of jobs commensurate with the number automated away.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-27T19:41:02.571Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Only a few people lived for many years after becoming physically or mentally decrepit and unable to do productive work; most people declined and died unexpectedly and quickly.

I don't know what do you consider "few" and "most", but the concept of retirement was already well-known to the Ancient Romans.

Today automation is driving unemployment.

That idea has a name.

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-27T20:13:26.047Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the concept of retirement was already well-known to the Ancient Romans.

Thanks. Can you outline which social classes retired, when and why? How common it was, among those who could afford to?

I thought Wikipedia was right to say:

In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Previously, low life expectancy and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement, in 1889.

(Of course the fact that Wikipedia says something is weak evidence in itself.)

That idea has a name.

I'm not sure what you're implying. I certainly didn't mean that we should fight automation, which is what Luddism proposes.

Here's a more specific claim that I believe: automation (or technological improvements in general) will make humans uncompetitive at various jobs until, eventually, 90% of humanity is unable of earning enough to live in a free market (i.e. without guaranteed jobs or income), within 50 years with 80% confidence.

Of course there are many ways people could still survive: government guarantees (of work, of income, of food and shelter); food and shelter themselves becoming orders of magnitude cheaper than today due to technological progress; international charity; technologically driven enhancements to the cognitive skills of (existing, adult) people allowing them to perform more jobs; societies moving away from market capitalism; economies changing radically once 90% of people are no longer wealthy consumers; or an AGI making the whole issue moot.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-27T20:34:09.949Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you outline which social classes retired, when and why? How common it was, among those who could afford to?

I am not an expert in Roman history -- my perceptions come from various Roman writings which, as far as I know, treat retirement as a perfectly normal part of old age. Well, for upper classes, of course, I doubt peasants had much in the way of retirement.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is being silly. There is a hint in the sentence "Germany was the first country to introduce retirement, in 1889" -- the expression they want to use is "government pension for everyone". You can't think that before 1889 no one ever retired...:-/

Here's a more specific claim that I believe: automation ... will make humans uncompetitive

Ah, so you're making a prediction. Note that in the grandfather comment you said (emphasis mine): "Today automation is driving unemployment".

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-27T20:52:34.794Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can't think that before 1889 no one ever retired...:-/

I think Wikipedia is just leaving out some implied restrictions under which the claim is valid. The point about Germany refers specifically to the preceding sentence: "Previously [....] most workers continued to work until death". The innovation of all workers retiring in age cohorts, regardless of individual ability to keep working, occurred in Germany in 1889.

Of course some people always retired, but voluntary retirement was only possible for the rich - a few percent of the population - and since most of them didn't work to begin with, retirement meant something different: withdrawing from public life, giving up public offices, passing on private holdings, etc. Wikipedia is talking about retirement of those who must work to feed themselves, it just doesn't bother specifying this fact because the whole article is about the modern world, not about history.

Before the great majority of people were workers for hire, they were farmers, who I believe also didn't retire unless forced (i.e. injured or frail).

Ah, so you're making a prediction. Note that in grandfather you said (emphasis mine): "Today automation is driving unemployment".

I meant that automation has already priced humans out of many previously profitable markets, and this will only accelerate. So far almost all people automated out of work have been able to find employment doing something else, but I believe this will not last, in part because increasingly many jobs require long and costly training.

So I predict high unemployment, defined as most people not working to earn money for food, shelter and medicine on a free market. My original comment was that in such a future, all these unemployed will have to find reasons to keep living and things to fill their time with, similar to able-bodied retirees today.

You're right that my comment was badly worded, and I'll edit it to be clearer. Thanks!

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-27T21:16:06.657Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

and since most of them didn't work to begin with

Really? Given that we are talking about pre-capitalist societies where working for hire (which is what you presumably mean) was not all that common, what do you think these people did? Is working in the fields "work", but managing the farm "not work"?

because the whole article is about the modern world, not about history

So then you probably shouldn't rely on this article to provide you with information about history.

Of course the idea of retirement as "not going to do anything but sit on a couch and watch TV" is a recent one. In past societies people retired by not participating in the major work any more, but still helping with whatever they could -- and as they grew older and frailer, that "whatever they could" contracted. But yes, the idea of retiring and doing nothing is fairly new.

I meant that automation has already priced humans out of many previously profitable markets

This is precisely the Luddite argument: the textile machines have priced humans out of the previously profitable market of weaving.

Humanity survived.

The technological revolution accelerated since early XIX century -- and humanity is still doing fine. Have you checked the US unemployment rate recently?

As to predictions, well, predicting is hard. Especially the future.

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-28T07:09:34.912Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given that we are talking about pre-capitalist societies where working for hire (which is what you presumably mean) was not all that common, what do you think these people did? Is working in the fields "work", but managing the farm "not work"?

I had in mind precisely those rich people who did not hands-on manage the farm, but hired others to do it for them: the upper nobility, for instance.

But yes, the idea of retiring and doing nothing is fairly new.

And that is precisely the idea I wanted to address. The OP's example retirees are of this kind.

This is precisely the Luddite argument: the textile machines have priced humans out of the previously profitable market of weaving.

That the textile machines priced humans out of the market is a fact. The Luddite argument is that, therefore, the machines should not have been introduced - and I disagree with that.

Humanity survived.

Never once did I say humanity won't survive automation, or that automation is bad for humanity. Automation can free humanity from the need to work to survive, which would be a very good thing! But societies will have to adjust to stop requiring people to work in order to earn money in order to pay for basic necessities.

Have you checked the US unemployment rate recently?

You give the outside view: until now automation hasn't caused sustained mass unemployment, so it won't in the future either. I give the inside view: almost all jobs are susceptible to profitable automation, and (almost?) all new kinds of jobs that are introduced require high intelligence and years of study or training.

In addition, there are possible inventions that would be rule-changing if they occurred; in the longer term of decades we can't ignore them. In the most extreme case, AGI could automate all or almost industries. Just because it hasn't happened until now doesn't mean it never will.

As to predictions, well, predicting is hard. Especially the future.

I'm not sure what are you saying here. Is it that "predicting the future is so hard I always apply a very low prior to all concrete predictions, no matter what argument is being made"?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-28T14:52:42.863Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is getting a bit messy, let's recap.

The original disagreement was you saying "The concept of retirement is ... fairly new" and me disagreeing. I still think that sentence is plainly false for most sane values of "retirement".

You also said that what's new is the idea of retiring at a particular age, in cohorts, and that's kinda true. Only kinda because first, as your Wiki link shows, that idea in its contemporary form appeared more than a hundred years ago; and second, because retiring after a term of service is an ancient custom, going back to the Romans (as usual :-D). The Roman army conscripted young men who served for 25 years after which they retired -- they were released from the military service and given a noticeable sum of money and a plot of land. That practice (conscripting young men for a long term of service with a large payout or an annuity at the end) survived in some armies until the XIX century.

I also disagree with pretty much all of this passage, I don't think it correctly reflects life in pre-industrial societies:

Only a few people lived for many years after becoming physically or mentally decrepit and unable to do productive work; most people declined and died unexpectedly and quickly. The rich and ruling classes grew ever richer and more powerful until their deaths; old kings, generals and businessmen didn't sit around "waiting for death peacefully", they kept doing the same things they had always done, just less vigorously.

Going back to the question of why contemporary retirees are... problematic, let me suggest what I think is a standard explanation -- the main cause is the breakdown of the extended family and the alienating character of cities.

Imagine someone old and frail in a village. She lives in a house (or a hut) with her family, many of them her descendants. There is a lot of life going all around her. There is an innumerable number of small tasks which she can do -- watch the grandkids, patch up some clothes, cook something for the workers, fix the hole in the wall, etc. etc. She is not isolated, she continues to be part of her family and part of her community. She always has something to do.

Compare that to an opposite case: someone old and frail living in an apartment in a big city. She lives alone because her single child has his own family and lives far away. The only things she really needs to do is shop for food, cook it (or eat out of the can), and clean the apartment. She doesn't have much of a support network -- the great majority of people she sees every day are strangers. And, of course, there is the idiot box to make the passing of time less painful...

About Luddites -- I agree that "the textile machines priced humans out of the market is a fact". The point, however, is the link between machinery and unemployment -- the link which you asserted in your original comment and what the Luddites really cared about. I doubt they were terrible attached to manual weaving -- what they wanted was a job, sustenance. Both the Luddites and you say that automation causes unemployment and that is empirically not true. Whether it continues to be not true is, of course, a different question.

As to predicting the future, yes, I have a low prior for specific predictions far into the future (50+ years) because I don't think there's any evidence that humans can consistently do that. In this particular case you're not predicting that the usual pattern will continue, but you argue that it will break, so it seems to me the burden of proof is on you to show why that pattern will not hold.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-08-29T19:52:03.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Roman army conscripted young men who served for 25 years after which they retired -- they were released from the military service and given a noticeable sum of money and a plot of land.

With the expectation that they'd start a family and farm said plot of land. This is not the same as what we normally think of as retirement.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-31T00:30:11.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure what you normally think of as retirement. Buying a condo in Florida and spending the last few functioning brain cells on bingo?

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-31T17:17:12.965Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Retirement implies not working in order to earn money to survive. If the Romans in question had to work their farms, they weren't retired. But if e.g. they were given enough money to buy and keep slaves who did all of the work, then they could fairly be said to have retired.

comment by DanArmak · 2015-08-31T17:32:29.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies for the late reply.

The original disagreement was you saying "The concept of retirement is ... fairly new" and me disagreeing. I still think that sentence is plainly false for most sane values of "retirement".

The concept of retirement isn't new. But the phenomenon of mass and/or purely age-based retirement is new. My original comment may have been unclear about this. I never intended to imply that the concept itself was new and retirement completely unheard-of; but it was until recently very rare and not a significant driver of social change. There wasn't much point in talking about "retirees" as a group with particular needs or behaviors.

Only kinda because first, as your Wiki link shows, that idea in its contemporary form appeared more than a hundred years ago;

I'm counting that as "new". (Also, in most of the world, it appeared much later, almost within living memory.) My original point in mentioning retirement was that it's not a universal, common, or necessary feature of human societies, it might plausibly disappear again in the next century, and so it might be a bad model for deathist attitudes.

and second, because retiring after a term of service is an ancient custom, going back to the Romans (as usual :-D).

I thought Roman soldier retirement was more a change of career: they took up farming and settlement instead. But maybe they did so with a nice pension that let slaves do all the work. So I concede that yes, this is a good example of widely practiced retirement, and there may well be others. The introduction of retirement in the 19th century wasn't a unique invention. But I don't think this detracts from my original point, that such retirement is uncommon and likely to disappear again in the future.

Going back to the question of why contemporary retirees are... problematic, let me suggest what I think is a standard explanation -- the main cause is the breakdown of the extended family and the alienating character of cities.

I don't think this and the following passages contradict what I said. People didn't retire in the sense of not doing anything productive; they just did other things, and maybe less of them, as they became less capable over the years. Modern retirement is a new phenomenon.

Both the Luddites and you say that automation causes unemployment and that is empirically not true.

I disagree.

Automation causes, almost tautologically, job loss. Whether there are enough other jobs, pre-existing or created, to avoid unemployment is a separate question. Until today there automation has been insufficient to cause high unemployment. I believe that in the next 50 years there is likely to come an inflection point after so many jobs will be automated away, so quickly, that the market will not be able to keep up (even if in a much longer term more jobs might be created again), and societies will have to choose some non-market answers to letting people live without earning money.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-01T01:09:57.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's that dreaded point in the conversation when we actually have to start defining things :-/ We probably have a different idea of what the word "retirement" means.

Let me throw in a few edge examples.

Alice has a hobby farm. She mostly lives off her savings with the farm providing occasional addtional income. Is she retired?

Bill has the last name of Gates. Is he retired?

Charlie has some money, but he spends his days day-trading the financial markets for fun and profit. He doesn't have to do this, but he likes the excitement. Is he retired?

Dusty won a minor jackpot in Las Vegas and is enjoying life in the Caribbean. He has no idea what he'll do when the money runs out in a few years. Is he retired?

Elon has enough money to never work another day in his life. Is he retired?

Finnegan has a disability pension which keeps him fed but poor -- so on occasion he gets a temporary job as greeter at Wal-Mart. Is he retired?

Automation causes, almost tautologically, job loss.

I don't think this is a useful way to look at things. By this measure any kind of progress or improvement causes job loss. When the first farmers got enough food surplus so that not everyone had to work the fields, that caused job loss. When some clever fellow invented the plough, that caused job loss. A water wheel was the cause of very large job loss -- etc. etc.

Jobs are not static. They are not supposed to last forever. The world changes -- old jobs disappear, new ones appear.

Saying that progress causes job loss is like saying that evolution causes the extinction of species. Yes, it certainly does, but are we, um, short of different species today?

I believe that in the next 50 years

Would you like to provide some arguments for your belief, estimate probabilities, maybe?

comment by DanArmak · 2015-09-01T08:26:05.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think of "retirement" as "a person no longer working in any field, and living off a different income source".

This has many unclear edge cases. As you point out, so does the concept of "work" itself.

The central case I want to capture is that of the person who worked to earn, and is still capable of doing so (if perhaps in a different job or reduced capacity), but decides not to (as opposed to being forced by e.g. frailty), and has enough money saved or in a pension to support them for the rest of their life.

Jobs are not static. They are not supposed to last forever. The world changes -- old jobs disappear, new ones appear.

And one of the causes of particular jobs disappearing is automation. This is useful because it helps us predict whether, in the future, increased automation might quickly eliminate many jobs.

Saying that progress causes job loss is like saying that evolution causes the extinction of species. Yes, it certainly does, but are we, um, short of different species today?

There are processes driving job loss and separate processes driving job creation. They are related by market and social forces, but they don't have to stay balanced, just as there is sometimes a mass extinction. If we have reason to think that a cause of job loss will greatly increase in the future, and don't expect any cause of job creation to also increase greatly in the same period, then we should expect mass unemployment.

Would you like to provide some arguments for your belief, estimate probabilities, maybe?

I very much would - I want to know myself how convincing a formal argument would be; maybe I'll change my mind while trying to build it. I hope to have the time to do so tonight or tomorrow night.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-01T16:52:52.397Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The central case I want to capture is that of the person who worked to earn, and is still capable of doing so ..., but decides not to ..., and has enough money saved or in a pension to support them for the rest of their life.

Well, that's a reasonable definition. But this particular concept of retirement is not new at all and does not mention retiring in cohorts or at a particular age. I am pretty sure some Romans retired like this a couple of thousand years ago :-)

And one of the causes of particular jobs disappearing is automation.

Since we're talking, basically, economics we might as well use the proper terminology. You are making the argument that any increase in the productivity of labor leads to job losses.

This is useful because it helps us predict whether, in the future, increased automation might quickly eliminate many jobs.

If you want to base your prediction on available evidence (aka historical data), note that other than in short term, increases in the productivity of labor have not led to massive unemployment.

There are processes driving job loss and separate processes driving job creation.

No, I don't think they are separate processes, I think they're much more like flip sides of the same coin. You can't create without destroying. For someone to become a scribe, he has to be not needed as a farmhand.

In general, when thinking about jobs, you might want to think in terms of "creating value" and "(re)distributing value". A job is not a benefit -- it's a cost (in human time and effort) of producing value.

comment by DanArmak · 2015-09-05T17:50:08.641Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since we're talking, basically, economics we might as well use the proper terminology. You are making the argument that any increase in the productivity of labor leads to job losses.

Not every increase, because the market often accommodates more production; but enough increases to cause unemployment in the longer term.

If you want to base your prediction on available evidence (aka historical data), note that other than in short term, increases in the productivity of labor have not led to massive unemployment.

This is true. I believe the future is likely to be different from the past in this regard.

No, I don't think they are separate processes, I think they're much more like flip sides of the same coin. You can't create without destroying. For someone to become a scribe, he has to be not needed as a farmhand.

More precisely, his wages as a scribe must be higher than as a farmhand, to entice him to switch. It's true that labor is finite and people who start working on something new therefore stop working on something older.

In general, when thinking about jobs, you might want to think in terms of "creating value" and "(re)distributing value". A job is not a benefit -- it's a cost (in human time and effort) of producing value.

Yes, jobs are costs, and businesses are driven to minimize costs. So as technology improves, some or all humans become unemployable in more and more jobs, because value can be more cheaply created using machines.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-09-01T15:08:54.821Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are processes driving job loss and separate processes driving job creation. They are related by market and social forces, but they don't have to stay balanced, just as there is sometimes a mass extinction. If we have reason to think that a cause of job loss will greatly increase in the future, and don't expect any cause of job creation to also increase greatly in the same period, then we should expect mass unemployment.

Job destruction isn't a mystery to you - you've identified the central cause as automation (there are other causes, but let's not get hung up on them too much). Is it fair to say that job creation -is- a mystery to you - given that you haven't identified a central cause of job creation?

comment by DanArmak · 2015-09-05T15:09:33.022Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's true: I don't know how to predict job creation. Some new kinds of jobs are obviously enabled or required by new technology. But many (most?) changes are either socially or politically driven and so very hard to predict.

So it might be that enough jobs for everyone will be created for non-technological processes. But I still think it likely that job automation eventually won't leave enough room for this "jobs for everyone" scenario.

Jobs can resist automation in many several ways:

  • Require domain-specific intelligence. E.g., programming.
  • Require human interaction skills where the hard part is understanding the customer's problem or explaining to them what they must do. E.g., front desks, clerks.
  • Require physical dexterity and mobility. E.g., a waiter serving tables.
  • Legally required to employ humans, for reasons of liability (e.g. doctors), tradition (e.g. judges), or public sector make-work schemes.
  • Jobs where human customers will pay a premium for interacting with other humans.
  • A long tail of highly specialized jobs with few workers each, where the upfront cost of automation isn't worth the resulting savings. This can also be cast in terms of automated systems having insufficient flexibility.
  • Probably many other reasons unique to various sectors.

Clearly this leaves a lot of room for a future society where jobs cannot be automated away.

comment by Dustin · 2015-08-24T21:13:12.662Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Not a comment on the argument in the post which seems like it could be roughly correct, but just to throw this out there:

I guess I'm even weirder than the typical LW'er.

Not only am I interested in a wide variety of subjects, I'm also married with a kid. The optimal raising of my child is just one of a wide variety of subjects I'm interested in on a deep level.

I also want to live forever.

comment by Artaxerxes · 2015-08-25T09:42:26.392Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to know the specific numbers of how unusual you are compared to the rest of LW, 18.2% of LW is married, and 18.4% of LW has at least 1 kid, according to the most recent survey results.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-08-25T10:29:20.238Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How does this compare to the general population of a similar age?

comment by Dustin · 2015-08-25T14:55:14.607Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

According to Gallup, 53% of people 18-40 (I'm 37) have children, and another 40% who don't want to.

Also according to Gallup and contrary to the implications in the original post, only 7% of all those aged 45+ with children would go back and not have children.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/164618/desire-children-norm.aspx

comment by slicedtoad · 2015-08-28T14:46:18.389Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Go back and not have children"

Ehh, I don't think that's a valid question to ask someone with kids. It's effectively, "would you prefer your children not be alive right now?" Or, "do you consider your children mistakes now that you've raised them?".

I'm not sure what the optimal way to phrase the question would be but maybe:

"If your biological age was reset to 20, would you start another family?" Or "If you could give advice to the parallel universe you who is 25 years younger, would you tell him to have kids?"

Hmm, those still aren't great.

comment by Dustin · 2015-08-28T22:02:52.821Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good point, but I did a poor job conveying the actual question asked by Gallup, which was:

If you had to do it over again, how many children would you have, or would you not have any at all?

Which, at least, is a little better than what I implied.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-08-25T07:38:00.151Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I'm even weirder than the typical LW'er.

Or just an LW'er who has been a little more successful at getting what a lot of us want but have not achieved.

comment by SolveIt · 2015-08-25T08:45:05.011Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted because I think taking people's objections at face value is something we should be more open to. That being said, I'm a bit worried that the reason this has so many upvotes is because it tells us what we want to hear. (We're better than the common man! We have real interests and ambitions, not just staring into the water and waiting for a fish to bite!)

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-25T14:19:24.276Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe. I upvoted it because I thought it was correct, and corrects the misconception that desiring to live forever is obviously the correct thing to do, and that everyone would want it if they weren't confused.

Note that unless the probability that you begin to want to die during a certain period of time is becoming continuously lower, forever, then you will almost surely begin to want to die sooner or later.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-08-29T20:18:53.871Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If anti-aging technology was the medical standard, few would opt out of it. Many people would opt for voluntary suicide of some sort after 10^x years for x between roughly 2 and 4.

The claim that "people want to die" basically caches out to "if effective anti-ageing tech were available for free/cheap, then most voluntary suicides would just so happen to coincide with the present-day life expectancy of 80 years, or people would actually opt out of anti-ageing treatments entirely and decide to age".

Well, I find it extremely unlikely that that would be true.

Suppose that miss average woman who reads women's health magazines articles on the "top 8 natural anti-ageing solutions" today and buys expensive snake-oil anti ageing cream today is transported to the year 2200, as is Mr mid 30s metrosexual man with his "grooming arsenal". Will they use the cheap actually effective anti-ageing treatments instead of their snake oil that they spend money on today? Absolutely.

So years pass on the calendar without them ageing and they hit roughly 80. Will they suddenly decide to just kill themselves because it's been about 30 years since their kids grew up? But not 10 years or 60? It seems pretty unreasonable to me that the point of psychological exhaustion with life will happen to coincide with the point when biological bodies currently wear out.

The variance will be huge. Maybe Mr Metrosexual will just want to go clubbing, get drunk, play football, have a long series of major relationships, go on holidays, play xbox etc for 10^3 years? Why the hell not? Maybe mind modification will at some point become popular in non-nerdy circles at some point over those 1000 years? I don't think you have to be into majorly nerdy stuff to get 10^3 years of fun out of life.

You could alternatively argue that the claim that "people want to die" basically caches out to "people will eventually want to die rather than live for a literally infinite amout of time". At that point I think it basically becomes vacuous for reasons that have probably been debated ad nauseum in futurist spaces; finite dynamical system cannot evolve indefinitely without looping etc etc.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-08-30T00:30:59.940Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If anti-aging technology was the medical standard, few would opt out of it.

How many people die sooner because they decide to smoke?

You likely will never have an anti-aging pill that completely eliminates it but a series of actions that require effort.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-08-30T10:11:33.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to imagine eliminating natural cancer without also eliminating smoking-caused cancer. Ditto heart disease.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-08-29T20:46:47.153Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To comment on my own comment, what we are really arguing about is the form of the frequency distribution of suicide ages T_ suicide conditional on cheap, readily available anti-ageing tech.

The OP is basically saying that that distribution will be close to frequency distribution of age at death for ageing-related deaths that we see today (see page 9 of that document)

I am saying it will look nothing like that; the psychological factors determining suicide decisions will just produce loads of variance. It'll look more like a lognormal, where the log10 of T_ suicide is normally distributed with mean 3 and variance 2. Actually even that is probably wrong, but it's a pretty good starting point.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-08-30T14:54:14.221Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People often want to die long before they commit suicide or even consider it. I think Sister Y said at one point that she had wanted to die for years, without ever committing suicide.

It doesn't seem to me highly unlikely that the point of psychological exhaustion would be close to the physical one. That seems like the sort of fit that evolution could produce pretty easily.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-08-30T21:57:17.540Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

meh, I don't think so. I can't see the fitness advantage.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-08-31T02:31:23.177Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you live in an extended family or something similar, as long as you don't give out physically, it's helpful not to give out psychologically. So if psychological exhaustion is something that naturally happens, selection could push it off until physical exhaustion so that you can keep contributing to the tribe as long as possible.

Of course this is a just-so story but I don't see why it's an unreasonable one.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-09-05T19:43:01.833Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So if psychological exhaustion is something that naturally happens, selection could push it off until physical exhaustion so that you can keep contributing to the tribe as long

But why would psychological exhaustion naturally happen at a rate that's fast enough to be relevant? There's no second law of thermodynamics for algorithms; it's simpler for evolution to build a brain that never gets psychologically exhausted, so that's (to a first approximation) what would happen. It seems that evolution layered a routine for suicide on top of our brains too, but it seems that that routine doesn't check for "how old are you", it checks for "how low status are you", probably because your family may lose resources trying to help you and thereby reduce the inclusive genetic fitness of your genes etc.

The argument that you're making (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_shadow) specifically only works for things that need active effort to prevent them from breaking, which tends to mean physical stuff. Psychology isn't really susceptible in the same way, because although or psychological health will be in the selection shadow at e.g. age 300, there isn't that pressure of thermodynamics to break it.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-05T21:40:20.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There may not be any second law of themodynamics for algorithms, but there's surely something pretty similar. If I leave my computer running indefinitely, it quickly becomes "psychologically exhausted", runs slowly, starts causing programs to crash, and so on. If I leave it on anyway, at some point it's going to commit suicide with a blue screen.

So I still don't see why it would be simpler for evolution to build a brain that never gets exhausted, or why my story isn't a reasonable one.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-09-07T20:44:14.086Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I leave my computer running indefinitely, it quickly becomes "psychologically exhausted", runs slowly, starts causing programs to crash, and so on.

  • really? Oh you mean if you kept using it, not if you just left it there? I would suspect that the equivalent (and this is a stretched analogy, but let's go with it) would be that a human brain would "fill up" with memories. But over what timescale? The amount of genuinely "new" experiences that a human has probably already varies by 1-2 orders of magnitude. Do people with particularly exciting lives full of new careers/hobbies/travel/goals/relationships go insane after 20 years? No... I mean maybe they would after 1000 years. But that's my point: the timescale for psychological "exhaustion" will be hugely varied. We kind of already know that it is.
comment by advancedatheist · 2015-08-29T22:14:59.050Z · score: -7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The politically incorrect Manosphere blogs discuss how women who reject traditional roles for themselves, namely, early marriage and family formation, seem to hit a "wall" in their later 20's as they realize that men will stop paying attention to them (as their fertility crashes) in favor of younger crops of women. The women who miss the marriage and childbirth window altogether wind up living alone with their cats, and they seem to lack much meaning and purpose in life because they neglected doing what women evolved to do.

I suppose if you could rejuvenate these women, restock their eggs and make them fertile like 18 year old girls again, they might find a renewed zest for life. Only I doubt that because I don't see how you can de-experience them psychologically to undo the damage from having all those sterile sexual encounters the first time around.

So, yes, I do find it plausible that most women probably lack the inner resources to handle radical life extension, given the limited nature of their lives under current circumstances.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-08-29T22:53:13.675Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Only I doubt that because I don't see how you can de-experience them psychologically to undo the damage from having all those sterile sexual encounters the first time around.

be careful: there's a decent amount of variance in how people respond to things. Maybe some people are "damaged" by having a lot of non-procreative sexual encounters. Maybe this applies particularly to women. But I highly doubt that it's a uniform effect.

So, yes, I do find it plausible that most women probably lack the inner resources to handle radical life extension, given the limited nature of their lives under current circumstances.

Do you seriously think there'll be a big gender difference? BTW I am definitely not particularly politically correct with respect to gender politics and I've read the blogs you mention, but as a rationalist I am not sure you're on sound footing here. Yes, men and women are different (on average!) psychologically.

But if women didn't physically age and men didn't physically age why would the average woman deal with immortality by committing suicide more quickly than the average man? Is there any contemporary analogue of a woman having a family and suddenly being biologically 18 again that we can generalize from? I suspect you could look at women from affluent backgrounds who got pregnant at a young age and see what they did in, e.g. their late 30s. Sill, that's considered "old" by society, and there is a decent amount of sexism and sexist taboo which kind of shoehorns such people in some ways, though this is decreasing.

On the other side men in their 40s and 50s definitely seem to want to be 20 again. We call it a mid-life crisis!

Basically I think you are extrapolating into fairly unknown territory, and what I do think we can extrapolate seems to point to just a lot of variability based on personality, life-philosophy, etc.

Though I suppose the fact that "mid life crisis/buying a sports car and a leather jacket" is associated with men does count as evidence in favour of your hypothesis.

comment by Salemicus · 2015-08-28T13:54:28.640Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As usual, Nietzsche got there first:

The heaviest burden: What, if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again—and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!’ If this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change you as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “do you want this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-28T15:25:31.911Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about "first". Buddha is much older than Nietzsche.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-26T16:49:05.724Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But face it. You're weird. And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking. How many of you have kids? Damn few. The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive. It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.

It's surprisingly not weird. Birthrates in the developed world have plummeted precisely because achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status. Having a large family is no longer seen as an indicator of high status but as something that makes you a bit of a cultural oddball, and that attitude is spreading. Cultural evolution happens much more quickly than its biological counterpart, and the trend away from cultural success being defined in terms of reproductive success is currently dominating genetic pressures towards organizing our lives around increasing genetic fitness.

EDIT: I tried to keep this comment fairly brief, since it's only tangentially related to why people might want to die, but it seems to have engendered a fairly lively discussion, so it may be worth adding the following clarification to this top-level comment:

In traditional human cultures, family size is pretty well-correlated with social status. While the exact cause of this correlation can be debated, having a large family is typically regarded as high status. Much of human culture is driven by individuals copying behavior they perceive to be common and high status, and the correlation between status and family size leads to norms and traditions that promote family and family size as important sources for status within many human cultures. In light of this, and also the genetic adaptiveness of large families referred to in the original post, it's somewhat surprising to see that this correlation has been inverted. High status individuals very rarely have large families, despite being easily able to support additional children. Because culture is based on imitation and is self-reinforcing it's not particularly important how this inversion came about, but it will serve to normalize behavior that focuses on education and career at the expense of child creation/child rearing, a norm which appears to still be spreading/gaining strength based on demographic data on birth rates over time.

My speculative hypothesis, although it is certainly not original, is that the falling birthrate is the culmination of a set of cultural pressures that are rooted in the rise of industrialization. As industrialization spreads, there is a decoupling of economic wealth and family, since wealth production is no longer tied to land, titles, and other generational resources. Because wealth increases over time in industrial economies, individuals are incentivized to delay marriage because their increasing wealth affords them access to high status mates if they wait longer. The delayed marriages both directly decrease family size, and result in a population of unmarried individuals who can't use legitimate family size as a status measure. These individual then compete for status on the basis of wealth, education, etc. This self-reinforcing cycle erodes cultural norms that say having a large family is a mark of status and replace them with norms that reward to respect to people with money, important jobs, advanced degrees, or a large number of twitter followers.

While having less offspring is obviously genetically maladaptive, copying high status behaviors has traditionally been a very effective strategy in the human gene pool. Over long time periods we may see genetic adaptations that encourage the production of offspring and a corresponding rise in human family size, but the cultural shift towards more education and less children that we have observed so far has happened too quickly for genetic selection to really offset. While LW may differ from the larger culture in many ways, in this instance, LW is very normal, very much a product of the larger cultural attitude drift.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-26T17:01:37.701Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

because achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status

The usual explanations are even simpler:

  • Birth control is widely available;
  • Social safety nets (and middle-class wealth) reduce the need for children as someone who feeds you in your old age;
  • If your children's chances to survive to adulthood are very high you don't need to give birth to that many;
  • Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother.
comment by leplen · 2015-08-27T15:40:49.587Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Birth control is widely available;

That doesn't explain why people choose to have small families. In the Iliad the 50 rooms filled with Priam's sons are a mark of his wealth and power, guaranteeing the success and continuity of his bloodline. They aren't an accident. In developing nations people are proud of their large families and they regard as unfortunate people who only have a few children. Birth control may enable the transition, but it doesn't explain the stark difference in attitude.

Social safety nets (and middle-class wealth) reduce the need for children as someone who feeds you in your old age;

Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?

If you children's chances to survive to adulthood are very high you don't need to give birth to that many;

Why not? It's certainly helps maximize my genetic fitness. In general is an animal discovers a new environment with plentiful resources and no predators it doesn't suddenly decide to have less children, since they now have a higher chance of surviving to adulthood. It certainly doesn't end up with fewer adult children than it had before, but that's exactly the pattern we observe in many developed nations.

Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother

I'm not sure what the difference is between this statement and "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status".

The desire for children isn't, in general, a rational one. It is rarely in the rational self-interest of a creature to reproduce. My instinct is that the desire for more/less children is driven more strongly by the selfishness of genes and memes than the selfishness of organisms. Either way, the genetically maladaptive decision to limit reproduction in spite of being able to easily feed larger families is certainly not limited to the LessWrong subculture, however poorly defined that is, but appears to be the social norm in almost all developed nations.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-27T16:20:26.317Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't explain why people choose to have small families.

No, but that explains why that choice exists.

Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?

Yes, seriously, I find nothing outlandish about this assertion. Why are you so surprised?

Why not?

Because if you're managing the number of your children, you're managing the number of children who'll grow up to adulthood.

It's certainly helps maximize my genetic fitness.

Clearly, people are interested in more than that and on a very regular basis choose NOT to maximize the spread of their genes.

I'm not sure what the difference

The difference is you're talking solely about status and I'm talking about a much wider context.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-28T13:41:21.386Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't explain why people choose to have small families.

No, but that explains why that choice exists.

Not really. Humans have exercised control over family size for thousands of years via all sorts of different mechanisms. Modern birth control is certainly more convenient than the vast majority of ancient mechanisms, but it's not clear that the increase in convenience is why the modern world is a lot less excited than the ancient one about the command "Go forth and multiply."

Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?

Yes, seriously, I find nothing outlandish about this assertion. Why are you so surprised?

It's not a totally unreasonable argument, it's just very contrary to my personal experience. I don't see humans commonly engaging in a lot of decades off long-term thinking, and child-creating/child-rearing typically seems to be dominated by a lot of deep instinctual emotional cues. Parents often devote significant resources to caring for special needs children who are unlikely to grow into good providers. Parents seem to derive a lot of satisfaction and to compete for status based on the way that their children perform in school or child sports or other competitions, even though these are very weakly linked to any sort of economic productivity. Hutterite communities practice common ownership and thus have a more extensive social safety net than even modern societies, but traditionally have large average family sizes.

It's not obvious to me that humans reproduce for reasons substantially different from the reasons that other animals reproduce, and it's very obvious that most creatures aren't having children in order to secure their retirement. The tendency of parents to take exceptional risks in order to protect their offspring is also better explained by these traits being promoted by genetic self-interest than the idea that children are a rational agent's retirement plan. It seems profoundly weird to me that all the other animals reproduce because their genes tell them to, but humans just so happen to make the same exact decision for a completely different reason.

It's also not totally obvious to me that children are a particularly good investment from a long-term wealth or even a guaranteed income perspective. I feel like if most people directed the same amount of resources into securing their retirement via other means that they typically direct into child-rearing they would often end up better off. It's an interesting thesis though, and it has some neat fits to the data. The falling birthrate, it could be argued, is due to the fact that there are more long-term investment opportunities now than there were in the past and people have chosen to diversify their investments. At the same time, modern decreases in child-mortality and death in child-birth might make children a more attractive investment than they were in the past, so there are definitely some issues.

Because if you're managing the number of your children, you're managing the number of children who'll grow up to adulthood.

But why choose to have fewer children grow to adulthood rather than more? If my children are more likely to survive to adulthood then I should have more children, not fewer, since child birthing and raising is now a better investment than it was before.

Clearly, people are interested in more than that and on a very regular basis choose NOT to maximize the spread of their genes.

But why is that even an option? What evolutionary advantage is so adaptive that even though it leads to obviously maladaptive behavior like choosing not to have children that you could easily support the adaptation is still a net-positive on average?

I'm not sure what the difference is between [Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother] and "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status".

The difference is you're talking solely about status and I'm talking about a much wider context.

I think the more fundamental difference may actually be that I'm talking about population level processes and you're thinking about things on the level of individual decision makers. I think most human decisions are constrained fairly tightly by the culture that they find themselves in and that copying high status individuals is one of the driving forces of cultural change. I think cultures that have family size as a primary marker of achievement and status don't create the opportunity for people to support themselves by going to graduate school to study science or math instead of raising a family. Social status is very much about having a place in the community, and cultures don't create good attractive places in the community for occupations with low social status. An individual may choose to pursue a Ph.D. in math rather than a more conventionally high status career in finance, but a society that doesn't see educational attainment as a mark of status isn't going to have a career track for graduate students at all.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-08-29T14:22:01.813Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?

I don't see humans commonly engaging in a lot of decades off long-term thinking,

This isn't exactly long term thinking. If you live in a culture dominated by extended families, you see your grandparents in your home, and later you will see them die and your parents become the oldest generation in the home. You see the same thing in your neighbor's homes. You see the old lady who has no family living in a hovel and depending on her neighbors or the church for basic needs. You see that you and your parents and your children easily care for most needs of your older generation. You don't need to make a long term calculation; you just have to see that normal people have lots of kids -- and that things work out better for normal people.

Parents often devote significant resources to caring for special needs children who are unlikely to grow into good providers.

All the more reason to have a large extended family. These children will grow into adults who continue to need extra support, and there's no reason for parents to support them on their own. The more siblings you have to help out the better.

It's also not totally obvious to me that children are a particularly good investment from a long-term wealth or even a guaranteed income perspective.

This is because you are thinking of wealth as money. For much of the population of the world, and increasingly so as you go back in time, wealth means enough food on the table, enough food in the root cellar to get you through the winter, and enough grain seed to replant + keep you alive a year or two if the crops fail + plus enough to plant again once the famine is over. As long as another set of hands increases productivity, another pair of hands is a good investment.

comment by leplen · 2015-09-01T01:58:12.463Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Parents often devote significant resources to caring for special needs children who are unlikely to grow into good providers.

All the more reason to have a large extended family. These children will grow into adults who continue to need extra support, and there's no reason for parents to support them on their own. The more siblings you have to help out the better.

From a selfish perspective, the correct decision isn't to have more children. It's to kill or disown the ones who not only won't repay your investment, but will actually compete with you for the return on your other investment in your other children.

It's also not totally obvious to me that children are a particularly good investment from a long-term wealth or even a guaranteed income perspective.

This is because you are thinking of wealth as money. For much of the population of the world, and increasingly so as you go back in time, wealth means enough food on the table, enough food in the root cellar to get you through the winter, and enough grain seed to replant + keep you alive a year or two if the crops fail + plus enough to plant again once the famine is over. As long as another set of hands increases productivity, another pair of hands is a good investment.

I have a pretty broad-minded view of wealth actually. If you're a New Guinea highlander you can invest in mokas. You can trade your neighbors for goats or land. You can accumulate social capital by being generous and well-liked. You can enter into partnerships with younger partners. Another set of hands is only a good investment if it offers nearly the best return for investment, which is a much higher hurdle than merely "increasing productivity." It would actually be enormously surprising if the best selfish return you could possibly get for your time and effort was finding a mate and having children, especially given the high infant/child mortality rates. If children were such a good investment then why did we need a modest proposal?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-28T15:13:13.417Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

it's just very contrary to my personal experience

You probably live in a first-world country with a social safety net and a (more or less) guaranteed pension of some sort until you die. The chances of you literally starving in your old age are pretty low.

Now imagine yourself as, say, as a peasant in Mozambique. As you grow old, you can't work your field any more. What will you eat?

I don't see humans commonly engaging in a lot of decades off long-term thinking

No particular need. First, it is what happens by default if you don't take heroic birth control measures (remember, no pill or effective condoms), second, it's culturally ingrained, that's what everyone does, and third, I don't think examples of old childless people are rare. Anyone can look at that broken-down hut at the edge of the village and see that it's much better to live with your family than alone.

It's also not totally obvious to me that children are a particularly good investment from a long-term wealth or even a guaranteed income perspective.

You're a peasant in Mozambique. Or in XII-century France. What are your other options?

But why is that even an option?

Because humans are not slaves to their instincts?

You seem to be surprised that what evolutionary psychology says must happen does not happen in reality. I would like to suggest that this a problem for the theory, not for the reality.

I think cultures that have family size as a primary marker of achievement and status

Which cultures are these? Family size is a low-level marker of status, it basically says "I'm not a loser and I can provide for a large family". Once you get to upper classes, it no longer works -- their games are different.

a society that doesn't see educational attainment as a mark of status isn't going to have a career track for graduate students at all.

Yes, more or less, but I don't see what does it have to do with family size. Status markers are not exclusive, any society has lots of them.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-29T02:42:40.689Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see humans commonly engaging in a lot of decades off long-term thinking

No particular need. First, it is what happens by default if you don't take heroic birth control measures (remember, no pill or effective condoms), second, it's culturally ingrained, that's what everyone does

I'm a little uncomfortable classifying infanticide as heroic, but that aside I feel like your claim is shifting. At first you claimed that people choose to have children because they are making an optimal selfish long-term retirement decision and that they choose to have children as a good investment in service to that goal. Now you're saying that people don't really choose to have children for that reason, but that they have children in response to biological pressures and cultural norms. But the claim that family size is driven primarily by cultural norms, which are largely dictated by the perception of which behaviors are regarded as high status, is literally my original claim.

It's also not totally obvious to me that children are a particularly good investment from a long-term wealth or even a guaranteed income perspective.

You're a peasant in Mozambique. Or in XII-century France. What are your other options?

Make friends with people that I didn't help create? Accumulate wealth? There are lots of durable human social institutions other than the nuclear family. There are certainly more of them in the modern world, but it's not like all those childless medieval monks starved to death.

But why is that even an option?

You seem to be surprised that what evolutionary psychology says must happen does not happen in reality. I would like to suggest that this a problem for the theory, not for the reality.

The reality is precisely what is being debated. I am making the claim that the choices that populations of people make, esp. with regard to family size, can be understood in terms of evolution and selection, and that they should reflect, in some form or fashion adaptations consistent with genetic self-interest. You are making the claim that people's choices are more driven by their own rational self-interest, and that understanding the incentives available to individual rational actors is the better predictor of behavior. It seems to me that here you're just labeling your claim "reality" and saying that if evolution disagrees with it then that's a problem with evolution.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-31T00:43:08.150Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At first you claimed that people choose to have children because they are making an optimal selfish long-term retirement decision and that they choose to have children as a good investment in service to that goal. Now you're saying that people don't really choose to have children for that reason, but that they have children in response to biological pressures and cultural norms.

Biological pressure is always there and it's still there in the countries with 1.x children per women, so clearly it's not sufficient by itself.

As to cultural norms, how in the world do you think they appear? They don't magically sprout fully established out of nowhere. If a lot of people in a society decide that having children is a good investment for old age and that society does well -- here is your new cultural norm.

cultural norms ... are largely dictated by the perception of which behaviors are regarded as high status

I strongly disagree with this idea. Culture is much much wider, deeper, richer, and more useful than trying to emulate high-status behaviours.

There are lots of durable human social institutions other than the nuclear family.

That, actually, depends on the circumstances. But in any case, do you really suggest making friends as a good solution to who-will-feed-me problem? Don't forget that they will get old, too.

The reality is precisely what is being debated.

Is it? On which facts do we disagree?

I am making the claim that the choices that populations of people make, esp. with regard to family size, can be understood in terms of evolution and selection, and that they should reflect, in some form or fashion adaptations consistent with genetic self-interest.

OK. So how does that work for contemporary first-world countries with birth rates far below replacement?

It seems to me that here you're just labeling your claim "reality".

No, I am labeling the observation of empirical birth rates "reality".

comment by leplen · 2015-09-01T02:05:13.477Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That, actually, depends on the circumstances. But in any case, do you really suggest making friends as a good solution to who-will-feed-me problem? Don't forget that they will get old, too.

Human tribes have been a thing for about as long as there have been humans. People with an important role in the tribe don't starve to death. And yes, friends age, and so do children. You can make friends that aren't the same age as you. I don't understand why you think that human allegiances have to be founded on the nuclear family.

The reality is precisely what is being debated.

Is it? On which facts do we disagree?

I'm not sure what you mean by fact. You made the claim that in reality people have children because they think it's a good retirement option, and that they choose the number of children that they will choose to have based on how many children they will need in order to make sure they don't starve to death in the real world. You are claiming that humans have evolved the psychological capacity to make decades long judgments in a reasonably optimal way and that they use that capacity when deciding how many children to have. That is a claim about reality. If it were true, it would be a fact. I think that it is false. I think that people choose whether or not to have children based on culture, and that culture is largely determined by the rules "Copy what most people are doing" and "Copy what successful people are doing". (That's not a commentary of the depth or richness of culture. Complex systems often have simple rules.) I also think that successful people in the present and near-past have tended to have less children and I think that the falling birthrate can be attributed to that. I'm fairly sure that the falling birthrate has much more to do with cultural definitions of success than with anyone's concern for feeding themselves 40 years in the future.

Unlike planning for retirement, achieving success within your cultures definition of it (i.e. status) is very important from a genetic evolution status and would be selected for. I think it's much more likely that evolution equipped humans to seek cultural success, than it is that evolution equipped humans to sacrifice having children based on concerns for how best to spend their reproductively inactive retirement.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-01T03:34:25.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why you think that human allegiances have to be founded on the nuclear family.

They don't have to be, but I think that empirical evidence points to family ties binding more tight than others.

I'm not sure what you mean by fact.

I mean an observable and testable chunk of empirical reality. Not a theory, not an explanation, not a model.

You made the claim that in reality people have children because...

That's not a fact, that's an explanation/theory.

You are claiming that humans have evolved the psychological capacity to make decades long judgments in a reasonably optimal way

That seems pretty obvious to me. What, you think no one ever saves for retirement? Why do you believe that to be false?

successful people in the present and near-past have tended to have less children

And why do you think that happened? There must have been some starting point.

I think that the falling birthrate can be attributed to that.

What evidence do you have to support your theory?

Unlike planning for retirement, achieving success within your cultures definition of it (i.e. status) is very important from a genetic evolution status

So how come there are so many losers around? X-) Note that culture is a fairly recent development in "genetic evolution" and for a very long time "high status" implied a front row at the feast, but also a front row at the battle. I agree that high status helped survival, but I don't think it helped it enough so that evolution gave a major push to the fight-for-leadership genes.

comment by leplen · 2015-09-02T02:53:40.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why you think that human allegiances have to be founded on the nuclear family.

They don't have to be, but I think that empirical evidence points to family ties binding more tight than others.

Okay, but that doesn't necessarily matter. The ties don't have to be tight, they just have to be adequate. Also, the parent->child bond is typically tighter than the "child->parent" bond. But even if we add an uncertainty cost to forming non-parent child relationships, it's not obvious to me that children are a good investment. Children die. Children turn out to be non-productive. Children require lots of resources. Even if my teenage apprentice may be less likely to support me, he's still way cheaper to build a bond with and way more likely to survive to adulthood. I don't see any good reason to birth children rather than recruit apprentices.

I'm not sure what you mean by fact.

I mean an observable and testable chunk of empirical reality. Not a theory, not an explanation, not a model.

I don't know that we have access to facts. Everything is interpreted. Everything is a model. Fact isn't a separate epistemological category. There are things we agree on, even things most people agree on, but I'm not sure what hard and fast distinction you could draw between facts and theories.

You are claiming that humans have evolved the psychological capacity to make decades long judgments in a reasonably optimal way

That seems pretty obvious to me. What, you think no one ever saves for retirement? Why do you believe that to be false?

Because humans engage in hyperbolic discounting. Because the rate of climate change during the Pleistocene would have made long term forecasting difficult. Because I don't see evidence of people making medium term judgments in a reasonably optimal way. The idea that people aren't, by nature, optimal decision makers is one of the core ideas of LW.

Unlike planning for retirement, achieving success within your cultures definition of it (i.e. status) is very important from a genetic evolution status

So how come there are so many losers around? X-) Note that culture is a fairly recent development in "genetic evolution" and for a very long time "high status" implied a front row at the feast, but also a front row at the battle. I agree that high status helped survival, but I don't think it helped it enough so that evolution gave a major push to the fight-for-leadership genes.

I'm not actually sure that culture is recent. I would put the origins of culture at least tens of thousands of years ago, which is definitely appreciable on an evolutionary scale.

Also, status isn't necessarily the same thing as leadership, and it seems to be the thing that people care most about after short term economic incentives (e.g. “apart from economic payoffs, social status seems to be the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior."-John Harsanyi). The prevalence of the human desire for social status seems pretty well-supported by the literature.

P.S. I'm enjoying this conversation.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-02T14:52:30.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it's not obvious to me that children are a good investment

I think you're engaging in nirvana fallacy. Children are not a good investment compared to what?

Again -- let's take a medieval European peasant. He has no ability to accumulate capital because he's poor, because his lord will just take his money if he notices it, and because once in a while an army passes through and basically grabs everything that isn't nailed down. He doesn't have any apprentices because peasants don't have apprentices (and apprentices leave once they learn the craft, anyway). He certainly has friends, but even his friends will feed their family before him when the next famine comes. So, what kind of investments into a non-starving old age should he make?

I don't know that we have access to facts. Everything is interpreted. Everything is a model.

OK. There were 3,932,181 births in the US in 2013 giving the birth rate of 12.4 / 1000 population (source). Tell me what kind of model is that, which theory does this piece of information critically depends on.

Because humans engage in hyperbolic discounting.

Yes, so? They still plan their retirements.

Because the rate of climate change during the Pleistocene would have made long term forecasting difficult.

Huh? Can you, um, provide some links?

The idea that people aren't, by nature, optimal decision makers is one of the core ideas of LW.

We're not talking about optimal decisions. We're talking about not screwing up. Humans are the most successful species on this planet -- they are capable of not screwing up sufficiently well.

status ... it seems to be the thing that people care most about after short term economic incentives

Evidence please. People certainly care about status, but I don't think that people always care about money first, status second, and everything else after that.

On the other hand, if you don't believe in facts, what counts as evidence in your word? 8-/

comment by leplen · 2015-09-03T16:11:22.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it's not obvious to me that children are a good investment

I think you're engaging in nirvana fallacy. Children are not a good investment compared to what?

Again -- let's take a medieval European peasant. He has no ability to accumulate capital because he's poor, because his lord will just take his money if he notices it, and because once in a while an army passes through and basically grabs everything that isn't nailed down. He doesn't have any apprentices because peasants don't have apprentices (and apprentices leave once they learn the craft, anyway). He certainly has friends, but even his friends will feed their family before him when the next famine comes. So, what kind of investments into a non-starving old age should he make?

He can buy jars of salt and bury them. His children, if they survive, may feed their own children rather than him in the next famine. A network of friends and a high standing in the community are at least as valuable to him as investing resources in birthing and raising children who probably won't see adulthood. He can become an active and respected member of the church. The church is probably a better bet overall since there's a decent chance his own kids will die, but the church will probably survive.

I'm not an expert on 14th century investment opportunities, I just find the idea that children are clearly the best selfish investment incredible. If children are such a good investment, why did we need a modest proposal? And why are the rich, who retirements are not in doubt, so desirous of children? Why does king Priam need 50 sons? He's the king of a city. What fears does he have about retirement?

I don't know that we have access to facts. Everything is interpreted. Everything is a model.

OK. There were 3,932,181 births in the US in 2013 giving the birth rate of 12.4 / 1000 population (source). Tell me what kind of model is that, which theory does this piece of information critically depends on.

The ones digit of that number is almost certainly wrong and I'm not particularly confident about the next two. Believing that number relies on an enormous number of assumptions about the bureaucracy that generated it. Now my model of the world tells me that the bureaucratic system that calculates the birth rate in the U.S. is fairly trustworthy, compared to say the system that manages elections in Russia, but that trust is totally a function of my model of the world. The data you gather depends on your methodology. Some methods may be better established and may have more evidence in support of them, and the data they gather may really seem reliable, but we also thought that the earth was standing still for a very long time.

Fact just isn't an epistemological category that I have, and it's not one that I find useful. There are only models. Some models are more descriptive and better than others, some are more supported by evidence. But there aren't facts, there are no fixed points that I'm 100% sure are true. I consider my knowledge that 2+2=4 to be close to certain as anything just about anything else I believe, but I hesitate to call it a fact. I have that belief because it's always been true in the past and my brain has learned that induction is reliable. I could be convinced that 2+2=3, and if you believe something only because you have evidence to support it, then you must have a model that translates between the evidence and the belief.

Because the rate of climate change during the Pleistocene would have made long term forecasting difficult.

Huh? Can you, um, provide some links?

I'm hardly an expert on this, but searching for Pleistocene climate variation gives results like this:

"In addition to the well known millennium-scale stadial and interstadial periods, and the previously recognized century-scale climate events that occur during the Allerod and Bolling periods, we detect a still higher frequency of variability associated with abrupt climate change."

"The seasonal time resolution of the ECM record portrays as aspect of the climate system that consistently and frequently chnages between glacial and near-interglacial conditions in periods of less than a decade, and on occassion as rapidly as three years."

Climate Change: Natural climate change: proxy-climate data

The idea that people aren't, by nature, optimal decision makers is one of the core ideas of LW.

We're not talking about optimal decisions. We're talking about not screwing up. Humans are the most successful species on this planet -- they are capable of not screwing up sufficiently well.

We are specifically talking about the claim, "Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?"

I am not making the argument that there are no advantages to having and raising children from a retirement perspective. I am making the argument that it is unlikely that people choose to have children in order to obtain those advantages. I am making the argument that the decline in birthrate in unlikely to be due to people adjusting the number of children they have as part of a retirement plan. The success of a species has very little to do with the ability of individual members of that species to plan in such a way as to maximize their own well-being. Ants are collectively one of the most successful organisms in the world, but they certainly don't engage in long term planning.

Indeed it the success of the human species that I would cite as evidence for my assertion that human behavior is more closely linked to genetic self-interest than to personal self-interest. Cultural and social success is a huge factor in genetic self-interest. There's a reason that humans have large brains and devote so many resources to processing social relationships and facial cues. We have equipment for obeying social mandates. We understand them intuitively. We don't have have intuitive equipment for making long-term predictions, since that was selected for.

status ... it seems to be the thing that people care most about after short term economic incentives

Evidence please. People certainly care about status, but I don't think that people always care about money first, status second, and everything else after that.

I consider the word of a Nobel Prize-winning game theorist and economist to qualify as "evidence" on the topic of aggregate human behavior. If you don't consider the opinions of experts evidence, what qualifies?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-04T01:26:16.218Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If children are such a good investment, why did we need a modest proposal?

Because, like with all investements, the future is uncertain, returns are not guaranteed, there are occasional crashes, and a lot of general variability.

And why are the rich, who retirements are not in doubt, so desirous of children?

Because children are not only investments in one's old age, they are useful for many other purposes (e.g. dynastic). And, of course, the rich have the same hardwired biological urges. Besides, sometimes children are just a side-effect that the rich or the powerful don't care much about (see e.g. Ottoman sultans).

Fact just isn't an epistemological category that I have, and it's not one that I find useful. There are only models.

So how you choose between different models, then? If there are no facts, what are your criteria? Why is the model of lizard overlords ruling the Earth any worse than any other model?

You use expressions like "because it's always been true in the past", but what do you mean by "true"?

aspect of the climate system that consistently and frequently chnages between glacial and near-interglacial conditions in periods of less than a decade, and on occassion as rapidly as three years

I am not sure this interpretation of the data surivived -- see e.g. this:

Here it is shown that in general, the flickers seen in ECM records probably reflect the highly non-linear response of electrical conductivity as ice approaches acid/base neutrality, rather than significant changes in the climate system.

...

I am making the argument that it is unlikely that people choose to have children in order to obtain those advantages.

Yes, and would you like to present some evidence in favour of that argument?

I am making the argument that the decline in birthrate in unlikely to be due to people adjusting the number of children they have as part of a retirement plan.

Do you have an alternative explanation for the decline in birthrate in mind? You have previously said that people just followed the lead of the elites, but why did the elites reduce their birthrate?

my assertion that human behavior is more closely linked to genetic self-interest than to personal self-interest.

I haven't been following the subject closely, but didn't the idea of group selection ran into significant difficulties? My impression is that nowadays it's not considered to be a major evolution mechanism, though I haven't looked carefully and will accept corrections.

We don't have have intuitive equipment for making long-term predictions

Well, um, I do X-) On which basis do you decide what kind of "intuitive equipment" humans have?

If you don't consider the opinions of experts evidence, what qualifies?

Opinions are not evidence, they are opinions. Argument to authority is, notably, a fallacy. I call things which qualify "facts".

comment by leplen · 2015-09-06T00:57:31.487Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fact just isn't an epistemological category that I have, and it's not one that I find useful. There are only models.

So how you choose between different models, then? If there are no facts, what are your criteria? Why is the model of lizard overlords ruling the Earth any worse than any other model?

You use expressions like "because it's always been true in the past", but what do you mean by "true"?

My primary criterion is consistency. On a very basic level, I am an algorithm receiving a stream of sensory data. I make models to predict what I think that sensory data will look like in the future based on regularities I detect/have detected in the past. Models that capture consistent features of the data go on to correctly control anticipation and are good models, but they're all models. The only thing I have in my head is the map. I don't have access to the territory.

And yet I believe with perfect sincerity that, in generals my maps correspond to reality. I call that correspondence truth. I don't understand the separation you seem to be attempting to make between facts and models or models and reality.

aspect of the climate system that consistently and frequently chnages between glacial and near-interglacial conditions in periods of less than a decade, and on occassion as rapidly as three years

I am not sure this interpretation of the data surivived -- see e.g. this:

Neat. Thanks.

The article you link seems to go out of its way to not be seen as challenging my basic claim, e.g. "Having said this, it should be reemphasised that ice-core chemistry does show extremely rapid changes during climate transitions. The reduction in [Ca] between stadial to interstadial conditions during D-O 3 in the GRIP ice-core occurred in two discrete steps totalling just 5 years [Fuhrer et al., 1999]."

Indeed it the success of the human species that I would cite as evidence for my assertion that human behavior is more closely linked to genetic self-interest than to personal self-interest. Cultural and social success is a huge factor in genetic self-interest.

I haven't been following the subject closely, but didn't the idea of group selection ran into significant difficulties? My impression is that nowadays it's not considered to be a major evolution mechanism, though I haven't looked carefully and will accept corrections.

I'm not sure how group selection is related to material you're quoting. Cultural success and social success refer to the success of an individual within a culture/society, not to the success of cultures and societies.

If you don't consider the opinions of experts evidence, what qualifies?

Opinions are not evidence, they are opinions. Argument to authority is, notably, a fallacy. I call things which qualify "facts".

I mean, it's sort of a fallacy. At the same time when I'm sick, I go to a doctor and get her medical opinion and treat it as evidence. I'm not an expert on the things that humans value. I don't have the time or energy to background to perform experiments and evaluate statistical and experimental methods. Even trusting peer review and relying on published literature is a series of appeals of to authority.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-08T01:15:00.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On a very basic level, I am an algorithm receiving a stream of sensory data.

So, do you trust that sensory data? You mention reality, presumably you allow that objective reality which generates the stream of your sensory data exists. If you test your models by sensory data, then that sensory data is your "facts" -- something that is your criterion for whether a model is good or not.

I am also not sure how do you deal with surprises. Does sensory data always wins over models? Or sometimes you'd be willing to say that you don't believe your own eyes?

two discrete steps totalling just 5 years

At this rate of change we are not talking about climate. The ice core data essentially measures certain characteristics of dust in the atmosphere. Even in recorded history we had things like volcano eruptions causing a "year without summer". It's not like glaciers can noticeably react to weather/climate abnormalities on a scale of years, anyway.

group selection

When you said "more closely linked to genetic self-interest than to personal self-interest" did you mean the genetic self-interest of the entire species or did you mean something along the lines of Dawkins' Selfish Gene? I read you as arguing for interests of the population gene pool. If you are talking about selfish genes then I don't see any difference between "genetic self-interest" and "personal self-interest".

is a series of appeals of to authority

Kinda, but the important thing is that you can go and check. In your worldview, how do you go and check yourself? Or are "streams of sensory data" sufficiently syncronised between everyone?

comment by leplen · 2015-09-09T12:23:54.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On a very basic level, I am an algorithm receiving a stream of sensory data.

So, do you trust that sensory data? You mention reality, presumably you allow that objective reality which generates the stream of your sensory data exists. If you test your models by sensory data, then that sensory data is your "facts" -- something that is your criterion for whether a model is good or not.

I am also not sure how do you deal with surprises. Does sensory data always wins over models? Or sometimes you'd be willing to say that you don't believe your own eyes?

I don't understand what you mean by trust. Trust has very little to do with it. I work within the model that the sensory data is meaningful, that life as I experience it is meaningful. It isn't obvious to me that either of those things are true any more than the parallel postulate is obvious to me. They are axioms.

If my eyes right now are saying something different than my eyes normally tell me, then I will tend to distrust my eyes right now in favor of believing what I remember my eyes telling me. I don't think that's the same as saying I don't believe my eyes.

group selection

When you said "more closely linked to genetic self-interest than to personal self-interest" did you mean the genetic self-interest of the entire species or did you mean something along the lines of Dawkins' Selfish Gene? I read you as arguing for interests of the population gene pool. If you are talking about selfish genes then I don't see any difference between "genetic self-interest" and "personal self-interest".

The idea of the genetic self-interest of an entire species is more or less incoherent. Genetic self-interest involves genes making more copies of themselves. Personal self-interest involves persons making decisions that they think will bring them happiness, utility, what have you. To reiterate my earlier statement "the ability of individual members of that species to plan in such a way as to maximize their own well-being."

is a series of appeals of to authority

Kinda, but the important thing is that you can go and check. In your worldview, how do you go and check yourself? Or are "streams of sensory data" sufficiently syncronised between everyone?

And I go look for review articles that support the quote that people care about social status. But if you don't consider expert opinion to be evidence, then you have to go back and reinvent human knowledge from the ground up every time you try and learn anything.

I can always go look for more related data if I have questions about a model. I can read more literature. I can make observations.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-09T16:45:11.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what you mean by trust.

If your model(s) and sensory data conflict, who wins? Which one do you trust more?

Since you're saying you have no access to the underlying reality (=territory), you have trust something. I am not sure what do you mean by "meaningful".

If my eyes right now are saying something different than my eyes normally tell me, then I will tend to distrust my eyes right now in favor of believing what I remember my eyes telling me.

Well, clearly that can't be true all the time or you'll never update your internal models.

Genetic self-interest involves genes making more copies of themselves. Personal self-interest involves persons making decisions that they think will bring them happiness, utility, what have you.

Ah, I see. So, basically, genetic self-interest is "objective" (and we can count the number of gene copies in the next generations), while personal self-interest is "subjective". But how does the genetic self-interest work if not through the personal self-interest? Or do you posit some biological drives which overpower personal self-interest?

I can make observations.

Any particular reason you are unwilling to call your observations "facts", by the way?

comment by Jiro · 2015-08-28T15:26:47.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother

I'm not sure what the difference is between this statement and "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status".

It's like saying that Confederate slaves didn't have any available positions other than being slaves that were high status for themselves.

In a sense it's true, since all positions other than being a slave probably resulted in the slave getting hunted down and shot. Can't get much more low status than that. Alternately, you could say that those don't count as available positions at all, in which case being a slave is the highest status position among the 1 available positions.

But phrasing it that way fails to capture what's going on.

In older societies, women's alternatives to being a mother were unattractive for external reasons: women who tried to take the alternatives would face retaliation of various types, either personal or societal. You can describe that as "low status" and it's not wrong, but this is an unusual type of low status that existed because women's desires were considered irrelevant by society. It's a very noncentral example of "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status"--such a noncentral example that describing it that way is actively misleading.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-29T04:53:34.052Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Being low status has always meant being vulnerable to social violence, and ascribing status is one of the ways that societies create and maintain social norms. The attractiveness of a position in society is dictated by the value and status society ascribes to it, and that valuation is always a set of "external reasons". Particularly low status groups or members of society, who are perceived as different or in violation of important social norms are often ascribed the status of "criminal" or "enemy" and are left especially vulnerable to social violence.

women's desires were considered irrelevant by society.

This is too strong a statement. Many women desire to have children. That desire was hardly considered irrelevant by society. Similarly, many women desire to get married or to worship God. These desires weren't considered irrelevant by society. Quite the opposite. It was considered very important that women have these desires. Desires that led to high social status, like wanting to marry a young man in good standing in the community, were strongly encouraged. Desires that led to low or uncertain social positions like becoming a transient were discouraged, and if pursued in spite of discouragement, punished for undermining the social order. Society almost never respects the desire to become a social deviant.

A society that accords value based on nuclear family size has the social roles of mother, father, and provider and ascribes status to its members based on their success in those roles. In traditional societies, both men and women have jointly fulfilled the latter role. The proliferation of new social roles and highly-esteemed places in the community that have nothing to do with the nuclear family, (i.e. having achievements other than children become markers of status) is the reason that men and women both have a place in the community other than as parents and children.

A man living in a tribe of subsistence foragers can't ever choose to become a full-time string theorist. He can sometimes choose to become a full-time shaman or priest. Both professions study mainly imaginary things, the difference is that one of these roles is ascribed status by the community while the other is not.

comment by Jiro · 2015-08-29T23:15:31.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Being low status has always meant being vulnerable to social violence, and ascribing status is one of the ways that societies create and maintain social norms.

Again, that's not technically wrong--but stating it that way loses information.

Women in general were low status. Many of their concerns and desires were ignored unless they happened to match concerns and desires that benefitted men. The fact that women didn't have alternatives to being a mother was just a special case of that.. So increasing the status of women in general automatically increases the status of women doing other things than having children.

women's desires were considered irrelevant by society.

This is too strong a statement

Almost any statement interpreted while ignoring connotation is too strong. "Women's desires were considered irrelevant by society" means "an important set of women's desires relevant to the current conversation were considered irrelevant by society", not "all women's desires were considered irrelevant by society". Don't ignore connotation.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-30T04:31:55.220Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Women in general were low status. Many of their concerns and desires were ignored unless they happened to match concerns and desires that benefitted men. The fact that women didn't have alternatives to being a mother was just a special case of that..

How did men benefit? Did all men benefit? Were the men also constrained by cultural roles that served to benefit women?

women's desires were considered irrelevant by society.

This is too strong a statement

Almost any statement interpreted while ignoring connotation is too strong. "Women's desires were considered irrelevant by society" means "an important set of women's desires relevant to the current conversation were considered irrelevant by society", not "all women's desires were considered irrelevant by society". Don't ignore connotation.

Context is probably a better word to use than connotation.

My argument is precisely that women's desires were considered relevant. I think that society, which, is after all about half women, never has considered the desires of women to be irrelevant nor has it ever considered the desires of men to be irrelevant. Society has definite opinions about what sorts of desires are socially appropriate, but that's very different from considering desires irrelevant. I think that your objection is about a perceived lack of social roles, especially formal social roles, for unmarried women in some subset of human cultures. Most traditional human societies also lack important social roles for unmarried men.

The transition to an emphasis on personal merit as a source of status rather than familial success has created high status social roles for both men and women outside of the context of family and reproduction. Because men were less tied to reproduction both biologically and culturally, that transition disproportionately affected men at its beginning and for a while Western cultures had many social roles for unmarried men and virtually none for unmarried women. But that was a fairly anomalous period in human history, and for the vast majority of history women have been just about as important to human economic production as men, and as the status of child production has continued to drop, fathers and mothers both have encouraged their daughters to pursue education and careers and other paths desires that lead to positions of high social status.

comment by Jiro · 2015-08-30T05:22:20.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How did men benefit? Did all men benefit? Were the men also constrained by cultural roles that served to benefit women?

Men were permitted a wider range of roles, and a wider range of roles that personally benefitted them and fit with their desires, than women were.

You seem to be thinking "well, both men and women faced some restrictions, so there was no substantial difference between the restrictions placed on them". This is not true; not every "some" is the same.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-08-25T07:32:54.875Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There are other ways to understand their answers.

I think you're on the right track with them being different from most of us, but I don't think you've identified many relevant differences.

Suppose that people mean what they say.

I suppose they do mean it, but how do they mean it?

Difference 1 We're much more literal and direct in our communications than most people. Do the polled think they are being asked an unliteral question? Are they choosing to respond in an unliteral fashion to what is taken as a literal question?

For example, are they taking it as a question about being "afraid of death"? Are they just signaling that they aren't afraid of death?

Difference 2 We think living for a very long time is a real possibility. Most people don't think it's possible to live much longer.

That only increases the likelihood of unliteral interpretations of the question, and unliteral responses.

There's the basic sour grapes principle. There's also the putting out of your mind yearnings for things you don't believe you can have.

Difference 3 We plan on being youthful, vibrant, and healthy during those increased years. They're likely picturing living in increasingly bad health - even if you say they will be youthful, getting decrepit is probably what they're still picturing.

Difference 4 Closest to your point, I think.

We picture doing a lot more than watching Wheel of Fortune for the next 1000 years. It's unlikely they've even considered many of the possibilities we think of, and if they did, they likely would write them off as impossible.

Maybe if they were told about all the wonderful things they could be doing, and they believed that it was really possible to do those things, they'd be more enthusiastic.

Difference 5 Many people say, at least, that they believe in an afterlife . Whether they literally believe it, or are just saying it in some unliteral fashion, you can see how the literal question just doesn't have the same implications to them as it does to us, and if they're just signaling belief/approval in the afterlife, your question is unlikely to get them to stop.

In summary, yes, we are weird. We should respect that, and evaluate their answers to your questions in all the different ways they might understand your question, and the different ways they might choose to respond.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-08-24T20:32:46.699Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Transmission of ideas is not genetic. You don't need to have kids in order to propagate your ideas. What we need to worry about is to stay in the memetic pool. The genetic pool can go down the drain for all I care.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-24T20:41:26.170Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The genetic pool can go down the drain for all I care.

Once hardware devolves back to vacuum tubes, I'd like to see how your fancy software will continue to run :-P

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-24T20:43:29.740Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not what the post is about. In fact, I think I'll remove that last paragraph. It's distracting and not much use.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-08-24T23:02:44.282Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive. It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.

This was the part I found most problematic.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-25T05:30:00.474Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Leaving behind fewer offspring is the definition of maladaptive. That's not a value judgement, though I did snarkily imply it was, for humor.

comment by Vulture · 2015-08-28T20:55:38.923Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Twist them the way you're twisted.

Or rather, don't, unless you think they have so much agency that this change in temperament will improve their utility despite massively reducing their level of satisfaction.

comment by gurugeorge · 2015-08-26T19:24:55.832Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the concept of psychological neoteny is interesting (Google Bruce Charlton neoteny) in this regard.

Roughly, the idea would be that some people retain something of the plasticity and curiosity of children, whereas others don't, they mature into "proper" human beings and lose that curiosity and creativity. The former are the creative types, the latter are the average human type.

There are several layered ironies if this is a valid notion.

Anyway, for the latter type, they really do exhaust their interests in maturity, they stick to one career, their interests are primarily friends and family, etc., so it's easy to see how for them, life might be "done" at some point. For geeks, nerds, artists, and probably a lot of scientists too, the curiosity never ends, there's always interest about what happens next, what's around the corner, so for them, the idea of life extension and immortality is a positive.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-08-26T19:52:57.001Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Given that each bit of information will, on average, impart less information than the bit before it, each surprise you encounter is, on average, going to be less surprising than the surprise before it.

comment by leplen · 2015-08-27T15:51:44.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that this is true, or maybe I'm not sure that considering things on average is a good measure of surprise. Finding out you were wrong about something is much more surprising than learning something in the first place. Limited reasoners tend to discard alternative hypotheses when something fits the data well enough. Learning that the earth was flying through space around the sun even though it really doesn't feel like it is was much more surprising to me than it would have been if I hadn't seen the ground so stubbornly sitting still for most of my life. I feel like the more I learn, the more surprised I am when something is different than I expect it to be. I may be surprised less, but my increased confidence in my model makes those surprises all the more salient.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-08-27T17:28:15.917Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that considering things on average is a good measure of surprise

For a comparatively short lifespan, sure. Randomness dominates small sets of numbers.

I feel like the more I learn, the more surprised I am when something is different than I expect it to be. I may be surprised less, but my increased confidence in my model makes those surprises all the more salient.

Extrapolate that process out a hundred years, when it might be years between each significant surprise. A thousand, when it might be decades. Ten thousand, when it might be centuries.

comment by Stingray · 2015-08-25T20:26:27.622Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. In addition to that, how much of this lack of desires is sociological and related to self-perception? I mean, these elders probably perceive themselves as a periphery of society, as someone whose time has already passed, who shouldn't have any more ambitions. Will aging societies make businesses and entertainers cater more and more towards seniors (e.g. like this), thus making them feel as the central part of society that everyone else revolves around?

comment by Dagon · 2015-08-25T15:52:48.397Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you need to be careful with the word "want". It's not terribly useful to think of desire as separate from choice. Instead, think of "of the choices X, Y, and Z, which do you choose".

Frames this way, retiree behavior makes sense. The choice they're making isn't "death VS eternal youth", the choice they're making is "spend my remaining time worried and unhappy VS spend my remaining time calm and relaxed". They may or may not consider the choice of "increase my remaining time a little bit by changing in uncomfortable ways", but even if they do, it's hard to argue they're horribly wrong.

Almost nobody (including Clarity) chooses the bundle of reality that includes short-term pain and a large chance of immediate death with a small chance of reduced quality of ongoing life.

IMO, the way to convert deathists is not to. Just outlive them.

comment by Diadem · 2015-08-25T11:08:43.486Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Slightly unrelated to the point made above, but there is one particular weird argument that always seems to come up (at least in my circle of friends and acquaintances) when talking about immortality.

I tell someone plan to live forever, and the response is "Not me! That must be terrible! Imagine being forced to watch as everybody you know dies. And what if humanity dies out? You'll be sitting on a barren world for all eternity. Imagine how bored you will get."

I call this the 'cursed with immortality' argument. It is of course utterly ridiculous, but it's surprisingly common. My guess is that people place the idea of 'immortality' firmly in the realm of fairy tales, and in fairy tales the immortal being desperately trying to die is of course a common theme.

People who use this argument aren't stupid. They of course realize that an immortality curse is the stuff of fairy tales, and has nothing to do with science. But that's the point, they don't consider the question to be part of the realm of science.

And so if you ask people about immortality, make sure they take the question seriously first, and consider it in the right context, before assigning any value to their answer.

comment by knb · 2015-08-25T07:47:20.201Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, I'm a lot less pessimistic about this, some of it is probably socially conditioned and can change with time. I think there's probably a difference between offering a theoretical rejuvenation pill to a healthy 65 year old retiree and offering it to a disabled, cancer-ridden 85 year old woman who is going blind from macular degeneration. I think as the pain of aging compounds with time, the rejuvenation pill looks more and more appealing. And I suspect that much of the "tired of life/ready to die" attitude old people have (to a certain extent this may be something they say because it is expected) is a response to their low energy levels and the background level of pain they experience. I doubt if you actually rejuvenated an elderly person to a youthful state they would persist in welcoming death.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-25T06:32:26.785Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How many of you have kids? Damn few. The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive. It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring. A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory. That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

The survey seems to confirm this - at least the part regarding about children, less so about relationships.

Data point: I have four children and I do have open-ended interests but it depends on the balance. Children do a lot to the balancing here. But I agree that it is difficult to find a matching partner.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-08-25T03:18:06.425Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The long-term solution: Sexbots. Of course, sexbots are the cause of, or solution to most long-term problems.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-08-25T03:43:23.616Z · score: -8 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, if you want to turn more and more adolescent boys into adult male virgins who lack the skills they need for living in a society full of self-directed women.

I honestly don't understand some transhumanists' obsession with sexbots, especially coming from men who have had organic sexual experiences with women - namely, with women who felt attracted to them. (I distinguish those from alienated sexual experiences with prostitutes.)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-25T05:27:36.216Z · score: 9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, if you want to turn more and more adolescent boys into adult male virgins who lack the skills they need for living in a society full of self-directed women.

I do!

It's good for men who don't want love, but just want sex.

It's good for women, because it filters out the men who don't want love, but just want sex.

It's good for me, because it reduces the competition!

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-27T10:34:33.660Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't women get any sexbots?

comment by Viliam · 2015-08-25T08:12:08.605Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I honestly don't understand some transhumanists' obsession with sexbots, especially coming from men who have had organic sexual experiences with women - namely, with women who felt attracted to them.

Even loving women sometimes have imperfections, such as being jealous of other loving women, or angry when I decide to ignore them and play computer games instead. Sexbots, in theory, could be perfect.

Also, even if someone has their "organic experience", they may still wish the sexbots for the others.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T13:01:28.241Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Even loving women sometimes have imperfections, such as being jealous of other loving women, or angry when I decide to ignore them and play computer games instead. Sexbots, in theory, could be perfect.

I don't like you using words like "imperfections" or "perfect" because the reality of interpersonal relationships is more complicated than that. EY talked about this issue in his post Interpersonal Entanglement. I don't think isolated cases of imperfections are intrinsically meaningful, I mean maybe being jealous is not that important to preserve, I'm not sure about that, but the underlying reality behind those cases of imperfections is pretty damn important to me - that there's a sentient thinking being behind all that imperfection.

In a nutshell—sex/romance, as we know it now, is a primary dimension of multiplayer fun. If you take that fun and redirect it to something that isn't socially entangled, if you turn sex into an exclusively single-player game, then you've just made life that much simpler—in the same way that eliminating boredom or sympathy or values over nonsubjective reality or individuals wanting to navigate their own futures, would tend to make life "simpler". When I consider how easily human existence could collapse into sterile simplicity, if just a single major value were eliminated, I get very protective of the complexity of human existence.

I think the most important aspect of romance is that thing EY was talking about: that it's social, that there are real human beings interacting with each other which makes it unpredictable, and complicated sometimes, but that's part of the fun. The pure hedonistic gratification of sexual acts is important too, but not as important as the former, otherwise I'd be fine with porn and fapping for all eternity. I think you post implies that you think there's something different that is important, what is that thing?

comment by Brillyant · 2015-08-25T02:41:59.555Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Death just isn't that big a deal. The desire to live forever—even in a scenario where one could stay young and vigorous—seems very odd to me.

I grew up an Evangelical Christian. We took heaven very seriously and quite literally. Being obsessed with living forever in heaven seemed like a great idea at the time, though it may have been largely due to the fact a literal never-ending-human-oven version of hell was the only other option on the table.

When I stopped Christianing and started thinking, it took a while, but violent opposition to my death went away. Of course, it's still pretty much the biggest roadblock in my future, because it's... well, death. But it's not a problem that requires a solution anymore. It's gonna happen. Oh well.

I think it's cool that smart people like the LWers and others like them might beat biological death one day—through anti-aging, or cryonics and mind uploading, or whatever. But I don't think it's going to be the game changer they seem to think it will be. Problems will still abound.

Eventually I guess you could just wirehead everyone to experience perfect blissful ecstasy for all eternity. Maybe that would solve the Universe.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-08-25T03:57:57.319Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Eventually I guess you could just wirehead everyone to experience perfect blissful ecstasy for all eternity.

Or else Immortal Supermen(TM) would have progressed so far that they will enjoy wireheading as an occasional treat, like drinking a glass of some highly regarded wine with dinner.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-08-25T23:01:16.659Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No. The proper wireheading would max out your utility all the time forever. This would be the one scenario I think the anti-deathists can use to prove death is bad. If everything was perfect for everyone all the time forever, then immortality seems okay.

comment by Dagon · 2015-08-25T23:21:30.442Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A significant portion of humanity believes that death will bring them to a state indistinguishable from wireheading (everything perfect, nothing changes).

comment by Brillyant · 2015-08-26T00:07:17.301Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you mean heaven, then yes. And this is the argument a proponent of immortality could make that seems solid to me.

It could still be argued this 'heaven' situation is no better than not existing, since not existing via death can't be compared to living in any meaningful way.

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-08-27T06:36:34.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I've ever seen anyone on here claim that biological immortality will fix all the problems of the world, just that reducing death is a good thing and that we should definitely do it if we can. Because the loss of the massive complexity that is a human being is really, really bad.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-08-29T03:06:54.050Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No. Reducing death is not a good thing. Death is only the non-existence of consciousness. It's not possible to apply a value to it. It's not possible to compare it to life in any meaningful way.

There is a (silly) conflation that goes on here between all the measurably bad things that accompany death and the process leading to death (sickness, fragility, grieving, etc.) and the state of being dead in itself. Getting rid of not existing is a strange goal.

Because the loss of the massive complexity that is a human being is really, really bad.

Why is this a bad thing?

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-08-30T06:10:08.700Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Death is the occurrence of life being lost, the event has value insofar as the living being had value.

If one wants to continue to exist, getting rid of the state of nonexistence seems like a fairly reasonable goal for that person to pursue. I want to exist, regardless of the fact that nonexistence is itself painless.

I consider the loss of everything a person is to be 'bad' because I value the unique intricacies of each person. I attribute value there because I find that complexity mind-blowingly incredible. And I think it is sad when something so incredible and unique goes away forever.

Also I want to point out that you don't actually have a reason (at least not that you've stated) for why you think you don't want to live forever, you just say that you find the desire "odd" without explanation.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-09-01T02:05:48.895Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Death is the occurrence of life being lost, the event has value insofar as the living being had value.

If you say so. Though I've yet to hear a compelling reason why this is so. The loss will never be experienced as a loss because death removes your ability to experience loss. The idea that life ending is an ongoing loss is some sort of bad opportunity cost calculation.

I consider the loss of everything a person is to be 'bad' because I value the unique intricacies of each person. I attribute value there because I find that complexity mind-blowingly incredible. And I think it is sad when something so incredible and unique goes away forever.

This is perhaps just a novelty that would disappear given enough time. You are X years old; give it 1000X and see how you feel about the intricacies of the species or whatever else tickles your fascination bone.

Also I want to point out that you don't actually have a reason (at least not that you've stated) for why you think you don't want to live forever, you just say that you find the desire "odd" without explanation.

I see it to be an odd extrapolation of the adaptive will to survive. Lower animals want to live perpetually. They seem hardwired to just do survival things for the sake of survival. They don't ask why or stop to think about the Sisyphean absurdity of trying to survive forever. You, as a human, can consider this. And I think it's odd when you (and other humans) do not identify the absurdity.

Why wouldn't living forever be just like any other scenario where a good thing is multiplied by infinity? The novelty would wear off just like chocolate or sex. Things are "good" because they are scarce. Never-ending anything would become a burden.

My sense is the "lifeism" community at LW and elsewhere (those obsessed with cryonics, immortality, etc.) is simply making a bad calculation about the value of life based on some intuition gone haywire. It's a cognitive glitch where life = good, so life x infinity = good x infinity. The formula fails to recognize the inherent scarcity in goodness, as well as seeing the loss of life as paying out some ongoing residual opportunity cost for failing to achieve immortality.

The one immortality scenario I think is difficult to argue against would be a perfect infinite wireheading scenario. If you could create a situation of perfect bliss and contentment for eternity, then I don't see a technical problem. It would, I think, require the participants to become unconscious to the reality of the scenario, but still.

To the thread below: You're not being impolite. I thought you were clear.

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-09-01T03:36:29.805Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why wouldn't living forever be just like any other scenario where a good thing is multiplied by infinity? The novelty would wear off just like chocolate or sex. Things are "good" because they are scarce. Never-ending anything would become a burden.

If I get tired of eating chocolate or having sex it is because I want to do something else. I can't really 'do' anything besides living (death isn't me doing something because I no longer exist). We are also programmed to only want a certain amount of sex and chocolate, but we are for the most part programmed to want life as long as we can get it. Life also has a lot more options than more specific 'good' things. I always have too many things I want to do in a day. It is hard to conceive of waking up one day and thinking I was bored of life or just wanted to stop existing. I have to imagine pretty dire circumstances.

Then again, I haven't lived tens of thousands of years, I might very well get bored and decide I was done with life. But I still would like the option to live as long as I want, just in case I don't.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-09-01T04:25:34.998Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The "programmed" bit is where I see a problem. It's humans' ability to think and reason outside the replicator-level lizard brain urges that makes immortality problematic. We are able to recognize the fight to live, live to fight cycle of life.

I don't think life in general is that different from any specific "good" thing—given enough time, the novelty will wear off.

The option of immortality seems okay. Though it seems a bit arbitrary whether someone lives to 80 or 800 or 80 million. The more life = more utilons math never makes sense to me.

I've always thought it was interesting to think what you would actually do with eternity... You could have kids...like 1,000 kids. And fall in love every week. And win Nobel Prizes in everything. And travel to the edge of the Universe. Or create your own Universe and be the God of it. Etc. Etc. There might be thousands of years of novelty in that. Maybe millions. But the returns are diminishing. Just think of all the amazing stuff we completely ignore and are bored with already.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-09-01T22:23:48.946Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've always thought it was interesting to think what you would actually do with eternity... You could have kids...like 1,000 >kids. And fall in love every week. And win Nobel Prizes in everything. And travel to the edge of the Universe. Or create >your own Universe and be the God of it. Etc. Etc. There might be thousands of years of novelty in that. Maybe millions. >But the returns are diminishing. Just think of all the amazing stuff we completely ignore and are bored with already.

I understand that boredom is an issue for many people, but I never really get bored so it's difficult for me to relate. 1,000 years of various things like the ones you mention seems like it would be a lot of fun to me.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-09-03T06:40:56.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Scope insensitivity seems to be a strong possibility here.

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-09-01T21:21:55.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The difference is that life, given an infinite amount of time also has an infinite amount of options for things one can do. There are enough things to do forever, the only question is whether the specific individual will keep thinking of things that they want to do. The crux of our disagreement seems to be that you think people would get bored with literally everything if they lived long enough and I think that most people would find something worthwhile in the infinite possibilities. But neither of us have lived very long (cosmically speaking) so it is difficult to really know how we will feel if we live to be 500, 5000, or 5 million years old.

There might be thousands of years of novelty in that. Maybe millions. But the returns are diminishing. Just think of all the amazing stuff we completely ignore and are bored with already.

Returns are diminishing for one activity, but there are infinite possibilities of activities one might do in infinite time. I don't think diminishing returns applies to everything you could do at once. But again, I don't know, maybe continued existence would eventually become unpleasant. That's a possibility I'm not ignoring, but just because its a possibility doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to have immortality be an option.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-08-30T13:22:23.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most people want to live, and so because they want to live they want to avoid dying.

But it would be more polite not to say things like "you don't actually have a reason for why you think you don't want to live forever," and just say "you don't have a reason not to want to live forever" or something similar.

comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-08-30T16:01:27.453Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More polite, but probably less accurate. I could be wrong, but it was a conscious decision to word it that way

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-08-24T20:38:22.771Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are all sorts of cultural reasons. It's certainly not just us who are having fewer children (I have 2, btw) - it's spread all over.

A lot of it is, raising kids well is a lot of hard work, and by the time you're done with the first batch you're wearing down, so you can't space it out. And if you didn't go the kids route up front, prioritizing anything else, then you don't even get that first batch. It doesn't need to be lambda calculus that keeps you out of the maternity ward.

Healthful longevity would go a long way to undoing that - if women in their 40s and 50s or older could have babies with no problem, and kept the energy from when they were 25 or 30, I wonder how many would. And those who did, could again. My wife and I would lean towards it, I think.

comment by Desrtopa · 2015-08-27T13:48:34.380Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm highly skeptical that most people actually run out of stuff they take pleasure in over the course of a natural lifespan, or anticipate themselves doing so. Most people may have interests less "open ended" than are the norm here, but I haven't found that people interested in, say, football, tend to find that by their latter years they've had enough of football.

If immortality was available on asking, and some people chose to live forever to pursue their interests indefinitely, I think people who refused to follow their lead because they had simply had enough would be very much in the minority.

comment by Epictetus · 2015-08-26T20:06:49.442Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I don't even find the prospect of living another decade all that exciting. If it's anything like its predecessor, my expectations are low. If I were to suddenly die in that time I wouldn't think it a big loss (albeit my family might not like it so much), but if I'm alive I'll probably manage to find some way to pass the time.

If you asked me whether I'd like to live another thousand years (assuming no physical or mental degradation), I'd ask myself "Why would I want to live 1,000 years?" and, failing to find an answer, decline. If I were told that I was going to live that long whether I liked it or not, I'd treat it more as a thing to be endured than as an exciting opportunity. The best I'd expect is to spend the time reasonably content.

Needless to say, I wouldn't make any great sacrifice today for that kind of longevity. If I avoid wanton hedonism, it's because that lifestyle can lead to accelerated degradation and the associated problems. Concern about longevity hardly enters into my calculations.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-26T22:51:57.096Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you asked me whether I'd like to live another thousand years (assuming no physical or mental degradation), I'd ask >myself "Why would I want to live 1,000 years?" and, failing to find an answer, decline.

Isn't the obvious answer, "because, assuming your life isn't unbearably bad, living the next 1,000 years has higher expected utility than not living the next 1,000 years?"

Responses like yours confuse me because they seem to confidently imply that the future will be incredibly boring or something. It's possible, but the opposite could also be true. And even if it was unexpectedly bad, you'd still likely be able to opt out at any time.

comment by Epictetus · 2015-08-26T23:57:49.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't the obvious answer, "because, assuming your life isn't unbearably bad, living the next 1,000 years has higher expected utility than not living the next 1,000 years?"

We don't have accurate predictions about what the next 1,000 years are going to look like. Any probability calculation we make will be mostly influenced by our priors; in other words, an optimist would compute a good expected utility while a pessimist would reach the opposite result.

Responses like yours confuse me because they seem to confidently imply that the future will be incredibly boring or something.

I'm saying that if there's nothing impressive about my life in the present or the past, then I'm not one to expect much more out of the future. Some people have a cause or goal and would like to live long enough to see it through--good for them, I say.

I harbor no such vision myself. It's possible that something comes up at a later time and, over the course of 1,000 years (say), it seems rather likely that at some point I'd encounter that feeling. It's equally likely that something unavoidably bad comes up. On balance, I'm indifferent.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-27T00:23:01.411Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Makes sense. Thanks for the reply.

comment by WhyAsk · 2015-08-25T17:46:24.941Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

". . .or things they still want to accomplish, they have none."

The job at that age is to use their remaining years to review their life as they have lived it, try to make sense of the many decisions they made, and come to terms with it.

I started on this project a bit late. :(

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-24T22:33:06.248Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Significant lifespan extension would change all of our cultural norms so much that it isn't realistic to expect non-nerds to begin to wrap their heads around it in any meaningful way. And they sure as hell can't be expected to change their minds about any of their core beliefs/values, let alone the fact that they don't want to live "forever."

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-30T14:58:59.776Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Related:

comment by 105afterford · 2015-08-27T05:09:42.728Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Don't think its a great example of "people wanting to die" as others have said below and gone into detail. I'm choosing to add to the conversation because I think there is a great takeaway from this and that is people value life for different reasons. They can crudely be defined as "simple-minded" or more appropriately "traditional" and represent a very large percent of the population. Those of you who grew up in rural areas like myself are likely very familiar with the archetype described by the OP. I think a great question from this is...

Should we be encouraging people to seek out a life with more questions, more complexity, and more interests. Or should they be left as they are? This is a big political and sociological question. Should those who wish to live a more simple life be allowed to do so, and if so would that interfere with a more erudite population? (I think it may already be doing so). Should our approach be to evangelize, or should it be more of a separation / detente?

comment by Ishaan · 2015-08-29T02:12:09.552Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with the idea that the desire to die is normal for humans.

The vast majority of humanity, spanning hunter-gatherers to information economy techies, believe in some form of consciousness which continues after the physical body as passed away. They believe this to the point that, if you disabuse them of this notion, they'll enter a spiritual crisis and begin to feel that life is meaningless. The older people get, the more enthusiastically they believe this.

If the collective fantasy common to our entire species doesn't reflect an extremely powerful human wish to live longer than we currently do, I don't know what does.

When the average person says they want to die at 80, what they really mean that they want to leave this world for another at 80. They don't want to continue things as they are, or re-live their youth - they want to move on to a different sort of existence.

But practically speaking, I think you might be right that getting someone interested in something worldly would encourage them to stay on in this world longer, and in the end that might be better than trying to explain that death means really death (once we actually have the option to stop true death which doesn't seem like a long shot, which realistically we really don't yet).

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-29T13:02:15.767Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the belief in life after death necessarily indicates a wish to live longer than we currently do. I think it is a result of the fact that it appears to people to be incoherent to expect your consciousness to cease to be: if you expect that to happen, what experience will fulfill that expectation?

Obviously none. The only expectation that could theoretically be fulfilled by experience is expecting your consciousness to continue to exist. This doesn't actually prove that your consciousness will in fact continue to exist, but it is probably the reason there is such a strong tendency to believe this.

This article here talks about how very young children tend to believe that a mouse will have consciousness after death, even though they certainly do not hear this from adults:

For example, in a study by Bering and Bjorklund (2004), children (as well as an adult comparison group) were presented with a puppet show in which an anthropomorphized mouse was killed and eaten by an alligator, and then asked about the biological and psychological functioning of the now-dead mouse. Kindergartners understood that various biological imperatives (e.g., the capacity to be sick, the need to eat, drink, and relieve oneself) no longer applied to the dead mouse. The majority of these children even said that the brain of the dead mouse no longer worked, which is especially telling given that children at this age also understand that the brain is “for thinking” (Bloom 2004; Gottfried & Jow 2003; Johnson & Wellman 1982; Slaughter & Lyons 2003). Yet when asked whether the dead mouse was hungry or thirsty, or whether it was thinking or had knowledge, most kindergartners said yes. In other words, young children were cognizant of the fact that the body stops working at death but they viewed the mind as still active. Furthermore, both the children and adults were particularly likely to attribute to the dead mouse the capacity for certain psychological states (i.e., emotions, desires, and epistemic states) over others (i.e., psychobiological and perceptual states), a significant trend that will be addressed in the following section. In general, however, kindergartners were more apt to make psychological attributions to the dead mouse than were older children, who were not different from adults in this regard. This is precisely the opposite pattern that one would expect to find if the origins of such beliefs could be traced exclusively to cultural indoctrination. In fact, religious or eschatological-type answers (e.g., Heaven, God, spirits, etc.) among the youngest children were extraordinarily rare. Thus, a general belief in the continuity of mental states in dead agents seems not something that children acquire as a product of their social– religious upbringing, because increasing exposure to cultural norms would increase rather than attenuate afterlife beliefs in young minds. Instead, a natural disposition toward afterlife beliefs is more likely the default cognitive stance and interacts with various learning channels (for an alternative interpretation, see Astuti, forthcoming a). Moreover, in a follow-up study that included Catholic schoolchildren, this incongruous pattern of biological and psychological attributions to the dead mouse appeared even after controlling for differences in religious education (Bering et al. 2005).

comment by Ishaan · 2015-08-29T21:04:24.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, in general, I'm sure part of it is that humans can't easily conceptualize true death in the first place (but that's even further grounds for not taking them seriously when they say they want to die). Just like part of it is our instinctive animism/anthropomorphism. I certainly don't want to minimize the role of "cognitive illusions" in the whole thing.

But I don't think it's a coincidence that these beliefs depict the universe as fairly utopian - the afterlife often resolves misunderstandings, rebalances moral scales, makes room for further growth... and earthly suffering is generally given higher purpose. Remember - a true human utopia doesn't give its members all they think they desire, or eliminate the sort of suffering which serves a deeper human value, fiction is replete with failed utopias along those lines. Despite all the terrible things, we could be in a utopia right now if only we have sufficiently optimistic beliefs about what happens outside the narrow window of our worldly experiences. Is it a coincidence that religions often have precisely these optimistic beliefs?

Anyway, I doubt you need to get into "what does the mouse expect" to explain that particular result: Very young children also lack the theory of mind to understand that not everyone has the same information as they do. If the mouse had simply left the room and the alligator ate the mouse's friend squirrel, they might say the mouse was sad and angry (not realizing that the mouse was gone from the room and wouldn't know about what the alligator did).

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comment by ChristianKl · 2015-08-29T19:36:16.743Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In Europe with higher rates of atheism you still don't get a majority of people to want to live forever.

comment by Ishaan · 2015-08-29T21:10:58.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is belief in the supernatural (crystal healing, ghosts, "something higher", that sort of thing) actually lower? I'd be very surprised if this turned out to be a cultural or demographic thing, rather than a human thing. I think that, absent some sort of active cultural intervention preventing it, a psychologically typical human will believe in spirits and magic. I know I would.

I think atheists, being psychologically typical humans, still retain certain implicit beliefs about this sort of thing. Ideas about how our matter goes on to circulate through the ecosystem, or the notion that we're all made of star-stuff and are generally one with the universe, are powerful and comforting to many.

The embrace of impermanence is so often accomplished by manufacturing a different sort of permanence to cling to.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-08-29T23:36:57.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is belief in the supernatural (crystal healing, ghosts, "something higher", that sort of thing) actually lower?

If you take ghosts in Germany as an example 79.7% say they don't believe while only 17.7 believe they do.

I think that, absent some sort of active cultural intervention preventing it, a psychologically typical human will believe in spirits and magic. I know I would.

School curriculums are written in a way to discourage belief in ghosts and not treat it as a mainstream belief. Mainstream media does the same. We don't have figures like Oprah on German mainstream TV.

Ideas about how our matter goes on to circulate through the ecosystem, or the notion that we're all made of star-stuff and are generally one with the universe, are powerful and comforting to many.

While that might be true, I don't think that people on LW are radically different on that count.

comment by Ishaan · 2015-08-30T18:56:16.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While that might be true, I don't think that people on LW are radically different on that count.

Yes, neither do I. I'm not even personally different on that count. Aside from the forum-specific ideologies, Lesswrongers being unusual is a more extreme case of internet forum users being unusual, which is in turn a more extreme case of extremely literate people being unusual, and so on.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-09-01T17:05:41.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But Lesswrongers are different when it comes to the question whether curing ageing is a valuable goal. Few people on LW want to die before they are 1000. That's different for the general population. It's worthwhile to try to understand where the difference comes from.

comment by Ishaan · 2015-09-02T02:52:52.200Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/08/06/living-to-120-and-beyond-americans-views-on-aging-medical-advances-and-radical-life-extension/

http://inhumanexperiment.blogspot.com/2009/07/who-wants-to-live-forever.html

Desire to live indefinitely is not that uncommon in the general population in the first place, this is a transhumanist forum so there is a self-selection effect from the outset (LWers beliefs about AI are way weirder than the immortality thing), and almost every single person here has been exposed to explicit arguments for wanting immortality, moreover, in a setting where not wanting immortality is low status. Isn't this kind of like asking why church members are more likely to believe in God?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-09-02T10:17:51.642Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In this discussion there was the hypothesis that people don't want to fight aging because of the promise of eternal life from religion. When we want to convince people it's useful to know whether that's true.

The polling data doesn't seem to suggest that hypothesis when religious Brazil in general is pro-longevity while more atheistic Russia has the lowest support for longevity. Of course that are single data points but it still suggests that religion isn't the core force that prevents people from wanting longevity.

Isn't this kind of like asking why church members are more likely to believe in God?

It quite useful to understand how people come to believe and then go to Church.

comment by Ishaan · 2015-09-02T18:53:04.175Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed.

(By the way, I never was suggesting that religion caused people to not desire earthly longevity. I was saying that the fact that nearly all human religions often feature immorality suggest that nearly all humans find it difficult to understand and accept true-death and wish for immortality on some level.

Furthermore I was saying that if someone happily believes in an afterlife, we should probably count them as desiring immortality even if they claim to desire an earthly death. I'm disagreeing with the idea that we should take claims of wishing to die at face value - I think that most who would turn down an eternal life (assuming good health, companionship, purpose, and so on) are either mistaken about what they prefer, or mistaken about the universe.

With many exceptions, of course.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-25T11:18:33.785Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

EDIT: I accidently deleted me entire comment here, intending to just add in this additional edit:

I’ve tried Zoloft (sertraline) and it wasn’t very good, and my 23andme profile tells me that some other drugs won’t be very great for me:

”…amitriptyline (Elavil), citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), and venlafaxine (Effexor). That makes those antidepressants 7 times less effective….”

”…The antidepressant drugs that are known to be substrates include citalopram, paroxetine, amitriptyline, and venlafaxine.”

On the other hand, it recommends that citalopram:

”… 4-1.70, p=0.046). This same SNP, which is in the FKBP5 gene, may influence how patients respond to antidepressants including citalopram ..”

Might ask for it at my psychiatric medication review this week

Could a mod please replace the original comment too? :'(

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-08-25T13:32:21.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of the few reasons I might not want to die is the extremely obscure but entertaining possibility than some transhuman god of the future might bring me back and fuck with me even more. I wouldn't have the capabilities, being dead and all, to compete with said god enough to avert such a possibility.

That is one of the most unusual approaches to trans-humanism and avoiding suicide I've ever heard of. Good luck.