Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Blear of Death

I regularly hear from people the claim that the fear of death is universal. I honestly wonder if I am simply not understanding what people are trying to communicate when they say this? I mean, I do hope I am not in excruciating pain or completely isolated when I die -- but I am not thrilled at such prospects even when they are survivable, it's not death that is fearsome in them as far as I can tell. Sure, I want to live, it's the only game in town. But, I dunno, I really truly find a fear of death weird. And preoccupation with that fear seems to me especially terrible and deranging, even a kind of death in life. Perfectly nondescript unaccomplished persons manage to die all the time. Honestly, how hard or how odd can it be? I don't get it.


jimf said...

> I honestly wonder if I am simply not understanding what
> people are trying to communicate when they say this?

I'm terrified of dying without clean underwear.

Dale Carrico said...

As a Deathist, I will of course be holding a pair of clean white underpants in my cold dead hand like a white flag.

Richard Jones said...

I’ve got a bit of a suspicion, based on a near-miss or two, that the process of dying may not be wholly comfortable. But the prospect of the ongoing condition of being dead doesn’t seem very worrying to me. A few people close to me will miss me. But writing the sentence or two about cryonics in my recent blog post did prompt me to wonder, why would I imagine that a future society would want to put any effort into resurrecting me, a journeyman scientist turned university administrator like thousands of other late twentieth century specimens. Perhaps the motivations of those signing up to cryonics are as much about not being able to imagine that the world could do without them, as about not wanting to die.

Dale Carrico said...

You do make a good point about worries over those you leave behind. That thought would indeed be excruciating, especially thinking of folks who count on you. As for some eventually cryonicized society, I have actually always assumed revivals would be connected somehow to graduate students getting their useless vanity degrees in twenty-third century diploma mills by resurrecting and then interviewing revivies for dissertations nobody reads.

jimf said...

Richard Jones wrote:

> I’ve got a bit of a suspicion, based on a near-miss or two,
> that the process of dying may not be wholly comfortable. But the
> prospect of the ongoing condition of being dead doesn’t seem
> very worrying to me. . . But writing. . . about cryonics. . .
> did prompt me to wonder, why would I imagine that a future society
> would want to put any effort into resurrecting me, a journeyman
> scientist turned university administrator like thousands of
> other late twentieth century specimens. . .

I mentioned something like this on the Extropians' mailing list
back in 2001:
One reflection that's crossed my mind. . . is the thought
that the nastiest aspect of death for me personally (and
probably for many other people) isn't the idea of nonexistence
per se, but rather the likelihood of having to go through a
fair amount of unpleasantness in order to reach that state.
Cryonics doesn't get you around any of that; in fact, if
anything, there'd likely enough be a fair amount of unpleasantness
at the other end, assuming one got revived. . .

Of course, the wish to avoid the unpleasantness surrounding
death (on whichever side of it) can be written off as
mere cowardice; but the belief that one's own personality
is important enough to take extreme measures to preserve it
from nonexistence strikes me as -- unseemly, somehow.
Maybe I feel that way for the same reason I'm not a fan
of Ayn Rand. . .

Unlike HAL in _2001_, I find nothing particularly alarming
in the fact that my consciousness does, in fact, cease
to exist every night when I'm in delta sleep. Nor do I
find the prospect that the universe will go on for billions
of years without me in it particularly alarming. **Strange**,
yes, but no stranger than contemplating the fact that
the universe existed for billions of years **before** I came
into it, or contemplating the unlikelihood that I should exist
at all, or contemplating the fact that the person I was
at age 5 or 15 has already almost altogether disappeared,
and is only dimly reflected in the person I am now.

jimf said...
Whenever Peter Thiel, the gay PayPal/Facebook billionaire, opens his mouth
to speak, it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to come out. Thiel is making
the media circuit these days, promoting his new book, Zero to One,
and offering his opinion on virtually everything. . .

But strange statements are part and parcel of Thiel’s character. . .
Here’s a reminder, with seven more of the weirdest statements he’s made
through the years. . .

3. “There are all these people who say that death is natural, it’s just
part of life, and I think that nothing can be further from the truth.”

If by “all these people,” you mean everyone on the face of the planet
(or six feet beneath it), well, yes. However, Thiel is very disturbed
about the prospect of death and has invested heavily in projects that
set out to “cure” it or at least extend life substantially.

jimf said...

> > A few people close to me will miss me.
> You do make a good point about worries over those you
> leave behind.

A few quotes about eternity with or without friends
and family.

Stephen Fry: Mormon Encounter
I was expelled from a meeting of Latter-Day Saints when I
first went to Salt Lake City, literally as a tourist.
I was wandering around, and this person in a grey shift
came up to me and said, "Would you like to see around?". . .

I realized she was a Mormon who was doing a tour, with a bit of
recruitment going on. . . Anyway, she gave us a good tour,
and we saw this tabernacle here and this here and so on. . .

And then she said "I just want to tell you a little about
the Church of Latter-Day Saints," and we all stood politely. . .

And she said how, in the afterlife, all families will be
reunited, and you'll be with your families forever.

So I put my hand up and said, "What happens if you've been

And she said, "Can you leave please?" because everyone started

But I mean, what a **ridiculous** idea! How is that supposed to
be attractive? That you're going to be stuck with every aunt
and every cousin, every. . . Oh good gracious, every, you know,
alcoholic or slightly deviant uncle? I mean, Jesus! It's just
the most **awful** destiny imaginable! And they think that's
a USP -- yeah, that's what our church promises. Good lord!

Well of course what it does, and that you don't have to be that smart
to spot, that what it does is that church focuses entirely on
women _d'un certain age_ as the French say, women of a certain age,
who have lost their children, because they've grown up, and have
lost their parents because they've died, and they're lonely and
they've still got that family queen-bee mother nesting instinct.
And they're the ones the Latter-Day Saints home in on and say,
"You follow us and we promise you that you'll be with your family
all around you again in Heaven, and they think that's a cool thing.
Everyone else would go **bleah**!

Anyway. . .

jimf said...

And another from Mike "Darwin" (Federowicz):
As a good friend of mine recently said, “When we are young, we imagine
the future as something wonderful, stacked on top of everything that
already was, not annihilating it and taking its place.” He is right.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, Curtis Henderson was driving us
out of Sayville to go the Cryo-Span facility, and I said something
that irritated him – really set him off on a tear. Beverly (Gillian Cumings)
had just died, and it had become clear that she was not going to
get frozen, and I was moaning about it, crying about it in fact,
and this is what he said to me: “You wanna live forever kid? You
really wanna live forever?! Well, then you better be ready to go
through a lot more of this – ’cause this ain’t nothin. Ever been
burned all over, or had your hand squashed in a machine? Well get
prepared for it, because you’re gonna experience that, and a lot
more that’s worse than either you or me can imagine. Ever lost
your girlfriend or your wife, or your mother or your father, or your
best friend? Well, you’re gonna lose ‘em, and if you live long
enough, really, really long enough, you’re gonna lose everybody;
and then you’ll lose ‘em over and over again. Even if they don’t die,
you’ll lose ‘em, so be prepared. You see all this here; them boats,
this street, that ocean, that sun in that sky? You’re gonna
lose ‘em all! The more you go on, the more you’ll leave behind, so
I’m telling you here and now, you’d best be damn certain about this
living forever thing, because it’s gonna be every bit as much
Hell as it Heaven.”

He was right, too. — Mike Darwin

See also:

jimf said...

> And another from Mike "Darwin" (Federowicz)

From the article that kicked off that same thread:
Over the past few years there has been increasing friction between
a subset of cryonicists, and people in the Transhumanist (TH) and
Technological Singularity communities, most notably those who follow
the capital N, Nanotechnology doctrine. Or perhaps more accurately,
there has been an increasing amount of anger and discontent on the
part of some in cryonics over the perceived effects these “alternate”
approaches to and views of the future have had on the progress of
cryonics. While I count myself in this camp of cryonicists, I think
it’s important to put these issues into perspective, and to give
a first-hand accounting of how n(N)anotechnology and TH first
intersected with cryonics. . .

It is important to understand that the nanotechnology folks didn’t
come to cryonicists and hitch a ride on our star. Quite the reverse
was the case. Eric Dexler was given a gift subscription to Cryonics
magazine by someone, still unknown, well before the publication of
Engines of Creation.[3] When he completed his draft of Engines,
which was then called The Future by Design, he sent out copies
of the manuscript to a large cross-section of people – including
to us at Alcor. . .

If nanotechnology had stayed nanotechnology, instead of becoming
Nanotechnology, then it would all have been to the good. By way of
analogy, I’m not irrevocably wed to the idea of cryopreservation.
I have no emotional investment in low temperatures and on the
contrary, the need to maintain such an extreme and costly environment
without any break or interruption, scares the hell out of me.
I’d much prefer a preservation approach that has been validated
over ~45 million years, such as the demonstrated preservation of
cellular ultrastructure in glasses at ambient temperature, in the
form plant and animal tissues preserved in amber. . .

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened vis a vis nanotechnology,
and a clique of people emerged who were heavily emotionally invested in
a 19th century mechanical approach to achieving a “technological singularity.”
I know I never thought that rod logic computers would be the
technology used to run teensy tiny mechanical robots that would
repair cryopatients. Truth to tell, I have only vague ideas how
repair will be carried out on severely injured patients. . .
And while I agree that the pace of technological advance is accelerating,
I don’t believe in some utopian singularity, because I also know
that these advances are not one-sided; they carry enormous costs
and liabilities, which will to some degree offset their advantages.

To sum up, it isn’t the ideas of accelerating technological advance,
nanotechnology, or any combination of these ideas per se that have
been so pernicious; rather, it is the adoption of a utopian
(all positive) framework which is socially enforced as the mandatory
context in which these ideas must be viewed, that has been so destructive.
That is certainly not Eric Drexler’s fault, and I would go so far
as to argue that it was at least as much the responsibility of the
cryonics organizations that systematically purged people who didn’t
adhere to this party line for (among many reasons) the simple fact
that failure to project this idealized and easily grasped view of
the future was not good for sales. These ideas, presented in an
inevitably utopian framework, do in fact get customers. And customers
were exactly what every then (and now) extant cryonics organization
wanted, and still want. . .

jimf said...
Review of Ilia Stambler’s “A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century”
By Gennady Stolyarov II
Sep 18, 2014

. . .

While most Americans are not opposed to advanced medicine and
concerted efforts to fight specific diseases of old age, there
does still seem to be a culturally ingrained perception of some
“maximum lifespan” beyond which life extension is feared, even
though it is considered acceptable up to that limit.