Monday, October 24, 2005

Stop the Clock!

No, not that clock, this one:
Searching for a cure for aging is not just a nice thing that we should perhaps one day get around to. It is an urgent, screaming moral imperative. The sooner we start a focused research program, the sooner we will get results. It matters if we get the cure in 25 years rather than in 24 years: a population greater than that of Canada would die as a result. In this matter, time equals life, at a rate of approximately 70 lives per minute. With the meter ticking at such a furious rate, we need to stop faffing about.

Read the whole thing.

Update: More here:
"One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, and two-thirds of those die of aging in one way or the other," [de Grey] says, while nursing a pint of fine English ale. "If I speed up the cure for aging by one day, then I've saved 100,000 people." He pauses thoughtfully for a moment. "Actually, I probably do that every week."

41 comments:

  1. two words
    "genetic engineering" (human)
    Sure we will make a few mistakes (like people eaten by the dragon) - but the problem will get solved.

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  2. 1) There's something fishy about his logic, and I think it is this: there is no point increasing people's "health-span" unless you also increase their "health-illness" ratio; otherwise the whole project is like trying to improve the Mona Lisa by making it bigger. And I am not sure how you can increase people's "health-illness" ratio unless, once you have lots of healthy old people, you are able to kill them off before they start to deteriorate. I guess people would just die in murders and accidents, like the story's several hundred patients and staff at the hospital.

    2) There are two other fairly pressing moral imperatives, and it is hard to say whether or not they are compatible with Bostrom's imperative: the imperative that all the old people clear out soon enough to leave room for the young ones coming up; and the imperative that people's health is not too much compromised by things like famine and war. If "the population of Canada" could be saved from those other nasty things, Bostrom's clock would tick much more urgently; as it is, "the population of Canada" will be saved from nothing more than gradual decline and quiet annihilation (although if they were all suffering from really nasty age-related diseases, it might be a different story, with a genuinely fearful dragon.)

    4) When we find the antidote to age we have also found the antidote to youth.

    I think I have a fairly stubborn case of status quo bias, but I think Bostrom suffers from the opposite effect (does anyone know how to put the opposite effect in Latin?).

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  3. Mike, there's much I disagree with in your interesting comment. Let me address them one at a time:

    "there is no point increasing people's "health-span" unless you also increase their "health-illness" ratio"

    That seems straightforwardly false. So long as the ratio is positive, i.e. more health than illness, then upsizing will yield a net benefit. We might have to endure a few more unhappy days, but the benefit of a great many more happy days surely outweighs this. (Of course, it would also be good to improve the proportion of our lifespan that is 'good'/healthy. But proportions aren't everything. Absolute benefits are important too, and should be taken into consideration.)

    "kill them off before they start to deteriorate"

    I think the ultimate goal would be to not just postpone the deterioration, but halt it entirely.

    "the imperative that all the old people clear out soon enough to leave room for the young ones coming up"

    I don't think anybody is morally obliged to die in order to "make room" for others. In fact, I think that's an obscene suggestion. Maybe if they were senile vegetables (and thus no longer a 'person' in the fullest sense of the term). But fully-functional, healthy people? No way.

    "and the imperative that people's health is not too much compromised by things like famine and war"

    Why would longevity cause more wars? (If anything, wouldn't people be more careful not to throw away their lives? They would have a larger expected value, after all. Currently, people can reason, "well, I'm going to die anyway..." But if the transhumanist vision is realised, then we don't necessarily have to die at all. Unless the universe collapses in a few trillion years. But that's a wee way off yet.)

    More generally, your objections would seem to count against any moves to save people's lives. (Should we send food to Africa? Well, they'll just go ahead and have more starving children. This'll lead to overpopulation, etc. Better if they just shut up and die, really.)

    I don't know for sure. Maybe it really would be better if the sick and starving just shut up and died. But that doesn't seem very plausible to me. Surely we ought to do what we can to help. This may lead to other problems, like overpopulation, but hopefully they can be solved too. Maybe people will have fewer children, or improving technology will increase the planet's population "capacity", or we will colonize space. Surely something can be done, anyway. It just seems bizarre to object to saving lives merely because (to paraphrase) "then there'll be too many living people!"

    Overpopulation may be a problem. But killing people, or letting them die unnecessarily, is surely not the appropriate solution.

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  4. I'm not convinced; this is a moral imperative for whom? Moral imperatives are always requirements for particular people to do particular things; who is it who is currently violating their moral obligations by not eliminating aging? Further, the whole argument trades on the assumption that age is a monstrous condition that must be eliminated. I like the fable, but Mike B. is right that the dragon could substitute for just about any significant problem, with only minor changes; and some of them would be much more plausibly isomorphic than the problem of age, which isn't even in itself clearly a problem in the way disease and war are clearly problems.

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  5. "some of them would be much more plausibly isomorphic than the problem of age, which isn't even in itself clearly a problem in the way disease and war are clearly problems."

    Aging is 100% fatal; wars, famines, and specific diseases aren't.

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  6. Aging is also 100% consistent with health and peace; war, famine, and disease aren't.

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  7. "Aging is also 100% consistent with health and peace; war, famine, and disease aren't."

    It's no coincidence that old people suffer from chronic diseases. "Normal aging" brings inflammation, bone loss, pain, infirmity and mental deficiency. Each of these will one day be treated like a disease.

    People aren't likely to be offered immortality per se. They'll get a pack of pills that can immunize them from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, bone loss, mental atrophy and so on. The vast majority of people will take the pills.

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  8. I've developed my point briefly here.

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  9. doctor(logic):

    That's all very well, and I think true, but your point runs contrary to Bostrom's argument, which, if taken seriously, would require us to regard these things as trying to treat the symptoms rather than the 'underlying cause'. Bostrom is not advocating that we do better at making sure people age healthily; he explicitly denies that this is enough. He wants the elimination of senescence entirely.

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  10. I guess my point is that what you might call natural aging is disease. Evolution has programmed our genes to cause us to die of an array of diseases that inhibit normal function. Living a healthy life will force us to eliminate aging altogether. There is no clear division between treatment and enhancement.

    Even if there were such a division, why should we accept the death of friends and family when we can do something about it?

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  11. "this is a moral imperative for whom?"

    Well, I guess it falls under the general requirement of beneficence. Aging causes great harm, and to alleviate harm is a good thing, and people ought to do good things that are within their power. I'm not sure we really need to be any more specific than that, but if you must, I suppose we could stick the requirement to all those who have the power to make Bostrom's ideal into a reality. Researchers, funding boards, politicians and others in the media spotlight [bloggers? ;)], etc.

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  12. Richard: I didn’t express myself very well in my first comment. Let me respond to your arguments, and try to make mine sound more plausible.

    1) " So long as the ratio is positive, i.e. more health than illness, then upsizing will yield a net benefit.”

    I am not sure that this is as straightforwardly true as you make out. Would we all really prefer to live to 200, and have 150 happy years, than live to 80, and have 60 happy years? If other people think that the opposite is obvious, I’m not sure what to say. Most people would prefer to live to 80, rather than to 20, given the same ratio of good-to-bad (thanks to Bostrom for the heuristic), and it seems a bit arbitrary to think that 80 is the optimum final age; but even if we do not want to reduce our absolute “health-span”, that doesn’t show that we have reason to increase it, does it? Personally, I’ld prefer to live to 80 rather than 200, given the same “health-illness” ratio, partly because I think the world would get on fine without me, partly because there’s not much to complain about when you’re dead, least of all the fact that you died at 80, and partly because it's just what everyone else does.

    Suppose we could choose to create another earth, an exact replica of our own, with the same number of happy people. This would certainly increase the absolute number of happy years experienced by humans, but does that make the two-world situation better? I’ve changed the topic there, from happy years in individual lives, to happy years in total, but does that make any difference?


    2) “I think the ultimate goal would be to not just postpone the deterioration, but halt it entirely.”

    Even if we can halt it entirely, I’m not onvinced that that is something we want to do. Certainly I would take life extending pills if I was a bouyant 30-yearold, and I would take life-enhancing pills if I was a suffering 80-year-old, but I would think very carefully before taking immortality pills at any age.

    3) "the imperative that all the old people clear out soon enough to leave room for the young ones coming up"

    Obviously I don’t mean that old people should be killed, or that people should be left to die if there is some available cure; just that the urge to do good by saving old people’s lives should be balanced by the urge to make the lives of every living person as comfortable as possible. I was alarmed by Bostrom’s zeal: it seemed to exclude other urgent matters.

    4) "and the imperative that people's health is not too much compromised by things like famine and war"

    Again, Bostrom seemed to suggest that the need to stop age-related deaths was as pressing as the need to stop other kinds of deaths ie.the kind of deaths that inhibit people’s substantive freedom in a way that the deaths of old people do not. There are many moral imperatives other than Bostrom’s one, and they may or may not be compatible with his anti-ageing imperative; he just didn’t seem to take any of these other things into account. (He does not help himself, either, by placing the arguments against his position in the hands of a verbose fool, an artistic device which is almost as false and rhetorical as the speech made by the moralist himself.)

    5) “When we find the antidote to age we have also found the antidote to youth.”

    I’m not sure if you agree with this or not, but it seems to me to be a pretty good argument against anti-ageing programmes, or at least an argument in favour of caution in pursuing those programmes. The attempt to grant everyone’s wish for youthfulness is a bit like granting everyone’s wish for fame, or everyone’s wish to be a winner: in all these cases, the desired thing is defined largely in opposition to the undesirable thing, and to remove the undesirable thing altogether would diminish the appeal of the desired thing.

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  13. Mike B.

    I wrote a long point-by-point rebuttal, but decided to cut to the chase.

    I do not believe in absolute morality, so there can be no absolute moral imperatives.
    Instead, we make our own meaning. I think that our experience, our accumulated wisdom, and our connections with others are precisely what give meaning to our lives.

    I do not see the serial destruction of that meaning as a good thing. Life is a positive-sum game.

    When we achieve immortality, we will look back in sorrow at the billions whose lives were irretrievably lost. And, as we try to hold on to the fading memories of the last mortal generation, life will seem more precious than ever.

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  14. "Aging causes great harm ..."

    The problem is that his parable wasn't about those things that we consider to be "great harm" (e.g., Alzheimers, physical weakness, etc.). But what the dragon represents in this parable is the end result - death. The people in his story seem to lack any of these problems. Bostrom's moral imperative in this analogy, then, isn't to get rid of the harms that are associated with aging, but to get rid of death itself (and the cultural practices surrounding death). But the moral imperative to rid ourselves of death is much less obvious than the moral imperative to rid ourselves of things like Alzheimers.

    I think one could make another "closely analogous and ethically isomorphic" where the death isn't a dragon, but a never-ending slumber on a comfortable waterbed. Before being taken to to this endless slumber, most - if not all - people suffered from various maladies. The moral imperative in this analogy would be to rid ourselves of these maladies. But there would be no imperative to give people No Doze pills or to figure out how to poke a hole in the waterbed. I'm not saying I take this position, but I don't see why the dragon story is any more analogous than any other number of similar stories.

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  15. > Personally, I’ld prefer to live to 80

    Some poeple would prefer not to live past 16 years but soon peopel like myself (who would be ok with living to a few milion years) will out number you (also of note is the evolutionary terms and the shear magnitude of the influence of a much longer life).

    > taking immortality pills at any age.

    you cant take an imortality pill that prevents you from commiting suicide.

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  16. doctor(logic): Yes, I agree that we make our own meaning, and the source of "meaning" is probably much like you describe. When I use the term "moral imperative" I use the same principle as you use, when you make judgements about what "is a good thing", and what is not: ie. what would make as many lives a possible more comfordable and satisfying.

    I agree that death is not a good thing for those who suffer from the loss of loved ones etc, and nor is it good for those who lose the "wisdom" of past lives (all though books are pretty good at preserving that sort of thing). But letting everyone live forever would mean such an enormous transformation in the way people live, work, love, think, act and imagine, that it is, as I say, well worth "thinking very carefully" about it before jumping into anything (fortunately, even with minds like Bolstrom's and other genius's working on it, it's going to be a fairly slow jump)

    Also, if people spend a much longer time developing their "connections with others", the eventual loss of that connection (supposing for a moment that immortality is beyond us) would be all the more devastating.


    geniusNZ:

    1)wouldn't you get bored?
    2)No, you can't take such a pill, but I'm not sure if I'ld want to live in a world where the only way to die is from murder, accident or suicide. As it is, there is at least some predictability to death.

    Macht:

    I think the dragon (which is usually regarded as a grisly and punishing sort of beast) was meant as a symbol for the sufferings of the aged, as well as the agent of their destruction.

    Three extra points:

    Noone has yet responded to my point 5) above. Obviously there are arguments against it, but don't think it is so meagre a point that it can be dismissed altogether.

    Advice to anyone who is interested in immortality: as soon as you've finished "The First Immortal", and "A Space Odyssey", read Jonathon Swift's Gullivers Travels, or at least Voyage Three. It might not change your opinion on immortality, but it should stimulate your imagination, which is what we all of us need when considering these sorts of issues.

    Just to clear something up: does anyone deny that, for any individual, existence is no better than non-existence?

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  17. I don't think (5) is a good point. Making everyone healthy is nothing at all like making everyone famous. We're not talking about promoting "youth" for the superficial sake of being pretty or cool or any other comparative notion which depends upon old ugly people for its definition. We're talking about continued good health - an absolute benefit whose value persists even in the absence of illness.

    I also think death is a harm for the person who suffers it, and not just the grieving survivors. I would not want to die in my sleep tonight. Would you? (Sure, it's a tragedy you'd never find out about. But a tragedy nonetheless.) There are worse things than death, but not many. Assuming I'm lucky enough to avoid debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's, I expect that death will be the worst thing that ever happens to me. (I guess that answers your last question. Though I'm less sure whether causing to exist in the first place is a benefit. But I'd probably say that is too. I don't see why not. Assuming the life is worth living, of course. Causing someone to exist with a life of unbearable torture would obviously be a harm instead.)

    I continue to have wildly different preferences from you regarding point (1). I'd rather have 150 happy years. I also think another happy world would make the universe a better place. (I'm assuming that our world contains more happiness than misery. Otherwise the copy world would be a bad thing, for the same sorts of reasons.) Your intuitions strike me as bizarre. Do you have any reasons to back them up? (I can appeal to the simple principle that more goodness is a good thing. What's behind your view?)

    "the urge to do good by saving old people’s lives should be balanced by the urge to make the lives of every living person as comfortable as possible."

    Oh, I certainly agree that the latter is of fundamental importance. But Bostrom's point is that the former "urge" follows from the latter. Aging causes a lot of harm. We should want to prevent this. (But certainly not to the exclusion of other sources of harm.)

    P.S. James L. Halperin is a legend! I liked The Truth Machine even more, but The First Immortal is also a very fun (and thought-provoking) read. Haven't read Swift (other than the modest proposal, of course). Will do.

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  18. "I think the dragon (which is usually regarded as a grisly and punishing sort of beast) was meant as a symbol for the sufferings of the aged, as well as the agent of their destruction."

    I think that is what it was meant as, but I don't think it actually did that.

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  19. Richard,

    I suppose Bostrom could have in mind just the general requirement for beneficence; but compared to what he seems to want to say, 'trying to develop a cure for aging is one of the things you might do to be beneficent' seems a much, much weaker conclusion. There would be no real moral imperative about the work itself; it's just one way in which we can be beneficent. That's a very weak claim, and falls far short of the urgency Bostrom is advocating. If the strongest that can be said for it is that it's one way people might be able to do good for others, very few people will find themselves confronted with it as a moral imperative at all, and Bostrom's argument will not really be relevant to most people. At most it will be just one more case of someone trying to drum up support for their own pet project.

    Likewise, to express a moral imperative for people in power, it has to be something rationally demanded by their being in those positions of power. But Bostrom certainly doesn't establish this; there would have to be more to their obligation than a general duty to be beneficent in what one does. And we also have to face the fact that there's no well-defined group that is the group able to put Bostrom's ideal into effect. For instance, is it a moral imperative for someone with a taste for philosophy, but talents that could further anti-aging research, to go into anti-aging research? But such a person does have it in his power to contributing to the ideal. Is it a moral imperative for a governor or legislator to forward anti-aging even if the cost cuts into education or law enforcement? But if he keeps education and law enforcement even at the cost of anti-aging research, he would, if Bostrom is taken straightforwardly, be violating a moral imperative.

    In short, it doesn't really seem to be a morally imperative for anyone. A good thing to do, perhaps, but if that's all we're saying, we're back at the much weaker claim. And, indeed, such a claim is consistent with no one doing anything much to further anti-aging research at all. There are lots of beneficent things that could be done that are never done, without any moral fault on anyone's part, because there's no moral imperative (and certainly no screaming moral imperative) to do it. Beneficence alone just doesn't underwrite the urgency Bostrom seems to demand.

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  20. Okay, fair points. I think the first step is to agree that anti-aging research would be a very significant (and possibly the best) way to be beneficent. It would do a lot of good, and be one of the best things that we could do. I think Bostrom is pretty successful in establishing this.

    The second step, which Bostrom simply takes for granted, is the utilitarian idea that there is a "screaming moral imperative" to do a lot of good if we are able. I guess non-consequentialists won't be convinced by this.

    I take it you're objecting to the second step, rather than the first?

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  21. Richard:

    Yes, I agree that permanent good health would be a fine thing; that is, it would be good if everyone could age comfortably and die peacefully in their sleep, without ever having to piss into a plastic bag or live off a machine. But Bostrom, and others, seem to want to go much further than that, and to preserve people so that they all look, act and think as if they were 21. If we do that, I think, the value of being 21 would diminish, along with the value of the whole enterprise. Would we appreciate the benefits of youth (athleticism, beauty, elegance, energy etc. which I suppose are just “coolness” and “prettiness” except with more attractive connotations) as much as we do, if we knew that we would never lose them, and if we knew that everyone else enjoyed them as much as the young? I very much doubt it. You might assert that these benefits are not really worth valuing at all, and that reducing their perceived value would encourage people to give more value to less "superficial" things, but I don't think many people would agree with you. And further (as I say above) do we want to live in a world where people can only die through accident, murder or suicide?

    “Sure, it's a tragedy you'd never find out about. But a tragedy nonetheless.” Yes, it’s a tragedy for the people that are left behind, but not for the individual. To say otherwise, I think, is to appeal to the same instinct as Doctor Hassan appeals to, when he talks about the inviolable sanctity of human life. It’s a pretty good instinct, but it tends to conceal another, more reliable, instinct: that being dead is not something that people have to live through.

    “Do you have any reasons to back them up? (I can appeal to the simple principle that more goodness is a good thing. What's behind your view?)” Yes, of course more goodness is a good thing; that’s about as close to a tautology as we’re likely to get, but only if we assume that everything else is constant, while we increase the goodness. Otherwise it’s not so clear: does “more goodness” means “more goodness, irrespective of badness” or “more goodness for every piece of badness”. And if “more goodness is a good thing”, surely “more badness is a bad thing”?

    Anyway, if we can’t find a more fundamental reason to solve that problem, we can both agree that it is a good thing to help people die comfortably, without the plastic bags and lung machines etc.; so we can agree that it is a very good thing to prevent the kind of disease that causes these uncomfortable declines. But Bostrom wants to do much more that facilitate comfortable declines, and I’m not sure about his more extreme ambitions. There’s a broad and uncertain region between the two extremes (averting awful illnesses and averting age), and that makes it hard to agree on, I guess.

    PS: The Travels were written in about 1710, so there’s not much SciFi (well, depending on your definition…), but if you’re interested look for the chapter on the “Struldbrugs”.


    Doctor(logic): “I do not see the serial destruction of that meaning as a good thing. Life is a positive-sum game.” Yes, “the serial destruction of meaning” is not a good thing for individuals. But I don’t think death has quite the same force as that bald statement suggests. Let me try to weaken its force a bit:

    In most individual lives, there are three main stages of this “destruction of meaning”: one when you’re quite young, and your grandparents die; one when you’re middle aged, and your parents die; and one when you’re nearly dead yourself, and your friends start to die. (Obviously I’m not considering accidents etc., but that’s beside the point, I think). Now, when you’re young, like the little kid in the story, you usually haven’t had much time to develop a full relationship with your grandparents. They are kind and funny, they adore little children, they make your parents look small, and it is sad when they die. Nevertheless, they are too remote, and children are too childish, for the relationship to have any great significance, and the child usually recovers pretty quickly from the loss; indeed, the fact that the grandparent is dead gives them a kind of mystique and grandeur and meaningfulness that they did not have when they were ordinary living humans. At the next stage, when people’s parents start to die, people are usually sufficiently independent and self-sufficient to cope pretty well with the loss. For some people it is devastating, of course, and they never recover, but most people have plenty of other “connections” to keep their lives meaningful; and the trials of recovering from a parent’s death probably help to strengthen those connections (being supported by friends etc.) Further, many people spend much of their early life trying to break the connections between themselves and their parents (youthful rebellion, new ideas, new people etc.), rather than strengthen them, and so it isn’t too much of a wrench when death finishes the job. Thirdly, seeing one’s friends start to keel over must be an awful experience, but it must also help people to ready themselves for their own death, and to reflect on how rich and meaningful their friendships were, before the connection snapped; at any rate, the “meaningfulness” of their lives is not compromised too much, because they go the same way as their friends soon enough.

    Now, this account is obviously enormously simplified, and doesn’t take into account the deaths of relatives/friends who are in the in-between generations, but it is less simplistic than just saying “the destruction of meaning is an awful thing”, and I think it puts death in a less fearsome light.

    Of course, if we consider ourselves to be outside of this progression of deaths and births, and look on while all these people over and over lose their connections with the world, and “wisdom” fails to accumulate quite as easily as we hope (although, as I say, books are less fragile than humans, and why this preoccupation with “wisdom”?), then this death business is indeed a sad thing. But sad for whom? If it is only sad for the individual who tries to place him/herself outside of history, and to look on as I described, and if the only sadness for the normal individual human is the mitigated sadness (mitigated for all the reasons I gave above) of the deaths that occur during one’s lifetime, then the sadness isn’t really as great as you make out. It is certainly not so great that it makes small all the potential harms of immortality, or even of lengthened lives.

    Further (in connection with my point about youth and age) , you say that life would seem more precious than ever when we “try to hold on to the fading memories of the last mortal generation.” I say that, when everyone lives forever, and there are no deaths at all, and there is not this narrow place in which to do everything we will ever do, then I think the preciousness of life would be much diminished, just like the preciousness of youth in a permanently young world.

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  22. Before I leap back into the fray, I'll just pause to note what an interesting discussion this is. *pause* Okay, back into it...

    First, let me rephrase my principle as the view that more net goodness is a good thing. Again, this strikes me as straightforward, so I'm puzzled as to why you reject it. You didn't really offer any positive reasons for your position (as opposed to questions that get me to clarify mine).

    You ask: "do we want to live in a world where people can only die through accident, murder or suicide?"

    That isn't quite right. Presumably no-one will force you to seek treatment for your illnesses. The question is whether the option should be there for those who want it. That is, "do we want to live in a world where people can, if they wish, avoid death from 'natural causes'?" And I think the answer to that question is a perfectly obvious YES! If you want to get sick and die in your old age, that's fine, but don't stand in the way of other people's continued healthy living.

    "Bostrom wants to do much more that facilitate comfortable declines, and I’m not sure about his more extreme ambitions."

    Why? Do you think hospitals should stop treating all illnesses, and just give patients a comfortable death rather than life-saving surgery, etc.? I assume not, but then why should this one cause of death be treated so differently? You would seem to be making an arbitrary distinction. You're effectively saying that this one cause of death just doesn't matter, and we shouldn't care about it. Just pump 'em full of morphine then let them die. I find it hard to put into words how thoroughly repugnant I find this view!

    On to the broader question of whether death is a bad thing for the individual: I think your view is utterly ludicrous. I explained in my earlier comment how death might plausibly be the worst thing that will ever happen to me. You haven't addressed this line of thought at all. Don't you care whether you live tomorrow?

    Presumably you are harmed when you receive a painful scratch. So, if you think death is no harm at all, you must think it would be better for you to be killed than scratched? The scratch is worse than death? That's really quite absurd.

    My view has nothing whatsoever to do with "the inviolable sanctity of human life". Continued life is not necessarily good. I am pro-euthanasia, for example, and think that a life of torture could well be worse than death. A bad life is worse than no life at all. But, conversely, a good life is better than no life at all. A life worth living is precisely that: worth living, better than not living. How can you rationally deny this?

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  23. Yes, it is an interesting discussion, and I'm starting to think that my status quo bias is more stubborn than I first thought. But I am still too confused to admit that I'm wrong.

    On the "net goodness" business. This was my thought: if you (say) double the length of a life, and keep it the same in all other respects, then none of its best features are improved: it has the same symmetries, the same patterns, the same fluctuations of light and shade, the same general trajectory, and the same amount of overall unity or cohesion or purpose. It's just on a different scale, like a blown-up Mona Lisa, and who wants to change the size of something like that? The absurdities that result are the price, I suppose, of thinking of life as a work of art, which it is clearly not. You, on the other hand, think of it as a process of addition (is that fair?). I'm still not sure which is right, but I can see how my way can sound rather ridiculous.
    Still, I'm not sure that my notion of a ratio relies upon this odd artistic conception of the world: why should we take the bad away from the good, and not divide the good by the bad, to get our "net goodness"?


    When I say "more extreme ambitions", I mean what I said above: making everyone look, think, and act as if they're 21. I didn't mean to say that we shouldn't treat illnesses. The problem, as I say above, is sorting out what is an illness, or a direct causer of death, and what is just a normal ageing process. This is because I have reservations about the "everyone is 21" notion (I'm not sure if you share them or not, but I'm sure you share my interest in thinking carefully about the possible difficulties); but this doesn't imply, I hope, that we should stop treating illnesses. I think we pretty much agree on this, Richard, except one of us is very cautious and the other is keen.

    On Individual Deaths: "I think your view is utterly ludicrous. I explained in my earlier comment how death might plausibly be the worst thing that will ever happen to me." As I explained above, being dead is not something that will happen to me. I'll no longer be me - I'll be dead. The process of dying might be pretty bad, because then I'll be alive to experience it. Otherwise, though, I'ld be dead.

    "The scratch is worse than death? That's really quite absurd." Yes, it does sound absurb, but in a certain, quite reasonable sense it is also true: I would not suffer from death (because I'ld be dead), but I would suffer from the scratch. It is true that, being dead, I might deprive myself of a long and fulfilling life, but I wouldn't suffer from this deprivation either, because I'ld be dead. And since noone would suffer in the such an event, I don't see how it can be an "absurd" choice. I agree that this sounds like a ridiculous position. It also sounds a bit unhealthy, and so I'ld be glad if someone could persuade me otherwise; but I don't see how they could.

    "don't you care whether you live tomorrow?" In a certain sense yes, because I have some interesting things to do, and I'll probably quite enjoy living tomorrow. But in another sense, it's a matter of indifference: If I am dead tomorrow, I'm dead, and nothing matters at all. Of course, if I had a button next to me now, and I could press it to die, I wouldn't do so; but that's because other people (I hope) would suffer if I did.

    Again, I think we pretty much agree on this; we're just looking at it slightly differently. Perhaps you think of death as a really severe injury, while I think of it as an act of annihilation?

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  24. But of course, even if my death does cause other
    people to suffer, that shouldn't stop me, because I wouldn't suffer from any knowledge of their grief: I'ld be dead. Perhaps this is an argument against ethical Egoism....

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  25. Mike,

    1)wouldn't you get bored?

    No - my attention span is pretty long. Living for a milion years would just raise the potential to tackle somewhat bigger projects.

    > I'm not sure if I'ld want to live in a world where the only way to die is from murder, accident or suicide. As it is, there is at least some predictability to death.

    suicide had predictability - still I dont see myself wanting to kill myself in the next million years or so - but I guess I might be happy to know the option is open.

    > does anyone deny that, for any individual, existence is no better than non-existence?

    I do in a sense. In another sense there is no such thing as "better". Most people would define it as having some meaning and being killed to have some sort of a negitive sense.

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  26. "But Bostrom, and others, seem to want to go much further than that, and to preserve people so that they all look, act and think as if they were 21."

    Look, probably. Act and think, no. We'd be preserving the benefits of age (wisdom and experience) without the drawbacks (deterioration of the body and mind).

    "If we do that, I think, the value of being 21 would diminish, along with the value of the whole enterprise."

    Even assuming that part of the "value of being 21" is happiness that you're in physically better condition than older people (which I find bizarre and just an appeal to schadenfreude, unless I'm misunderstanding you), that only holds when you're actually 21. Once you're older, that "benefit" is gone permanently, and in fact you probably suffer negative utility from the knowledge that you are now physically worse off than current 21-year olds. Over the long term, always being "21" pretty much has to lead to greater happiness even if everyone else is too.

    "And further (as I say above) do we want to live in a world where people can only die through accident, murder or suicide?"

    I'll just echo Richard's response of a trivial "yes".

    "I would not suffer from death (because I'ld be dead), but I would suffer from the scratch. It is true that, being dead, I might deprive myself of a long and fulfilling life, but I wouldn't suffer from this deprivation either, because I'ld be dead."

    Opportunity costs matter. Even if death itself causes no net harm to you, the alternative is continued life, which presumably has net benefits. If you see a $100 bill on the ground and decline to pick it up, it's true that you haven't lost anything, but it's also true that you are less well off than you could have been.

    "Of course, if I had a button next to me now, and I could press it to die, I wouldn't do so; but that's because other people (I hope) would suffer if I did."

    Is that really the only reason?

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  27. Brian: I guess you feel that there is a large amount of absolute value in being 21. I'm not so sure, but I'll leave it at that.

    "If you see a $100 bill on the ground and decline to pick it up, it's true that you haven't lost anything, but it's also true that you are less well off than you could have been." Yes, but you are still alive after declining the $100 bill, so you are still around to experience the loss. My point is that you are not around after you die, so it doesn't mean much to say "you are dead, and therefore you are less well off for your rejection of good things."

    "Is that really the only reason."

    As I say, there appear to be lots of reasons to stay alive: it's ususally a pleasant and promising experience, and the maths cafe makes excellent ginger crunch. But these are not really reasons at all, because, unlike the $100 bill case, a dead person isn't worse off without them, because they aren't anything. Of course, if we measure the "goodness" of a life by adding up the number of good years in it, it is not a good thing for an individual to die; but this just shows, I think, that this definition of "goodness" falls over when we set death against it.

    Well, also cowardice I suppose: "But for the dread of something after death/The undiscovered country from whose bourn /No traveller returns, doth puzzle the will/ And makes us fear what ills [sic.] we have / Than flee to others that we know not of/ Conscience makes cowards of us all...etc"

    Here is an extreme consequence of my position: suppose you are given a choice between a completely happy life of 100 years, and a completely hapy life of 150 years; which one would you choose?

    I say I don't care which one.

    I think our immediate reaction is to say "the longer one, you fool - there's more happiness in it." But I think this reaction is based on the idea that, by choosing the shorter life, you are missing out on lots of happiness. This would be reasonable if you were missing out on, say, the $100 bill, or if you reached 100 and then had 50 sad years; but death is not at all like either of those cases, because once you are dead there is noone around to "miss out" on anything.

    As I say, being dead is not a thing that will ever happen to me. I don't need immortality at all, because I already have it.

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  28. Mike B.

    Doesn't longer life-span generally mean more freedom of action?

    The more limited my time, the smaller the set of opportunities I can take advantage of, e.g., my second career as a music DJ, or my 231st career as Formula 1 race car driver. By limiting my lifespan, I limit my freedom. It's a form of poverty.

    Your analysis is based on how you feel in the now. You correctly state that after death, you don't feel bad (or good, or anything) in the now. However, by that standard, any lifespan is as good as any other. A 20 year lifespan is as good as a 2,000 year life span.

    What role (if any) does a "life well-lived" play in your analysis?

    Today, it is generally considered much more tragic for a 20-year old to contract a terminal illness than for an 80-year old. But what if our lifespans were could be lengthened to 8,000 years? Would an 80-year old's death not seem to us like the death of a child?

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  29. The Doctor makes a good point. Mike, I wonder if you might be conceiving of a life as containing a fixed number of achievements, etc., so that when we "upsize" it, we're merely spreading this same amount of value out over a greater period of time. (Certainly your painting analogy rests on such an assumption.) But that is clearly the wrong way to look at it. A longer healthspan means we can achieve more and greater things. I continue to be puzzled at how you could deny that this is a good thing.

    I also share Brian's worries about your "schadenfreude". Do you also think we should refuse to help people with disabilities? After all, "the antidote to disability is also the antidote to able-bodiedness." And if we started feeding starving people, then the well-fed might not fully appreciate just how well-off they are! I could go on, but I'm sure you've got my point. It is morally repugnant to hold that some should suffer merely so that others can have a greater "appreciation" of their relative fortune. (Lesson: don't place too much stock in zero-sum comparative values. It's absolute levels of wellbeing that really matter, and that we should be striving to improve.)

    Getting back to the harm of death...

    You seem to be assuming that harms must be something you experience. Of course we do not experience being dead. But death is still bad for us, for all the obvious reasons I've pointed out already, which just goes to show that you ought to reject that initial assumption of yours. (You certainly haven't provided any sort of an argument for it. And given all the absurdities we have shown it to lead to, well, you seem to be in a rationally tenuous position.)

    To broaden the scope of this discussion somewhat, I refer you to my post on Desire Fulfillment, which argues against the sort of hedonistic 'experience requirement' on value that you seem to be presupposing. I'll also highlight my old post on Respecting Past Desires - the discussion in the comments thread there is relevant to our present discussion. I hold not only that death is harmful to us, but that events which occur after our death can (retroactively) harm our earlier selves. (You'll need to follow the links to see my arguments for this.) But I recognize that this latter claim is controversial, and could reasonably be denied. I don't think it can reasonably be denied that death is (typically) bad for us, however. Even hedonists usually hold that it's better to have more pleasure rather than less, so if you deprive someone of future pleasures by killing them, you have thereby harmed them.

    Can you offer any more reasons in defence for your view? Or explain why you find it convincing? Or something, anyway, as right now I just don't understand why anyone would hold such a position. You admit that your view entails that you (indeed, everyone) have (has) "no reason" to live.

    Suppose everyone would die (maybe the world would explode) unless you made the trivial effort of pressing a button. Do you honestly believe that you have no reason at all to press the button? (Really, if that's not a reductio of your premises, I don't know what is!)

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  30. Mike,
    I wonder what the implications of applying your argument is for policy...

    It seems to imply there is no issue with killing since it does no harm So in that case one might have a policy like allowing the birth of the maximum number of people and kill them as fast as possible in order to maximise the number of lives (individuals) and minimise their length (partly in order to ensure they are 100% good).

    Or is it that there are no implications to anything?

    Or just no positive implicaitons (ie no requirement to change anything that doesnt change itself)

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  31. I take it you're objecting to the second step, rather than the first?

    Actually, I am inclined to object to the first as well. It's certainly true that anti-aging research could be one form of beneficence, and that the hoped-for result, if obtainable, would be good. But I don't think Bostrom does a very good job at all in showing that it would be one of the best things that we could do. First, because the way in which it would be a good thing is actually fairly common -- if we don't allow that aging, as such, is an evil (i.e., an evil in itself, independently of the question of how healthily we age), eliminating aging would actually be a fairly ordinary sort of medical hope, with lots and lots of competitors even on the purely medical side (curing cancer, eliminating the danger of flu viruses, wiping out malaria, improving the world blood supply and distribution, etc., etc.). When we add non-medical factors, as we would have to do if we were to compare it to things like eliminating war or improving global education or putting an end to world hunger, it starts to look very ordinary indeed. And, further, when we are considering how beneficent something is, Mike B. is quite right (and Bostrom quite wrong) that we can't just ignore potential negative consequences; purely for comparative purposes we need to know how extensive and how likely they are, because that affects how much good the action actually involves.

    I think the only reason it sounds like it would be one of the best things we could do is that it would be a very big and showy thing to do, that would require a lot of changes to society. But we really shouldn't let this influence our evaluations. I confess, too, that I'm inclined to think the very vastness of the proposal suspicious; it's exactly the sort of flashy project First-Worlders propose and play up in order to make themselves feel good despite the fact that they are ignoring other problems that are more immediately serious, more fixable, or more someone-else's-concern. Sure, it would be good, but it also sounds suspiciously like a project of the "Ooh, we can't take the trouble to send a few mosquito nets to Africa to save lives, but that's OK because we're going to put a man on Mars" type.

    Plus, I'm not really convinced that most people who are enthusiastic about it are really enthusiastic about it because they can eliminated age-related deaths in (say) Botswana rather than in their own immediate circle. I agree for some people it really would be a work of beneficence; I suspect that for most people, however, it's just a selfish fantasy distracting from the serious works of beneficence.

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  32. genius: (on the goodness of opportunities) Yes, good point. I guess that, in a 200-year life, with 150 happy years, the happy years will possibly be more intensely happy than the 60 happy years in an 80 year life. But we have been assuming, I think, that the intensity of each of the happy years is the same in each case. I suppose that if we could guarantee that longer lives would make the happy years more intensely happy, even if the happy-unhappy ratios were the same, then it is a good thing to extend our lives. But I am not convinced that longer lives will necessarily lead to more intense happiness: we may be able to achieve “greater” things than we can now, but they will no longer be “greater” things if everyone can achieve them. If everyone had the opportunity to become a Formula 1 racecar driver, for example, then a part of the thrill and glamour (a part, but I’m not sure how big a part) of becoming a Formula 1 racecar driver would be lost. To look at it the other way round: when people started watching black and white TV, it was probably an enormous thrill to do so, partly because it was new to each individual, and partly because only a few people had the privilege; nowadays it is commonplace, and so we don’t now consider watching television to be an especially great opportunity.

    This leads on to the “schadenfreude” point. I agree that my position can lead to moral absurdities, but only if one makes a deliberate attempt to lead it towards moral absurdities. I can only echo Richard, and say "I think you can see my point."

    ge: “It seems to imply there is no issue with killing since it does no harm.” I hope not: I am trying to argue that killing does no harm to the individual who is killed– most acts of killing cause a lot of harm to people who are still alive, so I’ld avoid killing pe0ple on that basis.

    With regards to absolute and proportionate benefits, and the harmfulness of individual deaths, I think we are starting to talk past eachother. We both agree that an analysis of net goodness, after an increase of life-length must take badness into account, as well as goodness. You suggest we do this by adding up the number of extra good years, and then negating the extra bad years. On the face of it, his sounds perfectly reasonable. I suggest we do it by looking at the whole life, and working out how many units of goodness there are for every unit of badness. To me, this also seems pretty reasonable, and I’m not sure how to distinguish between the two methods. You reject the second method because it leads to what you regard as absurdities (no reason to live, no reason to create a copy of the earth etc, better death than a scratch) I’m not sure that they are absurdities. As I explained in my last comment, there is some sense in which a choice between a long and happy life and a short and happy life is arbitrary, and the same applies to the “destroying the world” example. In response to the latter example, I say: in some sense, I do have reason to press the button, because the world is such a rich and vibrant place, and where it is less rich and vibrant there is every chance of making it more so, and because if I destroyed it then all these opportunities will be lost; nevertheless, I don’t think there’s much meaning in “lost opportunities” if noone is effected by the loss, and when everyone is dead noone can be so effected. You deny this, claiming that a person can be harmed without experiencing harm. I’m not convinced by that idea, but I’ll respond to it after this:

    I think the logic of my position goes something like this: Instead of asking “would you prefer a fully happy life of 80 years, or a fully happy life of 200 years?”, we can turn this into the question “How would you like to spend the next 200 years?” In response to this second question, I say: “I do not care, because in order to separate the two lives, I would have to believe that I can assign some value to the 120 years in which I am dead. Given that there is no happiness and no sadness during those 120 years, then it is easy to see how we might instinctively assign those years a zero-value, giving the longer life an overall higher value. However, I feel that there is a fundamental difference between being neither happy nor sad, and being dead; the very phrase “being dead” is a contradiction. Therefore, I cannot choose between the long and the short life by simply adding up the goodness in each, and finding the net goodness. Instead, I have to look at something internal to the two lives, like the number of good parts for each bad part.” I guess this is how I arrive at the “health-illness” ratio idea, and how I see no difference between a universe with one earth and a universe with two, or between a universe with one earth, and a universe with none.

    As I say, I’m unconvinced by the arguments I have seen in favor of the “un-experienced harm” position, whether they are arguments for “retroactive benefits” or for “objective well-being.” It is true that, while alive, I would take every step to ensure that my will was properly executed, and the right people got my pennies, but I don’t see how the honesty or otherwise of my executors could have any effect on my life, if the execution is done after my death. It might be nicer for onlookers to know that my last desires were carried out correctly, but I’m not sure how it would effect my (former) life. As for the “objective well-being” thought experiments, I tend to side with “Anonymous”. I agree that it is quite normal to talk about people’s “well-being” as independent of their experiences: in the “Doug and Josh” case, for example, it is quite reasonable to say that Doug has a “less successful life”, or had a life of “lower well-being”, than he would have had if his perceived successes were real; the OED certainly leaves this option open, in its definition of the word “well-being.” Nevertheless, if I were asked to choose between the two lives, I would see very little reason to choose one over the other; and if I was duped like Doug, but died before Josh told me about it, I think the choice would be a matter of indifference. Similarly for the “posthumous fame and acclaim” thought experiment.
    Further, I’m unconvinced by the “Hurts So Good” example, mainly because Phluria seems a bit unclear on the distinction between physical pain and non-physical pain. “I think a hedonist”, Phluria writes, “is committed to saying that this girl has had the best luck anyone could possibly have: she has been hard-wired not to experience the only bad thing in the world, pain”: I don’t think the hedonist is committed to saying anything at all, unless the other kinds of pain that result from physical painlessness (the pain of being laid up in a hospital bed for long periods of time, and so on) are taken into account. Only then can the hedonist commit to a position on the value or otherwise of physical painlessness, and having done so I think a hedonist would probably arrive at the same conclusion as Phluria: it is pleasant not to feel physical pain, but this pleasantness is outweighed by the undesirable consequences.

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  33. Okay, I think there are several quite distinct issues here that we had best not conflate:

    1) Is the net value of a life better understood as the difference between its utility and disutility levels, or their ratio?

    I've noted that aggregation strikes me as more plausible here than your proportional principle. But I don't think this is too important for present purposes. (You've suggested that aging treatments would prolong old age illness as well as health, but I'm not sure we actually have any reason to believe this.)

    You might also be interested in my post on Parfit's Population Paradox, which raises similar issues. I think a relatively short but flourishing life is preferable to an incredibly long but rather dull (if harmless) one. So there are problems with simple aggregation (which seems to imply that the short flourishing life can be outweighed by a dull life that simply lasts for long enough. Ick.), though not, I think, ones that are relevant to the present issue.

    2) The value of schadenfreude.

    I don't know what more can be said here. I'll simply repeat my point that extending benefits to everybody is surely preferable to depriving some for the sake of making others more appreciative. (You've pointed out that one cost of benefiting everyone is that it loses the special glamour of 'exclusivity'. I grant that, and then say: "so what?". The substantive gain is well worth this trivial loss.)

    3) Is death harmful to the recipient?

    You tied this together with #1, but they're actually quite separate issues. In fact, your two positions might be inconsistent. According to your ratio position (indeed, any plausible position), it would be better for you to live an extra 10 years of super happiness -- what would be the best years of your life -- rather than die tomorrow. But if living is better for you than death, then it logically follows that death is worse for you than continued living. And for some bizarre reason I still don't fully comprehend, you seem to want to deny that latter claim. :p

    To highlight the full absurdity of your view (if your unconcern for universal genocide hasn't shown this already!), you must hold that there's nothing wrong with killing social hermits. If nobody else cares when a homeless guy dies, then it's okay for you to kill the homeless guy. Nobody is thereby "harmed". Alternatively, if some people do care, you could just kill them too at the same time. And kill anyone who cares about them, and so forth, until finally nobody alive gives a damn. Then you're morally in the clear.

    Surely any theory which entails the moral permissibility of such genocide must be mistaken. If this isn't enough to prove the absurdity, what more could you possibly require? If your theory entailed that torturing babies was virtuous, would you still not doubt it?

    Weighed against all these hefty reasons, what have you got to support your position? Just the rough idea that dead people don't exist any more so they can't be harmed. But this is awfully weak in comparison to the objections you're up against.

    Sure, I agree that non-existent entities can't be harmed. But the obvious solution is that it's the past person that gets harmed by death. They would have had a wonderful future, but death has deprived them of this. Being deprived of benefits is a kind of harm. Thus death has harmed them. Simple.

    Even if you're not convinced by that particular argument -- though you should be! -- but even if not, it shouldn't be a difficult choice. Either genocide is morally okay [so long as you take care not to let anyone who cares about it live!], or else getting killed can be bad for you. It's a no-brainer, isn't it?

    4) Hedonism vs. Desire Fulfilment

    I probably shouldn't have brought that up, it's a bit of a red herring actually. Even hedonists think it's bad to be deprived of good experiences (e.g. by death). So they don't accept anything like the sort of strict experience requirement that you seem to. That debate is just over whether 'the good' (that we're benefited to have, and harmed to be deprived of) consists in subjective happiness or the objective fulfilment of our goals and preferences. It's fairly tangential to the rest of our discussion here. But I think it's an interesting issue, and I dispute some of your claims, so I'll quote you and respond back in the Desire Fulfillment thread.

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  34. 5) I should add that #3 is separate from the more contentious question whether events which occur after our death can (retroactively) harm our earlier selves.

    I think we don't need any such temporal tricks to explain the badness of death. We can point out that the act of causing someone to die (which occurs while they're still alive) is what causes their future deprivations. Since causing deprivations is bad, so causing someone to die is bad. That person misses out. We don't need the badness to travel back in time or anything like that ;)

    (Nevertheless, I do think it's plausible to hold that posthumous harms are also possible. This is because, plausibly, achieving goals [in fact, not just our beliefs] contributes to the quality of our lives. But whether our goals are achieved or not can be affected by posthumous events. If Russell dedicates his life to trying to avert nuclear war, but after his death it turns out to all have been for naught, as nuclear war breaks out anyway, then it seems this fact makes it so that Russell's life was worse. He failed to achieve his main goal. If he had achieved it -- if there had been no war -- then his life would have been more successful, and thus better for him.)

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  35. 1) Is the net value of a life better understood as the difference between its utility and disutility levels, or their ratio?

    Good point, but I'm more inclined to question the “ratio” premise than the “death is a harm” premise, for all the reasons I’ve already given, and which I defend again below. This doesn’t mean that I reject the “ratio” option in more typical scenarios, of course, or that the “aggregate” option is absolutely preferable.

    2) The value of schadenfreude.

    Again, I think we agree on this matter; we're just approaching it from opposite ends.

    3) Is death harmful to the recipient?

    I think we could go on forever here. Yes, my view does justify the killing of social hermits and so on, but only under very unusual conditions, such as: noone at all feels sad about losing an innocent piece of humanity; noone at all fears that the desires (pragmatic or bloodthirsty) that motivated the killing could be exercised in a more obviously harmful way; and that the social hermit didn't suffer at all prior to his death. Similar conditions apply for the "killing everyone who cares" idea. Remember that my position is one of indifference on this, rather than positive assertion: if there is a possibility of any actual harm (in my, restricted, sense) being caused, I will quickly become as repulsed as everyone is by the idea of causing death; and since actual harms almost inevitably do lead on from killing of any kind, it’s a little misleading to say that I deny the badness of killing.

    You see these results (genocide etc.) as absurd enough to counter my theory. I am just as doubtful of your "post-death harm" idea, and think that this tends to discredit your own position. I really don't see any sense at all in talking about "harming a past person." I'm especially unsure about this part:

    "Sure, I agree that non-existent entities can't be harmed. But the obvious solution is that it's the past person that gets harmed by death."

    But isn’t a "past person" a "non-existent entity"? I don't see how a dead person is any more existent than, say, Plato's armchair, or my last meal. Have I missed something? Also, on the matter of death “causing [a person’s] future deprivations”: again, I point out that these “deprivations” don’t apply in the case of a dead person, because they aren’t around to be deprived of anything. Thus I contend that the badness does indeed need to “travel back in time”.

    Anyway, here’s a more palatable summary of my view: “killing is morally permissible, provided noone experiences any harm as a result.” I think that would strike most people as pretty reasonable. I'm not sure if we will gain much by continuing this argument: we seem to have reached a pretty stubborn stalemate. Rationally speaking, I honestly don't see how, in any reasonable sense of the word "harm", I could be harmed by my own death. This doesn't mean that I have no desire to keep living, of course, but when I pass away comfortably at the age of 85 I won't die regretting the "immortality" I could have had, and nor will I regret the shortness of my span. I'll just die, and that's it.

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  36. Wow. Let me get this straight. We have the following theoretical "dilemma": 'Either genocide is morally okay... or else getting killed can be bad for you.' And you think the first option is more plausible? The mind boggles! But okay, we're clearly not going to make any more progress on this issue.

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  37. How about another way to look at it...

    1) There is a certain amount of harm and good in the world it is shared around. In a utilitarian sense it doesnt matter HOW it is shared around whether it is one persons life or two peoples lives or a trillion peoples lives. So it doesnt matter if you are killed AS LONG AS some one else experiences the happiness you would have experienced.

    are you sympathetic to that mike?

    I suggest it would in practice tend to result in fewer longer lives (in time but maybe not in space) because in principle that is less wasteful.

    Furthermore - And as long as suicide is around and people are considered the best judge of their own lives it should optimise itself.

    ---------

    However it sounds like you are making an individualist argument which is a bit different

    If we consider an aditional constraint that harm/good must be "experienced" by the individual before we begin any accounting with it (ignoring things like opportunity cost).

    This leaves me considering two thought experiments

    1) lets say I beat and torture you and then kill you. In sense because you no longer exist the harm done to you has ben "wiped". Ie you cant sufer harm after you are dead but you also can't retain any harm that was done to you in the past.
    I imagine this one gets rejected - but exactly how do we do that?
    You can neutralize that argument by looking from outside of time and then counting harm done all through the persons life (as if he can step back and view it like a soul in heaven or like we do with utilitarianism) but if you do that you get back to a different sort of problem.. (2)

    2) If your life was replaced by a less happy one you would (I would say) suffer harm but in a sense from above you wouldnt suffer any harm at all since it would be as if you never had had the happier life but why would we use that accounting?

    It seems to lead to absurity.

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  38. One last approach is the most atomized one - one where there is an infinite set of yous - one for every instance in time. At any instant you will either want to exist in the next instant or not - ie you are either suicidal or not suicidal.

    If you are not - then almost by definition you want to exist in the next instant (or some following instant) and that (presumably) encompasses the full equasion of all good and bad things for that "instantanious you". that next instant not existing represents a sort of harm since nothign oyu could do serves any other pupose than changing that next instant - it not existing is the worst thing that could happen (I dont think "thinking" that it will exist gets you out of this problem because you cant experience any welfare from that either because it too requires an instant to enact).

    Of course if you want to commit suicide (and are fairly useless to society) then I would probably say "knock yourself out" and note that your death may be a good thing - which is why I support the idea of cyanide pallets coming as standard with prison cells. And i imagine richard would agree (with the suicide thing but posibly not with the cyanide pills thing!).

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  39. Richard,
    there is an interesting moral question regarding WHY you would choose the former over the latter besides instinct.
    Is it somthing to do with functionality? (genocidal groups will tend to wipe themselves out so you will be left via evolution with your argument)
    or your valuing of life? (in which case you have a circular argument)
    or the fact that most people would vote for your position (and you propose that hte other person or at least most third parties think that way)

    I tend to favour 3 (i think) not because I think it is fundimentally true but because it facilitates debate.

    Or "what is instinct based on?"

    hmmm... *wonders if he has any other reasons*

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  40. Brandon: "Sure, it would be good, but it also sounds suspiciously like a project of the "Ooh, we can't take the trouble to send a few mosquito nets to Africa to save lives, but that's OK because we're going to put a man on Mars" type."

    Yeah, I agree that we should be doing much more to alleviate third-world suffering. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also be very concerned about aging too. It's no mere "grand gesture", this would have a real, beneficial, impact on billions of lives. We're talking about an affliction that ultimately affects every single person in the world (well, unless they die of something else first). It's a big deal. And it seems rather unfair to accuse advocates of merely engaging in "selfish fantasy". Firstly, I don't think it's "selfish" to care about the wellbeing of those around you. Quite the opposite, in fact. And secondly, as noted above, this is something that affects (almost) everybody.

    Granted, those with other lethal diseases have little use for anti-aging research. Just like people with AIDS have little use for anti-cancer research. These are all things that we should be looking into, and to highlight one is not to denigrate the others. But of course people already recognize how horrible AIDS and cancer are, and how good it would be to get rid of them. Old age, by contrast, is lazily accepted as an inevitable "fact of life". As Bostrom points out, surely we ought to start questioning this. In light of all the harm it causes us, it's time we became more critical of the aging process, and took a serious look at how to alleviate all the harms it causes.

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