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"Death is very likely the single best invention of Life."

Quotes like this get me thinking back to my fascination reading about Cognitive Dissonance in Psych 101.




What do you mean?


Death is not good; it is very bad. If given the opportunity to live "forever" (and not age), you'd take it. In a world without death, nobody would think introducing it was a good idea. But because we currently can't do anything about it, we try to tell ourselves it's a good thing.


That's only cognitive dissonance if you're hopelessly egocentric. Death is obviously bad for you as an individual, but is crucial to the long-term survival on a species. Without death, you can't have evolution or adaptability. The only thing wrong here are the people responding with the fallacy of composition.


I cannot even begin to conceive the kind of confusion that has legitimized the "species over the individual" narrative. Just because something is natural doesn't mean that it's good. If you consider it "hopelessly egocentric" to think of death as a bad, bad thing since it's necessary for natural selection, do you also consider it ethically acceptable to kill an individual once he has stopped procreating, since he's no longer relevant to the evolutionary game?


The species over the individual "narrative" exists because it is a fact of evolution. Life is a pattern of self-replication, and it is at the level of the gene that natural selection works to make this pattern more robust. The whole concept of having an individual "over" a species is so quaintly human. The universe, and the physical processes within it that are life, have no concern for such silly concepts. To put so much stock into the individual (and such people are always really talking about themselves), is completely egocentric. We tell ourselves stories about how important and special we are to validate our own existences, and that's fine, it makes some of us feel better. But we ignore the macro-processes that even allowed our existences at our own peril. Guess what, with no species, there are no individuals to glorify.

>do you also consider it ethically acceptable to kill an individual once he has stopped procreating, since he's no longer relevant to the evolutionary game?

The evolutionary game is much more complicated than you imagine it to be. Humans have evolved to be social animals. Someone who is too old to procreate can still watch after young, pass knowledge on to them, etc., which increases their fitness. This is such a fundamental misunderstanding, you have no reason to be so confident in such matters.


Evolution is a vehicle for genes, bodies are just incidental to this process. We are, however, more than bodies that breed genes. We are persons, we have minds. We have developed into something that goes beyond the substrate from which we came and we owe it to ourselves to some day outgrow the need for that substrate completely.

Imagine what our minds could do if they had centuries to develop. Imagine what our culture could be like if we didn't have to start from scratch every 70 years. Imagine a society without loss and scarcity. I know it's not an idea that appeals to a lot of people, but it does appeal to me. And I do believe it's an inevitable next step. In the end, it doesn't matter what most people think of this idea. It's not a development that the majority of humanity has to sign off on - we'll just move along without you, no harm done.


> We are, however, more than bodies that breed genes. We have developed into something that goes beyond the substrate from which we came and we owe it to ourselves to some day outgrow the need for that substrate completely.

I'm not sure I accept that, and I have yet to see an argument that demonstrates this convincingly. What substrate are you talking about? The physical world? We are a part of and a result of the physical world, not separate from it. The notion of moving beyond it is nonsensical. If you're talking about the biological substrate, then I agree, we may see technology evolve beyond us. But this is still the self-replication pattern that is being propagated, not humanity itself.

>Imagine what our culture could be like if we didn't have to start from scratch every 70 years.

We don't start from scratch, that is the greatest advantage of our minds which have created written and oral communication. It has been demonstrated that people grow more conservative as they get older and set in their ways. New ideas are the purview of the young. I can very well imagine our culture stagnating if individuals were able to live indefinitely.

>Imagine what our minds could do if they had centuries to develop.

If we're still talking about organic brains, I don't think we can imagine that. Our brains were not designed to receive more than 100 or so years of input. The yips in golfers arise from mental maps of the body "bleeding over" after too much training. The wiring of the brain may not be designed to handle so much input. I can easily see an analagous process happening in more purely cognitive situations. In short, we don't know what would happen, and it would be presumptuous to think that we do.

> Imagine a society without loss and scarcity.

What do you mean that doesn't appeal to people? It's a utopian fantasy, of course it sounds good. But to say that it's inevitable is wishful thinking. Ironically, it may be our individualistic culture that does what is good for the self, with no concern for the future good that prevents such a development. Our plunder of the world's resources and our destruction of the environment may very well leave the planet unsuitable for human life. This is the idea that I was addressing in my first post, that of course the species does and should take precedent over the individual.


I can very well imagine our culture stagnating if individuals were able to live indefinitely

That's shown me. I guess the death of myself, my loved ones, my friends, and all 7 billion humans alive today isn't so bad compared to the sheer horror of culture staying the same.

Where's your perspective?

In short, we don't know what would happen, and it would be presumptuous to think that we do.

But it would be ridiculous to reject the idea of it based on speculation that it might not be possible.

Our plunder of the world's resources and our destruction of the environment

Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. This self-flagellating viewpoint isn't winning points from a kindly jury. We can't "destroy" the environment or "plunder" the world's resource. All the stuff we've dug up is still in the universe, there is still an environment, and largely it's still the same as it ever was.

There was vastly more severe environmental change happening outside the time of humans than there has been during it, and we don't talk about the time the crust cooled and set as "the great environmental destruction", do we? Or when oxygen levels dropped, or when the earth warmed and ice ages finished? Or when plants appeared and took over the earth?

They were all enormous changes, yet today it's "greenhouse gases and global warming, oh we're so sorry, we're really horrible, we deserve a punishment".

may very well leave the planet unsuitable for human life.

Then we should probably fix that, not prostrate ourselves and play who's the most cynical and holier-than-thou games.

This is the idea that I was addressing in my first post, that of course the species does and should take precedent over the individual.

Of course it does? I refute that. We, the living humans on this planet, take precedence over all future, potential, hypothetical humans by virtue of our existence and their non-existance. Of course we do, any other view is ridiculous. Can you imagine "women and children first" changing to "imaginary hypothetical people first, women and children second"? No.


> That's shown me. I guess the death of myself, my loved ones, my friends, and all 7 billion humans alive today isn't so bad compared to the sheer horror of culture staying the same.

Unless you think we're perfectly adapted to all future circumstances, different selective pressures will require change, as they have for the past 4 billion or so years on this planet. Plus, good luck getting people to stop fucking. We have a finite amount of resources available. Regardless of the philosophical implications, it's not even practical to try to keep people alive forever. You ask where my perspective is, yet you brush concerns like this under the rug because you can't bear the thought of you personally having to go through the experience of losing loved ones, as organisms have been doing for eons.

> But it would be ridiculous to reject the idea of it based on speculation that it might not be possible.

Yes, I overreached there. I meant only to reject the idea that it will necessarily lead to positive outcomes.

> All the stuff we've dug up is still in the universe, there is still an environment, and largely it's still the same as it ever was.

And a lot of it we've put through physical and chemical changes which are non-reversible. And an environment is different than one that can sustain us comfortably. I didn't think I was going to have to defend simple facts about resource consumption.

> There was vastly more severe environmental change happening outside the time of humans than there has been during it, and we don't talk about the time the crust cooled and set as "the great environmental destruction", do we? Or when oxygen levels dropped, or when the earth warmed and ice ages finished?

We probably would if we were around for it. Species were wiped out. As the environment changes now, selective pressures will change again, and anything maladapted to them will die out. If indeed we are changing the environment and extracting resources at an unsustainable rate, we may die out or be radically changed, and by definition, something more able to keep their consumption under control will flourish. I believe that we have reached an evolutionary point where a much quicker memetic evolution will allow humans to adapt, but the resistance to this collective way of thinking will need to be overcome.

> Then we should probably fix that, not prostrate ourselves and play who's the most cynical and holier-than-thou games.

What game do you think I am playing here? I'm making an earnest argument that maybe the life cost of trying to build the biggest SUVs is too high, and will disadvantage our species in the long run.

> We, the living humans on this planet, take precedence over all future, potential, hypothetical humans by virtue of our existence and their non-existance.

And by definition, this is egocentric, which was the original point. Unless you deny that people will be born in the future, calling them imaginary is intellectually dishonest. Pretending that they will never exist achieves nothing except to deflect your anxiety about taking actions which will make the lives of your descendents more difficult.


I don't care about some dreamy ideal of evolution or adaptability so much that I would choose to die for it.

[Edit for more substance: you imply evolution is driving humanity towards some 'good' destination, such that more evolution is better. This isn't how evolution works.]


"you imply evolution is driving humanity towards some 'good' destination"

No. All I'm implying is that humanity, in its current form, cannot survive all possible natural threats to its existence. We're still competing with other species, and we're still vulnerable to things like the effects of climate change, so if we completely stop evolving, it's likely that in only a few thousand years, we'll be completely dependent on our technology for survival.


I'm trying to understand what your view of evolution is if you think we're going to be significantly different in a few thousand years given we stopped all technological process today and let "nature take its course", or if you think we can survive things like climate change without using our intelligence and technology (perhaps it will even be necessary to augment both). Evolution is slow, evolution is dumb, evolution isn't going to magically make us more likely to survive threats to our existence. You would rather subject yourself to such a blind, dumb, uncaring process, than a future product, perhaps itself intelligent, of our own intelligence that outclasses a natural evolutionary process in every way? Do you think evolution is going to magically get our species off this planet should an asteroid wander this way, or in the future when the Sun dies? Our long-term survival is completely dependent on our technology already.

I would be very surprised and disappointed if our technological processes in a mere hundred years are not more robust and better than evolutionary equivalents--indeed we can already do many things evolution could never do itself, the last big step is doing that more on the micro scale. Work on that has already begun, it's pretty exciting to look at it. E. glowli is just the very beginning.


You're still doing it. When you say "We're still competing with other species, and we're still vulnerable to things like the effects of climate change, so if we completely stop evolving", what you imply is that if we keep evolving, we will improve until we can survive climate change and outcompete other species.

Again, that's not how it works - dinosaurs didn't evolve to be meteor resistant, and carrying on evolving could as well lead to our extinction as to our saving, or indeed to our losing intelligence and becoming a niche species again.

And that's aside from the fact that even with technological immortality, we'd still have people dieing and being created, and evolution will still be happening - it can't not-happen.


Death is obviously bad for you as an individual, but is crucial to the long-term survival on a species. Without death, you can't have evolution or adaptability.

Once a species has the intelligence and technology to eliminate death, they'll be able to evolve and adapt themselves far more effectively than evolution via natural selection.


Uh...if every member of a species happened to be immortal, that species would be the most successful species ever. Natural selection is all about getting rid of individuals who can't hack it. An individual who can't die is clearly one that can hack it, and is perfectly adapted to all situations.


Obviously. From what I know, ego is created by memories from a subjective experience. Death is nothing but destruction of memories. Some of the memories and experiences are selected and stored in global consciousness (like art/writing/design/etc). Same thing as death would probably happen if all your memory were to suddenly become unavailable within a context of staying awake as a physical body. We're all in linked system (your memories come from others, your ego is build from global consciousness + the context of your physical body) so "death" as in the end of phenomen of consciousness is possible but hardly achievable. Even if we kill every living being on earth, who's to say consciousness won't recreate again or it hasn't already. I'll come back to this at the end.

What's funny is memories are also re-created and retouched when we recall them. The whole thing is very complex and when people say they 'know for sure' something about life/death it irritates the hell out of me.

Individual death isn't bad or good. Death just is. It's more fluid and complex than bad or good. Not to mention "dead/alive" itself are fluid concepts. People choose to interpret death as good or bad because people are idiots.

If death was ultimately bad people wouldn't commit suicide all the time. If death was ultimately good people wouldn't apply so much effort to keep alive. People choose to think suicidals are by definition mentally ill also because people are idiots. If you're in a burning building, you most likely will jump out of the building committing suicide because the alternative (being burned alive) is much worse. Similar thing with a lot of suicides.

My point is: people are naive idiots and we still have no idea what exactly happens after death, and what exactly is 'after' or before. The idiocy of people when it comes to the subject of death figuratively speaking makes me want to kill myself.

The comforting thing is, within a context of individual consciousness you're pretty much fucking immortal. Whatever happens outside of the context of functioning consciousness should really be none of your concern. It is impossible to "feel dead". "When I'm alive death isn't here, when I'm dead I won't be there to witness it".


This madness has to stop.


Yeah, but without death the whole world would be filled to the brim with protobacteria, and none of us complex life forms would ever have had room to exist.


I'm pretty sure he's talking about death of people. I'm sure he gets the same satisfied smile smashing a mosquito that the rest of us do.


> Death is not good; it is very bad. If given the opportunity to live "forever" (and not age), you'd take it. In a world without death, nobody would think introducing it was a good idea. But because we currently can't do anything about it, we try to tell ourselves it's a good thing.

That doesn't explain self-sacrifice. And, honestly, I wouldn't want to live an "eternal" life when everybody I love and know around me would be dead at some point or another. Maybe this is also why I've come to see Christianity's "promise" of eternal life as ridiculous and almost scary at times.

As Seneca used to say, it doesn't matter how long you live, it's what you do with your life that matters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Brevitate_Vitae_%28Seneca%29)

""" The philosopher brings up many Stoic principles on the nature of time, namely that men waste much of it in meaningless pursuits. According to the essay, nature gives man enough time to do what is really important and the individual must allot it properly. """

And to finish in an even more pathetic tone, I don't think we should strive for living an eternal life, but rather do what Julius Caesar did when he realized that Alexander had already conquered the world by 30: weep, and then try to conquer the world by ourselves.


Exactly. Longevity and maintenance are the key.

The reason to want to live longer? One word: space.

Living hundreds of years in good health will allow us all to become a space faring race. It will allow us to take the long view on interstellar travel, our species and relationships. I'm hoping to see that day and having Steve leave so early only solidifies the importance of longevity in my mind. Intelligence is not meant to die, it's meant to live. We accept death only because we have to and have been powerless to stop it. Technology is starting to change all that.




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