My morning with Yudkowsky: or, why I should eat breakfast.

This post started it all. While drinking my tea and blinking blearily at the screen, I realized that I didn’t know very much at all about these alleged “three schools” of Singular theory. Given that ?oyfriend was reviewed (and enjoyed) by a Singularitarian, I figured I ought to rectify this.

Which, naturally, let to Yudkowsky’s explanation of the subject, which clarifies matters quite nicely. I spent a good amount of time at the website, tempted by The Twelve Virtues of Rationality and Transhumanism as Simplified Humanism, and of course Yehuda, a piece in which Yudkowsky’s skills as a writer vie with Murakami’s in their ability to reduce me to tears.

What all these pieces have in common is that they deal on some level with life, death, and truth. In other words, they cause you to question everything that you hold dear — a good thing, unless you’re running solely on tea. Yudkowsky’s is scotch oats writing: you may require a bowl of steel-cut and a dram of distilled goodness before confronting it head-on. Otherwise, you’ll wind up like me, synapses sparking dimly, wondering if you’d choose to purchase the technologies necessary to extend your life when you can barely be bothered to eat anything in the morning, knowing full well that a burst of cortisol will make the hunger go away for a few hours.

The answer is that I probably wouldn’t.

I don’t disagree with Yudkowsky’s assertion that, in general, life is good and death is bad, or that health is better than disease. Those are true. But life is not an unqualified or unconditional good. There are plenty of scenarios I can imagine in which I would choose death, instead. Let’s let anime illustrate:

The Kusanagi Scenario: In exchange for working for your government, you get a custom prosthetic body and cyber-brain capable of astonishing feats of physical and mental prowess. If you choose to quit your job, however, you lose both. They own you, shell and ghost.

Death, thank you.

The Faye Valentine Scenario: After a disaster, you’re put on ice thanks to new transhumanist policies regarding emergency medical treatment. You wake up decades (or centuries, or millennia) later, a stranger in your own world. Only, unlike Philip J. Frye, you actually have to pay for your unrequested medical incarceration. The debt? Astronomical. You now get to spend the rest of your natural life working it off in an economy you have no training for.

Hmm. I’d probably choose to live in the short term, but secretly wish that they had just let me die.

The Lain Scenario: You are a goddess of the Wired, but in exchange for using your abilities, you have to erase yourself from the memories of everyone you ever knew or loved.

Death is preferable.

Of course, I can anticipate a long list of arguments. Would I get over the loss of my friends, in a Lain Scenario? Yes. But I wouldn’t be any happier, without them. My life wouldn’t have improved by their loss. Would I enjoy the future, in a Valentine Scenario? Probably. But I’d still be expected to work in it, and likely in a series of menial jobs meant for people with no access to education (which would be me, not having grown up in the future). The future always looks great, if you have a really cool job and meet cool people. It’s a lot less appealing when you realize it might mean swabbing floors at a McDonald’s where they serve vat-grown protein for the rest of your augmented life. The Kusanagi Scenario is appealing in that it comes with a great job and great benefits, but the corresponding loss of freedom is feudal in scope. Who wants a life where disobedience means death? Isn’t this why we try to put down totalitarian regimes?

All of these are just extensions of what I think of as the Vampire Problem: namely, that immortality is only great if you’re wealthy and beautiful (Meier Link from Vampire Hunter D). If, however, you’re poor and normal-looking (Cassidy from Preacher), you’re in for more of the same, for eternity.

Moreover, I’d like everyone who wants to extend their life to consider why they in particular warrant the use of the resources required, when we live on a planet whose resources are shrinking rapidly. What’s the carbon footprint of immortality? Why should you be the one to make it? What makes you such a beautiful and unique snowflake? What do you contribute?

If your answer is “Well, ____ loves me,” that’s fine. But it means that you’re responsible for two of those fathomless footprints, not just one. And if you want immortality for your children and their children ad infinitum, then I hope you plan on using your eternal life to make the planet habitable. Otherwise, prepare for an eternity of unremitting competition for what ruins remain.

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