Why I Don’t Care If YOU Want to Cure Mortality

I’m fairly ardent on this blog about my desire to prevent humans from dying involuntarily. But, while I’ve made many attempts to rebut poor arguments and explain the reasons I care about this, I haven’t ever attempted to convince anyone else that they should have the same goal I do.

This isn’t because I have any desire to avoid persuading people; I’ve written rather a lot of persuasive posts on this blog, inviting people to abolish everything from gender to public schools. Instead, it’s because I don’t think everyone should be trying to cure mortality.

I chose the particular goal I did when I was very young, but I’ve stuck with it because it seems like a reasonable first step. If I can extend my life, and the lives of others, then we’ll all have more time to do other things.

But death from senescence is not the only threat, or even the single biggest one (though it is up there). Pretty much everything on the Wikipedia page for Global Catastrophic Risks is a notable candidate for an Important Problem that somebody should be working on.

“Most people all the time, and all people most of the time, should stick to the possible.” Even those of us working on one impossible (read: very difficult or potentially unsolvable) problem cannot work on multiple at once. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that smart ambitious people work on multiple different impossible problems, work on eliminating or preventing multiple Global Catastrophic Risks at once, so that we can make the world better as efficiently and effectively as possible.

So, if you’re a smart ambitious person not currently working on curing mortality, because you’ve deemed it more important to work on Friendly AI or biotechnology or global warming or FTL travel, then that is exactly how it should be.

“But,” some of you might protest, “I’m not working on any impossible problems. Do you look down on me, or think I should be doing something different?”

Not at all. “Most people all the time, and all people most of the time, should stick to the possible.” The first phrase is just as critical as the second: most people should always do things they know they can do, work on normal goals, and have normal lives. Us weirdos working on impossible problems need the world to keep running while we do it. We need accountants and restaurant owners and librarians and politicians and auto mechanics.

There is absolutely no reason that anybody who doesn’t already have some compulsion to work on an impossible problem should do so. If you have an idea for a startup that could change the world, you have no obligation to follow through with it. If you hear about a Global Catastrophic Risk, you have no obligation to do anything about it (other than, perhaps, try to help a little bit however you can). There are those of us who are indifferent to the idea of spending our whole lives on a potentially fruitless endeavor, who are willing to do so in exchange for decreasing the risk of something about which we are genuinely terrified: the serious crippling, or permanent extinction, of the human race.

That’s our own prerogative, not yours. It doesn’t matter to me what you choose to do with your life: that’s dependent on your utility function, not mine. The only thing that matters to me is my own work. If we each focus on our own work, and sphere of influence, that’s enough.

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