(Part 8 of 8 in "Three Worlds Collide")

Fire came to Huygens.

The star erupted.

Stranded ships, filled with children doomed by a second's last delay, still milled around the former Earth transit point.  Too many doomed ships, far too many doomed ships.  They should have left a minute early, just to be sure; but the temptation to load in that one last child must have been irresistable.  To do the warm and fuzzy thing just this one time, instead of being cold and calculating.  You couldn't blame them, could you...?

Yes, actually, you could.

The Lady Sensory switched off the display.  It was too painful.

On the Huygens market, the price of a certain contract spiked to 100%.  They were all rich in completely worthless assets for the next nine minutes, until the supernova blast front arrived.

"So," the Lord Pilot finally said.  "What kind of asset retains its value in a market with nine minutes to live?"

"Booze for immediate delivery," the Master of Fandom said promptly.  "That's what you call a -"

"Liquidity preference," the others chorused.

The Master laughed.  "All right, that was too obvious.  Well... chocolate, sex -"

"Not necessarily," said the Lord Pilot.  "If you can use up the whole supply of chocolate at once, does demand outstrip supply?  Same with sex - the value could actually drop if everyone's suddenly willing.  Not to mention:  Nine minutes?"

"All right then, expert oral sex from experienced providers.  And hard drugs with dangerous side effects; the demand would rise hugely relative to supply -"

"This is inane," the Ship's Engineer commented.

The Master of Fandom shrugged.  "What do you say in the unrecorded last minutes of your life that is not inane?"

"It doesn't matter," said the Lady Sensory.  Her face was strangely tranquil.  "Nothing that we do now matters.  We won't have to live with the consequences.  No one will.  All this time will be obliterated when the blast front hits.  The role I've always played, the picture that I have of me... it doesn't matter.  There's... a peace... in not having to be Dalia Ancromein any more."

The others looked at her.  Talk about killing the mood.

"Well," the Master of Fandom said, "since you raise the subject, I suppose it would be peaceful if not for the screaming terror."

"You don't have to feel the screaming terror," the Lady Sensory said.  "That's just a picture you have in your head of how it should be.  The role of someone facing imminent death.  But I don't have to play any more roles.  I don't have to feel screaming terror.  I don't have to frantically pack in a few last moments of fun.  There are no more obligations."

"Ah," the Master of Fandom said, "so I guess this is when we find out who we really are."  He paused for a moment, then shrugged.  "I don't seem to be anyone in particular.  Oh well."

The Lady Sensory stood up, and walked across the room to where the Lord Pilot stood looking at the viewscreen.

"My Lord Pilot," the Lady Sensory said.

"Yes?" the Lord Pilot said.  His face was expectant.

The Lady Sensory smiled.  It was bizarre, but not frightening.  "Do you know, my Lord Pilot, that I had often thought how wonderful it would be to kick you very hard in the testicles?"

"Um," the Lord Pilot said.  His arms and legs suddenly tensed, preparing to block.

"But now that I could do it," the Lady Sensory said, "I find that I don't really want to.  It seems... that I'm not as awful a person as I thought."  She gave a brief sigh.  "I wish that I had realized it earlier."

The Lord Pilot's hand swiftly darted out and groped the Lady Sensory's breast.  It was so unexpected that no one had time to react, least of all her.  "Well, what do you know," the Pilot said, "I'm just as much of a pervert as I thought.  My self-estimate was more accurate than yours, nyah nyah -"

The Lady Sensory kneed him in the groin, hard enough to drop him moaning to the floor, but not hard enough to require medical attention.

"Okay," the Master of Fandom said, "can we please not go down this road?  I'd like to die with at least some dignity."

There was a long, awkward silence, broken only by a quiet "Ow ow ow ow..."

"Would you like to hear something amusing?" asked the Kiritsugu, who had once been a Confessor.

"If you're going to ask that question," said the Master of Fandom, "when the answer is obviously yes, thus wasting a few more seconds -"

"Back in the ancient days that none of you can imagine, when I was seventeen years old - which was underage even then - I stalked an underage girl through the streets, slashed her with a knife until she couldn't stand up, and then had sex with her before she died.  It was probably even worse than you're imagining.  And deep down, in my very core, I enjoyed every minute."

Silence.

"I don't think of it often, mind you.  It's been a long time, and I've taken a lot of intelligence-enhancing drugs since then.  But still - I was just thinking that maybe what I'm doing now finally makes up for that."

"Um," said the Ship's Engineer.  "What we just did, in fact, was kill fifteen billion people."

"Yes," said the Kiritsugu, "that's the amusing part."

Silence.

"It seems to me," mused the Master of Fandom, "that I should feel a lot worse about that than I actually do."

"We're in shock," the Lady Sensory observed distantly.  "It'll hit us in about half an hour, I expect."

"I think it's starting to hit me," the Ship's Engineer said.  His face was twisted.  "I - I was so worried I wouldn't be able to destroy my home planet, that I didn't get around to feeling unhappy about succeeding until now.  It... hurts."

"I'm mostly just numb," the Lord Pilot said from the floor.  "Well, except down there, unfortunately."  He slowly sat up, wincing.  "But there was this absolute unalterable thing inside me, screaming so loud that it overrode everything.  I never knew there was a place like that within me.  There wasn't room for anything else until humanity was safe.  And now my brain is worn out.  So I'm just numb."

"Once upon a time," said the Kiritsugu, "there were people who dropped a U-235 fission bomb, on a place called Hiroshima.  They killed perhaps seventy thousand people, and ended a war.  And if the good and decent officer who pressed that button had needed to walk up to a man, a woman, a child, and slit their throats one at a time, he would have broken long before he killed seventy thousand people."

Someone made a choking noise, as if trying to cough out something that had suddenly lodged deep in their throat.

"But pressing a button is different," the Kiritsugu said.  "You don't see the results, then.  Stabbing someone with a knife has an impact on you.  The first time, anyway.  Shooting someone with a gun is easier.  Being a few meters further away makes a surprising difference.  Only needing to pull a trigger changes it a lot.  As for pressing a button on a spaceship - that's the easiest of all.  Then the part about 'fifteen billion' just gets flushed away.  And more importantly - you think it was the right thing to do.  The noble, the moral, the honorable thing to do.  For the safety of your tribe.  You're proud of it -"

"Are you saying," the Lord Pilot said, "that it was not the right thing to do?"

"No," the Kiritsugu said.  "I'm saying that, right or wrong, the belief is all it takes."

"I see," said the Master of Fandom.  "So you can kill billions of people without feeling much, so long as you do it by pressing a button, and you're sure it's the right thing to do.  That's human nature."  The Master of Fandom nodded.  "What a valuable and important lesson.  I shall remember it all the rest of my life."

"Why are you saying all these things?" the Lord Pilot asked the Kiritsugu.

The Kiritsugu shrugged.  "When I have no reason left to do anything, I am someone who tells the truth."

"It's wrong," said the Ship's Engineer in a small, hoarse voice, "I know it's wrong, but - I keep wishing the supernova would hurry up and get here."

"There's no reason for you to hurt," said the Lady Sensory in a strange calm voice.  "Just ask the Kiritsugu to stun you.  You'll never wake up."

"...no."

"Why not?" asked the Lady Sensory, in a tone of purely abstract curiosity.

The Ship's Engineer clenched his hands into fists.  "Because if hurting is that much of a crime, then the Superhappies are right."  He looked at the Lady Sensory.  "You're wrong, my lady.  These moments are as real as every other moment of our lives.  The supernova can't make them not exist."  His voice lowered.  "That's what my cortex says.  My diencephalon wishes we'd been closer to the sun."

"It could be worse," observed the Lord Pilot.  "You could not hurt."

"For myself," the Kiritsugu said quietly, "I had already visualized and accepted this, and then it was just a question of watching it play out."  He sighed.  "The most dangerous truth a Confessor knows is that the rules of society are just consensual hallucinations.  Choosing to wake up from the dream means choosing to end your life.  I knew that when I stunned Akon, even apart from the supernova."

"Okay, look," said the Master of Fandom, "call me a gloomy moomy, but does anyone have something uplifting to say?"

The Lord Pilot jerked a thumb at the expanding supernova blast front, a hundred seconds away.  "What, about that?"

"Yeah," the Master of Fandom said.  "I'd like to end my life on an up note."

"We saved the human species," offered the Lord Pilot.  "Man, that's the sort of thing you could just repeat to yourself over and over and over again -"

"Besides that."

"Besides WHAT?"

The Master managed to hold a straight face for a few seconds, and then had to laugh.

"You know," the Kiritsugu said, "I don't think there's anyone in modern-day humanity, who would regard my past self as anything but a poor, abused victim.  I'm pretty sure my mother drank during pregnancy, which, back then, would give your child something called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  I was poor, uneducated, and in an environment so entrepreneurially hostile you can't even imagine it -"

"This is not sounding uplifting," the Master said.

"But somehow," the Kiritsugu said, "all those wonderful excuses - I could never quite believe in them myself, afterward.  Maybe because I'd also thought of some of the same excuses before.  It's the part about not doing anything that got to me.  Others fought the war to save the world, far over my head.  Lightning flickering in the clouds high above me, while I hid in the basement and suffered out the storm.  And by the time I was rescued and healed and educated, in any shape to help others - the battle was essentially over.  Knowing that I'd been a victim for someone else to save, one more point in someone else's high score - that just stuck in my craw, all those years..."

"...anyway," the Kiritsugu said, and there was a small, slight smile on that ancient face, "I feel better now."

"So does that mean," asked the Master, "that now your life is finally complete, and you can die without any regrets?"

The Kiritsugu looked startled for a moment.  Then he threw back his head and laughed.  True, pure, honest laughter.  The others began to laugh as well, and their shared hilarity echoed across the room, as the supernova blast front approached at almost exactly the speed of light.

Finally the Kiritsugu stopped laughing, and said:

"Don't be ridicu-"

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I know I'm way late, but I did once work out what kills you if your star goes supernova (type II anyway) while doing my dissertation on supernova physics. It's the neutrinos, as previously mentioned. They emerge from the center of the star several hours before there is any other outward sign of a problem. Any planet in a roughly 1 AU orbit will absorb enough energy from the neutrino blast to melt the entire planet into liquid rock, and this will happen pretty much instantly, everywhere. Needless to say, when the light hits, the planet absorbs photons much more efficiently, and the whole thing turns to vapor, but everyone is very very very dead long before then.

I think the dramatic impact would be stronger without the "Fin".

Upon due consideration: You know, you're right.

Aleksei, I don't know what you think about the current existential risks situation, but that situation changed me in the direction of your comment. I used to think that to have a good impact on the world, you had to be an intrinsically good person. I used to think that the day to day manner in which I treated the people around me, the details of my motives and self-knowledge, etc. just naturally served as an indicator for the positive impact I did or didn't have on global goodness.

(It was a dumb thing to think, maintained by an elaborate network of rationalizations that I thought of as virtuous, much the way many people think of their political "beliefs"/clothes as virtuous. My beliefs were also maintained by not bothering to take an actually careful look either at global catastrophic risks or even at the details of e.g. global poverty. But my impression is that it's fairly common to just suppose that our intuitive moral self-evaluations (or others' evaluations of how good of people we are) map tolerably well onto actual good consequences.)

Anyhow: now, it looks to me as though most of those "good people", living intrinsically worthwhile lives, aren't contributing squat to global goodness compared to what they could contribute if they spent even a small fraction of their time/money on a serious attempt to shut up and multiply. The network of moral intuitions I grew up in is... not exactly worthless; it does help with intrinsically worthwhile lives, and, more to the point, with the details of how to actually build the kinds of reasonable human relationships that you need for parts of the "shut up and multiply"-motivated efforts to work... but, for most people, it's basically not very connected to how much good they do or don't do in the world. If you like, this is good news: for a ridiculously small sum of effort (e.g., a $500 donation to SIAI; the earning power of seven ten-thousandths of your life if you earn the US minimum wage), you can do more expected-good than perhaps 99.9% of Earth's population. (You may be able to do still more expected-good by taking that time and thinking carefully about what most impacts global goodness and whether anyone's doing it.)

I enjoyed reading this story, but I would like to point out what I see as a grim possible future for humanity even after shutdown Huygens starline. As I understand, the super happies have a very accelerated reproduction rate among other things, which in certain circumstances could be as low as a 20 hour doubling time, ship crew and all; It's hard to pinpoint what the doubling time for solar system/starline colonization though it is likely related to the reproduction doubling time, but with the conservative estimate that they super happies have colonized/explored at least 8 systems in the 20 years (as the stars count time) they have been in space that would give them about a 6 year doubling time. There are about 400 billion stars in the galaxy while this may be a lot; It is only a mere 39 doubling cycles to full colonization, and an additional 39 (78 total) to full colonization of the next 400 billion galaxies. We have a range of somewhere between 780 hours (based on the 20 hour doubling speed) or about 32 and a half days to a more respectable yet still short 234 years (based on the conservative 6 year doubling time estimate) until the whole galaxy has been explored by the super happies, and only double that time if we are speaking of an area much much larger then the observable universe. It is safe to say that this is a strong upper bound on the amount of time it would take the super happies to rediscover humanity, and that time decreases significantly due to anything that would increase the chance of discovery from pure random chance, such as better understanding of starline topography, better inter-starline scanning, and additional novas that humanity chooses to investigate. So, I think the sad fact of the matter is that this victory is just one of little time, and considering the advancements in immortality I think the vast majority of humans would be around to see the return of the super happies to bestow upon them their gift.

True, but on the other hand humanity has been left alone for millions of years, so odds of some species conquering universe just after humans accidentally happen to meet them (while they are still very limited in size) seem low. If there would be nothing stopping such expansions, i would´ve expected seeing some species conquering universe millions or billions of years ago.

"though probably most of my effort was on relatively useless rather ordinary do-gooder projects"

Aleksei, "ordinary do-gooder projects" are relatively useless. That is, they are multiple orders of magnitude less efficient at global expected-goodness production than well thought out efforts to reduce existential risks. If you somehow ignore existential risks, "ordinary do-gooder projects" are even orders of magnitude less efficient than the better charities working on current human welfare, as analyzed by Givewell or by the Copenhagen Consensus.

Enjoy your life, and don't feel guilty if you don't feel guilty; but if you do want to increase the odds that anything of value survives in this corner of the universe, don't focus on managing to give up more of your current pleasure. Focus on how efficiently you use whatever time/money/influence you are putting toward global goodness. Someone who spends seven ten-thousandths of their time earning money to donate to SIAI does ridiculously more good than someone who spends 90% of their time being a Good Person at an ordinary charity. (They have more time left-over to enjoy themselves, too.)

Aagh! How did I never notice this comment until now?! I would have lived to have started internalizing this back in 2009. As it is I got to a similar place at last weekend's CFAR NY workshop.

Then the part about 'sixteen billion' just gets flushed away. And more importantly - you think it was the right thing to do. The noble, the moral, the honorable thing to do.

Like eating babies, then.

Aleksei: I hope you others feel that the character was primarily a victim way back when, instead of a dirtbag.

He was who he was. Labelling him "victim" or "dirtbag" or whatever says nothing about what he was, but a lot about the person doing the labelling.

Russell: Of course not. The victim was the girl he murdered.

If one person is a victim, it doesn't follow that another person was not.

Nominull, neither Akon, the Lord Programmer, or the Xenopsychologist seem to be appearing in this section.

Billy Brown:

Give the furries, vampire-lovers and other assorted xenophiles a few generations to chase their dreams, and you're going to start seeing groups with distinctly non-human psychology.

WHY HAVEN'T I READ THIS STORY?

Stanislaw Lem, "The Twenty-First Voyage of Ijon Tichy", collected in "The Star Diaries".

hm, is ''Tichy'' the Polish word for 'peaceful'?

Tichy is Russian for quiet. "Tichy Okean" is Russian for "Pacific Ocean."

Nah. "Tichy" is not existing word in Polish. Hovever, there is very similar word "cichy" that means "silent", low volume sound. Probably not accidental.

Lem actually mentions that at some point... while I don't have my copy of Peace on Earth with me, there's that scene where Tichy's picking out postcards and drawing sketches on them. He draws a mouse on a postcard with an owl and says something along the lines of "And how does a mouse behave around an owl? It is quiet, quiet as a mouse." and then comments on his name.

Give the furries, vampire-lovers and other assorted xenophiles a few generations to chase their dreams, and you're going to start seeing groups with distinctly non-human psychology.

WHY HAVEN'T I READ THIS STORY?

Because you haven't had time to read all the Orion's Arm stories, probably. (Details)

I would recommend "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow. A wonderful insight in transhumanism. Furries, social structure based on Facebook, etc. Also, there is Cure for Death. Book is avaliable for free on author's site.

Actually, I think the neutrinos might be enough to kill you. Not sure about this, but Wikipedia alleged that in a supernova, the outer parts of the star are blown away by the neutrinos because that's what gets there first. I don't quite understand how this can be, but even leaving that aside...

I would presume that if the initial light-blast didn't actually eat all the way through the planet, then the ashes following behind it only slightly slower, once they got in front of the night side, would be emitting light at intensity sufficient to vaporize the night side too. So, yeah, everyone dies pretty damn fast, I think. Don't know if the planet's core stays intact for another minute or whatever.

Speaking of Culture-style ship names (ref. Anonymous Coward above), this story btw inspires good new ones:

"Untranslatable 2" "Big Angelic Power" "We Wish To Subscribe To Your Newsletter" "Big Fucking Edward"

Also - explaining complex beliefs is a fantastically difficult enterprise. To consider fiction as just a way of "sneaking things past the unwary reader's guard" is selling it far short. It verges, I fear, on too much respect for respectability.

I tried to make the Superhappy position look as appealing as possible - show just how strange our position would look to someone who didn't have it, ask whether human children might be innocent victims, depict the human objections as overcomplicated departures from rationality. Of course I wanted my readers to feel Akon's helplessness. But to call that "sneaking things past someone's guard" is a little unfair to the possibilities of fiction as a vehicle for philosophy, I should think.

I'm still conflicted and worried about the ethics of writing fiction as a way of persuading people of anything, but conflict implies almost-balance; you don't seem to think that there's much in the way of benefit.

I hope you others feel that the character was primarily a victim way back when, instead of a dirtbag.

Of course not. The victim was the girl he murdered.

That's the point of the chapter title - he had something to atone for. It's what tvtropes.org calls a Heel Face Turn.

And at the same time, they were both victims, as are we all, of human nature. Never let it be said that if you are a victim, you are only a victim.

But the tech in the story massively favors the defense, to the point that a defender who is already prepared to fracture his starline network if attacked is almost impossible to conquer (you’d need to advance faster than the defender can send warnings of your attack while maintaining perfect control over every system you’ve captured). So an armed society would have a good chance of being able to cut itself off from even massively superior aliens, while pacifists are vulnerable to surprise attacks from even fairly inferior ones.

I agree, and that's why in my ending humans conquer the Babyeaters only after we develop a defense against the supernova weapon. The fact that the humans can see the defensive potential of this weapon, but the Babyeaters and the Superhappies can't, is a big flaw in the story. The humans sacrificed billions in order to allow the Superhappies to conquer the Babyeaters, but that makes sense only if the Babyeaters can't figure out the same defense that the humans used. Why not?

Also, the Superhappies' approach to negotiation made no game theoretic sense. What they did was, offer a deal to the other side. If they don't accept, impose the deal on them anyway by force. If they do accept, trust that they will carry out the deal without try to cheat. Given these incentives, why would anyone facing a Superhappy in negotiation not accept and then cheat? I don't see any plausible way in which this morality/negotiation strategy could have become a common one in Superhappy society.

Lastly, I note that the Epilogue of the original ending could be named Atonement as well. After being modified by the Superhappies (like how the Confessor was "rescued"?), the humans would now be atoning for having forced their children suffer pain. What does this symmetry tell us, if anything?

why would anyone facing a Superhappy in negotiation not accept and then cheat?

The SH cannot lie. So they also cannot claim to follow through on a contract while plotting to cheat instead.

They may have developed their negotiation habits only facing honest, trustworthy members of their own kind. (For all we know, this was the first Alien encounter the SH faced.)

I don't think I see how moral-philosophy fiction is problematic at all. When you have a beautiful moral sentiment that you need to offer to the world, of course you bind it up in a glorious work of high art, and let the work stand as your offering. That makes sense. When you have some info you want to share with the world about some dull ordinary thing that actually exists, that's when you write a journal article. When you've got something to protect, something you need to say, some set of notions that you really are entitled to, then you write a novel.

Just as it is dishonest to fail to be objective in matters of fact, so it is dishonest to feign objectivity where there simply is no fact. Why pretend to make arguments when what you really want to write is a hymn?

Robin, that's one reason I first wrote up my abstract views on the proposition of eliminating pain, and then I put up a fictional story that addressed the same issue.

But what first got me thinking along the same lines was watching a certain movie - all the Far arguments I'd read up until that point hadn't moved me; but watching it playing out in an imaginary Near situation altered my thinking. Pretty sure it's got something to do with there being fewer degrees of emotional freedom in concrete Near thinking versus abstract propositional Far thinking.

I think that so long as I lay my cards plainly on the table outside the story, writing the story should fall more along the lines of public service to understanding, and less along the lines of sneaky covert hidden arguments. Do I need to remark on how desperately important it is, with important ideas, to have some versions that are as accessible as possible? The difficulty is to do this without simply flushing away the real idea and substituting one that's easier to explain. But I do think - I do hope - that I am generally pretty damned careful on that score.

Maglick, last piece RH wrote that changed my mind (as in causing me to alter my beliefs on questions I had previously considered) was the "Near vs. Far" one.

Clearly, Eliezer should seriously consider devoting himself more to writing fiction. But it is not clear to me how this helps us overcome biases any more than any fictional moral dilemma. Since people are inconsistent but reluctant to admit that fact, their moral beliefs can be influenced by which moral dilemmas they consider in what order, especially when written by a good writer. I expect Eliezer chose his dilemmas in order to move readers toward his preferred moral beliefs, but why should I expect those are better moral beliefs than those of all the other authors of fictional moral dilemmas? If I'm going to read a literature that might influence my moral beliefs, I'd rather read professional philosophers and other academics making more explicit arguments. In general, I better trust explicit academic argument over implicit fictional "argument."

Morals are axioms. They're ultimately arbitrary. Relying on arguments with logic and reason for deciding the axioms of your morals is silly, go with what feels right. Then use logic and reason to best actualize on those beliefs. Try to trace morality too far down and you'll realize it's all ultimately pointless, or at least there's no single truth to the matter.

Morals can be axioms, I suppose, but IME what many of us have as object-level "morals" are instead the sorts of cached results that could in principle be derived from axioms. Often, those morals are inconsistent with one another; in those cases using logic and reason to actualize them leads at best to tradeoffs, more often to self-defeating cycles as I switch from one so-called "axiom" to another, sometimes to utter paralysis as these "axioms" come into conflict.

An alternative to that is to analyze my own morality and edit it (insofar as possible) for consistency.

You're welcome to treat your moral instincts as ineluctable primitives if you wish, of course, but it's not clear to me that I ought to.

it's not clear to me that I ought to.

The desire to have a set of morals that derive from consistent axioms can be considered an "ineluctable" as well. It's simply that your preference to have consistent morals in some cases overrides your other ineluctable preferences...and this conflict is another instance of the paralysis you mentioned.

The morals are indeed cached results...they are the best approximation of the morals that would have been most useful for propagating your genes in the ancestral environment that the combination of evolution and natural selection could come up with.

Try to trace morality too far down and you'll realize it's all ultimately pointless, or at least there's no single truth to the matter.

Why care? It all adds up to normalcy.

If there is a physical law preventing me from caring about things once I realize they are arbitrary in certain conceptual frameworks please enlighten me on it.

I'm not suggesting that any emotion should be attached to the lack of a great truth or true indisputable morals; I'm simply stating the obvious,

Morals are modeled as axioms in certain formulations.

Wei Dai: Given these incentives, why would anyone facing a Superhappy in negotiation not accept and then cheat? I don't see any plausible way in which this morality/negotiation strategy could have become a common one in Superhappy society.

Perhaps they evolved to honestly accept, and then find overwhelming reasons to cheat later on, and this is their substitute for deception. Maybe they also evolved to give not-quite acceptable options, which the other party will accept, and then cheat on to some degree.

So the true ending might be a typical superhappy negotiation, if their real solution were something we would represent as "We absolutely have to deal with the babyeaters, You childabusers are awful but we'll let you exist unmodified as long as you never, ever sextalk us again."

And because they evolved expecting a certain amount of cheating, This consciously manifested itself as the unacceptable offer they made.

Nicholas, suppose Eliezer's fictional universe contains a total of 2^(10^20) star systems, and each starline connects two randomly selected star systems. With a 20 hour doubling speed, the Superhappies, starting with one ship, can explore 2^(t36524/20) random star systems after t years. Let's say the humans are expanding at the same pace. How long will it take, before humans and Superhappies will meet again?

According to the birthday paradox, they will likely meet after each having explored about sqrt(2^(10^20)) = 2^(510^19) star systems, which will take 510^19/(365*24/20) or approximately 10^17 years to accomplish. That should be enough time to get over our attachment to "bodily pain, embarrassment, and romantic troubles", I imagine.

What gets me the most about the story is how vague the Future!Human ideology is. Eating babies is bad... especially if they suffer... but destroying a whole culture to remove their suffering is bad... and we'd never want anyone to do that to us... 'cause... y'know, just 'cause.

At first they seem to be all humanitarians and inclusivists. They also seem to be highly rational, and attempting to describe and account for all emotional and cultural bias in their decision-making argument. They're authoritarian... because that's what works best... but the leaders always try to get the feel of what the majority thinks... and the people who are there to make sure things stay sane and rational are not actually leaders... but still have extensive moral authority.

People raise objections to humans reforming the Baby-eaters, and they raise objections to having us reformed by the Superhappies, but (in stark contrast to the excessive self-analysis everywhere else) nobody really gives a clear reason other than "it's just bad". It's like they're afraid to even put their own beliefs on the table, in the form of "we hold these truths to be self-evident, and the majority of us will act on them. we are willing to accept that some or all of them may be wrong, but you will have to convince each of us separately". Or possibly the author is afraid of making the humans as dogmatic as the aliens, so instead makes them all wishy-washy.

The words "freedom of self-determiantion" never appear (except in the comments). The mentions of non-consensual sex and of races being mixed together gives an impression that the Future!Humans value peace and getting along higher than personal freedom, in which case it's hard to see why the Superhappy proposal is so bad for them.

So the moral of the story is, "sure, maybe humans are capable of killing millions of their own kind in the name of vague ideology, but at least we're not baby-eaters or writhing masses of tentacles that do nothing but reproduce". Uplifting, I guess.

Does the notion of future humans being irrational, self-deluded hypocrites really strike you as so implausible? Just because they think they're smarter than our generation doesn't mean they actually are.

This is a good comment. I don't understand why this choice was made, or why Mr. Yudkowsky - presumably - thinks that it was the right choice to make. The Superhappy proposal was reasonable, and only instinctive disgust at the idea of eating babies - even non-sentient ones - prevented the acceptance of their offer. (Or was it that humans want to keep suffering, because it's somehow intrinsic to "being human", which is important because... uh... because...) For that small sacrifice, a paradise could have been created. Instead, billions die and humans remain unhappy sufferers.

Very disappointing.

See the matter of the pie. Xannon's proposal is identical to the Super Happies'; meta-ethical "fairness". Regardless of how you might feel about a Super Happy future, the Suffering Rapists hated it. Rational agents will choose the option which maximizes expected utility, accepting the deal didn't maximise expected utility, so the deal was rejected. That's all there is to it.

Though you seem to implicitly disagree, vanishingly few "moral systems" hold that pleasure is the ultimate "good," and most people engaged in the pursuit of pleasure would not introspect on their own behavior as "good/moral." At best, they would tend to consider themselves selfishly (chaotic?) neutral.

If you question why, in this exploration of Blue/Orange morality, Future Humanity resists the concept of removal of pain, then you missed THE very critical concept of the piece - "For that terrible winnowing was the central truth of life, after all."

The fundamental essence of the Babyeaters is tied to their evolutionary origins as a people that eat babies. The whole story is a fantastic exploration on how the biological and ecological underpinnings of a species distinctly shape their social thought processes and therefore the evolution of their moral and social systems. It's explained very clearly how the BE's view the self sacrifice of their behavior as THE ultimate good.

Similarly, the unified thought/data/DNA system (there are bacteria and virii that seem to be taking this path) of the SH's makes their path to complete empathy and their resulting behavior entirely logical. It's an application of "Pure Harmony" - as beings of complete empathy, they would rather alter their racial essence than experience/perceive the suffering en masse of others. Similarly, any species that does NOT eliminate suffering in any and all forms is barbaric – if for nothing else because they inherently do not sense the pain of others.

What isn't explained is that pain is as essential to our understanding of the world, and therefore our humanity, as the winnowing/sacrifice is to the BE's. Since we possess this dichotomy between neurological and DNA structures, empathy is only possible through mirroring - the PERSONAL experience of pain is what allows for comprehension, even though it may be considered "uncomfortable." The natural world makes for an uncaring universe, and having a keen sense of pain has enabled us to advance through our challenges. Removing pain is effectively removing our alignment and awareness of the indifference of the universe around us - a fatal mistake. At the same time, individuality is a prized value of humanity, in contrast to BOTH the BE's and SH's. The idea that I should be forced to abandon all sense of individuality (the essence of complete empathy) is anathematic to my very humanity. I don't exist to experience pleasure or pain, I exist to be myself.

Good story, and a nice illustration of many of the points you’ve previously made about cross-species morality. I do find it a bit disturbing that so many people think the SH offer doesn’t sound so bad – not sure if that’s a weakness in the story, commenter contrarianism, or a measure of just how diverse human psychology already is.

The human society looks like a patched-up version of Star Trek’s bland liberal utopianism, which I realize is probably for the convenience of the story. But it’s worth pointing out that any real society with personal freedom and even primitive biotech is going to see an explosion of experimentation with both physical and mental modifications – enforcing a single collective decision about what to do with this technology would require a massive police state or universal mind control. Give the furries, vampire-lovers and other assorted xenophiles a few generations to chase their dreams, and you’re going to start seeing groups with distinctly non-human psychology. So even if we never meet “real” aliens, it’s quite likely that we’ll have to deal with equally strange human-descended races at some point.

I’ll also note that, as is usually the case with groups that ‘give up war’, the human response is crippled by their lack of anything resembling military preparedness. A rational but non-pacifist society would be a lot less naïve in their initial approach, and a lot more prepared for unpleasant outcomes - at a minimum they’d use courier boats to keep the exploration vessel in contact with higher command, which would let them start precautionary evacuations a lot sooner and lose far fewer people. But the tech in the story massively favors the defense, to the point that a defender who is already prepared to fracture his starline network if attacked is almost impossible to conquer (you’d need to advance faster than the defender can send warnings of your attack while maintaining perfect control over every system you’ve captured). So an armed society would have a good chance of being able to cut itself off from even massively superior aliens, while pacifists are vulnerable to surprise attacks from even fairly inferior ones.

1) Who the hell is Master of Fandom? A guy who maintains the climate control system, or the crew's pet Gundam nerd?

2) Do you really think the aliens' deal is so horrifying? Or are you just overdramatizing?

2) Honestly, I would have been happy with the aliens' deal (even before it was implemented), and I think there is a ~60% chance that Elizier agrees.

I'm of the opinion that pain is a bad thing, except insofar as it prevents you from damaging yourself. People argue that pain is necessary to provide contrast to happiness, and that pleasure wouldn't be meaningful without pain, but I would say that boredom and slight discomfort provide more than enough contrast.

However, this future society disagrees. The idea that "pain is important" is ingrained in these people's minds, in much the same way that "rape is bad" is ingrained in ours. I think one of the main points Elizier is trying to make is that we would disagree with future humans almost as much as we would disagree with the baby-eaters or superhappies.

(Edit 1.5 years later: I was exaggerating in that second paragraph. I suspect I was trying too hard to sound insightful. The claims may or may not have merit, but I would no longer word them as forcefully.)

I think one of the main points Elizier is trying to make is that we would disagree with future humans almost as much as we would disagree with the baby-eaters or superhappies.

I never had this impression; if anything, I thought that all the things Eliezer mentioned in any detail - changes in gender and sexuality, the arcane libertarian framework that replaces the state and generally all the differences that seem important by the measure of our own history - are still intended to underscore how humanity still operates against a scale recongizable to its past. The aliens are simply unrelated, and that's why dialogue fails.

When faced with such a catastrophic choice, we humans argue whether to use consequentialist or non-consequentialist ethics, whether an utilitarian model should value billions of lives more than the permanent extinction of some of our deepest emotions, etc, etc. To the Superhappies all of this is simply an incomprehensible hellish nightmare; if a human asked them to go ahead with the transformation but leave a fork of the species as a control group (like in Joe Haldeman's Forever War), this would sound to them like a Holocaust survivor asking us to set up a new camp with intensified torture, so it can "fix" something that's been wrong with the human condition.

(This does not imply some deep xenophobia in me; indeed, after thorough thinking, I say that I would've risked waiting the full eight hours for the evacuation - not because I like the alien mode of being so much, but because I find myself unable to form any judgment about it strong enough to outweigh the cost in lives. My utility function here simply runs into a boundary, with 16 billion ~ infinity to a factor of X, where I don't quite understand what value to assign X with)

People argue that pain is necessary to provide contrast to happiness

You should read this: http://www.nickbostrom.com/fable/dragon.html

It makes your point well. This is also touched on in HPMOR.

I think that point would make more sense than the point he is apparently actually making... which is that we must keep negative aspects of ourselves (such as pain) to remain "human" (as defined by current specimens, I suppose), which is apparently something important. Either that or, as you say, Yudkowsky believes that suffering is required to appreciate happiness.

I too would have been happy to take the SH deal; or, if not happy, at least happier than with any of the alternatives.

1) The master of the ship's internet-equivalent, probably

Untranslatable 2 is the thought sharing sex.

Untranslatable 1 is confusion or distress. Untranslatable 3 is intellegence enhancing drugs. Untranslatable 4 is forced happy via untranslatable 2, possibly happy drugs refined from the chemical process of it. Untranslatable 5 is wisdom inherited from gene-thoughts.

if you can translate them, they're hardly untranslatable

The problem isn't quite so much "they can be translated" as... to translate them, you need to pause and first explain the concept. There is no existing conceptual token, phrase, meme, word or other sort of direct translation of the message for these Untranslatables, at least in the fiction, because their speaker did not explain them, they simply used the token.

The translation software (presumably) does not understand this stuff, and will not create new explanations where none was given by the speaker it is attempting to translate (again, presumably). For this, you would (presumably) require some form of powerful AI rather than complex algorithms - and the story preamble explicitly declares that AI never worked. I'm assuming this remained true for the other species.

Really? In that case, please translate the word "naches" from Yiddish to English in one word.

How about "naches"? English: "Why translate when you can steal?"

"pleasure"

The level of translation they were using wasn't all that fancy. They certainly had worse translations than that.

There are many examples of this scenario, both in fact and fiction; an untranslatable word so laden with connotation that it cannot effectively be replaced. Usually, these words represent some core value of their society of origin (reference: the Dwarves' Super-Honor in Eragon). In a way, the fact that they cannot be translated helps convey their meaning, showing their importance and giving them a quality of both simpleness and complexity, as if your brain was meant to have a word for them, as if they were simply a basic part of the universe falling into place. It's a beautiful thing, really.

Contentment is insufficient, because it's a specific flavor of contentment, isn't it?

Robin, it looks to me like we diverged at an earlier point in the argument than that. As far as I can tell, you're still working in something like a mode of moral realism/externalism (you asked whether the goodness of human values was "luck"). If this is the case, then the basic rules of argument I adopted will sound to you like mere appeals to intuition. I'm not sure what I could do about this - except, maybe, trying to rewrite and condense and simplify my writing on metaethics. It is not clear to me what other mode of argument you thought I could have adopted. So far as I know, trying to get people to see for themselves what their implicit rightness-function returns on various scenarios, is all there is and all there can possibly be.

Andrew, check back at Three Worlds Collide for PDF version, hope it works for you.

AC, I can't stand Banks's Excession.

Aleksei, you were an SIAI donor - and early in SIAI's history, too. If SIAI succeeds, you will have no right to complain relative to almost anyone else on the planet. If SIAI fails, at least you tried.

Tiiba: Somewhere between a Gundam nerd and a literature professor, I expect. Since the main real differences between the two in our current world are 1) lit profs get more cultural respect 2) people actually enjoy Gundam, the combination makes a fair amount of sense.

A type 2 supernova emits most of its energy in the form of neutrinos; these interact with the extremely dense inner layers that didn't quite manage to accrete onto the neutron star, depositing energy that creates a shockwave that blows off the rest of the material. I've seen it claimed that the neutrino flux would be lethal out to a few AU, though I suspect you wouldn't get the chance to actually die of radiation poisoning.

A planet the size and distance of Earth would intercept enough photons and plasma to exceed its gravitational binding energy, though I'm skeptical about whether it would actually vaporize; my guess for what its worth is that most of the energy would be radiated away again. Wouldn't make any difference to anyone on the planet at the time of course.

Well-chosen chapter title, and good wrapup!

I've seen it claimed that the neutrino flux would be lethal out to a few AU, though I suspect you wouldn't get the chance to actually die of radiation poisoning.

Randall Munroe just posted on the topic: http://what-if.xkcd.com/73/ "Lethal Neutrinos".

Zargon, I think the time given was how long it would take from beginning the feedback loop to the actual supernova, and they began the process the moment they arrived. If they could have destroyed the star immediately, they would have done so, but with the delay they encouraged as many people as possible to flee.

At least, that's how it sounded to me.

Sorry I'm late... is no-one curious given the age of the universe why the 3 races are so close technologically? (Great filter? Super-advanced races have prime directive? Simulated experiment? Novas only happen if 3 connecting stars recently had their first gates be gates out? ...)

Eliezer if you're reading this, amazing story. I'm worried though about your responses to so many commenters (generally smarter & more rational than the most humans) with widely different preferences and values to what you see as right in this story and the fun sequence. I'm not saying your values are wrong, I'm saying you seem to have very optimistic models/estimates of where many human value systems go when fed lots of knowledge/rationality/good arguments. If so, I hope CEV doesn't depend on it.

If your model is causing you to be constantly surprised, then...

Sorry I'm late... is no-one curious given the age of the universe why the 3 races are so close technologically?

Sorry I'm late in replying to this, but I'd guess the answer is that this is "the past's future." He would not have been able to tell this story with one species being that advanced, so he postulated a universe in which such a species doesn't exist (or at least isn't nearby).

Your in-universe explanations work as well, of course.

Robin: Well, to be fair, it was written well enough that lots of us are arguing about who was actually right.

ie, several of us seem to be taking the side that the Normal Ending was the better one, at least compared to the True Ending.

So it's not as if we were manipulated into taking the position that Eliezer seemed to be advocating.

What I actually got from this story is that we shouldn't be selfish as a species. If the good of all species requires that we sacrifice our core humanity, then we should become non-human and be superhappy about it.

Excellent story.

The one thing that felt really out of place to me, literarily, was the passage "You couldn't blame them, could you...? Yes, actually, you could."

In a story about Hard Choices, it seems to me that the narrator shouldn't tell the reader what to feel. It would be better to put these sentiments in the mouths of characters, perhaps the Kiritsugu for the reply, and leave the reader to choose who, if either, they agreed with.

The one thing that felt really out of place to me, literarily, was the passage "You couldn't blame them, could you...? Yes, actually, you could."

"You could" is different to "you should". In this context "you could" actually serves to reject an absolute normative claim ("you couldn't blame") and leaves the reader more freedom.

If this were a nonfiction essay, then the denotative meaning of the words would take precedence, as you seem to be reading, then I would agree with you.

But here, the "could" in "yes, actually, you could" is a parallel phrasing, a response to the set-up "You couldn't blame them, could you...?"

The tone of "You couldn't blame them, could you...?" is one of moral comfort, of reassuring oneself that the late ships weren't morally culpable. The "Yes, actually, you could", a direct contradiction of that statement, therefore winds up meaning that the late ships were morally culpable -- that they, objectively, did do the wrong thing.

Yes, it's a false dichotomy, but fiction operates by the rules of emotion, not logic. In literary interpretation and in writing, the laws of rationality don't directly apply in the naive sense. Trying to read a novel by the literal denotative meaning of the words is like trying to do economics or sociology on the assumption that all humans are perfect Bayesians.

Yes, I did indeed mean to assign some definite blame there. Just by way of inverting the usual story "logic" where the heroic idiots always get away with it. TV Tropes probably has a term for this but I'm not looking it up.

Warning: TVTropes links in this post. Do not click.

WhatTheHellHero, maybe.

I still think the passage would be more effective presented less directly, particularly considering the relatively high intelligence level that the rest of the story seems to be writing for.

I still think the passage would be more effective presented less directly, particularly considering the relatively high intelligence level that the rest of the story seems to be writing for.

For the record, I don't agree - it wasn't subtle, but there's no dwelling on the point, either. It's just a small thing that happened, in the context of the story.

TV Tropes probably has a term for this but I'm not looking it up.

Probably "Just In Time", although the page seems to have suffered a bit of decay.

"Reality Ensues" is the trope Eliezer used. I'm not sure what the Defied Trope was, though.

I said Just In Time because that's the trope Eliezer was subverting by having the ships miss the deadline.

well, it's not in http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThreeWorldsCollide so you know what to do...

(I haven't ever edited this page myself for obvious reasons)

There's no rule against it on the TV Tropes Wiki. In fact, there's a whole category for Troper Works. However, if you just don't want to have TV Tropes Ruin Your Life, I won't blame you for staying out.

I thought it was considered tacky to mess with entries for your own things on wikis? (If it's not, time to go spam TV Tropes with links to my stuff... traffic, sweet traffic...)

I'd say it's kind of an achievement to have something written about you in a wiki by someone who aren't you.

Strictly speaking, it's a signal of an achievement. It provides lots of warm fuzzies, but basically no utilons (beyond those intrinsic to the achievement it signals).

Strictly speaking, it's a signal of an achievement. It provides lots of warm fuzzies, but basically no utilons (beyond those intrinsic to the achievement it signals).

I think this 'strict' use is a distortion of the concept of achievement. This kind achievement is very similar in nature to other achievements and for most part, yes, the part we call an 'achievement' is primarily signal, with any utility beyond that just a bonus.

If you're using 'achievement' in the video game sense, sure. I assumed that 'achievement' meant achieving something that mattered; that is, utility.

It's probably good cognitive hygiene to keep the two as clearly distinct as feasible.

If you're using 'achievement' in the video game sense

No, I'm using the human sense. The one all linked up to 'success' in ways people don't tend to explicitly understand.

I assumed that 'achievement' meant achieving something that mattered; that is, utility.

I haven't met many people whose utility functions appear restricted to things that matter.

No, I'm using the human sense. The one all linked up to 'success' in ways people don't tend to explicitly understand.

I think that you're talking about near-mode feel-good, while I'm talking about far-mode feel-good.

I haven't met many people whose utility functions appear restricted to things that matter.

To things that matter to you, perhaps. And I haven't met many people that have utility functions; that is, that behave as rational optimizers. But a utility function by definition is restricted to things that matter to the mind that has it.

I think that you're talking about near-mode feel-good, while I'm talking about far-mode feel-good.

I think you are right.

TV Tropes is a buttload more informal than That Other Wiki. ;)

Go ahead and link away!

Tropers are equal to awesomeness, and EY is equal to awesomeness. So yes.

Here I was assuming that tvtropes was about, well, TV.

Done. (On reflection, it's less subversion than deconstruction in TV Tropes vocabulary.)

I think the point is that it does not matter whether you blame them or not. They made a serious mistake, and have to face the natural consequences.

It's somehow depressing that in this story, a former rapist dirtbag saves the world. Such a high score he gets in the end, perhaps making us currently-rather-lazy but not-worse-than-ordinary folks feel were worse than some such dirtbags can end up being. (It's fair and truthful, though.)

I hope you others feel that the character was primarily a victim way back when, instead of a dirtbag.

I hope you others feel that the character was primarily a victim way back when, instead of a dirtbag.

He's both. It is what it is, I feel no particular inclination to judge him better or worse on some cosmological scale. I would be glad that he was there when it mattered. Splintering the starline network is a far better solution than just cutting off one link.

Regardless of his past, if he's been around since before this modern era - a period so long that the tradition of a century being a prerequisite for master is well-established - he's had enough time to rewrite his brain many times over with natural processes alone, never mind psychiatric medication, psychological counseling, or other forms of modification. He's had more time for personal growth than any other human that has existed (in the real world).

"People change" is an understatement here. I would go so far as to say that, through incremental change, the Confessor is an entirely different person from the younger man in his history, connected by a long causal chain and a continued possession of the same body, but nothing else.

Why would I possibly feel that way? He was a rapist and a murderer. Crappy circumstances or not, he made that decision. That is not the mark of a victim.

Something else that humans generally value is autonomy. Why not just make an optional colony of superhappiness?

This is, perhaps, obsolete by now.

That said, there seems to be a serious reasoning problem in assuming that this is a permanent solution. A species capable of progressing from Galileo to FTL travel in what, 30 years, seems like given another few centuries (if not much, much less) would easily be able to track down the remainder of both alien civilizations via some alternate route.

Consequently it seems like a massive sacrifice to delay the inevitable, or, at least, a sacrifice with highly uncertain probability of preventing that which it seeks to prevent. Not to mention the aliens would be rather unlikely to give humans any say in what happened after this interaction. The point about them being harder to fool is also probably true.

Perhaps I fail to understand the science, which I doubt is the issue. Perhaps flawed reasoning was intended by the author? I have to admit I was rather in agreement with the adminitrator.

One issue: The highly self destructive method of preventing Baby eater incursion will send a strong method to the Baby Eaters and also possibly serve as a method of coercion a la hunger strike.

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