(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."
"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."
"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."
"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 -"
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-"
By the way, how big is a supernova? Does it blast Earth-sized planets to dust in an instant?
This post was obsolete years before writing. Replacing with a link to a better answer
SH are too advanced to be tricked by humans this way. Several hundred years difference wouldn't allow the underdog to "win".
Could people from the Renaissance trick us?
The had blinders as far as lying goes. Their species was simply incapable of it.
I think the dramatic impact would be stronger without the "Fin".
Upon due consideration: You know, you're right.
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.
Nice Dark Knight reference there, I wonder if the confessor ever ran around in clown makeup?
Was not going to reply until I saw this is actually a month old and not more than three years, so you're in luck.
The Confessor claims to have been a violent criminal, and in Interlude with the Confessor we see the Confessor say this to Akon:
Contrast with the Joker in Dark Knight:
One hundred chapters of HPMoR have taught us that Eliezer is totally okay with throwing these references in. I think it's pretty clear (also hilarious, because all of the Joker's plots in Dark Knight were game-theory-esque, tying in with this gigantic Prisoner's Dilemma story).
Now it's finished, any chance of getting it into EPUB or PDF format?
Still puzzled by the 'player of games' ship name reference earlier in the story... I keep thinking, surely Excession is a closer match?
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'... (read more)
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.
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.
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"
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.
Anyone want to try defining Untranslatable 2?
the first installments were pure genius. Than it got kinda lame. the kiritsugus words about button pushing et al are common knowledge for decades now, and the characters on the ship are surprised??? Come on. i thougt you'd think of something better!?
Today's common knowledge may fade to psychological trivia in a thousand years. If humanity has systematically got its shit together, will this be because everyone understands the biases that let us do terrible (if, arguably, occasionally necessary) things, or because we are simply systematically denied the opportunities to enact them? I hope and expect the former (insofar as I expect humanity's future to be bright at all, which is to say, not much), but I cannot rule out the latter.
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 contrib... (read more)
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.
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.
How about "naches"? English: "Why translate when you can steal?"
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.
Eliezer, I've indeed been a hard-working Good Guy at earlier times in my life (though probably most of my effort was on relatively useless rather ordinary do-gooder projects), but from this it doesn't follow that my current self would be a Good Guy.
Currently I'm happily (yes, happily) wasting a huge chunk of my time away on useless fun stuff, while I easily could be more productive. It's not that I would be resting after a burn-out either, I've just become more selfish, and don't feel bad about it, except perhaps very rarely and briefly in a mild manner. I... (read more)
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.
"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.)
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?
1) The master of the ship's internet-equivalent, probably
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 ca... (read more)
Never mind, I'm an idiot. I somehow read "relatively useless rather than ordinary", even though Aleksei wrote "relatively useless rather ordinary".
Anna, but good that you raised those very important points for the benefit of those readers to whom they might not be familiar :)
They should have blown up the nova. Hopefully they could have found some way to warn the human race, but that isn't too important given the way Alderson line run. They not only would have saved humanity with minimal cost of life, they would have saved Babykiller lives too. Sacrificing human lives for baby Babykiller lives is not good.
What concept in the Babyeaters' language is the humans' "good" translated to? We have been given a concrete concept for their terminal value, but what is theirs for ours, if any?
Untranslatable 2 is the thought sharing sex.
Sprite, you are, by definition, wrong.
The software was using "untranslatable" as a short hand for "the current version of the software cannot translate a term and so is giving it a numeric designation so you will be able to see if we use it again", probably not even saying "no future version of the software will be able to translate it", not to mention a human who spent non-trivial amount of thought on the topic (in TWC future, there's no AI, which means human thought will do some things no software can do).
There is, of course, a rather large random/unknown component in the amortized present value of the amount of good any action of mine is going to do. Maybe my little contributions to Python and other open-source projects will be of some fractional help one day to somebody writing some really important programs -- though more likely they won't. Maybe my buying and bringing food to hungry children will enhance the diet, and thus facilitate the brain development, of somebody who one day will do something really important -- though more likely it won't. Land... (read more)
Anonymous: The blog is shutting down anyway, or at least receding to a diminished state. The threat of death holds no power over a suicidal man...
Anonymous, that sound you hear is probably people rushing to subscribe. http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=266 - note the comments.
Untranslatable 2: The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.
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 tha... (read more)
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.
It's somehow depressing that in this story, a former rapist dirtbag saves the world.
Why is that depressing?
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.
I have my doubts about that. If he could do it seven times, he could do it seventy thousand times. Since when was it harder for a killer to kill again?
So I guess Lord Administrator Akon remains anesthetized until the sun roasts him to death? I can't decide if that's tragic or merciful, that he never found out how the story ended.
Nominull, neither Akon, the Lord Programmer, or the Xenopsychologist seem to be appearing in this section.
WHY HAVEN'T I READ THIS STORY?
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 for... (read more)
Untranslatable 2: The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.
Then why didn't it just translate it as "santorum"?
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.
Super! I read only as the installments came (even though I desparately wanted to download the pdf) so I could think about it longer.
Wouldn't it be fun to get 3(+) groups together, have each create value systems and traditions for itself subject to certain universals, and stage three-way negotiations of this sort? Planning, participating, and evaluating afterward could be fascinating.
Nikhil: Good idea. I've been also thinking about the best way to utilise computer technology for arranging that sort of role-playing game.
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 hap... (read more)
Please excuse the spacing on my previous post, Never quite sure how line breaks end up in various comment systems.
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.
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.
"So does that mean," asked the Master, "that now your life is finally complete, and you can die without any regrets?"
Well. That is indeed ridiculous. It fails (I think) to realise the Lady Sensory's lesson that she no longer needs to be the person she always thought she needed to be. I am moved to quote the Quaker Isaac Penington: "The end of words is to bring men to the knowledge of things beyond what words can utter". The Master of Fandom's words are meaningless, an ideal of what people should be, they imagine, rather than how things actually are.
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."
Robin, fiction also has the benefit of being more directly accessible; i.e., people who would or could not read explicit academic argument can read a short story that grapples with moral issues and get a better sense of the conflict then they would otherwise. Even with the extremely self-selected audience of this blog, compare the comments the story got vs. many other posts.
And while of course the story was influenced by Eliezer's beliefs, the amount of arguing about the endings suggests that it was not so cut and dry as simply "moving readers toward his beliefs".
I thought the story worked very well as a parable and broke down as it expanded into more conventional fiction. But I found scenario a very vivid way to imagine some of EY's issues. A gift for metaphor is the surest sign of intelligence I know. Based on this story and the starblinker, I'd agree his best chance of hitting the bestseller list as he plans may be on the fiction side.
As for academic work, I'd love to hear about the last piece RH read that made him question his views or change his mind about something. The links here all seem to reinforce.
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.
Interesting, and I must admit I am surprised.
Regardless of personal preferences though... it seems the closest match for the topic at hand. But hey, it's your story...
"Excession; something excessive. Excessively aggressive, excessively powerful, excessively expansionist; whatever. Such things turned up or were created now and again. Encountering an example was one of the risks you ran when you went a-wandering..."
Eliezer, I didn't find your explicit arguments persuasive, nor even clear enough to be worth an explicit response. The fact that you yourself were persuaded of your conclusion by fiction does not raise my estimate of its quality. I don't think readers should much let down their guard against communication modes where sneaky persuasion is more feasible simply because the author has made some more explicit arguments elsewhere. I understand your temptation to use such means to persuade given that there are readers who have let down their guard. But I can only approve of that if I think your conclusions are worth such pushing.
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... (read more)
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.
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.
Wei Dai, Sure I too could invent numbers large enough to make any calculation give me the result I want. But as it still stands I think that 2^(10^20) is impractically huge fore any universe, especially one that seems to be based in our own. Also I think it's hard to imagine that the starline topography to be completely random among the whole universe. So I stand by my stance that it is difficult to imagine a universe where the super happies do not come across the humans again in a relatively short period of time. And I figure the point about fiction is that you're trying to convince you're readers about a consistent world where a story takes place in.
EY, but you are a moral realist (or at least a moral objectivist, which ought to refer to the same thing). There's a fact about what's right, just like there's a fact about what's prime or what's baby-eating. It's a fact about the universe, independent of what anyone has to say about it. If we were human' we'd be moral' realists talking about what's right'. ne?
Eliezer, academic philosophy offers exemplary formats and styles for low-sneak ways to argue about values.
Eliezers philosophy of fun and how it related to human value system was not grounded enough to be intelligble?
According which criterion is it balanced? How likely is it that extremely positive and strong feedback balances negative side-effect of manipulating people? Did you just justify use of fiction by feeling conflicted about it?
As a side note I'll comment that so far I have no reason to expect your story to be a excellent introduction to your ideas. It does show several ideas well, but readers not familiar with your writing miss a lot... (read more)
Robin, what is your favorite piece of academic philosophy that argues about values?
Nicholas, our own universe may have an infinite volume, and it's only the speed of light that limits the size of the observable universe. Given that infinite universes are not considered implausible, and starlines are not considered implausible (at least as a fictional device), I find it surprising that you consider starlines that randomly connect a region of size 2^(10^20) to be implausible.
Starlines have to have an average distance of something, right? Why not 2^(10^20)?
"if there is a reason to expect human rightness to be in some sense coherent"
Alas there probably is not. Sir Isaiah Berlin speaks powerfully and beautifully of this so-called values pluralism in his book Liberty.
There are several ironies - if not outright tragedies - of life and this is one: that we don't want what we want to want, and that the things we think we ought to want often conflict with each other as well as our underlying motives. We are not in charge of ourselves and we are mysterious to our own hearts. Men and women are conflicted and, due to evolution, conflict.
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?
Wei Dai, Except that traditionally speaking an infinitelly massive universe is generally considered implausable by the greater scientific community.
But I think the greater matter is that even if it were physicially possible, it's impossible to mentally reason about as a reader of good fiction. And thus has the ability to break internal consistancy of an otherwise good store in the mind of the reader.
The story specifically asks a question that none of the commenters have addressed yet.
"So," the Lord Pilot finally said. "What kind of asset retains its value in a market with nine minutes to live?"
My answer: Music.
If your world is going to end in nine minutes, you might as well play some music while you wait for the inevitable.
Short story collections, perhaps? If you've never read, say, "The Last Question", it would be your last chance. (And if you're reading this now, and you haven't read "The Last Question" yet, then something has gone seriously wrong in your life.)
Neh. Eliezer, I'm kind of disappointed by how you write the tragic ending ("saving" humans) as if it's the happy one, and the happy ending (civilization melting pot) as if it's the tragic one. I'm not sure what to make of that.
Do you really, actually believe that, in this fictional scenario, the human race is better off sacrificing a part of itself in order to avoid blending with the super-happies?
It just blows my mind that you can write an intriguing story like this, and yet draw that kind of conclusion.
Agreed. I was very surprised that Mr. Yudkowsky went with the very ending I, myself, thought would be the "traditional" and irrational ending - where suffering and death are allowed to go on, and even caused, because... um... because humans are special, and pain is good because it's part of our identity!
Yes, and the appendix is useful because it's part of our body.
This was terribly interesting, I'll be re-reading it in a few days to see what I can pick up that I missed the first time through.
I'm not so sure we can so easily label these two endings the good and bad endings. In one, humanity (or at least what humanity evolved into) goes along with the superhappies, and in the other, they do not. Certainly, going along with the superhappies is not a good solution. We give up much of what we consider to be vital to our identity, and in return, the superhappies make their spaceships look nice. Now, the superhappies a... (read more)
We all have our personal approaching supernova blast fronts in T minus...
In the intervening time, everyone with a powerful enough mind, please consider engaging in scientific research that has the potential to change the human condition. Don't waste your time on the human culture. It's not worth it - yet.
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 n... (read more)
Well, I re-read it, and now neither ending seems so tragic anymore. I now think that there is utility in transforming the babyeaters that I didn't see before.
That said, the way they went about their supernova operation seems illogical, particularly the part about giving them 3 hours and 41 minutes. I would imagine they decided on that amount of time by estimating the chance of the superhappies showing up as more time passes times the disutility of them stopping the operation, vs the number of humans that will be killed by the supernova as more time passe... (read more)
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.
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 really liked your story.
I know it's not a really insightful comment, or some philosophical masterpiece of reasoning, but it was fun and interesting.
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. N... (read more)
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... (read more)
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.
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.
Something else that humans generally value is autonomy. Why not just make an optional colony of superhappiness?
At what point do children get to choose it?
If you know there are aliens and that there are ways to collapse starlines... you move all colonies such that the node length between them is two. And on the odd-numbered nodes you leave a drone which watches for aliens, is sufficiently powerful to detonate the star before any ship could cross the space to the next starline, and pops the star at first contact. No matter what any invasion fleet of any size attempts, you only ever lose one world. And you may broadcast this fact as leverage when negotiating with the super-happy people. You will not attempt to... (read more)
If you know there are aliens and that there are ways to collapse starlines... you move all colonies such that the node length between them is two. And on the odd-numbered nodes you leave a drone which watches for aliens, is sufficiently powerful to detonate the star before any ship could cross the space to the next starline, and pops the star at first contact. No matter what any invasion fleet of any size attempts, you only ever lose one world, and you only lose that one if aliens happen upon it, or can tell which way you came from when you happen upon the... (read more)
Hofstadter's view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdNy3mGwDLc&feature=related
The most enjoyable part of reading through these comments is that everyone is in a combined state of ethically relaxed and mentally aware. Makes for stimulating conversation.
Did anyone else think the baby-eaters were created by the superhappies to demonstrate their point to the humans? The way the humans looked thought of the baby-eaters clearly paralleled how the superhappies viewed the humans. The end of chapter 3 really drove the point home:
It seems to me that the superhappies had observed the humans beforehand and found their acceptance of pain abhorrent. They then fabricated the baby... (read more)
This is still disappointing, all these years later. Everything was set up so carefully, and then, Whoops! Look, a way out! Strikes me as very deus ex machina.
And anyhow, why didn't they forcibly sedate every human until after the change? Then if they decided it wasn't worthwhile they could choose to die then.
And anyway what person would choose pain, embarrassment, and romantic angst over untranslateable 2 anyhow?
Edit: that came out very negative sounding, sorry. Three Worlds Collide (with the normal ending) is my second-favorite story, second only to The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant. It teaches me so much.
What was the purpose in tasering the Captain? It seemed a needless mutiny since all he had to do was let the Captain know of the possibility, he obviously hadn't thought about it after all.
Why the hell did the SuperHappy or whatever people not predict that? Unlike the humans they know everyone is capable of destroying the sun and starlinks, so without question they should have predicted that in the face of total domination from both the BabyEaters and from the humans. Why did the BabyEaters destroy the Star (and so the links)?
This seems a uselessly temporary measure since stellar events are going to happen and over long enough time scales regular travel will be possible between stars.
Well, I don't think this is even complicated. The super happies are right... it is normal for them to forcefully reform us, and it is moral for us to erase the babyeater species.
Suffice to say I preferred the normal ending.
"The rules of society are just consensual hallucinations." Sounds a lot like the sociological definition of "societal norms." Hi, I'm a sociologist and a n00b at most aspects of the rationalist corner of the internet! I very much enjoyed this story!
Me: "Come on! Only sociopath could instantly think of killing whateverllions of humans to save humanity (or so I, as a sociopath, think from figuring out the True ending the moment the author asked me to think about either stunning Lord Pilot or doing some other thing; while many guessing comments didn't suppose that possibility). Yet, no highly intelligent sociopath would ever be scared of turning into an alien instead of becoming an hero…"
Confessor: "I killed a girl and liked it."
Me: "… Oh, so he's a psychopath and likes killing Homo Sapiens. Well, THAT makes sense."
It's pretty obvious that ANY way is better than having your entire species being raped by somewhat Untranslatable. Three worlds are meant to be separate. If the Superhappies met us now, in 2020, they would've pressed the destroy button immediately. There's no way they were able to discuss anything with nowadays humans, which know rape and prefer violence in every aspect of our existance. The later humankind is more likely to suffice but even Akon is unwilling to being EVEN virtually raped. It is a high indicator that humans are not changing ... (read more)