A parable in the style of Invisible Cities

by Daniel Kokotajlo1 min read16th Dec 20196 comments

35

FictionEldritch AnalogiesParables & FablesRationality
Frontpage

Cities & Belief: Goreme

The city of Goreme hides a terrible secret. At first, innocent visitor, you will admire the old bridge over the river, the colorful graffiti on alley walls, and the flags waving prettily in the public square. You will be impressed and humbled by how passionate and well-informed the locals are, and you will sign up to attend one of their protest-rallies.

Eventually, however, you will see the demons. A local guide will casually pull one out of his ear and offer it to you, or a dinner party host will unwrap a boxful. Picture it! With supernatural speed the tiny, squirmy yellow creatures clamber up your leg and perch on your shoulder. They whisper to you, and try to enter your ear canal. You wipe them off in disgust, but your local friends assure you the things are harmless—all they do is talk, and they are quite helpful. There are good demons and bad demons, your friends explain, and the good ones help you resist the bad. The bad ones have infected other people in the city—selfish people, hateful people, and also people who just don't know any better. The bad demons want power; they lie and deceive their hosts so that they can multiply and spread to more people. Demons are very persuasive, very clever. This is why the good demons are so helpful, your friends say. The good demons care about humans; they can help you identify bad demons inside other people, and they'll provide facts and arguments to counter enemy misinformation.

Does this story disturb you, traveller? Are you suspicious of these good demons? Good. You should be. Most visitors to Goreme are, at least at first. Eventually, though, everyone lets at least a few demons into their head. Hard to believe, but I assure you it is true. The demons are very persuasive, especially when all your friends agree with them. All in all, it isn't so bad. The city of Goreme is run by warring tribes of demons, yes, but they run it pretty much just like any other city.

This brings me back to the beginning: I said that Goreme hides a terrible secret. You are probably thinking the demons are the secret. No. The secret is this: The difference between Goreme and every other city is that in Goreme the demons are visible.

35

6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:20 PM
New Comment

The demons are metaphors for memes. However there aren't any functional agenty meme free humans. A human with a demon won't try to remove it. Your fear of demons is just a fear of anything that changes your utility function. But if you are the demon, you won't want to go. Memes can change your utility function. From the point of view of a human with memes, you want to keep them.

That's close to what I was getting at, but not exactly. The analogy is more like: The fact that demons exist and can enter human ears = the fact that humans are susceptible to tribal memeplexes; particular warring factions of demons = particular warring tribal memeplexes. So not any meme is a demon; e.g. the meme "Your keys are still in your pocket, Daniel" isn't. This makes sense because that meme isn't... power-hungry or manipulative like tribal memeplexes are.

The story concludes by hinting that everyone or almost everyone already has demons within them, mostly invisible. And yeah, the real-life equivalents of these demons evolved because they increased our fitness. So it's not obvious that we should resist them now, or at least not all of them. But nevertheless I think we should, at least when we are doing epistemology.

Goreme is one of the most interesting small town in Turkey, btw.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Invisible Cities is a book by Italo Calvino, consisting mostly of little one-page descriptions of fictional cities. I've tried to copy the style as well as the format.

Goreme is one of the most interesting small towns in Turkey, btw.

Yeah. Something about the name really appealed to me when I heard it; it seems perfect for the fantasy city I am describing. But if too many people know about the real Goreme then I should probably change the name... any suggestions?