Less Wrong fanfiction suggestion

by Vlodermolt1 min read11th Jan 201141 comments


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I've been enjoying reading Less Wrong fanfiction, and I wanted to suggest another fandom that should have at least one rationalist fanfiction: Mage: The Awakening. It's a roleplaying game about "modern sorcery." My description can't really do it justice...

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Hmm ... various sources that could be adapted for rationalist fic ...

Easy: Rationalist Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It's already got science, intelligence increase, and ethics (the rats' goal to "live without stealing"), so it's hardly much of a leap.

Medium: Rationalist Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's an incredibly ad-hoc story, laden with occult symbology; it's also involved with rather silly pop psychology (the "Hedgehog's Dilemma") and psycho-mysticism (the "Absolute Terror Field"). On the other hand, it's been heavily adapted for crossovers of all sorts already.

Hard: Rationalist Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

If you want to suggest it, why not make it happen it yourself? Personally, I'm in the process of editing a Naruto rationalist fanfic written by a friend of mine. I'm also a former Mage player with some knowledge of the Mage universe (though to be honest I'm more familiar and experienced with Ascension than I am Awakening), so I'd be happy to look at a draft of a Mage fanfic before you post it if you so choose, or else I'd certainly read it and review it once you post it.

The problem is that I am not myself a rationalist, so I wouldn't be any good at writing it. Mage: The Ascension is not particularly good for rationalist fanfiction, since it takes place in a universe where consensus reality is true, and thus the scientific method fails as a way to understand the universe, since the laws of physics are determined by how many people believe in them.

Furthermore, the reason I bring this particular fandom up is because the other fans continually tell me that in the game world, rationalism and the scientific method are wrong, even though the books themselves do not actually support a conclusion like that.

Sure, the antagonists of the game insist they lead the Enlightenment, but only by actively suppressing evidence of the supernatural, encouraging disbelief, and utilizing spin doctoring to its utmost maximum (Seers of the Throne 29). The point was less about science and more about convincing ordinary people that the supernatural did not exist by whatever means possible.

A group called the Null Mysteriis even discovered, by examining werewolf corpses, that whatever causes the transformation "does not appear to obey known laws of chemistry, biology or physics: a realization that both excites and troubles" (Spirit Slayers 71). Since werewolves revert to human form upon death, they've considered vivisecting one to better understand the transformation, but many of them find it unethical.

it takes place in a universe where consensus reality is true, and thus the scientific method fails as a way to understand the universe, since the laws of physics are determined by how many people believe in them.

I know nothing about the story/game you're talking about, but I think this is an important and common misconception, and fanfiction that addressed it directly might be worthwhile.

If it were an utterly chaotic universe, like what Brunner portrays in the Traveller in Black stories, then I might agree, but what you describe sounds instead like a universe with a regular and predictable relationship between people's beliefs and events in the world.

I'd love to see stories about a rigorous thinker in such a universe working out ways to exploit its ground rules.

sounds instead like a universe with a regular and predictable relationship between people's beliefs and events in the world.

Not to mention that at least part of the reality must be sufficiently regular for there to be human-like observers in the first place

Yeah... I'd originally inferred that people and their beliefs somehow predated the universe's laws of physics, but in retrospect that's less narratively likely than some sort of default rule system.

We close a feedback loop in which people believe that the universe acts in its own predictable way which is discoverable by science. Which causes the universe to actually be that way. And from then on it becomes unalterable because it no longer cares what anyone thinks. The real problem is that of morals. If the universe can be anything people want, then we had better hurry up and figure out what the best possible world actually is, and then get people to believe it to be that way before we lock it in place as actually being that way.

I know nothing about the story/game you're talking about, but I think this is an important and common misconception, and fanfiction that addressed it directly might be worthwhile.

It shows up in a bunch of places in fiction. Grant Morrison's Invisibles and the Nobilis and Unknown Armies RPGs, I think. A particular bit is that something very much like the present-day real world shows up as a part of the greater reality, setting up the plausible deniability that the world might really be like the postmodern meta-reality described.

I'd love to see stories about a rigorous thinker in such a universe working out ways to exploit its ground rules.

I'm not sure exactly how much this would be a different from the regular Mage. As far as I understand, it's already all about exploiting the meta-reality thing using whatever trickery the mages come up with.

I'm not also so sure how doing the rationalist subversion would work in Mage, since its universe is a lot sophisticated about working in a nonrational way than regular naive fantasy works. You're basically up against an adult postmodernist instead of a child who believes in wizards.

If you really want a challenge try Genius the Transgression. It's a fan-made expansion for World of Darkness. The world appears to have been optimized by a reasonably good rationalist to be as hard for an in universe character to analyze using the scientific method as possible, while still being an ordered universe.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Genius has it's far share of flaws. I don't like it.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Mage: The Ascension is actually fairly shallow. It places extreme importance on "paradigm" (cultural beliefs in magic) in spite of the fact that as a mage becomes more "enlightened" he gradually realizes that paradigm is window dressing. It buys into postmodern criticisms of science without understanding either science or postmodernism and buys into every conspiracy theory ever invented regardless of how much sense it makes. The heroes and villains are so single-minded, morally grey, and self-centered that it becomes impossible to care about anyone but the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. The apocalypse continually looms in the background like a noxious fume. Two of the major factions consist, respectively, of Goths and Wiccans.

I'd love to see someone who could treat the setting the way it appears in the books and not some idealized image.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

If you want to have a better understanding of Mage: The Ascension, you can download an electronic introductory booklet: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=58433

For a more in-depth treatment, you can buy the electronic rulebook: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?cPath=1_11&products_id=199&it=1

The thing about Mage: The Awakening is that it has a canonical in-universe faction, the Free Council, that's theoretically trying to do what Harry is doing in MoR. Unfortunately, since the authors of the game aren't rationalists, this activity is only portrayed as an opaque black box.

[-][anonymous]10y 5

Inspired by the rationalist Hamlet idea, I'm thinking of doing rationalist Romeo and Juliet some day (the way it would work is that Romeo is an instrumental rationalist while Juliet is an epistemic rationalist, and they bond over arguing and teaching each other stuff). But don't hold me to that; I'm notoriously bad at writing out cool ideas that get into my head.

The LW!fics that so far exist have been chosen for their canons' rampant popularity among the not-terribly-rational unwashed masses. Along those lines, I'd suggest perhaps James Bond, or... I don't know, what are the kids watching these days? How I Met Your Mother?

Pokemon? Avatar The Last Airbender?

I know this was over a year ago, but Avatar: The Last Airbender would actually be fairly easy. We could simply shoe-horn rationalist values onto the personalities of the four elements.

Fire: Tsuyoku Naritai and The Arrogance of Einstein: they are a proud, ambitious people, who know what they want, and push hard to get it, who know their strengths and dispense with cloaks of modesty. They are highly consequentialist, and are not at all risk averse, preferring 50-50 odds of glory or ruin to 100% chance of modest prosperity. They understand the value of inspiring and organizing large bodies of people to make things happen, but don’t really give a damn about the rationality of their underlings, making up powerful ideologies to get people to do what they want. This doesn't necessarily make them evil, but it puts them at risk. They also tend to be overly dismissive of “purely” epistemic rationality, and narrowly seek out only those truths that they now believe will help them with their goals. They have a problem with thinking they can calculate their way out of ethical injunctions. Thus, they’re vulnerable to fall-out from black swan bets and unknown unknowns, but when that’s not the case, they would be the master instrumental rationalists of the Avatar world.

Water: Flexibility, the right kind of humility, allowing the flow of evidence to push them toward the right conclusions. They tend to have few pre-commitments to particular beliefs, and are good at actually changing their mind but are often too passive, and too emotional. Sometimes they can allow their values to be pushed around by empirical evidence, bleeding together "is" and "ought" and becoming less confident in both. Some of them might have a problem with doubting too much – giving undue weight to improbable possibilities, or having too many reservations about a slam-dunk question. They have problems with perpetual uncertainty, and tend to be too risk-averse to take the large, ambitious gambles that regularly pay off for the Fire Nation. Because of all this uncertainty, they are uncomfortable with large, overarching systems, including ethical systems and decision theories. They tend to just follow empathy and intuition in their actions, and don’t stress about fitting their actions to a theory. They never cause spectacularly awful damage like the Fire Nation, but at the same time never create massive progress. They just flow forward.

Earth: People who have no problem calling a spade a spade, and are hands-down the least vulnerable to the problems of chronic uncertainty, undiscriminating skepticism, and questions like “Does reality even exist?” or “What is truth, truly?”. They don’t always rely on just naïve common sense, but they more than any other nation are aware that traditions, laws, and ethical injunctions evolved for a reason. They will always carefully examine Chesterton’s Fence before tearing it down, but if they do, they will not be half-assed about it. They have methodical, exhaustive processes in place to adopt and change their beliefs, which makes them slow-moving but very confident. They stay “close to the ground,” both epistemically and instrumentally – they don’t spend huge amounts of time discussing the Problem of Induction or Torture vs. Dust Specks. They are a no-nonsense, “see it with my own eyes” kind of people. This makes them very resistant to woo and superstition and belief in belief, but also very resistant to true beliefs that are very far mode or rely on obscure evidence or extensive philosophy.

Air: These are far mode thinkers, philosophers and mathematicians by trade. They have an unusual emotional detachment to the world and to themselves, which allows them more than any other element to recognize and accept the contradictions in their own mind. They have a tendency to always zoom out, to go meta, to ask “Why?”. They’re the ones in the Avatar world who would spend hours debating their world’s version of quantum mechanics, who would try to formalize Occam’s Razor, who would have very strong opinions on Torture vs. Dust Specks. They are obsessed with universality and general patterns – and with all the strange, far-out conclusions they seem to imply. However, they tend to forget reality checks and boring, on-the-ground data collection, and are more likely than anyone else to fall prey to the potential nuttiness of abstract reasoning. While their robust philosophical frameworks allow them to accept very strange and speculative probabilities, their general personalities make it all a game to them. They are unlikely to do much about their beliefs, which might be a good thing considering the aforementioned nuttiness. Arguably the most intellectual and least effective of the elements.

That is...very nice. :)

When reading, I was reminded of this:

“The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him."

-The Book Of FIve Rings, mentioned here

Thank you.

I'm not sure why it is that you were reminded of that, however - was it the section about the Fire Nation?

It was just, in general, the thought that each family of traits has different times when they are most useful, and (at least in theory), a master of the art could bring the right ones to bear at those times.

Indeed, Musashi would have to have been an Avatar, were he transported to The Last Airbender's universe.

My first major question about this very interesting conceptualization of Avatar would then be: is being an Avatar just a one-in-a-million trait (assuming the population of that world is a million)? Because it seems like a rationalist Avatar would prefer not to be the only one on the planet.

That's a good point. In this version, the Avatar doesn't have to be a spiritual Chosen One - he/she could just be genetically lucky the way extremely high-IQ people are in our world.

Edit: However, I think that would defeat the point of fantasy rationalism, and might make the world too mundane. It would, however, be really interesting to see Aang go to the Spirit World and try to convince whatever spirits originally created the Avatar to make another one, possibly one with more raw intelligence to be more effective. (And then maybe deal with the fallout if this new Avatar is not as moral or noble as he is - FAI analogy, anyone?) The point of most of these rationalist fanfics is that one good rationalist can cause some Big Changes to their world, right? Multiple Avatars would be a Big Change.

Unless he's in the Avatar State, an Avatar is not a native to the other modes of thinking outside his own element. He is aware of them, and can purposefully invoke them once he's been trained, but they are not ingrained and reflexive. The Avatar State is a (hopefully) friendly (to you) AI, drawing upon the history and knowledge and personal ethical injunctions and methodologies of all past Avatars. And it renders its verdicts with terrifying efficiency and callousness without explanation to those watching.

Now that's something to think about! Proposed working title: Avatar: The First Voidbender

Dear God, that idea is beautiful!! My good sir, have you ever thought about creating this masterpiece you speak of? (I'm not pressuring you, I would just like to know) :)

Ooh, Pokemon sounds promising.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I'm semi-seriously considering doing one for Avatar.

I, and almost certainly many others as well, would be interested in reading such rationalist!fics. Is there some sort of list--here or elsewhere--of links to such fics? If not, could one be set up?

I'm seriously considering writing a rationalist Ender's Game/Shadow. It's fairly low hanging fruit b/c the Ender and (especially) Bean are obviously intelligent and have excellent priors.

Some fruit hang so low you have to bend down to reach them.

I tend to pick my fruit from bonsai trees

I've written about 5 chapters of a rationalist!Code Geass fanfic. I almost did Death Note, but that seemed a bit "on-the-nose".

Who did you make a rationalist? Also, linky?

I haven't submitted it anywhere yet. I've asked some friends to read it first. That way if I'm one of those horrible fanfic writers who can't understand how bad they are, I can spare myself the humiliation.

Also: Nunnally is the rationalist. Lelouch is a bit more methodical as well.

I really wish I could find a topic to join within less than a year... In any case, you would have to make most of the other characters much higher operators in order to pose any threat to a Lelouch even slightly better at game theory. "Hmm, my power allows me to give one command to any one person. The effect is permanent if non-conclusive or pattern-based. Once a command is issued I can never leverage my power against that same person again. Well, I guess I'm only ever going to use the command 'follow my every command from now on' because why would I waste this incredibly important advantage on a lesser command?"

Has anyone written a rationalist fanfic for Battlestar Galactica (2003 remake)?

I played around with the idea of giving Star Wars the treatment, maybe with the Force giving you super-rationality powers (and then there's always Grand Admiral Thrawn), but I don't expect to get around actually doing it. I also suspect I'd need to rewrite half of the SW universe to make it work.

I'm reminded of the "Sixty Second Star Wars," with only two lines of dialog:

"Lord Vader! An escape pod was jettisoned during the fighting, but we detect no lifesigns on it."

"Destroy it anyway, just to be safe."


I've enjoyed your work in the past, I think that the genre could benefit from your entrance.