[ Question ]

What are examples of Rationalist fable-like stories?

by Mati_Roy1 min read28th Sep 202040 comments



I will post some of the collection I've acquired. I have ideas for more. And would be interested in seeing more.

If there's enough interest, and with the permission of the authors, I would like to make a book of Rationalist fables / parables (but with a more generic name). Maybe it could be adapted for children. Thoughts?

Let me know if you're interested in helping me with this project, including but not limited to: finding stories, selecting stories, adapting them, reaching out to authors, writing more stories, writing their morales (?), making a book cover, (self?) publishing it, marketing it, choosing a title, donating money to contract external help, etc.

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

27 Answers

Not sure if it should count for someone to submit their own work, but just in case: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Aut78T9pv4pPhdcKe/a-parable-in-the-style-of-invisible-cities

My own Parable of the Clock, which I guess is short enough to just copy here:

The monk Dawa had a clock that had stopped, and he was content. When he wished to know the hour, he would glance at the clock, and discover that it was noon.

One day a visiting friend commented on the clock. "Why does your clock say that the hour is noon, when I am quite sure that it is six in the evening?"

Dawa found this unlikely, for the hour had always been noon in his experience. But he had been instilled with the virtues of curiosity and empiricism. If the hour is noon, I desire to believe it is noon. If the hour is six in the evening, I desire to believe it is six in the evening. Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want. Thus fortified, he sought out other clocks.

The time was indeed six in the evening. In accordance with the virtue of relinquishment, and gently laughing inside at his past foolishness, Dawa serenely set his broken clock forwards by six hours.

  • The Whispering Earring
  • Universal Love & Transcendental Joy
  • Invisible Dragon in the Garage
  • Ozymandias
  • Blue vs. Green sky
  • that survivorship bias story about the plane
  • that one rice doubling on a chessboard story
  • fictionalized AI box scenarios
  • retellings of failed Petrov Day
  • the general concept of repeating variations on a simple quest or cautionary tale a tediously large number of times, such that the odds of unlikely outcomes come out properly represented.

see also Glowfic

Nug and Yeb by Exploring Egregors
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis by Scott Alexander

I had the same fable idea before that post ^_^

You’re on an airplane when you hear a loud sound and things start violently shaking. A minute later, the captain comes on the speaker and says:

There’s been an explosion in the engine, and the plane is going to crash in 15 minutes. There’s no chance of survival. There is a potential way out—the plane happens to be transferring a shipment of parachutes, and anyone who would like to use one to escape the plane may do so. But I must warn you—the parachutes are experimental and completely untested, with no guarantee to work. We also have no idea what the terrain will be like down below. Please line up in the aisle if you’d like a parachute, and the flight attendants will give you one, show you how to use it and usher you to the emergency exit where you can jump. Those who choose not to take that option, please remain in your seat—this will be over soon, and you will feel no pain.

What would you do?

in Why Cryonics Makes Sense by Tim Urban

maybe this could be transformed into a fable: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2013-06-02

The Parable of Predict-O-Matic by abramdemski (I haven't read it yet)

The Parable of the Sphex (from CFAR's handbook)

As an analogy, imagine a group of castaways who have spend years trapped on a large, unexplored, tropical island. Two of the castaways are exploring an unfamiliar beach, when they come upon a large, entirely unexpected, and unfamiliar object. The first castaway, a bright academic, carefully measures the dimensions of every single part of the object. She tells the rest of the castaways about her measurements and they present her with an award for her hard work. To some acclaim, she explains that the unknown object might actually prove useful: the castaways could use it to 1) hang up their laundry, 2) provide shade from the hot tropical sun, and, 3) offer shelter during tropical storms. The second castaway has a more intuitive and creative bent. He carefully looks over the object, announces that it’s a plane, and offers to fly it off the island and save their lives.

Sometimes, it’s not the measurements, it’s the ability to see new possibilities.

by Michael Fossel (http://www.michaelfossel.com/blog/)

related: Seeing with Fresh Eyes

There's an old story about a Chinese farmer who buys a horse.

A short while later, the horse runs away.

Zirs neighbor says, "Oh, that's bad news."

The farmer responds, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

Three days later, the horse returns, and with it, a herd of wild horses.

Zirs neighbor, seeing zirs good fortune, congratulates zir on the good news.

The farmer responds, "Good news, bad news, who can say?" The farmer gifts one of the horses to zirs son.

Zirs son rides it, only to be thrown from its back, badly breaking zirs leg.

"That's bad news," says the neighbor.

The farmer replies, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

Days later, the emperor summons every able-bodied young man to fight in the war.

The farmer's son is spared.

What good news.

Good news, bad news, who can say? It all depends where the story ends.

And that is the only thing in life we can predict.

The only thing we truly know.

Everybody's story ends the same way.


(Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=the-last-man-on-earth-2015&episode=s04e05)

Video: https://estream.to/embed-4soa0uz1piwm.html

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/mati-roy/the-story-of-the-chinese-farmer

Other: https://ask.slashdot.org/story/04/03/31/1420252/the-worst-development-job-youve-ever-had https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX0OARBqBp0

The most famous King Midas is popularly remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold.