Oct 31, 2008
As you may recall from some months earlier, I think that part of the rationalist ethos is binding yourself emotionally to an absolutely lawful reductionistic universe—a universe containing no ontologically basic mental things such as souls or magic—and pouring all your hope and all your care into that merely real universe and its possibilities, without disappointment.
There's an old trick for combating dukkha where you make a list of things you're grateful for, like a roof over your head.
So why not make a list of abilities you have that would be amazingly cool if they were magic, or if only a few chosen individuals had them?
For example, suppose that instead of one eye, you possessed a magical second eye embedded in your forehead. And this second eye enabled you to see into the third dimension—so that you could somehow tell how far away things were—where an ordinary eye would see only a two-dimensional shadow of the true world. Only the possessors of this ability can accurately aim the legendary distance-weapons that kill at ranges far beyond a sword, or use to their fullest potential the shells of ultrafast machinery called "cars".
"Binocular vision" would be too light a term for this ability. We'll only appreciate it once it has a properly impressive name, like Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception.
So here's a list of some of my favorite magical powers:
The Ultimate Power. The user of this ability contains a smaller, imperfect echo of the entire universe, enabling them to search out paths through probability to any desired future. If this sounds like a ridiculously powerful ability, you're right—game balance goes right out the window with this one. Extremely rare among life forms, it is the sekai no ougi or "hidden technique of the world".
Nothing can oppose the Ultimate Power except the Ultimate Power. Any less-than-ultimate Power will simply be "comprehended" by the Ultimate and disrupted in some inconceivable fashion, or even absorbed into the Ultimates' own power base. For this reason the Ultimate Power is sometimes called the "master technique of techniques" or the "trump card that trumps all other trumps". The more powerful Ultimates can stretch their "comprehension" across galactic distances and aeons of time, and even perceive the bizarre laws of the hidden "world beneath the world".
Ultimates have been killed by immense natural catastrophes, or by extremely swift surprise attacks that give them no chance to use their power. But all such victories are ultimately a matter of luck—it does not confront the Ultimates on their own probability-bending level, and if they survive they will begin to bend Time to avoid future attacks.
But the Ultimate Power itself is also dangerous, and many Ultimates have been destroyed by their own powers—falling into one of the flaws in their imperfect inner echo of the world.
Stripped of weapons and armor and locked in a cell, an Ultimate is still one of the most dangerous life-forms on the planet. A sword can be broken and a limb can be cut off, but the Ultimate Power is "the power that cannot be removed without removing you".
Perhaps because this connection is so intimate, the Ultimates regard one who loses their Ultimate Power permanently—without hope of regaining it—as schiavo, or "dead while breathing". The Ultimates argue that the Ultimate Power is so important as to be a necessary part of what makes a creature an end in itself, rather than a means. The Ultimates even insist that anyone who lacks the Ultimate Power cannot begin to truly comprehend the Ultimate Power, and hence, cannot understand why the Ultimate Power is morally important—a suspiciously self-serving argument.
The users of this ability form an absolute aristocracy and treat all other life forms as their pawns.
Next post: "The Beauty of Settled Science"
Previous post: "If You Demand Magic, Magic Won't Help"