Followup toWhy is the Future So Absurd?

"The big thing to remember about far-future cyberpunk is that it will be truly ultra-tech.  The mind and body changes available to a 23rd-century Solid Citizen would probably amaze, disgust and frighten that 2050 netrunner!"
        —GURPS Cyberpunk

Pick up someone from the 18th century—a smart someone.  Ben Franklin, say.  Drop them into the early 21st century.

We, in our time, think our life has improved in the last two or three hundred years.  Ben Franklin is probably smart and forward-looking enough to agree that life has improved.  But if you don't think Ben Franklin would be amazed, disgusted, and frightened, then I think you far overestimate the "normality" of your own time.  You can think of reasons why Ben should find our world compatible, but Ben himself might not do the same.

Movies that were made in say the 40s or 50s, seem much more alien—to me—than modern movies allegedly set hundreds of years in the future, or in different universes.  Watch a movie from 1950 and you may see a man slapping a woman.  Doesn't happen a lot in Lord of the Rings, does it?  Drop back to the 16th century and one popular entertainment was setting a cat on fire.  Ever see that in any moving picture, no matter how "lowbrow"?

("But," you say, "that's showing how discomforting the Past's culture was, not how scary the Future is."  Of which I wrote, "When we look over history, we see changes away from absurd conditions such as everyone being a peasant farmer and women not having the vote, toward normal conditions like a majority middle class and equal rights...")

Something about the Future will shock we 21st-century folk, if we were dropped in without slow adaptation.  This is not because the Future is cold and gloomy—I am speaking of a positive, successful Future; the negative outcomes are probably just blank.  Nor am I speaking of the idea that every Utopia has some dark hidden flaw.  I am saying that the Future would discomfort us because it is better.

This is another piece of the puzzle for why no author seems to have ever succeeded in constructing a Utopia worth-a-damn.  When they are out to depict how marvelous and wonderful the world could be, if only we would all be Marxists or Randians or let philosophers be kings... they try to depict the resulting outcome as comforting and safe.

Again, George Orwell from "Why Socialists Don't Believe In Fun":

    "In the last part, in contrast with disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses who are free from human failings.  Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures.  Like the inhabitants of various other Utopias, they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss.  They live uneventful, subdued, 'reasonable' lives, free not only from quarrels, disorder or insecurity of any kind, but also from 'passion', including physical love.  They choose their mates on eugenic principles, avoid excesses of affection, and appear somewhat glad to die when their time comes."

One might consider, in particular contrast, Timothy Ferris's observation:

    "What is the opposite of happiness?  Sadness?  No.  Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness.  Crying out of happiness is a perfect illustration of this.  The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is—here's the clincher—boredom...
    The question you should be asking isn't 'What do I want?' or 'What are my goals?' but 'What would excite me?'
    Remember—boredom is the enemy, not some abstract 'failure.'"

Utopia is reassuring, unsurprising, and dull.

Eutopia is scary.

I'm not talking here about evil means to a good end, I'm talking about the good outcomes themselves.  That is the proper relation of the Future to the Past when things turn out well, as we would know very well from history if we'd actually lived it, rather than looking back with benefit of hindsight.

Now... I don't think you can actually build the Future on the basis of asking how to scare yourself.  The vast majority of possible changes are in the direction of higher entropy; only a very few discomforts stem from things getting better.

"I shock you therefore I'm right" is one of the most annoying of all non-sequiturs, and we certainly don't want to go there.

But on a purely literary level... and bearing in mind that fiction is not reality, and fiction is not optimized the way we try to optimize reality...

I try to write fiction, now and then.  More rarely, I finish a story.  Even more rarely, I let someone else look at it.

Once I finally got to the point of thinking that maybe you should be able to write a story set in Eutopia, I tried doing it. 

But I had something like an instinctive revulsion at the indulgence of trying to build a world that fit me, but probably wouldn't fit others so nicely.

So—without giving the world a seamy underside, or putting Knight Templars in charge, or anything so obvious as that—without deliberately trying to make the world flawed -

I was trying to invent, even if I had to do it myself, a better world where I would be out of place.  Just like Ben Franklin would be out of place in the modern world.

Definitely not someplace that a transhumanist/science-advocate/libertarian (like myself) would go, and be smugly satisfied at how well all their ideas had worked.  Down that path lay the Dark Side—certainly in a purely literary sense.

And you couldn't avert that just by having the Future go wrong in all the stupid obvious ways that transhumanists, or libertarians, or public advocates of science had already warned against.  Then you just had a dystopia, and it might make a good SF story but it had already been done.

But I had my world's foundation, an absurd notion inspired by a corny pun; a vision of what you see when you wake up from cryonic suspension, that I couldn't have gotten away with posting to any transhumanist mailing list even as a joke.

And then, whenever I could think of an arguably-good idea that offended my sensibilities, I added it in.  The goal being to—without ever deliberately making the Future worse —make it a place where I would be as shocked as possible to see that that was how things had turned out.

Getting rid of textbooks, for example—postulating that talking about science in public is socially unacceptable, for the same reason that you don't tell someone aiming to see a movie whether the hero dies at the end.  A world that had rejected my beloved concept of science as the public knowledge of humankind.

Then I added up all the discomforting ideas together...

...and at least in my imagination, it worked better than anything I'd ever dared to visualize as a serious proposal.

My serious proposals had been optimized to look sober and safe and sane; everything voluntary, with clearly lighted exit signs, and all sorts of volume controls to prevent anything from getting too loud and waking up the neighbors.  Nothing too absurd.  Proposals that wouldn't scare the nervous, containing as little as possible that would cause anyone to make a fuss.

This world was ridiculous, and it was going to wake up the neighbors.

It was also seductive to the point that I had to exert a serious effort to prevent my soul from getting sucked out.  (I suspect that's a general problem; that it's a good idea emotionally (not just epistemically) to not visualize your better Future in too much detail.  You're better off comparing yourself to the Past.  I may write a separate post on this.)

And so I found myself being pulled in the direction of this world in which I was supposed to be "out of place".  I started thinking that, well, maybe it really would be a good idea to get rid of all the textbooks, all they do is take the fun out of science.  I started thinking that maybe personal competition was a legitimate motivator (previously, I would have called it a zero-sum game and been morally aghast).  I began to worry that peace, democracy, market economies, and con—but I'd better not finish that sentence.  I started to wonder if the old vision that was so reassuring, so safe, was optimized to be good news to a modern human living in constant danger of permanent death or damage, and less optimized for the everyday existence of someone less frightened.

This is what happens when I try to invent a world that fails to confirm my sensibilities?  It makes me wonder what would happen if someone else tried the same exercise.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to visualize any new world that represents the same shock to me as the last one did.  Either the trick only works once, or you have to wait longer between attempts, or I'm too old now.

But I hope that so long as the world offends the original you, it gets to keep its literary integrity even if you start to find it less shocking.

I haven't yet published any story that gives more than a glimpse of this setting.  I'm still debating with myself whether I dare.  I don't know whether the suck-out-your-soul effect would threaten anyone but myself as author—I haven't seen it happening with Banks's Culture or Wright's Golden Oecumene, so I suspect it's more of a trap when a world fits a single person too well.  But I got enough flak when I presented the case for getting rid of textbooks.

Still—I have seen the possibilities, now.  So long as no one dies permanently, I am leaning in favor of a loud and scary Future.


Part of The Fun Theory Sequence

Next post: "Building Weirdtopia"

Previous post: "Serious Stories"

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You can publish it; I promise we'll be fine.

I'm sure most of you would be fine, but the question I have to ask is "Will this drive more than 5% of my reading audience insane?"

Necronimicon Light: 95% likely not to drive you insane.


Here's another question, though: Will it drive 5% of my reading audience sane?

There are people who really, genuinely feel there's no point in striving to live, because life isn't nice. Even just showing them that life could be nice might be helpful, when it comes to things like getting signed up for cryonics.

That's a great sentiment, but it doesn't take into account that people who "genuinely feel there's no point in striving to live" are typically clinically depressed. I.E., have a serious issue with their neurochemistry. Take it from someone who's been there; you don't talk someone out of a depression, at least not unless you're a psychiatrist with a pad of prescription sheets and training in cognitive behavioral therapy. Or at least an ECT machine and a really kinky looking table. God I love psychiatry. (If on the other hand we're just talking about people who are bummed, not actually having given up on life, then yeah I'm sure EY could spin a tale good enough to pick up their spirits.)
I've had people try to dissuade me in cryonics discussions on the basis that it simply wouldn't be worth it, life isn't that great. I doubt they were clinically depressed. Whether that was their true rejection, on the other hand...
Yeah, there's a pretty big difference between saying someone shouldn't spend a small fortune on a speculative immortality procedure and giving up on life. Between the fact that it's not their life and that cryonics is just freezing a corpse to most of us, don't expect that to translate into an actual longing for death / despair over life. Anyway, onto these cryonics dissuaders. Are we talking something like "life would be boring after (Average Life Expectancy in my Country) years, because sour grapes" or "life in a society where you have no useful skills, are completely ignorant and unsocialized, and everyone you know is dead would be distinctly unpleasant" or more of a "Seriously, life is pain bro" kind of thing? The first is either a clever attempt to get you out of a perceived scam or a rationalization, the second is a fairly good point if debatable, and the third guy just wants weed money. None of them seem like they've given up on life.
A very small fortune, since I had already mentioned it would be paid for with life insurance. Did a double-take here. Sorry, I phrased it poorly; we were discussing cryonics in general, with focus on practicality for everyone in the conversation; not just me. ... are your opinions on cryonics by any chance mostly a result of popcultural osmosis? Please don't be offended, just a shot in the dark. About right, although it was fairly vague. ... no. Do people seriously try this? It sounds vaguely familiar, but I've never really encountered it... There was a brief "what if everything sucks?" "why would they bring you back if everything sucks?"; that's about as close as anyone got. (Neither of those voices is me.) I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to convey with this - are we talking antinatalist-style arguments. ??? One assumes that it's somewhat difficult to debate cryonics with people who have committed suicide, which is what you seem to mean by "given up on life". They've certainly given up on getting more ...
It seems that insurance increases the expected amount of money that will be paid rather than decreasing it. The benefit of insurance is not a reduction in (expected) cost but a redistribution of money from possible futures where you are fortunate to possible futures where you are unfortunate. This is a service that you pay a premium for.
Sure. But actually, I was referring to the fact that it doesn't involve a large lump sum payment, or "fortune". Well, it assuaged their doubts about cost, anyhow. Cost was not the issue here.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Is showing them a fictional nicer life really actually going to help, here? I mean, I could be wrong - there was that whole religion thing - but I'd think that what people like that need would be a nicer life now and showing them a better world would tend to make them unhappier.
In one very specific case, it well might. It's someone who will, no question about it, be dead within a year. His main objection to cryonics seems to be that living isn't very fun anyway, so why bother. And though I may be playing whack-a-mole with arguments, life is important enough to at least try.
8Eliezer Yudkowsky
I am curious as to what would happen if he tried reading HPMOR.
I'd just like to say here, that a few months ago, reading the fun theory sequence made me much happier. It was the idea that there was at least one, probably more, good futures, with a clear way of how to get there. Before, I had just assumed that we would all die in some apocalypse, probably from climate change. So thank you.
If you're talking about Brennan's world, it's already driven me a little insane, to the point of having suicidal thoughts. I'm getting better with that now as the rest of your writing is helpful medicine for bad thinking, If I weren't already very receptive to psychiatric treatment and thankfully had a strong skeptical background, it might not have ended well and the thought that that sort of thing might be going on still bothers me greatly. This was the first time I read this particular post, and it helped me downshift the probability of that such a thing is happening now, but it's dangerous stuff for certain people (people with high levels of dopamine have a higher tendency to make type one errors, perceiving patterns where there are none, according to Michael Shermer). I think you're right that the typical person would be fine, but what you might not know is that if you dig deep enough in the conspiracy world there are suicide memes. I am very sure that the vast majority of your readers would be fine, and that for them your stories would be entertaining, even compelling for some, but my two cents is that the disutility is high enough to outweigh that benefit.

Well, before I try to answer that, mind tabooing "soul sucking"? ie, what exactly do you mean by that?


The "corny pun" in this case being "Bayesian Conspiracy"?

postulating that talking about science in public is socially unacceptable, for the same reason that you don't tell someone aiming to see a movie whether the hero dies at the end. ... I started thinking that, well, maybe it really would be a good idea to get rid of all the textbooks, all they do is take the fun out of science.

Maybe they should exist, but shouldn't be thought of and written like textbooks. Maybe they should be like video game walkthroughs. You use them when you're stuck, as a last resort. Or, you just go dive right in, because you want to pl... (read more)

We could simulate those experiments though! We could literally make "The History of Science: The Video Game."

Doug, what happens if I hand you a video game walkthrough of the rest of your life and tell you not to look at it unless you're stuck?

I mean, maybe you're the wrong person to ask this. And so am I, come to think. But I don't think it's something they do in Eutopia.

PS: It's easy for you to say "Show us your shocking future!"

Let's hear what sort of shocking development you think might result in a better future in which you would be out of place.

And by that I don't mean that you're economically obsoleted, if that's what you've already been raised to expect as a normal fate. I mean a genuinely arguably-better world that doesn't comfortably confirm all your political and moral beliefs - at least the ones you had before you asked the question.

If you're seriously considering the question, you'll probably be tem... (read more)

Heh. A GameFAQs-style FAQ/Walkthrough for real life. What should I do with something like that?

Well, I actually am pretty much stuck right now, so the first thing I do is get myself out of my current jam (regarding employment and finances and such). Then I see if there is any section that covers vague general advice that seems relatively safe, and read that. Finally, I go lock it away in a safe deposit box at a bank and try to avoid using it again except in an emergency.

Taking the analogy a little too far, my game player ethics tells me that I should avoid... (read more)

The scientific method seems pretty game-breaking. It's practically metagaming.
Depends on the style. The only gameFAQ I wrote gave some general strategies and things to avoid doing, and some heads-ups for specific things you want to be ready for. I don't think that sort of guide would be a problem for real life. Similarly, a 'Missable Items FAQ' sort of thing that only helps you avoid doing yourself permanent (if trivial in some cases) harm.
Drop back to the 16th century and one popular entertainment was setting a cat on fire. Ever see that in any moving picture, no matter how "lowbrow"?

That did happen in season 5 of The Wire.

Rob - that's because The Wire is more like real life than real life.

I can see the link to the Chronophone here Eliezer. What would Benny F have found most shocking about today? How can we extrapolate that forwards?

Surely the most scary changes will be in ethics and the way we think of the human condition and personal identity.

I'm currently most of the way through The Mind's I, and if Hofstadter's (very plausible) musings on identity are anything like accurate, we're going to have to start thinking very differently about who we are, and even whether that qu... (read more)

I'm not sure it's possible, if fiction has to have characters.
I'd be willing to give it a try, once I've gotten another year of writing practice in. Now, writing something like that in first-person present...

I've been thinking about roughly this question a lot the past few weeks. My best guess is the end of sexual fidelity and/or self modification to remove sexual jealousy. Were I to be frozen and then thawed, and find that poly was now the norm I would honestly be disgusted and afraid. The kind of love that I had hoped and dreamed of would be effectively dead. None the less, I know that even with our current mind design there are people today who are poly and seem very happy with it. It seems at least plausible that without the complication of jealousy, romantic love could be that much more Fun.

I don't want this to happen, not at all, but if forced to make a guess, that would be mine.


blinks bemusedly at past-self

So what are your current feelings?

lol. something like "poly is awesome and so is my girlfriend" ^^

Seriously, I've kind of pulled a 180 here.

What made you change your mind? And how sure are you that it won't change again?

Of course I'm not sure -- that would be quite silly given my track record =)

What changed my mind...I'm still working on this one[1]. It was half conceiving a specific ideal of myself -- looking at the way I had experienced jealousy in the past and deciding that that wasn't a part of myself that I liked, wasn't a set of motivations that I endorsed. And it was half looking at how poly relationships seemed to work, and deciding that they seemed better engineered[2] to my eyes -- they don't present some life-altering crisis every time you realize you're really really attracted to someone else. They allow for an ebb and flow of relationship intensity -- friends become lovers become partners, break up, wind up friends and occasional lovers -- that appealed more than the almost catastrophic shifts in status that monogamy seems to require.

[1] As I write this, it occurs to me that I should probably start being suspicious when I say things like this -- I suppose it's entirely possible that this simply means "My brain is still piecing together the optimally self-congratulatory story for me to tell myself." I need to journal more.

[2] If this seems an odd turn of phrase, it's worth adding that I'm a software engineer by trade, and that the parts of my brain that made these judgements felt like the same parts that look at a piece of code and decide whether it's well-factored, maintainable, etc. etc.

Thanks for elaborating.

On some level, polyamory has always been part of my self-ideal; I have been committed to not being jealous, and to giving my partners whatever freedom they need to be happy. On the other hand, I've never felt a need for more than one partner, so for most of my life I've been monogamous because it was the norm, even if I made it clear to my partners that they need not be.

Discovering the polyamory community and, almost as importantly, the very term polyamory, representing a thing people could actually do changed that for me, and I've been in non-monogamous relationships for about a year and a half now.

However, my confidence has been a bit shaken by the degree to which I've seen problems. A girlfriend of about a year started acting very jealous of another girlfriend of about five years. The former has been outspokenly poly and in many relationships for more than seven years, and her self image was tangled up with being poly to the extent that she refused to admit that she was acting out of jealousy. She refused to talk about her feelings (unheard of for her, being a professional counselor), and would only say that she was "over it" and nothing was goin... (read more)


I'm glad to hear of your continuing success.

Thanks, but I've been at this for a couple months -- congratulate me next year =)

The former has been outspokenly poly and in many relationships for more than seven years, and her self image was tangled up with being poly to the extent that she refused to admit that she was acting out of jealousy.

As I say, I'm pretty new, so I feel really hesitant to say this, but it really seems like she was just doing it wrong.

I mean, I dance. Dancing is part of my self image. I go out and dance swing every Thursday evening and every Saturday afternoon. I'm not that good yet, but I'm getting better every week.

And sometimes it hurts. Sometimes my feet get sore. Sometimes I get really out of breath. Sometimes I get really warm and sweaty and uncomfortable. Sometimes I can tell my heart just can't keep up with the amount of oxygen my body's demanding. One time I fell straight over on my face and banged my knee, and it was painful to walk for the next couple days.

None of these things mean I'm not a dancer -- they're just things I deal with because I like dancing.

I'm new at this, so I suppose this is particularly to be expected, but still. I feel jealo... (read more)

(nods) My version of this, back when my social circle was dealing with the question, was that poly was like turning somersaults. Some people are good at it and some people aren't, some people enjoy it and some people don't, some people can significantly damage themselves and others by trying it if they don't choose a time and place carefully, and even people who are good at it and enjoy it will get hurt doing it from time to time, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't do it. Ya pays yer money, ya takes yer chances.

This I think is true. The woman in question does polyamory well, and has for a long time, and in my opinion should continue to for her own happiness. However, she definitely wasn't doing it right at that time. To my knowledge, it's the only problem she's had that has stemmed from her.
(nods) My husband and I do monogamy pretty well, also, but we've been known to create problems for ourselves and each other from time to time. Occupational hazard of imperfection.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky
How large is the poly community? It seems like one of the Common Interest in Rationality groups; but I don't know if it's large enough that marginal investments in evangelism should be targeted there.
I'm not sure whether this is a pro or a con for evangelism attempts, but a very large swathe of the poly community is of a new-age and/or neopagan bent. So on the one hand, they really could use some rationality. On the other, they're probably not very receptive to it. As far as numbers go, I don't think I've heard any good estimates. Judging by the uptick in media coverage of late, though, I'd guess they're growing at a pretty decent clip.
There's a good amount of crossover with geek culture, too. I think it's growing into part of the usual contrarian cluster, if it isn't part already.
Ugh, agreed. I think P(newage|poly) - P(newage) > P(rationalist|poly) - P(rationalist) > 0. I also think P(poly|rationalist) - P(poly) >> P(rationalist|poly) - P(rationalist), which is why we see it as a Common Interest. As an aside, I've been reading your blog since (I think) before you joined LessWrong; like Wei Dai, you're one of the connections I've made to a different community that has appeared here. I usually read it through RSS, which I think broke. You also appear to have abandoned your earlier blog posts?
I'm not sure I understand why this number matters.
3Paul Crowley
I think P(X|E) - P(X) is the wrong measure - should be the log likelihood ratio log(P(E|X)) - log(P(E|NOT X))
I was feeling uncomfortable about that myself. In all likelihood, I shouldn't be using probability at all, because probability theory doesn't capture cause and effect well. Thinking back, what I should have said is just that rationalists are more likely to adopt polyamory than polyamorists are likely to adopt rationalism. The actual ratios of each are less relevant.
0Paul Crowley
To be clear, this is almost the same as the formula you gave; I'm just using the log odds ratios formulation of Bayes theorem LOR(X|E) = LOR(X) + log(P(E|X)) - log(P(E|NOT X)) where LOR(X) = log(P(X)/P(¬X)) in other words LOR(X|E) - LOR(X) = log(P(E|X)) - log(P(E|NOT X)) the log-likelihood ratio, the weight of evidence you need to update from one to the other.
This comment motivated me to update my blog again, which I am quite grateful for. Has that showed up in your RSS? My earlier blog posts were eaten when I screwed up the transfer of the site to Wordpress. I wasn't terribly happy with them in any case, but you're not the first person to indicate that they were better than I thought.
It didn't; I'm sure RSS also broke during the site transfer. I re-subscribed, and I suspect everything will work again. The re-subscription at least retrieved your two current posts. I really did find your earlier writings interesting and enjoyable. I'm not sure I necessarily need them reposted (I wouldn't classify them as reference material for re-review), but more like that would be appreciated.
Note that naturalistic neopaganism exists.
3Paul Crowley
Looks like a failure of relinquishment to me. Are there any naturalistic neopagans who are not former non-naturalistic neopagans?
I don't see where you're coming from — the essay I linked seems to make it extremely clear that its author was never a non-naturalist.
3Paul Crowley
Ah, got the wrong end of the stick from a skim read - thanks!
I think I would fall in that description. I see (and have always seen) my neopaganism as a philosophical expression of humor and absurdism.
Yes, many. Indeed, there are naturalistic neopagans who were not formerly neopagans at all, of any sort.
Ah. Thank you for that =)
My experience was that being a sorta-halfway-decent-rationalist was part of what made it possible for me to do poly. I imagine there's others like me, but they'll already be rationalists (or have innately strong self-awareness skillsets and those may be good targets...). Others would have managed it using completely different sets of skills and I don't imagine they'd be any more interested in rationality than the mean.
2Paul Crowley
This metaphor I think captures some of it, but it has the downside that it introduces an asymmetry between poly and its alternatives. I've never been anything but poly, so for me it would be any other style of relation ship that would be a potential strain and risk.
No, this is true. However, I would like to stretch your analogy a bit: Some people are natural dancers, and don't really encounter the problems you're describing. Some people just know they want to dance, and deal with them. The person in question is more of the former. In dozens of relationships she's never acted jealous before (I've known her for 10 years). She's never seemed to have an issue with it. This time, the first time I've seen her act jealous, she rejected the notion that jealousy could be the source of the problem because she was proud of the fact that she's never jealous. I'm a dancer too, a really lousy one. By contrast, my other SO is a great dancer. Within six months of starting blues dancing, she was being paid to travel to other states and teach at blues workshops (by the way, if you like swing, you should really try blues). She picks up new dances all the time; I've worked for years on swing dancing and feel barely mediocre. If she encountered a dance style and had our experience with it, she might just give up. She doesn't deal with those difficulties because she doesn't have to. In poly, I'm somewhere in between, but closer to "natural". I've felt jealous pangs a few times, but never felt them long enough for me to get a chance to talk them over with someone. I always mention them to the person they were regarding after the fact, but they've always gone away before I need to take action to get rid of them. If the next time it happens it lasts a lot longer, I think I'd know what to do, but it would also be so unusual and unpleasant that it could perhaps shake my commitment to poly. If it did and if my self-image was so wrapped up in poly that admitting that was unacceptable---I'd like to think better of myself, but maybe I'd just ignore that instance and move on.
Oh. I now feel really quite silly for not having immediately guessed that where there were naturals there would be a Curse of the Gifted. I've heard really good things about blues -- basically I've heard that swing originates from a cleaned-up version of blues? -- and your comment is tipping me further towards "oh for goodness sake check this out already," so thanks for that ^_^.
I've heard that blues originates from a dirtied-down version of swing; at least, I think it's genesis is later. I just got back from an all-weekend blues workshop. Campbell and Chris were two of the instructors, and you can get some idea for what it looks like from the videos on their site. You can see that competition blues often looks a lot like (competition) lindy; maybe a little more varied, but a lot slower, fewer lifts and generally lower energy. In practice (when dancing for a partner rather than for an audience), blues is generally much smaller and closer. Most dances are usually at least partially danced in close embrace, where the chest to chest and inside thigh to outside thigh connections are the main lead---so it can be a very sensual and intense dance. I've noticed a lot of overlap in the poly and blues communities, in that both are heavily populated by very physically affectionate and openly sexual individuals. Not that those attributes make someone poly any more than they make someone a blues dancer, but there is a strong correlation to each.
Thanks for that amazing link... is there an LW article on the curse of the gifted?
8Paul Crowley
BTW feel free to email in confidence if you find yourself in circumstances where the ear of another poly rationalist might be useful - paul at ciphergoth dot org. Been poly for coming up to twenty years, and had some interesting experiences...
I was digging through some records of things I've been provably associated with and saw a link to this. Is it still too early (or worse yet too late) to offer you justifiable congratulations on the topic?
Things seem to be going rather well ^^
So, do you remember why you thought of poly relationships as so disgusting and horrific? I can understand not thinking they would work for you, but why the intense revulsion? While I agree with you that polyamory is a great approach and works well for a lot of people, I'm not sure this is an accurate description of monogamy: most monogamous people find themselves really attracted to others at times, and just decide not to act on it (as poly people might do sometimes also, for other reasons).
...or decide to act on it in various ways that don't involve getting involved in a romantic or sexual relationship with those others.

Heh. When I was religious I would have predicted, with some sadness, that in the future everyone would be atheist.

Did this tip you off that maybe atheism was true or what you really believed? Do you think in hindsight that it should have?
It certainly should have tipped me off. But my mind conscientiously avoided that chain of thought. It was not until I read the Sequences that I realized what was going on.
Perfect illustration of the post. You were disgusted and afraid by something that took you less than two years to prefer, and you weren't even frozen and thawed.
The subconscious mind knows exactly what it's flinching away from considering. :-)

Greg Egan's short story "The Hundred Light Year Diary" tells what happens when people are (basically) handed the walkthrough for their life.

It's well worth reading (along with the rest of the stories in Axiomatic - which include a bunch of technology that Elizer mentions on a regular basis, and the interesting effects they might have.


I will cite Robin Hanson for his vision of a world where human minds are frequently copied and deleted. It takes a certain sort of fortitude to post (in the same month) encouragement to sign up for cryonics and a prediction that minds uploaded from cryonics will be copied en masse, worked without rest at subsistence wages, then deleted to make way for the next wave of copies (possibly of the same mind with new training).

Mike Blume, you can check The Ethical Slut for the software hack on that. I recommend it to everyone as a book on communication in relationships, whether or not you want to be poly. If you and your partner can have a serious, healthy discussion about whether you should also sleep with other people, discussing whose turn it is to do the dishes should be easy.

Part of being thrown into a better future being scary is that (as you implied) some behaviors that you think of as completely normal will be strongly disapproved of and some behaviors that you think are revolting or pointless will be required.

The only way I can see "no public science" as workable would be if people's ability to do experiments and math was greatly enhanced, both of which strike me as good things.


I should toss out my own. The first that occurs to me is that utopia could be far more constrained rather than far freer. Most of us seem to have a vision of a universe where you can do whatever you want so long as it harms no one else, a kind of Nozickian utopia of utopias. We will all move to Permutation City or build Prime Intellect, and then your only restraint is that you cannot restrain others.

If freedom is only instrumentally useful, rather than morally fundamental, there is no reason for this given sufficient powers of prediction and control. If Asimov's supercomputers really can get around the Hayekian knowledge problem and perfect the economy, most arguments against command economies just went out the window. If I really do know better than you, with no epistemic issues, giving you more freedom is like letting a child play in traffic. If I can prove to you with mathematical certainty that decision X would make things worse, and you still choose X (objectively and by your preferences), we have just proved that you are not capable of handling freedom.

Telling someone where the mines are takes all the fun out of Minesweeper, but you should do it IRL if the town is on the edge of an old war zone. If someone has the walkthrough for my life, I may not consult it constantly, but I would like a pop-up confirmation window to appear whenever a decision will lead to "game over." I would also like more save points.

That actually seems like a good idea. Choice paralysis seems like it would be a serious problem for any "Do anything you can imagine" utopia, because I can't think of what I'd do if I had the power to do anything. Or, put another way, Minecraft became a lot more fun once it took away the infinite supply of blocks.
How about "myself twice as smart, check to see if I still have don't have a really good idea what to do, do it if so, if not repeat the process"?

That parenthetical should have been after "worse," not the following clause.

It seems to me that you should take the surprising seductiveness of your imagined world that violated your abstract sensibilities as evidence that calls those sensibilities into question. I would have encouraged you to write the story, or at least write up a description of the story and what about it seemed seductive. I do think I have tried to describe how my best estimates of the future seem shocking to me, and that I would be out of place there in many ways.

The Orgasmimum may be the least scaring scenario. If that's so, we might get it.

Moin has some minor disturbing examples. Over time ppl first all turn gay (and ostracize heteros) later all become clones, and put the remaining old-humans on a nice colony while trying to ignore them.

What i could imagine as a future where i'm outer place would be: -way higher general intelligence -mankind becoming a singular, united mind while i'm kept out. -probably every future where uploads, and body switching are everyday events



I don't find this surprising at all, other than that it occurred to a consequentialist. Being a virtue ethicist and something of a Romantic, it seems to me that the best world will be one of great and terrible events, where a person has the chance to be truly and tragically heroic. And no, that doesn't sound comfortable to me, or a place where I'd particularly thrive.

Perhaps a benevolent singleton would cripple all means of transport faster than say horses and bicycles, so as to preserve/restore human intuitions and emotions relating to distance (far away lands and so on)?

Movies that were made in say the 40s or 50s, seem much more alien - to me - than modern movies allegedly set hundreds of years in the future, or in different universes.

They had different moral fashions. It is how the movies portray such moral fads that shows how different we've become. I haven't seen the f*d up remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but one of the principle plot elements of the first one is that some random stranger who Mrs Benson only met a few hours ago, gets to "babysit" her child unsupervised all day. Today, all anyone c... (read more)

@Eli "Ben Franklin, say" Franklin is probably the best person to come to the here - it's very well-known he wished to preserve his body in Madeira so he could be revived to see the future, yes? Plus if you've actually read any of his letters and other writing, you see how much more flexible his mind was than just anyone you have ever met. My impression is that he would find today less shocking than probably 75% of those who live now do.

"talking about science in public is socially unacceptable" This is already true in many places around ... (read more)


Virtual environments create possibilities for shock. The ability to torture a (non-sentient) simulated version of someone you hate, or engage in sexual activities that would be illegal in the real world come to mind.

Also what if, given the opportunity to live forever in eutopia, most minds freely choose the hardscrapple frontier? Even if the chances of death are significant?

Thom Blake:

I don't find this surprising at all, other than that it occurred to a consequentialist. Being a virtue ethicist and something of a Romantic, it seems to me that the best wo

... (read more)

Change is disruptive, and if it is profound it can cause a strong resistence to it. Eutopia is scary, even if you could guarantee complete safety, people will resist it.

Zubon - This may be drifting off topic, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you that some girls (and probably some guys too) use poly as nothing more than a cheap, easy escape route from a relationship with which they've grown displeased. I had this done to me last summer, and it was quite simply the most miserable experience of my life. The depression and feelings of worthlessness with which it left me have only just begun to abate, and it will probably be some time before I can deal with the level of trust necessary for a vanilla relationship, let alone seriously consider choosing poly.

Zubon - Forgive my rudeness, there was totally supposed to be a "but thanks very much for the rec." in there somewhere.

Probably of interest: The Happiness Myth by Jennifer Michael Hecht. The title's not especially accurate. It's actually about what people have generally said through history about what leads to happiness, and how much of what we believe now on the subject is true.

Please publish this stuff! Or upload it as a free netbook if you're not feeling confident, haha.

I don't think you have anything to worry about. Humans don't go insane that easily. I know two people who have the kind of beliefs that stand in absolute opposition to the Singularity, to the point that they've told me they would rather die a slow painful death rather than live in a post-Singularity world, and I don't think they're lying. Even so, me telling them about the Singularity didn't drive them insane. I've gotten them both to acknowledge that such a wor... (read more)

It seems to me that you should take the surprising seductiveness of your imagined world that violated your abstract sensibilities as evidence that calls those sensibilities into question. I would have encouraged you to write the story...

Robin, I did and I did.

Steven, you're first to hit on one of the other rules that I'd added in (restoration of travel time / communication delay).

Dictionaries disagree with Ferris - e.g.:

"Happiness [...] antonym: sadness" - Encarta

"Boredom" makes a terrible opposite of "happiness". What is the opposite of boredom? Something interesting, to be sure, but many more things than just happiness fit that description.

restoration of travel time / communication delay

Communication delay as in IP over Avian Carriers? Next thing you know we'll be living in our EEA and have to walk 10 km uphill to school, both ways.

but the question I have to ask is "Will this drive more than 5% of my reading audience insane?"

So you're fine with that amount of collateral damage? :) Seriously, make a "mental stability" questionnaire and distribute your story under NDA to those who pass. Consider me interested too.

Why make science a secret, instead of inventing new worlds with new science for people to explore? Have you heard of "Theorycraft"? It's science applied to the World of Warcraft, and for some, Theorycraft is as much fun as the game it's based on.

Is there something special about the science of base-level reality that makes it especially fun to explore and discover? I think the answer is yes, but only if it hasn't already been explored and then covered up again and made into a game. It's the difference between a natural and an artificial challenge.

Allowing public dissemination of science is analogous to allowing overly fast increase in intelligence, in several respects.

First, in both cases you get some answers without enjoying the process of obtaining them. To solve a problem, you may learn an answer in a textbook, or find it using raw power of increased intelligence. Problems which you might've enjoyed are now spoiled, with answer either known or boringly trivial.

Second, greater knowledge or intelligence opens the ability to enjoy richer problems, so it might be a good idea to move from chimp-level... (read more)

About the arguably good future that frightens.

Naively extrapolating from my thoughts about semantics of intelligence and economy of cognition, I suspect that it might be a good thing for people of the future to specialize and increasingly differ in their morality, while composing a community that as a whole robustly continues on the path set by the present human psychology. It doesn't look like a good thing even for some people to start liking "paperclipping", and maybe it isn't, but maybe it is.

Several steps further, if "person" remain... (read more)

One arguably plausible change, that is arguably an improvement (of sorts), and yet would be a shock could be if techniques for assessing individuals' abilities became much more accurate. We could wind up with a world with elments of GATTACA or Brave New World (albeit this alone wouldn't do the equivalent of bottle-farming deltas...). To an extent things like IQ already do this, but more precise, specific assessments (if human abilities are actually stable enough over time for this to be possible) would be a large blow to both traditional views of human equality and to individuals' dreams of the range of their possible futures. It would also be very politically incorrect, at least in some circles.

Maybe the scary part is that, in the end, the future really will turn out to be boring by our standards. It might turn out that getting rid of boredom requires introducing pain, and nobody wants that.

the question I have to ask is "Will this drive more than 5% of my reading audience insane?"
If you have to ask that question, publish.

The "delete all the assumptions of childhood and sex and pedophilia" thing would be an easy gross-out with arguable merits ("I know Kung Fu!" style instant learning for full economic independence aged 3?), but I propose that general class of poke-the-taboo is a fourth, non useful direction, "modernarttopia". Suggestions should poke something the public isn't even aware is a taboo.

How a... (read more)

the question I have to ask is "Will this drive more than 5% of my reading audience insane?" If you have to ask that question, publish.

Spoken like a man who's never actually driven any of his readers insane.

I propose that general class of poke-the-taboo is a fourth, non useful direction, "modernarttopia". Suggestions should poke something the public isn't even aware is a taboo.

Well put. Although it's okay to have a scenario that violates something the public is aware as a taboo, as long as the violation is surprising and has a surprising fun-theoretical reason. It's mostly the obvious that traps you.

Have you ever driven your readers insane? If yes, I'd like to hear that story. And are we talking "mildly unsettled" or "get a straitjacket"?
I think that's almost certainly true. But if you did hear the story, would you wish you hadn't?

"preserve/restore human intuitions and emotions relating to distance (far away lands and so on)"

Arguably Special Relativity already does this for us. Although I freely admit that a space opera is kind of the antithesis of a Weirdtopia.

On second thought, correction: relativity restoring far away lands, yes, preserving intuitions, no.

Probably the space you could visit at light speed in a given subjective time would be unreasonably large, depending on speedup and miniaturization.

"Let's hear what sort of shocking development you think might result in a better future in which you would be out of place."

I think what you are getting at is the difference between the timid shocking things teenagers think up and actual "thoughts that cannot be unthought", like when a child fully grasps death. It's hard but fun to try to knock down all of the pillars of your rationality and discover yourself still floating there. I wouldn't worry about driving people insane. You are more likely to get lynched first.

1) A "fun"... (read more)

So future kings & queens could be a) trained thoroughly in creche and b) scientifically cross-bred and culled like racehorses.

Paradox interactive's Crusader Kings computer game is an empire/dynasty building game with enough heritability, information about personal traits, and control over marriages that executing optimal strategy resembles playing the Sims much more than a Civilization or war-type game. In a sense it is a reverse "Robot Unicorn Attack" that granted permission to play the Sims.

I believe that computer games are a genre with an untapped ability to influence people's thought. Doing is a powerful mode of learning. Likewise, if students were required to create an original computer program that evolved cars to navigate random terrains, they would find it hard not to believe in evolution. Require them to perform magic tricks, and they will likely not believe in supernatural magic.


Maybe the unhappiness in the world outweighs the happiness, and that contrary to our optimistic views there actually isn't a path to a better future with us in it, and human extinction is the only possible way to make the world a better place.


It's funny actually. I find myself reading this and the responses and feeling so incrediably...Well, stupid. If that's the right word.

I just feel that publishing this would do a lot of people good. Personally, I don't believe in insanity. I just accept it.


Reviving the concept of sending children away to be trained by some kind of a strict brotherhood, the way medieval children would be sent to a monastery or fostered out to become a knight.

It's egalitarian -- those who send away their children can have them educated for free, and perhaps physically or chemically altered to improve their capacities. In exchange, the Brotherhood takes a lifetime of your work, your private life, and a large portion of whatever you earn. They own you, they decide where you live, they manage every instant of your time, every action results in the addition or deduction of points from your public profile, entertainment and non-procreative sex are strictly forbidden. Even the smallest details of life are brutally competitive; points are everything, so your work is pristine and your room is spotless and your physical fitness is superb. Punishment is ubiquitous, and luxuries rare, but that means that sharing a smuggled candy bar after you've started to heal up from your last whipping is impossibly wonderful. You have no choice at all -- but you also don't have the "choice" to fail, to procrastinate, to do anything but perform excellently and serve your Brotherhood.

It is scary how incredibly appealing I find this fantasy. It sounds much more fun -- literally fun -- than the present.

What you write sounds a lot like the system of classical Sparta. Historically, lots of people have shared that fascination.

Forbidden, or just regulated? If you've done something the Brotherhood wants to encourage, even unwillingly or unwittingly, some sort of positive reinforcement might be mandatory.

Given the appeal of those fantasies, I'd suspect you have an interest in either masochism or submissiveness. If you haven't explored those facets of BDSM, it might be worth your time! There's probably people out there who do pretty much exactly that, although it's a facet I'm not terribly familiar with personally.

Heh heh heh, the Imperium of Man has that in droves. You should try making the case for Warhammer 40000 being a very well-disguised eutopia rather than gothic cosmic horror. (Speaking seriously, though, my revealed preferences indicate that I assign enormous value to freedom and liberty, and I'm aghast at others, even people as wise as EY, being ready to sacrifice a bit of them for mere "fun"'s sake. I'm going to do a main-level post about the heuristic of jealously guarding freedom seen in some people.)
Well, there are plenty of inhuman enemies that we can all feel good about brutally dismembering, and of course so much knowledge has been lost that Brennan would feel quite at home. The fluff mentions souls and reincarnation IIRC so you could argue that no-one is actually dying, and I suppose they might not feel pain as ... keenly ... as we do? It still seems hard to justify all those faceless masses being ground down into the dirt by oppressive dictatorships or tortured to death by faceless horrors from beyond the stars, but such is the price of heroism. Perhaps they're NPCs.
Well... It's warhammer, so of course it isn't actually that nice. Souls exist, and resurrection, but so do predators who'll eat the souls - if you're dead or, sometimes, if you aren't. Normal humans are the equivalent of plankton to daemons.
Souls aren't a point in WH40K's favor when you remember that a dead human is either 1. Cast into the Warp without a Gellar Field to protect them from even the weakest demons / warp phenomenon. 2. Eaten by the God Emprah of Mankind. Grimdark is pretty much the opposite of ethical hedonism, so while it is much much cooler than most utopias you can't make much of an argument for it in terms of utility. I personally would argue it from aesthetics, but while that's not all less rational than adding up the utilons it's not likely to score you points around here either.
Ah, but while that's certainly claimed by some factions, it's far from demonstrated. (I recently went on a WH40K jag, so I'm a bit better informed than when I wrote that comment.) Most hope for souls comes in the form of the Imperial mythos, which claims - among many other, contradictory things because this is 40K - that He shelters the faithful after death (still fairly dark, but actually quite plausible); and, interestingly, that He was originally "the collective reincarnation of all Earth's Shamans" (this doesn't tie in that well with anything else, but is perfectly plausible and gets repeated a lot; and reincarnation is a great way to turn unfair settings into fair ones.) On the other hand, the Eldar seem to know the most about souls - they can manipulate them - and they seem pretty certain that theirs are being eaten by Slaneesh; although this seems to only apply to them, as a result of their whole Fall thing, rather than being the standard fate for all the dead. Only the devotees of the Dark Gods, as I recall, have been mentioned to believe the only way to escape eternal torment as the playthings of their masters / getting soulnommed is to be chosen by the Gods to serve them as Daemons; but then they would, wouldn't they? ---------------------------------------- More seriously, 40K fluff is designed to be flexible, but I wouldn't usually be desperately trying to twist it into a cunningly disguised utopia if I hadn't been challenged to do so. I will, however, note that any utopia ( though not necessarily wierdtopia) worth a dam will have immersive 40k VR games. So your aesthetics may be in luck yet.

I think you've point in that - but that you take it too far. I don't have any precise study to point at, but from historical or anthropological books I read, and my own traveling experience, I got the impression that even broad culture clashes (like a tribe of native amazonian hunter/gatherer encountering the "civilized" world for the first time) are not as dreadful as you paint them. For example, Darwin explains in one his travel books how quickly the "savage" from some islands adapt to the modern life (of his time).

Some parts of our world is definitely scary for them, but even with such gap, not as much as it feels from your article. And it feels quite... barren to me to speak about "how scary the present would be for people from the past" without looking at situations which do exist and are very similar (isolated culture "stuck in the past" who encounter the "modern world").

Anyone with more anthropological background than myself could validate or invalidate this idea, or point me to a study on that topic ?

Socialists do believe in fun. So long as it is organised by Billy Bragg.

"Remember—boredom is the enemy, not some abstract 'failure.'"

Boredom is the mind-killer. Boredom is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my boredom. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the boredom has gone there will be... all kinds of interesting shit, actually. Which I might never have noticed... had boredom not driven me to look.

Getting rid of textbooks, for example—postulating that talking about science in public is socially unacceptable, for the same reason that you don't tell someone aiming to see a movie whether the hero dies at the end. A world that had rejected my beloved concept of science as the public knowledge of humankind.

That's a pretty good chunk of the premise of Anathem, tho the people in that universe didn't do it for Fun exactly.


In the end, all that matters is choice. If you can always choose a safe and comforting option, nothing is scary (as long as you don’t have the itching sense of justice that makes you meddle in strangers’ business). If you can’t, it’s an authoritarian dystopia no matter how good it is on other accounts.