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:
- Vibratory Telepathy. By transmitting invisible vibrations through the very air itself, two users of this ability can share thoughts. As a result, Vibratory Telepaths can form emotional bonds much deeper than those possible to other primates.
- Psychometric Tracery. By tracing small fine lines on a surface, the Psychometric Tracer can leave impressions of emotions, history, knowledge, even the structure of other spells. This is a higher level than Vibratory Telepathy as a Psychometric Tracer can share the thoughts of long-dead Tracers who lived thousands of years earlier. By reading one Tracery and inscribing another simultaneously, Tracers can duplicate Tracings; and these replicated Tracings can even contain the detailed pattern of other spells and magics. Thus, the Tracers wield almost unimaginable power as magicians; but Tracers can get in trouble trying to use complicated Traceries that they could not have Traced themselves.
- Multidimensional Kinesis. With simple, almost unthinking acts of will, the Kinetics can cause extraordinarily complex forces to flow through small tentacles and into any physical object within touching range—not just pushes, but combinations of pushes at many points that can effectively apply torques and twists. The Kinetic ability is far subtler than it first appears: they use it not only to wield existing objects with martial precision, but also to apply forces that sculpt objects into forms more suitable for Kinetic wielding. They even create tools that extend the power of their Kinesis and enable them to sculpt ever-finer and ever-more-complicated tools, a positive feedback loop fully as impressive as it sounds.
- The Eye. The user of this ability can perceive infinitesimal traveling twists in the Force that binds matter—tiny vibrations, akin to the life-giving power of the Sun that falls on leaves, but far more subtle. A bearer of the Eye can sense objects far beyond the range of touch using the tiny disturbances they make in the Force. Mountains many days travel away can be known to them as if within arm's reach. According to the bearers of the Eye, when night falls and sunlight fails, they can sense huge fusion fires burning at unthinkable distances—though no one else has any way of verifying this. Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.
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.
Awesome post, but somebody should do the pessimist version, rewriting various normal facets of the human condition as horrifying angsty undead curses.
The curse of visible intent. Those afflicted by this find their innermost secrets such as fear, surprise, eagerness, alarm, desire, all show up in consistent facial muscle changes for all the world to read, a betrayal by their own flesh.
St Addahad's Symptoms. A small group of symptoms including fleshy growths, nerve clusters and neural pathways which result in a near permanent state of distraction as patterns of air pressure change are translated into thoughts and inserted into the mind with disruptively high priority. "Sounds" from all around, indoors and out, near and far, from nearby footsteps to distant thunderstorms or even one's own bodily functions all combine to make a state of prolonged focus nearly impossible to achieve, though this ability can be regained somewhat with practise.
As with many curses, St Addahad's sufferers describe benefits as well, such as being able to know things are happening without needing to see them, and to know which direction they are happening in, and some even report being able to balance without handholds. These trivial sounding benefits appear so addictive that most refuse to be treated. Efforts are underway to cause the onset o
Very clever (and upvoted), but ...
Probably not the best metaphor to use there ;-)
Thermodynamic Jurisdiction: This curse causes its victims to become addicted to the inert corpses of dead plants and animals. They are forced to consume them near-constantly, and are unable to go without them for a single day before experiencing withdrawal symptoms. So dependent are they upon these unholy carcasses that a regime of 3 daily dosages is considered normal among sufferers.
This habit is incredibly expensive in the long run; many poor souls, needing a steady supply of this so called "foodstuff" to deal with their affliction, have been led to sell themselves into virtual slavery as a means of procuring it. Such a practice is sometimes referred by the euphemism of "earning the daily bread".
Cyclical Unconsciousness: Beings affected by this curse are said to fall comatose on a regular basis, a condition that last for several hours. While in this state they are not only defenseless, but also emit a loud, rhythmical noise that gives away their location to their enemies and is unpleasant to their allies. They are furthermore often tormented by horrifying visions; hallucinations of such vividity that they leave their unconscious state panting and screaming in ... (read more)
I think we need to do something about this [deleted] business, or eventually LW will be half-filled with comments and posts written by deleted accounts, plus discussion about who wrote them.
On the other hand there seems to be a certain benefit in allowing a user who no longer endorses their contributions here to disaffiliate with their historic words. While as a matter of course it is wise to assume that what you say on the internet is hard to escape from people do tend to mature over time and also find themselves in new situations where reputation may be more important to them than it once was. Leaving the comments there by default but removing the identity information is something of a compromise.
I don't want to be the one responsible (in the sense of endorsing a general policy) for leaving a person forever vulnerable to sabotage by rivals if that person becomes sufficiently socially relevant to have rivals that would do such background research and find ammunition in a misspent lesswrongian youth. (Maybe it's unlikely that anything extreme like this would happen but the principle so illustrated by the extreme is significant to me.)
Wow. That's the closest I've ever seen you come to swearing in this forum.
Sufferers do things despite thinking they're bad decisions. They tend to be things that bring small amounts of happiness in the short term, but other times they seem to do nothing more than alleviate boredom. Some examples are simple games, and classifying literary devices. It's not uncommon for the victims to spend most of their lives on unproductive things.
Antipleasure is a rare disease in which a victim's happiness is so low that they would prefer the events not have happened in the first place. Not simply that it's replaced with an average event, but removed altogether. It can be short but powerful, commonly triggered by physical damage, long and weak, generally triggered by psychological issues, or in rare cases, long and powerful, triggered by such things as kidney stones and jellyfish venom. In extreme cases, sufferers have been known to take their own lives.
This affliction causes the victims to atrophy. The damage gets more extreme, eventually leading to death. No victim has ever survived longer than 122 years.
People afflicted with this syndrome can generally heal from small wounds, but large enough wounds, along with several other possibilities, lead to them degrading into inert matter. The victims go to great lengths to postpone this unimaginably horrific fate, but it's believed to be impossible to prevent completely.
The Curse of Downregulation: Sufferers of this can never live "happily ever after", for anything that gives them joy, done often enough, will become mundane and boring. Someone who is afflicted could have the great luck to earn a million a day, and after a year they will be filled with despair and envy at their neighbor who is making two million, no happier than they would be in poverty.
Carrier's system still seems to create a circular situation where the smaller parts we reduce larger things into continue, in a sense, to be mental constructions. Electrons behave in ways Einstein called "spooky", and it takes very sophisticated systems to describe them, and then, the descriptions are probabilistic. The important thing is that we're still observing something, whereas the supernatural is basically a collection of spectacular reports that cannot be verified. How much greater would it be to have a third eye to read people's thoughts... (read more)
The Real Ultimate Power: Reproduction.
Two compatible users of this ability can create new life forms which possess many of the traits of the two users. And many of these new life forms will themselves be able to reproduce, leading to a potential exponential spreading of the users' traits. Through reproduction users can obtain a kind of immortality.
An unusual case of this power allows one person with access to enormous computing power to form it into a person. This results in a very alien entity, which may have its own powers. It's resulting moral system can't be predicted, but it can be controlled to some extent. This power takes decades to activate, almost inevitably leads to failure, and has the potential to fail catastrophically, but it also can succeed amazingly, and is considered worth the risk.
Sister abilities which allow one to tap into the power of trans-temporal retention.
Also, I'd say the "Ultimate Power" is more a class of powers than a particular power in and of itself.
As to "the power that cannot be removed without removing you"... I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. You think psychological consciousness is necessary for intelligence?
Actually, the Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception are pretty underwhelming. You can tell how far away things are with one eye most of the time. The difference is big enough to give a significant advantage, but nothing near superpower level. My own depth perception is crap (better than one eye though), and I don't often bump into walls.
But the whole post got started with the phrase "Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception"!
Pete, I mean simply that human intelligence is not peripheral to our personal identities in the same way as our clothing, limbs, face, etc.
James D. Miller, you forgot to include the link.
Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.
How many wielders of the Ultimate Power have been killed by humble microbes?
How many more microbes have been killed by the power wielders?
I can't believe I just saw a Type-Moon reference on Overcoming Bias. Impressive.
schiavo joke is hilarious. i wish everyone would find it hilarious
Aaron: Would you really be bored by it, if you knew there was some bizarre quantum explanation?
If you think of the explanation as "bizarre", then it's still magic to you and hasn't really been explained.
Anon of /jp/: thanks for pinpointing the Tsukihime reference for me. I was racking my brain - I was in that incredibly annoying state where I knew that I knew the reference, but I couldn't quite recall it ('Was it a Death Note reference? But that's not right!').
Perceptual psychologists have found that binocular vision has mostly second- and third-order effects. For example, it's necessary (but, as my own sad experience attests, not sufficient) for finding hidden pictures in magic eye images.
We get most of our ability to reconstruct 3D scenes from perceptual cues like relative motion and texture gradients. This takes enough mathematical mojo -- real-time 2D Fourier analysis for the latter, mapping between projective 2-space and euclidean 3-space for the former -- that they probably belong on The List in their own right...
Oh, it wasn't the first Type-Moon reference I've made (this month).
It's amusing to compare modern technology to the stated capabilities of the gods in various mythologies and religions...
Eliezer, exactly how many decibels of evidence would it require to persuade you that there is magic in the universe?
For example, see this claim of magic: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2006/12/08/2061206.htm
How many times would a coin have to come up heads (if there were some way for it to test this) before there would be a chance you wouldn't defy the data in a case like this? If you saw 20 heads in a row, would you expect more of them? Or 40?
I've seen heads come up about ten times in a row... with a fair coin and with full confidence that it'd continue to come up heads for as long as the coin-tosser wanted it to.
He'd learned how to time the number of flips in the air and catch it at just the right time.
Therefore, seeing heads come up any number of times would be absolutely zero evidence of magic for me - though it would count for loud decibels of "coolness factor".
Almost nothing gives "absolutely zero evidence" and indefinite feats of extreme dexterity definitely aren't exceptions.
Evidence smaller than a human brain can process - where counting it as evidence would cause a brain to overestimate the evidence's value - seems like it would be a case where it's practical to consider it absolutely zero evidence.
Yes, I agree with this. I'd count it as "so negligible as to be beneath bothering to waste a neuron on it" :)
The evidence here isn't actually negligible, I don't think. It's just that the posterior probability is negligible.
Once you have redefined "absolutely zero evidence" to mean "too small for it to be worthwhile for humans to consider it" precisely what language can you use to describe things that, you know, aren't evidence?
No, throwing in "absolutely zero" here changes it from "not technically true" to simply muddled thinking about how evidence works.
Incidentally even for human purposes this counts as evidence. Not sufficient evidence to even consider the magic hypothesis outright. But if a consistent trend occurs with respect to coin tossing then that hypothesis must eventually be considered. For example if anyone who says 'abracadabra' is suddenly able to rig coin tosses reliably even if they could barely even toss a coin at all before then that is clear evidence that something weird is going on. If you investigate the phenonemon 10,000 times with randomly selected 7 year olds (or even adults) and it happens each time then is strong evidence that something that can be described as magic is occurring. And every single instance is obviously weak evidence. "Absolute zero" is just way off.
If newspeak increases my utility in dealing with certain agents, I desire to speak in newspeak to them. If newspeak decreases my utility in dealing with certain agents, I desire to speak normally to them. Let me not become attached to the perception of newspeak as intrinsically evil.
Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.
How about the miraculous ability to synthesise or isolate compounds of chemicals from the world that recreate sensations, or even push perception beyond the sensations for which it was designed? I'm always pretty impressed by that one.
Magic is supposedly intentional - it would require someone who could consistently make something happen against the expected likelihood. Before I'd bother even considering it.
'All other lifeforms' except some nasty little ones that impair us.
The rebels' time is almost done. Soon we will crush them utterly.
Devour Soul (level 6) This spell enables the Mage to extract Energy from the Bodies of Plants and Animals, merely by placing various Parts of them inside the mage's own Body. More advanced Mages can derive not only Energy, but physical Pleasure, from enhancing this spell with dark and eldritch lore found in Books of magical recipes, exotic Potions and the judicious use of Fire.
"Posted by: Anon of /jp/"? I've been lurking on 4chan and OB for a long time, and I never expected them to come into contact...
I've heard there are vast shelters overflowing with fruits, nuts, and meats and giant baskets so large that the ones who created them placed them on wheels... and a tiny but infinitely powerful Master Scroll that allows those who possess it to take whatever they please.
Oh, and don't forget the Mystical Intertubes of Communication, which allow any person with access to the Tubes to 'post' their opinions for others to peruse. Even better, other Intertube users can append inanities to any of these essays with the minimum of thought and effort!
On the subject of magic, well, just a reminder that we can also get stuff that really does "smell like magic" out of basic physics. Consider this toy.
If you really want something that at least "looks like" magic and isn't "just a trick", well, physics does have some things up its sleeves. Heck, even on the level of basic Newtonian stuff, gyroscopic motion can seem kinda magical. It's there to be had, folks.
We are not doing very well so far. We can't even seem to keep the blighters out of our tiny, digital, deterministic and engineered computer systems yet.
For Feynman on the eye, see 34:40 in this video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3164300309410618119
Bloody brilliant! Wish I'd come across this before. My favourite thing is to take the mundane and beat people across the head with it until it looks amazing, but this is done at a ninja level.
With a device that can fit in your pocket, you can split the universe into 2^4000000 nearly-identical but divergent copies in one second.
As I rely quite thoroughly on God, I suspect I might fall outside your definition of rationalist. But.
You deserve a huge round of applause for pointing out so eloquently just how amazing so-called "ordinary" life is.
Let me add
Resist Parasitism: The power holder is almost completely encased in a self-regenerating barrier which blocks entrance to small parasitic lifeforms. In addition, his or her flesh and blood are filled with invisible essences which are fatal to most external lifeforms which attempt to steal his or her life energy. This allows the holder to survive even in environments completely infested with parasitic attackers.
Regeneration: The user of this power can gradually restore their physical body to full health following most illnesses and injuries short of death. Though material components may be used to hasten the process, regeneration can proceed without them and without any conscious effort whatsoever. The power may be used an unlimited number of times and may apply to multiple injuries at once.
Share Blood: The wielder of this power may speed another's Regeneration (see above) by contributing a portion of his or her life force. The contribution does not significantly affect the giver's health, although he or she is advised to drink extra liquids and avoid heavy lifting for the subsequent four hours. By custom, a wielder of the power is awarded cookies immediately afterward.
There is a small genre of sci-fi short stories in which humans turn out to be the scariest species in the galaxy due to our possession of apparently mundane abilities. For example:
Human muscles have the terrifying ability to become increasingly more massive and powerful when placed under a routine of extreme stress. Many humans systematically overload their muscles in this way. For fun.
Humans breathe oxygen, a component of starship fuel!
The brain of a human is protected by an armored skull so powerful that a human fighter is impervious to any simple attack to the brain and can even use its braincase as a weapon to bludgeon enemies.
Humans naturally produce dangerous hormones and stimulants such as epinephrine. In desperate situations these boost a human's abilities, allowing it to continue functioning even when severely wounded.
The concept is popular on 4chan's /tg/ board where they're called "humanity" stories or "humanity, fuck yeah" stories. Here's one archive of such threads:
I like the "Humans are insane" series of threads.
Apparently, many humans have a superpower whereby they can force themselves to do things they do not already feel pull-motivated to do, as though lifting themselves by their own bootstraps. I'm very jealous of this power and also very frustrated that most people who do have it are also unfamiliar with the typical mind fallacy and are confused about free will and think they understand their power but can only "explain" it in terms that sound to me like childish platitudes by now and certainly don't have any technical content, so of course they usually don't believe me or don't understand when I say that I cannot even imagine what the fuck that ability would feel like. (Actually, worse, usually they think they understand and believe me but they clearly don't, because the next minute they're right back to the childish platitudes and the free will confusion and the acting like sentences like "Put one foot in front of the other" are somehow magically supposed to move me.) Urgh.
Can I write this into a novel? I'd very much like to write this into a novel
Hey now. Ordinary induction only implies that you can write an arbitrarily long novel of finite length. You need transfinite induction to get to infinite lengths.
A post written by someone who did not have binocular vision, and then developed it in limited circumstances:
I am stereoblind, but the 3DS lets me see the world as others see it
"I had never known it was possible for reality to look this way—for things to look as solid as they feel."
I lack stereopsis due to strabismus and still I can drive a car just fine.