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comment by Auricoma · 2017-11-09T09:58:33.539Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that the process can be accelerated by simply adding more alchemists, so that even as the useful amount of research from each of them decreases, the overall amount of research produced can be kept constant or increased.

Of course, "simply" adding more alchemists might not be so simple after all, being a matter of availiable resources. But perhaps the strategy of the alchemist's guild should have been to build an enormous and robust financial structure that would allow them to hire and support a huge amount of researchers later on, instead of hanging by a thread where even a slight interruption by the king could set them back centuries?

comment by Screwtape · 2017-11-09T14:20:12.609Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you had arbitrary amounts of resources, then having more alchemists studying and researching in parallel would be an unalloyed good. That said, the situation as described reminds me a little of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation; you don't just need fuel to life the rocket, you need fuel to lift all the fuel you want to burn later as well. From the sound of things, they did build an impressive financial structure- large enough to be insulated from at least two civilizational collapses, large enough to have people who can waste time like the Alchemist we're talking to. Still, how many people are surrounding each alchemist, like the fuel being burned to carry fuel?

There is no doubt more than one teacher per student, almost certainly scribes and cooks and so forth for the organization, and hopefully physical trainers and doctors to prolong the life of each student as much as possible. There's a harsh tradeoff between time spent doing jumping jacks to stay in good health vs time spent learning more alchemy. There's probably a harder tradeoff yet on how young you can start teaching an alchemist. The teachers of teachers have most likely made close study of how much time spent in unfocused play recuperates focus for alchemy, and at what rates. Student choice is based on luck as much as rigorous selection, hoping for the prodigy or genius who can think of something others wouldn't or who can intuitively grasp something and shave days or months or years off your schedule, or have the pedagogical skill to reorganize the schedule when a student does that.

The unstated horror to me is, what if the achievement you wish to accomplish is in fact out of your utmost reach by less than a decade, even after a perfect run of learning? Shiver.

In unrelated topics, anyone else ever play Ars Magica? Man that was a good game.