Rationalist fiction brainstorming funtimes

post by Manfred · 2013-03-09T13:53:52.270Z · score: 7 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 68 comments

The title should make things clear enough, so let's start with my description of the target, rationalist fiction: fiction that tries to teach the audience rationalist cognitive skills by having characters model those skills for the reader.

So for example, Luminosity is to a large extent about the questions "What do I want?, What do I have?, and How can I best use the latter to get the former?"  Oh, and using empiricism on magic.

Another example is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which goes more in-depth about the laundry list of human biases. In fact, many of the more iconic moments (measured by what I remember and what other people like to copy) are about biases to avoid, rather than about modeling good behavior.


This thread is about ideas, from general to specific, for rationalist fiction. I'll give some obvious examples.

General idea: having a rational character encountering magic or amazing technology is a great chance to showcase the power of empiricism.  (Has anyone gotten on this one yet? :3 )

Story idea: Okay, so we take the Dresden Files universe, and our rational protagonist is some smart kid who just started a summer job as an assistant radio technician or something. It turns out he's got one in a hundred magical talent, enough to cut off his budding career, he manages to find the magic community, figures out just enough, embarks on heroic quest to run a magitech radio station. (Okay, this last bit isn't obvious - for one, more character development would probably have him wanting something else.  For another, the obvious thing is to take over the world if Luminosity and HPMOR are anything to go by.)

Specific idea: A character could model the skill of testing stuff by testing stuff.  When characters are performing a big search, have someone actually stop to think about false positives, or more generally "how could things be going wrong, and how can I prevent that?", and have it actually be a false positive once.


But really, there's an explosion of possibilities out there to explore, and I feel like we have "Rationalist meets magic. Rationalist does science to magic.  Rationalist kicks butt with magic" fairly well-covered.  We have all these different biases categorized, with corresponding right ways to do things, and there are plenty of good behaviors we can try to teach an audience without the empiricism-fodder and high stakes that is a fantasy setting. Or even if you do a Dresden Files fic, you could ignore the empricism stuff and just, like, pick a habit from Anna's checklist and write a short story :D. Here's an idea I quite fancy, I'll save everything else for comments:

General idea: Giving people the benefit of the doubt and managing to lose arguments when they need to be lost is the closest thing to a rationalist superpower I have. Can I work that into a story somehow?

Story ideas: A James Herriot sort of thing, where the protagonist has their daily life (Maybe veterinarian, or materials scientist, or line cook, or model rocket hobbyist), and relatably goes about it, occasionally giving people the benefit of the doubt and losing arguments, and sometimes using other rationalist skills, and usually ending up on the right side of things in the end. At this point it might be too subtle to actually teach the audience, one solution to this would be a designated person in-story to periodically notice how awesome the protagonist is.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-09T17:19:31.540Z · score: 10 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you guys need an outlet for your need for the mysterious when cold hard rational thought gets too much, or something? Anyway, rationalist fiction does not have to be a rationalist fantasy or a rationalist science fiction. No magic, no vampires, no space aliens, no friendly pink immortal horses, imagine that.

Plenty of fan fiction possibilities, too. 50 shades of rationality, fighting pride and prejudice, crime and punishment: tales of a buggy mind, war and peace: System 1 vs System 2...

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-09T20:27:00.229Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you guys need an outlet for your need for the mysterious when cold hard rational thought gets too much, or something?

For many of us, I don't think rational thought feels cold and hard at all. To me, the appeal of fantasy isn't that it conveys a sense of the mysterious (it usually doesn't,) but that if it's done well, it provides both novelty and an effective way to create narratives which are high-stakes in a way that it's hard to pull off in realistic fiction without coming off as implausible.

Of course, as you consume more works, it becomes harder to find novelty, so I don't read nearly as much fantasy these days as I used to.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-03-09T21:11:32.598Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, as you consume more works, it becomes harder to find novelty, so I don't read nearly as much fantasy these days as I used to.

I'm probably more familiar with contemporary fantasy than any other genre, but recently I've largely stopped reading it in favor of historical genre works and Earthfic. I don't think a lack of novelty is why I've been slowing down, though.

Rather, fantasy -- along with several related subgenres not usually categorized as such -- is tied to its internal ethics in a way that most other fiction is not, and the more I learn and think about the way those ethics are built up, the less comfortable I am with them. It's not so bad while I'm actually reading -- it's easy to submerge yourself in the consequential universe of a work, unless you're actively trying not to. But once I've come up from that and started working out the implications, there's usually some quite unpleasant cognitive dissonance for me to deal with, unless the author's good enough to have worked some of this out in the text (rare) or is deliberately subverting genre expectations (common, but lazier).

I think this is a serious obstacle to writing rational fantasy that's recognizable as such. MoR seems to a large extent to have been written around the problem, which is one of the reasons it works, but I wouldn't be interested in retreading that ground exactly.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-10T02:31:17.572Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I'd agree with this as a generalization. Tolkienesque fantasy is a pretty large subgenre, but outside of it I don't think fantasy is all that ethically unified.

Even within the set of stories that invoke The Chosen One as a device, the implications can vary quite a lot. Where on the one hand you have stories like the series set in the Tortall universe, which feature classic Chosen By The Gods characters who're destined for greatness, you can also get works like the Keys to the Kingdom series, which features a Chosen One who is very explicitly chosen simply because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The central moral conflict isn't the righteous elect versus the depraved reprobates, but adaptiveness and consideration versus a mechanical and inconsiderate bureaucracy (embodied in a population of beings of astronomical age which are nigh incapable of adapting their intellects to tasks beyond the narrow scope for which they were created.)

comment by Nornagest · 2013-03-10T04:14:51.481Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, the direct implications do vary quite a bit. But modern fantasy is so dominated by a particular cluster of conventions -- Tolkein's too narrow, but you wouldn't be too far wrong if you called it the set of plots encompassed by Tolkein, Lewis, Perrault, and the Arthurian folktales -- that even when it doesn't crib from their ethics, it's still about their ethics.

Recently, for example, I read Glen Cook's Black Company books, one of the first settings to use people from the "evil" side of a Tolkeinesque grand conflict as viewpoint characters. The ethics explicitly endorsed by their characters are utterly pragmatic; those suggested by the plot are a bit more idealistic, but still well short of Tolkein's. Yet without Tolkein's ethics in the background, that part of the story wouldn't work; they're simply being used as the negative space in the illustration rather than the positive. That limits things considerably.

comment by taelor · 2013-03-09T21:23:06.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rather, fantasy -- along with several related subgenres not usually categorized as such -- is tied to its internal ethics in a way that most other fiction is not, and the more I learn and think about the way those ethics are built up, the less comfortable I am with them. It's not so bad while I'm actually reading -- it's easy to submerge yourself in the consequential universe of a work, unless you're actively trying not to. But once I've come up from that and started working out the implications, there's usually some quite unpleasant cognitive dissonance for me to deal with, unless the author's good enough to have worked some of this out in the text (rare) or is deliberately subverting genre expectations (common, but lazier).

Care to elaborate on that?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-03-09T22:02:05.441Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, working this out properly would probably take a top-level post.

To oversimplify, though, most of the common fantasy plot devices are, or at some point were, intended to be understood not only as entertainment but as statements about ethics: you can't make your protagonist a Chosen One, for example, without implying that there's someone or something doing the choosing, and that this is in some sense how things are supposed to work. Because of the history of the genre or plot needs or romantic attitudes toward fantasy settings, these implications can end up being rather odd.

This isn't a new complaint, of course; every time you hear someone complaining about how (for example) orcs in Lord of the Rings can plausibly be read as stand-ins for Zulu hordes out of the British colonial zeitgeist, you're hearing a variation on it. But readings like that are really the least of my worries. I'm more concerned with what fantasy says about agency: what interests you can ethically pursue, and how and under what circumstances you can ethically pursue them. Suffice it to say that your options within your average fantasy universe are very limited.

It's hard to get away from this problem within the conventions of modern fantasy, although some modern writers have started playing with it in various ways. Older fantasy doesn't always work the same way, though; Fritz Leiber's books, for example, seem to inherit more from picaresque than fairytale conventions.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T21:17:52.608Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Nornagest · 2013-03-09T21:22:01.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's compressed aggressively enough that I'm not sure I'm parsing it right. Would you mind rephrasing in more than 144 characters?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T21:27:54.664Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T20:44:07.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-03-10T09:51:33.311Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

50 shades of rationality, fighting pride and prejudice, crime and punishment: tales of a buggy mind, war and peace: System 1 vs System 2...

Sure, for a real challenge, try rationalist fanfic of Ulysses, Lolita, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Things Fall Apart.

comment by randallsquared · 2013-03-09T18:07:48.641Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

no immortal horses, imagine that.

No ponies or friendship? Hard to imagine, indeed. :|

comment by ITakeBets · 2013-03-31T01:06:23.577Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

fighting pride and prejudice

Jane Austen is kind of already "rationalist fiction".

comment by shminux · 2013-03-31T01:15:19.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feel free to elaborate.

comment by ITakeBets · 2013-03-31T02:04:40.945Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, for starters, Austen was mainly concerned with making good decisions about whom to marry, which for women of her time, place and class was by far the most important thing to worry about ever-- their husbands all but owned them, and divorce was punishable by shunning. If there was an 80,000 Hours for young ladies in Regency England, it would have been called "400,000 hours" or maybe "Literally the Rest of your Life or Until the Bastard Dies," and Jane Austen would have been its founder. People who think Austen wrote romance novels are badly misreading her: in Sense and Sensibility she mercilessly punishes Marianne for following her heart when her heart was stupid, and in Persuasion she vindicates Anne's hard choice to turn down a poor man she loved on the advice of a trusted friend. These books are about winning.

But more than identifying the right problem, Austen actually is quite a keen observer of cognitive biases. She didn't call them that, of course, since they technically hadn't been named yet, but Emma is basically about confirmation bias-- "She had taken up the idea, she supposed, and made every thing bend to it,"-- and the central conflict in Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth's need to change her mind about Darcy at the cost of appearing inconsistent to her friends and family. Austen isn't interested in stupid or wicked characters, but in intelligent, well-meaning people who make bad decisions for predictable, preventable reasons. There are more examples (I seem to recall a nice planning fallacy in S&S) but I don't want to spend too much time digging up quotes right now.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-31T05:33:05.237Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, I never thought of it like this!

Would you write a Sequence for Main on "Jane Austen: Rationalist"? Sure sounds better than "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter". Say, a series of 6 posts analyzing her classic novels the way you did in this comment, in more detail, with quotes, links and references?

I can see a world of good that could do:

  • Show historical context of some of the ideas of instrumental rationality

  • Break the stereotype that the majority of LWers are loser geeks who only read SF/F, and mostly fanfic, to begin with

  • Draw attention of the forum that some classic "earthfic" can be a worthwhile reading

  • Introduce the rationalist ideas to the new and mostly female crowd of Jane Austen afictionados

  • Contrast it with the false rationality of the straw vulcan trope

comment by ITakeBets · 2013-03-31T15:42:20.590Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If anyone else wants me to I'll probably have time to put something together next month (I'd need to reread the books). I'm not sure there's enough material for a whole sequence though. I don't remember Mansfield Park as very promising, and once you've said "generalizing from fictional evidence" you're probably pretty much done with Northanger Abbey.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-31T17:44:25.510Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe a single Discussion post then, on the book of your choice, to gauge interest?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-30T19:52:50.982Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No magic, no vampires, no space aliens, no friendly pink immortal horses, imagine that

Sounds dull.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-31T00:53:46.374Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought so, too, when I was 15.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-31T01:21:55.736Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having trouble parsing your comment. Do you actually think this sort of preference changes with age?

comment by shminux · 2013-03-31T05:46:34.173Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I certainly hope so. At least mine did. At 15 I was mostly interested in hard scifi. If it had spaceships and time-travel, I was sold. Maybe an occasional WWII novel. Though I recall liking short humorous stories, not overtaxing my attention span. I did not like fantasy at all. Tolkien did nothing for me. These days I'm very choosy about hard scifi (maybe because of the slow and painful deterioration of the Honor Harrington series), I no longer read war sagas, I actually like fantasy (that started with The Song of Ice and Fire), and I sometimes enjoy the girly touchy-feely fiction.

I assume that as people grow up and mature, their reading preferences follow suit. If you enjoy the exact same stuff at 30 as you did at 15, you ought to have a good look at your social and emotional development issues.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-04T17:22:44.162Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, perhaps I should rephrase that: do you actually think people's preferences change away from speculative fiction with age?

You mention liking fantasy now, and disliking it when you were fifteen; since magic, vampires, and friendly pink immortal horses (but not space aliens) are solidly in the fantasy department, aren't you a counterexample to your own claim? Or have I completely misparsed your comments?

comment by shminux · 2013-04-04T17:31:05.843Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

do you actually think people's preferences change away from speculative fiction with age

I imagine that it depends on the person in question and can go either way. Clearly many people who like fairy tales as children do not enjoy them as much as adults. Some of them may switch to a more adult-oriented speculative fiction, while others stick with "earthfic".

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-04T22:48:31.498Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I get you.

comment by latanius · 2013-03-10T02:38:17.984Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good idea... especially given that the fact that the readers usually aren't an immortal vampire / pony / wizard makes it relatively complicated to emulate the protagonists.

Not to speak of the fact that much of the fictional rationalist awesomeness comes from applying existing stuff (common sense / science) in a setting where it's not expected to be applied. (See Harry's Gringotts money pump or Missy's sciencey superpowers). It's hard to extrapolate that to our world...

Counterexample: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother & Homeland. Although not really rationalist, they are full of things you can actually do in the real world (from programming and plausible deniability crypto to Burning Man).

Or Bella's notebooks. (anyone else here who actually started text files with "what do I want" and having felt at least marginally more awesome as a consequence?)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-03-09T18:17:46.154Z · score: 0 (28 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't read Earthfic, it's a literary wasteland.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:05:53.010Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-10T05:52:08.525Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What would make it less of one?


comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-03-10T01:13:03.263Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would rather claim that contemporary Earthfic is a literary wasteland. Even shminux seems to implicitly agree, notice that the only one of his examples from the last 100 years started out as fanfiction to a fantasy novel.

This is not due to any inherent limitations of Earthfic but due to certain political/cultural trends (the same ones responsible for the ugliness of modern art) over the past century.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-03-10T09:43:42.574Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was at a science fiction convention today where the following exchange (paraphrased) took place:

"In the future, as humanity expands out into the stars, there will be all these different areas and domains with different social norms, so when a person goes from one to another they will have to learn what is allowed there."

"... you know, we have that now, it's called nations."

Sometimes fans forget just how much alienness there is to be had on Earth.

(And in any event, Sturgeon's Law can be expected to apply to earthfic just as much as to sf.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-10T06:20:25.926Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by shminux · 2013-03-09T18:54:18.991Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't know that Earthfic was a thing. Apparently neither does Google, since the top hit is to the Alicorn's story of the same name. The top hit for "earth fic" is not very helpful, either.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:10:40.700Z · score: 8 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He's casting aspersions on all literature that is not to his taste. "Earthfic" as a derogatory term for non-SF/F stuff.

comment by Furcas · 2013-03-09T22:37:54.361Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not any more derogatory than 'fanfic'. Which is to say, it's a bit derogatory if you think it's lazy of the author not to have bothered to create his own universe to write a story in.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:13:32.025Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:32:47.532Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hell, it's not even just non-nerdish fiction. This "cluster of brains" has a pretty narrow definition of "nerdish fiction" as well.

The thin slice of nerd culture that's actually observed and celebrated here has some serious issues with subtlety, context and communication not on their terms. It's funny; there are lots of nerd-friendly, genre-obsessed literary circles but I never see mystery or horror fans give themselves these sorts of airs, except for that thin slice for whom only Lovecraft and perhaps his closest contemporaries are of any interest in an otherwise SF/F-dominated palate.

(And it's not like the author of that piece is a genre/fandom outsider confident in her own superiority over the anoraks -- look at the descriptions of some of her books; those premises are inherently fantastical, with as much weird interesting fanciful shit as anything popular here, and they're explored in detail with lots of layers of both direct and subtle exploration -- and she can actually fucking write.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:37:35.829Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T20:02:50.777Z · score: 1 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't worry, I'm sure someone will be along to chastise us about opportunity cost, or other wordy rationalizations for why they don't care which basically boil down to "I d'wanna."

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-10T23:15:42.866Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm only going to point out that you really managed to put on some airs while criticizing others for putting on airs.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-03-10T01:25:23.065Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's obviously Alicorn's term in that very story that Eliezer is referring to...

comment by ikrase · 2013-03-11T10:42:32.664Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are some ideas:

  • Rather than 'Rationalist discovers magic', how about 'Rationalist discovers science'? It could be fantasy where a rationalist from a society that never really developed science and engineering and tech as we think of it is introduced to our world, or it could be a college undergraduate wacky hijinks story about somebody trained in rationalism applies it to science once they start learning actual, useful scientific facts.

  • Alternatively, (this will require great people skills), how about a story of a social rationalist who either thrives in or tames an environment full of intrigue and status games?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-11T22:55:38.418Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T19:03:37.783Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by 9eB1 · 2013-03-12T16:15:01.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It should be said that I would prefer to steer clear of genre whenever possible. Storyspace is vast, and genre -- especially nerdish genres -- is a miniscule part of it.

This statement initially confused me. I had always thought of genres like a classification system that everything should fit into. For example, when you go into a music store, you can select from genres such as R&B, Hip Hop, Pop, World Music, etc. But apparently, according to Wikipedia, "Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued." This definition leaves open the possibility for art that doesn't fit into any genre, obviously.

All of the television shows and movies I can think of seem like they belong to some genre. I can imagine a show which is so defiant of any convention that it truly defies classification, but I can't really think of any examples. Is this because of the economic realities of producing television and movies, or am I just insufficiently creative?

I understand (or believe) that you were probably using genre as shorthand for "not sci-fi, fantasy, romance, etc." as it's used at this page, I just found the statement to be curious.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-12T20:19:25.090Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-09T20:19:37.344Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One theme that I favor, although it would alienate a lot of audiences, is the virtue of shutting up and multiplying. I like the idea of a character whose moral strength is characterized by their ability to consistently be pragmatic to the point of ruthlessness (tvtropes link) without compromising their commitment to doing what's right.

comment by Manfred · 2013-03-10T19:09:53.637Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would this be a superhero story (or effectively so, with a protagonist who wants to help everybody)? A rational character in a superhero story seems quite hard, since normal superheroes are barred form doing anything either too boring or too disruptive. You can build a super-jetpack and use it to fight crime, but you can't sell it on the mass market, revolutionize travel, and donate the proceeds to charity.

One other way is a more small-scale story, like some sort of suspense setting. Protagonist is a financial regulator or surgeon or something, and has to resolve some situation that is smaller than world hunger. Heck, this probably wouldn't even be a break from genre if it was done with a hard-boiled cop.

Another way is to make the "superhero" start with only a small advantage, and have other people with bigger advantages competing with/against. Sort of like Batman racing Superman to end world hunger.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-10T19:44:17.455Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I were writing it, I'd probably invoke a fantasy setting, because that makes it easier to avoid Reed Richards Is Useless (tvtropes.) It's easier to get the audience to buy major changes to the status quo if you don't start with something that's basically an analogue to modern society.

comment by Ahuizotl · 2013-03-11T20:49:44.616Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I recently played Fable 3, I considered playing my character as one who wants to spread their "heroic genes" as much as possible.

The basic story for the game is that long ago a "great hero" became king and brought peace to the kingdom with sword and magic. Generations later, he has two remaining decendents. The king in charge now is basically ruling with an iron fist and working everyone to death in the secret hope of preparing their defenses to repel an ancient evil that will invade the realm in a years time (he doesn't tell the population about this for morale reasons).

His younger sibling (the protagonist) is given a vision by an ambiguously divine oracle who tells them they have to wrest control of the kingdom from their older brother to save it from the coming attack, both because he's mentally traumatized from the knowledge and he can't make the right choices. Younger sibling then starts unlocking their "heroic destiny" which results in (among other things) them getting access to powerful magic in a world where nobody else seems to have any magical ability. Incidentally, the combat system in this game is pretty much broken to nonexistance due to normal melee and ranged attacks being slow, unwieldly, and prone to getting blocked by every other enemy you encounter.

Basically, Heroes in this game seem to consist of a single bloodline whose members can spam area-of-effect attacks at will with no mana cost when everyone else is stuck with weapons that blocked at every turn.

My particular character was of the opinion that the world was in pretty bad shape if she was apparently the only person who could do anything to stop the apocolypse and was rather interested in finding a way to "shut up and multiply" and thereby increase the number of potential AOE spamming heroes in the future. Assuming she can survive the current crisis and save the world so future generations can exist at all.

I guess it would kind of be like living in a world where everyone is a "muggle" and one select bloodline of mages exists. Said bloodline then has to do everything in its power to multiply and form stable populations to fight all the monsters and horrors the setting throws at it. Then maybe fast forward a few generations when there is a stable and decadent elite ruling over the muggles and someone has to rise up against the "AOE spamming oppresors".

I guess its that alot of the "Rational" fics I've seen before have one super brilliant Rationalist come across a civilization of entrenched non-rationalists and beat them all at their own game because they can rapidly exploit all the magical loopholes that nobody else in the setting apparently noticed despite living in it for centuries. Imagine seeing the person who had to build that whole magical civilization and was probably trying to spend their time producing an heir instead of designing the next magical atom-bomb.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-12T21:53:28.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Manfred · 2013-03-12T23:30:49.907Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we require that people actually be interested in this story, I think small scale corresponds to a small thing that a character in the story cares enough about to make the story interesting. Though we also can't forget small "universal" scale - no cheating by choosing things that the character finds boring but audiences find interesting. Winning a single hand of euchre, perhaps.

comment by ikrase · 2013-03-11T10:21:26.159Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another alternative is to give the superhero powers that are not conducive to reproduction, or to somehow limit him from having the gift of greatness.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2013-03-09T19:39:24.874Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

General idea: On the follies of letting guilt motivate you.

Story idea: Once upon a time Kay (future superhero) and Pluto (future villain) were union busters. Together they crippled and broke up almost all the unions in the city, often through illegal and unethical means. One day they realized they do something Truly Horrific, and they realize what monsters they are. They quit busting unions, but the damage is done.

~10 years later, Kay is working as a repossession agent, while Pluto has become a community organizer. Pluto has managed to organize the workers at a factory that once had a union. Pluto convinces the workers to go on strike, and he appoints himself ringleader of the newly established (but not legally recognized) union. The factory owners start sweating, and the call Kay for assistance.

Kay refuses, saying that she still feels guilty for the atrocities she committed as a union buster. So the owners turn to Plan B: importing temporary labor from out of state. While this plan isn’t viable in the long-run, the factory owners figure it will scare their original workers into backing down. When the replacement labor arrives, Pluto panics. He fears that his plan to re-establish a union (and cleanse himself of his union-busting sins) is about to go down the drain. That night, he and a few other armed accomplices storm the motel where the out-of-state laborers are staying, and declares them hostages.

The rest of the story is about Kay trying to free the hostages, and Pluto becoming increasingly corrupted by his desire to undo the horrible things he did in the past. Kay becomes a hero not just for rescuing hostages, but because she can resist the temptation for closure.

comment by Manfred · 2013-03-10T18:23:20.365Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice story :)

The way this plays out feels Joseph Campbell-ey, with Kay even refusing a literal call before the tension ramps up. Which is not bad at all from a literary perspective, but might cause audiences to see things in terms of the structure of the story rather than as a lesson. So hm, what are some ways to vividly show our protagonist doing the best with what they have rather than living in the past, or than selling out / giving up.

Or maybe Kay has given up initially, and then over the course of the story rekindles an explicit desire to do what's right now as a direct response to our villain's self-justifications.

Other rationality skills to possibly include: noticing when you're writing in the bottom line beforehand, making plans more shock-proof and modular than humans naively want to, explicitly stopping and checking the consequences of a difficult choice, noticing when you flinch away from unpleasant thoughts - sometimes that's okay, but sometimes you need to do that thing that's unpleasant to think about.

comment by Pavitra · 2013-03-12T21:33:58.954Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The story is, in large part, about the structure of the story: Pluto's tragic flaw is that he's thinking about his real life in terms of story structure.

comment by NoisyEmpire · 2013-03-13T00:29:55.074Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm kind of thrilled to find this discussion occurring. I've just managed to actually start writing my long-planned, akrasia-blocked series of rationalist adventures for kids (say, smart-7-year-olds through 12-year-olds). It's a fantasy-adventure, a little bit zany, a little bit dark, and will be intended to promote basic virtues like curiosity, empiricism, changing your mind, and admitting when you don't know.

If and when I have drafts of a few stories, would there be interest in me writing a post explaining the project in more depth and requesting criticism/feedback?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-13T01:50:14.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by NoisyEmpire · 2013-03-15T03:50:50.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! At the risk of falling prey to the planning fallacy, I should have some draft-worthy stuff next month.

comment by curiousepic · 2013-03-11T20:13:25.895Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seed: A Game of Theories.
Have at it.

comment by simplicio · 2013-03-11T22:07:49.931Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you play the game of theories, you win one grad student at a time, or you lose one funeral at a time.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-10T11:09:09.729Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Methods is a good start but I think there's value in aiming for a younger demographic. What are preteens reading? (Are they reading?)

comment by Manfred · 2013-03-10T11:36:10.388Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kids are reading the same sort of stuff they were 17 years ago.

comment by gryffinp · 2013-03-11T04:21:24.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...So what were preteens reading 17 years ago?

comment by Manfred · 2013-03-11T05:23:51.499Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll tell you what I was reading that came out 17 years ago. Animorphs. :P

comment by ikrase · 2013-03-11T10:23:22.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Harry Potter books changed the intended audience as time went by - or rather they changed the intended age audience so as to track a single generation.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-13T15:47:35.459Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've come up with a possible concept:

A news report reveals that a being called "Omega" has established a new Casino in the United States to help find his next test subject(s) for a torture simulations. Here's how it works:

The Casino has a large number of Roulette Wheels, and a large amount a standard 2-star hotel amenities, such as Food, Rooms, etc.

Humans can either agree to play as the "Casino", or as the "Player", in a series of Martingale bets. For the purposes of these bets:

Humans must agree to use a Martingale Betting system, but they can stop at any time.

Humans can only play against other Humans. If no Human is willing to act as the "Casino" or the "Player" for you at your betting level, you can't make bets.

Omega is supplying effectively infinite lines of non transferable credit which can be used in the Casino for Martingale Bets, for amenities, and for teleportation directly to the casino.

Omega remembers your betting level as a Player or as a Casino, also. You can't choose make an official Omega infinite credit line bet at a different level, although you may side bet however you want with whoever you want, and you may switch between being a Player or a Casino whenever you want. (Both betting levels are tracked seperately.)

Anyone who attempts to leave the Casino while in debt to Omega, to attack the Casino/it's patrons/steal either of their money for any reason, or to physically block(arguing someone into not going is fine.) people from entering the casino, or to force people to enter the casino, will seamlessly uploaded and be subjected to a torture simulation where they are stuck in a prison with no human contact until they die, then they are revived again, with memories of the previous death, to starve to death again, until Omega determines they have "Gone sufficiently insane." They will then be redownloaded into their body.

From an outside perspective this effect is unnoticeable, the person just goes insane. This has already happened to 10 people: 9 have gone full on catatonic, one of those continuously mumbling "It's not real." The tenth person yelled "I'm not starving again, never again!" and commited suicide by gun.

Hundreds of people have already made millions of dollars in gold coins.

Hundred of other people are trapped inside the Casino with large debts, some of more than 10 million dollars, refusing to leave or play other people (or other people are refusing to play them) and slowly increasing their debt by using amenities. Not all of these people are unhappy. One person outright says "I was starving anyway. It's better than being homeless!"

And more people are currently still deciding every day to visit the casino and try their luck, both as "Casino" and "Player" bettors. (You can teleport in from anywhere on the planet, after all. Some people are paying Omega just for the Novelty of teleporting to Vegas.)

Any time the Casino fills up, Omega takes a minute to add another floor. Omega is currently at a 14 floor casino. Omega has also already promised and shown his ability to change his payment method from Gold coins to another system if Gold Coins stops being convenient. At least one person is already attempting to win enough money to find out what that alternate payment method is.

What do you do?

For instance, people might try to convince two trapped people that if they play for a while, one of them can leave.

Or they might decide to play themselves.

Or they might try to convince people to stop going.

Or they might try to figure out how to make money by exploiting the ability that anyone can make one way teleports to (not from) Vegas at approximately 100 dollars a pop.