Mortal: A Transponyist Fanfiction

post by ModusPonies · 2013-05-01T01:23:36.464Z · score: 14 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 65 comments

I recently published Mortal, a novella-length My Little Pony fanfiction meant to introduce anti-death concepts to an unfamiliar audience. Short description:

Twilight Sparkle's friends have lived long and happy lives. Now their time is coming to an end, but Rainbow Dash, at least, will not go gently. Twilight has the power to save her friend's life. Is it worth violating the natural order?

This is a character-driven melodrama. It's not particularly rationalist, but it's very, very transhumanist. Unlike, say, Friendship is Optimal, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one to people who don't already know the source. It assumes familiarity with the characters and the world.

I am going to talk about how I put together the story and how people reacted to it. This will contain spoilers.

 

 

This line exists so you can break out of the automatic "read everything on the page" mode if you want to avoid the spoilers.

 

 

This story was structured as something of a bait-and-switch. I watched the reaction to a previous transhumanist horsefic (yes, there's more than one), and I was struck by how easily readers matched the explicitly anti-death narrative to the "immortality is a curse" trope. Rather than fight against this trend, I decided to work with it. The first act is meant to look like a story about learning to accept the inevitability of death. Starting in chapter 3, I break further and further away from that mold until the protagonists finally rebel against the status quo.

The first chapters got a lot of people invested who I suspect would've been turned off by a less familiar opening. Once I was into the third act, I stopped being subtle and used every trick in the book to make the pro-death characters look like the unreasonable ones. Judging by the comments, there's no shortage of readers who were angry at having their expectations flouted, but quite a few seem thoughtful, and some explicitly changed their mind on the subject.

65 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-01T07:19:52.220Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A Transponyist Fanfiction

Spring must be in the air. This is the second time in a week I mistook an ambiguous phrase as a reference to offbeat sexual preferences.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-05-01T21:48:11.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, it is indeed the First of May...

comment by iceman · 2013-05-01T06:59:56.770Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given that--outside of this site--I'm used to a majority deathist position, I'm actually surprised at the number of people in the FIMFiction comments that took strong antideathist positions.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-05-02T21:37:42.377Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty sure some of them were from LessWrong. You can check the membership of the "LessWrong" group on fimfiction.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-01T13:45:41.837Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there's some selection effect. We anti-death people seem to care a lot more strongly about our position.

That said, I was also surprised by this, and have updated in the direction that a nontrivial minority of the population is anti-death. The world appears slightly less crazy than I had expected.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-01T06:01:50.597Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like you didn't steelman the deathists' arguments, and you failed to reinforce the 'Equestria is the sum of all equines, and one cannot harm Equestria by helping an equine' theme. That discussion could easily take place between Twilight and Celestia after the former decides to save everypony but before she starts doing so, in a desperate bid to not become estranged.

Luna stepping in with "I will not let you" was a nice addition.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-01T14:01:25.576Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is accurate. I tried to base the story on emotion first and reason second*, since I think most readers' objections to deathism are based on emotion, and because emotional persuasion is the comparative advantage of a story over an essay. I remember someone else was working on a similar fic that's much more strongly based on debate and argument.

I tried to steelman deathism's emotional position. For example, when Syhggreful qvrf, vg ybbxf yvxr snyyvat nfyrrc juvyr fheebhaqrq ol ybivat snzvyl. Guvf vf va funec pbagenfg gb zl bja rkcrevrapr jvgu qrngu. V'ir jngpurq guerr tenaqcneragf qvr, naq abg bar bs gurz xarj zl anzr, ng gur raq.

*Emotion and reason are not opposites, but they are different things. Substitute "system 1" and "system 2" if you like.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T05:28:49.400Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you optimize your emotional arguments for death, or did you simply use the stock emotional basis? Celestia is smart enough to use every dark art known in order to convince others (including afterlife), rather than going straight to aggressive blackmail.

I'm still not sure why the new alicorns put up with Celestia's rules; once she resorted to threats of violence, it seems like it should have been pointed out she would lose a contest of violence.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-02T14:21:38.800Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wanted to make the narrative support deathism to the point where it didn't seem like an obviously false position to the reader. I tried to do this by making the deathist advocates the characters who the fandom associates with reason and wisdom, by making the anti-deathist advocate aggressive and uncompromising, and by emphasizing that most everyone liked the status quo just fine. I stopped doing this sort of thing in the last act. (In hindsight, "steelman" is the wrong term for what I did. Sorry about that.)

I think I was successful at the above. Readers who didn't start as transhumanists were unable to tell what my own position was.

Celestia is smart enough to use every dark art known in order to convince others

Smart enough, but not vicious enough. This characterization of Celestia wouldn't do anything she felt was dishonest. My intent was to show her as a tragic character doing the wrong thing for understandable reasons.

I'm still not sure why the new alicorns put up with Celestia's rules; once she resorted to threats of violence, it seems like it should have been pointed out she would lose a contest of violence.

Partly because they are happy colorful ponies and they prefer not to solve problems through force. Partly because Twilight still craves Celestia's approval.

Thanks for all your feedback; this is a useful conversation. I am strongly considering taking your earlier suggestion and adding the "it's just ponies" theme to the big confrontation with Celestia.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T15:42:41.266Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think Celestia could be not vicious enough to fail to use dark arts of persuasion, but still be vicious enough to threaten a thousand years of solitude.

I agree that violence is not appropriate to the genre, but the threat is also inappropriate. Perhaps explicitly communicating 'we respect you, but we think that you are mistaken on this one issue' would help make Celestia seem like the Bad Guy in the end, for demanding banishment and other unreasonable things of the new alicorns.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-05-02T03:45:50.321Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That spoilered part was pro deathist? I cried for like half an hour after that, and I read all of Background Pony without crying.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-01T06:51:51.318Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How would you have steelmanned the deathist argument here (without altering the technical facts about immortality in the universe)? Some positions are hard to steelman.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T04:55:27.821Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would create an immortal who saw so many of her friends die that she didn't care about anything anymore, or some other specific example of a pony who should not have been made immortal. I would try to make the attempted discussion with the insane alicorn disturbing to the reader. I would also have some mortal ponies explicitly choose death now rather than risk that specific fate in the future.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-02T12:23:19.697Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. I think it's dubious that someone would go insane and not care about anything anymore after watching their friends die. That might or might not be altering the facts of the situation, and therefore providing evidence that isn't part of the deathist position either in real life or in the story.

But witnessing death driving people insane doesn't seem like an argument in favor of death to me.

Ponies knowing about the big rip wouldn't make sense, also I don't think the author intended for it to be a part of the universe. So to the extent that this is supposed to be a fair treatment of a position in universe, it's kind of wrong to bring the big rip into it. To the extent that this is supposed to be a fair treatment of a position in real life, it also doesn't make sense to bring endless torture because of the big rip into it, because in real life there couldn't be any indestructible immortals.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T15:31:32.368Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not necessary that it be likely, only that is has happened once. The argument would be that immortality given to ponies who do not deserve it causes insanity.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-04T00:30:08.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But the reader would think about how likely it was in terms of the availability heuristic. So it would be changing what the reader believed about the facts, not just arguing in a particularly coherent way about the implications of the reader's current beliefs, or about the "facts" in the story, or pointing out implications of those beliefs or facts that they hadn't seen before, which is what I would call steelmanning.

It makes no sense to attribute potential future insanity to potential future insanity, because the choice Twilight is making is essentially "will most people be immortal, or will most people die." People she makes immortal, if she chooses mass-alicornification, should not expect to see a lot of people die.

"Deserve" is a strange word to use. Is "capable of handling it" more what you're thinking? Or are you saying you deserve to die if you can't stand to watch people too many times?

comment by Decius · 2013-05-04T02:50:03.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm saying that I though that Celestia used those concepts in that manner. The counter-argument to 'seeing death won't cause insanity if ponies no longer die' could be 'some will still choose natural life, for whatever reason, and watching it will be enough to drive the weakest alicorn mad'.

I can't convince myself, but I think that the arguments that Celestia presents to her position should believably convince her.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-04T15:32:51.425Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can believe that they would convince her. But steel manning her argument should go no further than having her point out what you just said, and should not include adding unrealistic or unusual evidence to the story.

And that's if it is indeed a strong thing to point out, but even if some ponies will still choose death, alicorns can easily avoid watching them. There's nothing to say an alicorn has to hang out with non-alicorns. (The most deaths an alicorn might see in waiting for their non-alicorn friends and family to die off is probably less than the amount a particularly long-lived human might see, and I've never heard of an centenarian who stopped caring about everything because of witnessing deaths.) If non-alicorns were still choosing death all throughout the future, their deaths could be mere faceless numbers to alicorns that didn't want to think about it. Much like the millions of humans dying today in real life, and the billions who have died throughout history don't emotionally traumatize me.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-04T22:24:18.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I can respond to the biggest reason why I wanted to introduce someone broken by immortality inherently: "There are no such people, because I have carefully avoided creating them. It would be the most irresponsible thing imaginable to cause someone to suffer such a fate!"

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-01T14:07:35.160Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

without altering the technical facts about immortality in the universe

This isn't a restriction on fiction. I chose to make immortality irrevocable and suicide impossible because otherwise the deathists would've been too wrong to make a good story. (Before anyone raises the obvious objection: if immortality is literally permanent, then the second law of thermodynamics is already broken, so the heat death of the universe isn't necessarily inevitable.)

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-01T21:36:02.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know. I wanted to rule out a different set of facts about immortality than there were in the story, because deathism under those conditions would basically be a different position from deathism in the story, or deathism in real life. Changing the subject of the argument to make a side right is not steel manning that side, and it's not required by any reasonable rules of fairness.

Also, does it really matter if the deathists are too wrong in our eyes to make a good story? I would think that they just have to have a reasonable position in they eyes of the audience. By making this something of a genuine conflict from the perspective of LessWrongers, maybe you've made it settled in favor of deathism from the perspective of a large fraction of the readers.

Thermodynamics isn't the obvious objection IMO, it's the big rip. Alicorns may be able to create matter around them, but perhaps they are the only things that can't be torn apart by expanding space. And maybe they can almost be torn apart, but not quite. So an eternity of feeling like you're suffocating, being almost torn apart, and almost frozen, and being alone awaits every alicorn eventually.

Hopefully the physics in this world are sufficiently dissimilar from real life that that won't happen.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-02T14:23:34.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By making this something of a genuine conflict from the perspective of LessWrongers, maybe you've made it settled in favor of deathism from the perspective of a large fraction of the readers.

Entirely possible. I might edit that detail out.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T04:51:32.182Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a question that could be asked in that case: Such a fate awaits the immortals. Should mortals with full knowledge of the consequences (and Yhan'f bcvavba ba jurgure be abg n gubhfnaq lrnef fbyvghqr jnf jbegu vzzbegnyvgl) be allowed to choose immortality?

Given that cost, would you choose immortality?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-02T12:35:18.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No and no. I read it last morning and didn't have time to respond (literally busy all day with last 2 weeks before graduation), and the way I remembered it, I thought it was (if not a hard question), at least the kind of question that tears at your heartstrings to answer, even if you are dead certain your answer is not changing. (Like the "Torture the terrorist's innocent family to stop the ticking bomb in the city" question). Then I came back and read (or re-read) the rot13'd part (I have no idea why it's rot13'd). And was like: this is easy.

The hard-but-not-really-hard question would be: ponies who think they can stand being torn apart, frozen, suffocated, isolated, without food or water in utter darkness forever want to become alicorns. Ponies without Luna's attitude. Let them? My answer would still be no.

The one way I would say yes is if some kind of extreme mind-hacks that alicorns could unlock would let them endure it.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-03T04:39:54.883Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, so infinite suffering is not a fair trade for a finite nonsuffering life; suppose that there was an infinite lifetime either before or mixed with infinite suffering.

Is it permissible to create somebody that has an infinite amount of life that isn't torture if they also must experience an infinite amount of life that is? Is the relative fraction of time and intensity of the periods of torture relevant?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-04T00:32:28.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes and yes.

The idea of infinite lifetime and then you start suffering doesn't make sense. There is no time where infinity is over, so I answered for the "mixed with infinite suffering" alternative.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-04T02:45:39.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given the expansion-> torture effect, can you objectively determine when happy life stops and when endless torture begins, or is it possible that for any time C, there could be an alicorn who is not being tortured?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-04T16:15:53.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You say "objectively," but unless you confirm that's what you meant, I'll assume you meant "with sufficient evidence to justify," because I think the latter is what you meant.

There is some uncertainty as to when happiness would end and pain would begin (we're dealing with a fictional universe with unknown (and probably undecided) physical laws, for Adun's sake), but the wikipedia article on the big rip says that if it is indeed the fate of the universe, space will stretch infinitely much in a finite amount of time. If that's the case, then it ind of makes no sense for an alicorn to survive. It's like an unstoppable force and an immovable object. But if alicorns are alive at the moments leading up to that point, the stretching on them will grow to whatever level it needs to (and quickly) for it to be torturous. And if they are somehow alive after that point (not sure what that would mean even) "The torture gets less then" sounds like the least sensible option.

So maybe you can't say exactly when every alicorn is getting tortured, but given that the big rip happens, every possibility is bad. And even if a few alicorns weren't tortured (while most were), unless back in Equestria billions of years earlier you could foresee which ones they were gonna be and only make those ones immortal, it's better to kill everyone (or everyone except Luna, Celestia, Cadence, and Twilight, who are fortunately all female and perhaps unable to continue ponykind (unless magic works like it does in a certain fanfic I read...)) than to let that happen.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-04T22:20:18.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant objectively, unless you are limiting your response to whether you personally would create alicorns; I asked if it should be permissible for alicorns to be made.

Suppose the physical laws are not well enough determined to be sure if the big rip happens, or if there is promising developments in magic that have some chance of preventing it, or some other reason why it is unsure if the happy fun time will be finite or not. How large a chance of "finite good time followed by eternity of torture" is acceptable, if the remainder of the probability space is "infinite good time"? I think multiplication does no good here.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-06T20:44:19.813Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiplication does plenty of good. Pretend instead of an infinite time it's a finite time, X after everything else. Make the decision you would make in the limit as X -> infinity.

As for tradeoff rates between torture/happiness, it depends to some extent on the individual. There are cases where I would let someone live (because I thought that was the right thing to do, not because of intuitive deontological constraints) who wanted to risk torture, while I myself would commit suicide. I just wouldn't let people risk torture because of time discounting, or because they refused to imagine how bad it would be.

As for my own tradeoff rate, it's not something I can report without deep introspection, Fermi estimates of how bad torture could be and how good "happy fun time" could be, and binary searching with thought experiments to find which I would prefer, which I don't have time for now.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-07T04:02:57.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is epsilon chance of "infinite bad time" and ~100% chance of finite benefit if you make choice A. If you instead make choice B there is 80% of "infinite bad time" and 20% chance of 10x the finite benefits.

Clearly, you should take course B, because it's -infinity +10/5 instead of -infinity +1

EDIT: I was originally referring to multiplying a finite probability by an infinite negative.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-09T09:39:08.352Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If this seems counterintuitive, it's because you can't really just go ahead and imagine something being 10x better. It's not because of the infinities involved. Substitute "infinite" for Graham's number of years and it's basically the same.

I know there are weird paradoxes involving infinite value, but none of them seem to be showing up in this problem, and I've got to decide somehow, so I might as well multiply. It's not like I have a better backup algorithm for when multiplication fails.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-10T03:07:59.722Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can multiply by Graham's number and get a meaningful result. Try finding the expected return of four possible distributions: One in which you have epsilon chance of infinite negative utility and a 1-epsilon chance of doubleplusgood utility, one in which you have 95% chance of -infinity and 5% chance of plusgood, one in which you have epsilon chance of Graham's number negative utility and a 1-epsilon chance of doubleplusgood utility, and one where you have 100% chance of doubleplusungood utility.

Consider the case where epsilon is BB(Graham's number).

The first has an expected utility of -infinity, the second has the same value, but the third has an expected value of roughly doubleplusgood, despite having identical outcomes to the first one.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-05T00:19:54.536Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's more in your post to respond to. I will later. For now I need to get some work done Today.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-04T23:43:28.324Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first time you said "objectively" you asked if I could objectively determine the boundary between happy life and torture, and now in this post you're talking about objective/subjective permissibility.

In the first case, limits on how precisely you can tell the happy life/torture boundary are based on uncertainty about the physical details of the possible future, and vagueness in the definitions of "happy" and "torture." It's not that in asking the question "When is that time?" there is a hidden reference to some feature of an external person (such as their utility function, or their taste in food) So I'm not sure what could be subjective of the first case.

As for whether it's objectively permissible, A: I don't believe in objective morality, because it runs afoul of Occam's razor (It probably takes a lot of bits to specify what deserves to be a potential target of moral concern. A LOT of bits). and B: even if moral realism was correct, I wouldn't give a damn (Felicifia doesn't links to individual comments, so the best I can give is a link to the thread, but see my first comment).

comment by Decius · 2013-05-05T04:00:51.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you can't provide an upper bound of how long each pony will enjoy life before it becomes too entropic, then you can't prove that it will become too entropic to enjoy for every pony in finite time.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-06T20:37:45.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The part where the scale factor gets to infinity is such an upper bound. Also, even if I didn't have an upper bound a probability distribution is all I need to make decisions. You can't always have "proof."

comment by Decius · 2013-05-07T04:05:24.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your probability distribution differs from mine, is it permissible for me to condemn you to death?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-05-09T09:35:39.579Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only if I would choose death given your probability distribution (or the only reason I wouldn't is because of something like time discounting or not really imagining how bad it would be), and your probability distribution is more correct than mine.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-10T02:52:32.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, if you discount time differently from me in a specific manner, it becomes mandatory for me (given the chance) to either condemn you to death or condemn you to eternal torture, and vice versa?

If a very long life followed by eternal torture is good for me but bad for you, I must condemn you to the torture and you must condemn me to death, rather than letting each of us decide for ourselves with full knowledge?

That's exactly the opposite of what should happen; I should provide for you the option that you prefer you to have.

comment by Decius · 2013-05-02T04:57:31.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I only bring up the second law in nonfictional contexts; clearly, the cosmos behaves in the manner that Celestia tells it to, so we shouldn't have to worry about the stars going out.

comment by Nectanebo · 2013-05-03T11:11:47.232Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I started reading and realised I didn't understand a lot of the things that were going on so I went back and finished season 3 which I had stopped following about midway through. I now realise that that probably wasn't necessary, and I could have read it with just the context of knowing that Twilight go turned into an alicorn, since all the other references were mostly events made up by the author or from season 1 and 2.

The comments were predictably deathist when lesswrongers get taken out of the picture, although it does appear that fiction like this works in some direction of changing people's minds. At the same time it gave people an opportunity to restate in public deathist memes as their personal philosophy which might not be so positive, considering that would help to cement it in their minds as part of their identity that they are the kind of person to hold these positions or something like that.

Some factors would have been nice to explore more fully, like the response to Celestia & Co.'s argument, and to allow for some more back and forth. I think it would have been possible to more strongly steelman the deathist arguments. Celestia also comes off as less competent in general than I would have expected of her. The progress of the alicorn community was good to show though, and more of that would have been good also.

I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I wonder why MLP is such a common target for having fanfiction centred around these topics written and links to them posted on this site?

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-03T14:36:12.599Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder why MLP is such a common target for having fanfiction centred around these topics written and links to them posted on this site?

Demographics. Fans of LW and fans of MLP both tend to be males ages 18-35 who spend a lot of time on the internet.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-05-03T16:30:23.043Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fans of LW and fans of MLP both tend to be males ages 18-35 who spend a lot of time on the internet.

But why would these people be fans of MLP? MLP, as I understand it, is made for teaching social skills to little girls. Do males ages 18-35 who spend a lot of time on the internet watch it because they are especially in need of remedial education on the subject? Is that actually the hidden agenda of the makers?

comment by gwern · 2013-05-03T16:56:57.592Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've speculated on this in the past. I was reading a book and it mentioned that one of the things used to help autism spectrum people learn social skills is something called Social Stories (TM); read through the article and some of the linked materials or look at Google hits, and tell me that MLP doesn't sound a lot like how one might design a maximally-appealing 'Advanced Social Stories'...

comment by Zian · 2013-08-16T07:15:39.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Despite searching on PubMed using iPubMed from UC Irvine and browsing around using "Related Links", I can't find anything about Social Stories and teenagers, young adults, or adults. Someone with journal access can take a look at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22284800 to confirm/disprove my suspicion.

The stuff I could find is quite uncertain about how helpful Social Stories are but there are no reports of harm so if a TV show can sneak in Autism Spectrum Disorder treatment, even if it isn't super effective, that's terrific. It can be difficult for older people to get a diagnosis and good evidence-based treatment; if My Little Pony can help that population for low to little cost, I'm all for it.

comment by Zian · 2013-08-15T05:46:27.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm quite surprised to run across that topic on Less Wrong. I heard about it at a medical conference regarding autism but only in the context of children. I guess it's time to take another look with regards to older people.

Thank you for bringing it up, gwern.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-08-15T06:10:07.635Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could be reading this completely wrong, but it makes me think of something that might be worth posting in open thread (or not, depending on how much it's just me whining); that is, I've read stories that give me a picture of what's normal and how social interaction is supposed to work, and when I wonder if there are any lessons there to apply to my own life, I quite quickly conclude that they aren't applicable. Of course, free range children is a general assumption of 99% of everything I've read. And, in fact, if anyone ever advises me to do anything, it most always assumes more freedoms than I actually have.

(I'm mostly concerned that I can't generalize this to something not incredibly specific to my situation. I think I've veered quite far from the original point as it is.)

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-03T17:17:45.424Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hypothesis / speculation based on personal observation only:

MLP is similar to anime.

For various reasons, this demographic tends to be overrepresented among anime fans in western developed countries, partially (I speculate) based on the facts that watching anime requires 1) learning about it and being interested in this esoteric, nonconventional form of entertainment (this demographic tends to be more adoptive of nonconventional entertainment), 2) finding information about the anime shows to watch, which implies spending quite a bit of time on the internet for the vast majority of cases, and 3) actually finding versions of the anime shows one can watch, because for the vast majority of anime, if you don't speak japanese, you need to find a borderline-or-sometimes-outright-illegal version of it that was modified to add "fansubs", or fan-made subtitles translated in another language (e.g. english).

Most of the above is stuff that involves delving deep into the less-mainstream corners of the internet, or at least having a modicum of google-fu and the patience to learn the basic vocabulary of the genre.

Just that right there should tilt the numbers so that the base viewership contains a disproportionate amount of this demographic, and thus even if they were no more or less likely to enjoy it than other demographics, they would be much more numerous in its fandom.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-05-03T17:38:44.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that hard to learn to find anime. You show up to one meeting of an anime club and five people will point you to AnimeSuki.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-03T18:05:46.086Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And who shows up to these anime clubs? Fans of anime, or people specifically selected by their friends who are already also fans of anime (and thus tend to be in similar demographics), and very rarely random people who are not scared off by the esoteric and by the genre (again, primarily young people and somewhat slanted towards young males).

Also, respectable Anime Clubs point you to Crunchyroll nowadays, because that's more respectable and entirely less legally-murky ;)

But yes, it's not that hard nowadays, mostly trivial inconveniences. Most anime fans that are relevant here would have started watching anime years ago, though. The first five websites I used to find and watch anime do not exist anymore.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-05-03T17:50:31.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or you google the name of the anime and find sites where you can just stream episodes like Watchcartoononline or Crunchyroll. Also, Youtube and Hulu have a decent selection between them. I haven't felt the need to torrent a show in years.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-03T20:43:14.143Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, but try doing that six years ago. Six years ago (plus or minus 1-3 years? bad memory with timelines), googling "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni" did not return the throng of convenient streaming websites and wiki pages and databases that it currently does.

I tried it, got frustrated, tried to hack myself a way to find good stuff by using image search instead, found guro porn instead, got terrified and assumed fetal position in a corner of my room. Gave up on that anime for a while, back then =P

Of course, most of that effect is that search has gotten a lot better over the years, I think.

I haven't felt the need to torrent a show in years.

There's no real need to, but it's often orders of magnitude easier to find a high-quality torrent than a high-quality stream, and torrents offer the convenience of not dealing with buffers and unstable speeds and random connection errors and so on while watching, i.e. a smoother undisturbed experience.

This is obviously valid for all kinds of full downloads in general, it just happens that almost all full anime downloads are torrents.

comment by gwern · 2013-05-03T21:07:49.184Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tried it, got frustrated, tried to hack myself a way to find good stuff by using image search instead, found guro porn instead, got terrified and assumed fetal position in a corner of my room.

But if you found images of the anime, why were you so unhappy?

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-03T21:11:28.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see what you did there =3

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-05-03T18:00:34.085Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But why would these people be fans of MLP?

  • 4chan. The story is documented on KnowYourMeme.
  • The show is honestly quite good.
  • Periphery Demographic (TVTropes warning) is not all that rare a phenomenon.
  • Early on Hasbro made the wise decision not to take down episodes when they appeared on Youtube.
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-03T21:10:59.013Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tentative hypothesis (I've only seen the first episode-- watching more is moderately high on my watch list): Not only is the show good, it's one of the few shows which isn't grim.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-05-04T16:13:35.007Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

David Brin has an essay about how fiction tends to depict society as unrealistically bad — full of incompetents, corruption, and general dumbshittery. Because society as a whole is holding the Idiot Ball, the heroes get to save it.

MLP doesn't do that. Ponies are good at what they do, they cooperate with each other, and they even have both respectable and respectful authority figures. The heroes face problems originating with misunderstandings, personality conflicts, or external threats — not a society that is assumed to be broken. So there is a stark contrast with a lot of fiction, even fiction written for a children's audience.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-04T18:45:12.925Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with Brin on that point.

I've found a few stories where the menace is ended by the authorities stepping in.. Here are the two I remember, plus a spare: Jura Jr Jrer Erny ol Jvyyvnz Onegba (ynobe ynjf ner vzcebirq) naq Qnex Ybeq bs Qrexubyz ol Qvnan Jlaar Wbarf (gur rivy gbhevfz ohfvarff vf fuhg qbja). Cbr'f "Gur Cvg naq gur Craqhyhz" vf va n eryngrq pngrtbel-- gur engvbanyvfg ureb whfg oneryl fgnlf nyvir hagvy uvf sevraqf fnir uvz.

Offhand, I think the premise that everything is corrupt (at least locally) came in with noir.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-05-05T02:26:02.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Me too.

The climax of Shaun of the Dead ends with the surviving main characters rescued by the British Army.

The film version of The Mist has the U.S. Army fighting back the monsters that arrived with the titular mist... but they're too late to save the main characters. Similarly, the monster in Cloverfield is indeed eventually taken down by the U.S. military as well - offscreen, after the fate of the main characters has already been determined.

And Lord of the Flies, of all things, also ends with the children being found and rescued just as things are at their worst... by, ironically enough, a military pilot who soon goes back to fighting a war.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-05-04T23:04:11.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I affirm, in all seriousness: watching cartoons has made me a better person. Does this seem so unlikely?

(Though I did wonder if - rather than the narrative content - it was due to some sort of premature activation, by sheer volume of cuteness, of the whole have-children-lower-testosterone-become-domesticated thing I read about on Gwern's site somewhere.)

Also, its art does not lean on its intended virtuousness.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-03T17:22:51.571Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To generalize from one example, there's also some people (probably, unless I'm alone) who feel a certain sense of glorious subversion when something mainstream meant for young children that is riddled with stereotypes and social conventions gets re-purposed into teaching unconventional ideologies and bleeding-edge fringe mental skills.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-05T05:10:50.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming you're right about the demographics, I'm curious about theories about why adult women aren't as likely to be fans of MLP.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-05T14:46:08.004Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm working off observation, not theory. I've heard speculation on the subject, but nothing that sounds convincing and nothing that makes testable predictions.

Looking at the statistics here, it looks like the fandom is even more male-dominated than I had thought. The smof are pretty much all male; I can think of only one exception. The show's writers are mostly female.

The average MLP fan is a good deal younger than the average LWer. Both are very likely to be white.

comment by Furcas · 2013-05-03T02:35:39.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was wonderful, thank you.

I'm not that much of a MLP fan, but this and Friendship is Optimal are some of my favorite fanfics ever!