Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme.

post by Salivanth · 2013-02-27T11:57:09.574Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 74 comments


EDIT: I am now taking arguments for alicornism. Alicornism being the placeholder term I've given to the stance that all ponies should be alicorns. Please PM me or post here if you have a good one, or an argument against one of anti-alicornism's strongest points: Overpopulation/over-use of resources, magical abuse/existential risk, or upheaval of the respect ponies have for their rulers due to their alicorn status. I would prefer general arguments for alicornism over counter-arguments if possible. Deathist / anti-alicornist arguments are still fine to post here.

Disclaimer: I'm not sure if this is worthy of a discussion post, but I figured, given the amount of people on LW who like My Little Pony, it would have at least as many potentially interested people as a regional meet-up thread would, so I figured I'd give it a shot. If this is too trivial or frivolous for LW, feel free to tell me and/or downvote, and I'll refrain from such threads in future. A place where I could go to find some help instead of the Discussion section would also be greatly appreciated in such a case.

So I had an idea for a one-shot or small novella, depending on how the plot developed, about an argument between Twilight and Celestia. Twilight finds out she's immortal now that she's an alicorn, and Twilight then decides that, given the standard anti-death concepts that immortality is good, death is bad, and so on, they should turn everyone who wants to be an alicorn into one.

The problem is, I'm having a very difficult time coming up with actual arguments for Celestia.

- Celestia herself is immortal, she's lived for well over a thousand years, and she isn't horrifically depressed, so clearly, immortal life is worth living and there's enough stuff to do with an extended lifespan.

- For the purposes of this fic, it's possible to turn anypony into an alicorn. I'm likely going to go with the idea that the spell can only be used a few times a year, but that's still enough to turn anyone who wants it into an alicorn within a couple of decades via exponentiation: The first targets can all be gifted unicorns who can be easily trained to use the magic.

- In most of the "Immortality sucks" fics I've read, the only real argument that immortality sucks is that you have to watch everyone else grow up and die. If a large majority of the population were turned alicorn, this wouldn't be a problem anymore.

- Nothing in canon suggests that there's any sort of religion in Equestria. Even in fanfics I've read, I've only read one fanfic where someone made up an afterlife that some ponies believed in, and in many more that I've read, Celestia's name is actually used in place of God in various sentences, like "Oh for Celestia's sake!" Thus, it's unlikely they'd believe in an afterlife: Both in canon and the majority of fanon, the closest thing to a God appears to be Celestia herself.

I've come up with arguments for Celestia by roleplaying the argument out by myself, but I haven't come up with anything that Twilight can't just shoot down, and I'd prefer if the argument wasn't just Celestia getting steamrolled, and I'd like to do this by strengthening Celestia's side, not weakening Twilight's.

Is the argument for deathism really that weak? I've read over the Harry vs. Dumbledore deathism argument in HPMOR several times looking for ideas, and IIRC Eliezer actually claimed he steel-manned Dumbledore's position, but I don't find anything Dumbledore says convincing in the slightest, and ended that chapter feeling that Harry was the clear winner in that debate, and that's with Dumbledore having access to arguments that Celestia doesn't, given that in the Potterverse, nobody actually knows what it's like to be immortal, and Dumbledore believes in an afterlife.

Some other arguments I've come up with for Celestia:

Argument: We can't just have a massive ruling class.

Response: There's no need for alicorns to be royalty. "Princess = Alicorn, Alicorn = Princess" is only something that law and tradition dictate: They can be changed. After all, Blueblood is a prince and not an alicorn, and it's certainly possible for an alicorn to NOT be royalty, if the princesses wanted.

Argument: Harder to keep the populace in line, if everyone has more power.

Response: Celestia's not exactly going around fighting criminals herself with her alicorn powers, so Celestia being much more powerful than others isn't necessary to keep the peace. If anything, an alicornified populace is MORE likely to be able to govern itself: Atm, a pegasus criminal can only be pursued effectively by about one-third of police officers, for example.

Argument: Overpopulation.

Response: One response to this is the idea that, starting a year or so from a royal edict, ponies who wish to be changed into alicorns aren't permitted to give birth more than once or twice. A broader response is that "overpopulation" isn't actually a reason to oppose alicornification, it's just a problem that has to be solved in order to do it. Saying "There'd be overpopulation" and then forgetting about the entire idea would be like Twilight saying that they didn't know how she was supposed to save the Crystal Empire from being banished again when she got given the task, and responding to this by saying "Oh well, guess that's it, we may as well pack up and go home." rather than trying to actually solve the problem. That said, this is the only truly legitimate argument I've come up with, an argument that requires real thought to fully defeat, rather than an argument that has an easy response leap to my mind.

Argument: Mortals wouldn't understand the consequence of their decision.

Response: Again, several arguments for this. Firstly, there's no reason to believe the alicorn transformation is irreversible, even if it's not currently known how to transform it back. Secondly, Celestia can already predict the consequences, and since she thinks HER life is worth living, clearly there's a solid chance that other ponies will have their lives worth living as well.

So, the questions to ask:

Are there good arguments for Celestia I haven't thought of?

Are the arguments I've already posited sufficient to not straw-man the lifeism position, and to allow for a reasonable argument?

EDIT: I am now taking arguments for alicornism. Alicornism being the placeholder term I've given to the stance that all ponies should be alicorns. Please PM me or post here if you have a good one, or an argument against one of anti-alicornism's strongest points: Overpopulation/over-use of resources, magical abuse/existential risk, or upheaval of the respect ponies have for their rulers due to their alicorn status. I would prefer general arguments for alicornism over counter-arguments if possible. Deathist / anti-alicornist arguments are still fine to post here.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by latanius · 2013-02-27T15:48:41.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's so nice that if you combine the words Alicorn + Twilight you get "let's make everyone else immortal, too" independetly of the universe in question.

Replies from: Alicorn, ikrase
comment by Alicorn · 2013-02-28T07:21:37.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T08:17:17.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the inspiration for this idea, by the way :) I might not have thought of it if not for Luminosity and Radiance.

And, speaking of which, something I was wondering about: Is your name actually inspired by the alicorns from MLP? Believe it or not, I only thought of the association a few weeks ago, but I wasn't curious enough to PM you about it.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2013-02-28T20:18:36.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My name a) predates MLP:FiM and b) refers to an older meaning of the word, just the horn of a unicorn or the substance it's made from, but it's not unrelated.

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-27T22:46:39.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-27T15:41:30.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems to be a genre now. I dub it transponyism.

Replies from: listic, Salivanth
comment by listic · 2013-03-02T00:01:15.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Chatoyance dubbed it transequinism (name of the last chapter of Friendship Is Optimal: Caelum Est Conterrens) which sounds nicer.

comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T05:43:08.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wait, this is a thing? I've only ever seen one small one-shot that had a transhumanist vibe to it. (Mortality Report) All the other "Reactions to immortality" ones I've seen have been all about how terrible it was. If there's already a few well-written explorations of this exact concept, is there even a good reason to write this one?

Also, does anyone have some links to these, or at least names/authors? Whether my writing this fanfiction is still worth doing or not, getting more ideas is unlikely to be a bad thing.

I was referring to the concept as transequinism in my head, but I think "transponyism" is a lot more memorable, so I think I'm gonna go with that. Would you be okay with my using that as a title if I can't think of something better?

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-28T09:22:00.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Mortality Report" and to a lesser extent "Friendship is Optimal" (not pro-life, but somewhat transponyist). Three stories constitute a genre.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T09:38:05.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well that's a relief, considering that neither of them overlap what I want to do by as much as I feared. There's definitely room for this fanfiction to be unique. I hadn't thought of Friendship is Optimal as being about transpony/transhumanism, and being more of an AI story, but the theme is definitely there, I agree.

So, given that we have two stories currently, and three constitutes a genre, that means that the entire existence of a genre is now dependent on me writing this :P But no pressure, right?

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-28T10:18:24.697Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, and by default, anything I say can be stolen. :)

Replies from: Kawoomba
comment by Kawoomba · 2013-02-28T11:19:32.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, and by default, anything I say can be stolen. :)

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-02-28T15:31:06.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, and by default, anything I say can be stolen. :)

By default the only things that can't be stolen are those which are not exclusively possessed. Which means... nevermind.

Replies from: Kawoomba
comment by Kawoomba · 2013-02-28T16:26:36.648Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Common goods and public goods, you mean?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-02-27T15:49:49.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I responded on fimfiction here, but I'll copy it here:

First question: do you want Celestia to have good points, or not?

Celestia should probably argue that ponies are adapted to the cycle of death and rebirth; the trouble with immortality for everyone is that now ponies still have the drives to procreate, conquer, and replace their elders. Luna was Celestia's first student that she elevated to immortality; things were fine for a hundred years, and then Luna grew tired of being perpetually number 2 and rebelled. Twilight was elevated only because she understands social dynamics enough to be okay with being perpetually second-tier and because she genuinely likes Celestia much more than Luna did. If Twilight spreads immortality to everyone, the result won't be a complete reduction in deaths, but a transfer of deaths from age-related disease to murders, and Celestia is pretty sure that will lead to less harmony and happiness.

(Note: Faust has commented that she always planned for Twilight to be Celestia's successor. If Celestia is immortal, she hardly needs a successor, but that's how deeply ingrained that pattern is in the human psyche.)

She can also call on the destructive impact of family on civic society; Celestia banned cousin marriage, with the result that ponies couldn't depend solely on their families, and had to have wider social networks. With immortality, families can grow much stronger than possible with no cousin marriage and old age, leading to clannishness, vendettas, and a collapse of social trust.

You can also put in technical constraints easily enough; if there's a finite amount of life-extension magic to go around, then the conversation becomes a very short "why don't we give everyone mansions?" "Because we can't." "Oh." (That's what I will eventually do with my fic: Princess Twilight is just as mortal as her friends, brother, and sister-in-law, and is encouraged to research longevity if she wants to stick around.)

Replies from: Salivanth, DanielLC
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T09:30:00.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I'd rather not add hard technical constraints. Simply put, it ruins the entire story I have in mind. A story about the emotions of accepting the mortality of one's friends isn't a bad idea for a fanfiction, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of them, but it's simply not what I want to write.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-28T14:10:00.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit: You actually address some of this in your original post. I'll leave it all here for reference, but in general, if the Deathists are periodically making valid arguments, I don't think you have to worry as much about them seeming like strawponies.

It occurs to me that it's entirely possible to have Celestia argue for a (looks hard to her but is actually soft) technical constraint, and rather than arguing against her, for Twilight to solve the technical problem.


Celestia: "Twilight, I can't make everyone an immortal Alicorn. As the first of many reasons, Equestria would run out of Food."

Twilight: "Could you make one of my friends an immortal Alicorn if they could solve the problem of Equestria running out of Food?"

Celestia: "Of course, my little pony."

Twilight gets Applejack to solve the food problem inherent in a exploding population of Immortals.

Impressed, Celestia grants Applejack Alicorn Immortality.

Luna: "I am amazed at the creativity of my sister's most faithful student. But we still can't make everyone an immortal Alicorn. Eventually, there would be clannish infighting.... I know that all to well."


Added bonus: this fits in with the theme of "Alicorn Acension is about solving problems noone else ever could."

I mean, it seems like a lot of Deathism is "Given these unstoppable technical constraints, this is the best way to live." So if you want Deathism to not feel like a strawpony, you have to let it bring up the technical constraints, and you can solve each one by either refuting the constraint, or refuting the argument. This allows a Deathist to sometimes make a perfectly valid argument, which is then solved once the constraint is resolved, so the Deathist is sometimes making valid arguments (which are then rendered obsolete) and sometimes making invalid logical arguments.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T03:24:10.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Definitely possible. After all, I'm not going to ignore technical constraints. I just don't intend to invent them. Hell, I don't have to. The problem is hard enough as it is. (For example, overpopulation is a very difficult technical constraint, and it arises naturally from the logic inherent to the canon setting.)

I don't intend to write it in the fashion described (I.e, a largely linear story where Twilight and friends solve various technical constraints of alicornification in turn, being rewarded with immortality each time, until there aren't any left) but technical constraints such as social pressure, overpopulation, and potential for magical abuse will definitely appear within the fanfic: Logical constraints that are inevitably going to come up within the Equestria setting that are significant obstacles to Twilight's plan, but are not unbreakable. I'm even willing to accept the deathists winning if the plot turns on me and decides the protagonists shouldn't win, but I'm not going to render one side completely unable to fight back, which would happen if the ideal of mass alicornification is scientifically impossible.

Your idea for the more linear fic is quite a good one, and in the event that I was unable to get enough material for the deathists, I could have definitely gone with it. But between the arguments I've gotten so far, I have plenty of material to ensure a real battle between the ideologies, rather than "Twilight wins because deathism is stupid." If HPMOR has taught me anything about writing, it's that both sides have to have a strong argument for the story to be as good as it can be.

I actually don't know if I'll be able to have any sufficiently intelligent characters in the fanfiction who think that death is a bad idea at a base level though, rather than being simply too dangerous, difficult, or logistically impossible to eliminate. The closest is probably going to be Luna, who's going to have a very inflexible "It's too dangerous" view, due to her own experiences at turning into Nightmare Moon and almost destroying Equestria. The view of "Death is good and part of the natural order" will be expressed, but I don't think it fits any of the alicorns to have that viewpoint. A good example of a pony who could hold that view would be Applejack, but Applejack isn't exactly the kind of pony to be able to engage Twilight in logical debate and put up a good fight with logic alone.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-02-28T01:24:20.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why don't we give as many people as we can mansions?

Also, there's the possibility of eugenics. It has been established that dragons live significantly longer than ponies. If we increase the dragon population and decrease the pony population, there will be a net increase in lifespan.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T09:33:10.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do we decide who to give mansions? Especially if the "finite" is real and it never comes back. Then you can virtually always make an argument for waiting. When you're literally immortal, there's no such thing as the perfect time to use an irreplacable resource. If you wait long enough, it's basically a lock that somepony better will come along, if not this millenium then maybe the next one.

As for eugenics: Dragons take up a hell of a lot more space than ponies.

comment by Xachariah · 2013-02-28T04:41:52.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Argument: Harder to keep the populace in line, if everyone has more power.

I think you're missing the existential risk inherent in Alicorns or how precariously Equestria is balanced on the knife edge of extinction. Here's a short list of possible extinction events: Nightmare Moon, Parasprites (Twilight enhanced), Discord, King Sombra, and god-knows-what from Star-Swirl the Bearded's library. 'Mere' civilization ending events are Smarty Pants Doll (enchanted), Parasprites (unmodified), Windegos, Changelings, and the duplicating mirror. This is a world with Cuban Missile Crisis going on every other month and a rogue AI power-equivelent popping up every year . Imagine if Twilight had accidentally made parasprites carnivorous in addition to eating non-edibles? Game over, for everyone, forever. It's not a world made safer by having more Alicorns. God-tier magic seems to override other Got-tier magic; in all God-tier confrontations, victory always goes to the initiator of each round of any fight. TLDR; offense > defense.

Also, you need to look at what Celestia herself has to gain. Right now she's the God Empress of ponies. The only people capable of challenging her are her sisters and other deity class entities. If the world were to be eaten by omnivorous Von-Neuman parasprites tomorrow, she could teleport to another planet and (presumably) re-start the pony race. She'd be sad, but life would still go on. The only way that ponykind could experience a true extinction would be if she and her sisters were to die. For every pony that Celestia decides to uplift, she makes herself a little more vulnerable. What motivation does she have to do that?

Celestia is very selective about who she uplifts, judging by Twilight. Notably, Celestia makes sure that Twilight benevolent, very grounded with friendship, selfless, understands the nature of when (and when not to) use magic, understands the existential risks of magic (firsthand), has dealt with god-tier entities and understands their limitations. There's a musical number about how Celestia's been testing her to see if Twilight's the kind of person who'd kill or enslave everypony if given limitless power. Twilight only gets uplifted when she passes all the tests.

Here's a related question: You have just been uplifted by an immortal, Friendly AI. How do convince it that you should start uplifting everybody who asks instead of people whom the AI deems non-dangerous? ...and why do you even want to convince it?

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T05:39:23.254Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A large amount of the things you mention become less dangerous in the event of greater alicorn presence in Equestria, not more. Nightmare Moon, Discord and Chrysalis ALL almost won, and if even just a few dozen alicorns had existed, they wouldn't have stood a chance in hell.

Now, the whole existential risk a very interesting point, since based on what I've just argued, the logical meeting-ground between the two would be to have a task force of alicorns, say, at least a dozen, but no more than a hundred, all comprised of ponies Celestia trusted sufficiently. The chance of alicorn-related existential risk increases, but the chance of the next season's villain killing everyone plummets to nearly zero. So, given your predictions on the power of alicorns, you're right. If we take the prior that alicorns automatically gain Celestia-level powers, it's far, far too dangerous to give everyone that kind of power, and immortalising everyone is a very, very bad idea.

In fact, this very argument leads me to believe that, in order to provide the optimum amount of conflict in the story, alicorns need to be a lot more powerful than unicorns, but not automatically god-tier. Alicorns should have the potential to reach the power of Celestia and Luna, but imagine if Celestia and Luna were immortal unicorns: Based on their great amount of knowledge, they would still likely be more powerful mages than any other unicorn alive. So this could easily extend to alicorns as well. This still brings about the existential risk angle. Powerful mortals can cast spells like Want-It-Need-It and the altering of Parasprites already, but a lot more ponies would be capable of such things if they were alicornified. My own personal belief about alicorn power levels subscribes to this idea, but as another LWer pointed out, I shouldn't make the world convenient for me. I should make it as inconvenient as possible while still allowing the protagonists to win, because that makes for a much, much better story than "Deathists are always wrong about everything forever." But I don't think this is a problem that allows rational protagonists to win. They'd have to back down.

As for your FAI question: The answer is, no, I don't want to convince a Friendly AI of this, but Celestia is not a friendly AI. She's immortal, she's the ruler of Equestria, and she's definitely much wiser than just about any mortal, but she's not a superintelligence. She's not so far beyond ponies in mental ability that the concept of challenging her judgement is ludicrous. She has pony-level intelligence, just a lot more years to learn things. But, as we can extrapolate from elderly humans, sometimes age has it's deficits as well, making people more inflexible in their opinions. Your argument for existential risk is what would convince me if I were Twilight, not Celestia saying it's too dangerous and me blindly trusting said judgement. Celestia knows more than Twilight, but not so much more that in an argument between the two, Celestia can never be wrong.

Replies from: Xachariah, ModusPonies, Xachariah, MugaSofer
comment by Xachariah · 2013-02-28T08:49:51.210Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

all comprised of ponies Celestia trusted sufficiently

You're a god. You've got the ability to make other gods. You've got literally a million years to find people trustworthy enough. A single failure is a possible extinction event, and that nearly happened once already. How high do you set the bar for 'trust sufficiently'?

She's already working on the problem (and communicating with other alicorns about it, as seen at the end of S3Ep2). She's increased the number by two within the last couple decades or so (Twilight, and I assume Cadance is young). Is the problem just that she's going too slowly and cautiously?

(I do want to note I'm not trying to be hostile in any way. I just find this sphere of thought very intriguing.)

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T22:09:20.002Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, this argument of mine was made before you pointed out the priority-based nature of magic in the show, based on the idea that more alicorns actually equals reduction of existential risk via the villain of the week. That particular argument is much weaker now.

If one doesn't have a need to increase the alicorn numbers in order to protect Equestria, then you're right. The bar should, in fact, be set extremely high. Even Cadence, the alicorn of love of all things, has tremendous power. She basically has the ability to mind-control ponies, and she can send at least some form of this ability across an ENTIRE CITY, as shown in the opener to Season 3.

Essentially, given the prior of "Any alicorn will have Celestia-level powers", you're right. It's far too dangerous to turn alicorns with anything less than the most stringent of stringent security measures, and even then, things can go wrong.

Out of curiosity, as it's likely the direction I'll be taking the fanfiction. How would your arguments change if, instead of turning everyone into Celestia-analogues, alicornification had the effect of increasing a pony's magic to, say, five times that of a unicorn of equivalent strength? (Earth ponies and pegasi would have to start at the beginning, but would have just as much potential for growth if they studied enough.) Celestia is thousands of years old, which is one of the reasons she's so much more powerful than any mortal pony, not just the status of being an alicorn. She's had a very, very long time to study and improve her magic. (The jury is still out on whether or not Celestia and Luna have the raw power to raise and lower celestial bodies, or whether or not they can do it because it's their special talent, just like how Cadence has the ability to spread mood-altering magic across an entire city for literally days on end. Even the other princesses probably couldn't do that.)

So, existential risk is lowered, but there's still a greater risk of stuff like the Parasprite spell going wrong, or too much power being put into a Want-It-Need-It spell, or the more minor problems of potentially increased property damage from emotional outbursts or technical magical errors. More mages would be capable of dangerous feats, but not the kind of level we're talking where a single alicorn going rogue without being stopped immediately is a potential civilisation-ending event, regardless of pre-alicorn magical ability.

For what it's worth, this "Alicorn = force multiplier" thing was my original theory before I came up with this fanfiction idea, but it was pointed out to me that I shouldn't use my powers as an author to make things too easy for myself. I agree with that, but considering how powerful your arguments are, I don't think I'm being too easy on myself by weakening (not even eliminating completely) an argument that, in it's current state, is unbeatable.

And don't worry, I don't consider you hostile in the slightest. It'd be rather stupid for me to consider the person with the best anti-alicorn arguments in a thread composed for the express purpose of hearing anti-alicorn arguments to be being hostile :)

Replies from: Xachariah
comment by Xachariah · 2013-03-01T00:00:55.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The weaker alicorns are, the safer it is to create them and the more wiling Celestia would be to make them. If every alicorn could literally control the rotation of the entire planet with telekinesis on the first day, I think Celestia would probably be even more discerning than uplifting Twilight. Twilight might be a paragon of virtue, but she's still the type of filly who will cast a spell given to her even when she has no idea what it does and it's labeled as powerful and experimental. Conversely, if alicorns were just immortal winged unicorns with no extra powers, I assume the name of the show would be My Little Alicorn, with 99%+ of the population being alicorns. At least, I'd hope that would be the case given how benevolent Celestia seems.

For each level of power, there's a different maximally safe rate of alicornification. Whether or not Celestia is already uplifting at that rate is a point of debate. (As a side note, the idea of Twilight discovering there's a new magic to turn ponies into alicorns and then just casting it right away is such a Twilight thing to do.)

It's an interesting analog to one of the ethical problems of uploading. Imagine a known serial killer is released from jail on his 100th birthday since he's not a danger to the populace anymore. He knows he's going to die soon, so he comes to your newly successful upload company. Do you allow him to upload? If you don't he'll die within ~5 years, if you do, he'll do god-knows-what on the system.

My willingness to upload him would be based on how much damage he could do. I wouldn't let him upload 1st for sure, or even within the top 10. But I probably wouldn't be distressed after 10,000 uploads and we've already had a chance to see what hostile uploads can do (and it turns out not-so-bad).

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T00:38:02.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the purpose of this fanfiction, Celestia is able to uplift alicorns at a significantly higher rate than she currently is and other alicorns can either cast it, or learn to cast it. So logistically, it's possible to increase alicornification at an exponential rate. Call it somewhere between 6 and 12 casts a year, for now: The exact rate isn't all that important, what's important is that it can be done, which means arguments then shift to "Should it be done?"

As for the power vs. safety thing, I agree, that's definitely true, but what I was asking was, given this particular point on the spectrum, what would you think then? It's clearly too unsafe to make everyone gods, as you've demonstrated, and it's clearly perfectly safe if there's zero dangers to making alicorns at all. But if ponies are significantly more powerful as alicorns, and thus had the potential to do more damage both deliberately and accidentally, but most ponies didn't have the capacity to cause REALLY bad stuff to go down: What would your opinion be then?

Replies from: Xachariah
comment by Xachariah · 2013-03-01T02:56:57.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I were in Celestia's shoes, my strategy would be to take the top .001% 'friendliest[*]' of the population each generation and turn them into alicorns. Fewer if some generations don't have good candidates, and more if some generations are exceptional. The number of alicorns would grow exponentially as the population experienced exponential growth. From the other end of the equation, I'd use my influence as the God Empress to gradually raise the 'friendliness waterline' so that I could gradually lower the requirements from top .001% to top 1% to top 10% to eventually allowing everyone in.

Though this would be a process that could take, literally, millennia to fully complete (though it could probably be accelerated to 'only' a couple hundred years safely). I could easily envision Celestia seeing it utterly reasonable to have a multi-thousand year plan where pony wellfare steadily increases, the proportion of immortal ponies gradually increase as a fraction of the population, and risk is as minimized as possible. The plan is benevolent, meritocratic, and safe.

... but if I were Twilight? I'm not sure I would be comfortable waiting that long or seeing most of my family and acquaintances die first, (even assuming my friends, the other elements of Harmony, eventually become alicorns too). The plan is slow, needlessly callous, and accepts millions of unnecessary deaths.

Shifting my point of view from one side to the other drastically changes how acceptable I find each strategy. I suppose that is the mark of a good disagreement.

[*] Friendly as in FAI friendly or friendship=magic in pony terms. Not just the most effusive ponies.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T04:13:53.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p) actually pretty brilliant. I was originally going to have Celestia be opposed to the idea of alicornification, but I may have Celestia change her mind to this. Cadence has the view of "We should make absolutely sure we've concluded things will work before proceeding", which is likely to take decades, but not millenia. Twilight starts out with the view of "We should start right now, why the hell are we even hesitating?"

This is partly because of the big red flag of having the protagonist share my personal beliefs. In this fanfic, it's unavoidable, however. Twilight is meant to be fairly rational, and thus, is meant to believe what's correct, at least eventually. Obviously, I think that what I believe is correct, or I wouldn't believe it. Starting Twilight out with a more reckless view, where my own view is closer to the Cadence stance, goes some way towards deflecting that problem.

Man, it's times like this I wish I had a fifth alicorn to throw in, because I have too many views I currently want to showcase front and centre.

"Do it, and do it now."

"Calculate everything out carefully, then act relatively decisively."

"Steadily make it happen, over several millenia, gradually making it so that the very worst scum of society are still as harmonic as the best examples of pony virtue today."

"Don't do it, as we can't accurately calculate the risk."

"Don't do it. Don't even think about it. You saw what happened with Nightmare Moon, didn't you?"

Maybe I need a fifth main character, but I find the views are much more legitimised by having them be spoken by an alicorn, rather than a societal representative, who'll be representing various arguments like overpopulation, pushing forward magical research, attacking the culture of the various pony races, etc. And there are only four alicorns, and randomly adding a fifth is a move I simply refuse to make.

With the exception of the third view, i.e, the one you just gave me, I was originally going to have Twilight, Cadence, Celestia and Luna hold those four views, from most supportive to least supportive. But your argument is just too good not to be featured in the fanfiction.

The easiest solution is likely to be to merge Argument 4 and 5 together, leaving Luna as the only true anti-alicornifying one, with the remaining three each believing it should be done in different ways, but I worry that might turn the fanfic too much towards the pro-alicorn view. That said, I might be able to make up for this by having a disproportionate amount of the social representatives be opposed to the idea.

Replies from: Xachariah, ModusPonies
comment by Xachariah · 2013-03-01T05:40:21.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can see the problem with a powerless entity trying to advance arguments against those vastly more powerful than them.

What about an equally powerful entity to alicorns? Discord for example, might be opposed to it for his own reasons but adopt any argument that makes it less likely. (Though he, stylistically, may not fit at all into your fic anyhow.) Although, I can see how people may not like that evil guy is advancing the opposing argument. There are other immortal entities. Dragons perhaps. Whatever employs Cerberus or Ahuizotl.

Or political opponents like Zebra or Gryphon could have reasons to disagree with the plan (like I assume they would dislike the pony hegemony that would occur if everypony became alicorns tomorrow.) They wouldn't be strictly equal to alicorns on the same power level, but would have some ability to back up their arguments with force, unlike a social representative.

As a side note, I'm a bit confused about Cadence and Twilight. I know that Twilight is sometimes heroically compulsive, but isn't Cadence the avatar of love or something? I would imagine she'd be a lot more empathetic about suffering ponies and that Twilight would be more disposed to studying.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T06:30:51.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not even really about magical power. Within the world, it's about political power, and the fact that the alicorns are royalty. In reality, it's about the nature of the fanfiction. Much of the fanfiction is about the discussion and debate between the four princesses of Equestria. Therefore, any pony that isn't an alicorn tends to fade into the background a bit, taking the role of a driving force on the main characters. The main power that the alicorns have is the literary device of being major characters.

I spent two minutes arguing about why Discord was a stupid example, but then realised Discord is actually good now. Discord doesn't really stylistically fit into any of those five arguments, however. Looking at him, I imagine he would abstain from the issue. I simply don't see why he would care, period. The only thing he might do would be to try and get Fluttershy immortality, but even if he did take on that side, I don't see him entering the political arena. Adding an OC immortal isn't really something I want to do. For one, I suck at making characters, and for another, the thing I enjoy most about fanfiction is exploring the world that already exists.

The political opponents are really more of an obstacle than a character. In my opinion, they would be far better off as an abstraction: Instead of the Griffon Prince coming to Equestria to argue with the princesses, the argument is "The griffons won't be happy if we do this, and there could be consequences."

As for Twilight and Cadence, just because Twilight's bookish doesn't mean she doesn't care. I assume she'd be on the forefront of research to solve mass-transformation-related problems, but to do that, it's only logical that she convince the other princesses they should actually go ahead and agree to the transforming first. I agree that Cadence actually would be a likely candidate to take on the mantle of "We should transform everypony as fast as possible" but that argument is likely to be pretty soundly defeated in the first few chapters anyway. Thus, it's better for the fic if Cadence has a pro-alicorn, but reasonably well thought out view. It's okay for Twilight to hold that view for a while and still be rational, because it's a snap judgement: She only finds out that Cadence and herself are immortal when she actually gets transformed. Before Celestia mentions it, Twilight assumes that only Celestia and Luna are immortal.

Essentially, it would make sense for Cadence to be an irrational character, but I think the fic is overall better to give Cadence a slightly different character and allow her to be more rational, and thus increase the amount of solid discourse within the story. It's a sacrifice, but I think it's one worth making. I actually think the irrational view is more in Cadence's character, but the alicorns are already being bumped up in rationality to begin with: One more won't be too odd. And a rationalist!Cadence would likely take on the role of "Do it once we're sure it will work." I actually have a scene I drafted out which has this particular argument in it, which I'll send to you as an example of Cadence's character. (I don't want to make my comments TOO long in length, we already have a massive comment chain as it is!)

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-03-02T18:17:02.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want a fifth main character, Shining Armor could fit the bill. His sister and his wife are both alicorns, so you could easily justify having uplifted him. Even if he's still mortal, Twilight and Cadence would give his words a lot of weight.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-03T00:52:45.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. Shining would be a good one as well, because I already figured out he'd probably be the next alicorn if alicornism won.

1) He's a very skilled unicorn, so he can transform other alicorns. 2) He has a strong relationship with not one, but two of the royal alicorns. 3) He's very important in the defense of the realm.

Hell, I'm pretty sure Shining is technically a prince now anyway. It wouldn't be much of a stretch, and he could certainly appear in the same settings as the other four where other potential characters can't. (Say, eating at the royal dining room at Canterlot Castle.)

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-28T18:10:48.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a task force of alicorns, say, at least a dozen, but no more than a hundred, all comprised of ponies Celestia trusted sufficiently

Based on canon, the optimal size for such a task force would probably be six.

I estimate a one in five chance that this actually happens in season four.

comment by Xachariah · 2013-02-28T08:29:15.436Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The extinction-level battles portrayed in the show do not seem to run off of the rules of warfare, but off of an entirely binary system. None of the situations people were in trouble with would have been helped by having more Alicorns.

Queen Chrysalis gains her strength from feeding off the emotions of others, and the more magically powerful her subjects are, the more powerful she becomes. She became a God tier threat by feeding off Cadence/Shining. More alicorns would have only meant more super powered pegacorn changlings. She won initially because she acted first, then she was destroyed by a spell which was uncounterable (seemingly, as she doesn't attempt to counter it).

Discord was infinitely more powerful than Celestia, until the Elements of Harmony came out then he was infinitely weaker. He invaded her own sanctum, took the Elements, then proceeded to wreck whatever he felt like. Later, Celestia's magic protection on the Elements completely trumps Discord's magic. In none of these cases do they seem to battle it out; they just understand that magic has a priority order. Whoever's magic has higher priority, wins.

King Sombra, as a unicorn, singlehoofedly dominated then eliminated an empire full of unicorns. Again, offense beats defense. What's the alicorn version of that after given time to reach full potential ... a solar system? It's a universe where everypony could already have an atomic bomb in their head. And then grant the option to add an order of magnitude more power by making them an alicorn.

The only occasion where a squad of alicorns would be useful would be in dealing with Nightmare Moon. And arguably things could have come out far worse if Nightmare Moon had been able to sway more alicorns to her side (NB: mind control magic exists in MLP universe). Also from Celestia's perspective, the only other alicorn[*1] she ever knew almost succeeded at killing everything on the planet 1000 years before show start. She doesn't know if the friendliness chance for an alicorn is 50/50, or if every alicorn except 1 is good, or if every alicorn except 1 is evil. And if she makes a mistake everybody, forever, dies.

As for the FAI parallel: Celestia is a lot smarter than other ponies but not orders of magnitude smarter. However, precognition and time travel exist in this universe. Celestia has, at times, shown unbelievable prescience with in her 'wisdom'.[*2] Heck, in the first episode she either 1) saw the future or 2) is the least-responsible / most-lucky ruler ever. Sufficient ability to see the future is indistinguishable from super-intelligent decision making (though I grant that it doesn't help for pattern matching or other benefits of intelligence). I'm not sure how much I could question the decisions of someone who could actually see the future.

[*1]I'm assuming it was just her and Luna then and that Cadence was a relatively recent addition.
[*2]She has a track record of doing excellent versus foreseen problems and terrible versus unforeseen problems. Presumably her future-viewing is limited in scope and has some sort of resource cost.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T09:18:21.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say you've got two out of three there. Based on lines Chrysalis says (When she beats Celestia, she says "Ah! Shining Armor's love for you is even stronger than I thought! Consuming it has made me even more powerful than Celestia!"), her power doesn't depend on the magical strength of the pony she's feeding off, it's all about love, and alicorns don't necessarily love any more intensely than other ponies. The changelings would have been more powerful taking on alicorn forms, but it's clear that that isn't enough to win in one-on-one combat: The Mane 6 took out dozens on their own, and they weren't even warriors. Twilight was the only pony who actually had the ability to do a lot of damage in a fight, and arguably Pinkie. Shining loved Cadence much more than most ponies love other ponies, which gave Chrysalis the power to beat Celestia. When the two fought, Celestia was actually the one to attack first, and it was a fairly straight contest of strength which Celestia lost. You're right about the uncounterable nature of the love spell that defeated the changeling invasion though.

As for Discord and Sombra, you have good points. Especially with Discord. It seems fairly obvious that Discord is stronger than Celestia, as Celestia is powerless to stop him in Season 2, but at the same time, when Celestia cast a spell on the Elements, Discord didn't even TRY to do anything to overcome the protections of the one thing in Equestria that could stop him. As you said, that's a pretty clear indication that he knew it would be a waste of his time to try.

I'm assuming Sombra had some sort of power source: My best guess is that he fed off the negative emotions of his subjects, which caused a feedback loop where he became more evil and more powerful and caused more misery which looped until he was strong enough to fight the alicorns and win without the Elements of Harmony backing them up. Said power source would in fact be FAR more dangerous in the hands of an alicorn, even the version of an alicorn I intend to use in my story, where alicorn-ness is basically a force multiplier for magic, rather than an instant pass to godhood.

As for the precognition: If Celestia could see the future, the fic would turn out extremely differently. In fact, the entire fic would probably only last one or two chapters. As soon as Twilight finds out Celestia can see the future, her likely response would be to use that. She could make up her mind to do X, where X is a series of factors that could influence how the alicornified society would develop. If none of them work out positively, game over. As you said, you can't really argue with someone who sees the future with tremendous reliability. If one of them does turn out favourable, Celestia has no leg to stand on, and logically would have to give in. In fact, if it turns out that, for the fic to make logical sense, Celestia must have sufficient precognition to make this a possibility, I simply won't write it.

There are other potential reasons behind the first episode turning out as it did. Chief among them is that Twilight and the others THOUGHT they had to save Equestria, but in reality, Celestia was waiting to intervene. She wanted Twilight and the others to succeed, because the Elements would be stronger and have a better chance of working if they did, but if they were clearly outmatched, Celestia would have stepped in herself. (Even this is a risk, but I don't find it too difficult to believe Celestia would take some level of risk to get her sister back to her pre-NMM state.)

So, to summarise my stance:

Binary magic: Agree. Celestia is comparable to FAI: DIsagree.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers, Xachariah
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-03-25T17:38:51.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As for the precognition: If Celestia could see the future, the fic would turn out extremely differently.

She could have a variant of the Pinkie sense - uncontrolled limited precognition. Or it could be that there are feedbacks such that in order for it to work she needs to avoid all involvement in the proceedings (which is why she works through agents so much) - and introducing an endemic threat would require her to basically recuse herself from her own civilization, which seems a bit much.

comment by Xachariah · 2013-02-28T10:29:15.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(There's actually a comic regarding Chrysalis' return. I haven't read it, but from what I understand Chrysalis specifically targets Twilight to feed on her magic because she recognizes her as unusually powerful. Judging by how much magic in the MLP universe is modified by emotions, my guess is that it's an additive or multiplicative factor for changlings when they feed. (As an aside, I'd totally choose Rainbow Dash in a fight. She punches houses into rainbow explosions.))

I'd assume that any future sight is extraordinarily limited, magically costly, and marginally useful. I'd guess Celestia uses it is the first episode, maybe uses it in Dragonshy, then notably doesn't use it for 1st Discord or Chrysalis, then uses it again for the Crystal Empire and 2nd Discord.

In both episodes we see causality-breaking effects (Pinkie Keen and It's About Time), it results in closed loop time travel. I haven't invested too much thought into it, but can closed loop time travel be exploited via traveling to the future? It seems a very risky proposition, since we've already determined that time-travel can and will force paradoxes. You may only get one shot at seeing a future (and you can't avoid the consequences), rather than being able to pick-and-choose possible futures. In this case, the more vague the future is, the better.

As an aside...I just remembered Twilight can already time travel. Yeah... that would make for some confusing debates.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T22:18:53.776Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll have to check out that comic if the Chrysalis argument comes up, I suppose.

I'm not sure what you mean by trying to exploit closed-loop time travel through travelling to the future. Do you mean using future sight to see a desirable future and then trying to get there?

As for time travel, in this particular fic, my best answer is simply "Hell no." If it comes up, Twilight and the alicorns can simply decide it's a Really Bad Idea to use it, and they're right, since nobody actually understands how the hell it works, because it violates causality in that fashion. Alternatively, I borrow an answer I saw in a fanfiction once: It can only be used once in a pony's lifetime. And, obviously, the alicorns being immortal and all wouldn't use up one of their precious uses of the spell for anything short of "The situation is hopeless, and Equestria is now 100% doomed." (That is to say, I assume Celestia would have used it IF her attempt to jog Twilight's memory against Discord had failed.) The second I saw that time travel episode, I was like "Oh crap." because I knew that it would add a new layer of complexity to any realistic fanfiction I tried to write, in the sense that I would have to come up with some way to write it off. I am not smart enough to deal with time travel. I am nowhere near smart enough. As HPMOR points out, even stable time loops are ridiculously complicated and drive people stark raving mad with regularity.

Replies from: MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-05T21:21:51.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My favorite explanation: since causality tries to avoid paradoxes, most time-travellers get squished by large rocks or natural disasters before they can act, because they would have tried to change things. Even if they were going to try and avoid changing the past, they would have inevitably made mistakes, so the only consistent result is either ignorance and co-incidence or dyeing almost immediately. Or the time spell failing due to unforseen problems, if you're feeling generous.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-08T01:25:28.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I understand it, causality is just the relationship between cause and effect. If I'm right, saying it tries to avoid paradoxes is like saying gravity acts whenever someone falls off a cliff to prevent them from flying.

If I really needed to explain away time travel in this fic, I'd probably have a future Twilight show up and say "Whatever you do, do NOT use time travel. I don't care how bad it is. Even if Equestria is going to be destroyed if you don't. DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. TIME."

Fortunately, I don't see any situation in this fic where Twilight would even want to use time travel. Arguments aren't one-time only things, you can always come back with another counterpoint later against a rational opponent who's arguing for the sake of finding out who's right, rather than to win social status or something. And any losses of social status that may occur in the fic are nowhere near worthy of time-travel to fix them, it'd be like cleaning a house by burning it to the ground and building a new one.

Replies from: MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-21T20:07:57.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I understand it, causality is just the relationship between cause and effect. If I'm right, saying it tries to avoid paradoxes is like saying gravity acts whenever someone falls off a cliff to prevent them from flying.

That was a somewhat anthropomorphic allusion to the Novikov self-consistency principle. But yes, it is.

Fortunately, I don't see any situation in this fic where Twilight would even want to use time travel.

Fair enough.


If I really needed to explain away time travel in this fic, I'd probably have a future Twilight show up and say "Whatever you do, do NOT use time travel. I don't care how bad it is. Even if Equestria is going to be destroyed if you don't. DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. TIME."

You realize the canonical example of time travel was a stable loop, right? As was that pinkie-sense business.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-05T21:07:49.185Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In fact, this very argument leads me to believe that, in order to provide the optimum amount of conflict in the story, alicorns need to be a lot more powerful than unicorns, but not automatically god-tier.

Wouldn't that weaken the already-weak pro-death argument?

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-07T23:05:41.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It does, in fact, weaken the anti-alicorn argument (Different from the pro-death argument, even though they still wind up the same) but with the amount of ammunition I've gotten from LessWrong, the anti-alicorn side is no longer weak in the slightest.

comment by Baughn · 2013-02-27T12:35:38.859Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is the right place for fiction advice, but I'm upvoting anyway because your question is interesting independently of the fiction. That said..

On the one hand, you shouldn't expect to find a very convincing argument for deathism. Given that it's the status quo, if there were good arguments for it you would probably be a deathist!

On the other hand, there are arguments specifically against being turned into an alicorn which would also apply to most realistic real-world ways to prevent death.

Specifically, you get turned into an alicorn, which is not the same race you've been the rest of your life. If you're a pegasus, you gain an additional sense for magic and probably lose a bit of maneuverability, if you're a unicorn you gain wings, and I hardly need to explain why the poor earth ponies might object.

That, alone, is probably enough for many people to postpone the process for a while.

Other possible arguments...

  • It would reduce diversity. Well, it would, though that seems rather selfish.

  • Alicorns are scarily powerful, being able to move celestial objects around and all. Some analogies to nanotech-powered antiagatics here... Equestria might end up destroyed in short order, or you'd need much stronger internal monitoring to prevent that. It's easy to come up with downsides along these lines.

  • It might easily cause the greatest economic recession in history, as it attempts to adjust to vastly altered outlooks and changed capabilities. In particular, if earth ponies lose their 'talents' they might lose a lot of their industrial base; controlled magic can probably replicate it, but not everyone will have the intelligence for that, and in any case it'll take a while. Still worth it, but it'll be a hard few years. Or decades. Eventually people will realize they have decades.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-27T13:08:14.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That' interesting point. I never actually thought that Celestia and Luna could move the celestial bodies because they were alicorns. I always just thought they could move them because it was their special talents, and it was unique magic they could do because of their knowledge or talent, not because only they had the brute force to do it. After all, the only fight Celestia was ever in canonically, she lost, and it wasn't even all that climactic either.

In the event that all alicorns have royal-sister levels of power (Again, my assumptions have blinded me here, I always thought that being an alicorn would basically be like being a very powerful unicorn, and Celestia and Luna were so powerful because, in addition to being alicorns, they were also thousands of years old and knew far more about magic than any mortal) that's an extremely, EXTREMELY good reason not to do it.

I see no reason why earth ponies would lose their talents, though they might decide they want to do something else upon gaining MORE talents. That said, that could easily apply both ways: A pegasus who can now not only fly, but also have a deeper relationship with the earth might decide they'd rather farm than be a weather pony.

And you're right about the diversity. This isn't a very good Celestia argument imo, but if I expanded the story, it could certainly be a justification for certain groups to oppose the concept, such as groups that believe that the unique culture of their race would be destroyed by this move.

Even if I make my assumptions canon within the fic, there's no reason to expect the average pony on the street would know it, and wouldn't assume that your assumptions were correct. And given the irrationality of humans, and that ponies seem to act mostly like humans, a mere statement that "This is the way alicorn power is" isn't going to be enough to assuage the populace...

Lastly, should I fail to get any real discourse going here, I can delete it now. The LessWrong group on a popular MLP fanfiction site is much, much more active than it looked. It hadn't gotten any activity in it's forum in weeks, but when I posted this question there, I started getting replies very quickly. If I'd known that I'd get that level of activity, I wouldn't have bothered to post this here at all.

Replies from: Kindly
comment by Kindly · 2013-02-27T15:04:31.375Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see no reason why earth ponies would lose their talents, though they might decide they want to do something else upon gaining MORE talents.

Given that your own opinions fall squarely on one side of the debate... you should be very careful about using your powers as an author to make the world itself support your point of view. In every such case (earth pony talents, alicorn power levels, etc.) you could make either option the rule. But if every such decision favors your argument, readers may feel that you're making things too easy for yourself.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers, Salivanth
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-02-27T16:05:24.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The notion that alicorns combine the powers of the other three is canon.

If S4 doesn't have Twilight Sparkle gaining a new awareness of (and perhaps influence over) the earth and life, not just flight abilities, it'll be a plot hole.

Replies from: ModusPonies
comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-28T01:58:12.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About half of the show's writers don't seem to mind plot holes.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-02-28T04:07:07.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm aware of that, which is why I phrased it that way instead of just saying I expect S4 to include that.

comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-27T15:27:07.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. It also makes Celestia look like a much more credible character. One of my biggest problems was "Why the hell hasn't Celestia come up with this solution a thousand years ago?" and by making it genuinely really difficult to make the mass alicornification work properly, I can come up with a plausible answer for this that isn't "Celestia isn't rational.".

For what it's worth, I think I'm going to keep the particular thing you quoted, because I think it makes significantly more logical sense for alicorns, which are supposed to emulate the strengths of all three races, to be able to do everything than to lose the ability to do certain things. But I'll probably change the power level of alicorns to be more dangerous, as to me that makes just as much sense as my own interpretation of their power, and ought to be an equally challenging obstacle to the protagonists as the loss of talents would be.

Replies from: Baughn, Kindly
comment by Baughn · 2013-02-27T17:03:16.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was thinking along the lines of "Jack of all trades, master of none".

It's not that they'd lose their abilities, it's that they'd lose precision. They might regain what they had and more, given a thousand years to work on it, but they'd lose out now.

comment by Kindly · 2013-02-27T15:52:16.697Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough. I know close to nothing about how the different flavors of ponies work.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T03:39:18.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fortunately, I now have enough arguments against alicornification to turn the fanfic into a good fight while still having the world the way I originally envisioned it. I doubt many people are going to say I'm making it too easy, what with all the arguments about social pressure, overpopulation, and potential for magical abuse. Plus, I'm adding something that we don't see often enough: At the beginning of the fic, the protagonist is simply WRONG. Twilight's belief is "We should charge ahead and turn everypony into alicorns as quickly as possible" and to me, that's actually very stupid. My own belief is that the best way forward involves care and caution, making sure things will work on a societal level before taking significant steps forward, and that's the belief Twilight will eventually take on.

(I know that it's a big warning sign to have my protagonist have the same beliefs as me, but I can't avoid it, since I want Twilight to be rational enough to eventually reach the right conclusion, and I obviously think my belief is correct, or else I'd believe something else. So, hopefully this helps with that problem.)

But thanks very much for your initial point, it definitely made me think much harder about the world, and how I wanted it to work. I likely would have taken your advice on if I hadn't received so many good arguments. In fact, I was originally going to give other ponies Celestia-like powers to counter this author bias until I was soundly defeated in a debate about alicornification with that prior, which therefore made me decide "Okay, it's not being too easy on myself to make alicorn magic a force multiplier, it's being too hard on myself to make every alicorn Celestia!"

comment by DanielLC · 2013-02-28T01:20:39.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might be better off asking a deathist.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-02-28T03:13:31.518Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Nothing in canon suggests that there's any sort of religion in Equestria. Even in fanfics I've read, I've only read one fanfic where someone made up an afterlife that some ponies believed in, and in many more that I've read, Celestia's name is actually used in place of God in various sentences, like "Oh for Celestia's sake!" Thus, it's unlikely they'd believe in an afterlife: Both in canon and the majority of fanon, the closest thing to a God appears to be Celestia herself.

I think this gives you useful material to work with. Just because immortality doesn't cause Celestia problems doesn't mean it wouldn't cause problems for everyone else. Celestia is divine, they aren't. She can claim, without coming across as too unreasonable if you manage it well, that the fact that she's lived such a long time without becoming bored or depressed simply doesn't generalize to ponies that aren't gods.

Also, considering that becoming immortal appears to go hand in hand with learning magic, she can take the position that not everyone who wants to live forever can be trusted to be responsible with that sort of power. She can be trusted with that sort of power because she's a benevolent deity, and she trusts herself to decide whether or not to trust a particular pony with that power, given time to observe and make a judgment, but she does not trust ponies in general to decide for themselves whether they are trustworthy.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-27T18:41:38.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m writing a similar fic*. My solution to this problem: if the debate between mortality and immortality doesn’t provide a deep enough conflict, then use something else. (In Mortal, the core conflict is that Twilight is forced to choose between Celestia and Rainbow Dash.) Less centrally, I set my story in a world in which immortality is irreversible, and made it clear that Celestia’s first attempt at spreading immortality led to that “eternal night” thing.

Other arguments I used for Celestia:

Argument: If they don’t die, older generations will accumulate power and status at the expense of younger generations.

Response: Even if true, this is less bad than death.

Argument: What if there’s an afterlife?

Response: There isn’t.

Is the argument for deathism really that weak?

If immortality became provably achievable tomorrow, do you think arguments for deathism would sway anyone? I guess people who believe in immortality via afterlife might still be persuaded, but that’s about it.

*That draft is somewhat outdated, but the canon-compliant version isn't publishable yet.

Replies from: DanielLC
comment by DanielLC · 2013-02-28T01:16:50.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Response: There isn’t.

If that's established, why would you even use that argument?

The obvious couterargument would be: what if there isn't?

The more sophisticated version is that if there is an afterlife, there's no reason to believe it's better, but if there isn't one you should really avoid dying, it's highly unlikely that there is one, and if it really was worth dying to get to, Celestia should be ensuring her little ponies get there faster.

Replies from: ModusPonies
comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-28T02:56:00.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If that's established, why would you even use that argument?

In the setting I'm using (and in the show itself, so far), the ponies have the same information about an afterlife that we have in reality. Many people in reality think there is an afterlife, and they are wrong. The story doesn't get into the details of that debate because it would be a digression from what I'm trying to do; while I'd have no problem with writing an anti-death polemic that happens to contain ponies, this isn't that story. Rather, it's a melodrama that happens to be anti-death. For what I'm doing, it's enough that Twilight believes there's no afterlife and Fluttershy believes in reincarnation and Celestia is explicitly agnostic on the issue.

For what Salivanth is trying to do, developing the details of this argument is probably a lot more useful. It could be valuable to delve into how magic works, what destiny is, and what, if anything, that says about the existence of souls/afterlife.

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-02-28T09:27:31.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interestingly, the destiny thing has been something I'd thought about in the past. I thought about an idea for a short fanfiction designed to teach some of the basics of rationality, wherein Twilight was totally clueless about how to fix Starswirl's spell in the Season 3 finale. Twilight would be forced to learn the basics of rationality in some fashion, specifically the portion about mysterious answers, noticing that "destiny" didn't actually ANSWER anything, forcing her to clarify her true answers. By working on that, she discovers the true nature of Starswirl's spell, and is thus able to counter it and restore her friends back to normal. (Not sure what it would have been, but I was thinking it would be based on mind magic. Cutie marks would be based on belief, and the spell tricked them into believing that their destinies were something else, which caused their cutie marks to change: Cutie marks aren't caused by destiny, belief in destiny causes cutie marks.) In this case, Celestia and Luna actually know the score, but unlike mortal ponies, they WERE created for a purpose (By a being that remains unknown, being outside the scale of the fanfiction.) and they DO have raising the sun and moon as their destinies. So their beliefs that make their cutie marks appear as what they are are actually correct.

Then I came up with this transhumanist idea, and decided it was better than my other idea for a rationality-based fanfic.

comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T12:04:32.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth, I'm now taking pro-alicornism arguments, having strengthened the anti-alicornism side significantly. Anti-alicornism arguments are still acceptable.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2013-03-02T16:20:05.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like I imagine Plato would feel if he traveled to the current era and saw someone talking about "platonism".

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-03-01T11:22:45.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the argument is one-sided because one side is obviously right, you could change the facts. Invent some downside to alicorns.

For example, maybe being an alicorn gives you access to offensive magic much stronger than the defensive magic it gives you so that any alicorn has the power to kill everyone, even if everyone is an alicorn. Maybe any alicorn has the power to bring the sun crashing down on Equestria? (I've always imagined the Equestrian sun as being much smaller than the real sun, but still big enough to cause terrible, terrible damage).

But that might be too strong, because assuming you can't spread alicorns throughout space or something (and not have too many of them in one place to be hit by a celestial body), I think that would actually win the argument for mortality.

You could make it uncertain whether this will happen, but you don't want the whole debate to be speculation about how likely it is and how much risk is acceptable.

Maybe any rogue alicorn could still cause destruction, but on a smaller scale? Something like real-life mass shootings. Maybe make Celestia swayed by the availability heuristic and news reports of occasional mass-murders? Twilight could argue that ponies who would go on killing sprees weren't really that common, and old age was killing way more people. There are rationality lessons to be told here about shutting up and multiplying.

If there are less ponies who would go on killing sprees than humans, increase the number of alicorns that alicorn magic could kill before they were brought under control accordingly.

Replies from: Mestroyer
comment by Mestroyer · 2013-03-01T11:25:45.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'd have to explain why Luna hadn't killed everyone when she became Nightmare Moon, but that shouldn't be too hard. Maybe, like Sauron, she wanted to rule the world, not destroy it? You could make it so she killed thousands before Celestia imprisoned her, if you go with the "Alicorns can kill lots of people but not everyone" idea.

Replies from: Salivanth, MugaSofer
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T11:42:27.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's an excellent backup plan. Fortunately, with all the other replies in this thread, I'm unlikely to need a backup plan. That said, for the purposes of strengthening both sides, I'm likely to look for arguments to strengthen alicornism at some stage, and if that makes alicornism too powerful, I shall consider your idea as a way to bring parity back to the sides.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-05T21:32:29.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A world without a sun will die. It may take some time, however.

Replies from: Mestroyer
comment by Mestroyer · 2013-03-05T22:42:24.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, but Luna might not have been thinking straight, and might not have considered that.

I can imagine Nightmare Moon thinking "The idea that sunlight is better for plants than moonlight is one of Celestia's wicked lies."

comment by Tenoke · 2013-02-28T12:15:09.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This might've been mentioned but Celestia can argue that she is in some way different enough that immortality doesn't take a toll on her but that it would on most ponies even if they become alicorns. I don't know much about mlp but this seems like an easy way to let Celestia use arguments like depression and boredom etc. opposing immortality for anypony.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-28T15:46:13.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An idea: If there is more than one immortal, given enough time the immortals would develop different utility functions. At some point conflicts among them would arise, and at certain level of conflict the best long-term solution would be to destroy the other immortal. (Any compromise solution would cost each of the immortals some utility. Multiply that by an infinite time. This is how much utility you can get by a successful surprise attack.)

For extra effect, claim that it already happened in the past, and Celestia is the survivor of the last immortals' war. And she decided not to let that happen again.

Then you can have a discussion about possibility or impossibility of a CEV...

EDIT: These ideas are in other comments already. Should have read them all before commenting.

comment by listic · 2013-03-02T00:03:27.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not talk about all ponies simply becoming immortal instead of alicorns?

Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-02T01:35:23.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...I hadn't thought of that. Congratulations. You win. No, seriously. In the event that ponies can become immortal WITHOUT being alicorns, there simply isn't a good enough argument for deathism, period.

For the sake of the story, however, when the argument gets brought up by Twilight, it'll have to be shown to be magically impossible to do it. I'm going to have to make something up. Because the argument is literally too good. It actually makes the story a lot worse, because there's no longer a meaningful conflict between the two ideologies.

Since it's a story, the sides have to be somewhat balanced. But if we were debating alicornism vs. anti-alicornism for the sake of a thought experiment or something, I'd concede the victory to you for that one.

comment by Fergus_Mackinnon · 2013-03-01T21:26:46.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I admit to only having watched scattered episodes and the pilot, but assuming that the alicorn transformation can only be granted to ponies one could argue upraising the entire population would have a negative effect on the other sapient species such as Gryphons. If she held that position she could even support transponyism inherently, but oppose immediate application until a parallel can be developed for other sapients.

Some possibilities:

  1. Comparing their own capabilities and lifespans to that of alicorns could demoralise the other races.
  2. While the danger of alicorns to ponies could be mitigated by general upraising or internal policing, the danger to other races could not without the implementation of alicorn rule.
  3. As a combination of the above, an alicorn ruling class is innevitable and such as situation might produce individuals Celestia would not trust with alicorn powers.
  4. If Celestia upraised trustworthy individuals, she would have to be sure to only select those who would be willing and able to only select others also willing and able to select trustworthy individuals to upraise. This extends to your closest friends and your own children. Upraising individuals on a large scale might lead to a deterioration of the sort of society she is cultivating to maximise happiness and safely make the transition to immortality and greater power at a later date.
Replies from: Salivanth
comment by Salivanth · 2013-03-01T23:44:04.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your assumption is correct. The alicorn transformation can only be granted to ponies.

I'm not sure what you mean by the danger, in point 2. I can't think of a danger that fits all the criteria you mentioned. Military threat wouldn't affect other ponies, and envy would affect other races regardless of alicorn rule or not.

Point 4 is good, though it has a fairly easy answer: Ponies would have to be approved by someone (or multiple someones) trustworthy in order to be upraised, not merely by any alicorn. So, you would need to trust the pony to adhere to the laws, but you wouldn't need to trust them to have excellent judgement of their friends and their friends' friends and so forth. I think it's pretty obvious that there are far more of the former than the latter.

comment by twanvl · 2013-02-28T12:32:03.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could think of some in-universe arguments. Along the same lines as Dumbledore's talk to Harry: what if souls really do exist? In the MLP world, what if alicorns have some downside that is not yet known to Twilight? Maybe they are in constant agony after two years. Maybe turning someone into an alicorn requires a hidden sacrifice of the soul of your friends? Maybe there is a proven tendency for new (attempted) alicorns to go insane if they are not sufficiently ready for it, and for them to turn into monsters. Chrysalis, Sombra, Luna and even Discord could be examples.

comment by savageorange · 2013-02-28T03:47:59.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Argument: Harder to keep the populace in line, if everyone has more power.

Taking what Baughn has said further, you could postulate that the normal 'pony's life is about ' is inverted for alicorns: Concepts are .."embodiments" of alicorns. By which I mean that, .. Applejack has a life which is about apples, whereas the moon and stars' existence and state is about Luna. This would imply that every alicorn needs phenomenal self-control and forebearance to avoid disturbing the structure of everyday reality. (and also perhaps that the sun, stars and moon had 'previous owners' and behaved differently.)

That may be -too- powerful an argument, even if it doesn't pertain directly to death. It is somewhat vulnerable to Jossing, as I'm sure in the next two episodes there will be some discussion of what it means to be an alicorn.