Posts

Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. 2013-02-27T11:57:09.574Z

Comments

Comment by salivanth on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-04T05:55:52.350Z · LW · GW

I believe this lesson is designed for crisis situations where the wiser person taking the time to explain could be detrimental. For example, a soldier believes his commander is smarter than him and possesses more information than he does. The commander orders him to do something in an emergency situation that appears stupid from his perspective, but he does it anyway, because he chooses to trust his commander's judgement over his own.

Under normal circumstances, there is of course no reason why a subordinate shouldn't be encouraged to ask why they're doing something.

Comment by salivanth on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-04T05:50:07.694Z · LW · GW

It's a comment on one of Eliezer Yudkowsky's Facebook posts. I got permission to post it here, as I thought it was worth posting.

Comment by salivanth on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-02T23:49:31.028Z · LW · GW

The Courage Wolf looked long and slow at the Weasley twins. At length he spoke, "I see that you possess half of courage. That is good. Few achieve that."

"Half?" Fred asked, too awed to be truly offended.

"Yes," said the Wolf, "You know how to heroically defy, but you do not know how to heroically submit. How to say to another, 'You are wiser than I; tell me what to do and I will do it. I do not need to understand; I will not cost you the time to explain.' And there are those in your lives wiser than you, to whom you could say that."

"But what if they're wrong?" George said.

"If they are wrong, you die," the Wolf said plainly, "Horribly. And for nothing. That is why it is an act of courage."

  • HPMOR omake by Daniel Speyer.
Comment by salivanth on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012) · 2014-08-21T05:57:05.398Z · LW · GW

Welcome to Less Wrong!

This is an old topic. Note the title: Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012). I'm not sure where the new topic is, or even if it exists, but you should be able to search for it.

I recommend starting with the Sequences: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Sequences

The sequence you are looking for in regards to "right" and "should" is likely the Metaethics Sequence, but said sequence assumes you've read a lot of other stuff first. I suggest starting with Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, and if you enjoy that, move on to How to Actually Change Your Mind.

Comment by salivanth on 2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2013-11-23T15:10:27.346Z · LW · GW

In that case, I pre-commit that if I win, I'll spend it on something leisure-related or some treat that I otherwise wouldn't be able to justify the money to purchase.

I co-operated; I'd already committed myself to co-operating on any Prisoner's Dilemma involving people I believed to be rational. I'd like to say it was easy, but I did have to think about it. However, I stuck to my guns and obeyed the original logic that got me to pre-commit in the first place.

If I assume other people are about as rational as me, than a substantial majority of people should think similarly to me. That means that if I decide that everyone else will co-operate and thus I can defect, there's a good chance other people will come to the same conclusion as well. The best way to go about it is to pre-commit to co-operation, and hope that other rational people will do the same.

Thanks for the chance to test my beliefs with actual stakes on the line :)

Comment by salivanth on How valuable is it to learn math deeply? · 2013-10-11T14:36:59.050Z · LW · GW

I wanted to thank you for this. I read this post a few weeks ago, and while it was probably a matter of like two minutes for you to type it up, it was extremely valuable to me.

Specifically a paraphrase of point B, "The point where you feel like you should give up is way before the point at which you should ACTUALLY give up" has become my new mantra in learning maths, and since I do math tutoring when the work's there, I'm passing this message on to my students as well.

So, thank you very much for this advice.

Comment by salivanth on October Monthly Bragging Thread · 2013-10-08T21:52:39.479Z · LW · GW

The main technique I used was bypassing the "trying to try" fallacy, as well as some HPMOR-style thinking; Obstacles mean you get creative, rather than give up. The most important thing was just not giving up upon finding the first reasonable-sounding solution, even if it's chances of success wasn't particularly high.

As to how I applied it, that was the best part, and what the second paragraph alluded to; it was my default response, to the point where I was briefly stunned when my friend was throwing up easily circumventible roadblocks to my ideas as if they were impossible obstacles. (And I did talk to him, in case he had other motives for wanting to not do the plan and was thus actively trying to come up with reasons not to do it.)

It was only then that I reviewed my own thinking and realised how far I've come since I first found HPMOR and LessWrong; I'd ceased to think of this particular method as unusual, I thought it was how any intelligent person attempted to solve their problems, but my friend matches me intellectually.

If you meant "how" as in specifics; my friend needed to earn extra money, and his reasonable-sounding solution was to find employment, despite the poor prospects for it in his area, and despite the fact that he'd looked before and hadn't found anything. To him, the solution stopped at there, because it could work, whereas that didn't meet my goal of solving my friend's problem on it's own due to it's unreliability. So I helped him leverage some of his other talents, in addition to looking for work. (Which is a good plan, just not sufficiently reliable on it's own.) None of my ideas were particularly brilliant, but I wouldn't have found them if I'd stopped at the reasonable-sounding solution and decided that was sufficient effort for victory.

Honestly, it's still weird to me right now. I was actually embarrassed writing this comment, because writing it out made it seem so trivial and not worth being proud about, and I had to remind myself that if it really was that obvious, my friend would have done it himself. Not to mention that a couple of years ago I'd have done the exact same thing in his position.

Comment by salivanth on October Monthly Bragging Thread · 2013-10-08T17:00:12.522Z · LW · GW

I got to use rationality techniques to not only solve a friend's problem that had been ongoing for months, but also managed to completely change the way he thought about problem-solving in general. Not sure if that second part will actually stick.

On a related note, that was when I found out that I've internalised the basics of how to REALLY approach a problem with the intent of solving it, to such a degree that I'd forgotten that my thought process was unusual.

Comment by salivanth on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2013-04-26T16:45:09.066Z · LW · GW

How'd it go?

EDIT: My bad, I thought this was posted on 22 January 2013, not 22 January 2012. I'll leave this up just in case though.

Comment by salivanth on A hypothesis testing video game · 2013-04-12T04:31:56.102Z · LW · GW

What I've found that the spoilt version of Nethack tests, more than anything else, is patience. Nethack spoilt isn't about scholarship, really. You don't study. You have a situation, and you look up things that are relevant to that situation. There is a small bit of study at the beginning, generally when you look up stuff like how to begin, what a newbie-friendly class/race is, and how to not die on the second floor.

But really, it's patience. I once did an experiment where players who were relatively new to Nethack were encouraged to spoil themselves as early and often as possible, and request advice frequently from better players. Really, to do anything short of having someone else play the game for you was not only allowed, but actively encouraged. Since I usually put a limiter on how willing I am to spoil myself on roguelikes, I thought this might be fun. (Namely, I'm unwilling to ask for any advice in tactical situations, only strategic ones: Which area should I go to next, instead of "How do I kill this ogre?")

Conventional wisdom for Nethack states that upon reaching the halfway point of the game, you should win from there if you play correctly. I got about three-quarters of the way there, on my third run, having never gotten past the second floor on my runs prior to those three. I died to a misclick, not to lack of knowledge or poor tactics. So, patience is the true virtue of Nethack: It's surprisingly easy to win as long as you spoil yourself, get advice, and don't screw up.

Sadly, the experiment only had the one participant actually try it, namely me, so the evidence shall remain anecdotal.

Comment by salivanth on A hypothesis testing video game · 2013-04-07T14:59:04.827Z · LW · GW

Oh, no, I have no problems with people spoiling themselves for Nethack. That's pretty much the only way to actually win. But if your aim is to improve rationality, rather than to do as well as possible within the game, it might be better to play it unspoiled. After all, Morendil mentioned "hypothesis testing" as something that was taught by Nethack: The spoilt version doesn't really test that.

Comment by salivanth on A hypothesis testing video game · 2013-04-02T02:33:11.085Z · LW · GW

I'm assuming this only applies if you aren't using spoilers for NetHack?

Comment by salivanth on A hypothesis testing video game · 2013-04-01T05:52:05.273Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure about it's rationality testing or improving abilities, but I find it very fun :)

Comment by salivanth on The cup-holder paradox · 2013-03-27T02:39:14.250Z · LW · GW

But this is a rather interesting example of rationality at work. It's useful for a couple of reasons.

1) There's a clear indication here of incorrect beliefs leading to unwanted consequences. In this case, a downplay of the importance of cup holders is leading to the loss of profit that could otherwise be gained.

2) It's fairly trivial and simple, which is actually a good thing in it's favor. It's not technical, meaning we can all understand what's going on, and it's extremely unlikely anyone is going to have an entrenched belief about cup holders already that makes rational discourse more difficult.

The simplicity of the example is a point in it's favor. We're not attempting to fix the cupholder problem here, we're looking at explanations of why it might exist in order to improve our model of things.

Comment by salivanth on Young Cryonicist Gathering Warning · 2013-03-12T03:16:29.230Z · LW · GW

Thank you. I apologise for not asking you for verification sooner. My downvote is revoked and I've upvoted your post.

I learnt that I should have asked for verification sooner, either immediately, or as soon as you informed me you had reasons for wishing to keep said verification private. I also learnt that I should assign a higher initial probability to claims made by LessWrong members I don't know, which is a lesson I'm very glad to have learnt, since I do enjoy trusting people.

Comment by salivanth on Game Theory of the Immortals · 2013-03-12T03:01:12.937Z · LW · GW

You're right.

In this case, assuming immortals had perfect memories and would eventually work out that you didn't, assuming you were an immortal who can't remember if you've played that particular opponent before (But can vaguely remember an idea of how often you get defected on vs. co-operated with by the entire field) what do you think your optimal strategy would be?

Comment by salivanth on Young Cryonicist Gathering Warning · 2013-03-12T02:58:52.123Z · LW · GW

Okay, I've sent a PM asking you for verification.

Comment by salivanth on Young Cryonicist Gathering Warning · 2013-03-12T02:37:31.268Z · LW · GW

I never actually claimed you were making this up, merely that the likelihood of your story being true was low. You inventing the story is only one possible reason why your story might be false. You could also simply be mistaken, have witnessed actions that looked much worse out of context (For example, maybe your friends did something to deserve their treatment, but didn't tell you because it would make them look bad) or some other reason I haven't thought of.

In addition, you ask why I care so much about lack of transparency when I can think of reasons why you'd want to keep information private. You gave none of this information in the original post, so if I were to come up with potential reasons why you might want to keep the information secret, I'd be rationalising.

With that in mind, evidence that your story is false:

  • The prior probability of your claim is low. Not extremely low, but as when making any claim that isn't obvious, the "burden of proof" is upon you. (Naturally, I don't expect PROOF, hence the inverted commas, but you do need to provide sufficient evidence to overcome the initial low probability.)
  • You claim to have references, yet don't provide them in the initial post or explain in the initial post why you won't publicly provide them. (Yes, you've given me an explanation now, which reduces the strength of this evidence, but does not eliminate it.)
  • I have been unable to find any collaborating evidence for your story.
  • The reaction on LessWrong, a site where the average member tends to be at least somewhat rational and probably at least as rational as myself, if not more so, is nearly universally negative.
  • You've failed to provide verification. You claimed your story was easily verified, yet there's a conspicuous absence of any verification. Unlike your references, if your story is "easily verified", that means it's verifiable using public knowledge, and you haven't provided that knowledge. (If the story is verifiable by asking you, that does not count. You're asking us to verify the trustability of a source by asking that same source.)

Evidence that your story is true:

  • You said it is. (Let's start with the obvious here.)
  • Lack of discernable motivation for lying.
  • Consquences if you're wrong, which you seem to care about. (Loss of karma/status in the group.)
  • You've been around for a while.
  • Decent chance people on LW would call you out on it if you were lying. (Thus making you less likely to try and fool people.)

In the end, the evidence for it being false is simply stronger. You've failed to overcome the burden of probability you've shouldered by making the claim. In order to overcome this burden, more evidence is required. Hence why I asked you to show the easy verification you claim exists, and post your references. If you have a good reason to not do the latter, at least do the former, and if you have a good reason not to do THAT as well, you'll just have to resign yourself to not being believed here.

Comment by salivanth on Young Cryonicist Gathering Warning · 2013-03-12T00:15:53.022Z · LW · GW

That's how it looks like from your perspective. From a reader's perspective, it looks like someone who isn't a notable community figure on LessWrong (At least, I assume this, based on your karma scores and the fact that I have never heard of you. If I'm wrong, I apologise.) has suddenly made a claim with a significant burden of proof on it, and not provided any concrete evidence, despite apparently sitting on some. "I have evidence but am not going to include this in this post, nor will I explain why I cannot include the evidence in this post." is an immediate red flag.

Additionally, I refer to Michaelos's point, who puts it better than I can. You're accusing someone of being insane, but your post comes off as not being all that serious, with the "lol"s interspersed.

Lastly, you claim that your story is easily verified, but some Google searches have turned up absolutely nothing even tangenitally related to your claim except for this thread. If it's easily verified by external sources, I haven't been able to see it.

So, if it never occurred to you that your story would be doubted, you've obviously made a mistake somewhere. Your evidence in favor of you telling the truth (You've been on LW for a while, you're opening yourself up to falsification, you have no known reasons to start attacking this person) is simply nowhere near sufficient.

That said, you can still fix this. Clearly, you were wrong about the likelihood of people doubting you, but everyone makes mistakes. So post your evidence, link us to somewhere that verifies your story, and I expect the problem will be solved.

Comment by salivanth on Young Cryonicist Gathering Warning · 2013-03-11T23:52:27.968Z · LW · GW

If you have references, and you want to get potentially helpful information to rationalists, why on earth would you not just post these references to begin with? If you have a good reason for not making the references public, why didn't you say so in your initial post?

Comment by salivanth on Game Theory of the Immortals · 2013-03-11T23:48:29.174Z · LW · GW

If you have an imperfect memory and you think they don't, wouldn't you want to pre-commit to attempting co-operation with any immortal entities you face, given they are very likely to remember you, even if you don't remember them? This is of course assuming that most or all other immortal entities you're likely to face in the Dilemma do in fact have perfect memories.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-08T01:25:28.417Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-07T23:05:41.314Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-03T00:52:45.831Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-02T01:35:23.234Z · LW · GW

...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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T23:44:04.147Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T12:04:32.580Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T11:42:27.262Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Argument · 2013-03-01T06:54:01.168Z · LW · GW

"If you are Christian, then you probably know the Bible in detail, you are probably familiar with a range of theological and apologetic texts"

I'll admit I don't have any statistics here, but from what I've seen heard, both first-hand and second-hand, Christians tend to be quite poor on average at knowing the Bible. I've never heard any evidence suggesting the average Christian has a detailed knowledge of the contents of the Bible, even if the kind of Christians who like to argue Christianity are more informed than most. (Similarly, argumentative atheists tend to have a better knowledge of the atheistic arguments than the average atheist.)

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T06:30:51.848Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T04:13:53.123Z · LW · GW

That...is 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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T03:39:18.169Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T03:24:10.250Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-03-01T00:38:02.096Z · LW · GW

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?

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T22:18:53.776Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T22:09:20.002Z · LW · GW

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 :)

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T09:38:05.229Z · LW · GW

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?

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T09:33:10.560Z · LW · GW

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 salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T09:30:00.983Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T09:27:31.875Z · LW · GW

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 on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T09:18:21.582Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T08:17:17.579Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T05:43:08.570Z · LW · GW

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?

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-28T05:39:23.254Z · LW · GW

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 angle...is 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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-27T15:27:07.616Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by salivanth on Need help with an MLP fanfiction with a transhumanist theme. · 2013-02-27T13:08:14.534Z · LW · GW

That's...an 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.

Comment by salivanth on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-07-06T03:49:07.149Z · LW · GW

Then I choose the torture. I've grown a bit more comfortable with overriding intuition in regards to extremely large numbers since my original reply 3 months ago.

Comment by salivanth on Circular Altruism · 2012-05-25T12:50:53.058Z · LW · GW

You might be right. I'll have to think about this, and reconsider my stance. One billion is obviously far less than 3^^^3, but you are right in that the 10 million dollars stolen by you would be preferable to me than the 100,000 dollars stolen by Eliezer. I also consider losing 100,000 dollars less than or equal to 100,000 times as bad as losing one dollar. This indicates one of two things:

A) My utility system is deeply flawed. B) My utility system includes some sort of 'diffiusion factor' wherein a disutility of X becomes <X when divided among several people, and the disutility becomes lower the more people it's divided among. In essence, there is some disutility for one person suffering a lot of disutility, that isn't there when it's divided among a lot of people.

Of this, B seems more likely, and I didn't take it into account when considering torture vs. dust specks. In any case, some introspection on this should help me further define my utility function, so thanks for giving me something to think about.

Comment by salivanth on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-05-25T12:22:45.092Z · LW · GW

Actually, I ended up resolving this at some point. I would in fact pick the dust specks in this case, because the situations aren't identical. I'd spend a lot of time in my 3^^^3 lives worrying if I'm going to start being tortured for 50 years, but I wouldn't worry about the dust specks. Technically, the disutility of the dust specks is worse, but my brain can't comprehend the number "3^^^3", so it would worry more about the torture happening to me. Adding in the disutility of worrying about the torture, even a small amount, across 3^^^3 / 2 lives, and it's clear that I should pick the dust specks for myself in this situation, regardless of whether or not I choose torture in the original problem.

Comment by salivanth on Circular Altruism · 2012-05-01T12:23:30.359Z · LW · GW

Ben Jones didn't recognise the dust speck as "trivial" on his torture scale, he identified it as "zero". There is a difference: If dust speck disutility is equal to zero, you shouldn't pay one cent to save 3^^^3 people from it. 0 3^^^3 = 0, and the disutility of losing one cent is non-zero. If you assign an epsilon of disutility to a dust speck, then 3^^^3 epsilon is way more than 1 person suffering 50 years of torture. For all intents and purposes, 3^^^3 = infinity. The only way that Infinity(X) can be worse than a finite number is if X is equal to 0. If X = 0.00000001, then torture is preferable to dust specks.