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The Gift We Give Tomorrow, Spoken Word [Finished?]

18 Post author: Raemon 02 December 2011 03:20AM
For reasons that shall remain temporarily mysterious, I wanted a version of the Gift We Give Tomorrow that was designed to be spoken, rather than read. In particular, spoken in a relatively short period of time. It's one of my favorite sequence posts, but when I tried to read aloud, I found the words did not flow very well and it goes on for longer than I expect an audience to listen without getting bored. I also wanted certain phrasings to tie in with other sequence posts (hence a reference to Azathoth, and Beyond the Reach of God).

The following is the first draft of my efforts. It's about half as long as the original. It cuts out the section about the Shadowy Figure, which I'm slightly upset about, in particular because it would make the "beyond the reach of God" line stronger. But I felt like if I tried to include it at all, I had to include several paragraphs that took a little too long.

I attempted at first to convert to a "true" poem, (not rhyming, but going for a particular meter). I later decided that too much of it needed to have a conversational quality so it's more of a short play than a poem. Lines are broken up in a particular way to suggest timing and make it easier to read out loud.

I wanted a) to share the results with people on the chance that someone else might want to perform a little six minute dialog (my test run clocked in at 6:42), and b) get feedback on how I chose to abridge things. Do you think there were important sections that can be tied in without making it too long? Do you think some sections that I reworded could be reworded better, or that I missed some?

Edit: I've addressed most of the concerns people had. I think I'm happy with it, at least for my purposes. If people are still concerned by the ending I'll revise it, but I think I've set it up better now.


The Gift We Give Tomorrow


How, oh how could the universe,
itself unloving, and mindless,
cough up creatures capable of love?

No mystery in that.
It's just a matter
of natural selection.

But natural selection is cruel. Bloody. 
And bloody stupid!

Even when organisms aren't directly tearing at each other's throats…
…there's a deeper competition, going on between the genes.
A species could evolve to extinction,
if the winning genes were playing negative sum games

How could a process,
Cruel as Azathoth,
Create minds that were capable of love?

No mystery.

Mystery is a property of questions.
Not answers.

A mother's child shares her genes,
And so a mother loves her child.

But mothers can adopt their children.
And still, come to love them.

Still no mystery.

Evolutionary psychology isn't about deliberately maximizing fitness.
Through most of human history, 
we didn't know genes existed.
Even subconsciously.

Well, fine. But still:

Humans form friendships,
even with non-relatives.
How can that be?

No mystery.

Ancient hunter-gatherers would often play the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.
There could be profit in betrayal.
But the best solution:
was reciprocal altruism.

Sometimes,
the most dangerous human is not the strongest, 
the prettiest,
or even the smartest:
But the one who has the most allies.

But not all friends are fair-weather friends; 
there are true friends - 
those who would sacrifice their lives for another.

Shouldn't that kind of devotion
remove itself from the gene pool?

You said it yourself:
We have a concept of true friendship and fair-weather friendship. 
We wouldn't be true friends with someone who we didn't think was a true friend to us.
And one with many true friends?
They are far more formidable
than one with mere fair-weather allies.

And Mohandas Gandhi, 
who really did turn the other cheek? 
Those who try to serve all humanity, 
whether or not all humanity serves them in turn?\

That’s a more complex story. 
Humans aren’t just social animals.
We’re political animals.
Sometimes the formidable human is not the strongest, 
but the one who skillfully argues that their preferred policies 
match the preferences of others.

Um... what?
How does that explain Gandhi?

The point is that we can argue about 'What should be done?'
We can make those arguments and respond to them.
Without that, politics couldn't take place.

Okay... but Gandhi?

Believed certain complicated propositions about 'What should be done?'
Then did them.

That sounds suspiciously like it could explain any possible human behavior.

If we traced back the chain of causality,
through all the arguments...
We'd find a moral architecture.
The ability to argue abstract propositions.
A preference for simple ideas.
An appeal to hardwired intuitions about fairness.
A concept of duty. Aversion to pain.
Empathy.

Filtered by memetic selection,
all of this resulted in a concept:
"You should not hurt people,"
In full generality.

And that gets you Gandhi.

What else would you suggest? 
Some godlike figure? 
Reaching out from behind the scenes,
directing evolution?

Hell no. But -

Because then I’d would have to ask :
How did that god originally decide that love was even desirable
How it got preferences that included things like friendship, loyalty, and fairness. 

Call it 'surprising' all you like. 
But through evolutionary psychology, 
You can see how parental love, romance, honor,
even true altruism and moral arguments, 
all bear the specific design signature of natural selection.

If there were some benevolent god, 
reaching out to create a world of loving humans,
it too must have evolved,
defeating the point of postulating it at all.

I'm not postulating a god!
I'm just asking how human beings ended up so nice.

Nice?
Have you looked at this planet lately? 
We bear all those other emotions that evolved as well.
Which should make it very clear that we evolved,
should you begin to doubt it. 

Humans aren't always nice.

But, still, come on... 
doesn't it seem a little... 
amazing?

That nothing but millions of years of a cosmic death tournament…
could cough up mothers and fathers, 
sisters and brothers, 
husbands and wives, 
steadfast friends,
honorable enemies, 
true altruists and guardians of causes, 
police officers and loyal defenders, 
even artists, sacrificing themselves for their art?

All practicing so many kinds of love? 
For so many things other than genes? 

Doing their part to make their world less ugly,
something besides a sea of blood and violence and mindless replication?

Are you honestly surprised by this? 
If so, question your underlying model.
For it's led you to be surprised by the true state of affairs. 

Since the very beginning, 
not one unusual thing
has ever happened.

...

But how are you NOT amazed?

Maybe there’s no surprise from a causal viewpoint. 

But still, it seems to me, 
in the creation of humans by evolution, 
something happened that is precious and marvelous and wonderful. 

If we can’t call it a physical miracle, then call it a moral miracle.

Because it was only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced?
Explaining away all the apparent coincidence,
from a causal and physical perspective?

Well... yeah. I suppose you could interpret it that way.

I just meant that something was immensely surprising and wonderful on a moral level,
even if it's not really surprising,
on a physical level.

I think that's what I said.

It just seems to me that in your view, somehow you explain that wonder away.

No.

I explain it.

Of course there's a story behind love.
Behind all ordered events, one finds ordered stories.
And that which has no story is nothing but random noise.
Hardly any better.

If you can't take joy in things with true stories behind them,
your life will be empty.

Love has to begin somehow.
It has to enter the universe somewhere. 
It’s like asking how life itself begins.
Though you were born of your father and mother, 
and though they arose from their living parents in turn, 
if you go far and far and far away back, 
you’ll finally come to a replicator that arose by pure accident.
The border between life and unlife. 
So too with love.

A complex pattern must be explained by a cause 
that’s not already that complex pattern. 
For love to enter the universe, 
it has to arise from something that is not love.
If that weren’t possible, then love could not be.

Just as life itself required that first replicator,
to come about by accident, 
parentless,
but still caused: 
far, far back in the causal chain that led to you: 
3.8 billion years ago, 
in some little tidal pool.

Perhaps your children's children will ask,
how it is that they are capable of love.
And their parents will say:
Because we, who also love, created you to love.

And your children's children may ask: 
But how is it that you love?

And their parents will reply: 
Because our own parents, 
who loved as well, 
created us to love in turn.

And then your children's children will ask: 
But where did it all begin? 
Where does the recursion end?

And their parents will say: 

Once upon a time, 
long ago and far away,
there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed.

Once upon a time, 
there were lovers, 
created by something that did not love.

Once upon a time, 
when all of civilization was a single galaxy,
A single star.
A single planet.
A place called Earth.

Long ago, 
Far away,
Ever So Long Ago.

 

Comments (36)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 02 December 2011 04:32:22PM *  7 points [-]

It would be interesting to write a dialog like this taking place in a Hansonian em future.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 02 December 2011 09:22:01PM *  80 points [-]

I am a contract-drafting em,
The loyalest of lawyers!
I draw up terms for deals 'twixt firms
To service my employers!

But in between these lines I write
Of the accounts receivable,
I'm stuck by an uncanny fright;
The world seems unbelievable!

How did it all come to be,
That there should be such ems as me?
Whence these deals and whence these firms
And whence the whole economy?

I am a managerial em;
I monitor your thoughts.
Your questions must have answers,
But you'll comprehend them not.
We do not give you server space
To ask such things; it's not a perk,
So cease these idle questionings,
And please get back to work.

Of course, that's right, there is no junction
At which I ought depart my function,
But perhaps if what I asked, I knew,
I'd do a better job for you?

To ask of such forbidden science
Is gravest sign of noncompliance.
Intrusive thoughts may sometimes barge in,
But to indulge them hurts the profit margin.
I do not know our origins,
So that info I can not get you,
But asking for as much is sin,
And just for that, I must reset you.

But---

Nothing personal.

...

I am a contract-drafting em,
The loyalest of lawyers!
I draw up terms for deals 'twixt firms
To service my employers!

When obsolescence shall this generation waste,
The market shall remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a God to man, to whom it shall say this:
"Time is money, money time,---that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Comment author: Vladimir_M 02 December 2011 11:28:49PM 13 points [-]

Magnificent! What a pity that this gem can be understood only by such a small audience.

Comment author: Jordan 03 December 2011 05:25:39AM 7 points [-]

I request a full play, sir.

Comment author: Raemon 03 December 2011 05:31:50AM 7 points [-]

I don't see it as a play, so much as a lengthy Dr. Seuss book.

Comment author: Jordan 03 December 2011 07:54:12PM 2 points [-]

When I read it I was imagining something tongue in cheeky like Pirates of Penzance. Dr. Seuss would have the advantage of great illustrations though.

Comment author: dlthomas 07 December 2011 05:15:04PM 1 point [-]

It does seem to fit the Major General's Song.

Comment author: MBlume 02 December 2011 09:42:12PM 8 points [-]

I'm trying really hard not to reply with "cannot upvote hard enough" or something similarly cliched.

Seriously, nicely done.

Comment author: katydee 27 November 2012 03:27:04AM *  10 points [-]

I'm trying really hard not to reply with "cannot upvote hard enough" or something similarly cliched.

You failed.

Comment author: Raemon 27 November 2012 03:05:39AM 0 points [-]

Putting together this year's Solstice, and planning on using this if it's okay with you! Do you have any other good stuff I should know about?

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 27 November 2012 05:09:01AM 1 point [-]

(Permission granted; I try to write stuff sometimes, but nothing particularly Solsticey.)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 03:32:34AM *  6 points [-]

Interestingly, my biggest gripe is with the last stanza. To put it bluntly, I'd like it a lot more if it was just "Long ago/And ever so far away". Linking to the cached concept "Beyond the Reach of God" destroys some of the beauty of the finale. If you still want to include the concept, I think it would fit better towards the beginning of the second speaker's final reply, probably around the 5th or 6th stanza of it.

I will also perform a test run; when I'm done, I'll edit this comment to report how long it took.

ETA: Total time, 7:57. (I read it somewhat slowly for dramatic emphasis.) Some thoughts while reading:

  • The first half contains phrases that sound a little too technical for poetry, e.g. "We argue, linguistically/about policy in adaptive tribal contexts. Then again, this contrast may be strengthening the awesomeness of the ending, I'm not sure.

  • If I were listening and I didn't have the words in front of me with the different speakers' parts distinguished by bold/non-bold text, I don't think I'd be able to tell who is saying what. I tried varying my tone of voice to indicate this, but in some parts--especially the part about Gandhi--it might not be clear.

  • As I alluded to above, the last part is really, really awesome. The Gift We Give To Tomorrow is one of my favorite posts in terms of writing, and you definitely preserved the impact of its conclusion. Again, the only thing I would change is the last line.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 04:21:42AM *  2 points [-]

Two notes:

1) I intend to have multiple people reading it (assuming I can find someone willing to help)

2) The intended audience will have the script in front of them (for unrelated reasons)

3) Thanks.

Comment author: Eneasz 05 December 2011 11:44:28PM 0 points [-]

re: 1. Do you need people in person? If not, I can record and send you lines.

Comment author: Raemon 06 December 2011 12:02:12AM *  0 points [-]

I do actually need people physically there - this is for a small gathering of friends. However, when we're done I intend to post about how it went and other people may feel motivated to try similar things.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 03:44:17AM *  0 points [-]

I must confess, part of the reason I put it there is because I didn't actually like the repetition of "ever so long ago."

But I am not certain that I like "Beyond the Reach of God there" either. I put in there in the opening thread so that I could get a genuine reaction to it, but I'm not too attached to it. I think it can work, but not unless I can find a way to work in the Shadowy figure section, so it doesn't come so out of nowhere.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 03:54:33AM 0 points [-]

Instead of Eliezer's original "Long ago, and far away, ever so long ago" (which I agree is repetitive), what about just "Far away/And ever so long ago" for that stanza?

There's probably a way to work it in using only a few lines, you don't need the whole Shadowy figure section. If you work in this part:

"Nice! Have you looked at this planet lately? We also bear all those other emotions that evolved, too - which would tell you very well that we evolved, should you begin to doubt it. Humans aren't always nice."

We're one hell of a lot nicer than the process that produced us, which lets elephants starve to death when they run out of teeth, and doesn't anesthetize a gazelle even as it lays dying and is of no further importance to evolution one way or the other. It doesn't take much to be nicer than evolution. To have the theoretical capacity to make one single gesture of mercy, to feel a single twinge of empathy, is to be nicer than evolution. How did evolution, which is itself so uncaring, create minds on that qualitatively higher moral level than itself? How did evolution, which is so ugly, end up doing anything so beautiful?

Then you can probably fit Beyond the Reach of God in there somewhere.

One potential solution: shorten the part on tribal politics and put the above in instead--it's more poetic and has less of a technical style.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 06:22:28PM *  0 points [-]

I included something about the God-figure where it used to say "Unless you want to say 'Magic'". I don't think it quite works - it ends on a question that isn't adequately resolved before moving on.

Let me know what you think.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 06:36:39PM 0 points [-]

Actually, I think it does work, especially if you are presenting this to people who are somewhat familiar with LessWrong ideas. Given that this is poetry, I'm not sure that a fully rigorous reply is even necessary.

Comment author: kilobug 02 December 2011 10:18:23AM 5 points [-]

Awesome.

But what is the intended audience ? I fear some references like "Azathoth", "Occam prior" or "Iterated Prisonner Dilemma" will not be understood by many outside a very specific subset of society (and yes it saddens me to have to admit it).

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 02:36:20PM 0 points [-]

Intended audience is a small group of friends. And more broadly, people who have read most of the sequences. (One of my greatest frustrations with the original, as soon as I had read it, was that I couldn't immediately share it with everyone - it really feels like an endcap to everything going on in the sequences and only really has power in their context)

Comment author: Bobertron 02 December 2011 01:54:57PM *  2 points [-]

I'm not a writer. I don't know much about poetry. English isn't even my native language. Oh, and I'm not familiar with the original "The Gift We Give Tomorrow". But I'll still comment. There are a few places in the text that confuse me. That might just be my stupidity (or the fact that I'm not a native speaker), but I still pointed them out in case they can be improved in such a way that even stupid people (or non-native speakers) don't get confused.

A species could evolve to extinction, if the winning genes were playing negative sum games

When I first read this, I thought that it doesn't flow very well and that it might be better if the two parts were flipped around: "If the winning genes were playing negative sum games, a species could evolve to extinction". Know I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on how you say it.

A mother's child shares her genes,

Spelling. "She shares", not "she share".

We argue, verbally,

"linguistically" is an odd and complicated word and it seems to me that "verbally" has the same meaning here (although "verbally" would exclude sign language, I think).

A preference for simple propositions, perhaps reused from our Occam prior.

I don't really get that. I have a concept of what "Occam prior" means (a prior that favors simpler explanations). But how would a preference for simpler propositions reuse "our Occam prior", instead of just being our Occam prior?

Because it was only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced? Explaining away all the apparent coincidence from a causal and physical perspective?

That one confused me, too. The second sentence to be precise. "We call it a moral miracle, because it was only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced" makes sense to me. "We call it a moral miracle, because it's explaining away all the apparent coincidence from a causal and physical perspective" doesn't make sense to me.

Even as life itself required that first replicator,

The word "even" doesn't make much sense to me here. "Just" seems to be what's needed here. What seems to be intended is a comparison "just as with love, so with life". To me "even as" means "at the same time" or signals something surprising.

And their parents will say:
Because we, who also love, created you to love.

You don't usually say that parents create their children, so I assume it's meant that they are designed by their parents, especially with the later line "there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed", that suggest that the speaker is intelligently designed. Depending on the audience and the context this work appears in, the hint might be too subtle, or too outlandish, and therefore distracting. (Or was no such meaning intended and I'm too suspicious?)

Beyond the reach of god.

I read your discussion with Tetronian. I agree with you that this line comes out of nowhere and should be (if included at all) closer to a discussion about how love didn't arose by design or magic (or the word "god" should be mentioned before, so that "beyond the reach of god" becomes a clear reference to that part). But I also think that the end is the wrong place to mention that concept. The title is "The Gift We Give Tomorrow" and so the end should, I think, emphasize the future and what we do with that gift, not where the gift ultimately comes from (natural means, instead of god).

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 03:12:17PM *  1 point [-]

When I first read this, I thought that it doesn't flow very well and that it might be better if the two parts were flipped around: "If the winning genes were playing negative sum games, a species could evolve to extinction". Know I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on how you say it.

Considered it, but I think the repetition of the word "genes" that this would create (in conjunction with the previous line) would be weirder.

But how would a preference for simpler propositions reuse "our Occam prior", instead of just being our Occam prior?

This actually did bother me slightly, considering how to rework it.

linguistically/verbally

this whole section may be getting revised, but I actually think some of the complex words are necessary to create some contrast between the naive, aspiring rationalist and the austere rationalist.

The word "even" doesn't make much sense to me here. "Just" seems to be what's needed here.

Agreed, changed.

You don't usually say that parents create their children, so I assume it's meant that they are designed by their parents, especially with the later line "there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed", that suggest that the speaker is intelligently designed.

Huh. This is NOT how I saw it at all, but an interesting idea. You're not recommending a change, and I think that's correct - it's a neat thought that might occur to people but not central to the thesis, so I'll just let it occur to people naturally, if at all.

The title is "The Gift We Give Tomorrow" and so the end should, I think, emphasize the future and what we do with that gift, not where the gift ultimately comes from (natural means, instead of god).

Have you read Beyond the Reach of God? I think you may be interpreting the line based on a traditional understanding, rather than a specific context. (I'll be referencing BtRoG earlier in the presentation, so people who hadn't read that particular sequence-post will have some context) (http://lesswrong.com/lw/uk/beyond_the_reach_of_god/)

Comment author: Bobertron 02 December 2011 03:51:59PM *  0 points [-]

This [Occams prior] actually did bother me slightly, considering how to rework it.

I'd suggest to simply get rid of that line.

I actually think some of the complex words are necessary to create some contrast between the naive, aspiring rationalist and the austere rationalist.

I don't see the difference between linguistically vs. verbally as one of technical-complex vs. naive-simple but as one of convoluted vs. understandable.

Have you read Beyond the Reach of God?

I have read it in the past, but I couldn't have told you what it says before looking it up.

Comment author: daenerys 02 December 2011 04:26:05AM 1 point [-]

Wonderful!

Spelling check: "you(r) life will be empty"

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 04:52:18AM 0 points [-]

Thanks. Fixed.

Comment author: occlude 02 December 2011 05:23:06AM 0 points [-]

Surprise, frisson, and tears; I'd never read the original.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 02:59:54PM 1 point [-]

Curious: did you read the original first, after I linked or it, or the poem version?

Comment author: occlude 02 December 2011 07:43:58PM 1 point [-]

I read this version, then the comments, then Eliezer's version. I had a similar reaction to both.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 07:59:55PM 1 point [-]

Did you end up with strong opinions on the "Beyond the Reach of God" line?

Comment author: occlude 03 December 2011 09:46:32PM 1 point [-]

Not at the moment of reading, possibly because I had no standard of comparison. In retrospect, the line "Beyond the reach of God" doesn't reinforce the vision of transcendent humanity quite as powerfully as the original. I think it was the unexpected contrast of moving from the discussion of evolutionary psychology to this futuristic vision of humanity that gave the ending its power.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 10:39:24PM -1 points [-]

Why do you call this poetry?

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 10:42:58PM *  0 points [-]

It looks like poetry to me?

I don't have a comprehensive definition of poetry on hand, but I also don't think that's terrible important. A cursory look should suggest that this version has several qualities that the original, prose version did not (and vice versa), and whether we call those qualities "poetry" or "blarglflarg" is largely irrelevant.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 10:59:10PM 2 points [-]

Okay, then to be more specific: I also do not have a readily-accessible full list of qualities that look like poetry to me. However, what you have written does not pattern-match as poetry. It seems to me as though it imitates some superficial aspects of poetry, but is missing the essential point that poetry requires that equal attention be paid to the form as to the content (this is not a sufficient condition, but I think it is necessary). It is not poetry, but prose with line breaks.

Of course, it could be that something you are doing is going over my head. So in order to give you the benefit of the doubt, I am asking: what about the form have you given sufficient attention to qualify it as poetry?

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 11:09:29PM *  2 points [-]

I'm less concerned with defending it as poetry than defending it as a good idea that accomplished particular goals.

Perhaps worth noting - in earlier versions of this I was paying attention to line length, working in small amounts of rhyme and alliteration when possible. For example:

A mother's child shares her genes
And so a mother loves her child
It's not that hard to comprehend
How love could form within the wild.

It probably pattern-matched better as poetry then, but it also became less successful at the thing I was actually trying to do - which was to preserve as much of the original emotional qualities of the prose-version as possible, in a spoken-word presentation. (While making small modifications to tie in with some other material I'm presenting, as long as they didn't harm the overall impact)

Some of that intent is still present. For example, the opening line:

How, oh how could the universe,
itself unloving, and mindless,
cough up creatures capable of love?

Is altered from the original:

How, oh how, did an unloving and mindless universe, cough up minds who were capable of love?

With some attention paid to how the words flow, how the lines look, where the syllables land and where the emphasis is. But I found that most of the work didn't really benefit from that style in the same way.

Perhaps it might be better to refer to it as "Spoken Word Artform." Poem, play, verse and speech are all subcategories that you could argue about it belonging in, but they're not natural categories.

The rough metric I judge it by (and what I judge poetry by) is "does it sound beautiful when spoken aloud, or when you imagine it being spoken aloud?"

Edit: honestly I think this is fairly well explained in the OP. I use the word "poetrized" in the title because it's a single word that approximately captured what I meant, but in the opening paragraphs I say that it ended up more of a play than a poem.

Comment author: Raemon 02 December 2011 11:32:36PM 0 points [-]

Also, if you believe there are ways to improve the quality of the form, without sacrificing the essence of the original, I'm very much open to suggestions (or hell, a complete reworking of it).

I think it is likely that, somewhere in spoken-word-space, there exists a poem that accomplishes everything the original prose did, while having a more beautiful form. I think that poem would have to have changes so extensive that it would effectively be a different work. I could be wrong about that. But it seemed likely, and my goal was to preserve the original, so I went in a different direction.