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Mundane Magic

91 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 October 2008 04:00PM

Followup toJoy in the Merely Real, Joy in Discovery, If You Demand Magic, Magic Won't Help

As you may recall from some months earlier, I think that part of the rationalist ethos is binding yourself emotionally to an absolutely lawful reductionistic universe—a universe containing no ontologically basic mental things such as souls or magic—and pouring all your hope and all your care into that merely real universe and its possibilities, without disappointment.

There's an old trick for combating dukkha where you make a list of things you're grateful for, like a roof over your head.

So why not make a list of abilities you have that would be amazingly cool if they were magic, or if only a few chosen individuals had them?

For example, suppose that instead of one eye, you possessed a magical second eye embedded in your forehead.  And this second eye enabled you to see into the third dimension—so that you could somehow tell how far away things were—where an ordinary eye would see only a two-dimensional shadow of the true world.  Only the possessors of this ability can accurately aim the legendary distance-weapons that kill at ranges far beyond a sword, or use to their fullest potential the shells of ultrafast machinery called "cars".

"Binocular vision" would be too light a term for this ability.  We'll only appreciate it once it has a properly impressive name, like Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception.

So here's a list of some of my favorite magical powers:

  • Vibratory Telepathy.  By transmitting invisible vibrations through the very air itself, two users of this ability can share thoughts.  As a result, Vibratory Telepaths can form emotional bonds much deeper than those possible to other primates.
  • Psychometric Tracery.  By tracing small fine lines on a surface, the Psychometric Tracer can leave impressions of emotions, history, knowledge, even the structure of other spells.  This is a higher level than Vibratory Telepathy as a Psychometric Tracer can share the thoughts of long-dead Tracers who lived thousands of years earlier.  By reading one Tracery and inscribing another simultaneously, Tracers can duplicate Tracings; and these replicated Tracings can even contain the detailed pattern of other spells and magics.  Thus, the Tracers wield almost unimaginable power as magicians; but Tracers can get in trouble trying to use complicated Traceries that they could not have Traced themselves.
  • Multidimensional Kinesis.  With simple, almost unthinking acts of will, the Kinetics can cause extraordinarily complex forces to flow through small tentacles and into any physical object within touching range—not just pushes, but combinations of pushes at many points that can effectively apply torques and twists.  The Kinetic ability is far subtler than it first appears: they use it not only to wield existing objects with martial precision, but also to apply forces that sculpt objects into forms more suitable for Kinetic wielding.  They even create tools that extend the power of their Kinesis and enable them to sculpt ever-finer and ever-more-complicated tools, a positive feedback loop fully as impressive as it sounds.
  • The Eye.  The user of this ability can perceive infinitesimal traveling twists in the Force that binds matter—tiny vibrations, akin to the life-giving power of the Sun that falls on leaves, but far more subtle.  A bearer of the Eye can sense objects far beyond the range of touch using the tiny disturbances they make in the Force.  Mountains many days travel away can be known to them as if within arm's reach.  According to the bearers of the Eye, when night falls and sunlight fails, they can sense huge fusion fires burning at unthinkable distances—though no one else has any way of verifying this.  Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.

And finally,

  • The Ultimate Power.  The user of this ability contains a smaller, imperfect echo of the entire universe, enabling them to search out paths through probability to any desired future.  If this sounds like a ridiculously powerful ability, you're right—game balance goes right out the window with this one.  Extremely rare among life forms, it is the sekai no ougi or "hidden technique of the world".

    Nothing can oppose the Ultimate Power except the Ultimate Power.  Any less-than-ultimate Power will simply be "comprehended" by the Ultimate and disrupted in some inconceivable fashion, or even absorbed into the Ultimates' own power base.  For this reason the Ultimate Power is sometimes called the "master technique of techniques" or the "trump card that trumps all other trumps".  The more powerful Ultimates can stretch their "comprehension" across galactic distances and aeons of time, and even perceive the bizarre laws of the hidden "world beneath the world".

    Ultimates have been killed by immense natural catastrophes, or by extremely swift surprise attacks that give them no chance to use their power.  But all such victories are ultimately a matter of luck—it does not confront the Ultimates on their own probability-bending level, and if they survive they will begin to bend Time to avoid future attacks.

    But the Ultimate Power itself is also dangerous, and many Ultimates have been destroyed by their own powers—falling into one of the flaws in their imperfect inner echo of the world.

    Stripped of weapons and armor and locked in a cell, an Ultimate is still one of the most dangerous life-forms on the planet.  A sword can be broken and a limb can be cut off, but the Ultimate Power is "the power that cannot be removed without removing you".

    Perhaps because this connection is so intimate, the Ultimates regard one who loses their Ultimate Power permanently—without hope of regaining it—as schiavo, or "dead while breathing".  The Ultimates argue that the Ultimate Power is so important as to be a necessary part of what makes a creature an end in itself, rather than a means.  The Ultimates even insist that anyone who lacks the Ultimate Power cannot begin to truly comprehend the Ultimate Power, and hence, cannot understand why the Ultimate Power is morally important—a suspiciously self-serving argument.

    The users of this ability form an absolute aristocracy and treat all other life forms as their pawns.

 

Part of the Joy in the Merely Real subsequence of Reductionism

Next post: "The Beauty of Settled Science"

Previous post: "If You Demand Magic, Magic Won't Help"

Comments (90)

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Comment author: steven 31 October 2008 04:53:53PM 40 points [-]

Awesome post, but somebody should do the pessimist version, rewriting various normal facets of the human condition as horrifying angsty undead curses.

Comment author: sfb 19 December 2010 06:21:57PM *  49 points [-]
  • The curse of visible intent. Those afflicted by this find their innermost secrets such as fear, surprise, eagerness, alarm, desire, all show up in consistent facial muscle changes for all the world to read, a betrayal by their own flesh.

  • St Addahad's Symptoms. A small group of symptoms including fleshy growths, nerve clusters and neural pathways which result in a near permanent state of distraction as patterns of air pressure change are translated into thoughts and inserted into the mind with disruptively high priority. "Sounds" from all around, indoors and out, near and far, from nearby footsteps to distant thunderstorms or even one's own bodily functions all combine to make a state of prolonged focus nearly impossible to achieve, though this ability can be regained somewhat with practise.

    As with many curses, St Addahad's sufferers describe benefits as well, such as being able to know things are happening without needing to see them, and to know which direction they are happening in, and some even report being able to balance without handholds. These trivial sounding benefits appear so addictive that most refuse to be treated. Efforts are underway to cause the onset of these symptoms by technological means, but there is debate on the moral issue of such experiments on humans as the necessary interventions cannot wait until the age of consent.

  • The Ultimate Affliction Unimaginable torment and suffering by subtle and cruel methods. A mind's model of the universe is realigned so it perceives through the flaws in itself, and senses an ability to change the world however it pleases, where no such ability can exist. The state of the world is observed, interpreted into 'events', and compared against imaginary desired states, and with each mismatch comes suffering, every moment bringing another opportunity to suffer. Taunted by confirmation bias, such a mind can be driven insane when the outcomes it desired and the outcomes it observed match on some occasions; believing that this is proof that it's delusion is real and if only it was better, stronger, cleverer, it could turn these incidents into a continual happening, only to keep discovering that Fate has a different plan.

    Habituated into assigning labels to areas of concept space, each area is meta-tagged with "good" or "bad", and this is the subtle yet effective twist by which the mind is turned against the very reality in which it inhabits, and by the mystical wonders of self-reflection begins to generate it's own suffering. No other known suffering is so simply induced, so long lasting, so wide ranging and so difficult to temporarily calm completely.

    Happily this most horrifying of all known curses has both a near term cure from a reworking of though processes to dismiss the "desired outcomes", though this can be very hard to induce; and apparently a far term cure, as our universe is trending towards states that many of these minds desire it to have. We theorise that as the universe and the desires match more and more closely, suffering will be correspondingly reduced.

Comment author: SilasBarta 25 December 2010 03:58:05AM *  7 points [-]

Very clever (and upvoted), but ...

These trivial[-]sounding benefits

Probably not the best metaphor to use there ;-)

Comment author: DanielLC 12 October 2012 06:55:31AM 1 point [-]

The curse of visible intent.

That can be pretty useful. If everyone knows that you can't lie, they'll be much more likely to trust you. If you need money, you could just borrow it from someone and promise to return it with interest. They'll happily lend it to you, knowing that you intend to pay it back. You might change your mind, but you probably won't, so it's worth while for the interest.

Comment author: Rixie 27 July 2013 01:16:37AM 0 points [-]

But then you can't just borrow and not give it back.

Comment author: DanielLC 27 July 2013 02:23:08AM 1 point [-]

You can't anyway, since nobody is going to lend it to you without a good reason to believe you'll give it back.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2010 11:55:52PM *  83 points [-]

Thermodynamic Jurisdiction: This curse causes its victims to become addicted to the inert corpses of dead plants and animals. They are forced to consume them near-constantly, and are unable to go without them for a single day before experiencing withdrawal symptoms. So dependent are they upon these unholy carcasses that a regime of 3 daily dosages is considered normal among sufferers.

This habit is incredibly expensive in the long run; many poor souls, needing a steady supply of this so called "foodstuff" to deal with their affliction, have been led to sell themselves into virtual slavery as a means of procuring it. Such a practice is sometimes referred by the euphemism of "earning the daily bread".

Cyclical Unconsciousness: Beings affected by this curse are said to fall comatose on a regular basis, a condition that last for several hours. While in this state they are not only defenseless, but also emit a loud, rhythmical noise that gives away their location to their enemies and is unpleasant to their allies. They are furthermore often tormented by horrifying visions; hallucinations of such vividity that they leave their unconscious state panting and screaming in fear.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that those cursed are guaranteed to waste a third of their lives doing nothing but staying still, thus being forced to wonder what great things they might have accomplished in their time had their productivity not been sabotaged in such a devastating manner.

Continuous Combustion: One of the worst curses known to man, Continuous Combustion causes a need for its victims to be forever submerged in a specific substance of particular chemical composition in order to live. While so embraced, the afflicted may be said to live almost normal lives, but when removed from their protective environment death is sure to follow in a matter of minutes, and even the strongest among them can barely last a little over a quarter of an hour before he must return to the gaseous mixture he is so reliant upon.

Even when the cursed have managed to achieve such feats as walking on other celestial bodies, it has only been by carrying with them specially engineered suits designed to maintain the space around them hospitable to their existence; a sad reminder of the impairment that will follow them until the end of their days.

The Succubus's Allure: People placed under this curse feel a strong compulsion to engage in coitus despite not trying to conceive a child. As such, not only do they expend energy and time in a completely unnecessary activity, but they must also navigate a host of social, legal, and moral obstacles in order to find willing partners with whom to relieve their urges. Worse, they must also beware of the biological calamities that plague those who have succumbed to the Allure and spread from person to person during the act of fornication.

The only saving grace available to those suffering of these symptoms is that their pain may be relieved by a crude simulation of the sexual act which is much easier to deal with than the aforementioned carnal quest; but this is small consolation indeed, for those who find themselves resorting to such measures incur a status loss among their peers which varies as a direct function of their age.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 24 April 2012 10:12:58PM 2 points [-]

This comment is awesome. Anyone know who wrote it, and why he or she deleted their account?

Comment author: wedrifid 24 April 2012 10:24:59PM 0 points [-]

Roko perhaps? He's the first thought I have when I am guessing the author of old orphaned comments and posts (when said comments are awesome).

Comment author: steven0461 24 April 2012 10:27:15PM *  1 point [-]

I believe it was user:jaimeastorga2000.

(ETA: Happy to delete this comment if someone feels it's a violation of his privacy or something.)

Comment author: Wei_Dai 24 April 2012 10:34:21PM 5 points [-]

Thanks.

I think we need to do something about this [deleted] business, or eventually LW will be half-filled with comments and posts written by deleted accounts, plus discussion about who wrote them.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 April 2012 10:48:27PM *  7 points [-]

I think we need to do something about this [deleted] business, or eventually LW will be half-filled with comments and posts written by deleted accounts, plus discussion about who wrote them.

On the other hand there seems to be a certain benefit in allowing a user who no longer endorses their contributions here to disaffiliate with their historic words. While as a matter of course it is wise to assume that what you say on the internet is hard to escape from people do tend to mature over time and also find themselves in new situations where reputation may be more important to them than it once was. Leaving the comments there by default but removing the identity information is something of a compromise.

I don't want to be the one responsible (in the sense of endorsing a general policy) for leaving a person forever vulnerable to sabotage by rivals if that person becomes sufficiently socially relevant to have rivals that would do such background research and find ammunition in a misspent lesswrongian youth. (Maybe it's unlikely that anything extreme like this would happen but the principle so illustrated by the extreme is significant to me.)

Comment author: cousin_it 25 April 2012 01:35:05PM *  1 point [-]

I see the username jaimeastorga2000 mentioned in the page title :-)

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 25 April 2012 07:19:26PM *  4 points [-]

I think we need to do something about this [deleted] business

Wow. That's the closest I've ever seen you come to swearing in this forum.

;)

Comment author: DanielLC 27 April 2011 09:50:50PM 15 points [-]
  • Akrasia

Sufferers do things despite thinking they're bad decisions. They tend to be things that bring small amounts of happiness in the short term, but other times they seem to do nothing more than alleviate boredom. Some examples are simple games, and classifying literary devices. It's not uncommon for the victims to spend most of their lives on unproductive things.

  • Antipleasure

Antipleasure is a rare disease in which a victim's happiness is so low that they would prefer the events not have happened in the first place. Not simply that it's replaced with an average event, but removed altogether. It can be short but powerful, commonly triggered by physical damage, long and weak, generally triggered by psychological issues, or in rare cases, long and powerful, triggered by such things as kidney stones and jellyfish venom. In extreme cases, sufferers have been known to take their own lives.

  • Inherent Limit

This affliction causes the victims to atrophy. The damage gets more extreme, eventually leading to death. No victim has ever survived longer than 122 years.

  • Inevitable Cessation

People afflicted with this syndrome can generally heal from small wounds, but large enough wounds, along with several other possibilities, lead to them degrading into inert matter. The victims go to great lengths to postpone this unimaginably horrific fate, but it's believed to be impossible to prevent completely.

Comment author: lessdazed 27 November 2011 02:02:29AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: contravariant 03 January 2014 07:28:04AM 3 points [-]

The Curse of Downregulation: Sufferers of this can never live "happily ever after", for anything that gives them joy, done often enough, will become mundane and boring. Someone who is afflicted could have the great luck to earn a million a day, and after a year they will be filled with despair and envy at their neighbor who is making two million, no happier than they would be in poverty.

Comment author: Aaron5 31 October 2008 04:58:53PM 1 point [-]

Carrier's system still seems to create a circular situation where the smaller parts we reduce larger things into continue, in a sense, to be mental constructions. Electrons behave in ways Einstein called "spooky", and it takes very sophisticated systems to describe them, and then, the descriptions are probabilistic. The important thing is that we're still observing something, whereas the supernatural is basically a collection of spectacular reports that cannot be verified. How much greater would it be to have a third eye to read people's thoughts, in addition to the amazing eye you described? Would you really be bored by it, if you knew there was some bizarre quantum explanation? Heck, New Age types make appeals to all sorts of seemingly reductionist explanations. The problem isn't that the supernatural concept can't be broken down beyond one's mental process, it's that there is no phenomena beyond the person's mental process in the first place. Carrier's distinction only seems to ensure that you're debating pseudo-scientists instead of supernaturalists.

I recently had an argument at work over Barrack Obama's supposedly unverifiable Hawaiian birth certificate. I accessed all of the various websites showing the certificates authenticity. But everything I said or pulled up on the internet was met with disbelief. There was some alternate person my co-worker could point to saying the opposite. This was a debate on the reality of a perfectly mundane, real object. When people stop looking at the objective, outside world, there's unfortunately no philosophical argument that will pull them back in.

Comment author: Eric5 31 October 2008 05:17:46PM 13 points [-]

...schiavo, or "dead while breathing"...

A nice touch.

Comment author: James_D._Miller 31 October 2008 05:54:22PM 2 points [-]

The Real Ultimate Power: Reproduction.

Two compatible users of this ability can create new life forms which possess many of the traits of the two users. And many of these new life forms will themselves be able to reproduce, leading to a potential exponential spreading of the users' traits. Through reproduction users can obtain a kind of immortality.

Comment author: DanielLC 27 April 2011 09:58:58PM 6 points [-]

An unusual case of this power allows one person with access to enormous computing power to form it into a person. This results in a very alien entity, which may have its own powers. It's resulting moral system can't be predicted, but it can be controlled to some extent. This power takes decades to activate, almost inevitably leads to failure, and has the potential to fail catastrophically, but it also can succeed amazingly, and is considered worth the risk.

Comment author: Pete 31 October 2008 06:01:10PM 1 point [-]

Trans-temporal recall

Trans-temporal recog

Sister abilities which allow one to tap into the power of trans-temporal retention.

Also, I'd say the "Ultimate Power" is more a class of powers than a particular power in and of itself.

As to "the power that cannot be removed without removing you"... I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. You think psychological consciousness is necessary for intelligence?

Comment author: Manon_de_Gaillande 31 October 2008 06:37:40PM 1 point [-]

Actually, the Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception are pretty underwhelming. You can tell how far away things are with one eye most of the time. The difference is big enough to give a significant advantage, but nothing near superpower level. My own depth perception is crap (better than one eye though), and I don't often bump into walls.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 October 2008 06:39:54PM 5 points [-]

But the whole post got started with the phrase "Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception"!

Pete, I mean simply that human intelligence is not peripheral to our personal identities in the same way as our clothing, limbs, face, etc.

Comment author: TobyBartels 20 August 2013 02:32:09PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: Zubon 31 October 2008 06:51:18PM 3 points [-]

James D. Miller, you forgot to include the link.

Comment author: Paul_Crowley2 31 October 2008 07:14:09PM 9 points [-]

Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.

I approve.

Comment author: Wes_W 18 October 2013 05:59:33PM 0 points [-]

I read this months ago, but only yesterday finally got the reference.

Comment author: ad2 31 October 2008 08:15:25PM 10 points [-]

How many wielders of the Ultimate Power have been killed by humble microbes?

Comment author: benelliott 19 December 2010 03:13:54PM 30 points [-]

How many more microbes have been killed by the power wielders?

Comment author: Anon_of_/jp/ 31 October 2008 08:37:16PM 1 point [-]

I can't believe I just saw a Type-Moon reference on Overcoming Bias. Impressive.

Comment author: nate6 31 October 2008 09:40:27PM 3 points [-]

schiavo joke is hilarious. i wish everyone would find it hilarious

Comment author: Pengvado2 01 November 2008 03:12:25AM 7 points [-]

Aaron: Would you really be bored by it, if you knew there was some bizarre quantum explanation?

If you think of the explanation as "bizarre", then it's still magic to you and hasn't really been explained.

Comment author: gwern 01 November 2008 04:14:30AM 0 points [-]

Anon of /jp/: thanks for pinpointing the Tsukihime reference for me. I was racking my brain - I was in that incredibly annoying state where I knew that I knew the reference, but I couldn't quite recall it ('Was it a Death Note reference? But that's not right!').

Comment author: Knower_Of_Stuff,_Picker_Of_Nits 01 November 2008 05:36:02AM 1 point [-]

Perceptual psychologists have found that binocular vision has mostly second- and third-order effects. For example, it's necessary (but, as my own sad experience attests, not sufficient) for finding hidden pictures in magic eye images.

We get most of our ability to reconstruct 3D scenes from perceptual cues like relative motion and texture gradients. This takes enough mathematical mojo -- real-time 2D Fourier analysis for the latter, mapping between projective 2-space and euclidean 3-space for the former -- that they probably belong on The List in their own right...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2008 06:55:20AM 5 points [-]

Oh, it wasn't the first Type-Moon reference I've made (this month).

Comment author: Doug_S. 01 November 2008 07:24:05AM 11 points [-]

It's amusing to compare modern technology to the stated capabilities of the gods in various mythologies and religions...

Comment author: Unknown 01 November 2008 10:30:27AM 0 points [-]

Eliezer, exactly how many decibels of evidence would it require to persuade you that there is magic in the universe?

For example, see this claim of magic: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2006/12/08/2061206.htm

How many times would a coin have to come up heads (if there were some way for it to test this) before there would be a chance you wouldn't defy the data in a case like this? If you saw 20 heads in a row, would you expect more of them? Or 40?

Comment author: taryneast 19 December 2010 09:18:29AM *  9 points [-]

I've seen heads come up about ten times in a row... with a fair coin and with full confidence that it'd continue to come up heads for as long as the coin-tosser wanted it to.

He'd learned how to time the number of flips in the air and catch it at just the right time.

Therefore, seeing heads come up any number of times would be absolutely zero evidence of magic for me - though it would count for loud decibels of "coolness factor".

Comment author: wedrifid 19 December 2010 11:58:57AM 8 points [-]

Therefore, seeing heads come up any number of times would be absolutely zero evidence of magic for me - though it would count for loud decibels of "coolness factor". [emphasis added]

Almost nothing gives "absolutely zero evidence" and indefinite feats of extreme dexterity definitely aren't exceptions.

Comment author: shokwave 19 December 2010 12:33:19PM 7 points [-]

Almost nothing gives "absolutely zero evidence"

Evidence smaller than a human brain can process - where counting it as evidence would cause a brain to overestimate the evidence's value - seems like it would be a case where it's practical to consider it absolutely zero evidence.

Comment author: taryneast 19 December 2010 01:40:32PM 5 points [-]

Yes, I agree with this. I'd count it as "so negligible as to be beneath bothering to waste a neuron on it" :)

Comment author: Will_Sawin 31 August 2011 11:41:53PM 10 points [-]

The evidence here isn't actually negligible, I don't think. It's just that the posterior probability is negligible.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 December 2010 02:57:04PM *  6 points [-]

Once you have redefined "absolutely zero evidence" to mean "too small for it to be worthwhile for humans to consider it" precisely what language can you use to describe things that, you know, aren't evidence?

No, throwing in "absolutely zero" here changes it from "not technically true" to simply muddled thinking about how evidence works.

Incidentally even for human purposes this counts as evidence. Not sufficient evidence to even consider the magic hypothesis outright. But if a consistent trend occurs with respect to coin tossing then that hypothesis must eventually be considered. For example if anyone who says 'abracadabra' is suddenly able to rig coin tosses reliably even if they could barely even toss a coin at all before then that is clear evidence that something weird is going on. If you investigate the phenonemon 10,000 times with randomly selected 7 year olds (or even adults) and it happens each time then is strong evidence that something that can be described as magic is occurring. And every single instance is obviously weak evidence. "Absolute zero" is just way off.

Comment author: shokwave 19 December 2010 03:17:49PM 1 point [-]

Once you have redefined "absolutely zero evidence" to mean "too small for it to be worthwhile for humans to consider it" precisely what language can you use to describe things that, you know, aren't evidence?

True. The balancing concern is that, in the case of "too small to be worthwhile", we want people to not consider it, and there are strong biases that make people consider it a la but there's still a chance! If anything less than "absolutely zero evidence" lets people consider evidence - and overestimating the evidence is worse than underestimating it - then it is preferred language. In that case, it would share the same language as things that aren't evidence at all.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 December 2010 03:32:25PM 1 point [-]

The balancing concern is that, in the case of "too small to be worthwhile", we want people to not consider it, and there are strong biases that make people consider it a la but there's still a chance! If anything less than "absolutely zero evidence" lets people consider evidence - and overestimating the evidence is worse than underestimating it - then it is preferred language.

Controlling behavior by removing the ability to express concepts. Lets call this new language 'newspeak'. :)

Comment author: shokwave 19 December 2010 03:38:38PM 9 points [-]

If newspeak increases my utility in dealing with certain agents, I desire to speak in newspeak to them. If newspeak decreases my utility in dealing with certain agents, I desire to speak normally to them. Let me not become attached to the perception of newspeak as intrinsically evil.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 December 2010 03:56:02PM 0 points [-]

I too do all sorts of things with other agents that do not necessarily involve accurate communication. Violence and dirty talk spring to mind as a couple of examples.

Comment author: nshepperd 19 December 2010 03:47:48PM 0 points [-]

How about "less evidence than X", where X is something ridiculously silly? It seems like it might have the same psychological effects, in which case it would be preferable.

Comment author: shokwave 19 December 2010 04:15:40PM 2 points [-]

I feel strangely certain that if we started countering "my coin flips coming up mostly heads is evidence of my magic!" with "less evidence for magic than your capacity to continue breathing is", the kind of person in question would simply write books about how breathing is obviously magical in nature.

Comment author: taryneast 19 December 2010 01:41:48PM 1 point [-]

That's true too - eventually he'd tire of it. Though I'm guessing I'd tire of watching long before then.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 01 November 2008 11:04:38AM 2 points [-]

Possession of a single Eye is said to make the bearer equivalent to royalty.

Very good.

How about the miraculous ability to synthesise or isolate compounds of chemicals from the world that recreate sensations, or even push perception beyond the sensations for which it was designed? I'm always pretty impressed by that one.

Comment author: billswift 01 November 2008 01:23:18PM 0 points [-]

Magic is supposedly intentional - it would require someone who could consistently make something happen against the expected likelihood. Before I'd bother even considering it.

Comment author: karsten 01 November 2008 06:44:02PM 5 points [-]

'All other lifeforms' except some nasty little ones that impair us.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2008 07:06:31PM 24 points [-]

The rebels' time is almost done. Soon we will crush them utterly.

Comment author: Pete_Carlton 02 November 2008 01:32:53AM 21 points [-]

Devour Soul (level 6) This spell enables the Mage to extract Energy from the Bodies of Plants and Animals, merely by placing various Parts of them inside the mage's own Body. More advanced Mages can derive not only Energy, but physical Pleasure, from enhancing this spell with dark and eldritch lore found in Books of magical recipes, exotic Potions and the judicious use of Fire.

Comment author: MBlume 15 February 2010 03:01:34AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: Anon_of_/co/_and_/tg/ 03 November 2008 05:33:16AM 0 points [-]

"Posted by: Anon of /jp/"? I've been lurking on 4chan and OB for a long time, and I never expected them to come into contact...

Comment author: Edwin 03 November 2008 05:44:40AM 10 points [-]

I've heard there are vast shelters overflowing with fruits, nuts, and meats and giant baskets so large that the ones who created them placed them on wheels... and a tiny but infinitely powerful Master Scroll that allows those who possess it to take whatever they please.

Comment author: taryneast 19 December 2010 09:23:02AM 3 points [-]

Nah - nobody gets out that easily. The gatekeepers take their toll.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 03 November 2008 11:24:48AM 4 points [-]

Oh, and don't forget the Mystical Intertubes of Communication, which allow any person with access to the Tubes to 'post' their opinions for others to peruse. Even better, other Intertube users can append inanities to any of these essays with the minimum of thought and effort!

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 04 November 2008 05:55:43AM 3 points [-]

On the subject of magic, well, just a reminder that we can also get stuff that really does "smell like magic" out of basic physics. Consider this toy.

If you really want something that at least "looks like" magic and isn't "just a trick", well, physics does have some things up its sleeves. Heck, even on the level of basic Newtonian stuff, gyroscopic motion can seem kinda magical. It's there to be had, folks.

Comment author: Tim_Tyler 06 November 2008 07:33:07AM 5 points [-]

The rebels' time is almost done. Soon we will crush them utterly.

We are not doing very well so far. We can't even seem to keep the blighters out of our tiny, digital, deterministic and engineered computer systems yet.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 28 August 2011 11:42:27PM 4 points [-]

That is often because our enemies among the other Ultimates let them in.

Comment author: Bill_Mill 08 November 2008 10:35:06PM 4 points [-]

For Feynman on the eye, see 34:40 in this video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3164300309410618119

Comment author: simplicio 07 May 2010 01:45:20AM 1 point [-]

Bloody brilliant! Wish I'd come across this before. My favourite thing is to take the mundane and beat people across the head with it until it looks amazing, but this is done at a ninja level.

Comment author: ata 16 May 2010 10:18:00AM 8 points [-]

With a device that can fit in your pocket, you can split the universe into 2^4000000 nearly-identical but divergent copies in one second.

Comment author: catherinedevlin 19 August 2010 05:40:43PM 20 points [-]

As I rely quite thoroughly on God, I suspect I might fall outside your definition of rationalist. But.

You deserve a huge round of applause for pointing out so eloquently just how amazing so-called "ordinary" life is.

Let me add

Resist Parasitism: The power holder is almost completely encased in a self-regenerating barrier which blocks entrance to small parasitic lifeforms. In addition, his or her flesh and blood are filled with invisible essences which are fatal to most external lifeforms which attempt to steal his or her life energy. This allows the holder to survive even in environments completely infested with parasitic attackers.

Regeneration: The user of this power can gradually restore their physical body to full health following most illnesses and injuries short of death. Though material components may be used to hasten the process, regeneration can proceed without them and without any conscious effort whatsoever. The power may be used an unlimited number of times and may apply to multiple injuries at once.

Share Blood: The wielder of this power may speed another's Regeneration (see above) by contributing a portion of his or her life force. The contribution does not significantly affect the giver's health, although he or she is advised to drink extra liquids and avoid heavy lifting for the subsequent four hours. By custom, a wielder of the power is awarded cookies immediately afterward.

Comment author: Steven_Bukal 30 April 2011 03:44:59PM 13 points [-]

There is a small genre of sci-fi short stories in which humans turn out to be the scariest species in the galaxy due to our possession of apparently mundane abilities. For example:

  • Human muscles have the terrifying ability to become increasingly more massive and powerful when placed under a routine of extreme stress. Many humans systematically overload their muscles in this way. For fun.

  • Humans breathe oxygen, a component of starship fuel!

  • The brain of a human is protected by an armored skull so powerful that a human fighter is impervious to any simple attack to the brain and can even use its braincase as a weapon to bludgeon enemies.

  • Humans naturally produce dangerous hormones and stimulants such as epinephrine. In desperate situations these boost a human's abilities, allowing it to continue functioning even when severely wounded.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 30 April 2011 09:36:45PM 1 point [-]

Does this genre have a name, or other googleable traits?

Comment author: Owen_Richardson 30 April 2011 10:34:11PM 0 points [-]

The only example that comes to my mind is the short story "Sshhh..." by David Brin. And that's not really the same thing, since the entire point of the story is that it's ambiguous whether humans really do have anything special about them.

Comment author: brianm 30 April 2011 10:38:21PM 4 points [-]

The Humans are Special trope here gives a lot of examples of this. Reputedly, it was a premise that John Campbell, editor of Amazing Stories, was very fond of, accounting for its prevalence.

Comment author: Steven_Bukal 30 April 2011 11:48:11PM 7 points [-]

The concept is popular on 4chan's /tg/ board where they're called "humanity" stories or "humanity, fuck yeah" stories. Here's one archive of such threads:

http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive.html?tags=humanity

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 01 May 2011 05:32:40AM 5 points [-]

Most of these have me going "argh, physics/game theory/evolution doesn't work that way!", but there's a few good ones in there. I liked this one and this one in particular, though the former has a fair bit of evolution fail in it.

Comment author: Steven_Bukal 01 May 2011 11:56:29AM 2 points [-]

Agreed, they can definitely get a bit absurd. This one is one of my favourites:

http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/13-TheBalticWarCD/TheBalticWarCD/The%20World%20Turned%20Upside%20Down/0743498747__24.htm

The short story "The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove is also a good one if you can find it.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2011 04:32:33AM *  8 points [-]

I like the "Humans are insane" series of threads.

Humans are pretty close to immune to memetic viral attacks. In other cultures, memetic attacks are devastating weapons of war, that are carefully researched in hidden facilities where the researchers go through daily psychological analysis to keep the attack from escaping- and occasionally it does anyway, and they have to vaporize the sector. Humans use them to sell hamburgers. Human memetics is the flat-out most advanced in the universe, and they don't even have clinical immortality yet. Individual humans can make memetic attacks untrained.

http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive.html?tags=Humans

Comment author: Swimmer963 30 April 2011 09:55:42PM 0 points [-]

Does this genre have a name, or other googleable traits?

Or examples of stories in this genre? That would be helpful too.

Comment author: Cayenne 30 April 2011 10:54:37PM *  3 points [-]

Alan Dean Foster has written at least one full-length novel trilogy in this genre.

TVTropes has a trope 'Humans Are Bastards' which might overlap a bit.

This is pretty difficult to search for.

Edit - There's a link to the 'Humans Are Cthulhu' trope that may be a better fit.

Edit - please disregard this post

Comment author: David_Gerard 30 April 2011 11:21:04PM *  0 points [-]

Yeah, the description of "the ultimate power" is basically humans as Cthulhu.

Comment author: Document 01 May 2011 12:01:58AM 2 points [-]

Sci-fi forum thread: Humanity's most badass moments.

Comment author: ata 20 October 2011 09:17:01PM 13 points [-]

Apparently, many humans have a superpower whereby they can force themselves to do things they do not already feel pull-motivated to do, as though lifting themselves by their own bootstraps. I'm very jealous of this power and also very frustrated that most people who do have it are also unfamiliar with the typical mind fallacy and are confused about free will and think they understand their power but can only "explain" it in terms that sound to me like childish platitudes by now and certainly don't have any technical content, so of course they usually don't believe me or don't understand when I say that I cannot even imagine what the fuck that ability would feel like. (Actually, worse, usually they think they understand and believe me but they clearly don't, because the next minute they're right back to the childish platitudes and the free will confusion and the acting like sentences like "Put one foot in front of the other" are somehow magically supposed to move me.) Urgh.

Comment author: JonStall 28 March 2013 12:06:57AM *  1 point [-]

Can I write this into a novel? I'd very much like to write this into a novel

Comment author: gwern 28 March 2013 02:45:10AM 5 points [-]

Well, if you're able to write 1 coherent sentence in a row about the topic and then another coherent sentence, then by induction I think you should be able to write a novel involving it.

Comment author: JonStall 28 March 2013 03:08:59PM 2 points [-]

I guess I'm off to write a book about a society of blind, deaf, mute perpetual motion machines with no need for food, drink, sleep or entertainment of any kind.

...

This might take a while.

Comment author: gwern 28 March 2013 03:20:36PM 3 points [-]

Pfft, you're just not thinking laterally. How would they communicate? By touch, of course - think signing on someone's arm or their hand (an example: in anime characters will occasionally hold up their hand and sketch out a symbol when the spoken form is unclear). Now that communication is solved, you can proceed to write an interesting story about the complexities of a society of blind-deaf-mutes (probably set underground, since if you don't perceive light, why not?)...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2013 09:19:44PM 4 points [-]

In fact you should be able to write an infinitely long novel about it.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 28 March 2013 10:41:27PM *  10 points [-]

Hey now. Ordinary induction only implies that you can write an arbitrarily long novel of finite length. You need transfinite induction to get to infinite lengths.

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 March 2013 02:55:13PM 0 points [-]

I can certainly see "The Eye" turning into a good short story. Not sure how you could write a novel featuring all these ideas.

Comment author: Eneasz 30 April 2013 03:45:32PM *  4 points [-]

A post written by someone who did not have binocular vision, and then developed it in limited circumstances:

I am stereoblind, but the 3DS lets me see the world as others see it

"I had never known it was possible for reality to look this way—for things to look as solid as they feel."

Comment author: army1987 17 October 2013 10:48:54AM 2 points [-]

For example, suppose that instead of one eye, you possessed a magical second eye embedded in your forehead. And this second eye enabled you to see into the third dimension—so that you could somehow tell how far away things were—where an ordinary eye would see only a two-dimensional shadow of the true world. Only the possessors of this ability can accurately aim the legendary distance-weapons that kill at ranges far beyond a sword, or use to their fullest potential the shells of ultrafast machinery called "cars".

I lack stereopsis due to strabismus and still I can drive a car just fine.