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As I discussed in the above posts, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a leading psych journal, published a deeply flawed parapsychology study (see the second post for details) which had apparently been tortured to produce results. Then they rejected an attempt to replicate that found no effect, citing a sadly typical policy of not publishing replications. Some of you may enjoy reading one enterprising researcher's amusing satire article, purportedly (not actually) "tallying" past confirmations and disconfirmations in JPSP and drawing conclusions.
ETA: To clarify the last sentence, they didn't really find 4800+ confirmation and two disconfirmations. As they say in small print, the data were made up. It's right by the chart.
The story is a humorous semi-science fiction one, where Dennett gets a job offer form Pentagon that entails moving his brain into a vat, without actually moving his point of view. Later on it brings up questions about uploading and what it would mean in terms of diverging perspectives and so on. Aside from being a joy to read, it offers solutions to a few hurdles about the nature of consciousnesses and personal identity.
Suppose, I argued to myself, I were now to fly to California, rob a bank, and be apprehended. In which state would I be tried: in California, where the robbery took place, or in Texas, where the brains of the outfit were located? Would I be a California felon with an out-of-state brain, or a Texas felon remotely controlling an accomplice of sorts in California? It seemed possible that I might beat such a rap just on the undecidability of that jurisdictional question, though perhaps it would be deemed an interstate, and hence Federal, offense.
In the distant future, humanity's age has passed. Runaway technological development has led to the obsolescence of the human race, and the Solar System is now ruled by vast, posthuman intelligences that explore realms of science and philosophy unimaginable to the unenhanced mind. Their most idle musings spawn computational vistas more complex than entire human civilsations as they plumb the very secrets of the cosmos.
Incomprehensibly sophisticated as they may be, however, the posthumans have difficulty dealing with what they euphemistically term the “analogue world”. To be blunt, they're really quite hopeless when it comes to physical matters. For all their cognitive puissance, they haven't yet freed themselves from certain physical needs – energy, security, computational machinery on which to run – and so they create servants to carry out their will, defend their physical forms from rivals and hostile Outsiders, and generally keep things tidy.
Thus, even in the age of humanity's eclipse, there are maids.
The Ego (mind) Origins Table contains entries such as Blank ("You're a brand-new digital sentience, created from scratch to serve your Master"), Fork ("You're a scaled-down copy of your Master's own program. You have so many identity issues"), Uplift ("The Master gave you intelligence to serve him. Were you animal, or something weird like a plant?"), and Offspring ("You're actually a larval posthuman AI, serving your "parent" or another Master as a form of vocational training").
The selection of Morphs (physical bodies) includes ones such as Chibimorph, Giant Flying Space Whale, Spideroid ("This Morph resembles an armoured crab or spider the size of a small car. They're designed for combat and reconnaissance, but a hardware glitch causes Egos sleeved into them to become curious and philosophical"), Braincase ("A brain in a jar; you communicate using a built-in video screen with a picture of your face on it. While sleeved into this Morph, your intellect is vastly expanded, but you're easily tipped over"), Nekomorph, and Spectator ("A hovering metallic sphere with numerous camera-eyes mounted on prehensile robotic stalks. It's equipped with eye lasers for self-defence"). Special Morph qualities range from Blushes Easily ("This Morph turns red at the least provocation - even if this makes no sense whatsoever") to Solar Powered ("Efficient, environmentally friendly, and useless in the dark").
Possible Masters for your maids range from sapient starships to planetary minds to hive minds. You might enjoy reading the PDF even if you didn't know anything about role-playing games.
Thanks to Risto Saarelma for the pointer.
With the help of many dedicated Less Wrongers (players muflax, Karl, Charlie, and Emile; musicians Mike Blume and Alicorn, technical support Ari Rahikkala) we have successfully completed what is, as far as I know, the first actual Dungeons and Discourse adventure anywhere. Except we're not calling it that, because I don't have the rights to use that name. Though it's not precisely rationality related, I hope it is all right if I post a summary of the adventure by popular demand.
Also, at some point it turned into a musical. The first half of the songs are only available as lyrics at the moment, but Alicorn and MBlume very kindly produced the second half as real music, which I've uploaded to YouTube and linked at the bottom of this post (skip to it now).
The known world has many sects and religions, but all contain shadowy legends of two primeval deities: Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom; and Aleithos, God of Truth. When Sophia announced her plan to create thinking, rational beings, Aleithos objected, declaring that they would fall into error and produce endless falsehoods. Sophia ignored her brother's objections and created humankind, who named the world after their goddess-mother. But Aleithos' fears proved well-founded: humankind fell into error and produced endless falsehoods, and their clamor drove the God of Truth insane.
The once mighty Aleithos fell from heaven, and all of his angelic servants turned into Paradox Beasts, arachnoid monstrosities that sought and devoured those who challenged the laws of logic. Over centuries, most of the Paradox Beasts were banished, but Aleithos himself remained missing. And though thousands of seekers set off to all the corners of the world in search of Truth, the Mad God keeps his own counsel, if He still even exists at all.
The Truth God's madness had one other effect; the laws of physics, once inviolable, turned fluid, and those sufficiently advanced in the study of Truth gained apparently magical abilities. With knowledge literally being power, great philosophers and scientists built mighty cities and empires.
In the middle of the Cartesian Plain at the confluence of the rivers Ordinate and Abcissa stands the mightiest of all, the imperial city of Origin. At the very center of the city stands the infinitely tall Z-Axis Tower, on whose bottom floor lives the all-seeing Wizard of 0=Z. Surrounding the Tower are a host of colleges and universities that attract the greatest scholars from all over Origin, all gathered in service to the great project to find Truth.
Into the city comes Lady Cerune Russell, an exotic noblewoman from far-off parts seeking great thinkers to join her on a dangerous adventure. Four scholars flock to her banner. Nomophilos the Elder the Younger (Emile) is a political scientist studying the central role of laws in creating a just society. Phaidros (muflax) is a zealous Protestant theologian trying to meld strains of thought as disparate as Calvinism, Gnosticism, and W.L. Craig's apologetics. Ephraim (Charlie) is a Darwinian biologist with strong leftist sympathies and an experimental streak that sometimes gets him in trouble. And Macx (Karl) is a quiet but very precise logician with a talent for puzzles.
Cerune explains to the Original scholars that she is the last living descendant of Good King Bertrand, historic ruler of the land of Russellia far to the west. Russellia was the greatest nation in the world until two hundred years ago, when a cataclysm destroyed the entire kingdom in a single day and night. Now the skies above Russellia are dark and filled with choking ash, monsters roam its plains, and the Good King is said to be locked in a magical undying sleep deep beneath the Golden Mountain in the kingdom's center. Though many have traveled to Russellia in search of answers, none have returned alive; Cerune, armed with secret information from the Turing Oracle which she refuses to share, thinks she can do better. The four Originals agree to protect her as she makes the dangerous journey to the Golden Mountain to investigate the mysterious disaster and perhaps lift the curse. Cerune gives them a day in Origin to prepare for the journey.
CHAPTER ONE: ORIGIN
The party skip the city's major attractions, including the Z-Axis Tower and the Hagia Sophia, in favor of more academic preparations: a visit to the library to conduct research, and a shopping trip to Barnes & Aristoi Booksellers, where they purchase reading material for the journey ahead. Here, they find a map of the lands on the road to Russellia, including the unpleasant-sounding Slough of Despotism and the Shadow City of Xar-Morgoloth, whose very name inexplicably chills the air when spoken aloud. After a long discussion on how this thermodynamic-defying effect could probably be used to produce unlimited free energy, they return to more immediate matters and head to the armory to pick up some weapons - a trusty isoceles triangle for Nomophilos, a bow for Macx - before the stores close for the evening. After a final night in Origin, they meet Cerune at the city gates and set off.
They originally intend to stick to the course of the Abcissa, but it is flooding its banks and Cerune recommends crossing the river into Platonia at the Pons Asinorum. After being attacked by a Euclidean Elemental charged with letting no one enter who does not know geometry, they reach the other bank and find a strange old man, raving incomprehensibly. His turns of phrase start to make sense only after the party realizes that he is speaking as if he - and all objects - have no consistent identity.
In his roundabout way, he identifies himself as Heraclitus, the Fire Mage, one of the four great Elemental Mages of Platonia. Many years ago, he crossed into Origin on some errand, only to be ambushed by his arch-enemy, the Water Mage Thales. Thales placed a curse on Heraclitus that he could never cross the same river twice, trapping him on the wrong side of the Abcissa and preventing his return to Platonia. In order to dispel the curse, Heraclitus finds a loophole in the curse: he convinces himself that objects have no permanent identity, and so he can never cross the same river twice since it is not the same river and he is not the same man. Accepting this thesis, he crosses the Abcissa without incident - only to find that his new metaphysics of identity prevents him from forming goals, executing long-term plans, or doing anything more complicated than sitting by the riverbank and eating the fish that swim by.
This sets off a storm of conversation, as each member of the party tries to set Heraclitus right in their own way; Phaidros by appealing to God as a final arbiter of identity, Macx and Nomophilos by arguing that duty is independent of identity and that Heraclitus has a duty to his family and followers. Unfortunately, they make a logical misstep and end out convincing Heraclitus that it is illogical from his perspective to hold conversation; this ends the debate. And as the five philosophers stand around discussing what to do, they are ambushed by a party of assassins, who shoot poisoned arrows at them from a nearby knoll.
Outnumbered and outflanked, the situation seems hopeless, until Macx notices several of the attackers confused and unwilling to attack. With this clue, he identifies them as Buridan's Assassins, who in the presence of two equally good targets will hesitate forever, unable to choose: he yells to his friends to stand with two or more adventurers equidistant from each assassin, and sure enough, this paralyzes the archers and allows the party some breathing space.
But when a second group of assassins arrives to join the first, the end seems near - until Heraclitus, after much pondering, decides to accept his interlocutors' arguments for object permanence and joins in the battle. His fire magic makes short work of the remaining assassins, and when the battle is over, he thanks them and gives a powerful magic item as a gift to each. Then he disappears in a burst of flame after warning his new friends to beware the dangers ahead.
The party searches the corpses of the assassins - who all carry obsidian coins marked PLXM - and then camp for the night on the fringe of the Slough of Despotism.
CHAPTER TWO: THE SLOUGH OF DESPOTISM
The Slough of Despotism is a swamp unfortunately filled with allegators, giant reptiles who thrive on moral superiority and on casting blame. They accuse our heroes of trespassing on their property; our heroes counter that the allegators, who do not have a state to enforce property rights, cannot have a meaningful concept of property. The allegators threaten to form a state, but before they can do so the party manages to turn them against each other by pointing out where their property rights conflict; while the allegators argue, the adventurers sneak off.
They continue through the swamp, braving dense vegetation, giant snakes, and more allegators (who are working on the whole state thing; the party tells them that they're too small and disorganized to be a real state, and that they would have to unite the entire allegator nation under a mutually agreed system of laws) before arriving at an old barrow tomb. Though four of the five adventurers want to leave well enough alone, Ephraim's experimental spirits gets the better of him, and he enters the mound. Its local Barrow Wight has long since departed, but he has left behind a suit of Dead Wight Mail, which confers powerful bonuses on Conservatives and followers of the Right-Hand Path. Nomophilos, the party's Conservative, is all set to take the Mail when Phaidros objects that it is morally wrong to steal from the dead; this sparks a fight that almost becomes violent before Nomo finally backs down; with a sigh of remorse, he leaves the magic item where he found it.
Beyond the barrow tomb lies the domain of the Hobbesgoblins, the mirror image of the Allegators in that they have a strong - some might say dictatorial - state under the rule of their unseen god-king, Lord-Over-All. They are hostile to any foreigners who refuse to swear allegiance to their ruler, but after seeing an idol of the god-king - a tentacled monstrosity bearing more than a passing resemblance to Cthulhu - our heroes are understandably reluctant to do so. As a result, the Hobbesgoblins try to refuse them passage through their capital city of Malmesbury on the grounds that, without being subordinated to Lord-Over-All or any other common ruler, the adventurers are in a state of nature relative to the Hobbesgoblins and may rob, murder, or otherwise exploit them. The Hobbesgoblins don't trust mere oaths or protestations of morality - but Nomophilos finally comes up with a compromise that satisfies them. He offers them a hostage in return for their good behavior, handing them his pet tortoise Xeno. This satisfies the Hobbesgoblins as assurance of their good behavior, and the party passes through Malmesbury without incident.
On the far side of Malmesbury they come to a great lake, around which the miasmas of the swamp seem to swirl expectantly. On the shore of the lake lives Theseus with his two ships. Theseus tells his story: when he came of age, he set off on a trading expedition upon his father's favorite ship. His father made him swear to return the ship intact, but after many years of travel, Theseus realized that every part of the ship had been replaced and repaired, so that there was not a single piece of the ship that was the same as when it had left port. Mindful of his oath, he hunted down the old pieces he had replaced, and joined them together into a second ship. But now he is confused: is it the first or the second ship which he must return to his father?
The five philosophers tell Theseus that it is the first ship: the ship's identity is linked to its causal history, not to the matter that composes it. Delighted with this answer, he offers the second ship to the adventurers, who sail toward the far shore.
Halfway across the lake, they meet an old man sitting upon a small island. He introduces himself as Thomas Hobbes, and says that his spies and secret police have told him everything about the adventurers since they entered the Slough. Their plan to save Russellia is a direct threat to his own scheme to subordinate the entire world under one ruler, and so he will destroy them. When the party expresses skepticism, his "island" rises out of the water and reveals itself to be the back of the monstrous sea creature, Leviathan, the true identity of the Hobbesgoblins' Lord-Over-All. After explaining his theory of government ("Let's Hear It For Leviathan", lyrics only) Hobbes and the monster attack for the game's first boss battle. The fight is immediately plagued by mishaps, including one incident where Phaidros's "Calvin's Predestined Hellfire" spell causes Hobbes to briefly turn into a Dire Tiger. When one of Leviathan's tentacles grab Cerune, she manifests a battle-axe of magic fire called the Axe of Separation and hacks the creature's arm off. She refuses to explain this power, but inspired by the small victory the party defeat Hobbes and reduce Leviathan into a state of Cartesian doubt; the confused monster vanishes into the depths, and the adventurers hurry to the other side and out of the Slough.
CHAPTER THREE: THE SHADOW CITY
Although our heroes make good time, they soon spot a detachment of Hobbesgoblins pursuing them. Afraid the goblins will be angry at the defeat of their god, the party hides; this turns out to be unnecessary, as the goblins only want Ephraim - the one who actually dealt the final blow against Leviathan - to be their new Lord-Over-All. Ephraim rejects the positions, and the party responds to the goblins' desperate pleading by suggesting a few pointers for creating a new society - punishing violence, promoting stability, reinforcing social behavior. The Hobbesgoblins grumble, but eventually depart - just in time for the party to be attacked by more of Buridan's Assassins. These killers' PLXM coins seem to suggest an origin in Xar-Morgoloth, the Shadow City, and indeed its jet-black walls now loom before them. But the city sits upon the only pass through the Central Mountains, so the party reluctantly enters.
Xar-Morgoloth turns out to be a pleasant town of white-washed fences and laughing children. In search of an explanation for the incongruity the five seek out the town's spiritual leader, the Priest of Lies. The Priest explains that although Xar-Morgoloth is superficially a nice place, the town is evil by definition. He argues that all moral explanations must be grounded in base moral facts that cannot be explained, whether these be respect for others, preference of pleasure over pain, or simple convictions that murder and theft are wrong. One of these base level moral facts, he says, is that Xar-Morgoloth is evil. It is so evil, in fact, that it is a moral imperative to keep people out of the city - which is why he sent assassins to scare them off.
Doubtful, the party seeks the mysterious visiting philosopher whom the Priest claimed originated these ideas: they find Immanuel Kant living alone on the outskirts of the city. Kant tells his story: he came from a parallel universe, but one day a glowing portal appeared in the sky, flinging him into the caves beyond Xar-Morgoloth. Wandering into Xar-Morgoloth, he tried to convince the citizens of his meta-ethical theories, but they insisted they could ground good and evil in basic moral intuitions instead. Kant proposed that Xar-Morgoloth was evil as a thought experiment to disprove them, but it got out of hand.
When our heroes challenge Kant's story and blame him for the current state of the city, Kant gets angry and casts Parmenides' Stasis Hex, freezing them in place. Then he announces his intention to torture and kill them all. For although in this world Immanuel Kant is a moral philosopher, in his own world (he explains) Immanuel Kant is a legendary villain and figure of depravity ("I'm Evil Immanuel Kant", lyrics only). Cerune manifests a second magic weapon, the Axe of Choice, to break the Stasis Hex, and the party have their second boss battle, which ends in defeat for Evil Kant. Searching his home, they find an enchanted Parchment of Natural Law that causes the chill in the air whenever the city's name is spoken.
Armed with this evidence, they return to the Priest of Lies and convince him that his moral theory is flawed. The Priest dispels the shadow over the city, recalls his assassins, and restores the town name to its previous non-evil transliteration of Summerglass. He then offers free passage through the caverns that form the only route through the Central Mountains.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE CAVERNS OF ABCISSA
Inside the caverns, which are nearly flooded by the overflowing Abcissa River, the party encounter an army of Water Elementals, leading them to suspect that they may be nearing the headquarters of Heraclitus' arch-enemy, Thales. The Water Elementals are mostly busy mining the rock for gems and magic artifacts, but one of them is sufficiently spooked by Phaidros to cast a spell on him, temporarily turning him to water. This is not immediately a disaster - Phaidros assumes a new form as a water elemental but keeps his essential personality - except that in an Ephraimesque display of overexperimention, Phaidros wonders what would happen if he temporarily relaxed the morphogenic field that holds him in place - as a result, he loses his left hand, a wound which stays in place when he reverts back to his normal form a few hours later. A resigned Phaidros only quotes the Bible: ("And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell" - Mark 9:43) and trusts in the Divine plan.
The Caverns of Abcissa are labyrinthine and winding, but eventually the party encounters a trio who will reappear several times in their journey: Ruth (who tells the truth), Guy (who'll always lie) and Clancy (who acts on fancy). These three have a habit of hanging around branching caverns and forks in the road, and Ephraim solves their puzzle thoroughly enough to determine what route to take to the center of the cave system.
Here, in a great cavern, lives a civilization of cave-men whose story sounds a lot like Evil Kant's - from another world, minding their own business until a glowing portal appeared in the sky and sucked them into the caves. The cave-men are currently on the brink of civil war after one of their number, Thag, claims to have visited the mythical "outside" and discovered a world of magic and beauty far more real than the shadows dancing on the walls of their cavern. Most of the other cave-men, led by the very practical Vur, have rejected his tale, saying that the true magic and beauty lies in accepting the real, in-cave world rather than chasing after some outside paradise - but a few of the youth have flocked to Thag's banner, including Antil, a girl with mysterious magic powers.
Only the timely arrival of the adventurers averts a civil war; the party negotiates a truce and offers to solve the dispute empirically - they will escort Vur and Antil with them through the caverns so that representatives of both sides can see whether or not the "outside" really exists. This calms most of the cave-men down, and with Vur and Antil alongside, they head onward to the underground source of the Abcissa - which, according to their research, is the nerve center of Thales' watery empire.
On the way, they encounter several dangers. First, they awake a family of hibernating bears, who are quickly dispatched but who manage to maul the frail Vur so severely that only some divine intervention mediated by Phaidros saves his life. Second, they come across a series of dimensional portals clearly linked to the stories related by Evil Kant and the cave-men. Some link directly to otherworldly seas, pouring their water into the Abcissa and causing the recent floods. Others lead to otherworldly mines and quarries, and are being worked by gangs of Water Elementals. After some discussion of the ethics of stranding the Water Elementals, the five philosophers decide to shut down as many of the portals as possible.
They finally reach the source of the Abcissa, and expecting a battle, deck themselves out in magic armor that grants immunity to water magic. As expected, they encounter Thales, who reveals the full scale of his dastardly plot - to turn the entire world into water. But his exposition is marred by a series of incongruities, including his repeated mispronunciations of his own name ("All is Water", lyrics only). And when the battle finally begins, the party dispatches Thales with minimal difficulty, and the resulting corpse is not that of a Greek philosopher at all, but rather that of Davidson's Swampman, a Metaphysical summon that can take the form of any creature it encounters and imitate them perfectly.
Before anyone has time to consider the implications of their discovery, they are attacked by the real Water Mage, who bombards them with powerful water spells to which their magic armor mysteriously offers no protection. Worse, the Mage is able to create dimensional portals at will, escaping attacks effortlessly. After getting battered by a series of magic Tsunamis that nearly kill several of the weaker party members, the adventurers are in dire straits.
Then the tide begins to turn. Antil manifests the power to go invisible and attack the Water Mage from an unexpected vantage. Cerune manifests another magic weapon, the Axe of Extension, which gives her allies the same powers over space as the Water Mage seems to possess. And with a little prompting from Cerune, Phaidros and Nomophilos realize the Water Mage's true identity. Magic armor doesn't grant protection from his water spells because they are not water at all, but XYZ, a substance physically identical to but chemically different from H2O. And his mastery of dimensional portals arises from his own origin in a different dimension, Twin Earth. He is Hilary Putnam ("All is Water, Reprise", lyrics only) who has crossed dimensions, defeated Thales, and assumed his identity in order to take over his watery empire and complete his world domination plot. With a last push of magic, the party manage to defeat Putnam, who is knocked into the raging Abcissa and drowned in the very element he sought to control.
They tie up the loose ends of the chapter by evacuating the Water Elementals from Twin Earth, leading the cave-men to the promised land of the Outside, and confronting Antil about her mysterious magic. Antil gives them the source of her power to turn invisible: the Ring of Gyges, which she found on the cave floor after an earthquake. She warns them never to use it, as it presents a temptation which their ethics might be unable to overcome.
CHAPTER FIVE: CLIMBING MOUNT IMPROBABLE
Now back on the surface, the party finds their way blocked by the towering Mount Improbable, which at first seems too tall to ever climb. But after some exploration, they find there is a gradual path sloping upward, and begin their ascent. They are blocked, however, by a regiment of uniformed apes: cuteness turns to fear when they get closer and find the apes have machine guns. They decide to negotiate, and the apes prove willing to escort them to their fortress atop the peak if they can prove their worth by answering a few questions about their religious beliefs.
Satisfied, the ape army lead them to a great castle at the top of the mountain where Richard Dawkins ("Beware the Believers", credit Michael Edmondson) and his snow leopard daemon plot their war against the gods themselves. Dawkins believes the gods to be instantiated memes - creations of human belief that have taken on a life of their own due to Aleithos' madness - and accuses them of causing disasters, poverty, and ignorance in order to increase humanity's dependence upon them and keep the belief that sustains their existence intact. With the help of his genetically engineered apes and a fleet of flying battleships, he has been waging war against all the major pantheons of polytheism simultaneously. Dawkins is now gearing up to attack his most implacable foe, Jehovah Himself, although he admits He has so far managed to elude him.
Hoping the adventurers will join his forces, he takes them on a tour of the castle, showing them the towering battlements, the flotilla of flying battleships, and finally, the dungeons. In these last are imprisoned Fujin, Japanese god of storms; Meretseger, Egyptian goddess of the flood, and even Ares, the Greek god of war (whom Dawkins intends to try for war crimes: not any specific war crime, just war crimes in general). When the party reject Dawkins' offer to join his forces (most vocally Phaidros, most reluctantly Ephraim) Dawkins locks them in the dungeons themselves.
They are rescued late at night by their old friend Theseus. Theseus lost his ship in a storm (caused by the Japanese storm god, Fujin) and joined Dawkins' forces to get revenge; he is now captain of the aerial battleships. Theseus loads the adventurers onto a flying battleship and deposits them on the far side of the mountain, where Dawkins and his apes will be unlikely to find them.
Their troubles are not yet over, however, for they quickly encounter a three man crusade consisting of Blaise Pascal, Johann Tetzel, and St. Augustine of Hippo (mounted, cavalry-style, upon an actual hippopotamus). The three have come, led by a divine vision, to destroy Dawkins and his simian armies as an abomination unto the Lord, and upon hearing that the adventurers have themselves escaped Dawkins, invite them to come along. But the five, despite their appreciation for Pascal's expository fiddle music ("The Devil and Blaise Pascal") are turned off by Tetzel's repeated attempts to sell them indulgences, and Augustine's bombastic preaching. After Phaidros gets in a heated debate with Augustine over the role of pacifism in Christian thinking, the two parties decide to go their separate ways, despite Augustine's fiery condemnations and Pascal's warning that there is a non-zero chance the adventurers' choice will doom them to Hell.
After another encounter with Ruth, Guy, and Clancy, our heroes reach the base of Mount Improbable and at last find themselves in Russellia.
CHAPTER SIX: THE PALL OVER RUSSELLIA
Russellia is, as the legends say, shrouded in constant darkness. The gloom and the shock of being back in her ancestral homeland are too much for Cerune, who breaks down and reveals her last few secrets. Before beginning the quest, she consulted the Turing Oracle in Cyberia, who told her to seek the aid of a local wizard, Zermelo the Magnificent. Zermelo gave her nine magic axes of holy fire, which he said possessed the power to break the curse over Russellia. But in desperation, she has already used three of the magic axes, and with only six left she is uncertain whether she will have the magic needed.
At that moment, Heraclitus appears in a burst of flame, seeking a debriefing on the death of his old enemy Thales. After recounting the events of the past few weeks, our heroes ask Heraclitus whether, as a Fire Mage, he can reforge the axes of holy fire. Heraclitus admits the possibility, but says he would need to know more about the axes, their true purpose, and the enemy they were meant to fight. He gives the party an enchanted matchbook, telling them to summon him by striking a match when they gather the information he needs.
Things continue going wrong when, in the midst of a discussion about large numbers, Phaidros makes a self-contradictory statement that summons a Paradox Beast. Our heroes stand their ground and manage to destroy the abomination, despite its habit of summoning more Paradox Beasts to its aid through its Principle of Explosion spell. Bruised and battered, they limp into the nearest Russellian city on their map, the town of Ravenscroft.
The people of Ravenscroft tell their story: in addition to the eternal darkness, Russellia is plagued by vampire attacks and by a zombie apocalypse, which has turned the population of the entire country, save Ravenscroft, into ravenous brain-eating zombies. Despite the burghers claiming the zombie apocalypse had been confirmed by no less a figure than Thomas Nagel, who passed through the area a century ago, our heroes are unconvinced: for one thing, the Ravenscrofters are unable to present any evidence that the other Russellians are zombies except for their frequent attacks on Ravenscroft - and the Ravenscrofters themselves attack the other towns as a "pre-emptive measure". But the Ravenscrofters remain convinced, and even boast of their plan to launch a surprise attack on neighboring Brixton the next day.
Suspicious, our heroes head to the encampment of the Ravenscroft army, where they are just in time to see Commander David Chalmers give a rousing oration against the zombie menace ("Flee! A History of Zombieism In Western Thought", credit Emerald Rain). They decide to latch on to Chalmers' army, both because it is heading the same direction they are and because they hope they may be able to resolve the conflict between Ravenscroft and Brixton before it turns violent.
They camp with the army in some crumbling ruins from the golden age of the Russellian Empire. Entering a ruined temple, they disarm a series of traps to enter a vault containing a legendary artifact, the Morningstar of Frege. They also encounter a series of statues and bas-reliefs of the Good King, in which he demonstrates his chivalry by swearing an oath to Aleithos that he will defend all those who cannot defend themselves. Before they can puzzle out the meaning of all they have seen, they are attacked by vampires, confirming the Ravenscrofters' tales; they manage to chase them away with their magic and a hare-brained idea of Phaidros' to bless their body water, turning it into holy water and burning them up from the inside.
The next morning, they sneak into Brixton before the main army, and find their fears confirmed: the Brixtonites are normal people, no different from the Russellians, and they claim that Thomas Nagel told them that they were the only survivors of the zombie apocalypse. They manage to forge a truce between Ravenscroft and Brixton, but to their annoyance, the two towns make peace only to attack a third town, Mountainside, which they claim is definitely populated by zombies this time. In fact, they say, the people of Mountainside openly admit to being zombies and don't even claim to have souls.
Once again, our heroes rush to beat the main army to Mountainside. There they find the town's leader, Daniel Dennett, who explains the theory of eliminative materialism ("The Zombies' Secret"). The party tries to explain the subtleties of Dennett's position to a bloodthirsty Chalmers, and finally all sides agree to drop loaded terms like "human" and "zombie" and replace them with a common word that suggests a fundamental humanity but without an internal Cartesian theater (one of our heroes suggests "NPC", and it sticks). The armies of the three towns agree to ally against their true common enemy - the vampires who live upon the Golden Mountain and kidnap their friends and families in their nighttime raids.
Before the attack, Nomophilos and Ephraim announce their intention to build an anti-vampire death ray. The theory is that places on the fringe of Russellia receive some sunlight, while places in the center are shrouded in endless darkness. If the towns of Russellia can set up a system of mirrors from their highest towers, they can reflect the sunlight from the borderlands into a central collecting mirror in Mountainside, which can be aimed at the vampires' hideout to flood it with daylight, turning them to ashes. Ephraim, who invested most of his skill points into techne, comes up with schematics for the mirror, and after constructing a successful prototype, Chalmers and Dennett sound the attack order.
The death ray takes out many of the vampires standing guard, but within their castle they are protected from its light: our heroes volunteer to infiltrate the stronghold, but are almost immediately captured and imprisoned - the vampires intend to sacrifice Cerune in a ritual to use her royal blood to increase their power. But the adventurers make a daring escape: arch-conservative Nomophilos uses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steal the keys out of the jailer's pocket, and Phaidros summons a five hundred pound carnivorous Christ metaphor to maul the guards. Before the party can escape the castle, they are confronted by the vampire lord himself, who is revealed to be none other than Thomas Nagel ("What Is It Like To Be A Bat?"). In the resulting battle, Nagel is turned to ashes and the three allied cities make short work of the remaining vampires, capturing the castle.
The next morning finds our heroes poring over the vampire lord's library. Inside, they find an enchanted copy of Godel Escher Bach (with the power to summon an identical enchanted copy of Godel Escher Bach) and a slew of books on Russellian history. Over discussion of these latter, they finally work out what curse has fallen over the land, and what role the magic axes play in its removal.
[spoiler alert; stop here if you want to figure it out for yourself]
The Good King's oath to defend those who could not defend themselves was actually more complicated than that: he swore an oath to the god Aleithos to defend those and only those who could not defend themselves. His enemies, realizing the inherent contradiction, attacked him, trapping Russell in a contradiction - if he defended himself, he was prohibited from doing so; if he did not defend himself, he was obligated to do so. Trapped, he was forced to break his oath, and the Mad God punished him by casting his empire into eternal darkness and himself into an endless sleep.
The nine axes of Zermelo the Magnificent embody the nine axioms of ZFC. If applied to the problem, they will allow set theory to be reformulated in a way that makes the paradox impossible, lifting the curse and waking the Good King.
Upon figuring out the mystery, the party strike the enchanted match and summon Heraclitus, who uses fire magic to reforge the Axes of Choice, Separation, and Extension. Thus armed, the party leave the Vampire Lord's castle and enter the system of caverns leading into the Golden Mountain.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE KING UNDER THE MOUNTAIN
The party's travels through the cavern are quickly blocked by a chasm too deep to cross. Nomophilos saves the day by realizing that the enchanted copy of Godel Escher Bach creates the possibility of infinite recursion; he uses each copy of GEB to create another copy, and eventually fills the entire chasm with books, allowing the party to walk through to the other side.
There they meet Ruth, Clancy, and Guy one last time; the three are standing in front of a Logic Gate, and to open it the five philosophers must solve the Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever. In an epic feat that the bards will no doubt sing for years to come, Macx comes up with a solution to the puzzle, identifies each of the three successfully, and opens the Logic Gate.
Inside the gate is the Good King, still asleep after two centuries. His resting place is guarded by the monster he unleashed, a fallen archangel who has become a Queen Paradox Beast. The Queen summons a small army of Paradox Beast servants with Principle of Explosion, and the battle begins in earnest. Cerune stands in a corner, trying to manifest her nine magic axes, but Nomophilos uses his Conservative spell "Morning in America" to summon a Raygun capable of piercing the Queen Paradox Beast's armored exoskeleton. Macx summons a Universal Quantifier and attaches it to his Banish Paradox Beast spell to decimate the Queen's armies. Ephraim desperately tries to wake the Good King, while Phaidros simply prays.
After an intense battle, Cerune manifests all nine axes and casts them at the Queen Paradox Beast, dissolving the paradox and destroying the beast's magical defenses. The four others redouble their efforts, and finally manage to banish the Queen. When the Queen Paradox Beast is destroyed, Good King Bertrand awakens.
Bertrand is temporarily discombobulated, but eventually regains his bearings and listens to the entire adventure. Then he tells his story. The attack that triggered the curse upon him, he says, was no coincidence, but rather a plot by a sinister organization against whom he had been waging a shadow war: the Bayesian Conspiracy. He first encountered the conspiracy when their espionage arm, the Bayes Network, tried to steal a magic emerald of unknown origin from his treasury. Since then, he worked tirelessly to unravel the conspiracy, and had reached the verge of success - learning that their aim was in some way linked to a plan to gain the shattered power of the Mad God Aleithos for themselves - when the Conspiracy took advantage of his oath and managed to put him out of action permanently.
He is horrified to hear that two centuries have passed, and worries that the Bayesians' mysterious plan may be close to fruition. He begs the party to help him re-establish contact with the Conspiracy and continue figuring out their plans, which may be a dire peril to the entire world. But he expresses doubt that such a thing is even possible at this stage.
In a burst of flame, Heraclitus appears, announcing that all is struggle and that he has come to join in theirs. He admits that the situation is grim, but declares it is not as hopeless as it seems, because they do not fight alone. He invokes the entire Western canon as the inspiration they follow and the giants upon whose shoulders they stand ("Grand Finale").
Heraclitus, Good King Bertrand, and the five scholars end the adventure by agreeing to seek out the Bayesian Conspiracy and discover whether Russell's old adversaries are still active. There are nebulous plans to continue the campaign (subject to logistical issues) in a second adventure, Fermat's Last Stand.
Hobbes' Song: Let's Hear It For Leviathan
Kant's Song: I'm Evil Immanuel Kant
Thales' Song: All Is Water
Putnam's Song: All Is Water, Reprise
GOOD ARTISTS BORROW, GREAT ARTISTS STEAL
Dawkins' Song: Beware The Believers (credit: Michael Edmondson)
Chalmers' Song: Flee: A History of Zombieism In Western Thought (credit: Emerald Rain)
Pascal's Song: The Devil and Blaise Pascal
Dennett's Song: The Zombies' Secret
Vampire Nagel's Song: What Is It Like To Be A Bat?
Heraclitus' Song: Grand Finale
While psychology wonks have been going on for years about the statistical rigor and calibration of the Big Five, most people have just carried on using the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI), which may not be statistical or scientific but is able to categorize people without insulting them.
A serious critique of the MBTI is the Myers-Briggs entropy distribution paradox (or, "Why are there 16 personality types when everyone I know is an INTJ?") A new personality test which has been gaining ground recently, the MLPTI, does not break up the INTJ into multiple categories; but does reduce the number of bothersome non-INTJ personality types and thus ameliorates the entropy paradox. For those not yet familiar with it, here is a rough translation between MLPTI and MBTI types.
|TS||conscientious, introverted, self-conscious
|RD||impulsive, activity-oriented, high stimulation threshold
|AJ||pragmatic, disciplined, outcome-oriented
|FS||introverted, empathetic, anxious||ISFJ, INFJ
|R||extroverted, creative, status-seeking
The loss of half of the MBTI categories is not a serious problem, as demonstrated by the fact that you can't even name the ones that were left out without going back and looking. Seriously, when was the last time you met an ENTP?
I've been working on an unauthorized implementation of Dresden Codak's Dungeons and Discourse, a fictional role-playing game that combines philosophy and high fantasy. You can find a very error-ridden, but possibly usable, rough draft of it at http://www.raikoth.net/Stuff/ddisplayer.pdf. Yes, obviously this is crazy and I have no life. There is no need to point that out further.
I'd like to try to run a campaign. It would be maybe an hour or two a week on IRC, and subject to my schedule, which is terrible and can include disappearing for months at a time (in particular I probably won't have internet access in August). Still, I would like to at least gauge interest and start some preliminaries now. And if anyone wants to run a campaign IRL at a meetup group or something, I can send them the file with the campaign walkthrough, though I'm not sure how much I would recommend it at this point.
Anyone who's interested in participating please let me know (especially if you have philosophical beliefs wildly different from the standard Less Wrong hive mind, or if you know any interested parties who do, since the game would be dreadfully boring if everyone agreed on everything or for that matter anything). Also, I suppose if people want to record the errors and contradictions and non sequiturs and exploits in the manual you might as well post them here so I can fix them.
Like many others I don't care much for the word 'rationalist', since it comes with lots of preexisting negative connotations. I think we're most likely stuck with the term, but to amuse myself, I came up a list of alternative terms. The Seattle LW group enjoyed the word 'cognomancy'.
- bayesian empiramancer (really you could add 'bayesian to most of these')
- cognitive engineer
- optimization engineer
Here is another example of an outsider perspective on risks from AI. I think such examples can serve as a way to fathom the inferential distance between the SIAI and its target audience as to consequently fine tune their material and general approach.
This shows again that people are generally aware of potential risks but either do not take them seriously or don't see why risks from AI are the rule rather than an exception. So rather than making people aware that there are risks you have to tell them what are the risks.
Reading the recent list of rationality quotes arranged by karma underlines the popularity of funniness, and being funny should probably be included in the pursuit of awesomeness.
My best guesses about characteristics of humor: If there's a word which makes the line funny, put it at the end. Phyllis Diller recommends that the word should end with a hard consonant (t or k).
If you can make a surprising statement extremely concise, there's a reasonable chance it will be funny especially if it includes an insult about an acceptable target.
Quasi-quote from Jim Davis, author of Garfield: "If I can't think of anything funny, I have one of the characters hit another." Any other principles of humor and/or methods for cultivating the ability to be funny?
ETA: The most recent thing that struck me as very funny-- how does it fit into the theories?
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