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Comment author: EphemeralNight 09 February 2016 02:29:58PM 11 points [-]

Well, first, I'll admit up front that I logged off and metaphorically hid for a day after posting this, so I would not be tempted to engage in a pointless argument in the comments. And yet, I was somehow still too optimistic about what I'd find when I looked.

First point of order, this isn't about me. I've been on this site a while, it should be obvious by now that I have no qualms sharing gooey personal details about myself. So. Stop making it about me. If it was about me, you'd know.

Second point of order, the pronouns assigned to the characters do not matter and I think it says more about you than me that you fixated on that. So. Stop making it about sexism. Perhaps I could have chosen some other combination of genders, but I had hoped that commenters here of all places would be egalitarian enough to see those genders as the placeholders they are.

Third point of order, the parable was never meant to reflect reality. If it seems one-sided, that's because it is. It is meant to reflect a generalized emotional journey that I think is valid for a lot of people, of all sexes and orientations, who are too scared to speak up because they, rightly, expect to get nothing but vitriol for doing so.

Fourthly, if the parable even has a moral, it is about prostitution and modern attitudes towards prostitution and not really anything else. If you think the parable is advocating anything else you don't like, that, again, says more about you than me. I am astounded that I have to explicitly point this out, but there is a difference between not actively helping a person and actively interfering with help reaching a person. So. Stop putting words in my mouth. We should be above that, here.

The Fable of the Burning Branch

-19 EphemeralNight 08 February 2016 03:20PM


Once upon a time, in a lonely little village, beneath the boughs of a forest of burning trees, there lived a boy. The branches of the burning trees sometimes fell, and the magic in the wood permitted only girls to carry the fallen branches of the burning trees.

One day, a branch fell, and a boy was pinned beneath. The boy saw other boys pinned by branches, rescued by their girl friends, but he remained trapped beneath his own burning branch.

The fire crept closer, and the boy called out for help.

Finally, a friend of his own came, but she told him that she could not free him from the burning branch, because she already free'd her other friend from beneath a burning branch and he would be jealous if she did the same deed for anyone else. This friend left him where he lay, but she did promise to return and visit.

The fire crept closer, and the boy called out for help.

A man stopped, and gave the boy the advice that he'd get out from beneath the burning branch eventually if he just had faith in himself. The boy's reply was that he did have faith in himself, yet he remained trapped beneath the burning branch. The man suggested that perhaps he did not have enough faith, and left with nothing more to offer.

The fire crept closer, and the boy cried out for help.

A girl came along, and said she would free the boy from beneath the burning branch.

But no, her friends said, the boy was a stranger to her, was her heroic virtue worth nothing? Heroic deeds ought to be born from the heart, and made beautiful by love, they insisted. Simply hauling the branch off a boy she did not love would be monstrously crass, and they would not want to be friends with a girl so shamed.

So the girl changed her mind and left with her friends.

The fire crept closer. It began to lick at the boy's skin. A soothing warmth became an uncomfortable heat. The boy mustered his courage and chased the fear out of his own voice. He called out, but not for help. He called out for company.

A girl came along, and the boy asked if she would like to be friends. The girl's reply was that she would like to be friends, but that she spent most of her time on the other side of the village, so if they were to be friends, he must be free from beneath the burning branch.

The boy suggested that she free him from beneath the burning branch, so that they could be friends.

The girl replied that she once free'd a boy from beneath a burning branch who also promised to be her friend, but as soon as he was free he never spoke to her again. So how could she trust the boy's offer of friendship? He would say anything to be free.

The boy tried frantically to convince her that he was sincere, that he would be grateful and try with all his heart to be a good friend to the girl who free'd him, but she did not believe him and turned away from him and left him there to burn.

The fire crept closer and the boy whimpered in pain and fear as it spread from wood to flesh. He cried out for help. He begged for help. "Somebody, please!"

A man and a woman came along, and the man offered advice: he was once trapped beneath a burning branch for several years. The fire was magic, the pain was only an illusion. Perhaps it was sad that he was trapped but even so trapped the boy may lead a fulfilling life. Why, the man remembered etching pictures into his branch, befriending passers by, and making up songs.

The woman beside the man agreed, and told the boy that she hoped the right girl would come along and free him, but that he must not presume that he was entitled to any girl's heroic deed merely because he was trapped beneath a burning branch.

"But do I not deserve to be helped?" the boy pleaded, as the flames licked his skin.

"No, how wrong of you to even speak as though you do. My heroic deeds are mine to give, and to you I owe nothing," he was told.

"Perhaps I don't deserve help from you in particular, or from anyone in particular, but is it not so very cruel of you to say I do not deserve any help at all?" the boy pleaded. "Can a girl willing to free me from beneath this burning branch not be found and sent to my aide?"

"Of course not," he was told, "that is utterly unreasonable and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking. It is offensive that you believe such a girl may even exist. You've become burned and ugly, who would want to save you now?"

The fire spread, and the boy cried, screamed, and begged desperately for help from every passer by.

"It hurts it hurts it hurts oh why will no one free me from beneath this burning branch?!" he wailed in despair. "Anything, anyone, please! I don't care who frees me, I only wish for release from this torment!"

Many tried to ignore him, while others scoffed in disgust that he had so little regard for what a heroic deed ought to be. Some pitied him, and wanted to help, but could not bring themselves to bear the social cost, the loss of worth in their friends' and family's eyes, that would come of doing a heroic deed motivated, not by love, but by something lesser.

The boy burned, and wanted to die.

Another boy stepped forward. He went right up to the branch, and tried to lift it. The trapped boy gasped at the small relief from the burning agony, but it was only a small relief, for the burning branches could only be lifted by girls, and the other boy could not budge it. Though the effort was for naught, the first boy thanked him sincerely for trying.

The boy burned, and wanted to die. He asked to be killed.

He was told he had so much to live for, even if he must live beneath a burning branch. None were willing to end him, but perhaps they could do something else to make it easier for him to live beneath the burning branch? The boy could think of nothing. He was consumed by agony, and wanted only to end.

And then, one day, a party of strangers arrived in the village. Heroes from a village afar. Within an hour, one foreign girl came before the boy trapped beneath the burning branch and told him that she would free him if he gave her his largest nugget of gold.

Of course, the local villagers were shocked that this foreigner would sully a heroic deed by trafficking it for mere gold.

But, the boy was too desperate to be shocked, and agreed immediately. She free'd him from beneath the burning branch, and as the magical fire was drawn from him, he felt his burned flesh become restored and whole. He fell upon the foreign girl and thanked her and thanked her and thanked her, crying and crying tears of relief.

Later, he asked how. He asked why. The foreign girls explained that in their village, heroic virtue was measured by how much joy a hero brought, and not by how much she loved the ones she saved.

The locals did not like the implication that their own way might not have been the best way, and complained to the chief of their village. The chief cared only about staying in the good graces of the heroes of his village, and so he outlawed the trading of heroic deeds for other commodities.

The foreign girls were chased out of the village.

And then a local girl spoke up, and spoke loud, to sway her fellow villagers. The boy recognized her. It was his friend. The one who had promised to visit so long ago.

But she shamed the boy, for doing something so crass as trading gold for a heroic deed. She told him he should have waited for a local girl to free him from beneath the burning branch, or else grown old and died beneath it.

To garner sympathy from her audience, she sorrowfully admitted that she was a bad friend for letting the boy be tempted into something so disgusting. She felt responsible, she claimed, and so she would fix her mistake.

The girl picked up a burning branch. Seeing what she was about to do, the boy begged and pleaded for her to reconsider, but she dropped the burning branch upon the boy, trapping him once more.

The boy screamed and begged for help, but the girl told him that he was morally obligated to learn to live with the agony, and never again voice a complaint, never again ask to be free'd from beneath the burning branch.

"Banish me from the village, send me away into the cold darkness, please! Anything but this again!" the boy pleaded.

"No," he was told by his former friend, "you are better off where you are, where all is proper."

In the last extreme, the boy made a grab for his former friend's leg, hoping to drag her beneath the burning branch and free himself that way, but she evaded him. In retaliation for the attempt to defy her, she had a wall built around the boy, so that none would be able, even if one should want to free him from beneath the burning branch.

With all hope gone, the boy broke and became numb to all possible joys. And thus, he died, unmourned.

Comment author: Dagon 10 January 2016 04:47:39PM 0 points [-]

In which case, "you" have a 50% chance of dying

Actually, you have 100% chance of dying. You will also live. The teleporter creates a new branch of you, and the old branch dies. The fact that a copy exists doesn't stop the old one being you too.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 15 January 2016 05:01:40AM 0 points [-]

That is actually what I meant. But the way you're phasing it re-introduces confusion on the word "you".

What this means is, neither branch is privileged, neither branch takes precedence, there is no soul that only goes to one or the other, the subjective "you" prior to duplication does have a 50% chance of experiencing either branch. After duplication, there are two people, who are both, objectively, "you", but neither subjectively experiences being in two places at once.

One experiences the destination and subsequent existence, the other experiences a split second of dawning horror and then oblivion. Each time a "you" steps into the badly designed dupli-teleporter, that "you" has a 50% chance of either experience.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 09 January 2016 05:02:02AM -1 points [-]

In this problem, we imagine that you are cloned perfectly in an alternate location and then your body is destroyed.

In which case, "you" have a 50% chance of dying, because your self-continuity forks and one fork is then destroyed. The obvious answer to this dilemma isn't a metaphysical one. It's that this is a stupid way to design a teleporter.

If we instead imagine that you are destroyed and then duplicated perfectly in an alternate location, there is no longer an extra self-continuity branch that terminates. Correct order of operations in the engineering solution is all it takes to solve this problem.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 31 May 2015 03:04:22AM 1 point [-]

Is it unethical to have children pre-Singularity, for the risk of them dying?

Comment author: EphemeralNight 31 May 2015 02:30:27PM -1 points [-]

I think maybe not if you sign them up for cryonic preservation?

I think it may be much more on point to talk about it being unethical to have children pre-singularity, for the inevitable needless suffering that will occur. I do believe that the moment we solve aging, it is a moral imperative to stop having children until we can be assure that we're not bringing new people into existence just to suffer.

I don't think it is unethical to keep having children today, but only so far as it is necessary to actually reach the singularity. I think ethically, we should be trying to minimize the portion of human mind-space that must experience pre-singularity existence, but not to the point of delaying the singularity.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 April 2015 06:19:41AM 3 points [-]

I want to accuse you of drawing causal arrows from consciousness to other modules of human mind design, which as far as I know is ruled out, evolutionarily speaking.

Why would that be? Did evolution stop once man became conscious? Even if all the modules were there before consciousness arose that does not mean that evolution could not have given consciousness some sort of causal effects on some mind modules.

In fact, if consciousness did not have effects on our mind modules, what would it have an effect on?

In response to comment by [deleted] on Ephemeral correspondence
Comment author: EphemeralNight 28 April 2015 06:47:30PM 0 points [-]

Consciousness is the most recent module, and that does mean that. I'm sorry, I thought this was one point that wasn't even in dispute. It was laid out pretty clearly in the Evolution Sequence:

Complex adaptations take a very long time to evolve. First comes allele A, which is advantageous of itself, and requires a thousand generations to fixate in the gene pool. Only then can another allele B, which depends on A, begin rising to fixation. A fur coat is not a strong advantage unless the environment has a statistically reliable tendency to throw cold weather at you. Well, genes form part of the environment of other genes, and if B depends on A, B will not have a strong advantage unless A is reliably present in the genetic environment

Evolutions Are Stupid (But Work Anyway)

Comment author: EphemeralNight 27 April 2015 02:19:11AM *  -1 points [-]

There is a wrong-note in the reasoning of this post that immediately started niggling at me, but it's subtle and I'm having trouble teasing out the underlying assumption. I want to say that you're taking "The purpose of consciousness is consciousness" as a given, when that is arguably false. Likewise, I want to accuse you of drawing causal arrows from consciousness to other modules of human mind design, which as far as I know is ruled out, evolutionarily speaking.

I offer this:

The "executive process" as you call it is part of the world-modeler. It is the world-modeling module that evolved in response to a very unique world-modeling challenge. There is a critical difference between sky-color and insult-vs-complement that you seem to be glossing over. A given wavelength of light always has the same properties. A given array of posture, facial expression, tone, etc. does not always map directly to the same social reality.

We can't chose to see a smile on a scowling face any more than we can chose to see a green sky, but unlike the sky, the same facial expression can mean vastly different things depending on context, because the causes underlying any given expression depends on a thing that is just as complicated as you are.

The "executive process" is how evolution solved the entirely new problem of adding other world-modelers to the world-model and that's what it does. If it is glitchy and unreliable, well, it is still very new. The very first functional wing to evolve probably wasn't all that good at producing lift, either.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 17 April 2015 11:41:24PM 0 points [-]

I think there is a strict and useful definition of "supernatural" to be had, that suitably reduces the concept.

Take the game of life as an example. In the cell grid, the rules governing individual cells are the laws of physics. Those rules completely define natural phenomenon in that universe. It seems clear to me, then, that the definition of supernatural phenomenon points to operations on patterns of cells, IE, anything that edits the outputs of the natural rules.

For example, "Any live cell with two or three live neighbors lives on to the next generation." is natural, while "If glider for x iterations, then pulsar" is supernatural.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 April 2015 11:29:05AM 1 point [-]

In Germany most internet connection have a clause that requires regular reestablishing with get's you a new IP address. It's in the contracts because the changing IP address makes it harder to run a server behind a home connection.

The advantage of a changing IP address that it's a lot harder to track you for random websites.

It makes sense for the router to choose a time in the night where the connection isn't used to do the reconnecting. Otherwise the ISP would on it's own choose the timing which might be worse.

If your router however does this when you aren't sleeping see if disabling the feature helps.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 06 April 2015 12:47:10PM 1 point [-]

I think you may have misunderstood. I'm talking about my router, which is a separate device from my modem. I have never observed the router rebooting to fix a problem, and have on several occasions observed the reboot to cause a problem. I just want to know if there is something nonobvious going on that will cause problems if the router does not reboot once a week, keeping in mind that it is a separate device from the cable modem.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 06 April 2015 11:05:44AM 0 points [-]

I've gone from rock-bottom self-esteem and hopeless crying, to... rock-bottom self-esteem and StepfordSmiling. LessWrong has helped me become much less self-centered by providing the skills to quantify exactly how I am not, in fact, worth anything to anyone, and am, in fact, entitled to nothing.

I talk about transhumanism and cryonics instead of nihilism and suicide.

I went from feeling like I'm always in hostile territory waiting to die, to feeling like I'm always out in the cold looking in on something beautiful that will never include me.

I get much less enjoyment and relaxation from my passtimes because I've internalized the fact that escapism isn't.

It took an hour to compose this post instead of ten minutes, because I have a more realistic expectation of the results.

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