Wednesday, March 30, 2011


So today I made a comment about how, if you truly believe that people will suffer eternally if they don't convert to your religion, it'd be simply evil to not be an evangelist. And it just so happens that, a while later, I read Great Christina's latest piece on AlterNet, in which she writes:

In fact, if these believers were right, and our eternal afterlives in bliss or torment really were contingent on believing the right religion? Then not trying to persuade others to share the faith would be objectionable. Immoral, even. Callous to the point of being monstrous.

The piece in general is quite worth a read for reasons entirely unrelated to the fact that a minor point she makes echoes a thought of mine. In any case, curious coincidence, made it more prominent in my mind, hence blog.

Now, I don't generally like evangelists. They are occasionally fun to argue with, but their entire movement seems to conspire to keep society stuck a few centuries in the past, and not for particularly good reasons. If I had to choose between them and the more liberal live-and-let-live crowd, the latter would win easily, just because they aren't actively campaigning against equal rights and proper science. But.

What I said first remains true. If you truly believe that the one thing that can keep my soul from eternal torture is a conversion, then you better damn well try to convert me. Much in the same way as, if were I to mistake sulphuric acid for water, I'd want you to yell at me and knock the glass out of my hand before I drink. I don't think I'm mistaken, let that be clear. I think this glass is water and when you knock it out of my hand you'll just fill the floor with shards of broken glass (to continue the metaphor). But if you do believe it's acid, then the right thing to do, as far as you know, is to stop me from drinking. It would be rather worrying, in fact, if you just stood by and let me hypothetically kill myself.

I understand why this attitude exists, or at least I have a fair idea. I know about the bystander effect, about akrasia, about how what people actually believe can differ from what they profess to believe, even without them being aware of it. So I understand why some people can believe billions are going to Hell and they don't make any significant effort against it. I also know that many of the live-and-let-live types don't believe their benevolent God would create a Hell (I'd agree with them if I believed in benevolent gods).

And yet... they act like evangelists are weird for not treating their religion like you'd treat a choice in favourite books. Many of them, and many of my fellow non-theists, not only criticise the absurd beliefs, but also the attitude behind the evangelism. And therein lies my bafflement. How can you think that it'd be reasonable for people who believe in Hell to treat religion like mere preference?

Belief should never be mere preference. People need to have beliefs that match reality as closely as possible, because often making the right decision depends on having the right knowledge. Of course, evangelists are not too good at the matching reality thing, they violate this principle in multiple ways. But to not even try to correct mistaken beliefs when you see them, or to advocate others take that attitude, is also a violation. In the name of tolerating diverse viewpoints, they forget that viewpoints aren't clothes, fit to whoever wears them. 

Reality is one, and encouraging a diversity of viewpoints is only a tool to get to the one closest to truth. Not an end in itself. And further, there's no bloody point in trying to be right if you're gonna ignore what your model of reality says you should do.

So, am I saying I want more evangelism? No. I want less, preferably none. This isn't about how the live-and-let-live crowd are self-contradictory and the evangelists are consistent. Neither group is entirely consistent, and the evangelists are probably worse, this is just noticing one particular point that I found curious.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Evaluation: Void Origins

Lately I've been thinking about how much Vurok needs fixing. Some of it is continuity, some of it is nonsensicalness, some of it is that it just plain sucks. Anyway. So basically I've decide to start over, as it were. I'm not getting read of what I've written so far, yet anyway. What I will do is I'll start writing stories set earlier in the timeline, revise from there, and when I get to the time when the current Vurok stories are set, I'll rewrite them or replace them. The last psychflare was the first example of that, being set at the beginning of La Sangrienta's 20 year killing spree. According to my official Vurok Timeline, that sets it 26 years before the events in Void. But the Vurok Timeline will need rewriting as well, so that's not set in stone.

Anyway, what it all adds up to is that the next Psychflare is the story of how Void became Void and who he was before. More or less. Set roughly 8 years after First Steps, but like I said the timeline is not set yet. I've written about... 2 sentences of it, still trying to find a way to ease into it. Hopefully I'll find something by next week.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Psychflare: First Steps

[Set in the Vurok universe, but stands on its own. See comments for notes]

First Steps

There's hardly anything original about a teenager dreading the prospect of going to school, she thought. They all do it, and she didn't want to be part of the crowd, now did she? Another part of her brain noted that superficial similarities didn't change the deeper reason, and anyway the “be an individual by acting opposite to the majority” argument is bullshit of ten different kinds.

A third voice remarked that all this wasn't getting anything done, and listed the basic options. Run, deal, endure. Enduring was becoming less likely with each day and running was not a real solution. Dealing with it sounded much more like the kind of thing she should do. The analytic mind thus rested and gave way to the creative, telling it to generate possible approaches to solving the problem.

From the outside, though, all these psych-level events were invisible (were they?) and all she showed was herself walking to school. The unwelcome perspective of soon seeing him again was lightened by the fact she had made her decision, or the first step of it. Thus, her expression smoothly changed from frustrated gloom to mildly amused neutrality. No sense in giving it away.

As she approached her destination and entered the crowd, she felt the brief flashes and quiet rumble of foreign thought enter her consciousness. She didn't try to make out anything definite, it was too distracting. She just walked. Like always, he was a bellowing scream in a sea of whispers, a searing light in a grey fog. Impossible to ignore, the sick bastard.

It sometimes amazed her how everyone else just carried on, how they could be oblivious to the repulsive miasma emanating from his very person But then she remembered that, no matter how much pure evil one person can be, it doesn't give them some dark aura of terror. To everyone else, to those whose minds only harbour their own thoughts, the beasts look just like people.

There he stood, silently delighting himself in the idea of taking one of his students to a dark, secluded place, like he'd done before. To tell her that nobody would believe her, to mix in the lies and the threats, to take a knife and- fuck, no more of this. She managed to get out of his head before he got too excited. This time, at least. She was still aware of him, the fantasies were just outside the edge of her mind, but she wasn't seeing them now. Not for the first time, she wondered if he had ever fantasised about her. With a shudder, she forced herself to think of something happier, like violent murder.

Ideas, ideas, ideas. Ideas that could work, perhaps...

* * *

A few weeks later...
Aidan Lull sat in his office studying a small handwritten note. It simply said “I am a disgusting piece of shit and I deserve to die.” Nothing of much importance, were it not for the fact it was the third such note he'd found recently. A new fad amongst students, some sort of prank, or what? Absent-mindedly, he twirled the note in his fingers, and suddenly noticed it had something written on the other side. “I shouldn't have kept a memento,” it stated.

Startled, he crumpled the paper and threw it across the room. A second later, he laughed at his reaction. It was obviously a coincidence. Nobody knew, and if they did, they wouldn't be sending him notes, they'd be talking to the police. Just teenagers playing around. He picked up the piece of paper and stuffed it in his pocket, trying to ignore the small uncomfortable feeling that would keep him company for several hours

His classes were uneventful, and no test he graded that day looked like it had been written by the mysterious note's author. He had almost managed to reassure himself and forget all about the paper by the time he got back home.

It fell out of his pocket while he was looking for his keys. Worry struck again, but it would turn out to be nothing, he knew. Still, just to be sure... He checked a small box he usually kept locked and out of sight and upon opening it, all uneasiness vanished. It gave way to horror, as a new note was waiting for him.

* * *

Aidan was at the location specified, looking for a notebook. Why a notebook, he didn't know, but that was what the piece of paper said. It wasn't a large place to search, but it was dark A switch, a switch... ah yes. He finally found the light and flicked it on, and easily found what he was looking for. The first page were detailed instructions for where leave the ten thousand in cash he'd been asked for. Next, he had to write a note just like the one he'd first received, and deliver it to an address nearby within one hour. There, he'd be able to get back his “lost possession”. Hopefully, this would be the end of the treasure hunt.

Who the hell was this person? Some twisted bastard who took delight in blackmailing people into running errands? And how much did they know? No matter. He had no option but play along, at least for now. Thirty minutes later, he was at one of the many empty buildings in the city, climbing up the twelfth flight of stairs. He paused to catch his breath right in front of the room, praying nobody would jump out of a dark corner. He'd been lucky so far, but it might not last.

“I will find my lost possession taped outside, above the window. Then, I'll leave what I wrote on the desk, leave, and never come back.” was what the note had instructed him. Easy enough. He walked to the right wall and carefully put his arm through the window, avoiding what seemed like broken glass. He groped around, but couldn't feel anything. The window was big enough to stand on, so stepped up, and felt around. In the dark, he never noticed the mat under his feet. He did, however, notice the sudden pull that threw him outside, a dozen stories down, to his death.

A girl stood by the corpse, smiling with satisfaction. Murder was quite the drug, she now realised. She felt like she never had before, brimming with energy, ready to do anything. Relieved his fucked up brain was gone, and above all ecstatic by the killing rush, she noted revulsion or guilt were noticeably absent from the emotional cocktail. This was a game she'd have to play again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two thoughts on Murphy's Law

1. "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" is trivially true (for specific meanings of can). In a deterministic universe, what happens is strictly a consequence of the initial conditions, given the initial conditions the result is set in stone and unchangeable. For a specific meaning of can, anything that is allowed by those initials conditions can happen and anything that isn't, cannot. Since the result is set, anything that could happen given the initial conditions has to be part of that result, otherwise it wouldn't be part of what can happen. What can happen and what does happen are actually the exact same thing, looked at from different points in time. As a corollary, the inverse of Murphy's Law stating that whatever can go right will go right is also trivially true under the same specifications.

Of course, someone might say "But I don't believe in determinism!". I have two answers to that, the first is "You're wrong by virtue of the fact that you disagree with me" and the second is "Pretend I appended  'if you are a determinist' to that first sentence." Choose the one you like the most.

2.If you look at it the wrong way, Murphy's law is actually very optimistic. Proof:
A. Often people believe bad things will happen and they don't.

B. Of two people, one who believes something bad can happen and one who does not, the latter is the most optimistic.

C. Murphy's law states that if something bad can happen, it does happen.

D. p -> q is equivalent to ¬q -> ¬p, thus from C we can see that according to a Murphyist if something bad does not happen, then it could not happen.

E. From A and D we can show that often people believe that bad things would happen in cases where a Murphyist would believe they couldn't happen.

F. Thus from E and B we can show that often, of two people, the Murphyist is the most optimistic of the two.


Psychflare: The Rock of Truth

[Check comments for notes]
The Rock of Truth
The little woman sitting in front of Samuel was peddling her wares with an attitude that screamed “I am doing you a favour by selling you this". An attitude, he later learned, characteristic of those Endirian merchants you should trust the least.

So far, nothing she showed had caught his attention, and she appeared to pick up on that. She was packing most of her belongings, almost ready to go, and then...

“Oh, I almost forgot,” she said. “I do have one more thing you might be interested in.”

The Endirian removed a small box from her bags and opened it to reveal a green rock.

“What's this?”

“This, my good sir, is a rock of truth,” the merchant said. “It's a wonderful device”

“And what does it do?” Samuel asked.

“Well, if someone tells a lie and touches the rock, it will glow” she replied. “I'd love to give you a demonstration, but it takes two hours for the rock to charge and I have urgent business”

“Tell you what,” she continued, “for a quarter of the full price, you can try out the rock for yourself over the weekend”

“Lady, we have a deal”

Samuel and the Endirian signed a contract which stated, basically, that the merchant would return Sam's money should the rock be faulty, and Sam would pay the full price if it worked as described. Sam was now 200 cred poorer, but feeling like had cheated a genie out of a fourth wish.

* * *

“Your piece of shit rock is broken!”, Samuel yelled.

“Is that so?”

As a reply, Sam placed the rock on the table, said 'My name is Samuel Norten' and then touched the rock. It glowed brightly. He then declared 'My name is not Samuel Norten' and touched the rock, to the same effect.

“I don't see the problem,” the merchant said. “It glowed, did it not?”

“It glows whenever I touch it! What use do I have for the rock if it doesn't help me tell who's lying?”, he ranted.

“I'm afraid I never promised you a lie detector, Mr. Norten. All I said was that the rock would glow when touched after saying a lie, which it does. What the rock does in any other circumst-”

Sam, as it turned out, was not in the mood for such technicalities, something he manifested by literally throwing the Endirian out of his house. She later sued him for assault and breach of contract, though the result of the latter trial left her with a very poor opinion of the teaching of logic in the local education system.