Monday, May 30, 2011

Evaluation: Fehu 4

Back on track, yay! The words are flowing once again, as I predicted they would, and the story moves forward nicely. Plus, I have a bit of an idea where I go from here, which is generally a good way to end a writing session.

So I wrote yet another piece of dialogue, and as usual it was terrible. Though, if I'm not deluding myself, a bit less terrible than usual (I assign a high probability to "deluding myself"). I'm still not sure if the other party made sense as a choice, but she'd had a bit of an introduction earlier in the story, so it's better to reuse her than to create an entire new character solely for that purpose. There is someone else I could use, which works better in some ways and less in others. I'm attached, perhaps irrationally, to my current choice, so she stays for now.

Plotwise, it feels nice. Depends on where I go from here, because I could either keep up a red herring for a while more or just drop it. I don't know how rushed it feels to drop it now, and I have a terrible intuitive sense of pacing (especially right after writing), so I'm leaning towards keeping it for a while longer, just to be on the safe side. Might be more fun.

The major plot point I mentioned last time is still unsolved, but I think I can ease into it from where I am. I won't know until I can see the transition, I'm just slightly optimistic. Feels more and more like the natural place to end Fehu. What comes after, who knows. A bit of an idea for a sword-and-sorcery thing if I can get it done, but I can worry after I finish here. If nothing else, there's more Vurok to be written.

I haven't been looking at my idea file for a while now (to give you an idea, I still hadn't removed Ananke or Golden Sky from it). As a result, I have at least two hints for stories there I have no idea what I meant when I wrote them. (That happens all the time when I look at old Evaluations, but there it matters very little). Bothers me, let me tell you.

As a final note, the post I hinted at last time is going up probably tomorrow, if you're impatient. Which I know you aren't.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A reply to myself

This was going to be about a paradox of Calvinism and Newcomb's Problem. I might even write that post tomorrow. But, I was looking through old posts (searching for the one wherein I mentioned Necomblike problems first) and found this. And I think I was wrong, in more than one way.

First in order of increasing importance, I don't quite like the way it's written. Yes, yes, mostly irrelevant, but as long as I'm listing what's wrong with it...

Second, and more embarrassingly, the first example was badly designed. The actual logical chain as originally written had the consequences of the dilemma backwards. I can usually spot that sort of thing, so yeah, shame on me.

But that's details. The real reason for this post is that I think my entire point was wrong.

Now, I'm sure there are contrived scenarios where letting the two wrongs cancel out is the right thing to do. Much in the same way as there are contrived scenarios in which it's the right thing to do to kill a million people (if it's gonna save two million, say). But that's not a way of thinking that's useful for solving actual moral dilemmas you are likely to encounter. Similarly, the analysis I made of those two problems was bad as a general policy. And probably mistaken in the particular cases, as well.

"But wait," myself from 6 months ago says, "let's look at case 1. From the specification of the problem, the consequences of the action volunteer-the-evidence are a punishment you are opposed to. It follows inescapably that your ethics have to consider the action wrong, unless you went deontological sometime in the last half year"

I didn't, but thanks for your concern. The problem is that the consequences go further than that. When you decide that your personal ethics override the general societal system in place, you are in essence undermining it. A cooperation-based system that everyone ignores whenever it conflicts with their own personal feelings, collapses.

"But, of course my own personal ethics override the system! That's exactly what makes them my ethics, they are the standard to which I measure whether something is right or wrong. If I'm going to ignore them in favour of the system in place just because it's the system in place, then they are meaningless. My actual ethics would just be 'follow the crowd'."

Ignoring your ethics makes them pointless, yes, but that's not what I'm saying you should do. Rather, your ethics are acting on two levels. When you evaluate the system, you find that you want it to improve by not using the death penalty. But the advantage of having the system in place is also important, by your ethics, so the final calculation has to be influenced by what happens if the system collapses.

"The system won't collapse because I didn't help put someone to death-"

Massive Multiplayer Prisoner's Dilemma. If everyone defects from the common system, then the situation is the global worst. I suppose you didn't  understand Timeless Decision Theory back then  (not that I'm an expert on any kind of decision theory now), but think about it. Does the idea that when every individual does the right thing society collapses not sound off?

"I see what you mean, though that an idea sounds off is not really a counter-argument."

And yet you would call it the right thing to do to cooperate in the prisoner's dilemma, would you not?

"In the original scenario, perhaps, but it doesn't generalise to all PD-like situations. The reason I would call it right is that right involves an element of caring about people other than myself instead of just self-benefiting. In the case under consideration, I am caring for other people, namely the guy who'll be killed depending on my actions, when I defect"

Fair enough, but to the extent you have a sense of what 'right' means, doesn't it need to be good that most people do the right thing?

"Provisionally accepted, but I don't have a strict definition of right to compare it to"

You need to stop thinking so much in terms of strict definitions, especially when you don't have them. But back on topic, there's the honesty angle to consider. Not just honesty as a terminal value, but from the instrumental point of view. If you implement the general policy of acting within the common system, then people know they can trust you to be a cooperative agent. The price you pay when you defect is that other people, who work within the common system, must regard you as not-trustworthy. You become the act-equivalent of the little boy that cried wolf.

"Wait, what? The boy crying wolf is not doing the right thing by his ethics, he's just bored. He's in the wrong because he values his own time more than that of the other people, and that's not what I'm doing"

The point I'm making is that, aside of being a jerk, he's being stupid by sacrificing his trustworthiness. In the same way, it's unwise to take the risk of saying "Hey, I don't play by those rules" by cancelling wrongs with other wrongs.

"But that's not something you signal in either case, the scenarios are such that only you know what you chose, or even that you had a choice."

Which is unrealistic and part of what it makes the exercise one of low applicability. You might as well say you're saving a million people from the death penalty, it doesn't generalise.

"It's a thought experiment, the terms of it are the terms of it"

Let's not go there. Instead, I have one more angle you haven't considered: the possibility that you might be wrong.

"Of course I might be wrong, but that's true of any argument, that doesn't invalidate them"

I mean within the experiment. Perhaps, in fact, the death penalty is the right thing to do, if you automatically override society with your personal ethics you lose the chance to update on that information.

"Truth is not a democracy, lots of people being in favour of something doesn't make it right. And, again, you want me to sacrifice my personal beliefs for the sake of fitting those of other humans. Humans which, you know as well I do, commit a thousand and one errors in thinking."

Indeed we do, "we" being key. If your opinion disagrees with the majority, well, that doesn't mean you're wrong, but it does mean that you should give the other side's view serious consideration. If you dismiss every popular idea that seems wrong on the basis of human stupidity alone, then you forget that you are human too, and your cognitive machinery is prone to failure.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Evaluation: Fehu 3

Who sucks? Well, lots of people. But as for the purposes of this exercise, me. 2 weeks skipped in evaluations, which unsurprisingly coincide with two weeks of little-to-no writing. Three weeks, actually, but at least I've got one or two things done today and yesterday.

Oh, there's plenty of excuses like tests and the Rapture and studying and blegh. Some of them are even true! But it remains a fact that I could have done so much more. So yeah, I suck. I'll try to do better, etc.

As I mentioned last eval, I'd hit the point where I had little idea of what I could write next. As usual, that meant nothing much happened until I decided to sit down and think instead of waiting for inspiration to fall from heaven. It worked, more or less. I know where to take the plot now, roughly, and if I sort out one particular annoying plot point the story would have accomplished its goal. It will probably be a small step in a larger story rather than self contained, but that works for Vurok. That is to say, I can technically end it wherever I want, but the natural point is when Machi begins to train herself in her talent. If I can transition elegantly enough into that point, I win. Sort of.

So yeah, most progress is theoretical rather than actual so far. It bothers me, but it does at least foretell writing might happen soon. Hopefully tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I have survived the Apocalypse! I AM INDESTRUCTIBLE!

OK, sorry about that. I just promised those would be my first words on May 22, and you wouldn't want me to go back on my word, would you? So I wrote this and scheduled it so it'd go up an hour after midnight. It's important to record your predictions before the experiment, keeps you honest.

A few reflections before the fact:

I'm not entirely certain why this particular date for Judgement Day got all popular. Some nut predicts the end of the world a couple of times a year, but it is rare that they get much attention. I suppose this particular group of crackpots has more resources than the average doomsday prophet, so they are publicising it more. It certainly isn't that their arguments are much stronger than usual.

I mean, look at this "infallible proof". Take a moment to reflect on the word "infallible", which is not something you want to throw around lightly. From a Bayesian perspective, if you assign something probability 0 of being wrong then you cannot ever change your mind about it. That is, if you believe the proof is actually infallible then you believe Judgement Day happened regardless of what you observe. After all, it's more likely than Judgement Day actually happened and nobody realised it than something infallible being wrong. As a general rule, don't call anything infallible unless it'd break reality for it to be wrong. Mathematical theorems are the one thing that gets anywhere near that standard, and even then you have Cartesian Demon issues.

All of which I say so you get an idea of the magnitude of the idiocy of calling this shit infallible proof. It's a bunch of numbers being thrown around carelessly and shoehorned into vague significance, and that's not even going into the giant pustulating unproven assumption they so casually take for granted, that you can derive knowledge about the future from the Bible. It's not like anyone has actually done so... (but that's inductive reasoning, innit?)

I'm curious as to how they'll rationalise their failure. I doubt they'll just be consistent with their claims of infallibility and go on as if Judgement Day had actually happened. I suppose I'll find out by the time you read this.

EDIT: Well, what do you know, that's exactly what they went with. If you don't feel like clicking, Camping (the main nut) said that Jesus' return did happen but it was a spiritual event, so that's why the world looks exactly like it hadn't happened at all. He still says the world will end, physically (and presumably observably), on October 21, so who knows what he'll come up with on October 22. Wait and see.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The right to remain stupid

On occasion, I encounter those who say "There is no knowledge, only opinion". Or "It doesn't matter whether your belief is true, if it gives you comfort". Or "I can believe whatever I want". And such things, all along the same theme of downplaying the importance of reality.

And it is infuriating. I care about reality, and that shouldn't be something you need to say, but it is. Giving a shit about reality is not a favourite flavour of ice-cream. It's so deeply entrenched within the way I deal with the world, it feels off that other humans could believe, or even believe they believe,that knowledge is a matter of preference.

And that's something wrong with me, in part. There's few if any propositions are so ridiculous that a human is unable to profess them (or perhaps, this is just an illusion brought about by the fact that the almost all the beliefs you hear about are those professed by a human, so the sample is self selecting). Either way, it's a fact about reality that some people declare themselves apathetic towards reality, so it shouldn't feel off to me. (There is a curious recursion in that). The principle is, you should be more confused by falsehoods than by truth.

But it is also, in another way, wrong with them. Intolerant it might sound, but this is not a matter of simple preference. You can try to ignore reality, but it will not ignore you, and you will have to deal with it in her own terms. You can draw comfort from your beliefs, but if they are false they will sometimes cause you great harm, and you cannot say that the trade-off is worthy without knowing the true state of things.

So the phrase occurs to me, and it fits. It's arrogant as hell, but it amuses, and it fits. All I have to do, is look at the argument-against-truth and mentally replace it for the indignant protest: "I have the right to remain stupid!"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Evaluation: Fehu 2

Another week, another page and a half or so. A rhythm I'd consider "flowing nicely", compared to usual, though I have stricken the point of no-plot. Or, strictly speaking, the point of little-plot. That is, I don't know what happens next with enough detail to begin writing it. I only got there about ten minutes ago, so I can't predict how long it'll take for the words to start coming out of my fingers again. I'm optimistic, but not too much.

My prediction from last week came true, and Machi has revealed part of her real first name. Though, I noticed shortly after writing the last Evaluation, there's also a nickname-based-on-the-name for another Vurok narrator revealed in an earlier story, so not actually as relevant as I thought. It's not as obvious as Machi's case, you probably wouldn't be able to guess the name from it, but it's there.

Also, fuck you, dialogue. Why must you sound horrible every time I write you?

In less related news, I made a potentially life-altering decision today. I can't really explain the kind of consequences it would have, it would seem really minor to most people who aren't me. Plus, I don't actually know, and it'll take at least a couple of weeks to see the results in a more generalizable context. It's rather exciting, in a not-actually-that-exciting kind of way.