Eldraeic Word of the Day: Valëssef

valëssef (n.): a principle of Imperial culture, valëssef is literally translated “I-am-ness”, the particular aspect of oneself that one is manifesting at any particular time, or to put it another way, who one is in relation to present circumstances and present company.

This peculiarly eldraeic concept is tied strongly to their capacity and cultural inclination towards complex, multidimensional social arrangements. One adept in managing valëssef is capable of easily switching between multiple social personae for different situations or relationships – employer, father, positions of wildly differing ranks in branches, and so forth, even when connections between the same people are involved – and holding them separate from each other when acting in one particular one.

Failing to properly manage valëssef – mixing elements of one relationship into another, such as permitting a family relationship to affect a professional relationship – is considered most improper.

August Questions

(also, questions from August; and since it’s a slow month, I’m going to throw in some questions from comments, too.)

It’s been pretty well established that the eldrae place an immense value on pride and personal achievement, to the point that they hold people in contempt for trying to put on airs of false modesty — but what about those messy situations where they “come by it honestly” in the sense that, however much they do genuinely try to strive for excellence and self-respect, *can’t* take pride in their accomplishments because something inside of their own head won’t let them honestly perceive their own self-worth?

I am, in short, asking about the eldraeic take on that big tangle of warped mentality and self-image which, in various combinations and contexts, goes by such labels as “depression,” “bipolar disorder,” “manic depression,” “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (particularly of the “intrusive thoughts” variety), the “Jonah complex,” and “impostor syndrome.” (I’m guessing that, given their ethical perspective on fraud, that last one especially would appear to put its sufferers in a particularly nasty double bind, at least if they’ve internalized Imperial ethics enough to be concerned by it.)

I also want to clarify that I’m asking at least in part for the historical perspective, back in the days before these things could be fixed with a single quick visit to the local psych-surgeon.

(I take a moment to note for non-long-term readers that the baseline temperament for eldrae is one which we might call hypomanic; the average human is really quite the gloomy, depressive sort.)

Well, you’re going to be in for some suffering, aren’t you?

Not, for the most part, from people going after you for false modesty/humility; by and large, people are smart enough to tell pose from pathology.

But from people who decline to accept your false self-image and will call you on your involuntary bullshit LOUDLY AND DISTINCTLY. Possibly with gestures and other emphatic devices. Get used to being told that you are grievously undercounting your own awesome. A lot. By people who are entirely uninterested in hearing any demurral.

(And also inasmuch as even without psychedesign having advanced to the point where such things are fixable routinely, that doesn’t stop people from trying to help you. If you have a problem – and this applies every bit as much to mental disabilities as physical ones – there will be people earnestly trying to fix that problem.

It’s not like you have to volunteer as a test subject for every new idea that comes down the pipe in fields from neuroactive pharmaceuticals through transcranial magnetic stimulation, alternative-frequency lighting, atmospheric modification, color-aroma environmental treatments and feng shui, all the way to cognitive therapy, guided meditation, religion, and trained emotional support/anti-bullshit service animals – but it’s for sure and certain that they’ll all be on offer. For you, and for science.)

This makes me wonder a couple of things. Actually, I’ve been wondering many things about the Imperial attitude towards games and that liminal line between “game” and “reality”, but I’ll just drop two of the most relevant down the spillway and keep the floodgates barred for later.

First, what do they make, in general, of the idea that a game, by virtue of being a space with differently defined rules from reality, is “just a game”?

Two things:

  1. Well, that’s obviously not true, since there are plenty of simulation spaces with differently defined rules from reality that aren’t games. What makes a game a game is that it expresses ludic intentionality.
  2. They would also like to take issue with the word “just”. A game, like any form of media, is a concretized idea or set of ideas. A game that was “just a game”, i.e., which was neither truthful nor beautiful, wouldn’t be worth playing.

In particular, I’m asking what they would make of the guy who is generally easygoing in the real world, but really gets into the act when he roleplays as the “bad guy” in a game setting, or (for instance) always chooses to play as the Space Nazis whenever everyone plays Space Nazi War Simulator: The Movie: The Game: Limited Platinum Gold Game of the Millennium Edition (with obligatory horse DLC).

On that topic, well –

(A digression, first: namely that there aren’t many play-the-villain games around due to a lack of market, except for fairly anodyne strategy games and the like, for the same sort of underlying reasons as seen in various previous discussions of media and genre. Where PvP conflict is called for, developers prefer to have antagonists who aren’t simple villains; where it’s at least possible to embrace any playable side without soaking your mind thoroughly in filth, and preferably where there’s a pathway to a perfect ending in which with enough hard work everyone can win. In Eldraeverse!Mass Effect, for example, synthesis would be considered the objectively best ending because you can save everyone, even the Reapers.

There just ain’t a whole lot of call for Objectively Terrible People Simulators.)

– while games aren’t real, people are, and choices, they would say, reflect character. If you spend a whole lot of time faithfully roleplaying Space Nazis: The Mass-Murdering Fuckheadry, it does suggest there’s something hinky in your brain-pan.

Much like we might regard people who voluntarily play FATAL, say.

(And especially the implications this has not only in games, but in things like theater, film, etc.)

In such media, of course, things are somewhat different. Someone has to play the Space Nazis, after all, otherwise the protagonists couldn’t space-magic-fist-of-doom them.

And that would be a tragedy.

Also, do they recognize the phenomenon of Video Game Cruelty Potential, and if they find it particularly distasteful (as I’m sure no small number would, based on previous discussions), what sort of measures would they take to implement Video Game Cruelty Punishment whether inside the game world or outside?

Yes, they do, yes, they do, and it’s mostly done via  a snifter of Guilt-Based Gaming with a heaping helping of Reality Ensues, for local values of reality. Which is to say, actions have consequences, and asshats have consequences happen to them, either directly or via the fact they’re continuing in a world that responds to their actions and which they made crapsackier. Mostly in-game, but the Xbox Live reputation system has nothing on what the rep-nets’ll do to you.

(This isn’t to say you can’t play any of the strains of renegade Shepard, to go back to my Mass Effect example. You can play Commander Grouchy Maverick No-Time-For-Your-Bullshit just fine, with a side-order of throwing mercenaries out of windows and punching disingenuous assertions, quipping all the while. The petty backstabbing, being an bastard to your crew, and casual genocide, that’ll come back to bite you in the ass.)

((Now, the people who spend time tormenting their Sims and starving their virtual pets, they’ve probably already come to the attention of the Guardians of Our Harmony and been cured of their nasty case of cacophilia, or else just plain euthanized.))

And another thing that comes to mind: You’ve mentioned that the eldrae don’t really do “friendly insults,” but do they do “in-character trash talk”? And is there a general understanding (on this and other matters) that “What happens in the game, stays in the game”?

As long as it remains strictly in character and in-game, yes. There are already strict social rules about proper management of one’s valessef, and this is just an extension of those.

What is origin of the Photonic Network? Who created its founding AIs? Or is it actually an abiogenesis silica-quantum civilization?

The ancestors of the Photonic Network dates back to one of the Precursor periods (specifically, the passage of the spinbright circumgalactic migration through the area of the Worlds in roughly -102,000), but since said ancestors weren’t sapient at the time, they didn’t pay much attention to recording historical information. (Trying to get useful information out of their ancestral data is like, for example, trying to deduce the 21st century from a random Linux machine’s /var/log/syslog.)

It is commonly assumed that they’re somehow connected to the spinbrights, but since most of what’s known about them comes from archaeologically-recovered trash dropped in passing, that doesn’t help very much.

Here’s one that possibly keeps the Fifth Directorate up at night: What if it’s possible to obliterate all free will everywhere in a stroke simply by gaining root access to Elsewhere and tampering with the source code that governs the mechanisms of sophonce itself?

“Well, then, we’d be utterly, cosmically, and paracausally fucked, wouldn’t we?”

– abstracted final report, OPERATION EPOCH SHATTER,
on CASE EPOCH SHATTER BRAAAAAINS

A couple questions (regarding this):

First, echoing the unanswered comment in the Slate Star Codex link: What of “Goodness” / “Virtue” — the third leg in the classical triad of transcendental values?

“What is virtue if not the bringing of truth into conformance with beauty?”

Virtue, in this worldview, is that quality which makes the world-as-it-is closer to the world-as-it-ought-be.

Second: What would the eldrae make of the notion that — as was common in much classical and medieval thought here on Earth (cf. http://www.iep.utm.edu/m-aesthe and https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/beauty/#ClaCon ) — not only is there an Absolute Beauty such that any perfectly rational creature with perfect knowledge who encountered an object instantiated with its properties must necessarily recognize that it is perfectly beautiful (and therefore that any sophont that doesn’t recognize it as not merely beautiful but The Most Beautiful X Possible Anywhere-and-When must necessarily be either imperfectly informed or imperfectly rational, and in either case objectively wrong); but that such a standard must necessarily exist in order for Beauty to have any meaning as a concept whatsoever?

(There are, needless to say, multiple scholae of aesthetics.)

The first thing to mention, obviously, is the distinction in concept between the words aelva (“beauty”, which is objective) and delékith (“pleasing”, which is ambijective). (There is also méskith (“attractive”, which is even more ambijective.) But equally important to note is the place structure of the word – aelva literally means:

SUBJECT is objectively beautiful in aspect ASPECT by aesthetic standard STANDARD

This would reflect the view of the majority of those scholae that there are multiple types of beauty, and as such multiple associated standards of it. (Although a definitive catalog has yet to be produced.) Very few of said scholae would argue that the path between beauty and ugliness is a linear scale rather than a fractally branching tree, although some would argue that the various end points all reflect a single law of metabeauty. Of such debates are many academic papers made.

Now, if you want a more straightforward philosophical debate, consider the problem of whether ugliness is likewise multiplex, or singular. (In this case, most would say singular.)

Of course, each of these standards must necessarily exist. Any concept that can’t be quantified doesn’t exist.

So have the eldrae ever encountered anything like the Worm-in-Waiting?

http://imgur.com/gallery/Vsgip

.

Not in the specifics, but it’s an old galaxy filled with Precursor-era leftovers, elder-race Powers, and other assorted weirdities. Everyone runs into one sooner or later. The relevant scientific discipline, however, is pretty clear about the appropriate response to barely-understood offers from incomprehensible entities.

“Don’t.”

– Applied Theology for Beginners

“Seriously: don’t.”

– Intermediate Applied Theology

“Unless you have yourself progressed in understanding to the point that the deal on the table is as clear as the most perfect vacuum: still don’t. And if you have, don’t try it without an angel to watch over you.”

– Advanced Applied Theology for Fully Bonded Practitioners,
Classified By Independent Auditors As In An Ongoing State of Self-Aware Rationality:
An Inadvisable Guide

There’s a reason they call people, organizations, and governances that try this sort of thing “necromancers”, and it ain’t for the cool robes; it’s because a ridiculous percentage of the time you’re making a Faustian bargain without even knowing it, and will end up as a perversion’s finger-puppet.

(And as it’s the end of the day right now, you can have the last three on Saturday.)

The Range of Range

“You will hear it said that lasers have ‘a pathetically low range’ and are ‘suitable only for point defense and the inner engagement envelope’. To put this statement into its proper context, one must understand the proper scale of starship engagements; i.e., that the pathetically low range in question is approximately a light-second, or to put it another way, that the enemy vessel must close to within a distance roughly equal to twenty-five diameters of your home planet before you can engage them with this notoriously short-ranged weapon.”

The Dirtsider’s Guide to Interplanetary Warfare

Trope-a-Day: Real Money Trade

Real Money Trade: The problem is that it’s hard to define what qualifies as “real money” versus “game money” when the Mythic Stars MMO alone has an internal economy bigger than some respectably-sized planets.

The logical consequences of this apply in full, including the follow-up to the city guards dragging your character in for stealing someone’s gold (if done outwith the parameters of the game by cheating means, etc. – obviously game theft is fair, um, game) being the game looking up your physical identity and having the local constabulary drag you off for an unsympathetic judge to explain grand theft to you in a prolonged and inconvenient manner.

Gold farming is SRS BZNS.

Sidebar: Fixed Wormholes

(An in-universe explanation as to why the Empire, et. al., prefer to use their special – i.e., yes, per here, space-magic enhanced – wormhole technology.)

A common question among newcomers to the field of spacetime engineering, especially as it applies to wormholes, is the reasoning behind our use of dynamic wormholes (i.e., those that are created, used, and collapsed in the course of a single gating) rather than static wormholes, permanently inflated to allow passage and held open by exotic mass-energy “frames”. This seems, to these questioners, more elegant: being less wasteful in terms of energy (although the cost of maintaining the unstable exotic mass-energy frames should not be undercounted; the analogous Andracanth ram is not designed for continuous operation), and requiring nothing on the part of transiting vessels.

Sadly, this is prevented by the interaction of static wormholes with relativistics. Transporting a wormhole end incurs the time dilation of relativistic flight, such that one can travel through the wormhole to the destination system, in the reference frame of the transported end, years or decades before the wormhole end is delivered in the reference frame of the sender; sometimes, indeed, while the linelayer would still be visible leaving the origin system! This means, in effect, that outgoing travelers through the wormhole are stepping years or decades into the future, while returning travelers are likewise passing into the past, vis-à-vis flat space-time.

While this has interesting astrophysical and galactopolitical consequences (amply dealt with elsewhere), it alone does not cause issues from the point of view of infrastructure; since a return through flat space-time must require (per the Luminal Limit) more time than the wormhole’s time differential, the block universe is preserved.

However, it is easily demonstrable that the only topology which guarantees this is a pure directed acyclic structure, or tree, in which only one path is available to outgoing and returning traffic.

This is undesirable from an infrastructure point of view, since it greatly limits the capacity of the network given the bottleneck links near its core; forces all otherwise cross-link traffic, even between nearby systems, through a single distant core node (likely to be, as a strategic aside, near to if not within the builders’ most important star systems); and causes both of these issues to expand geometrically with scale.

More importantly, while there are a few primarily theoretical exceptions, almost any alternative structure containing cross-links (and therefore cyclic structures) enables certain routes to function as closed timelike curves, allowing particles, even virtual vacuum fluctuations, to return to their origin point at or before the time of their entry into the route. Such a path doubles the intensity of transiting particles with each retraversal (which all occur effectively instantaneously), thus creating arbitrarily high peak intensities, in turn resulting in the catastrophic resonance collapse of at least one of the wormholes along the critical path. Quite apart from the loss of route, the energies involved in this collapse along with those likely to be liberated from damaged stargate systems are such as to pose a significant hazard to the systems containing the mouths of the collapsing wormhole.

(This is also, as we will see later, perhaps the most important reason for the Imperial Timebase system being intertwined with stargate control systems at a very low level, and for the various sequencing and safety protocols encoded therein. While the wormholes used for gating are ephemeral, it would be possible – without coordination – for a simultaneous set of openings to form such a closed causal loop, which would then undergo such catastrophic collapse.

Bear in mind that, while we are able to lock the emergence of dynamic wormholes onto the empire time reference frame, the natural phenomenon of drift (q.v.) along t axis guarantees nonidentity, and as such this does not immunize loops of such wormholes from the catastrophic resonance collapse phenomenon.)

Since the point of collapse is controllable to a limited extent by the “strength” of the links along the CTC route, this effect is also weaponizable by hostile powers with wormhole capability (a causality attack, recognized by the Ley Accords as one prohibited form of causal weapon).

For these reasons, Imogen Andracanth’s team considered the static wormhole to not be viable as a large-scale interstellar transport technology.

 

– The Stargate Plexus: A Journeysoph’s Guide

The Worlds Revealed

In partial apology for the lack of artwork thus far, I bring you a map of the Associated Worlds, constellation by constellation!

[The Associated Worlds]

(Click through for the full version. Caution: it’s a big image, 3049 x 3030.)

Key-wise, gold constellations represent the Imperial Core and Fringe, blue the mainstream Associated Worlds, purple the Expansion Regions, and green the Periphery. Red constellations represent the off-the-edge-of-the-map places, namely the Leviathan Consciousness and the connected constellations of the Voniensa Republic. Thin lines are interconstellation stargate connections; thick lines are special high-capacity arterials.

The major connected sets of those are the Worlds’ major trade routes: in green, the Lethíäza Trade Spine; in red, the Mercantile Corridor; and a rough circle in black at the edge of the major Worlds, except where it shares a link with the Spine between “58” and the Azure Fade, the Circumferential, or Golden Band.

I’ve annotated the approximate locations of the major powers, and also (in small text) of a few minor powers that have been mentioned and about which there might be curiosity.

(Oh, and when it comes to those constellations currently numbered – the aforementioned “58”, “E76”, and “P13”, et. al.? Apart from a couple of potential spoilers, that’s my innovation space/creative breathing room. Pay no attention to the Doylist explanation behind the curtain.)