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,

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. and ) — 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?


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.


– 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.)

28 thoughts on “August Questions

  1. I’m surprised that the Eldrae would prefer Synthesis over Destroy.

    Yes you get to save the Reapers, but only by forcibly rewriting them. And then of course there is the part where you rape every single lifeform in the galaxy at a genetic level…

    • In the realm of excursive ethics – and by the time you hit the ending of ME3, you’re deep in the excursive ethics zone – your choice here is between, with Synthesis:

      (a) Forcibly rewriting the Reapers into not being a colossally destructive assimilation swarm, which is well within the realm of what the justice system does in non-excursive ethics, just quantitatively scaled up [1]; and
      (b) Imposing nonconsensual upgrades on the galactic population, which yes, is forbidden by non-excursive ethics, but on the ethical calculus official scale of badness isn’t at what you might call at the worst end.

      versus, with Destroy:

      (c) Wiping out the entire Reaper species;
      (d) Consequently, wiping out virtually all extant preserved knowledge, memory, and chance of resurrection of the $BIGNUM species from previous cycles; and
      (e) First betraying, and then wiping out entirely, the geth, all AIs, and any unknown synthetic species in the galaxy.

      (So, a triple-multiple genocide-fest, then.)

      You don’t have to believe that hard in the virtues of free will (which requires existence to exercise) and negentropy to come down pretty hard on the former side, IMO.

      Basically, anyone who has any complaints afterwards would receive a polite apology for the unfortunate exigencies of circumstance and a direction of any further complaints to the Department of At Least You’re Not A Corpse Of You, And If You Would Have Preferred The Outcome In Which You Were, It’s Easy Enough To Arrange.

      [1] Especially considering that the gestalt mind of a Reaper, composed of a dead species, is probably unlikely to get on board with the genocide-fest without the imposition of an external imperative in the first place. But even without that, the argument still holds.

        • Except it doesn’t.

          ‘Cause there’s a pretty big qualitative difference between rewriting someone into an improved – or at least not exotoxic – version of themselves (as per judicial redaction), and overwriting yourself on top of them – or at least setting yourself up as slavemaster-in-perpetuity.

          (Also, this runs hard into the problem that evolved minds without a lot of preparatory editing are not known for being stable across ascensions, as we’ve mentioned before, and given that Eldraeverse!Shepard would have taken the Tactical Eschatology course at the Imperial War College, she’d know that and the general guideline that if you think you’re an exception to that? You’re definitely not an exception to that.)

          Control, therefore, manages to combine as-evil-or-somewhat-eviler-than-genocide with setting yourself up to be the next galactic-scale perversion out there to be fought. Not recommended.

  2. I have follow-on questions and / or remarks I could make for all of these, but focusing in particular on the matter of aesthetics for the moment:

    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.

    (Emphasis added.) This right here is actually more or less what I’m driving at, although instead of calling it “metabeauty” the assertion is that that state is Beauty, in absolute terms, and that what are called “standards of beauty” above are measures of particular perceptions of beauty.

    A relatively simple form of the argument runs thus:

    Either an Optimally Perfect Object exists (in the sense of “can and must logically exist within the sphere of possibility”) and can be known to be absolutely perfect, or it doesn’t exist (or does exist but can’t be known; effectively, the implication of impossible knowledge would be the same as non-existence, at least in terms of its usefulness for defining the nature of aesthetic value).
    If there is an objectively definable Optimally Perfect Object (or, more particularly, an Optimally Perfect State of the Universe defined by the perfect relationship of all of its component parts to each other), then there must necessarily be at least one standard of beauty — call it the Optimally Perfect Standard — that best corresponds to the proportions found in that Object.
    Just as particular objects can be measured as more or less perfect in relation to the Optimally Perfect Object, so too can particular standards of beauty themselves be measured as more or less correct in relation to the Optimally Perfect Standard that corresponds to Absolute Beauty.
    By implication, just as it is possible to rank particular objects in relation to one another along a “most beautiful to least beautiful” continuum as defined by a particular standard of beauty, it is also possible to so rank the standards of beauty by which these objects are measured along a “most correct to least correct” continuum as defined by their degree of correspondence to the Optimally Perfect Standard.
    By further implication, as it is possible for two objects to be ranked differently by two different standards of beauty, it is possible for two objects to be ranked one way by a particular standard of beauty and the entirely opposite way by the Optimally Perfect Standard (i.e. that particular standard must be objectively wrong).

    All of which is basically an elaborate way of saying that the fact that someone finds something pleasing according to their particular standard of beauty says nothing about whether or not the object is actually beautiful; the standard (and the observer operating under it) can, after all, be entirely wrong, and some are going to be more wrong than others simply by the fact that they correspond more or less to the Optimally Perfect Standard.

    • All of which is basically an elaborate way of saying that the fact that someone finds something pleasing according to their particular standard of beauty says nothing about whether or not the object is actually beautiful;

      I take a moment here to observe that they’d be screaming category error at the thought of using a standard of beauty to measure pleasingness, or indeed a standard of pleasingness to measure beauty. That’s the distinction between objective aelva and ambijective delékith in a well-established nutshell.

      Now, when it comes to the hypothetical Optimally Perfectly Beautiful Object, assuming arguendo that there is a single most correct standard of beauty, then –

      We can reason that the Optimally Perfectly Beautiful Universe is one which maximizes the instantiation of the Optimally Perfectly Beautiful Object; i.e., one which is wallpapered with them.

      But such a universe’s homogeneity would be both remarkably tedious and for that matter ugly in itself.

      Which implies that it would not be the Optimally Perfectly Beautiful Universe, and in turn, that the Optimally Perfectly Beautiful Object cannot be such, inasmuch as multiplying it subtracts from net beauty.

      By reductio ad impossibilem, then, there cannot be a single most correct standard of beauty.

      • But such a universe’s homogeneity would be both remarkably tedious and for that matter ugly in itself.

        “Says you.”

      • To elaborate on the above comment:

        First, what would make a homogeneous universe inherently “remarkably tedious and… ugly in itself”? The whole argument they’re making is that beauty is a measure of proportions, and thus that if you can “solve for x” properly you can find an objective measure by which you can properly judge everything in the universe. The fact that a particular mind with particular presuppositions would find such a universe tedious and ugly does not make it tedious and ugly.

        Second, let’s imagine furthermore that the assertion is not merely that an Optimally Perfectly Universe would be homogeneous, but that the observed heterogeneity in the present universe is part, parcel, and product of the brokenness of the universe — that the original perfect state was indeed, homogeneous, and that the entropic forces of the universe are what has produced its present “imbalanced” state?

        (I do have to admit to an ulterior motive in pushing this topic so hard, since it’s rather close to the view of the universe that one of my “focus societies” in my own little worldbuilding project has.)

        • Not to get back into this extensively, but: consider the place entropy occupies in their worldview, and then consider that perfect homogeneity is achieved at an open universe’s point of maximum entropy.

          • As a counterpoint to that:

            “The entropy of a perfect crystal at absolute zero is exactly equal to zero.”

      • By reductio ad impossibilem, then, there cannot be a single most correct standard of beauty.

        Surely all you’ve proven here is that beauty isn’t extensive? I note, possibly even relevantly, that entropy is only extensive up to an arbitrary function of the number of particles (more generally, of the dimension of the phase space), per Jaynes, and then only really for stuff that’s being treated like a fluid; tiling all of space with the optimal-negentropy-storage-in-a-small-volume does not the optimal-negentropy-storage-in-a-large-volume make. The application to beauty, especially (if I understand it properly) the Eldraic conception thereof, should be straightforward.

      • I really shouldn’t be staying up this late, but since I can’t sleep anyway…

        It occurs to me that, even granting that heterogeneity may trump homogeneity and that composing an Optimally Perfect Universe may involve more than just copying an Optimally Perfect Object ad infinitum, that still doesn’t necessarily defeat the possibility of an objective Optimally Perfect Standard of Beauty in and of itself.

        After all, it is still possible that, rather than a single homogeneous Optimally Perfect Object, there is still a single Optimally Perfect Structure defined by a precise and narrowly-constrained set of proportions and spatio-temporal relationships between a particular grouping of Circumstantially Perfect Objects — such that too much or too little of a given particular, or one particular being the slightest bit out of place or “circumstantially imperfect,” inherently renders it sub-optimal in exactly the same way that the slightest change in the length of the side or degree of an angle of an equilateral triangle renders it “not-an-equilateral triangle” — yet can still be defined by a specific, enumerable, calculable, and reproducible pattern of arrangement (the Optimally Perfect Standard).

    • I have a problem with arguments about “Optimally Perfect Standards of Beauty”, in that they tend not to do a very good job of defining “beauty” before they go trying to work out whether there’s some optimal standard for it (or for that matter adequately defining “optimal”).
      One could easily see there could be an “Optimally Perfect Standard of Smallness”, in the sense of the smallest possible form an object may take, but that’s because”smallness” is a well defined property. Beauty does not seem to be well defined, since it doesn’t seem to be “pleasingness”, i.e. something that is pleasing to perceive, or “attractivness” or any other more easily defined property.
      It seems a little backwards to try and arguing there’s some optimal standard for something without actually deciding what that thing is. You may as well discuss the existence of an Optimally Perfect Standard of Bloplxufzts.

      “Pleasingness”, on the other hand, would appear to be scalable up to an Optimal Standard, or several depending on what you take “optimal” to mean. It almost certainly won’t have an example of Absolute Pleasingness “such that any perfectly rational creature with perfect knowledge who encountered an object instantiated with its properties must necessarily recognize that it is perfectly” pleasing, as what counts as pleasing depends completely on the wiring of the brain (or coding of the AI, etc.) of the observer. There would however be optimal standards that produce pleasant responses in the minds of the most beings, or that maximise the integral of the intensity of such responses across all beings. But such standards don’t give much insight into anything beyond the demographics of the universe.

  3. Another follow-on comment: One of these days you should do a post explaining valessef, since I see only three references to the word, none of which give a definition (although an inkling of what it is can be gleaned from context).

  4. And if you have, don’t try it without an angel to watch over you.

    I wonder if the angels have a similar sort of rule, and how enthusiastic they’d be to communicate with something that lives in a black hole and can send signals across the event horizon.

    • Enthusiastic (that is, after all, a very neat trick), but cautious (as is only proper when dealing with weakly godlike superintelligences). Fortunately, as parts of a w.g.s., they have a much better understanding of what it means to be cautious in this context.

  5. Re “Depression and other flaws”: I am rather pleasantly surprised that there would be people willing to go out of their way to help, given how often you’ve mentioned that Imperials have a tendency towards superciliousness towards anyone they perceive as being “broken” in other contexts.

    That said, while you’ve answered the what, can I tease out a bit (as I was hoping to) a little more of the why? Specifically:

    First, “why should it be important to me” [i.e. the sufferer], as a self-determining individual? If value is subjective to the valuer, how can an individual’s appraisal of their own worth be “wrong” in a meaningful sense?

    Second (and this one is the one I’m probably more interested in), “why is it important to you” [i.e. the other party]? After all, they’re clearly not doing this out of a sense of “altruism”; what is their moral justification for intervening?

    • Taking a whack at it, I’ll bet the justification for intervening (or more accurately seeking your consent to intervene) would be primarily be negentropy. It’s good to reduce the overall incidence of brokenness in society.

      That’s how I’d read it, leastwise, for what it’s worth.

    • On the zeroth thing: Recall that there’s broken and broken. The degree of sympathy and the extension of a hand tends to be qualified by how much there’s actual dysfunction and how much you’re willing to try anyway.

      Someone with real, quantifiable problems who tries to get shit done despite them gets a lot more of those than someone who appears to be making a career of whining about how X did them wrong and someone else should fix their shit, all too often with a side order of digging themselves deeper.

      On the first: A subjective measurement can be wrong in exactly the same way that an objective measurement can be wrong; if you’re using a broken yardstick, it ain’t measuring yards. Likewise, the accuracy of your sense of your own (subjective) awesome depends on your brain having a functional introspective awesomestick, because otherwise you aren’t measuring what you think you’re measuring.

      Even subjective metrics are only meaningful if they are what you think they are.

      On the second: …

      …okay, let me flip this out to a larger context for a moment.

      Much as I generally dislike trying to interpret other people’s thoughts for ’em, it has been occurring to me that many of your queries on this sort of thing could be answered by addressing one underlying confusion, if it happened to be the case.

      Self-determination and obligation aren’t the end of morality.

      They’re the beginning.

      They’re the crunchy ethical, deontic center at the middle of your delicious morality truffle, which come wrapped in layers of negentropy (via such things as the Five Noble Precepts) and aretaic injunctions, primarily the Nine Excellences: Unity (encompassing integrity and authenticity), Honor (encompassing self-consistent integrity, justice, truth, and clemency), Duty (as very distinct from obedience, and encompassing liberality, generosity, loyalty, and tenacity), Reason (encompassing self-honesty, wisdom, and craft), Courage (encompassing responsibility), Harmony (encompassing beauty, courtesy, kindness, refinement, and the appreciation of excellence), Right Action (encompassing ambition), Liberty, and Dignity (encompassing pride, propriety, and temperance). (Also see relevant section here for additional nuance in some areas.)

      And it is to these aretaic outer layers that one is best off looking for motivation, since they concern themselves primarily with SHOULDs, whereas the ethical core concerns itself primarily with MUSTs and MUST NOTs.

      Now, to bring it back to this particular example: to watch someone depressed – even a stranger with whom one has no other connection – abuse themselves via incorrectly punitive self-valuation would self-evidently be pro-entropic, unjust, untruthful, ungenerous, and unkind.

      Ethically, you need not do anything about it, and are obviously forbidden from doing non-consensual things about it; as a daryteir, a gentlesoph, you most certainly should do what you can.

      • On the first: A subjective measurement can be wrong in exactly the same way that an objective measurement can be wrong; if you’re using a broken yardstick, it ain’t measuring yards. Likewise, the accuracy of your sense of your own (subjective) awesome depends on your brain having a functional introspective awesomestick, because otherwise you aren’t measuring what you think you’re measuring.

        Even subjective metrics are only meaningful if they are what you think they are.

        …All of which ties right back into the “Is there an Optimally Perfect Standard of aesthetics?” debate, I should note.

  6. …okay, let me flip this out to a larger context for a moment…

    This. This right here is what I’ve been trying to ask for 😀

  7. Re “CASE EPOCH SHATTER BRAAAAAINS”: I supposed I should have also made “And what are they doing about it / who are they particularly keeping an eye on, just in case?” a little more explicit…

  8. How the Empire will react if they encounter with Lorgar’s Betrayal: An Alternate Heresy version of Imperium?

    I bet you will like Imperium of this particular AH, especially the Raven Guard, Luna Wolves, Emperor’s Children, Thousand Sons and Blood Angels.

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