April Questions

It’s known that the eldrae (and Imperial culture generally) place a premium on rational belief, but they also place a great amount of value on preserving extant diversity of beliefs and opinions inasmuch as they can be reconciled with rationality.

Given this, what do they make of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem and the assertion at its root — that all truly rational sophonts with accurate knowledge of one another’s beliefs must (and, by eldraeic moral standards, should) eventually converge on a single “correct” belief?

In the presence of complete and unambiguous information and upon matters in which there is a correct answer, certainly, this is trivially true. However…

More particularly, what of the further derived implication — by combining the above logic with an acceptance in pattern identity theory — that all truly rational sophonts must and should eventually converge into a particularly kind of Bostromian singleton that I am tentatively dubbing an “aumannsoph”?

…inasmuch as the sphere of factual matters on which there is a correct answer is dwarfed by the sphere of matters of taste, upon which there isn’t, any such convergence is necessarily limited to a mere fragment of the noösphere.

And now, some older questions I dragged up while cleaning out my inbox (not all, but many):

We hear a lot about “childhood” being a modern concept in human culture, that as soon as children were physically able to do adult work they would, so no one would think about their formation etc.; how do the Eldrae approach the question “childhood: exist or not?” or its definition?

“Ah, yes, ‘childhood’. We have dismissed that claim.”

Okay, that was glib. Let me ‘splain.

The elephant in the room, of course, is demographic. For humans, childhood (in which, since it is ambiguous, I include adolescence) takes up roughly one-fifth of the lifespan, and so there are a lot of children around. For eldrae, childhood is a tiny, insignificant chunk right at the start of the lifespan, and so there aren’t.

This changes the shape of things in a lot of ways. For one thing, even if they were to conclude that schools per se were a good idea (unlikely), running one would require an enormous catchment area to find enough pupils. For another, it means that a child’s primary interactions are not with a “peer group” of other children, since there are very unlikely to be enough in their vicinity to make one; they’re with their muse, their extended family and other adults.

(An Imperial shown the way we raise children on Earth would thus conclude that nature had greatly favored them in their demographics, since if you expect children to grow up into civilized, responsible adults, they can hardly do so from other people who don’t know either, and yet this is what we surround them with. Feh.)

Anyway. To return to the core topic, childhood, the way they think about it, is the process by which one turns from a squalling bundle of id, via a learning process of play and education and emulation and general becoming, into an actual person. (Amy points out that that implies children aren’t people, which isn’t really what I intend since they are obviously sophonts with personhood, but they aren’t, y’know, fully-able-to-assume-the-rights-and-responsibilities-of people.) Which makes it obviously really important, but is so as a process, not the per se way we tend to think of it.

So on the one hand, children are introduced into society early on – there’s no “children should be seen and not heard”, and certainly no off-in-the-children’s-society-ghetto. You attend the dinner parties, you join in the conversations around you (and the adults in those conversations are expected to extend you the same courtesy as any other participant, and while to explain, not to condescend), and so forth, and you are given real responsibility – with the real authority that goes with it – as soon as you can handle it, because that’s how you learn to adult.

(And, indeed, are also held responsible; far from considering, say, bullying in childhood to be just one of those kids being kids things, your would-be bully is setting himself up for My First Court Appearance, possibly followed by My First Judicial Redaction.)

On the flip side, the importance of play is also recognized, and indeed is, if anything, more so, because eldraeic society never derived a “put away childish things” syndrome. Obligatory C. S. Lewis quotation:

“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

In Imperial culture, adults are allowed to play, and to maintain a sense of wonder, and to be (childishly) enthusiastic about things, and thus find it easy to join in with such things when raising their children.

(By comparison, our common notions of adulthood appear relentlessly jaded, desperately in need of de-sticking, or both.)

Or: Education in general.

Ah, education. Well, this is something else that is very different *there*. Partly that’s because of the demographic issues mentioned above (in the absence of schools, early education is generally in the hands of the parents and extended family, for example, who tend to take extended child-raising sabbaticals), but it’s also due to a significant difference in educational philosophy. Specifically, our educational system is based on a Prussian model for turning out industrial factory workers, and as such education is often a distinctly secondary objective of education, as it were, compared to inculcating conformity, obedience, and routine. (The prevalence of bells to regulate the school day, for example? Based on factory shift-changes.)

This would not work at all well in their society, which considers anything achievable through conformity, obedience, and routine to be something best achieved by clockwork automata, clanks, or non-sophont robots. There simply aren’t enough sophont minds around to waste them on that sort of thing. Intelligence, reason, creativity, and hustle are the things that are valued – and not just in claim, but in actuality – and so that’s what they optimize for.

So to break down their education system, it has four stages: pre-natal, fundamental -divided into the Triad and the Decad – and higher.

Pre-natal education is the province of a little technological wonder called the axiom feed, which can imprint knowledge directly on the brain. It’s somewhat limited because the brain is obviously very early in development at that point, but much as early childhood stimulation is important to promote brain development, that’s most of the axiom feed’s job. Get started early, so to speak. It also works to imprint some survival instincts that nature skipped over: staying afloat in water, exhaling and closing the eyes when exposed to vacuum, an aversion response to standard perhazard warning signs, that sort of thing. It also prepares the way for further education by priming the brain with the basics of language, and suchlike.

Then we get to the fundamental education, which is the universal part, usually delivered at home, taught by parents, tutors, and one’s muse, which is capable of answering virtually any question, and acting as a storyteller, ethical guide, playmate, and general companion. It’s also something that concentrates heavily on how to think: innovations like the neural lace, mnemonesis, the Transcend, etc., mean that there’s essentially no limit on how much information an individual can access as easily as their personal memory. There is no particular need for students to spend endless hours acquiring data: what they need to learn is how to convert that into knowledge and ultimately wisdom.

And so we have the Triad and the Decad. The former is purely concentrated on the how of thinking: its three courses are Eldraeic Language and Grammar, i.e., how to express yourself in precisionist-grade language; Logic and Thought, which covers epistemology, formal logic, Bayesian probability, mathematics, statistics, the Great Art of Memory, the scientific method, simulation techniques, and pretty much every other sound cognitive technique anyone’s ever heard of; and Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and the Civilities, which covers the art of functioning in society like a gentlesoph.

The Decad, following it, is the Imperial version of a liberal arts education on steroids: its ten courses are intended to cover everything that an Imperial gentlesoph should know:

  • advanced logic and mathematics;
  • business, finance, and economics (the world, after all, runs on trust, contracts, and enlightened-self-interest);
  • domestic arts;
  • engineering;
  • ethics and civics;
  • fine arts (both the appreciation of and the practice of – traditionally, one is supposed to learn two of the latter, one to serve to amuse one’s companions, and another to decorate one’s domicile and provide one with the ability to construct personal gifts);
  • history of civilization;
  • literature of civilization;
  • martial arts (taught both as excellent forms of exercise and builders of character and self-discipline, but also for the secondary reason that even in these enlightened and civilized times, one may be called upon to defend one’s or another’s person and property or react well in emergencies; while not a full exploration of the field, completing one’s basic schooling will teach you how to fight unarmed, with the blade, and with the gun, simple information warfare, basic tactics and strategy, simple survival techniques, and field medicine);
  • and natural philosophy (which is to say, science, and a much broader general education in it than schools *here* typically provide).

(This is, of course, perfectly indifferent to what we might think of as gender roles. Imperial culture delivers its best how-can-you-possibly-not-know-this to the man who can’t sew on a button or bake a soufflé along with the woman who can’t repair her own plumbing or build a bookcase.

Also, if you are under the impression that Imperial culture sees Heinleinian generalists as a baseline standard, you’re not wrong. Specialization may not be for insects, but premature specialization is the root of much incompetence.)

Mastering all this typically takes you from birth to somewhere in the 15-19 range. (Since there aren’t schools, everyone obviously completes it at their own pace.)

This is also where the rigorous part is, inasmuch as there is a great premium placed on self-control and competence during the period of fundamental education, simply because as an Imperial – well, freedom demands discipline, living life by one’s own qalasír demands discipline, and wielding the power natural to (bear in mind, for example, that everyone has technological psychokinesis and so can literally kill people with their brain) and the superempowering technologies granted to you really demands discipline.

There are no “high-school dropouts” *there* . If you don’t pass the Triad and the Decad, your competence is insufficient to achieve the IQI, and you will therefore never achieve majority, and therefore citizen-shareholdership, and by virtue of both access to anything that might be dangerous. As for self-control: well, any young citizen-intendant who doesn’t learn to show an adult’s self-control will likely be culled by the age of 12 or so, simply because they’re too bloody dangerous to keep around. This is acknowledged as harsh, but also as regrettably necessary; when temper tantrums can shatter bones and blow out walls, you can’t afford to permit them.

Following that, and into what the Empire would consider adulthood (contrary to the way we often seem to see college students as some sort of extended adolescents, given how we expect colleges to treat them), comes higher education, which starts then and finishes… well, finishes when you’re dead. Education is something that may be most intense at the start of your life, but when you live forever, you either climb on board with the notion of continuing education, or you end up somewhere between a zombie and a fossil.

Such higher education is when you specialize: often taking multiple individual courses of interest from multiple different institutions, which term in their praxis includes anything from universities, guild academies, remote learning courses, traditional apprenticeships, and so on and so forth, even including autodidaxis once evaluated. Degrees aren’t earned by completing specific formal paths (and so are often not “in” any particular subject), they’re earned by demonstrating a particular quality and quantity of education, which in turn lead you up the academic exultancy from a mere Academician (you earned at least one and get to wear an academician’s chain on formal occasions) all the way to the coveted title of Polygnostic (have earned many and performed original research both in and across multiple fields, and receive a complimentary entrée to the Court of Courts). A typical first round of higher education might last thirty years or so to turn out an individual of astonishing competence and flexibility.

(Beyond that, well, over a lifetime, people will probably spend decades more attending to their education, accumulating dozens of degrees in a variety of subjects.)

Or: Hell, kids’ games and their integration into the culture in general.

Some of this territory has been covered above (mentioning, for example, the importance of creative play), but I’m going to need to do some more creation before I can really give specific examples, I’m afraid.

One thing worth mentioning, though, is the number of games that are designed to be educational without being, well, obvious “education games”. As per Gilbert and Sullivan:

For he who’d make his fellow creatures wise
Should always gild the philosophic pill!

And so there are lots of games that fit that criterion; their equivalent of Monopoly, for example, is a game which is to trade as chess is to warfare, and one wins by creating the best positive-sum outcome for all players. There are mere brain-stretchers like ithréth, which is similar to four-dimensional go; lariärleth, which translates ecological and ecopoetic principles into a mahjongg-like setting; and so on and so forth.

It seems that antimatter is heavily relied upon as an energy storage (and source if there are better ways to make the stuff) – like in most science-fiction, actually.

One thing that seems surprisingly rarely used is the micro-black-hole/singularity generator. It seems to be the Singularity inductor I’ve seen referenced in “going critical”.

A singularity inductor isn’t a generator, per se, but a contraterragenerator. Basically, it’s a micro black hole that’s kept close enough to its evaporation point to produce prodigious horizon radiation. By feeding mass (all matter) into it at a rate which keeps it in balance, then collecting and segregating the horizon radiation (50-50 matter/antimatter), you’ve got a very efficient way of converting matter to antimatter.

(And one which, conveniently enough, can be operated by societies well below the level of technological sophistication needed to build one.)

The difficulties I perceive are that it either is very, very heavy or emits lots and lots of energy, it’s very small (and emits a lot) and as such is hard to feed, you have to keep it electrically charged to keep it where you want with magnetic fields, and if small enough and you stop feeding it for too long, it emits more and more, then blows up, then if you’re still there you are left with one less generator. Also, just in case, I would never let them anywhere near a planet surface or a populated civilian installation.

However, with the level of technology in the Eldraeverse, it would seem like a pretty affordable mass-energy converter, a bit higher-end than antimatter but more practical once you master it. Also, it could be used as a weapon to a pretty devastating effect: a neutralized black hole will pass through any conventional defence and will blow up at a precise instant that can be calculated to be right in the middle of the target. Though that’s for a step higher than the generator, technically. (And it gives dramatic explosions when a ship drive fails in combat, and it gives “Eject the core!” and such some actual meaning).

Seeing them used so rarely, I wonder what I’m missing about those. Is there a reason why they aren’t more prevalent in the Eldraeverse?

They’re actually fairly widely used for contraterragenesis (although not so much by the Empire, which has the Dyson bubble at Esilmúr, which produces antimatter in quantities so great that they store it in lumps the size of moons; it does, however, sell them as export products, as seen back here).

As for why you don’t see them used more often in starships for power generation and weapons systems, the answer boils down to one thing: mass. Even the tiny microholes used as contraterragenesis cores are hundreds of thousands of tons of mass-energy that you have to haul around, and if you’re going to start firing microholes at people, that’s a smaller but still huge mass you have to haul around… per shot, along with the equipment and energy you need to implode it and form the hole, not to mention then accelerate to fire.

Vector control and other space magic can make the practicalities of that easier momentum-wise, but conservation of energy is still very much not your friend. No-one’s found a hack for that law yet. 🙂

Not so much a question as an idea that I thought might be particularly suited to the eldrae mindset: A beverage that is marketed not so much for its quality (though it would undoubtedly have high-quality taste), but for the “gimmick” that, in order to drink it, opening the packaging itself involves some sort of test of skill.

Think like our world’s Ramune (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramune) with its glass marble seal, except tailor-made for a species for whom doing transcendental calculus in their heads as a hobby while also enjoying a nice, cold drink probably isn’t exactly unusual.

Already canon, at least in the notes! Academiciale (and yes, the portmanteau is almost as bad in the original Eldraeic), one of the indie synthdrinks not produced by the Lovely Atom Synthetic Drinks and Liquors Company, ICC, comes with an individualized puzzle in the neck of every bottle. Solve to open.

Ironically, it also has noötropic properties.

What cultural meanings are attached to colors in the core cultural zone?

It varies considerably, because there are more than a few cultures within the core cultural zone, but I can offer a few generalities:

  • Gold is, as ever, the color of wealth. Because gold.
  • Solar yellow, a little to the orange side, is a holy color, the hue of the Flame.
  • Indigo, the color of blood, represents nobility and exaltation. (And yes, these are the colors used in the flag.)
  • Turquoise, intermediate between blue and green, represents life.
  • Crimson is the color of diplomacy; heralds, messengers, and couriers wear it or are trimmed in it to indicate their status. Likewise, if you want to parley and/or surrender, you fly a crimson flag to indicate that. (This isn’t because it’s the color of blood, because it isn’t; it’s just because crimson stands out very, very well.)
  • Pale gray-blue, the shade of the sky on a still, rainy, gloomy day, is the shade of mourning for those who die untimely.

 

For the record, what was the fate of the assassins (and the people who presumably dispatched them)?

Once their weregeld was paid, they were released accordingly. They were, after all, guild professionals, not just some random thugs off the street, and there are certain courtesies attached to that. One need not punish the hand for the deed of the brain, as it were.

As for the mandarins of Ochale who dispatched them?

They were assassinated, of course.

This sounds like a specific example of a broader question: if you accidentally instantiate a fork of yourself, what do you (plural) do?

Hope you can agree with yourself.

…But seriously, this and other comments scattered hither and thither on the matter, referring to it both directly and indirectly, lead me to believe that eldraeic stylistic conventions (and, by extension, the cultural mores of those under their influence) are governed by a sort of cultic devotion to the idea of “the unfashionable human body” (or whatever you might dub the local analogue).

Well, yes, that’s pretty much what you would expect from fervent believers in the principle of improving everything until it’s asymptotic to perfection, no?

But more to the point: being utterly gorgeous is your birthright, thanks to generations of bodysculptors and gene-wranglers. If you go to the public baths where everyone walks around naked, your eye-blinding, heart-stopping, stupefyingly unsurpassable beauty is… well, it is impressive, but it doesn’t stand out among everyone else’s eye-blinding, heart-stopping, stupefyingly unsurpassable beauty, unless you’re of a particularly exotic clade or into custom body design.

If you want to stand out as an individual, fashion is the way to do it, because what you were born with, everyone you know was born with, and there’re only so many variations to go around.

Why the Photonic Network keeps everything shiny, polished, gleaming, and in perfect working order same degree, if not more so, as the Empire? Do they have certain psychological and/or ideological reasons like the eldrae? Or is it something they are inherited from their distant, spinbright ancestors?

It’s a common personality quirk of AI whose native realm is the virtual. Data doesn’t erode, break down, stop working, etc.; it’s always perfectly, Platonically, pristine. This tends to manifest as something looking similar to OCPD when it comes to dealing with messy, entropic physicality.

And how much “real” Vonnies are shiny? Our typical ST level? Or even less?

The Republic’s hardware looks fairly like the Federation’s, TNG era; which is to say, it looks like it’s trying to be shiny and modern, but you don’t have to scratch the surface very hard to realize it’s kind of plasticky and cheap, and that there’s a surprising amount of asceticism (ever notice how empty most crew quarters look?) for a supposedly post-scarcity culture.

And why the Photonic Network does not run patrol fleets?

The easiest way to explain why they don’t is to explain why the Empire does.

Which is to say: like the British, and later American, empires, it’s a maritime empire, or at least the spacefaring equivalent of a maritime empire. and a hegemony – albeit a gentle one – an architect of galactic civilization. As such, trade is its lifeblood, and its far-flung interests (all those stargates, and so forth) are the vessels through which that lifeblood flows, the need to defend which leads directly to the omnipresence of the Imperial Navy.

The Photonic Network isn’t, and isn’t. It has a much smaller merchant fleet and is much more concerned with its internal affairs than with any grand designs to reshape the universe in its own image.

In short: it doesn’t need them, and it doesn’t care enough to have them anyway.

I do have to wonder: Are there any “AI-supremacist” movements out there? (I.e. organizations that exist on the opposite end of the spectrum that claim that pure digisapience is “the wave of the future” and that any meatbound intelligence that willingly remains such is a “primitive throwback,” regardless of their openmindedness to AIs or sophotech enhancement)

That would be the Electron Reign, who are generally regarded as just as big a bunch of whackos as basically every other supremacist movement out there.

Could we at some point get an “in-depth” look at the Antithetical Heresies — causes, signs and symptoms in thought and behavior, common paths of progression and “terminal failure modes,” corrective measures you can take if you suspect you or someone you know might be falling into one?

…there may be more said on the topic when and if I receive an inspiration, but you do realize that in this general form that’s like asking the Pope for a complete and comprehensive taxonomy of sin, right?

 

12 thoughts on “April Questions

  1. So, presumably Breysvard Young Ladies’ Academy is a university/finishing school. If higher education is mainly for adults, rather than minors, was Jynel Cerron-ith-Cerron expecting to gain her IQI and become a citizen-shareholder before attending?

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  2. …there may be more said on the topic when and if I receive an inspiration, but you do realize that in this general form that’s like asking the Pope for a complete and comprehensive taxonomy of sin, right?

    I plead guilty to intentionally casting a wide net to see what I can catch.

    To refine a bit, though, running with the analogy (and playing a bank shot off of another topic in this post): Would it be possible for us to get a peek at the “catechism” on the topic as taught in the Decad?

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  3. If you want to stand out as an individual, fashion is the way to do it, because what you were born with, everyone you know was born with, and there’re only so many variations to go around.

    Something about this isn’t gelling for me: If, as you’ve said elsewhere, you aren’t supposed to be using comparisons to others as your personal yardstick of excellence, why would you care about “standing out” in the first place?

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      • Allow me to phrase it a different way: If your only focus should be on your own individual improvement, why should you care whether or not you’re different at all, one way or the other? If your own chosen purpose places a premium on something else ahead of mere aesthetic self-decoration, what’s it to anyone else if you don’t Iook like you’re standing out?

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        • I’d guess that’s where the “If you want to stand out as an individual” comes in. If you don’t particularly care about aesthetic differentiation, the point is somewhat moot. But IF you do, you do it with fashion. Aesthetics is a good way expressing who you are to everyone around you, I guess.

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        • Because it’s not your only focus, sophonts being complex, multifaceted individuals and not paragons of institutionalizable monomania. (And, as a social species of individualists, tend to care about standing out in the crowd because differentiation is not the same thing as hierarchy.)

          Please understand, therefore, that when telling rather than showing, I necessarily speak in generalities, not absolute statements; which can no more reflect this complexity in toto any more than I can accurately describe every characteristic of the seven billion people on Earth by saying “humans are a short-lived tribal species of plains ape who excel at dominance games and sucking”.

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  4. A few questions about children and their place in society, since they seem tangential, to what’s already been discussed.

    First, referencing this:

    As for self-control: well, any young citizen-intendant who doesn’t learn to show an adult’s self-control will likely be culled by the age of 12 or so, simply because they’re too bloody dangerous to keep around. This is acknowledged as harsh, but also as regrettably necessary; when temper tantrums can shatter bones and blow out walls, you can’t afford to permit them.

    Would it be correct to infer a generalization from this that, essentially, the head of an Imperial household has some measure of power analogous to the old Roman patria potestas ( https://www.britannica.com/topic/patria-potestas and http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA/Patria_Potestas.html for reference) over their minor dependents? Aside from axiomatic self-ownership, what sort of rights do children (or other wards) have, particularly *vis a vis the “veto power” of their parents or guardians?

    As a sort of sub-topic of that: How do eldraeic parents go about disciplining unruly and disobedient children? What are, for instance, local attitudes toward corporal punishment?

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