Some Ancient Questions

Have a random selection of answers to old questions and comments that came up while I was clearing out my e-mail:

In our world, there is a Spanish proverb that runs: Ladrón que roba a ladrón tiene cien años de perdón (memorably quoted in translation by the villian of The Magnificent Seven as “A thief who steals from a thief is pardoned for a hundred years,” or more conventionally glossed as “It’s no crime to steal from a thief.”)

How would the eldrae analyze such a situation? Would they consider it wrong to take something without its possessor’s consent if that possessor is not, in fact, the true owner?

That would depend. On the first level of analysis, Imperial law is more concerned with the will than the deed, and as such technically, for example, you are guilty of theft if you take something that was being freely given away, if you did not know that that was the case and therefore you believed that you were stealing it. Likewise, if you did not know that the possessor was not the true owner, it’s still theft.

On the second level, since the essence of theft is depriving the rightful owner of their property, if B steals from A and C takes it from B, then C is also guilty of theft from A.

The only situation in which such a C would not be guilty of theft is if they were aware that A was the rightful owner and “stole” it in order to return the property in question to A, in which case no crime has been committed, for that is merely a special case of the reclamation of property by its rightful owner. We might call this the Leverage exception.

Just a quick question, but how does a post-scarcity civilisation like the Empire deal with the problem of the so-called “mouse utopia”?

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-mouse-utopias-1960s-led-grim-predictions-humans-180954423/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-doomed-mouse-utopia-that-inspired-the-rats-of-nimh

My thinking, at least for us normal old humans, has been that we need three principle policies or conditions to avoid this:

1. Monogamy as the default for the great majority of people.

2. Scarce resources if need be due to artificial constraints, in order to motivate people to get out there & do things.

3. A small (preferably non-existent) welfare state.

Needless to say, there’ll be plenty of pressure to change all 3 of these, so have fun balancing the need to retain these conditions with little things like not being a tyranny. Anyway, obviously the Empire doesn’t have #3 to worry about, but #1 and #2 seem to apply to them. Did they just get lucky and manage to genetically modify everyone to avoid the trap caused by cornucopia machines and such, are their minds that different from human ones, or is there a hush-hush part of the Transcend that’s quietly ensuring that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” …?

The short version is: sophonts ain’t rodents.

(Rodents don’t have birth control, for one thing, and it’s pretty clear from global demographics among humans who do that in the presence of abundance, our problem is a birth rate falling below replacement, not overpopulation.)

Now, overpopulation is the most notable failure-feature of the various mouse utopias, and we know empirically that that doesn’t happen. But also:

Well, not to impugn the intellect of our rodent cousins – who are really exceptionally smart for critters whose brains comfortably fit in a teaspoon – but they do possess certain limits on their creativity when they get bored. No-one’s going to write the Next Great Murine Novel, or even grind their way to the top in World of Ratcraft – although, I note, nonetheless providing this sort of outlet did improve matters in later mouse utopias than the infamous ones.

Even humans – well, I’m gonna save myself some time and point you at Scott Alexander’s take on basic income (which the Empire does effectively have in the form of the Citizen’s Dividend) vs. basic jobs, here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/05/16/basic-income-not-basic-jobs-against-hijacking-utopia/ . The whole thing is worth a read, but specifically, look down under the heading “iv) Without work, people will gradually lose meaning from their lives and become miserable“.

Specifically, look at all the people who didn’t or don’t have any particular need to work, and who still live perfectly meaningful, satisfying lives.

Now consider that the eldrae are even further out on the self-motivated dynamism bell-curve.

tl;dr The “mouse utopia” is a model of what you get when you provide for the needs (and needs, note, not wants) of a group of people in a prison both physical and mental, not a model of a functioning society.

Re sports: How popular are team sports and team-based activities locally, relative to “individual” sports?

Less common than here, ratio-wise, which is largely an effect of spectator sports being less popular than participatory sports, but by no means uncommon.

Re tort insurance, the IQI, and other matters: What typically happens to those unlucky few who are unable to pass the IQI test but also have no one willing to claim them as a dependent?

If they do not possess a robot guardian, a robot guardian will be appointed for them.

Yes, those same ones that you can appoint for yourself if you want to get all Declaration of Situational Mental Incompetence-y. Only without the option.

Spending as much time as we do to block information-collecting used for these ends comes across as putting a comical amount of effort into making your own life less convenient by making it harder for the desire-satisfaction sector to satisfy your desires, and why the heck would anyone want that?

First, what would they make of someone on the opposite end of the spectrum — a sort of “Very Private Person” who deliberately goes out of their way to leave as little footprint as they reasonably can and who reacts negatively to any sort of unsolicited contact or requests for information simply because they believe that their business shouldn’t be anyone else’s business?

“You do you, but keep your weird fetishes to yourself, ‘kay?”

Also bear in mind that privacy law doesn’t support the notion of public privacy. And that since information about transactions is owned equally by each party to the transaction, not knowing what they just did as your counterparty is likely to be an extra-cost service for the annoyance.

Possibly stupid question (that you may well have already answered) –

_if_ everyone has a neural lace (and therefore could have something very like machine-mediated telepathy), why are there still explicit communications devices (“phones” and the like)?

Originally (i.e., in the days before advanced tech, when there was just baseline eldrae techlepathy), other communication devices existed for two reasons.

First, because you have to know someone’s signature to find them in the aether, and they aren’t readily written down; but also

Because – well, the thing about techlepathy is that even mediated via wireless transmission of neural gestalts, it’s still rubbing your brain up against someone else’s. This is not necessarily something you want to get into with just anyone.

Now in the modern day (well before neural laces – this was true even of early virtual interface implants), of course, you can easily receive e-mail and make trinet calls using only your implanted hardware, so in general, a lot of dedicated communication hardware doesn’t exist. Mostly it exists in places where it’s important to have a secure, hardwired communications line regardless of other conditions.

Now, there are plenty of slates, hand terminals, etc., and other such devices. They mostly exist because of the shape of brains. We are, after all, built to work by eye and hand; vast areas of brain are devoted to just that. Tool users are comfortable using tools; it’s as simple as that.

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 over their minor dependents?

No, it would not.

It’s a simple matter of self-defense. When a tantrum can and will escalate to a lethal incident (and bearing in mind that this requires years of them failing to get their ass under control, with all the assistance available), this is just the end of the line.

(I mean, think of what happens to people who throw tantrums with automatic weapons here, except that there, the gun is always in hand and the trigger is a thought away.)

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?

All of ’em. Life, liberty, property, and even contract insofar as tort insurance (theirs, or their parents) will cover it.

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?

That it’s assault and battery. (And also is an effective lesson in how it’s acceptable to use force to get what you want, but really, that’s a secondary point.)

Raising children is generally a matter of Taking Children Seriously, and the carrot – positive discipline – and greater access to responsibilities and privileges than the stick. Such stick as is necessary is provided by social consequences and a legal system that doesn’t offer special exceptions by age.

(Which last is arguably another form of taking children seriously.)

A small question: Does the eldraeic love for speculative fiction extend to what we call *here* the “alternate history” genre? Are there any popular works that deal with the subject of “What If [pivotal event X] never happened, or happened differently?”

It exists, but it’s just a minor subgenre. I don’t have any particular works in mind.

On that note: Does eldraeic have a term for the local equivalent of stercorarius (“manure entrepreneur”)?

“Dirt farmer,” (no translation yet) which term you may have seen before in the context of ecopoesis. Because they literally farm dirt.

So, for a question for the month, here’s my question-

One day, an Imperial Scout Ship wanders into Eldrae space, and the eldrae have just had their first contact with the Third Imperium. What particular hilarity and comedy happens after that?

Arguing over whose FTL drive is superior. (Both of them.) Horror at all the psionics. The Empire’s memetic warfare specialists and the Hivers finally have found worthy opponents in the manipulation game. Clash of capitalist titans. Arguments over whether non-jump FTL qualifies you as a major race. Ancients vs. Precursors, who were the most negligent? Dar-bandal vs. Vargr, who are the goodest bois?

Really, this one’s going to be one of the most uneventful first contacts, since no-one’s terribly offended by anyone else, not in ways more than is usual in both settings anyway. The biggest effect is going to be the long-term effects of all that transsophont tech seeping into the Imperium.

While I’m asking questions, I may as well venture another one, to answer or not as you wish, since I’ve not exactly been donating recently… how does the balance of power between the diarchs of the Imperial Couple work? Is it a veto from either side of the diarchy if they do not approve of a given course of action, or a delineation of fields of responsibility, or what? What, from the eldrae perspective, is the advantage of the diarchy over a singular executive? Is it the fact that it does divide powers?

In legal terms, it’s like the Roman consulship or the Spartan kingship; the diarchs have the same powers, subject to mutual veto. In practical terms, most of them tend to work out a rough division of fields of responsibility day-to-day.

(The advantages – originally in the eyes of the Cestian kingdoms from whom the Empire inherited the system – were threefold. The mutual veto is a check on stupid-ass decisions, and the division of responsibilities both keeps the Imperial workload reasonable and helps with the spectacularly wide range of knowledge and experience needed for the role.)

Also would like to know what the Empire of the Star would do with nonlocality tech, and whether the Transcend already has it.

Non-local sensors and effectors (essentially, like “noach” from Greg Bear’s Anvil of Stars and Moving Mars) aren’t yet within the capabilities of any species of the Worlds, although the Empire’s ontotechnologists are working towards it.

(It does exist in the ‘verse, though. The matter editation that Eliéra’s ecology maintenance systems use is a species of this technology.)

As for applications – good grief, what couldn’t you apply it to?

While we’re on the subject of definitions, what are the ‘spacer pikes’ mentioned in “But I don’t need one for this!”? Are they similar to the collapsible ‘broomsticks’ that Clarke describes in “Islands in the Sky” and “2010: Odyssey Two”?

Very similar to those, yes, with a hint of lochaber-axe-without-the-axe.

Are there any notable sovereign polities out there that, in the same manner as the Hessians that fought in the American Revolution, approach the “mercenary market” as suppliers — putting up their own state troops for hire as auxiliaries, perhaps as a way to make a quick buck on the side — rather than as customers?

Several. It’s proven an effective way for some single-system polities concerned about their larger neighbors to fund a larger military force than they otherwise could, and battle-season it to boot.

My question is twofold: what style of warships do mercenaries typically operate; are they running large battleships or mostly smaller Hornéd-Moon starfighters?

If they can afford it, a large mercenary outfit will operate something like a light cruiser or two to provide some space muscle for their typical missions (raids, commerce raiding, boarding ops, orbital fire support). There’s not much market for the larger types among mercs, because it takes a decent-sized plane of battle to have much of a chance in a stand-up naval fight, and mercs rarely get into stand-up naval fights anyway.

(This is not to say that no-one does it, but it gets you an expensive-to-support white elephant and suspicions that your admiral is compensating for something.)

The second question is concerned with the commerce raiding aspect of the shadow fleet; are there/have there been instances of opponents arming merchant vessels to mitigate losses (I.e. A spacefaring ‘East Indiaman’, with a few defensive AKVs or lasers)? Thank you!

Q-ships and convoy escorts are more common than armed merchantmen, simply because a merchie (with its lighter structure) hasn’t a prayer of surviving a stand-up fight against any naval vessel, even a naval auxiliary or corvette.

Specialist armed merchant cruisers (built on warship frame) do exist, primarily for use in regions where piracy is common, but even they wouldn’t rate against a naval vessel, and aren’t economic for general use.

I have to wonder. Wouldn’t anyone who undertakes the trip be considered a pariah at best and a slaver at worst? Anyone taking advantage of the Sleeper’s Deal has failed the ethical calculus of infinities and asymptotic infinities per, for example, On the Nonjustifiability of Hells: Infinite Punishments for Finite Crimes, Samiv Leiraval-ith-Liuvial, Imperial University of Calmiríë Press, no? How can such a sophont openly return to civilized society?

Because not all quote civilized unquote societies use Imperial standards of ethicality, the poor benighted sods.

arídaqerach: laser; from arídan “sun” + qerach “lightning”.

So, what words would they use to describe a solar flare, or coronal mass ejection? Those being things that might be described as a little like sun-lightning, and probably visible before anyone made a laser.

To me, they’ve always looked more like flames than lightning, and the names are going to come before the understanding, I do believe. Probably, then, arídandris (“sunflame”), or a similar compound.

You have mentioned matter editation before, what exactly is it? From the context from before I figure it is some kind of ontotechnology.

The ability to read and edit the properties of the fundamental particles of matter as easily as tweaking numbers in a spreadsheet. Think of it as a Minecraft world editor for reality.

What is the difference between AKVs and missiles?

An AKV carries weapons (i.e., is more analogous to, say, a Predator drone); a missile is a weapon.

Did they have a word for something along the lines of “Precursor Metal”? Something to use to refer to the (apparently) impossibly strong and light substance that a lot of the artifacts lying around might be made of?

Not as such; there are an awful lot of different materials, alloys, etc., that the Precursor races used in their construction, and that was obvious early on enough that it would have seemed odd to give any of them that particular soubriquet. There are lots of specific terms for assorted material oddities they left behind, though: everything from dragon pearls through orichalcium and Saermaharavei crystal.

Seeing as most warships we’ve seen in the Imperial Navy thus far have particle shielding rated for only 0.3c, how do the fleet carriers provide particle shielding for their constituent members when cruising?

They don’t. Fleet carriers behave like slow luggers, not fast clippers, for exactly this reason – and because if you could build particle shielding large enough to shield an entire fleet, you’d be out of luck trying to haul that at near-luminal speeds anyway.

(You could probably cram a lighthugger’s worth of particle shielding onto the bow of a warship, but the resulting design would not do well against any equivalent vessel not so encumbered – like all those at your destination. 0.3 c is a compromise already, you may note, as already substantially more than that found on civilian vessels.)

Does the local laws of war recognize the difference in asymmetrical warfare acts of mass destruction between non-governmental actors and governmental actors?

(I.e. Would they consider “a terrorist/political group using NBCN (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical/Nanological) weapons, software weapons, and similar devices on somebody’s capital world” different from “our special forces, still operating under a legally recognized chain of command, using NBCN weapons, software weapons, and similar devices on somebody’s capital world after YOU INVADED US without provocation”?

The local laws of war, as written, don’t bother making a distinction between non-governmental actors and governmental actors period, because the people who wrote them tend to think of governments as organizations distinguished mainly by silly hats and an unearned sense of ethical privileges.

Which certainly don’t get to write themselves a special pass to go around using weapons of mass destruction against civilian targets.

“the mass drivers spin their projectiles purely through EM fields”
Why is needed to spin the projectiles, flechettes, at all? The term flechette means ‘little arrow’ (in French).

Flechettes are fin stabilized not spin stabilized, true some experimental flechette rifles did had very shallow rifling (low twist rate) but that was primarily to break the sabot once the flechette cleared out of the barrel. Does the mass drivers of your setting need sabots?

The spin stabilization in this case is a later addition (or re-addition, I suppose) to the system to correct for personal point-defense systems, which tend to use high-power laser ablation to shove projectiles off course. Spinning them reduces the effect of the laser by spreading out otherwise localized heating and outgassing.

I’ve been wondering, has anyone ever used a stargate with the kinetic compensator off as a means of transporting the gate?

Imagine: you gate a gas giant through a stargate pair at a substantial clip, maybe several dozens of kilometres per second. The well-aimed stargate pair fly off in opposite directions at holy-crap relativistic speeds because conservation of momentum, while the gas giant planet carries on its merry way relatively unaffected. One mouth deploys a brakeloop or something and shines with hard rads until it arrives in a Worlds-owned system, and the other end continues on its merry way until it decelerates the same way into the target system.

Would make the Elsewhere Project look like a bottle rocket.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the kinetic compensator is for.

Momentum transferred from the transiting body to the wormhole mouth doesn’t affect the stargate, because the wormhole isn’t coupled to the stargate; the wormhole terminus picks up the momentum, but it’s in the process of collapse back into the foam at that time and so it can be safely ignored. Likewise with the exit terminus of the wormhole at the other end.

So this local conservation isn’t a problem. What’s a problem, once all the various bits of finaglery are done, is global conservation – which is to say, stars move relative to each other, not to mention all orbiting around the galactic core, which is itself in motion, etc., etc., all of which means that post-gating your intrinsic velocity is that of the orbit you were in in the system you just left. Or, to put it another way, going HOLY CRAP fast in absolutely the wrong direction.

The job of the kinetic compensator is to sink or source enough momentum, linear and angular, to fix this – and thus prevent you from taking an impromptu tour of the Oort cloud, being hurled directly into the sun, or suffering some other awkward, hard-to-explain-to-insurers, fate.

State of the ‘Verse

So, it’s been pretty quiet around here this month.

Part of that is post-book recovery, of course, but another part is that in celebration of Book III, I’ve been working on a fairly comprehensive revamp of the technical end of this site and its associated operations to make them work better, stronger, faster, cooler, and all that.

Top of that particular list is that we now have a Discourse as a discussion and chat site for the reader and fan community, which you can get to through the “Community” link at the top of the page. This is part of a greater effort to stop splitting said community up across multiple incompatible sites and services, which will later also include replacing the WordPress comments for new posts with shiny new Discourse topics embedded right into the pages. In the meantime, if you want to talk about the ‘verse, or have questions you want to ask, or the like, the Discourse is the absolute best place to do it.

There’s more, of course, but that’s for later. In the meantime, please enjoy the new community site!

Question: Dark Stuff

In recent questions:

What’s the status of dark matter/energy in the setting?

Munson sez: ‘There ain’t no such thing. Somebody just needs to correct their math, is all.’

The honest answer is “I haven’t established that yet”…

…but here’s some bullshit I just made up that should not be considered official canon:

If the in-‘verse theory of information physics (and its non-local hidden variable implications) is true, then the universe has a lot of metadata to keep track of. (Traditionally described as kept “Elsewhere”.) The more interesting interactions happen in any given location, the more metadata is generated.

Let us now handwave some sort of information-energy equivalence, or at least that information has its own effect on the space-time metric. (In honor of the original author who came up with this one, we can call it Pratchett’s L-Space Hypothesis.)

Conclusion: dark matter is actually all the universe’s metadata distorting space-time from its secret lair. It tends to halo around galaxies because that’s where all the interesting stuff happens.

(Let the weeping of the physicists now commence.)

((For those who don’t mind a particularly silly universe – and this one is definitely not canon – we could also postulate that dark energy, which has the opposite – universe-expanding – effect, is produced by ignorance; or, I suppose, technically, computational operations which could have happened but didn’t produce it as a byproduct. So study hard, folks, and keep thinking — or the universe will explode!))

Money, Money, Money

A longer-than-fits-in-the-margin response to a comment on the last post:

How do you make money, the symbol of exchange-value, properly match the actuality of exchange-value?

Have a fully backed currency (eg gold) and do really nasty things to anyone who so much as thinks of the possibility of maybe theoretically devaluing (read: cheating) it.

Not only no, but hell no.

What is a currency? Well, it’s a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value, each of which has its own requirements. To function as a reliable store of value requires, inter alia, that its value remain stable across time.

This has generally proven problematic for both fiat and commodity (i.e., including “backed”) currencies. But first, let’s look at what that definition actually means. A single unit of currency is nominally a quantum of exchange-value, representing 1/[money supply]th of total exchange-value. So what’s total exchange-value?

Answer: total exchange-value is the production of the entire economy denominated in that currency; all the goods and services which people are willing to trade for using it.

To be a reliable store of value implies that what yesterday’s unit exchanged for today’s unit will also exchange for, and that tomorrow’s unit will exchange for what today’s unit exchanges for. To make this happen, ceteris paribus, the money supply must precisely track total exchange-value.

(There are obvious complications in accounting for this, inasmuch as it should, for example, avoid changing the value of money due to secular expansion and contraction of the economy, but should not attempt to compensate for, for example, decreases in prices due to, say, increased resource availability or improvements in total factor productivity. Which is to say, you have to carefully separate authentic shifts in value from those which are merely caused by your own scarcity mismatching. But let us assume away these complications for now.)

This is problematic for fiat currencies partly because figuring out total exchange-value is a hard problem (we do it, for example, mostly by looking at long-term price changes after the fact and applying a bugger factor by eyeball), but mostly because governments find it very hard to resist the urge to screw around with monetary policy. And inflation is awfully convenient if you get to keep the seigniorage, since it essentially functions as a stealth asset tax.

Aurifer was built to solve the former problem; the latter one? Well, that one is hard unless you happen to have people who really, really love money to put in charge and prevent it from being debased.

This is really problematic for commodity currencies, though, because you can’t control the money supply at all. What you have is what you get, and the value of your currency wanders all over the map just like the price of every other commodity. As Robert Houghton mentioned in the previous post’s comments, the experience of the Spanish post-Mesoamerican conquest is instructive, as their gold-glut-driven hyperinflation is the perfect go-to example for “but though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy”.

Which is to say: properly-managed fiat (which isn’t really fiat at all, because it is backed by something, just something abstract – which is what really backs all currencies, in the end – but I digress) may not be the best game in town for a reliable store of value, it’s just the only game in town.

Electronic currencies can be messed with, and the only reason the Eldraeverse gets away with it is because the guys obsessed with things like the rule of law, property rights and such also just so happen to be the top dog.

Technically, the Empire gets away with it because they just so happen to have the aforementioned money-lovers and a friendly fiscal god, not to mention the real check-and-balance, a free market in currencies rather than a de jure or de facto state monopoly.

The rest of the Worlds may, and indeed does, vary.

(We shall avoid making jokes about the volatility of the one mercury-based currency out there, or the stability of those based on (radioactive) power metals.

But we shall take a moment to note that the ergcred goes into crisis with every new power-plant megastructure that comes on line, the Bantral labor-hour [back when the People’s State was a going concern] traded externally for rather less than Chthonic Railway tokens, the linobir bloodnote’s worth depends on which clan issued it and what they’ve killed recently – as is its physical makeup, more often than not – the gAu’s value is inversely proportional to distance from the Core Markets, and the Kameqan thal is worth EXACTLY WHAT LORD BLACKFALL SAYS IT IS.)

IRL, gold will probably do just fine if the population keeps growing to keep pace (roughly) with the amount of gold out there (don’t forget, hardly anything reacts with / corrodes it). The Eldraeverse is often just a tad more utopian however.

Though mind you, the energy cost of stripping a planet / solar system / whatever of all its gold is going to be pretty high, perhaps even to the point where it’s not cost-effective to do so. The highest figure I’ve seen for gold on Earth is ~2.5 million tonnes (the lower figures are under 10% of that however), discounting the estimated 20mt in ocean water (GLHF filtering all that though)… combine that with the likelihood of finding much gold in asteroids (probably low, assuming denser asteroids tend to form / hit planets earlier than lighter ones), and there may not be THAT much [insert rare metal here] available.

This turns out not to be the case.

The best estimates I’ve seen for mined gold through all human history is on the order of 180,000 tonnes, with the USGS estimating that there’s maybe 50,000 more to mine, with some awaiting discovery on top of that. Not counting currently unexploitable sources like ocean water or mining the planetary core.

Let’s look at one particular example right here in our solar system: 16 Psyche. That particular asteroid is a nickel-iron metallic (i.e., probably chunk of the core of a protoplanet), and as such is much higher grade ore for both iron and all the other metals amalgamated into it than anything that exists on Earth now, and probably ever. It’s also about 120 miles across.

The iron alone is worth about $10 quintillion, before we even start looking at the gold and other precious metals. Ain’t no population can fuck fast enough to keep pace with that.

(On one hand, I might be stacking the deck a little since 16 Psyche is by far the biggest metallic asteroid out there. On the other hand, it’s a quintillion-dollar motherlode of the kind of ore that makes smelters do the dance of joy that is sitting right there, right now, just waiting to ruin incautious commodity traders’ whole decade, and there’s no point in pretending it ain’t.)

tl;dr When I wrote that the Age of Space was accompanied by the price of gold dropping to around where the price of iron used to be, and the price of iron zeroed out, I wasn’t just pulling numbers out of my ass.

(In-‘verse, when they want to drive this point home to people from peripheral worlds, they take them to see Celestial Mechanics, ICC’s main gravity tractor. The one that uses about 10% of Earth’s entire historical gold production – or a little over twice the total US gold reserves – neatly divided into kiloton slugs, as ballast.

This is assuming they didn’t get the point when some scruffy free trader filled his hold with exotic native handicrafts in exchange for the spare set of trimming weights that’d been slopping around the ship’s locker since ever, for a cool 10,000% profit margin.)

Fully backed (and crypto-) currencies are also nice in that nobody has central control over them when it comes to policies like printing money. Oh sure, you could have built up a secret stash of gold/BTC/etc, but that’s not nearly as easy as typing a few numbers into a computer to create new money. Plus, someone might (a) realise this, and factor your secret stash into the market prices, (b) steal it, or (c) destroy it (insert Bond reference here ).

That same quality, though, makes them lousy stores of value, because without the ability to match the money supply to the total exchange-value, you end up with either inflation, or deflation, or worse, both. Cryp has its virtues in terms of fiscal stealth, and as an investment, but it sucks as currency, because it fails one of the major purposes of the stuff.

Finally, stuff like gold has the handy trait of working at much simpler tech levels, for want of a better phrase. If that Carrington Event fries an eldrae colony’s electronics and they’re out of touch for a year (I’m sure they have fancy solutions, but it’s the principle not the specifics I’m concerned with), gold will still work just fine.

The solution is called “use the coinage as coinage without verifying it for the moment”. It’s not like the Empire wasn’t using gold, etc., coinage for centuries before anyone invented practical electricity.

But they were also aware that what gave that currency its value wasn’t the metal, it was the little engraving saying “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn”. Now that’s a promise you can take to the bank.

But it turns out that creating a liminal hyperintelligence that indwells your currency such that it can regulate its own value from a fiscally omniscient perspective works modestly well

I’m just a bit dubious about how this might work across anything more than planetary distances. Surely lightspeed lag would cause problems if this currency is seeing a lot of use? “Fiscally omniscient” sounds iffy to me.

There is FTL communication available, note (see “tangle channels”), but the important thing to make this work is that the instance-syncing can keep up with the speed of economic transactions. Where there’s light-lag, Aurifer’s instances updating each other is slower, but so is transaction clearing, so it can still keep up.

Question: Useless Machines

Specialist290 asks:

So what do the eldrae make of the idea of “useless machines”?

The most famous example, of course, being the machine whose sole purpose, once turned on, is to turn itself back off. (Like so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z86V_ICUCD4 )

Insert usual disclaimer about the reliability of capsule summaries of the opinions of over a trillion sophonts.

Well, for a start, they aren’t “useless machines”. Useless machines manifestly fail to work properly. These are “amusing mechanical follies”, like Rube Goldberg designs, which are… amusing. Also decorative.

(The ur-example of the class *there* is actually a Precursor artifact, nicknamed “The Uncrater”, a black-box widget whose sole function appears to be declining to be packaged up in the current local language, then quietly disintegrating any packaging material used to attempt to do so.

You’ll find it indexed under “Amusing Mechanical Follies”. Also under “Suspected Precursor Practical Jokes”, and “Seriously, Guys, What The Hell?”)

 

Question: What’s in a Name?

From Henry Quirk:

What was the inspiration for the Hariven (its design)?

…and…

In-universe (in Eldrae-speak): what does ‘Hariven’ mean?

On the former — no specific inspiration, I’m afraid to say. I just designed the smallest possible viable freighter for the setting, then went through it to strip out all the awesomeness, and then again to make sure that it could be repaired by the interstellar-era equivalent of a shade-tree mechanic with a lump hammer and a roll of duct tape.

On the latter – absolutely nothing, I’m afraid. (It’s not an Imperial design, after all. It’s the sort of design that has Imperially-acculturated celestime architects summoning their chaises longue with severe fits of the vapors. The closest it comes to that is that its drive is a hack of an open-sourced Nucleodyne Thrust Applications design.)

Instead, it’s named after its designer, one Sev Harik Venn, of the League of Meridian, who figured he was designing a kit Citroën 2CV for the Expansion Regions and that the lawsuits probably wouldn’t get back as far as him. In that, he proved to be exactly right, retiring in the 5100s with a large pile of cash, a string of mistresses, and an eventual death from extreme lipidification of both livers.

 

Random Stuff/Questions

Randomness: I’ve just rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Thus, for anyone who wasn’t around the first time it came up, this is your reminder that wuxia is a good model for what classical melee combat looks like in the ‘verse – only glowier, since space magic, unlike qi, has that as a side effect.

(It only gets crazier when done in microgravity.)


Question: how much are the Imperial Couple permanently vastened by on their coronation; and why?

In the modern day, quite a lot. Coronation comes with a semi-Fusion with the Imperial Presence, which is one of the Transcend’s archai, in addition to serving as a repository for the memories – or, in the earliest cases, the eidolons – of all their predecessors.

(The same thing applies to the various Ministers of the Throne, although on a more temporary basis, who have a synnoetic relationship with the appropriate member of the Ennead, the nine archai which correspond roughly to the Ministries – the Comptroller, the Warmind, the Signet, et. al.. A busy meeting of the Stellar Council can burn through a lot of cycles.)

Why? Well, who can afford a competence gap?


More Randomness: This story; which can be summed up as “Ontario initiates basic income pilot program; people make decisions based on program as it was explained to them; new government cancels program abruptly; people whose decisions were retroactively made bad are really, really pissed at being stabbed in the back”.

Makes an excellent case study for EX0487: Exosophontology of Mass Coercion, I deem. Probably in that subsection titled “Democracies: Naturally Treacherous or Just Incompetent?” (See, this is why we think social contracts, being all implicit and unilaterally modifiable, are what is technically known as “bullshit”. Actual contracts, now those are something you can build a society on.)


Question: In lieu of my previous question: What does the local culture make of the idea of what TVTropes calls the “Humongous Mecha“?

Mostly, that it’s a damn silly idea. Let’s take what could be a perfectly respectable armored vehicle, then give it a huge target profile, a statically unstable single-point-of-failure (in the sense of “shoot it in the ankle, it falls over”) locomotion system and probable ground pressure issues, then strip off some of the ranged weaponry and replace it with melee-range kit.

Then let’s throw the designer out the airlock for thinking any of that was a good idea.

Whatever coolness factor it may have is entirely overwhelmed by the audience’s awareness of just how many Idiot Balls the responsible parties were holding. They may have a certain intimidation factor going for them, but there’s already plenty of that available, and if you need to turn it up to eleven, there’s always the Fight In The Shade maneuver.

(Walkers, they have, for handling certain types of terrain, but they’re sensible low-slung spidery-legged types.)


Randomness: Marines 3D-print a barracks. The world gets a little more like Starcraft every day.

But we have not yet gone full ‘verse until they can print a version with a bioprinter inside that goes on to 3D print Marines


Question: On the subject of pronouns (and particularly Japanese pronoun equivalents): Does eldraeic have any that would fill the role of kisama ( 貴様 ) or onore ( 己 ), for those moments when you really need to call someone out?

It’s not a pronoun, but it is an affix that can be attached to a pronoun. Or anything else, of course.

(And it’s not defined yet, so I can’t quote it for you.)


More coming, but let’s go with this for now…

 

Notice to Querents

Okay. I regret having to do this, because by and large I enjoy engaging with my readers and satisfying their curiosity, but —

I am, as of now, declaring a complete, conclusive, and perpetual moratorium on all “gotcha” questions. (I am not providing a definition, because definitions can be gamed; if you think it’s one, it probably is.) This is because endless nitpicking of edge cases in legal, ethical, and social systems are – whether or not it’s intentional – turning my openness into an Internet comments section on a political web site, and are about as enjoyable to engage with as an Internet comments section on a political web site. This is, obviously, rather toxic to my creativity, mood, and digestion, even leaving aside that most readers, I believe, would rather that I wrote new stuff rather than reciting Space Libertarianism 101.

Other questions – even on legal and ethical issues – continue to be welcome, but you may feel free to assume that in this particular area, if an outcome seems Obviously Bloody Stupid, that it doesn’t work that way in the absence of citeable canon evidence that it does without needing me to explain to you exactly how.

That is all, and this change in policy is not up for debate.

 

Next Question Batch

So today I was catching up on another work I’ve been following on another site, and one of the chapters reminded me of some of the discussions we (all, collectively) have had about the UBI / Citizen’s Dividend here.

(Click through to read and scroll down to the bit starting “Welcome, XIAOTING, LI.”.)

What would the eldrae think of the ethics of implementing a UBI “with strings attached” as portrayed in that excerpt there?

In their own context, that’s unconstitutional at least twice over. (Since I’ve published the Charter on here, determining exactly which ways are left as an exercise for the reader.)

In other people’s context? Well, what position do you think the self-designated Freest of the Free have on jerking people around with conditioned promises?

(Or, for that matter, calling something Universal when it patently isn’t? If you want to bribe people into good behavior – or even listening to your homilies on good behavior – hire and pay ’em. Don’t try and dress up bullshit as beefsteak.)

While reviewing some of our older discussions, I re-read this line from a still older post:

>What possible use is there for a [nuclear] bomb that completely obliterates the economic value of whatever you’re fighting over?

Which prompted the idle thought: What would the Imperial military think of a military from another culture (like, say, *here*) where “countervalue” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countervalue ) is considered an acceptable strategy, and is explicitly so named?

To remind the groundlings, that was one person’s comment at the time that the nucleonic device was invented (“for purely peaceful purposes”).

It may also be useful at this point to summarize the general position of the Imperial Military Service on such things, which amounts to:

“Even at their best, countervalue strikes are ungentlesophly, and have no place in civilized warfare.

(pause)

“Regrettably, however, we aren’t always fighting civilized wars with gentlesophs – indeed, if anything, zakhrehain are now in the majority – which poses something of a problem. There are plenty of idiot savages out there with rulers willing to accept military losses as the cost of doing business, especially where asymmetrism and the like are concerned, and in many of those cases, zorching a city may be necessary to remind them that there are unacceptable losses; the kiloton-of-prevention-is-worth-a-gigaton-of-cure approach. Fortunately, most of these rulers have a populace of foamy-brained fanatics backing them, so at least most of your collateral budget won’t be what you might call strictly innocent.

“And then there’s seredhain, of course.”

So, while to a certain degree it’s in how you use it, you may expect them, as a rule of thumb, to be unimpressed with anyone who prefers countervalue as a strategy.

Does the Empire maintain any “class 5” biohazard facilities i.e., biohazards capable of intelligently working to escape?

Don’t they call those “prisons”? 🙂

The safest way to contain those sorts of things, of course, is to rip a mind-state and genetic reconstruction profile, then split them into one-third XORs and file them at three of the Aeon Pit facilities. Where that’s not possible… well, there are certain facilities located out in the deep black, where frozen-down entities are kept strapped to antimatter charges. Or that’s what I’ve heard. Speculation, y’know.

…or there’s always the Eft Sédir Containment Facility, out at Eye of Night. You can’t beat a gravity prison over a black hole for security – if anyone looks to be escaping, just cut the skyhook, and it’s a one-way trip to oblivion.

(Freight Containers)

What’s the mass of these containers when empty?

Do they have a standard loading mass? What about stacking height under standard gravity / thrust? A big part of the containers here is that they’re rated for stacking and you need to load them at less than labeled gross mass.

A regular 4B08 masses around 1,800 kg empty; loads 31,400 kg net. As for stacking height – you can stack them up to twelve high under standard gravity, as a rule of thumb, but gravity of course varies and thrust varies even more.

(Of course, if you have a vector-control core to evenly spread change in momentum out across your entire starship, the containers don’t feel relative acceleration and you can stack them as “high” as you want, so long as the mass will hold together under non-thrust stresses and you don’t mass-out or bulk-out the ship in the process.)

What’s the Eldrae radiation safety limit structure look like. I’m guessing that they’ve got more biological tolerance than humans due to environment and immortality, also pretty sure that they didn’t get sidetracked into believing the linear-no-threshold model. Much of our reactor design (especially in the later designs) is predicated on minimizing radiation exposure at all costs. If you can tolerate coal-plant-in-Denver levels of radiation exposure without batting an eye it makes much of the containment design easier.

It’s complicated, as you might imagine, because of various interacting factors, which don’t necessarily affect all types of radiation in the same way. I haven’t computed it in detail yet, but my rough rule of thumb is that at the low end of the curve, you can double, as a guesstimate, the acute and chronic exposure dose for a given effect, and end up in roughly the right ballpark. It doesn’t hold as well at the high end.

Where things get particularly complex is with an immune and self-repair system built for immortality, and it’s effects on say, cancer, or as it’s known there, the small rot. Effectively, if it hasn’t suffered a huge insult, that immune system will pretty much shrug off even minor tumors, or even larger ones if the main body is cut out; only chronic exposure that drives them metastatic (the wandering rot) is likely to actually kill you.

So there aren’t lifetime limits because you can’t damage yourself permanently with chronic low exposure; just exposure-per-time limits to ensure that you don’t push your body beyond the point at which it can no longer repair itself.

(As for all the various names attached to the small rot? Well, those are because a lot of people had, before there were proper measuring devices available, the habit of pushing themselves until the first symptoms of blue-blotch fever (named for the easy bruising that’s often an early sign of chronic radiation syndrome) appeared, then taking a lengthy sabbatical to recover away from nucleonic furnaces and the like, then going back to do it again… and again… and again…)

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?

 

Question Update

Hey, folks, guess what? Super-busy-development-crunch-time is done, and back to regular development-crunch-time. So while it may not be full-time writing for me, at least I might get some fiction done this month.

Anyway, on to the questions…

Under the heading of “the laws and customs of war”: Do the Associated Worlds have anything analogous (in spirit if not strictly in letter) to the Roerich Pact, or the ideas underpinning it?

(For reference: http://www.roerich.org/roerich-pact.php )

It’s almost certainly covered in the Conventions of Civilized Warfare section of the Ley Accords. That said, there are going to be some very careful allowances of wiggle room in there – the Repository of All Knowledge has its own favorite way of dealing with cultural artifacts people are endangering unduly.

An odd thought I had while reading some of the back catalog: Do the eldrae have a term for, or any “literature” on, the state that could be described as “the incorrigible and ironically irrational belief that you are the only rational person in the room / on the Planet / in the Universe”?

There are almost certainly a variety of terms in the professional lingo, but you might be looking for quor vaníälathdar, which would translate as “total ultracrepidarian”; i.e., one who opines beyond their knowledge on every topic.

(Or, at least, that is the one I presently have the vocabulary handy to express.)

Another approach would be to describe them as failing the eighth and fifth virtues of talcoríëf; caution and argument. The former, which reminds you that it is not rational to fail to anticipate your own errors; and the latter, then, in the sense that those who wish to fail must prevent their friends from helping them – and assuming your own rightness is an excellent way of doing that.

(The Twelve Virtues of Talcoríëf are essentially a culturally-translated equivalent of this. Except that *there*, they teach you this sort of stuff pretty much as soon as you can scrape up two neurons to rub together.)

So the Empire in the modern day has very strong exit rights, but what was situation post unification of Eliéra but pre interstellar colonization? In particular how does a society of consent handle people having children who don’t have the ability to live anywhere other than a polity they didn’t consent to be born into?

Brave New World had its Savage Reservations and its islands; in those days, the Empire had its “Outside”. If you didn’t consent to truth, justice, and the Imperial way, you were perfectly free to go and live on the healthy-sized chunk of land designated “Outside” against exactly that circumstance.

(It’s not like there’s an obligation to provide you with a choice if you don’t like the menu on offer, but who wants to hang on to a bunch of malcontents?)

What exactly is “semislavery”? I’ve seen isolated references to it crop up, and a few ideas suggest themselves from what context is available, but it would be nice to see what the official definition is in Imperial jurisprudence.

Semislavery, or Deprivation of Ability to Consent, is defined thus in the short form:

The crime of editing (deprivation) or building (semislavery) sophont minds in such a manner that they always obey you and cannot conceptualize the notion of not doing so, or form the volition to act upon it.

Or, to put it another way, it’s building sophont minds with imposed false worldviews such that they volunteer to freely act as if they had no free will, and thus always unquestioningly act as you would have them act.

(It’s not technically slavery, in the same sense as the use of say, conscience redactors, pyretic inhibitors, or loyalty compulsions, not to mention more history’s more crude methods – but it’s close enough for there still to be a pyrolysis chamber waiting with your name on it.)

 

Questions and Answer Time Again

Yes, it’s that time again.

Before I get started on the actual Qs and As, though, I said to myself that I was going to link to this: Current Affairs’ “Some Puzzles For Libertarians”, Treated As Writing Prompts For Short Stories, over on Slate Star Codex, in which Scott Alexander takes the usual collection of weak-man arguments and beats them to death with a rather witty shovel. I approve, and so do the people in my head.

A random thought that occurred to me: Given that the eldraeic lifespan is such that such matters could theoretically come into play, does Imperial property law account for continental drift and other such tectonic activities?

To an extent. Certainly it includes guidelines for resolving issues brought up by more common and minor tectonic activities – earthquakes, volcanism, fault-slip, erosion, and so forth. (One presumes, although I haven’t looked into it, they have some procedure for resurveying property lines in California when the San Andreas jiggles its way along another foot of displacement, and it’s probably like that. If they don’t, please don’t disabuse me of the notion; I’m enjoying the delusion of competence.)

Not so much for continental drift, mostly because it’s really, really slow, and so far hasn’t proven to be much of an issue on the ten-thousand year time scale that the Empire’s existed for (using Earth as an example, we’re talking sub-kilometer adjustments over that span, almost all at sea), or rather less on planets that have continental drift.

And it’s probable that well before it becomes a bigger issue, someone will want to fix the whole continental drift issue, anyway. While an active interior is good for a living planet, like so many things in nature, it’s consequences also bloody inconvenient and need to be taken in hand by somesoph who knows what they’re doing.

I was reading somebodies blog, and thought, literally

“this person is a Plutarch for people”

(in that they see a web of debts and transactions and operations, and seek to optimize in a way that generates value)

Is that facilitator or not-politician caste behavior?

That’s mostly an executor darëssef function (although hardly limited to them; see also, say, plutarch arbitrageurs and hearthmistress symposiarchs, et. al.), and specifically the profession of the path-pointers, who specialize in optimal go-betweening and xicésésef, which latter is very similar to the Chinese guanxixue, although without the negative implications.

Something that could serve as either a question or a “plot bunny,” at your discretion:

It is often said that “You cannot fool an alethiometer” — but that presumes that the alethiometer itself is functioning as intended.

So what happens when one is tampered with and / or breaks?

The self-test, anti-tamper, and external verification (as in, a physically separate verification system that you plug the thing into) systems all light up a pleasantly bloody shade of crimson, and go “eeeeeeeee”. These things are used, after all, to verify matters of great importance, and are designed, built, and audited appropriately.

Also, if you’re using it in any sort of formal proceedings and have an operator even half awake, the results will be off as you walk through the test question series. It doesn’t just give you a true/false indication, after all – it’s doing dynamic mind-state analysis in real time. If you’re going to tamper with it, you’ve got to do so in a way that generates a plausible alternative readout that matches all your observable actions and reactions, otherwise you’ve got the mental equivalent of bad lip-syncing going on.

(And if the questioner can smack your ass or insult your mother without generating the appropriate characteristic spike in the readouts, that’s all kinds of probable cause right there.)

Now, there are ways to fool basic alethiometric verification, especially when it comes to past events. (Sophont memory, in many cases, is fallible – look at human memory, which rewrites itself every time it’s remembered, and that aside, this is a universe in which memories can be edited, deleted, spliced, folded, spindled, and mutilated; or you can come up with some memory-duplication trick such as the one seen in Minority Report, or some other such device.) This is why the Curial courts don’t treat it as a sure thing and gather confirmatory evidence from forensics, alibi archives, Oversight’s public monitors, data trails left behind, etc., etc., and why sophisticated alethiometers will pull in some of that themselves to perform second-layer truth-checking: “Subject is telling the truth as he recalls it, but the public record actively contradicts this. Recommend deep scan for redactive signatures.”

But the weak spot to attack is pretty much never the alethiometer itself. It’s actually much easier – ironically enough – to fool yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or knowing that you ever fooled yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or…

(And leaving no traces behind in physical or data evidence, too, but if you can pull off the former, that should be easy!)

Segueing from the specific to the general: Do Imperial law and eldraeic ethics acknowledge anything approximating “non-contractual duties of commission” and “privileges of necessity” as expounded upon here: http://www.friesian.com/moral-1.htm#commission ? Particularly, do they have formal necessity defenses or anything like them in either tort law or criminal law?

On the former: no. There’s no such thing as a non-contractual duty of commission, because that would imply that you could be obligated by something other than your own power of contract, which we know is not the case; and everything not obligatory is supererogatory.

(There are certain things that might look similar – say, the Responsibility of Common Defense et. al. from the Charter – but those are actually contractual duties of commission which you obligated yourself to on signing up to join the community of civilized folk. A self-sovereign autonomous soph doesn’t have any of those.)

On the latter: there is a necessity defense, and also its close cousin the justification defense. With the exception of “necessity in the heat” cases (say, grabbing someone else’s shotgun in a life-or-death scenario, and giving it straight back to them), which in any case have the tendency of being settled non est over a beer, the courts look with a very jaundiced eye on necessity pleas, and you’d better be able to show that you exhausted essentially all your legal options first. If you plead necessity when you stole to feed your starving children, you’re going to need to be able to show that (a) your children are starving, and (b) that the local community is entirely devoid of employment opportunities, eleemosynary organizations, and people willing to help you when you asked. You did ask, right?

The legal principle *there* is not Necessity does not have a law, it’s Ill means poison all good ends, and if you argue that you’re the exception, you’ll need to hit legal standards of proof for that.

(Justification is even harder to get away with, since a plea of justification amounts to “I was right, and the law is wrong, and it should be changed by precedent in my favor”. It’s arguing “well, he needed killing” and having the court rewrite the rules on preemptive self-defense to include your reasoning. It has happened, but if you’re going to try out this one, have a really good argument ready.)

First off what would the Empire think of the Yeerks either as a fictional construct if a culture where to independently invent basically the Animorphs books or a real group if they were to encounter an actual species like that? If you haven’t read Animorphs or just don’t want to touch the copyright issues involved in mentioning them by name I want to know how they would react to a sophont species that is a sophont parasite and semi-obligate slaver. One that is basically a slug with the ability to take over a sophont host body. Most of them are fine with this set up, but a small minority will only infect willing hosts (they can act as muses/live in psycodesigners instead of living control collars) and a much larger group strongly want the ability to have bodies without slavery but are willing to infect unwilling hosts when that is what is available. Hope thats an acceptable question, will have more in the morning.

I’m not, alas, familiar with that ‘verse in particular, but as it happens, this is something I’ve thought about given another very similar species in functional respects, Stargate SG-1‘s goa’uld.

The thing is that semi-obligate is functionally equivalent to not obligate. (I mean, sure, being a sophont without much ability to do anything without a host body to possess means the universe has kind of handed you a shit sandwich, and yet.) Which is good, because that means you aren’t actually anathematic.

Since the rule is consensuality, they have no issues with those who go the Tok’ra route (of mutually willing symbiosis), and would be more than happy to sell non-sophont empty bodies by the gross to those looking for them. But if you go around possessing the unwilling, it’s not going to go very well for you. Best to leap on that first opportunity to get a non-slave body and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, belike.

Given the importance of consent and free will in the Eldraeverse, how are age-of-consent/ maturity test issues handled, when a self requires a development period before it can be fully autonomous?

Tort insurance; more here. Basically, when a tort insurer is willing – by virtue of your demonstrated competence and responsible nature – to let you self-sign a note large enough to meet the Insurance Quota for Independence, you are no longer a minor in the sight of the law. Not all things are directly tied to the IQI – for some activities your counterparties will want to know that you have rather more cover, if you didn’t figure out that it would be a good idea to have it yourself – but it’s the figure that the Empire wants to see before they let you become a citizen-shareholder, so it’s commonly used as the definition of “majority”.

(Specifically as regards age of consent, see the comments on the IQSC, here.)

So, question about Eldrae entertainment of the do they have something like this variety. In the Amenta setting that has eaten rationalist tumblr they have cleaning based entertainment as a distinct genre both as something that is added to other types of shows https://that-book-yellow.tumblr.com/post/170156399171/sparkler-trail-blackoutlandish and as a standalone thing https://that-book-yellow.tumblr.com/post/169986145399/sparkler-trail-sparkler-trail-theres-this. Given the Eldrae’s aesthetics about cleanliness do they have something similar? If not why not?

Damned if I know. Maybe?

(On one hand, I can’t think of any reason why it specifically couldn’t exist. On the other hand, cleaning is the sort of tedious and mundane activity best left to non-sophont robots; while it’s important work that has to be done, Lubricating and Checking Tolerances of Turbine Shaft Bearings: The Movie is not what you might call a potential blockbuster hit, either. On the gripping hand, a culture with high weirdness-support and a large population can support all manner of weird niche media. So.)

I gather that Imperial guns have more penetration ability than modern firearms, but how much more? In particular can military longarms like the IL-15i punch through enough things to meaningfully change infantry tactics by making it impractical to find cover in many environments? Really more compare and contrast of legionary tactics vs modern ground warfare would be interesting, but the cover thing jumps to mind as a potential major change.

To some extent: while penetration ability has increased, materials science has also made a lot of objects tougher than they used to be. So there’s less cover around, given that former light cover now isn’t useful as any kind of cover, but it’s not as drastic as it might be.

Another side of this is that there’s a limit to how much you want to dial up the penetration (although this varies a lot between weapons); the problem being that if you make an ultra-penetrant weapon it has a nasty habit of passing right through its target and expending most of its energy on the distant landscape, whereas you might prefer that it did more damage to the target and less to the collateral. (Similar to the superiority of soft-nose or hollowpoint rounds to full metal jacket for killing vs. wounding.)

(As a side note: the most immediate thing I suspect we’d notice that affects legionary tactics – well, apart from the clouds of drones and semi-autonomous mechagrunts doing the heavy lifting – is the death of most camouflage. Given the signature of even light infantry power armor, there’s not a whole lot of point in visual stealth, except for specialized units, and so there has been something of a return to the age of military bling and dressing to intimidate impress.)

The charter posts give some info on how the cost of citizenship is set, but doesn’t say how much it is. Do you have an approximate number for the setting’s present/a feel for how qualitatively expensive it is for the average new shareholder?

This is an area where I try to avoid presenting hard numbers, mostly because that’s likely to come back and bite me on the ass, but feel-wise —

It’s not particularly cheap. You’re basically providing the investment capital whose resulting revenue stream is going to pay for your Citizen’s Dividend and most basic services for the rest of ever (although at least there’s not inflation), so in that respect, it’s like saving up enough money that you can live off the interest/dividends/etc. without depleting your capital. On the other hand, that’s less than it might be, because post-common-material-scarcity has brought the cost of living (in monetary terms, that is; in prosperity terms it means the living is exceedingly rich) down quite a lot.

To come up with a decent comparison – and I reserve the right to change this if I think I was wrong – it’s probably something of the order of buying a nice house in a good neighborhood, in some suitably average city *here*. Fortunately, it’s an investment that will more than repay itself over time.

(Most poorer immigrants either find a sponsor, or take advantage of the Empire’s laissez-faire immigration policy by spending some time as a non-citizen resident earning the money to buy their citizen-shareholdership. The Imperials like this option, because this helps select for people likely to prosper in their society.)

I was reading up on the Core War and had a passing thought: what kind of threat would be necessary to cause the Republic and the Empire to team up with one another (however reluctantly) and what would be the Imperial reponse should the Republic start getting eaten by say, a pissed-off God-sophont? Vice versa?

You’ve got an example right there in the form of the Leviathan Consciousness. Existential threats tend to focus the attention wonderfully.

On the latter: offer to help, ’cause ex-threat. As for what happens if they don’t want the help and yet obviously need it, both sides have plans for what amounts to “invade these idiots to help them out before they get themselves killed and us along with them”. The Admiralty calls theirs CASE LAMENTING OVERLORD; the Exception Management Group probably has something similar.

Addendum to my last missive: precisely what in the nine hells was the thing the Republic was making use of for their stargates? And has the Empire got plans to deal with such things aside from just buggering off into unknown space as quickly as relativity allows?

An archaeotech wormhole-maker someone working for the early days of the Propulsion Group mined from a dead weakly-godlike’s brain.

And most of those things don’t need dealing with at that level. Vulture archaeologists dig up archaeotech relics all the time, and most of them are relatively harmless, and even most of the ones that aren’t only cause localized annihilation.

Otherwise, though, of course. The responsible parties try to have response cases around for everything: CASE DEMIURGE EMBALMED deals with resurrection seeds, just as CASE DEMIURGE WILDFIRE handles active perversions, and that’s before we get into the exotica like CASE SCISSOR REVISION (hypothetical time travel that breaks the laws of time travel),  OPERATION VACUUM AVALANCHE (oops, physicists accidentally the universe), OPERATION EPOCH SHATTER (hacking the simulation to see if it is a simulation, with timing-channel attacks on quantum physics), or get as far off the map as OPERATION BLACKWATER BISHOP (Outside Context Problems, bearing in mind that all of the above are Inside the Context).

How does the empire treat sportsmanship? how much exultation in victory is considered appropriate before it becomes offensive to other competitors? Likewise are competitors expected to be stoic in defeat or does exceptionalism encourage declarations that you intend to come back and win next year?

Ah, well, to answer this one, I should start by dropping a reminder of the Imperial attitude towards relative measures of status/achievement (basically, it’s irrelevant) versus absolute ones, and for that matter identity-based status (even less relevant), and how that affects the sporting world.

Specifically, spectator sports are significantly less popular *there* than *here* (unlike participatory sports), and also most sports place much less emphasis, if any, on interpersonal competition. It’s not absent – inasmuch as you can’t have, say, a martial arts tournament without pitting people against opponents – but it’s not really the point.

Underlying this is that the eldrae find it very difficult to care about relative ability. Being faster, higher, and stronger than Joe, here, might mean that you’re awesomely excellent, or it might just be that you’re the least sucky schmuck on the schmuck-pile. They care about their absolute awesomeness, which means your modal athlete isn’t competing against other sophs, they’re competing against their past selves and the constraints of the universe.

So to bring this back around to the original question, you can exult all you want in victory, because you’re not exulting in defeating other competitors. The exultation is that in the past, you wished to become stronger/better (tsuyoku naritai!, a concept which I badly need to translate into Eldraeic), and now you have succeeded in that endeavor. Had you failed to improve or declined in performance, even if you still surpassed that of all other competitors, you would not see it as a victory. And absolute measures, unlike relative measures, aren’t zero-sum: one’s gain isn’t another loss. You don’t take anything away from anyone else by becoming more yourself.

(Indeed, thinking again of martial arts tournaments, it is far from unheard of for the victor from our perspective, having defeated all of his opponents, to acclaim one of those he defeated for having become most, while deeming his own improvement lesser, even though he might be stronger in an absolute sense.)

Thought you might enjoy this article here. And might as well ask: How did the eldrae eventually resolve *their* analog to the “adblocking arms race,” if indeed it isn’t still ongoing?

Heh. Well, blocking would be much easier *there* anyway, inasmuch as IIP is not an anonymous system: since all traffic requires user/device certificates from the sender, and while not all but many documents come with their very own digital imprimatur, rejecting all traffic from a given identity is downright trivial.

But in any case: it wasn’t much of a race, because as you may have noticed, heh, the locals *there* are rather better when it comes to failing to fail at coordination problems. The consumers of ad-supported media understood the relevant mélith, which is to say that you are paying for these goods with polite attention (these are the people who didn’t even skip ads in the days of video recorders because, y’know, we have an understanding here); and in return, the advertisers (see also notes here) felt little need to violate the implicit terms of this arrangement by upping the intrusiveness to asshatly levels, which in any case would not have been to their advantage. Such conflict as there was ended with a whimper, not a bang.

And, of course, the cultural expectations with regard to privacy are also different. Imperials consider commercial organizations working hard to figure out what they want, like, or might consider interesting to be a positive good.

Spending as much time as we do to block information-collecting used for these ends comes across as putting a comical amount of effort into making your own life less convenient by making it harder for the desire-satisfaction sector to satisfy your desires, and why the heck would anyone want that?

(Outworld, of course, your mileage will vary. In the Rim Free Zone, for one, the v-fog is often more than thick enough to obscure vision, and visitors are advised to make use of some truly vicious network and memetic firewalls.)

 

October Stuff

In honor of the coming holiday, a terrifying thought I had:

According to “The Blood-Brain Barrier” (and other incidental mentions elsewhere), it’s possible to target, edit, and alter the will if you know what you’re doing.

By implication, this means that it must be possible to *erase* someone’s will entirely with a personalized “nolitional” payload.

It would be an incredibly subtle and terrifying assassination method. Your target would be almost physically untouched and retain most of their sensory and cognitive functions, but the one thing that makes you a person would be as utterly destroyed as if you had taken a bullet to the brain-pan.

It’s certainly possible to build a p-zombifier, yes.

On the other hand, it’s not all that subtle (at least to societies that have sophotechnology, since coring out the logos will show up on a mind-state display like a claidheamh mor on a chest x-ray); and since – per the Cíëlle Vagary, etc. – logotic activity is most relevant in instants of chaotic choice, if you p-zombify Kim Jong-un, all you get is someone who can’t choose not to be Kim Jong-un. While not completely unuseful, leaving ethics aside for the moment, this is much less useful than one might think. 🙂

Given the emphasis on and discussion around the eldraeic take on “cold justice,” particularly in the recent post on the “Bonfire of the ‘Elites’,” I figured it would be appropriate to ask this one: Did the Empire ever develop anything parallel to the body of law and jurisprudence of equity (and its derived equitable remedies) that arose *here* from the English chancery courts that were established to “temper the rigor of the law”?

Equitable remedies have always been available in Imperial law, where applicable and just; unlike Earthling common-law systems (up until recently, in some systems), there has never been any distinction between law and equity. (Similar, although this is as imprecise as all Terran analogies, to the Scottish situation.)

(Not, of course, to “temper the rigor of the law”; if the law is just – and since the justification for the existence of the law hinges upon that it is just, which is to say, is as accurate a reflection of the Platonic ideal of perfect justice as possible – then any departure from the rigor of the law is, eo ipso, unjust. If the law is not just, then the only thing to do is change the law until it is.)

Okay, tomorrow morning AD, we have First Contact with the Eldrae. The day after, Corvus Belli gets access to an excellent intellectual property AI legal council and starts to put out the licensing and publication rights for their miniatures wargame, “Infinity”. They don’t make the mistakes that Games Workshop makes when trying to license their IP.

What would the game-playing public think of the game and how well would it do?

Don’t think I can commit to a position based on what the web alone can tell me, alas.

What would the eldrae think of [toppling] dominoes, seeing as they’re displays of entropy at it’s finest?

On the contrary, they’re lovely ordered complex systems producing a desired and desirable end result. Sure, they produce entropy as a by-product of their operation, but so does everything else: it’s a broken universe.

(On a related note, what of victims who become either implicitly or explicitly complicit in their own victimhood?)

I’m talking about, to use a specific case, the situation that Patty Hearst fell into where, after initially being kidnapped, she was so thoroughly reprogrammed that she actively aided and abetted her captors’ further illegal activities because, in her own words, “The thought of escaping from them later simply never entered my mind. I had become convinced that there was no possibility of escape… It simply never occurred to me.”

Unless you can prove reprogramming in the technical sense – thought-viruses, overshadowing, coercive fusion, bodyjacking, et. sim., such arguments do not gain you much sympathy. Because, y’know, you have free will and the capacity to choose – and whatever your position on that *here*, in the Eldraeverse not only will mainstream philosophers tell you that hard determinism is incoherent, but the sophotechnologists and physicists will chime in and point out that they’re only a skosh away from being able to point at the widget that makes it work – and can exercise them unless you’ve been technically deprived of that capacity (your hypothetical “nolitional” payload, for example), and so bloody well ought to have.

(If available, you would definitely be better off trying for the duress – committed-lesser-crimes-to-prevent-a-greater-one – defense, but it wouldn’t have been in her case.)

It doesn’t help much that the eldrae in general, being constructed differently and very disinclined to submission, do not see much Stockholm Syndrome, et. al., per the bottom answer here, and thus do not consider it part of “human nature” the way we do.  Here, that’s victimization that could happen to anyone; there, it makes you an undiagnosed parabulia case, and in the modern era, the Guardians of Our Harmony and your tort insurer both will be wondering how exactly you went undiagnosed for long enough for this to happen.

(And since you don’t grow up in a mature information society without learning something about memetics, or a philosophically mature society without learning some formal ethics, an inadequate memetic immune system is no defense either.)

This, naturally, flavors the sympathy you get if you victimized yourself, in much the same way as if you were an undiagnosed schizophrenia case; people feel bad for you because you’re fundamentally broken and need fixing. It also tends to evaporate much of it when the choice you made under its influence was to go from victim to victimizer.

Nor does the meme rehab prescribed in such a case excuse you from paying weregeld and reparations: you still chose and acted, and that’s still on you.

[As a side note, actually, the schizophrenic has a better defense available: if you shoot at your hallucinatory monsters and hit someone, you don’t have mens rea because you responded reasonably to the data you have. That’ll play for an insanity defense.]

(Continued from earlier…)

What, specifically, is the issue at stake that makes such a conclusion unacceptably psychotic? I can understand why they might object on grounds that it’s morally pessimal (to use your terminology from a previous discussion) not to “abstain from the very appearance of evil,” and how in a positivist sense it might be abnegated by an Imperial citizen-shareholder’s commitment to maintain a specific standard of what locally is defined as sanity,

I’m going to assume this has effectively been answered by the earlier comment on the layered shells of ethics.

but as for its applicability to the general mass beyond the confines of the Empire’s own reach, and particularly to a self-sovereign individual under no contractual constraints to behave otherwise:

Law is local (the Doctrine of the Ecumenical Throne notwithstanding, and in any case, that’s less of a legal principle and more of a good excuse); ethics are universal. The Empire’s citizen-shareholders are more than happy to export and apply – on a personal, non-legal level – their views on what constitutes virtue and lack of same to the entire observable universe.

(As a tangential aside — though one I’ll come back to later — it seems that this is the necessary justification that allows anyone, and not just the particular victim(s), to shoot and kill an offender for what we would regard as relatively petty offenses if they deem it necessary under Imperial jurisprudence.)

I note that you have the right to defend self, others, and property by lethal force in the moment; this doesn’t extend to a generalized hunting license for anyone who has committed a crime and who hasn’t been formally outlawed. (Although since everyone has the right of arrest upon probable cause provided that the alleged criminal is handed over forthwith to the Constabulary or to a Curial court for arraignment, crimes committed while resisting arrest can blur this a bit.)

As has been greatly emphasized elsewhere, the eldrae place a high value on informed consent in their dealings. How would they respond, however, to the idea that consent is not a thing that can merely be passively solicited, but something that can be actively manufactured or engineered — as espoused (and largely developed) *here* by men such as Edward Bernays (1)(2) — by controlling what information passes through the various filters and “gatekeepers” on its route from the source to the general public, and by dictating how that information is presented

I believe the relevant snarky soundbite is: “No-one can manufacture your consent without your consent.”

Or, possibly, “Isn’t that called persuasion?”

There are certain constraints on what’s permissible by way of information control (extraordinarily limited) and by way of bad information (prohibitions on YGBMs and basilisks, but also in re choice-theft on defamation, falsification of information, falsificiation of entelechy, claiming false attachment, assumption of false identity, etc., etc.; the freedom of speech is not the freedom to deceive). But inside those limits —

On the one hand, it’s a mature information society. Information is everywhere, from a million sources which have their own point of view on everything except the facts. Learning to sort through this for truth and picking out the intentional memegineering is a basic life skill; failing to do your due diligence and just believing any damn thing you’re told, especially if you outsource your cognition to one particular source, is a kind of wilful stupidity that receives absolutely no cultural respect whatsoever. (This is why, say, advertising is the way that it is *there*.)

On the other hand, of course people and their coadunations will try to persuade you of things, and dress up their ideas in the nicest possible attire. That’s how you get things done in civilized society when you can’t force people to do things your way; sell the product. Persuasion, advertising, memetic engineering, a little manipulation – these are the polite tools of a society that’s renounced compulsion, and are refined accordingly.

Incidentally, this is where some of those grayer eikones come in: the intrigant who can persuade people into an extended series of individually positive-sum interactions and, by doing so, achieve a greater goal is greatly respected for their social-fu. On the heights, this is how the Great Game is played.

Conveniently, it also encourages the play style in which everyone wins.

So let’s say that you’re a rookie vigilante righter-or-wrongs out on your first day. And let’s say that on your very first case, you honestly interpret the scenario in entirely the wrong way, and thus botch things in the worst way possible. Maybe the “thief” you caught red-handed was actually some sort of contracted retrieval specialist hired by the property’s true owner to recover it, and the building they were trying to break into was where the thief was storing it. Or maybe those robed thugs you blew away with gusto after you caught them accosting a defenseless old man were actually actors in a public performance of *Julius Caesar*.(*) Either way, while you can safely say that you acted without malice and with the best of intentions, you did exactly the *wrong* thing given the situation. What’s most likely going to happen to you once you go through the Imperial justice system?

Contracted retrieval specialists – or to give them their local name, asset repropriators – have v-tags and bonds, so that’s not a mistake you should make.

Anyway: assuming that everything is as it seems on the surface (i.e., you genuinely tried to do the right thing, you just fucked it up, and you weren’t negligently incompetent), you’ll have to pay the reparation – just not the weregeld. There won’t be meme rehab, either, because there’s no homicidal tendency to correct.

(This is standard procedure for cases whose intent is adjudicated as error in judgment/non-wilful negligence.)

((As a side note, this sort of thing is very unlikely to be someone’s career choice, given the local crime rates and Constabular efficiency. If you want to make a career out of unlikely scenarios, you’d probably be better off hanging out your shingle as a professional unicorn hugger, or some such. They’re much more likely to exist.))

 

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.)

June and July’s Questions

(Somewhat belated, for which I apologize, but day-job-wise, it’s been a hell of a month. Actually, it continues to be, hence the dearth of postings in August, and now I’m about to ship off to Maryland for a week on a business trip, so…

Yeah.

Sorry, folks.)

Without further ado, let us commence:

Another question, in particular reference to A Good Man (https://eldraeverse.com/2012/04/05/a-good-man/): Would our titular “good man” have come under near as much scrutiny if, instead of going for general atmospheric distribution, he had instead just bottled the stuff and handed it out at sporting events, donated it to soup kitchens, passed it around as a seasoning when he had people over for dinner, etc., without explicitly revealing what the “secret ingredients” in his “special sauce” were?

Only insofar as it would have been harder to catch him at it, and inasmuch as the smaller the scale of your atrocities, the lower the relative urgency of dealing with you compared to whatever other atrocities are going on at the same time. Not less important, mind you, merely less urgent in the ISS master limited-resource-allocation algorithm of which target(s) get hunted down, mind-ripped, and archived in the inaccessible depths of the Aeon Pit today.

As per monthly question & provided I am paid up in full:

Would love to see a write-up of some alien ships. The Múrast in particular.

Ah, múrast designs. Can do. For anyone not remembering my species in detail, the múrast are methane-breathing, multiheaded serpents who originated on a Titan-like homeworld, and have a biology therefore rooted in ices, hydrocarbon sludges, and plastics. They are a biologically casted society (assembler, thinker, technician, worker, refiner), and most curious of all, possibly, the thinker caste are polysapic; they typically have around five minds each.

A múrast icehull – I can’t really give you the details of an individual múrast ship class because they don’t build them to class spec – looks something like a flying baroque cathedral, if baroque cathedrals were (in the gross details) radially symmetric and lacked a down direction. But that’s not how they start out. They start out as comets.

When a múrast sept needs a starship, they go out and grab a comet, and then start shaping it, burrowing into it, and adding machinery as necessary. A typical example has three or four main chambers: there’s a near-spherical “nest” chamber in the center of the mass where the assemblers (the caste responsible for breeding/building new múrast) and the refiners (food-producers/food-storers/biofactories) dwell; an ovoid “bridge” from which the thinkers command the icehull from a half-dozen consoles each, still buried but nearer to the leading edge, and an “engineering” chamber near the trailing edge where technicians and workers tend the main drive (typically a non-torch fusion thermal, or something of that ilk, with teakettle thrusters for fine maneuvering; i.e., they’re slowships, but the múrast mostly aren’t in a hurry).

Cargo vessels include a large hold volume somewhere accessible from the outside; often using simply cutting out and refreezing the ice in lieu of a mechanical cargo door. Military vessels are similar, except the hold is filled with racks of AKVs – or, in some cases, kinetic impact vehicles (i.e., flying icebergs) flown by members of the only-slightly-sophont worker caste.

The rest of the internal space is taken up with a “maze” swarming with more technicians and workers – auxiliary machinery tends to be melted into the ice here in convenient locations, as do various bits of “crew quarters” and “storage” – and, of course, the ice and incorporated sludges and slushes itself, which serves as food, replenishment, and remass, expanding the maze as the trip goes on. (When it runs out, it’s time to either graft on or jump ship to a new cometary body.) Múrast passengers just join the crew in the maze; the odd passengers of other species must bring a suitable cabin module of their own, or travel steerage.

Múrast biology is fairly vacuum-friendly; the ornate look of the ships comes from the workers and technicians who swarm over the outside, too, in flight, polishing and carving and generally buffing the icy brightwork to a mirror shine. The best theory on this is that it’s the sept-level equivalent of twiddling one’s fingers to ease deep-space boredom.

I’ll throw in three quick summaries of other species ships:

Sefir ships are the ones that I’ll never design in detail unless I need to, because they epitomize Boring, But Practical. Basically, they’re ISO Standard Human Spaceships, per the trope: boxy frameworks, mostly in haze gray, with maybe the odd logo or two slapped on the side. Conventional and middle of the road in essentially every way. Species which care more about aesthetics and less about low-bid procurement rules roll their eyes or break out in laughter or tears. Sometimes both.

Linobir ships are what you might call… culturally distinctive. It’s not quite a planet of hats situation, but what must be admitted is while the linobir themselves have a varied culture, the vast majority of linobir who own their own starships are space mercenaries, or other kinds of hired muscle, who turn certain cultural traits right up to eleven.

As such, the [stereo]typical linobir starship is instantly recognizable by, at the stern, the pusher plate of the Worlds’ loudest, dirtiest, and most importantly most powerful drive system, and everywhere else by all the turrets, blisters, bays, and barrels caused by strapping on whatever weapons systems they could get hold of literally everywhere they’ll fit; i.e., it’s a bundle of strapped-together guns that fires nukes out of its ass.

Any of the hull plating that’s still visible under all of that tends to be covered in advertising the crews’ abilities to kill things and break people.

Esseli starships are semi-organic. (Unlike the link!n-Rechesh, they aren’t dogmatically attached to biotechnology for relatively unsuitable purposes such as hulls – although they are made by biotechnological means – or drive systems; although their hulls do have a distinct curvy, organic shape to them, and very organic-looking mechanical tentacles.)

Step inside, on the other hand, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature, because you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature (with, fair to say, a bionic fusion torch). The esseli are perfectly comfortable with using organic life support, shipboard information systems powered by ganglia, doors reminiscent of heart valves, fleshy control nodules and neural tendrils as user interfaces, and lots of similar tech on the squishy, slightly moist side.

(It is entirely untrue, however, that passengers are occasionally digested by esseli ships. They incorporate every standard biotechnological safeguard against unintentionally eating sophonts or their commensal lifeforms, and such would, as well as being rude and inhospitable, be ill-suited to their metabolism – they were, after all, engineered to eat fuel slush and occasional space rocks.

…and the odd hijacker.)

What would be popular on the Eldrae version of television? Or to broaden the question…’Mass media’. Do they go to the movies? 

Yes, indeed. From the incomplete list back in No Such Thing As Alien Pop Culture of things which the canon currently has named examples of – music, an extensive literary culture that includes popular novels, graphic novels, watchvids, InVids, slinkies, virtual-reality games, virtual-reality cosmoi, alternate-reality games, regular computer games, RPGs, board games, mechanical toys, recreational dueling and non-combat challenges, haut cuisine, participatory sports – they would fall under watchvids. (And this does include movie theaters, regular and drive/fly-in, because movie-as-social-experience is a subtly different genre from movie-as-personal-viewing.

Would something like ‘Iron Chef’ work…would ‘Days of Our Lives’ be in it’s 300th year? Would the times of the korásan be ‘Game of Thrones’ analogue?

Hm. Well, okay, let’s see what I can come up with by way of generalizations and specifics. One thing to bear in mind is that as you might expect, speculative fiction is very popular even among the widely varied mix that popular culture *there* is.

Some genres have trouble with the culture: soap operas are very limited for the reasons mentioned below about Days of Our Lives; sitcoms aren’t absent, but are limited in their presence and style by the local sense of humor; reality television is just plain absent for exactly the same reasons as the previous two are limited.

Game shows are present, but are not exactly the sort of thing we’d recognize as them: they have to incorporate very little of an element of chance, and be pitched at a level appropriate to an audience and contestants with quantum computers and Internet access lodged firmly between their frontal lobes, raised in an intellectual hothouse culture. This gives rise to shows like One Hour Mastery (learn a new skill in an hour well enough to impress our judges), Civil Engineering Challenge, Extreme Theorems (can our amateur mathematicians prove these unsolved hypotheses before time runs out?), and Science The Shit Out Of It (a very loose translation).

Likewise, there are talk shows, but they are appallingly high-brow by here’s standards: you aren’t getting celebrity gossip and personal issues, you’re getting Eliezer Yudkowsky Discusses The Finer Points Of Bayesian Rationality With The Panel.

(Popular science shows also have that same level adjustment – and that speculative fiction? Writers need to listen to their scientific advisor, because while the audience is willing to suspend its disbelief in your handwavium, it won’t put up with baryon sweeps or temperatures below absolute zero.)

The horror genre doesn’t play very well; an Imperial audience watching our example of it will spend all their time waiting for the monster to be punched in the face with a space magic fist of doom and will not be happy if they don’t get that payoff. (Eldrae in particular are really, really bad at being scared. They also have no respect whatsoever for stupid, which makes most horror-movie protagonists epic failures at attracting audience sympathy.) At that point, it’s more or less moved into action-adventure territory.

This affects the disaster movie genre, too, to a lesser extent: basically, anything from an earthquake to a zombie apocalypse can be good movie fodder, but the plot needs to include the essential elements of How We Triumphantly Overcame Adversity, Saved Our Asses, and Fixed Our Shit, Only Better. Canon example: After Rockfall, an RPG along the lines of Fallout with a heavy rebuilding-civilization slant.

(There’s also their quirky “construction/achievement drama” genre, which produces epic dramatizations of Touching Heaven: The Building of the Interworld Trade Center, and suchlike, which play well because there is an endless market for stories of Awesome Sophs Doing Awesome Stuff.)

To be specific, then, Adamantium Chef would definitely work, and gains some extra levels when you consider the amount of offworld biologicals available, and all the fun of biochemical compatibility. Hell, there’s probably Adamantium Pharmacist, too.

Days of Our Lives analog is rather less likely, since the whole soap opera genre is a casualty of the change in ratios between NTs and SFs per The MBTI Lens ; by and large, as said, the media of ideas is primary, which is not to say that plot and character elements aren’t important: Buffy the Vampire Slayer would work just fine because it has those coupled with ideas, although it probably doesn’t have a direct analog because of its core concept being subverting assumptions that don’t exist *there*.

Game of Thrones works, both for the above historical analog and because fantasy is a big part of the speculative-fiction genre.

Other shows and movies *here* likely to have analogs or port reasonably well with some care and attention would include, to give a necessarily incomplete list of examples, Eureka, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy – actually, throw in Iron Man and certainly the first Captain America, early House, Indiana Jones, Leverage, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Mythbusters (again, perform appropriate level adjustments), Sherlock, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Star Trek (only with less technobabble and communism; its analog To Boldly Go is established as taking ideas directly from declassified Imperial Exploratory Service mission reports, much as its more military cousin that might be loosely analogous to somewhere in the middle of Babylon 5/Star Wars/etc. grabs them from the declassified Military Service equivalents), Warehouse 13 … and I’m pretty sure at this point I’m revealing that I don’t actually watch all that much television, aren’t I? (You could dramatize some of our video games, too, for that matter – the InVids of Dragon AgeMass Effect, or Destiny would fit just perfectly.)

A question about the Fifth Directorate-is there some things they won’t do? Is there some acts that if the only choices are “we do this unforgivable thing or EVERYTHING dies,” the answer is “we die”?

Yep. Figuring out where the boundary lies is the job of the Operational Ethics Working Group, a.k.a. DREAMING MALIGNITY, whose professional abyss-gazers are specifically tasked with figuring out how much of a monster it is permissible to become in order to fight monsters.

I can’t give absolutely firm guidelines for where it is, because they don’t have any: by definition, they’re operating in the realm of excursive ethics, or for the Culture readers out there, Special Circumstances. But it’s easy to come up with some specific examples:

Given the choice of the Hive, for example, it’s a pretty clear-cut case of time to walk away from the Worm Gods, give ’em the finger, and choose extinction, on the grounds that becoming one’s antithesis – i.e., an entropy-worshipping horde of omnicidal maniacs – is not merely extinction-equivalent, but actually more negative than that in any reasonable ethical calculus.

On the other hand, when confronted by such an antithesis, murdering their gods and cleansing the remains from the universe using anything up to and including ontopathogenic weapons, while outside the boundaries of non-excursive/optimal ethics – well, it starts to seem downright reasonable.

There is a lot of territory in the middle for negotiation.

…and I’ll throw in an unpaid July question as a free bonus to the questioner who wished to know why the equal protection clause of the Imperial Charter doesn’t mention race, sex, age, orientation, etc., etc., etc.:

(a) What, “all/any/each citizen-shareholder(s)” wasn’t clear enough for you? When they say “all” in those parts, they mean it.

(b) The same reason that we don’t feel the need to specify that such equal protections also extend to mustache-wearers, artichoke-eaters, hat-featherers, Monopoly players, HBO subscribers, or people who have noses.

Think about it.

 

May’s Questions

So, yes, answers. But before we get to those, remember the reference to fanfiction being written in “Things You Are No Longer Allowed To Do In The Imperial Military Service“? Mark Atwood points out the following niftyness in a comment:

The anime series “Gate – Thus the JSDF Fought There!” was originally JSDF fanfiction written by a JSDF soldier while he was serving in the JSDF, and published on a reddit-like service in Japan.

…so, reality continues to be just as strange as fiction. Good for it. 🙂

First question:

So what, exactly, are the story behind and the specific “sins” of Magen Corporate and the Isliar Primarchy? In the first case, I’ve been able to piece together hints that it has some sort of tenuous connection with the Empire of the Star (or at least the general eldraeic cultural penumbra) from certain hints elsewhere, but the latter pretty much only seems to exist as a teaser in the “What Do You Mean It’s Not Political?” Trope-a-Day.

The Isliar Primarchy don’t really have sins. They’re too damn boring to have sins. Let me explain thus:

The Primarchy? They are an entire planet of people with sticks up their butts. Indeed, it is safe to say that they have the highest Stick-Up-Butt Coefficient of any studied population in the known galaxy. They are highly conservative, highly traditional, and strongly distrust any offworlder ideas and indeed anything else less than a thousand years old.

(I’d elaborate, but seriously, I’m falling asleep here just thinking about them.)

As for the Magen Corporate, it was founded by a cabal of Renegade plutarchs who didn’t think any of those pesky ethics should interfere with the pure unfettered pursuit of profit, and whose self-interest lacks a degree or two of enlightenment (which, much to their annoyance, their loyal cousins are not shy about pointing out actually impairs their pursuit of profit).

It is hard to overstate just how much people from the Empire, plutarchs especially, loathe the Magenites and all their works, because while ignorant barbarians might have a small excuse for being ignorant, these shit-fucking heretics damn well know better and every quantum of exchange-value that passes through their hands is a desecration of the holy principle of greed itself.

(One can only look forward to the Exceedingly Hostile Takeovers, really. About which more anon.)

…and that would seem to be it for this month. Remember, $1 and over patrons, you get one free question a month! Don’t be shy about using it!

 

Question: Plea Bargains

Y’all get May’s first question the day it arrived, ’cause it’s an easy one:

So what would Imperial jurisprudence make of the notion of the plea bargain?

Sarcasm, mostly.

The way the more dyspeptic members of the College of Judicature would put it, there are two possible outcomes from a plea bargain as various polities practice it:

The one is that a guilty soph gets away with the due consequents of a lesser charge instead of the appropriate one, which is obviously contrary to all principles of justice and balance.

The other is that an innocent soph is railroaded into compensation, weregeld, and so forth for fear of the consequences of a greater charge if mistakenly found guilty, or by the cost of mounting a defense. Which is even more contrary to all principles of justice and balance, even if they were to accept the notion that this isn’t the actual intent of the system – namely, to provide cheap and quick “justice theater” in lieu of the more challenging task of providing actual justice – which proposal they find risible on its face.

And to sum up, any “justice system” that incorporates the notion has lost all right to be called such without, at the very least, emphatic sneer quotes, and any misbegotten wight proposing such an abomination in their justice system should rightly call down the wrath of Saravoné Herself, descending from the Twilight City in fire and fury to beat aforesaid wight soundly upside the head with Her scales until all the stupid has left the building.

Cough. Readjust monocle.

…so, um, they don’t care for it much?

 

March Question Roundup

Just realized I never did answer these:

First, are you familiar with Stars in Shadow, yet? If so, what do you think the Empire of the Star would make of the Phidi and the Phidi Combine?

Caveat: I haven’t played it myself; for various and sundry reasons, I try to keep my gaming to the Xbox, these days, so I’m going purely off the description, et. al., on the web site.

That said, based on it, I imagine you’re quite correct in saying that they’d probably get on like a house on fire, indeed. (After all, government by purchased office is hardly an unfamiliar concept to the Empire – just look at Eävalle.) A lot of cultural compatibility, of course, depends on how much governing the federation of merchant princes mentioned actually feels inclined to do, but plutocracies are hardly the government type most likely to want to be all up in everyone’s business, so unless there’s a non-obvious/unlikely cronyist nightmare hiding behind the scenes, it doesn’t look like there’s a problem there.

Second, on paragravity and using it to attain orbit, a real simple answer: you can’t. Even if you solve the obvious problems, like providing the energy, and (since it only operates between two paired units) completing the circuit between two units one of which is presumably in geosynchronous orbit over the other, there’s a more fundamental issue.

Namely: achieving orbital altitude is only half the problem. To stay up there (bearing in mind that orbit is essentially falling around and around the planet), you also need orbital velocity sufficient to ensure that you keep missing the ground. Hiking yourself up there paragravitationally gets you the former, but not the latter – and, note, everything that’s already in orbit necessarily is moving at orbital velocity.

So the first thing that’s likely to happen after you reach orbital altitude is a fatal collision with something already up there moving at umpty-thousand mph relative to you. This will knock whatever of you survives out from between the paired paragravity units, at which point in obedience to that harsh mistress, real gravity, you will plummet immediately and directly back to the planet, with another fatal collision – and a lawsuit – awaiting you at zero altitude. (If you aren’t hit by something up there, the same plummet awaits you just as soon as the paragravity units are turned off, or you voluntarily move out from between them.)

Basically: you will not stay in space today.

 

February’s Patreon Questions

Without further ado:

If you should encounter a situation where you have, in good faith, undertaken an obligation that is not itself particularly onerous or ethically objectionable, yet you find yourself in a situation where you must either violate some third party’s rights or default on said obligation, what is your best course of action?

(Let’s say, for instance, you’ve taken on an obligation to deliver a particular package to a particular place at a particular time, but in order to do so, you have to pass through a Gate of some sort — and the Gatekeeper is not willing to negotiate passage or pass along the message.)

Well, then you’re screwed, aren’t you?

Your best and indeed only course of action is to suck it up, pay the compensation, and take the rep hit assessed for an involuntary default. (After all, at least it is an involuntary default, so while you’re screwed, you’re not totally screwed.)

That’ll hurt, but that’s what one might call a teachable moment in Why We Don’t make Unqualified Promises Of Things We Might Not Be Able To Deliver, savvy? Did y’all sleep through the day they taught impracticability clauses in contracts class?

I was recently reading an article on the Forbes website about self-driving cars and accident liability ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/omribenshahar/2016/09/22/should-carmakers-be-liable-when-a-self-driving-car-crashes/#7be8eec81f40 ) when a thought hit me that similar matters must come up all the time in the eldraeverse, given the ubiquity of nigh-seamless artificial intelligence .

Which leads me to ask: In an incident where a device that has enough self-agency to make decisions in a “live” environment but not the requisite self-awareness to qualify as a sophont ends up acting in a way that causes injury to person or property, what sort of standards and procedures do the courts of the Empire use to determine who bears the liability?

That depends entirely on who bears the fault, and to what proportionate degree, as is normal in liability cases that end up in front of the Curial courts.

Which, once all the logs from various systems and other applicable data have been collated, is something to be sorted out in court between – to stick with the self-driving car example – the odocorp (as the road and road-grid provider), the car manufacturer (and its software developers and/or wakeners), the car owner (and possibly their maintenance and/or customization provider), anyone else involved (since in the Empire road designs that mingle pedestrians and vehicles are considered Not Done, if you wander into the road and get hit by a car, it’s almost certainly on you), all of the above’s tort insurers, etc., etc.

This can occasionally be complicated, but fortunately the courts have lots of forensic failure engineers on hand for situations just like this.

 

…There Is Only Awesomeness

So, today I was randomly reminded of In The Grim Darkness Of The Contact Form, and the hypothetical fictional possibilities of a face-off between the Empire and Warhammer 40K’s Imperium of Man, which details I cover there with a note that I can’t really deal with metaphysical mismatches like the wackiness of the Warp.

Well, here’s what occurred to me this morning:

The Tyranid hive mind is known for creating a “shadow in the Warp” that plays merry hell with all psychic communications, Warp travel, Warp-related abilities, and anyone with any sort of psychic sensitivity that happens to be beneath it, which appears to be everyone who isn’t a blank or a Necron.

So, folks: what do you think the Transcend, a hive mind collective consciousness with some additional relevant features, like a core brain the size of a star system and moon-sized local ganglia, looks like in the Warp?

(My take:

Best case, you have a Big Freakin’ Glow in the Warp, which is a lot nicer than the Tyranids’ shadow but which will still interfere with your day and is not to be fucked with.

Worst case (for the existing galactic powers): A weakly godlike superintelligence just got promoted to strongly godlike, and as the Warp’s first Order God/Constructive Power it has issues to raise with absolutely everyone.

We also might have to start calling its part of the galaxy the Eye of Harmony, but I think that name’s been used before…)