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: )

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)?


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” ( ) 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.


“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 ( 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?