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.))


Weak Will

Today’s question:

Given the importance the eldrae place on free will and freedom of action, what’s their take on the idea of weakness of will?

Well, let’s ask, shall we?


A family of mental dysfunctions manifesting as deficiency of qalasír. Sufferers manifest decreased energy, inability to focus, lack of creativity, diminished emotional response and vividity, lack of self-confidence, excessive risk aversion, disinterest, impaired libido, tolerance of boredom, tiredness, repressability, non-circumstantial humility, and resistability (lack of charisma).

Confirmatory criteria for parabulia of neurophysical (vis-a-vis environmental or memetic) origin in the biosapient brain can include damage to the frontal lobe, basal ganglia, capsular genu, anterior cingulate cortex, or equivalent structures…

– Manual of Mental Diagnostics, 271st. ed


…yep, that’s right. It’s a disease, subject to medical treatment.

This is a consequence of psychological differences. Remember, after all, from their perspective the baseline temperament is hyperthymic (modulo various differences mentioned elsewhere); surfing endlessly down a wave of what a human might call hypomania. One of the characteristics of that is, well, strong will. By human social standards, they’re spectacularly dynamic.

(Or, alternatively, by their social standards, we’re a bunch of pathologically gloomy, unenthusable, apathetic melonfarmers. And, not to put too fine a point on it, in a universe where it’s pretty much expected that in many ways you’ll work like Agatha Heterodyne, party like Pinkie Pie, lead like Miles Vorkosigan with a bottle of creme de meth, and generally consume life in large bites, that kind of sucks.)


On Free Will and Noetic Architecture

Another little note on identity, following on from here:

On the whole, do eldraeic mainstream views on free will, determinism, and the possible interactions between the two run more towards compatibilism or incompatibilism?

While ideas vary as ideas always do in the absence of proof one way or another, the mainstream position – certainly among sophontechnologists, who have the greatest claim to knowledge on this point – is incompatiblism, and specifically a variant of that form of it that goes by the name of libertarianism; i.e., that free will is true, and determinism is in certain ways, false.

(This is, of course, purely a coincidence. Heh.)

To explain why that is requires delving a little way into my Minovsky cognitive science, which explains how minds work for the purposes of the Eldraeverse. Since this attempts to explain how minds work in the general case, regardless of species, origin, or substrate, it’s rather different in any case from the kind of cognitive science that concentrates on the specific case of human brains, even before we must point out that I’m pretty much pulling it out of my ass.

So what is a mind?

Well, to a large part, it’s a Minskian society of mind. Which is to say that it’s a massively parallel set of personalities, subpersonalities, agents, talents, memes, archetypes, models, animus-anima pairings, instincts, skillsets, etc., etc., etc., all burbling away continuously alongside each other. None of them can strictly be said to be the mind; the mind is none of them. The mind is, to a large extent, the emergent chorus that results from the argument of all of them, or at least the currently dominant set, each with the other.

(This, incidentally, is how gnostic overlays work. By grafting some voices into the chorus while suppressing others, you can add to, shade, or suppress some elements of that emergent chorus without replacing the basic personality.)

It has, however, two identifiable centers. One of these is the consciousness loop, which is a special cognitive entity present in conscious/autosentient beings whose job is to organize the output of the chorus into a narrative thread of consciousness, a.k.a., that little voice you hear when you think out loud. (It’s important to realize, of course, that despite being the part of your cognition that’s visible to you – assuming, gentle reader, that you are in fact conscious – it has no claim to be you, or indeed to play any particular part in controlling what you do. The most accurate analogy for what it does is that it’s the mind’s syslog, recording everything that the other bits of the mind do, and which they can in turn consult to find out what’s going on. It’s also important to realize that it’s not actually necessary for it to be associated with the mind’s own self-symbol, or indeed for it to exist at all, whatever the most common naturally evolved mental architectures might have to say on the matter.)

The other one is the logos, or personality organization algorithm, which is the weird fractal algorithm sitting in the middle of sophont minds, and only sophont minds (i.e., both autosentient and volitional). It’s also the only part of the mind that isn’t computable at all – vis-a-vis being only computable much more slowly – on a standard computer, requiring a quantum processor.

But none of that is the weird thing. The weird thing is this.

It’s empirically nondeterministic.

More to the point, it’s not nondeterministic in a physical sense, dependent upon its substrate; it’s nondeterministic in a mathematical sense. However you choose to compute a logos, you will never get a perfectly consistent result in an arbitrary number of trials. You will never get a statistically consistent result in an arbitrary number of arbitrary numbers of trials. Except that occasionally you will. It’s funny that way, and it’s definitely not simply random or chaotic.

Now, sure, say the physicists. The observable physical universe is deterministic. And chemistry is deterministic, and biology is deterministic, and computation is deterministic, and thus the 99.99% of mental operations in which the logos takes no part are deterministically determined by the rest of one’s society of mind, because free will or no free will, sophonts don’t actually seem to exercise it that often. (Although the exceptions – chaotic clionomic excursions, say – are suggestive.)

But there’s this THING that shows up in sophont minds.

It’s very poorly understood around the edges – enough to clone and modify and seed with it and understand some of its typology – and not at all understood, pretty much, in the middle. It might mean nothing. It might just be some artifact of the underlying cosmic metaphysics that the ontotechnologists play with, of no real significance in this debate.

But, say the mainstream sophontologists, that’s not the way we’re betting. That’s your free will, your volition, right there, in that tiny little mathematical corner peeking into the universe. That minuscule cog of the engine of creation that runs on paracausality, not causality; where will defeats law.

The Flame.

Also, I’m not quite sure how to reverse-engineer the proper philosophical position from the analogy in sensible words, but: Would a drawing of a Kanizsa triangle count as a real triangle?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it is a triangle (but then, I wouldn’t say that about a simple drawing of a triangle either); but I would say that it represents the concept of a triangle. (Along with various other things; most physical objects represent/instantiate/make use of several concepts. To re-use a precious example, Elements of Arithmetic, Second Edition, 1992 can represent any of “arithmetic”, “book”, “textbook”, “paper”, “cuboid”, etc., etc., depending/instantiate/make use on the context you look at it in.)


The S Words: Sentience, Sapience, and Sophonce

Based off a comment here, some quick definitions for you as they’re used in the Eldraeverse:

(Note, of course, that I’m using a considerable amount of Minovsky cognitive science here; your mileage may vary if you try and apply any of it elsewhere.)

sentience: the property of having sense perception; the capability of experiencing sensation, without necessarily associating mental symbology with sensation.  Includes not only sophonts, but animals, plants, single-celled organisms, and a variety of simple devices (even something as simple as a thermostat can reasonably be described as sentient, if minimally so).  Quantized, for technical purposes, as sensory bandwidth in bits per unit time.

sapience: the capacity for rational thought and creativity; not necessarily associated with either sentience or volition.  Again, includes many non-sophonts, primarily animals, but also various types of computer program.

autosentience: self-perception and self-reflection, metacognition; self-awareness (“I-ness”); the possession of qualia (mental symbology associated with sensation), which for the purposes of Eldraeverse cogsci is a corollary of metacognition.  Most animals (but not the plants, single-celled organisms – this is from an Earth perspective, and such odd plantimal life forms as the mezuar and the selyéva aren’t counted among these plants – and devices) qualify as autosentient to some degree, as does thinker-grade or above AI software (although not simple AI expert systems, which are sapient but not autosentient; they have no qualia, merely data).

In civilized societies, certain civil rights are associated with autosentience, principally concerned with the right not to be subjected to arbitrary suffering since, with autosentience, one attains the ability to experience suffering.

threshold autosentience: the minimal degree of autosentience required to meaningfully describe oneself as “I”; the possession of a meaningful self-associated self-symbol in one’s mental architecture.  (In many sentients, it is associated with the presence of a consciousness loop organizing cognitive processing into a narrative thread, but this isn’t a requisite of these mental architectures; the case of non self-associated self-symbols is odd, but does seem to be permitted – see Stross, here, although this isn’t the path their AI development took.) It is often, but is not necessarily associated with a high level of sapience; many animals qualify as sapients without possessing threshold autosentience, and obviously many programs, including much alife, possess very impressive problem-solving abilities while being entirely devoid of autosentience.  Thinker-grade AI possesses this, too, but does not have volition.

volition: the capacity for nondeterministic choice; in sophonts, associated with possession of one of a class of nondeterministic algorithms known as logoi.  (However, known/constructable sophont mental architectures utilize primarily deterministic choice with only occasional logotic input.)

sophonce: possessing all of threshold autosentience, sapience, and volition; i.e., being “a self-aware, self-defining entity capable of independent reason and volition”.  Biological sophonts and digisapiences, the highest grade of AI entity.

Have all the natural rights of people, because they’re the definition of “people”.

Oh, and:

pro-sophonce: the almost-but-not-quites, the creatures almost reaching the requirements for sapience/threshold autosentience to be counted among the sophonts, but not quite.  The dolphins, dogs, octopi, (on Earth) apes, etc.  Again, generally receive some civil rights in civilized societies due to this status (and, by the same metric, generally considered prime candidates for uplift work), but not considered actual people unless uplifted.