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Clarity didn't work, trying mysterianism [Oct. 3rd, 2012|02:29 pm]
Scott
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In the treasure-vaults of Til Iosophrang rests the Whispering Earring, buried deep beneath a heap of gold where it can do no further harm.

The earring is a little topaz tetrahedron dangling from a thin gold wire. When worn, it whispers in the wearer's ear: "Better for you if you take me off." If the wearer ignores the advice, it never again repeats that particular suggestion.

After that, when the wearer is making a decision the earring whispers its advice, always of the form "Better for you if you...". The earring is always right. It does not always give the best advice possible in a situation. It will not necessarily make its wearer King, or help her solve the miseries of the world. But its advice is always better than what the wearer would have come up with on her own.

It is not a taskmaster, telling you what to do in order to achieve some foreign goal. It always tells you what will make you happiest. If it would make you happiest to succeed at your work, it will tell you how best to complete it. If it would make you happiest to do a half-assed job at your work and then go home and spend the rest of the day in bed having vague sexual fantasies, the earring will tell you to do that. The earring is never wrong.

The Book of Dark Waves gives the histories of two hundred seventy four people who previously wore the Whispering Earring. There are no recorded cases of a wearer regretting following the earring's advice, and there are no recorded cases of a wearer not regretting disobeying the earring. The earring is always right.

The earring begins by only offering advice on major life decisions. However, as it gets to know a wearer, it becomes more gregarious, and will offer advice on everything from what time to go to sleep, to what to eat for breakfast. If you take its advice, you will find that breakfast food really hit the spot, that it was exactly what you wanted for breakfast that day even though you didn't know it yourself. The earring is never wrong.

As it gets completely comfortable with its wearer, it begins speaking in its native language, a series of high-bandwidth hisses and clicks that correspond to individual muscle movements. At first this speech is alien and disconcerting, but by the magic of the earring it begins to make more and more sense. No longer are the earring's commands momentous on the level of "Become a soldier". No more are they even simple on the level of "Have bread for breakfast". Now they are more like "Contract your biceps muscle about thirty-five percent of the way" or "Articulate the letter p". The earring is always right. This muscle movement will no doubt be part of a supernaturally effective plan toward achieving whatever your goals at that moment may be.

Soon, reinforcement and habit-formation have done their trick. The connection between the hisses and clicks of the earring and the movements of the muscles have become instinctual, no more conscious than the reflex of jumping when someone hidden gives a loud shout behind you.

At this point no further change occurs in the behavior of the earring. The wearer lives an abnormally successful life, usually ending out as a rich and much-beloved pillar of the community with a large and happy family.

When Kadmi Rachumion came to Til Iosophrang, he took an unusual interest in the case of the earring. First, he confirmed from the records and the testimony of all living wearers that the earring's first suggestion was always that the earring itself be removed. Second, he spent some time questioning the Priests of Beauty, who eventually admitted that when the corpses of the wearers were being prepared for burial, it was noted that their brains were curiously deformed: the neocortexes had wasted away, and the bulk of their mass was an abnormally hypertrophied mid- and lower-brain, especially the parts associated with reflexive action.

Finally, Kadmi-nomai asked the High Priest of Joy in Til Iosophrang for the earring, which he was given. After cutting a hole in his own earlobe with the tip of the Piercing Star, he donned the earring and conversed with it for two hours, asking various questions in Kalas, in Kadhamic, and in its own language. Finally he removed the artifact and recommended that the it be locked in the deepest and most inaccessible parts of the treasure vaults, a suggestion with which the Iosophrelin decided to comply.

Niderion-nomai's commentary: It is well that we are so foolish, or what little freedom we have would be wasted on us. It is for this that Book of Cold Rain says one must never take the shortest path between two points.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: drethelin
2012-10-03 10:31 pm (UTC)
The ring makes you a p-zombie
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-10-03 10:37 pm (UTC)
I can't be certain you're wrong, but I wouldn't expect that.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: cartesiandaemon
2012-10-03 11:10 pm (UTC)
That's really good, although rather scary!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: celandine13
2012-10-03 11:16 pm (UTC)
I am not sure I would *care*!

You're living an abnormally successful life, a rich and much-loved member of the community with a happy family?

Who the heck cares *who* is living such a life? It's being lived, right? If you can do it with an earring and half of the brain, instead of all of the brain, so much the better!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-10-03 11:19 pm (UTC)
Would you voluntarily ingest a parasitic worm that eats your brain, absorbs your goal system, hangs out in your skull, connects to your nervous system, and then lives about the same life you would live only better?

(suppose for the moment that you're being selfish and ignoring concerns about whether the parasite would be better at pursuing efficient charity and so on)
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[User Picture]From: cousin_it
2012-10-03 11:25 pm (UTC)
In Greg Egan's "jewelhead" stories, everyone gets a jewel implanted in their head at the age of 18. The jewel gradually learns to predict the brain's responses to stimuli, without inspecting the internals of the brain. When the jewel's predictions become indistinguishable from perfect, the organic brain can be removed surgically, and the person lives happily ever after (the jewel grants immortality).
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2012-10-04 06:54 am (UTC)
Yup, this story reminded me of those Greg Egan stories.
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From: gjm11
2012-10-03 11:34 pm (UTC)
If I came to possess such a ring, I would commit (by any means at my disposal) to the following policy: I will wear the earring for a day or two every week and do as it says, with the proviso that if it ever tells me to do something for which I cannot see a plausible rationale, I will immediately take it off and not wear it again for another month.

I wonder whether, in those circumstances, it would begin by telling me that I would be better to take it off. (If it did, I would.)
(Reply) (Thread)
From: gjm11
2012-10-03 11:50 pm (UTC)
Such an *earring*, I mean. The idea of such a thing being a *ring* seems somehow terribly natural, Western culture being what it is.
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[User Picture]From: Douglas Scheinberg
2012-10-04 02:56 am (UTC)
One problem with the earring is similar to the problem with video game walkthroughs: it's more fun to figure things out for yourself. I can definitely imagine situations in which I'd want to *ask* the earring what to do, but I don't think I'd want it telling me everything, all the time. (Consider: I can play better chess by asking a computer chess program what move to make, but if I did that it would be boring, be cheating, or both.)
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[User Picture]From: Ben Lee
2014-03-05 11:05 pm (UTC)
If you really want to win a game of chess, it makes sense for the earring to tell you the best moves. But if you just want to play the game youself, then you'd regret taking the earring's advice. The earring never gives advice that you regret following, so it would have to remain silent when you're playing chess.

Which is a bit of a paradox, because if the earring knows that following its advice would lead you to gradually cede all free will to it, and it knows that you'd regret that (which is why it tells you to take it off), then surely it can't give you any advice except to take it off. Because in the long run, you'd regret taking its advice.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ichaos4077
2012-10-04 03:10 am (UTC)
If it would make you happiest to do a half-assed job at your work and then go home and spend the rest of the day in bed having vague sexual fantasies, the earring will tell you to do that. The earring is never wrong.

Oh, this is very, very bad.

Locking it up in a treasure vault isn't safe enough. I'd throw it into the nearest volcano.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: gjm11
2012-10-04 02:58 pm (UTC)
The story stipulates that most people who wear the earring end up highly successful pillars of their local community, which suggests that it isn't in fact ("in fact"?! well, you know what I mean) generally leading people to spend all their time lying in bed having vague sexual fantasies.
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[User Picture]From: pktechgirl
2012-10-04 05:53 am (UTC)
My crucial question would be whether the ring discourages or facilitates growth. You specifically say it offers better, but not necessarily optimum, choices. If my decision making ability is capped under the earring, but would grow without it, then it's no wonder the earring told me to take it off.

If I learn faster with the earring than without it, then it's a learning aid and I'd consider it, although I don't see how you can accept everything but the first command.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2012-10-04 06:56 am (UTC)
I would, by the way, say that was of publishable quality.

I'd recommend sending it off to a few places, and see if any of them take it (Somewhere like http://dailysciencefiction.com/ if nothing else.)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-10-04 06:12 pm (UTC)
The problem is that it's published so he can sell only second rights.
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[User Picture]From: ari_rahikkala
2012-10-04 07:09 am (UTC)
This post gave me hope. Every time I try to really write out my idea of the future I'm really scared of, I end up getting it wrong in some way. I was afraid for a moment that you'd done it with little effort in a random blog post, but then your earring ended up making people brainless which is obviously villainous and terrible and a clear reason to simply never put it on in the first place, and so the earring immediately became trivially avoidable and therefore non-scary. If you can't quite do it right, at least not yet, then maybe my inability is less because of my lack of creativity and more because it actually is a difficult idea.

This will be getting it wrong, too, but I'm going to write only a couple of paragraphs so that the ways I'll get it wrong will at least be excusable by the lack of apparent effort.

What if you could trust your hunch about people? What if, at least according to your perception, you could trust a person with well-fitting, clean, situation-appropriate clothes to make a good person to do business with while a huckster almost always looked like a huckster to you? What if there were pretty people in the world, but people who were available and who would make a good romantic partner to you just looked more glowingly beautiful than anyone else? What if people pitching to you ideas that would make bad career moves had annoying voices? What if, while fast food was decent, salad tasted really amazing?

Say you could get Consequence Glasses that do just that. Say they even have a tuning knob. It goes from 0 to 1 because I am a geek. At 0 you get your natural perception with its natural biases, at 1 things probably will have to get a little bit abstract because so much becomes just a representation of what kind of consequences it leads to. Maybe it even works on some kind of a curve, so that if you just use them at, say, 0.1, it simply protects you from whatever tricks you're most vulnerable to - your most sinful foods taste just a bit stale but not in such a way that it makes you less happy, the well-designed rewards of videogames that keep you playing seem just a bit more arbitrary and distant, etc.. Only once you turn it higher does it really start directing you toward anything specific.

You can decide to just not put the glasses on at all. You can decide to only run them at a very low level. Every turn of the knob is precisely your own choice. It's simply that the higher you turn it, the easier it will be to just do the right decisions in every situation. It won't even feel like someone else is in charge - it's you calling the shots, calling them as you see them. Hell, you were already wearing consequence glasses anyway, it's just that they're biased for inclusive fitness in mankind's ancestral environment, not for happiness and fulfillment in the modern world. Your existing emotional filters were never designed for the stimuli and for the consequences of this environment - changing your perception only makes them work better. It makes you into a more formidable person. A person with an easier life, yes, but only because your decisions are more grounded in reality, not less!

Yes, you will become dependent on the glasses, just as you would on the earring. They're probably eventually even going to cause changes to your brain structure as you stop worrying so much about whether people are lying to you, about whether you're making the best possible use of your time, etc.. But it's a lot, lot harder to see them as taking anything away from you. Certainly you can't just brush it off with a generic "things should not be that convenient" type of argument.

I do worry that the only way to figure out whether you should wear the glasses is to put them on and see how they look in a mirror...

Edited at 2012-10-04 07:40 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cousin_it
2012-10-04 08:28 am (UTC)
Have you read Ted Chiang's Liking what you see? The premise is a little similar, and it's a great story.
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[User Picture]From: hentaikid
2012-10-04 08:52 am (UTC)
Larry Niven's Protectors had a similar thing going, very high intelligence coupled with very strong instinctual drives meant they had precious little in the way of free will. You become a Protector by eating the tree of life: Your brain expands, your joints become enlarged (For extra leverage), skin becomes armor thick, gonads are reabsorbed and you become functionally immortal. And if you have no children to protect, you sit down and die.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2012-10-05 08:46 am (UTC)
... it looks like SOMEBODY needs a lesson in Remedial Fun Theory.


... That sounds like a porno.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2012-10-04 12:38 pm (UTC)
If this is an allegory for something, consider whether you're not committing some of the dystopian fallacies that you yourself complained about earlier.

And for mysterianism working better than clarity? Well, it's definitely easier to get away with a bad argument and get people to take it seriously if you write mysterious parable as opposed to a clear piece, so in that sense it "works" better.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2012-10-04 02:52 pm (UTC)

dystopian?

I was going to point out the same thing; the shrunken brian is a signal as subtle as no longer enjoying classical music.
Interesting nonetheless.
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Re: dystopian? - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: dystopian? - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2012-10-04 08:00 pm (UTC)
You know, at first this seemed a bit scary...but then I had to ask: what if your goals are defined in terms of your cognition? IE, for example, I want be a famous and successful scientist, and I define "successful" as having unparalleled actual mastery of the art? Or if, in a more mundane example, I want to solve a Sudoku puzzle, and I define "having solved the puzzle" in a way that requires me to do the actual cognition, and derive the benefit of having solved the puzzle without being 'spoiled'? What sort of advice can the WE give? I'm sure it can give advice, and that the advice is useful...but if, as a result, I derive the benefit of the mental exercise that I wanted, I'm not entirely sure that this is a problem.

There's a couple of ways read this. One is that the WE doesn't actually help you implement your 'real' goals, but the second or third order subgoals and that its first bit of advice, "take me off", was warning you about precisely this effect. Or you could read it as a warning about defining goals in such a way as to allow that being turned into a brainless puppet of an alien horror would accomplish those goal (if you think being turned into a brainless puppet would be bad).

Another random thought - it seems that the second-stage WE has effectively replaced my lower-level functions with an extremely smart but alien intelligence that does everything better than I could do myself...the thing is, I'm not entirely convinced that this isn't already the case in reality. Certainly, if I tried to, say, catch a ball running on only my higher-level cognition that I consider "me", I'd fail utterly.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: f45one
2012-10-04 08:41 pm (UTC)
The earring sound oddly like yahoo answers. vague sexual fantasies indeed
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(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: steer
2016-04-27 12:33 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely wonderful -- it reminds me of something from "The Mind's I" or a parable by Hofstadter. Thank you for the writing.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: resonant
2016-05-01 05:28 am (UTC)
I very much liked this.
(Reply) (Thread)