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January 17, 2009


A lot of the author's craft is specifically about encouraging far mode. Cf: "a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away". This is labeled as "suspension of disbelief". The reading public has been trained to switch into that mode given a few of the standard cues. The game is rigged against you.

However, I also see some softs of fiction, but particularly SF, triggering the opposite: geek mode. A geek is using "near" thinking, which is why he asks questions like: what makes the warp drives glow blue? Geeks thrive amid data amenable to theorizing.

(Corollary: now you see why people who are trying to create fiction get annoyed at geeks.)

What you would have to create is something new, not just fiction that appeals to geeks, but fiction with enough detail and interlaced facts that it tempts every reader to be a geek.

Or "what if you wake up in Dystopia?" and tossed out the window.

What is the counterargument to this? Maybe something like "waking up in Eutopia is as good as waking up in Dystopia is bad, and more probable"; but both of those statements would have to be substantiated.

Thank you for the praise! I'll post soon on fiction as near vs far-thinking.

The distinction between "near" and "far" thinking seems to have a connection with the old distinction between a puzzle and a mystery.

(Quick recap: A puzzle has a definite solution; a mystery does not)

Near thinking is outstanding for solving puzzles, but breaks down when examining a mystery. There is too much that is uncertain and unknowable about mysteries to allow close analysis to provide useful conclusions.

When examining a mystery, the less rigorous, more intuitive nature of far-thinking is more useful. Where there is no definite solution, one *must* speculate in a somewhat irrational way in order to form an action plan.

General George S. Patton said, "An imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan."

"it was keeping me in Near-side mode and away from Far-side thinking."

So this is following Robin's lead on implying that far-side thinking can be a permanent mode of operation. I don't think you have any choice but to operate in near-side mode if you spend a signficant amount of time thinking about any given subject. Far-side mode is the equivalent of a snap judgement. Most of the post is routine from that perspective. You identify weaknesses in the performance of snap judgements, and move on to spending more time thinking on the given subject, with naturally better results.

"What if you wake up in Dystopia?"
What is the counterargument to this?

"That's my problem."?

People don't apply near thinking to fiction, especially to technical issues presented in fiction, because most fiction is full of fake detail: words that sound like descriptions if you skim over them, but are actually complete gibberish. This is especially true of science fiction, where many authors insert "technobabble", which is created by taking words at random from outside the reader's expected vocabulary.

I should probably blog about it, but here's my opinion about cryonics:

1. What are chances that signing up for cryonics will work? I estimate it's really really tiny, 1% or less kind of chance, even if cryonics works some day I might die in a wrong way like in a car accident or by cancer metastasis that will make me lose too much information; or will be frozen in a wrong way; or I won't stay frozen for long enough due to hardware failure, economic crash, or whatever reasons; or future might decide not to unfreeze me; or to modify me too much upon unfreezing etc. Anything goes wrong and it's a fail, and things tend to go wrong with first try of every new technology almost always.

2. What's the benefit if it works? It could be very high like infinite youth in utopian society, but I guess it's most likely to be moderate to high, like a few extra decades of life of someone vaguely like me.

3. What's the cost? I did a quick check and it seemed very high.

The most naively calculated expected utility of that doesn't match the price, with reasonable levels of time discounting and risk aversion it's really a horrible proposition. It's too much of a Pascal's Wager if you think a small chance of a very high win makes cost and risk irrelevant.

SENS sounds like a much more likely way to achieve much very long healthy lifespans. Cryonics depends on success of SENS anyway, it's just a bet that SENS is most likely to occur too late against chance of cryonics failing.

There are alternatives way to increasing your healthy lifespan with high expected return, low risk, and low cost - not smoking and avoiding obesity are the most obvious ones in modern Western societies. Unless you've done all these taking a high cost high risk chance like cryonics seems not much different than going to church every Sunday hoping afterlife really exists.

I wonder what makes you and Robin like cryonics so much. You most likely have much higher estimation of its chances. You might also have a higher estimation of its utility if it works. Or you might have lower estimation of its price, perhaps you have too much money and no idea what to do with it ;-)

"What if you wake up in Dystopia?"

What is the counterargument to this?

I'm not sure if it's possible to convincingly argue that a dystopia bad enough to not be worth living in probably wouldn't care much about its citizens, and even less about its cryo-suspended ones, so if things get bad enough your chances of being revived are very low.

Michael G.R.: I'm not sure correlation between what possible future would do with cryo-suspended people, and how much you'd like it on utopia-dystopia scale, are much correlated. I think that unless you're revived very quickly after death you'll most likely wake up in a weirdtopia.

"I think that unless you're revived very quickly after death you'll most likely wake up in a weirdtopia."

Indeed, though a technologically advanced enough weirdtopia might have pretty good ways to help you adapt and feel at home (f.ex. by modifying your own self to keep up with all the post-humans, or by starting you out in a VR world that you can relate to and progressively introducing you to the current world).

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