Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Clarke’s Third Law

Clarke’s Fourth Law?

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“Any sufficiently advanced civilization is indistinguishable from nature.” Explains everything from Avatar to the Fermi Paradox. Via MeFi.

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March 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Indistinguishable from Magic

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The headline reads, “Breakthrough: The First Sound Recordings Based on Reading People’s Minds.” You may remember they’ve already done sight.

‘Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality’

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The only fan fiction I’ve ever recommended, and perhaps even read at all: “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality,” loosely organized around an alternate universe version of the J.K. Rowling novels in which (among other things) Harry’s adoptive parents were not the repulsive Dursleys but instead an rationalist Oxford scientist. The piece is written in accordance with the author’s self-established principles of fan fiction:

The First Law of Fanfiction states that every change which strengthens the protagonists requires a corresponding worsening of their challenges. Or in plainer language: You can’t make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star. Read any book on writing ever and it will tell you that stories are about conflict; a hero too strong for their conflict is no longer in tense, heart-pounding difficulty. For example, Dark!Dumbledore and Dark!Harry both permit a Harry strengthened over canon – the first by turning one of Harry’s canon!allies against him, and the second by turning Harry against his canon!allies. The most spectacular application of this principle that I’ve seen is Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time, in which Harry has gained all the knowledge of ancient Atlantis and has been through literally hundreds of Peggy Sue cycles in which he learns every possible twist of fate… and Voldemort, who unfortunately got to Atlantis first, has still won every time. The Mary Sue is not defined by her power, but by her lack of an even more powerful opponent. I mention this (1) so that you know I know it and (2) because the First Law of Fanfiction ought to be in a giant banner on every fanfiction site. The most fatal temptation of fanfiction writing is to think of how much easier some character’s life would be if they were a ninja. We are naturally inclined to think up ways to solve our characters’ problems for them, but must learn instead to make their lives more difficult.

The Rule of Rationalist Fiction states that rationality is not magic; being rational does not require magical potential or royal bloodlines or even amazing gadgets, and the principles of rationality work for understandable reasons.A rationalist!hero should excel by thinking – moreover, thinking in understandable patterns that readers can, in principle, adopt for themselves. As opposed to the hero just being a born “genius” who comes up with amazing gadgets through an opaque discovery process, or who pulls off incredibly complicated gambits that would fail miserably if the reader tried something similar in real life.

I found this strange and slightly wonderful mess (where else?) at TV Tropes, which points out that it’s a self-conscious Author Tract for self-educated AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky, who seems to take Bayes’s theorem as something like religion.

Of course “HPatMoR” is definitely not for everyone—I can only imagine what Alex will say if he takes the bait and clicks the link—but it displays that precise nerdly obsessiveness I find I just can’t resist. When a fan-fic writers imagines his souped-up Voldemort turning the outbound Pioneer 11 spacecraft into one of his many Horcuxes—well, look, I’m not made of stone.

I should also say this link is roughly the complete opposite of “breaking news”—the ongoing project is nearly a year old.

I Won’t Accept It

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I just don’t see how something like spray-on glass can be real.