EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: Submission thread for work first published elsewhere

post by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-09-15T08:25:40.949Z · EA · GW · 15 comments

We've asked people to publish a post [EA · GW] if they want to submit an entry for the creative writing contest.

However, when it comes to recommending certain entries — those originally published outside the Forum, especially by someone other than the submitter — people have expressed reasonable concerns about:

  1. Violating copyright or other norms by sharing someone's work in full on another website without permission from the author or the original publisher.
  2. Creating top-level posts for work they aren't sure is a good fit for the contest.

So we've created this thread for people to submit first published elsewhere without creating top-level posts.

In general, we'd still prefer top-level posts, since those are more likely to reach readers. But we understand the concerns we've heard, and we'll still consider submissions for the contest if you share links to them in a comment here.

(If you are submitting original content, please use a top-level post rather than leaving a comment. I promise that you won't be cluttering the Forum, and you're welcome to use a pseudonym if you'd prefer.)

15 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Linch · 2021-09-15T11:10:36.971Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One of my favorite pieces of EA fiction is a Tweet I can no longer find, most likely from the Twitter account ASmallFiction:

"It was a difficult job," he thought to himself, "but someone had to do it."

As he walked away, he wondered who that someone will be. 

I actually quote that a lot, including as admonishments to myself and in mentoring discussions about agency and responsibility to more junior EAs.

I also like this one:

"What's this?" 

"That's an ancient map." 

"Then what are these lines?" 

"'Borders.' The ancient ones used them to decide who to care about."

Replies from: Davidmanheim
comment by Davidmanheim · 2021-10-05T11:35:16.098Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Found it - the quote was slightly off: https://twitter.com/ASmallFiction/status/901252178588778498

"It was a dirty job, he thought, but somebody had to do it. 
As he walked away, he wondered who that somebody might be."

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2021-10-05T18:48:07.325Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you so much!

comment by Lizka · 2021-09-15T11:15:01.964Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a really cool work/parable: "That Alien Message [LW · GW]." It's by Eliezer Yudkowsky, so I don't know if it's too well known to count, but it still seems worth collecting in this context. (The topic, or "relevance" from an EA point of view, of the story is a spoiler, but should be pretty clear.) 

Replies from: Jackson Wagner
comment by Jackson Wagner · 2021-09-27T20:38:04.740Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There are several Yudkowsky stories that involve EA-adjacent elements, although perhaps all of them are too well-known to count -- "Three Worlds Collide [? · GW]" is probably the most complex exploration of abstract ethical ideas, although it's more making a statement about the complexity of human value systems than about taking action in an EA direction. It's also a complex multi-chapter story too long to read in one sitting.

There are also Yudkowsky's "Dath Ilan" stories, which take place in a semi-utopian world where civilization is much better at coordination. They're full of interesting ideas, especially relevant to the "Improving Institutional Decisionmaking" wing of the EA movement, but they're also somewhat scattershot exercises in world-building mixed with jokes and opinion, rather than a tightly -constructed story.

I think the most contest-relevant Yudkowsky story is probably "The Sword of Good" -- it's short, and it features a protaganist who goes from blindly accepting the status quo, to suddenly realizing the injustice of all the needless suffering that persists in the world. This feels very relevant to EA, and would probably strike a chord with the experiences of many people in the "Global Health & Development" and "Farmed Animal Welfare" wings of the movement. The biggest downside of the story is that the EA message only shows up as a plot twist in the last quarter of the story -- so it wouldn't make for good public reading at conferences, since people would spend the first 75% of their time wondering why they were being subjected to a random fantasy tale.

comment by Linch · 2021-09-21T10:17:02.826Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I enjoyed the Unfinished Parable of the Sparrows by Bostrom, which was sort of a prelude to Superintelligence:

It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.

“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”

[...]

comment by Ramiro · 2021-09-19T21:04:26.674Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure this should qualify, but I usually play hawk in a prisoner's dilemma - so I'm gonna post it before someone else does it... especially because it's gonna be worthwhile if even just one more person has the delightful experience of discovering Raymond Smullyan and his mind-boggling metaphysical / moral dialogue Is God a Taoist?
I don't know if this qualifies as fiction or as creative non-fiction. It's your call, Aaron.

Is God a Taoist?

Raymond M. Smullyan, 1977

Mortal:
   And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!

God:
   You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?

Mortal:
   How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!

God:
   Why would you wish not to have free will?

Mortal:
   Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!

God:
   Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?

Mortal:
   Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.

God:
   All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?

Mortal (after a pause):
   No, I am afraid not.

God:
   Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?

Mortal:
   With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!

God:
   If you don't want to sin, then why do you?

Mortal:
   Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.

God:
   If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.

Mortal:
   No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.

God:
   Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you?

Mortal:
   I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!

God:
   So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at all!

Mortal:
   Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!

God:
   Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?

Mortal:
   I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!

God:
   Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?

Mortal:
   I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!

God:
   You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?

Mortal (in great terror):
   No, no, don't do that!

God:
   Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?

Mortal:
   Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.

God:
   In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!

Mortal:
   No, no!

God:
   Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.

Mortal:
   I still won't take it!

God:
   Why not?

Mortal:
   I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.

God:
   I command you to take it!

Mortal:
   I refuse!

God:
   What, you refuse of your own free will?

Mortal:
   Yes!

God:
   So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?

Mortal:
   I don't understand!

God:
   Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?

Mortal:
   No, no! Please don't!

God:
   Of course I won't; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will -- but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.

Mortal:
   Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?

God:
   I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.

Mortal:
   I still refuse.

God:
   So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn't it?

Mortal:
   Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.

God:
   Certainly.

Mortal:
   There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me. First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one's own free will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I be capable of sinning?

God:
   You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would remove your abhorrence of sinning.

Mortal:
   I'm afraid I'm a bit confused.

God:
   All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever. Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel abhorrence toward the acts.

Mortal:
   No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.

God:
   Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no longer wish me to remove your free will.

Mortal (reluctantly):
   No, I guess not.

God:
   All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me again.

Mortal:
   Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin even more than I do now.

God:
   But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.

Mortal:
   But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present moment in which I choose not to have free will.

God:
   Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn't it?

Mortal:
   Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be sinning in so doing.

God:
   But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.

Mortal:
   True!

God:
   But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?

Mortal:
   For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first place!

God:
   But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have done.

Mortal:
   You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.

God:
   Why? What could I have done?

Mortal:
   Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late -- anything I do will be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.

God:
   Oh, that's it! Why would it have been better had I never given it to you?

Mortal:
   Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.

God:
   Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.

Mortal:
   What!

God:
   I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn't it? It almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught, it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?

Mortal:
   That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.

God:
   Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you did appear shocked when I said, "I am always glad to learn from my mistakes."

Mortal:
   Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been taught that as a matter of fact you don't make mistakes. So I was amazed that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.

God:
   I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing about whether the if has or ever can be realized.

Mortal:
   Let's please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?

God:
   Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate. Let me review your present predicament. You don't want to have free will because with free will you can sin, and you don't want to sin. (Though I still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you wouldn't. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.

Mortal:
   Exactly!

God:
   I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals -- even some theologians -- have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the first place.

Mortal:
   Exactly!

God:
   As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the Socratic method.

To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove my point, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am about to create a new universe -- a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a mortal just like you -- for all practical purposes, we might say that you will be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal -- this new you -- free will or not. What would you like me to do?

Mortal (in great relief):
   Oh, please! Spare him from having to have free will!

God:
   All right, I'll do as you say. But you do realize that this new you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.

Mortal:
   But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.

God:
   Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many sentient beings.

Mortal (after a pause):
   Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.

God:
   In that case, I'll go you one better! Here, I have already decided whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my decision on this piece of paper and I won't show it to you until later. But my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now, what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way do you hope I have decided?

Mortal (after a very long pause):
   I hope you have decided to give him free will.

God:
   Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you hope I will give him free will?

Mortal:
   Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he will go around hurting people, and I don't want to see people hurt.

GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief):
   At last! At last you see the real point!

Mortal:
   What point is that?

God:
   That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that people as well as other sentient beings don't get hurt!

Mortal:
   You sound like a utilitarian!

God:
   I am a utilitarian!

Mortal:
   What!

God:
   Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you, but a utilitarian.

Mortal:
   I just can't believe it!

God:
   Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your training was simply wrong.

Mortal:
   You leave me speechless!

God:
   I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a thing -- you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though, why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?

Mortal:
   Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I have been arguing for is that you shouldn't have! But why did you? I guess all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will, one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.

God:
   Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever done anything to merit it?

Mortal:
   Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to merit eternal life.

God:
   Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn't it?

Mortal:
   I don't think I understand you.

God:
   Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of "merit", I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don't even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being "good," you never have any real assurance that your "best" is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of "salvation" -- and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don't you ever envy me for this?

Mortal:
   But it is blasphemous to envy you!

God:
   Oh come off it! You're not now talking to your Sunday school teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are. Are you?

Mortal:
   Of course I am!

God:
   Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?

Mortal:
   But I have been taught that your sense of morality -- your sense of justice -- demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be punished with pain.

God:
   Then you have been taught wrong.

Mortal:
   But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for example Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." How he describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they deserve only by dint of your mercy.

God:
   Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more misleading. The very title "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tells its own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do not think at all in terms of "sin." In the third place, I have no enemies.

Mortal:
   By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or that there are no people who hate you?

God:
   I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.

Mortal:
   Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have hated you. At times I have hated you!

God:
   You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same thing as hating me as I really am.

Mortal:
   Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?

God:
   No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply find it psychologically impossible to hate me.

Mortal:
   Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature, why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us the right way?

God:
   What makes you think I'm not?

Mortal:
   I mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are wrong?

GOD:
   Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.

Mortal (astonished):
   You are my senses?

God:
   Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.

Mortal:
   If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?

God:
   Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?

Mortal:
   Well, I am talking to you, am I not?

God:
   How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist, "Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?

Mortal:
   That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.

God:
   And they would be right!

Mortal:
   What? You mean you don't exist?

God:
   You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?

Mortal:
   Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking to myself, in what sense do you exist?

God:
   Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I don't exist.

Mortal:
   Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying "if I am talking to myself, then you don't exist," I should rather have said, "if I am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you."

God:
   A very different statement indeed, but still false.

Mortal:
   Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be talking to you?

God:
   Your use of the word "only" is quite misleading! I can suggest several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not imply that you are not talking to me.

Mortal:
   Suggest just one!

God:
   Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are identical.

Mortal:
   Such a blasphemous thought -- at least had I uttered it!

God:
   According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.

Mortal:
   So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?

God:
   Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint -- and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.

Mortal:
   So you claim you do exist.

God:
   Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.

Mortal:
   All right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?

God:
   What a strange question!

Mortal:
   Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.

God:
   I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!

Mortal:
   Why?

God:
   Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?

Mortal:
   So you won't tell me whether or not you exist?

God:
   I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, "No, I don't exist." What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, "Yes, I exist." Would that convince you? Of course not!

Mortal:
   Well, if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?

God:
   That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find out for yourself.

Mortal:
   How do I go about finding this out for myself?

God:
   That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for yourself.

Mortal:
   So there is no way you can help me?

God:
   I didn't say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that doesn't mean there is no way I can help you.

Mortal:
   In what manner then can you help me?

God:
   I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any nicer reason -- any more humane reason -- why I gave you free will?

Mortal:
   Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of course need free will.

God:
   That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi's explanation were correct, why wouldn't I have simply created only angels rather than mortals?

Mortal:
   Beats me! Why didn't you?

God:
   Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place, I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately approach the state which might be called "angelhood." But just as the race of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe -- evil is simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists -- all the alleged reasons why people shouldn't commit evil acts -- simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.

No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.

Mortal:
   Why did you say your expression is misleading?

God:
   What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called "Tao") that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms, I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame -- at least in his present state of evolution -- is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn't!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish -- ultimately to the vanishing point.

Mortal:
   I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will be happier, but don't I have a duty to others?

GOD (laughing):
   You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says, "I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings do so." So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to believe -- as do many Mahayana Buddhists -- that the attaining of enlightenment puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.

Mortal:
   There is one thing about your self-description which is somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a personal God.

God:
   So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?

Mortal:
   Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must satisfy his needs.

God:
   I realize that. But the so-called "personality" of a being is really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong. From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?

Mortal:
   Well, I'm talking to you, am I not?

God:
   Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view -- no less valid -- I can also be looked at impersonally.

Mortal:
   But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I don't see what sense it can make my talking to a mere "process."

God:
   I love the way you say "mere." You might just as well say that you are living in a "mere universe." Also, why must everything one does make sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?

Mortal:
   Of course not!

God:
   And yet, many children and primitives do just that.

Mortal:
   But I am neither a child nor a primitive.

God:
   I realize that, unfortunately.

Mortal:
   Why unfortunately?

God:
   Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.

Mortal:
   I have been thinking about this all the while.

God:
   You mean you haven't been paying attention to our conversation?

Mortal:
   Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have been thinking about it.

God:
   And have you come to any conclusion?

Mortal:
   Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it causes.

God:
   Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?

Mortal:
   All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other -- and themselves -- less than without free will.

God:
   Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very reason for so choosing.

Mortal:
   What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?

God:
   My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it equiangular.

Mortal:
   I thought you could do anything!

God:
   Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, "It is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a limitation on His powers." I agree, except that in place of his using the word sin I would use the term error.

Mortal:
   Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not choose to give me free will.

God:
   Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire discussion -- from the very beginning -- has been based on one monstrous fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level -- you originally complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.

Mortal:
   I am still in the dark!

God:
   Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the question you never even considered.

Mortal:
   I still do not see what you are driving at.

God:
   Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn't your first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?

Mortal:
   That I simply took for granted.

God:
   But why should you?

Mortal:
   I don't know. Do I have free will?

God:
   Yes.

Mortal:
   Then why did you say I shouldn't have taken it for granted?

God:
   Because you shouldn't. Just because something happens to be true, it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.

Mortal:
   Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.

God:
   They are correct.

Mortal:
   Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?

God:
   I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.

Mortal:
   Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?

God:
   The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.

Mortal:
   What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!

God:
   You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.

Mortal:
   So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?

God:
   It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.

Mortal:
   You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.

God:
   Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.

Mortal:
   Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was metaphysical?

God:
   Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with first.

And now we must part -- at least until you need me again. I think our present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember what I told you about trees. Of course, you don't have to literally talk to them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these morbid thoughts of "sin" and "free will" and "moral responsibility." At one stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.

It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts'an:

If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.

Replies from: aarongertler
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-09-20T06:05:21.298Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's totally fine to submit anything you'd like; very little harm done if it doesn't seem like a great fit for the contest, just a few minutes of a judge's time later. (And we do pay our judges for their time.)

comment by CronoDAS · 2021-10-15T04:03:41.825Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would like to nominate the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist as one of the most EA things I've ever read. If the whole thing by itself is too long, Issue 3 can stand in for the entire work.

comment by Dancer · 2021-10-07T11:32:10.645Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

And of course I realize

That we're a long way from it

But what better reason to start runnin'?

...

There are no stories told in a vacuum

There is no prophecy lighting our way

There is just a lot of darkness to be afraid of

So it's a good thing we are not afraid

There is no Superman in that phone booth

There is no rewarding our faith

There is no one who can save us

So it's a good thing we don't need to be saved

There are no starships in low earth orbit

No aliens to save us from ourselves

There is no voice willing to speak for us

So it's a good thing we know how to yell!

There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate

There's no such thing as magic

There is no light at the end of this tunnel

So it's a good thing we brought matches.

— Guante, Matches (technically lyrics)

comment by Dancer · 2021-10-07T11:28:49.861Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m not much of an effective altruist . . . But every so often, I can see the world as they have to. Where the very existence of suffering, any suffering at all, is an immense cosmic wrongness, an intolerable gash in the world, distressing and enraging. Where a single human lifetime seems frighteningly inadequate compared to the magnitude of the problem. Where all the normal interpersonal squabbles look trivial in the face of a colossal war against suffering itself, one that requires a soldier’s discipline and a general’s eye for strategy.

— Scott Alexander, https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/16/fear-and-loathing-at-effective-altruism-global-2017/

comment by Dancer · 2021-10-07T11:33:40.117Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Dear Human,

Bostrom: Letter from Utopia

Greetings, and may this letter find you at peace and in prosperity! Forgive my writing to you out of the blue. Though you and I have never met, we are not strangers. We are, in a certain sense, the closest of kin...

I am one of your possible futures. One day, I hope, you will become me. Should fortune grant this wish, then I am not just a possible future of yours, but your actual future: a coming phase of you, like the full moon that follows a waxing crescent, or like the flower that follows a seed. I am writing to tell you about my life – how marvelous it is – that you may choose it for yourself.

Although this letter uses the singular, I am really writing on behalf of my all my contemporaries, and we are addressing ourselves to all of your contemporaries. Amongst us are many who are possible futures of your people. Some of us are possible futures of children you have not yet given birth to. Still others are possible artificial persons that you might one day create. What unites us is that we are all dependent on you to make us real. Think of this note as if it were an invitation to a ball – a ball that will take place only if people show up.

We call the lives we lead here “Utopia”. *

How can I tell you about Utopia and not leave you nonplussed? What words could convey the wonder? What inflections express our happiness? What points overcome your skepticism? My pen, I fear, is as unequal to the task as if I had tried to use it against a charging elephant.

But the goal of understanding is so important that that we must try even against long odds. Maybe you will see through the inadequacies of my exposition.

Have you ever known a moment of bliss? On the rapids of inspiration, maybe, where your hands were guided by a greater force to trace the shapes of truth and beauty? Or perhaps you found such a moment in the ecstasy of love? Or in a glorious success achieved with good friends? Or in splendid conversation on a vine-overhung terrace one star-appointed night? Or perhaps there was a song or a melody that smuggled itself into your heart, setting it alight with kaleidoscopic emotion? Or during worship?

If you have experienced such a moment, experienced the best type of such a moment, then a certain idle but sincere thought may have presented itself to you: “Oh Heaven! I didn’t realize it could feel like this. This is on a different level, so very much more real and worthwhile. Why can’t it be like this always? Why must good times end? I was sleeping; now I am awake.”

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Yet behold, only a little later, scarcely an hour gone by, and the softly- falling soot of ordinary life is already piling up. The silver and gold of exuberance lose their shine. The marble becomes dirty.

Every way you turn it’s the same: soot, casting its veil over all glamours and revelries, despoiling your epiphany, sodding up your white pressed collar and shirt. And once again that familiar beat is audible, the beat of numbing routine rolling along its tracks. The commuter trains loading and unloading their passengers... sleepwalkers, shoppers, solicitors, the ambitious and the hopeless, the contented and the wretched... like human electrons shuffling through the circuitry of civilization.

We do so easily forget how good life can be at its best – and how bad at its worst. The most outstanding occasion: barely is it over before the sweepers move in to clean up the rice. Yellowing photos remain.

And this is as should be. We are in the business of living, and the show must go on. Special moments are out-of-equilibrium experiences in which our puddles are stirred up and splashed about; yet when normalcy returns we are usually relieved. We are built for mundane functionality, not for lasting bliss.

So you allow the door that was ajar begins to close, disappearing hope’s sliver behind an insensate scab.

Quick, stop that door! Look again at your yellowing photos, search for a clue. Do you not see it? Do you not feel it, the touch of the possible? You have witnessed the potential for a higher life: you hold the fading proof in your hands. Don’t throw it away. In the attic of your mind, reserve a drawer for the notion of a higher state of being, and in the furnace of your heart keep at least one aspiring ember alive.

I am summoning this memory of your best experience – to what end? In the hope of kindling in you a desire to share my happiness.

And yet, what you had in your best moment is not close to what I have now – a beckoning scintilla at most. If the distance between base and apex for you is eight kilometers, then to reach my dwellings would take a million light- year ascent. The altitude is outside moon and planets and all the stars your eyes can see. Beyond dreams. Beyond imagination.

My consciousness is wide and deep, my life long. I have read all your authors – and much more. I have experienced life in many forms and from many angles: jungle and desert, gutter and palace, heath and suburban creek and city back alley. I have sailed on the high seas of cultures, and swum, and dived. Quite some marvelous edifice builds up over a million years by the efforts of homunculi, even as the humble polyps amass a reef in time. And I’ve seen the shoals of colored biography fishes, each one a life story, scintillate under heaving ocean waters.

http://www.bepress.com/selt/vol2/iss1/art6 2 10.2202/1941-6008.1025

Bostrom: Letter from Utopia

The whole exceeds the sum of its parts. What I have is not merely more of what is available to you now. It isn’t just the particular things, the paintings and toothpaste-tube designs, the record covers and books, the epochs, lives, leaves, rivers, and random encounters, the satellite images and the collider data – it is also the complex relationships between these particulars that make up my mind. There are ideas that can be formed only on top of such a wide experience base. There are depths that can be fathomed only with such ideas.

You could say I am happy, that I feel good. You could say that I feel surpassing bliss. But these are words invented to describe human experience. What I feel is as far beyond human feelings as my thoughts are beyond human thoughts. I wish I could show you what I have in mind. If only I could share one second of my conscious life with you!

But you don’t have to understand what I think and feel. If only you bear in mind what is possible within the present human realm, you will have enough to get started in the right direction, one step at a time. At no point will you encounter a wall of blinding light. At no point will you have to jettison yourself over an end-of-the-world precipice. As you advance, the horizon will recede. The transformation is profound, but it can be as gradual as the growth that made the baby you were into the adult you think you are.

You will not achieve this through any magic trick or hokum, nor by the power of wishful thinking, nor by semantic acrobatics, meditation, affirmation, or incantation. I do not presume to advise you on matters theological. I urge on you nothing more, nothing less, than reconfigured physical situation.

*

The challenge before you: to become fully what you are now only in hope and potential. New capacities are needed if you wish to live and play on my level.

To reach Utopia, you must first discover the means to three fundamental transformations.

The First Transformation: Secure life!

Your body is a deathtrap. This vital machine and mortal vehicle, unless it jams first or crashes, is sure to rust anon. You are lucky to get seven decades of mobility; eight if you be fortune’s darling. That is not sufficient to get started in a serious way, much less to complete the journey. Maturity of the soul takes longer. Why, even a tree-life takes longer.

Death is not one but a multitude of assassins. Do you not see them? They are coming at you from every angle. Take aim at the causes of early death – infection, violence, malnutrition, heart attack, cancer. Turn your biggest gun on

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aging, and fire. You must seize the biochemical processes in your body in order to vanquish, by and by, illness and senescence. In time, you will discover ways to move your mind to more durable media. Then continue to improve the system, so that the risk of death and disease continues to decline. Any death prior to the heat death of the universe is premature if your life is good.

Oh, it is not well to live in a self-combusting paper hut! Keep the flames at bay and be prepared with liquid nitrogen, while you construct yourself a better habitation. One day you or your children should have a secure home. Research, build, redouble your effort!

The Second Transformation: Upgrade cognition!

Your brain’s special faculties: music, humor, spirituality, mathematics, eroticism, art, nurturing, narration, gossip! These are fine spirits to pour into the cup of life. Blessed you are if you have a vintage bottle of any of these. Better yet, a cask! Better yet, a vineyard!

Be not afraid to grow. The mind’s cellars have no ceilings!

What other capacities are possible? Imagine a world with all the music dried up: what poverty, what loss. Give your thanks, not to the lyre, but to your ears for the music. And ask yourself, what other harmonies are there in the air, that you lack the ears to hear? What vaults of value are you witlessly debarred from, lacking the key sensibility?

Had you but an inkling, your nails would be clawing at the padlock with sacred frenzy.

Your brain must grow beyond any genius of humankind, in its special faculties as well as its general intelligence, so that you may better learn, remember, and understand, and so that you may apprehend your own beatitude.

Mind is a means: for without insight you will get bogged down or lose your way, and your journey will fail.

Mind is also an end: for it is in the spacetime of awareness that Utopia will exist. May the measure of your mind be vast and expanding.

Oh, stupidity is a loathsome corral! Gnaw and tug at the posts, and you will slowly loosen them up. One day you’ll break the fence that held your forebears captive. Gnaw and tug, redouble your effort!

The Third Transformation: Elevate well-being!

What is the difference between indifference and interest, boredom and thrill, despair and bliss?

http://www.bepress.com/selt/vol2/iss1/art6 4 10.2202/1941-6008.1025

Bostrom: Letter from Utopia

Pleasure! A few grains of this magic ingredient are worth more than a king’s treasure, and we have it aplenty here in Utopia. It pervades into everything we do and everything we experience. We sprinkle it in our tea.

The universe is cold. Fun is the fire that melts the blocks of hardship and creates a bubbling celebration of life.

It is the birth right of every creature, a right no less sacred for having been trampled on since the beginning of time.

There is a beauty and joy here that you cannot fathom. It feels so good that if the sensation were translated into tears of gratitude, rivers would overflow. I reach in vain for words to convey to you what it all amounts to... It’s like a rain of the most wonderful feeling, where every raindrop has its own unique and indescribable meaning – or rather it has a scent or essence that evokes a whole world... And each such evoked world is subtler, richer, deeper, more multidimensional than the sum total of what you have experienced in your entire life.

I will not speak of the worst pain and misery that is to be got rid of; it is too horrible to dwell upon, and you are already cognizant of the urgency of palliation. My point is that in addition to the removal of the negative, there is also an upside imperative: to enable the full flourishing of enjoyments that are currently out of reach.

The roots of suffering are planted deep in your brain. Weeding them out and replacing them with nutritious crops of well-being will require advanced skills and instruments for the cultivation of your neuronal soil. But take heed, the problem is multiplex! All emotions have a natural function. Prune carefully lest you accidentally reduce the fertility of your plot.

Sustainable yields are possible. Yet fools will build fools’ paradises. I recommend you go easy on your paradise-engineering until you have the wisdom to do it right.

Oh, what a gruesome knot suffering is! Pull and tug on those loops, and you will gradually loosen them up. One day the coils will fall, and you will stretch out in delight. Pull and tug, and be patient in your effort!

May there come a time when rising suns are greeted with joy by all the living creatures they shine upon.

*

How do you find this place? How long will it take to get here?

I can pass you no blueprint for Utopia, no timetable, no roadmap. All I can give you is my assurance that there is something here, the potential for a better life.

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If you could visit me here for but a day, you would henceforth call this place your home. This is the place where you belong. Ever since one hairy creature picked up two flints and began knocking them together to make a tool, this has been the direction of your unknown aspiration. Like Odysseus you must journey, and never cease to journey, until you arrive upon this shore.

“Arrive?” you say; “But isn’t the journey the destination? Isn’t Utopia a place that doesn’t exist? And isn’t the quest for Utopia, as witnessed historically, a dangerous folly and an incitement to mischief?”

My friend, that is not such a bad way for you to think about it. To be sure, Utopia is not a location or a form of social organization.

The blush of health on a convalescent’s cheek. The sparkle of the eye in a moment of wit. The smile of a loving thought... Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been.

I fear that the pursuit of Utopia will bring out the worst in you. Many a moth has been incinerated in pursuit of a brighter future.

Seek the light! But approach with care, and swerve if you smell your wingtips singeing. Light is for seeing, not dying.

When you embark on this quest, you will encounter rough seas and hard problems. To prevail will take your best science, your best technology, and your best politics. Yet each problem has a solution. My existence breaks no law of nature. The materials are all there. Your people must become master builders, and then you must use these skills to build yourselves up, without crushing your cores.

*

What is Tragedy in Utopia? There is tragedy in Mr. Snowman’s melting. Mass murders, we have found, are not required.

What is Weakness in Utopia? Weakness is spending a day gazing into your beloved’s eyes.

What is Imperfection in Utopia? Imperfection is the measure of our love for things as they are.

What is Dignity in Utopia? Dignity is the affirming power of “No” said discriminately.

What is Suffering in Utopia? Suffering is the salt trace left on the cheeks of those who were around before.

What is Courage in Utopia? Courage is the monarchy of the self, here constrained by a constitution.

http://www.bepress.com/selt/vol2/iss1/art6 6 10.2202/1941-6008.1025

Bostrom: Letter from Utopia

What is Solemnity in Utopia? Solemnity is the appreciation of the mystery of being.

What is Body in Utopia? Body is a pair of legs, a pair of arms, a trunk and a head, all made of flesh. Or not, as the case may be.

What is Society in Utopia? Society is a never-finished tapestry, its weavers equal to its threads; the parts and patterns an inexhaustible bourne of beauty.

What is Death in Utopia? Death is the darkness that enshrouds all life, and our guilt for not having created Utopia as soon as we could have.

*

We love life here every instant. Every second is so good that it would blow your mind had its amperage not been previously increased. My contemporaries and I bear witness, and we are requesting your aid. Please, help us come into existence! Please, join us! Whether this tremendous possibility becomes a reality depends on your actions. If your empathy can perceive at least the outlines of the vision I am describing, then your ingenuity will find a way to make it real.

Human life, at its best, is fantastic. I’m asking you to create something even greater. Life that is truly humane.

Yours sincerely,

Your Possible Future Self

— Nick Bostrom, Letter from Utopia, 2008

comment by Dancer · 2021-10-07T11:21:35.394Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

comment by Jsevillamol · 2021-09-15T12:20:31.129Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here is something  I wrote, and received some positive feeback on: Standing on a pile of corpses [LW · GW]

comment by Dancer · 2021-10-07T11:35:35.947Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Countless winter nights ago, 
A woman shivered in the cold. 
Cursed the skies, and wondered why 
the gods invented pain. 

Aching angry flesh and bone, 
Bitterly she struck the stones 
Until... she saw that spark 
of light, and flame. 

And though… the others cried out heresy 
she defied them, 
proud.... set afire history 

Oh… 

Tomorrow can be brighter than today, 
although the night is cold…. 
the stars may seem so very far away... 
But courage, hope and reason burn, 
in every mind, each lesson learned, 
shining light to guide to our way, 
make tomorrow brighter than today.... 

Oh..... oh…... 
oh… brighter than today…. 

Ages long forgotten now, 
We built the wheel and then the plough. 
Tilled the earth and proved our worth, 
Against the drought and snow. 

Soon we had the time to fathom 
Mountain peaks and tiny atoms, 
Beating hearts electric sparks 
And so much more to know. 

Tomorrow can be brighter than today, 
although the night is cold…. 
the stars may seem so very far away... 
But courage, hope and reason burn, 
in every mind, each lesson learned, 
driving darkness far away, 
make tomorrow brighter than today.... 

Oh..... oh…… 
Oh..... oh…... 
oh… brighter than today…. 

The universe may seem unfair, 
the laws of nature may not care. 
Storms and quakes, our own mistakes 
They nearly doused our flame. 

But all these trials we’ve endured, 
With moral progress, ailments cured, 
Against our herculean task 
we’ve risen to proclaim. 

Tomorrow can be brighter than today, 
although the night is cold…. 
the stars may seem so very far away... 
But courage, hope and reason burn, 
in every mind, each lesson learned - 
Rise up to the stars and say: 
make tomorrow brighter than today.... 

— Ray Arnold, Brighter Than Today (lyrics)