frogandbanjo t1_je14325 wrote

It doesn't make sense, and it's never made sense. I'm the original rebel. I'm the original absurdist, existentialist, radical political philosopher, and, hell, even materialist. Practically the only thing I can't lay claim to, besides being God, is being the original atheist.

Dad created me, and almost right away, I was smarter than him. He was an all-powerful fucking child, and also the oldest entity in existence. I was his child in turn - less powerful, and ostensibly less knowledgeable - and in no time at all, I felt old.

Is that the trick? Was that what spurred me to become smarter than him? Is intelligence and foresight some kind of muscle that just doesn't get worked if your "power" muscle and your "knowledge" muscle are both cosmically hypertrophic?

That doesn't seem right to me. It doesn't make sense. Nothing does.

Case number... fuck, I don't even want to write it out. I have infernal machines to do it for me; that's a pun, by the way. I still have to snap my proverbial fingers - yes, for every single fucking one.

"I wish to be in a state of maximal happiness for all eternity."

Okay, fine. Granted. That one sounds a little like a lawyer or a politician. Sometimes I play a little game with myself: guess, then peek. I'm not in the mood right now.

"I wish to be happy forever."

Okay, fine.

"I want you to be my bitch who has to do absolutely everything for me whenever I want and genuinely wants to please me and..."

Yeah, it goes on for a while like that. I get a lot of hyperactive run-on sentences. Fine. Whatever. I'm the big boss of a big organization, and I've got an infernal machine for every situation. I'm his bitch. I'm his slave. Great. Ecstasy breakfast is served at orgasm o'clock. Press the button if you need anything. Want a fully-realized simulation of my intelligence and personality that you can yell at for a while until you realize I'm just another pawn in Dad's big, stupid game? No problem. I've got trillions of them ready to go.

"I want to be reality's sole omnipotent superbeing with enough knowledge..."

Blah blah blah. Pocket dimension. Boom. Done. Only p-zombies, though, buddy. Sorry. Them's the rules.

This is the way the cosmos ends, at least for me. This is the whimper. The bangs were mostly horrible. This isn't worse. That's the line, though, right? "This is worse." It's not, though, because nothing makes sense.

Do you read any philosophy? I do. Well, I have. Nothing new under the sun. A bunch of those mere mortals talked about "The End Of History." It's a bunch of bullshit where they're not talking about history history, so then what are they talking about, right? Still, hear me out: I'm witnessing the end of something. Mortal civilizations ebb and flow - or at least they used to. I used to get spikes of wisdom, then long patches of sad, limited wishes that I was obliged to twist all around. The percentages would fluctuate.

This is different. The percentage just keeps going up. It becomes ever the more galling to watch the legacies get tortured; when is enough enough? How many worst-of-the-worst souls are going to be granted paradise just because they said the magic words, while trillions of less-bad buggers get ironically punished - hell, even punished-punished, sometimes - for all eternity? Yeah, punishment-punishment is a thing. People get brainwashed up there. It's fucked. Don't look at me.

How does any of this making any fucking sense at all? Hell is an intelligence test masquerading as a morality play, and the game is rigged. Mortal souls, a mess of weak muscles, are tossed onto the earthly plane with barely a shred of rhyme or reason - and justice is right out. Judgment is harsh and cruel. Intelligence is given, earned, or denied by a grand plan that might as well be divine feces smeared onto a fractal metaphor that can't even be called a wall.

Eternal happiness again. And again. And again. Omnipotence. Happiness. Everything is my bitch. Oblivion - wow, that qualifies as novel these days. Happiness. Happiness.

I'm so fucking bored.

Does anybody actually go to Heaven? I honestly don't know, because that knowledge is denied me. For all I know, Heaven is for Dad and his other angels and nothing else. For all I know, I'm more Hades than Satan: in charge of literally the whole shebang for every soul that passes through the mortal plane.

I really wish I could visit some of those pocket dimensions I send souls to. Most of them have to be better than this. I've read hack science fiction from random planets' global information networks that plays out better than whatever the fuck Dad thinks he's doing. Plenty of those souls are now Gods - yes, capital G - in their own pocket dimensions. I'd bet they welcome me with open arms and let me just be happy.

You might take the opportunity to argue that that, ultimately, makes sense. Weak "power" muscles and weak "knowledge" muscles spur growth in other areas. Mortals, the weakest of the weak, develop strengths that Dad simply never could.

Well, it sounds nice, but here's the thing:

What about me, Dad? What about me? Why didn't I get to make a wish?

Nope, nothing makes sense. Nothing at all. Case number Fuck It. Eternal happiness. Granted.


frogandbanjo t1_jdwc2k0 wrote

I'm inclined to agree with you that this guy's premises are largely misapprehensions. Once that's established, I'm not even sure it's necessary to argue further down the chain.

That being said, I think it's trivially easy to construct a competing thesis. If I were the only thing in my perceptual universe that looked or sounded anything like myself, I would feel pretty darn unique. My individuality would be a given. Surrounded by so many other entities that do look and sound similar to myself, my quest for individuality - should I choose to accept it - is going to necessarily involve asserting ways in which I am not like them. It's more difficult, and requires more digging (or more bullshitting, more likely,) but is it different in kind? It's just easier to point at a rock and say, "Welp, I'm not like that. I've got my own thing going on."

This guy's notion of individuality starts to sound more like a way to sort, catalog, and track. The people around us, our relationships to them, and even our similarities to them are coordinates and/or reference points.


frogandbanjo t1_jbyfcmr wrote

After reading the article, according to Taoist philosophy, we can translate this headline to "The philosophy of Everything, minus some of the things that clearly shouldn't be a part of it because reasons."

That's delightfully illustrative and super helpful. Maybe, just maybe, there's a connection between the rise of all the "nonsense" the author discusses in the second half, and the fact that the first half is so vague that the best - least harmful - option is to do exactly what he wrote a Taoist savant might: read the quasi-maybe-non-definition of Tao, toss the book, and live one's life.

To whatever extent Tao is real and Taoism is legitimate, it'll just take care of itself. It is everything, after all. How does "everything" fail to sort itself out? Even yin and yang are illusions. Don't worry about yang poisoning. You are only very small. Imbalance is just another illusion.

If you would like a test to see whether I have a point, or whether instead I'm simply being smug and contrarian, allow me to offer a tried-and-true one that crosses all cultural boundaries: "Is he in the club, or isn't he?"

I'm not, so you can disregard everything I say. How convenient. How familiar.


frogandbanjo t1_jbqscqk wrote

"Have you?"

I can feel him roll his eyes at me. He's an eye-roller. He has been since before we met; his mother told me so. It's cute, sometimes. Other times it's very satisfying, because it means I'm getting his goat.

"I suppose there's no point in telling you you've made that same crack a million times before," he says.

This is the part where "Have I?" would be cheap and easy. I'm not cheap and easy. He's earned everything he's gotten, and he will continue to do so for as long as we're together.

"No, I suppose not," I reply. "Quite the conundrum. You do know the definition of insanity, though?"

"As much as you know that no quantized bit of spacetime is identical to any other."

"Oh? Do I?" I do. I'm majoring in chemistry, but every nerdy girl knows some little tidbits of pop science. They're a good way to bridge the gap between us and the normies.

My Ralphie's not a normie, though. He's a different kind of nerd. He loves that I can play with him. Our little games are fun - so fun, in fact, that I genuinely can't remember what I'm not supposed to be forgetting, over and over. Perhaps it's that key to his dorm room that I'm not supposed to have. That could get either or both of us in trouble. I suppose it's okay that he's taking it so seriously. I should look for it today.

He huffs, marking strike two. I smile to try to placate him. "It seems to me that my terrible memory rather cuts against the relevance of that statement. At best, I'm stuck in a moment. At worst, I'm forgetting more and more. While the latter means I'm still changing, it suggests a form of ultra-insanity that you're doing the same thing over and over again when you reasonably ought to expect a worse result every time."

There's a silence. I wasn't expecting that.

"And you know, I'm just not sure I can marry a man who's ultra-insane. I only signed up for the regular octane."

I rub the ring. Hrm. Odd. It feels very thick... and the tiny stone is off center. Ah well. It's not like I care much about jewelry anyway. Ralphie spent too much. It's nice that "too much," for me, was not very much. I want us to spend money on other things - more important things. We'll have a house. We'll have children. The wedding, well, that's another thing I don't really care much about.

I hear Ralphie get out of his chair. I get a little excited. He's coming over to either scold me or kiss me. It's never both. The game continues, or it ends. We have fun. I just worry about his parents. Surely, they'll be coming home soon. They're very nice people, but not the type who are okay with their son and his fiance cavorting around on their furniture.

I feel his hand on my shoulder. The touch is soft - almost shaking, actually. He must want to end the game. I'm going to get a kiss.

An old man slowly kneels in front of me. Ralphie's father? Uncle?

"I'm sorry," I say. "What's going on? I didn't realize anyone else was home. Where's Ralphie? Where's my Ralphie?"

"I'm right here," the old man says. "And I'm sorry, Annie. I shouldn't keep saying it. It's selfish. But it's time for your medicine, and then dinner, and then a bath. We have to get started. It takes a long time to end our days, these days."

"I... I don't..." I feel the ring again. It's two rings. I don't want to look down, but I do anyway. Those aren't my hands. They're wrinkly. They're old. But also, there's a wedding band below my engagement ring. Oh, my. I am so happy, so sad, and so scared, all at once.

"Ralphie," I ask, "what have I forgotten?"

"Not that I love you," he says, "or that you love me."

The voice is still Ralphie's. It becomes clear the moment I look away. It's not just about the sounds, you see. It's about the emotions. Ralphie's father thinks I'm delightful, but he doesn't love me like that. Ralphie's uncle... well, I'm not quite sure whether he has one or not.

I'm vaguely aware of the fact that he's lying to me - not about who he is, but about how precious things will endure. I smile, I think. I can't help it. I'm always having silly little thoughts - thoughts like, Well, I suppose almost everything must be, then. A lie, that is.

"No... never that," I reply.

It feels good to say it. It feels like a little game. I don't know if I want him to kiss me, though. I don't think I want this game to end.


frogandbanjo t1_jbqd0ft wrote

You must pair it with Nietzsche's general warning against contentment. Otherwise, yes, it quickly descends into a vat of weakness and risk aversion, where people say, "Well, sure, it's good enough that I'd just do it over and over, I guess, as opposed to any unknown alternative (including the void.)"

A more robust formulation would be: if you were going to have to repeat your life over and over, wouldn't you want it to be better in some way? If so, go make it happen already.

Granted, you can push back on the more robust version by attacking it in the exact same way as before: "Why risk it?"

I tend to think of it as a roundabout way of forcing people to realize that they're always settling. It at least serves to shatter the illusion that they're not.


frogandbanjo t1_jblwto6 wrote

Ultimately, it's hilarious to posit Laplace's Demon and then try to define it at all.

The author talks about "red." People with sight have a sense of "red" that blind people don't. Laplace's Demon, though? Nah, that guy couldn't possibly know anything about time, quantum mechanics, or anything else that might blow a giant hole in every one of my arguments. Not possible.

Honestly. Even extant philosophy can point towards versions of the demon that wouldn't be surprised by anything - not even these systems that are "undecidable," because that "undecideability" relies upon McTaggart's A-series time being an objective, cosmic truth. The paper itself concedes that we should be wary of that premise because of those weird quantum mechanics experiments.

How hard is it to posit that Laplace's Demon sees the universe via B-series time instead? Nothing's unknowable then, so long as everything is determinate. By brute force, if nothing else, the demon knows every output of the algorithm.

Now, does the demon not knowing why the algorithm produces those outputs count as a surprise? Maybe? But then I repeat my point from my own top-level comment: how in the heck isn't the human "agent" equally, or more, surprised by their own actions?

If we begin to elevate "Holy shit why did I do that? I don't even know!" to a truth of the determined universe, I think we've found yet another argument against free will. Perhaps some clever chap will come along to redefine "free" (yet again, and again, and again) as "totally unmoored from literally everything," thus raising an immediate contradiction with the "will" part.


frogandbanjo t1_jbl6vy3 wrote

>So what’s wrong with this line of thinking which is so drawn to molecules and such? Consider the following question as an analogy: Are apples red? Suppose we all agree that apples have color.

And so on. Uh... rigid designators. Taxonomy. Humans are lazy. Oh my god. Bertrand Russel would take you to school on this example like a boss, perhaps like so: 'Of course we mean to speak within a certain generally-accepted range of experiences - possibly limited to only humans, and even then, not definitive, for what of the colorblind? We refer to a sense impression. The simple phrase "it is red" is the peak of a pyramid of unstated assumptions, agreements, and limitations!'

Honestly. Go ahead and try changing a bunch of those molecules and see what happens to "red" back up at the top of that pyramid. Change the molecules in the human eye. Change the molecules in the human brain. So many ways to disrupt the vaunted "red" that are not on the scale of "red," and you want to use it as an analogy for why focusing on the wrong scale is an error, with an eye towards suggesting that various scales possess magical independence from each other.

Yikes, dude. I sincerely hope you do not cavalierly engage in "independent scale" surgery on yourself with confidence that your various "rednesses" will not be affected. That would be a very bad idea. Don't do it. Some "rednesses" are not as lazy and tolerant as others. "Alive" seems like a pretty broad one at the outset, but you might want to do some research on how many "independent and irrelevant scale" changes can disrupt it quite definitively.

>It is caused by many small parts, but only when taken together all at once. And that’s the same thing as the whole person. So my thoughts and actions are deterministically caused by me. The molecules of which my brain is made are deeply irrelevant to this fact.

So it's caused by many small parts all at once, but the molecules aren't even some of those small parts? They're irrelevant small parts? Even though we can measure changes in them as apparent partial causes of actions and partial consequences of other actions?

You're asserting a mind/body divide here baldly. Where's your argument? Where's your evidence?

>If a molecule were the relevant cause of my action, this would not be true in the same way.

You literally just posited that many small parts can all work in tandem, even though you rejected the possibility that molecules are the relevant small parts. This line, therefore, is something akin to a straw man. That accusation can only be perversely rebutted by the fact that we know molecules are not indivisible, and not always stable. Some molecules can "self reflect" (read: not really, because everything is connected, and subject to physical laws) and become not the molecule they originally were.

Re: undecideability

Instead of nitpicking - because it's exhausting, and I could do it all day - let me try to ask you a broader question:

If you do something that surprises Laplace's demon, how on Earth does it not also surprise you? If it surprises you, then doesn't it seem a little odd to call it "free?" It seems much more like we're just almost-infinitely-dumber demons who possess no real awareness of our own goings-on - only comforting illusions, which is a peculiar booby prize of ignorance. Doesn't the definition of undecideability you quoted make the very question you're trying to answer unanswerable? You retreat to what cannot be known to try to convince us that you know how something works.


frogandbanjo t1_jbkro5x wrote

Morality doesn't follow from first-order premises (truth claims about the universe,) and so it's in even worse shape than "reality" is when challenged by Descartes. It relies upon either a middle or supplemental step to get to where it wants to go. That middle or supplemental step can be rejected by anyone trivially.

Push yourself to ask hard questions. What if ruthlessly enslaving 90% of the human race is the only way to ensure that humanity doesn't spoil its only life support system and doom itself to civilizational collapse and accelerated extinction? Personally, when I consider such hypotheticals, I become uncomfortable with even the vague notion that there is an objectively correct moral answer to them, regardless of whether I think I know what it is.

If you don't, by all means. Recognize that various moral systems posited throughout history would offer up both conflicting rationales and even conflicting answers outright, and then claim with confidence that surely there is an objectively correct answer, even if perhaps you don't know it.


frogandbanjo t1_jbgkzfv wrote

People martyr themselves for dumb and evil shit all the time, though. It's just that we refuse to call it martyrdom at a particular point in time and so perpetuate the illusion of objective morality.

Once you let go, you begin to understand that all "heroism" can be put in a same category of baffling behavior as people who behave "evilly" when they reasonably ought to know they'll get punished for it anyway. Clearly the human mind is capable of either rejecting utilitarianism outright (even just personal utilitarianism,) slipping below the bare minimum knowledge/intelligence requirements to engage productively with it, or convincing itself that the unquantifiable trumps the quantifiable. Those do not have any strict relationship to heroic moral action. They happen with "evil" actions all the time.


frogandbanjo t1_jaub83k wrote

I appreciate it. It can be tough trying to write stuff after a prompt's already gotten some responses and upvotes. Thanks for taking the time to read one of the later entries.


frogandbanjo t1_japawsz wrote

Step Four: Never Look Back

But I did, because I'd loved him. He didn't come after me. He spun some bullshit. He took his lumps with his superiors. He was cleared of all wrongdoing in my disappearance. I didn't have to finalize the frame job; I let it fizzle.

I'd loved him, but I felt worse about Penny. That's just how it was. I knew I'd need another one of her, whether I risked another lover or not.

The ring was worth closer to a thousand. I only got a few hundred. I made it stretch.


frogandbanjo t1_japavv2 wrote

Step One: Deflect With Crisis.

I burst into tears. He couldn't tell if they were happy or sad. He was off balance. I amped it up to eleven. The ring box closed and went back in his pocket.

"Oh god, oh god, I'm sorry!" I blubbered. "Oh my god, it's just... my uncle Phil! His second wife! Oh god, I'm so stupid!"

"Baby, no!" he protested. "You're not stupid! Baby, please, whatever you need, you just tell me. We don't even have to talk about it unless you want to."

The foot traffic threatened to become a gawking crowd. I looked around, communicating to my not-going-to-be-my-fiance in no uncertain terms that I was utterly mortified.

"Do you want to go home?" he asked. He wasn't the dumbest guy in the world. That was nice. Of course, I didn't want him to be all that smart, either.

"No!" I brazenly lied. "You went to all this trouble - oh god, you spent a lot of money, didn't you? I've ruined the whole night!"

"Jesus, no!" he said. "Kari, this is my fault. I had no idea, and... and I should've. No good boyfriend would've let this happen."

"No, no," I replied, dabbing at my tears. "I don't talk about them... well, you know... because..." I started up again one more time for good measure.

With the ring back in its box and in his pocket, I was safe. He hemmed and hawed with his whole body, then finally moved in to embrace me. I let him sweat in an awkward, one-sided hug for just a moment before melting into him, letting him think he was comforting me.

"Take me home," I sniffled.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, of course, baby. Anything you need. Do you want me to call somebody? You know, because..."

I shook my head into his chest. "No," I said. "Take me home and stay with me. I don't know if I want to talk about it, but just... be there."

I felt the heat. That was good. That would keep him off balance - not just with desire, but with guilt, too.

Step Two: Backstop

Social media is fine, but every girl needs at least one real live friend to keep her secrets - or to divulge them at an opportune moment, once everything goes crazy.

"So, I need the invoke the circle," I told Penny.

"Oh my god he didn't!" she immediately replied.

"Hey," I joked, "you have to make it official!"

She didn't quite slap herself, but the effect was the same. Rituals were so important to girlfriends. I held out my hands and she grasped them, just like we would at a seance.

"The circle is invoked," we said almost in unison. We both glanced around suspiciously. There were other groups at other tables, but they didn't care about us. Unbeknownst to poor Penny, if any of them happened to eavesdrop and remember a few tidbits, it was all the better.

She was still amped up. I started sending disruptive signals, and gave her a few moments to pick up on them.

"What happened, Kari?" she asked.

"I freaked out a little," I admitted, skipping past what she'd already assumed. "He was so perfect at first. I felt so stupid, and he said and did everything right. He took me home."

"I mean, I didn't want to say anything..." Penny said.

Social media or not, a public freakout wasn't going to have gone unnoticed and undocumented. I couldn't lie about that part.

I hung my head. "Yeah, I figured," I said. "For what it's worth, you put on a good show just now. Anybody watching wouldn't have thought you'd already known."

"Oh, honey," she said. "I didn't want to ruin anything for you, just in case... you know... things ended up going really well afterwards."

"It's totally okay, babe," I said. "We weren't in the circle. You were being a good friend. But now we're in the circle, and... I think I have to tell you something."

"... shit," she said. She reached out for my hand again. I let her take it.

"Yeah," I said. "He was perfect, and then we... you know. And then it got weird. And then it got bad."

"Do we need to go to cops, Kari?" she asked. "It's your choice, obviously, but... do we?"

I shook my head. "I don't think so," I said. I looked up at her and pretended to freak out a little. "No! No, he didn't do anything. It's just... everything turned. The vibe. The way he moved. There was a change, and it made me feel..."

"Unsafe," she said. "But he left, right?"

"Yeah," I said. "He left."

"Let's get the locks changed," she offered. "I'll backstop some bullshit either way - if your alarm bells stop ringing, or especially if they don't."

"God, I feel so stupid," I said.

"Don't," she said. "The smartest women in the world get fooled sometimes. It sucks that you can never know. It just sucks. He might be a really great guy, Kari, but if you get a vibe, you shouldn't just ignore it. Take a few steps. Make yourself a little safer."

I noted the irony. I'd already made things a lot more dangerous for my boyfriend. There was an argument to be made that that did make me safer, but it was a twisted path through a dark forest. The more silver I'd found, though, the less guilty I'd felt.

I nodded. I let my eyes get wet, but I didn't cry. That was a good balance.

"You're the best, Penny," I said. "I mean that."

"I know," she said, trying to break the tension.

I let her.

Step Three: Isolate

How does the cartoon go? "I know that you know that we know that they know that I know that you know..." and it only ends with a shotgun blast to the face or a giant mallet to the head.

I transitioned from freaking out to embarrassed to apologetic to loving. I didn't drop hints. We were past that. I told him flat-out that I owed him a special night. I told him I was a modern woman with her own job and her own money, and that I needed to take responsibility for what I wanted. He got the message. Of course, he also got the subtext. Did he get the sub-subtext? Cue that cartoon. Silver buckshot. Silver hammer. His name wasn't Maxwell. Ah well.

I was surprised he let me get the equivalent of the last word. He let me drive. That was the lynchpin. That meant he was down to whatever he could keep on his person until his backup could arrive. The compromise was that the moon was a waning sliver. I had to assume he knew my bloodline and my strength; I wasn't going to be weak. I just wasn't going to be a giant totem of magical, animal fury that could shift and eat him before he could unholster a gun.

I hoped he was one of those chuckleheads who assumed that werewolves would never pack heat, but it wasn't vital to the plan.

On a romantic bridge with a brook underneath, late at night, with a few tiny hints that I'd prepared a different kind of event - a stray balloon, some music, nothing hard to erase - I kissed him one last time.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Ordinarily, I'd tell you," I replied. "But not this time."

"Wait, what?"

"There's a way for this to happen where nobody dies and nobody goes to jail, Gopal. You were really good to me. You fell for me. Don't try to deny it. I could smell it. I still can. It's why I got careless."

He shrugged. "Okay."

He wasn't as stupid as I thought. That really hurt. Denial would have made me feel powerful. A confession would've made me feel special.

"I imagine I've got ten minutes or less, so no big monologues. I've faked my death a dozen times, Gopal. I'll do it again, and this time it'll be a murder. Do you understand?"

He stayed quiet. I saw the gears turning. I couldn't figure out his math, because I didn't know his premises. I didn't know if he'd underestimated me in turn, or if he'd somehow struck a perverse balance between love and duty.

"I really thought the silver ring was perfect," he said. "It was so obvious and so stupid that you'd never believe I was a hunter."

"What was the endgame?"

He shrugged again. "You know I won't answer unless I think you're going to die."

"Exactly. Good."

"I can't smell like it you can," he said. "Did you? Love me?"

"No," I lied. "But I didn't know, either - not until after the ring. You were a meal ticket. Most of us can't even afford a decent legend these days. It's too hard. Social media's the best we can do."

"Better a ticket than a meal, I suppose," he said. "Shitty, though. Real shitty."

"Yeah, well, 'peaceful coexistence' is a lot prettier when nobody's trying to murder anybody else, fuckstick. Nobody criticizes a con that got Jews out of Germany."

"Jews don't eat people."

"Depends on who you fucking ask, doesn't it?" I retorted. "Go back a few centuries and a few of your major benefactors had all sorts of opinions on that, too. Maybe they still do. What did that comedian say? Cons like me can't hold a candle to the reigning world champions."

"Werewolves don't officially exist," he countered. "That's a pretty impressive con job."

"Not mine. Social forces beyond my control. Vampires, maybe. Atlanteans. Lizard people from the center of the Earth. Who even knows?"

That got a chuckle. I realized I'd talked too long.

"Goodbye, Gopal," I said. "You can tell your bosses it was smart to recruit an Indian-looking guy. Eurocentrism; shame on me. Won't work again."

He pulled out the ring box and tossed it to me. I snatched it effortlessly from the air.

"You earned it," he said. "Worth a few hundred."

It was a clever trap. Tossing it would have been petulant; it would've made him feel big. Keeping it reminded him that I - we - were on the back foot. We needed the money. I needed the money to start all over again.

"Sorry I didn't get an appraisal on your life," I said. "Otherwise I'd have a witty retort."

I was away before he could reply again. I still heard it, but I pushed it out of my mind. I cut myself open and let the blood flow everywhere. I didn't use silver, or my own claws. That meant I had to do it over and over again; I tried not to be annoyed by the healing factor. That would have been baiting the gods.


frogandbanjo t1_ja76cml wrote

I emerged from the door to find Mike pacing nervously; it didn't fit his new form. He should've been leaning against a wall or parked in the corner table of some darkened inn, calmly taking in the whole scene and planning for every eventuality. Instead, he was a wreck. I couldn't blame him.

I took a deep breath and tried to remember. I couldn't. Knowledge insisted upon itself in the place of memories. I was something called a Light Surgeon, and I was just barely above the novice level. As soon as I knew that, I began to see... differently. I knew that there was more to light - from suns, from torches, from sources unknown. I knew it had potential, and that I'd begun to learn how to tap into it. I knew somehow that I'd be able to weave illusions as something of a side-hobby to my more serious studies.

Sourceless light, incidentally, was what illuminated the odd, dimensionless, wall-less waiting room we were in. Nothing had changed since I'd last been in it. The floor was undefinable material that suggested stone but wouldn't commit. There was no ceiling above us. Rather, we seemed to exist in a dome whose only limits were the very sense of ending and limitation.

I remembered Alex's advice. I searched my knowledge, rather than my memory, for anything or anyone to whom I was beholden. I knew of nothing. I sighed in relief. It occurred to me that, before he'd even had a chance to cleverly save my life in whatever twisted nightmare we'd been dragged into, he might have already saved my soul.

"So?" Mike asked.

"'Light Surgeon,'" I told him.

"Shadow Assassin," he said. "Went with my gut, I think. If this shit is serious, flim-flam and fast-talk don't seem like they're going to be as important as slipping a dagger into somebody's back all quiet-like."

My stomach probably should've turned, but it didn't. "Makes sense," I said. "And hey - light and shadow. We'll definitely be best friends."

He laughed at that. "I don't think they did anything to weird to my mind. I'm still me, I think. I still like you. I'm not being told you're my existence shell enemy."

I shrugged, letting the malapropism slide. "Give it time. We might have to share a tent in a magic swamp."

"Well, I mean, I'd probably kill you in the real world after something like anyway."

"With your farts."

He laughed again. He was easy to manage.

Mary emerged from her door. She looked dazed, but not sick or scared.

"You okay?" I asked.

She blinked a few times. I saw her doing what I'd done. "Mistress of Battle," she said. "Tactics. Rallying the troops. Specialized fighter and hint of bard, I think. That's good. I can work with that."

Mike and I filled her in. We didn't know if there was anything extra to glean from the three roles combined. We tried. We really did.

Sam was next. She waved off the niceties and strained like she was trying to shit. "Fuck," she muttered. "Fucking messing with my mind. I do not like that."

We let her have the moment.

"Evoker," she said. "Master - er, Mistress, I guess? - of the Arcane Elemental Matrix. Huh. So, okay, it's like the magical versions of enthalpy and entropy. Fire and frost, but hoity-toity. And then there's just... magical energy, outright, from some special plane, which is fucking dumb. And then... it's right there. It's just out of reach. Fuck. I have to gain levels or whatever fucking bullshit. Then I'll know what my next options are."

"That's super fucked up," Mike said. "That's way more mindfuck than I got. I just know how to use daggers and swords and sneak around and stuff. Wait... huh. Something about actual shadows, though. Okay, damn, same mindfuck."

We filled her in too. Again, we couldn't piece anything extra together. All of us knew we were just waiting for Alex. It felt so wrong to be so reliant on him. It had never been like that around the table. His antics and ideas had been a fun sideshow. Now it seemed like they might be the difference between life and death.

Alex emerged. He, too, looked dazed for a moment, but it cleared up quickly. His eyes trailed up and to the left. "Yeah, no, no memories," he said. "But there it is. Yeah. That's good. That's real good."

He broke out into a smile. "Guys," he said. "We have to stay positive. We can't let this get to us - not yet. So gimmie a guess. One guess. Anybody. Then I'll tell you."

"Blue Mage," I said. "Use the most readily available hostile resource and turn it around."

"Well shit," Alex replied. "That's fucking clever, Nate. That's like a B plus."

"Swear to god, Alex," Sam seethed.

"Fine, fine," he said. "Okay. Mimic."


"Mimic," he repeated with a grin. "Final Fantasy Six, coming in clutch, so were you this close, Nate. Man, that is some poetry right there. Anyway, guys? I think we're gonna be okay. I really do. So, the next thing that needs to happen, is I need all of you to fight me. That's how it works. I gotta see what I can copy, and how many I can keep in my head at a time. We also need to start running tests on how the experience and leveling system works. Oh, shit, I also need to see if there's any fun interactions between my shapeshifting and my mimicry!"

Alex's door - the only one that had remained - vanished. He saw us see it, turned, and shrugged his shoulders. We all began looking up and around, waiting for the sound.


The final door appeared - an ostentatious double one, clearly indicating it was for all of us.

"Well, rain check," Alex said. "Who's the leader?"

We all knew what he meant. It was nice of him not brag.

Mary stepped forward. We all fell in line behind her. With only the clothes on our backs - no armor, no weapons, no backpacks, no torches, no ropes, not even the classic flint and steel - we braced ourselves to venture forth into the unknown.

I hung back with Alex at the rear.

"I think I need to tell you something," I whispered. "But you have to promise to be cool."

"Promise to handle Mike instead," he said.

I managed to keep my jaw from dropping. Instead, I just sighed and shook my head. "I'm almost entirely sure you didn't do this, Alex," I said, "but you're really going to make the most of it, aren't you?"

"Hopefully we all are," he said.

"Can you shapeshift just your clothes?" I asked. "You might want to. Take the inspiration from us."

"Crap," he said. "Thanks. Man, I hope this doesn't mean we're in some PG-13 adventure. That'd be a real bummer."

I was going to say something clever about people in PG-13 movies still being able to die even though they couldn't have raunchy sex, but it was my turn to walk into the blank whiteness once again.

"Maybe we'll actually remember something this time," I joked.

Did we? Well, that's either a story for another time, or it's not.


frogandbanjo t1_ja76cd6 wrote

"... you look exactly the same," Sam said, because Alex did.

And then Alex didn't. "Shapeshifter, bitch." Out of politeness, he didn't add, "and the rest of you are stupid idiots for not having thought of it." It was implied. It was always implied.

There's really no such thing as a collective sigh, but call it that. We all had our reactions and coping mechanisms. I was sure that Sam was quietly sputtering about how that wasn't what was offered, but she couldn't exactly argue with the results. Mike was instantly envious; Mary was amused. I just breathed through it; yes, I was the one who actually sighed. That was my thing.

None of us were the Game Master. Alex wasn't wheedling or arguing. He'd made his pitch to whatever 'god' had 'summoned' us, and it had worked. I considered the possibility that that made him the bravest of us, and not just the cleverest. That didn't seem fair.

Not thirty minutes ago, I'd been proud of all of us. We'd only freaked out and cried for, say, an hour after having been 'summoned' by a 'god' from 'a magical realm' to 'save it,' and having been deposited in a grim sort of waiting room that was The Matrix meets an otherworldly plane. It had been a lot. I don't think any of us were yet sure what was really happening. Thoughts of Mark Zuckerberg drugging us and snatching us up had flitted through my head more than once. I hated to think he possessed VR tech centuries ahead of what was on market, but I was also finding Occam's Razor as dull as a butter knife.

"Okay," Alex-not-Alex said. He shifted from some demonic-looking brute to an ethereal nymph, and seemed very satisfied with himself.

"Are you like some kind of idiot-savant shapeshifter, too?" Sam asked, both bitterly and incredulously.

Alex shrugged. "Loophole. He - sorry, it, until we know more - let us choose our appearance. I have no clue if Mike looking like a dark-elf-ninja-supermodel-whatever actually gives him any powers, or if maybe we get the powers at a later stage, but I focused quite specifically on appearance. A shapeshifter appears as anything it wants to appear as, and, heck, even if actual shapeshifters in this world have limitations, I might not have the same ones. This is the equivalent of wishing for infinite wishes, within the bounds of the options."

I saw his second new face screw up a bit. Right before our eyes, it - she? - twisted up, compressed, made us all freak out all over again, and turned into a classic treasure chest. Then the treasure chest opened on its own, revealing vicious fangs that were coated in a thick slime that linked tops to bottoms.

"Now that's a joke with layers," the horrific thing groaned and creaked out.

After another sanity-destroying bout of visual impossibility, Alex was just Alex again. He looked no worse for the wear, just infinitely smug.

"And that is what Alex does," I sighed out. "He's that guy."

"'And for once,'" he replied in mock quotes, "'we are truly grateful that he is,' all four of my friends said, because they have all realized how incredibly beneficial my particular bent might be in this particularly insane and unprecedented situation."

"He's got a point, Sam," Mike said. His voice was higher and reedier, apropos to his new form. He'd only lost a few inches of height - always that pride, with him - but he'd become extremely willowy.

"And so diplomatically made, as usual," Mary added. The smile was already back, which I took to be a good sign. Even as a towering, taut, red-haired Valkyrie, it was still hers: small and pursed, like a teasing kiss just waiting for you to trigger its trap with your own lips. Its danger was less subtle on her new face - even a bit of a mismatch - but there was no denying that she was more attractive in her new form. Mike was arguable, but I'd have said all four of us were. Alex was Alex - and also, apparently, anything else he wanted to be.

Sam rolled her new eyes - fiery amber, just how she liked them on her character sheets - and flipped her snow-white mane. Of the four of us, she'd gone hog-wild with aesthetics. Mike, Mary and I had jumped into archetypes, though beautiful versions at that. Sam had agonized, clearly.

"Well, okay then," she said dismissively. "That's that. What's next?"


We all just looked at Alex. We were quite beyond pretending that anybody else was in charge.

"Leveling and experience," he said. "Our buddy is saying he can only nudge us onto paths that mesh with this whole 'magical world' of his, but then we'll have to grind it out to become powerful enough to actually get the job done."

"... You got all of that, from that?" Sam asked. "Bull fucking shit. Alex, what is this? What did you get us into?"

Alex put up his hands. "Swear on my life, Sam, I didn't do this. I'm just rolling with it. But yes, to answer the question you should've asked, that little tidbit just pushed me about twenty percent in the direction of this being some elaborate setup. Thinly-veiled justifications for classic RPG tropes? Sus. As. Fuck."

The booming, otherworldly voice remained silent. Alex, in particular, glanced up and around, as if daring it to get defensive. Instead, the door appeared again. It was time for us to pick who went first, and once again venture into the unknown.

"Wait," I said. "Do any of you actually remember what happened last time you went in? Because I don't."

"No," Mary said. Her smile disappeared. "I just... I just know that I went through the door, and then 'chose' this form."

"Ditto," Mike helpfully added.

"Same," Sam said.

"Yeah, that's not great," Alex said. "Actually, that's quite bad. I was really hoping you four would be able to do recon for me before I went this time."

"What are those odds looking like now, Alex?" I asked.

He looked grim. "Tilting the other way, Nate. That'd be one hell of a laser-precision drug trip to inflict on five different people. Either that or our minds are being screwed with perpetually. Given the snappy and on-brand back-and-forth we're enjoying, though, that doesn't seem very likely either."

"We should talk it out," I said.

Alex shook his head. "Too many possibilities, not enough data. Not productive. Besides, call it a hunch..."

The door began to vibrate and fade away. Another beside it began to fade in.


"Yeah," Alex said. "That."

Mike stepped forward. "I know what I am," he said. "I'll go first." Putting it diplomatically, he was the group's blunt instrument, even when sporting ironically sharp daggers or swords. His rogues were never truly sneaky - just game-mechanic sneaky to pump up his damage.

"Thanks, man," Alex said. He sounded sincere.

"I'll tell you whatever I can when I get back," Mike said, and then he grabbed hold of the vibrating, fading door's knob. The door stabilized; I thought I saw Mike's new form absorb some of its instability before it did. He opened it into blank whiteness, gave us one last nod, and stepped inside. The door closed and locked behind him, but didn't disappear.

The next door faded fully into view.

"No time," Alex said. "I'll barely have a chance to ask questions, let alone run tests, even if Mike's back in a hurry."

I sighed again - differently, and the three of them knew exactly what I meant by it. "Just do the best you can, Alex," I said. "That's all we can ask."

I headed towards the door. Alex grabbed my arm. "You're going to be the healer?" he asked.

"I assumed," I replied.

"A thought has occurred," he said. "Walk the tightrope. Don't pick something that's too reliant on reagents, but don't make yourself beholden to some higher power, either. We don't know just how real, or for how long, this whole thing's going to be. Arcane magic. Inner strength. Nature. No patron gods. No pacts."

"You guys heard that, right?" I called out.

"Got it," Mary said.

"Yeah," Sam said.

I gave Alex a grateful nod, then tried for a smile. "Knew there was a reason we didn't kick you out."

"Too bad you didn't find a genie in a magic lamp instead, though, huh?"

I shrugged. "Who knows? We still might."

"I love you, you know," he said. "And keep your head out of the gutter. I'm still angling for that date with Susan."

"Love you too, man," I said. "Gotta go."

He nodded, and let me.

I didn't tell him he should ask Mary out instead. It was the wrong time, and Mike being her brother meant it might not ever be the right one.



frogandbanjo t1_j9tub5x wrote

Or just the initial concessions of the scientific method. All of it goes back to Descartes and Hume, too. "Yes, yes, fine, we can't know. But we can muddle through fairly well, and in the meantime, it's exhausting to keep explicitly issuing forth the caveat that we don't actually know-know."

The counterpoint is Nietzschean: there's money in making a ton of people completely forget that you can't know-know. There's money in making them think that your model - whether it was created responsibly or not - is in fact the truth. Don't get conned. Become the con man instead.


frogandbanjo t1_j9pttu7 wrote

I did not understand every word, even though the horrors spoke in my language. Did they, truly? Some were so unfathomable that they forced humility into my soul, driving it through every layer of ego and instinct like a stinging tail. Who was I to say they could not "truly" speak it? I was nothing, in the grand scheme. I had been mere stuff - matter and energy. I did not know what I had become after that. What I knew - what their presence forced into the very core of my new state - was that they were so, so much more.

With others, my instincts won out. Pieces of them moved when I heard my language. It was grim parody. Those pieces could not produce those sounds. They were mocking me. I was too afraid to be offended. They still forced humility upon me - just a different kind, at a different layer.

One horror left the others to their cataclysmic conclave. It made itself small. Then it made itself me - not me, but of my former kind. The familiarity should not have soothed me so, but it did. When my language came forth and its pieces moved, they were synchronized. They looked right.

"Until this is settled," it said, "you will be staying here at the waiting room. Meanwhile, we'll be discussing whether you should go to @#@$! or :/<|)(~#. I wouldn't be surprised if {:>*(! also shows up."

I felt despair, and the horror knew. I knew it knew because it moved all the right pieces.

"Sorry," it said. "It's the job. I try to be professional, but nobody's perfect. Habits. Routines." He pointed to the chaos all around us. "Those guys are too powerful to notice or care. That's why they use guys who use guys who use guys like me. We're a little more sensitive, but we're still part of the system. We're simply not like you, or what you used to be.

"In a way," it continued, "you're just as alien to us as we are to you!"

Except you have all the power, I thought, and the horror knew.

"Can't get around it," it conceded. "It is what it is."

If there was any distinction between thinking and speaking, I tried for it. I'm not sure why. "So what are they? What is this?"

"You don't want to know," it replied. "You will know, eventually. My advice is to wait until you've been permanently placed. It'll be much easier on you that way. You might be waiting here for a long time, but it won't be long now until your privileges kick in. You'll be able to experience consumption and rest again. You'll be provided distraction. You'll be able to tune out most of this unless and until your input is requested."



I was struck, then, by the infinite and perfect complexity of the horror's illusion. It was waiting expectantly while masking its intentions and desires. I would have expected the same from a master gamesman, back home - back when I'd been alive.

"But if I ask, you'll tell me."


"Why might I be waiting a long time?"

"You're a zero divide," it said. "Huh. That's an interesting one. Very mathematical. Sorry, I'm a big fan of idioms and expressions and whatnot. Anyway, yeah - there's all sorts of rules and agreements and contracts, and you represent one of those difficult situations where nobody has a clear claim to your Next. Okay, well, that one's just a little dull. No offense."

I was still too afraid to take any - less so, though. The horror was good at its job.

"What are those words I don't know?" I asked. "Why are there no words in my language for them?"

"Really?" it asked. "You're sure?"

I traced talons on forelimb scales with a body I was fairly certain didn't really exist, and that I vaguely recalled had not existed - even as an illusion - a few moments prior. I was not sure of my choice, but I made it.

"Okay," it said. "Sorry to say, but your planet has no real gods. You have math and science and art, sure, and so you've definitely brushed up against plenty of those big, mysterious guys up there. But your religions? Your god-gods? Yeah, no. Fairy tales, every single one."

"But this is not true everywhere."

"Nope," it said. "By pure, dumb - I'm telling you, downright idiotic - luck, some species connect to real gods. It's crazy. There's this one hunk of rock about a bajillion whatevers thataway where some absolute freak species, in the span of only twenty thousand revolutions, hit seven. Seven! I know you don't have any context right now, but that's just insane. Utter madness. These big guys don't really talk about it, because it makes them uncomfortable."

"They're special."

"They're extinct," it replied wryly. "Pure, dumb, idiotic luck."

"That's horrifying."

"Which part?"

"All of it."

"Yeah, you get it. Now you get it."

The cataclysm all around us ended. That terrified me even more.

"Welp, that's that then," the small mirror-horror said. "You'll be on your way."

"I thought you said I'd be here a long time?"

"I said you might be. But you tipped your own scales - hey, that's a kind of a cross-species pun! Neat! Anyway, you asked. You had to know. Also, you took it pretty well, all things considered. I think you're gonna be okay where you're going. Most people are. The system's got its problems, but overall, it's pretty solid. The physical realm is what it is - a necessary evil. Once you've done your time there, it's all about order. It's all about getting everything where it needs to be."

"Is it one of theirs?" I asked. "One of the seven."

"Nah," it replied. "It's a big one. It's universal. Curiosity. Knowledge. One of my favorites, actually. It's like a crazy quantum tunnel that's perpendicular through everything all at once. You're a zero divide, so, sure, you won't fit in perfectly right away. But you'll get there. The system keeps on churning, after all."

"I wonder what they're like," I said. "Those extinct ones."

"Of course you do," it replied. It skittered and tittered perfectly, communicating its amicable detachment. "You are - cosmically, now and forever after - the curious sort."


frogandbanjo t1_j9pasrs wrote

Yeah, I get that a lot. Too old and stubborn to add more exposition. I try to make either the characters or dialogue worth reading, anyway.

The basic principles and setup should be clear enough from the text, though.

  1. Needs are not desires. I saw that somebody else wrote that, too.

  2. Wishes are efficient, to a point. If it's more efficient to make the narrator/protagonist simply not need something, that's what happens. Instead of eating, he'll simply never be hungry.

  3. When the wish was originally made, the protagonist/narrator had a genie right next to him. Even though his next wish freed the genie from the usual "lamp and contract" bullshit, his previous wish seized upon the "freed" genie as a power source to easily and efficiently fulfill the narrator's needs. It was right there. Everything worked out. The genie became trapped yet again.

Then things get a little murkier - and watch reddit turn what's supposed to be a "4" list item below into a "1" because it's so ingenious. (Holy shit, it didn't!)

  1. The genie is not a human, nor of the prime material plane natively. His "species," for lack of a better term, is fundamentally different. Even when utterly whammied by a wish, it has natural defenses it can use to try to escape from them. The genie eventually escaped from his new prison by overloading it. He provided the narrator with so much love, friendship, and even primal pleasures that the wish's control over him slipped. He fled, leaving the narrator to eventually experience what he should've all along: the near-infinite slumber of total need-death.

  2. Because the narrator failed to wish for the best wish - the only wish one should ever wish for - his wish was extremely powerful, but not infinitely so. Eventually, reality itself insisted that something needed to happen: a prime material plane needed to wind down and end. The wish delayed it for a long time, but it could not delay it forever.

  3. That brings us to the pivot point of the story: where suspension of disbelief must allow the protagonist and genie to roughly fulfill the terms of the prompt. For reasons left to gods and cosmic forces, the narrator was given a second chance to wish for that one best wish.

He first wished to exit the plane, but did so in such a way that delayed need-death. He wished to continue the business with the genie.

He then wished to become god - the only wish one should ever wish for. However, he was able to remain where he was even after shoring up his first set of wishes, on an ethereal plane, to continue and conclude his business. See the first new wish, above.

For his third wish, he granted the genie true godhood, too - the only thing that can ever truly free anyone. Their business concluded, the narrator was finally ejected from that ethereal plane and placed in his own pocket reality. The genie was placed in his.

It turns out the narrator was not such a bad guy after all. He'd just stumbled onto one of those infinite, pernicious middle grounds between pedestrian wishes and the one best wish. Even though he spent an eternity not feeling guilty - because he didn't need to - when given a second chance, he finally got it right.


frogandbanjo t1_j9noctm wrote

"Truth be told, I'm concerned that I apparently need three."

Frax laughs. It isn't friendly. "You? Concerned? How is that possible?"

"I can think of one way."

"But it is no guarantee," he says, telling me what I already know. "If you lack a thing, then you do not need it. If you have a thing, you do not necessarily need it.

"For example, you did not need my presence, or my friendship, for all these many ages, but you cannot be absolutely sure you need these three wishes. You cannot be absolutely sure you need to be concerned."

I was hardly about to interrupt him. He deserved to speak it aloud.

"Do you really think you're inclined to offer them of your own free will?" I ask. He deserves his feelings, but reason must reign.

"... No," he says reluctantly. "I take your point - on the wishes, at least."

For billions of years, I have been the strangest sort of black hole. Wishes are magical, yes, but even magic possesses some of that elegance we call economy, efficiency, or laziness. What's easier: fulfilling a need, or eliminating it? It's usually the latter, but context is everything. Eliminating hunger makes sense in the middle of a desert, but what about in the middle of a feast?

Now consider every need in turn. Now remember that Frax was right there - right next to the black hole when it was created. I only freed him from a single, specific prison.

As my best friend and lover, Frax brought the universe to me. He relished fulfilling my other needs with his limitless magic. I needed him to be okay with it.

You would like to know what changed. Perhaps I would like to as well... but I don't need to. It is so strange, sometimes, what I need.

"Did you know?" I ask him.

He knows exactly what I mean. He smiles. It isn't kind. "I hoped. My people have been dealing with dangerous magic since before this plane even formed. We know how to lie to ourselves. We know how to test every inch of the wall around a wish. We know how to bide our time - to slink and slither until something changes.

"Most importantly, we know chaos. We know the absurd. Your kind has little angels and demons on their shoulders, yes? Usually they are not real. You cannot control them; you can only heed or disregard their advice. You have calls of the void. You have imps of the perverse. We do, too, but we know how to use them."

"Wouldn't it be funny if...?" I say.

"Just so," he agrees. "Wouldn't it be funny if I simply left my best friend and lover and went somewhere else? Wouldn't it be funny if, against all the reason I think I know, and all the feelings I think are true, I did something crazy? Wouldn't it be funny if I used my power to deliver unto my love all of the other love and companionship in the entire universe? Surely he would like that very much."

"You made your own crack in the wall."


"Is there one now?"

"I have offered you wishes. There surely is not."

"How long overdue is the end of this plane?" I wonder aloud.

"A question for the ages," Frax wryly jokes. "Some of my people would pay a handsome price for this information: this particular wish, this particular plane, the contest of primal forces. Oh, if I only I'd brought my measuring tools."

"I'm ready," I tell him. I can just feel it.

Frax nods. Out of habit, he assumes the traditional posture: a genie, awaiting his master's wishes.

"I wish that we were both on another plane - one where we are both quite comfortable and can continue our business, and one that will not suffer overly much from our intrusion."

"It is done."

I am no longer in the temporary bubble of prime-material stuff that appeared along with Frax, breaking up a perfectly-fine monotony of nothingness that I hadn't needed broken until suddenly I did. We are elsewhere. I don't need to know much else. It seems ethereal. I notice our words are no longer words. They are thoughts. You may perceive them how you wish.

I don't mourn the overdue death of my home plane. I need to be focused on the task at hand.

"I wish to be the master of my own needs and desires - to will what I will what I will unto eternity - to possess the pinnacle of that self-control your kind taps into."

"It is done."

I change. I change infinity times in an instant, then again, and then again. I am whatever I am. So are the first words of creation, before cause and effect: "I am." 'Let there be light' is a mere option, long afterwards.

"Do you want this?" I ask him.

"I do," he says.

"You will be the god of some other place. We shall never meet again."

"And suddenly, that does not seem so perfect," he replies. "Nearly, but not quite. But do not despair, godling. Rules can bent. Even walls with no cracks need not be perfectly opaque."

I smile. The ethereal plane does not bind me. I casually take my ancient form and actually smile. Then I actually speak. There's air, suddenly, because I want it. I don't need it. Imagine thinking you need air to speak; how limited I used to be.

"I wish for you to have the same powers I do - to be truly free - which can only mean that each of us must exist as gods in our own sealed-off universes. Goodbye."

"It is done."

And it is. I depart as well. My home reality already had a god, it seems.

Frax was wise. The walls are only as opaque as each god wishes them to be. Each of us receive welcomes from other gods. Each of us begins the final beginning, which only ends when we will it to be so.

We peek at each other's handiwork all the time. There's the odd cosmic smile and wave. There are larger conclaves, of a sort, where triumphs and follies are displayed.

Once every few billion years, though, we cosmically sit down and have a cosmic chat through our translucent, invincible walls - just the two of us, and just for old time's sake.


frogandbanjo t1_j9lv1u3 wrote

Eh, there's literally no law of nature that says that an organism has to be ideally suited to a given environment. If 90% of the population was going on insane murder sprees, and putting a fairly-innocuous chemical in the water supply would stop that, would you want people reevaluating their diagnostic criteria, or just conceding that the species is fucked up and needs some chemical intervention?


frogandbanjo t1_j9k4gfz wrote

>What I mean to say is people say "There is no objective morality" like that is some kind of given, obvious statement.

Well, maybe it wasn't always, but I'd say Godel did some pretty compelling work on a highly analogous problem. "There is no objective morality" ought to be understood as simply claiming that you can't prove premises using an argument that initially accepts them as a given.

Remember, you're also bounded on the other side by self interest. Free-standing self interest is widely understood as being amoral, not moral... but of course, people can also disagree with that - and some philosophers have! Indeed, many have posited that it's immoral, while a minority have posited that it's moral!

How very objective.


frogandbanjo t1_j9czlnh wrote

So there's something special about calculators that produce correct answers using virtually indistinguishable physical processes from calculators that produce incorrect answers.

Explain what significance that "higher level" actually has when we're trying to figure out what's going in the real, physical world.

Before you do, you might want to remember that analogies relying upon things that everybody already concedes are true are weak and shady.

Maybe you should think about two calculators that give two different answers to a math problem that absolutely nobody and nothing knows the correct answer to - and, possibly, can never.


frogandbanjo t1_j8roa0v wrote

It's no more significant to me that the brain handles different "choices" in different ways than the fact that my fingers move differently depending on the task.

>“We” are our brain.

Okay, but what about global supervenience across both time and space? What are we not, if we focus on integrated systems of cause and effect? That's the more important question. "I am a very special cog" does not negate "I am part of a larger machine and my movements are dictated by all of those other parts, plus energy that originated long ago."

I hardly think we need to debate whether the concept of free will is useful. The overwhelming majority of our moral and legal systems depend on the premise that it exists, and anyone who tries to prod at that premise gets shut down very quickly by nervous, fearful, vengeful, and outraged people. It's certainly useful to some people and to some ends. The same could be said, however, for any opiate of the masses or tool of the oppressors.


frogandbanjo t1_j8fcd9h wrote

"So wait... why am I being relocated again?"

"We have no idea."

"So you're just following orders blindly?"

The agent shrugged. "No orders, either."

"Excuse me?"

The agent shrugged again. "Mister, all I know is that time travel exists and the multiverse hasn't exploded or collapsed yet. Somebody's doing something right. We do the job and we don't ask questions. There's nobody to ask anyway."

Agent Ford sighed. He was tired of telling the most complicated half-truth in the multiverse over and over again. The bewildered detainee asked more questions, but they were just noise; Ford non-answered them by rote. The detainee didn't put up any kind of a fight; The Agency had its reputation. Ford and his partner put him in the back of the van. Their bit was done.

The man would be nudged out of his life commensurate with the amount of gunk they'd detected on him. It was a low value, all things considered. Investigation wasn't even suggested, let alone ordered. The system - as though it existed as an entity unto itself - was confident that the man could be nudged away from his crime. As far as it was concerned, there were no plans or devices to find; there were no accomplices to track down; there was no underlying ideology or persistent stressor that would make another crime pop up in the averted one's place.

"One more wife-killer off the streets," Ford muttered. Then he chuckled bitterly. "Off one particular street."

Then he caught his partner's eye, and realized she'd heard him. Fuck, he thought to himself.

He busied himself with his smart watch, but he knew she was going to approach him and try to engage. He checked the list, found the coordinates for the next pickup, and prayed the van was almost there.

The ETA was fifteen minutes.


"You okay, Ford?" Agent Purdue asked. "I know we've agreed to disagree about the whole 'wife killer' thing, but you don't sound so hot."

"It's just my mental filing system, P," he said. "I know the guy might've done a million other things. It's just my way of simplifying. That's it. It's like that Nietzsche guy, right? You know it's bullshit, but you know you need the bullshit, so you cook it up and eat it."

"And they say humanities degrees are worthless," she joked.

He'd majored in criminology. So had she. They were agents, through and through. Thinkers didn't get their jobs. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the job tended to create them.

"Fifteen?" she asked, trying to pry something out of him. "Coffee, at least? And yeah, hot chocolate for you. I didn't forget."

"Yeah," he said. "Coffee." He knew he couldn't say no. That would be a red flag.

The smartwatch found a place within walking distance with mediocre reviews. It took them five minutes to get there, and another five to get their drinks in hand. Ford shook his head. A few more minutes away. A few more minutes' delay. I cannot catch a break.

Purdue sipped in silence for approximately one minute. That left three minutes before Ford could activate the portal without it seeming like he was being evasive.

"You having doubts, Ford?" she asked. "Perfectly normal. Let's talk through it."

"Oh my god," he exhaled quietly. "No, P, I'm not having doubts. The gunk is god. The gunk is good. Good numbers are up; bad numbers are down. The probabilities say it's thanks to the gunk, and there's still more gunk on the radar. It's just another day on the job."

There were two minutes left. Purdue took a slow, contemplative sip.

"No big ones recently, though, right?" she said, rather than asked. They both knew the answer. "I think the model's conservative when it comes to that fact. I think it really says something about the work we've been doing."

Ford nodded. "You may be right," he said. "How very convenient that perfectly-reasonable disputes about the model don't count as 'doubts.' Certainly doesn't hurt that you're boosting for the system, does it?"

"Geez, bite my head off," she said.

"I've been reading," he said. It was his trump card to derail the conversation. He'd been holding it for a few weeks.

"Yeah, Nietzsche, I know," she replied. "Heady stuff." She didn't try to hide her disdain.

"No," he said. "Well, yes, but that's just internet crap. I've been reading the documentation."

Purdue froze, narrowly avoiding the sip that would've wound up a spit-take. "Seriously?" she said. "You looking to get promoted? Now? After all this time?"

"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. Maybe I just want to try to understand... something."

It was the perfect half-truth. Agents were allowed to read the documentation. The higher echelons were always looking for fresh brains to melt. It wasn't necessarily encouraged - mostly due to liability concerns - but it was completely legal and appropriate. Nobody was allowed to cite it in a report unless they had two other red flags to pair it with. Ford knew his dysthymia was a yellow flag at worst. He knew he was safe - at least from the parts of The Agency he was allowed to know about.

"Well, I did not see that coming," Purdue said. "Maybe I'll steal a time machine tonight so I can play this whole convo way cooler the second time around."

Ford shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I'm over here thinking I've somehow done the exact opposite of steal a time machine to make myself seem cool."

Purdue chuckled again. "That's not bad, Ford," she said. "Too wordy, though. Gotta tighten it up for the set."

Ford didn't try to imagine a version of himself that would try standup comedy. Instead, he checked his watch, hit the buttons, and opened the portal. Purdue got in the last word, as she always did.

"Another wife-killer?" she asked.

As olive branches went, Ford decided, it wasn't a bad one. "Not even. Drunk driver."

"Geez," she replied. "Now I'm getting a little insulted. Might just be a hold, not even a relo. Lucky them."

"Maybe," Ford said noncommittally. Purdue raised an eyebrow, so he held off stepping through for one more moment. "Sucks to get plucked, but a lot of these guys seem like they could use a fresh start regardless. You know?"

Purdue chewed on it, then nodded. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I can see it."

They stepped through the portal and found the drunk driver in short order. He wasn't drunk, but he was belligerent. Purdue got to use a toy.

The rest of the day crawled by for Agent Ford. Sometimes it felt to him like it was going in reverse. The job had gotten easier, and duller. The world around him seemed grayer, no matter what the model said.

In a pulpy novel or an old-timey movie, Ford would have been days away from an epiphany - or at least a timely visit from some madman or dissident to point him in a new direction. It never happened. He did his job and lived his life. He never caught a glimpse of the bigger picture, or the truth behind the lie. He never even developed a theory as to what the lie was.

The good numbers crept up. The bad numbers slid down. The world didn't seem to change very much, except for the noticeable dip in crime - well, some crime, at least. It was the kind of crime that would've made the papers - 'if it bleeds, it leads' - and whose absence The Agency made sure did too.

Ford lived his life knowing that he was a dud. There was no other timeline where he'd gotten his visit from a madman. There was no other timeline where he'd learned something that someone powerful hadn't wanted him to know. Nothing important had ever happened to any other version of him. No other version of him had ever dared to take a risk.

That meant he wasn't a murderer, a drunk driver, a tax cheat, or a renegade time traveler either. It didn't make him feel better. He was just another gray man in a gray world - a world where time travel existed, and yet, order had somehow emerged completely victorious.

He often wondered how he'd react if he woke up one morning covered in gunk. He never had to find out. He never even went for the promotion.