Rational tribespeople:

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As part of my hard sci-fi story's setting, I have a tribe of (essentially) Human Aliens who are still at the level of Iron Age technology. This would usually mean that they have lots of rituals and devoutly observed customs, but I've ran into a problem: their Hat (due to Sufficiently Advanced Genius Loci messing around) is Rationality, of the kind you'd see on Less Wrong. FYI, the Genius Loci they live around is demonstratably real, but has no truly magical elements to it, only what can be explained by physics. Due to Bizarre Alien Biology, they can also treat skills and personalities similar to Powers as Programs.

How should I handle this? Should they have "religious" customs anyway? (If so, any suggestions as to what?) Should they have no particularly religious customs, and behave how the reader would expect a Enligtenment society to work? Should I do something entirely different?

However, there is one custom/ritiual/thing I have decided on, with the jutification that they do it because the Genius Loci told them to: they commit ritual suicide at the equivalent of 40 years old, while connected to the Loci. The end result is probably best described by this Dr Who quote: "Donna Noble has been saved." Would this imply anything else about how their society works, or how they behave?

edited 1st Oct '11 5:27:04 PM by Yej

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Shadowed Philosopher
There's no reason why 'iron age tech' should necessarily include 'lots of religious rituals'. Though unless there's some outside force keeping them there, if they've got a 'rational' mentality including the scientific method and so forth, they're not going to stay at Iron Age tech for a particularly long time.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
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They haven't existed a particularly long time, (on the order of centuries) and the group that the reader meets are less developed than average.
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vigilantly taxonomish
Maybe try to take a step back and see Bayesian rationalism as an outsider might. It has its own principles and assumptions; all worldviews do. Any traditions you can imagine developing from those?

If a culture is more than a couple generations old, you would expect some traditions to have emerged. Also maybe think about whatever culture preceded it; traditions can be retained for centuries, perhaps in a modified form that doesn't conflict directly with their ideology.

edited 1st Oct '11 5:36:40 PM by BobbyG

5 OhSoIntoCats1st Oct 2011 05:47:18 PM from The Sand Wastes , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
Who says religious customs can't be logical? In Judaism ritual handwashing is a big deal — and it's something we now think of as very important today. Other customs having to do with staving off disease, improving health, agriculture, whatever, might make perfect sense to do given their situation but still may be preformed with reverence.

I also don't see why ritual suicide would be rational in such a society.

edited 1st Oct '11 5:49:21 PM by OhSoIntoCats

Shadowed Philosopher
Religious ritual can be logical, but the whole point of calling it 'religious ritual' rather than 'a good idea' is that you're not doing it because hygiene is important (or whatever), you're doing it because your religious says to. Which is very much counter to the spirit of Bayesian rationalism.

The vibe I got from the ritual-suicide thing is that it's more like ascending than actual death. Is that right?
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
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Maybe [up]try to take a step back and see Bayesian rationalism as an outsider might. It has its own principles and assumptions; all worldviews do. Any traditions you can imagine developing from those?
Not really. More specifically, I can't think of any assumptions that are part of rationalism that aren't also part of any other given belief system. This is probably because I don't have a lot of exposure to non-industrial belief systems.

[up][up] I would tend to agree with alethiophile. The Jewish customs aren't "logical;" They do it because they believe God commanded them to; the fact that it's physically good hygine is just a side-effect. I suppose they could perform the scientifically correct things with reverence, but if they did that, I'd be worried that the reader would be put off. (The other characters are also hyper-rational, but for different reasons, and so people might think of it being Author Appeal.)

[up] It is Mind Uploading, yes, for what adds up to Living Forever Is Awesome.
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8 lordGacek2nd Oct 2011 12:26:30 PM from Kansas of Europe
You may read up on the crazier (from the external point of view; to them, obviously, it was all "rational" and "Bayesian") things the folks over there did. The Rational Wiki has an entry for the lesswrong, you can take a look at the snark there. What they describe has quite a potential, I'd say, as an example of a rational society developing habits crazy or scary to a layman, perhaps even ones that a layman would find hard to separate from standard religion.
"Atheism is the religion whose followers are easiest to troll"
9 OhSoIntoCats2nd Oct 2011 01:01:56 PM from The Sand Wastes , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
If you look at a lot of religious customs, though, it went the same way.

Don't wash hands —> demons enter through orifices —> you get sick

Do wash hands —> demons cannot enter through orifices —> you don't get sick

You look at Christians during the time of the Black Plague, some bishops isolated themselves and did constant penitence, and they miraculously didn't get sick. It wasn't actually God's favor that saved them, which they thought they had won by isolating themselves — it was the isolation, which kept them from carriers of the plague.

People are, and have been, pretty smart. They understand if I do this, then this. The part where people have tended to get things wrong is the why, as in attributing the effect to winning a god's favor or demons or whatnot. It seems to me that all you would have to do is take that part out.
Pro-Freedom Fanatic
Rituals and customs could primarily serve the function of tribe cohesion. Strip them of supernatural elements and turn'em into elaborate protocol/customs for social reasons.

They've got an actual, non-supernatural afterlife, as in their data being saved into the network. If getting it requires them to commit ritual suicide at 40, it's likely that some cultures would go through with it. tongue

edited 2nd Oct '11 4:02:34 PM by SavageHeathen

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Shadowed Philosopher
Even now, with all current attitudes toward death, if someone told me that if I committed suicide in a particular way I would live forever in the network, and provided evidence along the lines of "I can talk to everyone who I've seen do it, and they're all recognizably themselves, and they all say it's great", I would probably do it.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
(Post made at local midnight in the assumption you know some LW jargon, if that is false, explanations will be provided tomorrow morning GMT)

One of the more obvious things that come to mind is appearing honorable to outsiders. Depending on their intelligence it might even be required within the tribe. Explaining cooperating in PD with other conditional cooperators to outsiders via TDT would be doomed to failure but saying "it's our honor" is something even non-x-rational people can understand and thus cooperate with. Similarly one could expect there to be strict penalizing of self-serving mistakes, e.g. if you make a promise you keep it or get ostracized by everyone; the only way out is if the person you made it to concedes or the whole tribe decides you shouldn't keep it.

This helps avoid problems in situations like Parfit's Hitchhiker or whatever-that-problem-with-incentives-regarding-the-eccentric-millionaire-and-the-poison-is-called-again.

One could also be expected to pull their weight and sacrifice themselves for the good of their group if the sacrifice would make the tribe better off with the expection that others would do the same in other situations and thus overall damage is minimized, bailing out would result in harsh punishments.

For example let's say that a hunting party encounters a monster. They can either try to escape together and probably lose many with a minuscule chance of all surviving or leave one (chosen randomly) to certain death and have the rest escape unscathed. If the person chosen tries to escape they could do it because the monster would follow the bigger group; only attacking it (and thus losing any chance of escape) would save the others. The members of the hunting party wouldn't even think of choosing the first option because doing so would cause a much worse outcome. On the other hand, if monsters are rare they might be expected to either die all if bringing back the body/ies of lost hunters would be impossible because otherwise murdering unpopular individuals would be too easy: "Oh yeah, we totally encoutered a ravenous bugblatter beast and Durk sacrificed himself to save us. No foul play at all sirr..."

There would probably be quite a jarring contrast between an otherwise humane and reasonable society and the extremes taken in extreme situations. During a famine the weakest might kill themselves and if healthy, be eaten by the rest instead of consuming already scarce resources with little hope of surviving anyway.

Having some kind of ritual self-punishment for failures to be honorable (in most extreme cases seppuku) would be very likely. Situations such as the "nuke in NY; torture or not?" scenario would be recognized and people who broke the rules to get a good outcome would be punished anyway because otherwise the rules would be broken even when there isn't such an imminent and serious need. Accepting this would be expected as the bad "moral luck" of one having to choose between bad and worse would save others from more suffering.

When fighting (if there are other tribes to fight) they might be similar to Mongols; cultivating a brutal reputation as deterrent, perhaps focused on the enemy leaders as normally groups tended to treat others' leaders well (at least in the middle ages although my knowledge doesn't extend to whether "leader-mercy" existed before pre-modern civilization and can't be arsed to research it at 1:00 AM) even if the mooks were slaughtered in expection of similar treatment themselves; if the Bayes!tribe tortured and then executed enemy leaders who had chosen to attack them (if they weren't killed outright in battle which they probably would avoid) those who actually affect the chance of getting attacked would have a good incentive not to do so. On the other hand, engaging in positive-sum trading would be held in very high esteem and the "sanctity" of trade would be another SRS BSNES GAIS.

TL;DR: what Oh So Into Cats said; a strict code of honor in relevant things but probably relaxed where business isn't so serious; take some inspiration from Mongols, medieval Japanese and most importantly "Bayesians versus Barbarians" on LW.

edited 3rd Oct '11 3:10:26 PM by ChurchillSalmon

Shadowed Philosopher
The LW attitude also includes a very high value placed on the value of individual human life. I don't think this is an inextricable part of a Bayesian-logical attitude, but it might be part of the tribe's worldview. (Especially since with the uploading mentioned earlier they do have the prospect of Living Forever Is Awesome.)
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
If this society is focused on being Less Wrong, then it might make sense for them to have rituals centered around paradoxes and potential pitfalls for logical thinking.

For example, if you read the Tao, part of it is about how important things that seem like nothing really are, for example, the part of a teacup that is nothing — without it, the teacup wouldn't hold any tea.

So a "Ritual of the Teacup" could be used as a way to focus on the "nothingness that is something to think about", to remind them that this sort of thing should not be forgotten or dismissed.

There are many other examples of paradoxes and pitfalls. You might be interested in reading Anthony Flew's book _Thinking Strait_, and of course the Logical Fallacies list.
15 Trotzky5th Oct 2011 04:10:02 PM from 3 km North of Torchwood
Lord high Xecutioner
they commit ritual suicide at the equivalent of 40 years old, while connected to the Loci.

But that's illogical, Captain.

Except everyone thinks Carousel is perfectly normal. Some despise irrational foreigners who don't practise Carousel, some envy this foreign custom.

Apply that rule from Kull or Krull, Cyclops have a destined time and place for painless death, ifn they break the geis, great pain.


edited 6th Oct '11 7:25:03 AM by Trotzky

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They're not focused on Less Wrong specifically, but the idea occured to me because of a LW article about how humans' reasoning is faulty with biases, heuristic shortcircuits firing at the wrong times, etc, and I was wondering how an alien race that didn't have all those flaws would behave. Thanks for all your points, and I didn't realise that LW had done an analysis on this. tongue

[up][up][up] Unfortunately, one of the conditions of living forever in that way (they think) is that you have to live until the appropriate time. This would, AFAIK, produce a self-preservation instinct, but I could be wrong.

[up] Well, I wouldn't have thought rationalism would lead to no belief in an afterlife, so aren't they going to jump at the chance to live forever?

edited 7th Oct '11 3:22:56 PM by Yej

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(Right, this might be incoherent, since it's 1am, but I'm writing it down anyway.)

One idea I've just had right now is for them to have a ritual/protocol called, ATM, the Presentation. When one member of the group invents a new device, or discovers a result they consider interesting, the group gathers around, and the discoverer presents his invention, describing what it does, why its useful, the cost involved in producing it, and things like that. Possibly this would be similar to peer review in the Iron Age. For the "ritual" aspect, I'm thinking that it's an ultra-formal process, possibly having to go through a "patent clerk"-type figure first, who would check for it having been done before and making sure its not fradulent.

Does this sound like a good idea? Anything obvious I'm missing? (Should I go off and write it and come back for feedback? tongue)
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Relevant. The Presentation doesn't sound like too bad of an idea.
one interesting thing I saw on TV once was a dog who, according to the TV program, liked to organize her toys in geometric patterns. Taking that show at face value, you could imagine such insights as having a self reinforcing effect on the organisms as they evolved to higher intelligence — perhaps this is behind discoveries such as the cave bear skulls laid out in a geometric pattern by the neanderthals.

Even in history, there were cults like the Pythagorans, who worshipped number. Your logical race could have rituals based around such insights, such as walking fractal paths, making complex geometric sculptures, reciting mathematical sequences, etc.
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Total posts: 19