Dec 04, 2022 7:16 AM
if your writing projects never fail, you're not trying impossible enough projects
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The man is seated cross-legged opposite Carissa, in their private time-dilated Forbiddance which no other is to enter during this event.  The universe is a bit over three meters tall from floor to ceiling, and though the ceiling is something like a glowing blue sky, it is not really the same.

The man takes a scroll of Heightened Extended Detect Thoughts; the spell at just second-level cannot provide enough raw power for him to get enough decodable information off Carissa.  He has more scrolls, but they will still have relatively little time.  Both of them think quickly, now, and at this level of intelligence there should be little wasted motion.  But there is much thought for them to exchange.

He casts the spell, observes Carissa permitting it to take hold; he signals Carissa that she can go ahead and put on her artifact headband, combined now with her Wishes; and then, when she's ready, cast her own Detect Thoughts on him.

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Carissa is very unsure whether this will work, whether it will be impossible to think in front of Keltham or not, but the worst case scenario, here, is that it doesn’t work, and they learn nothing. She’s decided to not try to make it work, because trying to make herself willing to have thoughts in front of Keltham seems like a terrible idea. If he turns out to feel safe to think around, then this will work, and if not, it won’t; all she’s here to do is learn which world she’s in.


She takes her headband back. 


It’s not actually a headband. That’s how she thinks of it, because she’s a wizard who spent the first eight years of her adult life saving for a headband, but it’s a crown by any reasonable definition. More elaborate and more expensive than the crowns most Kings can arrange to wear. The metal is cool to the touch no matter how long she holds it.


Carissa wants to be smarter and better and know more things and have more space to think them in. She puts it on, and feels her mind expand around her.

 

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She gives herself ten rounds, first, to just breathe, take it in, exult in it; she is more complete, and more alive, and her delight in that need not be tainted by all the facts that are going to immediately come crashing down on her. Many Carissae Sevar will live their whole lives without being Wished and artifact-headbanded up as far as magic can take them, without letting their thoughts spool out in a mind that is big enough to contain them.

 

It is not one ounce less satisfying and less beautiful and less wondrous than she imagined it; if anything, it's moreso, because there is more space in her now for imagination. 

 

 

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Right, then, enough of that. Time to save the world.

 

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There's not an easy solution.


 


It's the first thing she looks for when she puts her headband on. She's been considering it unlikely, really, but likely enough that much of her remaining hope resided there. That there was some clever solution as likely as Keltham's mainline plan to result in the overthrow of Hell and the return to better custody of those souls subject to it, which did not run even a small residual risk of destroying everything else in Creation. 


There isn't. Or if there is, it's something that uses dath ilan knowledge alongside Golarion knowledge, something that'll occur to her or Keltham in a blinding flash of insight only when their minds are met and joined. Not something Keltham has seen himself yet, and not something you can infer if you've only built one computer and still can't really see how to convert many of the questions you actually want answered into its strange language. She would think about it longer, but it's unlikely she'll see it in another sixty seconds if she didn't see it in the first six - not if she doesn’t even see a promising angle of attack -



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In the absence of the easy solution there’s only the difficult one. In the last week before their trip to the city of Brass she took to organizing her wall for her future self, circling particularly confusing questions that she hoped smarter-Carissa would be able to resolve, trying more to identify important questions than to answer them. Answering them was for later, for once she was smarter. 

 

 

For now. 


Well, not quite now. Answering the questions on the wall is the third item on her to-do list. The second is to look inside herself.

 

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She hasn't really been using dath ilani cognitive techniques for a while. She used them to talk to Keltham; otherwise she'd fail to talk to him entirely. She used the really inescapable bits, the bits about how you should try to believe true things instead of false things, and check yourself internally to see if you're doing that, if your questioning-processes are even trying to spot your confusions and rip them away and arrive at the truth. But there's a lot more than that, and for the last month Carissa has been (mostly deliberately, mostly as the result of an explicit calculation about the merits of this course of action, but only mostly) holding them in abeyance, because she did not trust that they would not change her. 


She still doesn't entirely trust the techniques but one of the things that is immediately obvious, from here, from this place of greater clarity about the roiling sea of emotional agony that has been most of her life since she left Osirion, is that she's going to need to be using more of them than she's been using so far, or the world is probably going to end. And while she's changed, in some ways, from the Carissa Sevar who some seconds ago put her headband on, she has not changed in being entirely sure that every other thing she has ever cared about or ever will is worth tossing into the furnace for a one-in-a-million chance that it'll save the world.

 

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And that is, of course, the first place to look, with her newfound mental fortitude, with a sharper spotlight she can use to catch any lies she might still be telling herself and any places she might be looking away from. Is she, mentally and emotionally, configured in the best possible way to work on this for as long as it takes, alongside Keltham even when everything he says is incredibly frustrating and feels slippery and wrongheaded?


No.

 


This is hardly a thought that required lifting her mind up to a new stage where most people could hardly recognize it. She talked about it with Carmin on her second day here, when she first needed a break from making her wall of strategically important questions. She'd picked a coping mechanism by then: she was visualizing her thoughts, in her head, as suspended above a river of torment, red-hot like the Andramal winding through Dis. That way, she could identify when a thought was touched, singed, shaped, by the river of agony, and rerun it. 


This, Carmin had said, was not the approach most people come up with, to trying to think clearly while in pain; mostly they try to make the pain less intense, less immediate, until it's the kind of pain you can work alongside as an old friend. "Be in constant emotional agony, use very elevated Wisdom to check if thoughts were touched by the intense emotional agony" is both not available to most people and not a very good idea.


Carissa obediently tried various approaches to being in less emotional agony. She determined that many of them were designed for problems that were not 'the literal worst possible outcome under your values system is very likely to happen and it's your fault' since many of them were about noticing and appreciating how the problem you had was not the worst possible problem to have, or not likely to be very bad, or not very likely to happen, or would leave a world worth living in even if it happened. They would be very useful if she were emotionally distressed about her family going to Hell or something normal to be sad about like that. 


Most ways of being in less emotional agony involved looking away from reality, and she could afford that even less than she could afford the emotional agony. Most ways of trying to shape her thoughts to dip into the river of agony less often involved shaping her thoughts to not tell her when the river of agony was influencing her, and that was even worse. 


So she told Carmin it was the approach where she was in constant emotional agony but learned how to keep her thoughts properly clear of it, or nothing, at least until she was even wiser. She would be sculpted around the pain she was in, but at least she would see it clearly, have no thoughts she couldn't think, and know which thoughts to distrust; that was the best solution she could come up with. 

 

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That was wrong, of course. The thing she can feel herself doing now was possible even at her previous Wisdom. She actually thinks that one of the fundamental revelations she's having, one of the general principles here, is that all this was possible for the very original Carissa, the little girl at the Worldwound worshipping Asmodeus with no magic at all.


 


All she's doing is looking at the pain and knowing that it does not help. That because it does not help, it is a luxury, and she cannot afford luxuries. It feels strange at first, and counterintuitive, for pain to be a luxury, for grief and guilt and horror and misery to be luxuries, but that's what they are; they are parts of Carissa which are real and important and which she cannot afford. 


The pain does not want to hear that it's a luxury. The pain wants to be necessary. The pain wants the story to go that Carissa Sevar is in so much pain and has to do her work anyway. But of course the story is better, truer to the pain and truer to Carissa Sevar, if it goes that Carissa Sevar does not have the luxury of being in pain. 


If you do this wrong, you'll just fold the pain up on itself, and be miserable about your own misery, count it against yourself as another failing. Here, she does feel like she's using a skill she didn't have before, a skill that she certainly at least never used before: the skill of reaching for each thread of her mind and knowing how much pressure to put on it, so that it dissolves instead of hiding. It feels vaguely like picking blackberries; you develop a sense of which are ripe on the vine and ready to fall into your hand. 


She looks at the pain, thread by thread, and she tells it regretfully that she cannot afford it. That precisely because the thing that she is mourning is so important, there is no space and no time to mourn it, and so she'll have to not be in pain, and that too is part of the tragedy, that she must walk into it without even the comfort of being permitted to grieve it. She does it very gently, very cautiously, so she doesn't just hide her thoughts from herself by accident.

 

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After a while in the place of the red-hot river of agony there is an abiding conviction that it would be correct to mourn, correct to scream, correct to pound her fists against the floor until she broke every bone in her hands, but that she cannot, because the world deserves an advocate who is not distracted. It deserves that more than it deserves to be mourned, even though it does deserve to be mourned. Carissa Sevar is strong enough to build her forty-foot wall of strategically important questions while at every instant suffering intensely, but she actually needs to be stronger than that, strong enough to stop it with the suffering intensely, so she's going to do that now. 


 


That's not the whole of it but it's a solid few steps closer. 

 

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She looks at Keltham, then, and casts Detect Thoughts - (of course the spell behaves like that, how did she never notice before that there's an obvious better configuration, every spell is going to be like that, have little unnecessary points of tension no one could see how to unfurl, she could fix them all) - and then looks up to meet his eyes.

She doesn't feel afraid. That wouldn't help. She does feel curious, because that's the kind of thing that might.

 

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His mind lays open to her, as it did in the beginning, four months and a thousand years earlier, when she cast a lesser form of this spell on Keltham shortly after his arrival in Golarion.

Now she is fifth-circle and INT 29, and he is greatly changed, and she is greatly changed.


The structures of his mind unfold before her, in vastly greater detail...

...they are more orderly, now, than when Keltham arrived in Golarion.  Stronger, sadder, and better-organized.

His mind shows, because he had been watching Carissa confront her dilemmas just now, his thoughts about how he handled those matters himself.


He did not switch off his own hurt.  Past-Keltham never tried to switch off his own hurt at any point.  Pharasma might have seen that as self-modification, planning to extort Her - creating a new version of Keltham that would feel less hurt over having to annihilate everyone in Pharasma's Creation -

(His thoughts swiftly glide over the reasoning there, trusting to the augmented powers of thought-detection that he sees in Carissa now, the swiftness of her thought, to understand what should be instantly comprehensible at INT 29 -)

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A coherent being almost never modifies their own utility function.

To choose to hurt less about destroying Creation, is to be readier to destroy Creation, to choose that under a wider range of circumstances.

So a coherent agent in past-Keltham's place, even having already mostly decided to destroy Creation, would not modify its utility function to assign less negative valence to destroying Creation.  What about the small probabilities of Creation not being as it appears, in which case you might have to change your mind in the future?

Even if on the most-probable-mainline you expect to carry out the same decision after modifying your utility function, and get the same amount of utility according to your current utility function, there are possible worlds where the different utility functions imply a different choice.  Those possible worlds do not have zero probability; the different decisions you would make in them represent an expected loss from the standpoint of your present utility function.

And so a coherent mind almost never self-modifies in that way.  The expected loss is obvious; what would they gain?  A coherent agent never has cause to bind itself, to war within itself; if it would benefit from predictably doing something, it can just predictably do that thing.


Past-Keltham was not coherent, and hurt inside, at the thought of killing everyone he'd met in Golarion.  Murdering trillions of innocent people, maybe isekai-ing them to someplace as unpleasant as Golarion had been to him - or just their ceasing to be at all, if what happened to him really was a special case, though there seem to be strong arguments that it wouldn't be - he did not want to do that.

Which is to say - metaphorically - from the quizzical perspective of a more coherent mind - that past-Keltham derived internal disutility from the event of his imagining and choosing situations of sufficiently low external utility.


To a weird twisted mortal incoherent mind like that, might there not be utility to be gained, in choosing to hurt less?

If you're going to destroy Creation anyways, why hurt about it too?  If it's the same outer act, the same outer consequences, either way?

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But what if original-Keltham wouldn't have been able to destroy Creation, would have flinched at the end, turned away from the betrayal of deontologies?

What if original-Keltham furthermore would have turned out to believe, deep down, that Pharasma would yield to alter-Keltham; hence that alter-Keltham wouldn't need to actually follow through, if he'd made himself hurt less about destroying Creation?

And - even if that's mostly not what was going on - what if Pharasma's decision theory, looking at something as much of an incredibly incoherent mess as past-Keltham, saw elements in it of Keltham maybe flinching away?  Of his fearing he might flinch away, his expecting Pharasma to yield?  When he made the decision to exert what power and Wisdom he held over himself, to make himself hurt less, and so become readier to destroy the world?

So, just in case, he didn't do anything that Pharasma might interpret as making himself hurt less, about the prospect of destroying the world, when he realized that was what he needed to do.

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He didn't deliberately or wantonly think about the painful thing all the time, as would have been stupid.  He also didn't stupidly not-think-about that area of thoughtspace; he went on thinking about alternatives to destroying the universe.  He didn't deliberately think painful thoughts, but he left those emotions in place, ready to fire unchanged, when at the end he made his last decision to proceed with his plan; knowing that it might end with him destroying everything.

On a moral level, what he's doing has simply the moral meaning of him destroying Creation.  If Pharasma or Cayden Cailean comes along and makes something else happen instead, that's not to his own credit.  And he needed to not think about all that anyways.

He didn't actively think about how much he didn't want to destroy Creation and isekai everyone in Axis, didn't actively call that pain down on himself.  He also didn't try to do anything about the sickening sense of sadness and despair that went on in the background anyways.  That might have been a forbidden self-modification, and increased the actual risk to Creation.

 

That person wove himself a new structure woven out of the pieces that past-Keltham shattered into, when past-Keltham met a situation that set his inner pieces at odds against each other, consequences and deontology and virtues no longer in accord and pointing in separate and incompatible directions.  That man decided not to fall apart, to stay sane anyways, to continue anyways; which was also a capability that dath ilan had tried to grant him.

...he didn't do it perfectly.  You're supposed to have help from a Keeper, to put yourself together again in a way that makes sense, when you take enough damage that you'd fall apart if not for your decision not to.  Sanity-by-fiat is meant to be a temporary thing, for emergencies.

The person that Carissa met when she came to the Doom Base from Osirion - he conceived of himself as something of a mausoleum to past-Keltham's last wishes, made out of the pieces of Keltham.

 

All of his remaining self-care was concentrated into his last hope that the world wasn't really real, that the people in Hell weren't really there, that the main consciousnesses in this continuum with a lot of realityfluid underlying them were himself and Carissa and his other potential love interests and maybe a few other people.  In that case, he ought to not sacrifice himself fully for the sake of destroying Hell or mending Pharasma's Creation -

- but he couldn't actually do that, it turned out, couldn't balance Creation and himself.  He didn't have enough reflectivity during his temporary bouts of Wisdom 20 to make changes that could simultaneously optimize around himself and Creation.  Especially not when those self-modifications also had to work at Wisdom 16, when the Owl's Wisdoms wore off.

A mortal cannot always divide their efforts between two possibilities, not in practice.  He had to choose between optimizing for his own inner life and optimizing for Creation, and he chose Creation, because he wasn't that selfish, in the end.

The only hope he'd held out for himself, was that a last plea of his had been heard, that the quality of a viewpoint character had left him.  He'd tried to conduct himself accordingly, be something that could fade into the background of the plot.  Hoping that something far above had heard him, listened to his last plea, and removed most of the realityfluid from his computation, letting the real Keltham continue somewhere else, from just before he cast Fox's Cunning on himself back in Osirion.  Even finding himself still in Golarion, he could still hope for that, that most of himself wasn't really there, anymore.

He thought about his own existence as little as possible, a poor man's substitute for daring to try to interrupt the reflective thought-loops that underlay his own consciousness.

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For a long time Carissa did not understand what Keltham meant when he claimed that he wasn't Keltham, that Keltham was gone. She isn't confused, now, even if Keltham appears to on an impressively comprehensive level not care about the things Carissa personally gets out of existence and care about a completely different set of things that don't matter to her at all.

 

She wishes he had been more selfish, too selfish to destroy the world, selfish enough to grasp for the less-likely story where they fix Hell some less risky way. There's no point dwelling on that either. 

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When he reached Intelligence 25 / Wisdom 26 / Splendour 25, after receiving Carissa's wishes and Pilar's headband, he put himself back together - though that's more a question of his using Wisdom 26 (now 27) to operate all his pieces individually, rather than him trying to make there really be a coherent person inside.

There are obvious better ways to grow up, as he saw later with some time to think.  One such obvious way involves increasing thinkoomph more gradually, having new experiences that fill in your slightly larger mind with new motivations, new philosophies-of-thought-and-action, newly learned intuitive-choices, to become a real person and not just a utility function hooked up to thinkoomph.

All of that works better with a passion driving you towards something you actually want, and not just a lesser horror you're steering at to avoid a greater one.  It works better if your life and love and startup isn't in ruins, if you have something positive to look forward to.  Carissa could become a coherent person like that, maybe, if she doesn't have to become a god instead; she's not happy, but she's driven and unified within herself.

He could decide to make himself become that regardless, at Wisdom 27 - envision a plausible person he might have become if he'd done things the slow correct way, then imitate his best guesses for what a person like that would think.

But then there's the question of whether that would constitute a self-modification too far away from the original Keltham's original reasons for choosing to destroy the world.  He is very constrained, now, in how he dares repair himself.  Small risks matter, when they're on that scale, and also he can't achieve real organic happiness anyways so it's not worth it.

 

His mind is all deliberate structure, now; he doesn't just exist and feel, he is working to a plan of what to think and feel, deliberate strategies of internal choice.  If he were to describe himself now, it would be that he is something inspired by Keltham, a crafted artwork designed in the shape of past-Keltham.

...But he's not in pain, anymore.  He's ready to feel Keltham's pain later, when it might matter to how Pharasma perceives the decision theory of threats versus best-alternatives-to-negotiated agreement.  But for now, he's just not in pain.  He's decided not to think those thoughts in the native structure that would bind to the circuits firing those emotions.  That's something you can just do, at Wisdom 27, if you have all of dath ilan's knowledge and training that it gave to the tiny childlike past-Keltham about how minds work.

He'll think those thoughts again in their native format at the end, when he makes his last mortal decision, and imprints himself onto the form of a god.  Just in case what's currently on his mind has anything to do with what sort of god he becomes, when he touches the Starstone.

That he doesn't want to kill everyone.

That he'll do it anyways, and not hurt any less about it, if that's what it takes to end Pharasma's Creation in its present form.

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She wishes Keltham could have gone on being the person that he was. She liked the person that he was. She understands, now, why he couldn't just be the person that he was but smarter, the way she can be the person that she was but smarter - she thinks about what she did anyway, in case it helps him, but she suspects that it won't -


 


- the core thing about Carissa Sevar, which has been true since she was four and first realized it, is that she is the person with a direct and immediate interest in the survival of Carissa Sevar. That gives her an intimacy with all possible versions of herself that she could never feel for any other person, that no other person could possibly feel for her; every Carissa Sevar, whether created through memory modification or enhancement or curses or whatever else, possesses a stake in Carissa Sevar's continued survival that no one else in the universe possibly can. When tiny four year old Carissa was scared because she'd gotten in trouble at school for misunderstanding an instruction and gotten beaten, she could take comfort in the love and support of grownup Carissa, of devil Carissa, the future people who want Carissa to live because they can only live through her. 


The next most core thing about Carissa Sevar is that she loves being alive. Some of that was interwoven with Asmodean things she's now discarded, gratitude to her creators that she is not sure is entirely coherent since their decision process about whether to make her did not involve a check about whether she'd approve of being made or about whether she'd be grateful. (She does think she approves of being grateful to any creator who created her conditional on her gratitude, of serving any creator who created her conditional on her service; Asmodeus's mistake is that he didn't negotiate for her loyalty, more fool he.)

 

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But most of the wonderful perfect delight of being alive is just a fundamental truth that felt as real when she was four as it does now, that to take in input from the world around her and make sense of it as much as she can is a wonderful glorious untouchably perfect thing, and as she's grown bigger she can take in more input, and make more sense of it, and answer and ask newer more complicated questions, and it's wonderful. 


The next more core thing about Carissa Sevar is that she wants the world to not feature any big appalling problems that might eat her, so that she can study magic all day. This, too, has persisted uncomplicatedly in her self-concept since...not since she was four. Since she was eleven, maybe. If it's possible for her to solve the big appalling problems, she'll do that, because it's what she'd want someone else to do, but the point of solving the horrible problems is to get to study magic all the time. 


And from there there's a lot of branches, bits she's exploring, like why "it's what she'd want someone else to do" features so much in her reasoning and whether that's enough to get you all the way to Good or if it's more of a Lawful Neutral thing at its core, and why she likes being a cult leader, and why she thinks Dispater and Abrogail were good for her in ways Good versions of them wouldn't and couldn't have been, but all of them feel like whether or not they persist across any particular set of new capacities she'll remain herself, and recognize herself, and love herself and be happy for herself that she gets to be alive.


 She is sorry, if Keltham isn't shaped in such a way that he can take any advantage of any of that. It's probably not high priority to resolve, but she wishes it were better for him.

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He is showing all this to Carissa, now, showing her all of this, all of the dath ilani technique he can, because he is pretending that Snack Service does not exist, and if Snack Service did not exist, he would be desperate to find a better way - even more desperate - would be giving Carissa every advantage he can, all of his art, all of his knowledge.  Because maybe she's the story's protagonist and she can think of a way out, a way to save Creation without maybe destroying it, without releasing Rovagug and killing everyone in Project Lawful and Osirion, everyone he knows in Golarion.  He has seen Carissa augmented in the City of Brass, for it, opened his thoughts to her, for it, will trust her, for it, would give her any resource in his power, for it; if she can think of a better way to rescue all the souls in Evil afterlives and make Pharasma's Creation something that doesn't hammer down any Civilization before it forms.

He'd do that even if he was taking Snack Service into account, just in case.

If she needed him to true-suicide for it, he would; only not go to Hell, for that is something he'd never do.  He is not that unselfish.

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Carissa isn't, actually, going to use the dath ilani techniques for this; she'll look at them, learn from them, and then build something else for herself. 


She isn't sure Keltham understands the way she feels about dath ilan, about dath ilani mental techniques, she suspects that she wouldn't have ended up needing to do so much translating of the things he says to her if he understood.


 Carissa thinks that dath ilan is a nice place to live for the people who live there, and probably doing notably better than any institution she'd know how to run at acting on the values of the people who run it, and it makes sense that Keltham misses it very much.


She does not, actually, share much in the way of values with dath ilan. She's thought about it, because it might be very important, and she has picked out the parts of herself that were just rationalizations so she could endure Cheliax and pass mindreading, and even once you strip all that way - Carissa thinks that getting to exist is very important, that ceasing to be is far worse than going to Hell, that if you are annihilated from a billion universes and someone makes a copy of you in a different universe you have lost almost everything that mattered, that 'average utilitarianism' does not describe her values or anything that even resembles them and in fact feels like a silly value-function someone made up to win philosophy arguments, not a plausible account of how a person's deep wants for the world could possibly be shaped (she is aware that it is a real way peoples' deep wants for the world could be shaped, but certainly not hers). 


There aren't Carissae in dath ilan, and she wonders whether there's no one born like her or if they just get shaped some other way in the course of growing.

 

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Dath ilan is not really something she wants to see win; dath ilan winning isn't very good, by her values. She suspects it's wrong-by-Carissa's-values to kill demons and magical beasts and wild turkeys and mules. It's definitely wrong to kill anyone who can object.She thinks it's definitely wrong not to make new people, if you can do it. It's all right to hurt people if you're good at it. It's all right to have slaves, if you made them or saved them when no one else would have. That's what a Carissaeish Good would look like, she thinks. She isn't, herself, Carissaeish Good, but if she met a civilization of it she'd want to see them win. 


Dath ilan's mental techniques were, in a very ordinary sense, engineered to make people dath ilani; engineered to raise ilani children who share the fundamental assumptions of their society. Every society does that; there's no way of raising children without inculcating them in your values, nor would it be a reasonable thing to try. You can tell them about the importance of independence and thinking for themselves, but that's a value of your society that you are inculcating in them. There's nothing wrong with it. 


Since Carissa disagrees with dath ilan on almost every important values question relevant to her life, she is wary of building her mind out of cognitive techniques meant to produce dath ilani. Even without assuming any malicious engineering by dath ilan's technique engineers to confuse people about their own values, dath ilanism teaches ways of resolving some of the muddles inside people, and Carissa thinks it mostly does not resolve them in the way that a fully worked out Sevarism would resolve them. 


If she had time, then, Carissa would discard ilani techniques entirely and build it all herself from scratch. She didn't, initially, agree with this premise of Irorite philosophy, but it has grown on her; the best cognitive techniques for you are the ones you hammered out yourself, at your pace, with your goals as an aim, with access to some examples but without a model you'll get stuck on and use as a base for forming your own. 


Of course, she doesn't have time. She needs to become as skilled as possible as quickly as possible, even if this means building a permanently worse and diminished Carissa because of using techniques that aren't hers, that are designed by people that don't share her values, and that resolve all her muddles in the wrong way. It's better to have access to those tools than to not, wherever she's not able to invent her own fast enough. But she thinks that the version of her built out of ilani techniques instead of out of her own techniques she invented herself for her own specific values and purposes will be substantially worse, and so she's trying skill-by-skill to calculate the best tradeoff and then use the ilani technique or not depending how that calculation comes out. 


And of course it is not a good use of her energy to feel sad about this, or bitter, or resentful, so she's not going to, but she considers learning dath ilani techniques to be replacing bits of her own soul with aliens with alien priorities, and it is the sort of thing that would grieve her, if she had time to grieve. She doesn't share Keltham's sense that people ought to enhance themselves slowly, bit by bit, filling out the pieces of themselves as they grow - it seems like one thing people could do, but not the only one -- but she does feel that for mental technique-building, that it's actually something you ought to do at your own pace. 

 

All of this to say that she's listening, trying to take in everything Keltham is trying to push at her, but with wariness, because the tools he's trying to teach her to use are tools meant for different goals than she has. 

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Rolling your own cognitive techniques is an obvious goal.  Dath ilan has a whole philosophy about it, that knowledge isn't truly part of you until you could reinvent it from scratch.  He supposes she could try to run off only the Irorite version of that philosophy, if she's worried about contamination, but it sure is a very dath ilani way to look at the world and yourself.

If you consciously understand the ways you shape people, but letting them become themselves is one of your goals, it follows that 'roll your own cognitive techniques' is something that your Civilization would try to teach people to do if they could.  It's why they don't have Golarion-style 'schools' full of memorization, why they herd children into discovering for themselves how dath ilan orbits its own Sun, the simplified equations of classical-illusion gravity.  Dath ilan engineers people to be themselves, to discover themselves, to a degree far beyond anything that anyone in Golarion has ever considered doing, because they have the luxury of that in their optimized world; to figure out the precise conditions to let children discover gravity for themselves, and not make them memorize it.  And children aren't told either, until they suspect it, that the simplified equations of classical-illusion gravity they discover aren't the final truth.

Maybe Carissa at INT 29 - cognitively overpowered in some ways if not others beyond anybody who existed in dath ilan, using mutual telepathy with INT 29 Keltham - can reinvent her own cognitive techniques to any significant degree, within a week or two of time dilation.

It would not particularly be possible otherwise.

Past-Keltham was not taught very much of the Art directly, he was too young to need it and too stupid to use it, but he was taught a lot of the material that can be used to invent it at INT 29.

Here, then, is some of what she'd need to know to rebuild her own version of the Art from scratch.  Even at INT 29, the Detect Thoughts are not fine enough that she'll be able to pick it up from watching him think at this speed, but it is something of an overview of what she could try to learn later at speed, using INT 29 and telepathy -

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- and his mind reviews some of it for her, what little he was taught of the vast amount that true Civilization knows about cognitive science, and some of what he filled in at INT 29 around improved recollections; like a Zoomout Video showing dath ilan surrounded by its entire universe; only with meaningful content with implications in every piece of it, stars that are structured words instead of tiny dots of light in an illusion -

 

- macroanatomy and microanatomy of the brain, over a hundred cortical regions in two hemispheres and subsurface structures, vision here, spatial sense here, one kind of sensory integration and motor planning here, the mapping of the body's homunculus onto it; but that sensorimotor cortex interfaces with the cerebellum which does this kind of motor planning - 

- microanatomy, the layers of the cortex, the different neurons making up the layers, how they mesh with each other, the signaling mesh produced by temporal synchronization of two already-synchronized cortical columns that recruit a third equidistant member; this is a cerebellar chip, detecting errors and correlating those errors against a hundred thousand inputs, a branching factor higher than exists anywhere else in the brain, yet still vastly reduced in dimension compared to all the incoming sensory data -

- differences between expected reward and actual reward; the equations for how much an error in either direction updates the neuron; if the errors can't be gotten down to zero, the neuron equilibrates, metastable if not stable, around the point where the error-nudges in both directions balance in their sum -

- circuits in subcortical structures that watch the larger world-model, binding emotions to them if they recognize the format; here's what Civilization taught him about the way that those circuits wire up in childhood, the lesser ways they rewire in adulthood; the gene expression cascades underneath, the locally simple learning equations they implement; local gradient descent, temporal-difference learning, fire-together-wire-together -

- this is what a human brain really is, deep down, the real character of cognition as carried out inside mortals -

- and his thoughts start to zoom back upward from there through the levels of organization in intelligence, pointing out particular emotions and the subcortical structures they correspond to, what those emotions take as successes and errors, how mortal habits train themselves and balance around the point where subcortical error-nudges counterbalance each other, as they propagate through the whole brain - most of the local parts of cognition are usually in equilibrium, but there's always something being updated somewhere and so the brain's habits-in-sum are always moving...

...like a three-dimensional puzzle piece slotting into place, fitting together the mathematics of decision theory, what he's already taught her of computation and programming to build the magical-simulator-of-magic, calculus, equilibria, expected value, valid inference; combine it with what Civilization knows of the specifics of how brains compute things, and you can see the shape in the center, how that shape matches with all the surrounding areas of knowledge and binds to it, like a protein molecule slotting into its receptor...

 

...this is Thoughtcraft, much like Spellcraft, but with different laws of physics.

It's one fragment of Science.

There's kind of a lot of Science.

Past-Keltham didn't tell her because he didn't know how to teach all that and definitely not quickly - not knowing that Detect Thoughts at this level was possible - and it didn't seem kind to him, to say what sort of education adults had, that he couldn't realistically pass on in any reasonable time.

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Huh.


 

 


How the brain works isn't actually something Carissa had ever particularly wondered about; it wasn't just an unanswered question but one where it was hard to imagine any answer being particularly useful. 


there's so much world so many things to learn so much detail everywhere how could anyone know those things and think it'd be better if it were all gone


 It's sad, in a way - a very small sadness next to the other ones, but still sad - that he couldn't have told her that when she would have collapsed into his arms in delighted wonder and just wanted to play with the idea all day. 

She appreciates his telling her now, because she can see that he wants her to, because it really is fascinating.

She'd have less hesitancy about borrowing from dath ilani knowledge of the physical functioning of the brain, except that of course Wished-up and artifact headbanded minds probably don't even exactly work like that anymore.

 

 

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