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# UltimateRealFiction

Welcome to my blog :3 My name is Yoann, and I do all kind of things.

I am interested in things that make me think, laugh or feel fuzzy with cuteness, as you can see from myanimelist or my shitposting tumblr. I am not interested in brainless action-driven pop culture, or anything about the real world.

I do a bunch of things:

• my writings and games,
• pseudo-philosophical essays, both aimed at highlighting new perspectives for reflection (not at being fully developed argumentaries).
• the NotDailyPodcast (RSS link), a podcast in the same vein with a friend of mine.
• I also have an idea box where I store all kind of food for thoughts that I will flesh out here later (or never if they’re not fertile or original enough, since I want to explore new ideas and not reinvent the wheel).

I leave you with a list of keywords a la 90s Google referencing exploit:

# The rationalist anti-dystopia

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.

Socoro, who is the narrator.

Cephalus.

And others who are mute auditors.

The scene is laid at the police station where Cephalus works; and the whole dialogue is narrated by Socoro the day after it actually took place to her companions.

THE DIALOGUE.

I was arrested yesterday, after our operation failed; and they kept me in custody for the night. I thought it would be the end of our movement, that they would torture me until I gave you all out to dismantle our network. I thought that we had failed to overthrow the System. What I experienced was perhaps worse than that.

Cephalus, son of Johnson, looked old and tired as he walked reluctantly in the room where I was kept waiting. He said to me in a sigh:

“I assume you know why you’re here?”

“It’s because we’re a threat to the System, isn’t it? You want to take us down before we take you.”

“The only thing you’re a threat to is me going home early tonight. Let’s just get this over with, shall we.”

“You won’t get anything from me. This is not over. My companions will pick up where I left off. We are legion, you cannot stop us all, and soon we’ll be down with your tyranny!”

“Sure, sure, let them. You certainly think highly of yourself, don’t you. Do you think you’re the first “chosen one” who tries to “expose and overthrow the oppression of the System”? There’s so many of you that we have a dedicated procedure. Your little heroic act is just bureaucracy to me.”

“What are you going to do? Torture me? Silence me?”

“Quite the opposite. My duty, whether I like it or not, is to have a little talk with you.”

“You can’t really indoctrinate me if I don’t listen!”

“I don’t enjoy this any more than you do, but I have to apply article 7, subsection 13, paragraph B of the Auction code, so do as I tell you.”

“Well, then, get on with it, but keep in mind I won’t listen.”

“Allright, all the same to me. There’s a few questions I have to ask you, and based on your answers I have scripts to read you. Now tell me, what’s so unbearably bad about society that you ended up here?”

“Are you joking? This world is rotten and obsessed with money! I won’t participate in an Auction of human beings! It’s immoral and disgusting!”

“So you dislike the fact that our society is built around the price of human life?” he said while ticking a box on his form.

“Of course! Any society built around such twisted principles cannot possibly be good!”

He ruffled through his notes for a moment and said:

“Ah but you know, young girl, it’s an eternal philosophical question. Did you ever consider how society would best be run?”

“I guess…”

“Do you agree that it’s pretty dangerous to have all the power in the hand of a single person, for they cannot possibly know everything, never err, and live forever. If this person grows crazy, corrupt or tyrannical, nothing can be done to save the world.”

“Certainly.”

“Do you therefore agree that in a perfect system, decisions would be taken in a decentralized way, without this single point of failure? Anyone could contribute to the decision-making process, ideas would openly compete and our perfect system would figure out the best consensus.”

“Of course.”

“Well this is what a market is. Prices are negotiated by supply and demand, and anyone who knows or performs better can influence the equilibrium by making a profit. Consider how hard it must be to compute how much food should farms produce for everyone. The markets offer a distributed algorithm to allocate resources efficiently.”

“Yes, but such a perfectly efficient society is not necessarily good. You could be extremely efficient at causing a lot of suffering. That, surely, is bad.”

“The problem of which you speak is called the problem of alignment. If nothing influences the manner in which an efficient system operates, there can be no doubt that it may go to undesired extremes. In fact, the system left to its own devices would probably seek to increase its value and to protect itself. Therefore, it follows that we require an independent third party to enforce by some constraints that our system remains moral, ethical, and altogether good. It could be through taxes, or rules for example.”

“I should like to know how you may find such an arbiter.”

“Is it not the role of the government?”

“It may well be in theory, but it can hardly be said to be independent of the economic market, since all humans exist within it.”

“Exactly, and that is precisely what brings us to our current System that you so despise. Let us agree that we need our arbiter to be independent, and efficient. Now we have both agreed that the best way to find one would be some sort of decentralized meta-market, where the best ideas would win the competition.”

“You mean democracy?”

“Exactly so. But humans are not independent of the economy, nor are the politics independent of finances. People can be blinded by their circumstances and desires. And so you see the driving force behind our system. Only humans can drive the ethics of our society, but they cannot do it without bias or errors.”

“So this is the purpose of the Auction?”

“Did you ever wonder why the Auction asks for a single number? It’s a clear and strong signal to align our economy, and at the same time it’s as simple as possible, in order that it may minimize noise and imperfection. Since the economy gives everything a price, it also gives a price to human life. You may find it unbearable, and many of our ancestors refused to look that truth in the eye, but denial is rarely a helpful strategy. This is why the Auction is mandatory.”

“It doesn’t mean we should just accept it!”

“But you see, young girl, that is precisely what the Auction does. It puts us in control of the market, and not it in control of our lives. Certainly we can’t let the market choose it for us, so it follows that we must dictate it. And what better way to do so that by asking everyone what it should be? Many democratic systems could exist, but none would be as clear cut and simple as the Auction. Your own life is the thing you have the most expertise in, and also the most interest in. Any other way would suffer from biases and partiality. Asking everyone to estimate the price of their own lives, and to follow through on that guess with an actual bid for their lives, is actually the most neutral and fair solution. You could just see it as a tax, since it provides public funds and helps ease out the most irrational disparities of our markets.”

“I need to think about all this.”

“Please do. Remember when I told you that you were not the only insurrection group? Most of us rebelled at some point. Some failed, but others succeeded. I was part of one, and we were damn great. But all of us, without exception, ended up endorsing the Auction. Because what comes after the revolution is the design of a new world, and there simply is no better than this, when you get down to it. So think it over. We’ve all been there. You have one more week to make your Bid. And if you accept it, as you cannot but do, all shall be well with you in your life.”

# Kapitalism Damacy

When I turned to my friend and said “I think I may write one of my overanalyzing mock essay about Katamary Damacy and capitalism”, I expected the usual rebuke of “stop bringing up capitalism about everything”, but something weird happened. Instead, they said “yes, of course, it’s well known”.

And indeed, it seems that the creator Keita Takahashi declared that his game was about mass overconsumption. And there is a fair amount of analyses that detail how it goes about tackling this theme. A very nice once is for instance this video:

Katamari is a game about working hard at cleaning a mess that isn’t yours in systems that belittle you just to get through the day.

But even though this topic has already been tackled, I still believe that there are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen brought up, so I’d like to bring them to the table!

• The market doesn’t respond to logic

Why are there dice and batteries lying on the floor everywhere? It doesn’t make sense! But the rules of the game demand it. The market doesn’t always respond to an obvious sensical logic.

• Currency puts everything on the same unique scale

And it yields some… curious comparisons.

• You have to both consume objects and produce growth. In fact, the consumption is precisely your means of production.
• Your katamari thirst for growth is obviously at the expense of the environment.

• Everything is absorbed by the market.

Everything goes into the katamari. Literally nothing can stay “outside the system”. Anti-system movements get absorbed into the system.

• Shallow celebration of individuality to make you buy in

Look how special you are! This is your very custom katamari! You get to express yourself within a well defined boundary in the system! You even get a token custom reward (nothing much, just a minor title). Except well, there isn’t that many items in the level, so how different can anyone else’s be? Not to mention everyone also made a katamari.

• You don’t know how well you’re doing and it’s never enough.

Dues to the logarithmic scaling and the timer, it’s pretty hard to gauge if you’re going to meet your goal or not. You’re in a constant state of uncertainty, which pushes you to do more. I have no idea how people can describe this game as relaxing. As an added bonus, though, whatever you do won’t be appreciated by the king, of course.

• The workers are alienated and spoiled of the value and credit for their work

Everything goes back to the investors.

• I have a theory that the name “damacy” (魂) was in part chosen to make a wordplay with damashi (騙し) meaning deception, cheating, tricking.
• Katamari Damacy is obviously inspired by the practice of rolling balls of muds that some children do in Japan, but also by beetles rolling poo.

What you’re consuming is literal shit.

• But you know who else rolls? Sisyphus. So is all this over consumption just a distraction from the absurdity of our existence?

# The dissolution of Herpo the foul

Herpo was by no means a pleasant wizard. Though history would give him the title of “foul”, he was not so much evil as chaotic. He did not set out to hurt people. Rather, he wanted to push the boundaries of the possible, and discover all that magic had to offer. In itself, it may not have been such a bad goal, and Salazar Slytherin’s fascination for his work is understandable. Granted, his acrimonious and grumpy demeanour did not help his image. But the real problem was undoubtedly his methods.

Herpo was extremely obsessive, and he would not let anything stand in the way of his projects. Fixated on his ambitions, he didn’t have the slightest respect for his peers, let alone muggles. In his twisted mind, the world was nothing more than a tool to play with, and that included living creatures. In fact, he prided himself on not being shackled by “silly arbitrary superstitions” like morals or ethics. He never killed or inflicted pain for pleasure or out of cruelty. But he often did so for his experiments.

Needless to say he wasn’t very much appreciated. He lived as a hermit, more than a day of walk away from any human settlement. The dense forest around his cave was said to be filled with atrocious creatures resulting from past operations.

He spent a long time doing research on animals. It started with fairly simple attempts to see how much metamorphoses, potions and other spells could change a living being, and how long it could last. But he longed for more permanent results, so he delved into more macabre operations, stitching together different animals or breeding them in twisted ways.

More often than not, his trials failed in strident screeches of pain that echoed miles away through the valley. Around the entrance of his cave, the floor was littered with bones and coagulated blood. But every now and then, a deformed abomination would emerge and haunt the neighboring woods.

Ironically enough, what he considered to be his greatest success was obtained by a relatively simple method: by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad, he produced a deadly giant serpent that he called Basilisk. As a Parselmouth, he had no problem controlling the monster, and there were always a couple of them guarding his hideout against wandering travelers.

As bad as their fate may seem, those poor souls were the lucky ones, for Herpo did not stop his experiments to animals and frequently took humans as subject, mostly muggles but occasionally wizards too. He dissected more than one to try and find the source of magic so that he could increase his powers, but the answer always eluded him. As his victims piled up, his sanity died out, and soon there was not much human left in him anymore.

Regardless of what became of his spirit, his body however remained one of a man. Even with the extended lifespan of a wizard, he could feel his constitution waning, his muscles becoming weaker, his magical powers starting to fade… So he obviously turned his research towards himself. Surely something could be done to prolong life and vitality. After all, magic had already improved so many aspects of life. He would simply dare to explore domains nobody had ever investigated before.

His flesh was deteriorating, nothing could be done about that. The passage of time wore off buildings, even mountains. His organs were no exception. But what really mattered was his soul, his spirit. And these didn’t have to go down with their mortal vessel.

He first tried possession spells, to make another body his. They turned out to be impossible to maintain over long periods of time, even after breaking all the resistances of his targets. He did not have more luck with potions. He even attempted his unholy acts on “weaker minds”, including animals and – it has to be said – corpses, to no avail.

But failure had never stopped Herpo in the past. It certainly wasn’t going to stop him in this quest, that he came to consider as the most important of his life.

If the easy solutions had been misses, he simply needed to try harder and tackle the harder ones. He would need to transform his soul into a form he could make timeless. This new form could also allow him to craft replicas of himself, should anything happen to his earthly vessel. This would be the only sure way to conquer the ever-looming Death.

He had peeked inside enough bodies to understand how the different parts played together to make it survive and move. He just needed to give the spirit the same scrutiny.

What followed was the most gruesome period of his life, and the tortures he inflicted cannot possibly be described. Physically and magically, he sliced and diced many heads to perfect his analysis of the mind. To properly manipulate his soul, he needed to understand it in its smallest corners.

After several years, he had perfected a spell to split his spirit into smaller fragments that he called Horcruxes. The procedure was difficult and costly, but the resulting shard could be imprinted for preservation. The problem remained, however, to find vessels worthy of his immortal soul.

He first turned to objects, as stones and metal seemed to promise the best chance for longevity. It did not work great. The gist of the spell was to manipulate matter at an elementary level, to shuffle what his contemporaries would call atoms, and arrange them in the same shapes and patterns that formed his brain. But the rigid objects he tried to use were too different from his head to be a decent substrate. Imprinting his mind on them was too imperfect, unreliable and costly. It would require unfathomable amounts of energy for a result that was not even guaranteed.

The solution was straightforward: he needed to use supports that were more similar to his own brain. The closer the resemblance, the less effect the spell had to inflict, and the less chances of errors or data loss. He started working on animals, and moved quickly to humans.

From there on, it was easy. Their minds were vast and complex, but he only had to find a part comparable to his shard and tweak it in order to embed the fragment into his victim. A single matching piece was enough.

By that time, his vitality was already on the decline, so he set out to split his soul into a myriad of little elements and to find the fitting recipients that would keep his spirit alive long after his body departed.

Unsurprisingly, the best candidates were the ones that had some common grounds with him. One had his perseverance, another liked reptiles, another yet showed promising signs of creativity. One shared his views on muggles, another his secret fondness for berries… Surely they would make the best vessels. He began his wicked process.

But when he peeked into their minds, something unexpected happened that shook him to his very core. In the place where he intended to plant the fragment of his soul, he found that it was already there. The part of their brains he was looking at had the exact same structure as the piece he got from his own. They were indistinguishable. No tweaking or adjusting would be necessary. The operation was, for all intent and purposes, already done.

It was not an isolated occurrence. For each scrap of his spirit, he discovered a person who already possessed it. Sometimes it was as simple as finding the area of the brain that loved snakes, forests or experiments… Other times it was impossible to describe in words. But before long he found himself with no shard left to place without even having done any transmutation.

And so he vanished, as all pieces of his soul were safely stored in his heirs as they had been all along. His life that had been spent in misanthropy and solitude ended in an explosion of empathy, as his spirit merged with the many around him. He found comfort and peace by becoming one with everything and losing himself into other people. They would in turn pass on the fragments of his self, through magic, influence or genetics. His horcruxes travelled on and on, and still keep him alive to this day.

# the Book of Maki

TW: Jordan Peterson

So I recently went to see Book of Mormon yet another time, and during the performance I started thinking that there may be an interesting parallel to draw with Hoshiai no Sora, a recent anime I liked a lot.

Book of Mormon tells the story of two mormon missionary sent to Uganda for their first mission. People there have it hard, obviously, and they understandably Faced with the impossibility to convert new believers, one missionary gives up hope, while the other one starts inventing random bullshit to keep people interested. In the end, the people get really inspired by the it gives them courage and hope in their struggles, and the show ends by everyone rejecting the established mormon church and founding a new church based on these fables. The last words are “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai”, thank you god, paralleling Hasa Diga Eebowai.

Now I’ve written a fair share of somewhat negative things about religion, especially institutionalized, but I think we have in this reversal of mindset something pretty interesting that I first came across in Jordan Peterson’s biblical analyses series. Among a lot of other things of course, he presents an interesting conceptualization of god as the possibility to make “a bargain with the future“. Following the unique human ability to deal with potential as if it was real (i.e. to act because of potential future causes), he posits god as an ever-present absolute that stands in as guarantor for this future. In this view, it makes sense to make sacrifices/efforts in the present, because there is something that acknowledges it and makes it pay off down the road.

In some way, that’s what we see in Book of Mormon. Belief, even in complete nonsense, gives strength to everyone to rise up and fight for the outcome they wanted. The point being, for Mr Peterson, when faced with hardships, turn off your negative emotions, man up, clean your room, believe, and be in a “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset rather than a “Hasa Diga Eebowai” because that’s how you’ll get the best results.

I thought that this was worth digging into this a bit. Because it’s true, if you accept that the world is obviously deterministic and free will is an illusion, that consciousness is a more or less elaborate byproduct, a sort of “noise” that your internal gears are making as they turn. With no causal role, it’s therefore completely irrational to accept negative qualia/emotions, and it’s only logical to try and chase them. I don’t know if you’ll get best results, but you’ll tautologically be happier.

But I really wanted to dig into this notion of best results. It may be intuitive that you’re more likely to be successful if you have a positive mindset, but this is kind of twisting the question on its head and looking at it the other way: considering a world where the success will happen (the role of the guarantor is to make this hypothesis easy), what mindset has the best chance of accomplishing it? Let’s work backwards from a potential success and see what lead us there retroactively.

I’ve been struggling for weeks to try and formalize this reversal of point of view with  Bayes theorem (doesn’t it look similar ^^), but I’m getting nowhere with my Probability(success|guarantor). If you get somewhere please tell me. But maybe the reason I’m running in circles here is that we’re faced with a much simpler tautological framework, “100% of winners have tried their luck”

Working backwards from success may be precisely what belief allows. It’s the ability to trust that we’ll make it, that it will work out, that this possibility exists. I this model, that’s what the guarantor is for. Maybe the guarantor is here as a reference point, to help you out of a local extremum you’re stuck in, towards a real extremum. Or maybe it may be a case of the where the other person is guaranteed to be trustworthy, which brings the best long term outcomes.

Someone made me notice that it’s a actually closer to a sort of stars may or may not align, but if I want a successful outcome, my only rational move is to try (success = try + circumstances).

Stars align Stars dont align success failure failure failure

Stars Align” is not so coincidentally the english title of the anime “Hoshiai no Sora”. It is centered around a highschool club of soft tennis who have accepted that they kinda suck. Maki Katsuragi, a transfert student, shakes things up by making them notice that they’ll never get anywhere with this kind of attitude, and we get to see these adorable dorks progress at their own pace now that they believe in the future. As in Book of Mormon, you can see the shift from the “Hasa Diga Eebowai” mindset to the “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset and its positive effect on the children, even though they may not win big.

There are countless examples of this, though (albeit not as cute as this anime). Maybe the most notable is where Schtroumpf Chétif only manages physical prowess when he believes he can win (because he believes to have ingested a special potion, which turned out to be strawberry jam). Yes, this is the actual parallel I wanted to make.

In the end, american media did a good job at marketing the notions of “just believe”, but there may still be some truth to it. I think one of the best way to conceptualize this “belief muscle” is through cognitive science (and economy) and its model on. It posits that the total “value” of a thing according to a human is equal to the sum over all instants t of the value at this instant, discounted by how far in the future this instant is:

$value=\sum_{t}{\frac{value(t)}{(discount)^t}}$

A famous illustration of this is the marshmallow experiment: are children able to refuse a marshmallow right now (value of 1 marshmallow, no discount) if this will give them 2 marshmallow in 1 minute (value of 2/discount). In this toy example, they would if the decay factor discount < 2 (which makes 2/discount > 1 marshmallow).

I think the simplest explanation is that believing is training yourself to have lower discount factors (i.e. to value the future more). In other words, in this framework, god is an increment of the discount factor.

$value = \sum_{t}{\frac{value(t)}{(discount+god)^t}}$

And I guess it can be good for you? be it only if it helps you mute irrational negative qualia that don’t bring anything to the table.

# Withering with you

Circumstances have kept me away from writing this article that has been burning in the back of my brain ever since I went to the local premiere of Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie – Tenki no Ko (weathering with you), in presence of the director himself. So let’s eagerly jump into it, with a lot of spoilers ahead for a movie you probably shouldn’t see.

I’m a big fan of Makoto Shinkai, and have been following his career with attention, including a bunch of interviews. Lately, he’s been finding inspiration in real world tragedies. Kimi no na ha (your name) was self-admittedly inspired by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. It strikes me as a bit odd how you go from a real world tragedy to a fiction “love comedy” like that, but I can kinda see it, I guess it has something to do with awe in the face of something so much bigger than humans, or something about how beautiful human connections/solidarity are in the face of difficulties…

This time Tenki no Ko is apparently inspired by global warming (the movie directly echoes many “record rains/temperatures/cyclones” that the director was telling us about seeing on TV). Very brief summary: in a world where the weather is getting worse and worse, a girl has the magical power to bring about the sun with certainty. She realizes that the only way to stop the trend towards environmental catastrophe is for her to disappear, which happens.

I’ll skip the problems I have with the cliche element of the story or its execution (and even over the borderline climate-skepticism ^^) to focus on what comes next. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the boy-love-interest refuses to sacrifice and comes to her rescue and persuades her that she should live, so she un-disappears and environmental catastrophe happens.

Let me start by saying that I fully understand what the director was going for here. In the Q&A, he was explaining how our polarized society has become extremely judgmental and that it was important to be more tolerant, forgiving and let people live. He obviously also wanted to show that even if the environment is completely destroyed, we can still rely on human connections, find each other, find happiness, and ultimately live. He wanted it to be a message of hope and tolerance in the face of a gloomy future, and on some level I appreciate and respect this.

But this doesn’t mean we can ignore the content and implications of the movie, whose main motive is essentially “it’s okay to follow your desires even if it destroys the world”. Boy-love-interests simply willfully chooses the girl, meaning his desires, and by extension the material comfort of consumerist life, over actual efforts to solve the world problem. He chooses the selfish and easy way, even if it causes terrible consequences. Granted the situation would have been more complicated from the point of view of the girl, but the movie follows the boy.

And that’s where I fundamentally disagree with the premise of the director. Sometimes when the stakes are so big it’s dangerous to cut oneself some slack and celebrate it. Huge problems like global warming simply can’t be solved by following the easy path. They require constant effort and attention. I don’t remember if the Q&A or the movie was mentioning that the character’s actions were okay because catastrophe “is not one’s person fault”, but using this to rationalize and exonerate individual actions is obviously a very dangerous slope. In actuality, it’s not one’s person’s fault means it’s every person’s fault and problem, and it’s simply not okay to not do effort and be proud of it. Seems like it’s precisely what got us into this mess.

In the Q&A, Shinkai was telling us that one of the things he cared the most about this movie was a scene at the end where the girl, back in a now destroyed world, was looking over the result of the catastrophe addressing a silent prayer. He was using this to justify that the characters cared about the world.

not this one, imagine it under the rain

But of course they care, just not enough, and this scene illustrates the problem with a tragic clarity. Her empty prayers are too little too late, completely ineffective, especially when put in contrast to the actual effort that was effective. In a way, this picture shows brilliantly that intentions and care are not enough, and that they mean nothing compared to our choices and actions which are what destroyed this universe. This  may make her feel better, but it doesn’t actually help anything, and it may even become dangerous/negative if used to disculpate destructive actions (“I know I’m doing the wrong thing, but I still care and pray it away”). We actually have a great example and all know too well how effective are “thoughts and prayers” at stopping the mass shootings in some parts of the world.

This movie’s accidental depiction of the meaninglessness of intent versus choices and actions is pretty beautiful and certainly its greatest success. This is all well and good, but it wouldn’t be this blog if we just stopped there and didn’t dig a little more, would it? When all is said, I may have had a very hard time watching this movie, but I still think there are two extra noteworthy points to take out of this… morally questionable enterprise.

The first one is a great cautionary tale about the appeal of individualism, consumerism and material comfort. Japan, with its mostly-coastal cities and its frequent typhoons, is certainly being hurt pretty bad by the climate crisis. But if even Japan can rationalize choosing consumerism over environmentalism, it says a lot about how strong its appeal is, and how strong efforts need to be in order to stop its excesses. If even the regions most impacted by its side-effects can be seduced into an over-indulging lifestyle, the will we must deploy to counter this attraction is quite formidable. Especially when inaction is always easier.

The second point is about intent: as I said, I have no doubt that Makoto Shinkai did not set out to make a pro-climate-crisis movie, and just wanted an uplifting tale of hope. So this movie is actually a great example of how you can end up writing something very questionable even with the best intentions, without realizing it. It’s so easy (perhaps inevitable) to be misunderstood or have unintended consequences. You can probably never be sure that what you say or write doesn’t have a potentially completely opposite effect to your original intent. So be careful about what you say and do, and the way you do it. And most importantly, be lenient with others, be tolerant and forgiving. Through a weird roundabout (and meta) way, Makoto Shinkai actually demonstrates with this movie what he wanted to say in it.