Eclipse Phase 2E Bundle & After The Fall

“Agent! This all-new Eclipse Phase 2E Bundle presents the 2019 Second Edition of Eclipse Phase, the tabletop science fiction roleplaying game of transhuman survival from Posthuman Studios. After losing Earth in a war with AIs, transhumanity disperses throughout the Solar System and beyond, struggling to survive. In a typical Eclipse Phase game, characters belong to Firewall, a secret cross-faction organization that protects transhumanity from biowar plagues, self-replicating nanoswarms, nuclear proliferation, terrorists with WMDs, net-breaking computer attacks, rogue AIs, alien encounters, and anything else that could drive an already decimated transhumanity to extinction. Agents may even step through a Pandora Gate, a wormhole to distant stars and the alien secrets beyond.

Funded in an April 2017 Kickstarter campaignEclipse Phase Second Edition improves the game with faster character creation, streamlined “resleeving” (body switching), new skill and gear systems, updated combat and hacking rules, and four sample teams. Most First Edition source material is compatible with the 2019 Second Edition.

For just US$14.95 you get all eight titles in our Eclipse Collection (retail value $54) as DRM-free ebooks, including the complete Eclipse Phase 2E corebook, plus the free QuickStart RulesRules Primer, and Character Pack; three 2E adventures – Router Case FilesXenovore, and Overrun; and four “Nano Ops” two-page mini-scenarios: All That GlittersBetter on the InsideBody Count, and Grinder.

BundleofHolding.com

I mentioned Eclipse Phase back in November 2017. If you like role-playing, this is a good way to pick it up.

Also, check out After the Fall, a series of short stories and novellas in this world:

In a world of transhuman survival and horror, technology allows the re-shaping of bodies and minds, but also creates opportunities for oppression and puts the capability for mass destruction in the hands of everyone. Other threats lurk in the devastated habitats of the Fall, dangers both familiar and alien.

After the Fall is the first anthology from Posthuman Studios, set in the world of Eclipse Phase, their award-winning roleplaying game. The anthology is a mix of old and new fiction, including stories by Eclipse Phase favorites—Talia Dean, Jack Graham, Steve Mohan, and Rob Boyle and Davidson Cole. New fiction will feature science fiction rising stars Ken Liu, Madeline Ashby, Fran Wilde, Karin Lowachee, Wesley Schneider, and Andrew Penn Romine.

I do not role play, but the book really drew me into the world of Eclipse Phase. Highly recommended.

The Corruption of Apology

True apologies are precious. They’re a secular process of remediation, drawing on moral intuitions shared by many religious traditions. They encourage membership in one’s moral community because they are fundamentally relational: They heal the bond between wrongdoer and wronged. By temporarily humbling the perpetrator and vindicating the victim, they pave the way for both sides to make up. 

Apologies presuppose that there is some sort of moral community that shares a sense of right and wrong to which both the wronged and the wrongdoer belong. By apologizing, the wrongdoer embraces the norm that he violated. By doing that personally, ideally face to face, he works to heal his wounded relationships. And so he invites his victims to forgive, release their resentment, and move on. 

We all depend on apologies and forgiveness to go on living with one another. Husbands and wives admit their faults and patch up their differences. Kids on playgrounds say they’re sorry and then get back to recess. Coworkers talk through misunderstandings. As Hannah Arendt argued in The Human Condition, we wrong one another every day, and we learn to forgive constantly so that we can start afresh. The alternative is trapping ourselves in endless cycles of vengeance. 

Stephanos Bibas, “The Corruption of Apology.” persuasion.community. July 27, 2022

What I found interesting about this commentary was how it explicitly lays out what is necessary for an apology to have meaning, i.e.:

  1. A shared norm that was violated.
  2. A person who violated the norm and a person effected by the violation.
  3. Discussion and acknowledgment to observe the norm in the future.

A shared norm implies membership in a community, or at least a relationship between two people. Of course, some norms are universal, or nearly so. Murder, stealing, lying and so forth are generally disapproved of. However, the norms may be different between members of a community and The Other, or outsiders. However, a morality that has double-standards, one for the in-group and one for the out-group, is a dubious morality. Yet, they exist and are common.

The enumeration is interesting. It really cuts to the heart of a common class of problems in our modern world. The article focuses on the fact that norms are in dispute in different communities, but I think there are more interesting aspects of this problem.

Some people are toxic. They have no regard for norms. They will not acknowledge that they have harmed anyone. They will not discuss it beyond making excuses, like those you see in A Narcissist’s Prayer. You will never get a real apology from such a person.

The other side of it, that the article does discuss, is that our online environments pretend to community, but they aren’t actual communities. We have “friends” that aren’t really our friends. There are people trying to enforce norms without community and often on behalf of others. It turns it more into blood sport, where we are allies promoting the agenda of different teams.

For example, I believe in equal rights for women. I would like to see structures of institutional racism broken down. I think we should broaden our acceptance of the various sexualities between consenting adults. I think there are serious problems of class than need to be addressed, and we need greater opportunities for success for people living in poverty. But, as a white, male, heteronormative person that is not living in poverty, what are my responsibilities to forward those various agendas?

Is a country a community? A state? A city? Or even a neighborhood? And when I think about the communities and norms I subscribe to, does believing in a norm make a community? It can. You can forge a community based on a shared norm or values. But, you need both. If you want to promote values – or norms, it needs to be done in the context of a community. You cannot impose them from outside. And, even a community is not enough, you need to promote them in relationship with other people that you know. Values that abstract out real people, with real flaws, aren’t much of a value, just as getting people to apologize, not to some person, but to the world, isn’t a real apology.

Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations

“The Forer Effect is a trick used by astrologers, psychics, and social psychologists…What statements show a Forer effect? Wikipedia just says they should be vague and somewhat positive. Can we do better?…

…Or you could phrase them as affirmations, or arguments for self-compassion…

– Scott Alexander, “Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations.” astralcodexten.substack.com. July 26, 2022

I found the concept of the Forer Effect and the exercise or turning it around interesting. But, I think where it fails for me is I think trying to compare ourselves to the internal states of other people, an experience we do not have direct access to and can only guess at, is rarely an exercise that has value. We do not know what other people’s lives are like. And, for those whom we have a lot more interaction and might be able to guess, it’s largely irrelevant.

My wife is someone who seems genuinely happy as a default state. Does it make any sense to use what I imagine her experience is of the world as a comparison for my experience? I assume I am different from her and from most people. I think the real question here is whether a given behavior is adaptive or maladaptive. Is my self-criticism, on net, a positive or a negative in my life? Is my sense of being different from other people a positive or negative force in my life?

When you reframe this discussion and try to get away from comparison and think instead of other ways of being, or perhaps other times in your own life, you are at least interacting with your lived experience and trying to do something to improve it. Personally, ‘I find questions like: does anyone else experience/believe/whatever X?’ to be in the same category. Whether other people have similar experiences is largely irrelevant, isn’t it?

We live in an environment where we are constantly being manipulated and influenced. Of course, everyone feels critical of themselves and awkward because we are products of that environment. If we lived as hunter gatherers 500,000 years ago, the uncertainty and doubts we have would be completely different. So, the fact other people have the same outlook and behaviors that you do is not surprising. It would be surprising if they were much different.

So, perhaps the more interesting question is: how am I different than most people? Or, as Scott Alexander puts it:

“These affirmations aren’t foolproof. 50% of people are in the top 50% of most-sexually-awkward people, and 1% of people are in the top 1% most sexually-awkward. When I read these, I feel like most of the time I can think “Ah yes, this is a Forer Effect, good thing I caught myself before I believed it”, and then for one or two of them I think “No, I am just literally objectively in the top 10% of the population on that trait.” This is why I’m calling these “potential updates” instead of “absolutely correct articles of dogma”.

-ibid.

To me, this is the more interesting question. If you are going to engage in comparison, which I don’t think you should – i.e., comparison is the thief of happiness, wouldn’t it be more interesting to focus on where you are truly different from others?

Doubting Uncle

““The dead don’t stay where they are buried. . . . You may meet the dead anywhere.” …

…Treated (as some adults do treat children) as if he is older than his years…

Here is a grievous portrait, grievous most of all in its unforgetting attention; grievous most of all in its kindness. This is what a formative influence is, after all: to be influenced. To be formed.”

-Elaine Castillo, “Ways of Seeing.” BookForum.com. July 25, 2022

I was strangely effected by this little piece. I have nieces and a nephew how I treat, essentially, no differently than I would an adult, even though they are all less than 10 years old. I do it because I feel that children are a permanent underclass. They are not regarded as full persons because of their lack of experience and development. But, from my perspective, that’s what’s interesting about children. They have fewer preconceptions. In many ways, their views are just as important, and on occasion more important, than their elders.

But, this piece makes me wonder, who will they meet, when I’m dead and gone, and someone reminds them of their uncle? Or, is that a conceit? Will they remember me at all? To be remembered, or to not be remembered, is of no consequence to me. We all, inevitably, have our traces removed by time. But, I do try to be a positive influence, to be who I am and bring a unique perspective into their lives. Does it have any value? Will it, on net, be good for them? One can only hope.

Scam World

“Despite growing out of the 2008 financial crisis, Bitcoin has led to the creation of a faster, leaner and crueler crisis of its own, an unregulated hellscape where the elites have found yet another way to get rich off of the backs of regular people’s money. Whatever “noble” goals Bitcoin and cryptocurrency allegedly has or had are irrelevant – cryptocurrency does not generate freedom, it does not democratize finance, it does not create wealth for the majority of people that interact with it, and it has – this is not a “might” – led to billions of dollars of regular people’s money getting burned so that wealthy people can extract liquidity from them.

I do not care if you think this is “like the early days of the internet” or that crypto “might” do something cool someday – this is not a quirky startup with a niche audience, but unregulated and lethal financial software that functions only to take money from retail investors and send it upwards. Every time the media has humored these concepts as cute, or early, or acted as if the scams are “rare” and the majority of the industry operates in good faith, they have been complicit in creating meaningful financial harm to millions of people.” 

-Ed Zitron, “The Consequences of Silence.” ez.substack.com. July 25, 2022

I find this piece interesting for a whole host of reasons. But, I think the thing I find most interesting is this idea that regulation is, primarily, serving the interests of regular people.

To start from a personal example, my father-in-law, in his last few years of life, developed autoimmune encephalopathy. So, I had to review his finances. A disproportionate portion of his finances were in annuities making less than 1% interest that had been sold to him by a major financial institution. The annuity products locked up his money for some period of years, so it took time to get it out and put it into something that might cover the cost of inflation, such as an index fund.

But, even an index fund is a bit of a scam, isn’t it? Isn’t the whole point of index funds to tap “regular people’s money” and put it into a stock market? Isn’t that the goal of 401(k)s or even the idea of “private accounts” for Social Security that was floated during the George W. Bush presidency?

Yesterday, I received yet another “extended warranty” offer in the mail for a vehicle. Scam calls are a daily occurrence. There are ads on every medium asking for money for every conceivable purpose. Switch your electricity provider. Buy a goat for a family in Africa. And so on.

The question that occurs to me is whether cryptocurrencies are worse in some special way than the larger environment of scams we are all subjected to daily. Are cryptocurrencies worse than say, pay day loans? Or the gigantic markup charged by hospital systems for medical care? Are they worse than a system that advocates for taking on significant college education debt as the path toward middle-class respectability?

I don’t mean to create a false equivalency. Cryptocurrency is full of scams. I’d even say a large part of the cryptocurrency is just get rich schemes cloaked in innovation. But, that said, there are obvious applications where cryptocurrencies are better than the alternatives. You don’t have to think too hard about examples.

For one, there will invariably by a Digital Dollar. The United States government needs to create one in order to fill the demand for a global reserve currency for cross-border payments. If they don’t do it, then something else will fill that role, and it will be some other, probably a “basket”, of currencies. That’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that remittance payments, where someone is part of a diaspora sending money back to their country of origin, is an obvious place for disruption. Moneygram, Western Union and other services of that sort charge a significant amount for their service, which could be dramatically improved with cryptocurrencies.

This is even true for standard bank transactions. It takes anywhere from between 5-8 days for an ACH transaction, where one bank is making a payment to another on your behalf. With a cryptocurrency, it could be done in seconds.

Of course, there are other areas ripe for disruption, from rights on property (real estate, intellectual and others) to new forms of organization, such as decentralized autonomous organizations that can leverage the resources, skills and so forth from people around the world to accomplish some action based on some shared interest. Ordinary people being able to pool resources to positively impact the world around them is something new, and it is something enabled by cryptocurrencies.

Which leaves me to wonder what is really going on. Is it really just about wanting to regulate the “hellscape”, even though there is every indication that regulation only helps the status quo continue, which presents its own set of problems? Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the government step in for “regular people” and do something about some of the problems indicated above. Yet, somehow government is going to regulate cryptocurrencies when they are doing such a poor job with everything else? Color me skeptical.

The Invitation to Critique

“To build a prototype and expose it to critique is to make yourself very vulnerable…But you invite people in because you know that you can’t do the thing you want to do without their honest response…

…By contrast, Davey worked very hard on restoring that little Norfolk church, but he also sought help of every kind along the way. He gave up complete control of the project in order to draw friends and strangers into his endeavor. His motto seems to have been that great phrase from Wordsworth: “what we have loved, / Others will love, and we will teach them how.” He made a bet on mutuality.

That surely meant having to hear other people tell him “You’re doing it wrong” — something Justo, it seems, couldn’t bear to hear. But if we want to repair the world, or any part of our little corner of it, we’ve got not just to accept but invite that possibility. We have to discipline ourselves to welcome it. And we have to encourage those others to stick with us through multiple iterations of whatever we’re prototyping. 

-Alan Jacobs, “the invitation to critique.” ayjay..org. July 23, 2022.

This strike me as a skill that we all desperately need to cultivate. But, the challenges are often insurmountable.

As people, it is often difficult to admit that we are wrong, or even admit the possibility of it. Some of that is a function that so much of our modern lives are controlled by others. We want to feel, at least where we are making decisions, that we are in control. We are operating independently and that we are in control of our lives. We don’t want to hear criticism because criticism is everywhere. We have had our fill of it.

Further, I think “honest response” is a key issue. Often, in a social context, people are trolling. They are not giving an honest response, but one that is designed to serve some agenda, whether that is create social boundaries, create differentiation of status or what have you. There’s even the unintentional. There are people that are too busy thinking about what they are going to say next or trying to guess what you are trying to say that they are not even responding to you, but half formed conceptions or their own mind.

How does on open oneself up and invite critique when this is the social and cultural environments most of us live in?

And, it makes me remember this bit from John Cleese quoting another (below), “If people can’t control their own emotions, they they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.” And, I think this points to a larger issue is that in order to open ourselves up to critique and in order for that critique to have value, everyone involved has to be both able to control their emotions and be invested in the improvement of whatever is the object of critique. Whenever you add in some other agenda, such as trying to control the behavior of others, relative prestige, or what not, you cannot have honest critique and their is no point inviting it.

The question is: how do we get to a place of constructive critique, or a constructive dialogue, with the people in our lives about the things we care about?

The Maintenance Race by Stewart Brand

“‘My rule is, a new boat every day’. His years at sea had taught him that if you don’t fix something when you first see it beginning to fail, it is very likely to finish failing just when it is the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with, such as in the midst of a storm.

He loved doing routine maintenance. He wrote:

‘I work calmly at the odd jobs that make up my universe, without haste: I glue the sextant leg back on with epoxy, adjust the mirrors, replace five worn slide lashings on the mainsail and three on the mizzen, splice the staysail and mizzen halyards to freshen the nip on the sheaves.’

His reward for a boat functioning like new every day was this: ‘I spend my time reading, sleeping, eating. The good, quiet life, with nothing to do.’  That was in fair weather. Storms were as arduous for him as ever, but he was unafflicted with worry that his gear might fail.

-Stewart Brand, “The Maintenance Race.” worksinprogress.co. July 2022.

Bernard Moitessier’s book, “The Long Way,” has quite a few gems in it. A few examples:

“Each of us has the boat he likes best, the one that lets him live aboard as he sees fit.”

He’s talking about the competitors in the race, but it is true of life too.

“Yet it is a hard card to play, this need I feel to reassure family and friends, to give them news, pictures, life–to bestow that infinitely precious thing, the little invisible plant called hope. Logic shouts at me to play the game alone, without burdening myself with the others. Logic would have me run SE, far from land, far from ships, back to the realm of the westerlies where everything s simple if not easy, leaving well to the north the dangerous area of convergence.

But for many days another voice has been insisting ‘You are alone, yet not alone.’ The others need you, and you need them. Without them you would not get anywhere, and nothing would be true.”

I think what I like about this passage is that he knows just sailing into the Roaring 40s, away from Cape Horn, is safer, but he chances the dangerous area around Cape Horn to send a message, to let people know he is alright. Then, there’s this bit.

“So one forgets oneself, one forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat and the sea, the play of the sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to that game in the immediate present. One has to be careful though, not to go further than necessary to the depths of the game. And that is the hard part…not going too far.”

So, he eventually goes too far, abandons the race and keeps going, taking his boat further.

It’s such a great story. It’s such a great thing for someone to have done.

Abortion Pill Demand Is Driving an Underground Network

To Aiken, the international abortion pill market feels resilient because it is beyond the purview of any one country’s authorities. “If someone’s based outside of the country, it is unclear how to exactly force them to comply with the law in another jurisdiction,” she says. “It’s not clear what folks who are very motivated to outlaw abortion can do in response to that.”

Plan C’s Wells also believes these supply chains are robust. “We do worry that routes of access could get cut off. But we are in the 21st century, in a global economy. And there are so many routes of entry into this country for products that we feel that it’s fairly unstoppable,” she says. “If one of these companies were to get shut down, another would pop up.”

-Morgan Meaker, “Abortion Pill Demand Is Driving an Underground Network.” Wired. July 18, 2022.

In other news, prohibition simply creates a market. That’s Econ 101 and an predictable outcome of overturning Roe vs. Wade. You’ll see a Jane 2.0, and any woman with even the remote chance of becoming pregnant will have some of these pills in case of emergency. Now, ask yourself, did the number of abortions increase, or decrease?

How to Admit You’re Wrong

Related to yesterday’s post, where the ideas are of a piece:

“Kathryn Schulz loosely defines being wrong “as a deviation from external reality, or an internal upheaval in what we believe” — with the caveat that wrongness is too vast to fit neatly into either category….

…“We’re highly motivated to reduce that uncertainty,” Fetterman says. “Oftentimes, the most common way that people get rid of it is by rejecting the new information or creating a new cognition that basically gets rid of it. Not too often do we actually change our thoughts or behaviors in order to align with the new information.” This can look like only taking in information that confirms already held beliefs, justifying the belief, or denying anything that contradicts their beliefs. “The motivation to reduce that dissonance leads us to even double down or to come back even stronger with our beliefs,” Fetterman says…

…“Over time, fact after fact after fact will start to erode people’s beliefs away.”

To come to these realizations, Brown says we have to be open to the fact that we’re capable of making errors and setting our ego aside to accept we live in a world where we’ve faltered or have changed our minds in some way. In fact, Fetterman says, just accepting our own mistakes can allow us to be more open to being wrong.

It’s natural to get defensive or provide excuses for why you were wrong, but “these strategies for deflecting responsibility for our errors stand in the way of a better, more productive relationship to wrongness,” Schulz writes. To admit erroneousness without excuse — to simply state, “I was wrong” — is a skill, Brown says. “It probably is going to come out more as an explanation of why they were doing what they were doing,” Brown says. But with time and practice, we can come to recognize our mistakes without explaining them. The key is to consistently own up to our mistakes as soon as we realize we’re wrong.”

Allie Volpe, “How to admit you’re wrong.” vox.com. July 13, 2022.

In the context of “the free energy principle”, you can eliminate “surprise” by not acknowledging it. But, the irony is that you set yourself up to be “surprised” time and time again until you recognize the surprise. Being wrong works they same way and is related. Acknowledging where we are wrong and where our worldview is off and leads to surprise helps us to correct our mental model of the world into a better form. But, if we are deceiving ourselves in the interest of protecting our ego, we set ourselves up for more surprise and more wrongness.

The Free Energy Principle, Minimizing Surprise

“The concept of free energy itself comes from physics, which means it’s difficult to explain precisely without wading into mathematical formulas. In a sense that’s what makes it powerful: It isn’t a merely rhetorical concept. It’s a measurable quantity that can be modeled, using much the same math that Friston has used to interpret brain images to such world-­changing effect. But if you translate the concept from math into English, here’s roughly what you get: Free energy is the difference between the states you expect to be in and the states your sensors tell you that you are in. Or, to put it another way, when you are minimizing free energy, you are minimizing surprise.

According to Friston, any biological system that resists a tendency to disorder and dissolution will adhere to the free energy principle—whether it’s a protozoan or a pro basketball team.

A single-celled organism has the same imperative to reduce surprise that a brain does.”

-Shaun Raviv, “The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI.” Wired. November 13, 2018.

I found this article about Karl Friston really insightful. It has revealed a long-standing difference between my spouse and I that I never really knew how to talk about before.

My wife has a task focus. She has a list. She is working through her list. Delays are something to be avoided, and exploring any aspect of something that is not immediately solving her problem is wasted time, from her perspective.

As one might be able to tell from the content of this blog, I do not tend to focus on task or particular problems. I’m more interested in understanding how things work, finding edge cases and generally, just trying new ways of doing things to see what happens. It helps me to make a better mental model or a worldview for interpreting the world. It is not time efficient, but over time, it does help me to solve problems faster because I have a better understanding of how things work under different conditions.

It’s clear that focusing on efficiency and maximizing value tend to drive us into task focus. If we have slack, then we can use the second model or exploration to expand our understanding.

But, I think there are habits of thought at play too. If you are in an environment where you are keeping track of your time, say you a in a large law firm that bills every 15 minutes or less of your time, then your ability to switch into exploratory mode might atrophy.

It probably works the other way too. Explorers aren’t time efficient until they have sufficient experience to outperform taskers, which takes time to acquire.

There’s also the point that this might not apply across the board. For example, I might be a technology explorer. But, I might be less of an explorer when it comes to interior decoration, do-it-yourself home repair or other topics. Same is probably true of everyone.

But, I still think this is an interesting idea to have in our toolbox for understanding the world.