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Bad Horse

Sufficiently advanced friendship is indistinguishable from magic.

  • TShut Up
    This is a happy story about Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, and the friendship they had in the magical land of Equestria. This is what happened. I can prove it. This is science.
    Bad Horse · 2.3k words  ·  102  9 · 1.3k views

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"Shut Up" and my "psychic experience" · 5:15am May 26th, 2017

I don't think I've told anyone before, but the best argument I know for some "spiritual" dimension to life is an experience I had myself. As I have been an outspoken atheist "materialist" for many years, it seems incumbent on me, in the name of fair play, to record it, though it doesn't reflect well on me. As it was one of the events which "Shut Up" is based on, now seems as good a time as any.

Each of the characters in "Shut Up" is a composite of two people from my life. One was Sasha Chislenko, a brilliant futurist, one of the Extropians who came up with the ideas that Ray Kurzweil got the credit for. He came to the US from Russia as soon as the wall came down, and hung out at MIT--not enrolled, just attending seminars and asking smart questions--until Marvin Minsky hired him. He was also one of the nicest, friendliest people I've known. He did have that letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse on his refrigerator.

I left Boston in 1999 after the startup I was working for fired everybody and started over because the founder thought we were plotting against him--long story--and I was on vacation in Georgia, in May of 2000, at the Rivercane Rendezvous. It was either Friday or Saturday afternoon when it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't talked to Sasha since I'd left Boston, and I should call him on my cell phone.

I was at a campground in Unicoi State Park, and my cell phone was in my car, parked about a quarter mile away. I walked all the way to my car to get my cell phone to call Sasha and say hi.

My phone had no reception, of course. I was at the bottom of a hill in the middle of a state park. So I walked to the top of the hill, but I still had no reception.

My memory is very bad, so I'm not sure now whether I kept on walking down the road, or whether I went back to get my car and drove down the road. I don't think I was able to get my car, because of the parking situation. But I do remember that I spent about 15 minutes trying to make the phone call, and I remember thinking that this was odd behavior for me, and that maybe the very fact that I had already gone so far out of my way trying to make a phone call to Sasha for no reason meant that it was important, and that I should do whatever I had to do to make that phone call.

But I was already tired and hot, and I was on a tight schedule, and I didn't believe in that sort of stuff, and I would probably have to get the car out of the mud and drive several miles to get phone reception, and I could just call Sasha from home on Monday night.

Monday morning, Sasha killed himself.

Now, I later found out that Sasha had a visitor that weekend--I think it was Simon Levy; I think I remember Simon saying they had a good time. Sasha had clinical depression; it wasn't something that a talking-to and a cheering-up would fix. His brain kept pumping out chemicals that told him to be sad. So it probably wouldn't have made any difference if I had called.

It was probably a coincidence. A large coincidence; given that I recall only one other instance of having such a strong compulsion to call someone else, we can say an event that happened twice in 30 years just happened to occur one of those times within the right 3-day window, with odds of about 1 in 1825.

But on the other hand, another friend from Boston killed himself and I felt no impulse to call him. 1 in 1825 are very long odds in isolation, but to have just one notable thing in my life happen with 1 in 1825 odds is... actually fewer than I'd expect.

I still feel like it was my fault, though. Not as much as the other suicide in "Shut Up" was, but still. I'd like a do-over.

I'll probably delete this post later.

Report Bad Horse · 845 views · Story: Shut Up · #suicide #spiritual #materialism
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Comments ( 29 )

I'll probably delete this post later.

If you do, I'll still be glad I got to read it beforehand.

It's fun(?) to go look at some of the things Sasha wrote (like this bit trying to find a defensible philosophical position in the abortion debate) and get some sense of who this person was.

Or, arguably, who he is—in some other space of potentialities than the ones in which we perceive our consciousnesses to reside.

Don't delete the post it's... important for some people to see this.

I'd ask you to consider how many times an urge like this would strike you, and it wouldn't be memorable; what reason would you have to remember a weird impulse like this, if not for the hindsight significance of it? And how many aren't memorable because they were more immediately resolved? And the bitch of it is that the answer "I only recall the one-" is sort of my point.

A lot of us go through this. An unlucky number of us go through it enough that we have practice dealing with it, and learn what kind of thoughts and rationalizations come from it later, through repeat experience.

That wasn't your fault.

Hope you exorcised some demons writing this.

I like learning about people and you're definitely revealing things about yourself here that a clever-minded person might remember for use in future influence schemes. I also like knowing a bit more about how autobiographical the original story was. I also genuinely like hearing the stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten, and thus being able to create a little more immortality in the world for others, whether they know it or not.

It's worth elaborating—and if I get together an entry for this month's Writeoff, which I kind of doubt, this may be a disqualifier—that you also published the story the morning after I found myself starting to dwell on just the issues raised in the story about the multiverse interpretation and, if you reject the idea of hard determinism like I do, how the whole "butterfly effect" concept as it pertains to time travel is probably terribly over-sold. Essentially, if you can move backward in time, I can't think of any reason why you ought to be able to expect to move forward again to precisely where you began even if absolutely nothing were changed in the past. It's not a matter of causal contamination so much as one of "not all random events will resolve in the same way, when experiments have the chance to be re-run". For a time traveler (excepting those of us who are time travelers in the trivial sense), it really is true that you can never go home again.

I'm aware that the meat of "Shut Up" has basically nothing to do with this, and that I'm saying I found the framing device especially catchy, but it's true nonetheless. And it could arguably count as one of those unlikely but interesting coincidences—that I wound up thinking about this sort of stuff within your declared 3-day window of you publishing a story that goes there in ways I found interesting and meaningful. Of course, anyone who was in this Writeoff already knew whether this cat was alive or dead—but I did not.

4547418 same. I'm sorry for your loss, Badhorse.

Ditto. It'd be a shame to lose this. I'd understand, and your blog is your own, of course.


I also like knowing a bit more about how autobiographical the original story was.

You might want to find the story on the contest side, then. Bad Horse also explained about Nod in the comment section there.

Your friend died of a disease, like cancer. Which, like cancer, is sometimes deadly and sometimes not, sometimes curable and sometimes not, and which we don't understand as well as we need to.

You could no more have saved his life through a conversation than you could have performed surgery on him. That would have required a skill that takes years of training you don't have. Plus drugs and a hospital.

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the best argument I know for some "spiritual" dimension to life is an experience I had myself.

This seems to be common; all the people I know who would otherwise be straight, hardline atheists had some sort of unexplainable experience that nudges them into thinking there may be something more out there.

*hugs* :fluttershysad:

You really shouldn't feel responsible, but I'm sure you know that. Knowing something is false is sometimes insufficient to stop yourself from feeling that it's true (a mindset I have intimate familiarity with).

(Oddly enough, I'm an atheist who believes death isn't the end of consciousness. It involves a lot of math, though.)

4547427 Ditto to what he said, and, well, because people are important. You're people, so you're important. You're sharing with us the intersection of your life, Sasha's, and Simon's. I'm glad I got to hear that. It's something of an insight into where you're coming from in life, and it's, well, important.

And yes, sometimes you can show someone their own greatness, you can do everything for someone, and they'll kill themselves. That's depression. It's a disease. It's not something we're just supposed to live with, like allergies. It requires a treatment or a cure.

I'm especially sorry to hear about Sasha since, well, hanging around MIT seminars is part of what I do with my time. You actually just reminded me to go subscribe to their calendar, and there's a seminar this afternoon.



Essentially, if you can move backward in time, I can't think of any reason why you ought to be able to expect to move forward again to precisely where you began even if absolutely nothing were changed in the past.

My own thoughts--I hope to write a novel using this, but no immediate plans--

You can't travel backwards in time for the same reason you can't travel faster than light: it would allow you to observe an event and then get to it before it happened and undo it.

When you think about travelling faster than time, you're bounded by a light cone which is the range of events in your universe you're allowed to get to without violating causality. What is your light cone in a many-worlds universe? I'm extending the concept to be a causality cone, the points in space-time-outcome space, where "outcome" adds dimensions for quantum event outcomes, that you can get to from your current location without violating causality.

The boundary of the places you can get to is just those places from which you can get back to your current location. You can't get to anyplace which is outside your light-cone. So you can't travel to your past, but you aren't prohibited from traveling to pasts from which it is impossible to return to your present location.

What is time? What do we measure, when we measure time? Say we have an atomic clock which measures time by the number of emissions of alpha particles by the breakdown of some isotope. What that clock is really measuring is entropy increase. Not the rate of entropy increase. Just entropy increase.

Distance in time, therefore, can be measured in bits. So can energy. This means a distance in time between two states actually tells you how many bits of entropy, or joules of energy, it takes to transform one state into the other. Travelling forward in time is exothermic; travelling backwards is endothermic.

In a multi-verse, the distance between two worlds which diverged due to some earlier branch point can be computed in the same way. Most likely it will take energy to change either of these states into the other state.

The restriction on your causality cone is that you can't travel from state A to any state B from which it's possible to travel back to your current state A. That means you can't travel to your own past, and you can't travel to any past state B from which moving from B to A requires no (or negative) energy.

The further back in the past B is, the lower-entropy it is compared to A, so the less likely it is you can travel to B. The more-similar to A that B is, the less energy it takes to travel from B to A, so the less-likely it is you can travel to B.

So, you can travel to pasts, but the further back you go, the more that past you travel to must diverge from your own past. This is what we should expect. If you sent someone one minute into an alternate past, all you'd have to do to ensure they didn't rejoin your timeline would be to change something at the other end of the street. If you sent someone a thousand years into the past, there would be many ways for them to end up back here again.

On the other hoof, in a many-worlds universe, why would violating causality matter? You couldn't really violate causality, since you still couldn't break the (other) laws of physics. So whatever different action you go back into the past to take to "violate causality" had already already happened.

And on the other other hoof, all this talk about time-travel is problematic to a materialist, since we're talking about travelling between world states. What is travelling? Mind is matter; the configuration of that matter is part of the world-state. "You" can't travel into the past; the presence of matter there in a configuration producing "you" would create a different past.


And on the other other hoof, all this talk about time-travel is problematic to a materialist, since we're talking about travelling between world states.  What is travelling?  Mind is matter; the configuration of that matter is part of the world-state.  "You" can't travel into the past; the presence of matter there in a configuration producing "you" would create a different past.

Things like that are why I think the idea of "world-hopping" seems much more natural than the idea of "time-travel". If you accept the many-worlds concept, then it seems like there should be a fairly large space of "nearby" worlds in which an entity extraordinarily similar to me exists, with consciousness. It's not particularly clear to me that those entities should be regarded as separate, although undeniably our qualia suggest that they are. This has started feeling a bit like the qualia of Flatland to me, though. We can certainly do some counterfactual mental exploration of a bit of what might be out there, had circumstances in our lives been different.

From a fiction standpoint, it seems relatively straightforward to build on the idea that one can change the locus of consciousness to a different world, or that one can potentially bridge worlds through some sort of expanded consciousness. (From a non-fiction standpoint, people might think that I take a lot of drugs which I've never actually taken—at least in this world.)

Yes, I've clearly invested too much thought in Neal Stephenson's Anathem and what exactly Fraa Jad was doing the whole time.

4547424 That is a typical Sasha way of talking--he had to always talk as if he were joking, because it turns out that if you ask logical questions about why we do the things we do, people assume you're joking. Strange new ideas always sound like jokes for some reason.

You can use this deliberately to get people to listen to strange new ideas. I was reading some Plato recently. I've always been irritated by Plato, because he's held up as a great rhetorician, but his reasoning is often stupid. Really, really stupid.

Then I realized it's supposed to be stupid. Plato's dialogues are absurdist humor, and the Republic might be, too. Maybe all of Plato. Plato is joking, not reasoning. The ideas may be serious--or they may be just the opposite, Plato may be mocking ideas he thinks are stupid--but the delivery in the dialogues is an Abott-and-Costello routine.

Unfortunately, the ancients after Plato took it seriously. Actually believed in Atlantis, for instance.

I actually had a similar experience myself.

When I tried to reconnect with a friend from school a hadn’t spoken with in years, he died of an undetected illness days before we would have med each other again.

It is not the same, but sounded strangely similar.

All this talk about many-worlds hypotheses, and the cosmologists are playing pranks on us this week, trying to get us to believe that they have evidence of the collision between this universe and another 'parallel universe' in the so-called 'Cold Spot'.

Or it all could be the result of incorrect data collation, and the 'Cold Spot' is an artifact.

I do not believe in ghosts; I have no intellectual reason to think they are real. And yet, I've seen them on two separate occasions. One time, I saw a ghostly body, lying beside a fence on what was at the time Penn State's HUB lawn, pretty close to where a student had been murdered by a sniper a few years previously. I approached the body - and a half-dozen rabbits sprung apart from their inexplicable huddle, running in every direction from the approaching threat - me. Another time, I saw a figure run past a motion-detector while on night guard, while alone at 2 AM in the morning deep in the woods, moving to check that unoccupied house on my rounds. I am positive that neither of these were real, true events - they were only this, my mind making sense of my expectations of the signals I was receiving. The mind is expert at creating ghosts of perception - of patterns that only exist in our misapprehensions of the visible world.

But it's better to remember those who are gone, and regret their passing, than otherwise. Memory as well as perception is malleable, and the longer between the event and the recall, the more that our memories are our self-narrative of what is, and is not, important about what we recall. We remember more why we remember, than the mere naked, material event itself.

My deepest condolences, BH. I can only hope that writing about it has helped get it off your chest a bit.


Where I'm from, we call this the "Native Telephone"--the sort of instance where you randomly think about someone you haven't thought of in years, and the phone rings, and it's that person.

The funny part is that it seems to happen to some people more often than others. It happens to me regularly enough that I would be worried if it ever stopped happening.

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"Native Telephone"

What a great name for it!


I don't think this is going to make you feel better, but I don't think you wrote this to solicit sympathy. Sharing the story of your friend is enough of a reason.

Experience is very malleable. It is shaped by those around us, and by the culture we live in. As much as you believe in rationality and in materialism, you are steeped in a culture of destiny and meaning, and as an author, you think in terms of plot lines and foreshadowing. So when this thing happened, you ascribed meaning to it - because you are an American, and you are an Author.

Even more than experience, memory itself is malleable. You never remember anything - you only remember the last time you remembered it. And every time you play it back, you remember best the parts that made it stick out most. The parts that made you feel the most guilty.

How many times have you had the urge to just randomly call someone... but you were in a place with good phone reception, so you did, and it was uneventful? Because those were routine events, your brain discarded them. Because your brain only records novel things - the reason you can make a 2-hour drive and not remember a bit of it, if it's a drive you make regularly.

Sooo... that's my opinion, for what it's worth, which isn't much.


Isn't it, though? :twilightsmile: I've heard that Canadian First Nations people coined the term, since they take pride in being quite good at this trick.

... I should have waited before reading this.
I can feel the bruise from where it hit starting to form clearly now.

I guess I knew it wasn't really related.
Just... fuck.
shut up that's not how reality works it isn't like that I couldn't have known shut up

4547959 Woah, hey, hold on now.
It's irresponsible of science reporters to go spouting off that the cold spot proves the multiverse.
But the cold spot actually does exist. There's a significant wedge of space that looks, from here, like it's a fraction of a percent cooler than other wedges of space observed from here.

We saw it on older maps and dismissed it as bad data, but then every time the days collection improved, that same exact spot kept right on looking too cold by the same amount.

You can tell me you don't believe in angels, and that's fine.
But don't go telling me you don't believe in churches.

The way you've put it, you're casting people doing some very difficult work as mean spirited charlatans when really, all the scientists did was point out that you could get results that look like a cold wedge of space by making some assumptions about what a multiverse would physically require. It's a partial fit. Nothing more.

I'm glad you haven't deleted this. But I wouldn't blame you if you did.

What can I say that's wise, or that heals? Just...remember, you know, the reason you tried to call at all was because you cared. You don't bear the life of Sasha, Bad Horse, whether it was coincidence or not. There isn't one interpretation where you carry blame and another where you're don't. Sasha bears the life of Sasha. You were his friend, and he was yours, and I'm very sorry he killed himself. I'm sorry for Wynken, and for Nod.

If I'm allowed to ask, who was the other suicide?

4550324 Sorry, I don't want to talk about it.

Nothing to be sorry for. I shouldn't have pried.

Taking the step to be actively forthcoming is difficult. There is anxiety in being deliberately vulnerable, but it's good for the... soul, for lack of a better word, when people take that outstretched hand.

I am glad you left this up. I was out of town, and it would have been a shame to miss the chance to understand you a little better.

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