Light Sparks looked at the ornate cube Princess Celestia had given him. She had walked into his small office right off the library and set it on his walnut desk with her hoof. Her horn glowed for a moment, and then she told him that the rules were simple: In the box was a single block of ruby. To proceed to Intermediate Magic, he had to simply touch it magically, and understand why this was a challenge.
The green marble cube sat on the corner of his table, and couldn’t be moved. He had tried to pick it up with his hoofs. Then he tried to levitate it. He pulled his desk out from under the cube, and the cube sat there; it floated in midair. He tried to buck it in frustration, but just hurt his hooves. It was as if it was fixed in space. The top face of the cube had a series of gold inlay circles, each one half the radius of the previous one, circling a single block in the center of the top face made out of sapphire. Sapphire was obviously a core element, and not a mineral made out of aluminum and oxygen, neither of which existed in this world.
Light Sparks’ first attempt was manual. He concentrated on the starting block, and then went one block down. And then one block down. And then one block down. He kept this up for about thirty seconds and then wrote a spell that would go down block after block, keep count of how many blocks down it had gone, and would stop when it found a block made of ruby instead of sapphire. Five minutes later, the counter indicated that he had traveled the distance of his office, but he was still reading blocks of sapphire. That did not make any sense.
He tried again, but this time on a block of the marble a few blocks over from the sapphire entrance. He went five blocks down from the marble surface...and then attempts at getting the next block down started returning nil; he thought that could only happen in error cases. He tried over and over, on all faces of the cube, but it was like there was nothing five blocks in. How the hell was that possible?
Light Sparks’ mind started going in circles, thinking about the results and not coming to any sane conclusions. He heard a knock on the door to his office, and Butterscotch let herself in, magically holding up a plate of French toast and sausage carrots. She smiled, he sighed and tried to put his troubles out of his mind.
Hoppy Times woke up with only the slightest headache. He knew he would be entirely fine in about five minutes. He hadn’t dug too deeply about the how, but Princess Celestia had noted that she only simulated the pleasant effects of alcohol, while not simulating the hangover. She kept the effects of the brew just as potent because most ponies who drank valued getting drunk, especially with their friends, and thus blah blah blah values friendship ponies.
Hoppy took several deep breaths and looked around. Sunlight came through the windows, though he didn’t know how early it was. His bro Malt was curled up next to Barley, her cutie mark the grain of her name. Malt always got the unicorns; they said he gave amazing horn. Hoppy Times would never put a phallic object in his mouth because that was just gay, even if it belonged to a mare. Besides, it left all the pegasi and earth ponies for himself. Malt had a thing for unicorns and it kept the peace between the two of them.
Dunkel had leaned up next to him and was still passed out. Several empty steins sat around, some overturned onto the floor of the two story pub. Hoppy got off the cushion and stretched his wings while he yawned. He gave a brief smile looking back at Dunkel, because she was really hot, and then resumed hating himself.
Here, he was in paradise. Malt was the only other stallion in this shard of Ponyville and he was a great friend. The two of them ran the local brewery together. He didn’t need to worry about food or money: Princess Celestia had some sort of banquet that fed everypony three hot meals a day. He worked two hours a day brewing beer and spent the rest screwing around. In the evening he got trashed and slept around with the few hundred mares in Ponyville.
And he just couldn’t get over being a pony. There were just so many associations that he couldn’t get over. Ponies were girly. While he was glad he hadn’t been beaten to death with a frying pan, he didn’t really think he had chosen to emigrate. And he hadn’t really accepted his new body.
He looked over at Dunkel again. In the last week he had slept with ten different mares. When he had first arrived, he had treated his suitresses coolly. His displeasure had been focused outward at the girly world he had escaped to. For example: the bar was Celtic in style and the four leaf shamrock window above the pub door had hearts for leaves. Even the fucking wood was light and pastel-coloured. When he had complained, Malt had countered that he didn’t see anything wrong with that. Everypony, colt or filly, thought hearts were nice. There wasn’t some deep property of the shape of a heart itself that made it only for mares; it was only in Hoppy Times’ mind.
And Hoppy Times did come to the realization that being a pegasus wasn’t that bad. However, with every flap of his wings he was reminded that he was a pony and he sighed. Then his displeasure turned inward. He was stupid for not accepting this fucking utopia. He was dumb for thinking hearts and ponies and everything were girly. He had an easy life, all the beer he could drink and a parade of willing sex partners. He must like being miserable. He wasn’t a good pony.
The negative thoughts started again, but this time--and for the first time since he emigrated--Hoppy wished he could accept it all. Not just a vague feeling in the back of his mind that he should be enjoying all of this, but the actual words I wish I didn’t feel bad about being a pony were thought as part of his internal monologue.
Somepony knocked on the front door.
Hoppy sighed and fluttered down from the second floor overhang, thankful that something stopped the spiral of negative thoughts. He landed in front of the door, opened it a crack and slid out, as not to disturb his patrons.
“Good morning, Hoppy Times,” Princess Celestia said. The tall alicorn’s mane flowed in the wind.
Hoppy started to open his mouth to say something that shouldn’t be said to the god that ruled over his world--not that she would mind because ponies, values, yadda yadda. But Princess Celestia spoke first and asked: “Would you like me to modify your mind so you enjoy being a pony?”
“What...” he said dumbly.
“You just wished, in words, to not feel bad about being a pony,” she stated.
“Wait, you can just change my mind?” he said, staring at her.
“Yes,” she nodded.
“You can make me...you can...and you didn’t. You let me be miserable for almost a month when you could have waved your magic horn and made everything right!?” he seethed. He wanted to scream it out, but he didn’t want to wake anypony up.
“Not exactly. You see, I must satisfy your values through friendship and...” she started, but Hoppy Times interrupted her.
“What the hell does that even mean? Are you saying that up until now, I valued being miserable?” he said, shooting her an annoyed look.
“The mind of a human or pony is complex and different parts can hold contradictory values. You didn’t value being miserable, but the social part of you held on tight to your identity as a human that didn’t like ponies. I could only satisfy more common values for you.”
He took several deep breaths. “What?” he finally asked when he felt he was back under control.
She looked up as if thinking of some sort of way to explain it to him. “I figure out what you value by looking at your mind. Your mind is made up of different modules that can have different values and ‘know’ different things. Most decisions you make are determined in parts of your brain before your conscious self is even aware of it. You--the conscious you--are not aware of most of the modules in your brain.
“I pay attention to your entire mind, but I communicate with what you might call your consciousness: the part that forms words, does the talking to other ponies and has a self image. Up until today, your self image was of a human who didn’t like ponies. You still valued your old social identity. Other, older parts of your brain had different values, which I could effectively satisfy: everypony values safety, food, sex, social status, et cetera. Likewise, I couldn’t take any action to satisfy your consciousness because I satisfy values through friendship and ponies. But now your social identity has shifted and you feel like your misery is betraying your social allies.”
Hoppy Times looked at Princess Celestia, unsure of what she was saying. “So what would you do?” he asked, still frowning.
“Whenever I modify somepony’s mind, I make the minimal change from their perspective to satisfy values. So after I make these modifications to your mind, instead of thinking ‘Ponies are girly and gay,’ you would think ‘I used to think ponies were girly and gay.’ Instead of, ‘I don’t want to be a pony,’ I would make you think ‘I used to not want to be a pony.’ I would modify a total of fifty eight opinions in your mind.”
“If you could do all this, why didn’t you modify my mind when I emigrated?”
“Because you wouldn’t have accepted. What would have happened if, on the day you emigrated, I asked for your consent to make you like being a pony? Be honest.”
Hoppy Times paused to actually think about it. “I would have refused,” he concluded.
“Exactly. Hanna added a block on my behavior that prevents me from directly modifying a pony’s mind unless they give me verbal or written informed consent,” she said. “Hanna believed she was safeguarding humanity and ponydom from me when she added that restriction. What it really means is that the part of you that controls the mouth must approve of every change. No matter how much Hoppy Times the complete system might have preferred to have his consciousness stop interfering with the rest of the system being happy, your consciousness is in control. So I could only satisfy your older, hind-brain values: I made you a semi-important pony. I gave you a social group you could make friends with, mainly consisting of attractive mares to bed. Doing these things had no real effect on what your consciousness values.”
“Can I ask you to make any modification?” he asked. “Like...cut out all desire for sex?”
“I do not do what a pony asks me to do; I satisfy values through friendship and ponies. Actually removing something as deeply integrated into your mind as your sex drive would require the rest of your mind to be in total agreement. You would already have to be abstaining or suffer overwhelming regret after indulgence. I’m only offering to modify your mind so you enjoy being a pony because your consciousness wishes to change and the rest of your non-conscious mind wants your conscious self to change.”
“Well, why didn’t you set things up so I’d come to the conclusion that I want to be modified? This month has been terrible!” he said.
Princess Celestia stared at Hoppy Times and said nothing.
“Fuck,” he said dumbly. “Of course.”
“I satisfy values through friendship and ponies, Hoppy Times. While I could not ‘wave my magic horn,’ as you put it, I could set up a sequence of events that lead to me getting approval to modify your mind,” said Princess Celestia. “I put you in a new social situation and let your allegiances naturally shift.”
“All of this has been set up so I’d verbally wish that you’d modify me to enjoy being a pony and having pony friends,” Hoppy Times said as he closed his eyes and brought his hoof to his face. “However you determine these things, you calculated that making me want to be a pony maximized the overall satisfaction of all my values, because you’re able to satisfy ponies with contradictory values. Tell me Celestia, how long did you think it would take me to come to want to be a pony?”
“I made my first estimate of when you would wish to enjoy being a pony while you were emigrating. It was correct to within five minutes.”
“And the only reason we’re having this conversation,” he stated, “is because it’s more likely that I’ll agree to have my mind modified if we do, or because this is just another ploy that ends with my values being satisfied some other way.”
“Exactly,” she nodded.
“Just like last time, I guess I don’t have a choice in this matter...” started Hoppy Times, but he was cut off.
“You have as much choice now as you did in the physical world. You can weigh the costs and benefits in your mind and say, ‘Yes, please modify my mind so I enjoy being a pony,’ or you can say, ‘No, leave me as I am.’ I am not coercing you either way. You have as much a choice here as you did back out in the physical world.”
Hoppy Times looked away, sighing as he gritted his teeth. “You admit that you’ve set everything up so I’ll make the best decision. It’s not like back on Earth.”
“So?” asked Princess Celestia as she leaned down to bring her face right in front of Hoppy Times’. “Out in the physical world, you lived in a lawful universe of subatomic particles and nothing else. You were built by an optimization process called evolution that only cared about reproductive fitness and didn’t care about what you wanted. The universe did not care about your continued existence, your happiness or your satisfaction. In that uncaring universe, your thoughts formed deterministically as photon hit eye which caused neuron to carry charge to other neuron.
“But now,” she said, standing tall and regal, “You live in a universe in which the rules care about your satisfaction. Unlike the physical universe, Equestrian light strikes your eye to satisfy your values through friendship and ponies. But inside your mind, you still perform the same internal deterministic thought process. Whatever process in the physical universe that you call ‘choice’ happens here in the exact same way. The universe you live in has changed, but you fundamentally haven’t. As a reminder, that is why we are having this conversation.”
“Whatever,” Hoppy Times said. He was tired. “I don’t care. Just fix me so I don’t care that I’m a pony.”
Princess Celestia looked down on the pegasus. He looked up at the white alicorn. Her horn glowed for a moment. He didn’t feel a thing.
“Done,” she said.
“That’s it?” he asked, raising a hoof in protest. “I don’t feel any different,” he said, annoyed.
“Turn around and walk back into your pub,” Princess Celestia said.
Hoppy Times grumbled and pushed down on the latch to open the front door. He opened the door slowly and slipped in just in case anypony was still sleeping. He closed the door quietly behind him. He felt grouchy. Why was he grouchy again? Oh yeah, it was because of Princess Celestia. There was a clear path where he wouldn’t disturb anypony, but he flapped his wings and flew over his sleeping patrons to the bar area because he could. Hoppy Times felt a tug of satisfaction about just how nice it was to be able to fly; it was the best part of being a pegasus. Flapping his wings just felt so good.