Overcoming Bias is an erudite blog out out Oxford which focuses on the general theme of self-deception. It plays around with everything from God to zombies, from neuroeconomics to applied statistics. It is sometimes dry, but always substantive — and now, for a limited time only, it is also fucking hilarious.
Blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky is serving up the kind of classic fifties-era first-contact story that Jonathan Swift might have written, if Jonathan Swift had had a background in game theory. In the first installment we encounter an alien race whose peaceful, scientific, and undeniably moral civilization is predicated upon the eating of babies. Our earnest crew wrestles with the intuitive proposition that baby-eating is wrong, but has a much more difficult time than you might think expressing just why that might be. Then we get into the use of tentacle porn as a handshaking protocol. It goes from there.
The remarkable thing about this series (so far, anyway) is that while an almost Douglas-Adamsesque sense of absurdity hangs over the proceedings, the author wrote the story “to illustrate some points on naturalistic metaethics and diverse other issues of rational conduct.” The Prisoner’s dilemma shows up almost at the first paragraph; Bayes’ Theorem is not far behind. And the fact that Yudkowsky’s aliens, biologically, are radically cool in their own right— no wrinkly-headed sock puppets here (and trust me, I know cool aliens when I see them) — is pure bonus.
Nothing has blown up yet. It’s not a Jerry Bruckheimer kind of story; so far the action consists of a bunch of people sitting around the conference table in their starship, tearing out their hair. The most explicit act of violence to date consists of the captain banging his face on the table to try and knock the cognitive dissonance out of his head.
Still, each new development seems to be upping the odds of imminent catastrophic battle in the near future. New installments are being posted daily: if you run over there now, you can get caught up before the genocide starts. Here’s the introduction to the exercise. The story itself begins here. Each installment links to the next.
See you there.