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Author Topic: EP112: The Giving Plague  (Read 40296 times)

Dex

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Reply #40 on: July 07, 2007, 09:05:46 PM
I don't where to post this so I'll put it here - Heinlein's birthday today.

I wonder what he would say about today' SF?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard" science fiction. He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality.



slic

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Reply #41 on: July 07, 2007, 09:25:36 PM
Hey Dex - thanks for the info.  Usually for a new topic people just got to one of the sub forums and post a new topic.



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Reply #42 on: July 08, 2007, 03:40:14 AM
I really enjoyed this story. One of the big reasons is that it sort of mirrors my take on good deeds in the framework of organized religion. As a lapsed catholic, turned agnostic turned atheist one thing that always runs around in my head when I do good deeds or see others who do good deeds is "why am I or are they doing this?" When I followed the tenants of catholicism the question wasn't really all that important. After all god wants me to do good deeds and in doing them and feeling good about doing them I am going to get into the kingdom of heaven (yea yea yea there is a lot more to it but it was all window dressing, it hard to understand why I am not catholic anymore isn't it.)

Now as an atheist I still do good deeds, when my neighbor needs to get pushed out of a snow bank I still do it. When I find a lost pet I try to contact the owner. When I see an accident I stop to see what I can do to help. If I see someone who needs help I typically stop to help them. I donate to charities (some religious) and I give freely of my time and even my blood to my community. And I still wonder if I am more or less moral than those who are part of a religion which wants people to be good citizens. After all if you help your fellow man knowing each one you help gets you closer to the kingdom of heaven are you better or worse than if you help your fellow man because you feel it is the right thing to do with "extra" reward whatsoever.

Is the reason I help my fellow man even different than those of a follower of an organized religion? Do they perhaps like me do it just because it is the right thing to do? I honestly don't know. It might be that even though I profess no belief in god that deep down I still believe and do the "right" thing because I don't want to reduce my chances of entering heaven. It was nice to hear these thoughts explored by removing the question of religion from them. I did cheer at the end when the narrator told the virus he was doing the right thing because HE was doing the right thing, it really did crystallize my emotions about the topic quite nicely, a firm reliance in the belief that my actions are my actions alone regardless of how good or bad they are. They are my actions and that ultimately is more important to me than what kinds of actions they are.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #43 on: July 09, 2007, 08:35:45 PM
And I still wonder if I am more or less moral than those who are part of a religion which wants people to be good citizens. After all if you help your fellow man knowing each one you help gets you closer to the kingdom of heaven are you better or worse than if you help your fellow man because you feel it is the right thing to do with "extra" reward whatsoever.

Is the reason I help my fellow man even different than those of a follower of an organized religion? Do they perhaps like me do it just because it is the right thing to do?

I don't know much about Catholicism, but as a (this area intentionally left bare of qualifiers, denominational affiliations or names of theologians) Christian the idea of "extra" reward is alien.  Christians do what is right because it's what's right: We want to do what's right.  (Or at least we want to want it.)  Ironically, in moving from Catholicism to atheism, you've moved closer to my idea of morality.  Go figure.

I did cheer at the end when the narrator told the virus he was doing the right thing because HE was doing the right thing, it really did crystallize my emotions about the topic quite nicely, a firm reliance in the belief that my actions are my actions alone regardless of how good or bad they are. They are my actions and that ultimately is more important to me than what kinds of actions they are.

That's a good thought.  The narrator wants his actions to be meaningful, and they can only be meaningful if he chooses what to do.  ALAS would strip him of his agency by forcing him to be good, and then he would be just a puppet.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


slic

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Reply #44 on: July 09, 2007, 11:25:49 PM
Quote from: Mr. Tweedy
The narrator wants his actions to be meaningful, and they can only be meaningful if he chooses what to do.  ALAS would strip him of his agency by forcing him to be good, and then he would be just a puppet.
I'm not picking on Mr. Tweedy, he was just the last one to leave a comment of the vien I'm planning to argue.  Here goes:

ALAS isn't mind control, any more than the flu making you sneeze is mind control.  People still had to decide what to do.  Remember ALAS made people want to give blood, that made them feel good, and since giving blood was considered altruistic and they liked feeling good they simply made the (incorrect) connection that doing good made them feel that way.

Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?



jahnke

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Reply #45 on: July 10, 2007, 03:09:12 AM
ALAS isn't mind control, any more than the flu making you sneeze is mind control.  People still had to decide what to do.  Remember ALAS made people want to give blood, that made them feel good, and since giving blood was considered altruistic and they liked feeling good they simply made the (incorrect) connection that doing good made them feel that way.

Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?

Pavlov taught his dogs to expect food when the bell rang and when the food didn't come the dogs bodies still wanted food and I expect they were still hungry, there clearly is a strong link between the mind and body. Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. Soooo who knows, if having sex didn't feel so good, and if looking at your new born baby didn't spark something in us do you think we would "carry on" for the good of mankind? I dunno? Do you? And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.

Before he explained the "feels good to give blood" bit I wondered if it was like toxoplasmosis which makes rats suicidal and people fat. Mind control can be really really subtle, after all we are made of biology who can say where biology stops and what makes us "human" begins? It seems to me they didn't actually have time to figure out how ALAS worked, better safe than sorry because it clearly did affect people.



slic

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Reply #46 on: July 10, 2007, 11:59:30 AM
Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. ... And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.
Biological imperatives - exactly, not biological directives.  I see this arguement as supporting my point - as much as having offspring is a biological urge many, many people don't have children, or wait to do so.  Marathoners have their body screaming at them to stop running, soliders under fire instinctively want to get somewhere safe, and yet people control these strong imperatives. 
My point is along the lines that ALAS certainly was a contributing factor to people becoming more helpful to others, but it wasn't a mind-controlling virus making zombies of us all.  Imperatives can be ignored.



Russell Nash

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Reply #47 on: July 10, 2007, 12:26:09 PM
Biological imperatives are important, after all the drive to mate and raise offspring is a biological urge and it seems unlikely that unless we got something from the process of creating AND raising kids that as a species we would not have survived. ... And that to me was the point, he couldn't know unless he didn't have it.
Biological imperatives - exactly, not biological directives.  I see this arguement as supporting my point - as much as having offspring is a biological urge many, many people don't have children, or wait to do so.  Marathoners have their body screaming at them to stop running, soliders under fire instinctively want to get somewhere safe, and yet people control these strong imperatives. 
My point is along the lines that ALAS certainly was a contributing factor to people becoming more helpful to others, but it wasn't a mind-controlling virus making zombies of us all.  Imperatives can be ignored.

Exactly. 

I'm going to use the chocolate as an example, because it was already brought up.  the ALAS effect is like that craving for the piece of chocolate when we're in a bad mood.  We don't lose control of our bodies until we get the chocolate.  We have this "voice" in our head whispering, "a piece of chocolate would be nice right about now."  After we have the piece pf chocolate we feel a little better or more relaxed.  It's a subtle push.

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 



eytanz

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Reply #48 on: July 10, 2007, 12:39:35 PM

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 

Not exactly - the story said quite explicitly that ALAS only made people addicted to giving blood, and that the other helpful things were done as a secondary effect; people didn't understand why they started craving blood donations and mistook it for a general desire to be helpful.

As I think I already said, I found this to be the weakest aspect of the story - it would work a whole lot better if the relationship was reversed, i.e. if there was a general increase in altruistic urges and that blood donations increased as a result of that. The effect would be the same, but it would be more plausible (and here, when it's possible to be more plausible without harming the plot, is the one case where I think plausibility should be taken as a factor). I wonder why Brin chose to do it the way he did - it's a shame he's not on these forums, I'd love to be able to ask him.



capteucalyptus

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Reply #49 on: July 10, 2007, 01:12:56 PM
But (and here my understanding might be weak) the blood itself was the vector.  The person didn't feel "right" until they gave blood.  I suspect that even just being bled a la old school barbers/leeches would have provided the same relief.  After all ALAS doesn't know what the carrier is doing.  So it wouldn't work IMO for ALAS to cause people to be generous as the primary mover.  Viruses aren't clever or intelligent regardless of what the narrator believes.  Maybe this is the way in which he isn't reliable? 

I think that it would have also been a stretch to make ALAS a mind control virus.  The narrator understands/believes that people aren't being controlled per se, but they still (like Pavlov's dogs) are trained by the way they feel immediately after doing something they perceive as altruistic.  If I recall my psychology classes correctly positive reinforcement on a variable schedule (which to a degree the virus would be) is more potent in shaping behavior.  So when they do something altruistic that is not giving blood it still feels good.  Not as good as giving blood does, but still good.  Then after a few weeks they give blood and it's even better and so on.

Overall I really enjoyed this story, especially the narration.  It did run a touch long, but the payoff in what to me was an unexpected ending made it all worth it.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #50 on: July 10, 2007, 03:20:38 PM
Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?

If you really did feel like chocolate was controlling you, would you still want it?

I'm a caffeine addict.  I'm generally at work, where coffee plentiful, and at home I make myself yummy cappuccinos, but sometimes when we're out for the day, I don't get any coffee, and then a headache starts.  But then I get this weird stubbornness: I know that downing a big cup of joe will fix my headache, but I don't want any.  In fact, I will likely refuse to drink coffee and just live with the headache.  Why?  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!

If you feel like you are compelled to do something, then the pleasure in doing it suddenly diminishes, and you might even feel resentful.  People aren't happy unless they (at least feel like they) are acting of their own free will.  We can't stand being dominated.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


ClintMemo

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Reply #51 on: July 10, 2007, 03:45:45 PM
Eating chocolate excites my pleasure centre - so my tastebuds control me?  They force me to eat chocolate (or other junk food)?
  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!

...but in a sense, isn't the the caffeine still controlling you?
It is limiting you to a choice between more caffeine and having a headache.
What you describe is exactly the way the beginning of drug addiction feels as described to me in my psych class from 25 years ago - you start out taking the drug because it makes you feel good, but later you take the drug because it stops making you feel bad.

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


slic

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Reply #52 on: July 10, 2007, 03:51:16 PM
But then I get this weird stubbornness: I know that downing a big cup of joe will fix my headache, but I don't want any.  In fact, I will likely refuse to drink coffee and just live with the headache.  Why?  Because I don't want to feel controlled by coffee.  I want to drink coffee because I like it (which I do), and if I get to the place where I feel like I need it satisfy a craving, then the coffee isn't fun anymore.  I don't want that stupid bean to control me; I want to be the master!
Maybe it's just me, but that seems really weird.  If you like something and it hurts not doing it then it seems to be foolish not to do it.  I can understand wanting to avoid the addictive qualites of caffeine , however that's not exactly what you are doing, you enjoy drinking coffee.

If you feel like you are compelled to do something, then the pleasure in doing it suddenly diminishes, and you might even feel resentful.  People aren't happy unless they (at least feel like they) are acting of their own free will.  We can't stand being dominated.
I'm "forced" to play soccer when it's game time (this Thursday at 6pm).  I can't play on Wednesday morning or Thursday at 7:22pm.  And yet, I still really enjoy the game.
Same thing with a tournament,  I might have to play 3 games, and I may be feeling a bit sore and not be as excited by the third game, but I still enjoy it.

I do understand your gist in regards of the knee jerk reaction of people to suddenly not want to do something because someone or something else wishes/compels it.  But I see that as spite, and frankly, it's silly.



ClintMemo

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Reply #53 on: July 10, 2007, 04:01:28 PM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #54 on: July 10, 2007, 04:44:24 PM
I'm "forced" to play soccer when it's game time (this Thursday at 6pm).  I can't play on Wednesday morning or Thursday at 7:22pm.  And yet, I still really enjoy the game.
Same thing with a tournament,  I might have to play 3 games, and I may be feeling a bit sore and not be as excited by the third game, but I still enjoy it.

You are not forced to play soccer.  If you were, if there were men with guns who would shoot you for not playing, you would be a slave, and you would doubtless resent your condition.

You are in the league voluntarily and you play at certain times because it is necessary for the game you enjoy.  If you were compelled to play, you wouldn't want to anymore.

When there is no headache, I drink coffee for the pleasure it brings me, but when there is a headache, then I feel forced and so there is no longer any pleasure.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


Russell Nash

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Reply #55 on: July 10, 2007, 06:14:32 PM

We all have that warm little feeling after we help someone.  ALAS makes people addicted to this feeling.  The story said giving blood was just one of the things people did.  They were also more likely to help little old ladies cross the street. 

Not exactly - the story said quite explicitly that ALAS only made people addicted to giving blood, and that the other helpful things were done as a secondary effect;

::grumble grumble::  I went to his website and reread that part.  My bad.

The thick blood idea isn't a bad one though.  Lots of viruses have strange side effects.  Sometimes it helps the virus to spread and sometimes it doesn't.  Something that kills the host too quickly would be a non-helper.



darusha

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Reply #56 on: July 10, 2007, 07:18:28 PM
This was a great story.  Like Steve, I love an unreliable narrator, and found this to be a great example of the device.  My take on this story was, like some of the other posters, that the causation of general altruism from the desire to be bled or donate blood was a weakness.  However, that doesn't have to be the story's weakness, it could be an analytical error by Les which the narrator fails to correct. 

So, the narrator believes that ALAS causes people to act in an altruistic manner, and this belief causes him to take all kinds of actions to prevent a possible blood transfusion.  What a wonderful irony if that belief is unfounded and he ends up doing all these things for no reason.  He ends up controlled, at least indirectly, by ALAS after all.



eytanz

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Reply #57 on: July 10, 2007, 07:58:50 PM
It may seem like a flaw that a virus could develop that would give people a compulsion to give blood and had I thought about it, I might have considered it a flaw. But, a few months ago, I saw a bit on the "Animal Planet" channel about an organism  that causes ants to act like zombies for a while and then climb out on to the end of a blade of grass and hang onto to it with their mandibles until they die.  The behavior enables to organism to reproduce but it is part of a cycle where it has to travel through two or three separate creatures to do this.

very weird

Interesting. But is that behavior really unrelated to anything the ants ever do naturally? Or is it just taking a regular behavior out of context? I don't know, but I'll assume it's the latter. Say, that the ants usually grab grass as a way of bringing food to the nest, and the organism screws up with their ability to figure out that the grass can't be moved before it is cut.

My problem with the story isn't with the "desire to donate blood", it's with the causality - desire to donate leads to altruism. If it was the reverse - say, that ALAS made people more altruistic (by, say, invoking social instincts normally restricted to close relationships), and also made blood feel thicker if there wasn't occasional bloodletting. Each of these on its own is possible, and the result would be more blood donation. However, that switches the causality of what was implied in the story.

If you just had people who felt uncomfortable without the occasional bloodloss, you'd end up with more blood donations, but also more self-cutting and people with leech addictions and the like. The story didn't mention these at all - and if it was the case, then it couldn't work in the way the story described it, since "altruism arises as a rationalization for blood donation" won't work if the blood donors figure out that they share symptoms with self-mutilators.

My main gripe here, though, is not "this is implausible". I don't mind implausibility. It's that I figure that the story would work just as well if the causal relationship between altruism and blood donation were reversed, so the implausibility feels, to me, rather gratuitous. Which is annoying on its own, and even moreso because it makes me suspect that there's a motivation which I'm just missing, and I'd hate that to be the case.

(Note that for all the nitpicking I still feel this is a great story.)



7by12

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Reply #58 on: July 10, 2007, 08:48:03 PM
My problem with the story isn't with the "desire to donate blood", it's with the causality - desire to donate leads to altruism. If it was the reverse - say, that ALAS made people more altruistic (by, say, invoking social instincts normally restricted to close relationships), and also made blood feel thicker if there wasn't occasional bloodletting. Each of these on its own is possible, and the result would be more blood donation. However, that switches the causality of what was implied in the story.

My main gripe here, though, is not "this is implausible". I don't mind implausibility. It's that I figure that the story would work just as well if the causal relationship between altruism and blood donation were reversed, so the implausibility feels, to me, rather gratuitous. Which is annoying on its own, and even moreso because it makes me suspect that there's a motivation which I'm just missing, and I'd hate that to be the case.

(Note that for all the nitpicking I still feel this is a great story.)

I agree. I've decided, by way of my "reader's prerogative" that the virus did activate more than just a desire to give blood, and the narrator was unreliable at least in this respect. Being that he was aware of the virus and its vector, that's all that he saw. I don't buy at all that a compulsion to give blood (and I think we have to call it a compulsion because of the case study of the elderly man that was willing to break the law and lie in order to keep giving blood, something I wouldn't be willing to do for caffeine (thought don't ask me about nicotine)) would "naturally" lead to further altruism. If this were a natural law, someone responding to a local natural disaster would then expand their scope or altruism to the nation and beyond, and eventually there would be no nonprofit relief organization wanting for funds and volunteers.

It's fiction, and I like it, and I want to like it, so by personal fiat, the virus compelled all sorts of altruism, but our antihero was blind to the wider effect of ALAS. It can certainly be argued that he suffered from narcissistic tendencies in other areas. At least this helps me suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story. Anyone else willing to accept this theory? With it, you can still go either way on whether or not the protagonist is unreliable in other areas, or antihero.



slic

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Reply #59 on: July 11, 2007, 02:23:03 AM
You are not forced to play soccer. ... If you were compelled to play, you wouldn't want to anymore.
Not true.  I have a sense of responsibility to my team. I may not really want to play that third game in the tourney, but I do want the team to advance.
That sense of responsibility can also be overridden, by other more immediate or important things - too much rain/lightning or the need to take my children to some other activity.