Rationalist fiction brainstorming funtimes

The ti­tle should make things clear enough, so let’s start with my de­scrip­tion of the tar­get, ra­tio­nal­ist fic­tion: fic­tion that tries to teach the au­di­ence ra­tio­nal­ist cog­ni­tive skills by hav­ing char­ac­ters model those skills for the reader.

So for ex­am­ple, Lu­minos­ity is to a large ex­tent about the ques­tions “What do I want?, What do I have?, and How can I best use the lat­ter to get the former?” Oh, and us­ing em­piri­cism on magic.

Another ex­am­ple is Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ra­tion­al­ity, which goes more in-depth about the laun­dry list of hu­man bi­ases. In fact, many of the more iconic mo­ments (mea­sured by what I re­mem­ber and what other peo­ple like to copy) are about bi­ases to avoid, rather than about mod­el­ing good be­hav­ior.

This thread is about ideas, from gen­eral to spe­cific, for ra­tio­nal­ist fic­tion. I’ll give some ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples.

Gen­eral idea: hav­ing a ra­tio­nal char­ac­ter en­coun­ter­ing magic or amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy is a great chance to show­case the power of em­piri­cism. (Has any­one got­ten on this one yet? :3 )

Story idea: Okay, so we take the Dres­den Files uni­verse, and our ra­tio­nal pro­tag­o­nist is some smart kid who just started a sum­mer job as an as­sis­tant ra­dio tech­ni­cian or some­thing. It turns out he’s got one in a hun­dred mag­i­cal tal­ent, enough to cut off his bud­ding ca­reer, he man­ages to find the magic com­mu­nity, figures out just enough, em­barks on heroic quest to run a mag­itech ra­dio sta­tion. (Okay, this last bit isn’t ob­vi­ous—for one, more char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment would prob­a­bly have him want­ing some­thing else. For an­other, the ob­vi­ous thing is to take over the world if Lu­minos­ity and HPMOR are any­thing to go by.)

Spe­cific idea: A char­ac­ter could model the skill of test­ing stuff by test­ing stuff. When char­ac­ters are perform­ing a big search, have some­one ac­tu­ally stop to think about false pos­i­tives, or more gen­er­ally “how could things be go­ing wrong, and how can I pre­vent that?”, and have it ac­tu­ally be a false pos­i­tive once.

But re­ally, there’s an ex­plo­sion of pos­si­bil­ities out there to ex­plore, and I feel like we have “Ra­tion­al­ist meets magic. Ra­tion­al­ist does sci­ence to magic. Ra­tion­al­ist kicks butt with magic” fairly well-cov­ered. We have all these differ­ent bi­ases cat­e­go­rized, with cor­re­spond­ing right ways to do things, and there are plenty of good be­hav­iors we can try to teach an au­di­ence with­out the em­piri­cism-fod­der and high stakes that is a fan­tasy set­ting. Or even if you do a Dres­den Files fic, you could ig­nore the em­pri­cism stuff and just, like, pick a habit from Anna’s check­list and write a short story :D. Here’s an idea I quite fancy, I’ll save ev­ery­thing else for com­ments:

Gen­eral idea: Giv­ing peo­ple the benefit of the doubt and man­ag­ing to lose ar­gu­ments when they need to be lost is the clos­est thing to a ra­tio­nal­ist su­per­power I have. Can I work that into a story some­how?

Story ideas: A James Her­riot sort of thing, where the pro­tag­o­nist has their daily life (Maybe vet­eri­nar­ian, or ma­te­ri­als sci­en­tist, or line cook, or model rocket hob­by­ist), and re­lat­ably goes about it, oc­ca­sion­ally giv­ing peo­ple the benefit of the doubt and los­ing ar­gu­ments, and some­times us­ing other ra­tio­nal­ist skills, and usu­ally end­ing up on the right side of things in the end. At this point it might be too sub­tle to ac­tu­ally teach the au­di­ence, one solu­tion to this would be a des­ig­nated per­son in-story to pe­ri­od­i­cally no­tice how awe­some the pro­tag­o­nist is.