LessWrong/ideas/Three Worlds Collide

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"Three Worlds Collide", more commonly referred to as "the babyeaters", is a sequence of LessWrong blog posts by Eliezer Yudkowski which tells a science fiction story with a number of moral and [meta]ethical points to make.


  • 2009-01-30 The Baby-Eating Aliens (1/8)
    Future humanity encounters a race of aliens whose ethics include a perceived social need to eat most of their young, due to their high reproductive volume. The act of eating one's young is perceived as such a necessity that the act of doing so has become equivalent, in their thinking, to the general idea of "good". The young are sentient, and protest being eaten.
  • 2009-01-30 War and/or Peace (2/8)
    As soon as they have interpreted the alien transmissions and understand the baby-eating nature of the aliens, they at first panic and assume the aliens are essentially hostile -- even though the aliens praised the humans' earlier actions and appear friendly.
    After recovering from this panic, the humans debate about (a) whether the aliens are evil, (b) whether to go to war on the aliens in order to save their children.
    One human suggests that the aliens could be biologically modified so as to make baby-eating no longer necessary; this very sensible idea is rejected with an emotional argument -- "They would grow up loathing themselves for being unable to eat babies. Horrors in their own eyes. It would be kinder just to kill them." Apparently nobody objects to this counterargument.
    On further analysis, a new wrinkle is discovered: there is evidence that those being eaten experience extreme pain over a quite long period, before the digestion process is complete.
    The aliens then begin trying to persuade the humans to eat their own babies, arguing that this would more rapidly increase the humans' evolutionary fitness. The humans apparently agree with the rather fuzzy statement that "Evolution and survival are universals." The aliens also argue on the basis of "sacrifice and loyalty to the tribe", and reveal that they apparently see Adolf Hitler as a "good guy" who made some honest mistakes.
    At the end of this episode, a third party enters the arena (not babyeater and not human).
  • 2009-02-01 The Super Happy People (3/8)
    The third ship contains a benevolent race, the Maximum Fun-Fun Ultra Super Happy People (SHP), which uses the same biological medium for encoding genetic material and thoughts. (Put another way, they communicate through sex.)
    The SHP have technologically modified themselves so they do not experience pain. To the SHP, experiencing pain is much the same as killing children is to humans. The SHP representative asks if the humans will work with the SHP to fix this problem in humanity.
    The lead human argues that the ability to feel pain is necessary for empathy; the lead SHP argues that pain is not a necessary element of empathy.
    The lead human argues that the ability to feel pain was chosen by humanity (but does not explain why he believes this; it is later revealed that this refers to a fictional future event that is historical canon for this story). The lead SHP argues that human children do not agree with that choice.
    The lead SHP states an intention to fix the problem by force if necessary, due to the pain being experienced by human children.
  • 2010-02-02 Interlude with the Confessor (4/8)
    Trigger alert: this episode discusses non-consensual sex. (This summary does not, as it doesn't seem essential.)
    The humans fret with each other about the choice before them, bafflingly reaffirming their commitment to having made the historical decision to continue experiencing pain, despite technology's ability to remove it.
    Once of the characters gives some future-historical background about humanity's technical and ethical progress since the present.
  • 2010-02-03 Three Worlds Decide (5/8)
    Some of the humans finally come up with some good suggestions -- "Ask the Superhappies if their biotechnology is capable of in vivo cognitive alterations of Babyeater children to ensure that they don't grow up wanting to eat their own children." -- and some others whose value is less clear.
    The humans reestablish contact with the SHP to get their suggestions. The SHP offer a solution which contains both sensible compassion and bizarre cultural alterations intended to make both human and SHP civilizations seem more appropriate to the Babyeaters. The humans discuss this proposal amongst themselves.
    The human ship's engineer reports that experimental data received from the Babyeaters indicates that a very important measurement upon which certain significant elements of future-human technology is based is actually off by ten orders of magnitude. He has tested the value and found that the babyeater value is correct. This gives the humans the ability (which they previously did not know they had) to make the nearby star go nova -- cutting off the only known starlines by which babyeater, SHP, and human civilizations might encounter each other.
    The humans seem to be working on the assumption that the SHP proposal would doom humanity, and therefore blowing up the starlanes is the best option.
    The lead human points out that this would also compromise the goal of saving the babyeater children, which is just as important as "saving" humanity. Destroying the starlanes is no longer an option.
    The SHP leader demands a decision; the lead human accepts the SHP plan, with reasonable caveats.
    The SHP destroys the Babyeater ship. SHP negotiations with the Babyeaters had failed, and it was important for the Babyeater ship not to inform its civilization of the impending SHP plan, which the SHP now intends to carry out without the Babyeaters' permission.
  • 2010-02-04 Normal Ending: Last Tears (6/8): Ending A
    Many on earth commit suicide rather than endure the changes required by the agreement, but it is nonetheless carried out.
  • 2010-02-05 True Ending: Sacrificial Fire (7/8): Ending B
    One of the humans stuns the human leader to prevent him from keeping his end of the agreement. The Human ship initiates a supernova to destroy the starlanes, killing most of the human inhabitants of a nearby world and all on board the ship.
  • 2010-02-06 Epilogue: Atonement (8/8)
    Trigger alert: this episode discusses non-consensual sex and murder.
    The crew of the human ship discuss the ethics of mass murder versus individual murder, in the few minutes remaining before they themselves are destroyed.