[Invisible Networks] Goblin Marketplace

Written for crtlcreep’s Invisible Networks 2022 challenge: “invent a social network each day”, today’s prompt: “Goblin Marketplace”.


“The Goblin Marketplace is that way. Assuming that you have ears on your head, you can’t miss it.”

The expression is not metaphorical: even if you were deaf, you would hear the sounds of the Marketplace. That is, assuming that nobody had cut your ears off. In that case, your ears would continue to hear it, but they wouldn’t communicate the sound to your brain.

Too bad you’re not a goblin.

The screaming tends to carry the loudest. Obviously, the Goblin Marketplace sells goblins. To help prove that the goods are authentic, there are campfires scattered around the marketplace, cut-off goblin heads roasting on top of them. They’re the ones who are screaming, for hours and hours at a time.

Next to the campfire, you’ll find a market stall. It’s staffed by the same goblin’s cut-off hands, or maybe just one of them, depending on whether the other one has sold itself yet. Most goblins are left-handed, so the right hand will go first, leaving the most important one to carry out the business.

If you are proficient in goblin tapping language, you can communicate with the hands directly, the two of you spelling out words by tapping patterns on each other’s palms. If not, you can bring your own translator, or employ one of the many hanging around the marketplace.

What’s usually for sale are the goblin’s feet, hands, and possibly the head, if it’s a place where heads are sold and it’s old enough that it wouldn’t regenerate a new body anymore. Or if you are willing to pay a lot of money. Otherwise, another goblin would pick up the head at the end of the day and go stick it to a spawning pool, letting it grow new body parts for sale.

The prices will depend on a number of factors, such as the goblin’s age, the part that you want to buy, and who the other owners are. Goblins will eventually die of old age, and any body parts will have the same age as the head they’ve been grown from. So a very old goblin’s parts might go for cheaper, since they won’t last for very long. On the other hand, an old goblin might have had the time to generate and sell quite a few body parts. They would then all be connected to each other, letting you send messages to anyone else who owned such parts.

Tap a message on a goblin’s hand, and your friend who owns another hand from the same goblin can have that hand tap the message to them. Or if one of you is lucky enough to own a head, you can send or receive messages by ordinary speech. A more common arrangement is to have one ear and one hand: you can tell the ear what you want to have sent, and receive responses from the hand. (It is unfortunate that just a tongue isn’t enough to talk: you do need a full head for that.)

Feet can also tap messages, though they tend to be slower. If for some reason you wanted to only send messages and didn’t need to receive them, you could buy a piece of a limb or the torso and tap messages on that, though usually such body parts are just sold for their meat. A goblin’s penis can express messages in a slow kind of Morse code.

There are many ways of using goblins. Often friends or family members who want to stay in touch with each other will arrange to buy parts of the same goblin. There are also goblins devoted to some topic, such as literature or gardening, who will let you stay in touch with other people who share that interest. Rich people may keep goblin heads in their homes, and hand out that goblin’s parts to anyone who wants to stay in contact with them.

At this point you might wonder, if all of the goblin’s parts are sold off for other people’s use, who gets the money?

In some places, it’s the goblin nobility. They don’t sell themselves, and instead just get rich selling off slaves or convicted criminals. The nobles tend to be rich and powerful, and can closely control their realms by spreading out their parts to all of their underlings and fellow nobles, thus maintaining lines of constant communication.

If you want a more ethical purchase, you can find a marketplace where the goblins own themselves. At such places, the heads are never sold. Instead, a goblin will just sell some of their parts every now and then, regrowing a body and going back to a normal life afterwards. Of course, this means that their parts will form a smaller network, though some of them elect to spend more time selling themselves in exchange for getting more money.

Such marketplaces will be more expensive, but at least you can rest assured knowing that the body part you are using as your communication device took on that role voluntarily.

[Invisible Networks] Psyche-Sort

Written for crtlcreep’s Invisible Networks 2022 challenge: “invent a social network each day”, today’s prompt: “Psyche-Sort”.

Starting from day #2 since I forgot to participate yesterday. 

Content note: Cycles of abuse, both personal and institutionalized. A world locked into AI-mediated dystopia.


“Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross-reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony.” (Amazing Spider-Man #544)

There are tendrils of pain running across society, fault lines on which our social infrastructure is built. You can imagine them as huge beating arteries full of thick flowing trauma, their contents seeping everywhere around them.

When you have lived your whole life in pain, it won’t occur to you that it would be possible to end the pain. You just enact and pass on the behaviors you’ve learned for dealing with it. And then you weaponize them, so as to prevent anyone else from hurting you more than you can hurt them.

Yet you cannot entirely eradicate the need for connection and companionship. You can suppress it, you can make it into something people are terrified of, you can turn it into a twisted mockery of itself. But people still long to band together, for mutual protection if nothing else.

So you require people whose needs have been twisted in a way that is compatible with yours. Maybe you believe that everyone is just out to hurt everyone else, and need your friends to treat you like trash so you can treat them like that in return. Maybe you are horrified at the thought of not being dependent on someone, so you need someone to tell you how you will always need them. Maybe you are utterly consumed by self-doubt, so need to follow a strong authoritarian leader. Maybe you feel unsafe by people around you exhibiting agency, so you need to become the strong authoritarian leader.

Either way, you need to be surrounded by people who tell you what you want to hear, treat you the way you want to be treated, and let you treat themselves the way you want to treat them.

Nobody intentionally created Psyche-Sort. It’s just an agglomeration of machine learning systems, each learning what kinds of people to connect with each other. Developed to match people on their revealed rather than stated preferences – the economists claiming that this is a far more reliable way of discovering what people really want, not to mention more profitable – it found abusive and dysfunctional relationships and organizations to be more durable than healthy ones, thus ranking higher on its optimization criteria.

As people got systematically connected to people and institutions predicted to create increasingly intense spirals of misery, waves of trauma spread out like an infectious disease, mutating into new forms as more and more people turned into carriers and brought the pain to new environments. Each such occasion gave the algorithms more variety to choose from in matching people – finding people whose psyches were amazingly compatible in the sense of creating exquisitely dysfunctional circumstances.

You can rest assured that no matter who you are or what your desires, the machines will connect you with a social group that’s just the right for you. One where you’ll be staying together and hurting each other forever.

How feeling more secure feels different than I expected

This year, I’ve been feeling more emotionally secure, thanks to various kinds of internal and external work (the stuff at https://attachmentrepair.com/ being one notable example).

The effect of this doesn’t always feel like I expected it to feel.

I once thought that in order to not worry so much about whether people like me, I would need to become convinced that they do like me. Or at least I’d need to convince myself that at least some people like me, strongly enough that it would reassure me in general.

That does play a certain role. I probably wouldn’t feel the way I do now, if I hadn’t managed to internalize evidence about some people actually liking me quite a bit. And if I ended up in a conversation where it was obvious that someone hated me, yeah, that wouldn’t be fun.

But my actual internal experience of feeling more secure in interacting with other people, isn’t necessarily that I put a higher probability on the other person liking me than I did before. Often it’s more like noticing that thinking about how much the other person likes me, isn’t a particularly rewarding frame of mind to be in. And that it’s possible to sometimes at least drop that frame and let a more rewarding frame arise.

If I had to verbalize it, there’s sometimes a shift in stances that’s accompanied by a thought that goes along the lines of “it’s possible that I’m secretly annoying this person and they totally hate me without telling me that and I’m doing nothing to deny that possibility, but I’m going to get more out of this interaction if I just focus on something more rewarding – such as the general flow of this conversation – unless I get a clear indication that I’m doing something wrong”.

Except that that’s not quite right, because what I do then isn’t me trying to focus on something more rewarding. Nor is it an attempt to suppress the analysis about what the other person’s opinion about me is. Rather it’s just a remembering to inhibit the part of me that’s about to start focusing on that analysis, and then letting something else arise from that space on its own.

And that’s becoming more automatic, so that I don’t necessarily even need to do that anymore. If the thought of “it’s possible that this person secretly hates me” crosses my mind at all, it may do so very quickly and then be gone.

(I originally wrote large parts of this a month ago, for the forum of Michael Ashcroft’s Alexander Technique course; if I had written it from scratch now, I’m not sure I’d have been able to verbalize that shift in stances anymore, because it has become automatic/subtle enough to miss.)

All of this is not to say that I wouldn’t still feel significantly anxious in some social situations that happen to trigger that. Just that there are increasingly situations where I don’t, where I previously did.

I recall a conversation I once had with someone, when I was still a lot more worried about this kind of thing. When I said I was worried about what other people think of me, she said “but you can’t actually know what others think of you, so why focus on that?”

From where I’m at now, I can understand her confusion.

If you’re feeling secure, what others think of you is just a question like any other, such as “I wonder what they had for breakfast today”. You can choose to think about it, but it’s not intrinsically compelling. If it feels like an unanswerable question that it doesn’t give you any benefit to think about, you can just… not think about it. Why wouldn’t you think about something else? There are lots of more fun things to think about!

But if you’re feeling insecure, you can’t just choose not to think about it. Someone not liking you, or even possibly not liking you, feels on a deep emotional level like danger. It’s much more like “is my partner going to abandon me” than it’s “what did these people have for breakfast”. Because you’re so sensitive to rejection that even a stranger disliking you feels a little bit like being abandoned by a loved one, like nobody will ever love you.

From that frame of mind, my friend’s question of “you can’t know, so why care” felt incomprehensible. There was a sense of “yeah I can’t know, and that’s exactly what’s horrifying and it’s why I have to keep worrying about it”.

Because “you can’t know what other people think of you” felt, on some emotional level, a little bit like “you can’t know whether anyone will ever truly care about you”.

So from that frame, I thought that when I’d get to the point of feeling more secure, it would feel like putting a higher probability on “the people who I’m currently interacting with like me”. Since emotionally “other people liking me” and “I’m worthy of love” felt like the same thing, even if I intellectually understood that this doesn’t make sense.

But while feeling more secure does also somewhat involve putting a higher probability on other people liking me, it also involves that question becoming separate from the feeling of “I’m worthy of love”. A lower probability on being liked, doesn’t necessarily imply lower worth.

And that’s something that I might have been able to understand intellectually before, but I wouldn’t have been able to imagine what the actual experience of it feels like.

Crossposts: Facebook, Twitter, LessWrong.

Experimentation with AI-generated images (VQGAN+CLIP) | Solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon

A few days ago I found the Twitter account @images_ai, which posts AI-generated images and links to these instructions for generating your own. I started playing around with it; some of my choice picks:

The first image I generated, “sci-fi heroes fighting fantasy heroes”

“cute catboys having a party”

Someone had figured out that if you add words like “unreal engine” to your prompt, you get more realistic graphics.

so here’s “sci-fi heroes fighting fantasy heroes trending on artstation | unreal engine”

“young sorcerer heiress of a cyberpunk corporation, with dragons on her side | unreal engine”

“the cat is over the moon|unreal engine”

“Ghosts of Saltmarsh”

wikiart16384 model, “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism:2 | unreal engine:1 | logo:-1”

At this point I read a tweet suggesting that a 16:9 image ratio generally produces better results, so I switched to using that.

“solarpunk forest village | studio ghibli | trending on artstation”

“mountain expedition encounters stargate | full moon | matte painting”

“xcom fighting sectoids | matte painting”

I decided to do some systematic experimentation: picking a starting prompt (“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon”), fixing the random seed, and varying parts of the prompt to see how they changed.

In retrospect the initial prompt wasn’t great, since I’m not sure if any of the pictures really incorporated the “fleeing” aspect, so I could have picked a more fully meaningful prompt. In general, this AI seems to be better at understanding individual words than it is at understanding sentences. Oh well.

All of these use seed 13039289688260605078 (no special significance; it’s what got randomly rolled for the first one so I kept using it), image size 640*360.

I don’t have anything interesting conclude besides what you see from the images themselves. As I was posting these on Facebook, Marcello Herreshoff kindly joined in on the experimentation, coming up with additional prompts and generating pictures with them; I’ve credited his images where they appear. [EDIT: Marcello let me know that he hadn’t remembered to fix the seed for his pictures, but they got similar enough to my pictures anyway that I never even suspected!]

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | Dr. Seuss” (Marcello)”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | Dr. Seuss | text:-1” (Marcello)

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | paul klee” (Marcello)

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | Salvador Dali” (Marcello)

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | Ukiyo-e” (Marcello)

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | van gogh” (Marcello)

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon in the style of h.r. giger”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon in the style of h.r. giger | pastel colors”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon in the style of my little pony friendship is magic”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | studio ghibli”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | studio ghibli | trending on artstation”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | unreal engine | trending on artstation”

“solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | watercolor”

“matte painting of solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon”

“matte painting of solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“matte painting of solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon in the style of h.r. giger | studio ghibli | unreal engine | trending on artstation”

“children’s storybook illustration of solarpunk airships fleeing a dragon”

“solarpunk airships fleeing an octopus | trending on artstation”

“airships fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“airships fleeing a dragon | ps1 graphics”

“airships fleeing a dragon | SNES graphics”

“airships fleeing a nuclear blast | trending on artstation”

“airships | trending on artstation”

“solarpunk trains fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“solarpunk trains fleeing a dragon | ursula vernon”

“cyberpunk airships fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“cyberpunk trains fleeing a dragon | trending on artstation”

“cyberpunk trains fleeing a baby | trending on artstation”