Ask The Alethiometer!

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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Tamien » Fri Apr 04, 2014 12:58 pm

Hmm, pondering how the constraints of alethiometer's communicative medium force it to ignore standard conventions of grounding and break conceptual pacts, I got curious:

(1) Does the alethiometer obey the cooperative principle (to the best of its ability)?
(2a) If yes, is it ever indirectly cooperative by flouting one the maxims or does it always answer literal-mindedly?
(2b) If no, is it systematically uncooperative (ie, does it fail to follow one or more maxims in a predictable manner) or is it uncooperative in some other way?

(I have tried to provide enough context to my question for it to make sense to someone uneducated in psycholinguistics or pragmatics but I'm notoriously bad about this, so if you need more info before you can answer, just ask and I will try to provide.)
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Kappa » Fri Apr 04, 2014 2:00 pm

The cooperative principle is something I only vaguely understand, and I'm not even sure how to ask questions that will improve my understanding if answered, so I will just... talk some about how the alethiometer says things and see if I manage to answer your questions by accident. (This is all stuff that comes from my brain and that I use when thinking about the alethiometer in Effulgence or this thread, and may be unsupported or outright contradicted by the original canon.)

    *The alethiometer always says true things.
    *It can vary its answers to account for the person asking. For example, since it knows Kas can always tell which level it meant, it doesn't bother to tick past a symbol two or three or five hundred and thirty-two times before settling on it. Likewise when talking to a wizard with Kas present. (If there was another observer who was trying to note down the answer for manual translation, it might or might not stop taking that shortcut, depending on whether or not it wanted them to succeed.)
    *It displays a sense of humour when talking to Kas.
    *This relates to the fact that Kas doesn't just know which level it means when it indicates a particular symbol, but also what it actually means by every symbol or group of symbols it uses. So, for example, he knew that Owl:darkness Hourglass:change meant Aianon. And he knew that when the alethiometer was talking to Cam, when it said the meaning that meant "Syntropy wizard", not only that it meant "Syntropy wizard" in particular, but that it was using that meaning to refer to Cam as opposed to wizards in general - and he also guessed that the fact that it used that particular term for him was relevant.
    *Sometimes it has problems with conceptual gaps, where it's trying to tell somebody something and it's just too far outside their experience to be clearly conveyed. I like to think that this and the thing where angels and the Authority can hide stuff from it were large parts of why it was so unhelpful regarding the afterlife - it probably could've done better in theory, but it's not a perfect communicator, it just says true things. So it did the best it could.
    *It has problems with numbers, as alluded to by Kas. I haven't worked out exactly why.
    *As proven in this thread, it can sass people. But not with sarcasm. Because it always says true things.

Hopefully some of that is helpful to your question and/or interesting in its own right? XD
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Tamien » Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:36 pm

Probably the simplest way to explain it, for these purposes, would be to say "does the alethiometer communicate like a human would, given the restrictions 'must tell the truth' and 'can only use these symbols'"?

Translating what you said into psycholinguistics jargon:
* the alethiometer always obeys the maxim of quality, because it always says what it believes to be true and it always has perfect evidence for what it believes.
* the alethiometer does audience design; it takes into account what knowledge it (perfectly) knows its collocutor has
* the alethiometer can use humor, but only does so when it (justifiedly) believes that its collocutor will be able to 'get the joke'
* the alethiometer (due to its limited lexicon) cannot easily convey meaning its collocutor doesn't already have a lemma for - it would have a hard time teaching someone a new word or idea
* the alethiometer will do its best to make itself understood
* the alethiometer has trouble with number (probably because the symbols it's allowed don't contain numbers or even a plural morpheme?)

You've pretty much answered the question, albeit indirectly, by saying "it's not a perfect communicator...it did the best it could". However, for the sake of completeness:

* Maxim of Quality - the alethiometer always says true things, so this is a given
* Maxim of Quantity - does the alethiometer always give precisely the amount of information it thinks will be most useful, or does it sometimes prevaricate, or withhold information?
* Maxim of Relation - does the alethiometer give an answer that is relevant to the question it's asked?
* Maxim of Manner - the alethiometer is inherently limited in terms of how unambiguous its answers can be, but does it always give information in an orderly fashion, or does it jumble symbols sometimes?
* Cooperative Principle - does the alethiometer take into account its collocutor's ideas of what communication is (which for humans typically includes the above maxims), and accommodate their expectations as best it can? does it only break those rules in predictable, informative ways?

Basically, the alethiometer COULD just be an uncommunicative font of truth that produces a true output when asked a question, but doesn't always answer the question it was asked, doesn't give its symbols in any sensible order, is likely to be overly specific or overly vague or to take forever to get to the point, takes no care to use its symbols in a way the person interacting with it is likely to be able to understand, etc. But it's not. The alethiometer is a much more cooperative communicator than it strictly needs to be - it seems to actively try to be understood. So what I was trying to ask is whether that is the case, and if it is the case, does it try like a human would try, or is it weird in some way?
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Kappa » Sat Apr 05, 2014 4:18 pm

It can vary how informative it wants to be, depending on how much it likes you. I don't think it can outright avoid answering a question - I think its answers have to be (naturally) true and (less obviously) at least some degree of relevant, but that still leaves a lot of room in which to subtly give somebody the runaround. And on the flip side, it can drop a lot of extra information on somebody who's good enough at picking up its subtleties, like how Kas kept seeing details of its answers that Cam wasn't picking up with the Speech.

It has kind of a grammar in how it orders symbols, and I think it usually tends to structure that grammar in a way that reflects the reader's native language, at least to some degree. I'm not sure what you mean by "jumble" but for most definitions I can think of, no.

Since it comes out of me and explanations of these maxims as a coherent system seem to fall down a hole in my brain every time I hear them, I don't think it can be said to be consciously adhering to this ruleset in a structured way, but it seems to be covering most of them by default, which makes sense because it is near-omniscient and reasonably nice. But I can't answer about "only breaking those rules in predictable, informative ways" because see above re: falling down a hole.

The symbols that make up the alethiometer don't contain numbers. There's no plural morpheme but it can usually get across a singular/plural distinction and even sometimes a broad sense of quantity to intuitive readers like Kas. (Kas is Best Intuitive Reader, though, because Joker. Jokers and symbology are a whole thing, especially when the symbology is 'live' - directly involved with communicating with people at the time they're playing with it.)

"Does it try like a human would try, or is it weird in some way" - it seems to try broadly like a human would try. But it is also probably weird in some way even if that way is not easy for me to pin down.
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Lambda » Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:56 pm

I read:
Alethiometer play truth sweetness not future work.
"I can be playful with the truth. Sweet-talk won't work."
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Kappa » Sun Apr 06, 2014 3:39 am

Nope!
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby PlainDealingVillain » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:47 am

I have a vague sense that the answer to lambda's question is something like "Do I look like I have time for hobbies?", but can't get the symbols to shake out right. One of the beehives is probably "work" and the other "busy", the suns are obviously about the alethiometer and what it does, but I can't quite figure out what the sword and baby mean.
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Kappa » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:51 am

A hint:

As much as possible, I try to make repeated symbols in the same answer mean the same thing. In this case I succeeded: both suns refer to the same thing, and both beehives are being used for the same meaning.
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Lambda » Sun Apr 06, 2014 11:26 pm

Alethiometer play alethiometer work not future work.
Alethiometer play. Alethiometer-work won't work.
"I'm always playing. If I try to work hard, it doesn't work right."
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Re: Ask The Alethiometer!

Postby Kappa » Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:19 am

Nope!

Next hint: The baby is you - I'm using it for the non-canonical meaning "querent", since the alethiometer doesn't have enough information to give you an alethiometer-style specific name.
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