Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 41

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 41 

“Give me examples,” said Steph.

Ruth was back at sea again. Examples? How do you give examples of basic —

“‘A moon is made out of green cheese,'” said Anton. “That’d get a PD rating of 0.01 — or maybe 0.02 or 0.03. Nothing is ever ranked an absolute 0 — or an absolute 1. On the opposite end, let’s take the statement ‘a moon orbits a planet’. That’d get a PD rating of .9 something.”

He looked at the screen. “What that number tells us is that the perspective of the Star Empire’s population as a whole — Ruth didn’t point to that figure but it’s on the upper left of the screen — you see it? 0.99? that means the analysis applies to the entire population within one-hundredth of a point of certainty — “

“To anybody except statisticians playing cover-your-ass that means absolute certainty,” said Victor.

Anton continued. “– is two-thirds of the way toward being rock solid that the events and statements of fact shown in the recent The Star Empire Today are correct.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all!” protested Andrew. “Not the two-thirds part, that’s probably okay. But what’s this nonsense about 0.99 certainty of the opinion of the entire population.” Her threw up his hands. “You said the number of people who’ve seen the show so far isn’t more than half a billion, right? That’s short — way, way short — of even the Manticore System’s total population. That’s what? three billion?”

“Just about,” Anton replied. “A bit over, as I recall.”

“That’s not even twenty percent, then.”

Ruth was about to explode. How can anybody be so grossly ignorant of the simplest and most —

But this time, Berry came to her rescue. “That’s a sample of half a billion, Andrew. That’s gigantic. Most opinion samples are quite satisfied their results are accurate if they sample just one or two percent.”

“Less than that,” said Victor. “The number doesn’t mean that 99% of the Star Empire’s opinion was taken. It just means that there’s at least a 99% chance — it’s actually a 100% chance, for all practical purposes — that the opinion sample represents that of the entire population.”

He scratched his jaw. “That number’s not the surprise. It’s the density number. I’d expected something in the 0.3 range. 0.4 if we were lucky.”

“The AV number’s even more surprising,” said Cathy Montaigne. She was perched on the armrest of the couch occupied by Anton.

AV means ‘adjustment velocity’, right?” said Steph. “The number means squat to me anyway, but why is it surprising?”

“It refers to the speed with which people’s perspective is changing,” Cathy explained, “and it’s always closely associated with perspective density. The basic rule-of-thumb — although there are exceptions — is that the more densely someone holds an opinion, the more slowly it’s likely to change. And vice versa, of course.”

Andrew grunted. “Okay, I get it. To use an example, my opinion that Victor and Anton railroaded me into getting a horde of sub-atomic golems set loose inside my body to torture and torment me for no better motive than spite is so densely held that it will only change — if it does at all — at the speed with which a proton decays. What would that number be, by the way?”

Cathy laughed. “That number would approach infinity — or eternity, I should say. Sociometricians would give it a ‘less than 0.01%.’ That’s as low as they ever go on account of” — she pointed at Victor — “what he says. Cover their ass.”

“Why do they express it as a ‘less than’ instead of just giving it a straight number?” asked Berry.

“Because they’re a bunch of cone-heads,” said Victor. He nodded toward the screen. “What that number up there means — the AV figure of >36% — is that opinions are shifting toward greater density at a rate that is thirty-six percent above the norm for perspective shifts at that density.”

“Huh?” said Andrew.

Ruth tried to come back in at that point. “What they’re trying to measure is how fast a perspective is shifting compared to how fast you’d normally expect that solidly-held an opinion to shift. If the shift is in the direction of favoring the new opinion, it’ll be expressed in the positive using the symbol for ‘more than.’ If it’s shifting against, it’ll be expressed as a negative.”

“Huh?” Andrew repeated.

“The gist of what it means in the here and now,” said Victor, “is that the impact of Yael Underwood’s broadcast about — about — “

“About you, dear,” said Thandi smiling broadly. “Just suck it up.”

“About me,” Victor said sourly, “is that the public opinion of the Star Empire is shifting in favor of our perspective on the real nature of interstellar politics a lot faster than such solidly held opinions — remember, that number was 0.67 — usually shift. When they shift at all, which usually they don’t — or shift in a negative direction.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then Steph said, “Wow. I’m right, aren’t I? It’s a ‘wow’?”

Finally, Ruth felt back on sure ground. “It’s a great big huge ‘wow.’ The only explanation I can think of is that the emotional impact of seeing a young StateSec officer risk his own life in order to save the life of an RMN officer’s daughter just blew away a lot of established pre-conceptions. And then their continuing close friendship — which it obviously is even if both of them will probably try to make light of it — added layers of density to the new perspective.”

“I think she’s right,” said Cathy. “The personal history between Anton and Victor makes their intelligence concerning Mesa plausible to people. Which it wouldn’t be at all if someone said: ‘Hey, guess what? A couple of spies — one from Manticore, one from Haven — decided to work together and look what they discovered. Imagine that!'”

“So what does that last number mean?” asked Berry. “The one labeled ‘reversal prospect’?”

“That’s sociometrician gobbledygook for ‘how likely is it that this perspective development will be reversed?’,” said Victor. “And it’s a bunch of twaddle, since all it does is say the other way around what the PD and AV numbers already established.”

Anton smiled. “Leaving aside Victor’s commentary, it is true that the RP number closely correlates to the other numbers.”

“Closely correlates,” sniffed Victor. “As in the chance for losing a game is ninety percent ‘closely correlates’ with the chance of winning being ten percent.”

While they’d been bantering, Cathy had been monitoring her watch. “It’s about time. Ruth, change to the live feed, will you?”

“Sure.” The Manticoran princess tapped her tablet a few times and the image on the big virtual screen shifted to an outside view of Mount Royal Palace. A shuttle was coming in for a landing.

A minute or so went by, while the shuttle settled in and an armed security detachment took positions near the hatch through which the passengers would be disembarking.

The hatch opened and the first passenger came down the ramp. The reporter, who’d been prattling vacuities while she waited for something to happen, immediately said: “As expected, that’s President Eloise Pritchart, arriving for her scheduled meeting with the empress and the prime minister. Following her is Haven’s Secretary of War Thomas Theisman. And now, if our private sources are accurate, we should be seeing…”

A short, very wide-shouldered man started down the ramp. “Yes, that’s him. The now-famous Captain Zilwicki, formerly an intelligence officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy and now operating on his own. Or, often, in tandem with his unlikely partner…”

Another man came down the ramp. He was dressed all in black, in garments which were very closely patterned on the former uniform of Haven’s now-defunct State Security.

“And that’s Victor Cachat, who has become just as famous as Zilwicki.” The reporter chuckled. “The more sensational news outlets have started referring to him as ‘Black Victor,’ we’re told.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Anton, pumping his fist. “Join the Notoriety Club, buddy.”

Victor was back to looking disgruntled; sour; even sullen.

“When are we leaving?” he demanded. “At least on Mesa I’ll be able to get some privacy.”

Ruth pursed her lips. “That may be the single most deranged statement I’ve ever heard in my life.” Then, with a grin: “But what else could you expect from…” Her voice lowered an octave and took on a pronounced tremor. “…Black Victor?”



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19 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 41

  1. John Roth says:

    And the winner is: Billy Yank for coming closest to what the chapter is about.

  2. dave o says:

    Does anyone know whether the statistic talk is real? It sounds thoroughly bogus to me.

    • hank says:

      Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics. (hey, somebody had to say it!)
      Not sure about the names, not my field – I’m more of a Topologist, but even if it’s bafflegab it certainly sounds like my old prob & stats (fondly known as “Possibilites in Sadistics”) class.
      I expect we need someone in some branch of Sociology or/and Poly Sci to tell us if those really are current terminology, but it sounds good enough to me. But then I’ve always been a fan of the Interstellar ship with the Handwavium Drive mounted in an Unobtainium hull.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        I don’t think current sociologists are anywhere near that numerical (polysci may be, ultimately they’re trying to predict elections which are numerical and make your models checkable against reality).

        But as Hank says, those sound like the SORTS of numbers you’d expect if they were that numerical, and the SORTS of explanations you’d get when someone tried to explain it to a non-expert in non-mathematical terms. You’d want a number that represents how strongly an opinion is held, and at least one other representing how quickly the opinion is changing.

        What they’re missing are the terms coming out of the agregation process, the equivalent of variance, some measure of how widely held the opinion is. Their PD represents an individual value (how strongly does one person believe this), presumably the value they give is a population average, but does their roughly 2/3 value mean virtually the entire population holds that opinion at about that strength (low variance) or one where about a third of the people are near 0.0 and two thirds near 1.0? Or something in between?

        Differences in how you got to that .67 make a big difference in social response.

        I suspect in a real field your most important three numbers would be density, variance, and some measure of importance (the last being how much people care about the thing they believe and how much does it impact their other choices and actions), with velocity a close second and the third value dropped entirely.

        I’m not sure why our authors went with their choices, or why they have this prolonged digression rather than just having Ruth say, “hey, these are really impressive numbers about how many people believe you”.

    • Bruce says:

      This is part of Eric’s earlier Crown of Thorns plot. du Havel is an expert in the modern field of politics that is based on research done in the 23rd or 24th century – so it’s not “real,” but is based on current political science.

  3. Mike says:

    Not exactly apropos of anything in this bit here, but the more marvels we see due to nano-medical robots (a “genetic sheath,” taking control of the nervous system, etc.) the more the whole “prolong” thing makes no sense. If they can do all this stuff, why do they have this age limit for prolong. Why not just use nano-tech to go in and rebuild a young body on a recurring basis?

    I’m sure it’s because all this nano-stuff came in later, after Weber had already established his rules for prolong. But it does seem like a big inconsistency.

    • Douglas E. Lampert says:

      Well, both the more advanced techs, nano-taking control and nano-sheathing are highly secret military technologies, while Prolong is basically off the shelf everyone in every advanced society gets it routinely.

      Rebuilding a young body is probably possible at the levels of taking control and growing entirely new skins and genetics for the skin, but what does this have to do with what’s widely available to civilians?

    • John Roth says:

      I gripe about this on Weber’s forum quite a bit. The thing to remember is that, right now, genetics is not only the hot field, it’s advancing at warp speed. Just yesterday I saw a report about a group that had rebuilt a yeast chromosome (I think it was chromosome 3) from scratch. The actual construction was an undergraduate project. They changed about 15% or so of the chromosome while they were doing it, deleting a lot and inserting cut points so they could do future experiments more easily. The modified yeast seems to be quite happy.

      Weber designed the Honorverse back in the early 90s; that design included prolong. The “military secret” with the genetic sheath is simply hand-waving to “explain” why this isn’t off-the-shelf technology. Projecting both biology and psychology forward 2000 years from a 2014 perspective makes the science in the book look … suboptimal. This wouldn’t be so bad if the series was going to finish any time soon, but given the current pace I’m very afraid that even Hollywood would be embarrassed at the science by the time the final book is released.

      • Richard H says:

        The best excuse I can come up with here is that the nanite stuff is designed around a *short* activation and then flushing out of the body, whereas Prolong may be more related to how the rapid regeneration techniques available to Honorverse medicine don’t give people cancer. This might be due to actual grey goo problems or it might be due to taboos from the past. More likely, you’re right that he just didn’t think very hard about it.

        Actually, the thing that bothers me is the fact that, apparently, first-gen Prolong appears to have been developed, at most, maybe a hundred years ago… because Manticore has been part of the rich interstellar community for a long time, and there are still first-gen Prolong recipients who are alive. On the other hand, you could use that as an excuse for why the nanotech stuff is still a military secret: this really is something which it turns out is only a recent development.

        • Terranovan says:

          I’m thinking that aging is too general and varying a process to stop or roll back completely – errors will creep in no matter how thoroughly you guard against them. Nanotech would probably slow it down somewhat but would probably make for some new and unpleasant variations on aging.

          • Mike says:

            Well, we just don’t know, because we still don’t really know what causes aging. Some cells just seem to stop working and don’t reproduce at all, while others seem to lose telomeres during reproductive generations until they stop reproducing correctly.

            I doubt anything will completely stop aging, but we do know certain things seem to slow it down (like decreased caloric intake).

            If we really knew what caused aging (or even what caused some of the things that make up aging) we could try to fix them one by one.

            Perhaps a retrovirus-like genetic treatment (which I assume prolong would have to be) would help. But likely some kind of repair mechanism (like a nano-robot repair crew) would help too.

            I don’t see it likely that a single treatment early in the life of a person would be a major cure for aging, but that’s OK. It’s Weber’s universe and he can make it any way he needs to make it for the story to work out. Nevertheless, it seems more likely that a repeated series of treatments (like those imagined in the Red/Green/Blue Mars books) would be more likely to really work.

      • Daniel says:

        Roth, you can’t possibly be talking about the YAC are you? (Yeast Artificial Chromosome) That one is decades old! If you only read it on March 27, 2014, you are decades behind.

        As for “aging” and genetics, the co-relation isn’t really that strong. Sure, there is a “relation” between age and telomeric length, but frankly that link is rather nebulous at best. I believe mechanicalistically, gross aging damage can be repaired with sufficient tech, but what about memory and thought? Hard to figure out how memory is stored in the first place, and simply replicating the grey stuff might not be enough. For all we know, we can end up with perfectly healthy and fit senile young men.

  4. Daryl says:

    We old farts know that this looks like a tribute to Asimov’s Foundation Series where sociotronics (sic) became so codified it could predict population’s attitudes generations in advance.

  5. They don’t use nano tech because it does not deliver.

  6. sensei says:

    Does this nano-tech and genetic recoding technology possibly mean that Honor will be able to accept regeneration technology. Frankly, this never made much scientific sense to me. Honor can do Prolong, but not Regen? Maybe she can finally grow a new arm.

  7. Johnny says:

    She can’t grow a new arm because she’s admiral Nelson and it would defeat the parallel to have her just regrow the arm she lost.

    • Mike says:

      Pretty much. Another way to say it is that Weber wants to use her physical damage to mirror the emotional trauma that she has suffered over her fighting career.

      Plus, it lets him give her a pulser in her finger.

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