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This is in regard to the question Shapes for an Infinite Animal.

I consider the question to be lacking some critical criteria to be objectively answerable with a "best" answer, and commented as such (after noting that the question had close votes without explanation). The question was later put on hold for being primarily opinion-based.

JBH tagged me in a comment and, when I investigated, I noticed the question had been reopened. Further, the question is halfway to being closed again.

Before I vote again, I would like to bring the discussion to the larger community so we don't end up treating it like a tennis ball between the close and reopen queues.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for bringing this up. I'm all for ANYTHING that can make the VTC requirements less ambiguous. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 24 '18 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure you can't vote to close again. As I recall, every user gets exactly one close and one reopen vote per question. This is precisely to prevent close/reopen "wars", where the same users keep closing and reopening the the same question over and over. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 25 '18 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ Why should there be a best answer? I've noted repeatedly that simply eliminating best from the question provides for a showcase of interesting answers — a staple of WB. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 7 '18 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Identifying a best answer is what this site is all about. If we don't need a best answer, then every answer becomes equally valid and, thus, primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 7 '18 at 13:29
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The problem about "Primarily Opinion-Based" is that the criteria for what defines POB depend on the person casting the vote - it's a big blurry region

The problems I specifically see with this question is that it states the following criteria:

  • organism: "an individual entity that exhibits the properties of life" where properties of life would be things like being composed of one or more cells, being able to grow, being able to reproduce, ...
  • physically infinite: we are getting to problems with being able to judge an infinitely large organism already
  • lived for an infinite time: there are some creatures that could theoretically be classified as immortal, so this point seems to be somewhat valid, though there are still questions about diseases and such
  • not "too vulnerable": what exactly is "too vulnerable"? The question states that it should not be "inifinitely small", but how small is too small and how big is big enough? What kinds of threats are there that this creature must survive? The question states that it would be vulnerable to attack, but what kind of attack would be viewed as critical for this infinitely large creature?
  • room for people, not cutting off parts of the whole infinite space... my knowledge of different definitions of infinity is not good enough to talk about this stuff, but if there are mathematical tricks involved that challenge certain definitions then we are getting into problems with the normal definitions for "organism" again
  • should have only one head: the currently highest voted answer uses fungus as a basis and nobody downvoted it for a lack of one of the criteria; or we have answers that go with looks like a head instead of a real biological head; there are some good discussions about this specific problem, but some answers seem to be extremely vague and not quite fulfilling the requirements of for example "not infinitely small", but there are also purely mathematical answers that don't seem to have anything to do with defining "organism" or "living" or "head" and sometimes people just more or less ignore that having one head is a requirement
  • "I am going to be a bit lax with the physics of this world to allow for some basic functionalities" -> this basically tells me that everything goes because we are talking about mathematical definitions of infinity without regard for physics, but with the goal of having a biological organism that the OP defined as having lived infinitely long with an infinite size and exactly one head while not being too vulnerable

This question looks to me like a philosophical discussion where each answer should provide its own set of definitions to make sure their version works. This wouldn't be a problem, but the OP at the same time has some criteria that apply to normal organisms.

I recently created a list with some criteria for how I use close reasons, so let's go through them to see if something applies:

  • "Too Broad" - "Writing a whole book for you is too much. I know what you want and I think it's theoretically on-topic from a content perspective (I can see that you are currently building your own fictional world), but it would take far too long to talk about all the details that are necessary to sufficiently answer your question. I need some more details so that I know what you want to focus on first - you can ask more questions later where you incorporate the details from previous questions. As the help center states: If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much."

There could probably be books about such a topic, as I feel like it's mostly a philosophical discussion, but the reason doesn't seem to fit. Writing a whole book to answer the question would be overkill even if it could be taken as the basis of a book.

Asking for creature-design is valid and talking about stuff like immortality is fine, but I think that the answerer has to define all things again, like "What is a head?" and "What is an organism?". Every reasonable answer should provide such definitions or at least mention which definitions they are using. After that each answer seems to equally valid.

POB fits in my eyes.

If the OP pointed to clear definitions for:

  • "vulnerable"
  • "organism"
  • "head"

I could be convinced that the question is not POB, but currently it is. And the different answers that sometimes ignore some criteria while still being upvoted and not discussed as not fitting are an indicator of this problem.

  • "Unclear what you are asking" - "I have no idea what this is supposed to say. Either there is a big language barrier, the querent has misunderstood quite a few things about the topic he is asking about, there is no question or there are so many things missing from the description of the world that it feels to me like a random excerpt where too much is missing to make any meaningful attempts at answering the question. I don't know the situation, I don't know the goal - I just don't know how to help the querent yet."

I understand what the OP wants, there is no language barrier - the question is clear. One could argue that missing definitions should make me say that this question is unclear, but I can see what the OP is trying to achieve so I wouldn't vote as unclear, but as POB.

  • "Off-Topic" - "This is not about WorldBuilding (as defined in our help center). You are for example asking about help with your story, about character actions, or about something completely different, like misunderstanding that there are multiple sites on the network and accidentally posting a question about programming languages on WorldBuilding, ... We can't help you here, you need to go to a different site on the network or for example to a forum to find the answer you are looking for."

We can't help you with open-ended discussions, but we could definitely talk about immortal or incredibly large creatures and I can definitely see the worldbuilding, so this doesn't apply.

Conclusion

I voted POB on the basis that I can't see how answers can be rated against each other if everyone is supposed to use his own definitions for the criteria presented.

We are not mind readers. We can't know the definition the OP uses, but we need to know these definitions to rate answers against each other.

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We really need to coalesce the site's opinion of what the VTC reasons mean into a place we can easily direct people to

Which, of course, means we need well coalesced descriptions. Right now we need to visit a fair number of Meta discussions, most of which don't have a clear consensus.

  1. We all agree that the nature of our site means most questions have some amount of Primarily Opinion-Based (POB) context.

  2. People are, if you will all forgive me, lemmings. I've done this myself. Sometimes we just follow the crowd, and all it takes is one authoritative statement in the comments justifying a VTC from someone with more than 10K rep and, well, the question gets closed very quickly after that. Frankly, this question is a stellar example. Frostfyre recommended closure and it quickly closed. I recommended reopening and it quickly reopened. (Maybe we need to raise the rep level for casting votes...)

Few questions couldn't be improved with more criteria. Especially those that are basically idea-generating questions (can this be done? What do you think? Is this plausible?) But how much criteria is necessary?

That's what I don't know, and why I raised my comment in the question. Criteria exists. In my opinion (which is only one of many), enough to rationalize a "best" answer. But this doesn't invalidate Frostfyre's concern. To him, there wasn't enough criteria.

How does one draw the line? How little criteria justifies closure and how much justifies reopening?

  • Obviously, if there is no criteria the question should be closed.

But how do we judge the quality of the criteria?

  • By a simple count? (The linked question has 4 restrictions).

  • By the relation to a stated goal? (IMO that reduces the count to 3 because the expectation of a single head has nothing to do with the OP's desire to have surface mobility despite the nature of the beast).

  • By how well the OP has predesposed him/herself to an answer? (that might reduce the criteria list to 2 because "vulnerability" isn't part of the background discussion, making it an ambiguous restriction).

I'm personally predesposed to avoiding POB VTC if any criteria have been proposed, whether I believe there's sufficient criteria to make the best answer obvious or not.

And it's worth pointing out that part of the problem is we're trying to read the OP's mind. Whether or not I think there's sufficient info to judge a best-answer really isn't the issue because I'm not the one making the choice. It's whether or not I think the OP can, and there's only so much mind reading I can trust myself to perform accurately.

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The question you refer to is not primarily opinion based.There may be an infinite number of possible answers, but they are not all equally good.

There are multiple challenging constraints to meet, and a good answer meets these constraints effectively. Drawing from real life examples also makes the answer better.

The first constraint is that the creature must have an infinite extent, but not divide the world. This rules out certain answers, such as an infinite plane, which would divide the world, as well as shapes which merely have an infinite surface area, but not infinite extent.

The second is that it is an animal, so purely mathematical, topological answers are not good answers to the question. The answerer must consider how the body receives the nutrients it requires, and deals with other limitations on the size of an organism. Some excellent answers given provide examples of real life organisms which don't seem to have an upper size limit to back up their suggestions.

The third is that the creature should not be vulnerable to being killed. Answers giving shapes which are robust are thus better answers. Answers such as a snake with a trail of infinite length meet this criterion poorly, because such a shape is vulnerable to an attack at any point along its length.

The fourth is that the creature should have a head; a good answer explores how this single organ relates to and controls its infinite body. They should also consider why the finite head does not make the organism vulnerable to decapitation.

It is difficult to address all these points, and indeed it may not be possible to solve them all perfectly. Nonetheless, they provide a solid basis for objectively assessing answers to the question.

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