31 March 2022

Idol Words on the meaning of life

Image from Le Magasin Pittoresque, 1839

[The following is an extract from "Idol Words" by Scott Alexander at https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/idol-words

"Hello, welcome to the temple of the three omniscient idols, one of which always tells the truth, one of which always lies, and one of which answers randomly. I know you already signed the release form, but I’m supposed to remind you that we are not legally responsible for any consequence of following the false idols’ advice. Do you have a question?”

The petitioner was a very old woman. “Yes, question for all three of you. What is the meaning of life?”

To help others, said the first idol, in a voice that was both singsong and deeper than any cave.

To find happiness, said the second, in a voice that promised hidden subtleties.

To carry on the species, said the third, in a voice like a felt-covered thunderclap.

“Thank y…” said the woman, but all three idols in unison interrupted her. Seek to know no more! Begone!

For the first time in days, I felt sorry for a petitioner. “You know I have no way of telling you which of them is telling the truth?”

“That’s fine,” she said. “I’m just happy to know there’s any meaning at all.” She walked out of the cyclopean door with a spring in her step.


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For full story, see https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/idol-words

For more details on three idols puzzle, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hardest_Logic_Puzzle_Ever

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