186 Comments
deletedMar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022
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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

R.e. meaning of life:

My grandfather is 92, one of the happiest people i know. He's also immensely financially successful, a philantrohpist who keeps saying, over and over, that we are called to love and serve. He has something like 100 living descendants:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mStSU9wLJyk

Moral realism means thinking that his live following the path dictated by all three idols isn't a coincidence, it's a result of a life well lived. That happiness the woman got from knowing there is a meaning - it's a prediction of the moral realism hypothesis. A sense of peace is exactly the outcome that the moral realism hypothesis predicts: https://apxhard.com/2022/02/20/making-moral-realism-pay-rent/

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I like how the docent was so bad at his job that he assumed an untrue answer could only come from Liar. Or maybe he just assumed the idols would be nice enough to be obvious.

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That was so sweet. Big Unsong mood, love it. And nice opposition with "Taboo Words" :)

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Of the left idol, I ask: what will the center idol say is the correct font to use to actually make that "I SOLVED THE RIDDLE OF THE IDOLS" t-shirt?

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I don't think it was an option in the survey a while back, but this is the kind of post I like most from this blog. Just a collection of vignettes, all variations on an interesting theme.

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I wonder if anyone's ever eaten a penguin monkey taco. If they did, it was probably either in Peru or South Africa.

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Raymond Smullyan would probably have enjoyed this blog post immensely.

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Far more fun than real religion.

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Wow. I don't know why this one hit the way it did, but this might actually be my favorite Scott Alexander short!

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I don't know if its because *I'm* still in the middle of Sadly, Porn, or if it really got deeper in your head than you acknowledged in your review, but between this and "the gods only have power because we believe in them" you seem to be treading a lot of the same ground in your own way.

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Good one. But even love doesn't guarantee happiness.

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you’re so good at this

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Squee! Stories by Scott Alexander about logic puzzles make me giddy with joy. See also https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/10/15/it-was-you-who-made-my-blue-eyes-blue/

(Anything else that belongs in this category?)

I'm commenting before reading (I plan to read it out loud to my family later) to point y'all to this puzzle which y'all are likely to like:

https://forum.beeminder.com/t/followup-to-the-stupidly-hard-dog-logic-puzzle/5590

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Clearly the business man should buy the lotto tickets. If the last idol was truthteller, then he (probably) won't win, and thus he won't have used the idols for sordid financial gain - in fact he'll have used them for financial loss. If the last idol wasn't truthteller, then he'll win with one of the first two's numbers, and the warning was (probably) false.

That is, unless the idol meant "ATTEMPTED sordid financial gain", but given that they're omniscient, one would assume they choose their words carefully.

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This could be Scott's meta level way of telling us without telling us in a story wrapped in a mystery which was wrapped in a penguin monkey taco that.....these idols are real and he met them one time, he can't talk about them openly without also instilling doubt in his story, and this is how he actually met his wife.

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I love a large number of Astral Codex Ten/Slate Star Codex posts, but I think that Scott's fiction is my favorite type. Like a poster above, I would love to see him publish a book of short stories. (And/or Unsong. (And/or a different novel.))

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Thanks for writing this!

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It had never occurred to me before that there have to be gods for "people who like solving logic puzzles" 😁

The other petitioners really need to be steered elsewhere, since they're asking genuine questions. This temple is for "so you think you're *so* smart" devotees only!

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This was a delicious read, thanks for sharing it with us!

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I really enjoyed this one!

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This is the origin story of Penguin Monkey Taco, the NFT which will eventually become the universe’s primary store of value.

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Scott, I’ve read your blogs for years and never felt like I had anything insightful enough to say in the comments, but your short stories are some of my favorite parts of what you write. Thank you for bringing your weird, thought-provoking vignettes into the world.

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I truly love these fiction entries. Thanks, Scott. This one, in particular, gives me something to think about.

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Just popping in to say that I love these sorts of stories from you.

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so many missed opportunities to say it smh

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*Cute*. I loved it, thank you for sharing!

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Typos and related stuff:

- It’s the idol the answers randomly -> that answer randomly

- She was about my age, tall, oddly cute in a sort of ethereal, distracted way. -> [this sentence reads a bit weirdly because it uses commas for different purposes.]

“My question is: what’s going on? Why are there three idols, one of which always tells the truth, one of which always lies, and one of which answers randomly?” -> [Shouldn't that count as two questions?]

- [Finally, the post uses both the "…" ellipsis and the ". . ." ellipsis. This is slightly inconsistent, plus the latter ellipses are sometimes interrupted by line breaks.]

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What ended up being the punchline of the frowning woman's vignette, I had expected to be the real twist of the story. Probably means my own visit would end in a t-shirt discount.

On the other hand, what should we believe about a world where Keeper of the Idols is a low-status summer intership?

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I'll join the chorus. Very enjoyable. Thanks for writing.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

MIRI should relocate to the vicinity of the temple, and use most of their funding to hire LOTS of day laborers.

... Oh, what am I saying. If this temple existed, it'd be a more inflammatory holy site than Temple Mount. The nuclear superpowers would threaten to nuke it if either tried to access it.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/02/26/rule-genius-in-not-out/

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Nice one. However i thought that we don't have nerves inside the body and hence wouldn't feel a thing when getting organs eaten by worms? Assuming we won't be feeling secondary effects of course.

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Thanks, that was great and cathartic in a way.

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One of my favorites you've ever written. Be proud of this one - and especially of how many "in a voice that sounded like ____" you were able to imagine!

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I don't understand what happened with the second-to-last petitioner. Is there some interpretation of these answers where they're NOT in violation of the given constraints? Or are we supposed to conclude that they were forced to act against their stated natures by the God of Knowledge warping probability around them?

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TL;DR

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I didn't see the point of every story, but overall it was absolutely hilarious

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“The fact that I always lie necessarily implies that I’m a monster.”

haha nice

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This story is better than anything the MFA students at my university produce. Vastly better. Thanks, Scott. This made my day.

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Mmmm yes, Scott fiction....rub it all over my body

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Excellent!

Whenever you write something in this repetitive format -- although in this case there's a single contiguous timeline to the events -- it always reminds me of Kierkegaard's stories of Abraham and Isaac. Is there something to that or am I imagining the influence?

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There's a lot that's clever and charming about this, but I thought the humor-through-repetition was particularly well done.

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Mar 31, 2022·edited Mar 31, 2022

After that previous discussion of genius it's nice to see a real example of it. "And they used gender neutral pronouns" made me laugh out loud.

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“The God of Knowledge thought about this oath for many eons, and decided to create us. He bent probability around this spot, so that no matter what people asked, we would never directly communicate useful advice.”

Clearly the visor lady at the very beginning was the truly dangerous one, because fate had no better option than to have the Keeper be away when she arrived

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This is really good! I get a kind of existential frustration at how all the questioners either naively ask their biggest question straight off, or waste all their questions on logical cleverness. It would be possible to use the first two questions to determine which one is Truth-Teller, and *then* ask what you most desperately want to know. But no one can synthesize those two distinct ways of dealing with oracles - until the end, perhaps, when the narrator kind of does that. His questions weren't framed very cleverly, but it seems to have worked out.

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I don't think I saw elsewhere in the comments the most obvious takeaway: the story is autobiographical with Scott as the comp religion attendant, his blog as the Oracle, and the smarty petitioners as us looking for predictions by deductive reasoning while simpler petitioners find the only real meaning to be found. Oh, and the girl at the end. The only real meaning to be found ;-)

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My only criticism is that you didn't call it "Idol Chatter".

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I'm guessing that the "something interesting" he might learn was the girl's number.

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I honestly thought he'd be attacked by murder hornets when going through the shop...

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This story took me right back to the days of the Internet Oracle - just the right mix of puzzle, irreverence, and denial of real knowledge. I loved the ending too.

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I enjoyed reading this, but I'm surprised no idol jumped at the opportunity to simply answer the "meaning of life" question with 42.

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Easy A. Nice piece!

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“Sure. Can I have your number?”

And thus, others were helped, happiness was found and the species was carried on... and the meaningless circle of life continued for the amusement of blind, idiotic, syphilitic deities cram jammed in impossibly non Euclidian plans of existence...

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> “Oh, I thought ‘answers randomly’ meant he was supposed to choose randomly between true and false answers.”

Huh, "penguin monkey taco" does sound like a false answer to the question "what must I do to succeed in business", unless you work in a Chinese wet market or something. And indeed...

> “Because ever since he started saying that, we tried opening up a penguin monkey taco stand next to the gift shop, and it’s been horrendously unpopular. Do you have a third question for the idols?”

...guessed so. Then, how do you know it wasn't Liar who answered that?

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Mar 31, 2022·edited Mar 31, 2022

You have a chance to ask three questions to three omniscient idols, one always telling the truth, one always lying, and a third one being the C... (sorry, spoiler, I guess) a perfectly malicious entity capable of seeing all possible futures and optimizing its words for maximally disastrous results, would you go for it?

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Love it!

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Hmmm a God of Knowledge and a God of Power. All we need now is a God of Courage and we're working under Legend of Zelda religious rules! Nice!

Good story too! Kind of reminds me of the "transcendent joy" cactus story you wrote whose name is impossible for me to remember. As someone else mentioned, you're starting to favor a certain type of story, but honestly I don't hate it.

Looking forward to more like this!

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I think your weird, parable-y posts are my favorite.

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"I could tell you something."

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I understand Penguin Monkey Tacos can only be eaten with a spork

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“Just because I always lie necessarily means I’m a monster.” Eek! I don’t know what this says about me but after this one line i think I’m kind of crushing on the Lying Idol? Please check my temperature doctor. You simply don’t get this level of boolean characterization anywhere else! Lmao

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The petitioner faced the three omniscient idols. "This is a question for all three idols, 'When will human civilization end?'."

"June 14, 2044." said the left idol in a voice like gravel in a blender.

"June 14, 2044, at precisely 6 am." said the middle idol in a voice that portended transcendental joy.

"No, no, no, that's just what they want you to think. Civilization probably won't end until the following day." said the right idol in a voice that thrummed like a underinflated tire.

"But... you all agree that the civilization will end June 14 2044 or the day after?"

"Seek to know no more!" chanted the three idols remorselessly.

"But... but..." the petitioner turned to me in alarm. "You saw right? You heard them right?"

"Yes, that was quite something. But I'm going to have to ask you to leave now so the next petitioner can have their turn."

"But you heard they all agree the the world is going to end in a little over twenty years!"

"Yes, yes, tell you what, tell the guy at the gift shop and he'll give you 50% of an 'I got all three idols to agree' t-shirt."

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My personal headcanon is that the final exchange is in front of the penguin monkey taco shop and one of her next sentences will be "By the way, your shoelace is untied."

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Imagine being clueless enough to be envious of people envious of being slaves to Amazon. Only a student could be so deluded.

Thankfully, Protagonist shows some growth by the end.

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So obviously you should just buy the two lottery tickets and donate them to a good charity to which you have no financial or personal ties except as a donor.

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Your short fiction is wonderful for the same reasons the short fiction of Fredric Brown is so great. Brava!

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Scott, please write more fiction.

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Really enjoying the increase in fiction posts.

Do the idols really switch positions for each new petitioner? I can't find anything in the story that would be inconsistent with:

- The left idol is always Liar,

- the center idol is always Random,

- the right idol is always Truth-Teller.

Truth-Teller is allowed to answer "Penguin monkey taco" in some situations like paradoexes.

If that's true then it gives a completely different view of the ambiguous statements, at least in the story's universe.

The right idol even tends to say possibly technically correct answers with somewhat minimum amount of info. "To carry on the species" is the answer to the literal interpretation of "the meaning of life" (as in "what does life do").

Another remark is that we don't know which idol says each of the three lines

- "You’re welcome."

- "The fact that I always lie necessarily implies that I’m a monster."

- "Penguin monkey taco."

so the knowledge above doesn't help us. However, I think the middle sentence *can't* be said by Liar unless the statement is false. It could be false in one of many ways but the narrative of the story suggests we should take it as a surprising but true fact. It could always be said by Random though the third statement might imply they are not Random even though the other idols are allow to say "Penguin monkey taco", the story seems to suggest we should take the more humorous interpretation (or the joke is partly ruined). It could potentially be said by Truth-Teller because the implication is true but the premise is not.

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“Nah. I’m seeing somebody.”

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The next petitioner was young, with somewhat unkempt hair, sneakers and ill-fitting clothes. "All right, so how does this work anyway?"

After I explained the three idols, Tom stood in front of them and asked his question. "Sooo, how would I recognize the prettiest girl who'd go out with me, like, long-term?"

In a voice reverberating across the valley, the first idol answered: "Penguin monkey taco!"

"Huh, that's pretty random..."

Tom was immediately interrupted by the thunderous voice of the second idol: "Penguin monkey taco!"

Tom quickly turned to the third idol, whom he figured would be the truth-teller, and waited. Yet nothing happened for thirty long seconds. Eventually, a high fairy-like voice resonated in his ears:

"Hey! Listen! There is a cute brunette in your employer's marketing department who has a secret crush on you, and would eventually marry you if you played your cards right. If you organize a mindfulness seminar next month, she will stay behind to talk to you. Also, her name begins with a J. That is how you will recognize her."

"Oh, that's got to be Jeannine! She's super hot! Yo, thanks guys! I owe you one!", shouted Tom, all smiles.

"Seek to know no more! Begone!", they replied in unison, before I pointed Tom towards the gift shop and penguin monkey taco stand.

"Nah mate, I'm going straight back to work!", Tom said premeditately, before running past the penguin monkey taco shop where a beautiful blonde woman sat alone, waiting.

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Funny story.

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Gonna be honest, I was fully expecting a twist where his shoelace turned out to actually be untied after all.

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So in the story of the idols as they tell it themselves, which part is true/false/random?

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Great work on this, Scott. I love these short stories of yours.

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I kinda want a 'I TRAPPED THE IDOLS WITH A CLEVER PARADOX' t-shirt now.

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> "...where venomous worms will gnaw at their organs from the inside forever, never to know rest or surcease from pain"

Man, those venomous worms need to form a union or something.

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A really cute story. I'm glad you're writing fiction again, and not only for the selfish reason that I love your work

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Beautiful, as always. I have translated this story into Russian. May I post the translation in my blog?

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My headcanon is that this is Aaron Smith-Teller from an alternative universe.

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I love how every time the idols speak, it's in a different over-the-top metaphor for a booming voice.

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Great writing as always, and pretty funny, but I can't say I really got the point

(I mean apart from "carpe diem" which is always a nice one, but I'm assuming Scott had something more specific in mind)

I guess I'm not worthy of fooling around with antimemetics yet

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Big JBP vibes.

Mystery... There is something worth knowing... Stop being a loser and take yourself seriously... Meet a nice girl...

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This was my second-favorite story of yours, Scott, back when I first read this almost a year ago. It still is. As someone who is struggling to find the time to write well and manage everything else that life offers before it, it's inspiring and humbling to see you keep at this and do it so well. Thanks.

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