Re: Lateral Thinking

From: Jason Joel Thompson (
Date: Wed Jan 03 2001 - 01:11:19 MST

Well, I didn't really want to get deeper into this, but, what the hell, its
generating a lot of press...

I wasn't particularly impressed with the so-called 'correct' answer to this
riddle and I guess I might as well say why:

> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <>

> > > I am two boxes, each inside the other;
> The answer containing the riddle, the riddle containing the answer.

Okay, so we're using 'box' as a metaphor for... both the riddle and the
answer to the riddle. Not only do I find 'box' a poor metaphor for a
meta-riddle, but also we aren't really talking about things being inside one
another, but rather one thing referencing itself.

I'm sorry, but, folks, this is -thin.-

> > > I am myself, I have no brother;
> The two are one.

That's not what this line says. Rather, it indicates that the system has no
sibling. Not sure what this adds other than to provide a rhyme for "other."

Think about it-- you could easily have said: "I am myself and I have a
brother." and been just as accurate. (Another metaphor for the second box.)

> > > I am exactly what I claim;
> The substance of its own text.

Actually, you're not exactly what you claim. You 'claim' to be two boxes,
but we know instead that you are not, you are, rather, one riddle. (If a
metaphor was the real thing, it wouldn't be a metaphor.)

> > > If you guess this riddle, speak my name.

If you wanted this line to work, you should have named your riddle. Even
just calling it "Eliezer's Riddle" would have worked. Instead, the reader
is left with a conundrum: the riddle has no name, so an external title must
be created. However, for reasons of which, I'm sure you're aware, you're
not really allowed to refer to (answer) this riddle with a title that is not
contained within it. Instead, we simply can't name it, we must, instead,
describe it.


I don't mind clever bootstraps-- you might be aware, for instance, of a cute
little philosophy primer by the name of:

There Are Two Errors in the
the Title of This Book.

...who's premise operates under a similar self-referential paradox. But
here the concept is clear and un-dilluted, it does not operate under
metaphor, it IS, itself, the second error, we do not need to introduce the
concepts of boxes and brothers.

An issue with this riddle being its own answer is that you could really give
this same answer for almost all riddles... it's a cop out:

"What is 1+1?" Well, 1+1 of course!

"I am a big tree, only taller. What am I?" Well, a big tree, only taller
of course!

I'm not sure what weaknesses Damien Broderick perceived in my answer (I hope
he'll point them out!) but let me show why I like it so much better (besides
my obvious prejudice.)

Answer: "Voice Box" (spoken)

> I am two boxes, each inside the other;

The sound contains the object and the object contains the sound. Also, they
both happen to actually be 'boxes.'

> I am myself, I have no brother;

I sort of considered this line to be fluff (as mentioned above) although I
suppose the existence of more than one instance of someone speaking the word
"Voice Box" might mean my answer has a brother...? Actually, no, all spoken
responses refer to the same answer-- I am not referencing a particular
object or instance.

> I am exactly what I claim;

True. We are now actually referring to boxes, and not using the word in a
metaphorical sense. Metaphors work great in riddles, but if you want to use
them, you probably shouldn't include statements of precision as per the

> If you guess this riddle, speak my name.

The answer has a name, in this case "Voice Box," and further, it must be
spoken to be correct.


::jason.joel.thompson:: ::founder::

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