Рэймонд Смаллиан. Две философские сценки (engl)
"Is God a Taoist?" from The Tao is silent by Raymond M. Smullyan.
© 1977 by Raymond M. Smullyan. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row
MORTAL: And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of
mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free
GOD: You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
MORTAL: How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have
free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free
will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
GOD: Why would you wish not to have free will?
MORTAL: Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral
responsibility is more than I can bear!
GOD: Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
MORTAL: Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
GOD: All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral
responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be
MORTAL (after a pause): No, I am afraid not.
GOD: Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only
aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is
MORTAL: With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to
GOD: If you don't want to sin, then why do you?
MORTAL: Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations
come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.
GOD: If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not
sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not
sinning at all.
MORTAL: No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could
avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly
wills not to sin, then one won't.
GOD: Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid
sinning or don't you?
MORTAL: I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard
as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!
GOD: So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have
been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at
MORTAL: Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been
sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!
GOD: Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?
MORTAL: I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for
meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!
GOD: Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the
first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and
responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any
of your sins?
MORTAL: I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly
grant such a request!
GOD: You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I
will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a
very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you
my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least.
MORTAL (in great terror): No, no, don't do that!
GOD: Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?
MORTAL: Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have
an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may
GOD: In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence
of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all
abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have
no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by
me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all
eternity. So here is the pill!
MORTAL: No, no!
GOD: Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence
of sin, which is your last obstacle.
MORTAL: I still won't take it!
GOD: Why not?
MORTAL: I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence
for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being
willing to take it.
GOD: I command you to take it! '
MORTAL: I refuse!
GOD: What, you refuse of your own free will?
GOD: So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?
MORTAL: I don't understand!
GOD: Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a
ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill,
whether you wanted it or not?
MORTAL: No, no! Please don't!
GOD: Of course I won't; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All
right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill,
suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will--but with
the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take
MORTAL: Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the
GOD: I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take
it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which
are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.
MORTAL: I still refuse.
GOD: So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather
different from your original prayer, isn't it?
MORTAL: Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but
I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go
MORTAL: There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me.
First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one's own free
will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of
my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no
longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I
be capable of sinning?
GOD: You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never
said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would
remove your abhorrence of sinning.
MORTAL: I'm afraid I'm a bit confused.
GOD: All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to
remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit
an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically
speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these
acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral
responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever.
Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard
as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as
abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel
abhorrence toward the acts.
MORTAL: No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this
present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.
GOD: Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no
longer wish me to remove your free will.
MORTAL (reluctantly): No, I guess not.
GOD: All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to
why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me
MORTAL: Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin
even more than I do now.
GOD: But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.
MORTAL: But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my
subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present
moment in which I choose not to have free will.
GOD: Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn't it?
MORTAL: Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double
bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to
sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be
sinning in so doing.
GOD: But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing
to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative
satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.
GOD: But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?
MORTAL: For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first
GOD: But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have
MORTAL: You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that
does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.
GOD: Why? What could I have done?
MORTAL: Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first
place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late--anything I do will
be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.
GOD: Oh, that's it! Why would it have been better had I never given it
MORTAL: Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.
GOD: Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.
GOD: I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn't it? It
almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught,
it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of
making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I
am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the
right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?
MORTAL: That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I
have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your
omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not
mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.
GOD: Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you
did appear shocked when I said, "I am always glad to learn from my
MORTAL: Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your
self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no
right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been
taught that as a matter of fact you don't make mistakes. So I was amazed
that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.
GOD: I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if
I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing
about whether the if has or ever can be realized.
MORTAL: Let's please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you
not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?
GOD: Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate.
Let me review your present predicament. You don't want to have free will
because with free will you can sin, and you don't want to sin. (Though I
still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you
wouldn't. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to
give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the
future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.
GOD: I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals--even some
theologians--have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not
they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them
responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are
expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the
GOD: As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can
appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from
an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to
enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise
you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the
To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when
you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove
my point, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am about to create a new
universe--a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a
mortal just like you--for all practical purposes, we might say that you will
be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal--this new you--free will or not.
What would you like me to do?
MORTAL (in great relief): Oh, please! Spare him from having to have
GOD: All right, I'll do as you say. But you do realize that this new
you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.
MORTAL: But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.
GOD: Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will
be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many
MORTAL (after a pause): Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the
same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with
no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough
he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.
GOD: In that case, I'll go you one better! Here, I have already decided
whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my
decision on this piece of paper and I won't show it to you until later. But
my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you
can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now,
what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember
now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not
yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way
do you hope I have decided?
MORTAL (after a very long pause): I hope you have decided to give him
GOD: Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not
give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you
hope I will give him free will?
MORTAL: Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do
not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he
will go around hurting people, and I don't want to see people hurt.
GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief): At last! At last you see the
MORTAL: What point is that?
GOD: That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that
people as well as other sentient beings don't get hurt!
MORTAL: You sound like a utilitarian!
GOD: I am a utilitarian!
GOD: Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you,
but a utilitarian.
MORTAL: I just can't believe it!
GOD: Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You
have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your
training was simply wrong.
MORTAL: You leave me speechless!
GOD: I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a
thing--you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though,
why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?
MORTAL: Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I
have been arguing for is that you shouldn't have! But why did you? I guess
all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will,
one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without
free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.
GOD: Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever
done anything to merit it?
MORTAL: Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so
good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to
merit eternal life.
GOD: Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn't
MORTAL: I don't think I understand you.
GOD: Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make
sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that.
Without any of that type of "merit", I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By
contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of
horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don't even know
whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if
there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to
placate me by being "good," you never have any real assurance that your
"best" is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in
obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of
"salvation"--and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious
process of earning it. Don't you ever envy me for this?
MORTAL: But it is blasphemous to envy you!
GOD: Oh come off it! You're not now talking to your Sunday school
teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question
is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are.
MORTAL: Of course I am!
GOD: Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most
envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer
will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you
that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose
of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful
eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as
good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to
merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such
things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?
MORTAL: But I have been taught that your sense of morality--your sense
of justice--demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be
punished with pain.
GOD: Then you have been taught wrong.
MORTAL: But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for
example Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." How he
describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the
flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they
deserve only by dint of your mercy.
GOD: Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr.
Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more
misleading. The very title "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tells its
own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do
not think at all in terms of "sin." In the third place, I have no enemies.
MORTAL: By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or
that there are no people who hate you?
GOD: I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.
MORTAL: Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have
hated you. At times I have hated you!
GOD: You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same
thing as hating me as I really am.
MORTAL: Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false
conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?
GOD: No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more
drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong.
What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply
find it psychologically impossible to hate me.
MORTAL: Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views
about your real nature, why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us
the right way?
GOD: What makes you think I'm not?
MORTAL: I mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell
us that we are wrong?
GOD; Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being
which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am
MORTAL (astonished): You are my senses?
GOD: Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth
than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like
you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived.
You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an
apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am
far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.
MORTAL: If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?
GOD: Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?
MORTAL: Well, I am talking to you, am I not?
GOD: How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told
psychiatrist, "Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?
MORTAL: That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are
atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.
GOD: And they would be right!
MORTAL: What? You mean you don't exist?
GOD: You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just
because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?
MORTAL: Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking
to myself, in what sense do you exist?
GOD: Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The
question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of
whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now
talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I
MORTAL: Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying "if I am
talking to myself, then you don't exist," I should rather have said, "if I
am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you."
GOD: A very different statement indeed, but still false.
MORTAL: Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be
talking to you?
GOD: Your use of the word "only" is quite misleading! I can suggest
several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not
imply that you are not talking to me.
MORTAL: Suggest just one!
GOD: Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are
MORTAL: Such a blasphemous thought--at least had I uttered it!
GOD: According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the
plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.
MORTAL: So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I
GOD: Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others.
For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be
talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which
case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I
might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the
intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your
talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if
you and I were totally disjoint--and even then, you could conceivably be
talking to both of us.
MORTAL: So you claim you do exist.
GOD: Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my
existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that
you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let
alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.
MORTAL: All right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want to
know is do you exist?
GOD: What a strange question!
MORTAL: Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.
GOD: I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is
that it is a most strange question to ask of me!
GOD: Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly
well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience
with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain
reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect
the nonexistence of the very same being?
MORTAL: So you won't tell me whether or not you exist?
GOD: I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer
I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, "No, I
don't exist." What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, "Yes,
I exist." Would that convince you? Of course not!
MORTAL: Well, if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who
GOD: That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which
only you can find out for yourself.
MORTAL: How do I go about finding this out for myself?
GOD: That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have
to find out for yourself.
MORTAL: So there is no way you can help me?
GOD: I didn't say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that
doesn't mean there is no way I can help you.
MORTAL: In what manner then can you help me?
GOD: I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it
is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my
purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free
will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many
moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any
nicer reason--any more humane reason--why I gave you free will?
MORTAL: Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He
told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to
enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of
course need free will.
GOD: That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still
is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and
they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely
attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation
toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are
eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi's
explanation were correct, why wouldn't I have simply created only angels
rather than mortals?
MORTAL: Beats me! Why didn't you?
GOD: Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place,
I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately
approach the state which might be called "angelhood." But just as the race
of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are
simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference
between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is
vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles
to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe--evil is
simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists--all the alleged reasons
why people shouldn't commit evil acts--simply pale into insignificance in
light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.
No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian.
That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the
great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one
can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to
aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.
MORTAL: Why did you say your expression is misleading?
GOD: What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is
inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of
things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process
of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient
Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called "Tao") that
I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms,
I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think
the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame--at
least in his present state of evolution--is that I am the very process of
enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they
wouldn't!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time
the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply
does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can
do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly
understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an
essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of
the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are
now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you
grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to
diminish--ultimately to the vanishing point.
MORTAL: I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I
personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will
be happier, but don't I have a duty to others?
GOD (laughing): You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says,
"I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings
do so." So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it
takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He
believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining
salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only
for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation
impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an
individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to
believe--as do many Mahayana Buddhists --that the attaining of enlightenment
puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of
helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.
MORTAL: There is one thing about your self-description which is
somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This
puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a
GOD: So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?
MORTAL: Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must
satisfy his needs.
GOD: I realize that. But the so-called "personality" of a being is
really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The
controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an
impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong.
From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the
same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him
purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving
according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling
for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an
ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself
who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more
correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the
better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To
illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?
MORTAL: Well, I'm talking to you, am I not?
GOD: Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be
described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view --no less
valid--I can also be looked at impersonally.
MORTAL: But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I
don't see what sense it can make my talking to a mere "process."
GOD: I love the way you say "mere." You might just as well say that you
are living in a "mere universe." Also, why must everything one does make
sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?
MORTAL: Of course not!
GOD: And yet, many children and primitives do just that.
MORTAL: But I am neither a child nor a primitive.
GOD: I realize that, unfortunately.
MORTAL: Why unfortunately?
GOD: Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which
the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good
to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we
seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to
try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.
MORTAL: I have been thinking about this all the while.
GOD: You mean you haven't been paying attention to our conversation?
MORTAL: Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have
been thinking about it.
GOD: And have you come to any conclusion?
MORTAL: Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you
disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in
order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of
all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it
is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it
GOD: Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?
MORTAL: All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life
I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold
sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it
occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your
belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other--and
themselves--less than without free will.
GOD: Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can
assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very
reason for so choosing.
MORTAL: What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?
GOD: My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than
I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose
to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but
having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it
MORTAL: I thought you could do anything!
GOD: Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, "It
is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a
limitation on His powers." I agree, except that in place of his using the
word sin I would use the term error.
MORTAL: Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not
choose to give me free will.
GOD: Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire
discussion--from the very beginning--has been based on one monstrous
fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level--you originally
complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to
whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely
no choice in the matter.
MORTAL: I am still in the dark!
GOD: Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the
eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the
question you never even considered.
MORTAL: I still do not see what you are driving at.
GOD: Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn't your
first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?
MORTAL: That I simply took for granted.
GOD: But why should you?
MORTAL: I don't know. Do I have free will?
MORTAL: Then why did you say I shouldn't have taken it for granted?
GOD: Because you shouldn't. Just because something happens to be true,
it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.
MORTAL: Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition
about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that
determinists are correct.
GOD: They are correct.
MORTAL: Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?
GOD: I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism
MORTAL: Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't
GOD: The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and
has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus
determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the
laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates
a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could
somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is
somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you
liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict
with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.
MORTAL: What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I
were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of
nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could
not stop me!
GOD: You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing
could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even
start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature,
we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of
nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more
than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are
merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should
act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid
a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you
like, how you choose to act.
MORTAL: So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act
against natural law?
GOD: It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase
"determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite
common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this"
synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological
identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer
than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of
free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the
doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by
something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by
your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now,
just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where
does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the
so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you
can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are
controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free
will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine
two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction.
Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow
who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It
is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.
MORTAL: You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based
on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.
GOD: Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free
will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I
did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without
free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no
gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you
realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a
sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a
conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think
that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told
that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then
as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe
you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures
with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part
and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without
free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.
MORTAL: Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing
what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was
GOD: Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of
this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion
was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with
And now we must part--at least until you need me again. I think our
present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember
what I told you about trees. Of course, you don't have to literally talk to
them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn
from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of
nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these
morbid thoughts of "sin" and "free will" and "moral responsibility." At one
stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days
when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could
possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this
gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.
It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the
writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts'an:
If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.
Raymond M. Smullyan. Is God a Taoist?
From Philosophical Fantasies by Raymond M. Smullyan, to be published by
St. Martins Press, N.Y., in 1982.
Scene 1. Frank is in the office of an eye doctor. The doctor holds up a
book and asks "What color is it?" Frank answers, "Red." The doctor says,
"Aha, just as I thought! Your whole color mechanism has gone out of kilter.
But fortunately your condition is curable, and I will have you in perfect
shape in a couple of weeks."
Scene 2. (A few weeks later.) Frank is in a laboratory in the home of
an experimental epistemologist. (You will soon find out what that means!)
The epistemologist holds up a book and also asks, "What color is this book?"
Now, Frank has been earlier dismissed by the eye doctor as "cured." However,
he is now of a very analytical and cautious temperament, and will not make
any statement that can possibly be refuted. So Frank answers, "It seems red
FRANK: I don't think you heard what I said. I merely said that it seems
red to me.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I heard you, and you were wrong.
FRANK: Let me get this clear; did you mean that I was wrong that this
book is red, or that I was wrong that it seems red to me?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I obviously couldn't have meant that you were wrong in
that it is red, since you did not say that it is red. All you said was that
it seems red to you, and it is this statement which is wrong.
FRANK: But you can't say that the statement "It seems red to me" is
EPISTEMOLOGIST: If I can't say it, how come I did?
FRANK: I mean you can't mean it.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Why not?
FRANK: But surely I know what color the book seems to me!
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Again you are wrong.
FRANK: But nobody knows better than I how things seem to me.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I am sorry, but again you are wrong.
FRANK: But who knows better than I?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I do.
FRANK: But how could you have access to my private mental states?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Private mental states! Metaphysical hogwash! Look, I am
a practical epistemologist. Metaphysical problems about "mind" versus
"matter" arise only from epistemological confusions. Epistemology is the
true foundation of philosophy. But the trouble with all past epistemologists
is that they have been using wholly theoretical methods, and much of their
discussion degenerates into mere word games. While other epistemologists
have been solemnly arguing such questions as whether a man can be wrong when
he asserts that he believes such and such, I have discovered how to settle
such questions experimentally.
FRANK: How could you possibly decide such things empirically?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: By reading a person's thoughts directly.
FRANK: You mean you are telepathic?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Of course not. I simply did the one obvious thing which
should be done, viz. I have constructed a brain-reading machine--known
technically as a cerebroscope--that is operative right now in this room and
is scanning every nerve cell in your brain. I thus can read your every
sensation and thought, and it is a simple objective truth that this book
does not seem red to you.
FRANK (thoroughly subdued): Goodness gracious, I really could have
sworn that the book seemed red to me; it sure seems that it seems read to
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I'm sorry, but you are wrong again.
FRANK: Really? It doesn't even seem that it seems red to me? It sure
seems like it seems like it seems red to me!
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Wrong again! And no matter how many times you reiterate
the phrase "it seems like" and follow it by "the book is red" you will be
FRANK: This is fantastic! Suppose instead of the phrase "it seems like"
I would say "I believe that." So let us start again at ground level. I
retract the statement "It seems red to me" and instead I assert "I believe
that this book is red." Is this statement true or false?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Just a moment while I scan the dials of the
brain-reading machine--no, the statement is false.
FRANK: And what about "I believe that I believe that the book is red"?
EPISTEMOLOGIST (consulting his dials): Also false. And again, no matter
how many times you iterate "I believe," all these belief sentences are
FRANK: Well, this has been a most enlightening experience. However, you
must admit that it is a little hard on me to realize that I am entertaining
infinitely many erroneous beliefs!
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Why do you say that your beliefs are erroneous?
FRANK: But you have been telling me this all the while!
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I most certainly have not!
FRANK: Good God, I was prepared to admit all my errors, and now you
tell me that my beliefs are not errors; what are you trying to do, drive me
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Hey, take it easy! Please try to recall: When did I say
or imply that any of your beliefs are erroneous?
FRANK: Just simply recall the infinite sequence of sentences: (1) I
believe this book is red; (2) I believe that I believe this book is red; and
so forth. You told me that every one of those statements is false.
FRANK: Then how can you consistently maintain that my beliefs in all
these false statements are not erroneous?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Because, as I told you, you don't believe any of them.
FRANK: I think I see, yet I am not absolutely sure.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Look, let me put it another way. Don't you see that the
very falsity of each of the statements that you assert saves you from an
erroneous belief in the preceding one? The first statement is, as I told
you, false. Very well! Now the second statement is simply to the effect that
you believe the first statement. If the second statement were true, then you
would believe the first statement, and hence your belief about the first
statement would indeed be in error. But fortunately the second statement is
false, hence you don't really believe the first statement, so your belief in
the first statement is not in error. Thus the falsity of the second
statement implies you do not have an erroneous belief about the first; the
falsity of the third likewise saves you from an erroneous belief about the
FRANK: Now I see perfectly! So none of my beliefs were erroneous, only
the statements were erroneous.
FRANK: Most remarkable! Incidentally, what color is the book really?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: It is red.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Exactly! Of course the book is red. What's the matter
with you, don't you have eyes?
FRANK: But didn't I in effect keep saying that the book is red all
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Of course not! You kept saying it seems red to you, it
seems like it seems red to you, you believe it is red, you believe that you
believe it is red, and so forth. Not once did you say that it is red. When I
originally asked you "What color is the book?" if you had simply answered
"red," this whole painful discussion would have been avoided.
Scene 3. Frank comes back several months later to the home of the
EPISTEMOLOGIST: How delightful to see you! Please sit down.
FRANK (seated): I have been thinking of our last discussion, and there
is much I wish to clear up. To begin with, I discovered an inconsistency in
some of the things you said.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Delightful! I love inconsistencies. Pray tell!
FRANK: Well, you claimed that although my belief sentences were false,
I did not have any actual beliefs that are false. If you had not admitted
that the book actually is red, you would have been consistent. But your very
admission that the book is red, leads to an inconsistency.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: How so?
FRANK: Look, as you correctly pointed out, in each of my belief
sentences "I believe it is red," "I believe that I believe it is red," the
falsity of each one other than the first saves me from an erroneous belief
in the proceeding one. However, you neglected to take into consideration the
first sentence itself. The falsity of the first sentence "I believe it is
red," in conjunction with the fact that it is red, does imply that I do have
a false belief.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I don't see why.
FRANK: It is obvious! Since the sentence "I believe it is red" is
false, then I in fact believe it is not red, and since it really is red,
then I do have a false belief. So there!
EPISTEMOLOGIST (disappointed): I am sorry, but your proof obviously
fails. Of course the falsity of the fact that you believe it is red implies
that you don't believe it is red. But this does not mean that you believe it
is not red!
FRANK: But obviously I know that it either is red or it isn't, so if I
don't believe it is, then I must believe that it isn't.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Not at all. I believe that either Jupiter has life or
it doesn't. But I neither believe that it does, nor do I believe that it
doesn't. I have no evidence one way or the other.
FRANK: Oh well, I guess you are right. But let us come to more
important matters. I honestly find it impossible that I can be in error
concerning my own beliefs.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Must we go through this again? I have already patiently
explained to you that you (in the sense of your beliefs, not your
statements) are not in error.
FRANK: Oh, all right then, I simply do not believe that even the
statements are in error. Yes, according to the machine they are in error,
but why should I trust the machine?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Whoever said you should trust the machine?
FRANK: Well, should I trust the machine?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: That question involving the word "should" is out of my
domain. However, if you like, I can refer you to a colleague who is an
excellent moralist--he may be able to answer this for you.
FRANK: Oh come on now, I obviously didn't mean "should" in a moralistic
sense. I simply meant "Do I have any evidence that this machine is
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Well, do you?
FRANK: Don't ask me! What I mean is should you trust the machine?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Should I trust it? I have no idea, and I couldn't care
less what I should do.
FRANK: Oh, your moralistic hangup again. I mean, do you have evidence
that the machine is reliable?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Well of course!
FRANK: Then let's get down to brass tacks. What is your evidence?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: You hardly can expect that I can answer this for you in
an hour, a day, or a week. If you wish to study this machine with me, we can
do so, but I assure you this is a matter of several years. At the end of
that time, however, you would certainly not have the slightest doubts about
the reliability of the machine.
FRANK: Well, possibly I could believe that it is reliable in the sense
that its measurements are accurate, but then I would doubt that what it
actually measures is very significant. It seems that all it measures is
one's physiological states and activities.
EPISTEMOLOGIST: But of course, what else would you expect it to
FRANK: I doubt that it measures my psychological states, my actual
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Are we back to that again? The machine does measure
those physiological states and processes that you call psychological states,
beliefs, sensations, and so forth.
FRANK: At this point I am becoming convinced that our entire difference
is purely semantical. All right, I will grant that your machine does
correctly measure beliefs in your sense of the word "belief," but I don't
believe that it has any possibility of measuring beliefs in my sense of the
word "believe." In other words I claim that our entire deadlock is simply
due to the fact that you and I mean different things by the word "belief."
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Fortunately, the correctness of your claim can be
decided experimentally. It so happens that I now have two brain-reading
machines in my office, so I now direct one to your brain to find out what
you mean by "believe" and now I direct the other to my own brain to find out
what I mean by "believe," and now I shall compare the two readings. Nope,
I'm sorry, but it turns out that we mean exactly the same thing by the word
FRANK: Oh, hang your machine! Do you believe we mean the same thing by
the word "believe"?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Do I believe it? Just a moment while I check with the
machine. Yes, it turns out I do believe it.
FRANK: My goodness, do you mean to say that you can't even tell me what
you believe without consulting the machine?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Of course not.
FRANK: But most people when asked what they believe simply tell you.
Why do you, in order to find out your beliefs, go through the fantastically
roundabout process of directing a thought-reading machine to your own brain
and then finding out what you believe on the basis of the machine readings?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: What other scientific, objective way is there of
finding out what I believe?
FRANK: Oh, come now, why don't you just ask yourself?
EPISTEMOLOGIST (sadly): It doesn't work. Whenever I ask myself what I
believe, I never get any answer!
FRANK: Well, why don't you just state what you believe?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: How can I state what I believe before I know what I
FRANK: Oh, to hell with your knowledge of what you believe; surely you
have some idea or belief as to what you believe, don't you?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: oOf course I have such a belief. But how do I find out
what this belief is?
FRANK: I am afraid we are getting into another infinite regress. Look,
at this point I am honestly beginning to wonder whether you may be going
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Let me consult the machine. Yes, it turns out that I
may be going crazy.
FRANK: Good God, man, doesn't this frighten you?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Let me check! Yes, it turns out that it does frighten
FRANK: Oh please, can't you forget this damned machine and just tell me
whether you are frightened or not?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I just told you that I am. However, I only learned of
this from the machine.
FRANK: I can see that it is utterly hopeless to wean you away from the
machine. Very well, then, let us play along with the machine some more. Why
don't you ask the machine whether your sanity can be saved?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good idea! Yes, it turns out that it can be saved.
FRANK: And how can it be saved?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: I don't know, I haven't asked the machine.
FRANK: Well, for God's sake, ask it!
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good idea. It turns out that...
FRANK: It turns out what?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: It turns out that...
FRANK: Come on now, it turns out what?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: This is the most fantastic thing I have ever come
across! According to the machine the best thing I can do is to cease to
trust the machine!
FRANK: Good! What will you do about it?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: How do I know what I will do about it, I can't read the
FRANK: I mean, what do you presently intend to do about it?
EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good question, let me consult the machine. According to
the machine, my current intentions are in complete conflict. And I can see
why! I am caught in a terrible paradox! If the machine is trustworthy, then
I had better accept its suggestion to distrust it. But if I distrust it,
then I also distrust its suggestion to distrust it, so I am really in a
FRANK: Look, I know of someone who I think might be really of help in
this problem. I'll leave you for a while to consult him. Au revoir!
Scene 4. (Later in the day at a psychiatrist's office.)
FRANK: Doctor, I am terribly worried about a friend of mine. He calls
himself an "experimental epistemologist."
DOCTOR: Oh, the experimental epistemologist. There is only one in the
world. I know him well!
FRANK: That is a relief. But do you realize that he has constructed a
mind-reading device that he now directs to his own brain, and whenever one
asks him what he thinks, believes, feels, is afraid of, and so on, he has to
consult the machine first before answering? Don't you think this is pretty
DOCTOR: Not as serious as it might seem. My prognosis for him is
actually quite good.
FRANK: Well, if you are a friend of his, couldn't you sort of keep an
eye on him?
DOCTOR: I do see him quite frequently, and I do observe him much.
However, I don't think he can be helped by so-called "psychiatric
treatment." His problem is an unusual one, the sort that has to work itself
out. And I believe it will.
FRANK: Well, I hope your optimism is justified. At any rate I sure
think I need some help at this point!
DOCTOR: How so?
FRANK: My experiences with the epistemologist have been thoroughly
unnerving! At this point I wonder if I may be going crazy; I can't even have
confidence in how things appear to me. I think maybe you could be helpful
DOCTOR: I would be happy to but cannot for a while. For the next three
months I am unbelievably overloaded with work. After that, unfortunately, I
must go on a three-month vacation. So in six months come back and we can
talk this over.
Scene 5. (Same office, six months later.)
DOCTOR: Before we go into your problems, you will be happy to hear that
your friend the epistemologist is now completely recovered.
FRANK: Marvelous, how did it happen?
DOCTOR: Almost, as it were, by a stroke of fate--and yet his very
mental activities were, so to speak, part of the "fate." What happened was
this: For months after you last saw him, he went around worrying "should I
trust the machine, shouldn't I trust the machine, should I, shouldn't I,
should I, shouldn't I." (He decided to use the word "should" in your
empirical sense.) He got nowhere! So he then decided to "formalize" the
whole argument. He reviewed his study of symbolic logic, took the axioms of
first-order logic, and added as nonlogical axioms certain relevant facts
about the machine. Of course the resulting system was inconsistent--he
formally proved that he should trust the machine if and only if he
shouldn't, and hence that he both should and should not trust the machine.
Now, as you may know, in a system based on classical logic (which is the
logic he used), if one can prove so much as a single contradictory
proposition, then one can prove any proposition, hence the whole system
breaks down. So he decided to use a logic weaker than classical logic--a
logic close to what is known as "minimal logic"--in which the proof of one
contradiction does not necessarily entail the proof of every proposition.
However, this system turned out too weak to decide the question of whether
or not he should trust the machine. Then he had the following bright idea.
Why not use classical logic in his system even though the resulting system
is inconsistent? Is an inconsistent system necessarily useless? Not at all!
Even though given any proposition, there exists a proof that it is true and
another proof that it is false, it may be the case that for any such pair of
proofs, one of them is simply more psychologically convincing than the
other, so simply pick the proof you actually believe! Theoretically the idea
turned out very well--the actual system he obtained really did have the
property that given any such pair of proofs, one of them was always
psychologically far more convincing than the other. Better yet, given any
pair of contradictory propositions, all proofs of one were more convincing
than any proof of the other. Indeed, anyone except the epistemologist could
have used the system to decide whether the machine could be trusted. But
with the epistemologist, what happened was this: He obtained one proof that
he should trust the machine and another proof that he should not. Which
proof was more convincing to him, which proof did he really "believe"? The
only way he could find out was to consult the machine! But he realized that
this would be begging the question, since his consulting the machine would
be a tacit admission that he did in fact trust the machine. So he still
remained in a quandary.
FRANK: So how did he get out of it?
DOCTOR: Well, here is where fate kindly interceded. Due to his absolute
absorption in the theory of this problem, which consumed about his every
waking hour, he became for the first time in his life experimentally
negligent. As a result, quite unknown to him, a few minor units of his
machine blew out! Then, for the first time, the machine started giving
contradictory information--not merely subtle paradoxes, but blatant
contradictions. In particular, the machine one day claimed that the
epistemologist believed a certain proposition and a few days later claimed
he did not believe that proposition. And to add insult to injury, the
machine claimed that he had not changed his belief in the last few days.
This was enough to simply make him totally distrust the machine. Now he is
fit as a fiddle.
FRANK: This is certainly the most amazing thing I have ever heard! I
guess the machine was really dangerous and unreliable all along.
DOCTOR: Oh, not at all; the machine used to be excellent before the
epistemologist's experimental carelessness put it out of whack.
FRANK: Well, surely when I knew it, it couldn't have been very
DOCTOR: Not so, Frank, and this brings us to your problem. I know about
your entire conversation with the epistemologist--it was all tape-recorded.
FRANK: Then surely you realize the machine could not have been right
when it denied that I believed the book was red.
DOCTOR: Why not?
FRANK: Good God, do I have to go through all this nightmare again? I
can understand that a person can be wrong if he claims that a certain
physical object has a certain property, but have you ever known a single
case when a person can be mistaken when he claims to have or not have a
DOCTOR: Why, certainly! I once knew a Christian Scientist who had a
raging toothache; he was frantically groaning and moaning all over the
place. When asked whether a dentist might not cure him, he replied that
there was nothing to be cured. Then he was asked, "But do you not feel
pain?" He replied, "No, I do not feel pain; nobody feels pain, there is no
such thing as pain, pain is only an illusion." So here is a case of a man
who claimed not to feel pain, yet everyone present knew perfectly well that
he did feel pain. I certainly don't believe he was lying, he was just simply
FRANK: Well, all right, in a case like that. But how can one be
mistaken if one asserts his belief about the color of a book?
DOCTOR: I can assure you that without access to any machine, if I asked
someone what color is this book, and he answered, "I believe it is red," I
would be very doubtful that he really believed it. It seems to me that if he
really believed it, he would answer, "It is red" and not "I believe it is
red" or "It seems red to me." The very timidity of his response would be
indicative of his doubts.
FRANK: But why on earth should I have doubted that it was red?
DOCTOR: You should know that better than I. Let us see now, have you
ever in the past had reason to doubt the accuracy of your sense perception?
FRANK: Why, yes. A few weeks before visiting the epistemologist, I
suffered from an eye disease, which did make me see colors falsely. But I
was cured before my visit.
DOCTOR: Oh, so no wonder you doubted it was red! True enough, your eyes
perceived the correct color of the book, but your earlier experience
lingered in your mind and made it impossible for you to really believe it
was red. So the machine was right!
FRANK: Well, all right, but then why did I doubt that I believed it was
DOCTOR: Because you didn't believe it was true, and unconsciously you
were smart enough to realize the fact. Besides, when one starts doubting
one's own sense perceptions, the doubt spreads like an infection to higher
and higher levels of abstraction until finally the whole belief system
becomes one doubting mass of insecurity. I bet that if you went to the
epistemologist's office now, and if the machine were repaired, and you now
claimed that you believe the book is red, the machine would concur.
No, Frank, the machine is--or, rather, was--a good one. The
epistemologist learned much from it, but misused it when he applied it to
his own brain. He really should have known better than to create such an
unstable situation. The combination of his brain and the machine each
scrutinizing and influencing the behavior of the other led to serious
problems in feedback. Finally the whole system went into a cybernetic
wobble. Something was bound to give sooner or later. Fortunately, it was the
FRANK: I see. One last question, though. How could the machine be
trustworthy when it claimed to be untrustworthy?
DOCTOR: The machine never claimed to be untrustworthy, it only claimed
that the epistemologist would be better off not trusting it. And the machine
Raymond M. Smullyan. An Epistemological Nightmare
If Smullyan's nightmare strikes you as too outlandish to be convincing,
consider a more realistic fable--not a true story, but surely possible:
Once upon a time there were two coffee tasters, Mr. Chase and Mr.
Sanborn, who worked for Maxwell House. Along with half a dozen other coffee
tasters, their job was to ensure that the taste of Maxwell House stayed
constant, year after year. One day, about six years after Mr. Chase had come
to work for Maxwell House, he cleared his throat and confessed to Mr.
"You know, I hate to admit it, but I'm not enjoying this work any more.
When I came to Maxwell House six years ago, I thought Maxwell House coffee
was the best-tasting coffee in the world. I was proud to have a share in the
responsibility for preserving that flavor over the years. And we've done our
job well; the coffee tastes today just the way it tasted when I arrived.
But, you know, I no longer like it! My tastes have changed. I've become a
more sophisticated coffee drinker. I no longer like that taste at all."
Sanborn greeted this revelation with considerable interest. "It's funny
you should mention it," he replied, "for something rather similar has
happened to me. When I arrived here, shortly before you did, I, like you,
thought Maxwell House coffee was tops in flavor. And now I, like you, really
don't care for the coffee we're making. But my tastes haven't changed; my...
tasters have changed. That is, I think something has gone wrong with my
taste buds or something--you know, the way your taste buds go off when you
take a bite of pancakes and maple syrup and then go back to your orange
juice? Maxwell House coffee doesn't taste to me the way it used to taste; if
only it did, I'd still love it, for I still think that taste is the best
taste in coffee. Now, I'm not saying we haven't done our job well. You other
guys all agree that the taste is the same, so it must be my problem alone. I
guess I'm no longer cut out for this work."
Chase and Sanborn are alike in one way. Both used to like Maxwell House
coffee; now neither one likes it. But they claim to be different in another
way: Maxwell House tastes to Chase the way it always did, but not so for
Sanborn. The difference seems familiar and striking, yet when they confront
each other, they may begin to wonder if their cases arc really all that
different. "Could it be," Chase might wonder, "that Mr. Sanborn is really in
my predicament and just hasn't noticed the gradual rise in his standards and
sophistication as a coffee taster?" "Could it be," Sanborn might wonder,
"that Mr. Chase is kidding himself when he says the coffee tastes just the
same to him as it used to?"
Do you remember your first sip of beer? Terrible! How could anyone like
that stuff? But beer, you reflect, is an acquired taste; one gradually
trains oneself--or just comes--to enjoy that flavor. What flavor? The flavor
of that first sip? No one could like that flavor! Beer tastes different to
the experienced beer drinker. Then beer isn't an acquired taste; one doesn't
learn to like that first taste; one gradually comes to experience a
different, and likable, taste. Had the first sip tasted that way, you would
have liked beer wholeheartedly from the beginning!
Perhaps, then, there is no separating the taste from the response to
the taste, the judgment of good or bad. Then Chase and Sanborn might be just
alike, and simply be choosing slightly different ways of expressing
themselves. But if they were just alike, then they'd actually both be wrong
about something, for they each have sincerely denied that they are like the
other. Is it conceivable that each could have inadvertently misdescribed his
own case and described the other's instead? Perhaps Chase is the one whose
taste buds have changed, while Sanborn is the sophisticate. Could they be
Some philosophers--and other people--have thought that a person simply
cannot be wrong about such a matter. Everyone is the final and unimpeachable
arbiter of how it is with him; if Chase and Sanborn have spoken sincerely,
and have made no unnoticed slips of language, and if both know the meanings
of their words, they must have expressed the truth in each case. Can't we
imagine tests that would tend to confirm their different tales? If Sanborn
does poorly on discrimination tests he used to pass with flying colors, and
if, moreover, we find abnormalities in his taste buds (it's all that
Szechuan food he's been eating lately, we discover), this will tend to
confirm his view of his situation. And if Chase passes all those tests
better than he used to, and exhibits increased knowledge of coffee types and
a great interest in their relative merits and peculiar characteristics, this
will support his view of himself. But if such tests could support Chase s
and Sanborn's authority, failing them would have to undermine their
authority. If Chase passed Sanborn's tests and Sanborn passed Chase's, each
would have doubt cast on his account--if such tests have any bearing at all
on the issue.
Another way of putting the point is that the price you pay for the
possibility of confirming your authority is the outside chance of being
discredited. "I know what I like," we are all prepared to insist, "and I
know what it's like to be me!" Probably you do, at least about some matters,
but that is something to be checked in performance. Maybe, just maybe,
you'll discover that you really don't know as much as you thought you did
about what it is like to be you.
D. C. Dennett. Reflections
Популярность: 32, Last-modified: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 11:11:39 GMT