"Is God a  Taoist?"  from The Tao  is  silent  by Raymond M.  Smullyan.
© 1977 by Raymond M. Smullyan. Reprinted by permission of Harper &  Row
Publishers, Inc.

     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
bothering you?
     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?
     MORTAL: Yes!
     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
the pill.
     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
over again.
     GOD: Certainly.
     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.
     MORTAL: True!
     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
to you?
     MORTAL: Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.
     GOD: Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.
     MORTAL: What!
     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.
     MORTAL: Exactly!
     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
first place.
     MORTAL: Exactly!
     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
Socratic method.
     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
free will!
     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
sentient beings.
     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
free will.
     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
real point!
     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!
     MORTAL: What!
     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.
Are you?
     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
your senses.
     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
don't exist.
     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
are identical?
     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!
     MORTAL: Why?
     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
possibly can?
     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
personal God.
     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?
     GOD: Yes.
     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
is incorrect.
     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.


     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
to me."

     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.
     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?
     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
second, etc.
     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.
     FRANK: What!
     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.
     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
total quandary.
     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
certain sensation?
     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
was right.


     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
that wrong?
     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.

Популярность: 32, Last-modified: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 11:11:39 GMT