Letters Column for July 2006: On Not Being A God


It is now August. This is one of those rare months that wouldn’t even exist without the Augustine Popes and their meddling with the time-space continuum, so I think we should all take a moment of silence to think the forbidden Augistinian thought.



If we can come together and think those words together and use them as a mantra to beam universal love to the lost Augustinian Popes, I’m sure it will make the world a better place.

In other news, I’ve started ADD meds (as of Saturday morning.) Based on the weekend, I kind of feel productive or possibly even alive again. Brace yourself for a much better rate of output! or um howls of bitter disappointment from the Seattle area if it doesn’t last or I get allergic or something. Note that this will apply to other projects first; I’m not going to think about daily Hitherby again for a few months. ^_^

Donations for July (as of 10:30 on July 30, when I’m writing this) totalled $115.

Thank you very much!

I might need new glasses, so if you’d like to target donations towards an eye exam and glasses, stick a .20 on your donations? I don’t actually expect that, but hey. ^_^

In terms of comments, thank you for your kind words,

David Goldfarb
Ford Dent
Hitherby Admin
michael vassar
Penultimate Minion
Vincent Avatar

Also a special thanks to Mr. Kong for his gift of the Analects, and a hi to people posting for the first time!

ok. but the Enterprise still has tractor beams!
— GoldenH

Answer #1: Sure, but Sauron’ll just come back to life, only now he’s made with quality John Deere craftsmanship!

Answer #2: Sure, but Sauron’ll just come back to life, only now he’s covered in tractors!

Answer #3: Honestly, it’s probably cooler if Sauron joins the crew than if they kill him. Just imagine:

Kirk: Spock! Get us out of here!
Spock: Captain, there’s at best a 12.98% chance there’s an “out of here” to go to.
Sauron: *burns*

And the fanfic version!

Kirk: Spock! Get us out of here!
Spock: Captain, there’s at best a 12.98% chance there’s an “out of here” to go to.
Ensign Sue: No, wait! I’ve reengineered the warp drive to run on tape!
Sauron: *burns*
Sauron: *burns for Ensign Sue*

It’d be just like that!

It’s possible to write nonfiction, after all.
— rpuchalsky

I like to imagine nonfiction as starting with an invisible

Darth Vader proclaims:

It’s kind of like a silent p, only it’s not silent—it’s invisible!


I suppose I wouldn’t quibble with the assertion that it’s possible to read nonfiction!

Should he find salvation, no doubt (the evil logician) would soon return to rescue me.
— Penultimate Minion

You can’t imagine how much it does my heart good to know there are still people with faith in evil logicians.

And why not?

Why shouldn’t you hold that faith?

There is boundless goodness in the world!

What mind could hold in its expanse the infinite graceless beauty of -(P v Q) => (-P ^ -Q) and fail to turn its thoughts to kindness?

It is not the evil logicians who have failed us but we who have failed them. We with our narrow and primitive sense of “good logic” that leaves the woglies suffering in the snow. We with our hands that do not welcome evil logic.

We with our homes that do not let it in.

For instance, consider the following problem. You are locked in a room with two doors and an evil logician. The logician says, “If a rational person would choose the left door, then both doors lead to certain death. Otherwise, only the right door leads to certain death, and the left door leads to salvation. Which door do you choose?”
— me!

Hm, interesting problem. Maybe if you flip a coin? After all, choosing the right hand door is clearly irrational, so risking choosing it might be irrational enough…
— chaomancer


Now, please bear in mind that the original post clearly specified this as a case where rejecting the problem formulation is necessary.

I mean—

I wouldn’t want people to get the idea that my other logic puzzles have an answer like “defy the evil logician.”

But this is a special case.

See, you’re on the right track here, I think. You’re getting into the right pseudorational stuff that might work. I’m pretty sure that probabilistic stuff is where the game theory answer goes.

But at the same time I think there’s a broader and more interesting point here.

You have to understand that what the evil logician is saying is, “No matter which door you go through, I can kill you and blame your decision-making process for it.”

And that the problem tenets are set up specifically to subvert the beneficial effects of reason.

This is something that people sometimes face in the world—a deliberate effort by someone to subvert reason. Someone spends their energy to disincentivize clear thinking by making sure its outcomes are worse than the outcomes of muddled thinking.

It’s one of the nastiest things one person can do to another.

I might even compare it to torture.

But it can happen. You’re never actually safe from it. Someone can always decide to punish you for clarity, punish you for being smart. I don’t just mean “for choosing the right thing” but “for choosing the right way.”

Sometimes even when you recognize the rigged game and cheat by going where you think they want you to go, people’ll punish you for that.

If this were just something that abusers and oppressive systems did, then I probably wouldn’t talk about it at this length.

But it’s also something we do to ourselves.

(For clarity, it’s not comparable to torture in that case, but it is still bad.)

See, that’s the kind of situation we get into when we accept the wrong assumptions. When you have the wrong assumptions you may start finding that clear thinking leads you to bad places.

The more you open your eyes,

The more you face the truth,

The more you think clearly and honestly about the consequences of those assumptions,

The more screwed up you get.

Take Meredith. Her current answer is “I will protect my ego by riding the storm of my nature.”

It’s working pretty well.

She got there just the same way you got to the randomized approach. She tried to win the game within the assumptions she had.

If you’re stuck with the evil logician, then you might do the same thing—find a midpoint between reason and unreason, sit in the crux of the contradiction, and hope that the evil logician is trying to break you and not to kill you.

It’s the best thing you can do.

But you do have to be careful because when you’re in the power of an evil logician, the energy they’ve put into evilling has to go somewhere.

Hopefully you won’t take that as criticism of your idea; like I said, I’d incline towards coin-flip answers myself!

I can’t believe I never thought about Sid and Max that way.
— David Goldfarb

That’s okay.

Sid and Max are allowed to love one another without being gay. They’re also allowed to love one another if they are gay.

Someday, if they don’t die first, they’ll let down all their walls.

And then they’ll have sex.

Or they won’t.

And then we’ll know.

(If Max is gay it would be good for them, you see, but if he’s straight, it probably wouldn’t be, and they probably wouldn’t.)

Existing only as a legend probably qualifies as being an isn’t, as well.

So… is it possible that Martin may, at some point, make Ink an is?
— Aliasi

If he can answer the question that keeps fictional characters from being real.

That said—

We might have a good working definition of isn’t, I think, but what’s an is?

So, was the Virtue inherent in Siddhartha, or in the fullfilment of his Dharma? Or some other element of the equation?
— bv728

Find out soon, in the Hitherby Dragons blockbuster story, The Island of the Centipede!

I’m pretty sure Max isn’t a god (ie, an isn’t).
— mneme

What does it mean not to be a god?

The secret of the gods is that they are born to fill emptiness.

But isn’t that also what people are for?

All that said—

Yeah, Max gestated in his mother’s body, not in her soul. He’s like an M&M that way.

I think something like that has already happened: that the Imago is Ink.

… someone back me up here
— Ninjacrat

As you wish, o Ninjacrat!

The histories of the imago have begun. ^_^

Perhaps I could reconcile the theories by suggesting that Mei Ming and Ink are related to each other, but I can think of no basis for the suggestion.
— tylercat

Thank you for speculating! I’m glad that the question was interesting. ^_^

Regarding questions, I think that unanswer(ed|able) questions are woglies, and asking someone a question that they cannot answer will leech away their integrity…
— cariset

That’s pretty close to how it works!

Some unanswer(ed|able) questions spawn woglies. There would seem to be a threshold of some sort since people aren’t waist-deep in woglies.

I’d suggest thinking about Forbidden A—

Er, um, I mean—


Sorry about that.

I’d suggest thinking about . . . you know, that *stuff*, you know, with Erin and Branwen . . . and stuff.

And where the integrity goes.

I guess I should comment here, since “maps” is probably unread — but the site is dizzying me a bit today. First, there’s the subway banner. Then, all the categories. Then, when reading some of the early entries, I see that some have been edited slightly — or have they?
— rpuchalsky

No edits.

WordPress showed you some stuff you shouldn’t have seen. It was a very bad WordPress! I ran around shrieking quite a bit because What is Hitherby Dragons? (2.0) isn’t done.

I was unaware that mermaids listened to so much metal.
— Ford Dent

The manta and the skate’n
even the rockfish pray to Satan
Throw up the horns now
Antichrist born now
Under da sea!

Oh, you take a mortal cod
Put him in control
Watch—he’s a god!
The pipefish will fry now
Flipper will die now
Under da sea!


Even the angler’s an angry headbangler
New Zealand sanddiver sing “Skin Her Alive” you’re
Probably thinking that seal’s been drinking
And everything’s better (better)
Down where it’s wetter (wetter)
And your life burns faster (faster)
Best obey the bass, sir (bass, sir)
The master of pupfish
Is under da sea!
Yah we in luck here
Gratuitous “fuck” here
Under da sea!

I like that the chaos is described as adapting to Max, rather than the other way round as one would expect.
— Luc

Thanks! I like that too. ^_^

what happens when a Death Metal Mermaid and a Buddha Pirate fall into conflict?
— Mithrandir

Many things cease to become attached to material existence. ^_^

And okay! That’s it for today.

Tune back in on Thursday for more letters column goodness!


28 thoughts on “Letters Column for July 2006: On Not Being A God

  1. Yay letter column goodness!

    I’ve always liked letter columns, not just in Hitherby, everywhere. I’m pleased with Sheila Williams for bringing them back in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

    As someone who’s bisexual, I’d like to point out that “straight” or “gay” are not the only options that Max has. And why is Max’s orientation the important thing? Shouldn’t Sid have a say in things? (I find myself wondering if Sid is even capable but then I suppose that he constructs his own body, so if he’s not now he could become so.)

  2. I thought the question/answer that keeps fictional characters from being real was admirably demonstrated by the various “World as Myth” theories, such as that in the wackier latter days of Heinlein.

    Which is to say, ‘they’re fictional because they aren’t in this world’, or to phrase it as a proper question, ‘How can one exist in two worlds at once?’

    Except that question is probably far more poignant to an entirely nonfictional person of, say, mixed race or cultural background.

    Like the New Bohemians, I think I need to be pushed into the shallow water, before I get too deep. :D

  3. What mind could hold in its expanse the infinite graceless beauty of -(P v Q) => (-P ^ -Q) and fail to turn its thoughts to kindness?


    DeMorgan’s Laws, while eminently useful, are not particularly elegant.

    Now Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument, on the other hand, is one gorgeous proof.


  4. Oh, and for those of you who aren’t particularly mathgeeky, I’m actually not joking about the diagonalization argument’s aesthetics.

    For all that it’s a proof of the possibility of different sizes of infinities, it’s also a thing of sublime beauty.


  5. We might have a good working definition of isn’t, I think, but what’s an is?

    Am I overlooking an obvious reason why “P, and it is possible that P” or “P, and P does not lead to a contradiction” doesn’t describe an is?

    It could be. Jane’s world is significantly more modally complex than most conceptions of our own world. But it seems to me that the combination of instantiation and possibility would describe something on the “is” side of the dharma manifestation boundery.

    (Interestingly, as I see it, it’s possible in Jane’s world for something to exist, and yet lead to a contradiction. I almost have half a mind to fiddle with modal logic until I have a system that works for the Hitherby cosmology.)


  6. Yay!

    Certainly no criticism taken; or rather, only constructive criticism, which is always welcome. Thank you for explaining your thinking regarding evil logicians… mmm, yummy new ideas to think about. Worrying ones, yes, but so tasty!

  7. “P, and it is possible that P”

    seems too generous an inclusion. It indicates that all possibilities known within the current environment are. If I’m reading your statement correctly, and P can exist as an assumption, then the assumption that “Tyrox The Universe Destroyer lives just past the range of our ability to detect him” would be an is, as it’s possible that Tyrox The Universe Destroyer (by one name) does exist there, and then the assumption would make him an is. Is Tyrox The Universe Destroyer an Is? He hasn’t been defined as an Is, so far as I can tell.

    “P, and P does not lead to a contradiction”

    works well in small, sequentially defined systems. Suppose we operate on the following statements:
    1) No Variable is equal in value to another
    2) A = 4
    3) B = 7
    4) C = A
    5) D is greater than A
    6) E is less than B
    7) J is greater than D
    8) J is less than A

    We can, assuming that the list here is complete and unchanging, determine that Statement 4 and 8 are “isn’t” and that the rest are “is”. However, doing this assumes that the first statements are more valid than the rest, which may not necessarily hold for all systems. One could also define statement 1 as an isn’t, which allows statement 4 to exist. Statement 8 could be an “is” if statement 7 were an “isn’t”. Some could argue that statements 2 and 3 are isn’ts in the context of statement 1, as 4 and 7 have their own values which, in being equal, A and B would violate the first. Hitherby contains at least two chronological natures – the Author’s time and the Story’s time. Closer analysis may reveal additional chronological natures. The fact that the sequence in one nature is not shared by another invalidates prioritization by sequence (the intuitive and easy approach – reject the new idea that doesn’t fit your current one.)

    Furthermore, if we remove the “Small” element of the system, the factorial growth of the number of possible interpretations of the system (although some are equivalent), tends to leave behind a lot of unconsidered combinations.

    So, if I were to attempt to define “Is” in a Hitherby context, I believe the best available definition to me would be “Has the ability to choose for themselves.”

  8. Still inwardly laughing about the version of under the sea … the last gratuitous internal rhyme really works in part because the original is “muck”.

    There’s something really important about Hitherby’s use of children’s art / music / toys / commercial packages that I have difficulty figuring out. It isn’t merely Gen Xer ’80s nostalgia. I assume that a lot of it is related to the themes of child abuse (and child alters) in Hitherby. But there’s something else about the deliberate choice to introduce seriousness into things that society insists are just for children (where children are sentimentalized as not having to face anything serious) and a concomitant playfulness in addressing serious things through means that society insists are not capable of handling them. (I know that “under the sea” is a joke, and a good one — but I was branching out into Hitherby as a whole.)

    As a married person helping to bring up two young children, I find that my poetry inevitably becomes influenced by the stories that I read to them. So, for instance, concern about Katrina and the (messianic?) desire for U.S. political change becomes expressed through a poem about The Cat in the Hat. I’m not sure if this really works.

  9. Ah, but as I’m using the terms, my two definitions are synonyms.

    Okay, first of all, the “P” part at the beginning of either one should I suppose be fleshed out as “It is the case that (whatever).” So, Tyrox is only an is if he both can exist and does exist.

    As for your analysis of the second, I’m not sure it holds completely. Those aren’ts that we’ve seen seem to be contradictory by their own natures, rather than by the way they interconnect with the world.

    Mmm, how to express what I’m saying… okay, I’m going to ask a question that may sound snobbish, but that’s really not the intent, I’m just trying to establish a baseline for communication. How much formal/symbolic logic do you know?


  10. Eric – not much. A little bit from an undergrad degree in Computer Electronics, but advanced set theory and the like are beyond what I’ve touched on to date.

    Work with me, though, and I’d be willing to learn.

  11. Am I overlooking an obvious reason why “P, and it is possible that P” or “P, and P does not lead to a contradiction” doesn’t describe an is?


    Wogly => (P => Wogly).


  12. Is

    (∃(P) ∧ ¬ISNT(P)) ⇔ IS(P)

    a reasonable formulation for is? If it’s not, then there must be a third state for an extant entity.

  13. As someone who’s bisexual, I’d like to point out that “straight” or “gay” are not the only options that Max has.

    Max is Max.

    The question at hand is how people who read Hitherby Dragons will construct his sexuality.

    There is not time left in the story for him to be bisexual.

    Look to Mr. Schiff if you want a bisexual character—he is monogamous but I suspect that in the right mood he would flirt with anyone whose heart he can get to pounding.


  14. If it’s not, then there must be a third state for an extant entity.

    Chimerae cause boolean expressions to evaluate as neither true nor false.

  15. To paraphrase something said about Smithers in regards to Mr. Burns on the Simpsons, I suspect Sid is Maxsexual, and Max is Sidsexual, as it were.

  16. Really, I don’t think that they’re gay. Or rather, if Max is gay, I don’t think that he’s romantically interested in Sid, and I’m dubious that such matters particularly apply to Sid.

    They just don’t act like a couple, even in the flashbacks before things were different. And damaged friendship and failed romance have a different feel to them, and they feel like the former.

    Really, I don’t see anything odd about them loving each other without it being sexual. Although such friendships aren’t as popular in literature as they used to be, people never stopped having them.

    Wogly => (P => Wogly)

    For that matter, if Woglies are contradictions, than everything is true. And false.

    But here we’re getting into some tricky issues of entailment. I’m reminded of why it’s better to view the => relation as “only if” rather than “implies,” because viewing it as implication leads to headaches related to how we use implication in ordinary thought.

    Allow me to rephrase my definition of an “is.” An “is” is something that exists, and that doesn’t lead to contradictions save in a system that they’re already present. To phrase it differently, any true statement that the existance of the thing leads to contradictions has additional assumptions in its dependence column.


  17. Allow me to rephrase my definition of an “is.” An “is” is something that exists, and that doesn’t lead to contradictions save in a system that they’re already present.

    John and Mary exist. They cannot interact with anything else in the world. They need the ground to walk but they leave no footprints. They need air to breathe but they do not actually disturb air molecules with their presence. Their dharma is, \”Everything you do will leave things exactly as they would be anyway, except for your effects on one another.\”

    Are John and Mary isses?

    I\’m not just going to make trouble, though. I\’m going to propose a definition I\’m not going to need for a while, and see what wheels it turns in y\’all\’s heads.

    I suggest that P is an is if

    (1) P exists, and
    (2) -P *introduces* a contradiction.


  18. So P is an isn’t if P does not exist or if P introduces a contradiction? That’s somewhat implied by Martin being able to kill woglies and make isn’ts into isses. *ponders* I guess it sorta makes sense to say that if you kill a wogly to make something real, then through Conservation of Universal Integrity, there would now be a wogly if the thing ceased to exist. But that doesn’t seem to fit the Hitherbyverse quite right, in that there should be space for things which don’t cause woglies whether they exist or not, and possibly even things which do cause woglies whether they exist or not.

    (I’m assuming that “P is an is” if
    1) P
    2) ~P => C
    3) P => ~C
    where C is a “new contradiction”.)

  19. (1) P exists, and
    (2) -P *introduces* a contradiction.

    Ah, now that’s interesting. Sounds like isness, rather than merely being the lack of isn’tness, is the actual opposite.

    Really, what we’re talking about here is basic modal necessity, right?


  20. Eric writes: “They just don’t act like a couple, even in the flashbacks before things were different. And damaged friendship and failed romance have a different feel to them, and they feel like the former.”

    I agree that their relationship has no discerneable romantic feel. However, they are the most important people in the world to each other, and seem likely to remain so no matter what. (People? Well, entities.) That, in turn, goes past close friendship. They’re life partners.

    When I originally brought up this idea in comments, it in part was blogging against heteronormativity — people hadn’t seemed to really be considering the idea. But in addition, I wanted to point out that Max and Sid, no matter what their sexual preference, are acting like adolescents in love. At some point, if their story doesn’t end in tragedy, they’re going to start to have to act like a married couple, whether they have a sexual relationship/attraction or not. That doesn’t mean that they should sleep together, it means that they should start talking to each other and making joint plans. Sleeping together, in many places/times in contemporary society, is comparatively minor; deciding what to do with your life is not. It’s more than just “accepting Sid for what he is” — it’s also Max thinking to ask Sid before making yet another grand gesture on his behalf, or Sid explaining himself to Max to the point where his nature is familiar.

    That said, I still think that Max is likely to be closeted (in the sense of not wanting to admit his feelings to himself), or at least that his reluctance to accept Sid is a workeable metaphor for being closeted. Stereotype alert: he was a Young Republican, after all.

  21. Look, here is my fortress for those of us who are not math geeks and love Hitherby anyway. Come shelter behind my walls! You crazy math people can join us when you’re talking about the Sid-Max love story.

    Also, what DID happen to Rahu?

  22. Rebecca wrote:

    I suggest that P is an is if

    (1) P exists, and
    (2) -P *introduces* a contradiction.

    cariset wrote:

    So P is an isn’t if P does not exist or if P introduces a contradiction?

    No. P is an isn’t if P does not exist or if -P does not introduce a contradiction. Which is not at all the same thing as “P introduces a contradiction” — it may be that neither P nor -P do so, and indeed that seems to me more in accord with the state of isn’t-ness.

  23. Don\’t forget the several years of story about isn\’ts and what the word means in that!

    I would actually suggest that it\’s closer to

    P is an isn\’t if

    P exists &
    P contains a contradiction.

    That\’s not exact but it\’s close.

    Now, you may say: but wait, Rebecca, those things aren\’t trivial opposites!

    And I would say: yes, that is true.


  24. Ises, Isn’t, And Woglies: An Informal Attempt At A Survey Of The Logical Zoology of Jane’s World

    Clearly, both ises and… okay, this grammar makes my head hurt.

    Clearly things that are and things that aren’t both exist. We can tell that what with how they interact causally with things, and so on. Things that aren’t seem to have more trouble with this, but still seem to be able to do so on a small scale.

    Also, as we know, Jane’s world contains contradictions. They have winky eyes! Still, despite this, it appears that it’s not the case that everything in Jane’s world is simultaneously true and false, as one might expect. Woglies eat consistancy, but locally, rather than spreading out through the whole system at the speed of deductive reasoning.

    Woglies seem to be produced mainly as a result of “supernatural” efforts of definition, either of oneself or of other things. They may have other sources that we’ve not seen.

    (I am curious what “emptiness” a contradictory definition produces that gives birth to a wogly. Perhaps my definition of emptiness isn’t sufficiently broad.)

    Martin, at one point, wonders why there’s not a rent in the fullness of the world. He does so despite the presence of woglies in it, for indeed his project at the time deals entirely with woglies. Although the world contains woglies, the world does not seem to of itself produce them, and it seems to somehow have the ontological inertia to maintain large-scale consistancy even in the presence of localized wogly pockets.

    (As for why the world doesn’t as a whole produce woglies, various possibilities exist. One is that “the world” as a unified whole doesn’t exist in the sense that Martin seems to think it does. Another is that the world isn’t sufficient to prove basic arithmatic truths, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    The manner in which the world functions seems not entirely clear, even to those characters such as Martin and Mr. Schiff who might be expected to know. As I have regrettably not been visited by a choir of singing woglies with a propensity for gratuitous explanations during the course of this study, I suspect that these matters must remain mysteries for the time being, at least to myself.


  25. Also, what DID happen to Rahu?

    Since Rahu is immortal, he’ll reemerge when Sid’s spike disappears, which in turn should happen … well, perhaps it happened when Sid lost consciousness, since it’s really a part of Sid. A typical comic book plotline would have Rahu cannily waiting to pursue Iphigenia again until everyone else is busy fighting something, or at least until Sid, who he knows can stop him, is gone.

    I suspect that Mr. Schiff might have stashed Rahu somewhere, perhaps at Tirunageswaram. A Hitherby translation of the worship of Shiva by Rahu might have Mr. Schiff pulling out Sid’s spike in exchange for Rahu agreeing to give this incarnation of the sun a rest.

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