Blargh Blog

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Island of Truth and Lies, Part V

(See Parts I, II, III & IV before reading on)

Part V: Out of the Boiling Pot, Out of the Fire

"I will be boiled."

These were the words that the clever logician spoke to the chief. A few moments later the chief turned and left, without saying a word. He would not return for days.

Alone, the anthropologist finally smiled with relief and pride as he thought about what had happened. He was now safe from the boiling pot and safe from the bonfire. The chief could not boil him, because then his statement would be true, and the chief had said that he would only be boiled if his statement was false. The chief could not roast him, because then his statement would be false, and the chief had said that he would only be roasted if his statement was true.

Alternative preparations of him were also excluded. Since the chief had promised that he would be killed in the near future, his statement would prove to be either true or false in the near future, like the other "guest's" statement about the rain. It was not an uncooperative statement, so the chief lacked just cause for abandoning the two-horned dilemma in favor of a more unpleasant method. Further, if they attempted some alternate preparation, then they would not be boiling him, in which case his statement would be false. Thus, the chief would be obliged to boil him, rather than preparing him in this alternate way. It all came back to the self-defeating quality of his proposition: boiled implies not-boiled, not-boiled implies boiled, and the self-defeating implication would take effect as soon as the tribe wanted to follow through on its desire to kill & cook him.

What choice did they have, he wondered? Would they be forced to just let me go? Had he used his training in logic to swoop down and rescue himself from the flames?

The intrepid anthropologist was already considering going to the liars' village before leaving the island. Should he survive, even this brush with death would not keep him away from a fascinating society that was incapable of uttering true statements. What would life be like under such conditions? His biggest desire had always been to observe the dishonest tribe under natural conditions, though he had resigned himself to observing the honest tribe on account of his personal safety, back when he still accepted the confused reports of the anthropological record. If he were to die, though, without communicating back with the mainland, he realized that the remarkable village of liars could remain unexplored for decades, as anthropologists would stay away in fear. So what should he do after being set free? He was trying to resolve this new, much more pleasing dilemma now, while he had time. He did not want to have to rush into an impulsive decision during those first exhilarating moments of freedom.

The anthropologist had a week to ponder his pending dilemma before he saw the chief again. In the meantime, he only had brief contact with the natives who came to his cell to feed him. When the chief came in, he did not take any questions. Instead, he went straight to the facts. He told our anthropologist that his case was a difficult one, and that a decision would be reached within the next month or two. Then he left, never to return.

For the next three weeks the anthropologist continued to live alone in his cell. He was left with his clothes, his pen and paper, a blanket, and the food and water that the natives brought to him. He wrote often, although, imprisoned in his hut, he did not gather much new material to write about. The natives would sometimes talk to him briefly, but they never gave informative answers to queries about important matters. He asked to be let out of his cell on multiple occasions, but these islanders knew how to treat a prisoner. They left him, comfortable, somewhat bored, and somewhat curious, inside his cell.

A few days after the chief came to see him, he had decided that he would not head to the other village unless he was sure that he had shared the findings that he already had with the people back home. The glory of learning about the liars' village was not urgent enough for him to risk never passing on to the anthropological community what he had already experienced and discovered. In the seemingly endless minutes of captivity that followed this decision, he reconsidered it several times but never reversed it. He had detailed letters to his family and his colleagues written and ready to send as he waited for the chief to reach a decision.

Three weeks after the chief's latest visit, the imprisoned anthropologist received word: the chief was dead.

Continue to Part VI: Death and Lies


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