Letters Column for October 2006: The Undecidability of Actors

Posted on November 6, 2006 by Jenna

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Hello again!

So there’s this episode of Dr. Who, _Invasion of the Dinosaurs._

Some people in it want to retroactively wipe out a fair bit of history.

This is described as killing people—not just the people currently alive, but generations of the dead who “now” would never have been born.

This raised a question in my mind, to wit, how is the experience of the dead different from the experience of those who were never born? What is there that notices a transition? What is there, supposing such a monstrous time-travelling deed were to take place, that would say, “Ah! I lived, once, but now I never have?”

This came to mind when reading a discussion of theodicy elsewhere.

I mean, obviously, I’m not really the best sort of person to be thinking about theodicy. For all the scientists among you might find me a bit excessive in my faith, I know the faithful among you might find me a bit lacking. ^_^

But still:

Suppose that in some distant century when all of us are dust, someone were to reach the cause and substance of the universe and say, “Sir or madam, truly, I do hate to impose, but evil is.”

And the cause and substance of the world were to look up in shock and say, “Oh, my—“

(As has been its intention to look up in shock and say since the first conceiving of intention, whenupon that someone should appear, as part of its ineffable plan.)

“Oh, my: I will fix that.”

And a great wind were to rise to blow across all time, until never there was evil, and never there is evil, and never evil shall be; and all things in sweetness and in goodness from the moment of Creation until the end of time; and joy suffusing all things, and love, exactly as it should be.

Then what will there be of us, who lived today and are then dead, to notice that where once we had lived lives that were full of sorrow and evil now we are become the lived-lives-of-simple-beauty dead?

I think that this is an interesting thing to think about, because it is so common—so easy—so tempting to say, “Ah, if only things were different! If only things were better!”

If only!

If only!

Who knows where it would lead?

To rubber dinosaurs in the middle of fucking London for episode after episode after episode, apparently, that’s where.

And if any philosopher or theologian sidles up to you late at night and tries to sell you a counterfactual, you tell ’em that. You tell ’em that they’re a rubber dinosaur merchant and then you put them in your 1950s Japan cannon and you shoot them straight to 1950s Japan.

Oh. Cool. So that’s why Martin wanted the goodblow stopped. I feel like I should have realised that back in The Aftermath of Heaven.
— Michael


I’m glad that I managed to convey it.

I don’t recall seeing anything of that box or what’s in it later on.
— David Goldfarb

Jane gave Max the knife of the legend of Mr. Kong. That’s why she giggled so much at “severance pay.”

It’s also odd that this is being performed in the Tower, yet it’s a history.
— rpuchalsky


So if it’s a siggort’s nature to vivisect people, is Sid a siggort acting against his nature, a siggort who hasn’t yet fulfilled his nature, or a siggort who’s become something other than a siggort?
— Luc

Jane wondered about that once herself.

Now, that’s not history, you understand, it’s just a legend, but I like this bit:

Sid looks at his wheel of knives. “Maybe my knives are defective,” he says. He pokes them with his beak. “Bad knives! Make with the blood hunger!”

A connection, perhaps? Besides the fact that they both flutter, that is.
— Penultimate Minion

Here Penultimate Minion is talking about the recurrence of “flutter, flutter, flutter, down to X below.”

In addition to the canonical reference, Skipping Right Over King Obo-Zed, you might want to look at Mr. Flutter, Helen, and certain shameful aspects of society?

How does the sky mean this (“There are no deeds beyond the boundaries of the world.”)? Do deeds beyond the boundaries of the world have no consequences, or is it simply that the definition of a deed includes “within the world”
— villum

Uri excludes things and events beyond certain defined boundaries from moral and practical consideration.

And yet again we see an abuser themself having a history of past abuse.
— David Goldfarb



I wouldn’t have interpreted Cronos as abused. Do you mean by Ophion or by Uri?

As another confession, today marks my complete trawl through the archives, mostly. A few pages seem to be broken- I think.
— Rand Brittain

There are certainly one or two with formatting errors. Occasionally getting the index page instead of a history page appears to be a flaw of WordPress based on database load times or something; going back and forth seems to work to bring it up properly! Also, yay, archives trawling!

Of course, there remains the distinct possibility that children may, at some future time, have the entire knowledge of civilization beamed into their head prior to birth; but I figure we’re a rather significant distance from such an achievement.
— Penultimate Minion

True! We are only on Chapter Three. ^_^

If one were to write up Cronos’ story in anything other than chronological order, would it still be Cronos’ story?
— Luc


I’m amused by this.

I don’t see the Judgment card as “the end”, except the kinds of ends that people (people like Ii Ma?) try to make for other people. The end, as in the last trump, is The Universe, and if that’s Ink, it was in some sense her name that cracked open the place without recourse, ending the “end” of Sid and Max.
— mineownaardvarks


I blame the woglies, who are assuredly to blame. Curse them and their longstanding alliance with Kurt Gödel!
— Eric

The diacritical mark, thank Heaven, keeps them tame.

Personally, I figure that Mr. G’s proof is his contribution to keeping Cronos from falling over, if you know what I mean. ^_^

I think that I would find this to be exceptionally witty if I understood math. I assume that it’s structured exactly like Gödel’s proof, right?
— rpuchalsky


Apparently the proof I’m riffing off of is actually due to Turing, although it does rely on Dr. Godel’s numbers. The play mostly recapitulates the undecidability of the halting problem, recast as, “Can we determine, in the general case, whether a given character will show up in a given performance of an Act of a play?”

That ROSENCRANTZ and GÖDEL are dead.
— EricHerman

I dreamed I saw Euler last night
Alive as you or I
Said I, “Euler! You’re dead!”
Said he, “e^i pi”
Plus one, “e^i pi”

That’s it for this month! Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and I’ll see you all again next month!