Monday, September 24, 2012

The Hermeneutics of Wishes - V

All the terms used in the science books, 'law,' 'necessity,' 'order,' 'tendency,' and so on, are really unintellectual .... The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, 'charm,' 'spell,' 'enchantment.' They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.… I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical. …this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic. —G. K. Chesterton

Calculating Meanings

We've surveyed old tales and new, and now must fashion some meaning into it all. We seek nothing less than to develop an ontology of wishes. While in the early days, the poor and uneducated were content with instant transportation, splendid palaces, and untold riches, today we have all that and more—treasures that those kind-hearted woodsmen could never have dream of. But still we wish for more. So we need to look at the data, determine likely trends, evaluate our options, and formulate a strategy which will optimize our wish experience.

However, this is no easy task. To add some perspective, let's compare it to using the Large Hadron Collider(LHC) to find the Higgs boson. The LHC generates about 800 million events per second of which 100 per second are considered interesting and analyzed. Compare that to perhaps one wish generated per year—in good times. The LHC contains millions of sensors recording data with extreme precision. By contrast, wish data has been gathered by insensitive tavern owners, passed on by generations around wine and beer soaked tables, and recorded centuries later by tipsy academics and authors. The LHC is the culmination of years of work by thousands of scientists at a cost of millions of dollars. This is a few weeks work by one person for a few cents worth of electricity and library late fees. What I am trying to say is, don't expect a 5-sigma confidence level.

And this is complicated by the one common feature of quantum mechanics and wish mechanics: no one understands how they work. Both are logically impossible. But as Nobel physicist Richard Feynman said, "...the 'paradox' is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality 'ought to be'." I think Mr. Feynman and Mr. Chesterton would have gotten along splendidly. Don't let your feelings of what 'ought to be', hinder your chances of wish fulfillment.

To start, I'll address the burning question on everyone's mind:
No, you can not wish for more wishes.

If you were entitled to more wishes, they would have been given to you. Technically, this falls under the category of meta-wishes, which we will cover in more detail later, but I want to address this special case because of its popularity. Jinn are not dumb, plus they have been doing it for thousands of years, thousands of thousands of years, more years than the grains of sand. Your chance of outsmarting a wish granter, while not zero, is much less than you think. Here are a few common attempts to wish for more wishes:
I wish…
  • for infinite wishes.
  • that one wish actually means one hundred wishes.
  • for world peace and a frilly dress and …. (see below for exceptions to banning compound statements)
  • to have a wish granted each year on my birthday/Boxer Day/Talk Like a Pirate Day.
  • that whenever I say Shazam/Rumpleskiltskin/"Maizy doats and dozy doats" my next wish is granted.
  • for the power to change/supplement/disavow whatever I wish for.
  • if you will not grant me multiple wishes, I wish for multiple jinn (or whoever is doling).
  • that my eyelashes have the power to grant wishes.
  • to be transported to a world where multiple wishes are granted.
  • for you to suspend the law denying multiple wishes.
  • to become a wish granting entity.
To my knowledge, none of these will work. Also, just to point out how difficult the less-than-humble approach is, note that you could very well be 'granted' many of the above wishes, but, given a capricious jinni or one who judges you capricious, none of the extra wishes need come true. Language is devilishly important when going this route. For example, don't say "I wish I was wealthy" when you really mean "I wish to be wealthy."

Here is one you might try, however. At least it is not guaranteed to fail.
  • I wish for the knowledge of all the locations of magical items in the world that grant wishes.
I have it on reasonable authority that you could end up with 14 more wishes—17 tops.

Also, there have been examples when seemingly compound wishes have been granted. In "Poor Man and Rich Man" the second wish of the poor man is "that we two, as long as we live, may be healthy and have every day our daily bread." This appears to cover both the husband and wife for being healthy and getting daily bread. Don't try this at home. The couple are desperately poor and stupidly kind. The wish granter is as far up in the hierarchy as you can get, Lord God himself. Plus, the poor peasant only asks for 2 out of his choice of 3 wishes. For the third wish God suggests a new house—which he accepts.

In another instance recorded in "How the Old Woman Got her Wish", an Indian tale, an old blind woman successfully 'tricks' Ganesh. After consulting with different people before asking for her one wish, she says, "I want to see my grandson drinking milk from a golden bowl." She gets her sight, wealth, and a son for her daughter. However, Ganesh is particularly associated with good fortune and is "the remover of obstacles."

There is another way to side step this issue. Most wish givers will agree to a gift that keeps on giving. The catch is that it is not a new wish, but a continuing behavior. For example, in "The Table, the Ass and the Stick" a table continually spreads food, an ass spews gold coins from both its mouth and ass, and a stick ceaselessly beats a selected target. Also in "The Jew Among Thorns" (or, more properly, "The Miser in the Bush") we find a fiddle that, when played, causes people to dance, and the best one, "if I ask a favor of any one he shall not be able to refuse it." While there are obvious limits as to what people can do, this is a pretty clever, far ranging wish.

But more importantly, why would you ever want more wishes? You're going to be lucky if one wish benefits you in any way. We've seen the destructive power of three wishes. Unless you are a very poor simpleton, extra wishes are not going to aid you. As your wish count rises so does your probability of heartbreak. Your chance of benefiting from a thousand wishes is zero, nil, the null set, zilch; infinite wishes, less than that.

Since we are answering questions on everyone's mind, let's return to Disney's restrictions on wishes. We agree with "no wishing for more wishes", but the other 'rules' are suspect. "I can't make anybody fall in love with anybody else" is obviously not true. Just wish for wealth and your love problems are over in about ninety percent of the cases. A wealthy prince or princess is hard not to love. A wish for good looks and good manners covers 90 percent of the rest. The remaining 1% involves damsels who want to be loved in return, before declaring their love. These are the difficult ones. They have a head on their shoulders, a heart on their sleeve, or parents in unhealthy relationships. Do not be surprised if you are required to perform 3 impossible tasks to prove your love. So, if you are not especially talented in slaying giants or dragons, save your wishes.

Not killing anyone, or bringing people back to life are also bogus. Just wish that they be turned into a turnip or sent to the bottom of the sea or a safe fall on their head. And plenty of people have been brought back to life. Of course, depending on your definition of death, you could say they were just resting. Some have been brought back even after boiled in water and stripped of all flesh. The key in such cases is arranging their bones in just the right way. There is, however, a pivotal lesson to be learned from Disney here: wish granters are not all created equal. Every jinni or little black manikin have things they can and can't do. Get to know your wish giver. This is important. If we have learned anything from our hermeneutical study, it is wishing is not Newtonian science. The rich and the rational are at a great disadvantage.

As mentioned, wishes for more wishes are a type of meta-wish. Meta-wishes have always been denied, but perhaps no one has explained why better than Douglas Hofstadter. Here is Hofstadter's explanation, and why he became the bane of jinn everywhere—perhaps why we don't see more of them around today.

So you can't make meta-wishes because it could lead to absurd, illogical or catastrophic events. This includes:
I wish…
  • for greater happiness than any wish could give me.
  • my wish is not granted. (or my wish doesn't come true)
  • that no future wishes ever be granted (or the converse: all wishes come true)
  • I had never been granted a wish.
  • that wishes don't exist.
  • that my wish be granted as I intend it to be.
  • for a change in the ontology of wishes.
  • for 0 wishes. (this is a favorite of mathematicians)
Though not meta-wishes, the following are just as absurd, illogical or ill-defined, and as such should be avoided at all costs:
I wish…
  • for unlimited cheese curls.
  • for a square circle.
  • for world peace or cure for cancer, as it may be similar to a 'square circle' or invoke a "Monkey's Paw" outcome
  • that the jinni become my personal servant.
  • for inerrancy, especially when making wishes.
  • to be greater than God.
Now that we have a fairly clear understanding of what not to wish for; are there any good strategic wishes? Well, if you don't have the benefit of poverty and ignorance, historically you are in trouble. But if you really want to play, here are some possibilities. I don't necessarily recommend them. Some of these are to be used as the first of three wishes.
I wish…
  • that you answer all my questions truthfully.
  • that you provide me with a list of wishes that will not bring me misfortune, unhappiness, or death.
  • for knowledge of every wish granted and its outcome.
  • for a clear explanation of the rules about wishing.
  • for the ability to alter any coefficients of friction at will during sporting events.

[Next: Meanings End]


maryharv said...

Can you wish for love? For someone to love you unconditionally? For you to love that same person?

maryharv said...

I mean someone who loves you and you are not wealthy nor do you desire wealth.

James R said...

As I say, this is an inexact science (no 5-sigma confidence level), but from my research I would say yes. Now, it may not be that straight forward a wish. If wealth or good looks or a charming personality is not what one or both of the persons want, then you may have to find out what it is and wish for it. Actually, I think that is safer than wishing that someone loves you unconditionally—they may turn into a dog,… or a mother.

It's interesting, but in looking for tales involving wishes I would often come to sites, that asked the question, "What would you wish for?" Typically these were quasi-religious or teenagers. Quite frequently I would find a response, "To find someone who loves me for who I am." This will tangentially be addressed in the final post, but there is a sense in that wish that the person doesn't want to change. Let the other person change to me, rather than I change to them.

This is all rather complex because, as Laura Hill said traits are notoriously hard to change. However, I think this is the essence of the wish. As I see it, I can wish for unconditional love and to be unconditionally loved, but I must be willing to accept some change in myself and/or the person I want to love.

Really, though wouldn't a handsome prince do?