Constraints for wish construction

Charles Stross has recently had two posts about your classic “three wishes” style problem. The only constraint he lists is “No, you do not get to wish for further wishes”

Of course if you give a geek this constraint they will immediately do their best to subvert it.

His wishes:

1. That the outcome of my three wishes will be positive for everyone affected by them (with the definition of “positive outcome” provided by the individual so affected),

2. That anything that can be obtained by one of these magic wishes can be obtained by non-magical human efforts,

3. That nobody ever gets any more magic wishes

Personally, I feel this is cheating a bit. Anything which messes with the mechanism of wishing to this extent really feels like it’s violating the spirit of “No wishing for more wishes”. So I started thinking about how I would construct wish provisioning systems that were immune to this sort of twisting.

The following is the rules set I came up with:

  1. The implementer of the wishes is completely unable to use its abilities outside of the constraints of wishing. No coercion to obtain more wishes is thus possible
  2. Wishes are magical. That is, non-physical.
  3. Wishes may only have physical effects (effects solely in peoples’ minds count as physical. A Cartesian dualist I am not. Similarly the provision of information is totally kosher – he just hands you a book or a hard drive or writes the information into your brain or whatever) and things created as a result of wishing may not have any magical effects (no wishing for a second genie)
  4. In particular, while the mechanism for implementing wishes is not subject to physical laws, the results must be. There is no ongoing magical intervention to maintain the results of the wish

So essentially we have a two-category system for effects: While the genie may use its magical powers to achieve any physical effect, the effect of wishing is not subject to that.

In the case of a magic lamp where there is a token you can pass from person to person you are of course still able to get infinite wishes by e.g. wishing for an army of utterly loyal minions and passing the lamp from minion to minion. This is a problem easily solved by requiring an ever-growing cool-down time between new owners, which at leasts drastically limits the rate at which wishes can be performed.

This entry was posted in rambling nonsense on by .

3 thoughts on “Constraints for wish construction

  1. Steve Taylor

    The best magic wish formulation comes from – I think(?) – a Larry Niven story:

    The woman who had the three magic wishes only needed one. She wished that the demon who was dispensing the wishes should fall in love with her – irrevocably, platonicaly, unselfishly – and let him take care of the rest.

    1. david Post author

      Right, but I think that’s definitely in the category of wishing for more wishes. :-) Note that the clauses about coercion and affecting magical creatures are both sufficient on their own rule that one out.

  2. @ndy

    > an ever-growing cool-down time between new owners

    Perhaps this is why these kinds of lamps are found abandoned in caves and no one has found one lately.

    In other news, see LISP and scheme macro systems for other examples of where your kind of segmented thinking is necessary.

Comments are closed.