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This video is an animation of The Parable of the Dagger, by Eliezer Yudkowsky. It's the first article of A Human's Guide To Words

The narration is almost word for word. The only discrepancies between the narration and the original text are some deletions of words such as "replied" or "said", which are redundant in an animation. But one remains intact:

"How?!" cried the jester in horror, as he was dragged away. "It's logically impossible!"

The rationale for leaving that unchanged is that I'd like to modify the original articles as little as possible, so I felt iffy about deleting so many words, even if the visuals convey a similar meaning. Moreover, having "cried the jester in horror" makes clear to the viewer that the video is adapted from something you can read somewhere, not an original story written for Rational Animations. That said, I'm not sure it was the right decision in the end, although it probably doesn't matter much.

There is one actual modification to the parable, although it doesn't change its meaning. It is a small non-narrated addition at the end. The video would be way too sad without it.

We've also included a brief call to action on screen: "Read this story, and many more at", plus some more links and details in the description and pinned comment. For now, I'll direct people to that site instead of directly here.

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:58 PM

I appreciate the remarkable work you put into these high-quality animations <3.

That said, despite having read this parable before, in the video I still found myself unable to follow the Jester's initial presentation of the problem; the time limit of <1.5 min seemed like way too tall an order. I wonder if it would've been easier to follow along if the inscriptions on the boxes had been depicted as illustrations or pictograms, rather than as the long sentences from the original?

In any case, I felt like that part didn't translate well from the essay format to the video format. So I guess I should give you all the more kudos for your other animations, which somehow manage these difficult adaptations more successfully than I would've thought possible O_o.

PS: I looked at your Patreon page, and the one-sentence description at the top is cut-off: "creating animated videos about truth-seeking, science, and the f"

Thank you for the heads-up about the Patreon page; I've corrected it!

Given that the logic puzzle is not the point of the story (i.e., you could understand the gist of what the story is trying to say without understanding the first logic puzzle), I've decided not to use more space to explain it. I think the video (just like the original article) should be watched one time all at once and then another time, but pausing multiple times and thinking about the logic.

What meaning do you take from this parable?

When I first read it, some time ago, my initial reaction was that it felt like it should have a moral but I wasn't immediately sure what the moral was.

I spent some time thinking about it, and settled on:  No matter how you describe reality, mere description cannot constrain the ways that reality can be.

In this interpretation, the jester's cry of "it's logically impossible!" means that the jester thought this wasn't merely a case of the king cheating at the game, but that the king had literally done the impossible; the parable teaches us that it was, in fact, possible.

This moral is kind of trivial in the sense that it's hard to imagine someone explicitly disagreeing with it. However, it may still be useful as a warning that you can make this mistake without realizing what you are doing.

Later on, I read Cleo Nardo's post on The Waluigi Effect, where this parable is referenced as an example of Derridean criticism.  (Nardo says) Derrida said there is no outside-text; that all parts of a book are subject to literary interpretation, including text that appears to be meta-text. This didn't strike me as especially consistent with my reading of the parable, and made me wonder if I'd gotten it wrong.  Did other people also interpret it this way?

On further reflection that I'm doing just now as I write this, I'm not sure I even understand what Nardo's interpretation is.  What did the jester interpret as outside-text that should have been taken as inside-text?  The box inscriptions?  The jester explicitly considers that they might be untrue (and such consideration is completely standard in this type of game; the inscriptions are not likely to be mistaken for outside-text).  The king's explanation of the rules?  But we have no evidence that the king spoke anything false.

For completeness, I also note that there are simpler morals one could take from the parable, such as:

It is possible to form words into a self-referential paradox that is neither true nor false.

It is dangerous to annoy the guy in charge.

These seem accurate, but I don't think they are the intended payload, because the parable is substantially more detailed than necessary to convey one of them.  (Also that last one doesn't especially fit the context of the sequence where this parable appears.)

Eliezer mentions that the story is adapted from Raymond Smullyan, so I'd guess that a fairly logic-focused moral of the story is the intended one. My personal interpretation is that one must not only consider that an untrusted speaker's words might be false, but that they might be neither true nor false. In other words, when you write:

The box inscriptions? The jester explicitly considers that they might be untrue

I think the moral is that this is insufficient. The words are just squiggles decorating the boxes in the end, and they can be true, false, paradoxical, ill-defined, etc.

(This comment has been edited.)

How do you decide which writings to convert to animations?

Up until recently, with a big spreadsheet and guesses about these metrics:
- Expected impact
- Expected popularity
- Ease of adaptation (for external material)

The next few videos will still be chosen in this way, but we're drafting some documents to be more deliberate. In particular, we now have a list of topics to prioritize within AI Safety, especially because sometimes they build on each other.