Once upon a time there were three little pigs who went out into the world to build their houses. The first pig was very lazy and built his house out of straw. The second pig was a little harder-working and built his house out of sticks. The third pig was the hardest-working of all, and built his house out of bricks. Then came the Big Bad Wolf. When he saw the house of straw, he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down, eating the first little pig. When he saw the house of sticks, he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down, eating the second little pig. When he saw the house of bricks, he got out a bazooka and blew the house to pieces, eating the third little pig.

Moral: Reality doesn’t grade on a curve.


Once upon a time there was a big strong troll who lived under a bridge. A little goat went across the bridge, and the troll reached out to grab and eat the goat. “Wait, Mr. Troll!”, the goat cried. “Soon my brother is coming, and he is even bigger than I am!” The troll let the goat pass, and soon came another goat, twice as big as the first. The troll reached out to grab and eat him, but the brother likewise objected, saying his brother was even bigger. Sure enough, a third goat arrived at the bridge, twice as big as the second, and the troll, now ready for a very hearty dinner, reached out to grab and eat him. “Wait!” said the third goat. “My brother is the biggest of us all!”. So the troll let the third goat pass. Then came the fourth goat, who was hundreds of miles tall and blotted out the sun, whose very steps caused earthquakes and made the rivers change course. Without even noticing, he stepped on bridge and troll, pulverizing both to bits.

Moral: Sometimes growth is superexponential.


Once upon a time, Chicken Little ran to her friend Henny Penny. “The sky is falling!” she shouted. “We must tell the king!” Henny Penny joined her, and together they headed toward the capital. On their way they run into their friend Goosey Loosey. “The sky is falling!” they shouted. “We must tell the king!” Goosey Loosey joined them, and together they headed toward the capital. On their way, they ran into the cunning Foxy Loxy. “The sky is falling!” they shouted. “We must tell the king!” “Oh,” said Foxy Loxy. “I know a shortcut to the palace. Follow me into my den.” So the birds all followed Foxy Loxy into his den, where he ate them all, laughing all the while about how gullible they were. Then an asteroid hit Earth, killing everyone.

Moral: Beware the absurdity heuristic.


Once upon a time, a young boy named Jack lived with his mother. Their family was very poor and owned only a single cow. “Go sell this cow at the market,” Jack’s mother told him, “so we will have food to eat for the winter.” Jack went to the market and came back with three beans. “These are magic beans!” he told his mother. “A man told me that when we plant them, they will grow into a beanstalk leading to a land of infinite riches.” His mother pooh – poohed him and threw the beans in the ground angrily. That winter, they both died of hunger.

Moral: Good decision theories should be able to resist Pascal’s Mugging.


Once upon a time, there was an old woodcutter who had no son. He made a little marionette out of pine wood and named it Pinocchio. Then he wished upon a star that it could become a real boy. The star turned out to be the evil Red Fairy, who brought Pinocchio to life, but told him that if he wanted to be a real boy he must murder everyone in the village. That night, Pinocchio took his father’s saw and killed Gepetto and everyone else in town.

Moral: Never create an intelligence unless you are certain it will share your values.


Once upon a time, an evil witch transformed a prince into a frog, telling him that only the kiss of a princess could restore him to his proper form. But although he searched around the world, he could find no princess who was willing to kiss a hideous little frog. Finally, he went to the Wise Wizard. “Gender is a social construct,” said the Wise Wizard. “Just declare your gender identity to be female, then kiss yourself on the hand or something.” So the frog did that, returned to human form, and ruled the land for many years as a wise and benevolent queen.

Moral: Ability to self-modify is just ridiculously powerful.

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Unfortunately, non rationalists do not seem to appreciate the humour.

Could you explain the first one? I've been re-reading this for years, and I don't get it.

Reality doesn't grade on a curve: either you pass its inflexible criteria or you don't (and risk getting eaten).

So, reality doesn't care wether you are doing better than your peers or even if you are doing your very best. Each subsequent pig built a better house than the previous one, but none could withstand reality (a wolf with a serious lung-capacity and a bazooka in this case) and they all died regardless of their effort.

Oh, ok. I thought that was supposed to represent nihilism (no matter what you do, the wolf will always have a better weapon) but it was actually just "the wolf was keeping a bazooka in hammerspace".

I can see how that story could be interpreted like that, but the whole concept of 'reality doesn't grade on a curve' is explored in some of the sequences.

I guess the point of not mentioning the bazooka until it is used to blow up the third house, is that reality also doesn't care wether you know its rules or not. The third pig had no idea or indication that the wolf had any capabilities above the huffing-and-puffing, but he got eaten all the same.

Maybe a fourth pig with a missile-proof house could've survived, or maybe the wolf has more tricks up it sleeves. But whatever the all-out capabilities of reality turn out to be, these are the only thing that matter on wether it'll survive.


Also: its nice that there is still some activity on these old posts. I've recently started reading all the sequences and the codex, and it feels quite sad to have these hunderds of high-quality essays with hardly any community discussion underneath.

It seems to me that some reasons may be: a lot of interesting comments have been made, which may intimidate; the posts are often very concise; and since the posts are so old, one may expect the page to be dead.

Personally I don't think I have read any "new" articles so far^^