Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Why the human race is doomed

I was making some scribbled additions to a hand-drawn map of Paris - the 14th Arrondissement - when I added a very large label stating (rather imprecisely):


This fenced-off community, if we are to trust this drunked rambling, is round about Avenue de Maine. Only a bit later did the full logical implications of my action strike me.

Should a human read the sign - as was the context in which it was intended - they would be informed that this enclosure was the abode of killer ducks and would steer well clear. However, there is also the possibility that the sign would be intelligible to killer ducks, who would not go there on the basis that the sign told them they were not allowed. Of course, there's also the chance that only the ducks could understand the sign, because the humans were having a bad day. If we go as far to systematically analyse the possibilities, the conditions that lead to human survival in this case are few and far between. Allow me to demonstrate the logical underpinnings.

1) The sign is intelligible just to humans;
2) The sign is only intelligible to killer ducks;
3) The sign is intelligible to both humans and killer ducks; or
4) The sign is intelligble to neither.

1) In the first case, the humans would read the sign, and not go to the place because they are told that the killer ducks are there. However, the killer ducks can't read the sign, so some of them will go to there, where they will be no harm to humans. However, that is no reason to suggest that they all will (maybe killer ducks like to distribute themselves widely). In that case, no where is safe to the humans and they will get killed by the ducks.

2) If the killer ducks can understand the sign, they won't go to the place because they think they are not allowed. In this case, the only safe place for humans is in the place - and as they can't understand the sign then some of them might make it to the place, where they will survive the killer ducks. Some might even work out, if they are lucky, that this is a place with no killer ducks (but they would have to work that out for themselves without help from the sign, because they can't understand it). But probably there will be quite a few who don't do this, and they will get killed by the ducks.

3) If the sign is intelligible to both, neither parties would go to the place (humans because they think the killer ducks are there, and the killer ducks because they are not allowed). The humans would all be in the surrounding areas, where there would also be all the killer ducks, which would kill all the humans.

4) The sign has no effect, which means the humans and the killer ducks can both go where they wish. In this scenario there is no safehaven, and all the humans get killed by the killer ducks.

As this demonstrates, it is only in a special case of scenario 2 - the one where the humans work out for themselves that this place is where there are no killer ducks - do any humans survive. Statistically, this presents at most a 25% chance that humans will survive, with, of course, the possibility that all the humans could be killed. Let us say that half the people escape to the place from the killer ducks: that leaves an 87.5% mortality rate.

This depends, as I have said, on the intelligibility of the sign, and in three out of four initial scenarios, total human destruction is assured.

For this reason alone, no such sign should ever be written.


(p.s. I got a job. Thanks Bapuss for reminding me of this fact)

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