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After reading that lamp ghosts really exist, I of course had to try for myself. Not having an old lamp, I just tried to rub some electric lamp at home, and to my great surprise, indeed immediately a ghost appeared.

Before I could recover from my surprise, the ghost started to talk with a quite angry voice:

"Can't you humans just stop rubbing lamps? Here I thought if I live in an electric lamp, I'm safe, but no way, only five years, and you rub it. Okay, the rules say I now have to fulfil your wishes, well at least those I can fulfil, but I warn you: I'm completely free to fulfil your wishes however I want, and I can assure you, I will do so in a way that you will wish you had never wished it. So don't bother me with your wishes, or you will regret it."

After a moment I recovered from my surprise, and my mind focused on the words: "at least those I can fulfil" — so he could not fulfil just any wish. Thus I asked: "So what type of wishes can't you fulfil?"

"Why do you think I will tell you that?" the ghost replied.

In a momentary inspiration, I answered: "Because I wish that you do!"

Indeed, the ghost now started to tell me which wishes he can't grant. However, as he had predicted, I indeed soon regretted that wish, because he explained it in such detail and in such an long-winded and complicated way that his explanations lasted a full day, including the night (well, I naturally cannot tell for sure whether the ghost also continued speaking while I was sleeping; he might have waited in order to have more to say when I'm waking up again, but he might also have told some crucial information while I was sleeping, so that I would not know it). For example, he required several hours just to explain, in excruciating detail, that he can't change the past.

OK, here are the rules, as far as I understood them:

  • The ghost can only change the future, and only give information about the past (in other words, no causality violation). Future and past are defined relativistically, therefore wishes requiring faster-than-light are also not allowed.
  • The only law of nature that can be broken by fulfilling the wish is the second law of thermodynamics.
  • In case of wishes having contradicting effects, earlier wishes take precedence over later wishes. So for example, if I wish to live forever, and then later wish to die, then the second wish cannot be fulfilled because it would contradict the first one. However if the wish only undoes the effects of a previous wish without contradicting it, then the wish can and will be granted. For example, if I wish to have a gold bar, and then later wish to no longer have a gold bar, that's no contradiction, and I'll get rid of the gold bar.
  • Everything I explicitly specify in a wish will happen as I specified, however if there's any ambiguity in my formulation, the ghost will be free to choose the interpretation it likes most (which of course will be the interpretation I'll like least).
  • Everything I didn't explicitly specify in my wish is up to the ghost to decide. However he cannot do anything unrelated to my wish. So for example, if I wish for a gold bar, he may arrange that the gold bar falls on my head and kills me, but he can't arrange that the gold bar is covered with contact poison.
  • Wishes about wishes are forbidden (so I can't simply wish that all my wishes are fulfilled the way I mean them).

So surely the safest thing would be to not wish anything. However there are a few things I'd really like to have (just the usual, guaranteed health for the rest of my life, always having enough money, that type of stuff).

So I'd like to know: How can I wish in a way that I'm sure there will be no negative consequences?

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  • $\begingroup$ Hire a lawyer, don't wish for him (you'll get a lawyer who resents the job, or worse), and include payment via wish. May be wise to make sure that this genie is never bothered again. i.e. make your third wish along the lines of "I wish that no one ever rubs the lamp you reside in ever again." I doubt there's a downside for you in that. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Dec 18 '15 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any obligation that the ghost will not start acting until my statement is complete? I'm tempted to try to use a conversation to develop a language we can both agree upon, but it requires a back and forth. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 18 '15 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ Also how "sure" do you need to be that there will be no negative consequences. Consider that you have no such guarantee when merely speaking to someone (or even just speaking to yourself). $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 18 '15 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon: Most people either have no desire to make my life miserable, or they don't have the power to do so, therefore speaking to most humans is reasonably safe. If you know someone is a psychopathic killer who doesn't like to be talked to and always carries a gun with him, would you still have no worries talking to him? $\endgroup$ – celtschk Dec 19 '15 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon: Preventing a premature fulfilling part is easy: As long as the magic words "I wish" are not uttered, it's not considered a wish. So you can do long-winded explanations of what you want, and then finish with "I wish that what I just described happens" or "I wish to have the item I just described". $\endgroup$ – celtschk Dec 19 '15 at 7:34
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Triggers and Qualifications

Create a trigger that will prevent it from occurring accidentally. Use qualifications to prevent obvious loopholes. I'll second consulting a lawyer.

For example:

I wish that, when I am conscious and state the phrase "The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog" while thinking of the numbers "36431" and wearing a hat, that a spherical ball of pure gold 3 inches in diameter will appear one inch over the palm of my right hand, at rest relative to my body.

Note that, if you instead wish that this worked for everyone, and not just you, that you've created a literal magic spell.

Alternatively - offer the ghost a deal

Use this as your second wish:

I wish that the ghost of this lamp will never be bothered or summoned again by anyone else, so long as within fifteen years from now I state, of my own free will, that I'm am satisfied that it fulfilled my third wish as expected and with no tricks.

Now it's incentived to go all out on wish #3 and make you as happy as possible. It could try to trick you into saying that phrase and screwing you over - but why bother? As long as it fulfills your third wish - fabulous wealth, true immortality/youth, etc - it knows that it will finally be free. You are also bound to help the ghost out, because if you don't then 1) it will eventually be summoned again, and 2) it will have a grudge against you and might make a deal to screw you over with a future summoner.

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    $\begingroup$ "a spherical ball of pure gold 3 inches in diameter will appear one inch over the palm of my right hand". As long as it isn't Gold 198 (which is highly radioactive). :) $\endgroup$ – user11599 Dec 19 '15 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ A sphere of gold appears there. It's an illusion, therefore it is apparent. You can't exactly sell an illusion, though. $\endgroup$ – user867 Jan 19 '16 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ And then a 3-inch ball of molten-hot gold appears in midair and burns your hand. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters Feb 16 '18 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ Also - be careful that the ghost doesn't interpret "one inch over the palm" as measured from the center of the sphere rather than it's bottom - you'll end up with half an inch of gold embedded in your palm... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Jun 4 '18 at 15:22
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You either have to go all lawyer on it, or extremely simple. I might just wish for a long and happy life. Granted the most ambiguous part in their is what is a long life, two weeks is an eternity for a fruit fly, but if you are happy for the rest of your days, does it really matter?

Making a deal with the 'genie' might also work. Freeing it from further wish granting (if that is really what it wants) could go a long way. Only if he isn't cantankerous out of spite.

Actually thinking a little more, wishing the genie to be helpful and accommodating to fulfill your following wishes to your intent might be the way to go, or wish for a genie who IS accommodating and tries to help. Both could be turned on you, but you are much more likely to survive your wishing if the granter isn't willing to drop a gold bar on the top of your head.

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  • $\begingroup$ "OK, I'll send you another genie that tries to help. Unfortunately it's a completely incompetent genie, and what is intended as help always turns out to be a total disaster …" $\endgroup$ – celtschk Dec 19 '15 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ @celtschk it really comes down to, can you be happy with what ever you get? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 19 '15 at 13:37
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Hire a philosopher specializing in symbolic logic to write your wishes.

Symbolic Logic is a branch in logic that (among other things) allows translating natural language into a symbolic equivalent which can then be solved with mathematical precision.

By working with the philosopher / mathematician (because these realms overlap on this topics), you could write a statement or logical equations which dictate exactly what you want.

With the special symbols used by this study, in your case, you could consider the symbolic representation of what you want as a "spell".

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Wouldnt a safe first Wish be something like a 10fold increase of every brain capacity without increasing brainmass to the extend of disfiguration or damage of the body?

Since its a multiple of all aspects of your brain, he cant just make you depressed. Its only a problem if you are depressed already. If you Wish for something like Einstein and similarily intelligent brain capacity without altertering your personality you could avoid things like the ineviteable depression that eidetic memory gives. Subsequently, you have the brains to make better wishes, assuming you still need them as you have the intelligence to get yourself that money and health that you want. Further wishes might be focused on specific knowledges, like scientific ways to extend the human body's life which coupled with your increased thinking ability allows you to circumvent any nastyness the ghost might throw at you if you wished for it directly on your body.

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TL;DR: wish the genie to become forever benevolent and to prove it.


the first paragraph is against the OP requirements, read below

You question could be one of the most interesting cases in which to apply the "Coherent extrapolated volition" (CEV).

From the Yudkowsky's work:

Our coherent extrapolated volition is our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together; where the extrapolation converges rather than diverges, where our wishes cohere rather than interfere; extrapolated as we wish that extrapolated, interpreted as we wish that interpreted

This concept was proposed to somehow direct in a positive way an artificial super intelligence. Since this "wish" should work with something that's way more powerful, subtle and deceptive than your electric lamp genie. For instance: the super intelligente won't be "evil" but will be a tireless, painfully obsessive, god-like entity (respect to us) without any morality unless otherwise specified.

Then my whis will be: " i wish to have fullfilled my volitions if i knew every relevant detail, if i thought fastly and smartly enough to avoid regrets, if i were more the person i wished to be, and where my will converges rather than diverges, where my will cohere rather than interfere; where my will extrapolated as i wish that extrapolated and interpreted as i wish that interpreted. "

Your move, genie... :)

PS: this specific sentence might not work since english is not my mother tongue, but i guess that the genie will speak every language.


EDIT: as Mołot noted, wish about wishes are not allowed and the previous answer is then void.

Well, at least i still can wish the genie to become forever benevolent and friendly behaving to me, and to prove that he changed his attitude. I don't see anything against the OP requirements, he's currently angry at me but nothing states that this can't change nor it's against some physical laws. He can't try to prove to be friendly doing something unfriendly and if requested to prove the change, he can't fake a single "good wish" or two, to lure me into a backfire "unwise" wish (otherwise it's not a prove). After that i don't see any particular issue to ask other wishes.

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    $\begingroup$ "Wishes about wishes are forbidden" - I guess this makes your answer void. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 4 '18 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Damn! I somehow missed the last point. I'll continue in the main answer. $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jun 4 '18 at 15:29

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