HUMOR 2: The other artifacts

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 14:01:35 MDT

After I wrote the original - which apparently got forwarded around a bit -
the following exchange took place:


Kevin Kelly wrote:
> >>Philosophers across the galaxy have argued over the purpose of the
> >>Eternal Clock. As with other artifacts such as the Diamond Book, the
> >>Circle of Time, the Oracle, and the Wandering Flame, consensus holds
> >>that the motive was not religious or superstitious in nature, but
> >>philosophical.
> I'd love to know what the other artifacts are: Diamond Book, the
> Circle of Time, the Oracle, and the Wandering Flame.


The Wandering Flame was created by a species that, in a rare coincidence,
began acquiring industrial technology just as their home planet was
entering a new Ice Age. The species successfully staved off global
cooling - first through deliberate emission of greenhouse gases, then
through orbital solar mirrors, and finally, as they reached the heights of
technology, through direct reversal of the underlying climatic effect. In
celebration, they constructed the Wandering Flame, an artificial sunlet
that shines for one seventeenth of an orbital period over any planet on
which a sentient species successfully manages an environmental crisis.
Although the Wandering Flame often delivers more solar energy than the
planet's original star, no climatic or ecological side effects occur.
When not fulfilling its primary function, the Wandering Flame can usually
be found in the asteroid belt of some otherwise uninteresting star system.

The Oracle is a spherically-shaped region of space, roughly 32 light-hours
in diameter, located around 2 light-years to the galactic north of
Elnath. The Oracle will answer one question for each petitioner;
unfortunately, there is no way to know in advance which question it is.
Only seventeen questions have ever been answered, four of them asked by
accident and apparently trivial, but in each case the petitioner expressed
a profound sense of satisfaction and enlightenment.

The Circle of Time appears as a circular path of beaten silver,
eighty-three meters in diameter. When you set foot on the Circle at any
point, the path begins to move, conveying you along the Circle. It
appears to take exactly fifteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds for you
to reach your starting point, although on exiting, no external time
appears to have passed. Many past and future selves of the fifteen
minutes are visible in their corresponding positions along the Circle of
Time, and you can converse with yourself as desired.

The Diamond Book has the density and appearance of purest diamond. No
matter how many pages are turned, there are still as many left. The
weight and volume of the Book never increase. No page has ever been found
containing words, pictures, or other visible content, though each page
sparkles beautifully and individually. Those who read the Book by gazing
on several pages in succession feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and
grief. The emotion is not debilitating but cathartic, and has inspired
great artistic works and a lasting end to several wars. Despite the
thousands of intrigues that have broken out in competition for possession
of the sole portable artifact, no violent conflict has ever occurred.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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