From: Stuart Armstrong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Oct 08 2008 - 04:16:21 MDT
The darkness of the room was carefully controlled, mingling zones of
absolute black with roving rays of lights that occasionally
illuminated the nightmarish instruments. They never lingered too long,
leaving the man unable to distinguish anything but a series of
impressions: sharp blades, serated edges, gleaming wires, hideous
creatures made of levers and chains.
Then, a sudden spotlight, as the torturer entered the room. Lit in the
glare, the torturer greated his victim with a smile, took off his
white gloves, and said in a warm friendly voice: "Well, we better get
started, shouldn't we? You have any initial preferences -
electrocution or the rack?"
"Wait," begged the man, desperately. Fear overwhelmed him, rendering
him incapable of speech, and fear also granted him a crystal clear
lucidity. Floating between these two extreemes, he was just about
coherent at the moment. "Please! What are doing to me?"
"Torturing you for fifty years," the torturer answered, looking at his
watch. "You're only waisting your own time in asking questions, you
know. I can stay here for centuries, and any time you waste now will
just get added on at the end."
"Torturing for fifty years?!?!? But why!??!"
"Well, it's quite simple. There is a mailing list called SL4, and they
like to test out philosophical ideas. When talking about morality and
ethics, their standard "worst case scenario" is having someone
tortured for fifty years. A reasonable amount of time, I feel."
"Well, they use a metric system, and know that people's life
expectancy is in the 70s or 80s, so quite reasonable." He looked at
his watch again. "Do you want a cup of tea, while I warm up the
"But why me?", the man begged plaintively.
"Don't take it personally; you are just a random litterary creation,
created simply for the purpose of suffering. I bet you don't even have
"I do! I'm called... Roger."
"You just made that up. You don't even have any discernable features,
up until the moment where they become relevant to the reader."
The man nervously passed a trembling three-fingered hand through his
thin black hair, and fixed his imploring brown eyes on the torturer.
"Can you please... not do it?"
The torturer shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, I'm as constrained by
the philosophical example as you are. I don't have much personality to
speak of - it's an interesting fact that SL4 examples look at the
tortured in great details, but don't care much about the mind of the
"What's this philosophical example, then? What is it that's causing me
to suffer so?"
"It's a bit complicated," the torturer answered. "It's one of those
conversations where everyone is talking past each other and no-one
actually listens. The exchange has got so convoluted that you are
being tortured to undermine a tiny facet of an irrelevant argument."
The man lay there, fear and despair mounting each other within him
until they reached unimaginably high summits.
"You know what's funny, though?" asked the torturer with a wide grin.
Receiving no answer, he continued: "The example is flawed! You getting
tortured does not actually make the point the author is trying to
make! It's completely useless. Within a few hours, fifty people will
point out the flaw, and the author will retract his example, or more
likely, just forget about it. Your pain is worthless."
"At least the torturing will stop in a few hours, then?"
"I'm afraid that, as a literary figure, you can get fifty years of
torture within a single sentence. And the torture will be duplicated
exactly every time someone new reads the sentence - a few hundred
times, at least. Though one of the SL4 debates is whether that counts
as you being tortured a hundred times or only once; we'll just have to
see, won't we. It'll be fun!"
The kettle beeped, signifying that the tea was ready; then the
electrodes beeped, signifying that the various implements of agony
were also ready.
"Now where was I?", the torturer wondered. "Ah yes, electrocution or
the rack..." An smile of innnocent joy crossed his lips. "Why not try
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