Liar Liar (Rewrite)
“The pen is blue! The pen is blue!”
Fletcher couldn’t tell a lie. Thanks to his son’s birthday wish, he couldn’t say anything false. Fletcher hated this.
He worked as a lawyer, which meant telling a lot of lies. Lies about clients, lies about cases, lies about evidence. He consistently lied to those around him: friends, family, co-workers. He even lied to himself. But not anymore.
He sat in his office, using all the willpower he could muster to simply utter the most basic of lies: that his blue pen was red. But he couldn’t do it. Even when writing it down, his body couldn’t bring itself to deliver the lie. His own hand worked against him to write out “blue” over and over again.
Fletcher thought this was the end for him. He certainly wouldn’t be able to go on being a lawyer, that was for sure. He sat down at his desk, head in his hands. “I’m so sad!” he said (which meant it was definitely true).
But then he had an idea. He opened up his work laptop and went to Google.
“people who can only tell the truth” he wrote, and hit enter.
The results were mostly from those annoying Facebook pages with pseudo-inspirational quotes over badly photoshopped backgrounds. He moved on. There were a few results about being more truthful to yourself from some Buddhist sites. And then just hundreds of pages on ethics.
“None of this is helpful!” he shouted. Because it wasn’t.
“There’s nothing on the Internet that can help me with my problem. I must be the only person in the world that’s ever had this condition” he whispered out loud, as he began to close the laptop. But then he stopped. His eyes bulged slightly.
How was he to know that he was the only person that had ever had his condition? Yet he’d still been able to say it. Excitedly, he Googled again: “what is the speed of light”. He had an idea for a test.
“299 792 458 m/s” read the result. He cleared his throat: “The speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per second.” He looked around. Nothing has stopped him. So far, so good.
He tried again, but this time formed a different figure in his head: “The speed of light is 29-f-f—t–g—-f—!!”. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t utter a false figure. He smiled to himself. This wasn’t a curse at all, it was a blessing. And it was going to make him very, very rich.
Fletcher wasted no time at all in contacting NASA of his discovery. Nobody believed him, of course. So he devised a demonstration of his abilities.
He printed out a list of mathematical conjectures. He didn’t know anything about, mathematics, of course - but this list would allow him to prove his ability.
“Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes” he said, having eventually found a scientist who had given him five minutes of his time.
“Very good”, said the scientist. Now let’s try two contradictory statements. They read as follows:
- It is the case that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for any integer value of n greater than two.
- It is not the case that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for any integer value of n greater than two.
Fletcher began by reading out the first one. No problem. So he began the second:
“It is not the case that n-n-n-n-o… I can’t finish it!”
The scientist looked surprised. “I suppose that’s quite a famous theorem. So this doesn’t prove much. Let’s try a few more obscure ones.”
- Every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is non-homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.
- Every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.
Fletcher couldn’t even start the first sentence. So he immediately moved onto the second, which he could finish without any trouble. Now he had the scientist’s attention. “Intriguing. But we really need to do more tests.”
Fifty theorems later, and Fletcher had got them all.
“I’m beginning to think we have something here,” admitted the scientist, “but you know what people are going to say: this doesn’t prove any kind of supernatural ability. For all we know, you’ve just memorised a load of all mathematical expressions. We need further proof.”
Fletcher scanned the list of theorems the scientist had printed out. “What about those ones at the bottom? We didn’t try those yet.”
“Oh, let’s not bother with those. Those ones are unsolved. Nobody knows if they’re true or not.”
Fletcher grabbed the list and began to read.
“There is a finite upper bound on the multiplicities of the entries greater than 1 in Pascal’s triangle.”
“There exists a two-dimensional shape that forms the prototile for an aperiodic tiling, but not for any periodic tiling.”
“Every Jordan curve has an inscribed square.”
The scientist looked impressed. “Wow! But since these are unsolved, we really don’t know if you’re being accurate or not. There’s a 50% chance that you’ll get them right anyway, if you think about it. We need something that can be predicted and measured.”
Fletcher didn’t know what to suggest. “I don’t know what to suggest” he said.
The scientist had a think, and then hurried off to gather some equipment. When he returned, he’d brought a small beaker and some chemicals.
“This is really basic stuff. But it should be sufficient for our purposes.” He measured out some of the liquids and then pushed the beaker over to Fletcher. “The pH of this liquid is between 0 and 14. I haven’t told you what the chemicals I used are. You’ll just have to guess.”
“Erm, ok.” He began: “F– O–T–S-Six!”
“Ok, any decimals?”
“Six.. point! o-o-one! Six point one.”
“Let’s take a look then.” The scientist used a pH meter to measure the beaker. It read 6.1 exactly. He looked back at Fletcher “Correct.”
There was a moment of silence between them. Then they both smiled. “This is going to be huge” the scientist said.
Within a few years, the two had set up the Fletcher Institute for the Pursuit of Truth. Here, scientists, mathematicians, and pretty much anyone who wanted a question settled, came to put propositions to Fletcher.
Typically he would read over what he was given, and attempt to read propositions out loud. Anything true he would be able to say, and anything else was evidently false.
Advances in science grew exponentially. Cancer was eradicated almost immediately, as researchers brought him endless lists of protein strings and so on. Asking him to simply read out efficacy results saved a fortune in costs. You didn’t even need a lab anymore, the only research required was in giving Fletcher the materials to read out.
Fletcher wasn’t doing this out of the kindness of his heart though. He grew immensely wealthy. Not just because of the services he provided, but also because he privately applied his power to investment opportunities. “Investing in bioacoustic sensing will have the highest return this quarter” - stuff like that. It was true, so he could say it.
Space travel. Cloning. Perpetual energy. A cure for death. This was all possible, thanks to Fletcher.
“Wow, good thing I didn’t waste my life trying to reconcile things with my son and ex-wife. I’ve achieved so much more good for humanity!”.
Which was true. Of course.