Stranger Than History

Sup­pose I told you that I knew for a fact that the fol­low­ing state­ments were true:

  • If you paint your­self a cer­tain ex­act color be­tween blue and green, it will re­verse the force of grav­ity on you and cause you to fall up­ward.

  • In the fu­ture, the sky will be filled by billions of float­ing black spheres. Each sphere will be larger than all the zep­pelins that have ever ex­isted put to­gether. If you offer a sphere money, it will lower a male pros­ti­tute out of the sky on a bungee cord.

  • Your grand­chil­dren will think it is not just fool­ish, but evil, to put thieves in jail in­stead of spank­ing them.

You’d think I was crazy, right?

Now sup­pose it were the year 1901, and you had to choose be­tween be­liev­ing those state­ments I have just offered, and be­liev­ing state­ments like the fol­low­ing:

  • There is an ab­solute speed limit on how fast two ob­jects can seem to be trav­el­ing rel­a­tive to each other, which is ex­actly 670,616,629.2 miles per hour. If you hop on board a train go­ing al­most this fast and fire a gun out the win­dow, the fun­da­men­tal units of length change around, so it looks to you like the bul­let is speed­ing ahead of you, but other peo­ple see some­thing differ­ent. Oh, and time changes around too.

  • In the fu­ture, there will be a su­per­con­nected global net­work of billions of adding ma­chines, each one of which has more power than all pre-1901 adding ma­chines put to­gether. One of the pri­mary uses of this net­work will be to trans­port mov­ing pic­tures of les­bian sex by pre­tend­ing they are made out of num­bers.

  • Your grand­chil­dren will think it is not just fool­ish, but evil, to say that some­one should not be Pres­i­dent of the United States be­cause she is black.

Based on a com­ment of Robin Han­son’s: “I won­der if one could de­scribe in enough de­tail a fic­tional story of an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity, a re­al­ity that our an­ces­tors could not dis­t­in­guish from the truth, in or­der to make it very clear how sur­pris­ing the truth turned out to be.”1