The paradox of The Bottle Imp


Originally published at:

British Prime Minister "scrapes mould off jam and eats what's underneath"

I hadn’t heard of this story before. I like it. Thank you.


There’s a card game based on the premise of this story.

I’m pretty bad at it.


You may not be able to sell it for less than 1 cent, but you can give it away, right? Or you can pay someone to take it from you.


No, both of those are forbidden by the imp


That sounds interesting. Is it fun?


Whether or not it’s irrational to buy the bottle depends on how much I value what I will wish for versus how much I value avoiding hell. It’s not safe to assume that avoiding hell has the highest possible value. For all I know, I’m going to hell whether I die with the bottle or not. If I could use that bottle to solve all humanity’s seemingly intractable social and economic problems for the mere price of my own soul, I would do it. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.


Find someone who is already guaranteed to burn in hell; a psychopathic murderer without remorse, or somebody who wears mixed fabric, for instance. They should be more than happy to get it for one cent, no ?


Finally, a valid use case for cryptocurrency.


Also, does this imp not understand inflation? One cent is decreasing in real value all the time. If I buy the bottle for one cent today and sell it for one cent a year from now, I certainly have sold it for less than I paid for it because one cent will have less buying power a year from now than it does today.


I doubt the imp gives a damn about inflation. To hell you go! (This is reminding me of that scene in gremlins 2 where all the control room people are arguing with billy about the “rules” until one gets suddenly attacked by a gremlin.


I suppose one could try to exasperate the imp into submission with a long-winded lecture on modern monetary theory.


You could wish for more wealth by way of a large increase in the value of the dollar/cent in comparison to certain other currencies, then sell it in the depressed foreign currency.

Or you could buy the bottle as a corporate asset, selling it off to other corporations later (who may or may not be spin-offs of the previous company). And when that eventually gets tiresome, you can buy back all stock in the company (if it were ever public), take it private, lay off everyone, and retire from the board, leaving a legal zombie to hold the bottle.

Or you could bundle the bottle with other junk and sell it in aggregate such that it is nigh impossible to say what the bottle is worth relative to the sum. (And if the new owner has to ask what he paid, he could always legitimately claim that he paid the full sum, and the rest of the garbage that came with it was simply a condition of sale, like workers and pensions that come with a buying a whole company to acquire their IP.)

Around the time you start to ask about licensing terms, the imp will probably realize you have an MBA and leave you alone as a matter of professional courtesy.


I think the right answer is: It’s only a paradox if you assume every human acts in a perfectly rational way (a common assumption in this kind of games, but one that’s not stated in the post). In real life, you can assume someone stupid or reckless will buy the bottle when it’s far closer to the endgame, so it becomes rational to buy it with 1000 possible transactions left in it.


If you have an MBA, aren’t you going to hell anyway?


“I wish I would immediately find a wealthy buyer who purchases the bottle at a lower price but then pays me a $10 million dollar finder’s bonus.”


What you want to do is get is two bottle imps, and use one to alter the other, because you can always break an unbreakable toy with another unbreakable toy.


Almost the same paradox:
The teacher said, there will be a test next week, and everyone will be suprised. So it won’t happen on friday, because that could be expected. But then this goes for every other day.
The next week they had the test on tuesday, the students were suprised!


If a corporation bought the imp, and didn’t sell it for less, would the entire corporation go to hell, or just its board of directors?


I’m pretty sure you could create an ethereum “smart” contract to purchase the bottle so that the owning entity is the algorithm itself.