The Shooter and the Farmer

When the members of the Frontiers of Science discussed physics, they often used the abbreviation “SF.” They didn’t mean “science fiction,” but the two words “shooter” and “farmer.” This was a reference to two hypotheses, both involving the fundamental nature of the laws of the universe.

In the shooter hypothesis, a good marksman shoots at a target, creating a hole every ten centimeters. Now suppose the surface of the target is inhabited by intelligent, two-dimensional creatures. Their scientists, after observing the universe, discover a great law: “There exists a hole in the universe every ten centimeters.” They have mistaken the result of the marksman’s momentary whim for an unalterable law of the universe.

The farmer hypothesis, on the other hand, has the flavor of a horror story: Every morning on a turkey farm, the farmer comes to feed the turkeys. A scientist turkey, having observed this pattern to hold without change for almost a year, makes the following discovery: “Every morning at eleven, food arrives.” On the morning of Thanksgiving, the scientist announces this law to the other turkeys. But that morning at eleven, food doesn’t arrive; instead, the farmer comes and kills the entire flock.

Liu, Cixin | The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past)

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but this was by far the most interesting proposition to me.

What do we really know?  What can we really know?


2 thoughts on “The Shooter and the Farmer”

  1. If the farmer kills all of them except the scientist, would it – horror-stricken – conclude that it was his telling them of his observations & theory that brought the catastrophe down upon them..& committed autoturkeycide, leaving behind a note (in Turkeyish..) that it has no choice..because it cannot continue living in a world where scientific investigation results in loss of life…?


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