Ubik wrote:"Give me what I really want" wishes are potentially very dangerous
I completely agree. A very common flaw here has been the assumption that you know what’s best for you. But we humans aren’t generally too intelligent when it comes to seeing the ramifications of our actions. The cruelest kind of wish-fulfillment--and the kind I most see a malevolent genie employing, given its irony--is where you get what you really desire (e.g., a trillion dollars), and find out that it does not bring you happiness (e.g., that being able to buy anything you want—which was the intended purpose of the money, so in giving this ability to you the genie is acting in accordance with your wishes—actually makes you horribly depressed at the pointlessness of life when you don’t have to work for anything).
Consider, for example, qinwamascot's wish set:
qinwamascot wrote:1) I wish that you would enact the one wish that I most want you to enact exactly how I would enact it if I had the power to and was enacting it on myself.
2) I wish that you would enact the one wish that I most want you to enact excluding my previous wish exactly how I would enact it if I had the power to and was enacting it on myself.
3) I wish that you would enact the one wish that I most want you to enact excluding my previous wishes exactly how I would enact it if I had the power to and was enacting it on myself.
I won't exactly know what I'm getting, but I don't think I die or turn into a mushroom.
This assumes that the wish you would want to enact would be a good one. I'd be terrified of the possible results of a wish set like this were I to make it. For example, it might be that--had I the power--I would wish for Scarlet Johansson to appear in front of me so I could have sex with her. Which I would then proceed to do and afterwards feel incredibly guilty for because I would have cheated on my fiancée, who would then proceed to leave me. I'd probably then get a trillion dollars and some other sort of material wealth, and die a lonely, empty man.
Here's a possible alternative: “I wish that you would enact the one wish that I—were I omniscient and desiring of ultimate good for myself—would
most want you to enact exactly how I would enact it if I had the power to and was enacting it on myself.” This would hopefully get out of the problem of our own short-sightedness and stupidity. However, a problem with this and other wishes like it is that they assume that there are such things as counterfactuals of freedom (i.e., that "if I were in situation S, I would do action A" expresses a truth or untruth). Personally I doubt there are (because I believe that the universe and human free will are sufficiently indeterministic that there is no truth to what I would
freely do in any given situation; there is only truth to what I have done in certain situations), and if there aren’t then any such wishes as this will simply fail to obtain. In which case you won’t see any result from your wish, but will instead simply assume that the genie must have granted it but you cannot yet see the result. In which case you will constantly wonder for the rest of your life what the genie has done, and it will drive you mad trying to figure it out. Granted, this is purely hypothetical, as it’s not the genie making you mad; you just happen to go mad trying to find out what the genie’s done. However, I think it’s safe to assume that not only the genie but also fate is against you. So you still fail.
Two more wish sets that are probably impossible.
1. Genie, I wish I had total conscious control over the retaining and removal of my memories.
2. Genie, I wish I had total conscious control over probability.
3. Genie, I wish that if one of my alterations in probability create conditions which in my current state I might consciously declare unfavorable, then said alteration in probability will be undone, and I will no longer wish to perform said alteration.
The "might" here precludes the genie from doing practically anything. The genie doesn't even have to interpret that especially broadly--almost any interesting wish will result in some circumstances that you probably would declare unfavourable. No wish is going to have only "good" (a subjective term) results.
Speaking of which:
1. I wish that the genie would take no action until it grants my third wish.
2. I wish for no negative utility
from the moment the third wish is granted onward.
3. I wish for infinite positive utility.
The reason for the first wish is so that the genie doesn't destroy the universe to grant the second wish, which would be the simplest and most obvious way to grant it. The reason I simply don't wish the third one first is so that the genie doesn't cause infinite positive and negative utility, which would probably be much simpler than infinite positive and no negative utility.
This is certainly one of the cleverer wish sets, but I personally doubt that it's possible, and if it is I suspect it's open to abuse. I'll assume the genie is too classy to be cheap and use some obscure meaning of “utility” (you could specify the kind you meant, at any rate). Your first wish is still open to substantial abuse. For example, interpreting your second wish could itself be taken to be an action (if, for example, the genie has to think through what it means), and so the genie would never even be able to get to your third wish, and nothing would happen.
But let's set that aside and let the genie grant you your other wishes as you’ve specified them. He starts by giving infinite utility to everyone. (Since you didn't specify I'm assuming you're being generous and asking for utility for everyone, and not just yourself. If you just meant it for yourself, then the genie could adjust his responses accordingly.) Then he takes it away. Having tasted infinite happiness, we all spend the rest of our lives in agony at having lost it. Conversely, if you specify that he give infinite positive utility for an infinite amount of time, then he does so, and, having possessed such utility for a few years, it has lost all its effect on us, and indeed has become something of a curse because we now have nothing to strive for and no purpose in life. At the very least it would be quite dull.
You might object that either of the above two would result in a form of negative utility. This raises the problem of who is defining utility--we might want infinite happiness right now without thinking about the consequences it would entail a few years down the line, and so view it as a purely desirable state--but if we insist on some "objective" standard then the wish set you've asked for is probably simply impossible. If the genie were to take away all (that we now see as) pain, then (that which we see as) lesser pleasure now would become pain, and (that which we take to be) greater pleasure would become less so. If he were to take away all but the greatest possible pleasure, that pleasure would dull in the above fashion, and would cease to be pleasure.
What you might try is wishing that the greatest possible amount of positive utility (where such is interpreted as remaining utility when overall negative utility is subtracted from positive utility) obtain. This is probably the wish that a good utilitarian ought to make. The most likely problems with it is that utilitarianism is just a confused concept, what with subjective definitions of utility, the problem of defining who gets utility (e.g., animals and other living creatures, creatures who haven't been born yet), and that the genie could maybe create maximum possible utility through doing something we'd see as undesirable--for example, creating many, many, many more living creatures than is sustainable
, because they'd all rather be alive than not, or by killing us all
because that gives him
such pleasure that the overall amount of utility is now greater than it could possibly have been otherwise.
The game would become even more insidious were we to add a rule to the effect of: if the wish you ask for is impossible, the genie gets to drop an anvil on you. That way there’s some penalty for wishing wishes that don’t actually turn out to be logically possible, and you’re taking a hell of a risk when asking for anything having to do with counterfactuals, omnipotence, omniscience, and other metaphysical ideas of dubious logical possibility. ("Cannot bring me any harm" wishes will likely similarly be impossible, because practically any wish of any interest will have the potential to bring some sort of harm to you in the future.)
Especially if we added the above condition, I think that, were I to receive the lamp containing this genie, I would do best to treat it like the one ring--something that it is really, really tempting to use but that if I know what's best for myself (and everyone else) I need to somehow destroy. I would then try to think of some airtight way to ask the genie how I can do so and get him to actually do it. Or perhaps I'd ask him to destroy himself (assuming that such would not destroy the universe, or any such thing). But knowing my luck, that'd probably be an impossible request, and so I'd get an anvil dropped on me.