Common Linux Programs

Shane Hathaway shane at
Thu Sep 14 10:12:56 MDT 2006

Dave Smith wrote:
> Jason Holt wrote:
>> t is for true, which does very little
> But at least it does it successfully, which is more than we can say for 
> false.

The man page for "false" presents an interesting logic puzzle.  The 
intent of the false command is to "do nothing, unsuccessfully", which I 
understand in natural language, but it must be a mess to a logician. 
There is no success nor failure if nothing happens.  If I don't play a 
game, and instead do nothing, I have neither won nor lost that game.  So 
nothing can fit that interpretation of "do nothing, unsuccessfully", 
regardless of what the documentation might claim.

That must be the wrong interpretation.  Perhaps it means the false 
command should be unsuccessful in its attempt to do nothing.  But if I 
am unsuccessful in my attempt to do nothing, apparently I must have done 
something.  Like when I want to go to sleep, I try to think about 
nothing, but then I end up thinking about thinking about nothing, which 
is something.  I can only truly be successful at doing nothing if I 
cease to exist.  Even the rock that stubbed my toe did something, as did 
the space debris that reflected light.  So apparently, everyone and 
everything fits the description "does nothing, unsuccessfully".

Since that interpretation allows the false command to exist, I can argue 
that it is correct.  However, everyone and everything also fits, so 
perhaps false is a synonym for everyone and everything.  Everyone and 
everything includes this argument, so this argument matches the 
description for false.  This argument disproves itself.

Ok, third interpretation: the word "nothing" is not intended literally.
When it says "do nothing", it really means "do as little as possible". 
While this is probably the best match for the natural language 
interpretation, it's an abomination in logic.  If I argue that "nothing" 
and "something" are interchangeable, it becomes impossible to prove or 
disprove anything, since so many proofs require nonexistent things to 
stay nonexistent.  Now if I say nothing travels faster than the speed of 
light, I'm really saying that something does.  If nothing dies before it 
is born, then something actually does.  If nothing disproves this 
interpretation, then something does.  Yet another self-disproving argument.

So the false command has no stable foundation.  It must be deprecated. 
Start the petition!  Also, memorize its description because it could be 
a great defense against killer robots.


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