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[Comments] (2) The answer to this question is false.    T  F  : Seth is talking about self-referential aptitude tests, so maybe it's time to tell the story of... the self-referential aptitude test that ripped me off (nb. change to "broke my heart" for inclusion in Readers Digest).

This was in seventh grade algebra. We were given a mimeographed worksheet containing a "test of [our] ability to follow instructions". It had twenty instructions on it to follow. It said "Read this test all the way through before you do anything." So I did. The first instruction said to put your name at the top of the paper. All the rest of the instructions were to write down the answer to various trivia questions, except the last one, which was along the lines of "Stop! Don't write anything on this paper! Just turn it in!"

Ridiculous, I thought. By the time I get to that instruction, I'll have already written all kinds of things on this paper, and there's nothing after it. It's probably a trick to get people to follow the instructions out of order. Anyway, having read the test all the way through, I started on the first instruction. I completed all the instructions until I got to the one that said stop, then I stopped and turned it in.

Well, that wasn't what you were supposed to do. You were supposed to execute the the last instruction before any of the others, and never write anything on your paper. Why should you execute instruction #20 before executing instruction #19? Because #20 looks weird! Geez, Leonard!

I fought it, and lost. At the time I foolishly thought that mine was the only correct solution. But I don't think the worksheet said anything about the order in which you should complete the instructions, so there are actually a large number of correct solutions, including the one the teacher considered correct. So I could have satisfied my own sense of correctness while still getting a good score on the assignment (this was a big dilemma for me in school; it's not so much a factor now that satisfying my own sense of correctness is more closely aligned with doing a good job).

The moral, as always: don't mess with self-reference unless you really know what you're doing. Start by messing with Texas, and work your way up.

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Posted by steve minutillo at Thu Jun 30 2005 12:08

We did a similar one, in 2nd or 3rd grade. I turned in my paper right away, and was going to announce to the whole class that they had been had, but the teacher shushed me. Instead they all spent the next 15 minutes or so following the other instructions on our test, which involved drawing and crayons and laughter. I had to sit quietly on the sidelines. Ultimately the "lesson" was lost on all participants.

Posted by ribeyes of texas at Thu Jun 30 2005 14:32

i'm watching you

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