October 20, 2009

The Paradox of Rickrolling

As is well known, to rickroll is to post a misleading link to this video. We can define rickrolling in answer to a question precisely: To rickroll is to provide a link to that video instead of answering the question.

Suppose someone asks "What's a rickroll?" and I respond with a link to that video. Have I just rickrolled them?

By virtue of the meaning of the question, I've answered it (demonstratively) if and only if I've provided an example of a rickroll.

But by the definition of rickrolling, a link to that video is a rickroll if and only if it does not answer the question.

Paradox! There may be some actual point here about terms that are defined by their relevance to the conversation or context.

...in any case it may not have been the smartest thing for an untenured professor to send the link to his entire department.

Posted by Matt Weiner at October 20, 2009 08:06 AM

How do you keep an untenured professor in suspense?

Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate at October 20, 2009 12:28 PM

If you're thinking of never posting a punchline to that, I know where you live.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 20, 2009 12:31 PM

There are knives in the cupboard if you want some.

Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate at October 20, 2009 12:33 PM

I think a real definition of rickrolling should require that the target recognize the rickroller's intent to mislead. I won't venture to say how that changes the paradox.

Posted by: Justin at October 20, 2009 01:46 PM

Interesting -- is rickrolling illocutionary or perlocutionary? Need the target recognize the intent to mislead, or need the rickroller merely intend that the target recognize that intent? Can we say "I tried to rickroll him, but he actually thought that video was the announcement of Obama's running mate?"

Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 20, 2009 06:43 PM

Incidentally, the first person to whom I explained this paradox said "You should be ashamed of yourself."

Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 20, 2009 08:45 PM

So, you know the old semi-paradox in which a prisoner is scheduled to be hung this week, but for some humanitarian reason he isn't supposed to know the date ahead of time. So if it gets to Friday and he hasn't been hung yet he'll know it's happening then, so it can't be done on Friday. But then by induction it can't be Thursday, and so on, so we reach the conclusion he can't be hung at all. So then of course they can come for him on say Tuesday morning and he'll be surprised.

Similarly, if you know a link is going to being a rickroll, then the Rick Astley link won't take you by surprise, so the link can't be to the Rick Astley video, but then of course if it really is to Rick Astley after all, the link-clicker will be surprised, and thus has been rickrolled.

Posted by: Ben at October 26, 2009 02:29 AM

I just lost the game.

Thanks, Matt.

Posted by: Victor Gijsbers at October 26, 2009 01:14 PM

You should definitely be ashamed. But it's not clear that means you should stop talking about the paradox.

Anyway, I'm not sure if Rickrolling should depend on the target recognizing the roller's intent, or just that the roller's intent should be to be so recognized. But I'm confident that you can't rickroll by intending to illustrate something with the link.

Posted by: Justin Blank at October 27, 2009 01:55 PM

"Rickrolling" is a *spurious concept*.

Posted by: Jeffrey D. Rubard at October 27, 2009 02:45 PM

do you like mudkips?

Posted by: koko at November 15, 2009 08:06 PM